away the mosquitos swarming around her skirt.
“Oh, I’m so glad! Now the boy will have a fortunate life, won’t he?” she said.
Then Kiyoaki was congratulated by everyone present.
But still he felt a certain dread. He could not bring himself to look up into the sky at the moon itself, the origin of the image in the water. Rather he kept looking down into the basin and into the water contained by its curved sides, the reflection of his innermost self, into which the moon, like a golden shell, had sunk so deep. For at that moment he had captured the celestial. It sparkled like a golden butterfly trapped in the meshes of his soul.
Yet, he thought, were these meshes fine enough to hold it? Once caught, would the butterfly not slip out soon and fly away? Even at fifteen he feared its loss. His character was already formed, and each of his triumphs would bring this fear in its wake. Having gained the moon, how much then would he dread life in a world without it. The oppression of such fear! Even if this moon aroused nothing but hatred in him.
For even in the triviality of a single playing card missing from a deck, the world’s order is inevitably turned awry. And for someone like Kiyoaki, the smallest incongruity took on the proportions of a watch deprived of one cogwheel. The order of his universe collapsed and he found himself trapped in terrifying darkness. The lost playing card, of no value in itself, would, in his eyes, assume the significance of a crown over which rival claimants were locked in a struggle that would plunge the world into crisis. His sensibility was thus at the mercy of every unforeseen occurrence, however trivial, and he had no defenses at hand.
As he thought back to his Otachimachi, that night of August 17 three years before, he suddenly shuddered with the realization that Satoko had somehow impinged on his thoughts.
At that moment, to Kiyoaki’s relief, the butler entered in his cool hakama with a rustle of Sendai silk to announce that dinner was ready. Kiyoaki and his parents went into the dining room, each to sit in front of a place set with fine English china decorated with the family crest. Since early childhood Kiyoaki had had to endure the tedium of his father’s lessons in Western table manners. As it was, his mother had never become accustomed to the Western way of eating and his father still behaved with the ostentation of a man eager to seem at home abroad, so he was the only one who ate naturally and at ease.
When the soup course arrived, his mother lost no time in raising a new topic in her calm voice.
“Really, Satoko can be very trying. Only this morning I discovered that the Ayakuras sent a messenger with her refusal. And for a time she gave everyone the distinct impression that she had decided to accept.”
“She’s twenty already, isn’t she?” his father replied. “If she continues to be so demanding, she may find herself left an old maid. I’ve been worried about her myself, but what can one do?”
Kiyoaki was all ears as his father went on casually. “I wonder what’s the matter with her? Or did they think he was too much beneath her? No matter how noble a family the Ayakuras once were, their present fortunes hardly allow them to turn down a young man like that, with a bright future ahead of him in the Ministry of the Interior. They should have been glad of him, shouldn’t they, without bothering about what kind of family he came from?”
“That’s exactly how I feel. And that’s why I’m disinclined to do anything more to help her.”
“Well now, we owe them a great deal because of what they did for Kiyoaki. I feel obliged to do all I can to help them build up their family fortunes again. But what could we do to find a suitor whom she’d accept?”
“I wonder if such a man exists?”
As he listened, Kiyoaki’s spirits rose. His riddle was solved. “Kiyo, what would you do if suddenly I weren’t here any more?” Satoko had asked. She had simply