Botchan/Chapter 2

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WITH a long, sonorous whistle the steamer which I was aboard came to a standstill, and a boat was seen making toward us from the shore. The man rowing the boat was stark naked, except for a piece of red cloth girt round his loins. A barbarous place, this! though he may have been excused for it in such hot weather as it was. The sun's rays were strong and the water glimmered in such strange colors as to dazzle one's sight if gazed at it for long. I had been told by a clerk of the ship that I was to get off here. The place looked like a fishing village about the size of Omori. Great Scott! I wouldn't stay in such a hole, I thought, but I had to get out. So, down I jumped first into the boat, and I think five or six others followed me. After loading about four large boxes besides, the red-cloth rowed us ashore. When the boat struck the sand, I was again the first to jump out, and right away I accosted a skinny urchin standing near-by, asking him where the middle school was. The kid answered blankly that he did not know. Confound the dull-head! Not to know where the middle school was, living in such a tiny bit of a town. Then a man wearing a rig with short, queer shaped sleeves approached me and bade me follow. I walked after him and was taken to an inn called Minato-Ya. The maids of the inn, who gave me a disagreeable impression, chorused at sight of me; "Please step inside." This discouraged me in proceeding further, and I asked them, standing at the door-way, to show me the middle school. On being told that the middle school was about four miles away by rail, I became still more discouraged at putting up there. I snatched my two valises from the man with queershaped sleeves who had guided me so far, and strode away. The people of the inn looked after me with a dazed expression.

The station was easily found, and a ticket bought without any fuss. The coach I got in was about as dignified as a match-box. The train rambled on for about five minutes, and then I had to get off. No wonder the fare was cheap; it cost only three sen. I then hired a rikisha and arrived at the middle school, but school was already over and nobody was there. The teacher on night-duty was out just for a while, said the janitor,—the night-watch was taking life easy, sure. I thought of visiting the principal, but being tired, ordered the rikishaman to take me to a hotel. He did this with much alacrity and led me to a hotel called Yamashiro-Ya. I felt it rather amusing to find the name Yamashiro-Ya the same as that of Kantaro's house.

They ushered me to a dark room below the stairway. No one could stay in such a hot place! I said I did not like such a warm room, but the maid dumped my valises on the floor and left me, mumbling that all the other rooms were occupied. So I took the room though it took some resolution to stand the weltering heat. After a while the maid said the bath was ready, and I took one. On my way back from the bathroom, I peeped about, and found many rooms, which looked much cooler than mine, vacant. Sunnovgun! They had lied. By'm-by, she fetched my supper. Although the room was hot, the meal was a deal better than the kind I used to have in my boarding house. While waiting on me, she questioned me where I was from, and I said, "from Tokyo." Then she asked; "Isn't Tokyo a nice place?" and I shot back, "Bet 'tis." About the time the maid had reached the kitchen, loud laughs were heard. There was nothing doing, so I went to bed, but could not sleep. Not only was it hot, but noisy,—about five times noisier than my boarding house. While snoozing, I dreamed of Kiyo. She was eating "sasa-ame" of Echigo province without taking off the wrapper of bamboo leaves. I tried to stop her, saying bamboo leaves may do her harm, but she replied, "O, no, these leaves are very helpful for the health," and ate them with much relish. Astounded, I laughed "Ha, ha, ha!" and so awoke. The maid was opening the outside shutters. The weather was just as clear as the previous day.

I had heard once before that when travelling, one should give "tea money" to the hotel or inn where he stops; that unless this "tea money" is given, the hostelry would accord him rather rough treatment. It must have been on account of my being slow in the fork over of this "tea money" that they had huddled me into such a narrow, dark room. Likewise my shabby clothes and the carpet bags and satin umbrella must have been accountable for it. Took me for a piker, eh? those hayseeds! I would give them a knocker with "tea money." I left Tokyo with about 30 yen in my pocket, which remained from my school expenses. Taking off the railway and steamship fare, and other incidental expenses, I had still about 14 yen in my pocket. I could give them all I had;—what did I care, I was going to get a salary now. All country folk are tight-wads, and one 5-yen bill would hit them square. Now watch and see. Having washed myself, I returned to my room and waited, and the maid of the night before brought in my breakfast. Waiting on me with a tray, she looked at me with a sort of sulphuric smile. Rude! Is any parade marching on my face? I should say. Even my face is far better than that of the maid. I intended of giving "tea money" after breakfast, but I became disgusted, and taking out one 5-yen bill told her to take it to the office later. The face of the maid became then shy and awkward. After the meal, I left for the school. The maid did not have my shoes polished.

I had had vague idea of the direction of the school as I rode to it the previous day, so turning two or three corners, I came to the front gate. From the gate to the entrance the walk was paved with granite. When I had passed to the entrance in the rikisha, this walk made so outlandishly a loud noise that I had felt coy. On my way to the school, I met a number of the students in uniforms of cotton drill and they all entered this gate. Some of them were taller than I and looked much stronger. When I thought of teaching fellows of this ilk, I was impressed with a queer sort of uneasiness. My card was taken to the principal, to whose room I was ushered at once. With scant mustache, dark-skinned and big-eyed, the principal was a man who looked like a badger. He studiously assumed an air of superiority, and saying he would like to see me do my best, handed the note of appointment, stamped big, in a solemn manner. This note I threw away into the sea on my way back to Tokyo. He said he would introduce me to all my fellow teachers, and I was to show to each one of them the note of appointment. What a bother! It would be far better to stick this note up in the teachers' room for three days instead of going through such a monkey process.

The teachers would not be all in the room until the bugle for the first hour was sounded. There was plenty of time. The principal took out his watch, and saying that he would acquaint me particularly with the school by-and-bye, he would only furnish me now with general matters, and started a long lecture on the spirit of education. For a while I listened to him with my mind half away somewhere else, but about half way through his lecture, I began to realize that I should soon be in a bad fix. I could not do, by any means, all he expected of me. He expected that I should make myself an example to the students, should become an object of admiration for the whole school or should exert my moral influence, besides teaching technical knowledge in order to become a real educator, or something ridiculously high-sounding. No man with such admirable qualities would come so far away for only 40 yen a month! Men are generally alike. If one gets excited, one is liable to fight, I thought, but if things are to be kept on in the way the principal says, I could hardly open my mouth to utter anything, nor take a stroll around the place. If they wanted me to fill such an onerous post, they should have told all that before. I hate to tell a lie; I would give it up as having been cheated, and get out of this mess like a man there and then. I had only about 9 yen left in my pocket after tipping the hotel 5 yen. Nine yen would not take me back to Tokyo. I had better not have tipped the hotel; what a pity! However, I would be able to manage it somehow. I considered it better to run short in my return expenses than to tell a lie.

“I cannot do it the way you want me to. I return this appointment.”

I shoved back the note. The principal winked his badger-like eyes and gazed at me. Then he said;

“What I have said just now is what I desire of you. I know well that you cannot do all I want. So don’t worry.”

And he laughed. If he knew it so well already, what on earth did he scare me for?

Meanwhile the bugle sounded, being followed by bustling noises in the direction of the class rooms. All the teachers would be now ready, I was told, and I followed the principal to the teachers’ room. In a spacious rectangular room, they sat each before a table lined along the walls. When I entered the room, they all glanced at me as if by previous agreement. Did they think my face was for a show? Then, as per instructions, I introduced myself and showed the note to each one of them. Most of them left their chairs and made a slight bow of acknowledgment. But some of the more painfully polite took the note and read it and respectfully returned it to me, just like the cheap performances at a rural show! When I came to the fifteenth, who was the teacher of physical training, I became impatient at repeating the same old thing so often. The other side had to do it only once, but my side had to do it fifteen times. They ought to have had some sympathy.

Among those I met in the room there was Mr. Blank who was head teacher. Said he was a Bachelor of Arts. I suppose he was a great man since he was a graduate from Imperial University and had such a title. He talked in a strangely effeminate voice like a woman. But what surprised me most was that he wore a flannel shirt. However thin it might be, flannel is flannel and must have been pretty warm at that time of the year. What painstaking dress is required which will be becoming to a B.A.! And it was a red shirt; wouldn’t that kill you! I heard afterwards that he wears a red shirt all the year round. What a strange affliction! According to his own explanation, he has his shirts made to order for the sake of his health as the red color is beneficial to the physical condition. Unnecessary worry, this, for that being the case, he should have had his coat and hakama also in red. And there was one Mr. Koga, teacher of English, whose complexion was very pale. Pale-faced people are usually thin, but this man was pale and fat. When I was attending grammar school, there was one Tami Asai in our class, and his father was just as pale as this Koga. Asai was a farmer, and I asked Kiyo if one’s face would become pale if he took up farming. Kiyo said it was not so; Asai ate always Hubbard squash of “uranari”[1] and that was the reason. Thereafter when I saw any man pale and fat, I took it for granted that it was the result of his having eaten too much of squash of “uranari.” This English teacher was surely subsisting upon squash. However, what the meaning of “uranari” is, I do not know. I asked Kiyo once, but she only laughed. Probably she did not know. Among the teachers of mathematics, there was one named Hotta. This was a fellow of massive body, with hair closely cropped. He looked like one of the old-time devilish priests who made the Eizan temple famous. I showed him the note politely, but he did not even look at it, and blurted out;

“You’re the man newly appointed, eh? Come and see me sometime, ha, ha, ha!”

Devil take his “Ha, ha, ha!” Who would go to see a fellow so void of the sense of common decency! I gave this priest from this time the nickname of Porcupine.

The Confucian teacher was strict in his manner as becoming to his profession. “Arrived yesterday? You must be tired. Start teaching already? Working hard, indeed!”–and so on. He was an old man, quite sociable and talkative.

The teacher of drawing was altogether like a cheap actor. He wore a thin, flappy haori of sukiya, and, toying with a fan, he giggled; “Where from? eh? Tokyo? Glad to hear that. You make another of our group. I’m a Tokyo kid myself.”

If such a fellow prided himself on being a Tokyo kid, I wished I had never been born in Tokyo. I might go on writing about each one of them, for there are many, but I stop here otherwise there will be no end to it.

When my formal introduction was over, the principal said that I might go for the day, but I should make arrangements as to the class hours, etc., with the head teacher of mathematics and begin teaching from the day after the morrow. Asked who was the head teacher of mathematics, I found that he was no other than that Porcupine. Holy smokes! was I to serve under him? I was disappointed.

“Say, where are you stopping? Yamashiro-ya? Well, I’ll come and talk it over.”

So saying, Porcupine, chalk in hand, left the room to his class. That was rather humiliating for a head-teacher to come over and see his subordinate, but it was better than to call me over to him.

After leaving the school, I thought of returning straight to the hotel, but as there was nothing to do, I decided to take in a little of the town, and started walking about following my nose. I saw prefectural building; it was an old structure of the last century. Also I saw the barracks; they were less imposing than those of the Azabu Regiment, Tokyo. I passed through the main street. The width of the street is about one half that of Kagurazaka, and its aspect is inferior. What about a castle-town of 250,000-koku Lord! Pity the fellows who get swell-headed in such a place as a castle-town!

While I walked about musing like this, I found myself in front of Yamashiro-ya. The town was much narrower than I had been led to believe.

“I think I have seen nearly all. Guess I’ll return and eat.” And I entered the gate. The mistress of the hotel who was sitting at the counter, jumped out of her place at my appearance and with “Are you back, Sire!” scraped the floor with her forehead. When I took my shoes off and stepped inside, the maid took me to an upstairs room that had became vacant. It was a front room of 15 mats (about 90 square feet). I had never before lived in so splendid a room as this. As it was quite uncertain when I should again be able to occupy such a room in future, I took off my European dress, and with only a single Japanese summer coat on, sprawled in the centre of the room in the shape of the Japanese letter “big” (大). I found it very refreshing.

After luncheon I at once wrote a letter to Kiyo. I hate most to write letters because I am poor at sentence-making and also poor in my stock of words. Neither did I have any place to which to address my letters. However, Kiyo might be getting anxious. It would not do to let her worry lest she think the steamer which I boarded had been wrecked and I was drowned,–so I braced up and wrote a long one. The body of the letter was as follows:

“Arrived yesterday. A dull place. Am sleeping in a room of 15 mats. Tipped the hotel five yen as tea money. The house-wife of the hotel scraped the floor with her forehead. Couldn’t sleep last night. Dreamed Kiyo eat sasa-ame together with the bamboo-leaf wrappers. Will return next summer. Went to the school to-day, and nicknamed all the fellows. ‘Badger’ for the principal, ‘Red Shirt’ for the head-teacher, ‘Hubbard Squash’ for the teacher of English, ‘Porcupine’ the teacher of mathematics and ‘Clown’ for that of drawing. Will write you many other things soon. Good bye.”

When I finished writing the letter, I felt better and sleepy. So I slept in the centre of the room, as I had done before, in the letter “big” shape (大). No dream this time, and I had a sound sleep.

“Is this the room?”–a loud voice was heard,–a voice which woke me up, and Porcupine entered.

“How do you do? What you have to do in the school–” he began talking shop as soon as I got up and rattled me much. On learning my duties in the school, there seemed to be no difficulty, and I decided to accept. If only such were what was expected of me, I would not be surprised were I told to start not only two days hence but even from the following day. The talk on business over, Porcupine said that he did not think it was my intention to stay in such a hotel all the time, that he would find a room for me in a good boarding house, and that I should move.

“They wouldn’t take in another from anybody else but I can do it right away. The sooner the better. Go and look at the room to-day, move tomorrow and start teaching from the next day. That’ll be all nice and settled.”

He seemed satisfied by arranging all by myself. Indeed, I should not be able to occupy such a room for long. I might have to blow in all of my salary for the hotel bill and yet be short of squaring it. It was pity to leave the hotel so soon after I had just shone with a 5-yen tip. However, it being decidedly convenient to move and get settled early if I had to move at all, I asked Porcupine to get that room for me. He told me then to come over with him and see the house at any rate, and I did. The house was situated mid-way up a hill at the end of the town, and was a quiet. The boss was said to be a dealer in antique curios, called Ikagin, and his wife was about four years his senior. I learned the English word “witch” when I was in middle school, and this woman looked exactly like one. But as she was another man’s wife, what did I care if she was a witch. Finally I decided to live in the house from the next day. On our way back Porcupine treated me to a cup of ice-water. When I first met him in the school, I thought him a disgustingly overbearing fellow, but judging by the way he had looked after me so far, he appeared not so bad after all. Only he seemed, like me, impatient by nature and of quick-temper. I heard afterward that he was liked most by all the students in the school.

  1. Means the last crop.