Part 7 out of 7
With the triumphant air of a sportsman who has landed his fish after
a long and bitter struggle, the procurator held out a sheet of paper
prepared beforehand, on which something was written in Japanese
Asako tried to move towards the desk that she might write her name;
but this time, her legs gave way altogether. The warder caught her by
the neck of her kimono, and shook her as a terrier shakes a rat. But
the body remained limp. He twisted her arm behind her with a savage
wrench. His victim groaned with pain, but spoke no distinguishable
word. Then he laid her out on the benches, and felt her chest.
"The body is very hot," he said; "perhaps she is indeed sick."
"Obstinate," grunted the procurator; "I am certain that she is guilty.
Are you not?" he added, addressing the clerk.
The clerk was busy filling up some of the blanks in the back evidence,
extemporising where he could not remember.
"Assuredly," he said, "the opinion of the procurator is always
However, the doctor was summoned. He pronounced that the patient was
in a high fever, and must at once be removed to the infirmary.
So the preliminary examination of Asako Fujinami came to an abrupt
_Haru no hi no
Nagaki omoi wa
Hito no kokoro ni
Aki ya tatsuramu._
The long thoughts
Of the spring days
Will never be forgotten
Even when autumn comes
To the hearts of the people.
The low-flying clouds of hallucination had fallen so close to Asako's
brain, that her thoughts seemed to be caught up into the dizzy
whirlwind and to be skimming around and round the world at the speed
of an express aeroplane. Like a clock whose regulation is out of
order, the hour-hand of her life seemed to be racing the minute-hand,
and the minute-hand to be covering the face of the dial in sixty
seconds or less, returning incessantly to the same well-known figures,
pausing awhile, then jerking away again at an insane rate. From time
to time the haze over the mind began to clear; and Asako seemed to
look down upon the scene around her from a great height. There was a
long room, so long that she could not see the end of it, and rows of
narrow beds, and nurses, dressed in white with high caps like bishops'
mitres, who appeared and disappeared. Sometimes they would speak to
her and she would answer. But she did not know what they said, nor
what she said to them.
A gentle Japanese lady with a very long, pock-marked face, sat on her
bed and talked to her in English. Asako noticed that the nurses
and doctors were most deferential to this lady; and that, after her
departure, she was treated much more kindly than before. A name kept
peeping out of her memory, like a shy lizard out of its hole; but
the moment her brain tried to grab at it, it slipped back again into
Two English ladies called together, one older and one younger. They
talked about Geoffrey. Geoffrey was one of the roman figures on the
clock dial of her mind. They said good things about Geoffrey; but she
could not remember what they were.
One day, the Japanese lady with the marked face and one of the nurses
helped her to get out of bed. Her legs were trembling, and her
feet were sorely plagued by pins and needles; but she held together
somehow. Together they dressed her. The lady wrapped a big fur cloak
round her; and with a supporter on either side she was led into the
open air, where a beautiful motor-car was waiting. There was a crowd
gathered round it. But the police kept them back. As Asako stepped in,
she heard the click of cameras.
"Asa Chan," said the lady, "don't you remember me? I am Countess
Of course, Asako remembered now--a spring morning with Geoffrey and
the little dwarf trees.
The notoriety of the Ito murder case did Asako a good turn. Her
friends in Japan had forgotten her. They had imagined that she had
returned to England with Geoffrey. Reggie Forsyth, who alone knew the
details of her position, had thrown up his secretaryship the day that
war was declared, and had gone home to join the army.
The morning papers of January 3rd, with their high-flown account of
the mysterious house by the river-side and the Japanese lady who could
talk no Japanese, brought an unexpected shock to acquaintances of the
Barringtons, and especially to Lady Cynthia Cairns and to Countess
Saito. These ladies both made inquiries, and learned that Asako was
lying dangerously ill in the prison infirmary. A few days later, when
Tanaka was arrested and had made a full confession of the crime,
Count Saito, who knew how suspects fare at the hands of a zealous
procurator, called in person on the Minister of Justice, and secured
Asako's speedy liberation.
"This girl is a valuable asset to our country," he had explained to
the Minister. "She is married to an Englishman, who will one day be a
peer in England. This was a marriage of political importance. It was a
proof of the equal civilisation of our Japan with the great countries
of Europe. It is most important that this Asako should be sent back
to England as soon as possible, and that she should speak good things
So Asako was released from the procurator's clutches; and she was
given a charming little bedroom of her own in the European wing of the
Saito mansion. The house stood on a high hill; and Asako, seated at
the window, could watch the multiplex activity of the streets below,
the jolting tramcars, the wagons, the barrows and the rickshaws. To
the left was a labyrinth of little houses of clean white wood, bright
and new, like toys, with toy evergreens and pine-trees bursting out of
their narrow gardens. This was a _geisha_ quarter, whence the sound
of _samisen_ music and quavering songs resounded all day long. To the
right was a big grey-boarded primary school, which, with the regular
movement of tides, sucked in and belched out its flood of blue-cloaked
boys and magenta-skirted maidens.
Count and Countess Saito, despite their immense wealth and their
political importance, were simple, unostentatious people, who seemed
to devote most of their thoughts to their children, their garden,
their dwarf trees, and their breed of cocker spaniels. They took
their social duties lightly, though their home was a Mecca for
needy relatives on the search for jobs. They gave generously; they
entertained hospitably. Good-humour ruled the household; for husband
and wife were old partners and devoted friends.
Count Saito brought his nephew and secretary, a most agreeable young
man, to see Asako. The Count said,--
"Asa Chan, I want you to tell Mr. Sakabe all about the Fujinami house
and the way of life there."
So Asako told her story to this interested listener. Fortunately,
perhaps, she could not read the Japanese newspapers; for most of her
adventures reappeared in the daily issues almost word for word. From
behind the scenes, Count Saito was directing the course of the famous
trial which had come to be known as the Fujinami Affair. For the Count
had certain political scores of his own to pay off; and Asako proved
to be a godsend.
Tanaka was tried for murder; but it was established that he had killed
Ito in defending his mistress's honour; and the court let him off
with a year's hard labour. But the great Fujinami bribery case which
developed out of the murder trial, ruined a Cabinet Minister, a local
governor, and a host of minor officials. It reacted on the Yoshiwara
regulations. The notoriety of the case has gone far towards putting
an end to public processions of _oiran_, and to the display of
prostitutes in the windows of their houses. Indeed, it is probably
only a question of time for the great pleasure quarters to be closed
down, and for vice to be driven into secrecy. Mr. Fujinami Gentaro
was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for causing bribes to be
Meanwhile Countess Saito had been in correspondence with Lady
Everington in England. On one bright March morning, she came into
Asako's room with a small flowerpot in her hands.
"See, Asa Chan," she said in her strange hoarse voice, "the first
flower of the New Year, the plum-blossom. It is the flower of hope and
patience. It blooms when the snow is still on the ground, and before
it has any green leaves to protect it."
"It smells sweet," said Asako.
Her hostess quoted the famous poem of the exiled Japanese statesman,
Sukawara no Michizane,--
"When the East wind blows,
Send your perfume to me,
Flower of the plum;
Even if your master is absent,
Do not forget the spring."
"Asako dear," Countess Saito continued, "would you like to go to
Asako's heart leaped.
"Oh yes!" she answered gladly.
Her hostess sighed reproachfully. She had tried to make life so
agreeable for her little visitor; yet from the tone of her voice it
was clear that Japan would never be home for her.
"Marchioness Samejima and I," continued the Japanese lady, "have been
arranging for a party of about twenty-five Red Cross nurses to visit
England and France. They are all very good, clever girls from noble
families. We wish to show sympathy of Japan for the poor soldiers who
are suffering so much; and we wish to teach our girls true facts about
war and how to manage a hospital in war-time. We thought you might
like to go as guide and interpreter."
It needed no words to show how joyfully Asako accepted this proposal.
Besides, she had heard from Geoffrey. A letter had arrived thanking
her for her Christmas gift.
"Little darling Asako," her husband had written, "It was so sweet of
you and so like you to think of me at Christmas time. I hope that
you are very happy and having a jolly good time. It is very rotten
in England just now with the war going on. It had broken out before
I reached home; and I joined up at once with my old regiment. We have
had a very lively time. About half of my brother officers have been
killed; and I am a colonel now. Also, incidentally, I have become Lord
Brandan. My father died at the end of last year. Poor old father! This
war is a ghastly business; but we have got them beat now. I shall be
sorry in a way when it is over; for it gives me plenty to do and
to think about. Reggie Forsyth is with his regiment in Egypt. Lady
Everington is writing to you. I am in the north of France, and doing
quite a lot of _parley-voo_. Is there any chance of your coming to
England? God bless you, Asako darling. Write to me soon.
"Your loving Geoffrey."
With this letter folded near her heart, Asako was hardly in a mood
to admire plum-blossoms. It was with difficulty that she could summon
sufficient attention for give the little Saito children their daily
lessons in English and French.
Long rides in the motor-car through the reviving country-side to the
splendid gorge of Miyanoshita or to the beaches of Oiso, where Count
Saito had his summer villa, long days of play with the children in the
hanging garden, the fascinating companionship of the dwarf trees and
the black spaniels, and the welcome absence of espionage and innuendo,
had soon restored Asako to health again.
"Little Asa Chan," Count Saito said one day, beckoning his guest to
sit down beside him in the sunlight on the terrace, "you will be happy
to go back to England?"
"Oh yes," said the girl.
"It is a fine country, a noble country; and you will be happy to see
your husband again?"
Asako blushed and held down her head.
"I don't think he is still my husband," she said, "but oh! I do want
to see him so."
"I think he wants to see you," said the Count; "My wife has received
a letter from Lady Everington which says that he would like you very
much to come back to him."
The Count waited for this joyful news to produce its effect, and then
"Asa Chan, you are going to be a great English lady; but you will
always remain a Japanese. In England, you will be a kind of ambassador
for Japan. So you must never forget your father's country, and you
must never say bad things about Japan, even if you have suffered here.
Then the English people will like you; and for that reason, they will
like Japan too; and the two counties will stand side by side, as they
ought to, like good friends. The English are a very great people, the
greatest of all; but they know very little about us in the East. They
think that because we are yellow people, therefore we are inferior to
them. Perhaps, when they see a Japanese lady as one of their peers'
wives and a leader in society, they will understand that the Japanese
also are not so inferior; for the English people have a great respect
for peers. Japan is proud to be England's younger brother; but the
elder brother must not take all the inheritance. He must be content to
share. For perhaps he will not always be the strong one. This war will
make England weak and it will make Japan strong. It will make a great
change in the world, and in Asia most of all. Already the people of
Asia are saying, Why should these white men rule over us? They cannot
rule themselves; they fight among themselves like drunkards; their
time is over and past. Then, when the white rulers are pushed out of
Asia, Japan will become very strong indeed. It will be said then that
England, the elder brother, is become _inkyo_ (retired from active
life), and that Japan, the younger brother, is manager of the family.
I think you will live to see these things, Asa Chan. Certainly your
children will see them."
"I could never like Japan," Asako said honestly.
The old diplomat shrugged his shoulders.
"Very well, Asa Chan. Just enjoy life, and be happy That will be the