Because Mrs. Li had a good reputation in her industry, some families who were in dire straits and couldn’t afford to raise their children would come and sell their children to Mrs. Li, thinking that at least that way it would give those children a path to life.
Mrs. Li inspected the little girl at her door and saw that she was very young and wearing mourning clothes, and she wondered if perhaps this little girl had come to sell herself because her situation was very bad. However, when she saw that Su Tang’s clothes were made of good fabric and seemed new, she dismissed that idea since it didn’t seem like this girl was in particularly dire straits. In the end, even after thinking for a moment, she couldn’t guess Su Tang’s purpose, so she just came out and asked.
“I’ve heard that Mrs. Li is a generous and reliable person and that, in Qinghe Town, you are the best person to find for people interested in buying someone. I want to buy a personal servant.” Su Tang succinctly explained her intentions.
It was only then that Mrs. Li realized that Su Tang was here to make a purchase, so her attitude flipped, and she hurriedly invited her inside. “Miss, don’t overpraise me so much, it’s all only thanks to everyone’s support that my little shop can do so well. Come inside and sit down. I wonder what kind of slave are you looking to buy? Do you have any requirements?”
Mrs. Li graciously invited Su Tang inside to sit down and asked her what she wanted.
Su Tang went along and sat down with a smile before saying. “I don’t have strict requirements, I just want someone who can be considered trustworthy. Do you have someone suitable for my needs Mrs. Li?”
Qinghe Town was not a big place, and Mrs. Li’s business was well-known throughout the area because she frequently ran around the whole Qingyuan County. She had a good reputation as a person who never sold her slaves to the brothels, where girls would end up ruined more often than not.
Because of that reputation, the people who lived nearby all felt she was decent and were willing to sell their sons and daughters to her.
After all, the families who sold their children tended to only do so because they had no other choice. No one really wanted to push their children into the fire pit. By going to Mrs. Li’s shop, although they would have to bear hardships and become servants, they would at least have a way to live.
Meanwhile, if they were sold to a brothel, they could only make money with their body or else by learning calligraphy or those other arts. And, if they couldn’t learn well, they might not even be able to make enough money to feed themselves. It was just a road to suffering.
Therefore, Mrs. Li had a good reputation, and when she heard Su Tang’s apparent trust in her judgment, her face was wreathed with smiles. “Miss, you can rest assured that I don’t accept the ones who are dishonest, do you have any other requests?”
“Well, I happen to have some work on hand that I can’t do all by myself, so I thought I ought to find someone who can give me a hand. It would be best if it’s a woman, someone who is in good health, isn’t too young, and can straightforwardly do tasks when they’re assigned to her. It would be even better if she could cook.” Su Tang listed out her requests.
When Mrs. Li heard Su Tang’s requirements, she immediately thought of a certain slave that was very appropriate, but then she thought further and remembered the bit of trouble that surrounded that slave and frowned. Su Tang caught the subtle expression that flickered across Mrs. Li’s face, so she asked: “Is there some problem?”
“No, no, I heard your requirements and it made me think of a certain one that is almost a perfect fit, she is twenty-eight years old and she has experience working around the house and cooking, it’s just…” Mrs. Li’s voice trailed off.
Su Tang saw that she was hesitating and looked straight at her. “I sincerely want to buy a slave. If you have anything, just say it directly, don’t keep me in suspense.”
Although this Mrs. Li had a good reputation, she was doing business after all. When she saw the way she was acting, Su Tang suspected that maybe she was intentionally being dramatic because she had some other intentions.
Mrs. Li was surprised that Su Tang saw through her but she quickly recovered and said, “It’s not that I wanted to keep anything from you. This woman really meets your requirements miss, it’s just when she sold herself she stipulated she could only be sold with her daughter. That is to say, if you want to buy her, you have to buy her daughter with her. Her daughter ten years old and she can also do work.”
Mrs. Li didn’t beat around the bush and just directly told Su Tang the problem.
“I wouldn’t try to hide anything from you miss. Anyway, her name is Zhang Cuilan. At first, she was doing well after getting married but, in the end, her husband read a few books and, relying on his good looks, he hooked up with the daughter of a scholar while he was outside. When he came back he wanted to divorce her.”
“By that point, Zhang Cuilan’s own parents were gone, and there was nowhere for her to go. According to propriety, she was still in the ‘three years’ and there was no reason for divorce, but her husband was ruthless and wanted to marry his new wife, so he joined hands with his parents to drive her out and sell her and her daughter together.”
tl note: That ‘three years’ thing mentioned in the last paragraph gets explained in more detail next chapter and seems to be something specific to this author’s setting.