"Young Mistress, I've brought your supper."
The voice of Keika came from the living room, and Shushou set down her brush. As she examined the papers she had filled with meaninglessly scribbled characters Shushou moved to place them back on their shelf. Opening the door at the end of the shelves where the inkstones were kept, Keika peeked inside.
.: 33 :.
"Miss, is it true that Sage Baku died?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Oh my! And you're still studying? The prefecture school is being closed down, isn't it?"
"Seems that way..."
Out of the household, Keika was yet another person older than Shushou. 'Household' refers to the menservants and maids who live in the house. They don't work for wages, but were adopted into the family by the master of the house. To make up for their low social status they were guaranteed the necessities of life. In Shushou's house, though servants weren't hired with wages, there existed an overwhelming difference in social status.
Keika entered into that household with together with her parents, and since she was a small child had been working as a maid. Despite her social status, Keika was brought up from childhood with friendly children her age from around the neighborhood.
"Somehow, recently when you hear those sort of accounts you become disagreeable...it's no good to mope."
"I'm not, really."
"Oh really? But you've been eating your meals in your room, I know."
.: 34 :.
"It's just that...seeing Father's face disagrees with me."
"Is that so?" said Keika as if she had expected that response. Keika roused Shushou and drew her into the living room next door. On the table in the living room, the dishes for Shushou's supper were already lined up.
"The master seemed happy... Well, he disagreed with your attending the prefecture school from the start, after all."
Shushou seated herself and dejectedly surveyed the utensils on the table.
"It doesn't really matter anyways, right? You can study at home can't you? We do have sages in our employ."
Shushou, who didn't feel like picking up her chopsticks, sighed.
"...the sages here only know how to teach about manners and commerce. Most importantly, they can't recommend me for the district school, so there's no use in learning from them."
It is said that the prefecture school exists to prepare students for the district school, which in turn exists to prepare students for the province school. Of the students who get into the province school, most of them become government officials. In short, Shushou had her eyes set on becoming a government official, something her merchant father couldn't understand.
"This is so frustrating. I would have been a joushi soon."
.: 35 :.
Those who are recommended for the district school are called joushi.
"It's alright, isn't it? The master of the house naturally had your elder brothers and sisters only attend the county school so they would learn self-control and perseverance."
"'Self control and perseverance' nothing. They weren't recommended to the prefecture school because they just didn't have the brains for it.
Keika stared at Shushou, poleaxed.
"Oh, how can you say that! That sort of thing doesn't really matter, does it, since they belong to such a prominent family. Besides, isn't becoming a government official rather undesireable?"
Shushou gazed out the window as she sipped out of her teacup.
"But, if I become a important government official I won't age anymore, which would be nice."
"For that childish reason..."
"Isn't it alright? Not dying of old age, living forever, not getting all baggy and fat and wrinkly like your mother..."
"Please excuse me for my rudeness, but leave my mother out of this!"
Keika did nothing but frown and then looked peer at Shushou.
"Aren't they calling for you?"
"I don't want anything. Right now they're just annoying."
.: 36 :.
"What are you saying!?"
Keika took hold of the chopsticks and placed them in Shushou's hands.
"You'll pay for your wastefulness. They say that food is very expensive right now. Nowadays, most families can't even provide a meal such as this because of that."
Shushou looked at the plates neatly lined up in a row and placed her chopsticks on the table.
"I know very well how our house is able to afford such extravagance. But, this is an ordinary house, and this can't be continued. All the same, what does it matter whether I eat it or not?"
"You're just going to leave it? There are so many people who want to eat such a feast but cannot. Moreover, there are others who today don't have a meal to eat at all!"
Shushou looked up at Keika.
"But I think that I know about that. When I met the other people who went to the school, I came to understand such unpleasant things such as there being other homes that find such things impossible to do."
.: 37 :.
"If so, then..."
"Nevertheless, what has that to do with me? If I eat this, will the same luxury befall all those less fortunate people? But if we call those who can't afford to eat pitiable, to that effect, as it is, wouldn't it be better to bring it to them?"
At hearing Shushou's remarks, Keika could feel the heat rising to her cheeks.
"You may say that, but this is still many times finer than the food I eat."
Even here, making do with what food there was was difficult, and for that reason the amount of food given to Keika and the other members of the household had been reduced. From the start, for the growing children food had by no means been very abundant, and hunger kept them awake at night.
Enraged, Keika scowled at Shushou, who looked at her with an unruffled air.
"If that's the case, I'll give it to you, Keika. I don't want it. How lucky."
Keika spoke with a shrilly voice. The look in Keika's eyes was filled with condemnation. Shushou was just so...
"If the iron lattices on the windows of the Sage Baku's home hadn't been there, he would have died when the bafuku attacked. As for the kid, with the payment for the bushels taken from his dead father's mouth, they were able to eat three days worth of food. You sleep in a secure house, and at any rate you won't starve uneventfully since you have food to eat. You're one of the lucky ones, get it?"
.: 38 :.
"What are you saying...!?"
"If you're going to look at things in such a half-hearted way, please don't scold me in such a trite manner. I don't want that. It's demeaning."
Now, Keika could feel the blood withdrawing from her cheeks.
"Miss! What you're saying is...!
No sooner had Keika shouted then Shushou took hold of the bowl filled with steaming vegetable soup, drew her arm back and dumped the contents of the bowl on Keika.
"Be quiet! I said that I don't need it, didn't I!?"
Keika was staggered. The soup had already cooled down some, and so it wasn't particularly hot. However, that reality of the situation hadn't yet hit upon Keika.
"Wha...what a thing to do..."
Mortified and miserable, tears began to flow from her eyes. In her confusion, Keika turned her gaze downwards and saw that though the soup that had been on the hem of her clothing had fallen to the floor, more of the soup was soaking through her cotton wataire and jukun, and already it was too late to do anything about it.
.: 39 :.
The household weren't given wages. Food and a place to live was guaranteed, but new clothing wasn't considered essential. Twice a year, the master of the house would present members of the household with new cloth, but Keika was still growing, and would outgrow her jukun almost immediately. In addition, working as a servant as part of the household caused her clothing to wear down quickly. When a part of her clothes wore down she would patch it up, and when they got torn she would darn it accordingly, so as to at least be presentable. All the same, if even those measures weren't enough, the master of the house would have no choice but to give the order for one to make do with waiting to see if someone is giving out their old clothes, or use one's New Year's gift-money.
The cloth Keika had received for New Years was ruined.
Brushing off the vegetable bits and meat scraps, Shushou took the sobbing Keika by hand.
Shushou took out her handkerchief and proceeded to wipe the soup off Keika.
"I'm sorry, Keika. Was it hot?"
"Ah, it was...not hot, but..."
"I'm sorry, I just..."
Keika scrubbed at her face. After all, she was part of the household, and even if she wanted to, it was impossible to speak ill of Shushou.
Wiping away her tears and clearing her eyes, Shushou got down on her knees and looked up at Keika for forgiveness.
.: 40 :.
"Really, I'm sorry. I was just a little...irritated."
"Umm...why don't you take off your clothes, you might have been burned."
"I'm fine. It was only warm..."
"But you can't go back to your room in this state. It's cold outside; you'll freeze. Hold on a moment. I'll bring you a change of clothes."
Shushou left the room at a run, and after making a racket pulling something out, returned.
"Umm, I'm sorry it's so old, but please wear this. I'm giving it to you."
Shushou tendered a beautiful silk outfit. Keika looked at Shushou in surprise.
"It's okay. After all, it's my fault that your clothes are soiled. I'll explain to my parents...this is the largest one I could find, so I think it shouldn't be too short; even for you, Keika. Or don't you like it? If you don't, pick out one that you'll like."
"I'm really sorry. It was really just an angry outburst. I had no intention of doing something so horrible to you. So, won't you please accept this?"
.: 41 :.
Keika nodded in assent. There could be no question of whether or not she would accept it. Furthermore, it was such a splendid thing to receive.
"Umm...is it really alright? It's such fine clothing..."
Of course, it probably wasn't Shushou's finest clothing, or this year's New Years gift to her.
"I'm giving it to you. I don't mind at all. Now, change into it before you catch cold."
"Ah, yes. Eh..."
On the spot, Keika disrobed and put on the new clothing with Shushou's assistance, and the warm silk enveloped her body.
"It's like a dream..."
Telling Keika that she was glad that the outfit suited her, Shushou took up Keika's soiled clothing.
"I'll wash these."
Shushou intercepted Keika's hands as Keika hastily reached for her clothing.
.: 42 :.
"If that soup had been hot, you might have been injured. This is the least I can do. It's alright. I'm not just good for studying. Even a child in this house can wash clothing, and so can I...probably."
Smiling as she said so, Shushou put the clothing back in place and returned to her seat.
"I'm really sorry. I'll be good and eat."
As she saw Keika off to her room, Shushou explained the situation to Keika's parents and her own parents, and after being properly scolded, Shushou returned to her own room.
She sat down in a chair for a moment to brood. A great deal of time passed in that way. After giving a light sigh, she stood up and spread out Keika's thin padded kimono on the top of the chair. Scrutinizing it, she grimaced lightly.
"...I wonder if tea would help..."
Shushou gazed through the iron lattice on the windows.
"It smells like soup..."
.: 43 :.