The House of the Misty Star
The House of the Misty Star
A ROMANCE OF YOUTH AND HOPE AND LOVE IN OLD JAPAN
Frances Little (Fannie Caldwell Macaulay)
Author of "The Lady of the Decoration," etc.
New York The Century Co. 1915
Copyright, 1915, by THE CENTURY CO.
Copyright, 1914, 1915, by THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
Published, April, 1915
TO A FAITHFUL FRIEND NUI SHIOME OF TOKIO.
I ENTER JANE GRAY 3 II KISHIMOTO SAN CALLS 16 III ZURA 32 IV JANE GRAY BRINGS HOME A MAN 55 V A CALL AND AN INVITATION 70 VI ZURA WINGATE'S VISIT 85 VII AN INTERRUPTED DINNER 95 VIII MR. CHALMERS SEES THE GARDEN AND HEARS THE TRUTH 108 IX JANE HOPES; KISHIMOTO DESPAIRS 125 X ZURA GOES TO THE FESTIVAL 138 XI A BROKEN SHRINE 147 XII A DREAM COMES TRUE 158 XIII A THANKSGIVING DINNER 174 XIV WHAT THE SETTING SUN REVEALED 190 XV PINKEY CHALMERS CALLS AGAIN 203 XVI ENTER KOBU, THE DETECTIVE 218 XVII A VISIT TO THE KENCHO 235 XVIII A VISITOR FROM AMERICA 243 XIX "THE END OF THE PERFECT DAY" 260
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
She quickly walked across the burning coal Frontispiece
PAGE Through the sinister shadows of Flying Sparrow Street 13
Zura Wingate advanced to my lowly seat on the floor, and listlessly put out one hand to greet me 39
The bowing, bending, and indrawing of breath 75
Page started forward. A sound stopped him 113
"God in Heaven. How can I tell her!" 187
"Oh, God! A thief! It's over!" 245
Oh! boy, boy, I thought I'd lost you 263
The House of the Misty Star
The House of the Misty Star
ENTER JANE GRAY
It must have been the name that made me take that little house on the hilltop. It was mostly view, but the title—supplemented by the very low rent—suggested the first line of a beautiful poem.
Nobody knows who began the custom or when, but for unknown years a night-light had been kept burning in a battered old bronze lantern swung just over my front door. Through the early morning mists the low white building itself seemed made of dreams; but the tiny flame, slipping beyond the low curving eaves, shone far at sea and by its light the Japanese sailors, coming around the rocky Tongue of Dragons point in their old junks, steered for home and rest. To them it was a welcome beacon. They called the place "The House of the Misty Star."
In it for thirty years I have toiled and taught and dreamed. From it I have watched the ships of mighty nations pass—some on errands of peace; some to change the map of the world. Through its casements I have seen God's glory in the sunsets and the tenderness of His love in the dawns. The pink hills of the spring and the crimson of the autumn have come and gone, and through the carved portals that mark the entrance to my home have drifted the flotsam and jetsam of the world. They have come for shelter, for food, for curiosity and sometimes because they must, till I have earned my title clear as step-mother-in-law to half the waifs and strays of the Orient.
Once it was a Chinese general, seeking safety from a mob. Then it was a fierce-looking Russian suspected as a spy and, when searched, found to be a frightened girl, seeking her sweetheart among the prisoners of war. The high, the low, the meek, and the impertinent, lost babies, begging pilgrims and tailless cats—all sooner or later have found their way through my gates and out again, barely touching the outer edges of my home life. But things never really began to happen to me, I mean things that actually counted, until Jane Gray came. After that it looked as if they were never going to stop.
You see I'd lived about fifty-eight years of solid monotony, broken only by the novelty of coming to Japan as a school teacher thirty years before and, although my soul yearned for the chance to indulge in the frills of romance, opportunity to do so was about the only thing that failed to knock at my door. From the time I heard the name of Ursula Priscilla Jenkins and knew it belonged to me, I can recall but one beautiful memory of my childhood. It is the face of my mother in its frame of poke bonnet and pink roses, as she leaned over to kiss me good-by. I never saw her again, nor my father. Yellow fever laid heavy tribute upon our southern United States. I was the only one left in the big house on the plantation, and my old black nurse was the sole survivor in the servants' quarters. She took me to an orphan asylum in a straggly little southern town where everything from river banks to complexions was mud color.
Bareness and spareness were the rule, and when the tall, bony, woman manager stood near the yellow-brown partition, it took keen eyes to tell just where her face left off and the plaster began. She did not believe in education. But I was born with ideas of my own and a goodly share of ambition. I learned to read by secretly borrowing from the wharf master a newspaper or an occasional magazine which sometimes strayed off a river packet. Then I paid for a four years' course at a neighboring semi-college by working and by serving the other students. I did everything—from polishing their shoes to studying their lessons for them; it earned me many a penny and a varied knowledge of human nature. But nothing ever happened to me as it did to the other girls. I never had a holiday; I was never sick; I never went to a circus; and I never even had a proposal.
One night I went to church and heard a missionary from Japan speak. My goodness! how that man could say words! His appeal for workers to go to the Flowery Kingdom was as convincing as the hump on his nose, as irresistible as the fire in his eyes. The combination ended in my coming as a teacher to the eager Nipponese, who were all athirst for English. Japan I knew was a country all by itself, and not a slice off of China; that it raised rice, kimonos and heathen. Otherwise it was only a place on the map. Whatever the new country might hold, at least, I thought, it would open a door that would lead me far away from the drab world in which I lived.
My appointment led me to the little city of Hijiyama, overlooking the magical Inland Sea. It is swung in the cleft of a mountain like a clustered jewel tucked in the folds of a giant velvet robe. It is a place of crumbling castles and lotus-filled moats. Here progress hesitated before the defiant breath of the ancient gods. For centuries a city of content, whispers of greater things finally reached the listening ears of eager youth, fired ambition, demanded things foreign, especially the English language, and I came in on this great wave.
I found near contentment and sober joy in my work and my beautiful old garden. But deep down in my heart I was waiting, ever waiting, for something to happen—something big, stirring, and tremendous, something romantic and poetical; but it never did. Year after year I wore the groove of my life deeper, but never slipped out of it, and one day was so like another it was hard to believe that even a night separated them.
Then without the slightest warning the change came. One day in my mail I found a letter from a student which read as follows:
O! Most Respected Teacher.
How it was our great pleasure to write your noble personage. When I triumphed to my native home after speaking last lesson before your honorable face, my knowledge was informed by rumors of gossip that in most hateful place in city of Hijiyama was American lady. She wear name of Miss Jaygray. Who have affliction of kind heart and very bad health. Also she have white hair and no medicine. Street she live in have also Japanese gentlemans what kill and steal and even lie. Very bad for lady who have nice thought for gentlemans, and speak many words about Christians God. Now not one word can she speak. Her sicker too great. Your great country say "Unions is strong and we stand together till divided by falling out." Please union with lady countryman and also divide. She very tired. I think little hungry too.
Yours verily TAKATA.
(Some little more.) Go down House of Flying-Sparrow Street and discover Tube-Rose Lane. There maybe you see policeman. He whistle his two partner. Hand in hand they show you bad gentlemens street where lives sick ladys mansion.
I hastened at once to the succor of my sick countrywoman. The way led through streets obscure and ill-kept, the inhabitants covertly seeking shelter as the policemen and I approached. It was a section I knew to be the rendezvous of outcasts of this and neighboring cities. It was a place where the bravest officer never went alone. For making a last stand for the right to their pitiful sordid lives, the criminals herded together in one desperate band when danger threatened any of the brotherhood. The very stillness of the streets bespoke hidden iniquity. Every house presented a closed front. Surely, I thought, ignorance of conditions could be the only excuse for any woman of any creed choosing to live in such surroundings as these.
In the cleanest of the hovels I found Miss Gray, her middle-aged figure shrunken to the proportions of a child. There was no difficulty in finding the cause of her illness. She was half-starved. Her reason for being in that section was as senseless as it was mistaken, except to one whose heart had been fired by a passion for saving souls. After being revived by a stimulant from my emergency kit, she told me her name, which I already knew, that she was an American and her calling that of a missionary. I thought I knew every type of the profession and I was proud to call many of them my friends, but Miss Gray was an original model, peculiar in quality and indefinite in pattern.
"Does your Mission Board give you permission to live in a place or fashion like this?" I asked sternly.
"Haven't any Board," she answered weakly. "I'm an Independent."
"Independent what?" I demanded.
"Independent Daughter of Hope."
Her appearance was a libel on any variety of independence and a joke on hope, but I waited for the rest of the story.
She said that the Order to which she belonged was not large. She was one of a small band of women bound by a solemn oath to go where they could and seek to help and uplift fallen humanity by living the life of the native poor. She had chosen Japan because it was "so pretty and poetical." She had worked her way across the Pacific as stewardess on a large steamer, and had landed in Hijiyama a few months before with enough cash to keep a canary bird in delicate health for a month. Her enthusiasm was high, her zeal blazed. If only her faith were strong enough to stand the test, her need for food and clothing would be supplied from somewhere. "Now," she moaned, "something has happened. Maybe my want of absolute trust brought me to it. I'm sick and hungry and I've failed. Oh! I wanted to help these sweet people; I wanted to save their dear souls."
I was skeptical as to this special brand of philanthropy, but I was touched by the grief of her disappointed hopes. I knew the particular sting. At the same time my hand twitched to shake her for going into this thing in so impractical a way. Teaching and preaching in a foreign land may include romance, but I've yet to hear where the most enthusiastic or fanatical found nourishment or inspiration on a diet of visions pure and simple. While there must be something worth while in a woman who could starve for her belief, yet in the eyes of the one before me was the look of a trusting child who would never know the practical side of life any more than she would believe in its ugliness. It was not faith she needed. It was a guardian.
"Maybe I had better die," she wailed. "Dead missionaries are far too few to prove the glory of the cause."
I suggested that live ones could glorify far more than dead ones, and told her that I was going to take her home with me and put strength into her body and a little judgment into her head, if I could.
She broke out again. "Oh, I cannot go! I must stay here! If work is denied me, maybe it is my part to starve and prove my faith by selling my soul for the highest price."
Although I was to learn that this was a favorite expression of Miss Gray's, the meaning of which she never made quite clear to me, that day it sounded like the melancholy mutterings of hunger. For scattering vapors of pessimism, and stirring up symptoms of hope, I'd pin my faith to a bowl of thick hot soup before I would a book full of sermons.
Without further argument I called to some coolies to come with a "kago," a kind of lie-down-sit-up basket swung from a pole, and in it we laid the weak, protesting woman.
The men lifted it to their shoulders and the little procession, guarded fore and aft by a policeman, moved through the sinister shadows of Flying Sparrow street to the clearer heights of "The House of the Misty Star."
Long training had strengthened, and association had verified my unshakable belief that the most essential quality of the very high calling of a missionary, is an unlimited supply of consecrated commonsense. So far, not a vestige of it had I discovered in the devotee I was taking to my home, but Jane Gray was as full of surprises as she was of sentiment.
She not only stayed in my house, but with her coming the spell of changeless days was broken. It was as if her thin hand held the charm by which my door of opportunity was flung wide, and through it I saw my garden of dreams bursting into flower.
KISHIMOTO SAN CALLS
I had always been dead set against taking a companion permanently into my home. For one reason I heeded the warning of the man who made the Japanese language. To denote "peace" he drew a picture of a roof with a woman under it. Evidently being a gentleman of experience, he expressed the word "trouble" by adding another person of the same sex to the picture without changing the size of the roof.
Then, too, there was my cash account to settle with. Ever since I'd been drawing a salary from the National Education Board of Missions, I felt like apologizing to the few feeble figures that stared accusingly at me from my small ledger, for the demands I made upon them for charity, for sickness, and for entertainment of all who knocked at my door.
My classes were always crowded, but there were times when the purses of my students were more lean than their bodies. Frequently such an one looked at me and said, "Moneys have all flewed away from my pockets. Only have vast consuming fire for learning." It being against my principle to see anybody consumed while I had a rin, there was nothing to do but make up to the Board what I had failed to collect.
These circumstances caused me to hesitate risking the peace of my household, or putting one more responsibility on my purse.
Then sweet potatoes decided me. It was a matter of history that famine, neither wide-spread nor local, ever gained a foothold where "Satsuma Emo" flourished. This year they were fatter and cheaper than ever before. I knew dozens of ways to fix them, natural and disguised; so I bought an extra supply and made up my mind to keep Jane Gray.
The little missionary thrived in her new environment as would a drooping plant freshly potted. As she grew stronger, she hinted at trying once again to live in her old quarters, that she might fast and work and pray for her sinners. I promptly suppressed any plans in that direction.
After all, I had been a lonelier woman than I realized, and Jane was like a kitten with a bell around its neck—one grows used to its playing about the house and misses it when gone. She also resembled a fixed star in her belief that she had been divinely appointed to carry a message of hope to the vilest of earth, and I felt that the same power had charged me with the responsibility of impressing her with a measure of commonsense.
So we compromised for a while at least. She would stay with me, and I would not interfere with her work in the crime section, nor give way to remarks on the subject.
I was sure the conditions in the Quarter would prove impossible, but as some people cannot be convinced unless permitted to draw their own diagram of failure, it was best for her to try when she was able to make the effort.
The making of an extra room in a Japanese house is only a matter of shifting a paper screen or so into a ready-made groove. It took me some time to decide whether I should screen off Jane in the corner that commanded a full view of the wonderful sea, or at the end where by sliding open the paper doors she could step at once into the fairy land of my garden.
Jane decided it herself. I discovered her stretched in an old wheel-chair before the open doors, looking into the sun-flooded greenery of the garden, and heard her softly repeating,
"Fair as plumes of dreams In a land Where only dreams come true, And flutes of memory waken Longings forgotten."
Any one who felt that way about my garden had a right to live close to it.
In half an hour Jane was established. My enthusiasm waned a bit the next day when I found all the pigeons in the neighborhood fluttering about the open door, fearlessly perching on the invalid's lap and shoulders while she fed them high-priced rice and dainty bits of dearly-bought chicken.
I dispersed the pigeons with a flap of my apron and with forced mildness protested. "I'm obliged to ask you to be less generous. The price of rice is higher than those pigeons can fly and, as for chicken, it's about ten sen a feather. There's abundant food for you; but we cannot afford to feed all the fowls of the air."
"Oh! dear Miss Jenkins, I couldn't drive them away. The cunning things! Every coo they uttered sounded like a love word."
I hoped it was the patient's physical weakness, and not a part of her nature.
I could not possibly survive a steady diet of emotion so tender that it bubbled over at the flutter of a pigeon's wing.
I'd brought it on myself, however, and I was determined to share my home and my life with Jane Gray. Sentimental and visionary as she was, with the funny little twist in her tongue, the poor excuse of a body seemed the last place power of any kind would choose for a habitation. I was not disposed to attribute the supernatural to my companion, but from the day of her arrival unusual events popped up to speak for themselves.
A nearby volcano, asleep for half a century, blew off its cap, covering land and sea with ashes and fiery lava. All my pink roses bloomed weeks earlier than they had any business to, and for the first time in years my old gardener got drunk. Between dashes of cold water on his head he tearfully wailed my unexpressed sentiments, in part:
"Too many damfooly things happen all same time. Evil spirit get loose. Sake help me fight. Me nice boy. Me ve'y good boy but I no like foreign devil what is."
Then one day, about a month after my family had been enlarged, I had just wheeled my newly acquired responsibility out in the garden to sun when Kishimoto San called. He often came for consultation. While his chief interest in life was to keep Hijiyama strictly Japanese and rigidly Buddhist, he was also superintendent of schools for his district and educational matters gave us a common interest. However, the late afternoon was an unusual hour for him to appear and one glance at his face showed trouble of a personal nature had drawn heavy lines in his mask of calmness. I had known Kishimoto San for twenty years. Part of him I could read like a primer; the other part was a sealed volume to which I doubt if even Buddha had the key. Sometimes when he was calling I wished Gabriel would appear in my doorway and announce the end of the world to see, if without omitting a syllable, Kishimoto would keep on to the end of the last phrase in the greeting prescribed for the occasion.
The ceremony off his mind, he sat silent, unresponsive to the openings I tried to make for a beginning. Not till I had exhausted small talk of current events and asked after his family in particular instead of his ancestors in general, did his tongue loosen.
Then the floodgates of his pent-up emotion opened and forth poured a torrent of anger, disappointment, and outraged pride. I had never before seen a man so shaken, but then I hadn't seen many, much less one with the red blood of Daimyos in his veins. He was a man whose soul dwelt in the innermost place of a citadel built of ancient beliefs and traditions.
Out of the unchecked flood of denunciation, I learned that he held Christianity responsible for his woes. I, as a believer and an American, must hear what he thought; as his friend I must advise him if I could.
In the twenty years that I had known the school superintendent, he had always been reserved regarding his personal and family life. To me his home was a vague, blurred background in which possible members of his family moved. He surprised me this day by referring in detail to the bitter grief which had come to him in years gone by through his only child.
I had heard the story outside, but not even remotely had Kishimoto San ever before hinted that he possessed a child. I knew his need for help must be imperative, that the wound was torn afresh, else he was too good a Buddhist to make "heavy the ears of a friend" with a recital of his own sorrows.
He said he had been most ambitious for his daughter. Years ago he had sent her to Yokohama to study English and music. While there the girl lived with his sister who had absorbed many new ideas regarding liberty for women. Once he was absent from Japan and without his knowledge the girl married an American artist, Harold Wingate by name, and went with him to his country to live.
Kishimoto San had not seen her since her marriage until lately. He had honorably prayed that he never would. Some weeks before she had returned to Hijiyama practically penniless, which was bad, and a widow, which made it very difficult to marry her off again; but worse still was the half-breed child she had brought with her, a daughter of about seventeen. This girl, whose name was Zura, I soon found was the sore spot in Kishimoto San's grievance, the center around which his storm of trouble brewed.
It was like pouring oil on flames when I asked particularly about the girl.
Though he could speak English that was quite understandable, he broke loose in Japanese hardly translatable. "She is a wild, untamed barbarian. She has neither manners nor modesty, and not only dares openly to scorn the customs of my country and religion, but defies my commands, my authority."
Knowing him as I did, I thought it must indeed be a free, wild spirit to meet the blow of Kishimoto San's will and not be crushed by the impact. My interest in the girl increased in proportion to his vehemence. I ventured to ask for details. They came in a torrent.
"It is not our custom for young girls to go on the street unattended. I forbade her going. Deaf to my orders, she strays about the streets alone and dares to sail her own sampan. She handles it as deftly as a common fisherman. She goes to out-of-the-way places and there remains till it suits her impudence to return to my house. In the hours of the night she disturbs my meditations by sobbing for her home and her father. She romps on the highways with street children, who follow her as they would a performing monkey."
"But surely," I mildly interposed, "it is no great breach of custom to play with children. Your granddaughter is doubtless lonely and it may give her pleasure."
The face of my visitor stiffened.
"Pleasure!" he repeated. "Does she not know that a woman's only pleasure is obedience? Is there not enough of my blood in her to make her bow to the law? Twice she has told me to attend to my own affairs! Told me! Her ancestor! Her Master!" This last word he always pronounced with a capital M.
Kishimoto San was not cruel. Unlike many of his countrymen, who are educated by modern methods as regarding laws governing women, he was still an old-time Oriental in the raw.
It was at this uncomfortable moment that the little maid brought in tea. I instructed her to serve it on the balcony which overlooked sea and mountain. The appealing beauty of the scene always soothed me as a lullaby would a restless child. I hoped as much for my disturbed visitor. I gave him his second cup of tea, and asked him whether the mother could not control her daughter. It set him going.
"Her mother!" he scoffed. "Madam, if her mother had been blest with the backbone of a jellyfish she would never have married a man whose people were not her people, whose customs are as far removed from hers as the East is from the West. My daughter was young. Had she married one of her own country, all would have been well. Her will would have been directed by her mother-in-law. She was trained to obedience. See what the teachings of your country do to our women! In a letter she wrote telling me she had gone, she thanked me for teaching her the laws of submission. It helped her to bow to the commands of this man when he bade her marry him, and she loved him! Love! as if that had anything to do with marriage. Now comes the result of this accursed union—a troublesome girl who is neither one thing nor the other, who laughs at the customs of my country and upsets the peace of my house, who boldly declares she is an American. She need not herald it. In dress and manners she wears the marks of her training."
I offered no comment, but every moment served to deepen my interest in this girl who could defy a will which had ruled a whole island for half a century.
My silence seemed to irritate him. He turned fiercely upon me.
"Tell me, what kind of girls does America produce? What is your boasted freedom for women but license? Is their place never taught them? Have they no understanding of the one great law for women?"
I had been absent from my country many long years, and while neither the best nor the worst had come my way, America was my country, her people my people, and they stood to me for all that was great and honorable and righteous. The implication of Kishimoto's question annoyed me all the more, because I knew him to be a keen observer and not hasty in his conclusions.
"Softly, Kishimoto San. You answered your own question a few moments ago. The customs of the two countries are as wide apart as the East is from the West. Tastes differ in manners as well as religion. If there are things in America that do not please you, so there are many laws in Japan that are repugnant to Americans. You are unjust to hold my country responsible for your woes."
"But I do hold it responsible. My granddaughter comes of its teaching. I meditate what kind of religion it is that permits a girl to question her elder's authority and to defy the greatest of laws, filial piety. What manner of a country is it where custom grants liberty to a girl that she may roam the streets and sit in a public garden alone with a man!"
This last was indeed serious. In my day and in my town it could be done if the girl were so fortunate as to have something that stood for a male cousin. But neither then nor now was it permissible in a land of man-made laws for men. Unless it was between husband and wife, private conversation, or a promenade just for two branded the participants as bold, possibly evil.
I asked for further details. Kishimoto San said the young man was a minor officer on the steamer by which his granddaughter and her mother had crossed the Pacific. He thought he was an American. Whenever the ship coaled in a nearby port, the young chap communicated with the girl and together they walked and talked.
The plain facts after all sounded harmless and innocent. What more natural than for a lonely girl to seek for pastime the company of a youth of her own kind? But it could not be—not in Japan; though as innocent as two baby kittens playing on the green, it would bring shame upon the girl and the family, which no deed of heroism would ever erase from local history. Something must be done; I asked Kishimoto San how I could be of assistance.
"I have been consulting with myself," he replied in English. "Would you grant me permission to send her to you daily as a student? Besides her strange ways, she talks in strange English. I cannot find the same in any conversation book. Her whole being has need of reconstruction."
I was not in the reconstructing business, but a young girl in the house meant youth and diversion and a private pupil meant extra pay. What a little extra money wouldn't do in my house wasn't worth adding up. In thought I repaired the roof and bought new legs for the kitchen stove.
My visitor, mistaking my silence for hesitation, suggested, "First come and see her. Analyze her conduct and grant me decision whether she is a natural, free-born American citizen, as she boasts, or if the gods have cursed her with a bold spirit. She is of your country, your religion, if any, and perhaps you can understand her. I fail to comprehend."
He folded his arms for emphasis. The gleam of the western sun caught the sheen of his silk kimono and covered him with a glow. From under bent brows he gazed at the scene before him.
Earth and sky and sea breathed beauty. The evening song of the birds was of love. The spirit of the fading day whispered peace, but unheeding he sat in troubled silence. Then from the street far below came the shout of a boy at play. It was a voice full of the gladness of youth. In it was a challenge of daring and courage. Loudly he called to his troop of play soldiers to charge splendidly, to fight with the glorious Yamato Damashi (spirit of Japan).
Kishimoto San heard and with a quick movement raised his head as though he had felt a blow. "Ah," he murmured to himself, "if it had only been a boy!"
There was the secret wound that was ever sore and bleeding. There was no son to perpetuate the name. His most vital hope was dead, his greatest desire crushed, and by a creature out of the West, who not only stole his daughter but fathered this girl whom no true Japanese would want as a wife. To a man of Kishimoto San's traditions the hurt was deep and cruel.
I well understood his sorrow and disappointment. Pity put all my annoyance to flight. I promised to go to his house and see if I could help in any way. I did not tell him that I was about as familiar with young girls from my home land as I was with young eagles, for the undaunted spirit of that child had aroused all my love of adventure; and I wanted to see her. Then, too, I was haunted by the picture of a lonely girl in a strange land, crying out in the night for her dead father.
I was trembling with new emotion that evening when I brought my invalid in from the garden, and tucked her into bed.
Kishimoto San had not only offered me a tremendous experience, but all unwittingly he made it easily possible for me to defy the tradition of his picture language, and risk Jane Gray as a permanent fireside companion.
Just below "The House of the Misty Star," in an old temple, a priest played a merry tattoo on a mighty gong early every morning. First one stroke and a pause, then two strokes and a pause, followed by so many strokes without pause that the sounds merged into one deep mellow tone reaching from temple to distant hills. It was, so to speak, the rising bell for the deities in that district and announced to them the beginning of their day of business.
In years gone by the echo of the music had stirred me only to a drowsy thankfulness that I was no goddess, happy as I turned for a longer sleep. The morning after Kishimoto San's visit, long before any sound disturbed the sleeping gods, from my window I watched the Great Dipper drop behind the crookedest old pine in the garden and heard the story of the night-wind as it whispered its secret to the leaves.
Usually my patience was short with people who went mooning around the house at all hours of the night when they should have been sleeping. Somehow though, things seemed changed and changing. Coming events were not casting shadows before them in my home, but thrills. Formerly I had not even a passing acquaintance with thrills. Now, half a century behind-time, they were beginning to burst in upon me all at once, as would a troop of merry friends bent on giving me a surprise party, and the things they seemed to promise kept me awake half the night. My restlessness must have penetrated the thin partition of my Japanese house, for when I went out to breakfast there sat Jane Gray, very small and pale, but as bright-eyed and perky as a sparrow. It was her first appearance at the morning meal.
Before I could ask why she had not rested as usual, she put a question to me. "Well, what is it?"
"What's what?" I returned.
"Why," she exclaimed, "you have been up most of the night. I wanted to ask if you were ill, but I was counting sheep jumping over the fence, and it made me so sleepy I mixed you up with them. I hope it isn't the precious cod-liver babies that are keeping you awake."
It was at Jane's suggestion that we had eliminated meat from our menu and established a kind of liquid food station for the ill-nourished offspring of the quarry women near us.
I assured Miss Gray that babies had been far from my thoughts. Then I told her of my interview with Kishimoto San; of how Zura Wingate had come to her grandfather's house; of her rebellion against things that were; and that she was to come to me for private study. Had I not been so excited over the elements of romance in my story, I would have omitted telling Jane of the incident of the girl and the youth in the park, for it had a wonderful effect on her.
Jane's sentiment was like a full molasses pitcher that continues to drip in spite of all the lickings you give it. At once I saw I was in for an overflow. It was the only part of the story she took in, and as she listened, passed into some kind of a spell. She cuddled down into her chair and shut her eyes like a child in the ecstasies of a fairy story. She barely breathed enough to say, "The darlings! and in that lovely old park! I hope it was moonlight. Do you suppose they sat under the wistaria?"
Not for a copper mine would I have hinted that through the night there had come before my mind a picture very like that. Such a picture in the Orient could only be labeled tragedy; the more quickly it was blotted out from mind and reality the better for all concerned. I spoke positively to my companion.
"Look here, Jane Gray, if it wasn't for breaking a commandment I would call you foolish with one syllable. Don't you know that in this country a young man and woman walking and talking together cannot be permitted? Neither love nor romance is free or permissible, but they are governed by laws which, if transgressed, will break heart and spirit."
"So I have heard," cooed Miss Gray, unimpressed by my statements. "Wouldn't it be sweet, though, for you and me to go about teaching these dear Japanese people that young love will have its freedom and make a custom of its own?"
"Yes, indeed! Wouldn't it be a sweet spectacle to see two middle-aged women, one fat and one lean, stumping the country on a campaign for young love—subjects in which we are versed only by hearsay and a stray novel or so!" I said all this and a little more.
Jane went on unheeding, "That's it. We must preach love and live it till we have made convicts of every inhabitant."
Of course she meant "converts," but the kinks in Miss Gray's tongue were as startling as the peculiar twists in her religion.
Upon her asking for more particulars I repeated what Kishimoto San had told me. The girl's father was an artist by profession and, as nearly as I could judge, a rover by habit. Of late the family had lived in a western city. I was not familiar with the name Kishimoto San gave; he called it "Shaal."
"Oh," cried my companion, "I know. I lived there once. It's Seattle."
Occasionally there shot through Jane's mind a real thought, as luminous as a shaft of light through a jar of honey. I would have never guessed the name of that city.
"Then what else happened?" she continued, as eagerly as a young girl hearing a love story.
I told her it had not happened yet, and before it did I was going to call at the house and see the girl as I had promised and settle upon the hour she was to come for daily lessons. Meantime Jane was to take her nap, her milk, and her tonic without my standing over her. In her devotion to her profession she was apt to forget the small details of eating and resting.
My craving for things to happen was being fed as fast as a rapid-firing gun in full action. I found waiting very irksome but there was a cooking class, a mother's meeting, two sets of composition papers to be corrected and various household duties that stubbornly refused to adjust themselves to my limited time.
At last, however, I was free to go and delayed not a minute in starting on my visit.
* * * * *
Kishimoto's home was lower down in the city than mine and very near the sea. The house was ancient and honorable. Its air of antiquity was undisturbed by the great changes which had swept the land in the ages it had stood. The masters had changed from father to son, but the house was as it had been in the beginning, and with it lived unbroken and unshifting, the traditions and beliefs of its founders.
It was only a matter of a few minutes after passing the lodge gates until I was ushered into the general living-room and the center of the family life.
The master being absent, the ceremony of welcoming to his house a strange guest was performed by his wife.
One could see at a glance that she belonged to the old order of things when the seed of a woman's soul seldom had a chance to sprout. She performed her duties with the precision of a clock, with the soft alarm wound to strike at a certain hour, then to be set aside to tick unobtrusively on till needed again.
The seat of honor in a Japanese home is a small alcove designated as "the Tokonoma." In this ancient house simple decorations of a priceless scroll and a flowering plum graced the recess. Before it on a cushion of rich brocade I was asked to be seated.
Etiquette demanded that I hesitate and apologize for my unworthiness as I bowed low and long.
Custom insisted that my hostess urge my acceptance as she abased herself by touching her forehead to her hands folded upon the floor.
Of course it ended by my occupying the cushion, and I was glad for the interruption of tea and cake.
Then equal in length and formality followed the ceremony of being introduced to Kishimoto San's mother and widowed daughter, Mrs. Wingate. The mother, old and withered, was made strong by her power as mother-in-law and her faith in her country and her gods. The daughter was weak and negative by reason of no particular faith and no definite gods. The system by which she had been trained did not include self-reliance nor foster individuality. Under it many of the country's daughters grow to beautiful womanhood because of their gift of living their own inner lives entirely apart, while submitting to the external one imposed by custom.
By the same system other women are made the playthings of circumstance and the soul is ever like a frosted flower bud.
Years ago a man, attracted by the soft girlishness and touched by the adoring deference to his sex, bade this girl marry him without the authority of her father. Nothing had been developed in her to resist outside conditions. It was an unanswered query, whether it was because of ignorance or courage, she braved displeasure, and followed the strange man to a strange country. Sometimes the weakness of Japanese women is their greatest strength. This woman knew how to obey. In her way she had learned to love, but her limited capacity for affection was consumed by wifehood. Having married and borne a child to the man who required nothing of her, duty in life so far as she saw it was canceled. Further effort on her part was unnecessary until the time for her to assert her power as mother-in-law.
Even the contemplation of that happy state failed to enthuse. Languid and a bit sad, her hold on life was gone. The blight had come. On her frail beauty was stamped the sign of the white plague. She greeted me in very broken English, then left the chief duty of entertaining to the mother. The stilted conversation was after the prescribed form and my eagerness to see Zura, whom custom forbade my asking for, was, I dare say, ill concealed.
When I first entered, the farther parts of the large room were veiled in the shadow of the late afternoon. But when Mrs. Kishimoto called, "Zura, come!" a stream of sunlight, as though waiting for the proper time, danced into one corner and rested on the figure of a young girl, sitting awkwardly on her feet, reading.
Her response to her grandmother's command was none too eager; but as she came forward the brilliant light revealed in coloring of hair and dress as many shades of brown as could be found in a pile of autumn leaves. In the round eyes, deep set in a face sprinkled with freckles, in the impertinent tilt of the nose, there was no trace of the Orient; but the high arch of the dark brows betrayed her Japanese origin.
The girl's costume was more remarkable than the girl herself; it was like a velvet pillow slip with neither beginning nor end. It was low in the neck and had no sleeves worth mentioning. How she got into it or out of it was a problem that distracted me half the night, when I was trying to plan for her soul's salvation. I could not hide my amazement at her appearance. She as closely resembled my idea of an American girl as a cartoon does a miniature; but I had seen so very few girls of my country since my coming to Japan. I remembered hearing Jane say that the styles now change there every two or three years. My new skirt, I've had only five years, has seven pleats and as many more gores.
Zura Wingate advanced to my lowly seat on the floor and listlessly put out one hand to greet me. The other she held behind her. It had been years since I had shaken hands with any one. I was ill at ease, and made more so by realizing that I did not know what to say to this self-contained child of my own beloved land. I made a brilliant start, however. "Howdy. Do you like Japan?"
The answer came with the sudden energy of a popgun: "No." Then she sat down close to a hibachi, her back against the wall.
I went on, determined to be friendly. "I am sure you will find much of interest here. All the beauties of Japan are not on the surface. The loveliness of the scenery and the picturesqueness of the people will appeal to you."
The phrase was about as new as "Mary had a little lamb," but it was all I could think to say. My conversational powers seemed off duty.
The girl scented my confusion and a half-smile crept around her lips.
"Country's all right," she answered. "But the natives are like punk imitations of a vaudeville poster; they're the extension of the limit."
Her words, although English, were as incomprehensible to me as if I had never heard the language, but her scorn was unmistakable. As if to emphasize it, the hand she had persistently held behind her was thrust forward toward the burning coals in the hibachi. Her fingers held a half burnt cigarette. This she lighted, and without embarrassment or enjoyment began to smoke.
An American girl smoking! I was shocked, but I held tight.
"Do you smoke much?" I asked, for the want of something better to say.
"Never smoked before. But my august, heaven-born grandfather, who to my mind is descended direct from the devil, wishes me to adopt the customs of his country. Thought I'd start with this."
"But," I reminded her, "it is not the custom in this country for young girls to smoke."
"Oh, isn't it?"—indifferently—"it doesn't matter. Had to begin on something or—die."
The spasm of pain which swept the girl's face stirred within me a memory long forgotten.
Once, when my own starved youth had wearied and clamored anew for an outlet, I had determined on a reckless adventure. From corn-shucks and dried grass I made a cigar which I tried to smoke. It gave me the most miserable penitent hour I have ever known. The picture of the child of long ago hiding in the corn crib until recovery was possible caused me now to shake with laughter.
The fire in Zura's eyes began to burn. "Think it's funny? I don't. Have one." She flung a package of cigarettes in my lap.
Ignoring the impertinence of her speech and act I hastened to explain the cause of my amusement. I told her of my desolate childhood, of the quiet village in which my uneventful girlhood was passed, where the most exciting thing that ever happened was a funeral about once in four years.
When I finished she showed the first signs of friendliness as she exclaimed, "Heavens! Didn't you have any 'movies,' any chums, any boys to treat you now and then to a sundae?"
Kishimoto San certainly stated a fact. Her English was strange. I was sure the words were not in my dictionary. But I would not appear stupid before this child who had no business to know more than I did. So I looked a little stern and said that my Sundays never seemed a treat; they were no different from week-days. If the other things she talked about were in a circus, I had never been to one to hear them.
At this such a peal of laughter went up from the girl as I dare say at no time had ever played about the ancient beams. The maid, just entering with hot tea, stood as if stunned. The old grandmother sat like a statue of age with hand uplifted, protesting against any expression of youth and its joys.
Mrs. Wingate pushed aside the paper doors, gently chiding, "Zura, yo' naughty ve'y bad."
But the reproof was as meaningless as the babbling of a baby. Neither disapproval nor black looks availed; unchecked the merriment went on until exhausted by its own violence. I knew she was laughing at me, but what mattered? To her I was a comical old figure in a strange museum. To me she stood for all I had lost of girlhood rights and I wanted her for my friend. Her laughter went through me like a draft of wine. The echo swept a long silent chord, and the tune it played was the jig-time of youth.
When Zura caught her breath and explained the meaning of her words, it disclosed to me a phase of life of which I had never dreamed. Pictures that moved and talked while you looked, public halls for dancing, and boys meeting young girls alone after dark to "treat" them! The child spoke of it all easily and as a matter of course. I knew more than I wanted of the dark side of Oriental life, but I had been so long accustomed to idealizing my own country and all its ways that her talk was to me like an unkind story about a dear friend.
But happy to find a listener who was interested in things familiar to her—Zura chattered away, of her friends and her pleasures, and though many of her words were in an unknown tongue, the picture she unconsciously drew of herself was as clear as transparency. It was an unguided, undisciplined life, big with possibilities for love or hate that even now was wavering in the balance for good or bad.
Once again the afternoon sun fell upon the girl. It touched her face, tender of contour and coloring. It found her hair and made of it a crown of bronze and gold. For a moment it lingered, then climbing, lighted up a yellow parchment hanging on the wall just above.
Through its aged dim characters I read an edict issued in the days of long ago, banishing from the land of fair Nippon all Christians and Christianity. It threatened with relentless torture any attempt to promulgate the faith, and contained an order for all citizens to appear in the public place on a certain day for adherents of the new religion to recant, by stamping on the Cross.
As the girl talked on, she revealed a life strangely inconsistent in a land which to me stood for all that was highest and most beautiful. A curious thought came to me. I wondered if the man who framed that edict had a vision of what foreign teachings might bring in its trail? Possibly some presentiment haunted him of the great danger that would come to his people through contact with a country leagues removed in customs and beliefs. Neither crucifixion nor torture had availed to keep out the new religion. With it came wisdom and great reforms. Misinterpretation too, had followed. Old laws were shattered, and this girl, Zura Wingate was a product of a new order of things, the result of broken traditions, a daughter of two countries, a representative of neither.
Zura's conversation was mainly of her amusements and diversions.
"But how did you manage so many pleasures while you were attending school?" I inquired.
"School?" she echoed. "Oh! that never bothered me. I had a system at school; it worked fine. The days I felt like going, I crammed hard and broke the average record. I also accumulated a beautiful headache. This earned me a holiday and an excursion for my health."
It was hard for me to understand a girl who deliberately planned to miss school, but I was taking a whole course in one afternoon. Carefully I approached the object of my visit. "Well, of course you desire to further pursue your studies in English, even though your home is to be in Japan. I came this afternoon to ask—do you not think it would be pleasant if you came to my house every day for a little study—just to keep in practice?"
The girl's lips framed a red circle as she drew out a long "Oh-h-h! I see! The mighty honorable Boss has been laying plans, has he? Well, I think it would be perfectly grand—N-I-T—which in plain American spells 'I will not do it.'"
Imagine a young girl telling one of her elders right to her face, she would not do it. I never heard of such a thing. For a moment I was torn between a desire to administer a stern reproof and leave her, and a great yearning to stand by and with love and sympathy to try to soften the only fate which could be in store for such as she.
We took each other's measure and she, pretty and saucy as a gay young robin, went on fearlessly:
"I'm an American to the backbone; I'm not going to be Japanese, or any kin to them. As long as I have to stay I'm going to pursue the heavenly scenery around here and put it on paper. Between pictures I'm going to have a good time—all I want to. Thank you for your invitation, but I have other engagements."
A wilful girl in a Japanese home! My disapproval fled. Soon enough life would administer reproof and stretch out a rough hand to stay her eagerness. I need add nothing.
A little depressed at losing her as a pupil and knowing that her defiance could only bring sorrow, I asked her gently, "Do you love good times?"
"Do I? Well, just wait till I get started. See if the slant eyes of the inhabitants will not have another angle before I get through. They need a few lessons on the rights of girls."
Neither Zura's home nor her parents seemed to have any part in her life. She told of a prank played at midnight one Hallowe'en.
"But," I asked, "did your mother permit you to be out at such an hour?"
"My mother!" she repeated with a light laugh. "My mother is nothing but a baby. She neither cared nor knew where I was or what I did."
"What about your father?" I ventured. "I understand you and he were great friends."
If I had struck the girl, the effect could not have been more certain. She arose quickly, her face aquiver with pain; she threw her hands forward as if in appeal to some unseen figure; then she moaned, "Oh! Daddy!" and she was gone.
Like the stupid old meddler I was, I tore the wound afresh. I exposed the bruised place in the girl's life, but my blunder brought to light unsuspected depths.
It was all so sudden that I was speechless and stared blankly at the mother, who looked helpless and bewildered. The two grandmothers had taken no part nor interest in the scene. Their faces expressed nothing. To them the girl was as incomprehensible as any jungle savage. To me she was like some wild, free bird, caught in a net, old, but very strong, for its meshes were made from a relentless law.
I made my adieu with what grace I could and left.
* * * * *
On my way home I met Kishimoto San. Omitting details, I told him Zura declined to come to my house for lessons.
"So! My granddaughter announced she will not? I shall give her a command to obey."
I suggested that the girl needed time for adjustment and that he needed much patience.
"Patience! With a girl?" he replied. "Ah. madam, you utter great demands of my dignity! It is like requesting me to smile sweetly when grasping the fruit of a chestnut tree which wears a prickly overcoat. But I thank your great kindness for honoring my house and my family. Sayonara."
Deep thought held me fast as I passed through the cheerful, busy streets and up the long flight of steps that led from the highway to my home. I was too occupied mentally to pay much attention to Jane's unnumbered questions regarding my visit. Anyhow, my association with Jane had led me to discover she could talk for a very long while, and never get anywhere, not even to an end.
That night she talked herself to sleep about girls and poetry and beaux, which as far as I could see had nothing to do with the matter.
Had Jane been a mind reader, long ere the night had gone, she could have found strange things in my brain.
Hours afterwards I sat on my balcony that overhung the soft lapping waters below, still deeply thinking. Often at the end of the day's toil I sought this retreat and refreshed my soul in the incomparable beauty of the view.
In that hour the tender spirit of night folded me about. Out of the mystery of the vast blue I heard faintly a new message, potent with promise, charged with possibilities. The earth was wrapped in a robe of gray, made of mist and illusion, and its every sound was hushed by the lullaby of the night-wind. Dim, silent mountains clustered about the silver waters, as great watchmen guarding a precious jewel.
Toward me across the moon-misted sea came a procession of ghostly sails. Every ship seemed to bear troops of white-robed maidens and, as they floated past, they gaily waved their hands to me, calling for comradeship and understanding, a wide-open heart, freedom to love.
JANE GRAY BRINGS HOME A MAN
During the weeks following my visit I had good reason to believe that Kishimoto San's power to command was not in working order. Zura failed to put in an appearance for her lessons, nor did any message come from the ancient house by the sea to explain the delay.
I could only guess how things stood between the grandfather and the alien child.
Every minute of my day was filled with classes, demands and sick babies, but between duties and when Jane was elsewhere I snatched time to inspect eagerly every visitor who clicked a sandal or shoe-heel on the rough stones of my crooked front path. I kept up the vigil for my desired pupil until I heard one of my adoring housemaids confide to the other that she had "the great grief to relate Jenkins Sensie was getting little illness in her head. She condescended to respond to the honorable knock at her door—and she a great teacher lady!"
After this I transferred my observations to the crescent-shaped window at one end of my study. This ornamental opening in the wall commanded a full view of the main highway of Hijiyama. Through it I could look down far below upon the street life which was a panorama quietly intense, but gay and hopeful. The moving throng resembled a great bouquet swayed by a friendly breeze, so bright in coloring with the flower-sellers, white-garbed jinricksha men, vegetable vendors, and troops of butterfly children that any tone of softer hue attracted immediate attention.
This led me to a discovery one day when I caught sight of a dark-brown velvet dress, and I knew that my promised pupil was inside it. Her shining hair made me sure, and I guessed that the young man with whom she walked was the ship's officer. The sight troubled me; but interference except by invitation was not my part. I could do nothing but wait.
However, so unusual a creature as Zura Wingate could neither escape notice nor outspoken comment in a conservative, etiquette-bound old town like Hijiyama. Through my pupils, most of them boys and eager to practise their English, I heard of many startling things she did. They talked of her fearlessness; with what skill she could trim a sail; how she had raced with the crack oarsman of the Naval College; and how the aforesaid cadet was now in disgrace because he had condescended to compete with a girl. Much of the talk was of the girl's wonderful talent in putting on paper Japanese women and babies in a way so true that Chinda, a withered old man in whom the love of art was the only sign of life, said, "Except for her foreign blood the child would be a gift of the gods." I had dwelt too long in the Orient, though, to hear with much peace of mind the girl's name so freely used and I discouraged the talk.
Even if I had thought it best to do so, there was no chance for a repetition of my visit to Kishimoto San's house. The demands upon my time and my resources were heavier than ever before. The winter had been bitterly cold. As the thermometer went down and somebody cornered the supply of sweet potatoes, the price of rice soared till there seemed nothing left to sustain the working people except the scent of the early plum flowers that flourished in the poorer districts. Sheltered by a great mountain from the keen winds, they thrust their pink blossoms through the covering of snow and cheered the beauty-loving people to much silent endurance. The plum tree was almost an object of worship in this part of the Empire. It stood for bravery and loyalty in the face of disaster, but as one tottering old woman put it, as she went down on her knees begging food for her grandbabies, "The Ume Ke makes me suffer great shame for my weakness. It gives joy to weary eyes, courage to fainting heart, but no food for babies." In the outlying districts many children on their way to school fainted for want of food; hospitals were full of the half-starved; police stations were crowded with the desperate; and temples were packed with petitioners beseeching the gods.
It was near the holidays. My pupil teachers and helpers worked extra hours and pinched from their scant savings that those they could reach might not have a hungry Christmas. They put together the price of their gifts to each other and bought rice. In gay little groups they went from door to door and gathered up twenty feeble old women, brought them to my house and feasted them to the utmost.
Hardly a day passed without some new and unusual demand, until learning to stand up and sit down at the same time was almost a necessity.
Had my own life lacked absorbing interest, Jane Gray's activities would have furnished an inexhaustible supply. As she grew stronger and could come and go at her pleasure, her unexpectedness upset my systematic household to the point of confusion. She supplied untold excitement to Pine Tree and Maple Leaf, the two serving maids earning an education by service, and drove old Ishi the gardener to tearful protest. "Miss Jaygray dangerful girl. She boldly confisteal a dimension of flower house and request strange demons to roost on premises."
This all came about because my fireside companion was a born collector. Not of any reasonable thing like stamps or butterflies, but of stray animals and wandering humans. Her affections embraced every created thing that came out of the ark, including all the descendants of Mr. and Mrs. Noah. A choice spot in my beloved garden, which was also Ishi's heaven, housed a family of weather-beaten world-weary cats, three chattering monkeys, that made love to Jane and hideous faces at everybody else, a parrakeet and a blind pup. If the collection fell short in quality, it abounded in variety. On one occasion she brought home two ragged and hungry American sailors, and it required military tactics to piece out the "left-over" lunch for them. Another time she shared her room with a poor creature who had been a pretty woman, now seeking shelter till her transportation could be secured.
Late one snowy night Jane came stumbling in weighted with an extra bundle. Tenderly unwrapping the covering she disclosed a half-starved baby. That day she had gone to a distant part of the city to assist in organizing a soup kitchen, and a Bible class. On her way home she heard a feeble cry coming from a ditch. She located a bundle of rags, and found a bit of discarded humanity.
"Isn't it sweet?" murmured the little missionary as she laid the weakling before the fire and fed it barley water with an ink dropper. "I'm going to keep it for my very own. I've always wanted one," she announced joyfully.
"Well, you just won't do anything of the kind," was my firm conclusion. I had no wish to be unkind, but repression was the only course left. I loved children, as I loved flowers, but it was impossible to inflate another figure for expense.
"It's all we can do to support that menagerie in the garden without starting an orphan asylum. Babies, as well as cats and dogs, cost money."
"Yes, yes, I know, Miss Jenkins," replied my companion eagerly, her face bright with some inner sunbeam of hope, "but wait till I tell you of a darling plan. The other day I saw the nicest sign over a door. It said 'Moderated and modified milk for babies and small animals.' It's tin, the milk I mean, and that is what I am going to feed them on. It's so filling."
"Beautifully simple, and tin milk must be so nourishing, is it not?" I snapped, ruffled by Miss Gray's never-defeated hopefulness. "Of course the kind gentleman who keeps this magic food, stands at the door and hands it out by the bucketful."
That was before I learned that sarcasm could no more pierce Jane's optimism, than a hair would cut a diamond.
"No," she answered sweetly, "he sits on the floor, and takes cans from a box. He gets money for it, but I am going to make a grand bargain with him. I am going to trade him a package of tracts and that cunning parrakeet for milk."
"How do you know he wants parrots or tracts?" I said.
"Oh, yes, he does. I talked to him. He showed me a faded old tract he had been reading every day for twenty years. Now his eyes are failing. He can get his customers to read a new one to him. He wants the bird for a spot of color as it grows darker. Please, dear Miss Jenkins, let me keep the baby!"
Of course I was weak enough to give in. Jane made her bargain and for a month the little stray stayed with us. Then one glorious dawn the tiny creature smiled as only a baby can, and gave up the struggle. In a corner of the garden, where the pigeons are ever cooing, we made a small mound.
To this good day Ishi declares the children's god Jizo comes every night to take the child away, but cannot because it lies in a Christian grave, and that is why he keeps the spot smothered in flowers.
Not in the least discouraged by death or desertion of her proteges, Jane Gray continued to bring things home, and one day she burst into the room calling, "Oh, Jenkins San! Come quick! See what I have found."
Her find proved to be a youthful American about twenty-four, whom she introduced as Page Hanaford.
From the moment the tall young man stood before me, hat in hand, a wistful something in his gray eyes, I had to crush a sudden desire to lay my hand on his shoulder and call him son. It would have been against my principles to be so outspokenly sentimental, but his light hair waved back from a boyish face pallid with illness and the playful curve of his mouth touched me. If I had been Jane Gray I should have cried over him. From the forced smile to the button hanging loose on his vest there was a silent appeal. All the mother in me was aroused and mentally I had to give myself a good slap to meet the situation with dignity.
I asked the young man to come into the sitting-room and we soon heard the story he had to tell.
He said his home had been in Texas. His father, an oil operator and supposed to be very rich, died a bankrupt. He was the only member of the family left, and he had recently started to the Far East to begin making his fortune. By chance he had drifted into Hijiyama. He understood there was a demand for teachers here. He was quite sure he could teach; but he would have to go slow at first, for he was just recovering from a slight illness.
"Have you been ill a long time?" I asked, striving to keep my fast rising sympathy in hand.
"Y-es; no," was the uncertain reply. "You see, I don't quite remember. Time seems to have run away from me."
"Were you ill before you left America, or after you sailed?" I inquired with increasing interest.
The boy paled, flushed, then stammered out his answer. "I—I—I'm sorry, but really I can't tell you. The beastly thing seems to have left me a bit hazy."
A bit hazy indeed! It was as plain as the marks of his severe illness that he was evading my question. His hands trembled so he could hardly hold the cup of tea I gave him, so I pursued my inquiries no further. As I was hostess to my guests, whoever they might be, I asked neither for credentials nor the right to judge them, for their temptations had not been mine.
After a long pause he slowly tried again to tell his story. "I was seeking employment when Miss Gray found me. My! but I was glad to see some one who seemed like home. The way she walked right up to me and said, 'Why, howdy do. I'm glad to see you. Now come right up to the "Misty Star" with me,' I tell you it made my heart thump. Didn't know whether the Misty Star was a balloon or a planet; didn't care much. Miss Gray was so kind and I was tired. Hunting a job in an unknown language is rather discouraging."
"Discouraged!" laughed Jane, poking up the fire and arranging a big chair in which she put Mr. Hanaford, at the same time stuffing a pillow behind his back. "The idea of being discouraged when the world is full of poetry and love staring you right in the face! Besides, there is always hope blooming everywhere like a dield full of faisies."
Our visitor's face crinkled with suppressed amusement at the little lady's funny mixture of words and he asked, "Are you never discouraged?"
"Goodness me, no! Not now. Every time I see a blue thought sticking its head around the corner, I begin to sing the long meter doxology. My music sends it flying. I can't afford to be discouraged. You see, I'm pledged to help a lot of unfortunate friends. I haven't a cent of money and every time I let the teeniest little discouragement show its face, it would surely knock a plank out of the hospital I'm going to build for them."
"Build a hospital without money?" said he. "If you are that kind of a magician, perhaps you can tell me where I can find so many students that riches will pour in upon me?"
"Yes, indeed, I can," assented Miss Gray generously. "The pupils are sure, if the pay isn't. Miss Jenkins can find you a barrelful."
The young man turned to me. "A baker's dozen would do to start with. Would you be so kind? I need them very much. I must have work."
His manner was so earnest and appealing, his need so evident that I was ready to turn over to him every student on my list, if that were the thing necessary to enable him to earn a living and get a new grip on life. There were more than enough pupils to go around, and I was glad to put away my work and give the afternoon to planning for a place in which to house Mr. Hanaford and his going-to-be-pupils.
Our guest entered into all our suggestions eagerly. The environment of our simple home, the ministrations of motherly hands touched hidden chords. He did not hide his enjoyment, but talked well and entertainingly of everything—except himself. At times he was boyishly gay; then, seemingly without cause, the expectant look of his eyes would fade into one of bewildered confusion and he would sit in silence. I hoped it was the effect of his illness.
Jane was happier over this last addition to her collection than any previous specimen.
When at last he rose reluctantly and said he must be going, she anxiously inquired if he would be sure to come back to-morrow and the day after.
"Why, dear lady, you are very kind! Sure there will be no risk of wearing out a welcome? And I have no letter of introduction."
"You can't even dent the welcome at Miss Jenkins's house. It has been forged with kindness and polished with love, and we wouldn't have time to read a letter of introduction if you had one. Please come right away."
Our visitor stood voicing his thanks and bidding us adieu when the tuneful gong at the front door was struck by no uncertain hand.
The setting sun wrapped "The House of the Misty Star" in a veil of purple, shot with pink. The subdued radiance crept into the room and covered its shabbiness with a soft glory, the paper door slid open and, framed in the tender twilight, stood Zura Wingate.
"I've come—" she began, then stopped.
The unfinished speech still parting her lips, with hair wind-blown and face aglow, she gazed in surprise at Page Hanaford, and he, bending slightly forward, gazed back at the girl, who radiated youth and all its glorious freedom in every movement.
The silence was brief, but intense. Then Jane Gray gave vent to a long ecstatic "Oh-h-h-h!" I made haste to welcome and introduce Zura.
"I can't stop," she said when I offered her a chair and refreshment; and she added rather breathlessly: "I started for this house at noon; side-tracked and went sailing. Just come to say thank you very much, but I don't care for any lessons in English or manners, and I won't have any kind old grandpa interfering with my affairs. Now I must hustle. If I don't, there'll be an uprising of my ancestors. Good-by."
She went as suddenly as she had come. It was as though a wild sea-bird had swept through the room, leaving us startled, but refreshed.
From the shadows near the door came Page Hanaford's half-humorous query, "Do these visions have a habit of appearing in your doorway, Miss Jenkins, or how much of what I saw was real?"
"Zura Wingate is the realest girl I know, Mr. Hanaford." He listened intently to the short history of the girl I gave him, made no comment, asked no questions, but said good-night very gently and went out into the dusk.
Jane stood looking into the fire. Tightly clasping her hands across her thin chest and closing her eyes, she murmured delightedly, "Oh, the sweet darlings!"
I did not ask whether she referred to our late visitors or something in her menagerie.
I was in a whirl of thought myself. I had lost a pupil; my purse was leaner than ever, my responsibilities heavier; yet intangible joys were storming my old heart, and it was athrill with visions of youth and hope and love, although I saw them through windows doubly barred and locked.
A CALL AND AN INVITATION
The weeks that followed were happy ones in "The House of the Misty Star." Page Hanaford dropped in frequently after supper, and my liking for the boy grew stronger with each visit. His good breeding and gentle rearing were as innate as the brightness of his eyes; and no less evident was his sore need of companionship, though when he talked it was on diversified subjects, never personal ones. If the time between visits were longer than I thought it should be, I invented excuses and sent for him. I asked little favors of him which necessitated his coming to my house; then I asked more, which kept him.
Thus it was that many delightful hours were spent in the cozy, cheerful living-room of the little house perched high upon the hill. In one shadowy corner Jane Gray usually sat, busy with her endless knitting of bibs for babies. Close beside her the maids, Pine Tree and Maple Leaf, looked up from their seats upon the floor, intent on every movement of her flying fingers that they too might quickly learn and help to "bib" the small citizens of their country.
From my place on one side of the reading lamp I could look, unobserved, at Page Hanaford on the other side, as he sat in the deep chair and stretched his long limbs toward the glowing grate stove, while he read to us tales of travel and fiction. Jane said they were as delightful as his voice. I was often too busy studying the boy to give much heed to his reading, but when he spoke it was a different matter.
His familiarity with the remote places of the world, centers of commerce, and the names of men high in affairs, made me wonder and wonder again what had led him to choose for advance in fortune this Buddhist stronghold of moats and medieval castles, so limited in possibilities, so far from contact with foreign things. The teaching of English, as I had good reason to know, yielded many a hearty laugh, but a scant living. There was no other opening here for Europeans.
Every time I saw Page, the more certain I was, not only of his ability, but of his past experience in bigger things. The inconsistencies of his story began to irritate me like the pricking of a pin which the presence of company forbade my removing. However, I did not question him openly; I tried not to do so in my heart. I found for him more students as well as excuses to mend his clothes and have him with us. I scolded him for taking cold, filled him up with stews, brews, and tonics, and with Jane as chief enthusiast—she had fallen an easy victim—we managed to make something of a home life for him.
The boy could not hide his pleasure in our little parties; but it was with protest that he accepted so much waiting on and coddling. He was always deferential, but delighted in gently laughing at Jane and telling me stories that could not happen out of a book.
Sometimes his spirits ran high and found expression in song or a whistled tune. When there was a sudden knock or when he was definitely questioned, there was something in his attitude which I would have named fear, had not every line in his lean, muscular body contradicted the suggestion.
It had not happened very often, but when it did, a nameless something seemed to cover us, and in passing, left a shadow which turned our happy evenings cold and bleak.
It was the custom for every member of my household to assemble in the living-room after supper for evening prayer. Jane and I, the cook, and the two little maids were there because we found comfort and joy. Old Ishi, the gardener, attended because he hoped to discover the witch that made the music inside the baby organ. At the same time he propitiated the foreigner's god, though he kept on the good side of his own deities by going immediately afterwards to offer apology and incense at the temple.
Often Page Hanaford came in at this hour and quietly joined us.
It was an incongruous group, but touching with one accord the border of holier things, banished differences of creed and race and cemented a bond of friendship.
One evening after the service Jane—taking the maids and a heaped-up basket—went to answer a prayer for daily bread she had overheard coming from a hut that day. Page and I settled down for a long, pleasant evening, he with his pipe and book, I with a pile of English compositions to be corrected. "Change" was the subject of the first one I picked up, and I read the opening paragraph aloud: "The seasons change from one to the other without fuss or feather and obey the laws of nature. All mens change from one thing to other by spontaneous combustion and obey the universal laws of God."
My companion was still laughing at this remarkable statement and I puzzling over its meaning when Kishimoto San was announced. I found a possible translation of the sentence in his appearance. "Spontaneous combustion" nearly fitted the state of mind he disclosed to me. The change in him was startling. I had only seen the school superintendent outside his home. In times of difficulty when his will could not prevail, which was seldom, he dismissed the matter at once, and found refuge in that fatalistic word "Shikataganai" (it can't be helped).
But now his fort of stoicism was being besieged, and the walls breached by a girl-child in his home, who was proving a redoubtable foe to his will and his calm, for of course the trouble was Zura. I learned this after he had finished acknowledging his introduction to Page. The bowing, bending, and indrawing of breath, demanded by this ceremony, took time. But it had to be.
Then I asked after the general prosperity of his ancestors, the health of his relatives, finally working my way down to Zura.
Ordinarily Kishimoto San would have scorned to mention his affairs before a stranger, but his world of tradition was upside down. In his haste to right it he broke other laws of convention. Page had withdrawn into the shadow of the window seat after the introduction, but listened intently to the conversation and soon caught the drift of it.
From accounts the situation between Kishimoto San and his granddaughter was not a happy one. The passing weeks had not brought reconciliation to them nor to the conditions. It had come almost to open warfare. "And," declared the troubled man, "if she does not render obedience I will reduce her to bread and water, and subject her to a lonely place, till she comprehends who is the master and acknowledges filial piety."
I protested that such a measure would only urge to desperation a girl of Zura's temperament and that, to my mind, people could not be made good by law, but by love.
The master of many women looked at me pityingly. "Madam, would you condescend to inform my ignorance how love is joined to obedience? Speaks the one great book of this land written for the guidance of women, 'The lifelong duty of women is obedience. Seeing that it is a girl's destiny on reaching womanhood to go to a new home and live in submission to her mother-in-law, it is incumbent upon her to reverence her parents' and elders' instruction at the peril of her life.'"
"But," I remarked, "there is something like two centuries between your granddaughter and this unreasonable book. Its antiquated laws are as withered as the dead needles of a pine tree. Any one reading it would know that when old man Kaibara wrote it he was not feeling well or had quarreled with his cook."
In most things Kishimoto San was just; in many things he was kind. But he was as utterly devoid of humor as a pumpkin is of champagne. Without a flicker he went on. "Dead these sacred laws may be in practice, but the great spirit of them must live, else man in this land will cease to be master in his own house; the peace of our homes will pass. Also, does not your own holy book write plainly on this subject of obedience of women and children?"
Kishimoto San was a good fighter for what he believed was right, and as a warrior for his cause he had armed himself in every possible way. He had a passable knowledge of English and an amazing familiarity with the Scriptures. He also possessed a knack of interpreting any phase of it to strengthen the argument from his standpoint. But I, too, could fight for ideals; love of freedom and the divine right of the individual were themes as dear to me as they were hateful to Kishimoto San. It had occurred many times before, and we always argued in a circular process. Neither of us had ever given in.
But this night Kishimoto San gave me as a last shot: "The confusion of your religion is, it boasts only one God and numberless creeds. Each creed claims superiority. This brings inharmony and causes Christians to snap at each other like a pack of wolves. We have many gods and only one creed. We have knowledge and enlightenment which finally lead to Nirvana."
I could always let my friend have the last word but one. I now asked him if he could deny the enlightenment of which he boasted led as often to despair as it did to Nirvana. If his knowledge were so all-inclusive, why had it failed to suggest some path up or down which he could peacefully lead Zura Wingate?
Before he could answer I offered him a cup of tea, hoping it would cool him off, and asked him to tell me his special grievance.
He said it was the custom in his house for each member of the family to go before the house-shrine and, kneeling, bow the head to the floor three times. Zura had refused to approach the spot and, when he insisted, instead of bowing she had looked straight at the god and contorted her face till it looked like an Oni (a demon). It was most dangerous. The gods would surely avenge such disrespect.
It seemed incredible that keen intelligence and silly superstition could be such close neighbors in the same brain, for I knew Kishimoto San to be an honest man. He not only lived what he believed, he insisted on others believing all that he lived.
He continued his story—the girl not only refused to come to me for English lessons, but declined to go for her lessons in Japanese etiquette, necessary to fit her for her destiny as a wife. She absented herself from the house a whole day at a time. When she returned she said, without the slightest shame, that she had been racing with the naval cadets, or else had been for a picnic with the young officer from the ship. Like a chattering monkey she would relate what had been done or said.
At least, thought I, the girl makes no secret of her reckless doings. She is open and honest about it. I said as much to my visitor.
He was quietly savage. "Honest! Open you name it! There is but one definition for it. Immodesty! In a young girl that is deadlier than impiety. It is the wild blood of her father," he ended sadly.
I could have added, "Dashed with a full measure of grandpa's stubbornness." But I was truly sorry for Kishimoto San. His trouble was genuine. It was no small thing to be compelled to shoulder a problem begun in a foreign land, complicated by influences far removed from his understanding, then thrust upon him for solution. He was a faithful adherent of the old system where individuality counted for nothing and a woman for less. To his idea the salvation of a girl depended on her submission to the rules laid down by his ancestors for the women of his house. He was an ardent Buddhist and under old conditions its teachings had answered to his every need. But both law and religion failed him when it came to dealing with this child who had come to him from a free land across the sea and whose will had the same adamant quality as his own.
While I was turning over in my mind how I should help either the girl or the man, I ventured to change the subject by consulting Kishimoto San upon important school matters. The effort was useless. His mind stuck as fast to his worries as a wooden shoe in spring mud.
Not least among his vexations was the difficulty he would have in marrying Zura off. If she failed in filial piety and obedience to him, how could she ever learn that most needful lesson of abandoning herself to the direction of her mother-in-law?
The picture of Zura Wingate, whose early training had been free and unrestrained, being brought to order by a Japanese mother-in-law was almost too much for my gravity. It would be like a big black beetle ordering the life of a butterfly. Not without a struggle the conservative grandfather acknowledged that his system had failed. For the first time since I had known him Kishimoto San, with genuine humility, appealed for help. "Madam, my granddaughter is like new machineries. The complexities of her conduct causes my mind to suffer confusion of many strange thought. Condescend to extend to me the help of your great knowledge relating to girls reared with your flag of freedom."
I had always thought my ignorance on the subject as deep as a cave. I would begin at once to excavate my soul in search of that "great knowledge."
I proceeded a little loftily: "Oh, Kishimoto San, I am sure there is a way to right things. The fault lies in the fact that Zura and you do not understand each other. Suppose you permit her to come to me for a little visit without study. It would give us great pleasure and I could learn to know her better."
Pushing aside all hesitation and the apologies that etiquette required on such occasions, greatly relieved, he quickly accepted my invitation. "You do my house great honor to assume the mystery of Zura's conduct. I give you most honorable thanks."
When he said good-night the look on his face suggested that a smile might penetrate the gloom, if he lived long enough.
* * * * *
"By Jove! is that what the women of this country have to go up against?" Page asked when the door had closed behind Kishimoto San.
"A very small part of them must do so, Mr. Hanaford. It is not so hard for the women born to it, as they know their fate and can accept it from babyhood. The suffering falls upon the alien, who runs afoul of their customs, especially one who has known the delight of liberty."
"Liberty!" repeated Page, gazing out of the window on the thousands of lights below, which were fluttering in the velvety darkness like a vast army of fireflies. "Without it, what is life to the smallest—moth!"
ZURA WINGATE'S VISIT
These were the days I kept an eagle eye on Jane Gray. She grew steadily stronger and her activities resembled a hive of bees. Unless she was carefully observed and brought to order, her allowance of milk and part of her food went to some child or stray beggar, waiting outside the lodge gates.
She talked incessantly and confidently of the hospital she intended to build in the Quarters. She had not a sen and I had less.
With the grocery bill unpaid, her cheerful assurance sometimes provoked me. "Goodness, Jane, you haven't enough to buy even one shingle for a hospital! To hear you talk one would think the National Bank was at your command."
"But, Miss Jenkins," she said, smiling, "we are not going to use shingles for the roof, but straw; and I have something stronger than a national bank. You see, I was just born hoping. I know some of the sweetest people at home. I've written nearly one thousand letters, telling them all about my dear friends in the Quarters."
So that's where all the stamps went that she bought with the money I gave her for winter clothes!
I was taking Jane to task for this when a note arrived from Zura. I had been almost sure that my invitation would meet the same fate as the English lessons. My fears disappeared when I opened the missive. It read as follows:
Dear Miss Jenkins: Thank you. Never did like to study in vacation, but if it is plain visiting I'll be delighted, for I'm starving. Have lived so long on rice and raw fish I feel like an Irish stew. You'll surely be shocked at what I can do to ham and eggs and hot biscuit! I'll float in about Thursday.
Hungrily yours, ZURA WINGATE.
When I told my companion that Zura was coming to make us a little visit, she was preparing to start for her work. She had just tied a bright green veil over her hat. Failing in its mission as trimming, the chiffon dropped forward in reckless folds almost covering her face; it gave her a dissipated look as she hurried about, gathering up her things, eager to be gone. But I was seeking information and detained her. "Jane," I asked, "what do young girls in our country like best?"
"Boys and tolu," was the astonishing reply.
The twinkle in her one visible eye increased to enough for two when I said with quite a good deal of dignity that, while I had some idea what boys were, I knew nothing of the other article she mentioned.
"Oh, don't you really know what tolu is? It's a kind of rubber and girls like to chew it."
"American girls chew! Why, the thing is impossible," I cried, pained to have an ideal shattered.
"Keep calm, Miss Jenkins, this is a different kind of chew from the one you are thinking about. It isn't pretty, but it won't hurt them, any more than a peck of chocolates and, tolu or no tolu, in all the world there isn't anything dearer than young American girls. They are so fluffy and bossy and sweet, and they do make the darlingest mamas."
Jane waited for some comment from me. Seeing I had none to make, she said, "Well, there aren't any boys for Zura to play with, and no tolu this side of San Francisco." Then, brightening with sudden inspiration, she exclaimed, "But I tell you what: wait till I take this basket down to Omoto's home and I'll run right back and make some bear and tiger cookies and gingerbread Johnnies. Children adore them."
"What is the matter now down at Omoto's house?"
"Oh, nothing much. He's in jail and his wife simply cannot work out in the field to-day. She has a brand-new pair of the sweetest twins, and a headache besides."
Even after Jane departed I did some hard thinking how I was to entertain so youthful a visitor as Zura. Inside our simple home there was nothing especially beautiful, and my companion had never mentioned that she ever found me amusing. Outside fore and aft there was a view which brought rapture to all beholders and peace to many troubled souls. I was not sure how a wild young maid would thrive on views.
From the moment Zura entered the house and I caught sight of her face as she looked at my garden through the glassed-in end of the sitting-room, my fears disappeared like mist before a breeze. A bit of her soul was in her eyes and, when she asked for a nearer view, I put down my work and led her through the carved gates into the ancient glory which was not only the garden of my house, but the garden of my soul. We passed a moss-grown shrine where a quaint old image looked out across the lake rimmed with flaming azaleas, and on its waters a family of long-legged cranes consulted with each other. Our way led over a bridge with a humped-up back and along a little path for one, then across a bank of ferns and into the tangle of bamboo all silvery with the sunshine.
At the beginning of our walk my guest's conversation was of the many happy nothings I suppose most girls indulge in, but as we went farther she had less to say. Her eyes grew wider and darker as the beauty of the place pressed in upon her. We found a seat arched over with a blossoming vine and sat down for rest.
Zura was quiet and, finding she avoided every allusion to home, I drifted into telling her a bit of the garden's history—its unknown age, the real princes and princesses who in the long ago had trodden its crooked paths. Legend said that so great was their love for it their spirits refused to abide in Nirvana and came to dwell in the depths of the dim old garden. I told her the spot had been my play place, my haven of rest for thirty years, and how for want of company I had peopled it with lords and ladies of my fancy. Armored knights and dark-haired dames of my imagination had lived and laughed and loved in the shadows of its soft beauty. Anxious to entertain and pleased to have an audience, I opened wider the doors to my sentimental self than I really intended. I went from story to story till the air was filled with the sweetness of romance and poetry. In the midst of a wondrous love legend a noise, sudden but suppressed, stopped me short. I looked at the girl. She was shaking with laughter.
When I asked why, she managed to gasp, "Oh, but you're an old softy!"
It was disrespectful, but it was also true and, though I felt as if a hot wind had been blowing on my face, there was such a note of comradeship in her voice that it cheered me to the point of joining in her merriment. Our laugh seemed to sweep away many of the years that stood between us and the old thrill of anticipation passed through me.
We found many other things to talk about, for I searched every crook and cranny of my old brain for bits of any sort with which to interest her. The last turn in the path leading back to the house found us friendly and with a taste or two in common.
Once, seeing something near by she wanted to sketch, she whispered to me as familiarly as if I were the same age, "For the love of Mike! hold my hat while I put that on paper."
I had no acquaintance with "Mike" and she was bareheaded, but so infectious was her eagerness that I felt about twenty.
What she wanted to sketch was only a small girl in a gay kimono and a big red umbrella, but the tiny mite made a vivid spot of color as she stood motionless to watch a great brown moth hovering over a bed of iris. Before I could explain that the child was a waif temporarily housed with me, shy and easily frightened, Zura whipped from somewhere out of the mysteries of a tight dress a pad and pencil and, with something like magic, the lines of the little maid's figure and face were transferred to the white sheet.
"How Daddy would have loved her," said Zura, softly, as she covered her work. I was silent.
Later my guest and I went into the house and I showed her my treasures. They were few, but precious in their way: Some rare old prints, a piece of ivory, and an old jewelry box of gold lacquer, all from grateful pupils. Zura's appreciation of the artistic side of her mother's country was keen. In connection with it she spoke of her father's great gift and how he had begun teaching her to paint when he had to tie her to a chair to steady her and almost before her hand was big enough to hold a brush. She referred to their close companionship. Mother wanted to rest very often and seldom joined them. Father and daughter would prepare their own lunch and go for a long day's tramping and sketching. Once they were gone for a week and slept out under the trees. Daddy was the jolliest chum and always let her do as she pleased. He trusted her and never had corrected her. Her voice was low and sweet as she dwelt upon the memories of her father, and when I saw her round white throat contract with the effort for control, I found something else to talk about.