Flower Spelling - Chapter 9.1
Chapter 9 – The Ghost’s Lost Property Part I
Shortly after Kusaka’s departure from Edo, Takasugi experienced a major turning point in his life. He was soon to be offered a place on the Shogunate’s embassy to England.
Takasugi was overjoyed and promptly proceeded to study English history, requesting Sogetsu to tutor him English.
It’s bizarre that you’re always talking about the expulsion of barbarians, yet apparently you’re not opposed to the idea of going abroad and learning the language… Well, I’m glad you’re keen to have a go.
However, if he goes, he will not return for a year or two. Moreover, it would take a month to reach England even if everything went smoothly, and there was no guarantee that he would arrive safely.
“I wonder if everything will turn out alright.”
“Eh, about what?”
Apparently, she didn’t realize that she had voiced it out loud.
Ito ceased his work with the brush and glanced over at Sogetsu.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just thinking about Mr. Takasugi’s trip to the western country.” Sogetsu immediately refocused her attention on her task.
The two of them were in the archives of the Yubikan. Since the weather was fine, they were drying the books and sorting through them. Ever since Katsura arranged for her to start attending lectures at the Yubikan, she had taken on the occasional chores as a way of thanking him.
“Oh, about that… Mr. Takasugi is happy about it, but I don’t really agree with it. Sending an envoy is a disgrace to Japan, an act of deference to the foreigners.”
“That is why the foreigners treat us like dirt,” added Ito in a stern tone.
“Anyway, do you want to go for a drink with me tonight? I’d like to introduce you to someone. His name is Shido Monta, and he recently came to Edo following the feudal lord.”
“Mr. Shido? Is that the same person who was in the Shokasonjuku?”
“No, I only met Monta the other day. He’s much older than me, but we share a mutual fondness for women, so we hit it off. We swore to each other that we would conquer all the brothels in Edo…”
Ito, who was in a good mood, halted his speech in a rush when he realized that Sogetsu was staring at him white-faced.
“… I definitely don’t think I’m going to get along with that person,” Sogetsu stated with all her might. “… In any case, Mr. Ito, what happened to Ohana? I know you’ve been sending her letters every day since we all paid a visit to her shop the other day.”
Ohana was a geisha named Hanabishi, a friend of Sogetsu’s who was also involved in the Tatsumi Residence riot. So far, Hanabishi’s attitude has been indifferent to Ito’s heated overtures.
“Well, that is that, this is this…”
“I am feeling better by the moment.” Sogetsu breathed a sigh, exited the archives, and briskly brushed the dust from her hakama with her hand.
Since the previous outing, she had become accustomed to donning men’s attire.
Come to think of it, Ohana caught me by surprise, too… Not unreasonable though.
Carefully retrieving the books that had been dried, she checked them thoroughly against the list of books in the collection to ensure that there were no omissions. Once finishing it, she headed back to the archives when she heard a long, raspy voice from behind.
“Hey, there’s a letter for you from your beloved Hanabishi～”
“Oh, Mr. Ariyoshi. Thank━Oh, no way, for me!?”
Before Sogetsu could react, Ito dashed out like a hare and lunged at Ariyoshi.
“Now, who could it be?”
After much prodding and shaking of the letter from side to side,
“Sorry to disappoint you. It is for Sogetsu.”
Ito dropped his hand, which had fallen to the floor in vain, and cast a resentful gaze over him.
“… Kumajiro, that’s no letter for me?”
“Don’t be discouraged, Shunsuke! Spring will come for you too!… Although it will be a long time ahead.”
“That last line is superfluous! If you’ve finished your business, get the hell out of here.”
Dismissing Ariyoshi, who was giggling gleefully, with an evil grin, Ito directed his attention to Sogetsu, who was eyeing the letter.
“So, what did Hanabishi say?”
“Yes, that’s…” Sogetsu regarded Ito with a challenging complexion. “She asked me to drop by the shop because she needed to discuss something with me.”
On that particular evening, Sogetsu, Ito, Takasugi, and Shido were on their way to Honjo, where Hanabishi was employed.
The samurai, Shido Monta, was a charming-looking man with round eyes, about five years older than Sogetsu. The unusual name “Monta” was given by the feudal lord.
Although he seemed to be close to Takasugi, he and Sogetsu did not get on well from their first encounter. Sogetsu did not have a positive impression of Shidou from Ito’s description, and Shido was in a poor mood, probably because he felt disappointed that he could not recognize Sogetsu, who was disguised as a man, for a woman at first sight.
“He’s not much of a womanizer himself.” Takasugi teased him, which made him more and more uptight.
“Nobody would suspect that a man clad like this is a woman!… Forget it, Shunsuke, that geisha, Hanabishi, is the one you’re after, isn’t she? This is a good opportunity for you. I’m sure you’ll be able to find a way to get your hands on her.”
“Please don’t use my friend’s concerns as a cover for seduction! We are not going out to play today. If you wish to indulge in geisha pleasures, why don’t you seek elsewhere?”
“I was invited by Shunsuke, that’s why I came. I don’t need to be told what to do by you. A feminine man should stay out of it.”
“How disrespectful! Your own eyes are blind.”
And so it goes. Takasugi and Ito, possibly finding the scene amusing, did not attempt to stop them seriously.
Thus, with a partial sweltering atmosphere, the party approached the moat end of the rear street.
A gust of wind rumbled through the air, and the chill stung her bare cheeks acutely.
“It’s already winter.”
“I wonder if that’s the reason. It’s still early in the day, yet the streets seem rather empty.”
Saying that, “I suppose that’s part of it, but…” Ito gestured to a large willow tree in front of him on the right. “About ten days ago, I think. There is a rumor that a ghost haunts under that willow.”
“Yeah. People claimed that it’s the ghost of a man who was murdered there around the time it happened. Whenever he spots a young lady, he pursues her, saying, ‘Give it back! Give it back!’. Of all things, his kimono is soaked in blood and his cheeks are skinny…”
“Whoa! Stop stop stop! Please don’t say anything else! There are already scary tales about the Seven Wonders of Honjo, and if you add a new ghost story to the mix, I won’t be able to fall asleep at night!”
The darkness of the night was unparalleled in modern times. Without moonlight, one cannot even see your own hands in the darkness of Edo. Far too scary.
“Nothing but a ghost. You’ve got a small mind. Don’t worry, no one will ever look at you and assume you’re a woman.”
“But, Monta, Sogetsu has a lot of courage despite her appearance. She barged into the clan residence by herself and even tried to raid the magistrate’s office.”
“Indeed. I’ve seen her hold her own against a sword and yell back.”
When Ito and Takasugi mentioned it, Shido looked at Sogetsu and said, “Oh.”
“No, that was simply sheer stupidity on fire or just plain naivety… If you ask me to do it again, I’m afraid I wouldn’t. Instead, let’s hurry up and go. Ohana is awaiting us.”
“Eh, the ghost’s lost property?”
“Yes.” Hanabishi nodded coyly with an apprehensive look.
Once they had settled down in the tatami room of a shop by the river, they asked Ito for advice on a matter which, coincidentally, had been related to the ghost story he had mentioned earlier.
“About ten days ago, I picked it up near that tree.” She presented out a netsuke in the shape of a lion, no bigger than a thumb.
“The shop has been so hectic that I’ve forgotten that I picked it up, but recently I’ve been hearing rumors of a ghost… Plus, lately, I feel like someone’s been watching me. I reckon it’s that ghost looking for this netsuke.”
Therefore, Hanabishi said, I hope that you will go with me to return it.
“I couldn’t ask anyone in the shop to do this, I was terrified to go on my own…”
“Of course, that would be good but.”
At first glance, it appeared to be a common netsuke.
Takasugi snatched it out of Sogetsu’s hand, groaning, “I don’t believe this is the work of a ghost. It doesn’t look like the kind of thing you want to get back even if you’re dead. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that… Hanabishi, do you have any idea who might be lurking around with a crush on you?”
Glancing meaningfully at Ito, he chuckled.
“Mr. Takasugi! I wouldn’t do anything so effeminate.”
“Huh? I never said anything about being Shunsuke, did I?”
“Shunsuke, what are you doing with such timidity? This is a strong strategy, a strong strategy.”
“―Hey! The three of you, in front of her, what arbitrary thing are you saying!”
Hanabishi had become downcast with a bright red face.
“Ohana is in deep trouble! Enough is enough. Ohana, leave these people alone, and let’s talk over there. Everybody else can have a drink!”
“Oh, hey, Sogetsu…”
“You’ve got to cool down before we return! Later!” Sogetsu slammed the shoji shut right under Ito’s nose as he chased after her.
“For god’s sake, there’s not a shred of subtlety in them.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea? I don’t know if it’s okay to leave them behind.”
“It’s alright. They have been acting disrespectful.”
“But Master Ito didn’t exactly say anything strange.”
“Huh.” Sogetsu stopped in her tracks, astonished. “Ohana, I thought you hated Mr. Ito.”
“What? No, it’s not that I don’t like him. But as a geisha, I shouldn’t…”
When Sogetsu saw Hanabishi’s excuse, she felt something that fell into her chest.
“Oh, I see, that’s why.” She couldn’t help but let her cheeks relax.
“Well, I’m not…”
“No need to be shy. Mr. Ito is a good man. I’m sure he’ll cherish you, Ohana.”
“No, it’s not like that!”
Hanabishi flung open the door to her room, and as soon as she stepped inside, she tripped over something and fell down.
“Gosh, Ohana, are you okay?”
“Yeah. Weird, I had no memory of placing things here…”
When she lifted her head to raise her body, Hanabishi stopped with a jolt.
The room was ransacked as though a storm had swept through it. Even Sogetsu, who followed suit, muttered, “What is this?”
At that moment, Sogetsu abruptly sensed a presence behind him and immediately turned around. Or, more accurately, she was about to turn around.
Before Sogetsu knew it, a large hand sealed her mouth, followed by a piercing pain in her midriff.
In her fading consciousness, Hanabishi could be visibly seen collapsing.
Support Fan’s Translations
Note: Individual translators usually have their own ko-fi buttons.