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Another Master



Matsushita Kahei was a native of Enshu province. The son of a country samurai, he had become a retainer of the Imagawa clan, with a domain in Suruga and a stipend of three thousand kan. He was governor of the fortress at Zudayama and chief administrator of the relay station at Magome Bridge. In those days the Tenryu River was divided into Big and the Little Tenryu. The Matsushita residence was on the banks of the Big Tenryu, a few hundred yards east of Zudayama.

That day Kahei was returning from the neighboring Hikuma Castle, where he had been conferring with a fellow Imagawa retainer. The officials of the province met regularly to tighten their control over the people and to guard against invasion from neighboring clans: Tokugawa, Oda, and Takeda.

Kahei turned in his saddle and called one of his three attendants: "Nohachiro!"

The man who answered was bearded and carried a long spear. Taga Nohachiro ran up to his master's horse. They were traveling along the road between Hikumanawata and the Magome ferry. Trees lined the road, and there was a pleasant view of fields and rice paddies.

"He's not a farmer, and he doesn't look like a pilgrim," Kahei mumbled.

Nohachiro followed Kahei's line of sight. He took in the flaming yellow of the mustard flowers, the green of the barley, and the shallow water in the paddies, but did not anyone.

"Anything suspicious?"

"Over there, on the path next to that rice paddy, there's a man. Looks a little little like a heron. What do you suppose he's up to?"

Nohachiro took another look and saw that, sure enough, there was a man stooping over on the path by the paddy.

"Find out what he's doing."

Nohachiro ran off along a narrow path. It was the rule in all the provinces that anything that looked the least bit suspicious was to be investigated immediately. Provincial officials were particularly sensitive about their borders and the appearance of strangers.

Nohachiro came back and made his report: "He says he's a needle seller from Owari. He's wearing a stained white cotton smock. That's why from here he reminds you of a heron. He's a little fellow with a face like a monkey's."

"Ha, ha! Not a heron or a crow, but a monkey, eh?"

"And a talkative one, too. Likes to spit out big words. While I was questioning him, he tried to turn things around. He asked me who my master was, and when I told him who you were, he stood up and looked over this way very boldly."

"What was he doing, stooping over like that?"

"He told me he was putting up for the night at a lodging house in Magome, and he was collecting pond snails to eat this evening."

Kahei saw that Hiyoshi had gone up onto the road and was walking on ahead of diem.

He asked Nohachiro, "There was nothing suspicious about him, was there?"

"Nothing I could see."

Kahei took a fresh grip on the reins. "One shouldn't blame low-bred people for their bad manners." Then, motioning his men on with a nod of the head, he said, "Let's go." It did not take them long to catch up with Hiyoshi. Just as they passed him, Kahei looked around casually. Hiyoshi, of course, had moved off the road and was kneeling respectfully under a row of trees. Their eyes met.

"Just a minute." Kahei reined in his horse and, turning to his attendants, said, "Bring the needle seller over here." And, to no one in particular, he added with a note of wonder in his voice, "He's an unusual fellow yes, there's something different about him."

Nohachiro decided that this was another of his master's whims and promptly ran off.

"Hey! Needle seller! My master would like a word with you. Follow me."

Kahei looked down at Hiyoshi. What was it about this short, unkempt youth in soiled clothes that he found so fascinating? It was not his resemblance to a monkey, which he had hardly taken in. He took a long, hard second look at Hiyoshi, but he could not put into words what he felt. Something that was at once complex and formless pulled at himit was the boy's eyes! The eyes had been called the mirrors of the soul. He could see little else of value in this shriveled little creature, but the look in his eyes was so full of laughter that it was somehow fresh and seemed to contain what? An indomitable will, or maybe a vision that knew no bounds?

He has magnetism, thought Kahei, and he decided he liked this strange-looking boy. If his assessment had been more thorough, he would have discovered, hidden beneath the traveler's black grime, ears as red as a rooster's comb. Nor did he see that, though Hiyoshi was still young, the great ability he would display in later years was already visible in the lines on his forehead, which made him look like an old man at first glance. Kahei's discernment simply did not go that far. He felt an unusual attachment toward Hiyoshi, mixed with some kind of expectation.

Unable to rid himself of the feeling but without saying a word to Hiyoshi, he turned to Nohachiro and said, "Bring him along." He tightened his reins and galloped off.

The front gate facing the river was open, and several retainers were waiting for him. A tethered horse was grazing near the gate. Apparently a visitor had arrived during his absence.

"Who is it?" he asked as he dismounted.

"A messenger from Sumpu."

Kahei acknowledged the information and went in. Sumpu was the capital of the Imagawa clan. Messengers were not especially rare, but Kahei was preoccupied with his meeting in Hikuma Castle, so he forgot all about Hiyoshi.

"Hey, you, where do you think you're going?" challenged the gatekeeper as Hiyoshi was about to follow the attendants through the gate. His hands and the straw-wrapped package he carried were spattered with mud. The splotches of mud drying on his face felt itchy. Had the gatekeeper thought that Hiyoshi was poking fun at him by twitching his nose on purpose? The gatekeeper reached out to grab Hiyoshi by the scruff of the neck.

Stepping back, Hiyoshi answered, "I'm a needle seller."

"Peddlers don't come through this gate without authorization. Off with you!"

"You better check with your master first."

"And why should I do that?"

"I followed him here because he told me to. I came with the samurai who came in just now."

"I can't imagine the master bringing the likes of you back. You look pretty shady to me."

Just then, Nohachiro remembered Hiyoshi and came back to get him. "It's all right, he told the gatekeeper.

"Well, if you say so."

"Come along, Monkey."

The gatekeeper and the other servants burst out laughing. "What is he, anyway? With his white smock and muddy straw bundle, he looks just like the Buddha's monkey messenger!"

The boisterous voices rang in Hiyoshi's ears, but during the seventeen years of his life he had had ample opportunity to hear the taunts of others. Didn't they bother him? Had he got used to them? It seems that neither was the case. When he heard this kind of remark he blushed, just like anyone else. His ears, especially, turned bright red. This was proof that the taunts did not go unheard. But his behavior did not reflect his feeling. He was as calm as if the insults had been spoken into the ears of a horse. In fact, he could be disarmingly charming at such times. His heart was like a flower held up by a bamboo support, quietly waiting for the storm to pass. He was not going to be upset by adversity, nor would he be servile.

"Monkey, there's an empty stable over there. You can wait there, where the sight of you won't offend anyone," said Nohachiro, who then went about his business.

When evening came, the smell of cooking drifted from the kitchen window. The moon rose over the peach trees. The formal interview with the messenger from Sumpu being finished, more lamps were lit, and a banquet was prepared to send him on his way the following day. The sound of the hand drum and a flute drifted over from the mansion, where a Noh play was being performed.

The Imagawa of Suruga were a proud and illustrious family. Their tastes ran not only to poetry, dance, and music but to any luxury from the capital: inlaid swords for their samurai and stylish under-kimonos for their women. Kahei himself was a man of simple tastes. Nevertheless, his opulent residence presented a quite different appearance from the mansions of the samurai of Kiyosu.

That's pretty bad Noh, Hiyoshi thought, as he lay stretched out on the straw he had spread on the floor of the empty stall. He liked music. Not that he understood it, but he liked the cheery world of dreams it created. It allowed him to forget everything. But he was distracted by his empty stomach. Oh, if I could only borrow a pot and a fire, he groaned inwardly.

Taking his dirty straw bundle with him, he stuck his head through the door of the kitchen. "Excuse me, but I wonder if you couldn't lend me a pot and a small cooking stove. I was thinking of eating my meal."

The kitchen helpers stared blankly back at him. "Where in the world did you come from?"

"His lordship brought me back with him today. I'd like to boil the pond snails I picked from the rice paddies."

"Pond snails, eh?"

"I've been told they're good for the stomach, so I eat some every day. That's because I get stomach upset easily."

"You eat them with bean paste. Do you have any?"

"Yes."

"Rice?"

"I have rice, thank you."

"Well, there's a pot and a fire in the stove in the servants' quarters. Do it over there."

Just as he did every night in cheap lodging houses, Hiyoshi cooked up a small portion of rice, boiled his pond snails, and ate his evening meal. Then he went to sleep. The servants' quarters being an improvement over the stable, he stayed there until midnight, when the servants finished their chores and came back.

"You swine! Who told you you could sleep here?"

They kicked him, picked him up, and threw him out. He went back to the stable, only to find the messenger's horse fast asleep and seeming to say, "You don't belong here, either."

The hand drum had fallen silent, and the pale moon was waning. Hiyoshi, no longer sleepy, could not stand being idle. Work or fun, it didn't matter much to him, but if he wasn't involved in one or the other, he very quickly became bored.

Maybe the sun will come while I'm sweeping up, he thought as he started to sweep the stable, collecting the horse manure, fallen leaves, and straw into a pile, out of the master's sight.

"Who's out there?" Resting his broom, Hiyoshi looked around. "Ah, it's the needle seller."

Hiyoshi finally saw that the voice was coming from the lavatory at the corner of the main house's veranda. He could make out Kahei's face inside. "Oh, it's you, my lord."

Drinking sake with the messenger, who was a strong drinker, Kahei had drunk too much. Now, almost sober again, he asked in a tired voice, "Is it close to dawn?" He disappeared from the window, opened the rain shutters of the veranda, and looked up at the waning moon.

"The cock hasn't crowed yet, so it'll be a little while until dawn."

"Needle sellerno, we'll call you Monkeywhy are you sweeping the garden in the middle of the night?"

"I had nothing to do."

"It would probably be a good idea to get some sleep."

"I already slept. When I've slept for a certain amount of time, for some reason I cant lie still anymore."

"Are there any sandals?"

Hiyoshi quickly found a pair of new straw sandals and arranged them so that Kahei could step into them easily.

"Here you are, my lord."

"You just got here today, and you say you've already slept enough. How is it you know the lay of the land already?"

"Please excuse me, my lord."

"What for?"

"I'm not a suspicious person at all. But in this kind of mansion, even when Im asleep, by hearing various sounds, I can guess where things are located, the size of the grounds, the drainage system, and where the fires are."

"Hm. I see."

"I noticed where the straw sandals were earlier. It occurred to me that someone might come out and ask for sandals."

"I'm sorry. I forgot all about you."

Hiyoshi laughed but made no reply. Although he was no more than a boy, he did not seem to respect Kahei very much. Kahei then asked him about his background and whether he had hopes of serving someone. Hiyoshi assured him that he had. He had high hopes for the future and had been walking throughout the provinces from the time was fifteen.

"You walked around the provinces for two years, wanting to serve a samurai?"

"Yes."

"Why, then, are you still a needle seller?" Kahei asked pointedly. "Looking for two years without finding a masterI wonder if there isn't something wrong with you?"

"I have good and bad points, just like any other man. At first I thought any master or any samurai household would do, but once I went out into the world, I started to feel differently."

"Differently? How?"

"Walking around and looking at the warrior class as a wholethe good generals, the bad generals, the lords of large and small provincesled me to think that there is nothing so important as choosing a master. Therefore, I decided to go on with my needle selling and before I knew it, two years had gone by."

Kahei thought he was clever, but there was also something of the fool about him. And though there was some truth in what he said, he sounded very pretentious and a little hard to believe. There was one thing that was beyond doubt, though: here was no ordinary young man. He decided on the spot to employ Hiyoshi as a servant.

"Will you serve me?"

"Thank you, my lord. I'll try," Hiyoshi answered with little enthusiasm in his voice.

Kahei was dissatisfied with Hiyoshi's joyless reply, but it did not occur to him, as the new master of this wandering youth clothed in nothing more than a thin cotton coat, that he himself might be deficient in some respect.

Like the samurai of the other clans, the Matsushita samurai received intensive training in the horsemanship needed for battle. At daybreak they left their dormitories with practice spears and swords, and went to the broad field in front of the rice storehouse.

"Hiyaaa!" Spear clashed against spear, sword against sword. In the morning, everyone, down to the lower-ranking samurai in the kitchen and the men who pulled guard duty, gave their all and came away from the field with faces bright red from exertion. That Hiyoshi had been taken on as a servant was soon common knowledge throughout the mansion. The stable attendants treated him as a rank beginner and ordered him about.

"Hey, Monkey! Every morning from now on, after we take the horses out to graze, clean out the stables. Bury the horse manure in that bamboo thicket." After he had finished cleaning up the horse manure, one of the older samurai told him, "Fill the big water jars." And so it went on: "Split the firewood." While he was splitting the firewood, he'd be told to do something else. In short, he was the servants' servant.

He was popular at first. People said, "Nothing makes him mad, does it? His good point is that no matter what you tell him to do, he doesn't get angry." The young samurai liked him, but in the way that children like a new toy, and sometimes they gave him presents. But it was not long before people started to complain about him.

"He's always arguing."

"He flatters the master."

"He takes people for fools."

Since the younger samurai made a lot of noise over small faults, there were times when the complaints about Hiyoshi reached Kahei's ears.

"Let's see how it goes," he told his retainers, and let the matter drop.

That Kahei's wife and children always asked for Monkey made the other young men of the household even angrier. Puzzled, Hiyoshi decided that it was difficult to live among people who did not want to devote themselves to work, as he himself preferred to do.

Living in the servants' world of petty sentiments, Hiyoshi studied human nature. With the Matsushita clan as a point of reference, he was able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the great clans along the coastal road. And he was happy to have become a servant. He could now partly understand the true state of the country, which had been difficult to grasp when he was wandering around from place to place. An ordinary servant, who worked only to eat and survive, would hardly know what the world was really like. But Hiyoshi's mind was always on the alert. It was like watching the stones on a go board and catching on to the moves made by the players.

The messengers from the Imagawa of Suruga were frequent, as were those from the neighboring provinces of Mikawa and Kai. He began to see a pattern in their comings and goings, and concluded that Imagawa Yoshimoto, lord of Suruga, was making a bid to grasp supreme power in the land. The realization of his goal was probably a long way off, but he was already making the initial moves to enter the capital, Kyoto, ostensibly protect the Shogun, but really to rule the country in his name.

To the east were the powerful Hojo of Odawara; the Takeda of Kai were on the Northern flank; and barring the road to the capital was the domain of the Tokugawa of Mikawa. Thus surrounded, Yoshimoto had first aimed at subjugating Mikawa. Tokugawa Kiyoyasu, lord of Mikawa, had submitted to Yoshimoto and had resigned himself to being his retainer. Kiyoyasu's son, Hirotada, had not outlived him very long, and his successor, Ieyasu, was now living as a hostage in Sumpu.

Yoshimoto had made one of his own retainers governor of Okazaki Castle, and put him in charge of administering Mikawa and collecting taxes. The retainers of the Tokugawa were press-ganged into serving the Imagawa, and all the revenues and militar supplies of the province, with the exception of its day-to-day running expenses, went to Yoshimoto's castle in Suruga. Hiyoshi thought that Mikawa's future was bleak indeed. He knew from his travels as a peddler that the men of Mikawa were stubborn and proud; they would not meekly submit forever.

But the clan he watched most closely was naturally the Oda of Owari. Although he was now far from Nakamura, Owari was his birthplace and his mother's home. Seen from the Matsushita mansion, Owari's poverty and small size compared unfavorably with other provinces, with the exception of Mikawa. The contrast with the sophisticated and prosperous Imagawa domain was especially striking. His home village of Nakamura was poor, and so was his own home. What would become of Owari? He thought that someday, something worthwhile might grow from its poor soil. He despised the effete manners of both high and low in the Imagawa domain. They aped the manners of the court, a practice that Hiyoshi had long thought dangerous.

The messengers were coming more often of late. To Hiyoshi this meant that talks were being held to tie the provinces of Suruga, Kai, and Sagami in a nonaggression pact, with the Imagawa clan as the center. The prime mover, of course, was Imagawa Yoshimoto. Before marching to the capital at the head of a great army, he would have to secure the allegiance of the Hojo and the Takeda. As a first step, Yoshimoto had decided to marry his daughter to Takeda Shingen's eldest son and have one of Shingen's daughters marry into the house of the Hojo. This, along with military and economic pacts, made Imagawa a power to be reckoned with on the eastern seaboard. This power was reflected in the bearing of the Imagawa retainers. A man like Matsushita Kahei was different from the immediate retainers of Yoshimoto, but he, too, had incomparably more wealth than did the samurai houses Hiyoshi knew in Kiyosu, Nagoya, and Okazaki. Guests were numerous, and even the servants seemed to be having the time of their lives.

"Monkey!" Nohachiro was looking for Hiyoshi in the garden.

"Up here."

Nohachiro looked up to the roof. "What are you doing up there?"

"I'm repairing the roof."

Nohachiro was amazed. "You're making it hard on yourself on such a hot day. Why are you doing it?"

"The weather has been fine so far, but it'll soon be time for the fall rains. Calling the roofers after the rains start will be too late, so I'm finding split planks and repairing them."

"That's why you're unpopular around here. At noon, everyone else has found a spot in the shade."

"If I worked near others, I'd disturb their naps. Up here, I won't bother anybody."

"You're lying. I'll bet you're up there to study the layout of the grounds."

"It's just like you, Master Nohachiro, to think like that. But if a man doesn't take note of things, when an emergency comes, he won't be ready to defend himself."

"Don't talk like that. If the master hears of it, he'll be angry. Get down from there!"

"Sure. Do you have any work for me?"

"There are guests coming this evening."

"Again?"

"What do you mean, 'again'?"

"Who's coming?"

"A student of the martial arts who's traveled throughout the country."

"How many in the group?" Hiyoshi climbed down from the roof. Nohachiro took out a parchment. "We're expecting the nephew of Lord Kamiizumi of Ogo, Hitta Shohaku. He is traveling with twelve followers. There'll be another rider and three packhorses and their attendants."

"That's a fair-sized group."

"These men have dedicated their lives to the study of martial arts. There'll be a lot of baggage and horses, so clear out the storehouse workers' quarters, and we'll put them up there for the time being. Have the place swept clean by evening, before they get here."

"Yes, sir. Will they be staying long?"

"About six months," Nohachiro said. Looking tired, he wiped the sweat off his face.

In the evening Shohaku and his men brought their horses to a halt in front of the gate and brushed the dust off their clothes. Senior and junior retainers came out to meet them, and gave them an elaborate ceremonial welcome. There were lengthy words of greeting from the hosts, and no less respectful and eloquent a reply from Shohaku, a man of about thirty. Once the formalities were over, servants took charge of the packhorses and baggage, and the guests, led by Shohaku, entered the mansion compound.

Hiyoshi had enjoyed watching the elaborate show. Its formality made him realize how much the prestige of warriors had risen with the growing importance of military matters. Lately the term "martial arts" was on everyone's lips, along with other new expressions like "sword technique" and "spear technique." Martial artists like Kamiizumi of Ogo and Tsukahara of Hitachi were household names. The travels of some of these men were far more rigorous than the pilgrimages of wandering Buddhist monks. But men like Tsukahara were always accompanied by sixty or seventy followers. Their retainers carried hawks and traveled in grand style.

The number of Shohaku's party did not surprise Hiyoshi. But since they were going to be there for six months, he suspected rightly that he was going to be ordered around until his head spun. No more than four or five days had passed before he was being worked as hard as one of their own servants.

"Hey, Monkey! My underwear is dirty. Wash it."

"Lord Matsushita's monkey! Go and buy me some ointment."

The summer nights were short, and the extra work cut into his sleeping time, so at noon one day he was fast asleep in the shade of a paulownia tree. He was leaning against the trunk, his head dangling to one side and his arms folded. On the parched earth, the only thing that moved was a procession of ants.

A couple of young samurai, who disliked him, walked past carrying practice spears.

"Well, look here. It's Monkey."

"Having a good sleep, isn't he?"

"He's just a lazy good-for-nothing. How come he's the master and mistress's pet? They wouldn't like it if they saw him like this."

"Wake him up. Let's teach him a lesson."

"What do you have in mind?"

"Isn't Monkey the only one who hasn't once gone to martial-arts practice?"

"That's probably because he knows he's not well liked. He's afraid of getting hit."

"That's not right. It's the duty of all the servants of a warrior house to train hard in the martial arts. That's what it says in the household regulations."

"You don't have to tell me. Tell Monkey."

"I say we wake him up and take him to the practice field."

"Yeah, that'd be interesting."

One of the men struck Hiyoshi's shoulder with the point of his spear.

"Hey, wake up!"

Hiyoshi's eyes stayed shut.

"Wake up!" The man lifted Hiyoshi's feet with his spear. Hiyoshi slipped down the tree trunk and awoke with a start.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"What do you think you're doing, snoring away in the garden in broad daylight?"

"Me, sleeping?"

"Well, weren't you?"

"Maybe I fell asleep without meaning to. I'm awake now though."

"Impertinent little ass! I've heard that you haven't spent one single day at martial-arts practice."

"That's because I'm no good."

"If you never practice, how do you know? Even though you're a servant, the household regulations say you have to practice the martial arts. From today on, we'll see that you practice."

"No, thanks."

"Are you refusing to obey the household regulations?"

"No, but"

"Come on, let's go!" Allowing no further protest, they dragged Hiyoshi forcibly to the field in front of the storehouse. They were going to teach him a lesson for disobeying the household regulations.

Under the burning sky, the visiting martial artists and the Matsushita retainers were training hard.

The young samurai who had brought Hiyoshi urged him forward with hard blows to the back.

"Get yourself a wooden sword or spear and fight!"

Hiyoshi tottered forward, barely able to stand, but he did not pick up a weapon.

"What are you waiting for?" One man gave him a sharp rap on the chest with his spear. "We're going to give you some practice, so get a weapon!" Hiyoshi staggered forward again but still would not fight. He just chewed his lip obstinately.

Two of Shohaku's men, Jingo Gorokuro and Sakaki Ichinojo, were having a trial of strength with real spears in response to a request from the Matsushita men. Gorokuro, who wore a headband, was spearing two-hundred-pound rice bags and flinging them in the air in a show of apparently superhuman strength.

"With that kind of skill, it must be easy to fly at a man on the battlefield. His strength is astonishing!" said one of the spectators.

Gorokuro corrected him. "If you men think this is a technique of strength, you're badly mistaken. If you put strength into this technique, the shaft of the spear will break and your arms will quickly get tired." He put his spear aside and explained, "The principles of the sword and the spear are the same. The secret of all the martial arts is in the ch'i, the subtle energy of the tan t'ien, the area two inches below the navel. This is strength without strength. One must have the mental power to transcend the need for strength and regulate the flow of ch'i ." He lectured with enthusiasm and at length.

Deeply impressed, his audience listened attentively, until they were disturbed by a noise behind them.

"You obstinate monkey!" The young samurai swung the handle of his spear, hitting Hiyoshi in the hip.

"Ow!" yelled Hiyoshi in a tearful voice. The blow had obviously hurt. He screwed up his face and doubled over, rubbing his hip. The group broke up and re-formed around Hiyoshi.

"Lazy good-for-nothing!" yelled the man who had struck Hiyoshi. "He says he's no good and doesn't want to come to practice."

Hiyoshi found himself the center of a grumbling crowd, accused of being unrepentant and insolent.

"Well, well," said Shohaku, coming forward and calming them down. "Judging from appearances, he's still just a suckling, at an age when impertinence blooms. Flouting the household regulations while in the employ of a warrior house and having no taste for the martial arts is this fellow's misfortune. I'll do the questioning. The rest of you be quiet.

"Young man," he said to Hiyoshi.

"Yes." Hiyoshi looked straight at Shohaku as he answered. But his tone of voice had changed, for the look in his questioner's eyes said that Shohaku was the kind of man to whom he could speak freely.

"It seems you dislike the martial arts, even though you're employed in a warrior house. Is this true?"

"No." Hiyoshi shook his head.

"Then why, when these retainers kindly offer to drill you in the martial arts, do you not take them up on it?"

"Yes, well, there's a reason for that. If I were to discipline myself in the way of the spear or sword and became an expert, it would probably take up my entire life."

"Yes, you must have that kind of spirit."

"It isn't that I dislike either spear or sword, but when I consider that I won't be able to live more than one normal lifespan, I think it's probably enough to know only the spirit of these things. The reason is that there are so many other things that I would like to study and do."

"What would you like to study?"

"Learning."

"What would you like to learn?"

"About the whole world."

"What are the things you'd like to do?"

Hiyoshi smiled. "That I won't say."

"Why not?"

"I want to do things, but unless I do them, talking about them will only sound like boasting. And if I talked about them out loud, you'd all just laugh."

Shohaku stared at Hiyoshi, thinking how unusual he was. "I think I understand a little of what you say, but you're mistaken about the martial arts being the practice of small techniques."

"What are they, then?"

"According to one school of thought, when a person has learned a single skill, he will have mastered all the arts. The martial arts are not simply techniquesthey are of the mind. If one cultivates the mind deeply, one is able to penetrate everything, including the arts of learning and government, see the world for what it is, and judge people."

"But I'll bet the people here consider striking and piercing their opponents as the best art of all. That should be useful for a foot soldier or the ordinary rank and file, but would it be essential for a great general who"

"Watch your mouth!" scolded one of the samurai, landing a solid punch on Hiyoshi's cheek.

"Ow!" Hiyoshi put both hands over his mouth as though his jaw had been broken.

"These insulting remarks cannot be ignored. This is getting to be a habit. Master Shohaku, please withdraw. We'll take care of this."

The resentment was widespread. Almost all those who had heard Hiyoshi had something to say.

"He insulted us!"

"It's the same as mocking the household regulations!"

"Inexcusable ass!"

"Cut him down! The master won't blame us for it."

In their anger, it seemed they might carry out their threat, dragging him into the thicket and cutting his head off there and then. It was difficult for Shohaku to stop them. It took all his strength to calm them down and save Hiyoshi's life.

That evening, Nohachiro came to the servants' quarters and called softly to Hiyoshi who was sitting all alone in a corner, making a face as though he had a toothache.

"Yes. What is it?" His face was badly swollen.

"Does it hurt?"

"No, not much," he lied. He pressed the damp towel to his face.

"The master has asked for you. Go through the rear garden so that you won't be seen."

"Huh? The master? Well, I suppose he's heard about what happened today."

"The disrespectful things you said were bound to reach his ears. And Master Hitta came to see him a little while ago, so he must have. He may carry out the execution himself."

"Do you think so?"

"It's an iron rule of the Matsushita clan that servants should not be slack in their practice of the martial arts, day or night. When the master has to make a special effort to uphold the dignity of the household regulations, you should consider your head already lost."

"Well, then, I'll run away from here. I don't want to die over something like this."

"You're talking nonsense!" He grabbed Hiyoshi's wrists. "If you ran away, I'd have to commit seppuku. I've been ordered to bring you along."

"I can't even run away?" Hiyoshi asked artlessly.

"Your mouth is really too much. Think a little bit before you open it. Hearing what you said today, even I thought you nothing but a boastful monkey."

Nohachiro made Hiyoshi walk ahead of him, and he kept a firm grip on the hilt of the sword. White gnats swarmed in the gathering darkness. The light from lamps inside spilled out onto the veranda of the library, which had just been sprinkled with water.

"I've brought Monkey." Nohachiro knelt as he spoke.

Kahei appeared on the veranda. "He's here, is he?"

Hearing the voice above his head, Hiyoshi bowed so low that his forehead touched the garden moss.

"Monkey."

"Yes, my lord."

"It seems that a new type of armor is being made in Owari. It's called domaru. Go buy a set. It's your home province, so I presume you'll have no trouble moving around freely."

"My lord?"

"Leave tonight."

"Where to?"

"To where you can buy domaru armor." Kahei took some money from a box, wrapped it, and tossed it in front of Hiyoshi. Hiyoshi looked back and forth between Kahei and the money. His eyes filled with tears that rolled off his cheeks and onto the backs of his hands.

"It would be best if you left without delay, but you don't have to be in a hurry to bring back the armor. Even if it takes several years, find me the best possible set." Then he iaid to Nohachiro, "Let him out by the rear gate quietly, and before the night is over."

What an abrupt turnabout! Hiyoshi felt a chill creep over him. Here he had expected to be killed for running afoul of the household regulations, and nowthe chill came from his reaction to Kahei's sympathyhis sense of gratitudeand it penetrated to the very marrow of his bones.

"Thank you very much." While Kahei had not spelled out what he had in mind Hiyoshi already understood.

His quickness bewilders the people around him, Kahei thought. It's only natural that this breeds resentment and jealousy. He smiled bitterly and asked aloud, "Why are you thanking me?"

"For letting me go."

"That's right. But, Monkey"

"Yes, my lord?"

"If you don't hide that intelligence of yours, you'll never succeed."

"I know."

"If you knew, why did you speak abusively like today, making everybody angry?"

"I'm inexperiencedI hit my head with my own fist after I said it."

"I'm not going to say any more. Because your intelligence is valuable, I'm going to help you. I can tell you now that those who resented you and were jealous of you accused you of theft on the slightest pretext. If a pin was lost, or a dirk or a pillbox was misplaced they'd point their fingers at you and say, 'It was Monkey.' There was no end to their spiteful talk. You easily provoke the resentment of others. You should understand that abou yourself."

"Yes, my lord."

"There was no reason for me to help you today. My retainers' point was well taken. As I was informed about this matter in private by Master Shohaku, it's as if I hadn't heard about it yet and were sending you off on a mission. Do you understand?"

"I understand very well. I have engraved it on my heart."

Hiyoshi's nose was stopped up. He bowed to Kahei again and again.

That night he left the Matsushita house.

Turning to look back, he vowed, I won't forget. I won't forget.

Wrapped up in this man's great kindness, Hiyoshi wondered how he could best repay him. Only one who was always surrounded by brutality and ridicule could feel anothers sympathy so intensely.

Someday someday. Whenever impressed by something or overwhelmed by event he repeated this word like a pilgrim's prayer.

Once again he was wandering like a homeless dog, without aim and without work. The Tenryu was in flood, and when he was far away from human habitation, he felt like crying out at his loneliness, at the unknown fate that awaited him. Neither the universe nor the stars nor the waters could give him any kind of sign.


The Mountain of the Golden Flower | Taiko | The Idiot Lord