Part 3 out of 3
Yves considers Chrysantheme much in the same light. "She is not dirty,
either," he says; and he willingly drinks after her, out of the same cup,
putting her in the same category with the cats.
These china tubs are one of the daily preoccupations of our household: in
the evening, when we return from our walk, after the clamber up, which
makes us thirsty, and Madame L'Heure's waffles, which we have been eating
to beguile the way, we always find them empty. It seems impossible for
Madame Prune, or Mademoiselle Oyouki, or their young servant,
Mademoiselle Dede,--[Dede-San means "Miss Young Girl," a very common
name.]--to have forethought enough to fill them while it is still
daylight. And when we are late in returning home, these three ladies are
asleep, so we are obliged to attend to the business ourselves.
We must therefore open all the closed doors, put on our boots, and go
down into the garden to draw water.
As Chrysantheme would die of fright all alone in the dark, in the midst
of the trees and buzzing of insects, I am obliged to accompany her to the
well. For this expedition we require a light, and must seek among the
quantity of lanterns purchased at Madame Tres-Propre's booth, which have
been thrown night after night into the bottom of one of our little paper
closets; but alas, all the candles are burned down! I thought as much!
Well, we must resolutely take the first lantern to hand, and stick a
fresh candle on the iron point at the bottom; Chrysantheme puts forth all
her strength, the candle splits, breaks; the mousme pricks her fingers,
pouts and whimpers. Such is the inevitable scene that takes place every
evening, and delays our retiring to rest under the dark-blue gauze net
for a good quarter of an hour; while the cicalas on the roof seem to mock
us with their ceaseless song.
All this, which I should find amusing in any one else,--any one I loved
--irritates me in her.
A week has passed very quietly, during which I have written nothing.
By degrees I am becoming accustomed to my Japanese household, to the
strangeness of the language, costumes, and faces. For the last three
weeks no letters have arrived from Europe; they have no doubt miscarried,
and their absence contributes, as is usually the case, to throw a veil of
oblivion over the past.
Every day, therefore, I climb up to my villa, sometimes by beautiful
starlit nights, sometimes through downpours of rain. Every morning as
the sound of Madame Prune's chanted prayer rises through the
reverberating air, I awake and go down toward the sea, by grassy pathways
full of dew.
The chief occupation in Japan seems to be a perpetual hunt after curios.
We sit down on the mattings, in the antique-sellers' little booths,
taking a cup of tea with the salesmen, and rummage with our own hands in
the cupboards and chests, where many a fantastic piece of old rubbish is
huddled away. The bargaining, much discussed, is laughingly carried on
for several days, as if we were trying to play off some excellent little
practical joke upon each other.
I really make a sad abuse of the adjective little; I am quite aware of
it, but how can I do otherwise? In describing this country, the
temptation is great to use it ten times in every written line. Little,
finical; affected,--all Japan is contained, both physically and morally,
in these three words.
My purchases are accumulating in my little wood and paper house; but how
much more Japanese it really was, in its bare emptiness, such as M. Sucre
and Madame Prune had conceived it. There are now many lamps of sacred
symbolism hanging from the ceiling; many stools and many vases, as many
gods and goddesses as in a pagoda.
There is even a little Shintoist altar, before which Madame Prune has not
been able to restrain her feelings, and before which she has fallen down
and chanted her prayers in her bleating, goat-like voice:
"Wash me clean from all my impurity, O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! as one
washes away uncleanness in the river of Kamo."
Alas for poor Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami to have to wash away the impurities of
Madame Prune! What a tedious and ungrateful task!!
Chrysantheme, who is a Buddhist, prays sometimes in the evening before
lying down; although overcome with sleep, she prays clapping her hands
before the largest of our gilded idols. But she smiles with a childish
disrespect for her Buddha, as soon as her prayer is ended. I know that
she has also a certain veneration for her Ottokes (the spirits of her
ancestors), whose rather sumptuous altar is set up at the house of her
mother, Madame Renoncule. She asks for their blessings, for fortune and
Who can fathom her ideas about the gods, or about death? Does she
possess a soul? Does she think she has one? Her religion is an obscure
chaos of theogonies as old as the world, treasured up out of respect for
ancient customs; and of more recent ideas about the blessed final
annihilation, imported from India by saintly Chinese missionaries at the
epoch of our Middle Ages. The bonzes themselves are puzzled; what a
muddle, therefore, must not all this become, when jumbled together in the
childish brain of a sleepy mousme!
Two very insignificant episodes have somewhat attached me to her--(bonds
of this kind seldom fail to draw closer in the end). The first occasion
was as follows:
Madame Prune one day brought forth a relic of her gay youth, a tortoise-
shell comb of rare transparency, one of those combs that it is good style
to place on the summit of the head, lightly poised, hardly stuck at all
in the hair, with all the teeth showing. Taking it out of a pretty
little lacquered box, she held it up in the air and blinked her eyes,
looking through it at the sky--a bright summer sky--as one does to
examine the quality of a precious stone.
"Here is," she said, "an object of great value that you should offer to
your little wife."
My mousme, very much taken by it, admired the clearness of the comb and
its graceful shape.
The lacquered box, however, pleased me more. On the cover was a
wonderful painting in gold on gold, representing a field of rice, seen
very close, on a windy day; a tangle of ears and grass beaten down and
twisted by a terrible squall; here and there, between the distorted
stalks, the muddy earth of the rice-swamp was visible; there were even
little pools of water, produced by bits of the transparent lacquer on
which tiny particles of gold seemed to float about like chaff in a thick
liquid; two or three insects, which required a microscope to be well
seen, were clinging in a terrified manner to the rushes, and the whole
picture was no larger than a woman's hand.
As for Madame Prune's comb, I confess it left me indifferent, and I
turned a deaf ear, thinking it very insignificant and expensive. Then
Chrysantheme answered, mournfully:
"No, thank you, I don't want it; take it away, dear Madame Prune."
And at the same time she heaved a deep sigh, full of meaning, which
"He is not so fond of me as all that.--Useless to bother him."
I immediately made the wished-for purchase.
Later when Chrysantheme will have become an old monkey like Madame Prune,
with her black teeth and long orisons, she, in her turn, will retail that
comb to some fine lady of a fresh generation.
On another occasion the sun had given me a headache; I lay on the floor
resting my head on my snake-skin pillow. My eyes were dim; and
everything appeared to turn around: the open veranda, the big expanse of
luminous evening sky, and a variety of kites hovering against its
background. I felt myself vibrating painfully to the rhythmical sound of
the cicalas which filled the atmosphere.
She, crouching by my side, strove to relieve me by a Japanese process,
pressing with all her might on my temples with her little thumbs and
turning them rapidly around, as if she were boring a hole with a gimlet.
She had become quite hot and red over this hard work, which procured me
real comfort, something similar to the dreamy intoxication of opium.
Then, anxious and fearful lest I should have an attack of fever, she
rolled into a pellet and thrust into my mouth a very efficacious prayer
written on rice-paper, which she had kept carefully in the lining of one
of her sleeves.
Well, I swallowed that prayer without a smile, not wishing to hurt her
feelings or shake her funny little faith.
TWO FAIR ARISTOCRATS
Today, Yves, my mousme and I went to the best photographer in Nagasaki,
to be taken in a group. We shall send the picture to France. Yves
laughs as he thinks of his wife's astonishment when she sees
Chrysantheme's little face between us, and he wonders how he shall
explain it to her.
"I shall just say it is one of your friends, that's all!" he says to me.
In Japan there are many photographers like our own, with this difference,
that they are Japanese, and inhabit Japanese houses. The one we intend
to honor to-day carries on his business in the suburbs, in that ancient
quarter of big trees and gloomy pagodas where, the other day, I met the
pretty little mousme. His signboard, written in several languages, is
posted against a wall on the edge of the little torrent which, rushing
down from the green mountain above, is crossed by many a curved bridge of
old granite and lined on either side with light bamboos or oleanders in
It is astonishing and puzzling to find a photographer perched there, in
the very heart of old Japan.
We have come at the wrong moment; there is a file of people at the door.
Long rows of djins' cars are stationed there, awaiting the customers they
have brought, who will all have their turn before us. The runners, naked
and tattooed, their hair carefully combed in sleek bands and shiny
chignons, are chatting, smoking little pipes, or bathing their muscular
legs in the fresh water of the torrent.
The courtyard is irreproachably Japanese, with its lanterns and dwarf
trees. But the studio where one poses might be in Paris or Pontoise; the
self-same chair in "old oak," the same faded "poufs," plaster columns,
and pasteboard rocks.
The people who are being photographed at this moment are two ladies of
quality, evidently mother and daughter, who are sitting together for a
cabinet-size portrait, with accessories of the time of Louis XV. A
strange group this, the first great ladies of this country I have seen so
near, with their long, aristocratic faces, dull, lifeless, almost gray by
dint of rice-powder, and their mouths painted heart-shape in vivid
carmine. Withal they have an undeniable look of good breeding that
strongly impresses us, notwithstanding the intrinsic differences of race
and acquired notions.
They scanned Chrysantheme with a look of obvious scorn, although her
costume was as ladylike as their own. For my part, I could not take my
eyes off these two creatures; they captivated me like incomprehensible
things that one never had seen before. Their fragile bodies,
outlandishly graceful in posture, are lost in stiff materials and
redundant sashes, of which the ends droop like tired wings. They make me
think, I know not why, of great rare insects; the extraordinary patterns
on their garments have something of the dark motley of night-moths.
Above all, I ponder over the mystery of their tiny slits of eyes, drawn
back and up so far that the tight-drawn lids can hardly open; the mystery
of their expression, which seems to denote inner thoughts of a silly,
vague, complacent absurdity, a world of ideas absolutely closed to
ourselves. And I think as I gaze at them: "How far we are from this
Japanese people! how totally dissimilar are our races!"
We are compelled to let several English sailors pass before us, decked
out in their white drill clothes, fresh, fat, and pink, like little sugar
figures, who attitudinize in a sheepish manner around the shafts of the
At last it is our turn; Chrysantheme settles herself slowly in a very
affected style, turning in the points of her toes as much as possible,
according to the fashion.
And on the negative shown to us we look like a supremely ridiculous
little family drawn up in a line by a common photographer at a fair.
Tonight Yves is off duty three hours earlier than I; occasionally this
happens, according to the arrangement of the watches. At those times he
lands first, and goes up to wait for me at Diou-djen-dji.
From the deck I can see him through my glass, climbing up the green
mountain-path; he walks with a brisk, rapid step, almost running; what a
hurry he seems in to rejoin little Chrysantheme!
When I arrive, about nine o'clock, I find him seated on the floor, in the
middle of my rooms, with naked torso (this is a sufficiently proper
costume for private life here, I admit). Around him are grouped
Chrysantheme, Oyouki, and Mademoiselle Dede the maid, all eagerly rubbing
his back with little blue towels decorated with storks and humorous
Good heavens! what can he have been doing to be so hot, and to have put
himself in such a state?
He tells me that near our house, a little farther up the mountain, he has
discovered a fencing-gallery: that till nightfall he had been engaged in
a fencing-bout against Japanese, who fought with two-handed swords,
springing like cats, as is the custom of their country. With his French
method of fencing, he had given them a good drubbing. Upon which, with
many a low bow, they had shown him their admiration by bringing him a
quantity of nice little iced things to drink. All this combined had
thrown him into a fearful perspiration.
Ah, very well! Nevertheless, this did not quite explain to me!
He is delighted with his evening; intends to go and amuse himself every
day by beating them; he even thinks of taking pupils.
Once his back is dried, all together, the three mousmes and himself, play
at Japanese pigeon-vole. Really I could not wish for anything more
innocent, or more correct in every respect.
Charles N---- and Madame Jonquille, his wife, arrived unexpectedly about
ten o'clock. (They were wandering about in the dark shrubberies in our
neighborhood, and, seeing our lights, came up to us.)
They intend to finish the evening at the tea-house of the toads, and they
try to induce us to go and drink some iced sherbets with them. It is at
least an hour's walk from here, on the other side of the town, halfway up
the hill, in the gardens of the large pagoda dedicated to Osueva; but
they stick to their idea, pretending that in this clear night and bright
moonlight we shall have a lovely view from the terrace of the temple.
Lovely, I have no doubt, but we had intended going to bed. However, be
it so, let us go with them.
We hire five djins and five cars down below, in the principal street, in
front of Madame Tres-Propre's shop, who, for this late expedition,
chooses for us her largest round lanterns--big, red balloons, decorated
with starfish, seaweed, and green sharks.
It is nearly eleven o'clock when we make our start. In the central
quarters the virtuous Nipponese are already closing their little booths,
putting out their lamps, shutting the wooden framework, drawing their
Farther on, in the old-fashioned suburban streets, all is shut up long
ago, and our carts roll on through the black night. We cry out to our
djins: "Ayakou! ayakou!" ("Quick! quick!")and they run as hard as they
can, uttering little shrieks, like merry animals full of wild gayety.
We rush like a whirlwind through the darkness, all five in Indian file,
dashing and jolting over the old, uneven flagstones, dimly lighted up by
our red balloons fluttering at the end of their bamboo stems. From time
to time some Japanese, night-capped in his blue kerchief, opens a window
to see who these noisy madcaps can be, dashing by so rapidly and so late.
Or else some faint glimmer, thrown by us on our passage, discovers the
hideous smile of a large stone animal seated at the gate of a pagoda.
At last we arrive at the foot of Osueva's temple, and, leaving our djins
with our little gigs, we clamber up the gigantic steps, completely
deserted at this hour of the night.
Chrysantheme, who always likes to play the part of a tired little girl,
of a spoiled and pouting child, ascends slowly between Yves and myself,
clinging to our arms.
Jonquille, on the contrary, skips up like a bird, amusing herself by
counting the endless steps.
She lays a great stress on the accentuations, as if to make the numbers
sound even more droll.
A little silver aigrette glitters in her beautiful black coiffure; her
delicate and graceful figure seems strangely fantastic, and the darkness
that envelops us conceals the fact that her face is quite ugly, and
almost without eyes.
This evening Chrysantheme and Jonquille really look like little fairies;
at certain moments the most insignificant Japanese have this appearance,
by dint of whimsical elegance and ingenious arrangement.
The granite stairs, imposing, deserted, uniformly gray under the
nocturnal sky, appear to vanish into the empty space above us, and, when
we turn round, to disappear in the depths beneath, to fall into the abyss
with the dizzy rapidity of a dream. On the sloping steps the black
shadows of the gateways through which we must pass stretch out
indefinitely; and the shadows, which seem to be broken at each projecting
step, look like the regular creases of a fan. The porticoes stand up
separately, rising one above another; their wonderful shapes are at once
remarkably simple and studiously affected; their outlines stand out sharp
and distinct, having nevertheless the vague appearance of all very large
objects in the pale moonlight. The curved architraves rise at each
extremity like two menacing horns, pointing upward toward the far-off
blue canopy of the star-spangled sky, as if they would communicate to the
gods the knowledge they have acquired in the depths of their foundations
from the earth, full of sepulchres and death, which surrounds them.
We are, indeed, a very small group, lost now in the immensity of the
colossal acclivity as we move onward, lighted partly by the wan moon,
partly by the red lanterns we hold in our hands, floating at the ends of
their long sticks.
A deep silence reigns in the precincts of the temple, even the sound of
insects is hushed as we ascend. A sort of reverence, a kind of religious
fear steals over us, and, at the same moment, a delicious coolness
suddenly pervades the air, and passes over us.
On entering the courtyard above, we feel a little daunted. Here we find
the horse in jade, and the china turrets. The enclosing walls make it
the more gloomy, and our arrival seems to disturb I know not what
mysterious council held between the spirits of the air and the visible
symbols that are there, chimeras and monsters illuminated by the blue
rays of the moon.
We turn to the left, and go through the terraced gardens, to reach the
tea-house of the toads, which this evening is our goal; we find it shut
up--I expected as much--closed and dark, at this hour! We drum all
together on the door; in the most coaxing tones we call by name the
waiting-maids we know so well: Mademoiselle Transparente, Mademoiselle
Etoile, Mademoiselle Rosee-matinale, and Mademoiselle Margueritereine.
Not an answer. Good-by, perfumed sherbets and frosted beans!
In front of the little archery-house our mousmes suddenly jump aside,
terrified, declaring that there is a dead body on the ground. Yes,
indeed, some one is lying there. We cautiously examine the place by the
light of our red balloons, carefully held out at arm's length for fear of
this dead man. It is only the marksman, he who on the 4th of July chose
such magnificent arrows for Chrysantheme; and he sleeps, good man! with
his chignon somewhat dishevelled, a sound sleep, which it would be cruel
Let us go to the end of the terrace, contemplate the harbor at our feet,
and then return home. To-night the harbor looks like only a dark and
sinister rent, which the moonbeams can not fathom--a yawning crevasse
opening into the very bowels of the earth, at the bottom of which lie
faint, small glimmers, an assembly of glowworms in a ditch--the lights of
the different vessels lying at anchor.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Dull hours spent in idle and diffuse conversation
Prayers swallowed like pills by invalids at a distance
Trees, dwarfed by a Japanese process
Which I should find amusing in any one else,--any one I loved
By PIERRE LOTI
A MIDNIGHT ALARM
It is the middle of the night, perhaps about two o'clock in the morning.
Our lamps are burning somewhat dimly before our placid idols.
Chrysantheme wakes me suddenly, and I turn to look at her: she has raised
herself on one arm, and her face expresses the most intense terror; she
makes a sign, without daring to speak, that some one or something is
near, creeping up to us. What ill-timed visit is this? A feeling of
fear gains possession of me also. I have a rapid impression of some
great unknown danger, in this isolated spot, in this strange country of
which I do not even yet comprehend the inhabitants and the mysteries.
It must be something very frightful to hold her there, rooted to the
spot, half dead with fright, she who does comprehend all these things.
It seems to be outside; it is coming from the garden; with trembling hand
she indicates to me that it will come through the veranda, over Madame
Prune's roof. Certainly, I hear faint noises, and they do approach us.
I suggest to her
"Neko-San?" ("It is Messieurs the cats?")
"No!" she replies, still terrified, and in an alarmed tone.
"Bakemono-Sama?" ("Is it my lords the ghosts?") I have already the
Japanese habit of expressing myself with excessive politeness.
"No! 'Dorobo'!" ("Thieves!")
Thieves! Ah! this is better; I much prefer this to a visit such as I
have just been dreading in the sudden awakening from sleep: from ghosts
or spirits of the dead; thieves, that is to say, worthy fellows very much
alive, and having, undoubtedly, inasmuch as they are Japanese thieves,
faces of the most meritorious oddity. I am not in the least frightened,
now that I know precisely what to expect, and we will immediately set to
work to ascertain the truth, for something is certainly moving on Madame
Prune's roof; some one is walking upon it.
I open one of our wooden panels and look out.
I can see only a vast expanse, calm, peaceful, and exquisite under the
full brilliance of the moonlight; sleeping Japan, lulled by the sonorous
song of the grasshoppers, is charming indeed to-night, and the free, pure
air is delicious.
Chrysantheme, half hidden behind my shoulder, listens tremblingly,
peering forward to examine the gardens and the roofs with dilated eyes
like a frightened cat. No, nothing! not a thing moves. Here and there
are a few strangely substantial shadows, which at first glance were not
easy to explain, but which turn out to be real shadows, thrown by bits of
wall, by boughs of trees, and which preserve an extremely reassuring
stillness. Everything seems absolutely tranquil, and profound silence
reigns in the dreamy vagueness which moonlight sheds over all.
Nothing; nothing to be seen anywhere. It was Messieurs the cats after
all, or perhaps my ladies the owls; sounds increase in volume in the most
amazing manner at night, in this house of ours.
Let us close the panel again carefully, as a measure of prudence, and
then light a lantern and go downstairs to see whether there may be any
one hidden in corners, and whether the doors are tightly shut; in short,
to reassure Chrysantheme we will go the round of the house.
Behold us, then, on tiptoe, searching together every hole and corner of
the house, which, to judge by its foundations, must be very ancient,
notwithstanding the fragile appearance of its panels of white paper. It
contains the blackest of cavities, little vaulted cellars with worm-eaten
beams; cupboards for rice which smell of mould and decay; mysterious
hollows where lies accumulated the dust of centuries. In the middle of
the night, and during a hunt for thieves, this part of the house, as yet
unknown to me, has an ugly look.
Noiselessly we step across the apartment of our landlord and landlady.
Chrysantheme drags me by the hand, and I allow myself to be led. There
they are, sleeping in a row under their blue gauze tent, lighted by the
night-lamps burning before the altars of their ancestors. Ha! I observe
that they are arranged in an order which might give rise to gossip.
First comes Mademoiselle Oyouki, very taking in her attitude of rest!
Then Madame Prune, who sleeps with her mouth wide open, showing her rows
of blackened teeth; from her throat arises an intermittent sound like the
grunting of a sow. Oh! poor Madame Prune! how hideous she is!! Next,
M. Sucre, a mere mummy for the time being. And finally, at his side,
last of the row, is their servant, Mademoiselle Dede!
The gauze hanging over them throws reflections as of the sea upon them;
one might suppose them victims drowned in an aquarium. And withal the
sacred lamps, the altar crowded with strange Shintoist symbols, give a
mock religious air to this family tableau.
'Honi soit qui mal y pense', but why is not that maidservant rather laid
by the side of her mistresses? Now, when we on the floor above offer our
hospitality to Yves, we are careful to place ourselves under our
mosquito-net in a more correct style!
One corner, which as a last resort we inspect, inspires me with a certain
amount of apprehension. It is a low, mysterious loft, against the door
of which is stuck, as a thing no longer wanted, a very old, pious image
Kwanon with the thousand arms, and Kwanon with the horses' head, seated
among clouds and flames, both horrible to behold with their spectral
We open the door, and Chrysantheme starts back uttering a fearful cry. I
should have thought the robbers were there, had I not seen a little gray
creature, rapid and noiseless, rush by her and disappear; a young rat
that had been eating rice on the top of a shelf, and, in its alarm, had
dashed in her face.
Yves has let fall his silver whistle in the ocean, the whistle so
absolutely indispensable for the manoeuvres; and we search the town all
day long, followed by Chrysantheme and Mesdemoiselles La Neige and La
Lune, her sisters, in the endeavor to find another.
It is, however, very difficult to find such a thing in Nagasaki; above
all, very difficult to explain in Japanese what is a sailor's whistle of
the traditional shape, curved, and with a little ball at the end to
modulate the trills and the various sounds of official orders. For three
hours we are sent from shop to shop; at each one they pretend to
understand perfectly what is wanted and trace on tissue-paper, with a
paint-brush, the addresses of the shops where we shall without fail meet
with what we require. Away we go, full of hope, only to encounter some
fresh mystification, till our breathless djins get quite bewildered.
They understand admirably that we want a thing that will make a noise,
music, in short; thereupon they offer us instruments of every, and of the
most unexpected, shape--squeakers for Punch-and-Judy voices, dog-
whistles, trumpets. Each time it is something more and more absurd, so
that at last we are overcome with uncontrollable fits of laughter. Last
of all, an aged Japanese optician, who assumes a most knowing air, a look
of sublime wisdom, goes off to forage in his back shop, and brings to
light a steam fog-horn, a relict from some wrecked steamer.
After dinner, the chief event of the evening is a deluge of rain, which
takes us by surprise as we leave the teahouses, on our return from our
fashionable stroll. It so happened that we were a large party, having
with us several mousme guests, and from the moment that the rain began to
fall from the skies, as if out of a watering-pot turned upside down, the
band became disorganized. The mousmes run off, with bird-like cries, and
take refuge under doorways, in the shops, under the hoods of the djins.
Then, before long--when the shops shut up in haste, when the emptied
streets are flooded, and almost black, and the paper lanterns, piteous
objects, wet through and extinguished--I find myself, I know not how it
happens, flattened against a wall, under the projecting eaves, alone in
the company of Mademoiselle Fraise, my cousin, who is crying bitterly
because her fine robe is wet through. And in the noise of the rain,
which is still falling, and splashing everything with the spouts and
gutters, which in the darkness plaintively murmur like running streams,
the town appears to me suddenly an abode of the gloomiest sadness.
The shower is soon over, and the mousmes come out of their holes like so
many mice; they look for one another, call one another, and their little
voices take the singular, melancholy, dragging inflections they assume
whenever they have to call from afar.
"Hi! Mademoiselle Lu-u-u-u-une!"
"Hi! Madame Jonqui-i-i-i-ille!"
They shout from one to another their outlandish names, prolonging them
indefinitely in the now silent night, in the reverberations of the damp
air after the great summer rain.
At length they are all collected and united again, these tiny personages
with narrow eyes and no brains, and we return to Diou-djen-dji all wet
For the third time, we have Yves sleeping beside us under our blue tent.
There is a great noise shortly after midnight in the apartment beneath
us: our landlord's family have returned from a pilgrimage to a far-
distant temple of the Goddess of Grace. (Although Madame Prune is a
Shintoist, she reveres this deity, who, scandal says, watched over her
youth.) A moment after, Mademoiselle Oyouki bursts into our room like a
rocket, bringing, on a charming little tray, sweetmeats which have been
blessed and bought at the gates of the temple yonder, on purpose for us,
and which we must positively eat at once, before the virtue is gone out
of them. Hardly rousing ourselves, we absorb these little edibles
flavored with sugar and pepper, and return a great many sleepy thanks.
Yves sleeps quietly on this occasion, without dealing any blows to the
floor or the panels with either fists or feet. He has hung his watch on
one of the hands of our gilded idol in order to be more sure of seeing
the hour at any time of the night, by the light of the sacred lamps. He
gets up betimes in the morning, asking: "Well, did I behave properly?"
and dresses in haste, preoccupied about duty and the roll-call.
Outside, no doubt, it is daylight already: through the tiny holes which
time has pierced in our wooden panels, threads of morning light penetrate
our chamber, and in the atmosphere of our room where night still lingers,
they trace vague white rays. Soon, when the sun shall have risen, these
rays will lengthen and become beautifully golden. The cocks and the
cicalas make themselves heard, and now Madame Prune will begin her mystic
Nevertheless, out of politeness for Yves-San, Chrysantheme lights a
lantern and escorts him to the foot of the dark staircase. I even fancy
that, on parting, I hear a kiss exchanged. In Japan this is of no
consequence, I know; it is very usual, and quite admissible; no matter
where one goes, in houses one enters for the first time, one is quite at
liberty to kiss any mousme who may be present, without any notice being
taken of it. But with regard to Chrysantheme, Yves is in a delicate
position, and he ought to understand it better. I begin to feel uneasy
about the hours they have so often spent together alone; and I make up my
mind that this very day I will not play the spy upon them, but speak
frankly to Yves, and make a clean breast of it.
Suddenly from below, clac! clac! two dry hands are clapped together; it
is Madame Prune's warning to the Great Spirit. And immediately after her
prayer breaks forth, soars upward in a shrill nasal falsetto, like a
morning alarum when the hour for waking has come, the mechanical noise of
a spring let go and running down.
".....The richest woman in the world! Cleansed from all my sins,
O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! in the river of Kamo."
And this extraordinary bleating, hardly human, scatters and changes my
ideas, which were very nearly clear at the moment I awoke.
RUMORS OF DEPARTURE
Rumor of departure is in the air. Since yesterday there has been vague
talk of our being sent to China, to the Gulf of Pekin; one of those
rumors which spread, no one knows how, from one end of the ship to the
other, two or three days before the official orders arrive, and which
usually turn out tolerably correct. What will the last act of my little
Japanese comedy be? the denouement, the separation? Will there be any
touch of sadness on the part of my mousme, or on my own, just a
tightening of the heartstrings at the moment of our final farewell?
At this moment I can imagine nothing of the sort. And then the adieus
of Yves and Chrysantheme, what will they be? This question preoccupies
me more than all.
Nothing very definite has been learned as yet, but it is certain that,
one way or another, our stay in Japan is drawing to a close. It is this,
perhaps, which disposes me this evening to look more kindly on my
surroundings. It is about six o'clock, after a day spent on duty, when
I reach Diou-djen-dji. The evening sun, low in the sky, on the point of
setting, pours into my room, and floods it with rays of red gold,
lighting up the Buddhas and the great sheaves of quaintly arranged
flowers in the antique vases. Here are assembled five or six little
dolls, my neighbors, amusing themselves by dancing to the sound of
Chrysantheme's guitar. And this evening I experienced a real charm in
feeling that this dwelling and the woman who leads the dance are mine.
On the whole, I have perhaps been unjust to this country; it seems to me
that my eyes are at last opened to see it in its true light, that all my
senses are undergoing a strange and abrupt transition. I suddenly have a
better perception and appreciation of all the infinity of dainty trifles
among which I live; of the fragile and studied grace of their forms, the
oddity of their drawings, the refined choice of their colors.
I stretch myself upon the white mats; Chrysantheme, always eagerly
attentive, brings me my pillow of serpent's-skin; and the smiling
mousmes, with the interrupted rhythm of a while ago still running in
their heads, move around me with measured steps.
Their immaculate socks with the separate great toes make no noise;
nothing is heard, as they glide by, but a 'froufrou' of silken stuffs.
I find them all pleasant to look upon; their dollish air pleases me now,
and I fancy I have discovered what it is that gives it to them: it is not
only their round, inexpressive faces with eyebrows far removed from the
eyelids, but the excessive amplitude of their dress. With those huge
sleeves, it might be supposed they have neither back nor shoulders; their
delicate figures are lost in these wide robes, which float around what
might be little marionettes without bodies at all, and which would slip
to the ground of themselves were they not kept together midway, about
where a waist should be, by the wide silken sashes--a very different
comprehension of the art of dressing to ours, which endeavors as much as
possible to bring into relief the curves, real or false, of the figure.
And then, how much I admire the flowers in our vases, arranged by
Chrysantheme, with her Japanese taste, lotus-flowers, great, sacred
flowers of a tender, veined rose color, the milky rose-tint seen on
porcelain; they resemble, when in full bloom, great water-lilies, and
when only in bud might be taken for long pale tulips. Their soft but
rather cloying scent is added to that other indefinable odor of mousmes,
of yellow race, of Japan, which is always and everywhere in the air.
The late flowers of September, at this season very rare and expensive,
grow on longer stems than the summer blooms; Chrysantheme has left them
in their large aquatic leaves of a melancholy seaweed-green, and mingled
with them tall, slight rushes. I look at them, and recall with some
irony those great round bunches in the shape of cauliflowers, which our
florists sell in France, wrapped in white lace-paper!
Still no letters from Europe, from any one. How things change, become
effaced and forgotten! Here am I, accommodating myself to this finical
Japan and dwindling down to its affected mannerism; I feel that my
thoughts run in smaller grooves, my tastes incline to smaller things--
things which suggest nothing greater than a smile. I am becoming used to
tiny and ingenious furniture, to doll-like desks, to miniature bowls with
which to play at dinner, to the immaculate monotony of the mats, to the
finely finished simplicity of the white woodwork. I am even losing my
Western prejudices; all my preconceived ideas are this evening
evaporating and vanishing; crossing the garden I have courteously saluted
M. Sucre, who was watering his dwarf shrubs and his deformed flowers; and
Madame Prune appears to me a highly respectable old lady, in whose past
there is nothing to criticise.
We shall take no walk to-night; my only wish is to remain stretched out
where I am, listening to the music of my mousme's 'chamecen'.
Till now I have always used the word guitar, to avoid exotic terms, for
the abuse of which I have been so reproached. But neither the word
guitar nor mandolin suffices to designate this slender instrument with
its long neck, the high notes of which are shriller than the voice of the
grasshopper; and henceforth, I will write 'chamecen'.
I will also call my mousme Kikou, Kikou-San; this name suits her better
than Chrysantheme, which, though translating the sense exactly, does not
preserve the strange-sounding euphony of the original.
I therefore say to Kikou, my wife:
"Play, play on for me; I shall remain here all the evening and listen to
Astonished to find me in so amiable a mood, she requires pressing a
little, and with almost a bitter curve of triumph and disdain upon her
lips, she seats herself in the attitude of an idol, raises her long,
dark-colored sleeves, and begins. The first hesitating notes are
murmured faintly and mingle with the music of the insects humming
outside, in the quiet air of the warm and golden twilight. First she
plays slowly, a confused medley of fragments which she does not seem to
remember perfectly, of which one waits for the finish and waits in vain;
while the other girls giggle, inattentive, and regretful of their
interrupted dance. She herself is absent, sulky, as if she were only
performing a duty.
Then by degrees, little by little, the music becomes more animated, and
the mousmes begin to listen. Now, tremblingly, it grows into a feverish
rapidity, and her gaze has no longer the vacant stare of a doll. Then
the music changes again; in it there is the sighing of the wind, the
hideous laughter of ghouls; tears, heartrending plaints, and her dilated
pupils seem to be directed inwardly in settled gaze on some indescribable
Japanesery within her own soul.
I listen, lying there with eyes half shut, looking out between my
drooping eyelids, which are gradually lowering, in involuntary heaviness,
upon the enormous red sun dying away over Nagasaki. I have a somewhat
melancholy feeling that my past life and all other places in the world
are receding from my view and fading away. At this moment of nightfall
I feel almost at home in this corner of Japan, amidst the gardens of this
suburb. I never have had such an impression before.
A DOLLS' DUET
Seven o'clock in the evening. We shall not go down into Nagasaki
tonight; but, like good Japanese citizens, remain in our lofty suburb.
In undress uniform we shall go, Yves and I, in a neighborly way, as far
as the fencing-gallery, which is only two steps away, just above our
villa, and almost abutting on our fresh and scented garden.
The gallery is closed already, and a little mousko, seated at the door,
explains, with many low bows, that we come too late, all the amateurs are
gone; we must come again tomorrow.
The evening is so mild and fine that we remain out of doors, following,
without any definite purpose, the pathway which rises ever higher and
higher, and loses itself at length in the solitary regions of the
mountain among the upper peaks.
For an hour at least we wander on--an unintended walk--and finally find
ourselves at a great height commanding an endless perspective lighted by
the last gleams of daylight; we are in a desolate and mournful spot, in
the midst of the little Buddhist cemeteries, which are scattered over the
country in every direction.
We meet a few belated laborers, who are returning from the fields with
bundles of tea upon their shoulders. These peasants have a half-savage
air. They are half naked, too, or clothed only in long robes of blue
cotton; as they pass, they salute us with humble bows.
No trees in this elevated region. Fields of tea alternate with tombs:
old granite statues which represent Buddha in his lotus, or else old
monumental stones on which gleam remains of inscriptions in golden
letters. Rocks, brushwood, uncultivated spaces, surround us on all
We meet no more passers-by, and the light is failing. We will halt for a
moment, and then it will be time to turn our steps homeward.
But, close to the spot where we stand, a box of white wood provided with
handles, a sort of sedan-chair, rests on the freshly disturbed earth,
with its lotus of silvered paper, and the little incense-sticks, burning
yet, by its side; clearly some one has been buried here this very
I can not picture this personage to myself; the Japanese are so grotesque
in life that it is almost impossible to imagine them in the calm majesty
of death. Nevertheless, let us move farther on, we might disturb him; he
is too recently dead, his presence unnerves us. We will go and seat
ourselves on one of these other tombs, so unutterably ancient that there
can no longer be anything within it but dust. And there, seated in the
dying sunlight, while the valleys and plains of the earth below are
already lost in shadow, we will talk together.
I wish to speak to Yves about Chrysantheme; it is indeed somewhat in view
of this that I have persuaded him to sit down; but how to set about it
without hurting his feelings, and without making myself ridiculous,
I hardly know. However, the pure air playing round me up here, and the
magnificent landscape spread beneath my feet, impart a certain serenity
to my thoughts which makes me feel a contemptuous pity, both for my
suspicions and the cause of them.
We speak, first of all, of the order for departure, which may arrive at
any moment, for China or for France. Soon we shall have to leave this
easy and almost amusing life, this Japanese suburb where chance has
installed us, and our little house buried among flowers. Yves perhaps
will regret all this more than I. I know that well enough; for it is the
first time that any such interlude has broken the rude monotony of his
hard-worked career. Formerly, when in an inferior rank, he was hardly
more often on shore, in foreign countries, than the sea-gulls themselves;
while I, from the very beginning, have been spoiled by residence in all
sorts of charming spots, infinitely superior to this, in all sorts of
countries, and the remembrance still haunts me pleasurably.
In order to discover how the land lies, I risk the remark:
"You will perhaps be more sorry to leave little Chrysantheme than I."
Silence reigns between us.
After which I go on, and, burning my ships, I add:
"You know, after all, if you have such a fancy for her, I haven't really
married her; one can't really consider her my wife."
In great surprise he looks in my face.
"Not your wife, you say? But, by Jove, though, that's just it; she is
There is no need of many words at any time between us two; I know exactly
now, by his tone, by his great good-humored smile, how the case stands;
I understand all that lies in the little phrase: "That's just it, she is
your wife." If she were not, well, then, he could not answer for what
might happen--notwithstanding any remorse he might have in the depths of
his heart, since he is no longer a bachelor and free as air, as in former
days. But he considers her my wife, and she is sacred. I have the
fullest faith in his word, and I experience a positive relief, a real
joy, at finding my stanch Yves of bygone days. How could I have so
succumbed to the demeaning influence of my surroundings as to suspect him
even, and to invent for myself such a mean, petty anxiety?
We never shall even mention that doll again.
We remain up there very late, talking of other things, gazing at the
immense depths below, at the valleys and mountains as they become, one by
one, indistinct and lost in the deepening darkness. Placed as we are at
an enormous height, in the wide, free atmosphere, we seem already to have
quitted this miniature country, already to be freed from the impression
of littleness which it has given us, and from the little links by which
it was beginning to bind--us to itself.
Seen from such heights as these, all the countries of the globe bear a
strong resemblance to one another; they lose the imprint made upon them
by man, and by races; by all the atoms swarming on the surface.
As of old, in the Breton marshes, in the woods of Toulven, or at sea in
the night-watches, we talk of all those things to which thoughts
naturally revert in darkness; of ghosts, of spirits, of eternity, of the
great hereafter, of chaos--and we entirely forget little Chrysantheme!
When we arrive at Diou-djen-dji in the starry night, the music of her
'chamecen', heard from afar, recalls to us her existence; she is studying
some vocal duet with Mademoiselle Oyouki, her pupil.
I feel myself in very good humor this evening, and, relieved from my
absurd suspicions about my poor Yves, am quite disposed to enjoy without
reserve my last days in Japan, and to derive therefrom all the amusement
Let us then repose ourselves on the dazzling white mats, and listen to
the singular duet sung by those two mousmes: a strange musical medley,
slow and mournful, beginning with two or three high notes, and descending
at each couplet, in an almost imperceptible manner, into actual
solemnity. The song keeps its dragging slowness; but the accompaniment,
becoming more and more accentuated, is like the impetuous sound of a far-
off hurricane. At the end, when these girlish voices, usually so soft,
give out their hoarse and guttural notes, Chrysantheme's hands fly wildly
and convulsively over the quivering strings. Both of them lower their
heads, pout their underlips in the effort to bring out these
astonishingly deep notes. And at these moments their little narrow eyes
open, and seem to reveal an unexpected something, almost a soul, under
these trappings of marionettes.
But it is a soul which more than ever appears to me of a different
species from my own; I feel my thoughts to be as far removed from theirs
as from the flitting conceptions of a bird, or the dreams of a monkey; I
feel there is between them and myself a great gulf, mysterious and awful.
Other sounds of music, wafted to us from the distance, interrupt for a
moment those of our mousmes. From the depths below, in Nagasaki, arises
a sudden noise of gongs and guitars; we rush to the balcony of the
veranda to hear it better.
It is a 'matsouri', a fete, a procession passing through the quarter
which is not so virtuous as our own, so our mousmes tell us, with a
disdainful toss of the head. Nevertheless, from the heights on which we
dwell, seen thus in a bird's-eye view, by the uncertain light of the
stars, this district has a singularly chaste air, and the concert going
on therein, purified in its ascent from the depths of the abyss to our
lofty altitudes, reaches us confusedly, a smothered, enchanted,
Then it diminishes, and dies away into silence.
The two little friends return to their seats on the mats, and once more
take up their melancholy duet. An orchestra, discreetly subdued but
innumerable, of crickets and cicalas, accompanies them in an unceasing
tremolo--the immense, far-reaching tremolo, which, gentle and eternal,
never ceases in Japan.
THE LAST DAY
At the hour of siesta, a peremptory order arrives to start tomorrow for
China, for Tche-fou (a terrible place, in the gulf of Pekin). Yves comes
to wake me in my cabin to bring me the news.
"I must positively get leave to go on shore this evening," he says, while
I endeavor to shake myself awake, "if it is only to help you to dismantle
and pack up."
He gazes through my port-hole, raising his glance toward the green
summits, in the direction of Diou-djen-dji and our echoing old cottage,
hidden from us by a turn of the mountain.
It is very nice of him to wish to help me in my packing; but I think he
counts also upon saying farewell to his little Japanese friends up there,
and I really can not find fault with that.
He finishes his work, and does in fact obtain leave, without help from
me, to go on shore at five o'clock, after drill and manoeuvres.
As for myself I start at once, in a hired sampan. In the vast flood of
midday sunshine, to the quivering noise of the cicalas, I mount to Diou-
The paths are solitary, the plants are drooping in the heat. Here,
however, is Madame Jonquille, taking the air in the bright, grasshoppers'
sunshine, sheltering her dainty figure and her charming face under an
enormous paper parasol, a huge circle, closely ribbed and fantastically
She recognizes me from afar, and, laughing as usual, runs to meet me.
I announce our departure, and a tearful pout suddenly contracts her
childish face. After all, does this news grieve her? Is she about to
shed tears over it? No! it turns to a fit of laughter, a little nervous
perhaps, but unexpected and disconcerting--dry and clear, pealing through
the silence and warmth of the narrow paths, like a cascade of little mock
Ah, there indeed is a marriage-tie which will be broken without much
pain! But she fills me with impatience, poor empty-headed linnet, with
her laughter, and I turn my back upon her to continue my journey.
Above-stairs, Chrysantheme sleeps, stretched out on the floor; the house
is wide open, and the soft mountain breeze rustles gently through it.
That same evening we had intended to give a tea-party, and by my orders
flowers had already been placed in every nook and corner of the house.
There were lotus in our vases, beautifully colored lotus, the last of the
season, I verily believe. They must have been ordered from a special
gardener, out yonder near the Great Temple, and they will cost me dear.
With a few gentle taps of a fan I awake my surprised mousme; and, curious
to catch her first impressions, I announce my departure. She starts up,
rubs her eyelids with the backs of her little hands, looks at me, and
hangs her head: something like an expression of sadness passes in her
This little sinking at the heart is for Yves, no doubt!
The news spreads through the house.
Mademoiselle Oyouki dashes upstairs, with half a tear in each of her
babyish eyes; kisses me with her full red lips, which always leave a wet
ring on my cheek; then quickly draws from her wide sleeve a square of
tissue-paper, wipes away her stealthy tears, blows her little nose, rolls
the bit of paper in a ball, and throws it into the street on the parasol
of a passer-by.
Then Madame Prune makes her appearance; in an agitated and discomposed
manner she successively adopts every attitude expressive of dismay. What
on earth is the matter with the old lady, and why does she keep getting
closer and closer to me, till she is almost in my way?
It is wonderful to think of all that I still have to do this last day,
and the endless drives I have to make to the old curiosity-shops, to my
tradespeople, and to the packers.
Nevertheless, before my rooms are dismantled, I intend making a sketch of
them, as I did formerly at Stamboul. It really seems to me as if all I
do here is a bitter parody of all I did over there.
This time, however, it is not that I care for this dwelling; it is only
because it is pretty and uncommon, and the sketch will be an interesting
I fetch, therefore, a leaf out of my album, and begin at once, seated on
the floor and leaning on my desk, ornamented with grasshoppers in relief,
while behind me, very, very close to me, the three women follow the
movements of my pencil with astonished attention. Japanese art being
entirely conventional, they have never before seen any one draw from
nature, and my style delights them. I may not perhaps possess the steady
and nimble touch of M. Sucre, as he groups his charming storks, but I am
master of a few notions of perspective which are wanting in him; and I
have been taught to draw things as I see them, without giving them an
ingeniously distorted and grimacing attitudes; and the three Japanese are
amazed at the air of reality displayed in my sketch.
With little shrieks of admiration, they point out to one another the
different things, as little by little their shape and form are outlined
in black on my paper. Chrysantheme gazes at me with a new kind of
interest "Anata itchiban!" she says (literally "Thou first!" meaning:
"You are really quite wonderful!")
Mademoiselle Oyouki is carried away by her admiration, and exclaims, in a
burst of enthusiasm:
"Anata bakari!" ("Thou alone!" that is to say: "There is no one like you
in the world, all the rest are mere rubbish!")
Madame Prune says nothing, but I can see that she does not think the
less; her languishing attitudes, her hand that at each moment gently
touches mine, confirm the suspicions that her look of dismay a few
moments ago awoke within me: evidently my physical charms speak to her
imagination, which in spite of years has remained full of romance!
I shall leave with the regret of having understood her too late!
Although the ladies are satisfied with my sketch, I am far from being so.
I have put everything in its place most exactly, but as a whole, it has
an ordinary, indifferent, French look which does not suit. The sentiment
is not given, and I almost wonder whether I should not have done better
to falsify the perspective--Japanese style--exaggerating to the very
utmost the already abnormal outlines of what I see before me. And then
the pictured dwelling lacks the fragile look and its sonority, that
reminds one of a dry violin. In the pencilled delineation of the
woodwork, the minute delicacy with which it is wrought is wanting;
neither have I been able to give an idea of the extreme antiquity, the
perfect cleanliness, nor the vibrating song of the cicalas that seems to
have been stored away within it, in its parched-up fibres, during
hundreds of summers. It does not convey, either, the impression this
place gives of being in a far-off suburb, perched aloft among trees,
above the drollest of towns. No, all this can not be drawn, can not be
expressed, but remains undemonstrable, indefinable.
Having sent out our invitations, we shall, in spite of everything, give
our tea-party this evening--a parting tea, therefore, in which we shall
display as much pomp as possible. It is, moreover, rather my custom to
wind up my exotic experiences with a fete; in other countries I have done
Besides our usual set, we shall have my mother-in-law, my relatives, and
all the mousmes of the neighborhood. But, by an extra Japanese
refinement, we shall not admit a single European friend--not even the
"amazingly tall" one. Yves alone shall be admitted, and even he shall be
hidden away in a corner behind some flowers and works of art.
In the last glimmer of twilight, by the light of the first twinkling
star, the ladies, with many charming curtseys, make their appearance.
Our house is soon full of the little crouching women, with their tiny
slit eyes vaguely smiling; their beautifully dressed hair shining like
polished ebony; their fragile bodies lost in the many folds of the
exaggerated, wide garments, that gape as if ready to drop from their
little tapering backs and reveal the exquisite napes of their little
Chrysantheme, with somewhat a melancholy air, and my mother-in-law,
Madame Renoncule, with many affected graces busy themselves in the midst
of the different groups, where ere long the miniature pipes are lighted.
Soon there arises a murmuring sound of discreet laughter, expressing
nothing, but having a pretty exotic ring about it, and then begins a
harmony of tap! tap! tap!--sharp, rapid taps against the edges of the
finely lacquered smoking-boxes. Pickled and spiced fruits are handed
round on trays of quaint and varied shapes. Then transparent china
teacups, no larger than half an egg-shell, make their appearance, and the
ladies are offered a few drops of sugarless tea, poured out of toy
kettles, or a sip of 'saki'--(a spirit made from rice which it is the
custom to serve hot, in elegantly shaped vases, long-necked like a
Several mousmes execute, one after another, improvisations on the
'chamecen'. Others sing in sharp, high voices, hopping about
continually, like cicalas in delirium.
Madame Prune, no longer able to make a mystery of the long-pent up
feelings that agitate her, pays me the most marked and tender attentions,
and begs my acceptance of a quantity of little souvenirs: an image,
a little vase, a little porcelain goddess of the moon in Satsuma ware,
a marvellously grotesque ivory figure;--I tremblingly follow her into
the dark corners whither she calls me to give me these presents in tete-
About nine o'clock, with a silken rustling, arrive the three geishas in
vogue in Nagasaki: Mesdemoiselles Purete, Orange, and Printemps, whom I
have hired at four dollars each--an enormous price in this country.
These three geishas are indeed the very same little creatures I heard
singing on the rainy day of my arrival, through the thin panelling of the
Garden of Flowers. But as I have now become thoroughly Japanized, today
they appear to me more diminutive, less outlandish, and in no way
mysterious. I treat them rather as dancers that I have hired, and the
idea that I ever had thought of marrying one of them now makes me shrug
my shoulders--as it formerly made M. Kangourou.
The excessive heat caused by the respiration of the mousmes and the
burning lamps, brings out the perfume of the lotus, which fills the
heavy-laden atmosphere; and the scent of camellia-oil, which the ladies
use in profusion to make their hair glisten, is also strong in the room.
Mademoiselle Orange, the youngest geisha, tiny and dainty, her lips
outlined with gilt paint, executes some delightful steps, donning the
most extraordinary wigs and masks of wood or cardboard. She has masks
imitating old, noble ladies which are valuable works of art, signed by
well-known artists. She has also magnificent long robes, fashioned in
the old style, with trains trimmed at the bottom with thick pads, in
order to give to the movements of the costume something rigid and
unnatural which, however, is becoming.
Now the soft balmy breezes blow through the room, from one veranda to the
other, making the flames of the lamps flicker. They scatter the lotus
flowers faded by the artificial heat, which, falling in pieces from every
vase, sprinkle the guests with their pollen and large pink petals,
looking like bits of broken, opal-colored glass.
The sensational piece, reserved for the end, is a trio on the 'chamecen',
long and monotonous, that the geishas perform as a rapid pizzicato on the
highest strings, very sharply struck. It sounds like the very
quintessence, the paraphrase, the exasperation, if I may so call it,
of the eternal buzz of insects, which issues from the trees, old roofs,
old walls, from everything in fact, and which is the foundation of all
Half-past ten! The programme has been carried out, and the reception is
over. A last general tap! tap! tap! the little pipes are stowed away in
their chased sheaths, tied up in the sashes, and the mousmes rise to
They light, at the end of short sticks, a quantity of red, gray, or blue
lanterns, and after a series of endless bows and curtseys, the guests
disperse in the darkness of the lanes and trees.
We also go down to the town, Yves, Chrysantheme, Oyouki and I--in order
to conduct my mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and my youthful aunt, Madame
Nenufar, to their house.
We wish to take one last stroll together in our old familiar pleasure-
haunts, to drink one more iced sherbet at the house of the Indescribable
Butterflies, buy one more lantern at Madame Tres-Propre's, and eat some
parting waffles at Madame L'Heure's!
I try to be affected, moved, by this leave-taking, but without success.
In regard to Japan, as with the little men and women who inhabit it,
there is something decidedly wanting; pleasant enough as a mere pastime,
it begets no feeling of attachment.
On our return, when I am once more with Yves and the two mousmes climbing
up the road to Diou-djen-dji, which I shall probably never see again, a
vague feeling of melancholy pervades my last stroll.
It is, however, but the melancholy inseparable from all things that are
about to end without possibility of return.
Moreover, this calm and splendid summer is also drawing to a close for
us--since to-morrow we shall go forth to meet the autumn, in Northern
China. I am beginning, alas! to count the youthful summers I may still
hope for; I feel more gloomy each time another fades away, and flies to
rejoin the others already disappeared in the dark and bottomless abyss,
where all past things lie buried.
At midnight we return home, and my removal begins; while on board the
"amazingly tall friend" kindly takes my watch.
It is a nocturnal, rapid, stealthy removal--"doyobo (thieves) fashion,"
remarks Yves, who in visiting the mousmes has picked up a smattering of
the Nipponese language.
Messieurs the packers have, at my request, sent in the evening several
charming little boxes, with compartments and false bottoms, and several
paper bags (in the untearable Japanese paper), which close of themselves
and are fastened by strings, also in paper, arranged beforehand in the
most ingenious manner--quite the cleverest and most handy thing of its
kind; for little useful trifles these people are unrivalled.
It is a real treat to pack them, and everybody lends a helping hand--
Yves, Chrysantheme, Madame Prune, her daughter, and M. Sucre. By the
glimmer of the reception-lamps, which are still burning, every one wraps,
rolls, and ties up expeditiously, for it is already late.
Although Oyouki has a heavy heart, she can not prevent herself from
indulging in a few bursts of childish laughter while she works.
Madame Prune, bathed in tears, no longer restrains her feelings; poor old
lady, I really very much regret . . . .
Chrysantheme is absent-minded and silent.
But what a fearful amount of luggage! Eighteen cases or parcels,
containing Buddhas, chimeras, and vases, without mentioning the last
lotus that I carry away tied up in a pink cluster.
All this is piled up in the djins' carts, hired at sunset, which are
waiting at the door, while their runners lie asleep on the grass.
A starlit and exquisite night. We start off with lighted lanterns,
followed by the three sorrowful ladies who accompany us, and by abrupt
slopes, dangerous in the darkness, we descend toward the sea.
The djins, stiffening their muscular legs, hold back with all their might
the heavily loaded little cars which would run down by themselves if let
alone, and that so rapidly that they would rush into empty space with my
most valuable chattels. Chrysantheme walks by my side, and expresses, in
a soft and winning manner, her regret that the "wonderfully tall friend"
did not offer to replace me for the whole of my night-watch, as that
would have allowed me to spend this last night, even till morning, under
"Listen!" she says, "come back to-morrow in the daytime, before getting
under way, to bid one good-by; I shall not return to my mother until
evening; you will find me still up there."
And I promise.
They stop at a certain turn, whence we have a bird's-eye view of the
whole harbor. The black, stagnant waters reflect innumerable distant
fires, and the ships--tiny, immovable objects, which, seen from our point
of view, take the shape of fish, seem also to slumber,--little objects
which serve to bear us elsewhere, to go far away, and to forget.
The three ladies are about to turn back home, for the night is already
far advanced and, farther down, the cosmopolitan quarters near the quays
are not safe at this unusual hour.
The moment has therefore come for Yves--who will not land again--to make
his last tragic farewells to his friends the little mousmes.
I am very curious to see the parting between Yves and Chrysantheme;
I listen with all my ears, I look with all my eyes, but it takes place in
the simplest and quietest fashion: none of that heartbreaking which will
be inevitable between Madame Prune and myself; I even notice in my mousme
an indifference, an unconcern which puzzles me; I positively am at a loss
to understand what it all means.
And I muse as I continue to descend toward the sea. "Her appearance of
sadness was not, therefore, on Yves's account. On whose, then?" and the
phrase runs through my head:
"Come back to-morrow before setting sail, to bid me goodby; I shall not
return to my mother until evening; you will find me still up there."
Japan is indeed most delightful this evening, so fresh and so sweet; and
little Chrysantheme was very charming just now, as she silently walked
beside me through the darkness of the lane.
It is about two o'clock when we reach the 'Triomphante' in a hired
sampan, where I have heaped up all my cases till there is danger of
sinking. The "very tall friend" gives over to me the watch that I must
keep till four o'clock; and the sailors on duty, but half awake, make a
chain in the darkness, to haul on board all my fragile luggage.
I intended to sleep late this morning, in order to make up for my lost
sleep of last night.
But at eight o'clock three persons of the most extraordinary appearance,
led by M. Kangourou, present themselves with profound bows at the door of
my cabin. They are arrayed in long robes bedizened with dark patterns;
they have the flowing locks, high foreheads, and pallid countenances of
persons too exclusively devoted to the fine arts; and, perched on the top
of their coiffures, they wear sailor hats of English shape tipped
jauntily on one side. Tucked under their arms, they carry portfolios
filled with sketches; in their hands are boxes of water-colors, pencils,
and, bound together like fasces, a bundle of fine stylets with the sharp
and glittering points.
At the first glance, even in the bewilderment of waking up, I gather from
their appearance what their errand is, and guessing with what visitors I
have to deal, I say: "Come in, Messieurs the tattooers!"
These are the specialists most in renown in Nagasaki; I had engaged them
two days ago, not knowing that we were about to leave, and since they are
here I will not turn them away.
My friendly and intimate relations with primitive man, in Oceania and
elsewhere, have imbued me with a deplorable taste for tattoo-work; and
I had wished to carry away on my own person, as a curiosity, an ornament,
a specimen of the work of the Japanese tattooers, who have a delicacy of
finish which is unequalled.
From their albums spread out upon my table I make my choice. There are
some remarkably odd designs among them, appropriate to the different
parts of the human body: emblems for the arms and legs, sprays of roses
for the shoulders, great grinning faces for the middle of the back.
There are even, to suit the taste of their clients who belong to foreign
navies, trophies of arms, American and French flags entwined, a "God Save
the Queen" amid encircling stars, and figures of women taken from
Grevin's sketches in the Journal Amusant.
My choice rests upon a singular blue and pink dragon two inches long,
which will have a fine effect upon my chest on the side opposite the
Then follows an hour and a half of irritation and positive pain.
Stretched out on my bunk and delivered over to the tender mercies of
these personages, I stiffen myself and submit to the million
imperceptible pricks they inflict. When by chance a little blood flows,
confusing the outline by a stream of red, one of the artists hastens to
stanch it with his lips, and I make no objections, knowing that this is
the Japanese manner, the method used by their doctors for the wounds of
both man and beast.
A piece of work, as minute and fine as that of an engraver upon stone, is
slowly executed on my person; and their lean hands harrow and worry me
with automatic precision.
Finally it is finished, and the tattooers, falling back with an air of
satisfaction to contemplate their work, declare it to be lovely.
I dress myself quickly to go on shore, to take advantage of my last hours
The heat is fearful to-day: the powerful September sun falls with a
certain melancholy upon the yellowing leaves; it is a day of clear
burning heat after an almost chilly morning.
As I did yesterday, I ascend to my lofty suburb, during the drowsy
noontime, by deserted pathways filled only with light and silence.
I noiselessly open the door of my dwelling, and enter cautiously on
tiptoe, for fear of Madame Prune.
At the foot of the staircase, upon the white mats, beside the little
sabots and tiny sandals which are always lying about in the vestibule,
a great array of luggage is ready for departure, which I recognize at a
glance--pretty, dark robes, familiar to my sight, carefully folded and
wrapped in blue towels tied at the four corners. I even fancy I feel a
little sad when I catch sight of a corner of the famous box of letters
and souvenirs peeping out of one of these bundles, in which my portrait
by Ureno now reposes among divers photographs of mousmes. A sort of
long-necked mandolin, also ready for departure, lies on the top of the
pile in its case of figured silk. It resembles the flitting of some
gipsy, or rather it reminds me of an engraving in a book of fables I
owned in my childhood: the whole thing is exactly like the slender
wardrobe and the long guitar which the cicala who had sung all the
summer, carried upon her back when she knocked at the door of her
neighbor the ant.
Poor little gipsy!
I mount the steps on tiptoe, and stop at the sound of singing that I hear
in my room.
It is undoubtedly Chrysantheme's voice, and the song is quite cheerful!
This chills me and changes the current of my thoughts. I am almost sorry
I have taken the trouble to come.
Mingled with the song is a noise I can not understand: Chink! chink! a
clear metallic ring as of coins flung vigorously on the floor. I am well
aware that this vibrating house exaggerates every sound during the
silence of night; but all the same, I am puzzled to know what my mousme
can be doing. Chink! chink! is she amusing herself with quoits, or the
'jeu du crapaud', or pitch-and-toss?
Nothing of the kind! I fancy I have guessed, and I continue my upward
progress still more gently, on all fours, with the precautions of a red
Indian, to give myself for the last time the pleasure of surprising her.
She has not heard me come in. In our great white room, emptied and swept
out, where the clear sunshine pours in, and the soft wind, and the
yellowed leaves of the garden, she is sitting all alone, her back turned
to the door; she is dressed for walking, ready to go to her mother's, her
rose-colored parasol beside her.
On the floor are spread out all the fine silver dollars which, according
to our agreement, I had given her the evening before. With the competent
dexterity of an old money-changer she fingers them, turns them over,
throws them on the floor, and, armed with a little mallet ad hoc, rings
them vigorously against her ear, singing the while I know not what little
pensive bird-like song which I daresay she improvises as she goes along.
Well, after all, it is even more completely Japanese than I could
possibly have imagined it--this last scene of my married life! I feel
inclined to laugh. How simple I have been, to allow myself to be taken
in by the few clever words she whispered yesterday, as she walked beside
me, by a tolerably pretty little phrase embellished as it was by the
silence of two o'clock in the morning, and all the wonderful enchantments
Ah! not more for Yves than for me, not more for me than for Yves, has any
feeling passed through that little brain, that little heart.
When I have looked at her long enough, I call:
She turns confused, and reddening even to her ears at having been caught
at this work.
She is quite wrong, however, to be so much troubled, for I am, on the
contrary, delighted. The fear that I might be leaving her in some
sadness had almost given me a pang, and I infinitely prefer that this
marriage should end as it had begun, in a joke.
"That is a good idea of yours," I say; "a precaution which should always
be taken in this country of yours, where so many evil-minded people are
clever in forging money. Make haste and get through it before I start,
and if any false pieces have found their way into the number, I will
willingly replace them."
However, she refuses to continue before me, and I expected as much; to do
so would have been contrary to all her notions of politeness, hereditary
and acquired, all her conventionality, all her Japanesery. With a
disdainful little foot, clothed as usual in exquisite socks, with a
special hood for the great toe, she pushes away the piles of white
dollars and scatters them on the mats.
"We have hired a large, covered sampan," she says to change the
conversation, "and we are all going together--Campanule, Jonquille,
Touki, all your mousmes--to watch your vessel set sail. Pray sit down
and stay a few minutes."
"No, I really can not stay. I have several things to do in the town,
you see, and the order was given for every one to be on board by three
o'clock in time for muster before starting. Moreover, I would prefer to
escape, as you can imagine, while Madame Prune is still enjoying her
siesta; I should be afraid of being drawn into some corner, or of
provoking some heartrending parting scene."
Chrysantheme bows her head and says no more, but seeing that I am really
going, rises to escort me.
Without speaking, without the slightest noise, she follows me as we
descend the staircase and cross the garden full of sunshine, where the
dwarf shrubs and the deformed flowers seem, like the rest of the
household, plunged in warm somnolence.
At the outer gate I stop for the last adieu: the little sad pout has
reappeared, more accentuated than ever, on Chrysantheme's face; it is the
right thing, it is correct, and I should feel offended now were it
Well, little mousme, let us part good friends; one last kiss even, if you
like. I took you to amuse me; you have not perhaps succeeded very well,
but after all you have done what you could: given me your little face,
your little curtseys, your little music; in short, you have been pleasant
enough in your Japanese way. And who knows, perchance I may yet think of
you sometimes when I recall this glorious summer, these pretty, quaint
gardens, and the ceaseless concert of the cicalas.
She prostrates herself on the threshold of the door, her forehead against
the ground, and remains in this attitude of superlatively polite salute
as long as I am in sight, while I go down the pathway by which I am to
disappear for ever.
As the distance between us increases, I turn once or twice to look at her
again; but it is a mere civility, and meant to return as it deserves her
grand final salutation.
OFF FOR CHINA
When I entered the town, at the turn of the principal street, I had the
good luck to meet Number 415, my poor relative. I was just at that
moment in want of a speedy djin, and I at once got into his vehicle;
besides, it was an alleviation to my feelings, in this hour of departure,
to take my last drive in company with a member of my family.
Unaccustomed as I was to be out of doors during the hours of siesta,
I had never yet seen the streets of the town thus overwhelmed by the
sunshine, thus deserted in the silence and solitary brilliancy peculiar
to all hot countries.
In front of all the shops hang white shades, adorned here and there with
slight designs in black, in the quaintness of which lurks I know not
what--something mysterious: dragons, emblems, symbolical figures.
The sky is too glaring; the light crude, implacable; never has this
old town of Nagasaki appeared to me so old, so worm-eaten, so bald,
notwithstanding all its veneer of new papers and gaudy paintings.
These little wooden houses, of such marvellous cleanly whiteness
inside, are black outside, timeworn, disjointed and grimacing. When one
looks closely, this grimace is to be found everywhere: in the hideous
masks laughing in the shop-fronts of the innumerable curio-shops; in the
grotesque figures, the playthings, the idols, cruel, suspicious, mad;
it is even found in the buildings: in the friezes of the religious
porticoes, in the roofs of the thousand pagodas, of which the angles and
cable-ends writhe and twist like the yet dangerous remains of ancient and
And the disturbing intensity of expression reigning over inanimate
nature, contrasts with the almost absolute blank of the human
countenance, with the smiling foolishness of the simple little folk who
meet one's gaze, as they patiently carry on their minute trades in the
gloom of their tiny open-fronted houses. Workmen squatted on their
heels, carving with their imperceptible tools the droll or odiously
obscene ivory ornaments, marvellous cabinet curiosities which have made
Japan so famous with the European amateurs who have never seen it.
Unconscious artists tracing with steady hand on a background of lacquer
or of porcelain traditional designs learned by heart, or transmitted to
their brains by a process of heredity through thousands of years;
automatic painters, whose storks are similar to those of M. Sucre, with
the inevitable little rocks, or little butterflies eternally the same.
The least of these illuminators, with his insignificant, eyeless face,
possesses at his fingers' ends the maximum of dexterity in this art of
decoration, light and wittily incongruous, which threatens to invade us
in France, in this epoch of imitative decadence, and which has become the
great resource of our manufacturers of cheap "objects of art."
Is it because I am about to leave this country, because I have no longer
any link to bind me to it, any resting-place on its soil, that my spirit
is ready on the wing? I know not, but it seems to me I have never as
clearly seen and comprehended it as to-day. And more even than ever do
I find it little, aged, with worn-out blood and worn-out sap; I feel more
fully its antediluvian antiquity, its centuries of mummification, which
will soon degenerate into hopeless and grotesque buffoonery, as it comes
into contact with Western novelties.
It is getting late; little by little, the siestas are everywhere coming
to an end; the queer little streets brighten up and begin to swarm in the
sunshine with many-colored parasols. Now begins the procession of
ugliness of the most impossible description--a procession of long-robed,
grotesque figures capped with pot-hats or sailors' headgear. Business
transactions begin again, and the struggle for existence, close and
bitter here as in one of our own artisan quarters, but meaner and
At the moment of my departure, I find within myself only a smile of
careless mockery for the swarming crowd of this Lilliputian curtseying
people--laborious, industrious, greedy of gain, tainted with a
constitutional affectation, hereditary insignificance, and incurable
Poor cousin Number 415! how right I was to have held him in good esteem!
He was by far the best and most disinterested of my Japanese family.
When all my commissions are finished, he puts up his little vehicle under
a tree, and, much touched by my departure, insists upon escorting me on
board the 'Triomphante', to watch over my final purchases in the sampan
which conveys me to the ship, and to see them himself safely into my
His, indeed, is the only hand I clasp with a really friendly feeling,
without a suppressed smile, on quitting Japan.
No doubt in this country, as in many others, there is more honest
friendship and less ugliness among the simple beings devoted to purely
At five o'clock in the afternoon we set sail.
Along the line of the shore are two or three sampans; in them the
mousmes, shut up in the narrow cabins, peep at us through the tiny
windows, half hiding their faces on account of the sailors; these are
our wives, who have wished, out of politeness, to look upon us once more.
There are other sampans as well, in which other Japanese women are also
watching our departure. These stand upright, under great parasols
decorated with big black letters and daubed over with clouds of varied
and startling colors.
A FADING PICTURE
We move slowly out of the wide green bay. The groups of women grow
smaller in the distance. The country of round umbrellas with a thousand
ribs fades gradually from our sight.
Now the vast ocean opens before us, immense, colorless, solitary; a
solemn repose after so much that is too ingenious and too small.
The wooded mountains, the flowery capes disappear. And Japan remains
faithful to itself, with its picturesque rocks, its quaint islands on
which the trees tastefully arrange themselves in groups--studied,
perhaps, but charmingly pretty.
A WITHERED LOTUS-FLOWER
One evening, in my cabin, in the midst of the Yellow Sea, my eyes fall
upon the lotus-blossoms brought from Diou-djen-dji; they had lasted
several days; but now they are withered, and strew my carpet pathetically
with their pale pink petals.
I, who have carefully kept so many faded flowers, fallen, alas! into
dust, stolen here and there, at moments of parting in different parts of
the world; I, who have kept so many that the collection is now an absurd,
an indistinguishable herbarium--I try hard, but without success,
to awaken some sentiment for these lotus--and yet they are the last
living souvenirs of my summer at Nagasaki.
I pick them up, however, with a certain amount of consideration, and I
open my port-hole.
From the gray misty sky a strange light falls upon the waters; a dim and
gloomy twilight descends, yellowish upon this Yellow Sea. We feel that
we are moving northward, that autumn is approaching.
I throw the poor lotus into the boundless waste of waters, making them my
best excuses for consigning them, natives of Japan, to a grave so solemn
and so vast.
An Appeal to the Gods
Oama-Terace-Omi-Kami, wash me clean
from this little marriage of mine,
in the waters of the river of Kamo!
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