Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume7 Chapter3
Umbrella Maker's Wife
If there's a single white horse mixed in with a pack of chestnut ones, then regrettably it will draw attention to itself.
If there's a single senbei rice cracker in a plate of sweet biscuits, it's only human nature to reach out for that first. Even for those who don't like senbei that much.
So perhaps this was fate.
Among the group of high-class men, there was a single man of meager means.
( … Bear?)
The bear-man that she ran into at the city zoo said, "Do you want something to eat?" then tore off a chunk of his roasted sweet potato and offered it to Eriko.
"It's roasted sweet potato."
With his reply finished, his gaze shifted back to the elephant.
He looked at the elephant as though in a daze, or deep in thought, and even when she called out to the bear-man he didn't turn to look at her.
Eriko reluctantly muttered a thank-you then tasted the sweet potato.
(You mustn't accept things from strange men.)
She'd been told this by her family ever since she was a child, and for the first time in eighteen years Eriko broke this rule.
(You have to be careful because you're so cute Eriko-chan.)
However there hadn't been a single hint of danger from the man with his back to her. He looked like he'd already completely forgotten that he gave half his roasted sweet potato to a female high-school student.
"It's my first time with an impolite man like yourself."
Eriko kicked a pebble towards his feet.
For someone with a weakness for the rare, it was impossible.
Passing the time and pretending not to notice, even though there was an interesting man right there in front of her.
Rosa Foetida was walking.
Staggering alone down the path beside the oval.
It wasn't obvious whether she was just arriving at school or heading home. But she was wearing her school coat and carrying her bag, so it was probably one or the other.
Fourth period was just about to end, so there was no way to tell based on that.
The teacher's whistle blew, signaling an end to the first-year peach group's PE class.
The heads adorned with peach colored headbands bowed down, then came back up again. Then they turned towards the school buildings and headed back at a brisk pace.
Although the calendar said it was spring, PE classes at the beginning of March were still austere. Particularly on days like today, when they went long distance running outside.
"I'm going on ahead."
Yumi split off from the rest of her class and ran in the opposite direction.
"Ah, Yumi-san. Where are you going?"
"I've got some things to take care of."
Yumi answered Katsura-san's question without turning around. Probably shocked to see her still running so hard, after the marathon they'd just finished. But Yumi was worried, so she had to do it.
After calling out to her, it took about two seconds for her head to raise.
What had she been looking at? Yumi lowered her gaze to where Rosa Foetida had been looking.
The grass on the gently sloping ground that surrounded the oval was curled in on itself due to the cold, and there weren't yet any lively insects or similar.
"What are you doing?"
"Huh … ?"
"There's nothing I can do, and it's eating at me."
Nothing she can do. Running out of steam at a place like this was bad. At the very least, she should decide whether she was going to class or going home.
"Oh, is this the path you usually take to school?"
"No, it's over there."
Rosa Foetida pointed north expressionlessly. For reference, they were on the oval's western side.
"You're lost then?"
"Something like that."
Yumi didn't know how Rosa Foetida had arrived at that point, but it was unthinkable that a third-year could get lost within the school.
"So then, you're not heading towards school?"
It looked as though Rosa Foetida would continue to wander aimlessly around the area forever if she was left alone.
Her words and behaviors all gave off a feeling of ennui.
"Even if you're going home, it would be quicker to cut across the school and go out through the back gate. Come on, let's go."
Yumi used a bit of force as she pulled Rosa Foetida along. Her body had taken a break from exercising, and the wind sliced through her 100% cotton sweatshirt, chilling her to the bone.
As she walked, Rosa Foetida tucked her hair back behind her ears and let out a huge sigh.
At any rate, it was Rosa Foetida that had brought about this feeling. Indeed – Yumi remembered when there had been a similar sensation.
"If there's something wrong with your body, we can go to the school nurse."
"No, it's not a problem with my body – ah."
Rosa Foetida suddenly smiled.
"Yumi-chan, you just remembered what happened with my wisdom teeth, right?"
That had been during the Yellow Rose Revolution.
"That takes me back. Back then there were suspicions that I was pregnant, it was pretty funny though."
It may not have been that funny at the time, but at the very least it meant they probably wouldn't say that about Rosa Foetida now.
"Sorry for making you worry about me. Let's head to class."
They walked in the entrance and separated to change into their indoor shoes. Yumi peeked into the third-years area and saw Rosa Foetida in her indoor shoes, staring off into space.
"When you think about it, continuing on to university isn't the only path."
In the time it had taken to change from her outdoor shoes into her indoor shoes, it looked as though another thought had highjacked her brain.
Like a scratched CD, the conversation had skipped forward.
For the time being, Yumi offered a non-committal response. At times like this, the only thing she could do was assume the role of the listener.
The wisdom-tooth related suspicions about her pregnancy had been funny, they were going to class, but university wasn't the only path … it was all incoherent.
"If not university, then … a job?"
"Ah, there's that option too."
Rosa Foetida nodded slightly, as if she'd only just considered it. Which meant there was something else.
"So the answer is?"
Yumi asked, and the answer came quietly, as though she was speaking to herself.
"I want to get married."
Yumi jumped about a foot off the ground.
"But, y-you don't have a partner. That's what you told me before, Rosa Foetida."
After she said this, Yumi thought, "Oh no." Because the faces of the gentlemen pictured in the photographs in her pocket had bubbled up into her mind.
"I may have said that."
Rosa Foetida said as she closed her shoe box.
Yumi almost blurted out, "What now? Do you have a favorite among the guys you're going out with every night?"
"But anyway, marriage, huh."
"Ahh, I want to be the wife of a ronin umbrella maker."
This was hopeless. Rosa Foetida had a faraway look in her eyes all of a sudden.
Even though they both seemed to be talking in Japanese, they weren't conversing with each other.
Completely baffled, Yumi decided that for the time being she would escort Rosa Foetida to the third-year chrysanthemum classroom. There she would pass the baton to Rosa Foetida's classmates. If Rosa Foetida went home in this state, she might end up in a traffic accident, or worse.
After that she'd head back to the locker room, change clothes, return to her classroom to pick up her lunch, then on to the Rose Mansion.
It was a somewhat dizzying lunch break.
Ronin umbrella maker.
Why that particular phrase?
It was frequently used in period dramas, someone who made their living attaching paper to umbrella frames – was that what she meant by it?
Ronin umbrella maker.
Minako typed the phrase into the word processor once more.
She let it stand for now, but wasn't it an antiquated term? By and large, the whole samurai / ronin concept was extinct in the modern age. The term "ronin" still existed, but it was slang to describe someone who failed to get into university, or couldn't find a job after graduation, rather than the traditional meaning of a masterless samurai.
Marriage. Who on earth to?
She fretted, alone, in the club room. Overhearing the conversation between Fukuzawa Yumi and Rosa Foetida in the entrance had been a stroke of luck, but while she had picked up two or three jigsaw puzzle pieces, she still couldn't see the whole picture.
In this kind of situation, usually she would pick up the torch and keep going until the picture appeared. But, recently, even dimwitted Fukuzawa Yumi was on guard –
When she first heard about the Rosa Foetida scandal, she didn't think there would be this much interesting material, so she'd jumped at it straight away. But, what of it. Club Members A, B, and C had provided the initial information, but after that she hadn't been able to use it at all.
The problem was that the eyewitness accounts of Rosa Foetida weren't the result of a stakeout or from tailing her, the reality was that the three of them had just accidentally stumbled upon her while they were out.
Someone had said that since it had happened three times, it must have happened more than that, and while she wasn't sure about that, the heavy crime of the three club members had been in deluding Minako into thinking that if she waited quietly another report would just fall into her lap.
While they had targeted Rosa Foetida, there were limits to what first and second-years could do to follow a third-year, who could come and go as she pleased. Even if it was for the school newspaper, they couldn't just openly ditch class.
The club members had gone out after school in search of gossip, but they'd probably catch nothing today either. While she'd never say it out loud, Minako herself and the first-year club members she used as her arms and legs had half given up.
How many days had it been now? … One week exactly.
Minako deleted "Ronin Umbrella Maker" from the word processor's display and typed in "Teach Us! OO-sensei."
Speaking of material that could be readily turned into an article, the only thing available was previously shelved notes about a teacher on maternity leave. There was no choice but to once again pad the next week's issue of the "Lillian Kawaraban" with bland material.
(The failure to get Takeshima Tsutako on our side hurts too.)
Spitefully, Minako banged away on the keyboard.
She could write an article for the Lillian Kawaraban just from the three first-years' testimony. But it was as plain as day that it would be a dubious report.
Three members of the newspaper club all coincidentally spotted Rosa Foetida at three different locations. Minako herself would laugh it off as a fabrication.
That was why she'd sought cooperation from the photography club's Takeshima Tsutako. She was certainly proficient with the camera, but it was her ability to sniff out a good photo opportunity that really set her apart. If they took her along, she would undoubtedly catch the scent of Rosa Foetida. Even a single photo would substantially improve their credibility.
(That camera geek.)
Busy after school, every single day. What on earth was she doing?
Thump, thump, thump.
(Her hobby's watching evening baseball matches, and she enjoys a nightcap every single day?)
It was depressing that she had to write such a boring newspaper article. Minako was growing more and more irritated. At the very least, if the story had revolved around the Rose Mansion, then she would have enjoyed typing it more.
Thump, thump … psheww.
The monitor emitted a noise then switched off, perhaps protesting her rough treatment. The screen in front of her was as black as the Lillian Kawaraban's future.
"Gah, even the computer's mocking me."
On closer inspection, the power cord had come loose. But head of the newspaper club, Tsukiyama Minako, wasn't the sort of timid person to reflect on whether her own aggressive actions had knocked it out.
"Come take a look, Rose family!"
Alone in the clubroom, she raised a fist.
Looking back on it later, it appeared that something within Minako snapped when the computer lost power.
She couldn't write a newspaper article based on guesses.
But why shouldn't she turn the tables on that rule? People called that line of thought "defiance."
Minako checked the computer cord and powered it on.
It would have been nice to pack up, but she wholeheartedly rejected the evening game and nightcap.
Ominous laughter mixed with the sound of someone tapping on a keyboard could be heard coming from the newspaper club's clubroom.
The following day, the number of photographs increased.
" … I thought you washed your hands of this."
Yumi muttered tiredly, having been beckoned over to the staircase landing just before morning prayers.
"I did. But then a new guy showed up."
Once again, Tsutako-san was gripping a photograph in her hand. She was holding it so that Yumi couldn't see the contents, like she was playing old maid. It was the last card, so that would make it the joker, right? Anyway.
Yumi thought it completely unsurprising that the number of men would increase by one or two.
There were numerous photographs in her pocket. Almost as though they increased whenever she tapped her pocket. The situation was getting desperate.
"This one's a bit different to the others so far. A novelty, so to speak."
Like something out of a police drama, Tsutako-san leaned in close and whispered this in her ear, prompting Yumi to reach out for the photograph.
A hand appeared from the side and pilfered the photograph, just like that. When they saw who that hand belonged to, both Yumi and Tsutako-san were shocked.
"Ro … !"
She was so surprised, that the rest of the word didn't come out. Standing there was Rosa Chinensis.
"Ro? Then, robber."
Rosa Chinensis said, playing dumb. So, she wanted to play shiritori, huh?
Still, it was a rather pathetic response. Yumi had unwittingly been drawn into Rosa Chinensis' game.
That was, obviously, Rosa Chinensis.
"Shi … silhouette."
"To, Torii Eriko. – She's here, in this photograph."
Rosa Chinensis had started the game of shiritori knowing she could end it like this. Normally it continued until a word ending in 'n'.
"Who's that with her?"
She questioned Yumi, thrusting the photograph right in her face. There was indeed someone different to the others, and if Yumi were choosing her words carefully, she would describe him as a simply dressed middle-aged man. The photo's background looked like it was somewhere in a zoo.
"Mmm, who knows?"
Naturally, Yumi didn't know who this bearded, bear-like man was.
"Don't give me that. Spit it out."
But even if she was interrogated, Yumi honestly didn't know, so there was nothing she could do. Even if she were threatened or tortured to the point where she wanted to spit it out, she couldn't.
"I see. It seems you're telling the truth."
Suddenly changing tack, Rosa Chinensis asked:
"Did you take this, Tsutako-san?"
Smiling cheerfully as she grabbed Tsutako-san's sailor collar, foiling her attempt to sneak away.
"Go-gokigenyou. I'm in awe of your exquisite countenance – "
As expected, even Tsutako-san couldn't resist the power of Rosa Chinensis' beauty at close range. Perhaps due to confusion, the words that came spilling out sounded like something from a period drama.
"Tsutako-san. It's not good to hide things."
Scary. All the more so because she was smiling.
"I simply happened to spot Rosa Foetida by chance. Even if you ask me who she was with … "
"Well, that's fine. Since you said "this one," that must mean that there are other photos. Hand over the rest of them."
Rosa Chinensis held out her hand to accept them. An authoritative request that was impossible to deny.
"No, I don't have any … "
Tsutako-san trembled as she shook her heads and waved her hands in denial. She wasn't lying. She didn't have any other photographs on her. Holding them was –
With her hand still in her pocket, Yumi looked up at the heavens.
As though she had eyes in the back of her head, Rosa Chinensis turned to Yumi once more.
"Yumi-chan. Show me what's in your pocket."
"Come on, out with it."
Having been ordered to do so, how could she resist? Rosa Chinensis wasn't some kindly old grandmother. There was no way Yumi could match wits with someone who held Sachiko-sama in the palm of her hands.
Reluctantly Yumi took the photos that were the crystallization of Miss Takeshima Tsutako's hard work out of her pocket and placed them in Rosa Chinensis' hand. Despite their two versus one numerical advantage, it had been a complete rout of the first-years.
Rosa Chinensis muttered as she scrutinized each of the photos.
"Novelty. It's Eriko's weakness."
Rosa Chinensis spoke frankly about her friend's shortcomings.
"She has a weakness … for novelty."
Yumi and Tsutako-san looked at each other.
"Right, novelty. Two years ago, Eriko had her pick of all the first-years, and she chose a masculine, tall and skinny girl. Despite the fact that there were numerous cute girls vying to be her petit soeur. Now, why do you think she did that?"
"Because she has a weakness for novelty?"
"Exactly. She couldn't find a first-year that interested her more than Rei."
So Rosa Foetida's sole consideration when choosing a petit soeur was how enjoyable they would make her school life?
"So you see, the only box that needs to be checked is the one that says they're a type of person she hasn't encountered before."
Rosa Gigantea had said something similar a while ago. That Rosa Foetida found life dull because she had neither strengths nor weaknesses. So when presented with a choice, she would pick the unexpected.
"If it was just these rich men, left alone it would take care of itself."
Rosa Chinensis seemed to be talking to herself as she looked at the photographs.
"This out-of-place man is the only troubling one."
She seemed to be giving serious thought as to what type of man he was. Apparently Rosa Chinensis was completely unconcerned about the rest of them.
"With Eriko, below a certain interest threshold she's able to make very calculated decisions. But once her interest rises above that level, she'll lose sight of her surroundings, which can be dangerous. It's fine as long as she doesn't get into trouble, though."
So the rich men were unable to move the needle on Rosa Foetida's interest gauge. Was that what Rosa Chinensis meant? Yumi had thought it would have been the opposite, that the rich men would have been more troubling.
Still, this showed the caliber of Rosa Chinensis. Even when shown photographs of her dear friend on dates with various men, she wasn't even slightly flustered.
"You must really trust her."
Sachiko-sama's detested phrase apparently hadn't occurred to Rosa Chinensis. Maybe that's what happened with close friends. Yumi felt like she still had a long way to go to have that kind of remarkable relationship, because she doubted if she would have the same level of trust in Yoshino-san or Shimako-san if they were involved in the same situation as Rosa Foetida. Rosa Chinensis hadn't needed a reason. She had full and unconditional faith in her friend.
However, Rosa Chinensis scoffed at Yumi's words.
"It's not trust."
"That's not to say I don't trust her. But I'm really worried. Because, when I saw her yesterday, she'd turned back into apathetic Eriko."
It was almost like Rosa Chinensis was saying that she wasn't worthy of the title Rosa Foetida. But Yumi was still optimistic, because she could sense the affection between them.
Tsutako-san asked, her interest growing.
The stress seemed to be abating from Rosa Chinensis, enough so that she could finally laugh.
"Remember how she was during the Yellow Rose Revolution? It's barely been six months and again she's becoming equally useless. What could make her behave like that?"
What could make her behave like that? None of them could find an answer to that question.
The bell rang.
Rosa Chinensis said, "See you later," and started walking down the stairs towards her classroom. She stopped halfway, apparently remembering, turned around and handed the bundle of photographs to Yumi.
"Her sickness this time is a bit more serious than an ear infection or impacted wisdom tooth. I don't think it will be cured anytime soon."
"But Rosa Foetida said there wasn't anything wrong with her body."
She had definitely said this when Yumi found her near the oval.
"Yumi-chan, sickness doesn't just refer to a problem with the body."
"Rosa Foetida … has a mental illness?"
Rosa Chinensis started with, "I wouldn't say that," then leaned over and whispered in Yumi's ear, before gliding away down the stairs.
Yumi played back the words that Rosa Chinensis left her with.
"Have I seen love … ?"
Two disparate points were joined together by a very delicate line.
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