Eighty Soldiers 010
The Du family relatives were very pleased with the Zhao family. While others in the brigade were still living in clay and stone houses, the Zhao family had already built a brick house, which was spacious and bright, and had four or five rooms, one for each of the children, with the exception of Mr. and Mrs. Zhao Daqiu, so no one had to be cramped.
The family was well-off and Zhao Nan himself was a hard worker. When he was just 15 or 16 years old, other people of his age were still idling around, but he left his home to enlist in the army several thousand miles away. Now, while all his childhood companions are digging in the ground, he has a high military rank. They say that with his allowance alone, he has no problem feeding his family. What’s more, when he gets married, he will still be eligible to have his family accompany him in the army. That alone. How many people with family members who are also soldiers have their eyes filled with joy?
After leaving the Zhao family, several women said that Wang Tong Hua was lucky to have had such a good daughter as Du Baoqin, and that she should just wait to enjoy her blessings in the future.
Wang Tong Hua was blushing as she listened to them. Before her marriage with the Zhao family, no one had ever praised her in this way. Regardless of whether they were sincere or not, she felt soothed by the words they were saying.
Back home, Wang Tong Hua mobilised the whole family and cleaned up the Du house inside and out, including the front yard and the rabbit cages, just waiting for the Zhao family to come to see them the next day.
The next day, after breakfast, she felt uneasy and began to recheck every corner of the house again.
In the kitchen, Jiang Rui boiled two pots at the same time, one slowly frying melon seeds over low heat and the other smothering brown sugar and jujube tea, in preparation for the guests to be served later.
When the melon seeds were finished, they were not served in a hurry, but spread out in the pan and slowly allowed to cool. The slightly caramelised aroma wafts through the whole kitchen.
Jiang Rui was a little puzzled, but she only thought about it for a moment and did not think deeply about it. She took off her apron and went out of the cookhouse, intending to go back to the house and change her clothes for the guests.
As soon as she stepped into the hall, she heard the sound of Du Baozhen and Wang Tonghua arguing in the room. She listened for an instant, but it turned out that Wang Tonghua felt that Du Baozhen’s desk was not clean enough and wanted to clean it again, but Du Baozhen would not let her do so.
The reason she wouldn’t let it move was known to Jiang Rui – there was a letter from Han Wenke to her in her desk drawer.
Seeing the two of them arguing more and more, Jiang Rui pushed the door in, “Mum, that table is full of Bao Zhen’s revision materials, we can’t read them, if we tidy it up for her, it might get messier and messier, which will in turn delay her studies, we might as well let her do it herself.”
” Do you think I like touching her stuff! For a girl to have a messy room, what does it look like? When the Zhao family sees it later, they’ll think our family didn’t teach our daughter well!” Wang Tong Hua’s chest rose and fell as she swore in anger.
Du Baozhen was straining her neck, anxious and weak, so she spoke out of turn, “The Zhao family, the Zhao family, every day, just the Zhao family! They’re just a little rich, they’re not the emperor, why are you so eager to serve them?”
“Bao Zhen!” Jiang Rui stopped her, “How can you speak to your mother?” She stopped Wang Tong Hua who was about to speak, “Mom, I will persuade Bao Zhen to clean up, don’t worry. The melon seeds and tea are ready, so go and see if they taste good, if not, I’ll season them before the guests arrive.”
Wang Tong Hua glared at Du Baozhen and suppressed her anger as she went to the kitchen.
Jiang Rui closed the door of the room, looked at Du Baozhen and said, “Just gather the books on the plain surface, the guests will be coming later, even if they don’t feel like it anymore, they can’t be overly rude, the superficial work always needs to be done.”
Du Bozhen stood for a while, not being stubborn, and did as she was told.
Jiang Rui changed into a clean dress, untied her hair again and re-combed it in two pairs of twists. A hand suddenly reached out from one side with a small hairpin in its palm.
She looked up, Du Baozhen was standing next to her with her mouth puckered, and saw that Jiang Rui hadn’t taken the hairpin away before she squirmed and said, “Sis, I wasn’t talking about you just now, and I didn’t mean it any other way.”
“I know.” Jiang Rui nodded and added, “Don’t be like that next time, there are better ways to solve things, so why do you have to make a scene. You were in a hurry and said something bad, it hurt at the time, but you’ll still regret it afterwards?”
Du Bozhen hung her head sullenly without speaking.
Without further comment, Jiang Rui turned to pick up the tiny hair clip and looked at it against the light, “It’s quite pretty, where did it come from?”
“I, one of my classmates gave it to me, she has relatives in town and bought it for her and she passed it on to me. Sister, it will look good on you.”
Jiang Rui smiled and said, “This is so delicate and pink, you can wear it better than I can. Sit down and I’ll comb your hair again. If you don’t want to see the guests, just go out and show your face. Mum loves to save face, so let’s make her happy and not make her lose face in front of others.”
Skilfully, she tied two twisted braids for Du Baozhen as well, with that tiny hairpin pinned to the end of the braid.
It didn’t take long for the Zhao family and their relatives to come to the house, and the Du family all came out to meet their guests, and even though they still had bumps in their hearts for a while, they were all peaceful and calm on the surface.
Zhao Nan also came, and Jiang Rui saw his eyes passing over the Du family as soon as he entered, quickly looking for her.
She smiled stealthily at him, but he immediately averted his eyes again.
Jiang Rui served tea to each guest, after which she took refuge in the kitchen with a red face amidst the banter of the crowd.
When no one is looking, she sits on the bench with her cheek in one hand and a small stick in the other, absently plucking at the ashes that are still warm in the stove.
It was suddenly darker in front of her eyes, and when she looked up, there was a man standing in the doorway of the kitchen, blocking the light.
Jiang Rui smiled, “Guess what I was just thinking about?”
Zhao Nan approached slowly and Jiang Rui patted another bench beside her, and he hesitated for a moment before sitting down.
His tall, large body hunched uncomfortably on the small bench, his whole body stiffened because the two benches were so close together that there was barely a gap between his legs and Jiang Rui’s, and the slightest carelessness would result in a seemingly unnoticed brush.
Not waiting for a reply, Jiang Rui touched her knee to his and said, slightly disgruntled, “Why are you ignoring others?”
Zhao Nan tensed up even more, hands on his knees, upper body upright, eyes forward, those who didn’t know would think he was standing in military posture, and it was a while before one heard him say, ” I couldn’t guess.”
Jiang Rui puffed out her cheeks, “I was wondering if you would come to me, and if so, how long would I have to wait before you did?”
Zhao Nan inclined his head and looked at the side of her face, “Been waiting long?”
“It wasn’t very long, but I buried two sweet potatoes in the hearth, and if you had come any later, they would have over-roasted and turned to charcoal and would not have been edible.” She poked a few times in the ashes with a wooden stick and plucked out two dark, roasted sweet potatoes, still hot enough to cool for a while.
“By the way, do you remember Baozhen?” She asked seemingly casually.
Zhao Nan nodded and saw that she wanted to reach for the sweet potatoes but didn’t dare to because they were hot, so she picked one up, twirled it around her fingertips, waited for her fingers to get used to that temperature, and then slowly peeled off the black hard shell.
The black and hard baked sweet potato had a yellowish orange sweet interior, and Jiang Rui inhaled the sweet taste before continuing, “When you saved Bao Zhen, what the two families were supposed to be talking about now was your marriage to her.”
Her tone was clear and light, as if she was saying that it was a nice day, but Zhao Nan almost squashed the sweet potato when he heard it. He looked at Jiang Rui, who looked intently at the sweet potato in his hand.
He was a bit at a loss, not knowing what she meant by that, or did she not mean anything by it? Slowly, because he was at a loss, he also began to feel remorseful, remorseful that he was not as resourceful as Zhao Bei, not as good at making people happy.
“Why did you stop peeling?” Seeing him suddenly stop moving, Jiang Rui asked in confusion.
Zhao Nan resumed the movements of his hands and after a while, suddenly said, “Mom mentioned this, and I didn’t agree.”
Jiang Rui held her chin and nodded, “I know, Aunt Zhang told my mother that she had matched you with many girls in the past, but you didn’t agree to any of them, but only agreed to meet with me, I felt a wee bit vain when I found out.”
Zhao Nan couldn’t help but go to look at her again, seeing her eyebrows arched and the corners of her mouth unconsciously curving upwards a little with her.
Jiang Rui, however, turned her words around, “Why did you just stare at Bao Zhen?”
Zhao Nan moved and was about to shake his head when Jiang Rui continued, “I saw it all, you looked at everyone at first and then singled her out, what were you looking at her for?”
Zhao Nan was silent for a moment and asked honestly, “Do you like the flowers in her hair?”
“Flowers? Oh …… you mean the hairpins.”
“Do you like it?” Zhao Nan nodded and asked again.
Jiang Rui understood what he meant and two dimples slowly smiled out of the corners of her mouth, not answering him but saying, “In the morning, Bao Zhen was going to lend me her hair clip, but I didn’t take it, it was from someone she liked, and if I was going to wear it, I would have to wear the one given to me by someone I liked.”
The atmosphere froze for a moment before Zhao Nan spoke, slightly sharply, ” Tomorrow, we will go and buy it.”
Jiang Rui covered her mouth and burst out in laughter, “Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, where are you going to buy it? I’m just kidding with you. It doesn’t have to be a hairpin, if it’s someone I like, even if he sends …… well ……” she looked around the kitchen, as if trying to find something to compare it to, and finally her eyes fell on the mostly peeled sweet potato in Zhao Nan’s hand, “Even if he sends …… well …… “Even if all he sends is a baked sweet potato, I’m still happy.”
Zhao Nan kept his head down and didn’t say anything after that, but he peeled both sweet potatoes and his ears were still red until the Zhao family said goodbye, but it was good that it wasn’t too obvious on his face for anyone to see it.
Save Face: 爱面子 (àimiànzi) : to like to look good in the eyes of others / sensitive about how one is regarded by others
Aunt 婶 (shěn) : wife of father’s younger brother