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    Chapter 268: Applying for a Few Spots

    Sang Luo had opened literacy classes and a school for the children in Daxing Village, with a registration period of two days and over a hundred spots available. She had expected that it would be great if around twenty to thirty people turned up. After all, in an agricultural era, no one, regardless of age or gender, led an easy life.

    Even though she had arranged for the workers to study at night after their shifts, how many would still have the motivation to learn something uncertain to be useful in the future when they were already exhausted?

    As Chen Dashan had said, people might not realize the importance of something until it was upon them.

    However, reality exceeded Sang Luo's expectations. Apart from those like Ganniang's wife and Zheng Daniu, who had immediately signed up as they had planned to, Daxing Village showed incredible enthusiasm.

    It was genuine enthusiasm.

    Whether they had discussed it together or not, on the first evening after deciding on the matter, several families came to the Shen residence.

    In addition to those who already knew how to read, such as Headman Zhou, Shopkeeper Xu and his wife, Lady Lin Jiuniang, or the older generation like Grandma Xu, Old Man Chen, Old Woman Chen, Old Man Lu, Old Woman Lu, and Uncle Xu, almost the entire middle-aged and younger generations participated.

    Of course, this didn't happen smoothly. There were moments of hesitation and anxiety. Some, like Qin Fangniang and Headman Zhou's wife, wondered if they could apply since they were in their forties and grandmothers already. Upon receiving Sang Luo's answer that it was more than welcome, they were filled with trepidation, worried about not being able to learn well.

    There were also cases like Chen Youtian, whose parents and wife decided that he should attend, thinking that learning even just a few characters would be better than none.

    There were also those like Gansi, inquiring whether having one formal worker and an apprentice counted as two or four spots, considering that several children had already started learning. Would her own family, along with her younger brother's, still have the chance to enroll?

    In previous years, there had been opportunities to learn in the mountains, but few had realized the necessity of literacy, or rather, survival had always taken precedence. Strangely, the female workers at the silk fan workshop, led by Sangluo, had all agreed on the importance of education, urging everyone to seize this opportunity.

    Despite their hearts thumping with uncertainty about their ability to learn at their age, they rallied each other's spirits and decided to join in.

    Their thoughts were practical. The Chen family understood that they might need to support Sangluo in the future, even if it was just managing the workshop. Being illiterate wouldn't be ideal. As for the other families, they collectively believed in Sangluo's potential to expand her business. Wouldn't she need more people as it grew? If someone didn't know how to read while others did, would Sangluo choose them over others?

    Therefore, they didn't want to leave the decision to Sangluo, nor did they wish to be the ones left behind. Whenever they met, they'd inquire, "What's your plan?" Small groups discussed and, in the end, regardless of gender, almost everyone who didn't travel for trade joined in.

    Once the visitors had left, Shen Ning counted the names that had been mentioned. "Eldest Sister-in-law, with Aunt Gan and her daughter, plus Aunty Dada and her niece, we have twenty people already."

    On the first day, twenty people!

    By the second evening, as the golden sun sank in the west, Shen Ning counted again - forty-three people!

    Sang Luo scanned the crowd. Apart from the initial twenty applicants, only three of Zhou Lazi's sons, who were over sixteen, the eldest grandchildren of Madam Zhao, and the eldest sons from two other farmhand families had shown up. The rest were mostly adolescent boys.

    Young ladies were even rarer: there was Zhao DaLang's eldest daughter, then Ganniang from ErLang's household, and Zhou Ge's younger sister, Zhou Kui - that was all.

    In the vicinity of Daxing Village, there were still few families willing to teach their girls how to read and write.

    Even if they didn't charge money or held classes at night, those who didn't comprehend its importance saw no need for it. As for those who did, they would prefer to reserve the spots for their boys.

    Sangluo fell silent.

    Staring at the three pitiful girl's names amidst a sea of boys', Shen Ning felt a stifling sensation in her chest. She puffed out a long breath, only then feeling a slight relief from the oppressive feeling.

    Sangluo patted her on the shoulder. "Take it slow."

    Before the register could be put away, Lu Po appeared at the entrance of the second courtyard. "Is Aro around?"

    Sangluo exclaimed and greeted her. "Granny Lu, why are you here at this time? Come in."

    "Did you come for something specific?"

    It wasn't that her question was odd, but rather, it was almost dark, and earlier, everyone had been registering here. For Lu Po to choose this moment for a separate visit, it couldn't just be a casual drop-by.

    "Ah," Lu Po replied, glancing at Shen Ning and seeming hesitant to speak.

    With quick wits, Shen Ning smiled and greeted Lu Po before turning to Sang Luo. "Big Sister, I'll go check on Yaoyao and Qianbao. They should be waking up soon."

    Upon receiving Sang Luo's nod, she promptly retreated into her eldest brother and sister-in-law's quarters.

    Lu Po felt a bit awkward and followed Sang Luo to a side room before speaking. "I came because there's something I wish to... "

    She was at a loss for the appropriate word to follow 'wish'.

    'Ask' didn't sound right, 'request' didn't fit either, nor did 'beg'.

    She found herself stuck, unsure how to proceed.

    Sang Luo observed her and ventured, "Let me guess, it's about Shuanzhu and his siblings, isn't it?"

    The registration in Daxing Village had been lively, with both children and adults eagerly participating in the foundational and advanced classes, except for the Xu, Wei, and Lu families.

    The Xu and Wei families had their reasons, but the Lu family was an anomaly in Daxing Village. Though they resided within the village, they seemed to exist on its outskirts.

    Lu Po struggled to express herself. With Sang Luo's prompt, she nodded awkwardly. "Yes, after what happened back then, I shouldn't be asking this, but... the children are good. They've learned some things in the village and the valley. As their nanny, I have this selfish hope that they can continue learning and not fall too far behind their friends who grew up with them. After much contemplation, I mustered the courage to come and inquire if there might be any available spots for them."

    With a plea, Sang Luo shook her head.

    "There's no need for that, Grandma. I don't bear any ill will towards Shuanzhu and his siblings. Isn't Shi tou attending the daytime class at the literacy school?"

    Lady Lu nodded. "Yes, I know. If you were to hold a grudge, Shi tou wouldn't be able to continue learning alongside An Ning and Little Jin."

    It was because of this that Lady Lu dared to make this trip. Although people were reluctant to associate with the eldest brother, they treated the children kindly. Even Little Jin and his siblings didn't hold the past against Shuanzhu and the others; they maintained their usual interactions.

    In fact, Shi tou taught his older brothers and sister what he had learned during the day. However, since his own understanding was average, there were things he could teach and others he couldn't explain even to himself.

    San Luo spared Lu Caiyi further distress and said, "I'll take care of it. If Shuanzhu and his siblings are willing to learn, they're welcome. I'll add their names to the list."

    With her writing utensils still in hand, she proceeded to jot down four more names.

    Lu Caiyi was illiterate but could tell that San Luo had agreed. Overwhelmed with gratitude, she repeatedly expressed her thanks.

    San Luo smiled and replied, "It's no big deal. Lessons will commence tomorrow evening at sunset at Xiao Jin's house. There aren't any desks yet, so have Shuanzhu and the others bring their own stools. As for textbooks, we'll start with the Thousand Character Classic. I assume they all have copies."

    "They do, they do," Lu Caiyi assured her.

    Widow Lu promptly agreed, expressing her gratitude repeatedly before cheerfully departing from the Shen residence and heading to the farthest corner of Daxing Village where the first branch of the Lu family had been allocated land and houses.

    Farmers typically had two meals a day, and this was the time when they could rest after a day's labor. Since Lu Dalang wasn't outside, he must be inside. Ever since returning from the mountains, his voice had been hoarse, making it difficult for him to speak. Perhaps it was due to resentment or some other reason, but regardless of whether it was with his parents, his younger brothers, or his own children, their interactions were always somewhat awkward.

    Widow Lu knew about the events that had transpired when the eldest son's family had moved into the depths of the mountains, and her heart had long since turned cold. After several years, when they were taken out again, she hadn't heard anything from Erzhui and the others, but just by observing how distant the children were towards their father, she assumed that Lu Dalang hadn't made any progress over the years. The harsh conditions in the mountains might have worsened his situation, leading to the estrangement between him and his children. Thus, she didn't care much about his absence at this moment, focusing instead on her grandchildren.

    The children were diligent; Erzhui was chopping wood, Tiezhu was repairing farm tools, Shitou was helping Huazi practice the characters he had learned during the day by writing them in the sand, while Doudou was sewing a shoe sole—a task she had mastered and could do without much concentration, even in poor lighting.

    Spotting Widow Lu approaching from afar, the siblings all stopped what they were doing. Huazi even took a few steps forward, asking, "Grandma, why are you here?"

    Widow Lu couldn't hide her smile. "You know that a school is being established in the village, right?"

    The siblings exchanged glances, and Huazi nodded.

    Widow Lu felt a pang of sadness. Her grandchildren hadn't actually studied much in the valley back then. Wang Chunniang had brought calamity upon herself, so the children had to both look after their mother and avoid going out due to shame, leaving their studies unfinished.

    Huazi was already a year older, taller than his grandmother. It was now challenging for Widow Lu to pat his head as she used to, so she patted his arm instead, saying, "During the day, you boys can't attend the smaller class because of your farm work. Ah Wei has been teaching you, but after a few sessions, you refused to go anymore, insisting that Shitou learn and teach at the same time. But Shitou hasn't fully grasped the lessons himself."

    Huzi, upon hearing this, replied, "Grandma, Ah Wei's studies for the provincial academy are too challenging. He doesn't have a teacher either; he just learns from following after Ah Ning. Whenever he encounters something he doesn't understand, he relies on asking Xia An and Wenbo at night. I only learn a few characters. Why should I always take up his time?"

    During the day, they were busy with land clearance, leaving no time for study. At night, after a few attempts, Huzi realized that it clashed with Ah Wei's crucial self-study hours.

    "Indeed, indeed, Grandma knows you all want what's best for Ah Wei. Let's not discuss that. What Grandma wants to say is, the new school in our village holds classes only at night. I've just spoken to your A'luo auntie and enrolled all of you, your siblings included."

    Huzi blurted out, "Aren't the spots reserved for A'luo auntie's household workers, shop, and workshop employees?"

    Upon hearing Huzi's words, Lady Lu knew that the children, despite their silence, secretly wished to attend as well.

    It seemed the matter was settled.

    With a smile in her eyes, she continued, "That's why I went to talk to your Aunt A'Lang and asked for a few spots for you. They're all from our village, and she agreed with a smile, already registering your names. The class will start tomorrow evening at sunset in Xiao Jin's house. There aren't any desks yet, so you four siblings bring two benches each.

    "By the way, we'll start with the Thousand-Character Classic. Bring your bamboo scrolls with you.

    "Alright then, Xia Ah is learning to walk and can't be left alone, so I must return. Remember to go on time tomorrow." Xia Ah was Lu Erliang's daughter, named after the clouds and sunset since she was born in the evening.

    Lu Pozi swept in like a gust of wind and left just as quickly. The siblings were still in a daze when she was out of sight. Iron Pillar turned to Shuanzhu and asked, "Brother, did Grandma really tell Aunt A'Lang that she's registering us?"

    Isn't it just reserving a spot without specifying who will use it?

    "The name was mentioned. Didn't you hear it being recorded?"

    "I did hear it." However, he didn't quite dare to believe it. Even though Stone had been studying at the Shen residence, his brothers didn't really dare to approach that place; they felt unworthy.

    Shuanzhu looked in the direction of the Shen family's house, then suddenly turned around to fetch two empty baskets on a pole. He called out to Tiezhu, "Come, help me carry firewood."

    Tiezhu was taken aback. Before he could react, Huizi already understood his elder brother's intention and eagerly went over to assist, turning his head while carrying firewood to say to the stunned Tiezhu, "Second Brother, what are you standing there for? We're not helping at Sister A'luo's place, so we can't just listen to the lessons for free."

    Tiezhu finally grasped the situation and hurried over to lend a hand. In no time, the two brothers carried two full baskets of chopped firewood towards the Shen residence.

    Huizi stood there with a broad grin, but as he laughed, his nose started to tingle. Dadao had somehow appeared by Huizi's side and whispered, "Grandma said my name too, right?"

    Huizi chuckled. "Yes. Sister, go study too. Learn more from Sister An. It doesn't matter if it's reading or anything else."

    Stone glanced in the direction of the house and also whispered, "That's right. Sister An is very talented."

    Study with Shen Ning?

    With the half-finished shoe sole in her hand, Lu Daniu couldn't help but glance towards the direction of the Shen family's residence.

    In her mind's eye, she saw Shen Ning teaching a group of children in the Shen family's pavilion from afar, and recalled the times last year when, while listening to the Shen family's helper report the weights of their goods, she would elegantly jot down neat characters in her ledger, swiftly calculating the price and skillfully withdrawing the appropriate amount of copper coins from the money box by her side, handing them to her brother with a smile, urging him to count them.

    Lu Daniu had always been a gentle and compliant person. At the thought of how far this goal was from her reach, her heart tightened, and tension crept up her back.

    Could she learn from Shen Ning?

    Huzi watched her. Unconsciously, she reached up to touch the skin on the side of her neck hidden beneath her black hair, and then, surprisingly, she nodded. "Okay."


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