Part 9: Letter and Umbrella
October 4th, 1986, 6:00 PM
Of course, the harshly beating raindrops on the window were much more convincing.
"...This rain's incredible. Still, when it's raining this hard, it feels like it's going to stop soon."
"You wish! They said the typhoon's moving slow, so in the worst case it'll be like this all day tomorrow. Even a little weather'd be enough to stop the boats."
"It looks like we won't be able to head out on Sunday after all. Just in case, I cleared any business I had with the outside world from my Monday schedule. I'm glad I did."
"I guess this means, ihihi, it looks like we'll be skipping school Monday~. Living on an island's starting to look pretty good! Come to think of it, Jessica, do you have to take a boat to school every day? What do you do when the boats are closed down? Do you stay home when it rains and show up late when the wind's blowing, like King Kamehameha?"
"If the boats don't come, I stay home. Still, it's not as good as it sounds. Usually, I'm ordered to study by myself, and it's not that fun with someone standing right behind you watching everything you do."
"During the rainy season, does the weather ever stay bad for a long time and make you miss a bunch of days in a row?"
"That also happens. Still, every single day, my homeroom teacher would call and sourly guide me on how I should teach myself and what I had to turn in."
"She can't just easily skip the way you are thinking of, Battler-kun. She has to follow the rules for people that travel to school by boat and get a good amount of studying done."
"It'd actually be easier to just go to school. In my own room, I get distracted and can't concentrate. After being made to do nothing but workbooks for several days straight, it's pretty hard to handle all that mental stress. When I get into college, I really just wanna go to some dorm and quickly say goodbye to this inconvenient island."
"Huh... So, by the way, what do you do when the weather's good in the morning, but then gets so bad on your way home that the boats are closed? Do you spend the night at school?"
"That actually happens a lot. Because of that, they've built some lodgings there for people who can't get back to the island. I stay over there. Sometimes, when gets bad, I can't get back home for a few days at a time."
"If you look at it from the perspective of those people who have to go to school every day on a train packed to twice its capacity, going to school on a boat might seem pretty interesting and fun. Or at least they might irresponsibly think that. I guess different people have different kinds of difficulties."
"Thick-skinned tourists say that kind of thing all the time. I've had enough of island life. I really want to quickly graduate high school and say goodbye to this island."
"Even for high school, there should be places where the students live in dormitories. Why did you go to all of the trouble of choosing the school on Niijima?"
"I've wanted to go to one of those from the beginning!! Still, Mom's always going on about how I need to learn manners and discipline as the successor to the head. In the end, I got stuck with a high school close to home. Man, I hate this island. I just want to go live in a city. I don't care if rain or even spears fall from the sky, as long as I can move to a city where I can wear casual clothes and sandals and can get to a convenience store in less than five minutes..."
"Hahahaha. Hold out just a little longer. It's only a short while until you graduate high school, right?"
"I can't wait a little longer. Aaaaaah..."
Maria had so far not returned to the cousins' room. She had probably been brought back to the mansion by aunt Rosa. It had to be pretty boring for Maria, all by herself while the adults are having a confusing conversation.
...We thought we might head over to the mansion to see her, but after all, there was this lousy weather, and there wasn't much time until dinner, so we stayed where we were.
At that time, we heard the sound of a humble knock. Jessica answered.
"...The preparations for dinner are complete. Please come to the mansion."
"Just when I was getting hungry. Let's go."
George-aniki turned off the television and stood up.
"My stomach's been growling for a while! I've always been a huge fan of the main family's dinners! And didn't Gohda-san say it was calf steak or something? Oohh, I can't wai~t!!"
"It's even more fabulous on the day of the family conference. Even I'm looking forward to it! Let's go, let's go."
As we left the room, Kanon-kun bowed silently and respectfully.
After seeing the three of us out, Kanon-kun peered into the empty room.
"...Wasn't Maria-sama with you...?"
"No she isn't. Wasn't she with aunt Rosa?"
Realizing this, Genji brought a blanket over to her. When he tried to spread it over her, her eyes snapped open as though she had been shocked with electricity.
"...Did I wake you? My sincere apologies."
"No, it's all right. I hadn't planned on sleeping in the first place. What time is it now?"
When he was asked for the time, Genji checked a pocket watch that he took out of his chest pocket.
"...It is slightly after 6:00."
Rosa gave her head a little shake as she realized that, even though it had felt like she had slept for a long time, not much time had actually passed. Even though she didn't feel rested at all, the drowsiness that wrapped around her felt very deep.
"Thank you, I'll be fine without the blanket... I mustn't sleep at such a strange time. My sense of time has been completely thrown off... The rain, it really is pouring."
Rosa finally realized that the peaceful sound that had put her to sleep was actually the rain that had started falling.
"The wind is also blowing hard. I wonder if it's finally the typhoon?"
"...The television has said that is the case. Because the typhoon is slow, they said that it would be like this all day tomorrow."
"Really...? That wonderful rose garden, that must have been my last chance to see it."
From the window, what she could see of the rose garden was completely blurred by the wind and the rain.
BGM: Hour of Darkness
Rosa knew her daughter's nature well. She had always known. Maria was stubbornly honest, and if she was ordered to find something that didn't exist, she would look forever and ever.
...Even if rain was pouring down...!!
Rosa pushed Genji away and ran down the hallway.
Maybe because of some figure of the terrain, the winds were not as strong as a typhoon, so an umbrella wouldn't be torn out of one's hands. Even so, it sure was a windy rain.
There was no time to admire the roses being soaked by the rain.
We hadn't worried much, thinking that aunt Rosa had taken her back to the mansion. However, when Kanon-kun had come from the mansion to call us and thought that Maria was here, we got a little worried.
"...I did not see her in the mansion, so I was sure that she was here. Since Rosa-sama was taking a nap..."
"You didn't see her on your way over here?"
"...My apologies. I opened my umbrella and ran as fast as I could, so I did not pay much attention."
If he had cut through the rose garden on the shortest line between the mansion and the guesthouse, then he would have missed the place where Maria had been looking for her rose by a little. And it was raining this hard, too. There was a good chance that Kanon-kun had failed to notice her.
"Enough arguing around here, it'd be faster to just check it out directly...Aniki, why don't we race over there?"
"Do you plan on beating me now that you've been growing for six years? Alright, let's see who wins...Let's go!!"
George-aniki and I flew out into the rain. Jessica and Kanon-kun followed us.
"Where is Maria?! Isn't she with you?!"
"No, we didn't meet with Maria-chan after that."
...Six years ago, Maria had been three years old. She had been a cute and pure kid who would just accept whatever anyone said.
But six years had passed since then! She was nine now, and going through both good and bad experiences should have rubbed off on her. And still, you're just as innocent and pure as you were...?!
Her face, which had turned bright red from her crying her eyes out, was dirtied with water and mud. It was a truly pitiful sight.
"You idiot... are you still looking?!"
"...Uu-... Can't find it... Maria's rose... Can't find it... Uu-..."
Maria had probably been here since the rain had started pouring down. It looked like her shoulders were freezing. She looked tired to the bone, but fortunately, since she was holding an umbrella, she was not completely soaked.
...It was probably an umbrella from the handbag that Maria was always walking around with. Thank goodness. Seriously, thank goodness.
"...Uu-... It's not here. Maria's rose isn't here... Uu-..."
"Mama will look for it with you later... Okay? So just let it go for today. Okay?"
"...Uu-... Let it go for today..."
It looked like Maria still wasn't able to accept it, but she no longer had enough energy left to resist.
Jessica and Kanon-kun caught up with us.
"I'm sorry... I'm sorry for being such a bad mother..."
"...Aunt Rosa, why don't we head back to the mansion for the time being. Maria will catch a cold like this."
"...You're right. Maria, let's go. If we don't get you cleaned up, Grandfather will get mad at you."
"Uu-... I'm hungry."
"It's already time to eat. Maria did a good job holding out. Once the weather gets better, we'll all go search together."
Maria apparently wasn't as weak as I had thought. When she remembered that dinner was calf steak, she started chanting "I'm hungry, I'm hungry, uu-uu-!", and returned to her usual healthy self.
...Aunt Rosa didn't chide Maria on her 'uu-uu-'.
"Really? She had an umbrella? Maria sure is good at packing the right stuff."
"...Uu-. Maria didn't bring an umbrella. Uu-."
"What? Then how did you get that white umbrella you're holding?"
"Uu-! Borrowed it!"
It seemed that some caring person had somehow brought her an umbrella. A normal girl would look for shelter once it started raining, but there was no way that stubborn Maria would lose heart and do something like that.
...So maybe that person gave up recommending that she find shelter, and at least had her take an umbrella.
Rosa took a deep breath and asked again while trying to avoid hurting Maria's feelings now that she was happy.
"Really? That's nice. So, who was it? The person who brought you that umbrella?"
"Uu-. Beat, ri-ce-! Uu-uu-!"
Maria, who quickly picked up that her mother didn't believe her, made an angry face once again. So, Rosa stopped pursuing the subject. It looked like it would be faster to ask the person who had lent Maria the umbrella during dinner rather than ask Maria herself...
"...Kinzo-san. Won't you at least come out for dinner? Haven't all of your sons gathered here to see your face?"
"Silence, Nanjo... So the bishop won't work. One move too short..."
Apparently, Kinzo was completely focused on the final battle of his long-lasting chess match with Nanjo. Kinzo's brow was wrinkled as he continued to glare at the game board through his spectacles. Krauss's voice didn't reach his ears.
"...Kinzo-san. I am also hungry. Won't you come down and eat?"
"In that case, you can go by yourself. Let me consider this next move for a little longer. We are going to finish it tonight... Otherwise, it looks like we won't resolve it until the world ends."
...It was almost as though, as Kinzo had said, if the game wasn't finished tonight, there would never be another chance for them to continue their contest, or something like that... It looked like even if he called out obstinately, it wouldn't reach Kinzo's heart.
Nanjo gave up and headed to the door that Krauss was still banging on...
Nanjo crooked his neck with a completely defeated expression. Krauss raised his fist once more and banged on the door, shouting.
"...Father, can you hear me?! We are heading down now, but any time you feel like it, please join us. All of your children are waiting for you...!"
The voice was very loud, and the door was being noisily pounded on. There was no way that it wouldn't reach Kinzo's ears.
...It was reaching him. However, he ignored it anyways. However, unlike the time he was being called down for lunch, he did not get into a rage. Kinzo was now simply calm at heart... it was almost as though he had gained a far-sightedness by turning himself over to fate.
Acting as though the painfully loud banging on the door completely failed to enter his hearing... and still in his philosophic state, Kinzo silently thought about his next chess move...
"Just as always, Father is not feeling well. He truly regrets missing this once-a-year opportunity to sit together with his gathered relatives."
Eva and Rudolf sniggered. Judging by Kinzo's character, he didn't regret it at all... and none of his relatives regretted that he hadn't appeared either.
"Then why don't we start dinner. Gohda, begin."
"Certainly. Well then, let me begin."
When Gohda was told to begin the family conference dinner, his highlight scene for the whole year, he nodded, grinning broadly.
"...Umbrella? What's going on?"
"Umm... A short while back, when Maria was in the rose garden and it started raining... it seems she borrowed a white umbrella from someone, and I wanted to thank them..."
"It wasn't one of us. After Rosa went out, we moved over to our room and were having a 'friendly' chat the whole time."
"Haha, that's right. After that, the siblings had a real friendly chat."
The word friendly fell awkwardly from Hideyoshi's lips, so that even those that hadn't been there realized that it hadn't been a pleasant conversation.
"At the very least, it certainly couldn't have been me, Eva, Rudolf, or even Hideyoshi-san or Kyrie-san."
"We were together the whole time, even after Natsuhi nee-san and Rosa nee-san left. The whole time until the meal started."
"Nii-san went up to the study with Genji-san to call Father. At that time, the rest of us went straight to the dining hall. So it wasn't one of us. Couldn't it have been a servant kind enough to lend an umbrella?"
At that time, Shannon and Kumasawa appeared, pushing a serving cart loaded with hors d'oeuvres.
"Then what about Kumasawa-san or Shannon-chan?"
"...Yes? Have I made some mistake...?"
Shannon shrunk, having come in part way and mistakenly thinking that she was being accused of making some error.
"No you haven't. When Maria-chan was alone in the rose garden, it started to rain. Someone gave her an umbrella. Aunt Rosa said that she wanted to thank that person."
Maria, her mouth a thin line, said the witch's name in a small voice. Aunt Rosa explained the situation one more time. As she did, Kumasawa-san cackled.
"Preparing the rooms? What do you mean by that?"
"...Because of this rain, we thought that it would be difficult for all of the guests to return to the guesthouse, so the servants were ordered to prepare the guest rooms inside the mansion."
"...Re-ally? How thoughtful. That's right, it would be rude to chase us outside in the middle of this rain."
"Could ya' give it a rest..."
"Yes. We received the order from Madam, and I, Kumasawa-san, and Kanon-kun were preparing the rooms. Then it became time for dinner, and since he was ordered by Genji-sama to go to the guesthouse and call the kids, Kanon-kun left."
"Yes. In that case, did Kanon-san find Maria on the way to the guesthouse and hand her the umbrella?"
"...Then, Natsuhi nee-san?"
"I'm sorry. After everyone's 'friendly' chat, my headache was so bad that I have been resting in my room. Therefore, I did not go outside."
"...Then who? George-kun and the kids? That can't be right."
"No, it wasn't us. We were watching television in the guesthouse the whole time."
"Actually, we thought that Maria had just gone back to the mansion with you..."
"Then Kanon-kun came, and he asked whether Maria was with us. That was when we first realized that she wasn't in the mansion. In the first place, if it were me, before lending her an umbrella, I'd have grabbed her hand and pulled her under a roof."
"Of course, it wasn't me. Right after it began raining, I visited Kinzo-san's room, and was playing chess with him until just now."
"...Which means that it also wasn't Grandfather."
"Wait a sec... Isn't this starting to get a bit weird? Who's left?"
"Then, who? Genji-san? Huh? Um, wait a second, don't get me wrong. It's not like I'm searching for some culprit or anything. All I want to do is, as a mother, thank that person who gave Maria an umbrella in the middle of the rain...!"
...Giving an umbrella to a girl loitering in the rain was something to be praised, not hidden. Despite that, no one raised their hand.
"...Calm down, Rosa. Why don't we just ask the person who was lent the umbrella?"
That's what everyone had been thinking since the beginning. They were all scratching their heads at why she didn't just ask Maria, who had been given the umbrella. However, Rosa bit her lower lip. After all, she already knew how Maria would answer if asked.
"Of course! Just like Rudolf-kun said. Maria-chan, tell your uncle! Who lent you the umbrella?"
"Hahahaha. I see, Beatrice, the witch of the forest, felt pity and lent her an umbrella. What a nice story. Rosa, there you go."
Rosa couldn't believe it. Even though she just wanted to say thanks for the umbrella, why did everything have to be so clouded in smoke...
"Uu-! Just like uncle Krauss said. Beatrice lent it to me! Uu-uu-!"
"Hahahahaha... Isn't that great? I'm really jealous of such purity. What do you think, everyone? Hahahaha..."
Krauss was laughing with a face that was clearly mocking her, but Maria, apparently feeling that her claim was being believed, was overjoyed.
"Has Maria ever been the type to joke?"
If we had heard that kind of story pop out of that old bastard's mouth, we'd have just taken it as another joke. However, it was hard to explain it that way when Maria said it. This was getting pretty unnerving...
"No way. She's always been frank and serious. Hasn't she always just swallowed up jokes that were supposed to be obvious lies? I've never even heard of her cracking a joke."
Aunt Rosa probably knew that better than anyone. It appeared that because of this weird situation, she had no idea what was going on anymore.
"So, if Maria says that she borrowed an umbrella from Beatrice, that definitely was Beatrice?"
"...We're talking about Maria here, so I can't think of it as some kind of metaphor or joke. It might be best to take what she says at face value."
"Then what's going on? Are you saying that Genji-san or someone put on that fancy dress from the portrait and gave Maria the umbrella?"
"...I'm not sure about that... Actually, that's what I want to know."
Jessica shrugged jokingly, but her expression wasn't completely joking.
Kumasawa and Shannon, pushing the serving cart, ran into Genji and Kanon on their way to the kitchen.
"...Oh, it's Genji-san. Did you lend Maria-san an umbrella?"
"...Umbrella? What are you talking about?"
"Right. I heard that when it started raining, Maria-sama was alone in the rose garden... And it seems that she borrowed an umbrella from someone there, but we don't know who it was."
"It wasn't me. After all, I thought that Maria-sama was in the guesthouse. When Battler-sama first found her, she was already holding a white umbrella."
"My apologies, but it was not me either..."
"...Then, you don't think... the Master... possibly?"
"Maybe he went walking down the corridor for some reason, when, by coincidence, he saw Maria-sama in the rose garden without even an umbrella..."
"...The Master does not particularly like Maria-sama."
"I feel the same. I can't imagine that he would, for Maria-sama's sake, go to all of the trouble of going down the stairs to carry an umbrella to her."
"Oh, my... how troublesome. So that means that the one who lent Maria-sama an umbrella really was Beatrice-sama? Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho..."
Kumasawa laughed, just like the relatives in the dining hall had laughed it off. She couldn't think of any other way to break through the smoke veiling the current situation.
Just then, the dry sound of hands clapping twice rung through the hallway. They all turned around at once to see that it was Gohda, who was coming out of the dining hall.
"Alright, everyone. When serving a dinner, proper timing in setting the table is essential. Please immediately see to setting out the soup. Genji-san, the women are in the middle of an important job, so please don't get in their way."
Kanon glared at Gohda for being rude to Genji, a person Kanon respected. Genji, realizing this, patted Kanon once on the shoulder as if to warn him. Kanon reluctantly turned away, and returned his expression to normal.
"...Obey Gohda's order. Let us now hurry to prepare the dinner table."
"Come on, we have no time. Don't just dawdle around! Hurry...!"
Gohda stole the serving cart from Shannon and steadily pushed it forwards towards the kitchen.
"...Then please allow us to return to the kitchen. After all, Gohda-san's temper is very short... hoh-hoh-ho."
"P, please excuse me as well..."
"...Genji-sama. Did Beatrice-sama really... return?"
"...I don't know."
"...I will inform the Master."
"That is not necessary. If she has truly returned, she will eventually appear before the Master of her own accord. Furthermore, she is a fickle person. It would be pointless to report to the Master only to find that she does not appear..."
"...I wonder if this means that the Master's ceremony has already begun."
"...Probably. However, that has nothing to do with furniture like us. We must return the favor that we received from the Master... until our final moments."
"...Yes. That is furniture's... duty."
The darkness of night that now surrounded Rokkenjima was ruled, not by the Ushiromiya family, but by another master. Did this Master take pity on Maria when she was alone and pummeled by the rain in the rose garden, and lend her an umbrella...?
Kanon looked at the rose garden's lights, dimly visible beyond the window. The dim lights were not enough to illuminate the surrounding area.