Part 2 out of 3
Seated upon my veranda, my eyes wandered over the temples and cemeteries
spread at my feet, over the woods and the green mountains, over Nagasaki
lying bathed in the sunlight. The cicalas were chirping their loudest,
the strident noise trembling feverishly in the hot air. All was calm,
full of light and full of heat.
Nevertheless, to my taste, it is not yet enough so! What, then, can have
changed upon the earth? The burning noondays of summer, such as I can
recall in days gone by, were more brilliant, more full of sunshine;
Nature seemed to me in those days more powerful, more terrible. One
would say this was only a pale copy of all that I knew in early years--
a copy in which something is wanting. Sadly do I ask myself--Is the
splendor of the summer only this? Was it only this? or is it the fault
of my eyes, and as time goes on shall I behold everything around me
fading still more?
Behind me comes a faint and melancholy strain of music--melancholy enough
to make one shiver--and shrill, shrill as the song of the grasshoppers,
it began to make itself heard, very softly at first, then growing louder
and rising in the silence of the noonday like the diminutive wail of some
poor Japanese soul in pain and anguish; it was Chrysantheme and her
guitar awaking together.
It pleased me that the idea should have occurred to her to greet me with
music, instead of eagerly hastening to wish me good-morning. At no time
have I ever given myself the trouble to pretend the slightest affection
for her, and a certain coldness even has grown up between us, especially
when we are alone. But to-day I turn to her with a smile, and wave my
hand for her to continue. "Go on, it amuses me to listen to your quaint
little impromptu." It is singular that the music of this essentially
merry people should be so plaintive. But undoubtedly that which
Chrysantheme is playing at this moment is worth listening to. Whence can
it have come to her? What unutterable dreams, forever hidden from me,
surge beneath her ivory brow, when she plays or sings in this manner?
Suddenly I hear some one tapping three times, with a harsh and bony
finger, against one of the steps of our stairs, and in our doorway
appears an idiot, clad in a suit of gray tweed, who bows low. "Come in,
come in, Monsieur Kangourou. You come just in the nick of time! I was
actually becoming enthusiastic over your country!"
M. Kangourou brought a little laundry bill, which he wished respectfully
to hand to me, with a profound bend of the whole body, the correct pose
of the hands on the knees, and a long, snake-like hiss.
Pursuing the path that winds past our dwelling, one passes a dozen or
more old villas, a few garden-walls, and then sees nothing but the lonely
mountain-side, with little paths winding upward toward the summit through
plantations of tea, bushes of camellias, underbrush, and rocks. The
mountains round Nagasaki are covered with cemeteries; for centuries and
centuries they have brought their dead up here.
But there is neither sadness nor horror in these Japanese sepulchres; it
seems as if, among this frivolous and childish people, death itself could
not be taken seriously. The monuments are either granite Buddhas, seated
on lotus, or upright tombstones with inscriptions in gold. They are
grouped together in little enclosures in the midst of the woods, or on
natural terraces delightfully situated, and are usually reached by long
stairways of stone carpeted with moss. Sometimes these pass under one of
the sacred gateways, of which the shape, always the same, rude and
simple, is a smaller reproduction of those in the temples.
Above us, the tombs of our mountain are of an antiquity so hoary that
they no longer alarm any one, even at night. It is a region of forsaken
cemeteries. The dead hidden away there have long since become one with
the earth around them; and these thousands of little gray stones, these
multitudes of ancient little Buddhas, eaten away by lichens, seem to be
now no more than a proof of a series of existences, long anterior to our
own, and lost forever and altogether in the mysterious depths of ages.
DAINTY DISHES FOR A DOLL
The meals that Chrysantheme enjoys are something almost indescribable.
She begins in the morning, when she wakes, with two little green wild
plums pickled in vinegar and rolled in powdered sugar. A cup of tea
completes this almost traditional breakfast of Japan, the very same that
Madame Prune is eating downstairs, the same that is served in the inns to
At intervals during the day the meals are continued by two little dinners
of the drollest description. They are brought up on a tray of red
lacquer, in microscopic cups with covers, from Madame Prune's apartment,
where they are cooked: a hashed sparrow, a stuffed prawn, seaweed with a
sauce, a salted sweetmeat, a sugared chili! Chrysantheme tastes a little
of all, with dainty pecks and the aid of her little chopsticks, raising
the tips of her fingers with affected grace. At every dish she makes a
face, leaves three parts of it, and dries her finger-tips after it in
These menus vary according to the inspiration that may have seized Madame
Prune. But one thing never varies, either in our household or in any
other, neither in the north nor in the south of the Empire, and that is
the dessert and the manner of eating it: after all these little dishes,
which are a mere make-believe, a wooden bowl is brought in, bound with
copper--an enormous bowl, fit for Gargantua, and filled to the very brim
with rice, plainly cooked in water. Chrysantheme fills another large
bowl from it (sometimes twice, sometimes three times), darkens its snowy
whiteness with a black sauce flavored with fish, which is contained in a
delicately shaped blue cruet, mixes it all together, carries the bowl to
her lips, and crams down all the rice, shovelling it with her two chop-
sticks into her very throat. Next the little cups and covers are picked
up, as well as the tiniest crumb that may have fallen upon the white
mats, the irreproachable purity of which nothing is allowed to tarnish.
And so ends the dinner.
A FANTASTIC FUNERAL
Below, in the town, a street-singer had established herself in a little
thoroughfare; people had gathered around her to listen to her singing,
and we three--that is, Yves, Chrysantheme, and I--who happened to be
passing, stopped also.
She was quite young, rather fat, and fairly pretty, and she strummed her
guitar and sang, rolling her eyes fiercely, like a virtuoso executing
feats of difficulty. She lowered her head, stuck her chin into her neck,
in order to draw deeper notes from the furthermost recesses of her body;
and succeeded in bringing forth a great, hoarse voice--a voice that might
have belonged to an aged frog, a ventriloquist's voice, coming whence it
would be impossible to say (this is the best stage manner, the last touch
of art, in the interpretation of tragic pieces).
Yves cast an indignant glance upon her.
"Good gracious," said he, "she has the voice of a----" (words failed him,
in his astonishment) "the voice of a--a monster!"
And he looked at me, almost frightened by this little being, and desirous
to know what I thought of it.
Yves was out of temper on this occasion, because I had induced him to
come out in a straw hat with a turned-up brim, which did not please him.
"That hat suits you remarkably well, Yves, I assure you," I said.
"Oh, indeed! You say so, you. For my part, I think it looks like a
As a fortunate diversion from the singer and the hat, here comes a
cortege, advancing toward us from the end of the street, something
remarkably like a funeral. Bonzes march in front, dressed in robes of
black gauze, having much the appearance of Catholic priests; the
principal object of interest of the procession, the corpse, comes last,
laid in a sort of little closed palanquin, which is daintily pretty.
This is followed by a band of mousmes, hiding their laughing faces
beneath a kind of veil, and carrying in vases of the sacred shape the
artificial lotus with silver petals indispensable at a funeral; then come
fine ladies, on foot, smirking and stifling a wish to laugh, beneath
parasols on which are painted, in the gayest colors, butterflies and
Now they are quite close to us, we must stand back to give them room.
Chrysantheme all at once assumes a suitable air of gravity, and Yves
bares his head, taking off the magpie's nest.
Yes, it is true, it is death that is passing!
I had almost lost sight of the fact, so little does this procession
The procession will climb high above Nagasaki, into the heart of the
green mountain covered with tombs. There the poor fellow will be laid at
rest, with his palanquin above him, and his vases and his flowers of
silvered paper. Well, at least he will lie in a charming spot commanding
a lovely view.
Then they will return half laughing, half snivelling, and tomorrow no one
will think of it again.
Our ship, the 'Triomphante', which has been lying in the harbor almost at
the foot of the hill on which stands my house, enters the dock to-day to
undergo repairs rendered necessary by the long blockade of Formosa.
I am now a long way from my home, and am compelled to cross by boat the
whole breadth of the bay when I wish to see Chrysantheme; for the dock is
situated on the shore, opposite to Diou-djen-dji. It is sunk in a little
valley, narrow and deep, midst all kinds of foliage--bamboos, camellias,
trees of all sorts; our masts and spars, seen from the deck, look as if
they were tangled among the branches.
The situation of the vessel--no longer afloat--gives the crew a greater
facility for clandestine escapes from the ship at no matter what hour of
the night, and our sailors have made friends with all the girls of the
villages perched on the mountains above us.
These quarters, and this excessive liberty, give me some uneasiness about
my poor Yves; for this country of frivolous pleasure has a little turned
Moreover, I am more and more convinced that he is in love with
It is really a pity that the sentiment has not occurred to me instead,
since it is I who have gone the length of marrying her.
Despite the increased distance, I continue my regular visits to Diou-
djen-dji. When night has fallen, and the four couples who compose our
society have joined us, as well as Yves and the "amazingly tall friend"--
we descend again into the town, stumbling by lantern-light down the steep
stairways and slopes of the old suburb.
This nocturnal ramble is always the same, and is accompanied always by
the same amusements: we pause before the same queer booths, we drink the
same sugared drinks served to us in the same little gardens. But our
troop is often more numerous: to begin with, we chaperon Oyouki, who is
confided to our care by her parents; then we have two cousins of my
wife's--pretty little creatures; and lastly friends--guests of sometimes
only ten or twelve years old, little girls of the neighborhood to whom
our mousmes wish to show some politeness.
Thus a singular company of tiny beings forms our suite and follows us
into the tea-gardens in the evenings! The most absurd faces, with sprigs
of flowers stuck in the oddest fashion in their comical and childish
heads. One might suppose it was a whole school of mousmes out for an
evening's frolic under our care.
Yves returns with us, when the time comes to remount our hill;
Chrysantheme heaves great sighs like a tired child, and stops on every
step, leaning on our arms.
When we have reached our destination he says "Goodnight," just touches
Chrysantheme's hand, and descending once more by the slope which leads to
the quays and the shipping, he crosses the roadstead in a sampan, to get
on board the 'Triomphante.'
Meantime, we, with the aid of a sort of secret key, open the door of our
garden, where Madame Prune's pots of flowers, ranged in the darkness,
send forth delicious odors in the night air. We cross the garden by
moonlight or starlight, and mount to our own rooms.
If it is very late--a frequent occurrence--we find all our wooden panels
drawn and tightly shut by the careful M. Sucre (as a precaution against
thieves), and our apartment is as close and as private as if it were a
real European house.
In this dwelling, when every chink is thus closed, a strange odor mingles
with the musk and the lotus--an odor essential to Japan, to the yellow
race, belonging to the soil or emanating from the venerable woodwork;
almost an odor of wild beasts. The mosquito-curtain of dark-blue gauze,
ready hung for the night, falls from the ceiling with the air of a
mysterious vellum. The gilded Buddha smiles eternally at the night-lamps
burning before him; some great moth, a constant frequenter of the house,
which during the day sleeps clinging to our ceiling, flutters at this
hour under the very nose of the god, turning and flitting round the thin,
quivering flames. And, motionless on the wall, its feelers spread out
star-like, sleeps some great garden spider, which one must not kill
because it is night. "Hou!" says Chrysantheme, indignantly, pointing it
out to me with levelled finger. Quick! where is the fan kept for the
purpose, wherewith to hunt it out of doors?
Around us reigns a silence which is almost oppressive after all the
joyous noises of the town, and all the laughter, now hushed, of our band
of mousmes--a silence of the country, of some sleeping village.
A QUIET SMOKE
The sound of the innumerable wooden panels, which at nightfall are pulled
and shut in every Japanese house, is one of the peculiarities of the
country which will remain longest imprinted on my memory. From our
neighbor's houses these noises reach us one after the other, floating to
us over the green gardens, more or less deadened, more or less distant.
Just below us, Madame Prune's panels move very badly, creak and make a
hideous noise in their wornout grooves.
Ours are somewhat noisy too, for the old house is full of echoes, and
there are at least twenty screens to run over long slides in order to
close in completely the kind of open hall in which we live. Usually, it
is Chrysantheme who undertakes this piece of household work, and a great
deal of trouble it gives her, for she often pinches her fingers in the
singular awkwardness of her too tiny hands, which never have been
accustomed to do any work.
Then comes her toilette for the night. With a certain grace she lets
fall the day-dress, and slips on a more simple one of blue cotton, which
has the same pagoda sleeves, the same shape all but the train, and which
she fastens round her waist with a sash of muslin of the same color.
The high head-dress remains untouched, it is needless to say--that is,
all but the pins, which are taken out and laid beside her in a lacquer
Then there is the little silver pipe that must absolutely be smoked
before going to sleep; this is one of the customs which most provoke me,
but it has to be borne.
Chrysantheme squats like a gipsy before a certain square box, made of red
wood, which contains a little tobacco-jar, a little porcelain stove full
of hot embers, and finally a little bamboo pot serving at the same time
as ash-tray and cuspidor. (Madame Prune's smoking-box downstairs, and
every smoking-box in Japan, is exactly the same, and contains precisely
the same objects, arranged in precisely the same manner; and wherever it
may be, whether in the house of the rich or the poor, it always lies
about somewhere on the floor.)
The word "pipe" is at once too trivial and too big to be applied to this
delicate silver tube, which is perfectly straight and at the end of
which, in a microscopic receptacle, is placed one pinch of golden
tobacco, chopped finer than silken thread.
Two puffs, or at most three; it lasts scarcely a few seconds, and the
pipe is finished. Then tap, tap, tap, tap, the little tube is struck
smartly against the edge of the smoking-box to knock out the ashes, which
never will fall; and this tapping, heard everywhere, in every house, at
every hour of the day or night, quick and droll as the scratchings of a
monkey, is in Japan one of the noises most characteristic of human life.
"Anata nominase!" ("You must smoke too!") says Chrysantheme.
Having again filled the tiresome little pipe, she puts the silver tube to
my lips with a bow. Courtesy forbids my refusal; but I find it
Before laying myself down under the blue mosquito-net, I open two of the
panels in the room, one on the side of the silent and deserted footpath,
the other on the garden side, overlooking the terraces, so that the night
air may breathe upon us, even at the risk of bringing the company of some
belated cockchafer, or more giddy moth.
Our wooden house, with its thin old walls, vibrates at night like a great
dry violin, and the slightest noises have a startling resonance.
Beneath the veranda are hung two little AEolian harps, which, at the
least ruffle of the breeze running through their blades of grass, emit a
gentle tinkling sound, like the harmonious murmur of a brook; outside, to
the very farthest limits of the distance, the cicalas continue their
sonorous and never-ending concert; over our heads, on the black roof, is
heard passing, like a witch's sabbath, the raging battle, to the death,
of cats, rats, and owls.
Presently, when in the early dawn a fresher breeze, mounting upward from
the sea and the deep harbor, reaches us, Chrysantheme rises and slyly
shuts the panels I have opened.
Before that, however, she will have risen at least three times to smoke:
having yawned like a cat, stretched herself, twisted in every direction
her little amber arms, and her graceful little hands, she sits up
resolutely, with all the waking sighs and broken syllables of a child,
pretty and fascinating enough; then she emerges from the gauze net, fills
her little pipe, and breathes a few puffs of the bitter and unpleasant
Then comes tap, tap, tap, tap, against the box to shake out the ashes.
In the silence of the night it makes quite a terrible noise, which wakes
Madame Prune. This is fatal. Madame Prune is at once seized also with a
longing to smoke which may not be denied; then, to the noise from above,
comes an answering tap, tap, tap, tap, from below, exactly like it,
exasperating and inevitable as an echo.
THE PRAYERFUL MADAME PRUNE
More cheerful are the sounds of morning: the cocks crowing, the wooden
panels all around the neighborhood sliding back upon their rollers; or
the strange cry of some fruit-seller, patrolling our lofty suburb in the
early dawn. And the grasshoppers actually seem to chirp more loudly, to
celebrate the return of the sunlight.
Above all, rises to our ears from below the sound of Madame Prune's long
prayers, ascending through the floor, monotonous as the song of a
somnambulist, regular and soothing as the plash of a fountain. It lasts
three quarters of an hour at least, it drones along, a rapid flow of
words in a high nasal key; from time to time, when the inattentive
spirits are not listening, it is accompanied by a clapping of dry palms,
or by harsh sounds from a kind of wooden clapper made of two discs of
mandragora root. It is an uninterrupted stream of prayer; its flow never
ceases, and the quavering continues without stopping, like the bleating
of a delirious old goat.
"After washing the hands and feet," say the sacred books, "the great
God Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami, who is the royal power of Japan, must be
invoked; the manes of all the defunct emperors descended from him
must also be invoked; next, the manes of all his personal ancestors,
to the farthest generation; the spirits of the air and the sea; the
spirits of all secret and impure places; the spirits of the tombs of
the district whence you spring, etc., etc."
"I worship and implore you," sings Madame Prune, "O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami,
royal power! Cease not to protect your faithful people, who are ready to
sacrifice themselves for their country. Grant that I may become as holy
as yourself, and drive from my mind all dark thoughts. I am a coward and
a sinner: purge me from my cowardice and sinfulness, even as the north
wind drives the dust into the sea. Wash me clean from all my iniquities,
as one washes away uncleanness in the river of Kamo. Make me the richest
woman in the world. I believe in your glory, which shall be spread over
the whole earth, and illuminate it for ever for my happiness. Grant me
the continued good health of my family, and above all, my own, who, O
Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! do worship and adore you, and only you, etc., etc."
Here follow all the emperors, all the spirits, and the interminable list
In her trembling old woman's falsetto, Madame Prune sings all this,
without omitting anything, at a pace which almost takes away her breath.
And very strange it is to hear: at length it seems hardly a human voice;
it sounds like a series of magic formulas, unwinding themselves from an
inexhaustible roller, and escaping to take flight through the air. By
its very weirdness, and by the persistency of its incantation, it ends by
producing in my half-awakened brain an almost religious impression.
Every day I wake to the sound of this Shintoist litany chanted beneath
me, vibrating through the exquisite clearness of the summer mornings--
while our night-lamps burn low before the smiling Buddha, while the
eternal sun, hardly risen, already sends through the cracks of our wooden
panels its bright rays, which dart like golden arrows through our
darkened dwelling and our blue gauze tent.
This is the moment at which I must rise, descend hurriedly to the sea by
grassy footpaths all wet with dew, and so regain my ship.
Alas! in the days gone by, it was the cry of the muezzin which used to
awaken me in the dark winter mornings in faraway, night-shrouded
A DOLL'S CORRESPONDENCE
Chrysantheme has brought but few things with her, knowing that our
domestic life would probably be brief.
She has placed her gowns and her fine sashes in little closed recesses,
hidden in one of the walls of our apartment (the north wall, the only one
of the four which can not be taken to pieces). The doors of these niches
are white paper panels; the standing shelves and inside partitions,
consisting of light woodwork, are put together almost too finically and
too ingeniously, giving rise to suspicions of secret drawers and
conjuring tricks. We put there only things without any value, having a
vague feeling that the cupboards themselves might spirit them away.
The box in which Chrysantheme stores away her gewgaws and letters, is one
of the things that amuse me most; it is of English make, tin, and bears
on its cover the colored representation of some manufactory in the
neighborhood of London. Of course, it is as an exotic work of art, as a
precious knickknack, that Chrysantheme prefers it to any of her other
boxes in lacquer or inlaid work. It contains all that a mousme requires
for her correspondence: Indian ink, a paintbrush, very thin, gray-tinted
paper, cut up in long narrow strips, and odd-shaped envelopes, into which
these strips are slipped (having been folded up in about thirty folds);
the envelopes are ornamented with pictures of landscapes, fishes, crabs,
On some old letters addressed to her, I can make out the two characters
that represent her name: Kikousan ("Chrysantheme, Madame"). And when I
question her, she replies in Japanese, with an air of importance:
"My dear, they are letters from my woman friends."
Oh, those friends of Chrysantheme, what funny little faces they have!
That same box contains their portraits, their photographs stuck on
visiting cards, which are printed on the back with the name of Uyeno, the
fashionable photographer in Nagasaki--the little creatures fit only to
figure daintily on painted fans, who have striven to assume a dignified
attitude when once their necks have been placed in the head-rest, and
they have been told: "Now, don't move."
It would really amuse me to read the letters of my mousme's friends--and
above all her replies!
It rained this evening heavily, and the night was close and dark. About
ten o'clock, on our return from one of the fashionable tea-houses we
frequent, we arrived--Yves, Chrysantheme and I--at the familiar angle of
the principal street, the turn where we must take leave of the lights and
noises of the town, to climb up the dark steps and steep paths that lead
to our dwelling at Diou-djen-dji.
But before beginning our ascent, we must first buy lanterns from an old
tradeswoman called Madame Tres-Propre, whose regular customers we are.
It is amazing what a quantity of these paper lanterns we consume. They
are invariably decorated in the same way, with painted nightmoths or
bats; fastened to the ceiling at the farther end of the shop, they hang
in enormous clusters, and the old woman, seeing us arrive, gets upon a
table to take them down. Gray or red are our usual choice; Madame Tres-
Propre knows our preferences and leaves the green or blue lanterns aside.
But it is always hard work to unhook one, on account of the little short
sticks by which they are held, and the strings with which they are tied
getting entangled together. In an exaggerated pantomime, Madame Tres-
Propre expresses her despair at wasting so much of our valuable time: oh!
if it only depended on her personal efforts! but ah! the natural
perversity of inanimate things which have no consideration for human
dignity! With monkeyish antics, she even deems it her duty to threaten
the lanterns and shake her fist at these inextricably tangled strings
which have the presumption to delay us.
It is all very well, but we know this manoeuvre by heart; and if the old
lady loses patience, so do we. Chrysantheme, who is half asleep, is
seized with a fit of kitten-like yawning which she does not even trouble
to hide behind her hand, and which appears to be endless. She pulls a
very long face at the thought of the steep hill we must struggle up
tonight through the pelting rain.
I have the same feeling, and am thoroughly annoyed. To what purpose do I
clamber up every evening to that suburb, when it offers me no attractions
The rain increases; what are we to do? Outside, djins pass rapidly,
calling out: "Take care!" splashing the foot-passengers and casting
through the shower streams of light from their many-colored lanterns.
Mousmes and elderly ladies pass, tucked up, muddy, laughing nevertheless
under their paper umbrellas, exchanging greetings, clacking their wooden
pattens on the stone pavement. The whole street is filled with the noise
of the pattering feet and pattering rain.
As good luck will have it, at the same moment passes Number 415, our poor
relative, who, seeing our distress, stops and promises to help us out of
our difficulty; as soon as he has deposited on the quay an Englishman he
is conveying, he will come to our aid and bring all that is necessary to
relieve us from our lamentable situation.
At last our lantern is unhooked, lighted, and paid for. There is another
shop opposite, where we stop every evening; it is that of Madame L'Heure,
the woman who sells waffles; we always buy a provision from her, to
refresh us on the way. A very lively young woman is this pastry-cook,
and most eager to make herself agreeable; she looks quite like a screen
picture behind her piled-up cakes, ornamented with little posies. We
will take shelter under her roof while we wait; and, to avoid the drops
that fall heavily from the waterspouts, wedge ourselves tightly against
her display of white and pink sweetmeats, so artistically spread out on
fresh and delicate branches of cypress.
Poor Number 415, what a providence he is to us! Already he reappears,
most excellent cousin! ever smiling, ever running, while the water
streams down his handsome bare legs; he brings us two umbrellas, borrowed
from a China merchant, who is also a distant relative of ours. Like me,
Yves has till now never consented to use such a thing, but he now accepts
one because it is droll: of paper, of course, with innumerable folds
waxed and gummed, and the inevitable flight of storks forming a wreath
Chrysantheme, yawning more and more in her kitten-like fashion, becomes
coaxing in order to be helped along, and tries to take my arm.
"I beg you, mousme, this evening to take the arm of Yves-San; I am sure
that will suit us all three."
And there they go, she, tiny figure, hanging on to the big fellow,
and so they climb up. I lead the way, carrying the lantern that lights
our steps, whose flame I protect as well as I can under my fantastic
umbrella. On each side of the road is heard the roaring torrent of
stormy waters rolling down from the mountain-side. To-night the way
seems long, difficult, and slippery; a succession of interminable flights
of steps, gardens, and houses piled up one above another; waste lands,
and trees which in the darkness shake their dripping foliage on our
One would say that Nagasaki is ascending at the same time as ourselves;
but yonder, and very far away, is a vapory mist which seems luminous
against the blackness of the sky, and from the town rises a confused
murmur of voices and laughter, and a rumbling of gongs.
The summer rain has not yet refreshed the atmosphere. On account of the
stormy heat, the little suburban houses have been left open like sheds,
and we can see all that is going on. Lamps burn perpetually before the
altars dedicated to Buddha and to the souls of the ancestors; but all
good Nipponese have already lain down to rest. Under the traditional
tents of bluish-green gauze, we can see whole families stretched out in
rows; they are either sleeping, or hunting the mosquitoes, or fanning
themselves. Nipponese men and women, Nipponese babies too, lying side by
side with their parents; each one, young or old, in his little dark-blue
cotton nightdress, and with his little wooden block on which to rest the
nape of his neck.
A few houses are open, where amusements are still going on; here and
there, from the sombre gardens, the sound of a guitar reaches our ears,
playing some dance which gives in its weird rhythm a strange impression
Here is the well, surrounded by bamboos, where we are wont to make a
nocturnal halt for Chrysantheme to take breath. Yves begs me to throw
forward the red gleam of my lantern, in order to recognize the place, for
it marks our halfway resting-place.
And at last, at last, here is our house! The door is closed, all is
silent and dark. Our panels have been carefully shut by M. Sucre and
Madame Prune; the rain streams down the wood of our old black walls.
In such weather it is impossible to allow Yves to return down hill, and
wander along the shore in quest of a sampan. No, he shall not return on
board to-night; we will put him up in our house. His little room has
indeed been already provided for in the conditions of our lease, and
notwithstanding his discreet refusal, we immediately set to work to make
it. Let us go in, take off our boots, shake ourselves like so many cats
that have been out in a shower, and step up to our apartment.
In front of Buddha, the little lamps are burning; in the middle of the
room, the night-blue gauze is stretched.
On entering, the first impression is favorable; our dwelling is pretty
this evening; the late hour and deep silence give it an air of mystery.
And then, in such weather, it is always pleasant to get home.
Come, let us at once prepare Yves's room. Chrysantheme, quite elated at
the prospect of having her big friend near her, sets to work with a good
will; moreover, the task is easy; we have only to slip three or four
paper panels in their grooves, to make at once a separate room or
compartment in the great box we live in. I had thought that these panels
were entirely white; but no! on each is a group of two storks painted in
gray tints in those inevitable attitudes consecrated by Japanese art: one
bearing aloft its proud head and haughtily raising its leg, the other
scratching itself. Oh, these storks! how tired one gets of them, at the
end of a month spent in Japan!
Yves is now in bed and sleeping under our roof.
Sleep has come to him sooner than to me to-night; for somehow I fancy I
had seen long glances exchanged between him and Chrysantheme.
I have left this little creature in his hands like a toy, and I begin to
fear lest I should have caused some perturbation in his mind. I do not
trouble my head about this little Japanese girl. But Yves--it would be
decidedly wrong on his part, and would greatly diminish my faith in him.
We hear the rain falling on our old roof; the cicalas are mute; odors of
wet earth reach us from the gardens and the mountain. I feel terribly
dreary in this room to-night; the noise of the little pipe irritates me
more than usual, and as Chrysantheme crouches in front of her smoking-
box, I suddenly discover in her an air of low breeding, in the very worst
sense of the word.
I should hate her, my mousme, if she were to entice Yves into committing
a fault--a fault which I should perhaps never be able to forgive.
A LITTLE DOMESTIC DIFFICULTY
The Y---- and Sikou-San couple were divorced yesterday. The Charles N---
and Campanule household is getting on very badly. They have had some
trouble with those prying, grinding, insupportable little men, dressed up
in gray suits, who are called police agents, and who, by threatening
their landlord, have had them turned out of their house (under the
obsequious amiability of this people lurks a secret hatred toward
Europeans)--they are therefore obliged to accept their mother-in-law's
hospitality, a very disagreeable situation. And then Charles N---
fancies his mousme is faithless. It is hardly possible, however, for us
to deceive ourselves: these would-be maidens, to whom M. Kangourou has
introduced us, have already had in their lives one adventure, at least,
and perhaps more; it is therefore only natural that we should have our
The Z----- and Touki-San couple jog on, quarrelling all the time.
My household maintains a more dignified air, though it is none the less
dreary. I had indeed thought of a divorce, but have really no good
reason for offering Chrysantheme such a gratuitous affront; moreover,
there is another more imperative reason why I should remain quiet: I,
too, have had difficulties with the civilian authorities.
The day before yesterday, M. Sucre, quite upset, Madame Prune, almost
swooning, and Mademoiselle Oyouki, bathed in tears, stormed my rooms.
The Nipponese police agents had called and threatened them with the law
for letting rooms outside of the European concession to a Frenchman
morganatically married to a Japanese; and the terror of being prosecuted
brought them to me, with a thousand apologies, but with the humble
request that I should leave.
The next day I therefore went off, accompanied by "the wonderfully tall
friend"--who expresses himself in Japanese better than I--to the registry
office, with the full intention of making a terrible row.
In the language of this exquisitely polite people, terms of abuse are
totally wanting; when very angry, one is obliged to be satisfied with
using the 'thou', a mark of inferiority, and the familiar conjugation,
habitually used toward those of low birth. Sitting upon the table used
for weddings, among the flurried little policemen, I opened the
conversation in the following terms:
"In order that thou shouldst leave me in peace in the suburb I am
inhabiting, what bribe must I offer thee, oh, little beings more
contemptible than any mere street porter?"
Great and general dismay, silent consternation, and low bows greet my
They at last reply that my honorable person shall not be molested,
indeed, they ask for nothing better. Only, in order to subscribe to the
laws of the country, I ought to have come here and given my name and that
of the young person that--with whom--
"Oh! that is going too far! I came here for that purpose, contemptible
creatures, not three weeks ago!"
Then, taking up myself the civil register, and turning over the pages
rapidly, I found my signature and beside it the little hieroglyphics
drawn by Chrysantheme:
"There, idiots, look at that!"
Arrival of a very high functionary--a ridiculous little old fellow in a
black coat, who from his office had been listening to the row:
"What is the matter? What is it? What is this annoyance put upon the
I state my case politely to this personage, who can not make apologies
and promises enough. The little agents prostrate themselves on all
fours, sink into the earth; and we leave them, cold and dignified,
without returning their bows.
M. Sucre and Madame Prune may now make their minds easy; they will not be
BUTTERFLIES AND BEETLES
The prolonged sojourn of the 'Triomphante' in the dock, and the distance
of our dwelling from the town, have been my excuse these last two or
three days for not going up to Diou-djen-dji to see Chrysantheme.
It is dreary work in these docks. At early dawn a legion of little
Japanese workmen invade us, bringing their dinners in baskets and gourds
like the workingmen in our arsenals, but with a poor, shabby appearance,
and a ferreting, hurried manner which reminds one of rats. Silently they
slip under the keel, at the bottom of the hold, in all the holes, sawing,
The heat is intense in this spot, overshadowed by the rocks and tangled
masses of foliage.
At two o'clock, in the broad sunlight, we have a new and far prettier
invasion: that of the beetles and butterflies.
There are butterflies as wonderful as those on the fans. Some, all
black, giddily dash up against us, so light and airy that they seem
merely a pair of quivering wings fastened together without any body.
Yves, astonished, gazes at them, saying, in his boyish manner: "Oh, I saw
such a big one just now, such a big one, it quite frightened me; I
thought it was a bat attacking me."
A steersman who has captured a very curious specimen carries it off
carefully to press between the leaves of his signal-book, like a flower.
Another sailor, passing by, taking his small roast to the oven in a mess-
bowl, looks at him quizzically and says:
"You had much better give it to me. I'd cook it!"
Nearly five days have passed since I abandoned my little house and
Since yesterday we have had a tremendous storm of rain and wind (a
typhoon that has passed or is passing over us). We beat to quarters in
the middle of the night to lower the topmasts, strike the lower yards,
and take every precaution against bad weather. The butterflies no longer
hover around us; everything tosses and writhes overhead: on the steep
slopes of the mountain the trees shiver, the long grasses bend low as if
in pain; terrible gusts rack them with a hissing sound; branches, bamboo
leaves, and earth fall like rain upon us.
In this land of pretty little trifles, this violent tempest is out of
harmony; it seems as if its efforts were exaggerated and its music too
Toward evening the dark clouds roll by so rapidly that the showers are of
short duration and soon pass over. Then I attempt a walk on the mountain
above us, in the wet verdure: little pathways lead up it, between
thickets of camellias and bamboo.
Waiting till a shower is over, I take refuge in the courtyard of an old
temple halfway up the hill, buried in a wood of century plants with
gigantic branches; it is reached by granite steps, through strange
gateways, as deeply furrowed as the old Celtic dolmens. The trees have
also invaded this yard; the daylight is overcast with a greenish tint,
and the drenching torrent of rain is full of torn-up leaves and moss.
Old granite monsters, of unknown shapes, are seated in the corners, and
grimace with smiling ferocity: their faces are full of indefinable
mystery that makes me shudder amid the moaning music of the wind, in the
gloomy shadows of the clouds and branches.
They could not have resembled the Japanese of our day, the men who had
thus conceived these ancient temples, who built them everywhere, and
filled the country with them, even in its most solitary nooks.
An hour later, in the twilight of that stormy day, on the same mountain,
I encountered a clump of trees somewhat similar to oaks in appearance;
they, too, have been twisted by the tempest, and the tufts of undulating
grass at their feet are laid low, tossed about in every direction. There
was suddenly brought back to my mind my first impression of a strong wind
in the woods of Limoise, in the province of Saintonge, twenty-eight years
ago, in a month of March of my childhood.
That, the first wind-storm my eyes ever beheld sweeping over the
landscape, blew in just the opposite quarter of the world (and many years
have rapidly passed over that memory), the spot where the best part of my
life has been spent.
I refer too often, I fancy, to my childhood; I am foolishly fond of it.
But it seems to me that then only did I truly experience sensations or
impressions; the smallest trifles I saw or heard then were full of deep
and hidden meaning, recalling past images out of oblivion, and
reawakening memories of prior existences; or else they were presentiments
of existences to come, future incarnations in the land of dreams,
expectations of wondrous marvels that life and the world held in store
for me--for a later period, no doubt, when I should be grown up. Well,
I have grown up, and have found nothing that answered to my indefinable
expectations; on the contrary, all has narrowed and darkened around me,
my vague recollections of the past have become blurred, the horizons
before me have slowly closed in and become full of gray darkness. Soon
will my time come to return to eternal rest, and I shall leave this world
without ever having understood the mysterious cause of these mirages of
my childhood; I shall bear away with me a lingering regret for I know not
what lost home that I have failed to find, of the unknown beings ardently
longed for, whom, alas, I never have embraced.
A GENEROUS HUSBAND
Displaying many affectations, M. Sucre dips the tip of his delicate
paint-brush in India-ink and traces a pair of charming storks on a pretty
sheet of rice-paper, offering them to me in the most courteous manner, as
a souvenir of himself. I have put them in my cabin on board, and when I
look at them, I fancy I can see M. Sucre tracing them with an airy touch
and with elegant facility.
The saucer in which he mixes his ink is in itself a little gem. It is
chiselled out of a piece of jade, and represents a tiny lake with a
carved border imitating rockwork. On this border is a little mamma toad,
also in jade, advancing as if to bathe in the little lake in which M.
Sucre carefully keeps a few drops of very dark liquid. The mamma toad
has four little baby toads, in jade, one perched on her head, the other
three playing about under her.
M. Sucre has painted many a stork in the course of his lifetime, and he
really excels in reproducing groups and duets, if one may so express it,
of this bird. Few Japanese possess the art of interpreting this subject
in a manner at once so rapid and so tasteful; first he draws the two
beaks, then the four claws, then the backs, the feathers, dash, dash,
dash--with a dozen strokes of his clever brush, held in his daintily
posed hand, it is done, and always perfectly well done!
M. Kangourou relates, without seeing anything wrong in it whatever, that
formerly this talent was of great service to M. Sucre. It appears that
Madame Prune--how shall I say such a thing, and, who could guess it now,
on beholding so devout and sedate an old lady, with eyebrows so
scrupulously shaven?--however, it appears that Madame Prune used to
receive a great many visits from gentlemen--gentlemen who always came
alone--which led to some gossip. Therefore, when Madame Prune was
engaged with one visitor, if a new arrival made his appearance, the
ingenious husband, to induce him to wait patiently, and to wile away the
time in the anteroom, immediately offered to paint him some storks in a
variety of attitudes.
And this is why, in Nagasaki, all the Japanese gentlemen of a certain age
have in their collections two or three of these little pictures, for
which they are indebted to the delicate and original talent of M. Sucre!
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Ah! the natural perversity of inanimate things
Found nothing that answered to my indefinable expectations
Habit turns into a makeshift of attachment
I know not what lost home that I have failed to find
When the inattentive spirits are not listening
By PIERRE LOTI
THE FEAST OF THE TEMPLE
Sunday, August 25th.
About six o'clock, while I was on duty, the 'Triomphante' abandoned her
prison walls between the mountains and came out of dock. After much
manoeuvring we took up our old moorings in the harbor, at the foot of the
Diou-djen-dji hills. The weather was again calm and cloudless, the sky
presenting a peculiar clarity, as if it had been swept by a cyclone, an
exceeding transparency bringing out the minutest details in the distance
till then unseen; as if the terrible blast had blown away every vestige
of the floating mists and left behind it nothing but void and boundless
space. The coloring of woods and mountains stood out again in the
resplendent verdancy of spring after the torrents of rain, like the wet
colors of some freshly washed painting. The sampans and junks, which for
the last three days had been lying under shelter, had now put out to sea,
and the bay was covered with their white sails, which looked like a
flight of enormous seabirds.
At eight o'clock, at nightfall, our manoeuvres having ended, I embarked
with Yves on board a sampan; this time it is he who is carrying me off
and taking me back to my home.
On land, a delicious perfume of new-mown hay greets us, and the road
across the mountains is bathed in glorious moonlight. We go straight up
to Diou-djen-dji to join Chrysantheme; I feel almost remorseful, although
I hardly show it, for my neglect of her.
Looking up, I recognize from afar my little house, perched on high. It
is wide open and lighted; I even hear the sound of a guitar. Then I
perceive the gilt head of my Buddha between the little bright flames of
its two hanging night-lamps. Now Chrysantheme appears on the veranda,
looking out as if she expected us; and with her wonderful bows of hair
and long, falling sleeves, her silhouette is thoroughly Nipponese.
As I enter, she comes forward to kiss me, in a graceful, though rather
hesitating manner, while Oyouki, more demonstrative, throws her arms
Not without a certain pleasure do I see once more this Japanese home,
which I wonder to find still mine when I had almost forgotten its
existence. Chrysantheme has put fresh flowers in our vases, spread out
her hair, donned her best clothes, and lighted our lamps to honor my
return. From the balcony she had watched the 'Triomphante' leave the
dock, and, in the expectation of our prompt return, she had made her
preparations; then, to wile away the time, she was studying a duet on the
guitar with Oyouki. Not a question did she ask, nor a reproach did she
make. Quite the contrary.
"We understood," she said, "how impossible it was, in such dreadful
weather, to undertake so lengthy a crossing in a sampan."
She smiled like a pleased child, and I should be fastidious indeed if I
did not admit that to-night she is charming.
I announce my intention of taking a long stroll through Nagasaki; we will
take Oyouki-San and two little cousins who happen to be here, as well as
some other neighbors, if they wish it; we will buy the most amusing toys,
eat all sorts of cakes, and entertain ourselves to our hearts' content.
"How lucky we are to be here, just at the right moment," they exclaim,
jumping with joy. "How fortunate we are! This very evening there is to
be a pilgrimage to the great temple of the jumping Tortoise! "The whole
town will be there; all our married friends have already started, the
whole set, X----, Y----, Z----, Touki-San, Campanule, and Jonquille, with
"the friend of amazing height." And these two, poor Chrysantheme and
poor Oyouki, would have been obliged to stay at home with heavy hearts,
had we not arrived, because Madame Prune had been seized with faintness
and hysterics after her dinner.
Quickly the mousmes must deck themselves out. Chrysantheme is ready;
Oyouki hurries, changes her dress, and, putting on a mouse-colored gray
robe, begs me to arrange the bows of her fine sash--black satin lined with
yellow--sticking at the same time in her hair a silver topknot. We light
our lanterns, swinging at the end of little sticks; M. Sucre,
overwhelming us with thanks for his daughter, accompanies us on all
fours to the door, and we go off gayly through the clear and balmy night.
Below, we find the town in all the animation of a great holiday. The
streets are thronged; the crowd passes by--a laughing, capricious, slow,
unequal tide, flowing onward, however, steadily in the same direction,
toward the same goal. From it rises a penetrating but light murmur, in
which dominate the sounds of laughter, and the low-toned interchange of
polite speeches. Then follow lanterns upon lanterns. Never in my life
have I seen so many, so variegated, so complicated, and so extraordinary.
We follow, drifting with the surging crowd, borne along by it. There
are groups of women of every age, decked out in their smartest clothes,
crowds of mousmes with aigrettes of flowers in their hair, or little
silver topknots like Oyouki--pretty little physiognomies, little, narrow
eyes peeping between their slits like those of new-born kittens, fat,
pale, little cheeks, round, puffed-out, half-opened lips. They are
pretty, nevertheless, these little Nipponese, in their smiles and
The men, on the other hand, wear many a pot-hat, pompously added to the
long national robe, and giving thereby a finishing touch to their
cheerful ugliness, resembling nothing so much as dancing monkeys. They
carry boughs in their hands, whole shrubs even, amid the foliage of which
dangle all sorts of curious lanterns in the shapes of imps and birds.
As we advance in the direction of the temple, the streets become more
noisy and crowded. All along the houses are endless stalls raised on
trestles, displaying sweetmeats of every color, toys, branches of
flowers, nosegays and masks. There are masks everywhere, boxes full of
them, carts full of them; the most popular being the one that represents
the livid and cunning muzzle, contracted as by a deathlike grimace, the
long straight ears and sharp-pointed teeth of the white fox, sacred to
the God of Rice. There are also others symbolic of gods or monsters,
livid, grimacing, convulsed, with wigs and beards of natural hair. All
manner of folk, even children, purchase these horrors, and fasten them
over their faces. Every sort of instrument is for sale, among them many
of those crystal trumpets which sound so strangely--this evening they are
enormous, six feet long at least--and the noise they make is unlike
anything ever heard before: one would say gigantic turkeys were gobbling
amid the crowd, striving to inspire fear.
In the religious amusements of this people it is not possible for us to
penetrate the mysteriously hidden meaning of things; we can not divine
the boundary at which jesting stops and mystic fear steps in. These
customs, these symbols, these masks, all that tradition and atavism have
jumbled together in the Japanese brain, proceed from sources utterly dark
and unknown to us; even the oldest records fail to explain them to us in
anything but a superficial and cursory manner, simply because we have
absolutely nothing in common with this people. We pass through the midst
of their mirth and their laughter without understanding the wherefore, so
totally do they differ from our own.
Chrysantheme with Yves, Oyouki with me, Fraise and Zinnia, our cousins,
walking before us under our watchful eyes, move slowly through the crowd,
holding hands lest we should lose one another.
Along the streets leading to the temple, the wealthy inhabitants have
decorated the fronts of their houses with vases and nosegays. The
peculiar shed-like buildings common in this country, with their open
platform frontage, are particularly well suited for the display of choice
objects; all the houses have been thrown open, and the interiors are hung
with draperies that hide the back of the apartments. In front of these
hangings, and standing slightly back from the movement of the passing
crowd, the various exhibited articles are placed methodically in a row,
under the full glare of hanging lamps. Hardly any flowers compose the
nosegays, nothing but foliage--some rare and priceless, others chosen, as
if purposely, from the commonest plants, arranged, however, with such
taste as to make them appear new and choice; ordinary lettuce-leaves,
tall cabbage-stalks are placed with exquisite artificial taste in vessels
of marvellous workmanship. All the vases are of bronze, but the designs
are varied according to each changing fancy: some complicated and
twisted, others, and by far the larger number, graceful and simple, but
of a simplicity so studied and exquisite that to our eyes they seem the
revelation of an unknown art, the subversion of all acquired notions of
On turning a corner of a street, by good luck we meet our married
comrades of the 'Triomphante' and Jonquille, Toukisan and Campanule!
Bows and curtseys are exchanged by the mousmes, reciprocal manifestations
of joy at meeting; then, forming a compact band, we are carried off by the
ever-increasing crowd and continue our progress in the direction of the
The streets gradually ascend (the temples are always built on a height);
and by degrees, as we mount, there is added to the brilliant fairyland of
lanterns and costumes yet another, ethereally blue in the haze of
distance; all Nagasaki, its pagodas, its mountains, its still waters full
of the rays of moonlight, seem to rise with us into the air. Slowly,
step by step, one may say it springs up around, enveloping in one great
shimmering veil all the foreground, with its dazzling red lights and
No doubt we are drawing near, for here are steps, porticoes and monsters
hewn out of enormous blocks of granite. We now have to climb a series of
steps, almost carried by the surging crowd ascending with us.
We have arrived at the temple courtyard.
This is the last and most astonishing scene in the evening's fairy-tale
--a luminous and weird scene, with fantastic distances lighted up by the
moon, with the gigantic trees, the sacred cryptomerias, elevating their
sombre boughs into a vast dome.
Here we are all seated with our mousmes, beneath the light awning,
wreathed in flowers, of one of the many little teahouses improvised in
this courtyard. We are on a terrace at the top of the great steps, up
which the crowd continues to flock, and at the foot of a portico which
stands erect with the rigid massiveness of a colossus against the dark
night sky; at the foot also of a monster, who stares down upon us, with
his big stony eyes, his cruel grimace and smile.
This portico and the monster are the two great overwhelming masses in the
foreground of the incredible scene before us; they stand out with
dazzling boldness against the vague and ashy blue of the distant sphere
beyond; behind them, Nagasaki is spread out in a bird's-eye view, faintly
outlined in the transparent darkness with myriads of little colored
lights, and the extravagantly dented profile of the mountains is
delineated on the starlit sky, blue upon blue, transparency upon
transparency. A corner of the harbor also is visible, far up, undefined,
like a lake lost in clouds the water, faintly illumined by a ray of
moonlight, making it shine like a sheet of silver.
Around us the long crystal trumpets keep up their gobble. Groups of
polite and frivolous persons pass and repass like fantastic shadows:
childish bands of small-eyed mousmes with smile so candidly meaningless
and coiffures shining through their bright silver flowers; ugly men
waving at the end of long branches their eternal lanterns shaped like
birds, gods, or insects.
Behind us, in the illuminated and wide-open temple, the bonzes sit,
immovable embodiments of doctrine, in the glittering sanctuary inhabited
by divinities, chimeras, and symbols. The crowd, monotonously droning
its mingled prayers and laughter, presses around them, sowing its alms
broadcast; with a continuous jingle, the money rolls on the ground into
the precincts reserved to the priests, where the white mats entirely
disappear under the mass of many-sized coins accumulated there as if
after a deluge of silver and bronze.
We, however, feel thoroughly at sea in the midst of this festivity; we
look on, we laugh like the rest, we make foolish and senseless remarks in
a language insufficiently learned, which this evening, I know not why, we
can hardly understand. Notwithstanding the night breeze, we find it very
hot under our awning, and we absorb quantities of odd-looking water-ices,
served in cups, which taste like scented frost, or rather like flowers
steeped in snow. Our mousmes order for themselves great bowls of candied
beans mixed with hail--real hailstones, such as we might pick up after a
hailstorm in March.
Glou! glou! glou! the crystal trumpets slowly repeat their notes, the
powerful sonority of which has a labored and smothered sound, as if they
came from under water; they mingle with the jingling of rattles and the
noise of castanets. We have also the impression of being carried away in
the irresistible swing of this incomprehensible gayety, composed, in
proportions we can hardly measure, of elements mystic, puerile, and even
ghastly. A sort of religious terror is diffused by the hidden idols
divined in the temple behind us; by the mumbled prayers, confusedly
heard; above all, by the horrible heads in lacquered wood, representing
foxes, which, as they pass, hide human faces--hideous livid masks.
In the gardens and outbuildings of the temple the most inconceivable
mountebanks have taken up their quarters, their black streamers, painted
with white letters, looking like funeral trappings as they float in the
wind from the tops of their tall flagstaffs. Thither we turn our steps,
as soon as our mousmes have ended their orisons and bestowed their alms.
In one of the booths a man, stretched on a table, flat on his back, is
alone on the stage; puppets of almost human size, with horribly grinning
masks, spring out of his body; they speak, gesticulate, then fall back
like empty rags; with a sudden spring they start up again, change their
costumes, change their faces, tearing about in one continual frenzy.
Suddenly three, even four, appear at the same time; they are nothing more
than the four limbs of the outstretched man, whose legs and arms, raised
on high, are each dressed up and capped with a wig under which peers a
mask; between these phantoms tremendous fighting and battling take place,
and many a sword-thrust is exchanged. The most fearful of all is a
certain puppet representing an old hag; every time she appears, with her
weird head and ghastly grin, the lights burn low, the music of the
accompanying orchestra moans forth a sinister strain given by the flutes,
mingled with a rattling tremolo which sounds like the clatter of bones.
This creature evidently plays an ugly part in the piece--that of a
horrible old ghoul, spiteful and famished. Still more appalling than her
person is her shadow, which, projected upon a white screen, is abnormally
and vividly distinct; by means of some unknown process this shadow, which
nevertheless follows all her movements, assumes the aspect of a wolf. At
a given moment the hag turns round and presents the profile of her
distorted snub nose as she accepts the bowl of rice which is offered to
her; on the screen at the very same instant appears the elongated outline
of the wolf, with its pointed ears, its muzzle and chops, its great teeth
and hanging tongue. The orchestra grinds, wails, quivers; then suddenly
bursts out into funereal shrieks, like a concert of owls; the hag is now
eating, and her wolfish shadow is eating also, greedily moving its jaws
and nibbling at another shadow easy to recognize--the arm of a little
We now go on to see the great salamander of Japan, an animal rare in this
country, and quite unknown elsewhere, a great, cold mass, sluggish and
benumbed, looking like some antediluvian experiment, forgotten in the
inner seas of this archipelago.
Next comes the trained elephant, the terror of our mousmes, the
equilibrists, the menagerie.
It is one o'clock in the morning before we are back at Diou-djen-dji.
We first get Yves to bed in the little paper room he has already once
occupied. Then we go to bed ourselves, after the inevitable
preparations, the smoking of the little pipe, and the tap! tap! tap!
tap! on the edge of the box.
Suddenly Yves begins to move restlessly in his sleep, to toss about,
giving great kicks on the wall, and making a frightful noise.
What can be the matter? I imagine at once that he must be dreaming of
the old hag and her wolfish shadow. Chrysantheme raises herself on her
elbow and listens, with astonishment depicted on her face.
Ah, happy thought! she has guessed what is tormenting him:
"Ka!" ("mosquitoes") she says.
And, to impress the more forcibly her meaning on my mind, she pinches my
arm so hard with her little pointed nails, at the same time imitating,
with such an amusing play of her features, the grimace of a person who is
stung, that I exclaim:
"Oh! stop, Chrysantheme, this pantomime is too expressive, and indeed
useless! I know the word 'Ka', and had quite understood, I assure you."
It is done so drolly and so quickly, with such a pretty pout, that in
truth I can not think of being angry, although I shall certainly have
tomorrow a blue mark on my arm; about that there is no doubt.
"Come, we must get up and go to Yves's rescue; he must not be allowed to
go on thumping in that manner. Let us take a lantern, and see what has
It was indeed the mosquitoes. They are hovering in a thick cloud about
him; those of the house and those of the garden all seem collected
together, swarming and buzzing. Chrysantheme indignantly burns several
at the flame of her lantern, and shows me others (Hou!) covering the
white paper walls.
He, tired out with his day's amusement, sleeps on; but his slumbers are
restless, as may be easily imagined. Chrysantheme gives him a shake,
wishing him to get up and share our blue mosquito-net.
After a little pressing he does as he is bid and follows us, looking like
an overgrown boy only half awake. I make no objection to this singular
hospitality; after all, it looks so little like a bed, the matting we are
to share, and we sleep in our clothes, as we always do, according to the
Nipponese fashion. After all, on a journey in a railway, do not the most
estimable ladies stretch themselves without demur by the side of
gentlemen unknown to them?
I have, however, placed Chrysantheme's little wooden block in the centre
of the gauze tent, between our two pillows.
Without saying a word, in a dignified manner, as if she were rectifying
an error of etiquette that I had inadvertently committed, Chrysantheme
takes up her piece of wood, putting in its place my snake-skin drum; I
shall therefore be in the middle between the two. It is really more
correct, decidedly more proper; Chrysantheme is evidently a very decorous
Returning on board next morning, in the clear morning sun, we walk
through pathways full of dew, accompanied by a band of funny little
mousmes of six or eight years of age, who are going to school.
Needless to say, the cicalas around us keep up their perpetual sonorous
chirping. The mountain smells delicious. The atmosphere, the dawning
day, the infantine grace of these little girls in their long frocks and
shiny coiffures--all is redundant with freshness and youth. The flowers
and grasses on which we tread sparkle with dewdrops, exhaling a perfume
of freshness. What undying beauty there is, even in Japan, in the fresh
morning hours in the country, and the dawning hours of life!
Besides, I am quite ready to admit the attractiveness of the little
Japanese children; some of them are most fascinating. But how is it that
their charm vanishes so rapidly and is so quickly replaced by the elderly
grimace, the smiling ugliness, the monkeyish face?
THROUGH A MICROSCOPE
The small garden of my mother-in-law, Madame Renoncule, is, without
exception, one of the most melancholy spots I have seen in all my travels
through the world.
Oh, the slow, enervating, dull hours spent in idle and diffuse
conversation on the dimly lighted veranda! Oh, the detestable peppered
jam in the tiny pots! In the middle of the town, enclosed by four walls,
is this park of five yards square, with little lakes, little mountains,
and little rocks, where all wears an antiquated appearance, and
everything is covered with a greenish mold from want of sunlight.
Nevertheless, a true feeling for nature has inspired this tiny
representation of a wild spot. The rocks are well placed, the dwarf
cedars, no taller than cabbages, stretch their gnarled boughs over the
valleys in the attitude of giants wearied by the weight of centuries; and
their look of full-grown trees perplexes one and falsifies the
perspective. When from the dark recesses of the apartment one perceives
at a certain distance this diminutive landscape dimly lighted, the wonder
is whether it is all artificial, or whether one is not one's self the
victim of some morbid illusion; and whether it is not indeed a real
country view seen through a distorted vision out of focus, or through the
wrong end of a telescope.
To any one familiar with Japanese life, my mother-in-law's house in
itself reveals a refined nature--complete bareness, two or three screens
placed here and there, a teapot, a vase full of lotus-flowers, and
nothing more. Woodwork devoid of paint or varnish, but carved in most
elaborate and capricious openwork, the whiteness of the pinewood being
preserved by constant scrubbing with soap and water. The posts and beams
of the framework are varied by the most fanciful taste: some are cut in
precise geometrical forms; others are artificially twisted, imitating
trunks of old trees covered with tropical creepers. Everywhere are
little hiding-places, little nooks, little closets concealed in the most
ingenious and unexpected manner under the immaculate uniformity of the
white paper panels.
I can not help smiling when I think of some of the so-called "Japanese"
drawing-rooms of our Parisian fine ladies, overcrowded with knickknacks
and curios and hung with coarse gold embroideries on exported satins.
I would advise those persons to come and look at the houses of people
of taste out here; to visit the white solitudes of the palaces at Yeddo.
In France we have works of art in order to enjoy them; here they possess
them merely to ticket them and lock them up carefully in a kind of
mysterious underground room called a 'godoun', shut in by iron gratings.
On rare occasions, only to honor some visitor of distinction, do they
open this impenetrable depositary. The true Japanese manner of
understanding luxury consists in a scrupulous and indeed almost excessive
cleanliness, white mats and white woodwork; an appearance of extreme
simplicity, and an incredible nicety in the most infinitesimal details.
My mother-in-law seems to be really a very good woman, and were it not
for the insurmountable feeling of spleen the sight of her garden produces
on me, I should often go to see her. She has nothing in common with the
mammas of Jonquille, Campanule, or Touki she is vastly their superior;
and then I can see that she has been very good-looking and fashionable.
Her past life puzzles me; but, in my position as a son-in-law, good
manners prevent my making further inquiries.
Some assert that she was formerly a celebrated geisha in Yeddo, who lost
public favor by her folly in becoming a mother. This would account for
her daughter's talent on the guitar; she had probably herself taught her
the touch and style of the Conservatory.
Since the birth of Chrysantheme (her eldest child and first cause of this
loss of favor), my mother-in-law, an expansive although distinguished
nature, has fallen seven times into the same fatal error, and I have two
little sisters-in-law: Mademoiselle La Neige,--[Oyouki-San]--and
Mademoiselle La Lune,--[Tsouki-San.]--as well as five little brothers-
in-law: Cerisier, Pigeon, Liseron, Or, and Bambou.
Little Bambou is four years old--a yellow baby, fat and round all over,
with fine bright eyes; coaxing and jolly, sleeping whenever he is not
laughing. Of all my Nipponese family, Bambou is the one I love the most.
MY NAUGHTY DOLL
Tuesday, August 27th.
During this whole day we--Yves, Chrysantheme, Oyouki and myself--have
spent the time wandering through dark and dusty nooks, dragged hither and
thither by four quick-footed djins, in search of antiquities in the bric-
Toward sunset, Chrysantheme, who has wearied me more than ever since
morning, and who doubtless has perceived it, pulls a very long face,
declares herself ill, and begs leave to spend the night with her mother,
I agree to this with the best grace in the world; let her go, tiresome
little mousme! Oyouki will carry a message to her parents, who will shut
up our rooms; we shall spend the evening, Yves and I, in roaming about as
fancy takes us, without any mousme dragging at our heels, and shall
afterward regain our own quarters on board the 'Triomphante', without
having the trouble of climbing up that hill.
First of all, we make an attempt to dine together in some fashionable
tea-house. Impossible! not a place is to be had; all the absurd paper
rooms, all the compartments contrived by so many ingenious tricks of
slipping and sliding panels, all the nooks and corners in the little
gardens are filled with Japanese men and women eating impossible and
incredible little dishes. Numberless young dandies are dining tete-a-
tete with the ladies of their choice, and sounds of dancing-girls and
music issue from the private rooms.
The fact is, to-day is the third and last day of the great pilgrimage to
the temple of the jumping Tortoise, of which we saw the beginning
yesterday; and all Nagasaki is at this time given over to amusement.
At the tea-house of the Indescribable Butterflies, which is also full to
overflowing, but where we are well known, they have had the bright idea
of throwing a temporary flooring over the little lake--the pond where the
goldfish live--and our meal is served here, in the pleasant freshness of
the fountain which continues its murmur under our feet.
After dinner, we follow the faithful and ascend again to the temple.
Up there we find the same elfin revelry, the same masks, the same music.
We seat ourselves, as before, under a gauze tent and sip odd little
drinks tasting of flowers. But this evening we are alone, and the
absence of the band of mousmes, whose familiar little faces formed a bond
of union between this holiday-making people and ourselves, separates and
isolates us more than usual from the profusion of oddities in the midst
of which we seem to be lost. Beneath us lies always the immense blue
background: Nagasaki illumined by moonlight, and the expanse of silvered,
glittering water, which seems like a vaporous vision suspended in mid-
air. Behind us is the great open temple, where the bonzes officiate, to
the accompaniment of sacred bells and wooden clappers--looking, from where
we sit, more like puppets than anything else, some squatting in rows like
peaceful mummies, others executing rhythmical marches before the golden
background where stand the gods. We do not laugh to-night, and speak but
little, more forcibly struck by the scene than we were on the first
night; we only look on, trying to understand. Suddenly, Yves, turning
"Hullo! brother, there is your mousme!"
Actually, there she is, behind him; Chrysantheme, almost on all fours,
hidden between the paws of a great granite beast, half tiger, half dog,
against which our fragile tent is leaning.
"She pulled my trousers with her nails, for all the world like a little
cat," said Yves, still full of surprise, "positively like a cat!"
She remains bent double in the most humble form of salutation; she smiles
timidly, afraid of being ill received, and the head of my little brother-
in-law, Bambou, appears smiling too, just above her own. She has brought
this little mousko--[Mousko is the masculine of mousme, and signifies
little boy. Excessive politeness makes it mousko-san (Mr. little boy).]
--with her, perched astride her back; he looks as absurd as ever, with
his shaven head, his long frock and the great bows of his silken sash.
There they stand gazing at us, anxious to know how their joke will be
For my part, I have not the least idea of giving them a cold reception;
on the contrary, the meeting amuses me. It even strikes me that it is
rather pretty of Chrysantheme to come around in this way, and to bring
Bambou-San to the festival; though it savors somewhat of her low
breeding, to tell the truth, to carry him on her back, as the poorer
Japanese women carry their little ones.
However, let her sit down between Yves and myself and let them bring her
those iced beans she loves so much; and we will take the jolly little
mousko on our knees and cram him with sugar and sweetmeats to his heart's
When the evening is over, and we begin to think of leaving, and of going
down again, Chrysantheme replaces her little Bambou astride upon her
back, and sets forth, bending forward under his weight and painfully
dragging her Cinderella slippers over the granite steps and flagstones.
Yes, decidedly low, this conduct! but low in the best sense of the word:
nothing in it displeases me; I even consider Chrysantheme's affection for
Bambou-San engaging and attractive in its simplicity.
One can not deny this merit to the Japanese--a great love for little
children, and a talent for amusing them, for making them laugh, inventing
comical toys for them, making the morning of their life happy; for a
specialty in dressing them, arranging their heads, and giving to the
whole personage the most fascinating appearance possible. It is the only
thing I really like about this country: the babies and the manner in
which they are understood.
On our way we meet our married friends of the 'Triomphante,' who, much
surprised at seeing me with this mousko, jokingly exclaim:
"What! a son already?"
Down in the town, we make a point of bidding goodby to Chrysantheme at
the turning of the street where her mother lives. She smiles, undecided,
declares herself well again, and begs to return to our house on the
heights. This did not precisely enter into my plans, I confess.
However, it would look very ungracious to refuse.
So be it! But we must carry the mousko home to his mamma, and then
begin, by the flickering light of a new lantern bought from Madame Tres-
Propre, our weary homeward ascent.
Here, however, we find ourselves in another predicament: this ridiculous
little Bambou insists upon coming with us! No, he will take no denial,
we must take him with us. This is out of all reason, quite impossible!
However, it will not do to make him cry, on the night of a great festival
too, poor little mousko! So we must send a message to Madame Renoncule,
that she may not be uneasy about him, and as there will soon not be a
living creature on the footpaths of Diou-djen-dji to laugh at us, we will
take it in turn, Yves and I, to carry him on our backs, all the way up
that climb in the darkness.
And here am I, who did not wish to return this way tonight, dragging a
mousme by the hand, and actually carrying an extra burden in the shape of
a mousko on my back. What an irony of fate!
As I had expected, all our shutters and doors are closed, bolted, and
barred; no one expects us, and we have to make a prodigious noise at the
door. Chrysantheme sets to work and calls with all her might
"Hou Oume-San-an-an-an!" (In English: "Hi! Madame Pru-u-uu-une!")
These intonations in her little voice are unknown to me; her long-drawn
call in the echoing darkness of midnight has so strange an accent,
something so unexpected and wild, that it impresses me with a dismal
feeling of far-off exile.
At last Madame Prune appears to open the door to us, only half awake and
much astonished; by way of a nightcap she wears a monstrous cotton
turban, on the blue ground of which a few white storks are playfully
disporting themselves. Holding in the tips of her fingers, with an
affectation of graceful fright, the long stalk of her beflowered lantern,
she gazes intently into our faces, one after another, to reassure herself
of our identity; but the poor old lady can not get over her surprise at
the sight of the mousko I am carrying.
At first it was only to Chrysantheme's guitar that I listened with
pleasure now I am beginning to like her singing also.
She has nothing of the theatrical, or the deep, assumed voice of the
virtuoso; on the contrary, her notes, always very high, are soft, thin,
She often teaches Oyouki some romance, slow and dreamy, which she has
composed, or which comes back to her mind. Then they both astonish me,
for on their well-tuned guitars they will pick out accompaniments in
parts, and try again each time that the chords are not perfectly true to
their ear, without ever losing themselves in the confusion of these
dissonant harmonies, always weird and always melancholy.
Usually, while their music is going on, I am writing on the veranda, with
the superb panorama before me. I write, seated on a mat on the floor and
leaning upon a little Japanese desk, ornamented with swallows in relief;
my ink is Chinese, my inkstand, just like that of my landlord, is in
jade, with dear little frogs and toads carved on the rim. In short, I am
writing my memoirs,--exactly as M. Sucre does downstairs! Occasionally I
fancy I resemble him--a very disagreeable fancy.
My memoirs are composed of incongruous details, minute observations of
colors, shapes, scents, and sounds.
It is true that a complete imbroglio, worthy of a romance, seems ever
threatening to appear upon my monotonous horizon; a regular intrigue
seems ever ready to explode in the midst of this little world of mousmes
and grasshoppers: Chrysantheme in love with Yves; Yves with Chrysantheme;
Oyouki with me; I with no one. We might even find here, ready to hand,
the elements of a fratricidal drama, were we in any other country than
Japan; but we are in Japan, and under the narrowing and dwarfing
influence of the surroundings, which turn everything into ridicule,
nothing will come of it all.
THE HEIGHT OF SOCIABILITY!
In this fine town of Nagasaki, about five or six o'clock in the evening,
one hour of the day is more comical than any other. At that moment every
human being is naked: children, young people, old people, old men, old
women--every one is seated in a tub of some sort, taking a bath. This
ceremony takes place no matter where, without the slightest screen, in
the gardens, the courtyards, in the shops, even upon the thresholds, in
order to give greater facility for conversation among the neighbors from
one side of the street to the other. In this situation visitors are
received; and the bather, without any hesitation, leaves his tub, holding
in his hand his little towel (invariably blue), to offer the caller a
seat, and to exchange with him some polite remarks. Nevertheless,
neither the mousmes nor the old ladies gain anything by appearing in this
primeval costume. A Japanese woman, deprived of her long robe and her
huge sash with its pretentious bows, is nothing but a diminutive yellow
being, with crooked legs and flat, unshapely bust; she has no longer a
remnant of her little artificial charms, which have completely
disappeared in company with her costume.
There is yet another hour, at once joyous and melancholy, a little later,
when twilight falls, when the sky seems one vast veil of yellow, against
which stand the clear-cut outlines of jagged mountains and lofty,
fantastic pagodas. It is the hour at which, in the labyrinth of little
gray streets below, the sacred lamps begin to twinkle in the ever-open
houses, in front of the ancestor's altars and the familiar Buddhas;
while, outside, darkness creeps over all, and the thousand and one
indentations and peaks of the old roofs are depicted, as if in black
festoons, on the clear golden sky. At this moment, over merry, laughing
Japan, suddenly passes a sombre shadow, strange, weird, a breath of
antiquity, of savagery, of something indefinable, which casts a gloom of
sadness. And then the only gayety that remains is the gayety of the
young children, of little mouskos and little mousmes, who spread
themselves like a wave through the streets filled with shadow, as they
swarm from schools and workshops. On the dark background of all these
wooden buildings, the little blue and scarlet dresses stand out in
startling contrast,--drolly bedizened, drolly draped; and the fine loops
of the sashes, the flowers, the silver or gold topknots stuck in these
baby chignons, add to the vivid effect.
They amuse themselves, they chase one another, their great pagoda sleeves
fly wide open, and these tiny little mousmes of ten, of five years old,
or even younger still, have lofty head-dresses and imposing bows of hair
arranged on their little heads, like grown-up women. Oh! what loves of
supremely absurd dolls at this hour of twilight gambol through the
streets, in their long frocks, blowing their crystal trumpets, or running
with all their might to start their fanciful kites. This juvenile world
of Japan--ludicrous by birth, and fated to become more so as the years
roll on--starts in life with singular amusements, with strange cries and
shouts; its playthings are somewhat ghastly, and would frighten the
children of other countries; even the kites have great squinting eyes and
And every evening, in the little dark streets, bursts forth the overflow
of joyousness, fresh, childish, but withal grotesque to excess. It would
be difficult to form any idea of the incredible things which, carried by
the wind, float in the evening air.
A LADY OF JAPAN
My little Chrysantheme is always attired in dark colors, a sign here of
aristocratic distinction. While her friends Oyouki-San, Madame Touki,
and others, delight in gay-striped stuffs, and thrust gorgeous ornaments
in their chignons, she always wears navy-blue or neutral gray, fastened
round her waist with great black sashes brocaded in tender shades, and
she puts nothing in her hair but amber-colored tortoiseshell pins. If
she were of noble descent she would wear embroidered on her dress in the
middle of the back a little white circle looking like a postmark with
some design in the centre of it--usually the leaf of a tree; and this
would be her coat-of-arms. There is really nothing wanting but this
little heraldic blazon on the back to give her the appearance of a lady
of the highest rank.
In Japan the smart dresses of bright colors shaded in clouds, embroidered
with monsters of gold or silver, are reserved by the great ladies for
home use on state occasions; or else they are used on the stage for
dancers and courtesans.
Like all Japanese women, Chrysantheme carries a quantity of things in her
long sleeves, in which pockets are cunningly hidden. There she keeps
letters, various notes written on delicate sheets of rice-paper, prayer
amulets drawn up by the bonzes; and above all a number of squares of a
silky paper which she puts to the most unexpected uses--to dry a teacup,
to hold the damp stalk of a flower, or to blow her quaint little nose,
when the necessity presents itself. After the operation she at once
crumples up the piece of paper, rolls it into a ball, and throws it out
of the window with disgust.
The very smartest people in Japan blow their noses in this manner.
OUR FRIENDS THE BONZES
Fate has favored us with a friendship as strange as it is rare: that of
the head bonzes of the temple of the jumping Tortoise, where we witnessed
last month such a surprising pilgrimage.
The approach to this place is as solitary now as it was thronged and
bustling on the evenings of the festival; and in broad daylight one is
surprised at the deathlike decay of the sacred surroundings which at
night had seemed so full of life. Not a creature to be seen on the time-
worn granite steps; not a creature beneath the vast, sumptuous porticoes;
the colors, the gold-work are dim with dust. To reach the temple one
must cross several deserted courtyards terraced on the mountain-side,
pass through several solemn gateways, and up and up endless stairs rising
far above the town and the noises of humanity into a sacred region filled
with innumerable tombs. On all the pavements, in all the walls, are
lichen and stonecrop; and over all the gray tint of extreme age spreads
like a fall of ashes.
In a side temple near the entrance is enthroned a colossal Buddha seated
in his lotus--a gilded idol from forty-five to sixty feet high, mounted
on an enormous bronze pedestal.
At length appears the last doorway with the two traditional giants,
guardians of the sacred court, which stand the one on the right hand,
the other on the left, shut up like wild beasts, each in an iron cage.
They are in attitudes of fury, with fists upraised as if to strike, and
features atrociously fierce and distorted. Their bodies are covered with
bullets of crumbled paper, which have been aimed at them through the
bars, and which have stuck to their monstrous limbs, producing an
appearance of white leprosy: this is the manner in which the faithful
strive to appease them, by conveying to them their prayers written upon
delicate leaflets by the pious bonzes.
Passing between these alarming scarecrows, one reaches the innermost
court. The residence of our friends is on the right, the great hall of
the pagoda is before us.
In this paved court are bronze torch-holders as high as turrets. Here,
too, stand, and have stood for centuries, cyca palms with fresh, green
plumes, their numerous stalks curving with a heavy symmetry, like the
branches of massive candelabra. The temple, which is open along its
entire length, is dark and mysterious, with touches of gilding in distant
corners melting away into the gloom. In the very remotest part are
seated idols, and from outside one can vaguely see their clasped hands
and air of rapt mysticism; in front are the altars, loaded with
marvellous vases in metalwork, whence spring graceful clusters of gold
and silver lotus. From the very entrance one is greeted by the sweet
odor of the incense-sticks unceasingly burned by the priests before the
To penetrate into the dwelling of our friends the bonzes, which is
situated on the right side as you enter, is by no means an easy matter.
A monster of the fish tribe, but having claws and horns, is hung over
their door by iron chains; at the least breath of wind he swings
creakingly. We pass beneath him and enter the first vast and lofty hall,
dimly lighted, in the corners of which gleam gilded idols, bells, and
incomprehensible objects of religious use.
Quaint little creatures, choir-boys or pupils, come forward with a
doubtful welcome to ask what is wanted.
"Matsou-San!! Donata-San!!" they repeat, much astonished, when they
understand to whom we wish to be conducted. Oh! no, impossible, they
can not be seen; they are resting or are in contemplation. "Orimas!
Orimas!" say they, clasping their hands and sketching a genuflection or
two to make us understand better. ("They are at prayer! the most
We insist, speak more imperatively; even slip off our shoes like people
determined to take no refusal.
At last Matsou-San and Donata-San make their appearance from the tranquil
depths of their bonze-house. They are dressed in black crape and their
heads are shaved. Smiling, amiable, full of excuses, they offer us their
hands, and we follow, with our feet bare like theirs, to the interior of
their mysterious dwelling, through a series of empty rooms spread with
mats of the most unimpeachable whiteness. The successive halls are
separated one from the other only by bamboo curtains of exquisite
delicacy, caught back by tassels and cords of red silk.
The whole wainscoting of the interior is of the same wood, of a pale
yellow shade made with extreme nicety, without the least ornament, the
least carving; everything seems new and unused, as if it had never been
touched by human hand. At distant intervals in this studied bareness,
costly little stools, marvellously inlaid, uphold some antique bronze
monster or a vase of flowers; on the walls hang a few masterly sketches,
vaguely tinted in Indian ink, drawn upon strips of gray paper most
accurately cut but without the slightest attempt at a frame. This is
all: not a seat, not a cushion, not a scrap of furniture. It is the very
acme of studied simplicity, of elegance made out of nothing, of the most
immaculate and incredible cleanliness. And while following the bonzes
through this long suite of empty halls, we are struck by their contrast
with the overflow of knickknacks scattered about our rooms in France, and
we take a sudden dislike to the profusion and crowding delighted in at
The spot where this silent march of barefooted folk comes to an end, the
spot where we are to seat ourselves in the delightful coolness of a semi-
darkness, is an interior veranda opening upon an artificial site. We
might suppose it the bottom of a well; it is a miniature garden no bigger
than the opening of an oubliette, overhung on all sides by the crushing
height of the mountain and receiving from on high but the dim light of
dreamland. Nevertheless, here is simulated a great natural ravine in all
its wild grandeur: here are caverns, abrupt rocks, a torrent, a cascade,
islands. The trees, dwarfed by a Japanese process of which we have not
the secret, have tiny little leaves on their decrepit and knotty
branches. A pervading hue of the mossy green of antiquity harmonizes all
this medley, which is undoubtedly centuries old.
Families of goldfish swim round and round in the clear water, and tiny
tortoises (jumpers probably) sleep upon the granite islands, which are of
the same color as their own gray shells.
There are even blue dragon-flies which have ventured to descend, heaven
knows whence, and alight with quivering wings upon the miniature water-
Our friends the bonzes, notwithstanding an unctuousness of manner
thoroughly ecclesiastical, are very ready to laugh--a simple, pleased,
childish laughter; plump, chubby, shaven and shorn, they dearly love our
French liqueurs and know how to take a joke.
We talk first of one thing and then another. To the tranquil music of
their little cascade, I launch out before them with phrases of the most
erudite Japanese, I try the effect of a few tenses of verbs:
'desideratives, concessives, hypothetics in ba'. While they chant they
despatch the affairs of the church: the order of services sealed with
complicated seals for inferior pagodas situated in the neighborhood; or
trace little prayers with a cunning paint-brush, as medical remedies to
be swallowed like pills by invalids at a distance. With their white and
dimpled hands they play with a fan as cleverly as any woman, and when we
have tasted different native drinks, flavored with essences of flowers,
they bring up as a finish a bottle of Benedictine or Chartreuse, for they
appreciate the liqueurs composed by their Western colleagues.
When they come on board to return our visits, they by no means disdain
to fasten their great round spectacles on their flat noses in order to
inspect the profane drawings in our illustrated papers, the 'Vie
Parisienne' for instance. And it is even with a certain complacency that
they let their fingers linger upon the pictures representing women.
The religious ceremonies in their great temple are magnificent, and to
one of these we are now invited. At the sound of the gong they make
their entrance before the idols with a stately ritual; twenty or thirty
priests officiate in gala costumes, with genuflections, clapping of hands
and movements to and fro, which look like the figures of some mystic
But for all that, let the sanctuary be ever so immense and imposing in
its sombre gloom, the idols ever so superb, all seems in Japan but a mere
semblance of grandeur. A hopeless pettiness, an irresistible effect the
ludicrous, lies at the bottom of all things.
And then the congregation is not conducive to thoughtful contemplation,
for among it we usually discover some acquaintance: my mother-in-law, or
a cousin, or the woman from the china-shop who sold us a vase only
yesterday. Charming little mousmes, monkeyish-looking old ladies enter
with their smoking-boxes, their gayly daubed parasols, their curtseys,
their little cries and exclamations; prattling, complimenting one
another, full of restless movement, and having the greatest difficulty in
maintaining a serious demeanor.
AN UNEXPECTED CALL
My little Chrysantheme for the first time visited me on board-ship to-
day, chaperoned by Madame Prune, and followed by my youngest sister in-
law, Mademoiselle La Neige. These ladies had the tranquil manners of the
highest gentility. In my cabin is a great Buddha on his throne, and
before him is a lacquer tray, on which my faithful sailor servant places
any small change he may find in the pockets of my clothes. Madame Prune,
whose mind is much swayed by mysticism, at once supposed herself before a
regular altar; in the gravest manner possible she addressed a brief
prayer to the god; then drawing out her purse (which, according to
custom, was attached to her sash behind her back, along with her little
pipe and tobacco-pouch), placed a pious offering in the tray, while
executing a low curtsey.
They were on their best behavior throughout the visit. But when the
moment of departure came, Chrysantheme, who would not go away without
seeing Yves, asked for him with a thinly veiled persistency which was
remarkable. Yves, for whom I then sent, made himself particularly
charming to her, so much so that this time I felt a shade of more serious
annoyance; I even asked myself whether the laughably pitiable ending,
which I had hitherto vaguely foreseen, might not, after all, soon break
AN ORIENTAL VISION
Yesterday I encountered, in an ancient and ruined quarter of the town, a
perfectly exquisite mousme, charmingly dressed; a fresh touch of color
against the sombre background of decayed buildings.
I met her at the farthest end of Nagasaki, in the most ancient part of
the town. In this region are trees centuries old, antique temples of
Buddha, of Amiddah, of Benten, or Kwanon, with steep and pompous roofs;
monsters carved in granite sit there in courtyards silent as the grave,
where the grass grows between the stones. This deserted quarter is
traversed by a narrow torrent running in a deep channel, across which are
thrown little curved bridges with granite balustrades eaten away by
lichen. All the objects there wear the strange grimace, the quaint
arrangement familiar to us in the most antique Japanese drawings.
I walked through it all at the burning hour of midday, and saw not a
soul, unless, indeed, through the open windows of the bonze-houses,
I caught sight of some few priests, guardians of tombs or sanctuaries,
taking their siesta under dark-blue gauze nets.
Suddenly this little mousme appeared, a little above me, just at the
point of the arch of one of these bridges carpeted with gray moss; she
was in full sunshine, and stood out in brilliant clearness, like a fairy
vision, against the background of old black temples and deep shadows.
She was holding her robe together with one hand, gathering it close round
her ankles to give herself an air of greater slimness. Over her quaint
little head, her round umbrella with its thousand ribs threw a great halo
of blue and red, edged with black, and an oleander-tree full of flowers,
growing among the stones of the bridge, spread its glory beside her,
bathed, like herself, in the sunshine. Behind this youthful figure and
this flowering shrub all was blackness. Upon the pretty red and blue
parasol great white letters formed this inscription, much used among the
mousmes, and which I have learned to recognize: 'Stop! clouds, to see her
pass!' And it was really worth the trouble to stop and look at this
exquisite little person, of a type so ideally Japanese.
However, it will not do to stop too long and be ensnared--it would only
be another delusion. A doll like the rest, evidently, an ornament for a
china shelf, and nothing more. While I gaze at her, I say to myself that
Chrysantheme, appearing in this same place, with this dress, this play of
light, and this aureole of sunshine, would produce just as delightful an
For Chrysantheme is pretty, there can be no doubt about it. Yesterday
evening, in fact, I positively admired her. It was quite night; we were
returning with the usual escort of little married couples like ourselves,
from the inevitable tour of the tea-houses and bazaars. While the other
mousmes walked along hand in hand, adorned with new silver topknots which
they had succeeded in having presented to them, and amusing themselves
with playthings, she, pleading fatigue, followed, half reclining, in a
djin carriage. We had placed beside her great bunches of flowers
destined to fill our vases, late iris and long-stemmed lotus, the last of
the season, already smelling of autumn. And it was really very pretty to
see this Japanese girl in her little car, lying carelessly among all
these water-flowers, lighted by gleams of ever-changing colors, as they
chanced from the lanterns we met or passed. If, on the evening of my
arrival in Japan, any one had pointed her out to me, and said: "That
shall be your mousme," there can not be a doubt I should have been
charmed. In reality, however, I am not charmed; it is only Chrysantheme,
always Chrysantheme, nothing but Chrysantheme: a mere plaything to laugh
at, a little creature of finical forms and thoughts, with whom the agency
of M. Kangourou has supplied me.
THE CATS AND THE DOLLS
The water used for drinking in our house, for making tea, and for lesser
washing purposes, is kept in large white china tubs, decorated with
paintings representing blue fish borne along by a swift current through
distorted rushes. In order to keep them cool, the tubs are kept out of
doors on Madame Prune's roof, at a place where we can, from the top of
our projecting balcony, easily reach them by stretching out an arm. A
real godsend for all the thirsty cats in the neighborhood, on warm summer
nights, is this corner of the roof with our gayly painted tubs, and it
proves a delightful trysting-place for them, after all their caterwauling
and long solitary rambles on the tops of the walls.
I had thought it my duty to warn Yves the first time he wished to drink
"Oh!" he replied, rather surprised, "cats, do you say? But they are not
On this point Chrysantheme and I agree with him: we do not consider cats
unclean animals, and we do not object to drink after them.