Part 3 out of 3
a dip in the stream, and then a tumbled mass of white water, while a
roar as of rage came out of the body of it. As we swept down upon
the spot, the man in the bow began beating the gunwale with his oar
in regularly repeated raps. The board gave out a hollow ring that
strangely filled the river chasm; a sound well calculated to terrify
the evil spirits of the spot. For indeed it was an exorcism of
homoeopathic design. His incantation finished, he stood motionless.
So did the rest of us, waiting for the plunge. The boat dipped by
the bow, darted forward, and in a trice we were in the midst of a
deafening turmoil of boiling waters and crashing breakers. The
breakers laid violent hands upon us, grappling at the frail gunwale
and coming in part aboard, and then, as we slipped from their grasp,
impotently flung their spray in our faces, and with a growl dropped
astern. The boat trembled like a leaf, and was trembling yet, when,
with nightmare speed, the thing had slipped into the past, and we
were shot out into the midst of the seething flood below.
Not the least impressive part of the affair was the strange
spirit-rapping on the bow. The boatmen valiantly asserted that this
was simply for signal to the man in the stern. Undoubtedly now the
action has largely cloaked itself in habit, but that it once was
superstitious is unquestionable. Devils still constitute far too
respected a portion of the community in peasant parts of Japan.
The steering the boatmen did was clever, but the steering the stream
managed of its own motion was more so. For between the rapids proper
were swirls and whirlpools and races without end. The current took
us in hand at the turns, sweeping us down at speed straight for a
rock on the opposite bank, and then, just as shipwreck seemed
inevitable, whisked us round upon the other tack. A thick cushion of
water had fended the boat off, so that to strike would have been as
impossible as it looked certain. And then at intervals came the roar
of another rapid, like a stirring refrain, with the boatman in the
bow to beat the time.
So we swept on, now through inky swirls of tide, now through
snow-capped billows, moods these of the passing stream, while above
the grand character of the gorge remained eternally the same.
The trees far up, sharp-etched against the blue,
Let but the river's strip of skylight through
To trees below, that on each jutting ledge
Scant foothold found to overlook the edge,--
As still as statues on their niches there,
Where no breeze stirred the ever-shadowed air,--
Spellbound spectators, crowded tier on tier
From where the lowest, bending to be near
The shock of spray, with leaves a-tremble stood
In shuddering gaze above the swirling flood.
The whole deep chasm, some vast natural nave
That to the thought a touch of grandeur gave,
And touch of grace,--for that wistaria clung
Upon the trees, its grapelike bunches hung
In stretch to catch their semblance in the stream;
Pale purple clusters, meant to live in dream,
Placed high above man's predatory clutch,
To sight alone vouchsafed, from harming touch
Wisely withheld as he is hurried past,
And thus the more a memory to last,
A violet vision; there to stay--fair fate--
Forever virginly inviolate.
Slowly the strip of sky overhead became steeped in color, the half
light at the bottom of the gorge deepened in tint, and suddenly a
turn brought us out at a blaze in the cliff, where a handful of
houses straggled up toward the outer world. We had reached
Mitsushima, a shafting in the tunnel, and our halting place for the
To the Sea.
It was a ten minutes' walk, the next morning, from the inn down to
the boat: an everwinding path along a succession of terraces studded
with trees just breaking into leaf, and dotted with cottages, whose
folk gave us good-day as we passed. The site of the village sloped
to the south, its cheek full turned to the sunshine that stole down
and kissed it as it lay. On this lovely May morning, amid the
slumbering air, it made as amorous a bit of springtide as the heart
could wish. In front of us, in vignette, stretched the stream, half
a mile of it to where it turned the corner. Each succeeding level of
terrace reset the picture, as if for trial of effect.
The boat was waiting, lightly grounded on a bit of shingle left by a
turn of the current. Several enthusiastic followers accompanied us
out to it with respectful insistence.
On reaching our craft, we found, to our surprise, that it was full of
bales of merchandise of large and plethoric habit. We asked in
astonishment what all this cargo meant. The men answered sheepishly
that it was to make the boat ride better. The boat had ridden well
enough the day before, and on general principles should, it would
seem, ride all the better for being light. But indeed their guilt
was plain. Our rascally boatmen, who had already charged a goodly
sum for their craft, had thought to serve two masters, and after
having leased the whole boat to me were intending now to turn a
dishonest penny by shipping somebody else's goods into the bargain.
In company with the rest of my kind, I much dislike to be imposed
upon; so I told them they might instantly take the so-called ballast
out again. When I had seen the process of disembarkation fairly
begun I relented, deciding, so long as the bales were already aboard,
to take them on to the first stopping place, and there put them
The river, its brief glimpse at civilization over, relapsed again
into utter savagery. Rocks and trees, as wild apparently as their
first forerunners there, walled us in on the sides, and appeared to
do so at the ends, making exit seem an impossibility, and entrance to
have been a dream. The stream gave short reaches, disclosing every
few minutes, as it took us round a fresh turn, a new variation on the
old theme. Then, as we glided straight our few hundred feet, the
wall behind us rose higher and higher, stretching out at us as if to
prevent our possible escape. We had thought it only a high cliff,
and behold it was the whole mountain side that had stood barrier
I cannot point the wildness of it all better than did a certain sight
we came upon suddenly, round a corner. Without the least warning,
a bend in the current introduced us to a fishing-pole and a basket,
reposing together on the top of a rock. These two hints at humanity
sat all by themselves, keeping one another company; no other sign of
man was visible anywhere. The pair of waifs gave one an odd feeling,
as might the shadow of a person apart from the person himself.
There was something uncanny in their commonplaceness in so uncommon
a place. While we were still wondering at the whereabouts of their
owner, another turn disclosed him by a sort of cove where his boat
lay drawn up. Indeed, it was an ideal spot for an angler, and a
lucrative one as well, for the river is naturally full of fish.
Were I the angler I have seen others, I would encamp here for the
rest of my life and feed off such phosphoric diet as I might catch,
to the quickening of the brain and the composing of the body.
But fortunately man has more of the river than of the rock in his
composition, and whether he will or no is steadily being hurried past
such nicks in life toward other adventures beyond.
The rapids here were, if anything, finer than those above Mitsushima.
Of them in all there are said to be more than thirty. Some have
nicknames, as "the Turret," "the Adze," "Boiling Rice," and "the
Mountain Bath." Indeed, probably all of them have distinctive
appellations, but one cannot ask the names of everybody in a
procession. There were some bad enough to give one a sensation.
Two of the worst rocks have been blown up, but enough still remain to
point a momentary moral or adorn an after tale. All were exhilarating.
Through even the least bad I should have been more than sorry to have
come alone. But confiding trust in the boatmen was not misplaced;
for if questionable in their morals, they were above reproach in
The rapids were incidents; the gorge we had always with us, superb
cleft that it was, hewn as by some giant axe, notching the mountain
chain imperiously for passage. Hour followed hour with the same
setting. How the river first took it into its head to come through
so manifestly unsuitable a place is a secret for the geologist to
tell. But I for one wish I had been by to see.
From morning till noon we raced with the water at the bottom of the
canon. Each turn was like, and yet unlike, the one before, so that I
wonder that I have other than a blurred composite picture on my
mind's plate. Yet certain bits have picked themselves out and ousted
the rest, and the river comes up to me in thought as vivid as in
These repeated disclosures that disclosed nothing lulled us at last
into a happy unconsciousness of end in this subterranean passage to a
lower world. Though we were cleaving the mountain chain in part
against the grain, indeed because we were, it showed no sign of
giving out; until without premonition a curve shot us out at the foot
of a village perched so perpendicularly on terraces that it almost
overhung the stream. It was called Nishinoto, and consisted of a
street that sidled up between the dwellings in a more than alpine
way. Up it we climbed aerially to a teahouse for lunch; but not
before I had directed the boatmen to discharge the smuggled goods.
In another hour we were under way again less the uninvited bales,
which, left sitting all alone on the sands, mutely reproached us till
they could be seen no more. At the first bend the gorge closed round
about us as rugged as ever. The rapids were not so dangerous as
those above, but the stream was still fast if less furious. When we
looked at the water we did not appear to be moving at all, and when
we looked up again at the bank we almost lost our balance for the
Then gradually a change crept over the face of things. The stream
grew a thought more steady, the canon a shade less wild. We passed
through some more rapids,--our last, the boatmen said. The river
began to widen, the mountains standing more respectfully apart.
They let us see nothing new, but they showed us more of themselves,
and grand buttresses they made. Then the reaches grew longer, and other
hills less high became visible ahead. By all signs we were come to
the beginning of the end. Another turn, and we were confronted with
a real view,--a very hilly view, to be sure, but one that belonged to
the world of man.
It was like coming out of a tunnel into the light.
The current hurried us on. At each bend the hills in front rose less
wild than at the bend before. Villages began to dot the shores,
and the river spread out and took its ease. Another curve, and we no
longer saw hills and rocks ahead. A great plain stretched before us,
over which our eyes wandered at will. Looking back, we marked the
mountains already closing up in line. I tried to place the river's gap,
but the barrier had grown continuous to the eye. Like adventurers in
a fairy tale, the opening through which we had come had closed
unrecognizably behind us.
In front all was plain, every-day plain, with people tilling it,
and hamlets; and in the immediate foreground, right athwart our course,
a ferryboat full of folk. As we bore down between it and the landing
place two men gesticulated at us from the bank. We swerved in toward
them. They shouted something to the boatmen, and Yejiro turned to
me. The wayfarers asked if we would let them go with us to the sea.
There was no regular conveyance, and they much desired to reach the
Tokaido that night. What would I do?
"Oh! Very well," said I, reluctantly, "take them on board."
So it had come to this, after our romantic solitary voyage! We were
to end as a common carrier, after all. One is born a demigod, the
French say, to die a grocer.
Our passengers were honest and businesslike. Soon after coming
aboard they offered to pay for their passage, an offer I politely
declined. Then they fell to chatting with Yejiro, and I doubt not in
five minutes had possessed themselves of all our immediate history.
Meanwhile, the river was lazily dropping us down to the sea. On the
left, at a respectful distance, a long, low rise, like a bit of
fortification, ran down indefinitely in the same direction, by way of
encouraging the stream. Pitiable supposition! Was this
meadow-meandering bit of water indeed our wild Tenriugawa! It seemed
impossible. Once we had a bathetic bit of excitement over a near
case of grounding, where the water had spread itself out to ripple
down to a lower level. This was all to recall the past. The stream
had grown steady and profitable. More than once we passed craft
jarringly mercantile, and even some highly respectable automations,
water-wheel boats anchored in the current, nose to tail, in a long
line, apparently paddling up stream, but never advancing an inch.
And all these sights had a work-a-day, machine look like middle age.
The afternoon aged to match. The sun began to dip behind the distant
hills; and then toward the east, in front of us, came out the long
outline of the Tokaido bridge, three quarters of a mile in length,
like a huge caterpillar crawling methodically across the river-bed.
Gradually we drew toward it, till its myriad legs glinted in the
sunset glow; and then, as we swept under, it wheeled round to become
instantly a gaunt stalking silhouette against the sky. From below by
the river's mouth the roar of the surf came forebodingly up out of
the ashen east. But in the west was still a glory, and as I turned
to it I seemed to look down the long vista of the journey to western
Noto by the sea. I thought how I had pictured it to myself before
starting, and then how little the facts had fitted the fancy. It had
lost and gained; if no longer maiden, it was mine, and the glamour
that fringes the future had but changed to the glamour that gilds the
past. Distance had brought it all back again. Delays, discomforts,
difficulties, disappeared, and its memory rose as lovely as the sky
past which I looked. For the better part of place or person is the
thought it leaves behind.