After she returned from delivering breakfast to her father and brother, the dining table was already set up and there were only two people at the table, Wang Tonghua, and her daughter-in-law Zhang Xiaohua. Du Baozhen was still angry and locked herself in the room. 

Although Wang Tonghua had made concessions in her heart, as an elder, she could not bring herself to coax her daughter. Du Baozhen did not come out to eat, and so she held herself back, barring anyone from persuading her.

Jiang Rui put away the bamboo basket, looked at Wang Tonghua’s expression, and picked up her breakfast as she sat down silently. 

On the table were four bowls of pumpkin porridge, a plate of pickled vegetables, and among them, two bowls of porridge each had half an egg.

Eggs were in short supply. If it weren’t for the rabbits raised in the house, where the rabbit fur was exchanged for eggs once in a while, there wouldn’t even be any meat on the dinner table.

It’s not that they did not try to raise chickens, but chickens were different from rabbits. If they were only fed grass, the chickens wouldn’t have enough energy to lay eggs, and there was also the fear of being stolen if they were let outside. If the chickens were fed grains, the Du family had a lot of people but little labor, every time the rations were given out, it was barely enough to feed everyone, where were they going to get extra grains?

Therefore, the eggs were not for everyone. In the Du family of six, only two eggs were boiled. The team had just finished harvesting the rice grains, and there was not much work on the farm. Only two men were working in the family, so they had to eat a little better. Daughter-in-law Zhang Xiaohua was pregnant with a child and would need some supplements, as for Du Baozhen, studying used a lot of brainpower, hence she too had half an egg every day. As for Wang Tonghua and Du Baoqin, they could only make do with pickled vegetables.

Jiang Rui ate very fast, and seeing that Wang Tonghua had finished her meal, she did not get up immediately.  She kept glancing at the door from time to time, and she knew that her mother’s anger had subsided, hence at this time, she said: “Mom, I’ll go get Baozhen to eat.”

Zhang Xiaohua also agreed: “Baozhen still needs to study, she shouldn’t starve.”

“Can a person starve from missing one meal? She is like that because you all spoiled her.” Wang Tonghua grumbled as she put down her chopsticks and went to the yard to feed the rabbits.

This meant consent.

Jiang Rui shared a look with Zhang Xiaohua, she got up and said smilingly: “Sister-in-law eat more, there is more in the pot.”

Du’s family house did not have many rooms, the two sisters both shared a small room.

When Jiang Rui pushed open the door, Du Baozhen was lying on the narrow desk in front of the window. Hearing movements from the door, she immediately stuffed something into the drawer. When she turned and saw who it was, she breathed a sigh of relief.

Jiang Rui’s expression did not change as she stepped forward and patted her on the shoulder, softly saying: “Go and eat, today’s pumpkin porridge is really sweet.”

Du Baozhen pouted. Du’s family had to cook a large pot of porridge every day, and they naturally could not afford white sugar, hence they could only add those small packets of saccharin in the porridge, each worth a penny. Although it was sweeter than sugar, it had no nutritional value, and eating too much was bad for the body. The only reason for adding them was to satisfy their cravings for something sweet.

“I don’t feel like eating.” Du Baozhen said sullenly, previously she cried too much, and now her voice was a little hoarse.

The room only had a table and a stool, the stool had been taken and Jiang Rui could only sit on the edge of the bed. The two of them looked at each other. She reached out and gently touched Du Baozhen’s slightly red and swollen eyelids, “Still angry? Even if you are angry you should not mistreat yourself, what are we going to do if you starved and harmed your body?”

Du Baozhen’s eyes became watery again, her voice choked up as she turned to her sister with a look of grievance, “It was Mom that is unreasonable, why should I marry that Zhao Nan just because he saved me? If that’s the case, then I’d rather drown!”

“Don’t talk nonsense.” Jiang Rui covered her mouth, her usually soft expression became stern, “It’s all children’s words, talking about death so casually, do you not care about your parents anymore? What about me, too?” 

“Wu….Sister——” Du Baozhen threw herself into her arms and burst into tears.

 Jiang Rui lightly patted her on the back until she stopped crying, then said: “Let’s go and eat first, you haven’t been eating well these past few days, are you deliberately making others feel distressed by starving yourself?”

After crying, Du Baozhen felt a lot more relieved, she rubbed her eyes and retorted, “Anyway, Mom won’t feel bad.”

“And how would you know that?” Jiang Rui took her hand and wiped her face using a clean handkerchief.

 Du Baozhen raised her head to facilitate her actions, she wrinkled her nose and mumbled, “Even if she feels bad for me, she still can’t bear to lose the Zhao family. If you ask me, I think she hates that she can’t marry herself over.”

“You.” Jiang Rui tapped her nose, a smile appearing at the corner of her mouth, “What are you saying, be careful, if mom hears what you said, she will reward you with a meal of fried pork with bamboo shoots.” 

[T/N: it probably meant that her mom will cane her]

Du Baozhen smiled, hugged her waist, and laid her head on her sister’s lap as she whispered, “Sister, I don’t want to get married.”

“I know, didn’t you notice, these few days our parents’ attitude has softened a lot. Think about it, from young till now, is there anything that they forced you to do?”

Du Baozhen went silent for a while, then she slowly shook her head, “It’s different this time, sister, mom will never give up on the Zhao family.”

Any decisions regarding the Du family, no matter big or small, had always been made by Wang Tonghua. Du Baozhen was mischievous and naughty since young, she had tested her mother’s bottom line many times but this time, she could feel her mother’s determination. She panicked in her heart, which was why she made a lot of trouble this time. 

Not only her, but the original owner Du Baoqin had also guessed that Wang Tonghua did not planned to give up on the Zhao family. It’s just that the ever silent Du Baoqin understood their mother more, knowing that in the end, most of this matter fell upon her, but Du Baozhen had not realized it yet.

“Don’t be afraid, there is still me, let’s find a way together. All you have to do now, is have a good meal. You will only have the strength to fight when you are full. What if in the end our parents give in but you also become ill, wouldn’t that be a lose-lose then?” Jiang Rui advised.

Du Baozhen accepted her words, she raised her head and look at her pitifully, “Sister, you have to help me, you can’t ignore me.”

“I know.” Jiang Rui held her hand and led her outside, “When have I not cared about you?”

Du Baozhen felt more secure in her heart, she obediently followed, even having the mind to be angry at others, “From what I can see, that Zhao Nan has bad intentions when saving me, next time when I see him, I will let brother beat him up!” 

Jiang Rui looked at her sideways, her tone still soft and gentle, “If he didn’t save you, would you still have your life here, for you to beat up this and that? Besides, I heard the next day after saving you, he returned to the army. It was only several days later that Aunt Zhang came to our house. This matter, is mostly the intentions of the Zhao family’s elders.”

Du Baozhen pouted, she had nothing else to say.

There was no one at the dining table, Du Baozhen peeled her half of the egg and brought it up to Jiang Rui’s mouth, “Sister, I’ll share half with you.”

Jiang Rui tilted her head and pushed her hand away, “I don’t need to supplement my brain, why would I need to eat it.”

“But still, you have a lot of work to do.”

“It’s not heavy work, I won’t be tired and I don’t like to eat eggs. Eat it quickly, the porridge is turning cold.” 

Du Baozhen asked skeptically, “You don’t like to eat?”

“I really don’t like it.”

“You are so weird, not liking eggs.” Du Baozhen muttered. She finished the egg in two bites, then picked up the bowl and devoured the porridge. After making trouble all morning, she had long been hungry, and she didn’t care about maintaining a girl’s image as she ate. 

Jiang Rui cleaned up the table, “I’m going to wash the dishes. After you finish eating, bring the dishes and chopsticks to the kitchen.”

“Yes yes….” Du Baozhen said with her mouth full, carelessly nodding her head.

In the yard, Wang Tonghua fed the rabbits absent-mindedly, her head full of the thoughts that popped up before. 

She wanted to let the eldest daughter marry into the Zhao family instead of the younger daughter. The more she thought about it, the more excited she got as she felt that it was not a bad idea. But now that she calmed down a bit, she realized that there was a key issue with this idea, would the Zhao family agree? What if the Zhao family’s second son would only accept her youngest daughter, even to death?

She had to find a way to find out about the Zhao family’s intentions….

Looking at Jiang Rui’s busy figure in the kitchen, she gradually came up with an idea.

After Jiang Rui tidied up the kitchen, looking at the sun that was not very bright today, she went back to her room and changed into an old long-sleeved shirt. She was preparing to go up the mountain to pick some dead leaves and branches to make a fire.

When she just stepped out, Wang Tonghua stopped her and made a fuss, “Why are you wearing this old antique out? Quick, go and change your clothes.”

“Mom, I’m going up the mountain.”

Wang Tonghua pushed her inside, “Can’t you go up the mountain another day? For now, make a trip to the reservoir for your mother. A few days ago, your Aunt Zhang gave us some honey, we don’t have anything good in our house, you can just send them these two rabbits.”

Jiang Rui glanced at the bamboo basket, two small dumplings were born not long ago. After raising them for two more days, they would be able to exchange them for some eggs and salt. She couldn’t help but hesitate: “The eggs at home are running out…”

 “I know.” Wang Tonghua thought of the days when they had to scrimp and save, she felt depressed but she became even more determined to form a marriage relationship with the Zhao family——her life was destined to be hard and bitter, but there was no reason that her children had to continue to suffer.

“If there are no eggs, then we will just make honey water for your dad and siblings. I heard that honey is a good thing, more nutritious than eggs!” Originally she planned to give half of her honey to her maiden parents, but now she had to forget it, anyway even if good things were sent back, her parents might not appreciate it.

Seeing that she had made up her mind and Jiang Rui couldn’t persuade her otherwise, she could only return and change her clothes.

“Wear the new clothes made last year!” Wang Tonghua instructed from her back.

Jiang Rui changed into a white floral shirt and aqua blue pants, both of which were really of good quality and were cooling to wear. She also wore plastic sandals on her feet. This whole outfit was bought by her mother with gritted teeth. It was the look of a young girl and only when she needed to greet guests outside would she wear it. 

As soon as she came out, Wang Tonghua’s eyes lit up, and she couldn’t help but tutted her tongue in praise: “My daughter is the most beautiful, let alone our team, I think the entire Chaoyang commune can be counted!”

Jiang Rui lowered her head slightly, “Keep your voice down.”

“What are you afraid of?” Wang Tonghua circled her, and the more she looked, the more satisfied she became. A few years ago, Du Baoqin had not grown much, she was flat no matter what she wore but now, her chest and hips have grown, and her waist looked more slender, it was hard to take your eyes off of her.

Wang Tonghua had made up her mind, even if this time the Zhao family did not agree to the marriage, based on her daughter’s looks and temperament, was she scared that she could not find a good family?

She happily shoved the basket into Jiang Rui’s hand and pushed her out the door, “Go on, when you see Aunt Zhang, remember to have a sweeter mouth. Also, bear in mind to walk under the shade of a tree, don’t get tanned.”

[T/N: sweet mouth to sweet talk, not literally put sweets in the mouth xD]

The time now was neither early nor late, there weren’t many people on the streets. Jiang Rui kept her head down as she walked, and luckily she didn’t meet any acquaintances on her way, or they would have spent a lot of time talking.

Zhao’s family lived halfway up the mountainside of the reservoir, while the Du family lived at the foot of the opposite mountain. Although they were a part of the same team, the two families did not have many interactions. Jiang Rui walked past the reservoir dam, and after climbing a gentle slope, a courtyard appeared in front of her. There were several brick houses in the courtyard, and from her memories, she knew that this was the Zhao house.

The courtyard door was shut tightly, she tiptoed and peered in, “Is Aunt Zhang home?”

Zhang Liyun was picking beans in the house when she heard a voice. She looked up and saw a familiar young girl standing outside her courtyard. The sun was hitting her on her body, looking so bright and dazzling, “You are?”

Jiang Rui hurriedly said with a smile, “Auntie, I am Baoqin, Baozhen’s elder sister. A few days ago you made a trip to my house.”

Du’s family’s daughters, Zhang Liyun had heard about them. She occasionally met them on the road in the village, it’s just that at the moment she couldn’t match the name to the person. After hearing what she said, she immediately recalled. She opened the courtyard door, and greeted her with a smile as she invited her in, “Baoqin, quickly come in.”

Zhao’s family conditions were better than the Du family’s, the hall was much brighter and the house was fully furnished.

Zhang Liyun wanted to pour tea for her but Jiang Rui stopped her. She passed the bamboo basket over while conveying her intentions for coming: “The rabbits at home have just given birth a few days ago, my mom asked me to bring a couple for Auntie to raise and play with.” 

Zhang Liyun took a glance and she didn’t reject, she just smiled and said: “Your mother is too polite. Have a seat first, Auntie has some canned food in the house. It’s sweet and cool, and it’s comfortable to drink.”

Jiang Rui wanted to stop her again, she got up, ready to leave but was pressed firmly on the chair, “In this hot weather, how can I let you make a trip for nothing, be obedient.”

After speaking, Zhang Liyun entered her bedroom, and Jiang Rui could only sit and wait for her. 

Zhang Liyun took out a can from the bottom of her closet, but she did not walk out the door immediately. Instead, she looked at Jiang Rui in the main room through the crack of the door. From the face to the figure, then from the figure to the pair of legs that were kept appropriately, she nodded while watching.

Such an obvious gaze, how could Jiang Rui not feel it? Pretending not to know, Jiang Rui tilted her head and looked curiously at the family portrait on the wall.

Zhang Liyun, and her husband, had four children, named Zhao Dong, Zhao Nan, Zhao Qianqian, and Zhao Bei, of which Zhao Qianqin was the daughter. 

In the picture, Zhang Liyun and her husband sat, each with a child on their laps, while two teenagers stood behind them. 

When Jiang Rui was still not Du Baoqin, she had seen Zhao Nan secretly, hence at this moment, she recognized instantly that the fellow on the left was him. At that time, he looked fifteen or sixteen years old, with a calmness that did not reflect his age, and a pair of long and narrow eyebrows, looking sharp and piercing. It was hard to imagine that a teenager from the farm would have such a look in his eyes.

At this moment, Zhang Liyun came out of the room, and Jiang Rui withdrew her gaze and stood up.

“Sit down.” Zhang Liyun pried open the can of oranges, poured a large bowl for her, and said as she tried to looked casual: “That picture was taken years ago, it was taken before our second son joined the army.”

 “Thank you, Auntie.” Jiang Rui received the bowl with two hands and took a sip carefully. She then raised her head and said with a smile: “Auntie still looks as young as before.”

Zhang Liyun was delighted, she handed her a spoon, “I love hearing this, eat more, Auntie has a lot.”

The two chatted while they ate, Zhang Liyun gained a thorough understanding of how old Du Baoqin was, how long she had been studying, what she usually did at home, and so on.

Whatever she asked, Jiang Rui answered honestly. The two of them, one asked and one answered. Seeing that it was almost lunchtime, Zhang Liyun patted her thighs: “Look at me, so chatty, it’s almost time to eat, Baoqin, have a meal here at your Auntie’s place?”

Jiang Rui quickly refused, saying that she still had to deliver meals to her working family. After a few rejections, Zhang Liyun stuffed a bottle of canned food and a handful of fruit candies into her basket, only then did she let her go.

It was already quite late, Jiang Rui briskly went down the mountain, and just past the reservoir, she saw a young woman walking toward her. The woman had short shoulder-length hair, and she was carrying an army green bag. She recognized her to be Zhao Qianqian, and since the two of them did not have any contact usually, she just smiled at her.

Zhao Qianqian stopped and watched her walk away, she then looked up towards the mountain and trotted home with her feet raised. When she got home, she did not smell the aroma of food. Instead, she heard her mother humming a tune in the kitchen. Zhao Qianqian touched her belly and shouted: “Mom, I’m back, is the meal ready?”

“Why are you shouting?” Zhang Liyun stuck her head out from behind the stove, “There are canned foods in the cabinet, eat those first if you are hungry.”

Zhao Qianqian was overjoyed when she heard that there were canned foods for her, but when she took out the can, she saw that there was only half left. She ran in front of her mother and asked relentlessly, “Who ate half of the can? Didn’t my sister-in-law bring Xiaobo back to her maiden home?”

Zhang Liyun glared, “What, only you are allowed to eat, but I’m not?”

Zhao Qianqian shrank her neck, picked up the can, and took a sip. She narrowed her eyes in delight and as she thought of the person she saw on the way home, she asked again: “I saw Du Baoqin just past the reservoir, what was she doing here? Could it be that she came to visit our house?”

Zhang Liyun looked at her with a straight face, and instead of answering, she asked: “Qianqian, if Baoqin became your second sister-in-law, what would you think?”

Zhao Qianqian opened her mouth: “Isn’t, isn’t Du Baozhen going to be my second sister-in-law?”

“That also has to depend on the other person, if they agree or not.”

When Du Baoqin visited today, Zhang Liyun was stunned. That day she went to the Du family, she wanted to matchmake her son and the Du family’s youngest daughter but she understood the Du family’s intentions today. Their youngest daughter was not willing to marry, so they asked their eldest daughter to make a trip here, for her to take a look. If the two families could form a marriage relationship between them, that was for the best. If not, then it was just an excuse for her daughter to send a gift in return, others would not be able to gossip even if they saw. 

Thinking of her second son Zhao Nan, Zhang Liyun wanted to sigh. He was twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old. Those companions younger than him already had children running all over the place, but he had never thought of starting a family, and when mentioning this to him, he would either evade the topic or keep silent.

A few years ago when he just joined the army, he would still come home for a few days at the beginning of the year. Now that he had a high rank, it became even more difficult to meet him. This time, after waiting for two years, he finally came back but in the end, he only stayed for one night and rushed back to the army the next day. Even the leaders were not as busy as him!

Zhang Liyun felt that if this continued, the stinky boy would not even come home in the future, hence she made up her mind, whether her son agreed or not, she couldn’t delay any longer and had to find a daughter-in-law for him.

As for deciding on which girl, she didn’t mind. Previously when she chose Du Baozhen, it was because her son saved the other’s life and there might be some affection between them, but now she realized that she thought too much, her son did not even think about it and the other family’s daughter did not feel this way either. 

Fortunately, without Du Baozhen, there’s another Du Baoqin who was more in line with her heart. The little lady was born clean and white, gentle and well-behaved, but not to the point where she was cowardly, whereas she looked calm and poised. This temperament, there probably wasn’t a second one in the whole brigade. 

Such a good candidate, if the stinky boy still did not want to marry, then she would personally go to the army and beat him up!

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