Botchan/Chapter 5

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Won’t you go fishing?” asked Red Shirt. He talks in a strangely womanish voice. One would not be able to tell whether he was a man or a woman. As a man he should talk like one. Is he not a college graduate? I can talk man-like enough, and am a graduate from a school of physics at that. It is a shame for a B. A. to have such a squeak.

I answered with the smallest enthusiasm, whereupon he further asked me an impolite question if I ever did fishing. I told him not much, that I once caught three gibels when I was a boy, at a fishing game pond at Koume, and that I also caught a carp about eight inches long, at a similar game at the festival of Bishamon at Kagurazaka;–the carp, just as I was coaxing it out of the water, splashed back into it, and when I think of the incident I feel mortified at the loss even now. Red Shirt stuck out his chin and laughed “ho, ho.” Why could he not laugh just like an ordinary person? “Then you are not well acquainted with the spirit of the game,” he cried. “I’ll show you if you like.” He seemed highly elated.

Not for me! I take it this way that generally those who are fond of fishing or shooting have cruel hearts. Otherwise, there is no reason why they could derive pleasure in murdering innocent creatures. Surely, fish and birds would prefer living to getting killed. Except those who make fishing or shooting their calling, it is nonsense for those who are well off to say that they cannot sleep well unless they seek the lives of fish or birds. This was the way I looked at the question, but as he was a B. A. and would have a better command of language when it came to talking, I kept mum, knowing he would beat me in argument. Red Shirt mistook my silence for my surrender, and began to induce me to join him right away, saying he would show me some fish and I should come with him if I was not busy, because he and Mr. Yoshikawa were lonesome when alone. Mr. Yoshikawa is the teacher of drawing whom I had nicknamed Clown. I don’t know what’s in the mind of this Clown, but he was a constant visitor at the house of Red Shirt, and wherever he went, Clown was sure to be trailing after him. They appeared more like master and servant than two fellow teachers. As Clown used to follow Red Shirt like a shadow, it would be natural to see them go off together now, but when those two alone would have been well off, why should they invite me,–this brusque, unaesthetic fellow,–was hard to understand. Probably, vain of his fishing ability, he desired to show his skill, but he aimed at the wrong mark, if that was his intention, as nothing of the kind would touch me. I would not be chagrined if he fishes out two or three tunnies. I am a man myself and poor though I may be in the art, I would hook something if I dropped a line. If I declined his invitation, Red Shirt would suspect that I refused not because of my lack of interest in the game but because of my want of skill of fishing. I weighed the matter thus, and accepted his invitation. After the school, I returned home and got ready, and having joined Red Shirt and Clown at the station, we three started to the shore. There was only one boatman to row; the boat was long and narrow, a kind we do not have in Tokyo. I looked for fishing rods but could find none.

“How can we fish without rods? How are we going to manage it?” I asked Clown and he told me with the air of a professional fisherman that no rods were needed in the deep-sea fishing, but only lines. I had better not asked him if I was to be talked down in this way.

The boatman was rowing very slowly, but his skill was something wonderful. We had already come far out to sea, and on turning back, saw the shore minimized, fading in far distance. The five-storied pagoda of Tosho Temple appeared above the surrounding woods like a needle-point. Yonder stood Aoshima (Blue Island). Nobody was living on this island which a closer view showed to be covered with stones and pine trees. No wonder no one could live there. Red Shirt was intently surveying about and praising the general view as fine. Clown also termed it “an absolutely fine view.” I don’t know whether it is so fine as to be absolute, but there was no doubt as to the exhilarating air. I realized it as the best tonic to be thus blown by the fresh sea breeze upon a wide expanse of water. I felt hungry.

“Look at that pine; its trunk is straight and spreads its top branches like an umbrella. Isn’t it a Turnersque picture?” said Red Shirt. “Yes, just like Turner’s,” responded Clown, “Isn’t the way it curves just elegant? Exactly the touch of Turner,” he added with some show of pride. I didn’t know what Turner was, but as I could get along without knowing it, I kept silent. The boat turned to the left with the island on the right. The sea was so perfectly calm as to tempt one to think he was not on the deep sea. The pleasant occasion was a credit to Red Shirt. As I wished, if possible, to land on the island, I asked the boatman if our boat could not be made to it. Upon this Red Shirt objected, saying that we could do so but it was not advisable to go too close the shore for fishing. I kept still for a while. Then Clown made the unlooked-for proposal that the island be named Turner Island. “That’s good; We shall call it so hereafter,”seconded Red Shirt. If I was included in that “We,” it was something I least cared for. Aoshima was good enough for me. “By the way, how would it look,” said Clown, “if we place Madonna by Raphael upon that rock? It would make a fine picture.”

“Let’s quit talking about Madonna, ho, ho, ho,” and Red Shirt emitted a spooky laugh.

“That’s all right. Nobody’s around,” remarked Clown as he glanced at me, and turning his face to other direction significantly, smiled devilishly. I felt sickened.

As it was none of my business whether it was a Madonna or a kodanna (young master), they let pose there any old way, but it was vulgar to feign assurance that one’s subject is in no danger of being understood so long as others did not know the subject. Clown claims himself as a Yedo kid. I thought that the person called Madonna was no other than a favorite geisha of Red Shirt. I should smile at the idea of his gazing at his tootsy-wootsy standing beneath a pine tree. It would be better if Clown would make an oil painting of the scene and exhibit it for the public.

“This will be about the best place.” So saying the boatman stopped rowing the boat and dropped an anchor.

“How deep is it?” asked Red Shirt, and was told about six fathoms.

“Hard to fish sea-breams in six fathoms,” said Red Shirt as he dropped a line into the water. The old sport appeared to expect to fetch some bream. Bravo!

“It wouldn’t be hard for you. Besides it is calm,” Clown fawningly remarked, and he too dropped a line. The line had only a tiny bit of lead that looked like a weight. It had no float. To fish without a float seemed as nearly reasonable as to measure the heat without a thermometer, which was something impossible for me. So I looked on. They then told me to start, and asked me if I had any line. I told them I had more than I could use, but that I had no float.

“To say that one is unable to fish without a float shows that he is a novice,” piped up Clown.

“See? When the line touches the bottom, you just manage it with your finger on the edge. If a fish bites, you could tell in a minute. There it goes,” and Red Shirt hastily started taking out the line. I wondered what he had got, but I saw no fish, only the bait was gone. Ha, good for you, Gov’nur!

“Wasn’t it too bad! I’m sure it was a big one. If you miss that way, with your ability, we would have to keep a sharper watch to-day. But, say, even if we miss the fish, it’s far better than staring at a float, isn’t it? Just like saying he can’t ride a bike without a brake.” Clown has been getting rather gay, and I was almost tempted to swat him. I’m just as good as they are. The sea isn’t leased by Red Shirt, and there might be one obliging bonito which might get caught by my line. I dropped my line then, and toyed it with my finger carelessly.

After a while something shook my line with successive jerks. I thought it must be a fish. Unless it was something living, it would not give that tremulous shaking. Good! I have it, and I commenced drawing in the line, while Clown jibed me “What? Caught one already? Very remarkable, indeed!” I had drawn in nearly all the line, leaving only about five feet in the water. I peeped over and saw a fish that looked like a gold fish with stripes was coming up swimming to right and left. It was interesting. On taking it out of the water, it wriggled and jumped, and covered my face with water. After some effort, I had it and tried to detach the hook, but it would not come out easily. My hands became greasy and the sense was anything but pleasing. I was irritated; I swung the line and banged the fish against the bottom of the boat. It speedily died. Red Shirt and Clown watched me with surprise. I washed my hands in the water but they still smelled “fishy.” No more for me! I don’t care what fish I might get, I don’t want to grab a fish. And I presume the fish doesn’t want to be grabbed either. I hastily rolled up the line.

“Splendid for the first honor, but that’s goruki,” Clown again made a “fresh” remark.

“Goruki sounds like the name of a Russian literator,” said Red Shirt. “Yes, just like a Russian literator,” Clown at once seconded Red Shirt. Gorky for a Russian literator, Maruki a photographer of Shibaku, and komeno-naruki (rice) a life-giver, eh? This Red Shirt has a bad hobby of marshalling before anybody the name of foreigners. Everybody has his specialty. How could a teacher of mathematics like me tell whether it is a Gorky or shariki (rikishaman). Red Shirt should have been a little more considerate. And if he wants to mention such names at all, let him mention “Autobiography of Ben Franklin,” or “Pushing to the Front,” or something we all know. Red Shirt has been seen once in a while bringing a magazine with a red cover entitled Imperial Literature to the school and poring over it with reverence. I heard it from Porcupine that Red Shirt gets his supply of all foreign names from that magazine. Well, I should say!

For some time, Red Shirt and Clown fished assiduously and within about an hour they caught about fifteen fish. The funny part of it was that all they caught were goruki; of sea-bream there was not a sign.

“This is a day of bumper crop of Russian literature,” Red Shirt said, and Clown answered:

“When one as skilled as you gets nothing but goruki, it’s natural for me to get nothing else.”

The boatman told me that this small-sized fish goruki has too many tiny bones and tastes too poor to be fit for eating, but they could be used for fertilising. So Red Shirt and Clown were fishing fertilisers with vim and vigor. As for me, one goruki was enough and I laid down myself on the bottom, and looked up at the sky. This was far more dandy than fishing.

Then the two began whispering. I could not hear well, nor did I care to. I was looking up at the sky and thinking about Kiyo. If I had enough of money, I thought, and came with Kiyo to such a picturesque place, how joyous it would be. No matter how picturesque the scene might be, it would be flat in the company of Clown or of his kind. Kiyo is a poor wrinkled woman, but I am not ashamed to take her to any old place. Clown or his likes, even in a Victoria or a yacht, or in a sky-high position, would not be worthy to come within her shadow. If I were the head teacher, and Red Shirt I, Clown would be sure to fawn on me and jeer at Red Shirt. They say Yedo kids are flippant. Indeed, if a fellow like Clown was to travel the country and repeatedly declare “I am a Yedo kid,” no wonder the country folk would decide that the flippant are Yedo kids and Yedo kids are flippant. While I was meditating like this, I heard suppressed laughter. Between their laughs they talked something, but I could not make out what they were talking about. “Eh? I don’t know….” “…That’s true… he doesn’t know… isn’t it pity, though….” “Can that be….” “With grasshoppers… that’s a fact.”

I did not listen to what they were talking, but when I heard Clown say “grasshoppers,” I cocked my ear instinctively. Clown emphasized, for what reason I do not know the word “grasshopers” so that it would be sure to reach my ear plainly, and he blurred the rest on purpose. I did not move, and kept on listening. “That same old Hotta,” “that may be the case….” “Tempura… ha, ha, ha….” “…incited….” “…dango also?….”

The words were thus choppy, but judging by their saying “grasshoppers,” “tempura” or “dango,” I was sure they were secretly talking something about me. If they wanted to talk, they should do it louder. If they wanted to discuss something secret, why in thunder did they invite me? What damnable blokes! Grasshoppers or glass-stoppers, I was not in the wrong; I have kept quiet to save the face of Badger because the principle asked me to leave the matter to him. Clown has been making unnecessary criticisms; out with your old paint-brushes there! Whatever concerns me, I will settle it myself sooner or later, and they had just to keep off my toes. But remarks such as “the same old Hotta” or “…incited…” worried me a bit. I could not make out whether they meant that Hotta incited me to extend the circle of the trouble, or that he incited the students to get at me. As I gazed at the blue sky, the sunlight gradually waned and chilly winds commenced stirring. The clouds that resembled the streaky smokes of joss sticks were slowly extending over a clear sky, and by degrees they were absorbed, melted and changed to a faint fog.

“Well, let’s be going,” said Red Shirt suddenly. “Yes, this is the time we were going. See your Madonna to-night?” responded Clown. “Cut out nonsense… might mean a serious trouble,” said Red Shirt who was reclining against the edge of the boat, now raising himself. “O, that’s all right if he hears…,” and when Clown, so saying, turned himself my way, I glared squarely in his face. Clown turned back as if to keep away from a dazzling light, and with “Ha, this is going some,” shrugged his shoulders and scratched his head.

The boat was now being rowed shore-ward over the calm sea. “You don’t seem much fond of fishing,” asked Red Shirt. “No, I’d rather prefer lying and looking at the sky,” I answered, and threw the stub of cigarette I had been smoking into the water; it sizzled and floated on the waves parted by the oar.

“The students are all glad because you have come. So we want you do your best.” Red Shirt this time started something quite alien to fishing. “I don’t think they are,” I said. “Yes; I don’t mean it as flattery. They are, sure. Isn’t it so, Mr. Yoshikawa?”

“I should say they are. They’re crazy over it,” said Clown with an unctuous smile. Strange that whatever Clown says, it makes me itching mad. “But, if you don’t look out, there is danger,” warned Red Shirt.

“I am fully prepared for all dangers,” I replied. In fact, I had made up my mind either to get fired or to make all the students in the dormitory apologize to me.

“If you talk that way, that cuts everything out. Really, as a head teacher, I’ve been considering what is good for you, and wouldn’t like you to mistake it.”

“The head teacher is really your friend. And I’m doing what I can for you, though mighty little, because you and I are Yedo kids, and I would like to have you stay with us as long as possible and we can help each other.” So said Clown and it sounded almost human. I would sooner hang myself than to get helped by Clown.

“And the students are all glad because you had come, but there are many circumstances,” continued Red Shirt. “You may feel angry sometimes but be patient for the present, and I will never do anything to hurt your interests.”

“You say ‘many circumstances’; what are they?”

“They’re rather complicated. Well, they’ll be clear to you by and by. You’ll understand them naturally without my talking them over. What do you say, Mr. Yoshikawa?”

“Yes, they’re pretty complicated; hard to get them cleared up in a jiffy. But they’ll become clear by-the-bye. Will be understood naturally without my explaining them,” Clown echoed Red Shirt.

“If they’re such a bother, I don’t mind not hearing them. I only asked you because you sprang the subject.”

“That’s right. I may seem irresponsible in not concluding the thing I had started. Then this much I’ll tell you. I mean no offense, but you are fresh from school, and teaching is a new experience. And a school is a place where somewhat complicated private circumstances are common and one cannot do everything straight and simple.”

“If can’t get it through straight and simple, how does it go?”

“Well, there you are so straight as that. As I was saying, you’re short of experience….”

“I should be. As I wrote it down in my record-sheet, I’m 23 years and four months.”

“That’s it. So you’d be done by some one in unexpected quarter.”

“I’m not afraid who might do me as long as I’m honest”.

“Certainly not. No need be afraid, but I do say you look sharp; your predecessor was done.”

I noticed Clown had become quiet, and turning round, saw him at the stern talking with the boatman. Without Clown, I found our conversation running smoothly.

“By whom was my predecessor done?”

“If I point out the name, it would reflect on the honor of that person, so I can’t mention it. Besides there is no evidence to prove it and I may be in a bad fix if I say it. At any rate, since you’re here, my efforts will prove nothing if you fail. Keep a sharp look-out, please.”

“You say lookout, but I can’t be more watchful than I’m now. If I don’t do anything wrong, after all, that’s all right isn’t it?”

Red Shirt laughed. I did not remember having said anything provocative of laughter. Up to this very minute, I have been firm in my coviction that I’m right. When I come to consider the situation, it appears that a majority of people are encouraging others to become bad. They seem to believe that one must do wrong in order to succeed. If they happen to see some one honest and pure, they sneer at him as “Master Darling” or “kiddy.” What’s the use then of the instructors of ethics at grammar schools or middle schools teaching children not to tell a lie or to be honest. Better rather make a bold departure and teach at schools the gentle art of lying or the trick of distrusting others, or show pupils how to do others. That would be beneficial for the person thus taught and for the public as well. When Red Shirt laughed, he laughed at my simplicity. My word! what chances have the simple-hearted or the pure in a society where they are made objects of contempt! Kiyo would never laugh at such a time; she would listen with profound respect. Kiyo is far superior to Red Shirt.

“Of course, that’s all right as long as you don’t do anything wrong. But although you may not do anything wrong, they will do you just the same unless you can see the wrong of others. There are fellows you have got to watch,–the fellows who may appear off-hand, simple and so kind as to get boarding house for you…. Getting rather cold. ’Tis already autumn, isn’t it. The beach looks beer-color in the fog. A fine view. Say, Mr. Yoshikawa, what do you think of the scene along the beach?….” This in a loud voice was addressed to Clown.

“Indeed, this is a fine view. I’d get a sketch of it if I had time. Seems a pity to leave it there,” answered Clown.

A light was seen upstairs at Minato-ya, and just as the whistle of a train was sounded, our boat pushed its nose deep into the sand. “Well, so you’re back early,” courtesied the wife of the boatman as she stepped upon the sand. I stood on the edge of the boat; and whoop! I jumped out to the beach.