His dark eyes were exceedingly clear, but their clarity was not that of intellectuality—it was a gift that the sea bestows upon those who make their livelihood upon it; as a matter of fact, he had made notably bad grades in school. He was still wearing the same clothes he fished in each day—a pair of trousers inherited from his dead father and a cheap jumper.
Surrounded though he was by the vast ocean, Shinji did not especially burn with impossible dreams of great adventure across the seas. His fisherman's conception of the sea was close to that of the farmer for his land. The sea was the place where he earned his living, a rippling field where, instead of waving heads of rice or wheat, the white and formless harvest of waves was forever swaying above the unrelieved blueness of a sensitive and yielding soil.
“God, let the seas be calm, the fish plentiful, and our village […] prosperous. […] Let me have much knowledge in the ways of the sea, in the ways of fish, in the ways of boats, in the ways of the weather . . . […] Please protect my gentle mother and my brother, who is still a child. […] Then there's a different sort of request I'd like to make. . . . Some day let even such a person as me be granted a good-natured, beautiful bride . . . say someone like Terukichi Miyata's returned daughter. . . .” […]
Shinji looked up at the star-filled sky and breathed deeply. Then he thought:
“But mightn't the gods punish me for such a selfish prayer?”
As they walked along, the girl asked him his name and now, for the first time, he introduced himself. But he went on hurriedly to ask that she not mention his name to anyone or say anything about having met him here: Shinji well knew how sharp the villagers’ tongues could be. Hatsue promised not to tell. Thus their well-founded fear of the village’s love of gossip changed what was but an innocent meeting into a thing of secrecy between the two of them.
“What made you so mad?” Shinji asked, looking her full in the face.
“All that talk about you and Chiyoko-san.”
“Then there’s nothing to it?”
“There’s nothing to it.”
“I’ll do my best to help make life on our island the most peaceful there is anywhere . . . the happiest there is anywhere. . . . Because if we don’t do that, everybody will start forgetting the island and quit wanting to come back. No matter how much times change, very bad things—very bad ways—will always disappear before they get to our island. . . . The sea—it only brings the good and right things that the island needs . . . and keeps the good and right things we already have here. . . .”
When he could no longer bear the thought of waiting, Shinji flung on a rubber raincoat and went down to meet the sea. It seemed to him that only the sea would be kind enough to answer his wordless conversation.
Raging waves rose high above the breakwater, set up a tremendous roar, and then rushed on down.
“What would make you quit being ashamed?”
To this the girl gave a truly naive answer, though a startling one: “If you took your clothes off too, then I wouldn't be ashamed.”
All the time the luminous watch of which Yasuo was so proud, strapped above the hand with which he was holding onto the branch of the beech tree, was giving off its phosphorescent glow, faintly but distinctly ticking away the seconds. This aroused a swarm of hornets in the nest fastened to this same branch and greatly excited their curiosity.
After a moment Yasuo glanced back and saw that Hatsue had come down from the grove without his knowing it and was following along about two yards behind him. She did not so much as smile. When she saw him stop walking, she stopped too, and when he started on down the steps again, she started too.
The mother took a very tolerant view of young people’s amorous affairs. And even during the diving season, when everyone stood about the drying-fire gossiping, she held her tongue. But when it came to its being her own son's affair that was the subject of malicious gossip, then there was a motherly duty that she would have to perform.
It might be better to say that Terukichi was the personification of all Uta-jima’s toil and determination and ambition and strength. […] The uncanny accuracy of his weather predictions, his matchless experience in the matters of fishing and navigation, and the great pride he took in knowing all the history and traditions of the island were often offset by his uncompromising stubbornness, his ludicrous pretensions, and his pugnacity…
“It’s all because I'm poor,” Shinji said.
He was usually not one to let such querulous words pass his lips. And he felt tears of shame springing in his eyes, not because he was poor, but because he had been weak enough to give voice to such a complaint.
“I know exactly what you two are thinking. You’re planning to give Yasuo a beating. But you listen to me—that won't do a bit of good. A fool’s a fool, so just leave him alone. Guess it’s hard for Shinji, but patience is the main thing. That’s what it takes to catch a fish.”
“That’s really what he said. And that’s enough for me. I mustn’t expect more than that. That’s really what he said to me. I must be satisfied with that and not expect him to love me too. He—he has someone else to love. . . . What a wicked thing it was I did to him! What terrible unhappiness my jealousy has caused him! And yet he repaid my wickedness by saying I’m pretty. I must make it up to him . . . somehow I must do whatever I can to return his kindness. . . .”
Shinji’s mother hesitated a moment as she was about to enter the house. Just the fact that she had come calling at the Miyata house, where she was not on intimate terms, would be enough to set the villagers’ tongues to wagging.
Double suicide then? Even on this island there had been lovers who took that solution. But the boy’s good sense repudiated the thought, and he told himself that those others had been selfish persons who thought only of themselves. Never once had he thought about such a thing as dying; and, above all, there was his family to support.
Hatsue got to her feet in silence and went around the rock to receive her prize. And the prize she returned with was the brown, middle-aged handbag, which she pressed into the hands of Shinji’s mother.
The mother's cheeks flushed red with delight.
“Because I’ve always wanted to apologize ever since my father spoke so rudely to Auntie that day.” […]
The mother's simple, straightforward heart had immediately understood the modesty and respect behind the girl’s gesture. Hatsue smiled, and Shinji's mother told herself how wise her son had been in his choice of a bride.
“Which one of you fellows is going to take this lifeline over there and tie it to that buoy?”
The roaring of the wind covered the youths’ silence.
“Don't any of you have any guts?” the captain shouted again.
Yasuo’s lips quivered. He pulled his neck down into his shoulders.
Then Shinji shouted out in a cheerful voice, and as he did so the white flash of his teeth shone through the blackness to prove that he was smiling.
“I’ll do it,” he shouted clearly.
The boy swam with all his might. And, inch by inch, step by step, the huge mass of the enemy fell back, opening the way for him. It was as though a drill were boring its way through the hardest of solid rock.
The first time his hand touched the buoy he lost his hold and was pulled away. But then by good luck a wave swept him forward again and, just as it seemed on the point of dashing his chest against the iron rim, lifted him up with a single sweep and deposited him on the buoy.
“When Shinji did that great thing at Okinawa—well, I changed my mind too and decided he was the one for my girl. The only thing that really counts . . .”
Here Terukichi raised his voice emphatically.
“The only thing that really counts in a man is his get-up-and-go. If he’s got get-up-and-go he’s a real man, and those are the kind of men we need here on Uta-jima.”
Nature too again smiled on them. When they reached the top they turned around and looked out over the Gulf of Ise. The night sky was filled with stars and, as for clouds, there was only a low bank stretching across the horizon in the direction of the Chita Peninsula, through which soundless lightning ran from time to time. Nor was the sound of the waves strong, but coming regularly and peacefully, as though the sea were breathing in healthy slumber.
Out in front of them stretched the unfathomable darkness, where the beam from the lighthouse was making its vast, regular sweeps. […] Shinji […] was lost in thought. He was thinking that in spite of all they’d been through, here they were in the end, free within the moral code to which they had been born, never once having been estranged from the providence of the gods . . . that, in short, it was this little island, enfolded in darkness, that had protected their happiness and brought their love to this fulfillment.. . .
Hatsue touched the picture lightly with her own hand and then returned it. Her eyes were full of pride. She was thinking it was her picture that had protected Shinji. But at this moment Shinji lifted his eyebrows. He knew it had been his own strength that had tided him through that perilous night.