Botchan/Chapter 4

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For us teachers there was a duty of night watch in the school, and we had to do it in turn. But Badger and Red Shirt were not in it. On asking why these two were exempt from this duty, I was told that they were accorded by the government treatment similar to officials of “Sonin” rank. Oh, fudge! They were paid more, worked less, and were then excused from this night watch. It was not fair. They made regulations to suit their convenience and seemed to regard all this as a matter of course. How could they be so brazen faced as this! I was greatly dissatisfied relative to this question, but according to the opinion of Porcupine, protests by a single person, with what insistency they may be made, will not be heard. They ought to be heard whether they are made by one person or by two if they are just. Porcupine remonstrated with me by quoting “Might is right” in English. I did not catch his point, so I asked him again, and he told me that it meant the right of the stronger. If it was the right of the stronger I had known it for long, and did not require Porcupine explain that to me at this time. The right of the stronger was a question different from that of the night watch. Who would agree that Badger and Red Shirt were the stronger? But argument or no argument, the turn of this night watch at last fell upon me. Being quite fastidious, I never enjoyed sound sleep unless I slept comfortably in my own bedding. From my childhood, I never stayed out overnight. When I did not find sleeping under the roof of my friends inviting, night watch in the school, you may be sure, was still worse. However repulsive, if this was a part of the forty yen a month, there was no alternative. I had to do it.

To remain alone in the school after the faculty and students had gone home, was something particularly awkward. The room for the night watch was in the rear of the school building at the west end of the dormitory. I stepped inside to see how it was, and finding it squarely facing the setting sun, I thought I would melt. In spite of autumn having already set in, the hot spell still lingered, quite in keeping with the dilly-dally atmosphere of the country. I ordered the same kind of meal as served for the students, and finished my supper. The meal was unspeakably poor. It was a wonder they could subsist on such miserable stuff and keep on “roughing it” in that lively fashion. Not only that, they were always hungry for supper, finishing it at 4.30 in the afternoon. They must be heroes in a sense. I had thus my supper, but the sun being still high, could not go to bed yet. I felt like going to the hot-springs. I did not know the wrong or right of night watch going out, but it was oppressively trying to stand a life akin to heavy imprisonment. When I called at the school the first time and inquired about night watch, I was told by the janitor that he had just gone out and I thought it strange. But now by taking the turn of night watch myself, I could fathom the situation; it was right for any night watch to go out. I told the janitor that I was going out for a minute. He asked me “on business?” and I answered “No,” but to take a bath at the hot springs, and went out straight. It was too bad that I had left my red towel at home, but I would borrow one over there for to-day.

I took plenty of time in dipping in the bath and as it became dark at last, I came to the Furumachi Station on a train. It was only about four blocks to the school; I could cover it in no time. When I started walking schoolwards, Badger was seen coming from the opposite direction. Badger, I presumed, was going to the hot springs by this train. He came with brisk steps, and as we passed by, I nodded my courtesy. Then Badger, with a studiously owlish countenance, asked:

“Am I wrong to understand that you are night watch?”

Chuck that “Am-I-wrong-to-understand”! Two hours ago, did he not say to me “You’re on first night watch to-night. Now, take care of yourself?” What makes one use such a roundabout, twisted way of saying anything when he becomes a principal? I was far from smiling.

“Yes, Sir,” I said, “I’m night watch to-night, and as I am night watch I will return to the school and stay there overnight, sure.” With this parting shot, I left him where we met. Coming then to the cross-streets of Katamachi, I met Porcupine. This is a narrow place, I tell you. Whenever one ventures out, he is sure to come across some familiar face.

“Say, aren’t you night watch?” he hallooed, and I said “Yes, I am.” “’Tis wrong for night watch to leave his post at his pleasure,” he added, and to this I blurted out with a bold front; “Nothing wrong at all. It is wrong not to go out.”

“Say, old man, your slap-dash is going to the limit. Wouldn’t look well for the principal or the head teacher to see you out like this.”

The submissive tone of his remark was contrary to Porcupine as I had known him so far, so I cut him short by saying:

“I have met the principal just now. Why, he approved my taking a stroll about the town. Said it would be hard on night watch unless he took a walk when it is hot.” Then I made a bee-line for the school.

Soon it was night. I called the janitor to my room and had a chat for about two hours. I grew tired of this, and thought I would get into bed anyway, even if I could not sleep. I put on my night shirt, lifted the mosquito-net, rolled off the red blanket and fell down flat on my back with a bang. The making of this bumping noise when I go to bed is my habit from my boyhood. “It is a bad habit,” once declared a student of a law school who lived on the ground floor, and I on the second, when I was in the boarding house at Ogawa-machi, Kanda-ku, and who brought complaints to my room in person. Students of law schools, weaklings as they are, have double the ability of ordinary persons when it comes to talking. As this student of law dwelt long on absurd accusations, I downed him by answering that the noise made when I went to bed was not the fault of my hip, but that of the house which was not built on a solid base, and that if he had any fuss to make, make it to the house, not to me. This room for night watch was not on the second floor, so nobody cared how much I banged. I do not feel well-rested unless I go to bed with the loudest bang I can make.

“This is bully!” and I straightened out my feet, when something jumped and clung to them. They felt coarse, and seemed not to be fleas. I was a bit surprised, and shook my feet inside the blanket two or three times. Instantly the blamed thing increased,–five or six of them on my legs, two or three on the thighs, one crushed beneath my hip and another clear up to my belly. The shock became greater. Up I jumped, took off the blanket, and about fifty to sixty grasshoppers flew out. I was more or less uneasy until I found out what they were, but now I saw they were grasshoppers, they set me on the war path. “You insignificant grasshoppers, startling a man! See what’s coming to you!” With this I slapped them with my pillow twice or thrice, but the objects being so small, the effect was out of proportion to the force with which the blows were administered. I adopted a different plan. In the manner of beating floor-mats with rolled matting at house-cleaning, I sat up in bed and began beating them with the pillow. Many of them flew up by the force of the pillow; some desperately clung on or shot against my nose or head. I could not very well hit those on my head with the pillow; I grabbed such, and dashed them on the floor. What was more provoking was that no matter how hard I dashed them, they landed on the mosquito-net where they made a fluffy jerk and remained, far from being dead. At last, in about half an hour the slaughter of the grasshoppers was ended. I fetched a broom and swept them out. The janitor came along and asked what was the matter.

“Damn the matter! Where in thunder are the fools who keep grasshoppers in bed! You pumpkinhead!”

The janitor answered by explaining that he did not know anything about it. “You can’t get away with Did-not-know,” and I followed this thundering by throwing away the broom. The awe-struck janitor shouldered the broom and faded away.

At once I summoned three of the students to my room as the “representatives,” and six of them reported. Six or ten made no difference; I rolled up the sleeves of my night-shirt and fired away.

“What do you mean by putting grasshoppers in my bed!”

“Grasshoppers? What are they?” said one in front, in a tone disgustingly quiet. In this school, not only the principal, but the students as well, were addicted to using twisted-round expressions.

“Don’t know grasshoppers! You shall see!” To my chagrin, there was none; I had swept them all out. I called the janitor again and told him to fetch those grasshoppers he had taken away. The janitor said he had thrown them into the garbage box, but that he would pick them out again. “Yes, hurry up,” I said, and he sped away. After a while he brought back about ten grasshoppers on a white paper, remarking:

“I’m sorry, Sir. It’s dark outside and I can’t find out more. I’ll find some tomorrow.” All fools here, down to the janitor. I showed one grasshopper to the students.

“This is a grasshopper. What’s the matter for as big idiots as you not to know a grasshopper.”

Then the one with a round face sitting on the left saucily shot back:

“A-ah say, that's a locust, a-ah–.”

“Shut up. They’re the same thing. In the first place, what do you mean by answering your teacher ‘A-ah say’? Ah-Say or Ah-Sing is a Chink’s name!"

For this counter-shot, he answered:

“A-ah say and Ah-Sing is different,–A-ah say.” They never got rid of “A-ah say.”

“Grasshoppers or locusts, why did you put them into my bed? When I asked you to?”

“Nobody put them in.”

“If not, how could they get into the bed?”

“Locusts are fond of warm places and probably they got in there respectfully by themselves.”

“You fools! Grasshoppers getting into bed respectfully! I should smile at them getting in there respectfully! Now, what’s the reason for doing this mischief? Speak out.”

“But there is no way to explain it because we didn’t do it.”

Shrimps! If they were afraid of making a clean breast of their own deed, they should not have done it at all. They looked defiant, and appeared to insist on their innocence as long as no evidence was brought up. I myself did some mischief while in the middle school, but when the culprit was sought after, I was never so cowardly, not even once, to back out. What one has done, has been done; what he has not, has not been,–that’s the black and white of it. I, for one have been game and square, no matter how much mischief I might have done. If I wished to dodge the punishment, I would not start it. Mischief and punishment are bound to go together. We can enjoy mischief-making with some show of spirit because it is accompanied by certain consequences. Where does one expect to see the dastardly spirit which hungers for mischief-making without punishment, in vogue? The fellows who like to borrow money but not pay it back, are surely such as these students here after they are graduated. What did these fellows come to this middle school for, anyway? They enter a school, tattle round lies, play silly jokes behind some one by sneaking and cheating and get wrongly swell-headed when they finish the school thinking they have received an education. A common lot of jackasses they are.

My hatred of talking with these scamps became intense, so I dismissed them by saying:

“If you fellows have nothing to say, let it go at that. You deserve pity for not knowing the decent from the vulgar after coming to a middle school.”

I am not very decent in my own language or manner, but am sure that my moral standard is far more decent than that of these gangs. Those six boys filed out leisurely. Outwardly they appeared more dignified than I their teacher, it was the more repulsive for their calm behavior. I have no temerity equal to theirs. Then I went to bed again, and found the inside of the net full of merry crowds of mosquitoes. I could not bother myself to burn one by one with a candle flame. So I took the net off the hooks, folded it the lengthwise, and shook it crossways, up and down the room. One of the rings of the net, flying round, accidentally hit the back of my hand, the effect of which I did not soon forget. When I went to bed for the third time, I cooled off a little, but could not sleep easily. My watch showed it was half past ten. Well, as I thought it over, I realized myself as having come to a dirty pit. If all teachers of middle schools everywhere have to handle fellows like these in this school, those teachers have my sympathy. It is wonderful that teachers never run short. I believe there are many boneheads of extraordinary patience; but me for something else. In this respect, Kiyo is worthy of admiration. She is an old woman, with neither education nor social position, but as a human, she does more to command our respect. Until now, I have been a trouble to her without appreciating her goodness, but having come alone to such a far-off country, I now appreciated, for the first time, her kindness. If she is fond of sasa-ame of Echigo province, and if I go to Echigo for the purpose of buying that sweetmeat to let her eat it, she is fully worth that trouble. Kiyo has been praising me as unselfish and straight, but she is a person of sterling qualities far more than I whom she praises. I began to feel like meeting her.

While I was thus meditating about Kiyo, all of a sudden, on the floor above my head, about thirty to forty people, if I guess by the number, started stamping the floor with bang, bang, bang that well threatened to bang down the floor. This was followed by proportionately loud whoops. The noise surprised me, and I popped up. The moment I got up I became aware that the students were starting a rough house to get even with me. What wrong one has committed, he has to confess, or his offence is never atoned for. They are just to ask for themselves what crimes they have done. It should be proper that they repent their folly after going to bed and to come and beg me pardon the next morning. Even if they could not go so far as to apologize they should have kept quiet. Then what does this racket mean? Where we keeping hogs in our dormitory?

“This crazy thing got to stop. See what you get!”

I ran out of the room in my night shirt, and flew upstairs in three and half steps. Then, strange to say, thunderous rumbling, of which I was sure of hearing in the act, was hushed. Not only a whisper but even footsteps were not heard. This was funny. The lamp was already blown out and although I could not see what was what in the dark, nevertheless could tell by instinct whether there was somebody around or not. In the long corridor running from the east to the west, there was not hiding even a mouse. From other end of the corridor the moonlight flooded in and about there it was particularly light. The scene was somewhat uncanny. I have had the habit from my boyhood of frequently dreaming and of flying out of bed and of muttering things which nobody understood, affording everybody a hearty laugh. One night, when I was sixteen or seventeen, I dreamed that I picked up a diamond, and getting up, demanded of my brother who was sleeping close to me what he had done with that diamond. The demand was made with such force that for about three days all in the house chaffed me about the fatal loss of precious stone, much to my humiliation. Maybe this noise which I heard was but a dream, although I was sure it was real. I was wondering thus in the middle of the corridor, when at the further end where it was moonlit, a roar was raised, coming from about thirty or forty throats, “One, two, three,–Whee-ee!” The roar had hardly subsided, when, as before, the stamping of the floor commenced with furious rhythm. Ah, it was not a dream, but a real thing!

“Quit making the noise! ’Tis midnight!”

I shouted to beat the band, and started in their direction. My passage was dark; the moonlight yonder was only my guide. About twelve feet past, I stumbled squarely against some hard object; ere the “Ouch!” has passed clear up to my head, I was thrown down. I called all kinds of gods, but could not run. My mind urged me on to hurry up, but my leg would not obey the command. Growing impatient, I hobbled on one foot, and found both voice and stamping already ceased and perfectly quiet. Men can be cowards but I never expected them capable of becoming such dastardly cowards as this. They challenged hogs.

Now the situation having developed to this pretty mess, I would not give it up until I had dragged them out from hiding and forced them to apologize. With this determination, I tried to open one of the doors and examine inside, but it would not open. It was locked or held fast with a pile of tables or something; to my persistent efforts the door stood unyielding. Then I tried one across the corridor on the northside, but it was also locked. While this irritating attempt at door-opening was going on, again on the east end of the corridor the whooping roar and rhythmic stamping of feet were heard. The fools at both ends were bent on making a goose of me. I realized this, but then I was at a loss what to do. I frankly confess that I have not quite as much tact as dashing spirit. In such a case I am wholly at the mercy of swaying circumstances without my own way of getting through it. Nevertheless, I do not expect to play the part of underdog. If I dropped the affair then and there, it would reflect upon my dignity. It would be mortifying to have them think that they had one on the Tokyo-kid and that Tokyo-kid was wanting in tenacity. To have it on record that I had been guyed by these insignificant spawn when on night watch, and had to give in to their impudence because I could not handle them,–this would be an indelible disgrace on my life. Mark ye,–I am descendant of a samurai of the “hatamato” class. The blood of the “hatamoto” samurai could be traced to Mitsunaka Tada, who in turn could claim still a nobler ancestor. I am different from, and nobler than, these manure-smelling louts. The only pity is that I am rather short of tact; that I do not know what to do in such a case. That is the trouble. But I would not throw up the sponge; not on your life! I only do not know how because I am honest. Just think,–if the honest does not win, what else is there in this world that will win? If I cannot beat them to-night, I will tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then the day after tomorrow. If not the day after tomorrow, I will sit down right here, get my meals from my home until I beat them.

Thus resolved, I squatted in the middle of the corridor and waited for the dawn. Myriads of mosquitoes swarmed about me, but I did not mind them. I felt my leg where I hit it a while ago; it seemed bespattered with something greasy. I thought it was bleeding. Let it bleed all it cares! Meanwhile, exhausted by these unwonted affairs, I fell asleep. When I awoke, up I jumped with a curse. The door on my right was half opened, and two students were standing in front of me. The moment I recovered my senses from the drowsy lull, I grabbed a leg of one of them nearest to me, and yanked it with all my might. He fell down prone. Look at what you’re getting now! I flew at the other fellow, who was much confused; gave him vigorous shaking twice or thrice, and he only kept open his bewildering eyes.

“Come up to my room.” Evidently they were mollycoddles, for they obeyed my command without a murmur. The day had become already clear.

I began questioning those two in my room, but,–you cannot pound out the leopard’s spots no matter how you may try,–they seemed determined to push it through by an insistent declaration of “not guilty,” that they would not confess. While this questioning was going on, the students upstairs came down, one by one, and began congregating in my room. I noticed all their eyes were swollen from want of sleep.

“Blooming nice faces you got for not sleeping only one night. And you call yourselves men! Go, wash your face and come back to hear what I’ve got to tell you.”

I hurled this shot at them, but none of them went to wash his face. For about one hour, I had been talking and back-talking with about fifty students when suddenly Badger put in his appearance. I heard afterward that the janitor ran to Badger for the purpose of reporting to him that there was a trouble in the school. What a weak-knee of the janitor to fetch the principal for so trifling an affair as this! No wonder he cannot see better times than a janitor.

The principal listened to my explanation, and also to brief remarks from the students. “Attend school as usual till further notice. Hurry up with washing your face and breakfast; there isn’t much time left.” So the principal let go all the students. Decidedly slow way of handling, this. If I were the principal, I would expel them right away. It is because the school accords them such luke-warm treatment that they get “fresh” and start “guying” the night watch.

He said to me that it must have been trying on my nerves, and that I might be tired, and also that I need not teach that day. To this I replied:

“No, Sir, no worrying at all. Such things may happen every night, but it would not disturb me in the least as long as I breathe. I will do the teaching. If I were not able to teach on account of lack of sleep for only one single night, I would make a rebate of my salary to the school.”

I do not know how this impressed him, but he gazed at me for a while, and called my attention to the fact that my face was rather swollen. Indeed, I felt it heavy. Besides, it itched all over. I was sure the mosquitoes must have stung me there to their hearts’ content. I further added:

“My face may be swollen, but I can talk all right; so I will teach;” thus scratching my face with some warmth. The principal smiled and remarked, “Well, you have the strength.” To tell the truth, he did not intend remark to be a compliment, but, I think, a sneer.