In the Liu family, afternoons were always quiet. The men had not returned, and Wang Shi had to tend to the fields and take care of the chickens and ducks. The eldest daughter-in-law, Wu Shi, had taken the opportunity to relax somewhere, pretending to be busy with his son. The third daughter-in-law, Wen Shi, was pregnant and usually took a nap at noon. The second daughter-in-law, Lin Shi, never allowed herself to be taken advantage of. She claimed she was going to weave cloth, but when she saw the other two wives not working, she naturally took a nap as well.
Liu Yan had been tasked by Liu Kangsheng with taking over Liu Yu’s household chores today, but she had only worked for half an hour in the morning before disappearing somewhere.
In their shared room, only Liu Yu remained. This suited her intentions perfectly. She closed the door, took out various items she had bought from the embroidery shop, and began working on them.
Drawing patterns, splitting threads, embroidering, and cutting fabric. By the time the sun was setting, she had just finished making a pale white sachet. Liu Yu’s fingertips brushed over the sachet. The design was not overly complicated, but the craftsmanship was exquisite, and the koi fish hidden beneath the lotus leaf was vividly portrayed.
After carefully storing her work, she picked up the cheapest piece of fabric and started practicing some simple stitching, preparing it for Wang Shi’s inspection. Then she stretched and began her daily exercises, maintaining her flexibility and health.
Her dancing skills were not just to please men; they also contributed to keeping her body supple and healthy.
Liu Kangsheng and his sons arrived home when it was almost dark. The atmosphere in the Liu family at this time was completely different from daytime. Everyone knew that Liu Kangsheng was the master of the house, and they all tried to impress him.
The three daughters-in-law looked nothing like the idle people they appeared to be during the day. They were all dutiful and competent, trying to make Liu Kangsheng smile. They showed respect to Wang Shi as well. At first glance, it seemed like a harmonious and joyful family, and one couldn’t tell that earlier in the day, they had fought over a few steamed buns.
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Wu Shi, the eldest daughter-in-law, was adept at reading facial expressions. She understood her father-in-law’s meaning from his demeanor. Moreover, she didn’t want Liu Yu to go to town to learn embroidery. So, she smiled and said, “Little sister, learning embroidery is not something you can pick up just by sneaking a peek at the embroiderers in the workshop. I think you should stop thinking about it and focus on making nets at home.”
Liu Dalang1eldest son, Wu SHi’s husband chimed in, “Your eldest sister-in-law is right. The best quality in a girl is being stable and reliable. Little sister, you shouldn’t be so impulsive.”
Liu Yu smiled and took out the “beginner’s work” she had embroidered in the afternoon from her sleeve. She handed it to Wang Shi and said, “Big sister-in-law is right. You can’t learn it by just observing for a few moments. But I’m not clumsy when it comes to women’s work. If I can have about twenty days, I should be able to manage. This is what I saw in the embroidery shop this morning and then tried to embroider on my own. Mother and my sisters-in-law, take a look.”
Wang Shi took the piece of fabric handed to her by Liu Yu. She saw the flowers and plants embroidered on it. Although the stitching was still rough, it looked quite decent.
Wang Shi was delighted, and a sense of pride appeared on her face. “To be able to embroider something like this after just one look, Yu’er does indeed have a talent for women’s work. I remember when she saw the village girls making hair accessories, she came back and could replicate their work. Later, she even came up with many different patterns, which turned into a profitable business. I knew it back then.”
After all, Liu Yu was her own flesh and blood. Although her identity was awkward at ordinary times, when it came to praising her daughter’s abilities, Wang Shi couldn’t help but want to boast about her. She wanted the men, stepson, and three daughters-in-law to hear that the daughter she had brought with her was not just an idle mouth to feed. She could also earn money and was not much worse than the men in the family.
Wu Shi, on the other hand, wasn’t entirely convinced. She found it hard to believe that Liu Yu could figure out the pattern after just one morning. She stretched her neck to get a better look at what Wang Shi was holding, and even Lin Shi and Wen Shi glanced over.
Wang Shi still remembered that Li Shi had taken two steamed buns in the afternoon2she gave them to her 2 daughters. Could she find Lin Shi pleasing to the eye after this? She smiled faintly and handed the embroidered fabric to Wu Shi.
Yes, even though Wu Shi had taken the most steamed buns, in Wang Shi’s eyes, it was for the sake of the eldest son and the future heir. That was justified, and she didn’t think Wu Shi had done anything wrong. She only resented Lin SHi for causing her to lose face.
As for Lin Shi, she had been momentarily enthusiastic about embroidery but quickly realized her mistake. She knew her mother-in-law never liked her, so she shrugged it off. One was a burden, and the other was a stepmother-in-law. They really thought too highly of themselves.
Wen Shi was more tactful than Lin Shi. With a casual “Oh,” she moved closer to take a look at what Wu Shi was holding in her hand – the coarse fabric with neatly embroidered flowers and plants. Her eyes lit up, and she asked, “Big sister-in-law, let me see it too.”
While verbally seeking Wu Shi’s opinion, her hand had already reached out, taking the fabric from Wu Shi and holding it up to the light for a closer look.
What could Wu Shi do? She had to comply. However, she felt a gnawing sense of resentment. She didn’t expect Liu Yu, the girl who had only gone out for a morning, to actually impress her. Wu Shi was skilled in the art of scheming. Although she was displeased, that hint of displeasure was concealed beneath her smile.
In contrast, Wen Shi, after seeing Liu Yu’s first attempt at embroidery, genuinely appreciated her. She not only returned the item to Liu Yu but also praised her warmly.
“I knew before I married into this family that my big sister-in-law was talented with her hands. Today, I’ve witnessed her true versatility and refined skills. To create something like this after just one look indicates that big sister has not spoken in vain. I believe that in less than a month, she will be able to master it. Today, I’ve thickened my face for once, and if big sister manages to learn, I hope she can teach me as well. In the future, I can show my gratitude to our parents by making them some nicely tailored clothes.”
Liu Yu took in the expressions of everyone without revealing a trace of her thoughts. She glanced discreetly at Wu Shi, then smiled and replied to Wen, “If third sister-in-law likes it, then it’s settled.”
Wu Shi smiled with a hint of sarcasm, while Lin Shi raised her eyebrows and glanced at Wen Shi. She smiled ambiguously and said, “Third sister knows how to flatter.”
In that ambiguous tone, it was hard to tell whether she was mocking or praising.
Liu Kangsheng, who was in the main seat, was not pleased with this idle chatter. He tapped the bench foot with his pipe and interrupted, “Alright, now that we’ve finished eating, let’s clear the table. Don’t just stay here.”
This silenced the three sisters-in-law. Wang Shi was the first to get up, and the women started collecting dishes and putting food away. Even Liu Yan didn’t dare to idle around.
Wu Shi, being the most resourceful, took two plates of leftovers to the kitchen and placed them in the cupboard. She then turned and fetched a tea tray and tea cups to prepare tea for the four men in the family. She might be careless with Wang Shi, but she was always attentive and respectful to her father-in-law and the other male members of the family.
Liu Yu no longer had to do the dishwashing and cleaning chores. After helping with a bit of tidying up and washing up with warm water at the kitchen sink, she returned to her room. Passing through the main hall, she noticed Liu Kangsheng smoking his pipe. When he saw her approaching, he cast a sidelong glance and said, “Learning embroidery is fine, but don’t neglect making hair accessories.”
Liu Yu inwardly chuckled. It seemed that he wanted to use her as a servant and wouldn’t spare any physical labor value. She kept these thoughts hidden and nodded, agreeing as she used to.
As for whether she would actually do it and to what extent, he couldn’t monitor her every day.
Unaware of Liu Yu’s hidden intentions, Liu Kangsheng didn’t say anything further.
For Liu Yu, the matter of going to town for the next month had been resolved tonight, and her objective had been achieved. She didn’t want to linger in the main hall any longer, so she headed straight back to her room.
By now, it was completely dark outside. The main hall in the Liu family was illuminated by an oil lamp, but Liu Yu’s room didn’t receive such treatment. She relied on the faint light leaking in from the main hall. She didn’t mind; in fact, she didn’t even want that small amount of light. She reached back and closed the door.
After a day of mental tension, all she wanted now was to be left in peace. In the darkness, when no one could see her, she could sort through the tumultuous events of the day.
But she wanted to live in peace, and someone didn’t want to let her do that.
Just as she had closed the door, it was forcefully pushed open with a loud “bang.”
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