Botchan/Chapter 6

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CHAPTER VI.

I heartily despise Clown. It would be beneficial for Japan if such a fellow were tied to a quern-stone and dumped into the sea. As to Red Shirt, his voice did not suit my fancy. I believe he suppresses his natural tones to put on airs and assume genteel manner. He may put on all kinds of airs, but nothing good will come of it with that type of face. If anything falls in love with him, perhaps the Madonna will be about the limit. As a head-teacher, however, he is more serious than Clown. As he did not say definitely, I cannot get to the point, but it appears that he warned me to look-out for Porcupine as he is crooked. If that was the case, he should have declared it like a man. And if Porcupine is so bad a teacher as that, it would be better to discharge him. What a lack of backbone for a head teacher and a Bachelor of Arts! As he is a fellow so cautious as to be unable to mention the name of the other even in a whisper, he is surely a mollycoddle. All mollycoddles are kind, and that Red Shirt may be as kind as a woman. His kindness is one thing, and his voice quite another, and it would be wrong to disregard his kindness on account of his voice. But then, isn’t this world a funny place! The fellow I don’t like is kind to me, and the friend whom I like is crooked,–how absurd! Probably everything here goes in opposite directions as it is in the country, the contrary holds in Tokyo. A dangerous place, this. By degrees, fires may get frozen and custard pudding petrified. But it is hardly believable that Porcupine would incite the students, although he might do most anything he wishes as he is best liked among them. Instead of taking in so roundabout a way, in the first place, it would have saved him a lot of trouble if he came direct to me and got at me for a fight. If I am in his way, he had better tell me so, and ask me to resign because I am in his way. There is nothing that cannot be settled by talking it over. If what he says sounds reasonable, I would resign even tomorrow. This is not the only town where I can get bread and butter; I ought not to die homeless wherever I go. I thought Porcupine was a better sport.

When I came here, Porcupine was the first to treat me to ice water. To be treated by such a fellow, even if it is so trifling a thing as ice water, affects my honor. I had only one glass then and had him pay only one sen and a half. But one sen or half sen, I shall not die in peace if I accept a favor from a swindler. I will pay it back tomorrow when I go to the school. I borrowed three yen from Kiyo. That three yen is not paid yet to-day, though it is five years since. Not that I could not pay, but that I did not want to. Kiyo never looks to my pocket thinking I shall pay it back by-the-bye. Not by any means. I myself do not expect to fulfill cold obligation like a stranger by meditating on returning it. The more I worry about paying it back, the more I may be doubting the honest heart of Kiyo. It would be the same as traducing her pure mind. I have not paid her back that three yen not because I regard her lightly, but because I regard her as part of myself. Kiyo and Porcupine cannot be compared, of course, but whether it be ice water or tea, the fact that I accept another’s favor without saying anything is an act of good-will, taking the other on his par value, as a decent fellow. Instead of chipping in my share, and settling each account, to receive munificence with grateful mind is an acknowledgment which no amount of money can purchase. I have neither title nor official position but I am an independent fellow, and to have an independent fellow kowtow to you in acknowledgment of the favor you extend him should be considered as far more than a return acknowledgment with a million yen. I made Porcupine blow one sen and a half, and gave him my gratitude which is more costly than a million yen. He ought to have been thankful for that. And then what an outrageous fellow to plan a cowardly action behind my back! I will give him back that one sen and a half tomorrow, and all will be square. Then I will land him one. When I thought thus far, I felt sleepy and slept like a log. The next day, as I had something in my mind, I went to the school earlier than usual and waited for Porcupine, but he did not appear for a considerable time. “Confucius” was there, so was Clown, and finally Red Shirt, but for Porcupine there was a piece of chalk on his desk but the owner was not there. I had been thinking of paying that one sen and a half as soon as I entered the room, and had brought the coppers to the school grasped in my hand. My hands get easily sweaty, and when I opened my hand, I found them wet. Thinking that Porcupine might say something if wet coins were given him, I placed them upon my desk, and cooled them by blowing in them. Then Red Shirt came to me and said he was sorry to detain me yesterday, thought I have been annoyed. I told him I was not annoyed at all, only I was hungry. Thereupon Red Shirt put his elbows upon the desk, brought his sauce-pan-like face close to my nose, and said; “Say, keep dark what I told you yesterday in the boat. You haven’t told it anybody, have you?” He seems quite a nervous fellow as becoming one who talks in a feminish voice. It was certain that I had not told it to anybody, but as I was in the mood to tell it and had already one sen and a half in my hand, I would be a little rattled if a gag was put on me. To the devil with Red Shirt! Although he had not mentioned the name “Porcupine,” he had given me such pointers as to put me wise as to who the objective was, and now he requested me not to blow the gaff!–it was an irresponsibility least to be expected from a head teacher. In the ordinary run of things, he should step into the thick of the fight between Porcupine and me, and side with me with all his colors flying. By so doing, he might be worthy the position of the head teacher, and vindicate the principle of wearing red shirts.

I told the head teacher that I had not divulged the secret to anybody but was going to fight it out with Porcupine. Red Shirt was greatly perturbed, and stuttered out; “Say, don’t do anything so rash as that. I don’t remember having stated anything plainly to you about Mr. Hotta… if you start a scrimmage here, I’ll be greatly embarrassed.” And he asked the strangely outlandish question if I had come to the school to start trouble? Of course not, I said, the school would not stand for my making trouble and pay me salary for it. Red Shirt then, perspiring, begged me to keep the secret as mere reference and never mention it. “All right, then,” I assured him, “this robs me shy, but since you’re so afraid of it, I’ll keep it all to myself.” “Are you sure?” repeated Red Shirt. There was no limit to his womanishness. If Red Shirt was typical of Bachelors of Arts, I did not see much in them. He appeared composed after having requested me to do something self-contradictory and wanting logic, and on top of that suspects my sincerity.

“Don’t you mistake,” I said to myself, “I’m a man to the marrow, and haven’t the idea of breaking my own promises; mark that!”

Meanwhile the occupants of the desks on both my sides came to the room, and Red Shirt hastily withdrew to his own desk. Red Shirt shows some air even in his walk. In stepping about the room, he places down his shoes so as to make no sound. For the first time I came to know that making no sound in one’s walk was something satisfactory to one’s vanity. He was not training himself for a burglar, I suppose. He should cut out such nonsense before it gets worse. Then the bugle for the opening of classes was heard. Porcupine did not appear after all. There was no other way but to leave the coins upon the desk and attend the class.

When I returned to the room a little late after the first hour class, all the teachers were there at their desks, and Porcupine too was there. The moment Porcupine saw my face, he said that he was late on my account, and I should pay him a fine. I took out that one sen and a half, and saying it was the price of the ice water, shoved it on his desk and told him to take it. “Don’t josh me,” he said, and began laughing, but as I appeared unusually serious, he swept the coins back to my desk, and flung back, “Quit fooling.” So he really meant to treat me, eh?

“No fooling; I mean it,” I said. “I have no reason to accept your treat, and that’s why I pay you back. Why don’t you take it?”

“If you’re so worried about that one sen and a half, I will take it, but why do you pay it at this time so suddenly?”

“This time or any time, I want to pay it back. I pay it back because I don’t like you treat me.”

Porcupine coldly gazed at me and ejaculated “H’m.” If I had not been requested by Red Shirt, here was the chance to show up his cowardice and make it hot for him. But since I had promised not to reveal the secret, I could do nothing. What the deuce did he mean by “H’m” when I was red with anger.

“I’ll take the price of the ice water, but I want you leave your boarding house.”

“Take that coin; that’s all there is to it. To leave or not,–that’s my pleasure.”

“But that is not your pleasure. The boss of your boarding house came to me yesterday and wanted me to tell you leave the house, and when I heard his explanation, what he said was reasonable. And I dropped there on my way here this morning to hear more details and make sure of everything.”

What Porcupine was trying to get at was all dark to me.

“I don’t care a snap what the boss was damn well pleased to tell you,” I cried. “What do you mean by deciding everything by yourself! If there is any reason, tell me first. What’s the matter with you, deciding what the boss says is reasonable without hearing me.”

“Then you shall hear,” he said. “You’re too tough and been regarded a nuisance over there. Say, the wife of a boarding house is a wife, not a maid, and you’ve been such a four-flusher as to make her wipe your feet.”

“When did I make her wipe my feet?” I asked.

“I don’t know whether you did or did not, but anyway they’re pretty sore about you. He said he can make ten or fifteen yen easily if he sell a roll of panel-picture.”

“Damn the chap! Why did he take me for a boarder then!”

“I don’t know why. They took you but they want you leave because they got tired of you. So you’d better get out.”

“Sure, I will. Who’d stay in such a house even if they beg me on their knees. You’re insolent to have induced me to go to such a false accuser in the first place.”

“Might be either I’m insolent or you’re tough.” Porcupine is no less hot-tempered than I am, and spoke with equally loud voice. All the other teachers in the room, surprised, wondering what has happened, looked in our direction and craned their necks. I was not conscious of having done anything to be ashamed of, so I stood up and looked around. Clown alone was laughing amused. The moment he met my glaring stare as if to say “You too want to fight?” he suddenly assumed a grave face and became serious. He seemed to be a little cowed. Meanwhile the bugle was heard, and Porcupine and I stopped the quarrel and went to the class rooms.

In the afternoon, a meeting of the teachers was going to be held to discuss the question of punishment of those students in the dormitory who offended me the other night. This meeting was a thing I had to attend for the first time in my life, and I was totally ignorant about it. Probably it was where the teachers gathered to blow about their own opinions and the principal bring them to compromise somehow. To compromise is a method used when no decision can be delivered as to the right or wrong of either side. It seemed to me a waste of time to hold a meeting over an affair in which the guilt of the other side was plain as daylight. No matter who tried to twist it round, there was no ground for doubting the facts. It would have been better if the principal had decided at once on such a plain case; he is surely wanting in decision. If all principals are like this, a principal is a synonym of a “dilly-dally.”

The meeting hall was a long, narrow room next to that of the principal, and was used for dining room. About twenty chairs, with black leather seat, were lined around a narrow table, and the whole scene looked like a restaurant in Kanda. At one end of the table the principal took his seat, and next to him Red Shirt. All the rest shifted for themselves, but the gymnasium teacher is said always to take the seat farthest down out of modesty. The situation was new to me, so I sat down between the teachers of natural history and of Confucius. Across the table sat Porcupine and Clown. Think how I might, the face of Clown was a degrading type. That of Porcupine was far more charming, even if I was now on bad terms with him. The panel picture which hung in the alcove of the reception hall of Yogen temple where I went to the funeral of my father, looked exactly like this Porcupine. A priest told me the picture was the face of a strange creature called Idaten. To-day he was pretty sore, and frequently stared at me with his fiery eyes rolling. “You can’t bulldoze me with that,” I thought, and rolled my own in defiance and stared back at him. My eyes are not well-shaped but their large size is seldom beaten by others. Kiyo even once suggested that I should make a fine actor because I had big eyes.

“All now here?” asked the principal, and the clerk named Kawamura counted one, two, three and one was short. “Just one more,” said the clerk, and it ought to be; Hubbard Squash was not there. I don’t know what affinity there is between Hubbard Squash and me, but I can never forget his face. When I come to the teachers’ room, his face attracts me first; while walking out in the street, his manners are recalled to my mind. When I go to the hot springs, sometimes I meet him with a pale-face in the bath, and if I hallooed to him, he would raise his trembling head, making me feel sorry for him. In the school there is no teacher so quiet as he. He seldom, if ever, laughs or talks. I knew the word “gentleman” from books, and thought it was found only in the dictionary, but not a thing alive. But since I met Hubbard Squash, I was impressed for the first time that the word represented a real substance.

As he is a man so attached to me, I had noticed his absence as soon as I entered the meeting hall. To tell the truth, I came to the hall with the intention of sitting next to him. The principal said that the absentee may appear shortly, and untied a package he had before him, taking out some hectograph sheets and began reading them. Red Shirt began polishing his amber pipe with a silk handkerchief. This was his hobby, which was probably becoming to him. Others whispered with their neighbors. Still others were writing nothings upon the table with the erasers at the end of their pencils. Clown talked to Porcupine once in a while, but he was not responsive. He only said “Umh” or “Ahm,” and stared at me with wrathful eyes. I stared back with equal ferocity.

Then the tardy Hubbard Squash apologetically entered, and politely explained that he was unavoidably detained. “Well, then the meeting is called to order,” said Badger. On these sheets was printed, first the question of the punishment of the offending students, second that of superintending the students, and two or three other matters. Badger, putting on airs as usual, as if he was an incarnation of education, spoke to the following effect.

“Any misdeeds or faults among the teachers or the students in this school are due to the lack of virtues in my person, and whenever anything happens, I inwardly feel ashamed that a man like me could hold his position. Unfortunately such an affair has taken place again, and I have to apologize from my heart. But since it has happened, it cannot be helped; we must settle it one way or other. The facts are as you already know, and I ask you gentlemen to state frankly the best means by which the affair may be settled.”

When I heard the principal speak, I was impressed that indeed the principal, or Badger, was saying something “grand.” If the principal was willing to assume all responsibilities, saying it was his fault or his lack of virtues, it would have been better stop punishing the students and get himself fired first. Then there will be no need of holding such thing as a meeting. In the first place, just consider it by common sense. I was doing my night duty right, and the students started trouble. The wrong doer is neither the principal nor I. If Porcupine incited them, then it would be enough to get rid of the students and Porcupine. Where in thunder would be a peach of damfool who always swipes other people’s faults and says “these are mine?” It was a stunt made possible only by Badger. Having made such an illogical statement, he glanced at the teachers in a highly pleased manner. But no one opened his mouth. The teacher of natural history was gazing at the crow which had hopped on the roof of the nearby building. The teacher of Confucius was folding and unfolding the hectograph sheet. Porcupine was still staring at me. If a meeting was so nonsensical an affair as this, I would have been better absent taking a nap at home.

I became irritated, and half raised myself, intending to make a convincing speech, but just then Red Shirt began saying something and I stopped. I saw him say something, having put away his pipe, and wiping his face with a striped silk handkerchief. I’m sure he copped that handkerchief from the Madonna; men should use white linen. He said:

“When I heard of the rough affairs in the dormitory, I was greatly ashamed as the head teacher of my lack of discipline and influence. When such an affair takes place there is underlying cause somewhere. Looking at the affair itself, it may seem that the students were wrong, but in a closer study of the facts, we may find the responsibility resting with the School. Therefore, I’m afraid it might affect us badly in the future if we administer too severe a punishment on the strength of what has been shown on the surface. As they are youngsters, full of life and vigor, they might half-consciously commit some youthful pranks, without due regard as to their good or bad. As to the mode of punishment itself, I have no right to suggest since it is a matter entirely in the hand of the principal, but I should ask, considering these points, that some leniency be shown toward the students.”

Well, as Badger, so was Red Shirt. He declares the “Rough Necks” among the students is not their fault but the fault of the teachers. A crazy person beats other people because the beaten are wrong. Very grateful, indeed. If the students were so full of life and vigor, shovel them out into the campus and let them wrestle their heads off. Who would have grasshoppers put into his bed unconsciously! If things go on like this, they may stab some one asleep, and get freed as having done the deed unconsciously.

Having figured it out in this wise, I thought I would state my own views on the matter, but I wanted to give them an eloquent speech and fairly take away their breath. I have an affection of the windpipe which clog after two or three words when I am excited. Badger and Red Shirt are below my standing in their personality, but they were skilled in speech-making, and it would not do to have them see my awkwardness. I’ll make a rough note of composition first, I thought, and started mentally making a sentence, when, to my surprise, Clown stood up suddenly. It was unusual for Clown to state his opinion. He spoke in his flippant tone:

“Really the grasshopper incident and the whoop-la affair are peculiar happenings which are enough to make us doubt our own future. We teachers at this time must strive to clear the atmosphere of the school. And what the principal and the head teacher have said just now are fit and proper. I entirely agree with their opinions. I wish the punishment be moderate.”

In what Clown had said there were words but no meaning. It was a juxtaposition of high-flown words making no sense. All that I understood was the words, “I entirely agree with their opinions.”

Clown’s meaning was not clear to me, but as I was thoroughly angered, I rose without completing my rough note.

“I am entirely opposed to…” I said, but the rest did not come at once. “…I don’t like such a topsy-turvy settlement,” I added and the fellows began laughing. “The students are absolutely wrong from the beginning. It would set a bad precedent if we don’t make them apologize…. What do we care if we kick them all out… darn the kids trying to guy a new comer…” and I sat down. Then the teacher of natural history who sat on my right whined a weak opinion, saying “The students may be wrong, but if we punish them too severely, they may start a reaction and would make it rather bad. I am for the moderate side, as the head teacher suggested.” The teacher of Confucius on my left expressed his agreement with the moderate side, and so did the teacher of history endorse the views of the head teacher. Dash those weak-knees! Most of them belonged to the coterie of Red Shirt. It would make a dandy school if such fellows run it. I had decided in my mind that it must be either the students apologize to me or I resign, and if the opinion of Red Shirt prevailed, I had determined to return home and pack up. I had no ability of out-talking such fellows, or even if I had, I was in no humor to keeping their company for long. Since I don’t expect to remain in the school, the devil may take care of the rest. If I said anything, they would only laugh; so I shut my mouth tight.

Porcupine, who up to this time had been listening to the others, stood up with some show of spirit. Ha, the fellow was going to endorse the views of Red Shirt, eh? You and I got to fight it out anyway, I thought, so do any way you darn please. Porcupine spoke in a thunderous voice:

“I entirely differ from the opinions of the head teacher and other gentlemen. Because, viewed from whatever angle, this incident cannot be other than an attempt by those fifty students in the dormitory to make a fool of a new teacher. The head teacher seems to trace the cause of the trouble to the personality of that teacher himself, but, begging his pardon, I think he is mistaken. The night that new teacher was on night duty was not long after his arrival, not more than twenty days after he had come into contact with the students. During those short twenty days, the students could have no reason to criticise his knowledges or his person. If he was insulted for some cause which deserved insult, there may be reasons in our considering the act of the students, but if we show undue leniency toward the frivolous students who would insult a new teacher without cause, it would affect the dignity of this school. The spirit of education is not only in imparting technical knowledges, but also in encouraging honest, ennobling and samurai-like virtues, while eliminating the evil tendency to vulgarity and roughness. If we are afraid of reaction or further trouble, and satisfy ourselves with make-shifts, there is no telling when we can ever get rid of this evil atomosphere. We are here to eradicate this very evil. If we mean to countenance it, we had better not accepted our positions here. For these reasons, I believe it proper to punish the students in the dormitory to the fullest extent and also make them apologize to that teacher in the open.”

All were quiet. Red Shirt again began polishing his pipe. I was greatly elated. He spoke almost what I had wanted to. I’m such a simple-hearted fellow that I forgot all about the bickerings with Porcupine, and looked at him with a grateful face, but he appeared to take no notice of me.

After a while, Porcupine again stood up, and said. “I forgot to mention just now, so I wish to add. The teacher on night duty that night seems to have gone to the hot springs during his duty hours, and I think it a blunder. It is a matter of serious misconduct to take the advantage of being in sole charge of the school, to slip out to a hot springs. The bad behavior of the students is one thing; this blunder is another, and I wish the principal to call attention of the responsible person to that matter.”

A strange fellow! No sooner had he backed me up than he began talking me down. I knew the other night watch went out during his duty hours, and thought it was a custom, so I went as far out as to the hot springs without considering the situation seriously. But when it was pointed out like this, I realised that I had been wrong. Thereupon I rose again and said; “I really went to the hot springs. It was wrong and I apologize.” Then all again laughed. Whatever I say, they laugh. What a lot of boobs! See if you fellows can make a clean breast of your own fault like this! You fellows laugh because you can’t talk straight.

After that the principal said that since it appeared that there will be no more opinions, he will consider the matter well and administer what he may deem a proper punishment. I may here add the result of the meeting. The students in the dormitory were given one week’s confinement, and in addition to that, apologized to me. If they had not apologized, I intended to resign and go straight home, but as it was it finally resulted in a bigger and still worse affair, of which more later. The principal then at the meeting said something to the effect that the manners of the students should be directed rightly by the teachers’ influence, and as the first step, no teacher should patronize, if possible, the shops where edibles and drinks were served, excepting, however, in case of farewell party or such social gatherings. He said he would like no teacher to go singly to eating houses of lower kind–for instance, noodle-house or dango shop…. And again all laughed. Clown looked at Porcupine, said “tempura” and winked his eyes, but Porcupine regarded him in silence. Good!

My “think box” is not of superior quality, so things said by Badger were not clear to me, but I thought if a fellow can’t hold the job of teacher in a middle school because he patronizes a noodle-house or dango shop, the fellow with bear-like appetite like me will never be able to hold it. If it was the case, they ought to have specified when calling for a teacher one who does not eat noodle and dango. To give an appointment without reference to the matter at first, and then to proclaim that noodle or dango should not be eaten was a blow to a fellow like me who has no other petty hobby. Then Red Shirt again opened his mouth.

“Teachers of the middle school belong to the upper class of society and they should not be looking after material pleasures only, for it would eventually have effect upon their personal character. But we are human, and it would be intolerable in a small town like this to live without any means of affording some pleasure to ourselves, such as fishing, reading literary products, composing new style poems, or haiku (17-syllable poem). We should seek mental consolation of higher order.”

There seemed no prospect that he would quit the hot air. If it was a mental consolation to fish fertilisers on the sea, have goruki for Russian literature, or to pose a favorite geisha beneath pine tree, it would be quite as much a mental consolation to eat dempura noodle and swallow dango. Instead of dwelling on such sham consolations, he would find his time better spent by washing his red shirts. I became so exasperated that I asked; “Is it also a mental consolation to meet the Madonna?” No one laughed this time and looked at each other with queer faces, and Red Shirt himself hung his head, apparently embarrassed. Look at that! A good shot, eh? Only I was sorry for Hubbard Squash who, having heard the remark, became still paler.