Bao Gu wiped away her tears with the back of her hand, comforting herself in her heart that even if the County Magistrate didn’t give her any mantou, she at least managed to take a bite of one. It was much better than those starving people who didn’t even get a crumb of mantou. She wiped away her tears and went to help Aunt Zhou up, comforting her, “Aunt Zhou, stop crying. We’ll have porridge soon.”
Aunt Zhou sat on the ground, leaning against a stone lion, pounding the ground and wailing, “How can porridge compare to White Flour mantou! These damn people… White Flour mantou…”
Bao Gu couldn’t persuade Aunt Zhou and noticed that despite her earth-shattering cries, not a single tear fell from her eyes. She let Aunt Zhou cry and waited patiently for the County Magistrate’s wife to distribute the porridge.
After about half an hour, the gates of the County Magistrate’s residence opened again, and two squads of guards walked out from inside. Bao Gu and the hungry people in the crowd stretched their necks to see the guards coming out of the County Magistrate’s residence. Instead of leaving, the guards spread out at the entrance to maintain order. Following behind the guards were several servants carrying long tables and others carrying large pots and barrels.
The steward came out and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Porridge is being served, line up!”
The crowd erupted in excitement and rushed forward.
Just as Bao Gu was about to shout, “Aunt Zhou, porridge is being served,” and prepare to join the hungry people in pushing forward, she realized that Aunt Zhou, who had been crying non-stop, suddenly stopped after the steward’s shout. With incredible speed, she grabbed Bao Gu’s wrist tightly and pushed forward with an unstoppable force. Aunt Zhou’s grip on her wrist was so tight that it hurt. Aunt Zhou pulled her forcefully through the crowd, with people behind her pushing against her. The pushing and pulling made it impossible for her to stand, and she felt like she was being crushed, her bones about to break apart.
In that moment, Bao Gu felt that she wasn’t going to starve to death in this rare drought, but rather be crushed to death! How could she face her deceased father with such a death? When she was being squeezed so tightly that she felt dizzy and couldn’t breathe, she heard a guard shout, “Line up, everyone line up! Move back!” Aunt Zhou stopped pulling her hand, and she struggled to push away the hungry people who were pushing against her with her buttocks. Successfully squeezing in behind Aunt Zhou, with her as a shield in front and the guards pushing the people on her left and right back, she felt some relief and was able to catch her breath. At the same time, she looked up and saw a long table placed right in front of Aunt Zhou. The table was already filled with several large pots of… rice soup?
Bao Gu took a closer look and indeed, it was rice soup. Her eyes widened, and she exclaimed, “What happened to the porridge? Why is it rice soup?” Before she could finish speaking, Zhou Dashen nudged her with her elbow, and she heard Zhou Dashen apologizing to the person in front, “The child doesn’t know any better…” Bao Gu leaned forward to see and saw a noblewoman wearing silk fabric and adorned with gold and jade jewelry, scooping porridge into a large ceramic bowl in front of Zhou Dashen. She thought, this must be the County Magistrate’s wife.
Aunt Zhou repeatedly thanked her, “Thank you, County Magistrate’s wife. You are truly a living bodhisattva, a divine being…”
The butler waved impatiently at Aunt Zhou and shouted, “Next!”
Aunt Zhou nudged Bao Gu with her elbow, as if telling her not to speak out of turn, and then walked away with a bowl of porridge that resembled rice soup. Bao Gu, who was standing behind Aunt Zhou, appeared in front of the long table where the porridge was being served.
Bao Gu looked at the fair-skinned County Magistrate’s wife and felt sorry for her earlier comment that might have offended her. So she complimented, “County Magistrate’s wife, you are really beautiful.” As she spoke, she saw the County Magistrate’s wife look up at her.
Bao Gu was puzzled and blinked at the County Magistrate’s wife, thinking, “Don’t look at me, just give me the rice soup… I mean, porridge!”
The County Magistrate’s wife, seeing Bao Gu’s confused expression, asked, “Little girl, where is your bowl?”
Bowl? Bao Gu was taken aback for a moment, then quickly realized that her pot for holding the porridge had been broken! She had nothing to hold the porridge with! Did this mean she wouldn’t get any? She had worked so hard to squeeze to the front of the line, only to end up empty-handed? Bao Gu suddenly felt a wave of sadness, tears welling up in her eyes, her lips trembling, and her throat choked up as if she was about to cry!
The butler waved impatiently at Bao Gu and said, “If you don’t have a bowl, why are you in line? Go away… Didn’t the County Magistrate just reward you with five White Flour steamed buns? Why are you still in line? Hurry up!” With a wave of his hand, two guards pulled Bao Gu away.
Bao Gu, who had lined up but didn’t get any porridge, covered her hungry and aching stomach and sat down on the steps nearby, watching the people who got the porridge drink it, her mouth watering with envy.
The County Magistrate’s wife filled a few more bowls of porridge, then handed the spoon to the servant next to her. She turned her head and glanced at the pitiful Bao Gu sitting on the steps, and asked the butler beside her, “Who is that little girl?”
The butler replied, “Madam, she is the only daughter of Bao Shanren, the benevolent owner of the Bao family rice shop in Dongcheng Lane!”
Madam County Magistrate nodded and said, “Bring her a bowl of porridge.”
The steward agreed and beckoned a servant to bring a bowl of porridge to Bao Gu.
The servant approached Bao Gu and extended the bowl of porridge, saying, “Here, Madam rewards you.”
Bao Gu looked up at the bowl of porridge in front of her, which had a few cooked grains of aged rice floating in it. She licked her lips, raised her hands, and accepted the porridge. She glanced at the servant and then softly said “Thank you” to the Madam who was comforting the victims nearby. After a moment of thought, she stood up, held the porridge, and walked to the Madam County Magistrate. She knelt down, placed the porridge on the ground, respectfully bowed her head, and said, “Thank you, Madam.”
Madam County Magistrate saw that Bao Gu’s clothes were neat and clean, and she had a beautiful appearance, unlike the other victims who looked like ghosts and were dirty and messy. She smiled slightly, leaned down towards Bao Gu, and with slightly parted lips, said, “No need to be so formal…” As her hand reached halfway, Bao Gu, who was kneeling on the ground, raised herself up and at the same time, lifted the bowl in front of her and drank it all in one gulp.
The warm rice soup in the bowl instantly relieved Bao Gu’s hungry stomach. She let out a long sigh and then noticed that Madam County Magistrate was half-leaning towards her with her hands extended in front of her. So, Bao Gu politely handed the bowl back to Madam County Magistrate, stood up, and smiled as she looked at the empty bowl in her hand, the half-leaning Madam County Magistrate with a frozen smile on her face. She felt that something was wrong and asked in surprise, “Madam, what’s wrong with you? Why… aren’t you moving?”
Madam County Magistrate pursed her lips, swallowed all the words she had prepared to boast about her good deeds, and stuffed the bowl, still stained with rice soup, into the arms of a maid beside her. She forced a faint smile, suddenly turned her head, and walked away without looking back.
Bao Gu, who was unaware of the situation, looked puzzled at the receding figure of Madam County Magistrate, who had walked into the County Magistrate’s residence without turning back.
Aunt Zhou, who appeared out of nowhere, raised her hand and slapped Bao Gu’s arm, scolding, “You foolish girl, you’re courting death! Madam has condescended to come and help you, and you don’t show gratitude, appreciation, or shed tears of gratitude. Instead, you even handed the bowl you just finished drinking to Madam. Do you know how precious porridge is now? After drinking it, you should lick it clean. What a waste…”
Bao Gu opened her mouth wide in surprise and couldn’t close it for a while. After a moment, she exclaimed, “Do you have to lick the bowl clean after finishing the porridge? It looks so unattractive!”
The steward next to her glared at Bao Gu angrily and then rolled his eyes at Aunt Zhou, completely ignoring the two of them.
Aunt Zhou pulled Bao Gu’s sleeve and said, “Let’s go! Wake up earlier tomorrow and come here to wait for the porridge.”
Bao Gu nodded and obediently followed behind Aunt Zhou, saying, “County Magistrate and his wife are good people.”
Zhou Dama said, “Yes, everyone is praising the kindness of County Magistrate and his wife.” After a pause, she sighed weakly, “But there’s a bit less rice in the porridge.”
Bao Gu vigorously nodded in agreement. The porridge provided by the County Magistrate’s residence tasted just like rice soup, much milder than the rice soup her family used to make. Of course, Bao Gu felt embarrassed to complain after drinking someone else’s porridge.
Bao Gu followed Aunt Zhou through the crowded streets outside the County Magistrate’s residence and walked into a deserted alley. Aunt Zhou looked around and saw that there was no one nearby. She then reached into her pocket, gently pulled out a small piece of cake about two fingers wide, and stuffed it into Bao Gu’s hand, saying, “My third daughter secretly gave this to me just now. Eat it quickly!”
Bao Gu, who had been robbed of a bun before, was afraid of having this small piece of cake taken away again. She quickly stuffed it into her mouth and chewed it haphazardly before swallowing it. Because she ate too quickly, she almost choked and had to stretch her neck and cough several times before managing to swallow it. With her neck stretched too long and her eyelids flipped, she unexpectedly saw the sky in the direction of the Yunling Mountains outside the city, which was as red as fire. And in that red sky, there was a giant toad the size of a winnowing basket lying there. The giant toad in the sky was spewing fire!
Bao Gu was suddenly shocked, her eyes widened in astonishment, and she even forgot that she was choking on the cake!
Aunt Zhou saw that Bao Gu’s neck was bulging with blue veins, her face was flushed, and her eyes were bulging as if she was about to suffocate. She rolled up her sleeve and slapped Bao Gu hard on the back.
Bao Gu was slapped hard by Aunt Zhou, causing her body to lurch forward. The bun that was stuck in her throat immediately flew out and landed on the ground. Bao Gu coughed violently, tears welling up in her eyes as she looked at the bun on the ground, now covered in dust. Two tears rolled down her cheeks.
Aunt Zhou stomped her foot forcefully and sighed, “You…you say this isn’t a waste…sigh…” She wished she could strangle Bao Gu.
After coughing for a while, Bao Gu caught her breath and shouted, “Aunt Zhou, a frog!”
Aunt Zhou’s mouth twitched in anger as she cursed, “You’re the frog!”
Bao Gu raised her hand and pointed to the sky behind Aunt Zhou, saying, “Aunt Zhou, there really is a frog!”
Aunt Zhou, upon hearing Bao Gu say that she herself was a frog, was so angry that she wanted to slap Bao Gu. But then she thought about how she hoped her eldest son could marry Bao Gu, who had been good at managing the household since she was young. She suppressed her anger and glared fiercely, saying, “Are you going crazy? You’ve ruined the perfectly good bun! This is the food that keeps our whole family alive. You don’t know what it’s like to be hungry. You…you…you make me so angry!”
Bao Gu shouted loudly, “Aunt Zhou, there’s a big flying frog in the sky!”
“What? A flying frog!”
“Yes, and it’s breathing fire!” Bao Gu stared intently at the frog in the sky, jumping and spewing fire. She was extremely shocked and couldn’t believe what she was seeing if she hadn’t witnessed it with her own eyes.
Aunt Zhou really feels that Bao Gu is mocking her! At this moment, she thought Bao Gu was deliberately making her furious! Just now, Bao Gu shouted, “Mrs. Zhou is really a toad!” Mrs. Zhou was so angry that she didn’t want to pay any attention to Bao Gu. She forcefully “hmphed,” turned around, and walked away. As she turned her head, she saw a huge toad jumping and spewing fire in the sky outside the city. She grabbed Bao Gu’s arm excitedly and shouted loudly, “Bao Gu it’s really a fire-spewing toad–”
Bao Gu also grabbed Aunt Zhou’s hand excitedly and exclaimed, “Yes, yes! Aunt Zhou, why don’t you believe it!”