Flower Spelling - Chapter 23
Chapter 23 – Playing in the Snow
Through the gap in the futon covering her head, the freezing cold air penetrated to the core of her body. Wrapping the futon firmly about her body, she attempted to sleep once more, going back and forth between dreams for a while, until Sogetsu couldn’t take it anymore and forced herself to rise.
… The toilet in the middle of summer was stinky and bad, but even the toilet in the middle of winter is bad.
Shivering from the cold air that pierced her once she left the futon, she threw on a thick cotton cover and gently opened the door of the tenement. The unexpected brightness of the sun blinded her, and as her eyes finally adjusted, she stood there, oblivious to the cold.
“It’s quite a pile, isn’t it?”
Takasugi, who was lying on the futon, staring through the open door, rubbed his hanged eyes sleepily. His frown was partially due to the fact that he had been woken up by Sogetsu, who had run into the house in a fit of excitement at the sight of the snow, but half of it was attributable to the residual alcohol he had consumed yesterday.
“Isn’t this surprising? Before bed at night it was still flickering, but when I woke up in the morning it was like this.”
Sogetsu’s eyes sparkled as much as the snow.
The snow had fallen deep into the night, enveloping the whole city of Edo, transforming roofs, streets, and trees into a world of silver. She even walked along the edge of the road on her way here to avoid soiling it with her footprints.
Not even the vigorous shouts of the early morning bar gestures ring out, creating an atmosphere of silence as if one were cut off from the rest of the world.
“Must be freezing.”
Finally, Takasugi rose to his feet and dressed himself behind a screen.
“You’re very cheerful, usually you cower in the cold and refuse to leave the brazier.”
“I mean, what’s not to love when it snows? I don’t like the cold, but I’m thrilled to see the snow.”
At the same time as the lively voice, the white breathing appeared and disappeared.
“A little snow is good fun, but excessive snowfall will only be a nuisance.” Takasugi’s words slipped beautifully over Sogetsu’s ears.
“Oh yeah, how about we all go and play in the snow after we finish work?”
“How old do you think you are? Such things are for children.”
“The year is coming to an end and I’ll be twenty-two. Why not, once in a while? Haven’t you ever had a snowball fight, Mr. Takasugi?”
“Samurai lads don’t play in the snow.”
“And yet you’re pleased to play ozashiki?”
“It’s a man’s thing.”
“If so, playing in the snow is a child’s dream. If you didn’t do it as a child, you must do it now.”
“Why don’t you ask Shunsuke or Kumatsugi to join you? They’d be happy to go with you.”
“That’s great! Also, please ask Mr. Kusaka, Mr. Shinagawa, and others to join us.”
Takasugi gulped down the words that he had meant seeing her smile, unable to say no now.
Ito, who had returned to Choshu in August, had been sent by the clan to reconnoiter the Hikone domain before returning to Edo, but within a short time, he had been sent to investigate the situation in Mito, where he had only recently arrived.
Sogetsu grew uneasy over Ito’s health as he continuously underwent such long journeys, but the more occupied he was, perhaps the less she would need to grieve for the loss of her mentor.
At least, from that day onwards, Ito never displayed his sorrow.
“Well, I shall quickly go and shovel the snow from the tenement. Mr. Takasugi, you must come back later!”
Takasugi glanced up at the sky in resignation at the sight of her running back.
“Is there snow in Hagi now too?”
In the corner of the clan house, the sound of joyous laughter echoed.
“Ow, it’s cold!”
A young samurai, who was cheerfully rolling snowballs around without donning a hanten, chuckled upon viewing his reddened hands.
“Are you fine? If you don’t wrap a cloth around it, you’ll get a bad case of frostbite later.”
To Sogetsu’s call, it’s alright! said Shinagawa Yajiro lightly.
He was 20 years old, a graduate of Shokasonjuku, and although having only met Sogetsu at the recent incident in Kanagawa, he soon bonded with her, possibly owing to her amiable nature.
He and Ariyoshi Kumajiro, a fellow Shokasonjuku student, were currently in the process of creating a giant snowman.
As Sogetsu and Shinagawa pushed the snowball, which had gained in size and weight, Ariyoshi, who assumed the head part of the task single-handedly, wiped the sweat from his forehead and remarked wistfully.
“It’s been a long time since I built a snowman like this. I used to make and play with them when I was a kid… By the way, Yaji, do you remember? We used to play that prank in Shokasonjuku.”
“Oh! I know, the cold lecture!”
“Oh, what’s that, sounds interesting!”
As soon as Sogetsu took the bait, Shinagawa arrogantly bent his chest in a pompous manner.
“Do you want to listen?”
“I want to hear it, I want to hear it, let me hear it!”
“Then I’ll tell you about it.”
He said it gravely, but soon adopted a more casual tone. “… Actually, on a snowy day like this, me, Kumaji, and Shunsuke made a pit in the garden of Shokasonjuku. We hid at a distance to see who would get caught, but to our dismay, Teacher Shoin fell into the trap. I froze and rushed to help him. I should have apologized profusely, but Kumaji claimed that the three of us were practicing the military arts…”
“This is better than the ‘I was looking for bamboo shoots’ excuse you tried to come up with.”
“… Well, then the teacher started to say that practicality is a wonderful thing. From that point on, he gave a lecture on military science. We couldn’t tell him it was a prank, so we were forced to listen to him shivering outside in the middle of winter.”
“It’s going to be snowing any minute and we’d all be freezing to death if my brother, Umetaro, hadn’t noticed and stopped him.”
“Teacher Shoin was such a passionate man.” Sogetsu laughed unreservedly. “I thought you’d be more reserved and quiet.”
“Usually, yes. But once things kicked into a frenzy, it became heated. We used to argue all day without eating, with our eyes wide open.”
Sogetsu, who had never been to Shokasonjuku before, could vividly visualize the scene of Shinagawa and his friends studying together at their desks in their youth.
In the meantime, two large snowballs as large as one’s waist were made, and it took six people, including Takasugi, Kusaka, and Ito, all of whom had finished their work, to place them onto the top.
Finally, after attaching the eyes and nose with pieces of wood and leaves, the task was completed, when Sogetsu let out a few words.
“… Doesn’t this look a bit like Mr. Takasugi?”
After a beat, everyone burst into laughter, not counting Takasugi.
“Hey, which part of this resembles me?”
“You’ve got a bit of a sulk on your face, don’t you? Look at that face.”
“I’m not sulking!”
Their faces increasingly resembled each other as he turned to face it. After a good laugh, Sogetsu suddenly had an idea.
“How about we each make a snowman that looks like someone else? We’ll have a competition to see who’s work looks the best. Whoever wins will be buying us all dinner.”
One after another, everybody said that it sounded fun, and they started to work on making a snowman.
Takasugi, who at first was not so keen on the idea, grew more and more enthusiastic and said he was going to make a snowman of Teacher Shoin.
While Takasugi was struggling with the snow for a while, Terashima and Narazaki came to check on them.
“Would you two like to join us?”
“No, I’m only here because Kusaka asked me to.”
“I’m not going to do it either. I don’t feel comfortable playing in the snow at my age.”
“I see… Oh, and could you be the judge, please?”
After explaining the game, Terashima took a look around the garden.
“Mr. Takasugi’s figure of Teacher Shoin hardly resembles him at all.”
“It’s not finished yet. It will look like him soon. ‘The beginning is like a virgin, the end is like a rabbit’.”
“What’s that dubious analogy?” Sogetsu blushed.
“What’s so dubious about that? Sun Tzu said this. First make the enemy look weak, then catch him off guard, and later strike him at once.”
… Is that really true?
When she cast a doubtful glance at him, Terashima said it was true.
“These are the words of the eleventh chapter of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.”
“I see… But, Mr. Terashima, you even remember exactly where it was listed.”
“This is not the only exposition of Terachu, you know?” Takasugi said proudly as if it were his personal matter. “By the way, Terachu, what was that sentence before and after?”
――The purpose of an army is to determine the enemy’s intentions. If the enemy is narrowed down, he will be able to reach the enemy, and if he is a thousand miles away, he will be able to defeat him. This is called a man who does things well and skilfully. Therefore, on the day when the government is to be held, block the gate, break the sign, block the messenger, block the temple, and block it. If the enemy opens a door, you must enter it with the valve first, anticipate the enemy with your love, and follow the enemy with your ink. Therefore, at first, like a virgin, the enemy opens its doors, but later, like a rabbit, the enemy will not be able to resist――
Terashima recited it as easily and naturally as if he were breathing. And then――
“And please don’t refer to me by that name.” He added with a frown.
Takasugi raised one eyebrow as if to say, “You see?”
“Every time I called him Terachu, he would dutifully correct me.”
She heard him saying in a funny way.
… I bet he’s calling Mr. Terashima that on purpose because he finds his reaction funny.
“Mr. Terashima, do you remember all of Sun Tzu?”
Sogetsu’s voice held an undeniable note of admiration.
“If you’re the son of a samurai family, you learn to recite the Four Books and Five Classics as early as you can remember. It’s no surprise that he knows Sun Tzu.”
“What a surprise! Absolutely amazing!”
Terashima, a man of great eloquence, was unusually silent when he was complimented outright.
Next to him, Narazaki subtly covered his mouth with his hand and averted his face.
He was laughing.
“… Mr. Narazaki.” Terashima’s slitted eyes sharpened as he noticed.
“Well, this is a rare sight. I never knew anyone could silence Terashima.” He chuckled. “I changed my mind, I’m in. How about you, Terashima?”
“… Mr. Narazaki?”
“That’s the way it must be!――Terashima, if you retreat now, you may be regarded as fleeing before the enemy.” Ito provoked happily.
“… I understand. If I don’t do it, I’ll lose my reputation as a samurai. I shall win the first prize and treat you to dinner.”
Half in desperation, he made his way to the others.
For a while, the only sound was that of the snow hardening.
“Where the hell is that man wandering off to?”
In search of his superiors, Katsura had been wandering around the spacious residence for a quarter of an hour. He had an urgent report to deliver, but the overly free superior was nowhere to be seen – not in his office, not in his room, not anywhere else he might have gone.
The temptation to crush the report in his hands was somehow suppressed by his ironclad reasoning, but he had reached his limit.
“If it’s Lord Asada, I have seen him just now.”
What he was informed of was that he was in an area that was not commonly frequented by people.
What on earth could he have in mind in such a place? As he approaches the place, he heard the sound of a crowd of people.
At the end of the corridor, he spotted the person he was looking for.
“Mr. Asada! What are you doing here? I’ve been looking for you for a long time. There is a pressing report from the government――”
His words, which he had started to say in a rush, were cut short by the sight before him.
“What’s all the fuss about?”
“It’s a good view, isn’t it?”
The man called Asada smiled happily, showing no sign of guilt.
His face was that of Sufu Masanosuke, who had once played a part in the administration of the clan.
That’s just the way it is.
The fact that Sufu was sent back to his country after the Umeyashiki incident was ostensibly out of consideration for the Tosa clan, but in reality, he changed his name to Asada Kosuke and remained in Edo for a long time.
However, as a matter of course, he was barred from going out in public, so Katsura handled meetings with other clans, while he himself concentrated on the affairs of his own residence.
I heard that Sogetsu and the others were building a snowman, so I came to have a look.
Asada, aka Sufu, gazed at the rows of snowmen of all sizes.
The young clansmen who built the snowman shouted and joked with each other like children, eventually developing into a snowball fight.
Remarkably, Terashima and Narazaki, always the picture of poise and composure, were among them.
Katsura huffed out a breath and sat down next to Asada.
“It’s Sogetsu, isn’t it? Her presence brings everyone back to their childhood.”
“That’s a good thing. There’s a lot to be uptight about these days, with all the expulsions and so on. Sometimes all you need is a break. If you get carried away, you won’t get any good ideas… Maybe I’ll join them too.”
“Even Mr. Asada.”
“How about you, Katsura? Don’t you have the blood of a former prankster in your veins?”
“That was a long time ago.”
He hid his brow with the report in his hand, wearing a scowl. If you don’t look closely, you can still discern a scar from when he was scolded for misbehaving as a child.
Perhaps it was the fact that he was distracted by it.
He was a fraction late in noticing the object flying towards him at high speed.
The snowball struck Katsura in the face with such precision that he immediately lowered his hand to protect the report.
“Oh no.” Shinagawa’s cheeks twitched as he remained in his snowball-throwing position.
“Y～o～u～all～” Katsura, who had the appearance of an evil demon, rose unsteadily, letting the snow drip from his face.
“Today is the day I won’t forgive you!”
“M-Mr. Katsura, calm down!”
Watching them running around with a smile on his face, “It’s nice to be young.” Asada, too, joined in the fun.
Support Fan’s Translations
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