The Lady and Sada San
A Sequel to
The Lady of the Decoration
New York The Century Co. 1912
Copyright, 1912, by
THE CENTURY CO.
Published, October, 1912
ELLEN CHURCHILL SEMPLE
MY FELLOW WANDERERS THROUGH THE ORIENT
The Lady and Sada San
ON THE HIGH SEAS. June, 1911.
You once told me, before you went to Italy, that after having been my intimate relative all these years, you had drawn a red line through the word surprise. Restore the abused thing to its own at once. You will need it when the end of this letter is reached. I have left Kentucky after nine years of stay-at-home happiness, and once again I am on my way to Japan—this time in wifely disobedience to Jack's wishes.
What do you think that same Jack has "gone and done"! Of course he is right. That is the provoking part of Jack; it always turns out that he is in the right. Two months ago he went to some place in China which, from its ungodly name, should be in the furthermost parts of a wilderness. Perhaps you have snatched enough time from guarding the kiddies from a premature end in Como to read a headline or so in the home papers. If by some wonderful chance, between baby prattle, bumps and measles, they have given you a moment's respite, then you know that the Government has grown decidedly restless for fear the energetic and enterprising bubonic or pneumonic germ might take passage on some of the ships from the Orient. So it is fortifying against invasion. The Government, knowing Jack's indomitable determination to learn everything knowable about the private life and character of a given germ, asked him to join several other men it is sending out to get information, provided of course the germ doesn't get them first.
Jack read me the official-looking document one night between puffs of his after-dinner pipe.
Another surprise awaits you. For once in my life I had nothing to say. Possibly it is just as well for the good of the cause that the honorable writer of the letter could not see how my thoughts looked.
I glanced about our little den, aglow with soft lights; everything in it seemed to smile. Well, as you know it, Mate, I do not believe even you realize the blissfulness of the hours of quiet comradeship we have spent there. With the great know-it-all old world shut out, for joyful years we have dwelt together in a home-made paradise. And yet it seemed just then as if I were dwelling in a home-made Other Place.
The difference in the speed of time depends on whether love is your guest or not.
The thought of the briefest interruption to my content made me feel like cold storage. A break in happiness is sometimes hard to mend. The blossom does not return to the tree after the storm, no matter how beautiful the sunshine; and the awful fear of the faintest echo of past sorrow made my heart as numb as a snowball. To the old terror of loneliness was added fear for Jack's safety. But I did not do what you naturally would prophesy. After seeing the look on Jack's face I changed my mind, and my protest was the silent kind that says so much. It was lost! Already Jack had gone into one of his trances, as he does whenever there is a possibility of bearding a brand-new microbe in its den, whether it is in his own country or one beyond the seas. In body he was in a padded chair with all the comforts of home and a charming wife within speaking distance. In spirit he was in dust-laden China, joyfully following the trail of the wandering germ. Later on, when Jack came to, we talked it over. I truly remembered your warnings on the danger of impetuosity; for I choked off every hasty word and gave my consent for Jack to go. Then I cried half the night because I had.
We both know that long ago Jack headed for the topmost rung of a very tall scientific ladder. Sometimes my enthusiasm as chief booster and encourager has failed, as when it meant absence and risk. Though I have known women who specialized in renunciation, till they were the only happy people in the neighborhood, its charms have never lured me into any violent sacrifice. Here was my chance and I firmly refused to be the millstone to ornament Jack's neck.
You might know, Mate? I was hoping all the time that he would find it quite impossible to leave such a nice biddable wife at home. But I learn something new about Jack every day. After rather heated discussion it was decided that I should stay in the little home. That is, the heat and the discussion was all on my side. The decision lay in the set of Jack's mouth, despite the tenderness in his eyes. He thought the risks of the journey too great for me; the hardships of the rough life too much. Dear me! Will men never learn that hardship and risk are double cousins to loneliness, and not even related to love by marriage?
But just as well paint on water as to argue with a scientist when he has reached a conclusion.
Besides, said Jack, the fatherly Government has no intention that petticoats, even hobbled ones, should be flitting around while the habits and the methods of the busy insect were being examined through a microscope or a telescope. The choice of instrument depending, of course, upon the activity of the bug.
Black Charity was to be my chief-of-police and comforter-in-general. Parties—house, card and otherwise—were to be my diversion, and I was to make any little trips I cared for. Well, that 's just what I am doing. Of course, there might be a difference of opinion as to whether a journey from Kentucky to Japan is a little trip.
I am held by a vague uneasiness today. Possibly it 's because I am not certain as to Jack's attitude, when he learns through my letter, which is sailing along with me, that I am going to Japan to be as near him as possible. I hope he will appreciate my thoughtfulness in saving him all the bother of saying no. Or it might be that my slightly dampened spirits come from the discussion I am still having with myself whether it 's the part of a dutiful wife to present herself a wiggling sacrifice to science, or whether science should attend to its own business and lead not into temptation the scientifically inclined heads of peaceful households.
You 'll say the decision of what was best lay with Jack. Honey, there 's the error of your mortal mind! In a question like that my spouse is as one-sided as a Civil War veteran. Say germ-hunt to Jack and it 's like dangling a gaudy fly before a hungry carp.
I saw Jack off at the station, and went hack to the little house. Charity had sent the cook home and with her own hands served all the beloved dainties of my long-ago childhood, trying to coax me into forgetfulness. As you remember, Mate, dinner has always been the happiest hour of the day in our small domain. Now? Well, everything was just the same. The only difference was Jack. And the half circle of bare tablecloth opposite me was about as cheerful as a snowy afternoon at the North Pole. I wandered around the house for awhile, but every time I turned a corner there was a memory waiting to greet me. Now the merriest of them seemed to be covered with a chilly shadow, and every one was pale and ghostly. All night I lay awake, playing at the old game of mental solitaire and keeping tryst with the wind which seemed to tap with unseen fingers at my window and sigh,
"Then let come what come may . . . . . . I shall have had my day."
Is it possible, Mate, that my glorious day, which I thought had barely tipped the hour of noon, is already lengthening into the still shadows of evening?
It was foolish but, for the small comfort I got out of it, I turned on the light and looked inside my wedding-ring. Time has worn it a bit but the letters which spell "My Lady of the Decoration," spelled again the old-time thrill into my heart.
What 's the use of tying your heartstrings around a man, and then have ambition slip the knot and leave you all a-quiver?
Far be it from me to stand in Jack's way if germ-stalking is necessary to his success. Just the same, I could have spent profitable moments reading the burial service over every microbe, home-grown and foreign.
Really, Mate, I 've conscientiously tried every plan Jack proposed and a few of my own. It was no use. That day-after-Christmas feeling promptly suppressed any effort towards contentment.
At first there was a certain exhilaration in catching pace with the gay whirl which for so long had been passed by for homier things. You will remember there was a time when the pace of that same whirl was never swift enough for me; but my taste for it now was gone, and it was like trying to do a two-step to a funeral march. For once in my life I knew the real meaning of that poor old worn-to-a-frazzle call of the East, for now the' dominant note was the call of love.
I heard it above the clink of the teacups. It was in the swish of every silk petticoat. If I went to the theater, church or concert, the call of that germ-ridden spot of the unholy name beat into my brain with the persistency of a tom-tom on a Chinese holiday.
Say what you will, Mate, it once took all my courage to leave those I loved best and go to far-away Japan. Now it required more than I could dig up to stay—with the best on the other side of the Pacific.
The struggle was easy and swift. The tom-tom won and I am on my way to be next-door neighbor to Jack. Those whom it concerned here were away from home, so I told no one good-by, thus saving everybody so much wasted advice. If there were a tax on advice the necessities of life would not come so high. Charity followed me to the train, protesting to the last that "Marse Jack gwine doubt her velocity when she tell him de truf bout her lady going a-gaddin' off by herse'f and payin' no mind to her ole mammy's prosterations." I asked her to come with me as maid. She refused; said her church was to have an ice-cream sociable and she had "to fry de fish." This letter will find you joyfully busy with the babies and the "only man." Blest woman that you are.
But I know you. I have a feeling that you have a few remarks to make. So hurry up. Let us get it off our minds. Then I can better tell you what I am doing. Something is going to happen. It usually does when I am around. I have been asked to chaperone a young girl whose face and name spell romance. If I were seeking occupation here is the opportunity knocking my door into splinters.
STILL AT SEA. June, 1911.
Any time you are out of a job and want to overwork all your faculties and a few emotions, try chaperoning a young room-mate answering to the name of Sada San, who is one-half American dash, and the other half the unnamable witchery of a Japanese woman; a girl with the notes of a lark in her voice when she sings to the soft twang of an old guitar.
If, too, you are seeking to study psychological effect of such a combination on people, good, middlin' and otherwise, I would suggest a Pacific liner as offering fifty-seven varieties, and then some.
The last twinge of conscience I had over coming, died a cheerful death. I 'd do it again. For not only is romance surcharging the air, but fate gives promise of weaving an intricate pattern in the story of this maid whose life is just fairly begun and whom the luck of the road has given me as traveling mate. Now, remembering a few biffs fate has given me, I have no burning desire to meddle with her business. Neither am I hungering for responsibility. But what are you going to say to yourself, when a young girl with a look in her eyes you would wish your daughter to have, unhesitatingly gives you a letter addressed at large to some "Christian Sister"! You read it to find it's from her home pastor, requesting just a little companionship for "a tender young soul who is trying her wings for the first time in the big and beautiful world"! I have a very private opinion about reading my title clear to the Christian Sister business, but no woman with a heart as big as a pinch of snuff could resist giving her very best and much more to the slip of a winsome maid, who confidingly asks it—especially if the sister has any knowledge of the shadows lurking in the beautiful world.
Mate, these steamers as they sail from shore to shore are like giant theaters. Every trip is an impromptu drama where comedy, farce, and often startling tragedy offer large speaking parts. The revelation of human nature in the original package is funny and pathetic. Amusement is always on tap and life stories are just hanging out of the port-hole waiting to attack your sympathy or tickle your funny bone. But you 'd have to travel far to find the beginning of a story so heaped up with romantic interest as that of Sada San as she told it to me, one long, lazy afternoon as I lay on the couch in my cabin, thanking my stars I was getting the best of the bare tablecloth and the empty house at home.
Some twenty years ago Sada's father, an American, grew tired of the slow life in a slow town and lent ear to the fairy stories told of the Far East, where fortunes were made by looking wise for a few moments every morning and devoting the rest of the day to samisens and flutes. He found the glorious country of Japan. The beguiling tea-houses, and softly swinging sampans were all too distracting. They sang ambition to sleep and the fortune escaped.
He drifted, and at last sought a mean existence as teacher of English in a school of a remote seaside village. His spirit broke when the message came of the death of the girl in America who was waiting for him. Isolation from his kind and bitter hours left for thought made life alone too ghastly. He tried to make it more endurable by taking the pretty daughter of the head man of the village as his wife.
My temperature took a tumble when I saw proofs of a hard and fast marriage ceremony, signed and counter-signed by a missionary brother who meant business.
You say it is a sordid tale? Mate, I know a certain spot in this Land of Blossoms, where only foreigners are laid to rest, which bears testimony to a hundred of its kind—strange and pitiful destinies begun with high and brilliant hopes in their native land; and when illusions have faded, the end has borne the stamp of tragedy, because suicide proved the open door out of a life of failure and exile.
Sada's father was saved suicide and long unhappiness by a timely tidal-wave, which swept the village nearly bare, and carried the man and his wife out to sea and to eternity.
The child was found by Susan West who came from a neighboring town to care for the sick and hungry. Susan was a teacher-missionary. Not much to look at, if her picture told the truth, but from bits of her history that I 've picked up her life was a brighter jewel than most of us will ever find in a heavenly crown. Instead of holding the unbeliever by the nape of the neck and thrusting a not-understood doctrine down his unwilling throat, she lived the simple creed of loving her neighbor better than herself. And the old pair of goggles she wore made little halos around the least speck of good she found in any transgressor, no matter how warped with evil.
When she was n't helping some helpless sinner to see the rainbow of promise at the end of the straight and narrow way, Susan spent her time and all her salary, giving sick babies a fighting chance for life. She took the half-drowned little Sada home with her, and searched for any kinsman left the child. There was only one, her mother's brother. He was very poor and gladly gave his consent that Miss West should keep the child—as long as it was a girl! Susan had taught the man English once in the long ago and this was his chance to repay her.
Later on when the teacher found her health failing and headed for home in America, Uncle Mura was still more generous and raised no objections to her taking the baby with her.
Together they lived in a small Western town. The missionary reared the child by rule of love only and went on short rations to educate her. Sada's eager mind absorbed everything offered her like a young sponge, and when a few months ago Susanna folded her hands and joined her foremothers, there was let loose on the world this exquisite girl with her solitary legacy of untried ideals and a blind enthusiasm for her mother's people.
Right here, Mate, was when I had a prolonged attack of cold shivers. Just before Miss West passed along, knowing that the Valley was near, she wrote to Uncle in Japan and told him that his niece would soon he alone. Can't you imagine the picture she drew of her foster child who had satisfied every craving of her big mother heart? Fascinating and charming and so weighted with possibilities, that Mura, who had prospered, leaped for his chance and sent Sada San money for the passage over.
Not a mite of anxiety shadowed her eyes when she told me that Uncle kept a wonderful tea-house in Kioto. He must be very rich, she thought, because he wrote her of the beautiful things she was to have. About this time the room seemed suffocating. I got up and turned on the electric fan. The only thing required of her, she continued, was to use her voice to entertain Uncle's friends. But she hoped to do much more. Through Miss West she knew how many of her mother's dear people needed help. How glorious that she was young and strong and could give so much. Susan had also talked to her of the flowers, the lovely scenery, the poetry of the people and their splendid spirit—making a dreamland where even man was perfect. How she loved it! How proud she was to feel that in part it was her country. Faithfully would she serve it. Oh, Susanna West! I 'd like to shake you till your harp snapped a string. It 's like sending a baby to pick flowers on the edge of a bottomless pit.
What could I say! The missionary-teacher had told the truth. She simply failed to mention that in the fairy-land there are cherry-blossom lanes down which no human can wander without being torn by the brier patches.
The path usually starts from a wonderful tea-house where Uncles have grown rich. Miss West didn't mean to shirk her duty. In most things the begoggled lady was a visionary with a theory that if you don't talk about a thing it does not exist; and like most of her kind she swept the disagreeables into a dust heap and made for the high places where all was lovely. And yet she had toiled with the girl through all the difficulties of the Japanese language; and, to give her a musical education, had pinched to the point of buying one hat in eight years!
Now it is all done and Sada is launched on the high seas of life with a pleasure-house for a home and an unscrupulous Uncle with unlimited authority for a chaperon. Shades of Susan! but I am hoping guardian angels are "really truly," even if invisible.
Good night, Mate. This game of playing tag with jarring thoughts, new and old, has made six extra wrinkles. I am glad I came and you and Jack will have to be, for to quote Charity, "I 'se done resoluted on my word of honah" to keep my hands, if possible, on Sada whose eyes are as blue as her hair is black.
Since morning the sea has been a sheet of blue, streaked with the silver of flying fish. That is all the scenery there is; not a sail nor a bird nor an insect. Either the unchanging view or something in the air has stimulated everybody into being their nicest. It is surprising how quickly graciousness possesses some people when there is a witching girl around. Vivacious young men and benevolent officers have suddenly appeared out of nowhere, spick and span in white duck and their winningest smiles. Entertainments dovetail till there is barely time for change of costume between acts.
But let me tell you, Mate, living up to being a mother is no idle pastime, particularly if it means reviving the lost art of managing love-smitten youths and elderly male coquettes. There is a specimen of each opposite Sada and me at table who are so generous with their company on deck, before and after meals, I have almost run out of excuses and am short on plans to avoid the heavy obligations of their eager attentions.
The youth is a To-Be-Ruler of many people, a Maharajah of India. But the name is bigger than the man. Two years ago his father started the boy around the world with a sack full of rubles and a head full of ancient Indian lore. With these assets he paused at Oxford that he might skim through the classics. He had been told this was where all the going-to-be-great men stopped to acquire just the proper tone of superiority so necessary in ruling a country. Of course he picked up a bit on electricity, mechanics, etc. This accomplished to his satisfaction he ran over to America to view the barbarians' god of money and take a glance at their houses which touched the sky. But his whole purpose in living, he told me, was to yield himself to certain meditations, so that in his final reincarnation, which was only a few centuries off, he would return to the real thing in Buddha. In the meantime he was to be a lion, a tiger and a little white bird. At present he is plain human, with the world-old malady gnawing at his heart, a pain which threatens to send his cogitations whooping down a thornier and rosier lane than any Buddha ever knew. Besides I am thinking a few worldly vanities have crept in and set him hack an eon or so. He wears purple socks, pink ties and a dainty watch strapped around his childish wrist.
When I asked him what impressed him most in America, he promptly answered with his eyes on Sada, "Them girls. They are rapturous!"
Farewell Nirvana! With a camp stool in one hand and a rosary in the other, he follows Sada San like the shadow on a sun dial. Wherever she is seated, there is the stool and the royal youth, his mournful eyes feasting on the curves and dimples of her face, her lightest jest far sweeter than any prayer, the beads in his hand forgotten.
The other would-be swain calls himself a Seeker of Truth. Incidentally he is hunting a wife. His general attitude is a constant reminder of the uncertainty of life. His presence makes you glad that nothing lasts. He says his days are heavy with the problems of the universe, but you can see for yourself that this very commercial traveler carries a light side line in an assortment of flirtations that surely must be like dancing little sunbeams on a life of gloom.
Goodness knows how much of a nuisance he would be if it were not for a little lady named Dolly, who sits beside him, gray in color, dress and experience. At no uncertain age she has found a belated youthfulness and is starting on the first pleasure trip of her life.
Coming across the country to San Francisco, her train was wrecked. In the smash-up a rude chair struck her just south of the belt line and she fears brain fever from the blow. The alarm is not general, for though just freed by kind death from an unhappy life sentence of matrimony she is ready to try another jailer.
Whether he spied Dolly first and hoped that the gleam from her many jewels would light up the path in his search for Truth and a few other things, or whether the Seeker was sought, I do not know. However the flirtation which seems to have no age limit has flourished like a bamboo tree. For once the man was too earnest. Dolly gave heed and promptly attached herself with the persistency of a barnacle to a weather-beaten junk. By devices worthy a finished fisher of men, she holds him to his job of suitor, and if in a moment of abstraction his would-be ardor for Sada grows too perceptible, the little lady reels in a yard or so of line to make sure her prize is still dangling on the hook.
To-day at tiffin the griefless widow unconsciously scored at the expense of the Seeker, to the delight of the whole table. For Sada's benefit this man quoted a long passage from some German philosopher. At least it sounded like that. It was far above the little gray head he was trying to ignore and so weighty I feared for her mentality. But I did not know Dolly. She rose like a doughnut. Looking like a child who delights in the rhythm of meaningless sounds, she heard him through, then exclaimed with breathless delight, "Oh, ain't he fluid!"
The man fled, but not before he had asked Sada for two dances at night.
It is like a funny little curtain-raiser, with jealousy as a gray-haired Cupid. So far as Sada is concerned, it is admiration gone to waste. Even if she were not gaily indifferent, she is too absorbed in the happy days she thinks are awaiting her. Poor child! Little she knows of the limited possibilities of a Japanese girl's life; and what the effect of the painful restrictions will be on one of her rearing, I dare not think.
Once she is under the authority of Uncle, the Prince, the Seeker, and all mankind will be swept into oblivion; and, until such time as she can be married profitably and to her master's liking, she will know no man. The cruelest awakening she will face is the attitude of the Orient toward the innocent offspring in whose veins runs the blood of two races, separated by differences which never have been and never will be overcome.
In America the girl's way would not have been so hard because her novel charm would have carried her far. But hear me: in Japan, the very wave in her hair and the color of her eyes will prove a barrier to the highest and best in the land. Even with youth and beauty and intelligence, unqualified recognition for the Eurasian is as rare as a square egg.
Another thought hits me in the face as if suddenly meeting a cross bumblebee. Will the teachings of the woman, who lived with her head in the clouds, hold hard and fast when Uncle puts on the screws?
The Seeker says it is the fellow who thinks first that wins. He speaks feelingly on the subject. Right now I am going to begin cultivating first thought, and try to be near if danger, whose name is Uncle, threatens the girl who has walked into my affections and made herself at home.
All the very good people are in bed. The very worldly minded and the young are on deck reluctantly finishing the last dance under a canopy of make-believe cherry blossoms and wistaria. I am on the deck between, closing this letter to you which I will mail in Yokohama in a few hours.
In a way I shall be glad to see a quiet room in a hotel and hie me back to simple living, free from the responsibilities of a temporary parent. I am not promising myself any gay thrills in the meantime. What 's the use, with Jack on the borderland of a sulphurous country and you in the Garden of Eden? His letters and yours will be my greatest excitement. So write and keep on writing and never fear that I will not do the same. You are the safety-valve for my speaking emotions, Mate; so let that help you bear it.
Please mark with red ink one small detail of Sada's story. When I was fastening her simple white gown for the dance her chatter was like that of a sunny-hearted child. Indeed, she liked to dance. Susan did not think it harmful. She said if your heart was right your feet would follow. When Miss West could spare her she always went to parties with Billy, and oh, how he could dance if he was so big and had red hair.
So! there was a Billy? I looked in her face for signs. The way was clear but there was a soft little quiver in her voice that caused me carefully to label the unknown William, and lay him on a shelf for future reference. Whatever the coming days hold for her, mine has been the privilege of giving the girl three weeks of unclouded happiness.
Outside I hear the little Prince pacing up and down, yielding up his soul to holy meditations. I 'd be willing to wager my best piece of jade his contemplations are something like a cycle from Nirvana, and closer far to a pair of heavily fringed eyes. Poor little imitation Buddha! He is grasping at the moon's reflection on the water. Somewhere near I hear Dolly's soft coo and deep-voiced replies. But unfinished packing, a bath and coffee are awaiting me.
Dawn is coming, and already through the port hole I see a dot of earth curled against the horizon. Above floats Fuji, the base wrapped in mists, the peak eternally white, a giant snowdrop swinging in a dome of perfect blue. The vision is a call to prayer, a wooing of the soul to the heights of undimmed splendor.
After all, Mate, I may give you and Jack a glad surprise and justify Sada handing me that letter addressed to a Christian Sister.
YOKOHAMA, July, 1911.
Now that I am here, I am trying to decide what to do with myself. At home each day was so full of happy things and the happiest of all was listening for Jack's merry whistle as he opened the street door every night. At home there are always demands, big and little, popping in on me which I sometimes resent and yet being free from makes me feel as dismal as a long vacant house with the For Rent sign up, looks. In this Lotus land there is no must of any kind for the alien, and the only whistles I hear belong to the fierce little tugs that buzz around in the harbor, in and out among the white sails of the fishing fleet like big black beetles in a field of lilies. But you must not think life dull for me. Fate and I have cried a truce, and she is showing me a few hands she is dealing other people. But first listen to the tale I have to tell of the bruise she gave my pride this morning, that will show black for many a day.
I joined a crowd on the water 's edge in front of the hotel to watch a funeral procession in boats. Recently a hundred and eighty fishermen were sent to the bottom by a big typhoon, and the wives and the sweethearts were being towed out to sea to pay a last tribute to them, by strewing the fatal spot with flowers and paper prayers. White-robed priests stood up in the front of the boats and chanted some mournful ritual, keeping time to the dull thumping of a drum. The air was heavy with incense. A dreamy melancholy filled the air and I thought how hallowed and beautiful a thing is memory. From out that silent watching crowd came a voice that sent my thoughts flying to starry nights of long ago and my first trip across the Pacific; soft south winds; vows of eternal devotion that kept time with the distant throbbing of a ship's engine. I fumed. I was facing little Germany and five littler Germanys strung out behind. You surely remember him? and how when I could n't see things his way he swore to a wrecked heart and a never-to-be-forgotten constancy. Mate! There was no more of a flicker of memory in the stare of his round blue eyes than there would have been in a newly baked pretzel. I stood still, waiting for some glimmer of recognition. Instead, he turned to the pincushion on his arm, whom I took to be Ma O., and I heard him say "Herzallorliebsten." I went straight to the hotel and had it translated. Thought it had a familiar sound. Would n't it be interesting to know how many "only ones" any man's life history records? To think of my imagining him eating his heart out with hopeless longing in some far away Tibetan Monastery. And here he was, pudgy and content, with his fat little brood waddling along behind him. If our vision could penetrate the future, verily Romance would have to close up shop. Oh, no! I did n't want him to pine entirely away, but he needn't have been in such an everlasting hurry to get fat and prosperous over it. Would n't Jack howl?
I took good care to see that he was not stopping at this hotel. Then I went back to my own thoughts of the happy years that had been mine since Little Germany bade me a tearful good-by.
And, too, I wanted to think out some plan whereby I can keep in touch with Sada and be friendly with her relative.
Before I left the steamer, I had a surprise in the way of Uncles. Next time I will pause before I prophesy. But if Uncle was a blow to my preconceived ideas, I will venture Sada startled a few of his traditions as to nieces. Quarantine inspection was short, and when at last we cast anchor, the harbor was as blue as if a patch of the summer sky had dropped into it. The thatched roofs shone russet brown against the dark foliage of the hills. The temple roofs curved gracefully above the pink mist of the crepe myrtle.
Sada was standing by me on the upper deck, fascinated by the picture. As she realized the long dreamed-of fairy-land was unfolding before her, tears of joy filled her eyes and tears of another kind filled mine.
Sampans, launches and lighters clustered around the steamer as birds of prey gather to a feast: captains in gilt braid; coolies in blue and white, with their calling-cards stamped in large letters on their backs, and the story of their trade written around the tail of their coats in fantastic Japanese characters. Gentlemen in divided skirts and ladies in kimono and clogs swarmed up the gangway. In the smiling, pushing crowd I looked for the low-browed relative I expected to see. Imagine the shock, Mate, when a man with manners as beautiful as his silk kimono presented his card and announced that he was Uncle Mura. I had been pointed out as Sada's friend. A week afterwards I could have thought of something brilliant to say. Taken unawares, I stammered out a hope that his honorable teeth were well and his health poor. You see I am all right in Japanese if I do the talking. For I know what I want to say and what they ought to say. But when they come at me with a flank movement, as it were, I am lost. Uncle passed over my blunder without a smile and went on to say many remarkable things, if sound means anything. However, trust even a deaf woman to prick up her ears when a compliment is headed her way, whether it is in Sanskrit or Polynesian. In acknowledgment I stuck to my flag, and the man's command of quaint but correct English convinced me that I would have to specialize in something more than first thought if I was to cope with this tea-house proprietor whose armor is the subtle manners of the courtier.
Blessed Sada! Only the cocksureness of youth made her blind to the check her enthusiasm was meant to receive in the first encounter of the new life. She had always met people on equal terms, most men falling easy victims. She was blissfully ignorant that Mura, by directing his conversation to me, meant to convey to her that well-bred girls in this enchanted land lowered their eyes and folded their hands when they talked in the presence of a MAN, if they dared to talk at all.
Not so this half-child of the West. She fairly palpitated with joy and babbled away with the freedom of a sunny brook in the shadow of a grim forest. From the man's standpoint, he was not unkind; unrestraint was to him an incomprehensible factor in a young girl's make-up; and whatever was to follow, the first characters he meant her to learn must spell reverence and repression.
They hurried ashore to catch a train to Kioto. I must look harmless, for I was invited to call. I shall accept, for I have a feeling in spite of manners and silken robes that the day is not distant when the distress signals will be flying.
I waved good-by to the girl as the little launch made its way to land. She made a trumpet of her hands and called a merry "sayonara." The master of her future folded his arms and looked out to sea.
The next day I had a lonely lunch at the hotel. When I saw two lovery young things at the table where Jack and I had our wedding breakfast, so long ago, I made for the other end of the room and persistently turned my back. But I saw out of the corner of my eye they were far away above food, and, Mate, believe me, they did n't even know it was hot, though a rain barrel couldn't have measured the humidity.
Of course Jack and I were much more sensible, but that whole blessed time is wrapped in rosy mists with streaks of moonlight to the tune of heavenly music, so it 's futile to try to recall just what did happen. I ought to have gone to another hotel, but the chain of memory was too strong for me.
I was hesitating between the luxury of a sentimental spell and a fit of loneliness, when a happy interruption came in a message from Countess Otani, naming the next day at two for luncheon with her at the Arsenal Gardens at Tokio. How I wished for you, Mate! It was a fairy-story come true, dragons and all. The Arsenal Garden means just what it says. Only when the dove of peace is on duty are its gates opened, and then to but a few, high in command. For across the white-blossomed hedge that encloses the grounds, armies of men toil ceaselessly molding black bullets for pale people and they work so silently that the birds keep house in the long fringed willows and the goldfish splash in the sunned spots of the tiny lake.
After passing the dragons in the shape of sentries and soldiers, to each of whom I gave a brief life-history, I wisely followed my nose and a guard down the devious path.
The Countess received her guests in a banquet-hall all ebony and gold, and was not seated permanently on a throne with a diamond crown screwed into her head as we used so fondly to imagine.
The simplicity of her hospitality was charming. She and most of her ladies-in-waiting had been educated abroad. But despite the lure of the Western freedom, they had returned to their country with their heads level and their traditions intact. But you guess wrong, honey, if you imagine custom and formality of official life have so overcome these high-born ladies as to make them lay figures who dare not raise their eyes except by rule. There were three American guests, and only by being as nimble as grasshoppers did we hold our own in the table talk which was as exhilarating as a game of snowball on a frosty day.
We scampered all around war and settled a few important political questions. Poetry, books and the new Cabinet vied with the merriment over comparisons in styles of dress. One delightful woman told how gloves and shoes had choked her when she first wore them in America. Another gave her experience in getting fatally twisted in her court train when she was making her bow before the German Empress.
A soft-voiced matron made us laugh over her story of how, when she was a young girl at a mission school, she unintentionally joined in a Christian prayer, and nearly took the skin off her tongue afterwards scrubbing it with strong soap and water to wash away the stain. There wasn't even a smile as she quietly spoke of the many times later when with that same prayer she had tried to make less hard the after-horrors of war.
The possibilities of Japanese women are amazing even to one who thinks he knows them. They look as if made for decoration only, and with a flirt of their sleeves they bring out a surprise that turns your ideas a double somersault. Here they were, laughing and chatting like a bunch of fresh schoolgirls for whom life was one long holiday. Yet ten out of the number had recently packed away their gorgeous clothes, and laid on a high shelf all royal ranks and rights, for a nurse's dress and kit. Apparently delicate and shy they can be, if emergency demands, as grim as war or as tender as heaven.
It was a blithesome day and if it had n't been for that "all gone" sort of a feeling, that possesses me when evening draws near and Jack is far away, content might have marked me as her own. As it was I put off playing a single at dinner as long as possible by calling on a month-old bride whom I had known as a girl. With glee I accepted the offer of an automobile to take me for the visit, and repented later. Two small chauffeurs and a diminutive footman raced me through the narrow, crowded streets, scattering the populace to any shelter it could find. The only reason we didn't take the fronts out of the shops is that Japanese shops are frontless. I looked back to see the countless victims of our speed. I saw only a crowd coming from cover, smiling with curiosity and interest. We hit the top of the hill with a flourish, and when I asked what was the hurry my attendants looked hurt and reproachfully asked if that wasn't the way Americans liked to ride.
Mate, this is a land of contrasts and contradictions. At the garden all had been life and color. At this home, where the wrinkled old servitor opened the heavily carved gates for me, it was as if I had stepped into a bit of ancient Japan, jealously guarded from any encroachment of new conditions or change of custom.
Like a curious package, contents unknown, I was passed from one automatic servant to another till I finally reached the Torishihimari or mistress of ceremonies. By clock-work she offered me a seat on the floor, a fan and congratulations. This last simply because I was me. The house was ancient and beautiful. The room in which I sat had nothing in it but matting as fine as silk, a rare old vase with two flowers and a leaf in formal arrangement, and an atmosphere of aloofness that lulled mind and body to restful revery. After my capacity for tea and sugared dough was tested, the little serving maid fanning me, bowing every time I blinked, the paper doors near by divided noiselessly and, framed by the dim light, sat the young bride, quaint and oriental as if she had stepped out of some century-old kakemono. In contrast to my recent hostesses it was like coming from a garden of brilliant flowers into the soft, quiet shadows of a bamboo grove. No modern touch about this lady. She had been reduced by rule from a romping girl to a selfless creature fit for a Japanese gentleman's wife and no questions asked. Her hair, her dress, and even her speech were strictly by the laws laid down in a book for the thirty-first day of the first month after marriage. But I would like to see the convention with a crust thick enough to entirely obliterate one woman's interest in another whose clothes and life belong to a distant land. When I told her I had come to Japan against Jack's wishes and was going to follow him to China if I could, she paled at my rashness. How could a woman dare disobey? Would not my husband send me home, take my name off the house register and put somebody in my place?
Well now, wouldn't you like to see the scientist play any such tricks with me—that blessed old Jack who smiles at my follies, asks my advice, and does as he pleases, and for whom there has never been but the one woman in the world! I struggled to make plain to her the attitude of American men and women and the semi-independence of the latter. As well explain theology to a child. To her mind the undeviating path of absolute obedience was the only possible way. Anything outside of a complete renunciation of self-interest and thought meant ruin and was not even to be whispered about. I gave it up and came back to her sphere of poetry and mothers-in-law.
When I said good-by there was a gentle pity in her eyes, for she was certain her long-time friend was headed for the highroad of destruction. But instead I turned into the dim solitude of Shiba Park. I had something to think about. To-day's experiences had painted anew in naming colors the difference in husbands. How prone a woman is, who is free and dearly beloved, to fall into the habit of taking things for granted, forgetting how one drop of the full measure of happiness, that a good husband gives her, would turn to rosy tints the gray lives of hundreds of her kind who are wives in name only. Her appreciation may be abundant but it is the silent kind. Her bugaboo is fear of sentiment and when it is too late, she remembers with a heart-break.
I can think of a thousand things right now I want to say to Jack and while storing them away for some future happy hour, I walked further into the deep shadows of twilight.
Instantly the spell of the East was over me. Real life was not. In the soft green silences of mystery and fancy, I found a seat by an ancient moss-covered tomb. Dreamily I watched a great red dragon-fly frivol with the fairy blue wreaths of incense-smoke that hovered above the leaf shadows trembling on the sand. The deep melody of a bell, sifted through a cloud of blossom, caught up my willing soul and floated out to sea and Jack far from this lovely land, where stalks unrestrained the ugly skeleton of easy divorce for men. The subject always irritates me like prickly heat.
NIKKO, July, 1911.
Summer in Japan is no joke, especially if you are waiting for letters. I know perfectly well I can't hear from you and Jack for an age, and yet I watch for the postman three times a day, as a hungry man waits for the dinner-bell.
The days in Yokohama were too much like a continuous Turkish bath, and I fled to Nikko, the ever moist and mossy. Two things you can always expect in this village of "roaring, wind-swept mountains,"—rain and courtesy. One is as inevitable as the other, and both are served in quantities.
I am staying in a semi-foreign hotel which is tucked away in a pocket in the side of a mountain as comfy as a fat old lady in a big rocker who glories in dispensing hospitality with both hands. Just let me put my head out of my room door and the hall fairly blossoms with little maids eager to serve. A step toward the entrance brings to life a small army of attendants bending as they come like animated jack-knives on a live wire. One struggles with the mystery of my overshoes, while the Master stands by and begs me to take care of my honorable spirit. As it is the only spirit I possess I heed his advice and bring it back to the hotel to find the entire force standing at attention, ready to receive me. I pass on to my room with a procession of bearers and bearesses strung out behind me like the tail of a kite, anything from a tea-tray to the sugar tongs being sufficient excuse for joining the parade.
When dressing for dinner, if I press the button, no less than six little, picture maids flutter to my door, each begging for the honor of fastening me up the back. How delighted Jack would be to assign them this particular honor for life. Such whispers over the wonders of a foreign-made dress as they struggle with the curious fastenings! (They should hear my lord's fierce language!) Each one takes a turn till some sort of connection is made between hook and eye. All is so earnestly done I dare not laugh or wiggle with impatience. I may sail into dinner with the upper hook in the lower eye and the middle all askew, but the service is so graciously given, I would rather have my dress upside down than to grumble. Certainly I pay for it. I tip everything from the proprietor to the water-pitcher. But the sum is so disproportionate to the pleasure and the comfort returned that I smile to think of the triple price I have paid elsewhere and the high-nosed condescension I got in return for my money. Japanese courtesy may be on the surface, but the polish does not easily wear off and it soothes the nerves just as the rain cools the air. It goes without saying that I did not arrive in Nikko without a variety of experiences along the way.
Two hours out from Yokohama, the train boy came into the coach, and with a smile as cheerful as if he were saying, "Happy New Year," announced that there was a washout in front of us and a landslide at the back of us. Would everybody please rest their honorable bones in the village while a bridge was built and a river filled in. The passengers trailed into a settlement of straw roofs, bamboo poles and acres of white and yellow lilies. I went to a quaint little inn—that was mostly out!—built over a fussy brook; and a pine tree grew right out of the side of the house. My room was furnished with four mats and a poem hung on the wall. When the policeman came in to apologize for the rudeness of the storm in delaying me, the boy who brought my bags had to step outside so that the official would have room to bow properly. I ate my supper of fish-omelet and turnip pickle served in red lacquer bowls, and drank tea out of cups as big as thimbles. Jack says Japanese teacups ought to be forbidden; in a moment of forgetfulness they could so easily slip down with the tea.
It had been many a year since I was so separated from my kind and each hour of isolation makes clearer a thing I 've never doubted, but sometimes forget, that the happiest woman is she whose every moment is taken up in being necessary to somebody; and to such, unoccupied minutes are like so many drops of lead. That, with a telegram I read telling of the increasing dangers of the plague in Manchuria, threatened to send me headlong into a spell of anxiety and the old terrible loneliness.
Happily the proprietor and his wife headed it off by asking me if I would be their guest for this evening to see the Bon Matsuri, the beautiful Festival of the Dead. On the thirteenth day of the seventh month, all the departed spirits take a holiday from Nirvana or any other seaport they happen to be in and come on a visit to their former homes to see how it fares with the living. Poor homesick spirits! Not even Heaven can compensate for the separation from beloved country and friends. As we passed along, the streets were alight with burning rushes placed at many doors to guide the spiritual excursionists. Inside, the people were praying, shrines were decorated and children in holiday dress merrily romped. Why, Mate, it was worth being a ghost just to come back and see how happy everybody was. For on this night of nights, cares and sorrows are doubly locked in a secret place and the key put carefully away. You couldn't find a coolie so heartless as to show a shadow of trouble to his ghostly relatives when they return for so brief a time to hold happy communion with the living. He may be hungry, he may be sick, but there is a brave smile of welcome on his lips for the spirits.
The crazy old temple at the foot of the mountain, glorified by a thousand lights and fluttering flags, reaped a harvest of rins and rens paid to the priests for paper prayers and bamboo flower-holders with which to decorate the graves. The cemetery was on the side of the hill, and every step of the way somebody stopped at a stone marker to fasten a lantern to a small fishing-pole and pin a prayer near by. This was to guide the spirit to his own particular spot.
A breeze as soft as a happy sigh came through the pines and gently rocked the lanterns. The dim figures of the worshipers moved swiftly about, as delighted as children in the shadow-pictures made by the twinkling lights, eagerly seeking out remote spots that no grave might be without its welcoming gleam. A long line of white-robed dancing girls came swaying by with clapping hands to soft-voiced chanting.
I, too, though an alien, was moved with the good-will and kindness that sung through the very air and fearlessly I would have decorated any festive ghost that happened along. I looked to see where I might lay the offering I held in my hand. My hostess plucked my sleeve and pointed to a tiny tombstone under a camellia tree. I went closer and read the English inscription, "Dorothy Dale. Aged 2 years." There was a tradition that once in the long ago a missionary and his wife lived in the village. Through an awful epidemic of cholera they stuck to their posts, nursed and cared for the people. Their only child was the price they paid for their constancy. To each generation the story had been told, and through all the years faithful watch had been kept over the little enclosure. Now it was all a-glimmer with lanterns shaped like birds and butterflies. I added my small offering and turned hotelwards reluctantly.
My ancient host and hostess trotted along near by, eager to share all their pathetic little gaieties with me. Their lives together had about as much real comradeship as a small brown hen and a big gray owl, and they had been married sixty years! They had toiled and grown old together, but that did not mean that wifey was to walk anywhere but three feet to the rear, nor to speak except when her lord and ruler stopped talking to take a whiff of his pipe. I tried to walk behind with the old lady but she threatened to stand in one spot for the rest of the night. Then I vainly coaxed her to walk with me at her husband's side. But her face was so full of genuine horror at such disrespect that I desisted. Think, Mate, of trying to puzzle out the make-up of a nation which for the sake of a long-ago kindness will for years keep a strange baby's grave green and yet whose laws will divorce a woman for disobedience to her husband's mother and where the ancient custom of "women to heel" still holds good.
And this is the land where the Seeker came for the truth!
Sada thinks it paradise and I, as before, am sending to Jack
A heart of love for thee Blown by the summer breezes Ten thousand miles of sea.
There ought to be some kind of capital punishment for the woman who has nothing to do but kill time. It's an occupation that puts crimps in the soul and offers the supreme moment in which the devil may work his rabbit foot. No, I cannot settle down or hustle up to anything until I hear from Jack or you. Very soon I will be reduced to doing the one desperate thing lurking in this corner of the woods, flirting with the solitary male guest, who has a strong halt in his voice and whose knees are not on speaking terms.
Of course it is raining. If the sun gets gay and tries the bluff of being friendly, a heavy giant of a cloud rises promptly up from behind a mountain and puts him out of business. Still, why moan over the dampness? It makes the hills look like great green plush sofa-cushions and the avenues like mossy caves.
I have read till my eyes are crossed and I have written to every human I know. I have watched the giggling little maids patter up to a two-inch shrine and, flinging a word or two to Buddha, use the rest of their time to gossip. And the old lady who washes her vegetables and her clothes in the same baby-lake just outside my window amuses me for at least ten minutes. Then, Mate, for real satisfaction, I must turn to you, whose patience is elastic and enduring. It is one of my big joys that your interest and love are just the same, as in those other days when you packed me off to Japan for the good of my country and myself; and then sent Jack after me. Guess I should have stayed at home, as Jack told me, but I am glad I did not.
Though it has poured every minute I have been here, there have been bursts of sunshine inside, if not out. The other day my table boy brought me the menu and asked for an explanation of assorted fruits. I told him very carefully it meant mixed, different kinds. He is a smart lad. He understands my Japanese! He grasped my meaning immediately, and wrote it down in a little book. This morning he came to my room and announced: "Please, Lady, some assorted guests await you in the audience chamber; one Japanese and two American persons."
I have had my first letter from Sada too, simply spilling over with youth and enthusiasm. The girl is stark mad over the fairy-landness of it all. Says her rooms are in Uncle's private house, which is in quite a different part of the garden from the tea-house. (Thank the Lord for small mercies!) She says Uncle has given her some beautiful clothes and is so good to her. I dare say. He has taken her to see a lovely old castle and wonderful temple. The streets are all pictures and the scenery is glorious! That is true, but the girl cannot live off scenery any more than a nightingale can thrive on the scent of roses. What is coming when the glamour of the scenery wears off and Uncle puts on the pressure of his will?
I have not dared to give her any suggestion of warning. She is deadly sure of her duty, so enthralled is she with the thought of service to her mother's people. If I am to help her, the shock of disillusionment must come from some other direction. The disillusioner is seldom forgiven. I do not know what plans are being worked out behind Uncle's lowered eyelids. But I do know his idea of duty does not include keeping such a valuable asset as a bright and beautiful niece hid away for his solitary joy. In fact, he would consider himself a neglectful and altogether unkind relative if he did not marry Sada off to the very best advantage to himself. In the name of all the Orient, what else is there to do with a girl, and especially one whose blood is tainted with that of the West?
Well, Mate, my thoughts grew so thick on the subject I nearly suffocated. I went for a walk and ran right into a cavalcade of donkeys, jinrickshas and chairs, headed by the Seeker and Dolly, who has also annexed the little Maharajah.
They had been up to Chuzenji—and Chuzenji I would have you know is lovely enough, with its emerald lake and rainbow mists, to start a man's tongue to love-making whether he will or not. And so surely as it is raining, something has happened. Dolly was as gay as a day-old butterfly and smiled as if a curly-headed Cupid had tickled her with a wing-feather. The Seeker was deadly solemn. Possibly the aftermath of his impetuosity.
Oh, well! there is no telling what wonders can be worked by incurable youthfulness and treasures laid up in a trust company.
The little Prince, with every pocket and his handkerchief full of small images of Buddha which he was collecting, asked at once for Sada. His heart was in his eyes, but there is no use tampering with a to-be-incarnation by encouraging worldly thoughts. So I said I had not seen her since we landed. They were due on board the Siberia in Yokohama to-night on their way to China. I waved them good wishes and went on, amused and not a little troubled. Worried over Sada, hungry for Jack, lonesome for you. I passed one of the gorgeous blue, green and yellow gates, at the entrance of a temple. On one side is carved a distorted figure, that looks like a cross between an elephant and a buzzard. It is called "Baku, the eater of evil dreams." My word! but I could furnish him a feast that would give him the fanciest case of indigestion he ever knew!
Mate, you would have to see Nikko, with its majestic cryptomarias, sheltering the red and gold lacquer temples; you would have to feel the mystery of the gray-green avenues, and have its holy silences fall like a benediction upon a restless spirit, to realize what healing for soul and body is in the very air, to understand why I joyfully loitered for two hours and came back sane and hungry, but wet as a fish.
Write me about the only man, the kiddies and your own blessed happy self.
I agree with Charity. "Ef you want to spile a valuable wife, tu'n her loose in a patch of idlesomeness."
STILL AT NIKKO, August, 1911.
You beloved girl, I have heard from Jack and my heart is singing a ragtime tune of joy and thanksgiving. How he laughed at me for being too foolishly lonesome to stay in America without him. Oh, these, men! Does he forget he raged once upon a time, when he was in America without me? As long as I am here though, he wants me to have as good a time as possible. Do anything I want, and—blessed trusting man!—buy anything I see that will fit in the little house at home.
Can you believe it? After a fierce battle the sun won out this morning, and even the blind would know by the dancing feel of the air that it was a glorious day. At eight o'clock, when the little maids went up to the shrine, happy as kittens let out for a romp, they forgot even to look Buddha-ward and took up their worship time in playing tag. The old woman who uses the five-foot lake as the family wash-tub, brought out all her clothes, the grand-baby, and the snub-nosed poodle that wears a red bib, to celebrate the sunshine by a carnival of washing.
I could not stand four walls a minute longer. I am down in the garden writing you, in a tea-house made with three fishing-poles and a bunch of straw. It is covered with pink morning-glories as big as coffee cups.
It has been three weeks since my last letter and I know your interest in Jack and germs is almost as great as mine. Jack has been in Peking. He thinks the revolution of the Chinese against the Manchu Government is going to be something far more serious this time than a flutter of fans and a sputter of shooting-crackers. The long-suffering worm with the head of a dragon is going to turn, and when it does, there will not be a Manchu left to tell the pig tale.
Jack is in Mukden now, where he is about to lose his mind with joy over the prospect of looking straight in the eye—if it has one—this wicked old germ with a new label, and telling it what he thinks. The technical terms he gives are as paralyzing as a Russian name spelled backwards.
In a day's time this fearful thing wipes out entire families and villages. It has simply ravaged northern Manchuria and the country about. Jack says so deadly are the effects of these germs in the air that if a man walking along the street happens to breathe in one, he is a corpse on the spot before he is through swallowing. The remains are gathered up by men wearing shrouds and net masks, and the peaceful Oriental who was not doing a thing hut attending strictly to his own business, is soon reduced to ashes. All because of a pesky microbe with a surplus of energy.
You know perfectly well, Mate, Jack does not speak in this frivolous manner of his beloved work. The interpretation is wholly mine. But I dare not be serious over it. I must push any thought of his danger to the further ends of nowhere.
Jack thinks the native doctors have put up a brave fight, but so far the laugh has been all on the side of the frisky germ.
It blasts everything it touches and is most fastidious. Nobody can blame it for choosing as its nesting-place the little soft furred Siberian marmots, which the Chinese hunt for their skin. If only the hunters could be given a dip in a sulphur vat before they lay them down to sleep in the unspeakable inns with their spoils wrapped around them, the chance for infection would not be so great. Of course the bare suggestion of a bath might prove more fatal than the plague, for oftener than not the hunters are used only as a method of travel by the merry microbe and are immune from the effects. Of course Jack has all sorts of theories as to why this is so. But did you ever see a scientist who didn't have a workable theory for everything from the wrong end of a carpet-tack to the evolution of a June bug?
From the hunters and their spoils the disease spreads and their path southwards can be traced by desolated villages and piles of bones.
Jack tells me he is garbed in a long white robe effect (I hope he won't grow wings), with a good-sized mosquito net on a frame over his head and face. He works in heavy gloves. Mouth and nose being the favorite point of attack, everybody who ventures out wears over this part of the face a curiously shaped shield, whose firm look says, "No admittance here." But all the same, that germ from Siberia is a wily thief and steals lives by the thousands, in spite of all precautions.
Jack is as enthusiastic over the fight against the scourge as a college boy over football. His letter has so many big technical words in it, I had to pay excess postage.
I 've read his letter twice, but to save me I cannot find any suggestion of the remotest possibility of my coming nearer. Yes, I know I said Japan only. But way down in the cellar of my heart I hoped he would say nearer.
What a happy day it has been. Here is your letter, just come. The priests up at the temple have asked me to see the ceremony of offering food to the spirits, in the holy of holies.
There is not time for me to add another word to this letter. What a dear you are, to love while you lecture me. What you say is all true. A woman's place is in her home. But just now out of the East, I 've had a call to play silent partner to science and while it 's a lonesome sport, at least it 's far more entertaining than caring for a husbandless house. Anyhow I am sending you a hug and a thousand kisses for the babies.
SHOJI LAKE, August, 1911.
Mate, think of the loveliest landscape picture you ever saw, put me in it and you will know where I am. With some friends from Honolulu and a darling old man—observe I say old!—from Colorado, we started two days ago, to walk around the base of Fuji. Everything went splendidly till a typhoon hit us amidships and sent us careening, blind, battered and soaked into this red and white refuge of a hotel, that clings to the side of a mountain like a woodpecker to a telephone pole. I have seen storms, but the worst I ever saw was a playful summer breeze compared with the magnificent fury of this wind that snapped great trees in two as if they had been young bean-poles, and whipped the usually peaceful lake into raging waves that swept through a gorge and greedily licked up a whole village.
Our path was high up, but right over the water. Sometimes we were crawling on all fours. Mostly we were flying just where the wind listed. If a tree got in our way as we flew, so much the worse for us. It is funny now, but it was not at the time! Seriously, I was in immediate peril of being blown to glory via the fierce green foam below. My Colorado Irishman is not only a darling, but a hero. Once I slipped, and stopped rolling only when some faithful pines were too stubborn to let go.
I wag many feet below the reach of any arm. In a twinkling, my friend had stripped the kimono off the baggage coolie's back, and made a lasso with which he pulled me up. Then shocked to a standstill by the shortcomings of the coolie's birthday suit, he snatched off his coat and gave it to him, with a dollar. Such a procession of bedraggled and exhausted pleasure-seekers as we were, when three men stood behind our hotel door and opened it just wide enough to haul us in. But hot baths and boiling tea revived us and soon we were as merry as any people can be who have just escaped annihilation.
The typhoon passed as suddenly as it came, and now the world—or at least this part of it—is as glowing and beautiful as if freshly tinted by the Master Hand.
A moment ago I looked up to see my rescuer gazing out of the window. I asked, "How do you feel, Mr. Carson?" His voice trembled when he answered: "Lady, I feel glorified, satisfied and nigh about petrified. Look at that!"
Below lay Shoji, its shimmering waters rimmed with velvety green. Every raindrop on the pines was a prism; the mountain a brocade of blossom. To the right Fuji, the graceful, ever lovely Fuji; capricious as a coquette and bewitching in her mystery, with a thumbnail moon over her peak, like a silver tiara on the head of a proud beauty; at her base the last fleecy clouds of the day, gathered like worshipers at the feet of some holy saint.
The man's face shone. For forty years he had worked at harness-making, always with the vision before him that some day he might take this trip around the world. He has the soul of an artist, which has been half starved in the narrow environment of his small town life. Cannot you imagine the mad revel of his soul in this pictureland?
He is going to Mukden. Of course I told him all about Jack's work. The old fellow, he must be all of seventy, was thrilled. I am going to give him a letter to Jack. Also to some friends in Peking; they will be good to him. If anybody deserves a merry-go-round sort of a holiday, he does. Think of sewing on saddles and bridles all these years, when his heart was withering for beauty!
I am glad of your eager interest in Sada. How like you! Never too absorbed in your own life to share other people's joys and sorrows and festivities.
If your wise head evolves a plan of action, send by wireless, for if I read aright her message received to-day, the time is fast coming when the red lights of danger will be flashing. I will quote: "Last night Uncle asked me to sing to some people who were giving a dinner at the tea-house. I put on my loveliest kimono and a hair-dresser did my hair in the old Japanese style and stuck a red rose at the side. For the first time I went into that beautiful, beautiful place my Uncle calls "the Flower Blooming" tea-house. It was more like a fairy palace. How the girls, who live there, laughed at my guitar. They had never seen one before. How they whispered over the color of my eyes. Said they matched my kimono, and they tittered over my clumsiness in sitting on the floor. But I forgot everything when the door slid open and I looked into the most wonderful dream-garden that ever was, and people everywhere. I finished singing, there was clapping and loud banzais. I looked up and realized there were only men at this dinner and I never saw so many bottles in all my life. I felt very strange and so far away from dear Susan West. After I had sung once more I started back to my home. Uncle met me. I told him I was going to bed. For the first time he was cross and ordered me back to the play place, where I was to stay until he came for me. There never was anything so lovely as the green and pink garden and the lily-shaped lights, and the flowers; and such pretty girls who knew just what to do. But I cannot understand the men who come here. When dear old Billy"—thank heaven she says dear Billy!—"talks I know just what he means. But these men use so many words Susan never taught me, and laugh so loud when they say them.
"There was one man named Hara whose clothes were simply gorgeous. The girls say he is very rich, and a great friend of Uncle's! He may have money, but he is not over-burdened with manners. He can out-stare an owl."
There was more. But that is enough to show me Uncle's hand as plainly as if I were a palmist. If nothing happens to prevent, the man promises to do what thousands of his kind have done before: regardless of obstacles and consequences marry the girl off to the highest bidder; rid himself of all responsibility and make a profit at the same time. From his point of view it is the only thing to do. He would be the most astonished uncle in Mikado-land if anybody suggested to him that Sada had any rights or feelings in the matter. He would tell you that as Sada's only male relative, custom gave him the right to dispose of her as he saw fit, and custom is law and there is nothing back of that!
So far I have played only a thinking part in the drama. But I will not stand by and see the girl, whose very loneliness is a plea, sacrificed without some kind of a struggle to help her. At the present writing I feel about as effective as a February lamb, and every move calls for tact. Wish I had been born with a needle wit instead of a Roman nose! For if Uncle has a glimmer of a suspicion that I would befriend Sada at the cost of his plans, so surely as the river is lost in the sea, Sada would disappear from my world until it was too late for me to lend a hand.
Good-by, Mate. At eventide, as of old, look my way and send me strength from your vast store of calm courage and common sense. The odds are against me, but the god of luck has never yet failed to laugh with me.
I am in a monastery, Mate, but only temporarily, thank you. It is a blessing to the cause that Fate did not turn me into a monk or a sister or any of those inconvenient things with a restless religion, that wakes you up about 3 A.M. on a wintry dawn to pray shiveringly to a piece of wood, to the tune of a thumping drum. Some morning when the frost was on the cypress that carven image would disappear!
For one time at least I would have a nice fire, and my prayers would not be decorated with icicles.
For two weeks my friends and I have been tramping through picture-book villages and silk-worm country, and over mountain winding ways, sleeping on the floor, sitting on our feet and giving our stomachs surprise parties with hot, cold and lukewarm rice, seaweed and devil-fish.
It has been one hilarious lark of outdoor life, with nothing to pin us to earth but the joy of being a part of so beautiful a world.
The road led us through superb forests, over the Bridge of Paradise to Koyo San, whose peak is so far above the mist-wreathed valleys that it scrapes the clouds as they float by. But I want to say right here; Kobo Daishi, who founded this monastery in the distant ages and built a temple to his own virtues, may have been a saint, but he was not much of a gentleman! Else he would not have been so reckless of the legs and necks of the coming generations, as to blaze the trail to his shrine over mountains so steep that our pack-mule coming up could easily have bitten off his own tail if he had so minded.
This afternoon I must hustle down. I suppose the only way to get down is to roll. Well; anyway I am in a hurry. My mail beat me up the trail and a letter from Sada San begs me to come to Kioto to see her as soon as I can. She only says she needs help and does not know what to do. And blessed be the telegram that winds up from Hiroshima; the school is in urgent need of an assistant at the Kindergarten and they ask me to come. The principal, Miss Look, has gone to America on business, for three months. Hooray! Here is my chance to resign from the "Folded Hands' Society" and do something that is really worth while, as long as I cannot go to my man. How good it will seem once again to be in that dear old mission school, where in the long ago I toiled and laughed and suffered while I waited for Jack.
The prospect of being with the girls and the kiddies again makes me want to do a Highland Fling, even if I am in a monastery with a sad-faced young priest serving me tea and mournful sighs between prayers.
What a flirtatious old world it is after all. It smites you and bruises you, then binds up the hurts by giving you a desire or so of your heart. Just now the desire of my heart is to catch that train for Kioto.
So here goes a prayer, pinned to a shrine, for a body intact as I tread the path that drops straight down the mountain, through the crimson glory of the maples and the blazing yellow of the gingko tree, to the tiny little station far away that looks like a decorated hen-coop.
KIOTO, September, 1911.
I cannot spend a drop of ink in telling you how I got here. How the baggage beast ran away and decorated the mountain shrubbery with my belongings. And how after all my hurry of dropping down from Koyo San, the brakesman forgot to hook our car to the train and started off on a picnic while the engine went merrily on and left us out in the rice-fields. Suffice it to say I landed in a whirl that spun me down to Uncle's house and back to the hotel. And by the way my thoughts are going, for all I know I may be booked to spin on through eternity.
My visit to Sada was so full of things that did not happen. When I reached the house, I sent in my card to Sada. Uncle came gliding in like a soft-footed panther. He did it so quietly that I jumped when I saw him. We took up valuable time repeating polite greetings, as set down on page ten of the Book of Etiquette, in the chapter on Calls Made by Inconvenient Foreigners.
When our countless bows were finished, I asked in my coaxingest voice if I might see Sada. Presently she came in, dressed in Japanese clothes and beautiful even in her pallor. She was changed—sad, and a little drooping. The conflict of her ideals of duty to her mother's people and the real facts in the case, had marked her face with something far deeper than girlish innocence. It was inevitable. But above the evidences of struggle there was a something which said the dead and gone Susan West had left more than a mere memory. Silently I blessed all her kind.
Sada was unfeignedly glad to see me, and I longed to take her in my arms and kiss her. But such a display would have marked me in Uncle's eyes as a dangerous woman with unsuppressed emotions, and unfit for companionship with Sada. I had hoped his Book of Etiquette said, "After this, bow and depart." But my hopes had not a pin-feather to rest on. He stayed right where he was. All right, old Uncle, thought I, if stay you will, then I shall use all a woman's power to beguile you and a woman's wit to out-trick you, so I can make you show your hand. It is going to be a game with the girl as the prize. It is also going to be like playing leap-frog with a porcupine. He has cunning and authority to back him, and I have only my love for Sada.
For a time I talked at random, directing my whole conversation to him as the law demands. By accident, or luck, I learned that the weak point in his armor of polite reserve was color prints. Just talk color prints to a collector and you can pick his pocket with perfect ease.
My knowledge of color prints could be written on my thumb nail. But I made a long and dangerous shot, by looking wise and asking if he thought Matahei compared favorably with Moronobo as painters of the same era. I choked off a gasp when I said it, for I would have you know that for all I knew, Matahei might have lived in the time of Jacob and Rebecca, and Moronobo a thousand years afterwards. But I guessed right the very first time and Mura San, with a flash of appreciation at my interest, said that my learning was remarkable. It was an untruth and he knew that I knew it, but it was courteous and I looked easy. Then he talked long and delightfully as only lovers of such things can. At least, it would have been delightful had I not been so anxious to see Sada alone. But it was not to be. At least, not then. But mark one for me, Mate: Uncle was so pleased with my keen and hungry interest in color prints and my desire to see his collection, that he invited me to a feast and a dance at the house the next night.
The following evening I could have hugged the person, male or otherwise, who called my dear host away for a few minutes just before the feast began.
Sada told me hurriedly that Uncle had insisted on her singing every night at the tea-house. She had first rebelled, and then flatly refused, for she did not like the girls. She hated what she saw and was afraid of the men. Her master was furiously angry; said he would teach her what obedience meant in this country. He would marry her off right away and be rid of a girl who thought her foreign religion gave her a right to disobey her relatives. She was afraid he would do it, for he had not asked her to go to the tea-house again. Neither had he permitted her to go out of the house. Once she was sick with fear, for she knew Uncle had been in a long consultation with the rich man Hara and he was in such good humor afterwards. But Hara, she learned, had gone away.
She would not sing at these dinners again, not if Uncle choked her and what must she do! I saw the man returning but I quickly whispered, "What about Billy?"
Ah, I knew I was right. The rose in her hair was no pinker than her cheeks. If Billy could only have seen her then, I would wager my shoes—and shoes are precious in this country—that her duty to her mother's people would have to take a back seat.
Before Uncle reached us I whispered, "Keep Billy in your heart, Sada. Write him. Tell him." And in the same breath I heartily thanked Uncle for inviting me.
It was a feast, Mate—the most picturesque, uneatable feast I ever sat on my doubly honorable feet to consume. There were opal-eyed fish with shaded pink scales, served whole; soft brown eels split up the back and laid on a bed of green moss; soups, thin and thick; lotus root and mountain lily, and raw fish. Each course—and their name was many—was served on a little two-inch-high lacquer table, with everything to match. Sometimes it was gold lacquer, then again green, once red and another black. But it was all a dream of color that shaded in with the little maids who served it; and they, swift, noiseless and pretty, were trained to graceful perfection. The few furnishings of the room were priceless. Uncle sat by in his silken robes, gracious and courteous, surprising me with his knowledge of current events. In the guise of host, he is charming. That is, if only he would not always talk with dropped eyelids, giving the impression that he is half dreaming and is only partly conscious of the world and its follies. And all the time I know perfectly well that he sees everything around him and clean on to the city limits.
Again and again in his talks he referred to his color prints and the years of patience required to collect them. Right then, Mate, I made a vow to study the pesky things as they have seldom been attacked before—even though I never had much use for pictures in which you cannot tell the top side from the bottom, without a label. But then, Jack says, my artistic temperament will never keep me awake at night. Now I decided all at once to make a collection. Heaven knows what I will do with it. But Uncle grew so enthusiastic he included his niece in the conversation, and while his humor was at high tide I coaxed him into a promise that Sada might come down to Hiroshima very soon, and help me look for prints.
Yes, indeed there was a dance afterwards, and everything was deadly, hysterically solemn—so rigidly proper, so stiffly conventional that it palled. It was the most maleless house of revelry I ever saw. Why, even the kakemono were pictures of perfect ladies and the gate-man was a withered old woman.
There was absolutely nothing wrong I could name. It was all exquisitely, daintily, lawfully Japanese. But I sat by my window till early morning. There was a very ghost of a summer moon. Out of the night came the velvety tones of a mighty bell; the sing-song prayers of many priests; the rippling laugh of a little child and the tinkling of a samisen. Every sound made for simple joy and peace. But I thought of the girl somewhere beyond the twinkling street lights, who, with mixed races in her blood and a strange religion in her heart, had dreamed dreams of this as a perfect land, and was now paying the price of disillusionment with bitter tears.
Eight o 'clock the next morning.
I cabled Jack, "Hiroshima for winter."
He answered, "Thank the Lord you are nailed down at last."
P.S.—I have bought all the books on color prints I could find.
Hiroshima! Get up and salute, Mate! Is not that name like the face of an old familiar friend? I have to shake myself to realize that it is not the long ago, but now. A recent picture of Jack and one of you and the babies is about the only touch of the present. Everything is just as it was in the old days, when the difficulties of teaching in a foreign kindergarten in a foreigner language was the least of the battle that faced me. Well, I thought I 'd finished with battles, but there 's a feeling of fight in the air.