THE LADY OF THE DECORATION
TO ALL GOOD SISTERS, AND TO MINE IN PARTICULAR
The Lady of the Decoration
SAN FRANCISCO, July 30, 1901.
My dearest Mate:
Behold a soldier on the eve of battle! I am writing this in a stuffy little hotel room and I don't dare stop whistling for a minute. You could cover my courage with a postage stamp. In the morning I sail for the Flowery Kingdom, and if the roses are waiting to strew my path it is more than they have done here for the past few years. When the train pulled out from home and I saw that crowd of loving, tearful faces fading away, I believe that for a few moments I realized the actual bitterness of death! I was leaving everything that was dear to me on earth, and going out into the dark unknown, alone.
Of course it's for the best, the disagreeable always is. You are responsible, my beloved cousin, and the consequences be on your head. You thought my salvation lay in leaving Kentucky and seeking my fortune in strange lands. Your tender sensibilities shrank from having me exposed to the world as a young widow who is not sorry. So you "shipped me some-wheres East of Suez" and tied me up with a four years' contract.
But, honor bright, Mate, I don't believe in your heart you can blame me for not being sorry! I stuck it out to the last,—faced neglect, humiliations, and days and nights of anguish, almost losing my self-respect in my effort to fulfil my duty. But when death suddenly put an end to it all, God alone knows what a relief it was! And how curiously it has all turned out! First my taking the Kindergarten course just to please you, and to keep my mind off things that ought not to have been. Then my sudden release from bondage, and the dreadful manner of it, my awkward position, my dependence,—and in the midst of it all this sudden offer to go to Japan and teach in a Mission school!
Isn't it ridiculous, Mate? Was there ever anything so absurd as my lot being cast with a band of missionaries? I, who have never missed a Kentucky Derby since I was old enough to know a bay from a sorrel! I guess old Sister Fate doesn't want me to be a one part star. For eighteen years I played pure comedy, then tragedy for seven, and now I am cast for a character part.
Nobody will ever know what it cost me to come! All of them were so terribly opposed to it, but it seems to me that I have spent my entire life going against the wishes of my family. Yet I would lay down my life for any one of them. How they have stood by me and loved me through all my blind blunders. I'd back my mistakes against anybody else's in the world!
Then Mate there was Jack. You know how it has always been with Jack. When I was a little girl, on up to the time I was married, after that he never even looked it, but just stood by me and helped me like a brick. If it hadn't been for you and for him I should have put an end to myself long ago. But now that I am free, Jack has begun right where he left off seven years ago. It is all worse than useless; I am everlastingly through with love and sentiment. Of course we all know that Jack is the salt of the earth, and it nearly kills me to give him pain, but he will get over it, they always do, and I would rather for him to convalesce without me than with me. I made him promise not to write me a line, and he just looked at me in that quiet, quizzical way and said: "All right, but you just remember that I'm waiting, until you are ready to begin life over again with me."
Why it would be a death blow to all his hopes if he married me! My widow's mite consists of a wrecked life, a few debts, and a worldly notion that a brilliant young doctor like himself has no right to throw away all his chances in order to establish a small hospital for incurable children. Whenever I think of his giving up that long-cherished dream of studying in Germany, and buying ground for the hospital instead, I just gnash my teeth.
Oh! I know that you think it is grand and noble and that I am horrid to feel as I do. Maybe I am. At any rate you will acknowledge that I have done the right thing for once in coming away. I seem to have been a general blot on the landscape, and with your help I have erased myself. In the meanwhile, I wish to Heaven my heart would ossify!
The sole power that keeps me going now is your belief in me. You have always claimed that I was worth something, in spite of the fact that I have persistently proven that I was not. Don't you shudder at the risk you are taking? Think of the responsibility of standing for me in a Board of Missions! I'll stay bottled up as tight as I know how, but suppose the cork should fly?
Poor Mate, the Lord was unkind when he gave me to you for a cousin.
Well it's done, and by the time you get this I will probably be well on my sea-sick way. I can't trust myself to send any messages to the family. I don't even dare send my love to you. I am a soldier lady, and I salute my officer.
ON SHIP-BOARD. August 8th, 1901.
It's so windy that I can scarcely hold the paper down but I'll make the effort. The first night I came aboard, I had everything to myself. There were eighty cabin passengers and I was the only lady on deck. It was very rough but I stayed up as long as I could. The blue devils were swarming so thick around me that I didn't want to fight them in the close quarters of my state-room. But at last I had to go below, and the night that followed was a terror. Such a storm raged as I had never dreamed of, the ship rocked and groaned, and the water dashed against the port-holes; my bag played tag with my shoes, and my trunk ran around the room like a rat hunting for its hole. Overhead the shouts of the captain could be heard above the answering shouts of the sailors, and men and women hurried panic-stricken through the passage.
Through it all I lay in the upper berth and recalled all the unhappy nights of the past seven years; disappointment, heartache, disillusionment, disgust; they followed each other in silent review. Every tender memory and early sentiment that might have lingered in my heart was ruthlessly murdered by some stronger memory of pain. The storm without was nothing to the storm within, I felt indifferent as to the fate of the vessel. If she floated or if she sank, it was one and the same to me.
When morning came something had happened to me. I don't know what it was, but my past somehow seemed to belong to someone else. I had taken a last farewell of all the old burdens, and I was a new person in a new world.
I put on my prettiest cap and my long coat and went up on deck. Oh, my dear, if you could only have seen the sight that greeted me! It was the limpest, sickest crowd I ever encountered! They were pea-green with a dash of yellow, and a streak of black under their eyes, pale around the lips and weak in their knees. There was only one other woman besides myself who was not sick, and she was a missionary with short hair, and a big nose. She was going around with some tracts asking everybody if they were Christians. Just as I came up she tackled a big, dejected looking foreigner who was huddled in a corner.
"Brother, are you a Christian?"
"No, no," he muttered impatiently. "I'm a Norwegian."
Now what that man needed was a cocktail, but it was not for me to suggest it.
At table I am in a corner with three nice old gentlemen and one young German. They are great on story-telling, and I've told all of mine, most of yours and some I invented. One of the old gentlemen is a missionary; when he found that I was distantly connected with the fold he immediately called me "Dear Sister". If I were at home I should call him "Dear Pa", but I am on my good behavior.
The eating is fairly good, only sometimes it is so hot with curry and spice that it nearly takes my breath. My little Chinese waiter is entirely too solicitous for my comfort. No amount of argument will induce him to leave my plate until I have finished, after a few mouthfuls he whisks it away and brings me another relay. After pressing upon me dishes of every kind, he insists on my filling up all crevices with nuts and raisins, and after I have eaten, and eaten, he looks hurt, and says regretfully: "Missy sickee, no eatee."
There is one other person, who is just as solicitous. The little German watches my every mouthful with round solemn eyes, and insists upon serving everything to me. He looks bewildered when anyone tells a funny story, and sometimes asks for an explanation. He has been around the world twice, and is now going to China for three years for the Society of Scientific Research. He seems to think I am the greatest curio he has yet encountered in his travels.
The chief excitement of our trip so far has been the day in Honolulu. I wanted to sing for joy when we sighted land. The trees and grass never looked so beautiful as they did that morning in the brilliant sunshine. It took us hours to land on account of the red tape that had to be unwound, and then there was an extra delay of which I was the innocent cause. The quarantine doctor was inspecting the ship, and after I had watched him examine the emigrants, and had gotten my feelings wrought up over the poor miserable little children swarming below, I found a nice quiet nook on the shelter deck where I snuggled down and amused myself watching the native boys swim. The water on their bronze bodies made them shine in the sunlight, and they played about like a shoal of young porpoises. I must have stayed there an hour, for when I came down there was considerable stir on board. A passenger was missing and we were being held while a search of the ship was made. I was getting most excited when the purser, who is the sternest and best looking man you ever saw, came up and pounced upon me. "Have you been inspected?" he demanded, eyeing me from head to foot. "Not any more than at present," I answered meekly. "Come with me," he said.
I asked him if he was going to throw me overboard, but he was too full of importance to smile. He handed me over to the doctor saying: "Here is the young woman that caused the delay." Young woman, indeed! but I was to be crushed yet further for the doctor looked over his glasses and said: "Now how did we miss that?"
But on to Honolulu! I don't wonder people go wild over it. It is as if all the artists in all the world had spilled their colors over one spot, and Nature had sorted them out at her own sweet will. I kept wondering if I had died and gone to Heaven! Marvelous palms, and tropical plants, and all hanging in a softly dreaming silence that went to my head like wine.
I started out to see the city, with two old ladies and a girl from South Dakota, but Dear Pa and Little Germany joined the party. Oh! Mate how I longed for yon! I wanted to tie all those frousy old freaks up in a hard knot and pitch them into the sea! The girl from South Dakota is a little better than the rest, but she wears a jersey!
There are real tailor-made people on board, but I don't dare associate with them. They play bridge most of the time and if I hesitated near them I'd be lost. I'll play my part, never fear, but I hereby swear that I will not dress it!
STILL ON BOARD. August 18th.
I am writing this in my berth with the curtains drawn. No I am not a bit sea-sick, just popular. One of the old ladies is teaching me to knit, the short-haired missionary reads aloud to me, the girl from South Dakota keeps my feet covered up, and Dear Pa and Little Germany assist me to eat.
The captain has had a big bathing tank rigged up for the ladies, and I take a cold plunge every morning. It makes me think of our old days at the cottage up at the Cape. Didn't we have a royal time that summer and weren't we young and foolish? It was the last good time I had for many a long day—but there, none of that!
Last night I had an adventure, at least it was next door to one. I was sitting up on deck when Dear Pa came by and asked me to walk with him. After several rounds we sat down on the pilot house steps. The moon was as big as a wagon wheel and the whole sea flooded with silver, while the flying fishes played hide and seek in the shadows. I forgot all about Dear Pa and was doing a lot of thinking on my own account when he leaned over and said:
"I hope you don't mind talking to me. I am very, very lonely." Now I thought I recognized a grave symptom, and when he began to tell me about his dear departed, I knew it was time to be going.
"You have passed through it," he said. "You can sympathize."
I crossed my fingers in the dark. "We are both seeking a life work in a foreign field—" he began again, but just here the purser passed. He almost stumbled over us in the dark and when he saw me and my elderly friend, he actually smiled!
Don't you dare tell Jack about this, I should never hear the last of it.
Can you realize that I am three whole weeks from home? I do, every second of it. Sometimes when I stop to think what I am doing my heart almost bursts! But then I am so used to the heartache that I might be lonesome without it; who knows?
If I can only do what is expected of me, if I can only pick up the pieces of this smashed-up life of mine and patch them into a decent whole that you will not be ashamed of, then I will be content.
The first foreign word I have learned is "Alohaoe", I think it means "my dearest love to you." Any how I send it laden with the tenderest meaning. God bless and keep you all, and bring me back to you a wiser and a gladder woman.
KOBE. August 18th, 1901.
Actually in Japan! I can scarcely believe it, even with all this strange life going on about me. This morning a launch came out to the steamer bringing Miss Lessing and Miss Dixon, the two missionaries in whose school I am to work. When I saw them, I must confess that my heart went down in my boots! Theirs must have done the same thing, for we stood looking at each other as awkwardly as if we belonged to different planets. The difference began with our heels and extended right on up to the crown of our hats. Even the language we spoke seemed different, and when I faced the prospect of living with such utter strangers, I wanted to jump overboard!
My fellow passengers suddenly became very dear, I clung to everything about that old steamer as the last link that bound me to America.
As we came down the gang plank, I was introduced to "Brother Mason" and "Brother White", and we all came ashore together. I felt for all the world like a convict sentenced to four years in the penitentiary. When we reached the Hotel, I fled to my room and flung myself on the bed. I knew I might as well have it out. I cried for two hours and thirty-five minutes, then I got up and washed my face and looked out of the window.
It was all so strange and picturesque that I got interested before I knew it. By and by Miss Lessing came in. Now that her hat was off I saw that she had a very sweet face with pretty dark hair and a funny little twinkle behind her eyes that made me think of you. She told me how she had come out to Japan when she was a young girl, and how she had built up the school, and all she longed to do for it. Then she said, "Your coming seems like the direct answer to prayer. It has been one of my dearest dreams to have a Kindergarten for the little ones, it just seems too good to be true!" And she looked at me out of her nice shining eyes with such gratitude and enthusiasm that I was ashamed of what I had felt.
After that Miss Dixon came up and they sat and watched me unpack my trunk. It took me about two minutes to find out that they were just like other women, fond of finery and pretty things and eager for news of the outside world. They examined all the dainty under clothes that sister had made for me, they marvelled over the high heeled slippers, and laughed at the big sleeves.
"Where are you going to wear all these lovely things?" asked Miss Dixon. And again my heart sank, for even my simple wardrobe, planned for the exigencies of school life, seemed strangely extravagant and out of place.
But I want to say right now, Mate, that if I stay here a thousand years I'll never come to jerseys and eight-year-old hats! I am going to subscribe to a good fashion paper, and at least keep within hailing distance of the styles.
It is too warm to go down to the school yet so we are to spend a week in the mountains before we start in for the fall term.
Dear Pa and Little Germany have been here twice in three hours but I saw them first.
Home letters will not arrive until next week, and I can scarcely wait for the time to come. I keep thinking that I am away on a visit and that I will be going back soon. I find myself saving things to show you, and even starting to buy things to bring home. I have a good deal to learn, haven't I?
HIEISAN. August 28th, 1901
Fairy-land, real true fairy-land that we used to talk about up in the old cherry-tree at grandmother's! It's all so, Mate, only more bewitching than we ever dreamed.
I have been in little villages that dropped right out of a picture book. The streets are full of queer, small people who run about smiling, and bowing and saying pretty things to each other. It is a land where everybody seems to be happy, and where politeness is the first commandment.
Yesterday we came up the mountains in jinrikishas. The road was narrow, but smooth, and for over three hours the men trotted along, never halting or changing their gait until we stopped for lunch.
There is not much to a Japanese house but a roof and a lot of bamboo poles, but everything is beautifully clean. Before we had gotten down, several men and women came running out and bowing and calling "Ohayo, Ohayo" which means "good-morning." They ran for cushions and we were glad enough to sit on the low benches and stretch ourselves. Then they brought us delicious tea, and gathered around to see us drink it. It seems that light hair is a great curiosity over here, and mine proved so interesting that they motioned for me to take off my hat, and then they stood around chattering and laughing at a great rate. Miss Lessing said they wanted me to take my hair down, but would not ask it because of the beautiful arrangement. Shades of Blondes! I wish you could have seen it! But you have seen it after a hard set of tennis.
When we had rested an hour, and drunk tea, and bowed and smiled, we started out again, this time in a kind of Sedan chair, made of bamboo and carried on a long pole on the shoulders of two men. Now I have been up steep places but that trip beat anything I ever saw! I felt like a fly on a bald man's head! We climbed up, up, up, sometimes through woods that were so dense you could scarcely know it was day-time, and again through stretches of dazzling sunshine.
Just as I was beginning to wonder what had become of our luggage, we passed four women laughing and singing. Two of them had steamer trunks on their heads, and two carried huge kori. They did not seem to mind it in the least, and bowed and smiled us out of sight.
Another two hours' climb brought us to this village of camps called Hieisan. There are about forty Americans here, who are camping out for the summer, and I am the guest of a Dr. Waring and his wife from Alabama.
My tent is high above everything, on a great overhanging rock, and before me is a view that would be a fit setting for Paradise. This mountain is sacred to Buddha, and the whole of it is thick with temples and shrines, some of them nobody knows how old.
I have been trying to muster courage to get up at three o'clock in the morning to see the monkeys come out for breakfast. The mountains are full of them, but they are only to be seen at that hour.
There are some very pleasant people here, and I have made a number of friends. I am something of a conundrum, and curiosity is rife as to why I came. Mrs. Waring dresses me up and shows me off like a new doll, and the women consult me about making over their clothes.
I don't know why I am not perfectly miserable. The truth is, Mate, I am having a good time! It's nice to be petted and treated like a child. It is good to be among plain, honest people, that live out doors, and have healthy bodies and minds.
I want to forget all that I learned about the world in the past seven years. I want to begin life again as a girl with a few illusions, even if they are borrowed ones. I know too much for my years and I'm determined to forget.
The home letters were heavenly. I've read them limber. I'll answer the rest to-morrow.
HIROSHIMA. Sept. 2nd, 1901.
At last after my wanderings I am settled for the winter. The school is a big structure, open and airy, and I have a nice room facing the east where you dear ones are. On two sides tower the mountains, and between them lies the magical Inland Sea. This is a great naval and military station, and while I write I can hear the bugle calls from the parade grounds.
I have a pretty little maid to wait on me and I wish you could see us talking to each other. She comes in, bows until her head touches the floor and hopes that my honorable ears and eyes and teeth are well. I tell her in plain English that I am feeling bully, then we both laugh. She is delighted with all my things, and touches them softly saying over and over: "It's mine to care for!"
There are between four and five hundred girls in the school and, until I get more familiar with the language, I am to work with the older girls who understand some English. You would smile to see their curiosity concerning me. They think my waist is very funny and they measure it with their hands and laugh aloud. One girl asked me in all seriousness why I had had pieces cut out of my sides, and another wanted to know if my hair used to be black. You see in all this big city I am the only person with golden tresses, and a green carnation would not excite more comment.
Yesterday we went shopping to get some curtains for my room. Such a crowd followed us that we could scarcely see what we were doing. When we went into the stores we sat on the floor and a little boy fanned us all the time we were making our selection.
Monday, Miss Lessing asked me to begin a physical culture class with the larger girls who are being trained for teachers, so I decided that the first lesson would be on skipping. It is an unknown art in Japan and the lack of it makes the Kindergarten work very awkward.
I took fourteen girls out on the porch and told them by signs and gestures to follow me. Then I picked up my skirts, and whistling a coon-song, started off. You never saw anything to equal their look of absolute astonishment! They even got down on their hands and knees to watch my feet. But they were game, and in spite of their tight kimonos and sandalled feet they made a brave effort to follow. The first attempt was disastrous, some fell on their faces, some went down on their knees, and all stumbled. I didn't dare laugh for the Japanese can stand anything better than ridicule. I helped and encouraged and cheered them on to victory. The next day there was a slight improvement, and by the third day they were experts. I found that they had spent the whole afternoon in practice! Now what do you suppose the result is? An epidemic of skipping has swept over Hiroshima like the measles! Men women and children are trying to learn, and when we go out to walk I almost have convulsions at the elderly couples we pass earnestly trying to catch the step!
I was so encouraged by this success that I taught the girls all sorts of steps and figures, even going so far as to teach them the quadrille! But my ambition led me a little too far. One day I came to class with a brand new step, which I had invented myself. It was rather giddy, but a splendid exercise. Well I headed the line and after the girls had followed me around the room twice I saw that they were convulsed with laughter! When I asked what was the matter, they explained between gasps that the step was the principal movement in the heathen dance given during festivals to the God of Beauty! My saints! Wouldn't some of my dear brethren do a turn if they knew!
Every afternoon I take about forty of the girls out for a walk. Our favorite stroll is along the moat that surrounds the old castle. It is almost always spilling over with lotus blossoms. The maidens, trotting demurely along in their rain-bow kimonos and little clicking sandals make a pretty picture. We have to pass the parade grounds of the barracks where 20,000 soldiers are stationed, and I do wish you could see them trying to be modest, and yet peeping out of the corners of their little almond eyes in a way which is not peculiar to any particular country.
And the way they imitate me makes me afraid to breathe naturally. This thing of being a shining example is more than I bargained for. It is one of the few things in my checkered career that I have hitherto escaped.
Never mind Mate, I couldn't be frivolous if I wanted to down here. Kobe would have proven fatal, for there are many foreigners there, and the temptation to have a good time would have been too much for me. I am rapidly developing into a hymn-singing sister, and the world and the flesh and the devil are shut up in the closet. Let us pray.
October 2nd, 1901.
At last, dear Mate, I am started at my own work with the babies and there aren't any words to tell you how cunning they are. There are eighty-five high class children in the pay kindergarten, and forty in the free. The latter are mostly of the very poor families, most of the mothers working in the fields or on the railroads. There are so many pitiful cases that one longs for a mint of money and a dozen hands to relieve them. One little girl of six comes every day with her blind baby brother strapped on her back. She is a tiny thing herself and yet that baby is never unstrapped from her back until night comes. When I first saw her old weazened face and her eagerness to play, I just took them both in my lap and cried!
One funny thing I must tell you about. From the first week that I got here, the children have had a nickname for me. I noticed them laughing and nudging each other on the street and in the school, and whenever I passed they raised their right hands in salute, and gave a funny little clucking sound. They seemed to pass the word from one to another until every youngster in the neighborhood followed the trick. My curiosity was aroused to such a pitch that I got an interpreter to investigate the matter. When he came to report, he smilingly touched my little enamelled watch, the one Jack gave me on my 16th birthday, and apologetically informed me that the children thought it was a decoration from the Emperor and they were saluting me in consequence! And they have named me "The Lady of the Decoration". Think of it, I have a title, and I am actually looked up to by these funny yellow babies as a superior being. They forget it some time though when we all get to playing together in the yard. We can't talk to each other, but we can laugh and romp together, and sometimes the fun runs high.
I am busy from morning until night. The two kindergartens, a big training class in physical culture, two Japanese lessons a day and prayers about every three minutes, don't leave many spare hours for homesickness. But the longing is there all the same, and when I see the big steamers out in the harbor and realize that they are coaling for home, I just want to steal aboard and stay there.
The language is something awful. I get my tongue in such knots that I have to use a corkscrew to pull it straight again. Just between you and me, I have decided to give it up and devote my time to teaching the girls to speak English instead. They are such responsive, eager little things, it will not be hard.
As for the country, I wouldn't dare to attempt a description. Sometimes I just ache with the beauty of it all! From my window I can see in one group banana, pomegranate, persimmon and fig trees all loaded with fruit. The roses are still in full bloom, and color, color everywhere. Across the river, the banks are lined with picturesque houses that look out from a mass of green, and above them are tea-houses, and temples and shrines so old that even the moss is gray, and time has worn away the dates engraved upon the stones.
We spent yesterday at the sacred Island of Miyajima, which is about one hour's ride from here. The dream of it is still upon me and I wish I could share it with you. We went over in a sampan, a rude open boat rowed by two men in undress uniform. For half an hour we literally danced across the sea; everything was fresh and sparkling, and I was so glad to be alive and free, that I just sang for joy. Miss Leasing joined in and the boatmen kept time, smiling and nodding their approval.
The mountains were sky high, and at their base in a small crescent-shaped plain was the village with streets so clean and white you hated to walk on them. We stopped at the "House of the White Cloud" and three little maids took off our shoes and replaced them with pretty sandals. The whole house was of cedar and ebony and bamboo and it had been rubbed with oil until it shone like satin. On the floor was a stuffed matting with a heavy border of crimson silk, and in the corner of the room was a jar that came to my shoulder, full of wonderfully blended chrysanthemums. All the rooms opened upon a porch which hung directly above a roaring waterfall, and below us a dozen steps away stretched the sparkling sea, full of hundreds of sailing vessels and junks.
In the afternoon, we wandered over the island, visiting the old, old temples, listening to the mysterious wailing of the wind bells, feeding the deer and crane, and drinking in the beauty of it all. I felt like a disembodied spirit, traveling back, back over the centuries, into dim forgotten ages. The dead seemed close about me, yet they brought no gloom, for I too was dead. All afternoon I had the impression of trying to keep my consciousness from drifting into oblivion through the gate of this magical dream!
How you would enjoy it all, and read its deeper meaning, which is hidden from me. But even if I can't philosophize like a certain blessed old Mate of mine, I can feel until every nerve is a tingle with the thrill.
Good bye for a little while; I've stolen the time to write you this, and now it behooves me to hustle.
November 12th, 1901.
It's been a long while between "drinks", but I have been waiting until I could write a letter minus the groans. The truth is I have hit bottom good and hard and it is only to-day that I have come to the surface. When the exhilaration of seeing all the new and strange sights wore off, I began to sink in a sea of homesickness that threatened to put an end to the kindergarten business for good and all.
I worked like mad, and all the time I felt like one of these whizzing rockets that go rushing through the air and die out in a miserable little fizzle at the end. I can stand it in the daytime, but at night I almost go crazy. And you have no idea how many women do lose their minds out here. Nearly every year some poor insane creature has to be shipped home. You needn't worry about that though, if I had mind enough to lose I'd have lost it long ago. But to think of all my old ambitions and aspirations ending in the humble task of wiping Little Japan's nose!
I suppose you think I am pulling for the shore but I am not. I am steering my little craft right out in the billows It may be dashed to smithereens, and it may come safely home again, but in any case, I'll have the consolation of the Texas cowboy that "I've done my durndest!"
By the way, what has become of Jack? He needn't have taken me so literally as never to send me a message even! You mentioned his having been at the Cape while you were there. Was he just as unsociable as ever? I can see him now lying flat on his back in the bottom of a boat reading poetry. I hate poetry, and when he used to quote his favorite passages I made parodies on them. Now you were always different. You'd rhapsodize with him to his heart's content.
Just here I had a lovely surprise. I looked out of the window and saw a coolie pull a little wagon into the yard and begin to unload. I couldn't imagine what was taking place but pretty soon Miss Dixon came in with both arms full of papers, pictures, magazines and letters. It was all my mail! I just danced up and down for joy. I guess you will never know the meaning of letters until you are nine thousand miles from home. And such dear loving encouraging letters as mine were! I am going to sit right down and read them all over again,
November 24th, 1901.
Clear sailing once more, Mate! In my last, I remember, I was blowing the fog horn pretty persistently.
The letters from home set me straight again. If ever a human being was blessed with a good family and good friends it is my unworthy self! The past week has been unusually exciting. First we had a wedding on hand. The bride is a girl who has been educated in the school, so of course we were all interested. Some time ago, the middle-man, who does all the arranging, came to her father and said a young teacher in the Government school desired his daughter in marriage. The father without consulting the girl investigated the suitor's standing, and finding it satisfactory, said yea. So little Otoya was told that she was going to be married, and the groom elect was invited to call.
I was on tiptoe with curiosity to see what would happen, but the meeting took place behind closed doors. Otoya told me afterwards that she had never seen the young man until he entered the room, but they both bowed three times, then she served tea while her mother and father talked to him. "Didn't you talk to him at all?" I asked. She looked horrified. "No, that would have been most immodest!" she said. "But you peeped at him," I insisted. She shook her head, "That would have been disgrace." Now that was three months ago and she hadn't seen him until Monday when they were married.
At our suggestion they decided to have an American wedding and I was appointed mistress of ceremonies. It was great fun, for we had a best man, besides brides-maids and flower girls, and Miss Lessing played the Wedding March for them to enter. The arrangements were somewhat difficult owing to the fact that the Japanese consider it the height of vulgarity to discuss anything pertaining to the bride or the wedding. They excused me on the ground that I was a foreigner.
The affair was really beautiful! The little bride's outer garment was the finest black crepe, but under it, layer after layer, were slips of rainbow tinted cob-web silk that rippled into sight with every movement she made. And every inch of her trousseau was made from the cocoons of worms raised in her own house, and was spun into silk by her waiting maids.
After the excitement of the wedding had subsided, we had a visitation from forty Chinese peers. They came in a cavalcade of kuramas, gorgeously arrayed, and presenting an imposing appearance. I ran for the poker for I thought maybe they had come to finish "Us Missionaries." But, bless you, they had heard of our school and our kindergarten and had come for the Chinese Government to investigate ways and means. They made a tour of the school, ending up in, the kindergarten. The children were completely overpowered by these black-browed, fierce-looking gentlemen, but I put them through their paces. The visitors were so pleased that they stayed all morning and signified their unqualified approval. When they started to leave, I asked the interpreter if their gracious highnesses would permit my unworthy self to take their honorable pictures. Would you believe it? Those old fellows puffed up like pouter pigeons, and giggled and primped like a lot of school girls! They stood in a row and beamed upon me while I snapped the kodak. If the picture is good, I'll send you one.
This morning I had to teach Sunday School. I'll be praying in public next. I see it coming. The lesson was "The Prodigal Son", a subject on which I ought to be qualified to speak. The Japanese youths understood about one word out of three, but they were giving me close attention. I was expounding with all the earnestness in me when suddenly I remembered a picture Jack used to have. It was of a lean little calf tearing down the road, while in the distance was coming a lazy looking tramp. Underneath was the legend:
"Run, bossy, run, Here comes the Prodigal Son."
That settled my sermon, so I told the boys a bear story instead.
How I should love to drop in on you to-night and sit on the floor before the fire and pow-wow! I'll be an awful back number when I come home, but just think how entertaining I'll be! I have enough good dinner stories to last through the rest of my life!
For heaven's sake send me some hat pins, nice long ones with pretty heads. And if you are in New York this winter please get me two bottles of that violet extract that I always use.
My dearest love to all, and a hundred kisses to the blessed children at home Don't you dare let them forget me.
November 27th, 1901.
I told you it would come! My prophetic soul foresaw it. I had to lead the prayer in chapel this morning. And I play the organ in Sunday School and listen to two Japanese sermons on Sunday.
I tell you, Mate, this part of the work goes sadly against the grain. They say you get used to hanging if you just hang long enough, so I suppose I'll become reconciled in time. You ask me why I do these things. Well you see it's all just like a big work shop, where everybody is working hard and cheerfully and yet there is so much work waiting to be done, that you don't stop to ask whether you like it or not.
I can't begin to tell you of the hopelessness of some of the lives out here. Just think of it! Women working in the stone quarries, and in the sand pits and on the railroads, and always with babies tied on their backs, and the poor little tots crippled and deformed from the cramped position and often blind from the glare of the sun.
What I am crazy to do now is to open another free kindergarten in one of the poorest parts of the city. It would cost only fifty dollars to run it a whole year, and I mean to do it if I have to sell one of my rings. It is just glorious to feel that you are actually helping somebody, even if that somebody is a small and dirty tribe of Japanese children. I get so discouraged and blue sometimes that I don't know what to do, but when a little tot comes up and slips a very soiled hand into mine and pats it and lays it against his cheek and hugs it up to his breast and says, "Sensei, Sensei," I just long to take the whole lot of them to my heart and love them into an education!
They don't know the word love but they know its meaning, and if I happen to stop to pat a little head, a dozen arms are around me in a minute, and I am almost suffocated with affection. One little fellow always calls me "Nice boy" because that is what I called him.
We are having glorious weather, cold in doors but warm outside. The chrysanthemums and roses are still blooming, and the trees are heavily laden with fruit. The persimmons grow bigger than a coffee cup and the oranges are tiny things, but both are delicious. Chestnuts are twice as big as ours, and they cook them as a vegetable.
You'll be having Thanksgiving soon, and you will all go up to Grandmother's, and have a jolly time together. Have them fix a plate for me, Mate, and turn down an empty glass. Nobody will miss me as much as I will miss my poor little self.
What jolly Thanksgivings we have had together! The gathering of the clans, the big dinner, and the play at night. Not exactly a play, was it, Mate f More of a vaudeville performance with you as the stage manager, and I as the soubrette. Do you remember the last reunion before I was married? I mean the time I was Lady Macbeth and gave a skirt dance, and you did lovely stunts from Grand Opera. Have you forgotten Jack's famous parody on "My Country 'Tis of Thee?"
"My turkey, 'tis of thee, Sweet bird of cranberry, Of thee I sing! I love thy neck and wings, Legs, back and other things," etc, etc.
There goes the bell, and here go I. I can appreciate the feelings of a fire engine!
Christmas Day, 1901.
Had somebody told you last Christmas, as we trimmed the big tree and made ready for the family gathering, that this Christmas would find me in a foreign country teaching a band of little heathens, wouldn't you have thought somebody had wheels in his head?
And yet it is true, and I have only to lift my eyes to realize fully that I am really in the flowery kingdom. The plum blossoms are in full bloom and the roses too, while a thick frost makes everything sparkling white in the sunshine. The mountains have put on a thin blue veil trimmed in silver, and over all is a turquoise sky.
And best of all, everybody—I speak figuratively—is happy. It may be that some poor little waif is hungry, having had only rice water for breakfast, it may be some sad hearts are beating under the gay kimonos, and it may be, Mate dear, that somebody, a stranger in a strange land, can't keep the tears back, and is longing with all her mind and soul and body for home and her loved ones. But never you mind, nobody knows it but you and me and a bamboo tree!
This afternoon we are going to have tea for the Mammas and Papas, and I am going to put on my prettiest clothes and do my yellow locks in their most fetching style.
I shall lock up tight, way down deep, all heartaches and longings and put on my best smile for these dear little people who have given to me, a stranger, such full measure of their sympathy and friendship, who, in the big service last month, when giving thanks for all the great blessings of the past year, named the new Kindergarten teacher first.
Do you wonder that I am happy and miserable and homesick and contented all at the same time?
The box I sent home for Christmas was a paltry offering compared to what I wanted to send, but the things were bought with the first money I ever earned. They are packed in so tight with love that I doubt if you ever get them out.
Our Christmas dinner was not exactly a success. We invited all the foreigners in Hiroshima, twelve in number, and everybody talked a great deal and laughed at everybody's stale jokes, and pretended to be terribly hilarious. But there was a pathetic droop to every mouth, and not a soul referred to home. Each one seemed to realize that the mere mention of the word would break up the party.
I tell you I am beginning to look with positive reverence on the heroism of some of these people! Tears and regrets have no place here; desire, ambition, love itself is laid aside, and only taken out for inspection perhaps in the dead hours of the night. If heart breaks come, as come they must, there is no crying out, no rebellion, just a stiffer lip and a firmer grip and the work goes on.
I wish I was like that, but I'm not. If Nature had put more time on my head and less on my heart, she would have turned out a better job.
I put a pipe in the box for Jack. If you think I ought not to have done it, don't give it to him. As old Charity used to say, "I don't want to discomboberate nobody." Only I hope he won't think I am ungrateful and indifferent.
NAGASAKI. January 14th, 1902.
Now aren't you surprised at hearing from me in Nagasaki? I am certainly surprised at being here! One of the teachers at the school, Miss Dixon, Was taken sick and had to come here to see a doctor. I was lucky enough to be asked to come with her.
I am so excited over being in touch with civilization again that I can't sleep at night! The transports and all the steamers stop here, and every type of humanity seems to be represented. This morning when I went out to mail a letter, there were two Sikhs in uniform in front of me, at my side was a Russian, behind me two Chinamen and a Japanese, while a Frenchman stepped aside for me to pass, and an Irishman tried to sell me some vegetables!
Miss Dixon had to go to the Hospital for a few days, though her trouble is nothing serious, and I accepted an invitation from Mrs. Ferris, the wife of the American Consul, to spend a few days with her.
And oh! Mate, if you only knew the time I have had! If I weren't a sort of missionary-in-law I would quote Jack and say it has been "perfectly damn gorgeously." If you want to really enjoy the flesh-pots just live away from them for six months and then try them!
The night I came, the Ferrises gave me a beautiful dinner, and I wore evening dress for the first time in two years, and was as thrilled as a debutante at her first ball! It was so good to see cut glass and silver, and to hear dear silly worldly chatter that I grew terribly frivolous. Plates were laid for twenty, and who do you suppose was on my right? The severe young purser who was on the steamer I came over in! His ship is coaling in the harbour and he is staying with the Ferrises, who are old friends of his. He is so solemn that he almost kills me. If he weren't so good looking I could let him alone, but as it is I can't help worrying the life out of him.
The dinner was most elaborate. After the oysters, came a fish nearly three feet long all done up in sea-weed, then a big silver bowl was brought in covered with pie-crust. When the carver broke the crust there was a flutter of wings, and "four and twenty black birds" flew out. This it seems was done by the Japanese cook as a sample of his skill. All sorts of queer courses followed, served in the most unique manner possible.
After dinner they begged me to sing, and though I protested violently, they got me down at the piano. I didn't get up any more until the party was over for they made me sing every song I knew and some I didn't. I sang some things so hoary with age that they were decrepit! The purser so far forgot himself as to ask me to sing "My Bonnie lies over the Ocean"! I did so with great expression while he looked pensively into the fire. Since then I have called him, "My Bonnie," and he hates me.
The next day we went out to services on board the battleship "Victor." The ship had been on a long cruise and we were the first American women the officers had seen for many a long day. They gave us a rousing welcome you may be sure. Through some mistake they thought I was a "Miss" instead of a "Mrs." and I shamelessly let it pass. During service I heard little that was said for the band was playing outside and flags were flying and I was feeling frivolous to the tip of my toe! I guess I am still pretty young, for brass buttons are just as alluring as of old.
When the Admiral heard I was from Kentucky, he invited us to take tiffin with him, and we exchanged darkey stories and the old gentleman nearly burst his buttons laughing. After tea, he showed us over the ship, making the sailors line up on deck for our benefit. "Tell the band to play 'Old Kentucky Home'," he ordered.
"You'll lose a passenger if you do!" I cried, "for one note of that would send me overboard!"
He was so attentive that I had little chance to talk to the young officers I met. But several of them have called since, and I have been out to a lot of teas and dinners and things with them. The one I like best is a young fellow from Vermont. He is very clever and jolly and we have great fun together. In fact, we are such chums that he showed me a picture of his fiancee. He is very much in love with her, but if I were in her place I would try to keep him within eye-shot.
We will probably go home to-morrow as Miss Dixon is so much better. I am glad she is better, but I could have been reconciled to her being mildly indisposed for a few days longer.
I forgot to thank you for the kodak book you sent Christmas; between the joy of seeing all the familiar faces, and the bitterness of the separation, and the absurdity of your jingles, I nearly had hysterics! I almost felt as if I had had a visit home! The old house, the cabin, the cherry tree, and all the family even down to old black Charity, the very sight of whom made me hungry for buckwheat cakes, all, all gave me such joy and pain that it was hard to tell which was uppermost.
It's worth everything to be loved as you all love me, and I am willing to go through anything to be worthy of it. I have had more than my share of hard bumps in life, but, thank Heaven, there was always somebody waiting to kiss the place to make it well. There isn't a day that I haven't some evidence of this love; a letter, a paper, a book that reminds me that I'm not forgotten.
A note has just come from his Solemn Highness, the purser, asking me to go walking with him! I am going to try to be nice to him but I know I won't! He is so young and so serious that I can't resist shocking him. He doesn't approve of giddy young widows that don't look sorry! Neither do I. In two days I return to the fold. Until then "My Bonnie" beware!
HIROSHIMA, February 19th, 1902.
After a sleepless night I got up this morning with a splitting headache. I have been back in the traces for a month, and I am beginning to feel like a poor old horse in a tread mill, not that I don't love the work, but oh! Mate, I am so lonesome, lonesome, lonesome. I think I used up so much sand when I first came that the supply is running low.
"All day there is the watchful world to face The sound of tears and laughter fill the air. For memory there is but scanty space Nor time for any transport of despair. But, Love, the pulse beats slow, the lips turn white Sometimes at night!"
Perhaps when I am old and gray and wrinkled I'll be at peace. But think of the years in between! I have been cheated of the best that life holds for a woman, the love of a good husband, the love of her children, and the joys of a home.
The old world shakes its finger and says "you did it yourself". But, Mate, I was only eighteen, and I didn't know the real from the false. I staked my all for the prize of love, and I lost. Heaven knows I've paid the penalty, but I'd do it over again if I thought I was right. The difference is that then I was a child and knew too little, and now I am a woman and know too much.
Sometimes the hymn-singing and praying, and "Sistering" and "Brothering" get on my nerves, until I almost scream, but when I remember how heavenly good to me they are I'm all contrition. I have even been invited to write for the Mission papers, now isn't that sufficient glory for any sinner?
Your letters are such comforts to me! I read them over and over and actually know parts of them by heart! Since I was a little girl I have had a burning desire to win your approval. I remember once when you said I was stronger than the little boy next door I sprained my back trying to prove, it. And now when you write those lovely things about me and tell me how good and brave I am, why I'd sprain something worse than my back to be worthy of your approval!
But my courage doesn't always ring true, Mate, sometimes it's a brass ring. If you want to hear of true heroism, just listen to this story. There was a little American Missionary, who was going home to stay after twenty years of hard service. At the request of the board she stopped off at the Leper Colony in order to make a report. Soon after she reached home, she discovered a small white spot on her hand, and on consulting a physician, found it was leprosy. Without breathing a word of it to anyone, she bade her family and friends a cheerful good-bye, and came straight back to that Leper Colony, where she took up her work among the outcasts. Never an outcry, never a groan, not even a plea for sympathy! Now how is that for a soldier lady?
It is quite cold to-day and I am indulging in the luxury of a roaring fire. You know the natives use little stoves that they carry around with them, and call "hibachi." But cold as it is, the yard is full of roses and the tea-plants are gorgeous. I don't wonder that the climate gets mixed, out here. Everything else is hind part before.
What do you suppose I've been longing for all day? A good saddle horse? I feel that a brisk canter would set me straight in a short time. But the only horse in Hiroshima is a mule. A knock-kneed, cross-eyed old mule that bitterly resents the insult of being hitched to something that is a cross between a wheelbarrow and a baby buggy. The driver stands up for the excellent reason that he has no place to sit down! We tried this coupe once for the fun and experience. We got the experience all right but I am not so sure about the fun. We jolted along through the narrow streets scraping first against one house, then against another, while our footman, oh yes we had a footman, ran beside the thoroughbred to help him up when he stumbled.
To-morrow we are to have company. A Salvation Army lassie comes down from Tokio with a brass band. It is the second time in the history of the town that the people have had a chance to hear a brass band, and they are greatly thrilled. I must say I am a bit excited myself; Miss Lessing says she is going to keep me in sight, for fear I will follow the drum away. She needn't worry. I am through following anything in this world but my own nose.
HIROSHIMA, March 25, 1902.
I am absolutely walking on air today! Just when I thought my cherished dream of a free kindergarten would have to be given up, the checks from home came! You were a trump to get them all interested, and it was beautiful the way they responded. Only why did you tell Jack? He oughtn't to have sent so much. I'd send it back if I weren't afraid of hurting him.
My head is simply spinning with plans! We are going to open the school right away and there are hundreds of things to be done. In spite of my home-sickness, and loneliness and longing for you loved ones, I wouldn't come home now if I could! It is the feeling that I am needed here, that a big work will go undone, if I don't do it, that simply puts my little wants and desires right out of the question!
Yesterday we had a mothers' meeting, and I have not stopped laughing over it yet! It seems that the mothers considered it proper to show their appreciation by absolute solemnity. After tea and cake were served they sat in funeral silence. Not a word nor a smile could we get out of them. When I couldn't stand it another minute, I told Miss Lessing I was going to break the ice if I went under in the effort. By means of an interpreter, I told the mothers that we were going to try an American amusement and would they lend their honorable assistance? Then I called in thirty of the school girls and told each one to ask a mother to skip. They were too polite to decline, so to the tune of "Mr. Johnson, Turn Me Loose," the procession started. Miss Dixon couldn't stay in the room for laughing. The old and the young, and the fat and the thin caught the spirit of it and went hopping and jumping around the circle in great glee. After that, old ladies and all played "Pussy Wants a Corner," and "Drop the Handkerchief," and they laughed and chattered like a lot of children. They stayed four hours, and we are still picking up hair ornaments!
Up over my table I have the little picture you sent of the "Lane that turned at last". You always said my lane, would turn, and it has turned into a broad road bordered by cherry-blossoms and wistaria. But, Mate, you needn't think there are no more mudholes, for there are. When I see them ahead, I climb the fence and walk around!
I am getting quite thrilled these days over the prospect of war. The soldiers are drilling by the hundreds, and the bugles are blowing all day. It makes little thrills run up and down my back, but Miss Lessing says nothing will come of it, that Japan is always getting ready for a scrap. But the Trans-Siberian Railway has refused all freight because it is too busy bringing soldiers and supplies to Vladivostock. Now speaking of Vladivostock reminds me of a plan that has been suggested for next summer. Miss Dixon, the teacher who was sick, is going to Russia and is crazy for me to go with her. It wouldn't be much more expensive than staying in Japan, and would be tremendously interesting. Don't mention it to anybody at home, but write me if you approve. I wish you could have peeped into my room last night. Four or five of the girls slipped in after the silence bell had rung, and we sat around the fire on the floor and drank tea while I showed them my photographs. They made such a pretty picture, with their gay gowns and red cheeks, and they were so thrilled over all my things. The pictures from home interested them most of all, especially the one of you and Jack which I have framed together. At first they thought you must be married, and when I said no, they decided that you were lovers, so I let it go.
After they went to bed, I sat and looked at the two pictures in the double frame and wondered how it was after all that you and Jack hadn't fallen in love with each other! You both live with your heads in the clouds; I should think you would have bumped into each other long before this. He told me once that you had fewer faults than any woman he had ever known. Telling me of other people's virtues was one of Jack's long suits.
My last minute of grace is gone, so I must say good-night. I am getting up at five o'clock these mornings in order to get in all that I want to do.
HIROSHIMA, May 31, 1902.
Under promise that I will not write a long letter, I am allowed to begin one to you this morning. Miss Lessing wrote you last week that I had been sick. The truth is I tried to do too much, and paid up for it by staying in bed two whole weeks. Perhaps I will acquire a little sense in the next world; I certainly haven't in this! Japan wasn't made for restless, energetic people. If you can't learn to be lazy, you can't last long.
I can never tell you how good Miss Lessing has been, sleeping right by me, taking care of me and loving me like I was her own child. The girls too, have been so good sending me gifts almost every hour in the day. One little girl got up at prayers the other night, and, folding her hands, said: "Oh Lord, please make the Skipping Sensei well, and help me to keep my mouth shut so it will be quiet, for she has been good to us and we all do love her much." Heaven knows the "Skipping Sensei" needs all the prayers of the congregation!
Just as soon as school is over, Miss Dixon and I start for Russia. It's a good thing that vacation is near for I am tired of being a Missionary lady, and a school-marm, in fact I am tired of being good.
Don't worry about me, for I am all right. I've just run down and need a little fun to wind me up for another year.
KOBE, July 16, 1902.
Does July 16th mean anything to you? It does to me. Just one year ago today the gates of that old Union Depot shut between me and all that was dear to me, and I went out into the big world to fight my big fight alone. Well, I am still fighting, Mate, and probably will be to the end of the campaign.
As you see I am in Kobe waiting for my pass-port to go to Russia. If there is anything you want to know about pass-ports just apply to me. With all confidence, I sailed down to the Consulate and was met by a pair of legs attached to a huge mustache and the funniest little button of a head you ever saw. I think the Lord must have laughed when he got through making that man! He was horribly bored with life in general, and me in particular. He motioned me wearily to a chair beside a table, and, handing me a paper, managed to sigh: "Fill in."
The questions were about like this: Who was your father? What are you doing out of your own country? Was anybody in your family ever hung? How many teeth have you?
I wrote rapidly until I got to "When were you born?" Button-Head was standing by me, so I looked up at him helplessly and told him that was one thing I never could remember. He said I would have to, and I said I couldn't. He pranced around for fifteen minutes, and I pretended to be racking my brain.
Then he handed me a Bible, and said in a stern voice: "Swear." I told him that I couldn't, that I never had sworn, that ladies didn't do it in America, wouldn't he please do it for me?
About this time Miss Dixon spoiled the fun by laughing, so I had to behave. After we had spent two hours and three dollars in that dingy old office, we departed, but our troubles were not over. No sooner had we reached the hotel than Button-Head appeared with more papers. "You failed to describe yourself," he mournfully announced, handing me another slip.
I had not had my dinner and I was cross, but I seized a pen determined to make short work of it. How tall? Easily told. Black or white? Very easy. Kind of chin? Round and rosy. Shape of face? Depends on time and place. Hair? Pure gold. Eyes? Now I knew they were green but that did not sound poetic enough so I appealed to Dixie. She thought for a while, then said, "Not gray nor brown, I have it, they are syrup colored!" So I put it down along with a lot of other nonsense.
Now the papers have to be sent to Tokyo for approval, then back here again where I will have to do some more signing and swearing. Isn't this enough to discourage people from ever going anywhere?
The news about the sailboat is great. How many of you will be up at the Cape this summer? Is Jack going? When I think of the starlight nights out in the boat, and the long lazy mornings on the beach, I get absolutely faint with longing. Heretofore I haven't dared to enjoy things, and now, when I might, I am an exile heading for Siberia! Oh, well! perhaps there will be starlight nights in Siberia, who knows?
VLADIVOSTOCK, SIBERIA, August 16, 1902.
If I should write all I wanted to say this morning, my letter would reach across the Pacific! I didn't believe it was possible for me ever to have such a good time again.
When we came, we brought a letter of introduction to a Mrs. Heath. She has a beautiful big house, and a beautiful big heart, and she took us right into both.
The day after we arrived, I was standing on her piazza looking down the bay, when I saw a battle-ship come sailing in under a salute of seventeen guns from the fort. It turned out to be the "Victor," and you never knew such rejoicing. Mrs. Heath knows all the navy people and her house is a favorite rendezvous. Before night, we had met many old acquaintances, among them my Nagasaki friend, "Vermont."
It has been tremendously jolly and I can't deny that I have been outrageously frivolous for a missionary! But to save my life I can't conjure up the ghost of a regret! And what is more, I have been contaminating Dixie! I have kept her in such a giddy whirl that she says I have paralysed her conscience! I have dressed her up and trotted her along to lunches, teas and dinners, to concerts on sea and land, and once, Oh! awful confession, I bulldozed her into going to the theatre! The consequence is that she has gotten entirely well and looks ten years younger. Her chief trouble was that she had surrounded herself with a regular picket fence of creed and dogma, and was afraid to lift her eyes for fear she would catch a glimpse through the cracks, of the beautiful world which God meant for us to enjoy. It gave me particular joy to pull a few palings off that picket fence!
Most of my time is spent on the water with Vermont. I don't find it half bad out on the bewitching Uzzuri Bay when the moon is shining and the music floats over the water, to discuss love with a fascinating youth!
What does it matter if he is talking about "the other one"? Don't you suppose that I am glad to know that somewhere in this wide world there's a man that can be loyal to his sweetheart even though she is ten thousand miles away?
I ask occasional questions and don't listen to the answers, and he pours out his confessions and thinks I am lovely. He really is one of the dearest fellows I ever met, and I am glad for that other girl with all my heart.
I like several of the other men very much but they bother me with questions. They refuse to believe that I am connected with a mission, and consider it all as a huge joke.
I wish you could see this place. It is built in terraces up the greenest of mountains and forms a crescent around the bay. Everybody seems to be in uniform of some kind, and soldiers and sailors are at every turn. The streets are a glittering panorama of strange color and form. At night everything is ablaze, bands playing, uniforms glittering, and flags flying. It is all just one intense thrill of life and rhythm, and the cloven foot of my worldliness never fails to keep time.
But when daylight comes and all the sordid ugliness is revealed, disgust takes the place of fascination. The streets are crowded with thousands of degraded Chinese and Koreans, who, even in their brutality, are not as bad as the ordinary Russians.
Through this mass of poverty and degradation dash handsome carriages filled with richly clad people. The drivers wear long blue plush blouses with red sleeves and belt, and trousers tucked in high boots. On their heads they wear funny little hats that look as if they had been sat on. They generally stand up while driving and lash the poor horses into a dead run from start to finish. Many of them are ex-convicts and can never leave Siberia. If their cruelty to horses is any criterion of their cruelty to their fellow men, I can't help thinking they deserve their punishment.
I won't dare to mail this letter until I get out of Russia for they are so cranky about their blessed old country. They would not even let me have a little flag to send to the boys at home! I found out to-day that a policeman comes every day to see what we have been doing, what hours we keep, etc. In fact every movement is watched, and one day when we returned to the hotel, we found that all our possessions had been searched, and the police had even left their old cigar stumps among our things! The more you see of Russia, the more deeply you fall in love with Uncle Sam!
Several days ago Mrs. Heath gave us a tennis-tea and we had a jolly time. The tea was served under the trees from a steaming samovar, around which gathered representatives of many nations. There were many unpronounceable gentlemen, and one real English Lord, who considered Americans, "frightfully amusing."
I thought I had forgotten how to play tennis but I hadn't. That undercut that Jack taught us won me a reputation.
It is only when I stop to think, that I realize how far I am from home! When I wonder where you all are this minute, and what you are doing, I feel as if I were on a visit to the planet Mars, and had no communication whatever with the world.
Think of me, Mate, in Siberia, eating fish with a spoon, and drinking coffee from a glass! Verily, when old Sister Fate found she could not down me, she must have decided to play pranks with me!
My box of new clothes arrived just before I started, and I have had use for everything. When I get on the white coat suit and the white hat, I feel like a dream.
The weather is simply glorious, like our best October days at home. Nothing could be more unlike than Russia and Japan! one is a great oil painting, tragic, majestic, grand, while the other is an exquisitely dainty water color full of sunshine and flowers.
Callers have come so I must close. Life is a very pretty game after all, especially when you get wise enough to look on.
VLADIVOSTOCK, SIBERIA, September 1, 1902.
Just a short letter to tell you that we leave Vladivostock to-night. I am all broken up; it has been the happiest summer that I have had for years and I can't bear to think of it being over.
It has been so long since Peace and I have been acquainted that I hardly yet dare look her full in the face for fear she will take flight and leave me in utter darkness again. Even if she has not come to live with me, she is at least my next door neighbor, and I offer her incense that she may abide.
Now I might as well confess that if it were not for Memory there is no telling what Peace might do! Poor old Memory! I'd like to throttle her sometime and bury her in a deep hole. Yet she has served me many a good turn, and often laid a restraining hand on impulse and thought. But she is like a poor relation, always turning up at the wrong time!
For instance, on a gorgeous moonlight night on the Uzzuri Bay when you are out in a sampan with a pigtail who neither sees nor hears, and your companion is clever enough to be fascinating and daring enough to say things he "hadn't oughter," and the music and the moonlight gets into your head, and you feel young and reckless and sentimental, then all of a sudden Memory recalls another moonlight night when the youth and the romance weren't merely make believe, and your mind travels wearily over the intervening years, and you sit up straight and look severe and put your hands behind you!
Oh! I am clinging to my ideal, Mate, never fear. I've held on to her garments until they are tattered and torn. You introduced me to her and I have never lost sight of her entirely.
This afternoon the Victor sailed for the Philippines. As she passed Mrs. Heath's cottage where we had all promised to be, she dipped her colors. I felt pretty blue for I knew my good times were on board, and were sailing out of sight.
I am now at the hotel, trunk and boxes packed, waiting to start. Cinderella is not going to wait for the stroke of twelve; she has donned her sober garments and is ready to be whisked back to the cinders on the hearth. I am glad hard work is ahead; a solid grind seems necessary for my soul's salvation.
Farewell, vain earth! I love you not wisely but too well.
Why can't people be nice to one without being too nice? And why can't you be horrid to people without being too horrid? Selah.
HIROSHIMA, October 10, 1902.
Dear Old Mate:
I am so dead tired to-night that I could not tell what part of me ached the most! But the spirit moves me to unburden my soul and I feel that I must write you. For this is one of my dream nights, and I have so many in Japan, when my old shell is too exhausted to move, and so permits my soul to wander where it will, a dream night, when the moon is its silveriest and biggest and I want to hug it for I know that twelve hours before it looked down on my loved ones, and now it comes to make more beautiful this fairy land, hiding the scars and ugly places, touching the pine trees with silver points, and glorifying the old Temples, till one wonders if they could have been made by hands. A night when the white robed priests are doing honor to some "heathen idol" and must needs call his wandering attention by the stroke of the deep toned bell, which sends its music far across sleeping Japan, out into the wonderful sea.
I don't know what comes over me such nights as these. I don't seem to be me at all! I can lie most of the night, wide awake, yet unconscious of my surroundings, and dream dreams. I live through all the joyful days of childhood, then through the sorrowful days of womanhood when I was learning how to live, through the years of heartache and heart-break,—and through it all, though I actually suffer, there, is such an unspeakable lightness and buoyancy, such a lifting up, that even pain is a pleasure. I can't explain it all, unless it is the influence of this mysterious country, lulling and soothing, but powerful and subtle as poison.
My dear girl you say you feel too far away to help me! Now don't you worry about that! If you never wrote me another line, you would help me. Just to know that you are around there, on the other side of the earth, believing in me, loving me, and approving of me, means everything. You were right to make me come, and while it cost me my very heart's blood, yet I am learning my lesson as you said I would.
My little ship may never again sail into the harbor of happiness, yet there are sunny seas where soft winds blow, and even if my ship is all by its lonesome, yet it's such a frisky craft, warranted never to sink, no matter what the weather, that it can sail over many seas, touch many lands, and grow rich in experience. And hid away in the locker where no eye save mine may see, are my treasures; your love is one, and nothing can rob me of it.
What you write me of Jack makes me very unhappy. I am not worth his worrying over. Tell him so, Mate. If I could ever care for anybody again in this world, it would be for him, but if an occasional sentiment dares to spring up into my heart, I pull it up by the roots! I would give anything to write to him, but I know it would only bring pain to us both. Be good to him, Mate, I can't bear to think of him being miserable.
I am so tired that I can scarcely keep the tears back. I must write no more.
HIROSHIMA, November 14, 1902.
I have about fifteen minutes between classes, and I am going to spend them on you. Now who do you suppose has come to the surface again? Little Germany, who was on the steamer coming over. He wasted a great many stamps on me for the first few months after we landed but he got tired of playing solos. He was on his way to Thibet to enter a monastery to study some ancient language. Heaven knows why he wants to know anything more antique than the language he speaks! I don't believe there is any old dusty, forgotten corner of the world that he hasn't poked into.
Well you know the fatal magnetism I exert over fossils! They always turn to me as naturally as needles turn to a loadstone. This particular mummy was no exception.
I wrote him a formal stately answer, reminding him in gentle reproof that I was a widow (God save the Mark) and that my life was dedicated to my work. It was no use, he bombarded me with letters, with bigger and bigger words and longer and fiercer quotations. In the last one he threatens to come to Hiroshima!
If he does, I am going to shave my eye-brows and black my teeth! He speaks seven languages, and yet he doesn't know the meaning of the one word "no."
Jack used to say that if a man was persistent enough he could win a woman in spite of the Devil. I would like to see him! I mean Jack, not Dutchy nor the Devil.
HIROSHIMA, Christmas Eve, 1902.
I am in the very thickest of Christmas, and yet such a funny, unreal Christmas, that it does not seem natural at all. Hiroshima is busy decorating for the New Year, and everything is gay with brilliant lanterns, plum blossoms and crimson berries. The little insignificant streets are changed into bowers of sweet smelling ferns and spicy pines, and the bamboo leaves sway to every breeze, while the waxen plum blossoms send out a perfume sweet as violets.
The shop-keepers and their families put on their gayest kimonos and their most enticing smiles and greet you with effusion.
On entering a shop you are asked if your honorable eyes will deign to look upon most unworthy goods. Please will you give this or that a little adoring look? The price? Ah! it's price is greatly enhanced since the august foreigner cast honorable eyes upon it. (Which is no joke!) Whether the article is bought or not, the smile, the bow, the compliment are the same. All this time the crowd around the door of the shop has been steadily increasing until daylight is shut out, for everyone is interested in your purchase from the man who hauls the dray up to the highest lady in the land. The shop-keeper is very patient with the crowd until it shuts out the light, then he invites them to carry their useless bodies to the river and throw them in.
Once outside you see another crowd and as curiosity is in the air, you crane your neck and try to get closer. The center of attraction is a man in spotless white cooking bean cake on a little hibachi. The air is cold and crisp, and the smell of the savory bean paste, piping hot, makes you hungry.
Next comes the fish man with a big flat basket on each end of a pole, and offers you a choice lot; long slippery eels, beautiful shrimp, as pink as the sunset, and juicy oysters whose shells have been scrubbed until they are gleaming white. Around the baskets are garlands of paper roses to hide from view the ugly rough edges of the straw.
The candy shops tempt you to the last sen, and the toy shops are a perfect joy. Funny fat Japanese dolls and stuffed rabbits and cross-eyed, tailless cats demand attention. Perhaps you will see a cheap American doll with blue eyes and yellow hair carefully exhibited under a glass case, and when you are wondering why they treasure this cheap toy, you happen to glance down and catch the worshipping gaze of a wistful, half starved child, and your point of view changes at once and you begin to understand the value of it, and to wish with all your heart that you could put an American dolly in the hands of every little Japanese girl on the Island!
It is getting almost time to open my box and I am right childish over it. It has been here for two days, and I have slipped in a dozen times to look at it and touch it. Oh! Mate, the time has been so long, so cruelly long! I wake myself up in the night some time sobbing. One year and a half behind me, and two and a half ahead! I remember mother telling about the day I started to school, how I came home and said triumphantly, "Just think I've only got ten more years to go to school!"
Poor little duffer! She's still going to school!
Last night I had another mother's meeting for the mothers of the Free Kindergarten. This time I gave a magic lantern show, and I was the showman. The poor, ignorant women sat there bewildered. They had never seen a piano, and many of them had never been close to a foreigner before. I showed them about a hundred slides, explained through an interpreter until I was hoarse, gesticulated and orated to no purpose. They remained silent and stolid. By and by there was a stir, heads were raised, and necks craned. A sudden interest swept over the room. I followed their gaze and saw on the sheet the picture of Christ toiling up the mountain under the burden of the cross. The story was new and strange to them, but the fact was as old as life itself. At last they had found something that touched their own lives and brought the quick tears of sympathy to their eyes.
I am going to have a meeting every month for them, no matter what else has to go undone.
It is almost time to hang up our stockings. Miss Lessing and Dixie objected at first, but I told them I was either going to be very foolish or very blue, they could take their choice. I have to do something to scare away the ghosts of dead Christmases, so I put on my fool's cap and jingle my bells. When I begin to weaken, I go to the piano and play "Come Ye Disconsolate" to rag time, and it cheers me up wonderfully.
I guess it's just about daylight with you now. Pete is tiptoeing in to make the fires. I can hear him now saying: "Christmas Gif' Mister Sam, Chris'mus Gif' Miss Bettie!" and the children are flying around in their night clothes wild with excitement. Down in the sitting room the stockings make a circle around the room and underneath each is a pile of gifts. I can see the big log fire, and the sparkle of it in the old book-case, and in the long glass between the windows. And in a few minutes here you all come, you uncles and you cousins and you aunts, trooping in with the smallest first. And such laughing, and shouting, and rejoicing! and maybe in the midst of the fun somebody speaks of me, and there's a little hush, and a little longing, then the fun goes on more furiously than ever.
Well even if I am on the wrong side of the earth in body, I am not in spirit, and I reach my arms clear around the world and cry "God bless you, every one."
HIROSHIMA, March, 1903.
I have a strong conviction that I am going to swear before I get through this letter, for this pen is what I would call, to use unmissionary language, devilish. My! how familiar and wicked that word looks! I've heard so many hymns and so much brotherly and sisterly talk that it seems like meeting an old friend to see it written!
Here it is nearly cherry-blossom time again, and the days and the weeks are slipping away into months before I know it. I am working at full speed and wonder sometimes how I keep up. But I don't dare leave any leisure for heartaches, even when the body is quivering from weariness, and every nerve cries out for rest. I must keep on and on and on, for all too easily the dread memories come creeping back and enfold me until there is no light on any side. From morning until night it is a fight against the tide.
Work is the only thing that keeps me from thinking, and I am determined not to think. I suppose I am as contented here as I could be anywhere. My whole heart is in the kindergarten and the success of it, and maybe the day will come when my work will be all sufficient to satisfy my soul's craving. But it hasn't come yet!
I almost envy some of these good people who can stand in the middle of one of their prayers and touch all four sides. They know what they want and are satisfied when they get it, but I want the moon and the stars and the sun thrown in.
When things seem closing in upon me and everything looks dark, I flee to the woods. I never knew what the trees and the wind and the sky really meant until I came out here and had to make friends of them. I think you have to be by yourself and a bit lonesome before Nature ever begins to whisper her secrets. Can you imagine Philistine Me going out on the hill top to see the sun-rise and going without my supper to see it set? I am even studying the little botany that Jack gave me, though my time and my intellect are equally limited.
And speaking of Jack leads me to remark that there is no necessity for all of you to maintain such an oppressive silence concerning him! Three months ago you wrote me that he was not well, and that he was going south with you and sister. He must be pretty sick to stop work even for a week. I have pictured you sitting with a loaf of bread and a jug of wine beneath the bough quoting poetry at each other to your heart's content.
You say when I come home I can rest on my laurels; no thank you, I want a Morris chair, a pitcher of lemonade, all the new books and a little darkey to fan me.
Mrs. Heath has asked me to visit her in Vladivostock this summer and I am going if the cholera doesn't get worse. We are so afraid of it that we almost boil the cow before we drink the milk!
Among the delicacies of our menu out here are raw fish, pickled parsnips, sea-weed and bean-paste. As old Charity used to say I've gotten so "acclamitized" I think I could eat a gum shoe.
When they send out my spring box from home, please tell them to put in some fluffy white dresses with elbow sleeves. Then I want lots of pretty ribbons, and a white belt. I saw in the paper that crushed leather was the proper thing. It sounds like something good to eat, but if it's to wear send it along.
My disposition will be everlastingly ruined if I write another line with this pen. Good-bye.
HIROSHIMA, May, 1903.
Well the catastrophe arrived and we were prisoners for nearly a week. It was not quite cholera but close enough to it to scare us all to death. Both Eve and the apple were young and green, and the combination worked disaster. When the doctor arrived, he shipped Eve off to the inspection hospital, while we were locked up, guarded by five small policemen, and hardly allowed to open our mouths for fear we would swallow a germ. We were fumigated and par-boiled until we felt like steam puddings. Nobody was allowed to go in or out, our vegetables were handed to us in a basket on a bamboo pole over the wall. We tied notes to bricks and flung them to our neighbors on the outside. Thank Heaven, the servants were locked in too. Every day a little man with lots of brass buttons and a big voice came and asked anxiously after our honorable insides.