Chapter 185: Pre-Escape Meeting
“You’ve got me wrong. I just want to know when you will leave. Perhaps we can go together so that we can look after each other.”
Quick-wittedly, Liu Qianqian said, “I remember you also have a big family. Your uncles are robust office attendants and your aunts are healthy peasants. You will be safer with them. As you know, we are not as strong as your relatives, so we can only set off early to avoid accidents.”
Ye Xiaoxian gave her a wry smile. “I have only Mrs. Li and Baofeng now. My other relatives have refused to go with us, no matter how much we’ve persuaded them.”
“What? They don’t want to go? It’s too dangerous here! My dad said that money and houses are the least of our concerns at this critical moment. Staying alive is the top priority. We plan to go to our distant relatives for shelter.”
Ye Xiaoxian said, “It’s so good to have distant relatives. I believe you will be safe there. So where are they?”
“Beihui. It’s somewhere to the north of the Changjiang River, near the capital,” said Liu Qianqian.
Ye Xiaoxian did not know where to go. Their safety could be better guaranteed if they went north to the capital. The west could also provide them with good shelter, but they might starve to death there.
Noticing her friend’s worry, Liu Qianqian clapped her chest and said, “You can join us if there are only three of you. The Liu family and the Jia family have a dozen people. We can form a small group together.”
Ye Xiaoxian smiled and asked, “Do your words count? Don’t you need to ask your father’s opinion?”
“Of course not. You’re my friend and you helped me find my soulmate. My father likes you very much. Don’t worry. Let’s go tomorrow morning. Oh yes, do you have any carriages or carts? Have you prepared enough food? The stores elsewhere may have also closed.”
Ye Xiaoxian replied, “I’ve bought two carriages, and both of them are laden with food.”
“Excellent!” Liu Qianqian placed a hand on her shoulder and said, “You’re so efficient! It’s settled then. Let’s meet tomorrow morning.”
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Ye Xiaoxian felt somewhat relieved knowing that they could go with the Liu family.
Having gone back home, Baofeng said that his school would close the following day. His teachers encouraged the students to escape because the county would be bathed in blood once it was captured. Besides, the imperial court didn’t pay much attention to Hongyan, whose disturbances had never made notable waves. However, the refugees from Hexin county showed the severity of the war this time. His teachers also speculated that Hongyan must have colluded with a Daqi traitor or have allied themselves with Beiqing. Otherwise, this insignificant country would not have been so reckless.
Hearing this, Ye Xiaoxian and Li Hongmei became more resolute to leave. They then began packing up their luggage. They didn’t take many clothes because they wouldn’t have time to bathe on the journey. Underwear was necessary though, and as for jewels, only a few small pieces were selected. Some of the jewels were gifts from Xiao Baoshan, but they were neither light nor valuable, so Ye Xiaoxian left them in the lockers.
Xiao Baofeng wanted to take some books, but Ye Xiaoxian stopped him because they were too heavy. She didn’t want the horses to die halfway of exhaustion due to carrying so much for so long. In the end, they put in a carriage a pot, bowls, chopsticks, money, rice, bacon, and noodles. Anything beyond these things would be left home as, after all, this was an escape and not a tour.
It was dark when they had everything ready. Li Hongmei had heated some water for them to have a good bath because they would not have the chance for a long time.
Baofeng suggested they could bathe in rivers, but was immediately refuted by Ye Xiaoxian.
She said with a smile, “It’ll get cooler as we go north. The water is also cold, so we’d better not bathe. If we get sick, the journey will be much tougher for us.”
After she had said that, they felt a wave of sadness and fell into silence.
As they were going to their respective rooms, there was a heavy banging at the door. “Sister Li!” “Hongmei!” “Little Ye!” There was a hubbub of voices.
Their relatives had come. Li Hongmei opened the door only to see all her relatives, including Old Man Xiao. Xiao Tieshu and Xiao Tongshu were pulling two carts laden with food and the others were all carrying heavy bags.
“Ah! You…” Li Hongmei was surprised. “You’ve decided to come with us?”
Xiao Tieshu replied, “Yes. We must leave here. Our damned county magistrate claimed that he had some official business to handle elsewhere and left with his whole family as well as a lot of luggage. Obviously, he was escaping! If I hadn’t guarded the gate, we would have been truly cheated and be waiting to die here!”
Xiao Tongshu added, “We planned to leave tonight, but the gate is closed. So we may as well go with you tomorrow. Oh yes, I remember you have two carriages! We only have two carts, but there are so many children and an old man. Could you let them sit in your carriages?”
Li Hongmei hesitated.
You said you wouldn’t go with us this afternoon, so come on! We didn’t count you in! We’ve planned to sit in one carriage and carry food with the other. Besides, we’ll be safe with the Liu family. The only trouble is that we don’t know much about riding, but we can hire someone for that.
But now there were so many people that it meant some of them had to walk.
However, Ye Xiaoxian smiled generously and said, “The carriages can be shared, but we have to sit in them in turn. After all, the carriages have to carry a lot of baggage, so only a few of us can sit at a time.”
Old Man Xiao objected. “I’m too old to walk. I must sit the entire way, otherwise I won’t go with you. Just let me die here!”
“Grandpa, you’re the eldest; of course you can sit all the way. What I mean is that we young people should take turns to sit,” she explained.
Anyway, the eldest had the greatest power in an ancient family. No matter how pesky Old Man Xiao was, his age would not allow him to trek such a long way.
Urgently made, the carriages were smaller than any luxurious ones. Occupied with luggage, each of them could only allow one or two people inside. Wong Mudan and Chen Ju could go on foot, but Chen Ju’s two children were too little. Baoxue was six years old and Baoyang was eight. They would have to sit down frequently.
Ye Xiaoxian turned to Xiao Tieshu and Xiao Tongshu and said, “Uncles, let me see how much luggage you have and how much is really necessary. We’d better give up everything except for food, clothes and blankets.”
Xiao Tieshu said, “You’re right. I’ve taken all the food from home. Mudan even wanted to take coats, but I criticized her and told her that we were preparing for an escape, not a winter holiday.”
Wong Mudan felt wronged. “I heard that it will be colder as we walk north. When it snows with the northerly gales, how will we get through it without coats?”
“We might die halfway before we see snow. Who will care whether it’s cold or not by then,” Xiao Tieshu said.
Wong Mudan wanted to cry, but she fought back the tears. Chen Ju shared the same feeling. She had made a jar of pickles before the Spring Festival, but Xiao Tongshu made her leave them at home and said they wouldn’t eat them. “Why? Why can’t we eat pickles on the journey?” She was confused.
Xiao Tongshu rebuked, “Eat pickles? Do you also want to have three bowls of porridge at a time? We must pinch and scrape on the journey. A bowl of porridge is enough for a meal.”
In the end, what they brought were two bags of potatoes, rice and bacon and a jar of soybeans.
Ye Xiaoxian didn’t bother responding to the two moody women. She asked her uncles to classify the items before cramming them into a carriage. If there wasn’t enough room, they still needed to pull the carts.
After the preparation was done, Ye Xiaoxian summoned everyone over for a short meeting. She had always kept a low profile, but they found she was the calmest and wisest in urgent situations. Except for Old Man Xiao, they all sat down around her.
She cleared her throat and said steadily, “My mom, Baofeng and I planned to follow Squire Liu in leaving here. With enough food and good protection, we believed our journey wouldn’t be too hard. After all, we could sit in one carriage and carry our luggage in the other.”
Hearing that, most of them lowered their heads in guilt. If they hadn’t thought of her carriages which could carry Old Man Xiao, they might have left the county with their two carts. Their sudden arrival would definitely become a burden for Ye Xiaoxian and Li Hongmei. But then they thought Li Hongmei, as a member of this family, also had a responsibility to take care of Old Man Xiao.
Ye Xiaoxian knew exactly what they were thinking about. She just wanted to tell them she had a greater say because she owned both the carriages and the Liu family’s company. But she would offer help because they were a family. Although they had conflicts normally, they would give the greatest help in such critical moments.
She continued, “Now that we’re a family, we must be united as one on this journey. We must share our carriages and food, and we’ll have to stick together through thick and thin. If you can do this, you can join us. If you consider only your own interests then there’s no need for us to stay together, right?”