E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE DRAGON PAINTER
MARY McNEIL FENOLLOSA
Author of "Truth Dexter," "The Breath of the Gods," "Out of the Nest: A Flight of Verses," etc.
Illustrated by Gertrude McDaniel
[Frontispiece: "Another step, and she was in the room."]
Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1906
Copyright, 1905, By P. F. Collier & Son.
Copyright, 1906, By Little, Brown, and Company. All rights reserved
Published October, 1906
The story of "The Dragon Painter," in a shorter form, was originally published in "Collier's." It has since been practically rewritten.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Another step, and she was in the room" . . . Frontispiece
"With the soft tuft of camel hair he blurred against the peak pale, luminous vapor of new cloud
"He walked up and down, sometimes in the narrow room, sometimes in the garden"
"'Come, Dragon Wife,' he said, 'come back to our little home'"
"Ume-ko leaned over instantly, staring down into the stream"
"Then a little hand, stealing from a nun's gray sleeve, slipped into his"
THE DRAGON PAINTER
The old folks call it Yeddo. To the young, "Tokyo" has a pleasant, modern sound, and comes glibly. But whether young or old, those whose home it is know that the great flat city, troubled with green hills, cleft by a shining river, and veined in living canals, is the central spot of all the world.
Storms visit Tokyo,—with fury often, sometimes with destruction. Earthquakes cow it; snow falls upon its temple roofs, swings in wet, dazzling masses from the bamboo plumes, or balances in white strata along green-black pine branches. The summer sun scorches the face of Yeddo, and summer rain comes down in wide bands of light. With evening the mist creeps up, thrown over it like a covering, casting a spell of silence through which the yellow lanterns of the hurrying jinrikishas dance an elfish dance, and the voices of the singing-girls pierce like fine blades of sound.
But to know the full charm of the great city, one must wake with it at some rebirth of dawn. This hour gives to the imaginative in every land a thrill, a yearning, and a pang of visual regeneration. In no place is this wonder more deeply touched with mystery than in modern Tokyo.
Far off to the east the Sumida River lies in sleep. Beyond it, temple roofs—black keels of sunken vessels—cut a sky still powdered thick with stars. Nothing moves, and yet a something changes! The darkness shivers as to a cold touch. A pallid haze breathes wanly on the surface of the impassive sky. The gold deepens swiftly and turns to a faint rose flush. The stars scamper away like mice.
Across the moor of gray house eaves the mist wavers. Day troubles it. A pink light rises to the zenith, and the mist shifts and slips away in layers, pink and gold and white. Now far beyond the grayness, to the west, the cone of Fuji flashes into splendor. It, too, is pink. Its shape is of a lotos bud, and the long fissures that plough a mountain side are now but delicate gold veining on a petal. Slowly it seems to open. It is the chalice of a new day, the signal and the pledge of consecration. Husky crows awake in the pine trees, and doves under the temple eaves. The east is red beyond the river, and the round, red sun, insignia of this land, soars up like a cry of triumph.
On the glittering road of the Sumida, loaded barges, covered for the night with huge squares of fringed straw mats, begin to nod and preen themselves like a covey of gigantic river birds. Sounds of prayer and of silver matin bells come from the temples, where priest and acolyte greet the Lord Buddha of a new day. From tiny chimneyless kitchens of a thousand homes thin blue feathers of smoke make slow upward progress, to be lost in the last echoes of the vanishing mist. Sparrows begin to chirp, first one, then ten, then thousands. Their voices have the clash and chime of a myriad small triangles.
The wooden outer panels (amado) of countless dwellings are thrust noisily aside and stacked into a shallow closet. The noise reverberates from district to district in a sharp musketry of sound. Maid servants call cheerily across bamboo fences. Shoji next are opened, disclosing often the dull green mosquito net hung from corner to corner of the low-ceiled sleeping rooms. Children, in brilliant night robes, run to the verandas to see the early sun; cocks strut in pigmy gardens. Now, from along the streets rise the calls of flower peddlers, of venders of fish, bean-curd, vegetables, and milk. Thus the day comes to modern Tokyo, which the old folks still call Yeddo.
On such a midsummer dawn, not many years ago, old Kano Indara, sleeping in his darkened chamber, felt the summons of an approaching joy. Beauty tugged at his dreams. Smiling, as a child that is led by love, he rose, drew aside softly the shoji, then the amado of his room, and then, with face uplifted, stepped down into his garden. The beauty of the ebbing night caught at his sleeve, but the dawn held him back.
It was the moment just before the great Sun took place upon his throne. Kano still felt himself lord of the green space round about him. On their pretty bamboo trellises the potted morning-glory vines held out flowers as yet unopened. They were fragile, as if of tissue, and were beaded at the crinkled tips with dew. Kano's eyelids, too, had dew of tears upon them. He crouched close to the flowers. Something in him, too, some new ecstacy was to unfurl. His lean body began to tremble. He seated himself at the edge of the narrow, railless veranda along which the growing plants were ranged. One trembling bud reached out as if it wished to touch him.
The old man shook with the beating of his own heart. He was an artist. Could he endure another revelation of joy? Yes, his soul, renewed ever as the gods themselves renew their youth, was to be given the inner vision. Now, to him, this was the first morning. Creation bore down upon him.
The flower, too, had begun to tremble. Kano turned directly to it. The filmy, azure angles at the tip were straining to part, held together by just one drop of light. Even as Kano stared the drop fell heavily, plashing on his hand. The flower, with a little sob, opened to him, and questioned him of life, of art, of immortality. The old man covered his face, weeping.
The last of his race was Kano Indara; the last of a mighty line of artists. Even in this material age his fame spread as the mists of his own land, and his name was known in barbarian countries far across the sea. Tokyo might fall under the blight of progress, but Kano would hold to the traditions of his race. To live as a true artist,—to die as one,—this was his care. He might have claimed high position in the great Art Museum recently inaugurated by the new government, and housed in an abomination of pink stucco with Moorish towers at the four corners. He might even have been elected president of the new Academy, and have presided over the Italian sculptors and degenerate French painters imported to instruct and "civilize" modern Japan. Stiff graphite pencils, making lines as hard and sharp as those in the faces of foreigners themselves, were to take the place of the soft charcoal flake whose stroke was of satin and young leaves. Horrible brushes, fashioned of the hair of swine, pinched in by metal bands, and wielded with a hard tapering stick of varnished wood, were to be thrust into the hands of artists,—yes,—artists—men who, from childhood, had known the soft pliant Japanese brush almost as a spirit hand;—had felt the joy of the long stroke down fibrous paper where the very thickening and thinning of the line, the turn of the brush here, the easing of it there, made visual music,—men who had realized the brush as part not only of the body but of the soul,—such men, indeed,—such artists, were to be offered a bunch of hog bristles, set in foreign tin. Why, even in the annals of Kano's own family more than one faithful brush had acquired a soul of its own, and after the master's death had gone on lamenting in his written name. But the foreigners' brushes, and their little tubes of ill-smelling gum colored with dead hues! Kano shuddered anew at the thought.
Naturally he hated all new forms of government. He regretted and deplored the magnanimity of his Emperor in giving to his people, so soon, a modern constitution. What need had Art of a constitution?
Across the northern end of Yeddo runs the green welt of a table-land. Midway, at the base of this, tucked away from northern winds, hidden in green bamboo hedges, Kano lived, a mute protest against the new. Beside himself, of the household were Ume-ko, his only child, and an old family servant, Mata.
Kano's garden, always the most important part of a Japanese dwelling place, ran out in one continuous, shallow terrace to the south. A stone wall upheld its front edge from the narrow street; and on top of this wall stiff hedges grew. In one corner, however, a hillock had been raised, a "Moon Viewing Place," such as poets and artists have always found necessary. From its flat top old Kano had watched through many years the rising of the moon; had seen, as now, a new dawn possess a new-created earth,—had traced the outlines of the stars. By day he sometimes loved to watch the little street below, delighting in the motion and color of passing groups.
For the garden, itself, it was fashioned chiefly of sand, pebbles, stones, and many varieties of pine, the old artist's favorite plant. A small rock-bound pond curved about the inner base of the moon-viewing hill, duplicating in its clear surface the beauties near. A few splendid carp, the color themselves of dawn, swam lazily about with noses in the direction of the house whence came, they well knew, liberal offerings of rice and cake.
Kano had his plum trees, too; the classic "ume," loved of all artists, poets, and decent-minded people generally. One tree, a superb specimen of the kind called "Crouching-Dragon-Plum," writhed and twisted near the veranda of the chamber of its name-child, Ume-ko, thrusting one leafy arm almost to the paper shoji of her wall. Kano's transient flowers were grown, for the most part in pots, and these his daughter Ume-ko loved to tend. There were morning-glories for the mid-summer season, peonies and iris for the spring, and chrysanthemums for autumn. One foreign rose-plant, pink of bloom, in a blue-gray jar, had been pruned and trained into a beauty that no western rose-bush ever knew.
Behind the Kano cottage the rise of ground for twenty yards was of a grade scarcely perceptible to the eye. Here Mata did the family washing; dried daikon in winter, and sweet-potato slices in the summer sun. This small space she considered her special domain, and was at no pains to conceal the fact. Beyond, the hill went upward suddenly with the curve of a cresting wave. Higher it rose and higher, bearing a tangled growth of vines and ferns and bamboo grass; higher and higher, until it broke, in sheer mid-air, with a coarse foam of rock, thick shrubs, and stony ledges. Almost at the zenith of the cottage garden it poised, and a great camphor tree, centuries old, soared out into the blue like a green balloon.
Behind the camphor tree, again, and not visible from the garden below, stood a temple of the "Shingon" sect, the most mystic of the old esoteric Buddhist forms. To the rear of this the broad, low, rectangular buildings of a nunnery, gray and old as the temple itself brooded among high hedges of the sacred mochi tree. This retreat had been famous for centuries throughout Japan. More than once a Lady Abbess had been yielded from the Imperial family. Formerly the temple had owned many koku of rich land; had held feudal sway over rice fields and whole villages, deriving princely revenue. With the restoration of the Emperor to temporal power, some thirty years before the beginning of this story, most of the land had been confiscated; and now, shrunken like the papal power at Rome, the temple claimed, in land, only those acres bounded by its own hedges and stone temple walls. There were the main building itself, silent, impressive in towering majesty; subordinate chapels and dwellings for priests, a huge smoke-stained refectory, the low nunnery in its spreading gardens and, down the northern slope of the hill, the cemetery, a lichen-growth, as it were, of bristling, close-set tombs in gray stone, the splintered regularity broken in places by the tall rounded column of a priest's grave, set in a ring of wooden sotoba. At irregular intervals clusters of giant bamboo trees sprang like green flame from the fissures of gray rock.
Even in humiliation, in comparative poverty, the temple dominated, for miles around, the imagination of the people, and was the great central note of the landscape. The immediate neighborhood was jealously proud of it. Country folk, journeying by the street below, looked up with lips that whispered invocation. Children climbed the long stone steps to play in the temple courtyard, and feed the beautiful tame doves that lived among the carved dragons of the temple eaves.
In that gray cemetery on the further slope Kano's wife, the young mother who died so long ago that Ume-ko could not remember her at all, slept beneath a granite shaft which said, "A Flower having blossomed in the Night, the Halls of the Gods are fragrant." This was the Buddhist kaimyo, or priestly invocation to the spirit of the dead. Of the more personal part of the young mother, her name, age, and the date of her "divine retirement," these were recorded in the household shrine of the Kano cottage, where her "ihai" stood, just behind a little lamp of pure vegetable oil whose light had never yet been suffered to die. Through this shrine, and the daily loving offices required by it, she had never ceased to be a presence in the house. Even in his passionate desire for a son to inherit the name and traditions of his race, old Kano had not been able to endure the thought of a second wife who might wish the shrine removed.
Ume-ko and her father were well known at the temple, and worshipped often before its golden altars. But Mata scorned the ceremony of the older creed. She was a Shinshu, a Protestant. Her sect discarded mysticism as useless, believed in the marriage of priests, and in the abolition of the monastic life, and relied for salvation only on the love and mercy of Amida, the Buddha of Light.
Sometimes at twilight a group of shadowy human figures, gray as the doves themselves, crept out from the nunnery gate, crossed the wide, pebbled courtyard of the temple and stood, for long moments, by the gnarled roots of the camphor tree, staring out across the beauty of the plain of Yeddo; its shining bay a great mirror to the south, and off, on the western horizon, where the last light hung, Fuji, a cone of porphyry, massive against the gold.
For a full hour, now, Kano had delighted in the morning-glories. At intervals he strolled about the garden to touch separately, as if in greeting, each beloved plant. Except for the deepening fervor of the sun he would have kept no note of time. The last shred of mist had vanished. Crows and sparrows were busy with breakfast for their nestlings.
It was, perhaps, the clamor of these feathered parents that, at last, awoke old Mata in her sleeping closet near the kitchen. She turned drowsily. The presence of an unusual light under the shoji brought her to her knees. The amado in the further part of the house were undoubtedly open. Could robbers have come in the night? And were her master and Miss Ume weltering in gore?
She was on her feet now, pushing with shaking fingers at the sliding walls. She peered at first into Ume's room for there, indeed, lay the core of old Mata's heart. A slender figure on the floor stirred slightly and a sound of soft breathing filled the silence. All was well in Ume's room. She knocked then on Kano's fusuma. There was no response. Cautiously she parted them, and met an incoming flood of morning light. The walls were opened. Through the small square pillars of the veranda she could see, as in a frame, old Kano standing in the garden beside the fish-pond. Even as she gazed, incredulous at her own stupidity in sleeping so late, the temple bell above boomed out six slow strokes. Six! Such a thing had never been known. Well, she must be growing old and worthless. She had better fill her sleeve with pebbles and cast herself into the nearest stream. She hurried back, a tempestuous protest in every step.
"Miss Ume,—Ume-ko!" she called. "Ma-a-a! What has come to us both? The Danna San walks about as if he had been awake for hours. And not a cup of tea for him! The honorable fire does not exist. Surely a demon of sleep has bewitched us."
She had entered the girl's room, and now, while speaking, crossed the narrow space to fling wide, first the shoji, and then the outer amado.
Ume moved lazily. Her lacquered pillow, with its bright cushion, rocked as she stirred. "No demon has found me, Mata San," she murmured, smiling. "No demon unless it be you, cruel nurse, who have dragged me back from a heavenly dream."
"Baku devour your dream!" cried Mata. "I say there is no fire beneath the pot!"
Ume sat up now, and smoothed slowly the loops of her shining hair. The yellow morning sun danced into the corners of her room, rioted among the hues of her silken bed coverings, and paused, abashed, as it were, before the delicate beauty of her face.
As Mata scolded, the girl nestled back among her quilts, smiling mischievously. She loved to tease the old dame. "No, nurse," she protested, "that cannot be. The baku feeds on evil dreams alone, and this was not evil. Ah, nurse, it was so sweet a dream——"
"I can give no time to your honorable fooling," cried Mata, in pretended anger. "Have I the arms of a Hundred-Handed Kwannon that I can do all the household work at once? Attire yourself promptly, I entreat: prepare one of the small trays for your august parent, and get out two of the pickled plums from the blue jar."
Ume, with an exaggerated sigh of regret, rose to her feet. Quilt and cushions were pushed into a corner for later airing. Her toilet was swift and simple. To slip the bright-colored sleeping robe from her and toss it to the heaped-up coverlids, don an undergarment of thin white linen and a scant petticoat of blue crepe, draw over them a day robe of blue and white cotton, and tie all in with a sash of brocaded blue and gold,—that was the sum of it. For washing she had a shallow wooden basin on the kitchen veranda, where cold water splashed incessantly from bamboo tubes thrust into the hillside. Hurriedly drying her face and hands on a small towel that hung from a swinging bamboo hoop, she ran into the kitchen to assist the still grumbling Mata.
By this time old Kano had again seated himself at the edge of his veranda. The summer sun grew unpleasantly warm. The morning-glories on their trellises had begun to droop. A little later they would hang, wretched and limp, mere faded scraps of dissolution. Overhead the temple bell struck seven. Kano shuddered at this foreign marking out of hours. A melancholy, intense as had been his former ecstacy, began to enfold his spirit. Perhaps he had waited too long for the simple breakfast; perhaps the recent glory had drained him of vital force. A hopelessness, alike of life and death, rose about him in a tide.
Ume prostrated herself upon the veranda near him. "Good morning, august father. Will you deign to enter now and partake of food?"
Her voice and the morning face she lifted might have won a smile from a stone image. Kano turned sourly. "Why," he thought, "in Shaka's name, could n't she have been a son?"
He rose, however, shaking off his wooden clogs so that they remained upon the path below, and followed Ume to the zashiki, or main room of the house, with the best view of the garden.
The tea was delicious in its first delicate infusion; the pickled plums most stimulating to a morning appetite.
"Rice and fish will soon honorably eventuate," Ume assured him as she went back, smiling, into the kitchen.
Kano pensively lifted a plum upon the point of a toothpick and began nibbling at its wrinkled skin. Yes, why could she not have been a son? As it was, the girl could paint,—paint far better than most women even the famous ones of old. But, after all, no woman painter could be supreme. Love comes first with women! They have not the strong heart, the cruelty, the fierce imagination that go to the making of a great artist. Even among the men of the day, corrupted and distracted as they are by foreign innovations, could real strength be found? Alas! Art was surely doomed, and his own life,—the life of the last great Kano, futile and perishable as the withering flowers on their stems.
He ate of his fish and rice in gloomy silence. Ume's gentle words failed to bring a reply. When the breakfast dishes were removed the old man continued listlessly in his place, staring out with unseeing eyes into his garden.
A loud knock came to the wooden entrance gate near the kitchen. Kano heard a man's deep tones, Mata's thin voice answering an enquiry, and then the soft murmur of Ume's words. An instant later, heavy footsteps, belonging evidently to a wearer of foreign shoes, came around by the side of the house toward the garden. Kano looked up, frowning with annoyance. A fine-looking man of middle age appeared. Kano's irritation vanished.
"Ando Uchida!" he cried aloud, springing to his feet, and hurrying to the edge of the veranda. "Ando Uchida, is it indeed you? How stout and strong and prosperous you seem! Welcome!"
"A little too stout for warm weather," laughed Ando, as laboriously he removed his foreign shoes and accepted his host's assistance up the one stone step to the veranda.
"Welcome, Ando Uchida," said Kano again, when they had taken seats. "It is quite five years since my eyes last hung upon your honorable face."
"Is it indeed so long?" said the other. "Time has the wings of a dragon-fly!"
Ando had brought with him a roll, apparently of papers, tied up in yellow cloth. This parcel he put carefully behind him on the matted floor. He then drew from his kimono sleeve a pink-bordered foreign pocket-handkerchief, and began to mop his damp forehead. Kano's politeness could not hide, entirely, a shudder of antipathy. He hurried into new speech. "And where, if it is not rude to ask, has my friend Ando sojourned during the long absence?"
"Chiefly among the mountains of Kiu Shiu," answered the other.
"Kiu Shiu," murmured the artist. "I wandered there in youth and have thought always to return. The rocks and cliffs are of great beauty. I remember well one white, thin waterfall that flung itself out like a laugh, but never reached a thing so dull as earth. Midway it was splintered upon a sunbeam, and changed into rainbows, pearls, and swallows!"
"I know it excellently well," said Uchida. "Indeed I have been zealous to preserve it, chiefly for your sake."
"Preserve it? What can you mean?"
"I have become a government inspector of mines," explained Uchida, in some embarrassment. "I thought you knew. There is a rich coal deposit near that waterfall."
"Ando! Ando!" groaned the old man, "you were once an artist! The foreigners are tainting us all."
"I love art still," said Ando, "but I make a better engineer. And—I beseech you to overlook my vulgarity—I am getting rich."
Kano groaned again. "Oh, this foreign influence! It is the curse of modern Japan! Love of money is starting a dry rot in the land of the gods. Success, material power, money,—all of them illusions, miasma of the soul, blinding men to reality! Surely my karma was evil that I needed to be reborn into this age of death!"
Ando looked sympathetic and a little contrite. "Since we are indeed hopelessly of the present," ventured he, "may it not be as well to let the foreigners teach us their methods of success?"
"Success?" cried Kano, almost angrily. "What do they succeed in except the grossest material gains? There is no humanity in them. Love of beauty dies in the womb. Shall we strive to become as dead things?"
"The love of beauty will never perish in this land," said Ando more earnestly than he had yet spoken. "A Japanese loves Art as he loves life. Our rich merchants become the best patrons of the artists."
"Patrons of the artists," echoed Kano, wearily. "You voice your own degradation, friend Ando. In the great days, who dared to speak of patronage to us. Emperors were artists and artists Emperors! It was to us that all men bowed."
"Yes, yes, that is honorably true," Ando hastened to admit. "And so would they in this age bow to you, if you would but allow it."
"I am not worthy of homage," said Kano, his head falling forward on his breast. "None knows this better than I,—and yet I am the greatest among them. Show me one of our young artists who can stand like Fudo in the flame of his own creative thought! There is none!"
"What you say is unfortunately true of the present Tokyo painters,—perhaps equally of Kioto and other large cities,—but——" Here Ando paused as if to arouse expectancy. Kano did not look up. "But," insisted the other, "may it not be possible that in some place far from the clamor of modern progress,—in some remote mountain pass,—maybe——"
Kano looked up now sharply enough. Apathy and indifference flared up like straws in a sudden flame of passion. He made a fierce gesture. "Not that, not that!" he cried. "I cannot bear it! Do not seek to give false life to a hope already dead. I am an old man. I have hoped and prayed too long. I must go down to my grave without an heir,—even an adopted heir,—for there is no disciple worthy to succeed!"
"Dear friend, believe that I would not willingly add to a grief like this. I assure you——" Ando was beginning, when his words were cut short by the entrance of Ume-ko. She bore a tray with cups, a tiny steaming tea-pot, and a dish heaped with cakes in the forms and tints of morning-glories. This offering she placed near Uchida; and then, retiring a few steps, bowed to the floor, drawing her breath inaudibly as a token of welcome and respect. Being merely a woman, old Kano did not think of presenting her. She left the room noiselessly as she had come. Ando watched every movement with admiration and a certain weighing of possibilities in his shrewd face. He nodded as if to himself, and leaned toward Kano.
"Was that not Kano Ume-ko, your daughter?"
"Yes," said the old man, gruffly; "but she is not a son."
"Fortunately for the eyes of men she is not," smiled Ando. "That is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I have seen many. She welcomed me at the gate."
Kano, engaged in pouring tea, made no reply.
"Also, if current speech be true, she has great talent," persisted the visitor. "One can see genius burning like a soft light behind her face. I hear everywhere of her beauty and her fame."
"Oh, she does well,—even remarkably well for a woman," admitted Kano. "But, as I said before, she is a woman, and nothing alters that. I tell you, Ando!" he cried, in a small new gust of irritation, "sometimes I have wished that she had been left utterly untouched by art. She paints well now, because my influence is never lifted. She knows nothing else. I have allowed no lover to approach. Yet, some day love will find her, as one finds a blossoming plum tree in the night. In every rock and tree she paints I can see the hint of that coming lover; in her flowers, exquisitely drawn, nestle the faces of her children. She knows it not, but I know,—I know! She thinks she cares only for her father and her art. When I die she will marry, and then how many pictures will she paint? Bah!"
"Poor child!" murmured Ando, under his breath.
"Poor child," mocked the artist, whose quick ears had caught the whisper. "Poor Nippon, rather, and poor old Kano, who has no better heir than this frail girl. Oh, Ando, I have clamored to the gods! I have made pilgrimages and given gifts,—but there is no one to inherit my name and the traditions of my race. Nowhere can I find a Dragon Painter!"
Ando put his hand out quickly behind him, seized the long roll tied in yellow cloth, and began to unfasten it.
Kano was panting with the vehemence of his own speech. He poured another little cup of tea and drained it. He began now to watch Ando, and found himself annoyed by the deliberation of his friend's motions. "Strange, strange——" Ando was murmuring. An instant later came the whisper, "very, very strange!"
"Why do you repeat it?" cried Kano, irritably. "There was nothing strange in what I said."
The parcel was now untied. Ando held a roll of papers outward. "Examine these, Kano Indara," he said impressively. "If I do not greatly mistake, the gods, at last, have heard your prayer."
Kano went backward as if from fire. "No! I cannot,—I must not hope! Too long have I searched. Not a schoolboy who thought he could draw an outline in the sand with his toe but I have fawned on him. I dare not look. Ando, to-day I am shaken as if with an ague of the soul. I—I—could not bear another disappointment." He did indeed seem piteously weak and old. He hid his face in long, lean, twitching fingers.
Ando was sincerely affected. "This is to be no disappointment," said he, gently. "I pray you, listen patiently to my clumsy speech."
"I will strive to listen calmly," said Kano, in a broken voice. "But first honorably secrete the papers once again. They tantalize my sight."
Uchida put them down on the floor beside him and threw the cloth carelessly above. He was more moved than he cared to show. He strove now to speak simply, directly, and with convincing earnestness. Kano had settled into his old attitude of dejection.
"One morning, not more than six weeks ago," began Uchida, "the engineering party which I command had climbed some splintered peaks of the Kiu Shiu range to a spot quite close, indeed, to that thin waterfall which you remember——"
"One might forget his friends and relatives, but not a waterfall like that!" interrupted Kano.
"Suddenly a storm, blown down apparently from a clear sky, caught up the mountain and our little group of men in a great blackness."
"The mountain deities were angered at your presumption," nodded Kano, well pleased.
"It may be," admitted the other. "At any rate, the winds now hurried in from the sea. Round cloud vapors split sidewise on the wedges of the rocks. Voices screamed in the fissures. We clung to the scrub-pines and the sa-sa grass for safety."
"I can see it all. I can feel it," whispered old Kano.
"We wished to descend, but knew no way. I shouted for aid. The others shouted many times. Then from the very midst of tumult came a youth,—half god, half beast, with wild eyes peering at us, and hair that tossed like the angry clouds."
"Yes, yes," urged Kano, straining forward.
"We scrambled toward him, and he shrank back into the mist. We called, beseeching help. The workmen thought him a young sennin, and falling on their knees, began to pray. Then the youth approached us more deliberately, and, when we asked for guidance, led us by a secluded path down into a mountain village."
"And you think,—you think that this marvellous youth," began Kano, eagerly; then broke off with a gesture of despair. "I must not believe, I must not believe," he muttered.
Ando's hand was once more on the roll of papers. He went on smoothly. "We questioned of him in the village. He is a foundling. None knows his parentage. From childhood he has made pictures upon rocks, and sand beds, and the inner bark of trees. He wanders for days together among the peaks, and declares that he is searching for his mate, a Dragon Princess, withheld from him by enchantment. Naturally the village people think him mad. But they are kind to him. They give him food and clothing, and sometimes sheets of paper, like these here." With affected unconcern he raised the long roll. "Yes, they give him paper, with real ink and brushes. Then he leaps up the mountain side and paints and paints for hours, like a demon. But as soon as he has eased his soul of a sketch he lets the first gust of wind blow it away."
Kano was now shivering in his place. On his wrinkled face a light dawned. "Shall I believe? Oh, Ando, indeed I could not bear it now! Unroll those drawings before I go mad!"
Uchida deliberately spread out the first. It was a scene of mountain storm, painted as in an elemental fury. Inky pine branches slashed and hurled upward, downward, and across a tortured gray sky. A cloud-rack tore the void like a Valkyrie's cry made visible. One huge talon of lightning clutched at the flying scud.
Kano gave a glance, covered his face, and began to sob. Uchida blew his nose on the pink-bordered foreign handkerchief. After a long while the old man whispered, "What name shall I use in my prayer?"
"He is called," said Ando, "by the name of 'Tatsu.' 'Tatsu, the Dragon Painter.'"
The sounds and sights of the great capital were dear to Ando Uchida. In five years of busy exile among remote mountains he felt that he had earned, as it were, indulgence for an interval of leisurely enjoyment.
His initial visit to old Kano had been made not so much to renew an illustrious acquaintance, as to relieve his own mind of its exciting news, and his hands of a parcel which, at every stage of the journey, had been an incubus. Ando knew the paintings to be unusual. He had hoped for and received from Kano the highest confirmation of this belief.
At that time, now a week ago, he had been pleased, and Kano irradiated. Already he was cursing himself for his pains, and crying aloud that, had he dreamed the consequences, never had the name of Tatsu crossed his lips! Ando's anticipated joys in Yeddo lay, as yet, before him. Hourly was he tormented by visits from the impatient Kano. Neither midnight nor dawn were safe from intrusion. Always the same questions were asked, the same fears spoken, the same glorious future prophesied; until finally, in despair, one night Ando arose between the hours of two and three, betaking himself to a small suburban hotel. Here he lived, for a time, in peace, under the protection of an assumed name.
A letter had been dispatched that first day, to Tatsu of Kiu Shiu, with a sum of money for the defraying of travelling expenses, and the petition that the youth should come as quickly as possible for a visit to Kano Indara, since the old man could not, of himself, attempt so long a journey. After what seemed to the impatient writer (and in equal degree to the harassed Uchida) an endless cycle of existence, an answer came, not, indeed from Tatsu, but from the "Mura osa," or head of the village, saying that the Mad Painter had started at once upon his journey, taking not even a change of clothes. By what route he would travel or on what date arrive, only the gods could tell.
Kano's rapture in these tidings was assailed, at once, by a swarm of black conjectures. Might the boy not lose himself by the way? If he attempted to ride upon the hideous foreign trains he was certain to be injured; if on the other hand, he did not come by train, weeks, even months, might be consumed in the journey. Again, should he essay to come by boat! Then there were dangers of wind and storm. Visions of Tatsu drowned; of Tatsu heaped under a wreck of burning cars; starved to death in a solitary forest; set upon, robbed, and slain by footpads, all spun—black silhouettes in a revolving lantern—through Kano's frenzied imagination. It was at this point that Uchida had hid himself, and assumed a false name.
In another week the gentle Ume began to grow pale and silent under the small tyrannies of her father. Mata openly declared her belief that it was a demon now on the way to them, since he had power to change the place into a cave of torment even before arrival. After Uchida's defection old Kano remained constantly at home. Many hours at a time he stood upon the moon-viewing hillock of his garden, staring up, then down the street, up and down, up and down, until it was weariness to watch him. Within the rooms he was merely one curved ear, bent in the direction of the entrance gate. His nervousness communicated itself to the women of the house. They, too, were listening. More than one innocent visitor had been thrown into panic by the sight of three strained faces at the gate, and three pairs of shining eyes set instantly upon them.
One twilight hour, late in August, Tatsu came. After an eager day of watching, old Kano had just begun to tell himself that hope was over. Tatsu had certainly been killed. The ihai might as well be set up, and prayers offered for the dead man's soul. Ume-ko, wearied by the heat, and the incessant strain, lay prone upon her matted floor, listening to the chirp of a bell cricket that hung in a tiny bamboo cage near by. The clear notes of the refrain, struck regularly with the sound of a fairy bell, had begun to help and soothe her. Mata sat dozing on the kitchen step.
A loud, sudden knock shattered in an instant this precarious calm. Kano went through the house like a storm. Mata, being nearest, flung the panel of the gate aside. There stood a creature with tattered blue robe just to the knees, bare feet, bare head, with wild, tossing locks of hair, and eyes that gleamed with a panther's light.
"Is it—is it—Tatsu?" screamed the old man, hurling his voice before him.
"It is a madman," declared the servant, and flattened herself against the hedge.
Ume said nothing at all. After one look into the stranger's face she had withdrawn, herself unseen, into the shadowy rooms.
"I am Tatsu of Kiu Shiu," announced the apparition, in a voice of strange depth and sweetness. "Is this the home of Kano Indara?"
"Yes, yes, I am Kano Indara," said the artist, almost grovelling on the stones. "Enter, dear sir, I beseech. You must be weary. Accompany me in this direction, august youth. Mata, bring tea to the guest-room."
Tatsu followed his tempestuous host in silence. As they gained the room Kano motioned him to a cushion, and prepared to take a seat opposite. Tatsu suddenly sank to his knees, bowing again and again, stiffly, in a manner long forgotten in fashionable Yeddo.
"Discard the ceremony of bowing, I entreat," said Kano.
"Why? Is it not a custom here?"
"Yes,—to a lesser extent. But between us, dear youth, it is unnecessary."
"Why should it be unnecessary between us?" persisted the unsmiling guest.
"Because we are artists, therefore brothers," explained Kano, in an encouraging voice.
Tatsu frowned. "Who are you, and why have you sent for me?"
"Do you inquire who I am?" said Kano, scarcely believing his ears.
"It is what I asked."
"I am Kano Indara." The old man folded his arms proudly, waiting for the effect.
Tatsu moved impatiently upon his velvet cushion. "Of course I knew that. It was the name on the scrap of paper that guided me here."
"Is it possible that you do not yet know the meaning of the name of Kano?" asked the artist, incredulously. A thin red tingled to his cheek,—the hurt of childish vanity.
"There is one of that name in my village," said Tatsu. "He is a scavenger, and often gives me fine large sheets of paper."
Old Kano's lip trembled. "I am not of his sort. Men call me an artist."
"Oh, an artist! Does that mean a painter of dragons, like me?"
"Among other things of earth and air I have attempted to paint dragons," said Kano.
"I paint nothing else," declared Tatsu, and seemed to lose interest in the conversation.
Kano looked hard into his face. "You say that you paint nothing else?" he challenged. "Are not these—all of them—your work, the creations of your fancy?" He reached out for the roll that Uchida had brought. His hands trembled. In his nervous excitement the papers fell, scattering broadcast over the floor.
Tatsu's dark face flashed into light. "My pictures! My pictures!" he cried aloud, like a child. "They always blow off down the mountain!"
Kano picked up a study at random. It was of a mountain tarn lying quiet in the sun. Trees in a windless silence sprang straight upward from the brink. Beyond and above these a few tall peaks stood thin and pale, cutting a sky that was empty of all but light.
"Where is the dragon here?" challenged the old man.
"Asleep under the lake."
"And where here?" he asked quickly, in order to hide his discomfiture. The second picture was a scene of heavy rain descending upon a village. "Oh, I perceive for myself," he hurried on before Tatsu could reply. "The dragon lies full length, half sleeping, on the soaking cloud."
Tatsu's lip curled, but he remained silent.
The old man's hands rattled among the edges of the papers. "Ah, here, Master Painter, are you overthrown!" he cried triumphantly, lifting the painting of a tall girl who swayed against a cloudy background. The lines of the thin gray robe blew lightly to one side. The whole figure had the poise and lightness of a vision; yet in the face an exquisite human tenderness smiled out. "Show me a dragon here," repeated Kano.
Tatsu looked troubled and, for the first time, studied intently the countenance of his host. "Surely, honored sir, if you are a painter, as you say you are, its meaning must be plain. Look more closely. Do you not see on what the maiden stands?"
"Of course I see," snapped Kano. "She stands among rocks and weeds, and looks marvellously like——" He broke off, thinking it better not to mention his daughter's name. "But I repeat, no dragon-thought is here."
Tatsu reached out, took the picture, and tore it into shreds. Then he rose to his feet. "Good-by," he said. "I shall now make a quick returning. You are of the blind among men. My painting was the Dragon Maid, standing on the peaks of earth. All my life I have sought her. The people of my village think me mad because of her. By reason that I cannot find, I paint. Good-by!"
"Good-by!" echoed the other. "What do you mean? What are you saying?" The face of a horrible possibility jeered at him. His heart pounded the lean ribs and stood still. Tatsu was upon his feet. In an instant more he would be gone forever.
"Tatsu, wait!" almost screamed the old man. "Surely you cannot mean to return when you have but now arrived! Be seated. I insist! There is much to talk about."
"I have nothing to talk about. When a thing is to be done, then it is best to do it quickly. Good-by!" He wheeled toward the deepening night, the torn and soiled blue robe clinging to him as to the figure of a primeval god.
"Tatsu! Tatsu!" cried the other in an agony of fear. "Stop! I command!"
Tatsu turned, scowling. Then he laughed.
"No, no, I did not mean the word 'command.' I entreat you, Tatsu, because you are young and I am old; because I need you. Dear youth, you must be hungered and very weary. Remain at least until our meal is served."
"I desire no food of yours," said Tatsu. "Why did you summon me when you had nothing to reveal? You are no artist! And I pine, already, for the mountains!"
"Then, Tatsu, if I am no artist, stay and teach me how to paint. Yes, yes, you shall honorably teach me. I shall receive reproof thankfully. I need you, Tatsu. I have no son. Stay and be my son."
The short, scornful laugh came again. "Your son! What could you do with a son like me? You love to dwell in square cages, and wear smooth shiny clothes. You eat tasteless foods and sleep like a cocoon that is rolled. My life is upon the mountains; my food the wild grapes and the berries that grow upon them. The pheasants and the mountain lions are my friends. I stifle in these lowlands. I cannot stay. I must breathe the mountains, and there among the peaks some day—some day—I shall touch her sleeve, the sleeve of the Dragon Maiden whom I seek. Let me go, old man! I have no business in this place!"
In extremes of desperation one clutches at the semblance of a straw. A last, wild hope had flashed to Kano's mind. "Come nearer, Tatsu San," he whispered, forcing his face into the distortion of a smile. "Lean nearer. The real motive of my summons has not been spoken."
Compelled by the strange look and manner of his host, Tatsu retraced a few steps. The old voice wheedled through the dusk. "In this very house, under my mortal control, the Dragon Maiden whom you seek is hidden."
Tatsu staggered back, then threw himself to the floor, searching the speaker's face for truth. "Could you lie to me of such a thing as this?" he asked.
"No, Tatsu, by the spirits of my ancestors, I have such a maiden here. Soon I shall show you. Only you must be patient and very quiet, that she may manifest herself."
"I shall be quiet, Kano Indara."
Kano, shivering now with excitement and relief, clapped hands loudly and called on Mata's name. The old dame entered, skirting warily the vicinity of the "madman."
"Mata, fix your eyes on me only while I am speaking," began her master. "Say to the Dragon Maid whom we keep in the chamber by the great plum tree that I, Kano Indara, command her to appear. The costume must be worn; and let her enter, singing. These are my instructions. Assist the maiden to obey them. Go!"
His piercing look froze the questions on her tongue. "And Mata," he called again, stopping her at the threshold, "bring at once some heated sake,—the best,—and follow it closely with the evening meal."
"Kashikomarimashita," murmured the servant, dutifully. But within the safety of her kitchen she exploded into execrations, muttering prophecies of evil, with lamentations that a Mad Thing from the mountains had broken into the serenity of their lives.
Tatsu, who had listened eagerly to the commands, now flung back his head and drew a long breath. "My life being spent among wild creatures," he murmured as if to himself, "little skill have I in judging the ways of men. How shall I believe that in this desert of houses a true Dragon Maiden can be found?" Again he turned flashing eyes upon his host. "I mistrust you, Kano Indara! Your thin face peers like a fox from its hole. If you deceive me,—yet must I remain,—for should she come——"
"You shall soon perceive for yourself, dear Dragon Youth."
Mata entered with hot sake. "Go! We shall serve ourselves," said Kano, much to her relief.
"I seldom drink," observed Tatsu, as the old man filled his cup. "Once it made of me a fool. But I will take a little now, for I am very weary with the long day."
"Indeed, it must be so; but good wine refreshes the body and the mind alike," replied the other. It was hard to pour the sake with such shaking hands, harder still to keep his eyes from the beautiful sullen face so near him, and yet he forced the wrinkled eyelids to conceal his dawning joy. In Tatsu's strange submission, the artist felt that the new glory of the Kano name was being born.
For a long interval the two men sat in silence. Kano leaned forward from time to time, filling the small cup which Tatsu—half in revery it seemed—had once more drained. The old servant now and again crept in on soundless feet to replace with a freshly heated bottle of sake the one grown cold. So still was the place that the caged cricket hanging from the eaves of Ume's distant room beat time like an elfin metronome.
Two of the four walls of the guest-room were of shoji, a lattice covered with translucent rice-paper. These opened directly upon the garden. The third wall, a solid one of smoke-blue plaster, held the niche called "tokonoma," where pictures are hung and flower vases set. The remaining wall, opening toward the suite of chambers, was fashioned of four great sliding doors called fusuma, dull silver of background, with paintings of shadowy mountain landscape done centuries before by one of the greatest of the Kanos. It was in front of these doors that Mata now placed two lighted candles in tall bronze holders.
Outside, the garden became a blur of soft darkness. Within, the flickering yellow light of the candles danced through the room, touching now the old face, now the young, each set hard in its own lines of concentrated thought. Weird shadows played about the mountains on the silver doors, and hid in far corners of the matted floor.
All at once the two central fusuma were apart. No slightest sound had been made, yet there, in the narrow rectangle, stood a figure,—surely not of earth,—a slim form in misty gray robes, wearing a crown of intertwisted dragons, with long filigree chains that fell straight to the shoulders. In one hand was held an opened fan of silver.
Tatsu gave a convulsive start, then checked himself. He could not believe the vision real. Not even in his despairing dreams had the Dragon Maid appeared so exquisite. As he gazed, one white-clad foot slid a few inches toward him on the shining floor. Another step, and she was in the room. The fusuma behind her closed as noiselessly as they had opened. Tatsu shivered a little, and stared on. With equal intensity the old man watched the face of Tatsu.
The figure had begun to sway, slightly, at full length, like long bands of perpendicular rain across the face of a mountain. A singing voice began, rich, passionate, and low, matching with varying intonation the marvellous postures of fan and throat and body. At first low in sound, almost husky, it flowered to a note long held and gradually deepening in power. It gathered up shadows from the heart and turned them into light.
Ume-ko danced (or so she would have told you) only to fulfil her father's command; yet, before she had reached the room, she knew that it would be such a dance as neither she nor the old artist had dreamed of. That first glimpse of Tatsu's face at the gate had registered for her a notch upon the Revolving Wheel of Life. His first spoken word had aroused in her strange mystic memories from stranger hiding places. Karma entered with her into the little guest-room where she was to dance and charged the very air with revelation. The words of the old classic poem she had in her ignorance believed familiar, she knew that she was now for the first time really to sing.
"Not for one life but for the blossoming of a thousand lives, shall I seek my lover, shall I regain his love," she sang. No longer was it Ume-ko at all, but in actual truth the Dragon Maid, held from her lover by a jealous god, seeking him through fire and storm and sea, peering for him into the courts of emperors, the shrines of the astonished gods, the very portals of the under-world.
And Tatsu listened without sound or motion; only his eyes burned like beacons in a windless night. Kano wriggled himself backward on the matting that the triumph of his face might not be seen. Now and again he leaned forward stealthily and filled Tatsu's cup.
The unaccustomed fluid was already pouring in a fiery torrent through the boy's vivid brain. His hands, slipped within the tattered blue sleeves, grasped tightly each the elbow of the other arm. His ecstacy was a drug, enveloping his senses; again it was a fire that threatened the very altar of his soul. Through it all he, as Ume-ko, realized fulfilment. Here in this desert of men's huts he had gained what all the towering mountains had not been able to bestow. Here was his bride, made manifest, his mate, the Dragon Maid, found at last through centuries of barren searching! Surely, if he should spring now to his feet, catch her to him and call upon his mountain gods for aid, they would be hurled together to some paradise of love where only he and she and love would be alive! He trembled and caught in his breath with a sob. Kano glided a few feet nearer, and struck the matting sharply with his hand.
Suddenly the dance was over. Ume-ko, quivering now in every limb, sank to the floor. She bowed first to the guest of honor, then to her father. Touching her wet eyes with a silken sleeve she moved backward to the rear of the room where she seated herself upright, motionless as the wall itself, between the two tall candles. Tatsu's eyes never left her face. Old Kano, in the background, rocked to and fro, and, after a short pause of waiting, clapped his hands for Mata.
"Hai-ie-ie-ie-ie!" came the thin voice, long drawn out, from the kitchen. She entered with a tray of steaming food, placing it before Tatsu. A second tray was brought for the master, and a fresh bottle of wine. Ume-ko sat motionless against the silver fusuma, an ivory image, crowned and robed in shimmering gray.
The odor of good food attracted Tatsu's senses if not his eyes. He ate greedily, hastily, not seeing what he ate. His manners were those of an untutored mountain peasant.
"Dragon Maid," purred Kano, "weariness has come upon you. Retire, I pray, and deign to rest."
"No!" said Tatsu, loudly. "She shall not leave this room."
"My concern is for the august maiden who has found favor in your sight," replied Kano, with a deprecating gesture. "Here, Tatsu, let me fill your cup."
Tatsu threw his cup face down to the floor, and put his lean, brown hand upon it. "I drink no more until my cup of troth with the maiden yonder."
Ume-ko's startled eyes flew to his. She trembled, and the blood slowly ebbed from her face, leaving it pale and luminous with a sort of wonder.
"Go!" said Kano again, and, in a daze, the girl rose and vanished from the room.
Tatsu had hurled himself toward her, but it was too late. He turned angrily to his host. "She is mine! Why did you send her away?"
"Gently, gently," cooed the other. "In this incarnation she is called my daughter."
"I believe it not!" cried Tatsu. "How came she under bondage to you? Have I not sought her through a thousand lives? She is mine!"
"Even so, in this life I am her father, and it is my command that she will obey."
Tatsu rocked and writhed in his place.
"She is a good daughter," pursued the other, amiably. "She has never yet failed in docility and respect. Without my consent you shall not touch her,—not even her sleeve."
"I have sought her through a thousand lives. I will slay him who tries to keep her from me!" raved the boy.
"To kill her father would scarcely be a fortunate beginning," said Kano, tranquilly. "Your hope lies in safer paths, dear youth. There are certain social conventions attached even to a Dragon Maid. Now if you will calm yourself and listen to reason——"
Tatsu sprang to his feet and struck himself violently upon the brow. The hot wine was making a whirlpool of his brain. "Reason! convention! safety! I hate them all! Oh, you little men of cities! Farmyard fowls and swine, running always to one sty, following always one lead,—doing things in the one way that other base creatures have marked out——"
Kano laughed aloud. His whole life had been a protest against conventionality, and this impassioned denunciation came from a new world. The sound maddened Tatsu. He leaped to the veranda, now a mere ledge thrust out over darkness, threw an arm about the slender corner-post, and strained far out, gasping, into the night. Kano filled his pipe with leisurely deliberation. The time was past for fear.
In a few moments the boy returned, his face ugly, black, and sullen. "I will be your son if you give me the maiden," he muttered.
"Come now, this is much better," said Kano, with a genial smile. "We shall discuss the matter like rational men."
Tatsu ground his teeth so that the other heard him.
"Have a pipe," said Kano.
"I want no pipe."
"At least make yourself at ease upon the cushion while I speak."
"I am more at ease without it," said the boy, flinging the velvet square angrily across the room. "Ugh! It is like sitting on a dead cat. Kindly speak without further care for me. I am at ease!"
Kano glanced at the burning eyes, the quivering face and twitching muscles with a smile. The intensity of ardor touched him. He drew a short sigh, the look of complacency left his for an instant, and he began, deliberately, "As you may have gathered from my letter, I am without a son."
Tatsu nodded shortly.
"Worse than this, among all my disciples here in Yeddo there has appeared none worthy to inherit the name and traditions of my race. Now, dear youth, when I first saw these paintings of yours, the hope stirred in me that you might be that one."
"Do you mean that I should paint things as paltry as your own?"
"No, not exactly, though even from my poor work you might gain some valuable lessons of technique."
"I know not that word," said Tatsu. "When I must paint, I paint. What has all this to do with the Dragon Maiden?"
"Softly, softly; we are coming to that now," said Kano. "If, after trial, I should find you really worthy of adoption, nothing could be more appropriate than for you to become the husband of my daughter."
Tatsu dug his nails into the matting of the floor. "Suitable—appropriate—husband!" he groaned aloud. "Farmyard cackle,—all of it. Oh, to be joined in the manner of such earthlings to a Dragon Maid like this! Old man, cannot even you feel the horror of it? No, your eyes blink like a pig that has eaten. You cannot see. She should be made mine among storm and wind and mist on some high mountain peak, where the gods would lean to us, and great straining forests roar out our marriage hymn!"
"There is indeed something about it that appeals to me. It would make a fine subject for a painting."
"Oh, oh," gasped Tatsu, and clutched at his throat. "When will you give her to me, Kano Indara? Shall it be to-night?"
"To-night? Are you raving!" cried the astonished Kano. "It would be at the very least a month."
Tatsu rose and staggered to the veranda. "A month!" he whispered to the stars. "Shall I live at all? Good-night, old man of clay," he called suddenly, and with a light step was down upon the garden path.
Kano hurried to him. "Stop, stop, young sir," he called half clicked, now, with laughter. "Do not go in this rude way. You are my guest. The women are even now preparing your bed."
"I lie not on beds," jeered Tatsu through the darkness. "Vile things they are, like the ooze that smears the bottom of a lake. I climb this hillside for my couch. To-morrow, with the sun, I shall return!"
The voice, trailing away through silence and the night, had a tone of supernatural sweetness. When it had quite faded Kano stared on, for a long time, into the fragrant solitude. Stars were out now by thousands, a gold mosaic set into a high purple dome. Off to the south a wide blur of artificial light hung above the city, the visible expression, as it were, of the low, human roar of life, audible even in this sheltered nook. To the north, almost it seemed within touch of his hands, the temple cliff rose black, formidable, and impressive, a gigantic wall of silence. The camphor tree overhead was thrown out darkly against the stars, like its own shadow. The velvety boom of the temple bell, striking nine, held in its echoes the color and the softness of the hour.
Kano, turning at last from the veranda, slowly re-entered the guest-room, and seated himself upon one of the cushions that had aroused Tatsu's scorn. A dead cat,—forsooth! Well to old bones a dead cat might be better than no cushion! Mata had come in very softly. "I prayed the gods for him," Kano was muttering aloud, "and I thank them that he is here. To-morrow I shall make offering at the temple. Yet I have thanks, too, that there is but one of him. Ah, Mata,—you? My hot bath, is it ready? And, friend Mata, do you recall a soothing draught you once prepared for me at a time of great mental strain,—there was, I think, something I wished to do with a picture, and the picture would not allow it. I should like a draught like that to-night."
"Kashikomarimashita. I recall it," said old Mata, grimly, "and I shall make it strong, for you have something worse than pictures to deal with now."
"Thanks. I was sure you would remember," smiled the old man, and Mata, disarmed of her cynicism, could say no more.
Ume remained in her chamber. She had not been seen since the dance. All her fusuma and shoji were closed. Mata, in leaving her master, looked tentatively toward this room, but after an imperceptible pause kept on down the central passageway of the house to the bathroom, at the far end. The place smelled of steam, of charcoal fumes, and cedar wood. With two long, thin iron "fire-sticks," Mata poked, from the top, the heap of darkening coals in the cylindrical furnace that was built into one end of the tub. For the protection of the bather this was surrounded with a wooden lattice which, being always wet when the furnace was in use, never charred. The tub itself was of sugi-wood. After years of service it still gave out unfailingly its aromatic breath, and felt soft to the touch, like young leaves. Sighing heavily, the old servant bared her arm and leaned over to stir the water, to draw down by long, elliptical swirls of motion the heated upper layers into cold strata at the bottom. She then wiped her arm on her apron and went to the threshold of the guest-room to inform the waiting occupant. "In ten minutes more, without fail, the water will be at right heat for your augustness."
Now, in the kitchen, a great searching among jars and boxes on high shelves told of preparation for the occasional brew. Again she thought of calling Ume. Ume could reach the highest shelf without standing on an inverted rice-pot, or the even more precarious fish-cleaning bench. And again, for a reason not quite plain to herself, Mata decided not to call. She threw a fresh handful of twigs and dried ferns to the sleeping ashes of the brazier, set a copper skillet deep into the answering flame, and began dropping dried bits of herbs into the simmering water. Instantly the air was changed,—was tinged and interpenetrated with hurrying, spicy fumes, with hints of a bitter bark, of jellied gums, of resin, and a compelling odor which should have been sweet, but was only nauseating. The steam assumed new colors as it rose. Each sprite of aromatic perfume when released plunged into noiseless tumult with opposing fumes. The kitchen was a crucible, and the old dame a mediaeval alchemist. The flames and smoke striving upward, as if to reach her bending face, made it glow with the hue of the copper kettle, a wrinkled copper, etched deep with lines of life, of merriment, perplexity, of shrewd and practical experience.
As she stirred, testing by nose and eye the rapid completion of her work, she was determining to put aside for her own use a goodly share of the beneficent fluid. The coming of the wild man had unnerved her terribly. In the threatening family change she could perceive nothing but menace. Apprehension even now weighed down upon her, a foreshadowing of evil that had, somehow, a present hostage in the deep silence of Ume's room. Of what was her nursling thinking? How had it seemed to her, so guarded, and so delicately reared, this being summoned like a hired geisha to dance before a stranger,—a ragged, unkempt, hungry stranger! Even her father's well-known madness for things of art could scarcely atone to his child for this indignity.
Kano had gone promptly to his bath. He was now emerging. His bare feet grazed the wooden corridor. Mata ran to him. "Good! Ah, that was good!" he said heartily. "Five years of aches have I left in the tub!" Within his chamber the andon was already lighted, and the long, silken bed-cushions spread. Mata assisted him to slip down carefully between the mattress and the thin coverlid. She patted and arranged him as she would a child, and then went to fetch the draught. "Mata, thou art a treasure," he said, as she knelt beside him, the bowl outstretched. He drained the last drop, and the old friends exchanged smiles of answering satisfaction. Before leaving him she trimmed and lowered the andon so that its yellow light would be a mere glimmer in the darkness.
She moved now deliberately to Ume's fusuma, tapping lightly on the lacquered frame. "Miss Ume! O Jo San!" she called. Nothing answered.
Mata parted the fusuma an inch. The Japanese matted floor, even in darkness, gives out a sort of ghostly, phosphorescent glow. Thus, in the unlit space Mata could perceive that the girl lay at full length, her Dragon Robe changed to an ordinary house dress, her long hair unbound, her face turned downward and hidden on an outstretched arm. It was not a pose of grief, neither did it hint of slumber.
"Honorable Young Lady of the House," said Mata, now more severely, "I came to announce your bath. The august father having already entered and withdrawn, it is your turn."
This time Ume answered her, not, however, changing her position. "I do not care to take the bath to-night. You enter, I pray, without further waiting. I—I—should like to be left alone, nurse. I myself will unroll the bed and light the andon."
Mata leaned nearer. Her voice was a theatrical whisper. "Is it that you are outraged, my Ume-ko, at your father's strange demand upon you? I was myself angered. He would scarcely have done so much for a Prince of the Blood,—and to make you appear before so crude and ignorant a thing as that—"
Ume sat upright. "No, I am angered at nothing. I only wish to be alone. Ah, nurse, you have always spoiled me,—give me my way."
Mata went off grumbling. She wished that Ume had shown a more natural indignation. The hot bath, however, notwithstanding Kano's five lost years of pain presumably in solution, brought her ease of body, as did the soothing potion, ease of mind.
All night long the old folks heavily slept; and all night long little Ume-ko drifted in a soft, slow rising flood of consciousness that was neither sleep nor waking, though wrought of the intertwining strands of each. Again she saw the dark face in the gateway. It was a mere picture in a frame, set for an artist's joy. Then it seemed a summons, calling her to unfamiliar paths,—a prophecy, a clew. Again she heard his voice,—an echo made of all these things, and more. She tried to force herself to think of him merely as an artist would think; how the lines of the shoulders and the throat flowed upward, like dark flame, to the altar of his face. How the hair grew in flame upon his brow, how the dark eyes, fearless and innocent with the look of primeval youth, indeed, held a strange human pain of searching. The mere remembered pictures of him rose and fell with her as sea-flowers, or long river grass; but when there came remembered shiver of his words, "I drink no more until my cup of troth with the maiden yonder!" then all drifting ceased; illusion was at an end. With a gasp she felt herself falling straight down through a swirling vortex of sensation, to the very sand-bed of the stream. Now she was sitting upright (the sand-bed had suddenly become the floor of her little room), her hands pressing a heart that was trying to escape, her young eyes straining through the darkness to see,—ah!—she could see nothing at all for the shining!
She listened now with bated breath, thinking that by some unconscious cry she might have aroused the others. No, Kano breathed on softly, regularly, in the next room; while from the kitchen wing came unfaltering the beat of Mata's nasal metronome.
In one such startled interval of waking her caged cricket had given out its plaintive cry. All at once it seemed to Ume-ko an unbearable thing for any spark of life to be so prisoned. She longed to set him free, but even though she opened wide her shoji, the outer night-doors, the amado stretched, a relentless opaque wall, along the four sides of the house.
She lay quiet now for a long time. "I will return with the sun," he had said. She wished that the cricket were indeed outside, and could tell her of the first dawn-stirring. It was very close and dark in the little room. She had not lighted the andon after all. It could not be so dark outside. With very cautious fingers she began now to separate the shoji that opened on the garden side. A breath of exquisite night air rushed in to her from the lattices above the amado. It would be a difficult matter to push even one of these aside without waking the house. Yet, there were two things in her favor; the unusually heavy sleep of her companions and the fact that the amado had a starting point in their long grooves from a shallow closet very near her room. So instead of having to remove the whole chain, each clasping by a metal hand, its neighbor, she had but to unbar the initial panel, coax it noiselessly apart just far enough to emit a not too bulky form, and then the night would be hers.
There had been in the girl's life so little need of cunning or of strategy that her innocent adventure now brought a disturbing sense of crime. She had unlatched the first amado in safety, and had her white arms braced to push it to one side, when, suddenly she thought, "I am acting like a thief! Perhaps I am feeling like a thief! This is a terrible thing and must displease the gods." Her hands dropped limply, she must not continue with this deed. Somewhere near her feet the cricket gave out an importunate chirp. She stooped to him, feeling about for the little residence with tender, groping hands. She must give him freedom, though she dared not take it for herself. Yet it would be sweet to breathe the world for its own sake once more before he—and the sun—returned.
The amado went back as if of itself. In an instant Ume's face was among the dew-wet leaves of the plum tree. Oh, it was sweet! The night smelled of silence and the stars. She threw back her head to drink it like a liquid. She lifted the insect in its cage. By holding it high, against a star of special brightness, she could see the tiny bit of life gazing at her through its bars. She opened the door of the cage, and set it among the twigs of the plum. Then barefooted, ungirdled, with hair unbound, she stepped down upon the stone beneath the tree, and then to the garden path.
The pebbles of the garden were slippery and cold under the feet that pressed them. Also they hurt a little. Ume longed to return for her straw sandals, but this freedom of the night was already far too precious for jeopardy. She caught her robe about her throat and was glad of the silken shawl of her long hair. How thickly shone the stars! It must be close upon the hour of their waning, yet how big and soft; and how companionable! She stretched her arms up to them, moving as if they drew her down the path. They were more real, indeed, than the dim and preternatural space in which she walked.
She looked slowly about upon that which should have been commonplace and found the outlines alone to be unaltered. There were the hillock, the house, the thick hedge-lines square at the corners with black bars hard as wood against the purple night; there were the winding paths and little courts of open gravel. She could have put her hand out, saying, "Here, on this point, should be the tall stone lantern; here, in this sheltered curve, a fern." Both lantern and fern would have been in place; and yet, despite these evidences of the usual, all that once made the sunlit garden space an individual spot, was, in this dim, ghostly air, transformed. The spirit of the whole had taken on weird meaning. It was as if Mata's face looked suddenly upon her with the old abbot's eyes. Fantastic possibilities crouched, ready to spring from every shadow. The low shrubs held themselves in attitudes of flight. This was a world in which she had no part. She knew herself a paradox, the violator of a mood; but the enchantment held her.
She had reached now the edge of the pond. It was a surface of polished lacquer, darker than the night, and powdered thick with the gold of reflected stars. Leaning over, she marvelled at the silhouette of her own slim figure. It did not seem to have an actual place among these frail phantasmagoria. As she stared on she noticed that the end of the pond farthest from her, to the west, quivered and turned gray. She looked quickly upward and around. Yes, there to the east was the answering blur of light. Dawn had begun.
She ran now to the top of the moon-viewing hill. The earth was wider here; the dawn more at home. Below her where the city used to be was no city, only a white fog-sea, without an island. The cliff, black at the base, rising gradually into thinner gray, drove through the air like the edge of a coming world. A chill breeze swept out from the hollow, breathing of waking grasses and of dew. The girl shivered, but it was with ecstacy. "I climb this hillside for my couch, to-night!" Was he too waking, watching, feeling himself intruder upon a soundless ritual? There was a hissing noise as of a fawn hurrying down a tangled slope. The hedge near the cliff end of the garden dipped and squeaked and shook indignant plumes after a figure that had desecrated its green guardianship, and was now striding ruthlessly across the enclosure.
Ume heard and saw; then wrung her hands in terror. It was he, of course,—the Dragon Painter; and he would speak with her. What could she do? Family honor must be maintained, and so she could not cry for help. Why had her heart tormented her to go into the night? Why had she not thought of this possibility? Because of it, life, happiness, everything might be wrecked, even before they had dared to think of happiness by name!
Tatsu had reached her. Leaning close he set his eyes to her face as one who drinks deep and silently.
"I must not remain. Oh, sir, let me pass!" she whispered.
He did not speak or try to touch her. A second gust of wind came from the cliff, blowing against his hand a long tress of her hair. It was warm and perfumed, and had the clinging tenderness of youth. He shivered now, as she was doing, and stood looking down at his hand. Ume made a swift motion as if to pass him; but he threw out the barrier of an arm.
"I have been calling you all the night. Now, at last, you have come. Why did you never answer me upon the mountains?"
"Indeed, I could not. I was not permitted. As you must see for yourself, lord, in this incarnation I am but a mortal maiden."
"I do not see it for myself," said Tatsu, with a low, triumphant laugh. "I see something different!" Suddenly he reached forward, caught the long ends of her hair and held them out to left and right, the full width of his arms. They stood for a moment in intense silence, gazing each into the face of the other. The rim of the dawn behind them cut, with its flat, gold disc, straight down to the heart of the world. "You a mortal!" said the boy again, exultantly. "Why, even now, your face is the white breast of a great sea-bird, your hair, its shining wings, and your soul a message that the gods have sent to me! Oh, I know you for what you are,—my Dragon Maid, my bride! Have I not sought you all these years, tracing your face on rocks and sand-beds of my hills, hanging my prayers to every blossoming tree? Come, you are mine at last; here is your master! We will escape together while the stupid old ones sleep! Come, soul of my soul, to our mountains!"
He would have seized her, but a quick, passionate gesture of repulsion kept him back. "I am the child of Kano Indara," she said. "He, too, has power of the gods, and I obey him. Oh, sir, believe that you, as I, are subject to his will, for if you set yourself against him—"
"Kano Indara concerns me not at all," cried Tatsu, half angrily. "It is with you,—with you alone, I speak!"
Ume poised at the very tip of the hill. "Look, sir,—the plum tree," she whispered, pointing. So sudden was the change in voice and manner that the other tripped and was caught by it. "That longest, leafy branch touches the very wall of my room," she went on, creeping always a little down the hill. "If you again will write such things to me, trusting your missive to that branch, I shall receive it, and—will answer. Oh, it is a bold, unheard-of thing for a girl to do, but I shall answer."
"I should like better that you meet me here each morning at this hour," said Tatsu.
The girl looked about her swiftly, gave a little cry, and clasped her hands together. "See, lord, the day comes fast. Mata, my old nurse, may already be astir. I saw a flock of sparrows fly down suddenly to the kitchen door. And there, above us, on the great camphor tree, the sun has smitten with a fist of gold!"
Tatsu gazed up, and when his eyes returned to earth he found himself companionless. He threw himself down, a miserable heap, clasping his knees upon the hill. No longer was the rosy dawn for him. He found no timid beauty in the encroaching day. His sullen look fastened itself upon the amado beneath the plum tree. The panels were now tightly closed. The house itself, soundless and gray in the fast brightening space, mocked him with impassivity.
A little later, when the neighborhood reverberated to the slamming of amado and the sharp rattle of paper dusters against taut shoji panes; when fragrant faggot smoke went up from every cottage, and the street cries of itinerant venders signalled domestic buying for the day, Mata discovered the wild man in the garden, and roused her sleeping master with the news. She went, too, to Ume's room, and was reassured to see the girl apparently in slumber within a neat bed, the andon burning temperately in its corner, and the whole place eloquent of innocence and peace, Kano shivered himself into his day clothes (the process was not long), and hurried out to meet his guest.
"O Haiyo gozaimasu!" he called. "You have found a good spot from which to view the dawn."
"Good morning!" said Tatsu, looking about as if to escape.
"Come, enter my humble house with me, young sir. Breakfast will soon be served."
Tatsu rose instantly, though the gesture was far from giving an effect of acquiescence. He shook his cramped limbs with as little ceremony as if Kano were a shrub, and then turned, with the evident intention of flight. Suddenly the instinct of hunger claimed him. Breakfast! That had a pleasant sound. And where else was he to go for food! He wheeled around to his waiting host. "I thank you. I will enter!" he said, and attempted an archaic bow.
Mata brought in to them, immediately, hot tea and a small dish of pickled plums. Kano drew a sigh of relief as he saw Tatsu take up a plum, and then accept, from the servant's hands, a cup of steaming tea. These things promised well for future docility.
It could not be said that the meal was convivial. Ume-ko had received orders from her father not to appear. Tatsu's eyes, even as he ate, roamed ever along the corridors of the house, out to the garden, and pried at the closed edges of the fusuma. This restlessness brought to the host new apprehension. Such tension could not last. Tatsu must be enticed from the house.
After some hesitation and a spasmodic clearing of the throat, the old man asked, "Will you accompany me, young sir, upon a short walk to the city?"
"Why should I go to the city?"
"Ah—er—domo! it is, as you know, the centre of the universe, and has many wonderful sights,—great temples, theatres, wide shops for selling clothes—"
"I care nothing for these things."
"There are gardens, too; and a broad, shining river. Shall we not go to the autumn flowering garden of the Hundred Corners?"
"To such a place as that I would go alone,—or with her," said the boy, his disconcerting gaze fixed on the other's face. "When is the Dragon Maiden to appear?"
Kano looked down upon the matting. He cleared his throat again, drained a fresh cup of tea, and answered slowly, "Since she and I are of the city,—not the mountains,—and must abide in some degree by the city's social laws, you will not see her any more at all, unless it be arranged that you become her husband."
"And then,—if I become what you say,—how soon?" the other panted.
"I shall need to speak with the women of my house concerning this," said Kano in a troubled voice. He too, though Tatsu must not dream it, chafed at convention. He longed to set the marriage for next week,—next day, indeed,—and have the waiting over. Kano hated, of all things, to wait. Something might befall this untrained citizen at any hour,—then where would the future of the Kano name be found?
He had scarcely noted how the boy crouched and quivered in his place, as an animal about to spring. This indecision was a goad, a barb. Yet he was helpless! The memory of Ume's whispered words came back: "He, too, has power of the gods. . . . Believe, sir, that you, as I, are subject to his will." How could it be permitted of the gods that two beings like themselves,—fledged of divinity, touched with ethereal fire,—were under bondage to this wrinkled fox!
Tatsu flung himself sidewise upon the floor, and made as if to rise; then, in a dull reaction, settled back into his place. "You say she is not to come before me in this house to-day?"
"No, nor on other days, until your marriage."
"Then I go forth into the city,—alone," said the boy. He rose, but Kano stopped him.
"Wait! I shall accompany you, if but a little way. You do not know the roads. You will be lost!"
"I could return to this place from the under-rim of the world," said Tatsu. "Bound, crippled, blindfold,—I should come straight to it."
"Maybe, maybe," said Kano, "nevertheless I will go."
Tatsu would have defied him, outright, but Ume's words remained with him. Nothing mattered, after all, if he was some day to gain her. He must be patient, put a curb upon his moods! This was a fearful task for one like him, but he would strive for self-control just as one throws down a tree to bridge a torrent. After the Dragon Maid was won,—well then,—this halting insect man need not trouble them. They left the house together, Tatsu in scowling silence at the unwelcomed comradeship, Kano hard put to it to match his steps with the boy's long, swinging mountain stride.
"What am I to do with this wild falcon for a month?" thought Kano, half in despair, yet smiling, also, at the humor. "He must be clothed,—but how? I would sooner sheathe a mountain cat in silks! The one hope of existence during this interval is to get him engrossed in painting; but where is he to paint? I dare not keep him in the house with Ume, nor with old Mata, neither, for she might poison him. If only Ando Uchida had not gone away, leaving no address!"
Meantime, in the Kano home, Mata and Ume moved about in different planes of consciousness. The elder was still irritated by the morning's event. She considered it a personal indignity, a family outrage, that her master should walk the streets of Yeddo with a vagabond possessing neither hat nor shoes, and only half a kimono.
Each tended, as usual, her allotted household tasks. There was no change in the outer performance of the hours, but Mata remained alert, disturbed, and the girl tranquilly oblivious. The old face searching with keen eyes the young noted with troubled frown the frequent smile, the intervals of listless dreaming, the sudden starts, as by the prick of memory still new, and dipped in honey. There seemed to be in Ume-ko a gentle yearning for a human presence, though, to speak truly, Mata could not be certain that she was either heard or seen for fully one half of the time. The hour had almost reached the shadowless one of noon. Ume-ko's work was done. She had taken up her painting, only to put it listlessly to one side. The pretty embroidery frame met the same indignity. She sat now on the kitchen ledge, while Mata made the fire and washed the rice, toying idly with a white pebble chosen for its beauty from thousands on the garden path. Something in the childlike attitude, the placid, irresponsible face, brought the old servant's impatience to a climax. She deliberately hurled a dart.
"I suppose you know, Miss Ume, that your father may actually adopt this goblin from Kiu Shiu!"
"Ah, do you mean Sir Tatsu? Yes, I know. He, my father, has always longed to have a son."
"A son is desirable when the price is not too great," said the old dame, nodding sagely. "You are old enough to realize also, Miss Kano Ume-ko, what is the meaning of adoption into a family where there is a daughter of marriageable age."
Ume's face drooped over until the pebble caught a rosy glow. The old servant chuckled. "Eh, young mistress, you know what I mean? You are thinking of it?"
"I am trying very hard not to think of it," said Ume.
"Ma-a-a! And I have little wonder for that fact! Your father will sacrifice you without a tear,—he cares but for pictures. And Mata is helpless,—Mata cannot help her babe! Ara! It is a world of dust!"
"How old was my mother when she came here, Mata?"
"Just eighteen. Younger than you are now, my treasure."
"She was both beautiful and happy, you have said."
"Yes, both, both! Ah, how time speeds for the old. It seems but a short year or more that we two entered here together, she and I. From childhood I had nursed her. I thought your father old for her, in spite of his young heart and increasing fame. But he loved her truly, and has mourned for her. Even now he prays thrice daily before her ihai on the shrine. And she loved him,—almost too deeply for a woman of her class. She loved him, and was happy!"
"Only one year!" sighed Ume. "But it must be a great thing to be happy even for one year. Some people are not happy ever at all."
"One must not think of personal happiness,—it is wicked. Does not even your old mumbling abbot on the hill tell you so much? And now, of all times, do not start the dreaming. You will be sacrificed to art," said Mata, gloomily.
"Do I look like my mother, Mata San?"
The old dame wiped her eyes on her sleeve that she might see more clearly. Something in the girl's pure, upraised face caught at her heart, and the tears came afresh. "Wait," she whispered; "stay where you are, and you shall see your mother's face." She went into her tiny chamber, and from her treasures brought out a metal mirror given her by the young wife, Uta-ko. "Look,—close," she said, placing it in Ume's hand. "That is the bride of nineteen years ago. Never have you looked so like her as at this hour!"
Kano came back alone,—tired, dusty, and discouraged. Tatsu had escaped him, he said, at the first glimpse of the Sumida River. There was no telling when he might return,—whether he would ever return. To attempt control of Tatsu was like caging a storm in bamboo bars. Mata's eyes narrowed at this recital. "Yet I fervently thank the gods for him," said the speaker, sharply, in defiance of her look.
Restored to comparative serenity, Kano, later in the afternoon, sent for his daughter, and condescended to unfold to her those plans in which she played a vital part.
"Ume-ko, my child, you have always been a good and obedient daughter. I shall expect no opposition from you now," he began, in the manner of a patriarch.
Ume bowed respectfully. "Thank you, dear father. What has arisen that you think I may wish to oppose?"
"I did not say that I expected you to oppose anything. I said, on the contrary, it was something I expected you not to oppose."
"I await respectfully the words which shall tell me what it is I am not to oppose," said Ume-ko, quite innocently, with another bow. Kano put on his horn-rimmed spectacles. There was something about his daughter not altogether reassuring. His prearranged sentences began to slip away, like sand.
"I will speak briefly. I wish you to become the wife of the Dragon Painter, that we may secure him to the race of Kano. He has no name of his own. He is the greatest painter since Sesshu!" The speaker waved his hands. All had been said.
In the deep, following silence each knew that old Mata's ear felt, like a hand, at the crevice of the shoji.
"Father, are you sure,—have you yet spoken to—to—him," Ume-ko faltered at last. "Would he augustly condescend?"
"Condescend!" echoed the old man with a laugh. "Why, he demanded it last night, even in the first hour of meeting. He was angered that I did not give you up at once. He says you are his already. Oh, he is strange and wild, this youth. There are no reins to hold him, but—he is a painter!"
A grunt of derision came from the kitchen wall. Ume sat motionless, but her face was growing very pale.
"Well," said her father with impatience, "do you agree? And what is the earliest possible date?"
"I must consult with Mata," whispered the girl.
"She listens at the crack. Consult her now," said Kano.
The old dame threw aside the shoji like an armor, and walked in. "Yes, ask me what I think! Ask the old servant who has nursed Miss Ume from her birth, managed the house, scrubbed, haggled, washed, and broken her old bones for you! This is my advice,—freely given,—make of the youth her jinrikisha man, but not her husband!"
"Impertinent old witch!" cried Kano. "You are asked for nothing but the earliest possible date for the marriage!"
"Do you give yourself so tamely to a dangerous wild creature from the hills?" Mata demanded of the girl.
"Yes, yes, she'll marry him," said Kano, before her words could come. "The date,—the earliest possible hour! Will two weeks be too soon?"
"Two weeks!" shrieked the old dame, and staggered backward. "Is it of the scavenger's daughter that you speak?"
"Four weeks, then,—a month. It cannot be more. I tell you, woman, for a longer time than this I cannot keep the youth at bay. Is a month decent in convention's eyes?"
Mata began to sob loudly in her upraised sleeve.
"I see that it is at least permissible," said Kano, grimly. "What a weak set of social idiots we are, after all. Tatsu is right to scorn us! Well, well, a month from this date, deep in the golden heart of autumn, will the wedding be."
"If the day be propitious and the stars in harmony," supplemented Mata. "She shall not be married in the teeth of evil fortune, if I have to murder the Dragon Painter with my fish-knife!"
"Oh, go; have the stars arranged to suit you. Here's money for it!" He fumbled in his belt for a purse of coin, threw it to the mats, and, over the old dame's stooping back, motioned Ume-ko permission to withdraw. The girl went swiftly, thankful for the release.
"A good child,—a daughter to thank the gods for," chuckled Kano, as she left.
Mata looked sharply about, then leaned to her master's ear. "You are blind; you are an earth-rat, Kano Indara. This is not the usual submission of a silly girl. Ume is thinking things we know nothing of. Did you not see that her face was as a bean-curd in its whiteness? She kept so still, only because she was shaking in all directions at once. There, look at her now! She is fleeing to the garden with the uncertain step of one drunk with deep foreboding!"
"Bah! you are an old raven croaking in a fog! Go back to your pots. I can manage my own child!"
"You have never yet managed her or yourself either," was the spoiled old servant's parting shaft.
Kano sat watching the slender, errant figure in the garden. Yes, she had taken it calmly,—more calmly than he could have hoped. How beautiful was the poise, even at this distance, of the delicate throat, and the head, with its wide crown of inky hair! Each motion of the slow-strolling form in its clinging robes was a separate loveliness.