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    Chapter 266: The Children's New Dreams

    While the crowd had yet to disperse, Chen Dashan and his group returned. Upon entering the village, they were informed by Uncle Xu that Lu Erlang and the others had already arrived. The four of them hurried to the Shen residence, where they found everyone who could spare the time gathered there.

    None of the Chens were present, but Zhou Cunzheng's wife and Shen Tie were there, along with Shen Yin, who had rushed over to catch the news. With an advantageous position, he spotted Chen Dashan and company and excitedly called out, "My brother's back!"

    "Brother's here too!"

    Lu Erlang, Xu Wenqing, Zhou Silang, and Shi Eniu were instantly thrilled.

    "Dashan, how was your harvest?"

    Chen Dashan and Zhou Silang glanced at the papers next to Shen Ning. Zhou Silang gave Chen Dashan a thumbs up with his keen eyesight!

    Chen Dashan laughed heartily, pretending to be modest. "Not much, not much."

    He then took out a stack of papers from his chest and placed them in the middle of the table. Zhou Silang also cheerfully retrieved his own stack, placing it beside Chen Dashan's pile.

    Xu Wenqing, upon seeing this, was stunned. "How many counties did you cover?"

    In just five days, they covered four counties. Could it be that Chen Dashan's team had wings? He sifted through the stack of papers, five in one pile, four in another.

    Nine?! ?! ?!

    Chen Dashan chuckled. "Four counties."

    "How is that possible?"

    Counties hadn't recovered as well as the state capitals. It couldn't be that all four were relatively wealthy ones.

    Xu Wenqing grabbed a handful of orders to inspect them closely. Preserved tofu, bean thread, preserved tofu, bean thread, and more – all correct. Flipping to the bottom, he found orders for meat floss, jerky, and honey besides the usual items.

    His eyes landed on the words "East Fortune Building" written on one of the orders, and it was like an arrow piercing his heart!

    "How could I not have thought of this?!"

    Lu Erlang also grabbed a stack of orders, but he was at a loss – he was illiterate!

    After realizing how pitiful it was to be illiterate, he hurriedly passed the orders to Zhou Siliang, who was standing nearby. "Quick, take a look! How come they have so many orders?"

    Before Thursday Lang could even glance at it, Xu Wencheng had already spoken up, "They also supply a restaurant."

    Chen Dashan, having had his fun, patted Xiao Jin, "This time it was Xiao Jin's idea. He suggested we try selling to the restaurant since they might be interested in our goods as well."

    Two relatively affluent counties where they went already had branches of Dongfu Lou. At this time, only those with some financial standing could afford to dine in a restaurant. Wouldn't all these items sell well in Dongfu Lou?

    Shen Ning's eyes lit up. "Great, Xiao Jin."

    Jin's lips curled up at the praise, but he remained modest. "I just thought that Eldest Sister-in-law used to supply goods to Manager Xu. It was mealtime, and I noticed that the people coming in and out of Dongfu Lou were well-dressed."

    "Sage-like observation!" Sang Luo felt that Jin was truly suited for business. She then examined the signed contracts that they brought, all of which were meticulous. She chuckled. "Manager Xu has taught them well."

    She turned to Wei Lingzhen and asked, "Does Manager Xu's restaurant serve dishes like tofu and noodles too?"

    Wei Lingzhen nodded. "Yes, but not in large quantities. He buys directly from the kitchen market in the East Market and hasn't approached you."

    Restaurants required fresh produce, and given the current times, their daily customer flow wouldn't be too high, so the demand wasn't substantial. Hence, they would either source from Wang's village or purchase from the East Market. Back in Qiyang County, they bought tofu from Qin Fangniang at the original price and had her deliver it. Now, with a daily business of a hundred to two hundred wen, would they still specially seek out Sang Luo for a collaboration?

    Sang Luo was no longer the same as before. Her shop was there, and she had hired someone to manage it. Would she still give him a discount?

    It was better for fans to have a longer shelf life, so they could be stored and accumulated. Since it was for his own people, Shopkeeper Xu decided not to bother with any tricks and simply bought them at the original price, just like any other vegetable.

    As for items like jerky, shredded meat, and fermented bean curd, he never imagined they could be sold in restaurants. Whenever Sangluo made them, there was never a worry about lack of demand; the only concern was insufficient pork. Hence, she never entertained the idea of expanding her business, nor did it cross her mind to sell in such establishments.

    "Well, that is indeed a possibility." Teasing Xu Wenchang, she said, "Wenchang, you could seal the deal with your father tonight."

    "What skill is this? My father can just come to talk to Anning directly. As for tomorrow's delivery to those counties, I need to visit a couple more taverns." She passed the list in her hand to Shen Ning and then asked, "Do we have enough stock? Can we load up the carriage and leave tomorrow?"

    Shen Ning merely glanced over Chen Dashan and Sanlang's orders before nodding. "Yes, we're running low on honey. We'll have to be more cautious with future orders. Priority should be given to our own shop. We can take on more orders once the spring honey comes in. For now, everything else is sufficient."

    Xu Wenqing felt relieved and, together with Chen Dashan, they handed over the collected deposits. Sang Luo called Shen Yin to pour some tea for everyone to soothe their throats. She then inquired about the situations in the neighboring counties. Everyone listened attentively and engaged in conversation for about half an hour before dispersing.

    On their first trip, the eight of them traveled to eight counties north and south of Xizhou City, finding fifteen distributors and securing orders worth two hundred and sixty taels. Though it seemed like a large sum, they had offered a forty percent profit margin to the dealers. Factoring in the costs of raw materials, labor, and other expenses, the Shen family's profit was significantly less than before. Sang Luo roughly calculated that they might still have a profit of around eighty taels left.

    While going through these accounts, Shen Jin did not hide anything from his two younger brothers. Shen Ning, who had witnessed the generous spending of the three guests from the capital last time, remained relatively calm in comparison. However, Shen Yin and Shen Tie were different; upon hearing about the eighty taels, their eyes widened in surprise. "We earned that much?"

    Shen Jin glanced at his younger siblings and said, "How is it much? Big Sister-in-law and her team have worked very hard. They cultivate the raw materials, process the items, and put in effort in areas you don't see. You two should learn more and be able to share some of the burden with Big Sister-in-law in the future. It's not appropriate to talk about the family's financial matters outside."

    Shen Yin replied, "I understand."

    Shen Tie sniffed. "I'm not stupid; I wouldn't say such things out loud."

    Sang Luo chuckled. "You're overthinking it. We're all sharp."

    All three of them had gone through hardships. As Shen Tie grew up, the once-simple-minded boy became cunning under the guidance of his two older brothers. He might seem naive at home, but he was anything but outside.

    Upon hearing this, Shen Tie glanced at Shen Jin triumphantly, as if saying, 'See, I told you so.'

    Shen Jin chuckled and looked around. "Have you seen Big Brother or An?"

    "They went to help at the governor's mansion. You haven't had a proper rest since you've been running around outside, have you? Ask Xiao Yin to heat some water for you to take a bath and ease your fatigue. We'll have dinner here tonight."

    Ever since Shen Jin had left, Shen Yin and Shen Tie had frequently dined at Sang Luo's place. The brothers were used to it by now, and Shen Jin was pleased. He didn't decline the offer. "Thank you, Eldest Sister-in-law."

    As he spoke, he remembered A Yao and Qianbao. Wanting to tease them, he noticed that his sister-in-law had quietly carried them back to their room, one by one.

    Well, they must have fallen asleep long ago in Shen Tie's arms. The water wouldn't be ready anytime soon, so he decided to assist Shen Ning in putting away his writing supplies.

    ...

    On the other side, Madam Xu returned home and privately told Wei Lingzhen, "Anning really knows how to teach. With that efficiency, she'll be remarkable in a few more years."

    The elderly lady glanced at the children chatting outside. Wenbo was of similar age, but upon this thought, she shook her head. Unless they did exceptionally well in the imperial examinations, there was no way they could match up to the Shens. The Shen family had risen too quickly.

    Madam Xu saw the prowess of Shen Ning. In the neighboring villages of Daxing Village, the children from the laborers' families who had attended classes at the Shen residence that day were now recounting their experiences to their parents and grandparents.

    Although Chen Dashan and Zhou Sanlang's shares weren't explicitly mentioned by Shen Ning, Lu Erlang and Xu Wenchang's were overheard.

    One received six hundred and eighty-eight coins, while the other got over a thousand!

    At the Zhao residence, Old Man Zhao and Old Lady Zhao gasped in astonishment, unable to close their mouths.

    "How much?"

    "One thousand one hundred and eighteen coins."

    "Did we hear that right?"

    Both Zhao siblings shook their heads simultaneously.

    The elderly couple exchanged glances, and the grandmother immediately turned to her grandchildren, warning them, "You're not allowed to talk about this outside."

    Young Lady Zhao nodded. "I understand. I'll only discuss it with Grandfather and Grandmother."

    Old Man Zhao nodded in approval. "That's right. Your father and Uncle Four work for Madam Sang, and your mother and aunts have joined the fan workshop. You siblings are even able to read and write – Madam Sang has been very generous, allowing you to study at home. Whatever you hear or see, you mustn't gossip about it outside."

    He then asked his granddaughter, "You mentioned a few days ago that both of your young teachers have become apprentices in commercial ventures?"

    The Zhao siblings nodded together.

    Old Master Zhao pondered briefly before saying, "Both of you must study hard. Being able to read and calculate is better than toiling in the fields. If you master these skills, perhaps when you grow up, you might be able to join Lady Sang's trading convoy or work in her shop as an apprentice."

    Both siblings' eyes lit up.

    "I shall certainly study with great dedication!"

    Once the two younger ones had left, Old Master Zhao pondered for a long while before asking his wife, "Do you think we could let our older children go there and learn how to read and write, do arithmetic? They can't learn as much at home, just following Six-ya and Little Bean. The teachers there explain things much better."

    A day is roughly equivalent to two hours, and when the child grows up with prospects, it's only fair that they take on more responsibilities each day.

    Auntie Zhao was also tempted but hesitated, "Is that appropriate?"

    The Shen family didn't run a school; they only accepted some poultry and local produce as tuition fees each year.

    Old Man Zhao felt a bit awkward, but recalling Sang Luo's attitude and the fact that his four strong laborers were working for the Shen family, he mustered up the courage for his grandchildren's future and suggested, "How about letting Eldest Son take two chickens tomorrow and ask Madam?"

    Auntie Zhao rubbed her hands on her apron and said, "I'll give it a try early tomorrow morning."

    The same scene unfolded in the other two households that worked for the Shen family. At this moment, Sang Luo was unaware that the small classroom in Da Xing Village was about to expand again. A group of children now harbored a new dream — to become apprentices in training for Da Xing Village.

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