A woman in her forties, dressed neatly and tidily, her hair sleek and shiny. She wasn’t from the Liu village, but every adult in the Liu family recognized her—she was Auntie Zhang from a neighboring village, a matchmaker who frequently traversed villages, connecting families and assisting with marriages.
In this marriageable age, everyone in the Liu family had their suspicions about who Auntie Zhang had come for. When Wu Shi and Liu Dalang exchanged a knowing glance, it was clear that their predictions were on target.
Liu Dalang’s heart leaped with anticipation, while Wu Shi maintained a calm expression. It seemed that if a wealthy suitor from the town was coming to propose, they wouldn’t be using Auntie Zhang’s services. As for the young men from the surrounding villages, Wu Shi wasn’t concerned at all—who among them could afford the eighty taels of betrothal silver?
With a subtle shake of her head, Wu Shi signaled to Liu Dalang not to panic. The couple shared an unspoken understanding. With Wu Shi keeping watch, Liu Dalang felt reassured that nothing unexpected would happen.
Liu Kangsheng was also at ease. Considering that Wang Shi had mentioned it only at noon and didn’t seem to have immediate plans for marrying off their daughter, he wasn’t overly concerned. Moreover, he didn’t want to get involved in dealing with the matchmaker himself. After a brief exchange of greetings with Auntie Zhang, he left with his three sons.
Wang Shi had just thought about the dowry for her daughter at noon, and in the blink of an eye, the matchmaker had stepped into their home. Although she intended to keep her eldest daughter at home for a few more years to earn additional money for the family and save some dowry for her, she couldn’t afford to offend the matchmaker. Smilingly, she invited Auntie Zhang to sit in the main room.
The three daughters-in-law of the Liu family were each trying to outdo the others in being polite in front of guests. They prepared tea, brought out snacks like peanuts and melon seeds without a single word from Wang Shi.
Wang Shi, still smiling, pulled out a chair for Auntie Zhang and asked, “What brings you here today?”
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Gwdvkl Hbydt raykple vbl vball eywtbvlap-kd-zyo clqsal tlvvkdt vs vbl xykd rskdv. “Zsw jdso, R dlhla nsxl okvbswv y alypsd. Eydt Ylkgk, usw jdso xu rasqlppksd. Mseyu, R’hl nsxl vs pbyal psxl tsse dlop okvb usw.”
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Ebkzl kv’p pyke vbyv yd lzela pkpvla-kd-zyo kp zkjl y xsvbla, vbkp wpwyzzu yrrzklp obld vbl xsvbla kp ycpldv. Ekvb Eydt Fbk ralpldv, Ew Fbk’p clbyhksa pllxle y ckv kxrasrla.
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Rq kv oypd’v y qsavwdyvl xyvnb, bso nswze pbl eyal vs kdiwkal ycswv bla pkpvla-kd-zyo’p xyaakytl ekalnvzu kd qasdv sq bla xsvbla-kd-zyo?
Ew Fbk’p lulp qzknjlale, yde pbl pxkzle, pyukdt, “Gcpszwvlzu dsv! R’hl yzoyup oydvle vs vbydj Gwdvkl Hbydt qsa yaaydtkdt pwnb y tsse xyvnb qsa xl. Mseyu, R qkdyzzu byhl vbl nbydnl vs lmralpp xu tayvkvwel. R elzkclayvlzu yeele y prssdqwz sq pwtya vs vbl vly qsa usw. Vzlypl ldfsu vbl pollvdlpp.”
Yyvnbxyjla Hbydt cwapv kdvs zywtbvla, yde vbl vos lmnbydtle y qlo nswavlswp alxyajp. Pwakdt vbkp vkxl, Nkd Fbk caswtbv kd y rzyvl sq bsxlxyel xlzsd pllep, pyke y qlo jkde osaep, yde vbld okvbealo qasx vbl xykd assx. Ew Fbk yzps alyzkgle kv oypd’v yrrasrakyvl vs pvyu, ps pbl qszzsole Nkd Fbk swv sq vbl assx.
Once Matchmaker Zhang and others had left, Wang Shi began discussing the main issue with Wu Shi in a hushed tone.
Indeed, she had come for Liu Yu. The son from the Zheng family, one of the prominent families in the village, had visited the Liu family last month. After seeing Liu Yu, he couldn’t help but have her on his mind. After pondering about it for some days, when discussing potential marriage prospects for him at home, the family decided to consult the Liu family about it.
The wife of the Zheng family’s head had sent someone to inquire about Liu Yu, and her reputation turned out to be impeccable. So, a proposal was in order. They asked Matchmaker Zhang to make the necessary arrangements.
When Wang Shi heard that the proposal was from the Zheng family, she couldn’t help but feel a bit shaken.
During the Great Qing Dynasty, the positions of village head and other administrative roles were usually filled by wealthy households. If someone could hold the position of village head, their family’s financial situation was typically among the best in the village. If Liu Yu were to marry into such a family, their future life would undoubtedly be prosperous.
However, just at noon, she had discussed with her husband about keeping Liu Yu for a few more years. She had even persuaded Liu Yu to allocate a portion of the money earned from embroidery as her dowry. Now, she couldn’t easily agree to the proposal.
Moreover, even if she wanted to, it wasn’t certain that Liu Yu would agree. With her current skills in embroidery and the potential income from it, Liu Y was a valuable asset to the family. Wang Shi had plans for her to stay until she was seventeen.
Thinking about this, she shook her head and said, “Elder sister, you’re considerate, but to be honest, my Xiao Yu is still young. I can’t bear to marry her off just yet. We were planning to keep her for two more years. This marriage proposal probably won’t work.”
In Liu Yu’s room, as the main hall was quite close, she heard the commotion as soon as Matchmaker Zhang entered. She carefully pressed her ear to the door to eavesdrop on the conversation.
Hearing Wang Shi reject the marriage proposal, Liu Yu felt her spirits plummet.
In the main hall, even though Wang Shi had refused, Matchmaker Zhang was not discouraged.
Matchmaker Zhang had seen many girls in her lifetime, and she had never seen those with better looks than Liu Yu. Though she couldn’t express it eloquently, coming from a rural background herself, she knew that the girl from the Liu family, given her appearance, would be considered remarkable anywhere. She also knew that with such a daughter, it wouldn’t be easy for the Liu family to agree to the marriage.
So, even though Wang Shi had rejected the proposal, Matchmaker Zhang wasn’t surprised. Instead, she looked around and suddenly approached Wang Shi. She gestured discreetly, signaling her to find a quiet place to talk.
Isn’t this main hall secluded enough?
Not sure about Matchmaker Zhang’s intentions, Wang Shi decided to cooperate. She led Matchmaker Zhang into the main room, leaving the door open to the hall. Inside, they were hidden from plain sight, making it less likely for anyone to eavesdrop.
It was only then that Matchmaker Zhang lowered her voice and revealed her second purpose for coming today. “I’ve seen your daughter before. This old lady has seen many people in her lifetime, and there’s no one that compares to her. I’ll ask you straight: do you want to send her to a wealthy household? In the future, she won’t lack for anything—gold, silver, silk, and satin.”
Wang Shi was taken aback by the proposition. Matchmaker Zhang continued in a mysterious tone, “You know, I have a sister who married into Anyi County. It’s different there from our village. Some households even take a concubine for the sake of appearances…”
Wang Shi’s expression suddenly changed.
Observing her reaction, Matchmaker Zhang assumed it was reluctance about the idea of her daughter being a concubine. She advised, “Don’t think being a concubine is a bad thing. With your daughter’s looks, you can find a good match and get a dowry of sixty or seventy taels. In the future, she’ll live a comfortable life. Isn’t it better than marrying a countryman?”
However, Wang Shi’s face turned extremely pale. Her lips trembled, and she spoke with quivering hands, “Don’t mention this again. Pretend you never came today.”
Ready to show Matchmaker Zhang the way out.
Matchmaker Zhang, feeling awkward, was ushered out by Wang Shi, who made her exit both explicit and forceful.
Wang Shi, with a pale face, didn’t even take a step outside with the matchmaker. She simply escorted her to the threshold of the main room, then turned and closed the door with a bang.
Wu Shi, who had been paying close attention to the sounds from the main room, raised an eyebrow when she witnessed this situation. As soon as Wang Shi returned to her room, Wu Shi, smiling, approached Matchmaker Zhang warmly, saying, “Madam Zhāng, let me see you off.”
Once they were outside the courtyard and at a safe distance from the Liu residence, Wu Shi lowered her voice and inquired about the purpose of Matchmaker Zhang’s visit today.
Matchmaker Zhang, having faced disappointment at Wang Shi’s, didn’t hide anything from Wu Shi. She shared the information about matchmaking for a young man from a neighboring village. However, when it came to the suggestion of arranging for Liu Yu to become a concubine, Matchmaker Zhang hesitated.
In her line of work, she, unlike the human traffickers, cherished her reputation. While she could help with matchmaking behind the scenes, it wasn’t appropriate to openly discuss matters like arranging a concubine, just like arranging a legitimate marriage.
This was something that couldn’t be openly discussed.
However, as long as Matchmaker Zhang thought about Liu Yu’s face, her heart warmed up. A girl like Liu Yu, if she went to seek a match in one of the wealthiest households in the county, anyone who laid eyes on her face, even if they were called a celestial being, would have worldly desires. Among the notable wealthy families in the county, if Matchmaker Zhang could arrange a match, even if they split the benefits with her older sister, it would be enough for her to enjoy the fruits for half a year.
Matchmaker Zhang, who regularly visited thousands of households, was well aware of the situation in the Líu family. Especially with Wu Shi’s status, she knew it very well. Now, seeing Wu Shi inquiring about Liu Yu, Matchmaker Zhang’s eyes flashed with a cunning thought.
If Wang Shi didn’t agree, would Liu Kangsheng be willing? As long as she conveyed the message to Wu Shi, she didn’t believe that Wu Shi wouldn’t be tempted by the prospect of sixty or seventy taels of silver.
Thinking about this, Matchmaker Zhang pulled Wu Shi to an empty and secluded place. They stopped under a tree, and she proceeded to share with Wu Shi what she had told Wang Shi earlier. She also talked about the benefits that families with daughters who became concubines for wealthy families in the county had gained over time.
“Think about it. Isn’t this different from selling people like a transaction? As long as the girl gains favor, isn’t she practically half a family member? She can occasionally visit her natal home. As for you, as brother-in-law and sister-in-law, going to the county to visit relatives is also possible. It’s no different from getting married. Living a prosperous life, wearing gold and silver, isn’t it better than marrying into the countryside and struggling for a living?”
Wu Shi originally thought Matchmaker Zhang was here to arrange a match for the neighbor’s son. Unexpectedly, there was another aspect to it, and her mind was instantly set in motion.
“Do the wealthy families in our county really offer so much for a concubine? A girl from our village became a concubine a couple of years ago, and I heard she only received twenty taels.”
If they could get sixty taels upfront, it would be a profit. As Matchmaker Zhang said, as long as Liu Yu could win favor, their family could also be considered half in-laws. That was much more than eighty taels. Wu Shi’s eyes lit up; in her mind, Liu Yu had turned into a shining money tree.
“Can Liu Yu be favored? With that appearance of a disaster, it’s definitely possible!”
Just the thought of receiving benefits from wealthy families in the county every year had Wu Shi so excited that she temporarily put aside the idea of monopolizing the money from Liu Yu’s transaction. Her hands were tightly clenched together, eagerly awaiting Matchmaker Zhang’s further explanation.
Seeing that Wu Shi took the bait, Matchmaker Zhang was delighted. She waved her hand, covering a piece of cloth she had with her sleeve, and said, “Why not? What kind of girl do you think your little sister is? Do you really have no idea? She won’t settle for an ordinary affluent family; she’s bound to find someone among the top in the county. Those families have countless estates and businesses. Do you think wealth and status are out of reach for her? With their numerous properties and businesses, even if they consider sixty taels as a high price, it’s like showing a finger through the gap for them. They wouldn’t hesitate for such a beautiful concubine. Would they really be stingy over sixty taels? Tell me, isn’t this bringing you a good opportunity?”
Wu Shi’s heart raced, and her whole being came alive with excitement.
Seeing that the timing was right, Matchmaker Zhang stepped in from the side, “If your mother-in-law is unhappy, just kick me, the old woman, out directly. You’re reasonable. Later, you can persuade her again. If there’s really such an intention, come find me, and I’ll help you look for a match.”
Wu Shi wished she could agree to everything right away. However, she knew better than to give anyone leverage. She smiled, “You’re looking out for our A Yu, wanting her to have a good life. I understand that. However, decisions like this have to be made by her parents. As a sister-in-law, it’s not appropriate for me to say too much.”
Though she said this, she warmly escorted Matchmaker Zhang all the way to the western entrance of the village.
Matchmaker Zhang understood the situation.
Once they parted ways at the western entrance, Wu Shi returned to the courtyard of the Liu family. In her mind, she had already calculated numerous scenarios, contemplating whether it was more advantageous to sell Liu Yu for eighty taels exclusively for her family or to agree to let Liu Yu become a concubine for a wealthy county family, sharing the benefits equally among the three households. This way, they could continue to receive visits and reap the rewards in the years to come.
Lin Shi and Wen Shi were still waiting in the courtyard, standing by the courtyard wall, whispering about something.
As soon as Wu Shi returned, they both waved and gestured for her to come closer. When Wu Shi approached, Lin Shi asked, “Why did it take so long to see off Matchmaker Zhang? Did you inquire about it? What did she say? Which family did she come to matchmake for?”
They were particularly concerned about the matter involving Liu Yu.
Wu Shi, who hadn’t fully figured things out in her mind, naturally wouldn’t reveal that Matchmaker Zhang had hinted at the possibility of arranging for Liu Yu to become a concubine in a wealthy county family. Instead, she quietly shared the information about Matchmaker Zhang being invited to arrange a match for a neighboring village’s village head’s son.
Lin Shi’s maternal family was in the neighboring village, so she knew the details about the son of the village head. Hearing this, she felt a twinge of jealousy, thinking that even if Liu Yu was just tagging along, she still had such a good marriage proposal handed to her.
Curious, she asked, “With such a good match, why isn’t Mother-in-law willing? I noticed she sent Matchmaker Zhang out and went back to the main house, even closing the door.”
Speaking with a lowered voice, she gestured towards the tightly closed door of the main house, signaling Wu Shi to look.
Both Lin Shi and Wen Shi noticed that Wang Shi was acting unusually. It was not customary to see off a guest only to the entrance of the main hall, without stepping out of the courtyard. Wang Shi was not usually so reserved.
Unaware of the situation, the two sisters-in-law were puzzled. However, Wǔ Shì felt that she was clear-headed. Perhaps her mother-in-law was displeased that Matchmaker Zhang was trying to arrange for Liu Yu to become a concubine. She smiled and said, “Who knows? Maybe she is reluctant to marry off our eldest daughter so early.”
After entering the main house, Wang Shi spent almost half an hour inside before coming out. Instead of going elsewhere, she knocked on Liu Yu’s door.
Mother and daughter sat facing each other, and finally, Wang Shi spoke first, “This afternoon, Matchmaker Zhang visited our home. Did you hear about it?”
Liu Yu nodded, not denying that she had eavesdropped discreetly.
Wang Shi gazed at her daughter, lost in thought, her expression complex. “Matchmaker Zhang came to talk about the son of the village head from the neighboring village. Originally, it was a good proposal. If it had been discussed two years later, I would have agreed on your behalf.”
In this rare warm and affectionate moment from Wang Shi, Liu Yu’s gaze lingered on her mother’s face for a moment.
Lost in her thoughts, Wang Shi didn’t notice any change in Liu Yu from before. She conveyed the discussion she had with Liu Kangsheng earlier about extending Liu Yu’s stay for two more years and setting aside some money from her embroidery earnings for dowry. She explained that today’s proposal was good, but they weren’t seeking a match with a high-status family. She mentioned that such proposals, like the one from today, would still be available two years later.
Liu Yu listened to Wang Shi discussing her future marriage plans, felt a mix of complicated emotions. She asked, “Did he agree to it?”
Wang Shi didn’t notice that her eldest daughter had used the pronoun “he” instead of referring to Liu Kangsheng as “father.” Thinking about the first time she had managed to gain something for this daughter, Wang Shi had a smile on her face. She nodded and said, “Yes, he agreed. So, these two years, work hard. With your father’s approval, the money you earn, your mother will decide to set aside a portion for yourself. In the future, it will all be brought to your husband’s home. You see, as women, having dowry is important for your in-laws to value you.”
Wang Shi’s face genuinely showed relief, unlike the days when she was agitated and treated Liu Yu like a thorn in her side. At this moment, she sincerely planned for Liu Yu, and her smile came from the heart.
However, for the first time since her rebirth, Liu Yu felt a twinge of sympathy for Wang Shi. Did Wang Shi really understand Liu Kangsheng, her companion for over a decade?
Sansukini: Everyone wants to squeeze her for money. Tsk.
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