"Oh dear, what a terrible rainy season this is," the portly in-law lady said, lighting the tobacco in her pipe. This was her first visit in a long while.
"Yes, indeed it is! How have your grandchildren been these dreadful days? I apologize for neglecting to send servants over to ask after you," answered Mrs. Yi, lighting her own pipe. She was the wife of Yi Ch'ŏlwŏn and the lady of the house. Her hair was streaked with gray, and a few stray wrinkles creased her forehead.
"Please don't mention it. I haven't done my part, either. The little ones are fine, but their mother has had a stomachache for a few days. Although, when I left home today, she was up and around."
"It's easy to get sick in this heat. You must have been quite worried."
"I feel better now that she's all right. By the way, you must be happy to see your daughter back from Japan," the in-law lady added, as if suddenly remembering something that had slipped her mind.
"It's always worrisome to send her abroad. When she comes back home at least once a year I feel relieved." Mrs. Yi tapped her pipe on the ashtray. "I know what you mean. It would be hard enough to send a son so far away, to say nothing of a daughter. I suppose she's been all right?"
"Yes. Nothing particularly seems to be bothering her. Still, when she says there's nothing to worry about, I wonder if it's just to make me feel at ease. She looks haggard, and something tells me she hasn't been [End Page 61] eating well or hasn't had an easy time of it." Turning toward the backyard court, Mrs. Yi called, "Look here, dear! Our in-law lady from Sŏmunan has kindly come to see you."
"Yes, mother," answered Kyŏnghŭi, who had been sitting on the cool back porch talking with her sister-in-law, whom she had not seen for a long time. While her sister-in-law sat mending a sock, Kyŏnghŭi had been at the sewing machine, working on her brother's summer shirt to go with his Western-style jacket. She had been talking about her life in Japan, telling about the incident in which she was almost run over by a streetcar on her way to somewhere and how it still made her nervous just to think about it now; and about how every winter morning her legs got stiff because she had to sleep tightly curled up. She told how it rains every other day in Japan and how one day, during a downpour, she was hurrying to make it to school on time in her high wooden sandals, when she fell, skinned her legs, tore her umbrella, and, worst of all, completely soiled her clothes—much to her embarrassment. She also talked about her studies and about various things she had seen on the streets of Japan.
At the moment her mother called, Kyŏnghŭi was in the middle of telling her sister-in-law about a movie she had seen some time ago, about a young boy who, angry at his father for keeping him from having fun, hangs a notice on a big tree outside the gate of his house, offering his father for sale. Almost immediately, he receives an offer from a pair of small, orphaned children, a brother and sister, six or seven years old—just around his age—who hope to buy his father with their last two pennies—all they have left from their wanderings since the death of their parents.
Totally absorbed in the story, Kyŏnghŭi's sister-in-law, who had let her mending drop into her lap without realizing it, exclaimed, "Oh, dear!" "So, what happened?" she pleaded eagerly. Right at that moment, Kyŏnghŭi was summoned by her mother. Frowning, her sister-in-law begged, "Please come back quickly." Even the maid, Siwŏl, clucked her tongue...