Botchan/Chapter 7

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Botchan by Natsume Sōseki, translated by Yasotaro Morri
Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

That very night I left the boarding house. While I was packing up, the boss came to me and asked if there was anything wrong in the way I was treated. He said he would be pleased to correct it and suit me if I was sore at anything. This beats me, sure. How is it possible for so many boneheads to be in this world! I could not tell whether they wanted me to stay or get out. They're crazy. It would be disgrace for a Yedo kid to fuss about with such a fellow; so I hired a rikishaman and speedily left the house.

I got out of the house all right, but had no place to go. The rikishaman asked me where I was going. I told him to follow me with his mouth shut, then he shall see and I kept on walking. I thought of going to Yamashiro-ya to avoid the trouble of hunting up a new boarding house, but as I had no prospect of being able to stay there long, I would have to renew the hunt sooner or later, so I gave up the idea. If I continued walking this way, I thought I might strike a house with the sign of "boarders taken" or something similar, and I would consider the first house with the sign the one provided for me by Heaven. I kept on going round and round through the quiet, decent part of the town when I found myself at Kajimachi. This used to be former samurai quarters where one had the least chance of finding any boarding house, and I was going to retreat to a more lively part of the town when a good idea occurred to me. Hubbard Squash whom I respected lived in this part of the town. He is a native of the town, and has lived in the house inherited from his great grandfather. He must be, I thought, well informed about nearly everything in this town. If I call on him for his help, he will perhaps find me a good boarding house. Fortunately, I called at his house once before, and there was no trouble in finding it out. I knocked at the door of a house, which I knew must be his, and a woman about fifty years old with an old fashioned paper-lantern in hand, appeared at the door. I do not despise young women, but when I see an aged woman, I feel much more solicitous. This is probably because I am so fond of Kiyo. This aged lady, who looked well-refined, was certainly mother of Hubbard Squash whom she resembled. She invited me inside, but I asked her to call him out for me. When he came I told him all the circumstances, and asked him if he knew any who would take me for a boarder. Hubbard Squash thought for a moment in a sympathetic mood, then said there was an old couple called Hagino, living in the rear of the street, who had asked him sometime ago to get some boarders for them as there are only two in the house and they had some vacant rooms. Hubbard Squash was kind enough to go along with me and find out if the rooms were vacant. They were.

From that night I boarded at the house of the Haginos. What surprised me was that on the day after I left the house of Ikagin, Clown stepped in and took the room I had been occupying. Well used to all sorts of tricks and crooks as I might have been, this audacity fairly knocked me off my feet. It was sickening.

I saw that I would be an easy mark for such people unless I brace up and try to come up, or down, to their level. It would be a high time indeed for me to be alive if it were settled that I would not get three meals a day without living on the spoils of pick pockets. Nevertheless, to hang myself,--healthy and vigorous as I am,--would be not only inexcusable before my ancestors but a disgrace before the public. Now I think it over, it would have been better for me to have started something like a milk delivery route with that six hundred yen as capital, instead of learning such a useless stunt as mathematics at the School of Physics. If I had done so, Kiyo could have stayed with me, and I could have lived without worrying about her so far a distance away. While I was with her I did not notice it, but separated thus I appreciated Kiyo as a good-natured old woman. One could not find a noble natured woman like Kiyo everywhere. She was suffering from a slight cold when I left Tokyo and I wondered how she was getting on now? Kiyo must have been pleased when she received the letter from me the other day. By the way, I thought it was the time I was in receipt of answer from her. I spent two or three days with things like this in my mind. I was anxious about the answer, and asked the old lady of the house if any letter came from Tokyo for me, and each time she would appear sympathetic and say no. The couple here, being formerly of samurai class, unlike the Ikagin couple, were both refined. The old man's recital of "utai" in a queer voice at night was somewhat telling on my nerves, but it was much easier on me as he did not frequent my room like Ikagin with the remark of "let me serve you tea."

The old lady once in a while would come to my room and chat on many things. She questioned me why I had not brought my wife with me. I asked her if I looked like one married, reminding her that I was only twenty four yet. Saying "it is proper for one to get married at twenty four" as a beginning, she recited that Mr. Blank married when he was twenty, that Mr. So-and-So has already two children at twenty two, and marshalled altogether about half a dozen examples,--quite a damper on my youthful theory. I will then get marred at twenty four, I said, and requested her to find me a good wife, and she asked me if I really meant it.

"Really? You bet! I can't help wanting to get married."

"I should suppose so. Everybody is just like that when young." This remark was a knocker; I could not say anything to that.

"But I'm sure you have a Madam already. I have seen to that with my own eyes."

"Well, they are sharp eyes. How have you seen it?"

"How? Aren't you often worried to death, asking if there's no letter from Tokyo?"

"By Jupiter! This beats me!"

"Hit the mark, haven't I?"

"Well, you probably have."

"But the girls of these days are different from what they used to be and you need a sharp look-out on them. So you'd better be careful."

"Do you mean that my Madam in Tokyo is behaving badly?"

"No, your Madam is all right."

"That makes me feel safe. Then about what shall I be careful?"

"Yours is all right. Though yours is all right......."

"Where is one not all right?"

"Rather many right in this town. You know the daughter of the Toyamas?

"No, I do not."

"You don't know her yet? She is the most beautiful girl about here. She is so beautiful that the teachers in the school call her Madonna. You haven't heard that?

"Ah, the Madonna! I thought it was the name of a geisha."

"No, Sir. Madonna is a foreign word and means a beautiful girl, doesn't it?"

"That may be. I'm surprised."

"Probably the name was given by the teacher of drawing."

"Was it the work of Clown?"

"No, it was given by Professor Yoshikawa."

"Is that Madonna not all right?"

"That Madonna-san is a Madonna not all right."

"What a bore! We haven't any decent woman among those with nicknames from old days. I should suppose the Madonna is not all right."

"Exactly. We have had awful women such as O-Matsu the Devil or Ohyaku the Dakki.

"Does the Madonna belong to that ring?"

"That Madonna-san, you know, was engaged to Professor Koga,--who brought you here,--yes, was promised to him."

"Ha, how strange! I never knew our friend Hubbard Squash was a fellow of such gallantry. We can't judge a man by his appearance. I'll be a bit more careful."

"The father of Professor Koga died last year,--up to that time they had money and shares in a bank and were well off,--but since then things have grown worse, I don't know why. Professor Koga was too good-natured, in short, and was cheated, I presume. The wedding was delayed by one thing or another and there appeared the head teacher who fell in love with the Madonna head over heels and wanted to many her."

"Red Shirt? He ought be hanged. I thought that shirt was not an ordinary kind of shirt. Well?"

"The head-teacher proposed marriage through a go-between, but the Toyamas could not give a definite answer at once on account of their relations with the Kogas. They replied that they would consider the matter or something like that. Then Red Shirt-san worked up some ways and started visiting the Toyamas and has finally won the heart of the Miss. Red Shirt-san is bad, but so is Miss Toyama; they all talk bad of them. She had agreed to be married to Professor Koga and changed her mind because a Bachelor of Arts began courting her,--why, that would be an offense to the God of To-day."

"Of course. Not only of To-day but also of tomorrow and the day after; in fact, of time without end."

"So Hotta-san a friend of Koga-san, felt sorry for him and went to the head teacher to remonstrate with him. But Red Shirt-san said that he had no intention of taking away anybody who is promised to another. He may get married if the engagement is broken, he said, but at present he was only being acquainted with the Toyamas and he saw nothing wrong in his visiting the Toyamas. Hotta-san couldn't do anything and returned. Since then they say Red Shirt-san and Hotta-san are on bad terms."

"You do know many things, I should say. How did you get such details? I'm much impressed."

"The town is so small that I can know everything."

Yes, everything seems to be known more than one cares. Judging by her way, this woman probably knows about my tempura and dango affairs. Here was a pot that would make peas rattle! The meaning of the Madonna, the relations between Porcupine and Red Shirt became clear and helped me a deal. Only what puzzled me was the uncertainty as to which of the two was wrong. A fellow simple-hearted like me could not tell which side he should help unless the matter was presented in black and white.

"Of Red Shirt and Porcupine, which is a better fellow?"

"What is Porcupine, Sir?"

"Porcupine means Hotta."

"Well, Hotta-san is physically strong, as strength goes, but Red Shirt-san is a Bachelor of Arts and has more ability. And Red Shirt-san is more gentle, as gentleness goes, but Hotta-san is more popular among the students."

"After all, which is better?"

"After all, the one who gets a bigger salary is greater, I suppose?"

There was no use of going on further in this way, and I closed the talk.

Two or three days after this, when I returned from the school, the old lady with a beaming smile, brought me a letter, saying, "Here you are Sir, at last. Take your time and enjoy it." I took it up and found it was from Kiyo. On the letter were two or three retransmission slips, and by these I saw the letter was sent from Yamashiro-ya to the Iagins, then to the Haginos. Besides, it stayed at Yamashiro-ya for about one week; even letters seemed to stop in a hotel. I opened it, and it was a very long letter.

"When I received the letter from my Master Darling, I intended to write an answer at once. But I caught cold and was sick abed for about one week and the answer was delayed for which I beg your pardon. I am not well-used to writing or reading like girls in these days, and it required some efforts to get done even so poorly written a letter as this. I was going to ask my nephew to write it for me, but thought it inexcusable to my Master Darling when I should take special pains for myself. So I made a rough copy once, and then a clean copy. I finished the clean copy, in two days, but the rough copy took me four days. It may be difficult for you to read, but as I have written this letter with all my might, please read it to the end."

This was the introductory part of the letter in which, about four feet long, were written a hundred and one things. Well, it was difficult to read. Not only was it poorly written but it was a sort of juxtaposition of simple syllables that racked one's brain to make it clear where it stopped or where it began. I am quick-tempered and would refuse to read such a long, unintelligible letter for five yen, but I read this seriously from the first to the last. It is a fact that I read it through. My efforts were mostly spent in untangling letters and sentences; so I started reading it over again. The room had become a little dark, and this rendered it harder to read it; so finally I stepped out to the porch where I sat down and went over it carefully. The early autumn breeze wafted through the leaves of the banana trees, bathed me with cool evening air, rustled the letter I was holding and would have blown it clear to the hedge if I let it go. I did not mind anything like this, but kept on reading.

"Master Darling is simple and straight like a split bamboo by disposition," it says, "only too explosive. That's what worries me. If you brand other people with nicknames you will only make enemies of them; so don't use them carelessly; if you coin new ones, just tell them only to Kiyo in your letters. The countryfolk are said to be bad, and I wish you to be careful not have them do you. The weather must be worse than in Tokyo, and you should take care not to catch cold. Your letter is too short that I can't tell how things are going on with you. Next time write me a letter at least half the length of this one. Tipping the hotel with five yen is all right, but were you not short of money afterward? Money is the only thing one can depend upon when in the country and you should economize and be prepared for rainy days. I'm sending you ten yen by postal money order. I have that fifty yen my Master Darling gave me deposited in the Postal Savings to help you start housekeeping when you return to Tokyo, and taking out this ten, I have still forty yen left,--quite safe."

I should say women are very particular on many things.

When I was meditating with the letter flapping in my hand on the porch, the old lady opened the sliding partition and brought in my supper.

"Still poring over the letter? Must be a very long one, I imagine," she said.

"Yes, this is an important letter, so I'm reading it with the wind blowing it about," I replied--the reply which was nonsense even for myself,--and I sat down for supper. I looked in the dish on the tray, and saw the same old sweet potatoes again to-night. This new boarding house was more polite and considerate and refined than the Ikagins, but the grub was too poor stuff and that was one drawback. It was sweet potato yesterday, so it was the day before yesterday, and here it is again to-night. True, I declared myself very fond of sweet potatoes, but if I am fed with sweet potatoes with such insistency, I may soon have to quit this dear old world. I can't be laughing at Hubbard Squash; I shall become Sweet Potato myself before long. If it were Kiyo she would surely serve me with my favorite sliced tunny or fried kamaboko, but nothing doing with a tight, poor samurai. It seems best that I live with Kiyo. If I have to stay long in the school, I believe I would call her from Tokyo. Don't eat tempura, don't eat dango, and then get turned yellow by feeding on sweet potatoes only, in the boarding house. That's for an educator, and his place is really a hard one. I think even the priests of the Zen sect are enjoying better feed. I cleaned up the sweet potatoes, then took out two raw eggs from the drawer of my desk, broke them on the edge of the rice bowl, to tide it over. I have to get nourishment by eating raw eggs or something, or how can I stand the teaching of twenty one hours a week?

I was late for my bath to-day on account of the letter from Kiyo. But I would not like to drop off a single day since I had been there everyday. I thought I would take a train to-day, and coming to the station with the same old red towel dangling out of my hand, I found the train had just left two or three minutes ago, and had to wait for some time. While I was smoking a cigarette on a bench, my friend Hubbard Squash happened to come in. Since I heard the story about him from the old lady my sympathy for him had become far greater than ever. His reserve always appeared to me pathetic. It was no longer a case of merely pathetic; more than that. I was wishing to get his salary doubled, if possible, and have him marry Miss Toyama and send them to Tokyo for about one month on a pleasure trip. Seeing him, therefore, I motioned him to a seat beside me, addressing him cheerfully:

"Hello[H], going to bath? Come and sit down here."

Hubbard Squash, appearing much awe-struck, said; "Don't mind me, Sir," and whether out of polite reluctance or I don't know what, remained standing.

"You have to wait for a little while before the next train starts; sit down; you'll be tired," I persuaded him again. In fact, I was so sympathetic for him that I wished to have him sit down by me somehow. Then with a "Thank you, Sir," he at last sat down. A fellow like Clown, always fresh, butts in where he is not wanted; or like Porcupine swaggers about with a face which says "Japan would be hard up without me," or like Red Shirt, self-satisfied in the belief of being the wholesaler of gallantry and of cosmetics. Or like Badger who appears to say; "If 'Education' were alive and put on a frockcoat, it would look like me." One and all in one way or other have bravado, but I have never seen any one like this Hubbard Squash, so quiet and resigned, like a doll taken for a ransom. His face is rather swollen but for the Madonna to cast off such a splendid fellow and give preference to Red Shirt, was frivolous beyond my understanding. Put how many dozens of Red Shirt you like together, it will not make one husband of stuff to beat Hubbard Squash.

"Is anything wrong with you? You look quite fatigued," I asked.

"No, I have no particular ailments......."

"That's good. Poor health is the worst thing one can get."

"You appear very strong."

"Yes, I'm thin, but never got sick. That's something I don't like."

Hubbard Squash smiled at my words. Just then I heard some young girlish laughs at the entrance, and incidentally looking that way, I saw a "peach." A beautiful girl, tall, white-skinned, with her head done up in "high-collared" style, was standing with a woman of about forty-five or six, in front of the ticket window. I am not a fellow given to describing a belle, but there was no need to repeat asserting that she was beautiful. I felt as if I had warmed a crystal ball with perfume and held it in my hand. The older woman was shorter, but as she resembled the younger, they might be mother and daughter. The moment I saw them, I forgot all about Hubbard Squash, and was intently gazing at the young beauty. Then I was a bit startled to see Hubbard Squash suddenly get up and start walking slowly toward them. I wondered if she was not the Madonna. The three were courtesying in front of the ticket window, some distance away from me, and I could not hear what they were talking about.

The clock at the station showed the next train to start in five minutes. Having lost my partner, I became impatient and longed for the train to start as soon as possible, when a fellow rushed into the station excited. It was Red Shirt. He had on some fluffy clothes, loosely tied round with a silk-crepe girdle, and wound to it the same old gold chain. That gold chain is stuffed. Red Shirt thinks nobody knows it and is making a big show of it, but I have been wise. Red Shirt stopped short, stared around, and then after bowing politely to the three still in front of the ticket window, made a remark or two, and hastily turned toward me. He came up to me, walking in his usual cat's style, and hallooed.

"You too going to bath? I was afraid of missing the train and hurried up, but we have three or four minutes yet. Wonder if that clock is right?"

He took out his gold watch, and remarking it wrong about two minutes sat down beside me. He never turned toward the belle, but with his chin on the top of a cane, steadily looked straight before him. The older woman would occasionally glance toward Red Shirt, but the younger kept her profile away. Surely she was the Madonna.

The train now arrived with a shrill whistle and the passengers hastened to board. Red Shirt jumped into the first class coach ahead of all. One cannot brag much about boarding the first class coach here. It cost only five sen for the first and three sen for the second to Sumida; even I paid for the first and a white ticket. The country fellows, however, being all close, seemed to regard the expenditure of the extra two sen a serious matter and mostly boarded the second class. Following Red Shirt, the Madonna and her mother entered the first class. Hubbard Squash regularly rides in the second class. He stood at the door of a second class coach and appeared somewhat hesitating, but seeing me coming, took decisive steps and jumped into the second. I felt sorry for him--I do not know why--and followed him into the same coach. Nothing wrong in riding on the second with a ticket for the first, I believe.

At the hot springs, going down from the third floor to the bath room in bathing gown, again I met Hubbard Squash. I feel my throat clogged up and unable to speak at a formal gathering, but otherwise I am rather talkative; so I opened conversation with him. He was so pathetic and my compassion was aroused to such an extent that I considered it the duty of a Yedo kid to console him to the best of my ability. But Hubbard Squash was not responsive. Whatever I said, he would only answer "eh?" or "umh," and even these with evident effort. Finally I gave up my sympathetic attempt and cut off the conversation.

I did not meet Red Shirt at the bath. There are many bath rooms, and one does not necessarily meet the fellows at the same bath room though he might come on the same train. I thought it nothing strange. When I got out of the bath, I found the night bright with the moon. On both sides of the street stood willow trees which cast their shadows on the road. I would take a little stroll, I thought. Coming up toward north, to the end of the town, one sees a large gate to the left. Opposite the gate stands a temple and both sides of the approach to the temple are lined with houses with red curtains. A tenderloin inside a temple gate is an unheard-of phenomenon. I wanted to go in and have a look at the place, but for fear I might get another kick from Badger, I passed it by. A flat house with narrow lattice windows and black curtain at the entrance, near the gate, is the place where I ate dango and committed the blunder. A round lantern with the signs of sweet meats hung outside and its light fell on the trunk of a willow tree close by. I hungered to have a bite of dango, but went away forbearing.

To be unable to eat dango one is so fond of eating, is tragic. But to have one's betrothed change her love to another, would be more tragic. When I think of Hubbard Squash, I believe that I should, not complain if I cannot eat dango or anything else for three days. Really there is nothing so unreliable a creature as man. As far as her face goes, she appears the least likely to commit so stony-hearted an act as this. But the beautiful person is cold-blooded and Koga-san who is swollen like a pumpkin soaked in water, is a gentleman to the core,--that's where we have to be on the look-out. Porcupine whom I had thought candid was said to have incited the students and he whom then I regarded an agitator, demanded of the principal a summary punishment of the students. The disgustingly snobbish Red Shirt is unexpectedly considerate and warns me in ways more than one, but then he won the Madonna by crooked means. He denies, however, having schemed anything crooked about the Madonna, and says he does not care to marry her unless her engagement with Koga is broken. When Ikagin beat me out of his house, Clown enters and takes my room. Viewed from any angle, man is unreliable. If I write these things to Kiyo, it would surprise her. She would perhaps say that because it is the west side of Hakone that the town had all the freaks and crooks dumped in together.[7]

[Footnote 7: An old saying goes that east of the Hakone pass, there are no apparitions or freaks.]

I do not by nature worry about little things, and had come so far without minding anything. But hardly a month had passed since I came here, and I have begun to regard the world quite uneasily. I have not met with any particularly serious affairs, but I feel as if I had grown five or six years older. Better say "good by" to this old spot soon and return to Tokyo, I thought. While strolling thus thinking on various matters, I had passed the stone bridge and come up to the levy of the Nozeri river. The word river sounds too big; it is a shallow stream of about six feet wide. If one goes on along the levy for about twelve blocks, he reaches the Aioi village where there is a temple of Kwanon.

Looking back at the town of the hot springs, I see red lights gleaming amid the pale moon beams. Where the sound of the drum is heard must be the tenderloin. The stream is shallow but fast, whispering incessantly. When I had covered about three blocks walking leisurely upon the bank, I perceived a shadow ahead. Through the light of the moon, I found there were two shadows. They were probably village youngsters returning from the hot springs, though they did not sing, and were exceptionally quiet for that.

I kept on walking, and I was faster than they. The two shadows became larger. One appeared like a woman. When I neared them within about sixty feet, the man, on hearing my footsteps, turned back. The moon was shining from behind me. I could see the manner of the man then and something queer struck me. They resumed their walk as before. And I chased them on a full speed. The other party, unconscious, walked slowly. I could now hear their voice distinctly. The levy was about six feet wide, and would allow only three abreast. I easily passed them, and turning back gazed squarely into the face of the man. The moon generously bathed my face with its beaming light. The fellow uttered a low "ah," and suddenly turning sideway, said to the woman "Let's go back." They traced their way back toward the hot springs town.

Was it the intention of Red Shirt to hush the matter up by pretending ignorance, or was it lack of nerve? I was not the only fellow who suffered the consequence of living in a small narrow town.