When she returned from delivering breakfast, the family dinner table was already set but there were only two people at the table; Wang Tong Hua and her daughter-in-law Zhang Xiao Hua, Du Bao Zhen was still angry and had locked herself in her room.
Although Wang Tonghua had made concessions in her heart, she wanted to coax her daughter, but she could not put down the figure of her elder. Du Baozhen did not come to eat, and she held her breath and did not let anyone call her.
Jiang Rui put away the bamboo basket, looked at Wang Tong Hua’s face, and, without saying much, sat down to pick up her share of breakfast.
On the table were four bowls of pumpkin porridge and a plate of pickles, two of which were topped with half an egg each.
Eggs were in short supply, and only if they didn’t have a few rabbits at home, they would have traded rabbit fur for eggs every once in a while.Though, there really wouldn’t have been any meat on the dinner table.
It’s not that they hadn’t tried raising chickens before, but chickens are different from rabbits; chickens don’t have the energy to lay eggs if they’re fed grass, and they’ll be stolen if they’re put out to pasture. The Du family has many people, yet few strong laborers and the rations they get each time are only enough to feed their own family, so how can they have any food left to feed them grain?
Therefore, not everyone had a share of the eggs; only two eggs were cooked for the six members of the Du family. The team had just finished harvesting rice, and there wasn’t much work on the farm: only two men were working at home, so they had to eat well; the daughter-in-law, Zhang Xiaohua, was pregnant with a child, so she needed to more nutrition; Du Baozhen was studying hard, so she has half an egg every day; as for Wang Tong Hua and Du Bao Qin, they could only have some dried salted vegetables.
Jiang Rui ate quickly and saw that Wang Tong Hua had finished her meal but did not get up immediately. Instead, her eyes glanced towards the door from time to time, so she knew that her anger had subsided. Only then did she say, “Mom, I’ll go get Bao Zhen to eat.”
Zhang Xiaohua agreed: “Baozhen has to study. Don’t starve yourself.”
“Can you starve to death without a meal? It’s not what you are used to.” Wang Tonghua muttered, put down the dishes, and went to the yard to feed the rabbit.
That’s a yes.
Jiang Rui and Zhang Xiaohua looked at each other and got up to smile at her, “Sister-in-law, eat more. There’s still more in the pot.”
There were not many buildings in the Du family, and the two sisters shared a small room.
When Jiang Rui pushed open the door to her room, Du Baozhen was lying on the narrow desk in front of the window. When she heard the movement, she immediately shoved something into the drawer and was relieved to see it was her when she turned around.
Jiang Rui’s face remained unchanged as she stepped forward and patted her shoulder, saying softly, “Go and eat, the pumpkin porridge is sweet today.”
Du Baozhen bristled in annoyance; the Du family had to brew a large pot of porridge every day, so naturally, they could not afford to eat white sugar. Instead, they added a penny sachet of saccharin to the porridge, which was sweeter than sugar but not nutritious and not good for the body if one ate it. The only reason for adding it was to satisfy the sweetness craving of the mouth and stomach.
”I don’t want to eat.” Du Bozhen was sullen, her voice a little muffled from her earlier crying.
There was only one table and one stool in the room, and the stool was taken, so Jiang Rui could only sit on the edge of the bed, with the two of them looking at each other at eye level. She reached out to touch Du Baozhen’s slightly red and swollen eyelids, “Are you still angry? You can’t be angry with yourself; what if you starve your body?”
Du Baozhen’s eyes were once again moist, and she choked on her throat, looking at her aggressively, “It’s mother who is so unreasonable, why should I marry that Zhao Nan after he saved me? If that were the case, I’d rather drown!”
“Not allowed to talk nonsense.” Jiang Rui covered her mouth, and her always gentle expression rarely became serious, “It’s all childish talk, you’re talking about dying and not wanting your parents? Don’t you want me?”
“Wu* …… ah jie*-” Du Baozhen instantly threw herself into her arms and let out a loud cry.
Jiang Rui patted her back until she had cried enough before she said,
“Let’s go eat first. I haven’t had a good meal these days. Are you deliberately starving yourself and losing weight to distress people?”
After a small episode of weeping, Du Baozhen’s heart ached much more. Rubbing her eyes, she retorted, “Mom won’t be heartbroken anyway.”
“How would you know that mother doesn’t care?” Jiang Rui took her hand and wiped her face with a clean handkerchief.
Du Baozhen looked up to facilitate her movements, wrinkling her nose and murmuring, “Even if she loves me, she doesn’t want to give up the Zhao family. I think that herself, she’s dying.”
“You.” Jiang Rui pointed her nose at her sister, a little smile at the corner of her mouth.”What are you talking about? If Mum hears you, you’ll be rewarded with a meal of bamboo
shoots with whips.”
Du Baozhen smiled. Holding her waist and burying her head in her lap,she whispered: “Ah Jie, I really don’t want to get married.”
“I know. Have you noticed that Mum and Dad have shown signs of softening their attitude over the last few days? Think about it, growing up, what one thing that really pushed you over the edge?”
Du Baozhen was silent for a moment, slowly shaking her head, “This time is different, Jie, mum will never give up on the Zhao family.”
Wang Tong Hua was the master of all matters in the Du family, and Du Baozhen, who had been playful and naughty since she was a child, had tested her boundaries many times. She felt her mother’s determination this time. She was panicking, which is why she made such a fuss.
Not only herself but the original owner Du Baoqin also guessed that Wang Tong Hua indeed had no intention of giving up the Zhao family. Only that the silent Du Baoqin knew their mother better and that in the end, this would mostly end up on her head, and Du Baozhen had not yet realized it.
“Don’t be afraid; I’m still here. We’ll figure it out together. What you need to do now is to eat well and eat enough to have the strength to fight. Don’t end up with Mom and Dad backing down and you falling ill. Won’t that be a lose-lose situation?” Jiang Rui advised again.
At her words, Du Baozhen looked up at her with a pitying look, “Sister, you have to help me. You can’t leave me alone.”
“Got it.” Jiang Rui led her out. “When did I leave you alone?”
Du Baozhen settled down and obediently gave her the lead, but also had the intention to be angry with others, “I saw that Zhao Nan had bad intentions when he saved me, next time I see him, I’ll let my elder brother beat him up!”
Jiang Rui glanced at her, but her tone was still soft and gentle, “If he hadn’t saved you, would you still have had the life to play tough and hit this and that here? I heard that he went back to the army the day after he saved you, and it was several days after that that Auntie Zhang came to our house, so it was probably the Zhao family elders’ intention.”
Du Baozhen beamed, which made her speechless.
There was no one else at the table, so Du Baozhen peeled her half of the egg in three or two tries and handed it to Jiang Rui’s mouth, “Sister, I”ll share half of it with you.”
Jiang Rui tilted her head and pushed her hand away, “I don’t need a boost to my brain, so what’s the point of consuming it.”
“But you still do loads of work.”
“It’s not even heavy work, it’s not exhausting, and I don’t like eggs. You should eat now; the porridge is getting cold.”
Du Baozhen was semi-disbelieving, “You seriously don’t like it?”
“I really don’t like it.”
“You’re so weird, you don’t even like eggs.” Du Baozhen muttered and finished the eggs in two bites, picking up the bowl again and devouring it. She had been hungry all morning and couldn’t care less about manners.
Jiang Rui cleared the table, “I’ll go and wash the dishes, bring them to the kitchen when you’re done.”
“Mmmmmm ……” Du Baozhen’s mouth was bulging and she nodded her head carelessly.
In the courtyard, Wang Tong Hua absentmindedly fed the rabbits, her mind full of the thoughts that had previously popped up.
The more she considered it, the more excited she became, and the more she considered it, the merrier she felt. But now that she had calmed down a little, she realized that there was a crucial question at hand: would the Zhao family agree? What if the Zhao family’s second son was as adamant as her youngest daughter?
They need to find a way to probe the Zhao family…
She watched the busy figure of Jiang Rui in the kitchen, and an idea gradually came to her.
Jiang Rui finished tidying up the kitchen and saw that it was not too sunny today, so she went back to her room and changed into an old long-sleeved shirt, ready to go up the hill to pluck some dead leaves to make a fire.
Just as she was leaving the house, Wang Tong Hua stopped her, making a fuss, “Why are you wearing this old antique? Go and change your clothes.”
“Mom, I’m going up the mountain.”
Wang Tong Hua rushed her inside, “Which day can’t you go up the mountain? A few days ago your Auntie* Zhang sent us honey. We have nothing good at home, so you should send these two rabbit cubs there.”
Jiang Rui looked at the bamboo basket, the two newborn baby dumplings inside—two more days to raise them to exchange for some eggs and salt—and she could not help but hesitate: “We are almost out of eggs ……”
“I know.” Wang Tong Hua thought of her life, and was dejected again, and was even more determined to join the Zhao family – she was destined to suffer in this life, but there was no reason why her children should continue to suffer.
“If you don’t have eggs, make some honey water for your father. I’ve heard that honey is a very good thing, more nutritious than eggs!” Originally she was going to give half of the honey to her parents, but now she had to give up, as the good stuff wouldn’t go to her parents’ mouth anyway.
Seeing that her mind was made up, Jiang Rui could not persuade her, so she had to turn back and change her clothes.
“Change into the newly made set from the year before!” Wang Tong Hua instructed from behind her.
Jiang Rui changed into a white floral shirt and aqua blue trousers, both of which were indeed lean and cool to wear, with a pair of plastic sandals under her feet. This outfit, a collection bought by her mother with ruthless gnashing of teeth, was a façade for young ladies and was only worn when they went out as guests.
As soon as she came out, Wang Tong Hua found that her eyes lit up, and she couldn’t help but praise her, “My daughter is so beautiful, not to mention our team, I think she can be mentioned in the whole Chaoyang Commune!
Jiang Rui lowered her head slightly, “You keep your voice down.”
“What are you scared of?” Wang Tong Hua walked around her, and the more she stared, the more satisfied she became. Some years ago, Du Baoqin had not grown up much and wore clothes that were flat in the front and back, but now her breasts and hips were protruding and her waist was even thinner, so when she looked, she could not take her eyes off her.
Even if she could not secure a marriage with the Zhao family this time, with her daughter’s looks and nature, she was still worried about not finding a good family.
She happily shoved the basket into Jiang Rui’s hands and pushed her out, “Go on, be sweeter when you see your Auntie Zhang and remember to walk in the shade, so you don’t get a tan.”
It was neither too early, nor too late, and there were few people on the road. Jiang Rui kept her head down and walked quickly, but at least she did not meet anyone she knew. Otherwise, she would have had to go through a lot of trouble again.
The Zhao family was situated halfway up the reservoir, and the Du family was at the foot of the opposite ridge. Jiang Rui walked past the reservoir dam and up a moderate slope before a compound with a few brick houses appeared in front of her.
The gate was closed, so she stood on her tiptoes and looked inside, “Is Aunt Zhang home?”
Zhang Liyun was picking legumes in the house when she heard the voice. She came out and saw a young girl who looked a bit familiar standing outside her yard. The sun was shining on her in dazzling white light, ” And you are?”
Jiang Rui was very busy smiling and said, “Auntie, I’m Bao Qin, Bao Zhen’s older sister. You made a trip to my house a few days ago.”
Zhang Li Yun had heard of the Du family’s two daughters, and she had occasionally met them on the village roads, but she had not been able to match them with their names for a moment. When she said that, she immediately remembered and opened the courtyard, welcoming her in with a smile, “It’s Bao Qin, come in.”
The conditions of the Zhao family were better than those of the Du family,. The hall alone was much brighter, with all the necessary furniture in the house.
Zhang Liyun was about to pour her tea, but Jiang Rui stopped her and handed over the bamboo basket, explaining her purpose: “The rabbits at home gave birth again a few days ago, so my mother asked me to give a pair to my aunt to keep for fun.”
Zhang Liyun looked at it and didn’t push back, just smiled, and said, “Your mother is just being too polite. Sit down first. Auntie has some canned food in the house that’s sweet and refreshing.”
Jiang Rui tried to stop her again and got up to say goodbye, but she was firmly pressed into a chair, “It’s a hot day. How can I ask you to make a trip for nothing? Do as you’re told.”
After saying this, Zhang Liyun went into her bedroom, and Jiang Rui had to sit and wait for her.
Zhang Liyun took out the cans from the bottom of the cabinet, but instead of walking out of the room immediately, she examined Jiang Rui in the hall through the doorway. From her face to her figure, and then from her figure to those properly tucked feet, she nodded her head as she looked.
How could Jiang Rui not feel such an obvious gaze? She just pretended that she didn’t notice and looked curiously at the family portrait on the wall.
Zhang Liyun and her husband had four children, named Zhao Dong, Zhao Nan, Zhao Xixi, and Zhao Bei, of whom Zhao Xixi was their daughter.
Jiang Rui had seen Zhao Nan covertly when she was not yet Du Baoqin, and at that moment, she recognized at once that the teenager on the left was him. He was 15 or 16 years old at the time, with a calmness that did not match his age and a pair of narrow eyebrows that were a bit sharp and compelling, so it was hard to imagine that this could be the eyes of a rural boy.
At that moment, Zhang Liyun came out of the room, and Jiang Rui withdrew her eyes and stood up.
“Sit down quickly.” Zhang Liyun opened a can of oranges and poured her a large bowl, adding, seemingly casually, “That photo is more than ten years old, taken before our second son was a soldier.”
“Thank you, Auntie.” Jiang Rui took it with both hands, took a sip carefully, and looked up with a smile, “Auntie is still as young as she was then.”
Zhang Li Yun was happy and handed her a spoon, “I love to hear that, eat more, Auntie has a lot more.”
As they ate and chatted, Zhang Liyun found out how old Du Baoqin was, how long she had studied, what she usually did at home, and so on.
When it was almost time for lunch, Zhang Liyun patted her leg, “Look at how much I talked, it’s already mealtime. Why doesn’t Baoqin stay here for dinner?”
Jiang Rui hurriedly refused, saying that she had to deliver food to her family at work. After a long time of excusing herself, Zhang Liyun slipped a bottle of canned food and a handful of fruit candies into her bamboo basket and let her go.
It was really late and Jiang Rui walked quickly down the hill. Just as she got down from the reservoir, she was greeted by a young woman with short shoulder-length hair and an army green bag. She recognized her as Zhao Xixi, who normally had little contact with her, and just smiled at her.
Zhao Xixi stopped and watched her walk away, then looked up the hill and raised her feet to a trot. When she got home, she didn’t smell the food but heard her mother humming a little tune in the kitchen.
“What are you shouting about?” Zhang Li Yun poked her head out from behind the stove, “There’s still canned food on the cupboard, eat first if you’re hungry.”
When she found the can, she saw that there was only half a bottle left and ran to her mother, asking, “Who ate the other half of the bottle? Didn’t your sister-in-law take Little Bo back to her mother’s house today?”
Zhang Li Yun glared, “What, only you guys are allowed to eat, but I can’t?”
Zhao Xixi scowled, picked up the can, and took a sip, squinting her eyes in happiness. Remembering the person she met on her way home, she asked again, “I just saw Du Baoqin at the reservoir. What is she doing there? Did she come to our house?”
Zhang Li Yun looked at her with a straight face and asked instead of answering, “Xi Xi, if Bao Qin were to be your second sister-in-law, what would you think?”
Zhao Xixi opened her mouth, “No, don’t you want to ask Du Baozhen to be my second sister-in-law?”
“That would only work if the person is willing.”
When Du Baoqin came to the house today, Zhang Liyun was indeed stunned. She went to the Du family that day because she wanted to talk about her second son and the Du family’s youngest daughter. Today, she understood the Du family’s meaning: their youngest daughter was unwilling to marry, so they asked their eldest daughter to take a trip and let her take a look. If the two families can still be married, it would be best, but if not, it would just be a gift from their daughter in return, so no one could say anything when they saw her.
When thinking of her second son Zhao Nan, Zhang Li Yun wanted to sigh: this 27 or 28-year-old is still playing with his peers as a child. The children are already running all over the place, yet he never even thought of starting a family. Every time he talks about it, he either excuses himself or is silent.
In earlier years, when he first became a soldier, he could go home for a few days throughout the year, but now that his rank was higher, it was even harder to see him. This time, it took two years to get him back, but he only stayed for one night and then rushed back to the army the next day.
Zhang Li Yun always felt that if things went on like this, she was afraid that the brat would not even return home, so she made up her mind that she had to find a daughter-in-law for her son, whether he wanted to or not, and could not delay any longer.
As for which girl, she didn’t really mind. She had chosen Du Baozhen because she thought that her son had saved her life and that the two might have different feelings in their hearts.
The good thing was that there was another one who was more to her liking: Du Baoqin. The little girl was white and clean, gentle and good-natured, not timid and cowardly, and she looked so dignified that she couldn’t find another one in the whole brigade.
If the brat didn’t want to get married, she would have to go to the army herself and beat him up!