Wilhelm had noted Kyuzo’s remaining nudity and hoped he might stay, that they might read more Goethe together long into the night.

“Why not come back inside?” he asked both men. “I have extra futon.”

His main room seemed larger now, but when he saw its terrible condition he shook his head. Not only were clothes flung everywhere, but potatoes dotted his tabletop like corpses, and sausages lay split-open, bleeding sauerkraut. He said, “I’ve been living like an animal,” and when the priest’s widow enlisted Ken to help her carry the dishes to the kitchen, and Kyuzo went into the back to sit at Wilhelm’s writing table, Wilhelm himself slumped against the nearest wall. He could have slept, letting them do what they would, never mind that he still didn’t know who they were. If ever to the moment I shall say: Beautiful moment, do not pass away! Oh, he’d been a fool these past few years, so close to those words yet also so very far away! Manjiro wasn’t returning, he was chasing his own beautiful moment up in Edo. Wilhelm let tears fill his eyes. The priest’s widow came back carrying tea and a note that Kyuzo had written at his desk just now. As she poured his tea she let him see the slender beauty of her forearms.

Wilhelm took Kyuzo’s note and opened it, seeing immediately that the older samurai had a good clear hand, much more confident than his own, and when he recognized an imitation of his translation, he sat up:

No chains will bind a man who leaves Japan,
When spring is storming high above the ocean,
To cast his lot once more among men,
Who look, but don’t comport themselves like him.
Then by your work alone you will be known,
No longer as a young lord’s hired teacher,
To all who study deeply, and are prone,
To know the world through marvelous translation!

The priest’s widow took the note from him, reading it herself. She had known from the beginning what Kyuzo and Ken had come for.

“I’ll go with you,” she said. “Here, in this very first line, he is giving us our chance.”

“I’ve been in this country fourteen years,” Wilhelm told her. “Seven here and seven in Nagasaki.”

That the image of Nagasaki should come to the priest’s widow then was odd, since she had never been there. But she pictured its castle perfectly, plus a much grander harbor than that which grew out of the sea to form Shimoda. No one had closed the outside door and as she leaned over Wilhelm now to do it she noticed that the rain had come again. “Unlike most people who live around here I was born far away, in the smallest of villages, in the highest of mountains,” she said. “My family was poor, and had I been prettier I would have been sold into training as a geisha.”

It was a good start, a storyteller’s beginning, and when Wilhelm let the tiredness leave his eyes, she took a moment to think how she might proceed, while both of them sipped their tea, and listened to the samurai snore.

Translations of Goethe by David Luke

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