Bewitching Shadow Chapter 1: Code

When I entered the reception office, a gentleman passed me as he left.

“That was my elder cousin,” Lady S said as she handed over a notebook she was holding in her hands. “Please try reading this for me if you have spare time. That elder cousin wrote it.”

“Does the gentleman write literature?”

“No, he is a merchant. He originally aimed to be in a different field of work, but he made some unthinkable blunders because he slacked off a little in his youth. Unfortunately, he was unemployed as well, and idled around for a long time, but recently he got into a certain company at last.”

I tried reading that notebook at once.

– It was the evening of the second day in the month when I left Kobe. Easily seasick, I had grown accustomed to my condition as well, so I considered going out to the dining room any time soon.

The fact that I was entrusted with an important duty was always on my mind, so no matter how hard I tried, I did not feel like enjoying this trip at leisure as I usually did. It was owed to the fact that I was entrusted with a code.

I was unable to forget the cautionary advice of Lady S on my departure. “You ought to think of the code as something more important than your life. The trunk is a dangerous place as well. A suitcase even more. Keep it on your body as you go.” – Just like that, I kept it on my body. Perhaps there is no other safer method. However, no one should know I was in the possession of this important code, so if I was cautious, it would probably be alright. Because I’d have a nervous breakdown if I keep thinking about these things the whole time. In any case, now I could do something cheerful. – that was what I thought while I went and entered the dining room.

I took a seat near the purser. The meal already started because I turned up a little late. The five, six guests who surrounded the round table moved their forks and knives as they chatted amiably to their companions as the purser served their food. All of them were energetic young men, so this table was the liveliest. When they gradually brought out the desserts, a pair of Chinese people quietly entered, and sat in the vacant seats beside me. I knew at a glance from their attire that they were probably people of very high social standing.

They were probably a young lady and her father. Their faces resembled somehow. The man slouched a little and was lanky. His face was still young, but the hair on his head was pure white.

The young lady was either twenty-four or twenty-five, and the pink Chinese clothes looked very beautiful and lovely on her. However, she seemed like an ill person. Though short and frighteningly thin with a pale face, she was an unusually beautiful woman. Regrettably she hunched her body too much, and even walking seemed tiring for her, and it was even utterly painful to look at her.

While I bowed lightly when they took a seat, I lifted my eyes to glimpse at them; they looked at me. The beauty of her eyes astonished me to start with. It felt as if only her eyes were living even though her body was on the brisk of death, however, her desolate beauty disturbed my mind. Until now I have never encountered eyes with such a frightening charm. I would have been content even if my soul was entirely snatched away by her glance.

After I finished my meal, I strolled around on the deck of the ship. No matter what I did, I was unable to take my mind off the pair I saw just now. They would surely come on deck once they finished their meal. I looked forward to that, but they did not come at all. Perhaps they returned to their room because she was ill. I felt unsatisfied for some reason.

It was a sultry evening.

The moon was pleasant. I felt disappointed about returning to my narrow cabin. Against my better judgement I stayed up late that night. Before I knew it, everyone retired to their own rooms, even the people who went to sleep once and returned on deck again; I was the only one who remained on deck.

“Should I go to bed soon now?” I took my watch out and looked. “Oh, it’s already one o’clock!”

I rose and proceeded to yawn while stretching both of my arms up high. While doing this, I attempted to touch my torso from the top of my waistcoat. Since my departure this had turned into a habit; I did it several times on a day. Because I rolled the important code around my torso. Until I safely handed it over on arrival at my post I could not have peace of mind, and it was considerably important to abide by my duty; I couldn’t be a little careless either. I became miserable when I thought that I shouldn’t be so nervous even while travelling. Even though our daily lives are only a carefree paradise during a trip. I couldn’t do my favourite dances either and I also refrained from going to the bar. Even though I am a youth of thirty years old, I thought, having suddenly become bored.

While clicking my tongue, I descended the stairway. When I inadvertently looked over my shoulder, it seemed that someone had come up unnoticed. The previously mentioned young lady was all alone by herself without her companion, leaning against the guardrail of the deck as she gazed at the stars while sunk in deep thought. This night once more, I had a somewhat strange feeling about that ill person, but she took her leave without concealing herself; for a little while I gazed at her retreating figure.

I awoke unusually early the next day. Last night I saw a strange dream. An eye as wide as a fifty sen silver coin[ref]The 50 sen coin was a Japanese coin worth half of a Japanese yen. The coin was taken out of circulation at the end of 1953.[/ref] appeared at the centre of the cabin’s porthole. As I watched it, the eye became larger, filling the porthole to the brim, and in the end that window became one eye. It didn’t blink either, and that big eye was gazing at my face. The eye was just like the eyes of that young lady. It probably wasn’t strange that I saw such a dream, because I paid so much undue attention to her eyes. I wonder how glad I would have been if the eyes of the real young lady peeked at me. I looked at the window with a nostalgic feeling. However, I only saw the back views of Western people in there who were energetically taking a stroll while inhaling the morning air, and not even a shadow of that frail young lady.

I got up as well and immediately strolled the deck. Gradually, an acquaintance showed up, and we greeted each other once we met. With the feeling of wanting to meet that pair somehow, I went to the dining room in the morning as well as lunch, but the seats beside me remained vacant, and the napkins which were folded into the flower-like shape desolately remained on top of the plate. I indirectly tried asking the purser about them because I worried.

“The young lady seems to be returning to China due to her illness.”

“Of what kind of social standing are they, I wonder?”

“They are of noble birth, but -, now it seems they cannot stay here at all. They are very rich people of China.”

“So it seems. It looks they stayed in Japan for a long time, as though they are Japanese people.”

“Indeed. They are also good at speaking the language. However, it’s only pitiful. Because the young lady is so frail, it seems her father protects her while visiting places with good climates all around the world.”

“They are of splendid social standing, aren’t they?”

“At any rate, it’s because they are rich,” the purser said, seemingly envious.

At dinner time, the previously mentioned pair had already arrived at the table when I entered the dining room a little later.

It seemed painful for the young lady to even move her hands, and it was pitiful to even look at her. She ate very quietly, without even making a tiny noise. She had a downcast look from the beginning to the end, and did not raise her face most of the time. Her long eyelashes dropped a faint shadow over her cheeks. Such a beautiful woman, I admired in my mind.

I only paid attention to the young lady, therefore I didn’t pay attention to her father at all. However, when I suddenly looked at him for a moment, his very strange habit astonished me. I suppose I would say it was some type of nerve spasm; when he stretched out his arm about to take a thing on the table, his hand would write something like an alphabetic character in the air before grasping that thing. At first I thought he was signaling to someone. However, that did not seem to be the case. He would do it even when he was about to take the bottle of sauce. He also did it when he took the table salt. Pepper, fruit, because he always did it. He repeated it a bewildering amount of times, and it got on my own nerves just by watching him. When I thought, what an unpleasant habit, as I watched him, even I was infected; my hand was about to move by itself. It worried me very much. I averted my face, and even if I did not look, I couldn’t help but look after all. I finished my meal in a hurry, and left the dining room quickly.

After that there was one more thing on my mind, the fact that the young lady wore a glove only on her left-hand despite being in the middle of having a meal. It was pure white, and so clean to the point it had not even a small stain on it, but I still couldn’t help but find it strange.

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