With his face falling, Xue Qingshan felt surprised as well.
This nephew of his had always been quiet, not speaking a word even beaten by a stick. He made a show just now mainly because he took advantage of the characters of his younger brother’s son and daughter-in-law.
However, he was much older than Xue Tingxiang after all, so he naturally put on a show of apology.
He sighed, “Youcai is spoiled by his mother. As your eldest uncle, I am also responsible for not discipline my son well. My apologies.”
Xue Tingxiang dodged immediately. “Uncle, don’t say that. As a younger generation, Ting’er does not deserve it.”
“Ting’er? I did not expect you to name yourself Ting’er.” Xue Qingshan cannot help mocking. He was implying that Xue Tingxiang did not deserve his name because he was not as sensible and polite as he appeared.
Generally, the young were named by the elder instead of themselves. It did not matter if a normal peasant named himself. However, Xue Tingxiang was a scholar who should know and abide by the etiquette. If failing to do that, he studied for nothing.
Xue Tingxiang was so smart that he understood what his uncle meant, so he smiled ironically. “My father asked Grandfather and Uncle to give me a formal name when he was still alive, but Uncle rejected because you thought it was earlier for a child with a nickname to grow up. Since I am already 14 years old and cannot use a nickname forever, I name myself casually.”
Xue Qingshan’s face was a picture at these words. Xue Tingxiang was apparently implying that Xue Qingshan was reluctant to name him as his uncle and even deliberately belittled him. After all, he had gone to school and should have had a formal name.
Xue Qingshan forced a smile, explaining, “Seeing you were always unhealthy at that time, I intended to name you when you become an adult. If you don’t understand my consideration, how about Uncle naming you right now?”
He immediately made a show of melancholy with a deep sigh before Xue Tingxiang agreed. “You have been weak since you were born. Since your father wished you happiness and longevity, I decide to name you Fushou which means exactly what your father wished for. How do you find it?”
This name was given without careful consideration, failing to live up to his reputation as the only Tong Sheng in Yuqing Village.
Xue Tingxiang hesitated before refusing, “No, Uncle, thank you. I have determined my name and told my parents when visiting their graves. It would be inappropriate to change it now.”
His words explained why he visited his parents’ graves on a non-holiday. Seeing Xue Qingshan invite so many people over and considering what happened just now, He knew Xue Qingshan must harbor evil intentions.
No matter what Xue Qingshan plotted to do, he would bar the way of his uncle who tried to make mischief. All he had to do next was to wait and see.
As expected, the expression of the clan leader of the Xue family softened.
He previously thought Xue Tingxiang deliberately did that to compete with Xue Juncai for the opportunity to study at Qinghe School. However, this time he found the young man gentle and polite who was neither haughty nor humble. Despite lack of scholarly honor, the clan leader could read. Besides, he has also been the clan leader for many years, so he had a good eye for a smart person.
He was so surprised this time because Gou’er, namely Xue Tingxiang, never impressed him even if he indeed saw Gou’er before. He had the only impression that this child was an unimpressive adolescent. At present, this child seemed to have grown up unexpectedly.
In spite of unexpectedness, the clan leader did not forget why he came here.
His temporary liking for this young man this time was unable to reverse his decision. He had asked someone to test Juncai and it turned out that Juncai was much more knowledgeable than the clan leader’s two own grandsons. If asked who would be the next Tong Sheng in Yuqing Village, the clan leader would bet Xue Juncai had the strongest possibility.
It was possible that Juncai would become more than Tong Sheng. He might be Scholar.
The clan leader surely knew how to make a choice between two potential candidates for Scholar and a young man unfamiliar to him.
Nevertheless, he abandoned his earlier idea of supporting Xue Qingshan. If failing to cope with a young man, Xue Qingshan was not worth his respect.
Undoubtedly, Xue Qingshan could read the clan leader’s mind. In his eyes, this old fart was a risk averter who never brought benefits to him even if gaining all benefits from the entire Xue family.
The leaders of any other clans subsidized internal schools. On the contrary, the clan leader of Xue family worked for nothing. Every time a certain family brought some grain to the clan leader’s home, the leader would call Xue Qingshan over, asking him to admit a new student from that family to the clan school.
Being generous at the expense of others, the clan leader did not care that the others were reluctant.
Though sneering in his mind, Xue Qingshan acted respectfully on the surface, inviting the clan leader Xue, village head Zheng etc. to the room.
The clan leader and village head Zheng sat cross-legged on the bed on both left and right sides, the others sitting on the bench below the bed. Mrs. Yang and Mrs. Zhou were busy serving them tea. Even Xue Tao’er was sent to call Grandpa Xue back immediately.
The clan leader and village head Zheng had a habit of smoking tobacco, so they each took out a tobacco pouch as they sat down.
Xue Qingshan hurriedly took a pouch of tobacco from the hands of his mother Mrs. Zhao, serving it to the clan leader and village head Zheng. “The tobacco is grown by my father, and he usually cherishes it. Uncle Xue and Uncle Zheng, please have a taste.”
“The tobacco grown by your father is indeed good. It is a pity that only a small amount can be reaped annually,” The village head Zheng said smilingly after having a deep smoke.
Xue Qingshan replied, “If Uncle Zheng likes it, I will pack some up so that you can take away later. As long as you can accept it.”
Everyone knew those were civilities. The village head Zheng nodded smilingly and then got down to business. “Qingshan, why do you invite us old fellows over?”
Seeing the village head Zheng’s smiling face, Xue Qingshan could not help nicknaming him Fox in mind.
Xue Qingshan did not believe village head Zheng had nothing to do with the current bad situation, but that was why he even invited him over today. He was the head of Yuqing Village after all, and his surname was Zheng instead of Xue, so he could avoid being accused of screening Xue Qingshan.
Besides the village head Zheng, the other villagers present in the room were also invited over after Xue Qingshan’s serious consideration. Belonging to families like Zheng, Xue or others in the village, they were all popular.
“I do need you elders help make a decision, but can we wait a moment for my father? He is working in the field and will return soon,” Answered Xue Qingshan.
Grandpa Xue came back the minute Xue Qingshan spoke of him. He made a small talk before sitting down to cut to the chase.
“I feel ashamed to talk about my family’s recent affair which amused you.”
Hearing this, everyone unavoidably felt awkward except the clan leader Xue and the village head Zheng. After all, it was other’s family affair. Although it had come to light, private whisper was totally different from public discussion.
“To be frank, the root cause is poverty. In the old days of my family, it was unlikely to send one child to school while giving up another one.”
Xue Lianhe, an old man whose surname was also Xue, belonged to the same generation as Grandpa Xue. He sighed, “Lianxing, don’t say that. We know your family has difficulties.”
Grandpa Xue sighed with a forced smile, “Yes, everyone has difficulties. My family is superficially happy. However, no matter how difficult it is, we have to send children to school if expecting them to be promising in the future, but it is difficult to choose which child should be sent to school.”
He took out his tobacco pouch from his waist with a shiver, lit it, took a smoke and continued, “I care about every child in this family. It is heartbreaking to give up any child. Actually, we discussed about this affair last year, but I have not made up my mind yet because I don’t want to hurt any child. It is not easy for a peasant family like mine to subsidize a student. We have painstakingly helped Qingshan finish school. Although failing to gain a scholarly honor, he indeed has done something for our village. Everyone in the village should have been familiar with how my family treat people and behave ourselves in the past years. Let me take the private school where Qignshan teaches for an example, not to mention old stories. We never blame those students for paying remuneration to teachers late or even not paying enough, as long as they come from poor families in this village. That is just because we know it is hard for our peasants to make a living. If God does not bless us, we will face famine. Moreover, we will not afford the tax even after a year’s hard work. To be honest, I am not afraid of you joking at me. The reason that I strived to subsidize Qingshan to finish school was because I hoped to reduce tax for my family once he got a scholarly honor.”
He did not come straight to the point. Although He said casually without elaboration, everyone had mixed feelings.
Grandpa Xue was telling the truth which was so practical that made everyone had mixed emotions.
Finally, someone stood up to have a good word for Grandpa Xue, “Brother Lianxing, don’t say that. We believe you. I told my children that you were not that kind of person when the rumor started. There are no grandpas in the world who do not care about grandchildren.”
“Yes, yes. We all understand you. Every family has difficulties.”
Everyone except the village head Zheng echoed Grandpa Xue’s words. Eyes flashing, Zheng said with a smile, “Everybody in the village knows the contributions made by Qingshan who is benevolent, righteous, sincere and helpful. However, I wonder if I could say anything as an elder.”
“Uncle Zheng, you are the head of this village. You are fee to express your opinion.”
The village head Zheng nodded, “By rights, this is your family’s affair, so I am supposed to judge as an outsider. However, as Lianxing mentioned earlier, every child is worth cherishing.” He sighed suddenly, and then continued seriously, “Qingshan, you should not forget how you second brother died. Everyone here is able to understand you because we have lived for dozens of years and have had our ups and downs in our lifetime. It is just I am afraid the outsiders cannot understand you.”
These words embarrassed Xue Qingshan immediately. However, since he could arrange for this meeting, he surely had well prepared.
He replied at once, “Uncle Zheng has a point there, so I have discussed with my father and decided to give the two children a fair opportunity. They need compete for the opportunity to go to the school in town. The one who loses the competition has to stay in the village school and learn from me for two years and wait for future chance.”
Hearing his reply, all present exchanged glances, not showing strong disapproval. Especially, with the earlier foreshadowing, Xue Qingshan’s suggestion sounded so reasonable that it was unnecessary for other people to contradict.
After all, none of the families were rich. Nobody could make money without any efforts.
Everyone turned to the village head Zheng. He looked at the crowd with a smile. “Why do you all stare at me? Since Lianxing has come up with an idea, let us wait and see. This only problem is how to hold a fair competition. We old fellows are illiterate. Won’t we select Qingshan as the judge?”
He paused and then shook his head. “No, since Qingshan is Juncai’s father, he should avoid arousing suspicion. We’d better select someone else as the judge to convince all.”
Looking up at Xue Qingshan, he smiled, “Qingshan, you do not blame me for being meddlesome and garrulous, do you? Actually, I do so for your good. We should be righteous, right?”
Xue Qingshan was itching to kick out this bad man who always upset his plan. How could he not blame the village head Zheng? However, he could not say so in front of everyone, so he had to meditate for a moment, answering, “Yes, Uncle Zheng, you are right. As Xue Tingxiang’s uncle, I have to avoid arousing suspicion. How about Uncle Zheng and I each invite a judge and let the two judges raise questions on the spot to test the two children?”
Squinting at Xue Qingshan who appeared confident, The village head Zheng had a bad feeling. However, he had intervened too much, and he could not be too fussy any more, so he had to nod smilingly and praise Xue Qingshan for being upright befitting a well-educated person.
As the dispute was settled, everyone began to chat.
Now that these guests had been invited over and it would be impolite not to treat them to lunch, Grandpa Xue asked his daughters-in-law to prepare lunch.
Xue Tingxiang and Xue Juncai stood right outside the room while these elders were discussing inside earlier, so they both knew what happened.
Zhao’er’s face fell while Xue Juncai threw a glance at Xue Tingxiang complacently and walked inside to join his father in chatting with the elders. Naturally, he received plenty of praise.
Zhao’er could not help pulling Xue Tingxiang back home, asking anxiously, “What can we do now? If I had known the result, I would not have beaten Juncai. Gou’er, it’s my fault. I am so sorry to cause you trouble.”
She was so anxious that she mentioned the nickname Gou’er etc. again.
“Don’t worry. It will be fine.”
“Is it really okay?” Zhao’er walked back and forth, wondering, “But what if you lose?”
Xue Tingxiang narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you believe me? Do you think I am inferior to him?”
Zhao’er retorted at once, “Of course not. Gou’er is the smartest guy who will become a scholar or even a dignitary. I look forward to your success in the future so that you can bring me great happiness.”
Zhao’er had said these words to Xue Tingxiang countless times.
When they were young, she encouraged him in this way every time he felt depressed. She indeed believed that he would be successful in the future. Therefore, she was the only one who insisted on encouraging him with those words when nobody else recognized him. She even took actions to prove her belief.
Unfortunately, he had not brought happiness to her yet for even one day.
Although that was just his dream instead of the reality, Xue Tingxiang still felt a pang of sorrow when that dream sprang to mind.
He closed his eyes, a smile lighting up his lips. “Now that you say so, why are you worried that I will lose?”