“I don’t want it! I don’t want it! Just don’t!”
As soon as Jiang Rui stepped into the courtyard, she heard a cry from inside the house.
She removed the basket* from her shoulders. The first half of the basket had dandelions and plantains wet with dew; she had dug them up early in the morning. She put the weeds in the empty yard, grabbed a few of them, spread them out one by one, and waited for the sun to dry the exposed water on the leaves of the grass, then fed them to the rabbits.
The quarrel continued. Jiang Rui got up to swat the grass on her clothes, removing two pale Siberian cockleburs* from her trousers. Then, she poured a large amount of water from the courtyard tank and washed her hands before entering the kitchen.
The fire in the fireplace was about to go out, and there was still some red charcoal left. She lifted the lid of the pot and saw that the rice in the pot had been boiled, and the golden pumpkin was soft and integrated with the rice porridge, so she went to the stove and skillfully fiddled with plant ash to cover the charcoal.
Through the thin material of the wall, she could hear that the crying continued in the hall next door, but the voice was much lower than before. She doesn’t know if she was tired of crying or one side made a concession.
After figuring out the right timing and waiting for a while, she said, “Mother, breakfast is ready. Is it time to eat?”
“Take it to your father and Ah* Qiang in the field first. They are digging a ditch in the creek by the stream today.”
Wang Tonghua replied from next door, her voice getting closer and closer, and before she finished, she had already arrived at the kitchen door, looking a little moody.
“Oh, good.” Jiang Rui took several bowls from the cabinet and filled two of them with three scoops of Pumpkin Porridge.
The porridge in the pot was reduced by half, revealing two eggs underneath. She fished up the eggs and dipped them in cold water with a ladle. When the eggs cooled, she picked up one of them, cut it in half, and put it in a large bowl of porridge.
Seeing that she moved calmly and unhurriedly*, Wang Tonghua’s frowning brow loosened slightly and she sighed helplessly, “Why Baozhen is not sensible…… “
“She is still young.” Jiang Rui looked up and smiled at her, packing the breakfast into a bamboo basket.
“She is seventeen years old. How can she be young? It’s all your father’s spoiling. She says she wants to study, but after so many years of reading, her mind has gone wild! Just now she yelled at me about taking the college entrance examination and going to the city to improve herself. Is the university exam so easy to take? Is it so easy to go to the city? If it’s so easy, why doesn’t our brigade have a phoenix flying out of the henhouse? People still have to be down to earth.” Wang Tonghua was garrulous.
Jiang Rui listened quietly while she lined up the other four small bowls on the stove, filled them with porridge, and left them to cool. The remaining egg was cut and placed in two porridge bowls.
Wang Tonghua didn’t need a response. “She’s not satisfied with Zhao Jia* and just wants to run away. I think that girl is confused by reading. What’s so good about the city? It’s worth it that her parents and family don’t want it! “
Seeing that her anger was about to rise again, Jiang Rui said softly while cutting pickles, “The teachers in the school all say that Baozhen has excellent grades and will be able to honor her mother in the future.”
In a sentence, Wang Tonghua’s anger was mostly extinguished.
In her lifetime, she was not doted on at home and had no great ability to marry a husband. She had the best appearance out of the older sisters, but she was the most disconsolate, and the only thing that made her stand up was that she had a filial son and two daughters.
Not to mention the eldest son, the entire Xishan Production Team knew that the two daughters of the Du family were also hard-working, soft-tempered, and good at housework. They were lively extroverts, still studying at the local commune, and their grades could hold a boy down. What is more worth mentioning is that both sisters were growing well, just like two flowers blooming on the same branch. If the young people on the team don’t talk about it, which one doesn’t have the Du sisters in mind?
Thinking of the report card that the youngest daughter got back, Wang Tonghua’s heart shook. Although she said angrily that there was nothing good in the city, in the end, good or bad, each person could only determine for oneself.
Of course, Zhao Jia was a good family that couldn’t be overlooked, and many girls had their eyes on the sons of the Zhao family. One day, when the Zhao family came to the door, Wang Tonghua’s eyebrows flew up.
But the temptation of the big city was also not small; if her little daughter could become the first college student of Xishan brigade, what a sight it will be!
It was fair to say that both had a comparable appeal to Wang Tong Hua.
“Girl, do you think those teachers in the commune can be trusted? Can Nui’er* get into university?”
Piling the chopped pickles onto a plate, Jiang Rui wiped the knife clean, “The teachers have been teaching for decades, so they must have an idea of the level of their students. If they say Bao Zhen can pass the exam, it’s 80% assured.”
When Wang Tonghua heard this, her thoughts strayed from the intended line…
In truth, she still wanted her little daughter to stay and get married, but Du Baozhen was unwilling, crying, and making a lot of trouble. This daughter has always had a strong temperament, and Wang Tonghua and her husband did not dare to take action, afraid that she would become depressed.
But when she was asked to give her up to the Zhao family, Wang Tonghua felt as if someone had cut her flesh with a knife.
She was both pleased and distressed—pleased with her youngest daughter’s excellence
and regretful that she could not have both fish and bear’s paw*; she wished to divide the little girl into two people.
As she thought this, she suddenly noticed her eldest daughter, who was keeping her head down and busy, and her heart fluttered.
She didn’t have two young daughters, but she still had an older one! If Bao Zhen insisted on going to university, why not let Bao Qin marry into the Zhao family?
It’s not as if no one had come to the door in the last two years to request marriage for the eldest daughter, but Wang Tonghua was afraid of enduring hard times herself. She just wanted to choose a better one for her daughter. She had never accepted all this time, but Zhao Jia was no ordinary family nowadays.
The Zhao family is one of the very best* families in the team; Zhao David and his sons are all skilled in their craft, and the eldest son with his idle beekeeping. Who doesn’t drool at the mention of sweet honey? The youngest son is an apprentice in the only state-run restaurant in the county; that is a good job that many people have been after. Because of this, the Zhao family has more profit on the table than the other families. What’s more, the second son, who is next in line to talk about marriage, has been a soldier in the army for more than a decade. According to others, he is already a young government official!
The more Wang Tong Hua thought this was plausible, the more certain her mind became, and the crease between her eyebrows loosened. She looked up at her sensible eldest daughter with a bit of relief in her eyes.
Even if the Zhao family came to the house because of their youngest daughter, her eldest daughter wasn’t bad; she was obedient and wouldn’t make a scene like Bao Zhen.
Jiang Rui – or Du Baoqin as she should be called at the moment – was well aware of Wang Tong Hua’s change of heart.
About half a month ago, the Du family’s youngest daughter, Du Baozhen, accidentally fell into a reservoir, and she happened to be rescued by Zhao Nan, who was returning to his hometown to visit his family. The Du family came to the house that day to say thank you, and a few days later, the Zhao family made another trip to the Du family, implicating that they wanted to bring together the two youngsters.
But Du Baozhen didn’t want to. That night, a quarrel broke out at home, which continued to this day.
The original owner, Du Baoqin, knew at that time that her parents would not be able to persuade her younger sister, and if the family could not give up the Zhao family, in the end, this matter would most likely fall on her.
In those days, her mind was so preoccupied that even when she went to the river to wash her clothes, her brow was furrowed. When she wasn’t paying attention, she fell into the water and got her feet tangled in the grass at the bottom of the river.
Du Baozhen fell into the water and was luckily rescued. Du Baoqin fell into the water, but she lost her life.
Jiang Rui found Du Baoqin’s spirit and asked if she was willing to give her the right to use her body in exchange for satisfying each other’s wishes.
Du Baoqin did not think long before agreeing. Her wish was also simple: she wanted Jiang Rui to exist as Du Baozhen, take care of her family for her, and not let her parents know about her misfortune. If her family wanted her to marry Zhao Nan instead of Du Baozhen, she also hoped that Jiang Rui would agree.
Jiang Rui did not refuse. No one knew that Zhao Nan, seemingly better and more brilliant than the norm, had an incomplete soul, or even just a partial fragment. Her purpose in coming here was to warm his soul and take him back to where he should be afterward.
To achieve her goal, she had recently contacted many dead people, men, and women, old and young, trying to trade with them to obtain a body and an identity, but without success. Most of them were either demanding an exorbitant price, insensitive and unable to communicate, or insane and in denial that they were dead. Du Baoqin was one of the rare ones to come by.