I AN ANGLO-JAPANESE MARRIAGE
VI ACROSS JAPAN
VII THE EMBASSY
VIII THE HALF-CASTE GIRL
IX ITO SAN
X THE YOSHIWARA WOMEN
XI A GEISHA DINNER
XII FALLEN CHERRY-BLOSSOMS
XIII THE FAMILY ALTAR
XIV THE DWARF TREES
XVI THE GREAT BUDDHA
XVII THE RAINY SEASON
XVIII AMONG THE NIKKO MOUNTAINS
XIX YAE SMITH
XX THE KIMONO
XXI SAYONARA (GOOD-BYE)
XXII FUJINAMI ASAKO
XXIII THE REAL SHINTO
XXIV THE AUTUMN FESTIVAL
XXV JAPANESE COURTSHIP
XXVI ALONE IN TOKYO
XXVII LADY BRANDAN
_Utsutsu wo mo
Utsutsu to sara ni
Yume wo mo yume to
Nani ka omowamu?
Since I am convinced
That Reality is in no way
How am I to admit
That dreams are dreams?_
The verses and translation above are taken from A. Waley’s “JAPANESE POETRY: THE UTA” (Clarendon Press), as are many of the classical poems placed at the head of the chapters.
AN ANGLO-JAPANESE MARRIAGE
Shiranedo kaki no
Whether the fruit be bitter
Or whether it be sweet,
The first bite tells.
The marriage of Captain the Honourable Geoffrey Barrington and Miss Asako Fujinami was an outstanding event in the season of 1913. It was bizarre, it was picturesque, it was charming, it was socially and politically important, it was everything that could appeal to the taste of London society, which, as the season advances, is apt to become jaded by the monotonous process of Hymen in High Life and by the continued demand for costly wedding presents.
Once again Society paid for its seat at St. George’s and for its glass of champagne and crumb of cake with gifts of gold and silver and precious stones enough to smother the tiny bride; but for once in a way it paid with a good heart, not merely in obedience to convention, but for the sake of participating in a unique and delightful scene, a touching ceremony, the plighting of East and West.
Would the Japanese heiress be married in a kimono with flowers and fans fixed in an elaborate _coiffure_? Thus the ladies were wondering as they craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the bride’s procession up the aisle; but, though some even stood on hassocks and pew seats, few were able to distinguish for certain. She was so very tiny. At any rate, her six tall bridesmaids were arrayed in Japanese dress, lovely white creations embroidered with birds and foliage.
It is hard to distinguish anything in the perennial twilight of St. George’s; a twilight symbolic of the new lives which emerge from its Corinthian portico into that married world about which so much has been guessed and so little is known.
One thing, however, was visible to all as the pair moved together up to the altar rails, and that was the size of the bridegroom as contrasted with the smallness of his bride. He looked like a great rough bear and she like a silver fairy. There was something intensely pathetic in the curve of his broad shoulders as he bent over the little hand to place in its proud position the diminutive golden circlet which was to unite their two lives.
As they left the church, the organ was playing _Kimi-ga-ya_, the Japanese national hymn. Nobody recognized it, except the few Japanese who were present; but Lady Everington, with that exaggeration of the suitable which is so typical of her, had insisted on its choice as a voluntary. Those who had heard the tune before and half remembered it decided that it must come from the “Mikado”; and one stern dowager went so far as to protest to the rector for permitting such a tune to desecrate the sacred edifice.
Outside the church stood the bridegroom’s brother officers. Through the gleaming passage of sword-blades, smiling and happy, the strangely assorted couple entered upon the way of wedlock, as Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Barrington–the shoot of the Fujinami grafted on to one of the oldest of our noble families.
“Are her parents here?” one lady was asking her neighbour.
“Oh, no; they are both dead, I believe.”
“What kind of people are they, do you know? Do Japs have an aristocracy and society and all that kind of thing?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. I shouldn’t think so. They don’t look real enough.”
“She is very rich, anyhow,” a third lady intervened, “I’ve heard they are big landowners in Tokyo, and cousins of Admiral Togo’s.”
* * * * *
The opportunity for closer inspection of this curiosity was afforded by the reception given at Lady Everington’s mansion in Carlton House Terrace. Of course, everybody was there. The great ballroom was draped with hangings of red and white, the national colours of Japan. Favours of the same bright hues were distributed among the guests. Trophies of Union Jacks and Rising Suns were grouped in corners and festooned above windows and doorways.
Lady Everington was bent upon giving an international importance to her protegee’s marriage. Her original plan had been to invite the whole Japanese community in London, and so to promote the popularity of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance by making the most of this opportunity for social fraternising. But where was the Japanese community in London? Nobody knew. Perhaps there was none. There was the Embassy, of course, which arrived smiling, fluent, and almost too well-mannered. But Lady Everington had been unable to push very far her programme for international amenities. There were strange little yellow men from the City, who had charge of ships and banking interests; there were strange little yellow men from beyond the West End, who studied the Fine Arts, and lived, it appeared, on nothing. But the hostess could find no ladies at all, except Countess Saito and the Embassy dames.
Monsieur and Madame Murata from Paris, the bride’s guardians, were also present. But the Orient was submerged beneath the flood of our rank and fashion, which, as one lady put it, had to take care how it stepped for fear of crushing the little creatures.
“Why _did_ you let him do it?” said Mrs. Markham to her sister.
“It was a mistake, my dear,” whispered Lady Everington, “I meant her for somebody quite different.”
“And you’re sorry now?”
“No, I have no time to be sorry–ever,” replied that eternally graceful and youthful Egeria, who is one of London’s most powerful social influences. “It will be interesting to see what becomes of them.”
Lady Everington has been criticised for stony-heartedness, for opportunism, and for selfish abuse of her husband’s vast wealth. She has been likened to an experimental chemist, who mixes discordant elements together in order to watch the results, chilling them in ice or heating them over the fire, until the lives burst in fragments or the colour slowly fades out of them. She has been called an artist in _mesalliances_, a mismatch-maker of dangerous cunning, a dangler of picturesque beggar-maids before romantic-eyed Cophetuas, a daring promoter of ambitious American girls and a champion of musical comedy peeresses. Her house has been named the Junior Bachelors Club. The charming young men who seem to be bound to its hospitable board by invisible chains are the material for her dashing improvisations and the _dramatis personae_ of the scores of little domestic comedies which she likes to keep floating around her in different stages of development.
Geoffrey Barrington had been the secretary of this club, and a favourite with the divinity who presided over it. We had all supposed that he would remain a bachelor; and the advent of Asako Fujinami into London society gave us at first no reason to change our opinion. But she was certainly attractive.
* * * * *
She ought to have been married in a kimono. There was no doubt about it now, when there was more liberty to inspect her, as she stood there shaking hands with hundreds of guests and murmuring her “Thank you very much” to the reiterated congratulations.
The white gown was perfectly cut and of a shade to give its full value to her complexion, a waxen complexion like old ivory or like a magnolia petal, in which the Mongolian yellow was ever so faintly discernible. It was a sweet little face, oval and smooth; but it might have been called expressionless if it had not been for a dimple which peeped and vanished around a corner of the small compressed mouth, and for the great deep brown eyes, like the eyes of deer or like pools of forest water, eyes full of warmth and affection. This was the feature which struck most of us as we took the opportunity to watch her in European dress with the glamour of her kimono stripped from her. They were the eyes of the Oriental girl, a creature closer to the animals than we are, lit by instinct more often than by reason, and hiding a soul in its infancy, a repressed, timorous, uncertain thing, spasmodically violent and habitually secretive and aloof.
Sir Ralph Cairns, the famous diplomat, was talking on this subject to Professor Ironside.
“The Japanese are extraordinarily quick,” he was saying, “the most adaptable people since the ancient Greeks, whom they resemble in some ways. But they are more superficial. The intellect races on ahead, but the heart lingers in the Dark Ages.”
“Perhaps intermarriage is the solution of the great racial problem,” suggested the Professor.
“Never,” said the old administrator. “Keep the breed pure, be it white, black, or yellow. Bastard races cannot flourish. They are waste of Nature.”
The Professor glanced towards the bridal pair.
“And these also?” he asked.
“Perhaps,” said Sir Ralph, “but in her case her education has been so entirely European.”
Hereupon, Lady Everington approaching, Sir Ralph turned to her and said,–
“Dear lady, let me congratulate you: this is your masterpiece.”
“Sir Ralph,” said the hostess, already looking to see which of her guests she would next pounce upon, “You know the East so well. Give me one little piece of advice to hand over to the children before they start on their honeymoon.”
Sir Ralph smiled benignly.
“Where are they going?” he asked.
“Everywhere,” replied Lady Everington, “they are going to travel.”
“Then let them travel all over the world,” he answered, “only not to Japan. That is their Bluebeard’s cupboard; and into that they must not look.”
There was more discussion of bridegroom and bride than is usual at society weddings, which are apt to become mere reunions of fashionable people, only vaguely conscious of the identity of those in whose honour they have been gathered together.
“Geoffrey Barrington is such a healthy barbarian,” said a pale young man with a monocle; “if it had been a high-browed child of culture like you, Reggie, with a taste for exotic sensations, I should hardly have been surprised.”
“And if it had been you, Arthur,” replied Reggie Forsyth of the Foreign Office, who was Barrington’s best man, “I should have known at once that it was the twenty thousand a year which was the supreme attraction.”
There was a certain amount of Anglo-Indian sentiment afloat among the company, which condemned the marriage entirely as an outrage on decency.
“What was Brandan dreaming of,” snorted General Haslam, “to allow his son to marry a yellow native?”
“Dreaming of the mortgage on the Brandan property, I expect, General,” answered Lady Rushworth.
“It’s scandalous,” foamed the General, “a fine young fellow, a fine officer, too! His career ruined for an undersized _geisha_!”
“But think of the millions of _yens_ or _sens_ or whatever they are, with which she is going to re-gild the Brandan coronet!”
“That wouldn’t console me for a yellow baby with slit eyes,” continued the General, his voice rising in debate as his custom was at the Senior.
“Hush, General!” said his interlocutor, “we don’t discuss such possibilities.”
“But everybody here must be thinking of them, except that unfortunate young man.”
“We never say what we are thinking, General; it would be too upsetting.”
“And we are to have a Japanese Lord Brandan, sitting in the House of Lords?” the General went on.
“Yes, among the Jews, Turks, and Armenians, who are there already,” Lady Rushworth answered, “an extra Oriental will never be noticed. It will only be another instance of the course of Empire taking its way Eastward.”
* * * * *
In the Everington dining-room the wedding presents were displayed. It looked more like the interior of a Bond Street shop where every kind of _article de luxe_, useful and useless, was heaped in plenty.
Perhaps the only gift which had cost less than twenty pounds was Lady Everington’s own offering, a photograph of herself in a plain silver frame, her customary present when one of her protegees was married under her immediate auspices.
“My dear,” she would say, “I have enriched you by several thousands of pounds. I have introduced you to the right people for present-giving at precisely the right moment previous to your wedding, when they know you neither too little nor too much. By long experience I have learnt to fix it to a day. But I am not going to compete with this undistinguished lavishness. I give you my picture to stand in your drawing-room as an artist puts his signature to a completed masterpiece, so that when you look around upon the furniture, the silver, the cut glass, the clocks, the engagement tablets, and the tantalus stands, the offerings of the rich whose names you have long ago forgotten, then you will confess to yourself in a burst of thankfulness to your fairy godmother that all this would never have been yours if it had not been for her!”
In a corner of the room and apart from the more ostentatious homage, stood on a small table a large market-basket, in which was lying a huge red fish, a roguish, rollicking mullet with a roving eye, all made out of a soft crinkly silk. In the basket beneath it were rolls and rolls of plain silk, red and white. This was an offering from the Japanese community in London, the conventional wedding present of every Japanese home from the richest to the poorest, varying only in size and splendour. On another small table lay a bundle of brown objects like prehistoric axe heads, bound round with red and white string, and vaguely odorous of bloater-paste. These were dried flesh of the fish called _katsuobushi_ by the Japanese, whose absence also would have brought misfortune to the newly married. Behind them, on a little tray, stood a miniature landscape representing an aged pine-tree by the sea-shore and a little cottage with a couple of old, old people standing at its door, two exquisite little dolls dressed in rough, poor kimonos, brown and white. The old man holds a rake, and the old woman holds a broom. They have very kindly faces and white silken hair. Any Japanese would recognise them at once as the Old People of Takasago, the personification of the Perfect Marriage. They are staring with wonder and alarm at the Brandan sapphires, a monumental _parure_ designed for the massive state of some Early-Victorian Lady Brandan.
Asako Fujinami had spent days rejoicing over the arrival of her presents, little interested in the identity of the givers but fascinated by the things themselves. She had taken hours to arrange them in harmonious groups. Then a new gift would arrive which would upset the balance, and she would have to begin all over again.
Besides this treasury in the dining-room, there were all her clothes, packed now for the honeymoon, a whole wardrobe of fairy-like disguises, wonderful gowns of all colours and shapes and materials. These, it is true, she had bought herself. She had always been surrounded by money; but it was only since she had lived with Lady Everington that she had begun to learn something about the thousand different ways of spending it, and all the lovely things for which it can be exchanged. So all her new things, whatever their source, seemed to her like presents, like unexpected enrichments. She had basked among her new acquisitions, silent as was her wont when she was happy, sunning herself in the warmth of her prosperity. Best of all, she never need wear kimonos again in public. Her fiance had acceded to this, her most immediate wish. She could dress now like the girls around her. She would no longer be stared at like a curio in a shop window. Inquisitive fingers would no longer clutch at the long sleeves of, crinkled silk, or try to probe the secret of the huge butterfly bow on her back. She could step out fearlessly now like English women. She could give up the mincing walk and the timid manner which she felt was somehow inseparable from her native dress.
When she told her protectress that Geoffrey had consented to its abandonment, Lady Everington had heaved a sigh.
“Poor Kimono!” she said, “it has served you well. But I suppose a soldier is glad to put his uniform away when the fighting is over. Only, never forget the mysterious power of the uniform over the other sex.”
Another day when her Ladyship had been in a bad mood, she had snapped,–
“Put those things away, child, and keep to your kimono. It is your natural plumage. In those borrowed plumes you look undistinguished and underfed.”
* * * * *
The Japanese Ambassador to the Court of St. James proposed the health of the bride and bridegroom. Count Saito was a small, wise man, whom long sojourn in European countries had to some extent de-orientalised. His hair was grizzled, his face was seamed, and he had a peering way of gazing through his gold-rimmed spectacles with head thrust forward like a man half blind, which he certainly was not.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “it is a great pleasure for me to be present on this occasion, for I think this wedding is a personal compliment to myself and to my work in this splendid country. Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Barrington are the living symbols of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance; and I hope they will always remember the responsibility resting on their shoulders. The bride and bridegroom of to-day must feel that the relations of Great Britain and Japan depend upon the perfect harmony of their married life. Ladies and gentlemen, let us drink long life and happiness to Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Barrington, to the Union Jack and to the Rising Sun!”
The toast, was drunk and three cheers were given, with an extra cheer for Mrs. Geoffrey. The husband, who was no hand at speechmaking, replied–and his good-natured voice was quite thick with emotion–that it was awfully good of them all to give his wife and himself such a ripping send-off, and awfully good of Sir George and Lady Everington especially, and awfully good of Count Saito; and that he was the happiest man in the world and the luckiest, and that his wife had told him to tell them all that she was the happiest woman, though he really did not see why she should be. Anyhow, he would do his best to give her a jolly good time. He thanked his friends for their good wishes and for their beautiful presents. They had had jolly good times together, and, in return for all their kindness, he and his wife wanted to wish them all a jolly good time.
So spoke Geoffrey Barrington; and at that moment many people present must have felt a pang of regret that this fine specimen of England’s young manhood should marry an oriental. He was over six feet high. His broad shoulders seemed to stoop a little with the lazy strength of a good-tempered carnivore, of Una’s lion, and his face, which was almost round, was set off by a mane of the real lion colour. He wore his moustache rather longer than was the fashion. It was a face which seemed ready to laugh at any moment–or else to yawn. For there was about the man’s character and appearance something indolent and half-awakened and much of the schoolboy. Yet he was over thirty. But there is always a tendency for Army life to be merely a continuation of public-school existence. Eton merges into Sandhurst, and Sandhurst merges into the regiment. One’s companions are all the time men of the same class and of the same ideas. The discipline is the same, the conventionality and the presiding fetish of Good and Bad Form. So many, generals are perennial school boys. They lose their freshness, that is all.
But Geoffrey Barrington had not lost his freshness. This was his great charm, for he certainly was not quick or witty. Lady Everington said that she kept him as a disinfectant to purify the atmosphere.
“This house,” she declared, “sometimes gets over-scented with tuberoses. Then I open the window and let Geoffrey Barrington in!”
He was the only son of Lord Brandan and heir to that ancient but impoverished title. He had been brought up to the idea that he must marry a rich wife. He neither jibbed foolishly at the proposal, nor did he surrender lightly to any of the willing heiresses who threw themselves at his head. He accepted his destiny with the fatalism which every soldier must carry in his knapsack, and took up his post as Mars in attendance in Lady Everington’s drawing-room, recognising that there lay the strategic point for achieving his purpose. He was not without hope, too, that besides obtaining the moneybags he might be so fortunate as to fall in love with the possessor of them.
Asako Fujinami, whom he had first met at dinner, at Lady Everington’s, had crossed his mind just like an exquisite bar of melody. He made no comments at the time, but he could not forget her. The haunting tune came back to him again and again. By the time that she had floated in his arms through three or four dances, the spell had worked. _La belle dame sans merci_, the enchantress who lurks in every woman, had him in thrall. Her simplest observations seemed to him to be pearls of wisdom, her every movement a triumph of grace.
“Reggie,” he said to his friend Forsyth, “what do you think of that little Japanese girl?”
Reggie, who was a diplomat by profession and a musician by the grace of God, and whose intuition was almost feminine especially where Geoffrey was concerned, answered,–
“Why, Geoffrey, are you thinking of marrying her?”
“By Jove!” exclaimed his friend, starting at the thought as at a discovery; “but I, don’t think she’d have me. I’m not her sort.”
“You never can tell,” suggested Reggie mischievously; “She is quite unspoilt, and she has twenty thousand a year. She is unique. You could not possibly get her confused with somebody else’s wife, as so many people seem to do when they get married. Why not try?”
Reggie thought that such a mating was impossible, but it amused him to play with the idea. As for Lady Everington, who knew every one so well, and who thought that she knew them perfectly, she never guessed.
“I think, Geoffrey, that you like to be seen with Asako,” she said, “just to point the contrast.”
Her confession to her sister, Mrs. Markham, was the truth. She had made a mistake; she had destined Asako for somebody quite different. It was the girl herself who had been the first to enlighten her. She came to her hostess’s boudoir one evening before the labours of the night began.
“Lady Georgie,” she had said–Lady Everington is Lady Georgie to all who know her even a little. “_Il faut que je vous dise quelque chose_.” The girl’s face glanced downward and sideways, as her habit was when embarrassed.
When Asako spoke in French it meant that something grave was afoot. She was afraid that her unsteady English might muddle what she intended to say. Lady Everington knew that it must be another proposal; she had already dealt with three.
“_Eh bien, cette fois qui est-il?_” she asked.
“_Le capitaine Geoffroi_” answered Asako. Then her friend knew that it was serious.
“What did you say to him?” she demanded.
“I tell him he must ask you.”
“But why drag me into it? It’s your own affair.”
“In France and in Japan,” said Asako, “a girl do not say Yes and No herself. It is her father and her mother who decide. I have no father or mother; so I think he must ask you.”
“And what do you want me to say?”
For answer Asako gently squeezed the elder woman’s hand, but Lady Georgie was in no mood to return the pressure. The girl at once felt the absence of the response, and said,–
“What, you do not like the _capitaine Geoffroi_?”
But her fairy godmother answered bitterly,–
“On the contrary, I have a considerable affection for Geoffrey.”
“Then,” cried Asako, starting up, “you think I am not good enough for him. It’s because I’m–not English.”
She began to cry. In spite of her superficial hardness, Lady Everington has a very tender heart. She took the girl in her arms.
“Dearest child,” she said, raising the little, moist face to hers, “don’t cry. In England we answer this great question ourselves. Our fathers and mothers and fairy godmothers have to concur. If Geoffrey Barrington has asked you to marry him, it is because he loves you. He does not scatter proposals like calling-cards, as some young men do. In fact, I have never heard of him proposing to anyone before. He does not want you to say ‘No’, of course. But are you quite ready to say ‘Yes’? Very well, wait a fortnight, and don’t see more of him than you can help in the meantime. Now, let them send for my _masseuse_. There is nothing so exhausting to the aged as the emotions of young people.”
That evening, when Lady Everington met Geoffrey at the theatre, she took him severely to task for treachery, secrecy and decadence. He, was very humble and admitted all his faults except the last, pleading as his excuse that he could not get Asako out of his head.
“Yes, that is a symptom,” said her Ladyship; “you are clearly stricken. So I fear I am too late to effect a rescue. All I can do is to congratulate you both. But, remember, a wife is not nearly so fugitive as a melody, unless she is the wrong kind of wife.”
It was a wrench for the little lady to part with the oldest of her friendships, and to give up her Geoffrey to the care of this decorative stranger whose qualities were unknown, and undeveloped. But she knew what the answer would be at the end of the fortnight. So she steeled her nerves to laugh at her friends commiserations and to make the marriage of her godchildren one of the season’s successes. It would certainly be an interesting addition to her museum of domestic dramas.
* * * * *
There was one person whom Lady Everington was determined to pump for information on that wedding-day, and had drawn into the net of her invitations for this very purpose. It was Count Saito, the Japanese Ambassador.
She cornered him as he was admiring the presents, and whisked him away to the silence and twilight of her husband’s study.
“I am so glad you were able to come, Count Saito,” she began. “I suppose you know the Fujinamis, Asako’s relatives in Tokyo?”
“No, I do not know them.” His Excellency answered, but his tone conveyed to the lady’s instinct that he personally would not wish to know them.
“But you know the name, do you not?”
“Yes, I have heard the name; there are many families called Fujinami in Japan.”
“Are they very rich?”
“Yes, I believe there are some who are very rich,” said the little diplomat, who clearly was ill at ease.
“Where does their money come from?” his inquisitor went on remorselessly, “You are keeping something from me, Count Saito. Please be frank, if there is any mystery.”
“Oh no, Lady Everington, there is no mystery, I am sure. There is one family of Fujinami who have many houses and lands in Tokyo and other towns. I will be quite open with you. They are rather what you in England call _nouveaux riches_.”
“Really!” Her Ladyship was taken aback for a moment. “But you would never notice it with Asako, would you? I mean, she does not drop her Japanese aitches, and that sort of thing, does she?”
“Oh no,” Count Saito reassured her, “I do not think Mademoiselle Asako talks Japanese language, so she cannot drop her aitches.”
“I never thought of that,” his hostess continued, “I thought that if a Japanese had money, he must be a _daimyo_, or something.”
The Ambassador smiled.
“English people,” he said, “do not know very well the true condition of Japan. Of course we have our rich new families and our poor old families just as you have in England. In some aspects our society is just the same as yours. In others, it is so, different, that you would lose your way at once in a maze of ideas which would seem to you quite upside down.”
Lady Everington interrupted his reflections in a desperate attempt to get something out of him by a surprise attack.
“How interesting,” she said, “it will be for Geoffrey Harrington and his wife to visit Japan and find out all about it.”
The Ambassador’s manner changed.
“No, I do not think,” he said, “I do not think that is a good thing at all. They must not do that. You must not let them.”
“But why not?”
“I say to all Japanese men and women who live a long time in foreign countries or who marry foreign people, ‘Do not go back to Japan,’ Japan is like a little pot and the foreign world is like a big garden. If you plant a tree from the pot into the garden and let it grow, you cannot put it back into the pot again.”
“But, in this case, that is not the only reason,” objected Lady Everington.
“No, there are many other reasons too,” the Ambassador admitted; and he rose from his sofa, indicating that the interview was at an end.
* * * * *
The bridal pair left in a motor-car for Folkestone tinder a hailstorm of rice, and with the propitious white slipper dangling from the number-plate behind.
When all her guests were gone, Lady Everington fled to her boudoir and collapsed in a little heap of sobbing finery on the broad divan. She was overtired, no doubt; but the sense of her mistake lay heavy upon her, and the feeling that she had sacrificed to it her best friend, the most humanly valuable of all the people who resorted to her house. An evil cloud of mystery hung over the young marriage, one of those sinister unfamiliar forces which travellers bring home from the East, the curse of a god or a secret poison or a hideous disease.
It would be so natural for those two to want to visit Japan and to know their second home. Yet both Sir Ralph Cairns and Count Saito, the only two men that day who knew anything about the real conditions, had insisted that such a visit would be fatal. And who were these Fujinamis whom Count Saito knew, but did not know? Why had she, who was so socially careful, taken so much for granted just because Asako was a Japanese?
_Asa no kami
Ware wa kezuraji
Kimi ga ta-makura
Fureteshi mono wo._
(My) morning sleep hair
I will not comb;
For it has been in contact with
The pillowing hand of
My beautiful Lord!
The Barringtons left England for a prolonged honeymoon, for Geoffrey was now free to realise his favourite project of travelling abroad. So they became numbered among that shoal of English people out of England, who move restless leisure between Paris and the Nile.
Geoffrey had resigned his commission in the army. His friends thought that this was a mistake. For the loss of a man’s career, even when it is uncongenial to him, is a serious amputation, and entails a lesion of spiritual blood. He had refused his father’s suggestion of settling down in a house on the Brandan estate, for Lord Brandan was an unpleasing old gentleman, a frequenter of country bars and country barmaids. His son wished to keep his young bride as far away as possible from a spectacle of which he was heartily ashamed.
First of all they went to Paris, which Asako adored; for was it not her home? But this time she made the acquaintance of a Paris unknown to her, save by rumour, in the convent days or within the discreet precincts of Monsieur Murata’s villa. She was enchanted by the theatres, the shops, the restaurants, the music, and the life which danced around her. She wanted to rent an _appartement_, and to live there for the rest of her existence.
“But the season is almost over,” said her husband; “everybody will be leaving.”
Unaccustomed as yet to his freedom, he still felt constrained to do the same as Everybody.
Before leaving Paris, they paid a visit to the Auteuil villa, which had been Asako’s home for so many years.
Murata was the manager of a big Japanese firm in Paris. He had spent almost all his life abroad and the last twenty years of it in the French capital, so that even in appearance, except for his short stature and his tilted eyes, he had come to look like a Frenchman with his beard _a l’imperiale_, and his quick bird-like gestures. His wife was a Japanese, but she too had lost almost all traces of her native mannerisms.
Asako Fujinami had been brought to Paris by her father, who had died there while still a young man. He had entrusted his only child to the care of the Muratas with instructions that she should be educated in European ways and ideas, that she should hold no communication with her relatives in Japan, and that eventually a white husband should be provided for her. He had left his whole fortune in trust for her, and the interest was forwarded regularly to M. Murata by a Tokyo lawyer, to be used for her benefit as her guardian might deem best. This money was to be the only tie between Asako and her native land.
To cut off a child from its family, of which by virtue of vested interests it must still be an important member, was a proceeding so revolutionary to all respectable Japanese ideas that even the enlightened Murata demurred. In Japan the individual counts for so little, the family for so much. But Fujinami had insisted, and disobedience to a man’s dying wish brings the curse of a “rough ghost” upon the recalcitrant, and all kinds of evil consequences.
So the Muratas took Asako and cherished her as much as their hearts, withered by exile and by unnatural living, were capable of cherishing anything. She became a daughter of the well-to-do French _bourgeoisie_, strictly but affectionately disciplined with the proper restraints on the natural growth of her brain and individuality.
Geoffrey Barrington was not very favourably impressed by the Murata household. He wondered how so bright a little flower as Asako could have been reared in such gloomy surroundings. The spirits dominant in the villa were respectable economy and slavish imitation of the tastes and habits of Parisian friends. The living-rooms were as impersonal as the rooms of a boarding-house. Neutral tints abounded, ugly browns and nightmare vegetable patterns on carpets, furniture and wallpapers. There was a marked tendency towards covers, covers for the chairs and sofas, tablecloths and covers for the tablecloths, covers for cushion-covers, antimacassars, lamp-stands, vase-stands and every kind of decorative duster. Everywhere the thick smell of concealed grime told of insufficient servants and ineffective sweeping. There was not one ornament or picture which recalled Japan, or gave a clue to the personal tastes of the owners.
Geoffrey had expected to be the nervous witness of an affecting scene between his wife and her adopted parents. But no, the greetings were polite and formal. Asako’s frock and jewellery were admired, but without that note of angry envy which often brightens the dullest talk between ladies in England. Then, they sat down to an atrocious lunch eaten in complete silence.
When the meal was over, Murata drew Geoffrey aside into his shingly garden.
“I think that you will be content with our Asa San,” he said; “the character is still plastic. In England it is different; but in France and in Japan we say it is the husband who must make the character of his wife. She is the plain white paper; let him take his brush and write on it what he will. Asa San is a very sweet girl. She is very easy to manage. She has a beautiful disposition. She does not tell lies without reason. She does not wish to make strange friends. I do not think you will have trouble with her.”
“He talks about her rather as if she were a horse,” thought Geoffrey. Murata went on,–
“The Japanese woman is the ivy which clings to the tree. She does not wish to disobey.”
“You think Asako is still very Japanese, then?” asked Geoffrey.
“Not her manners, or her looks, or even her thoughts,” replied Murata, “but nothing can change the heart.”
“Then do you think she is homesick sometimes for Japan?” said her husband.
“Oh no,” smiled Murata. The little wizened man was full of smiles. “She left Japan when she was not two years old. She remembers nothing at all.”
“I think one day we shall go to Japan,” said Geoffrey, “when we get tired of Europe, you know. It is a wonderful country, I am told; and it does not seem right that Asako should know nothing about it. Besides, I should like to look into her affairs and find out about her investments.”
Murata was staring at his yellow boots with an embarrassed air. It suddenly struck the Englishman that he, Geoffrey Harrington, was related to people who looked like that, and who now had the right to call him cousin. He shivered.
“You can trust her lawyers,” said the Japanese, “Mr. Ito is an old friend of mine. You may be quite certain that Asako’s money is safe.”
“Oh yes, of course,” assented Geoffrey, “but what exactly are her investments? I think I ought to know.”
Murata began to laugh nervously, as all Japanese do when embarrassed.
“_Mon Dieu_!” he exclaimed, “but I do not know myself. The money has been paid regularly for nearly twenty years; and I know the Fujinami are very rich. Indeed, Captain Barrington, I do not think Asako would like Japan. It was her father’s last wish that she should never return there.”
“But why?” asked Geoffrey. He felt that Murata was keeping something from him. The little man answered,–
“He thought that for a woman the life is more happy in Europe; he wished Asako to forget altogether that she was Japanese.”
“Yes, but now she is married and her future is fixed. She is not going back permanently to Japan, but just to see the country. I think we would both of us like to. People say it is a magnificent country.”
“You are very kind,” said Murata, “to speak so of my country. But the foreign people who marry Japanese are happy if they stay in their own country, and Japanese who marry foreigners are happy if they go away from Japan. But if they stay in Japan they are not happy. The national atmosphere in Japan is too strong for those people who are not Japanese or are only half Japanese. They fade. Besides life in Japan is very poor and rough. I do not like it myself.”
Somehow Geoffrey could not accept these as being the real reasons. He had never had a long talk with a Japanese man before; but he felt that if they were all like that, so formal, so unnatural, so secretive, then he had better keep out of the range of Asako’s relatives.
He wondered what his wife really thought of the Muratas, and during the return to their hotel, he asked,–
“Well, little girl, do you want to go back again and live at Auteuil?”
She shook her head.
“But it is nice to think you have always got an extra home in Paris, isn’t it?” he went on, fishing for an avowal that home was in his arms only, a kind of conversation which was the wine of life to him at that period.
“No,” she answered with a little shudder, “I don’t call that home.”
Geoffrey’s conventionality was a little bit shocked at this lack of affection; he was also disappointed at not getting exactly the expected answer.
“Why, what was wrong with it?” he asked.
“Oh, it was not pretty or comfortable,” she said, “they were so afraid to spend money. When I wash my hands, they say, ‘Do not use too much soap; it is waste.'”
* * * * *
Asako was like a little prisoner released into the sunlight. She dreaded the idea of being thrust back into darkness again.
In this new life of hers anything would have made her happy, that is to say, anything new, anything given to her, anything good to eat or drink, anything soft and shimmery to wear, anything–so long as her big husband was with her. He was the most fascinating of all her novelties. He was much nicer than Lady Everington; for he was not always saying, “Don’t,” or making clever remarks, which she could not understand. He gave her absolutely her own way, and everything that she admired. He reminded her of an old Newfoundland dog who had been her slave when she was a little girl.
He used to play with her as he would have played with a child, watching her as she tried on her finery, hiding things for her to find, holding them over her head and making her jump for them like a puppy, arranging her ornaments for her in those continual private exhibitions which took up so much of her time. Then she would ring the bell and summon all the chambermaids within call to come and admire; and Geoffrey would stand among all these womenfolk, listening to the chorus of “_Mon Dieu!_” and “_Ah, que c’est beau!_” and “_Ah, qu’elle est gentille!_” like some Hector who had strayed into the _gynaeceum_ of Priam’s palace. He felt a little foolish, perhaps, but very happy, happy in his wife’s naive happiness and affection, which did not require any mental effort to understand, nor that panting pursuit on which he had embarked more than once in order to keep up with the witty flirtatiousness of some of the beauties of Lady Everington’s _salon_.
Happiness shone out of Asako like light. But would she always be happy? There were the possibilities of the future to be reckoned with, sickness, childbirth, and the rearing of children, the hidden development of the character which so often grows away from what it once cherished, the baleful currents of outside influences, the attraction and repulsion of so-called friends and enemies all of which complicate the primitive simplicity of married life and forfeit the honeymoon Eden. Adam and Eve in the garden of the Creation can hear the voice of God whispering in the evening breeze; they can live without jars and ambitions, without suspicion and without reproaches. They have no parents, no parents-in-law, no brothers, sisters, aunts, or guardians, no friends to lay the train of scandal or to be continually pulling them from each other’s arms. But the first influence which crosses the walls of their paradise, the first being to whom they speak, which possesses the semblance of a human voice, is most certainly Satan and that Old Serpent, who was a liar and a slanderer from the beginning, and whose counsels will lead inevitably to the withdrawal of God’s presence and to the doom of a life of pain and labor.
There was one cloud in the heaven of their happiness. Geoffrey was inclined to tease Asako about her native country. His ideas about Japan were gleaned chiefly from musical comedies. He would call his wife Yum Yum and Pitti Sing. He would fix the end of one of her black veils under his hat, and would ask her whether she liked him better with a pigtail.
“Captain Geoffrey,” she would complain, “it is the Chinese who wear the pigtail; they are a very savage people.”
Then he would call her his little _geisha_, and this she resented; for she knew from the Muratas that _geisha_ were bad women who took husbands away from their wives, and that was no joking matter.
“What nonsense!” exclaimed Geoffrey, taken aback by this sudden reproof: “they are dear little things like you, darling, and they bring you tea and wave fans behind your head, and I would like to have twenty of them–to wait upon you!”
He would tease her about a supposed fondness for rice, for chop-sticks, for paper umbrellas and _jiujitsu._ She liked him to tease her, just as a child likes to be teased, while all the time on the verge of tears. With Asako, tears and laughter were never far apart.
“Why do you tease me because I am Japanese?” she would sob; “besides, I’m not really. I can’t help it. I can’t help it!”
“But, sweetheart,” her Captain Geoffrey would say, suddenly ashamed of his elephantine humour, “there’s nothing to cry about. I would be proud to be a Japanese. They are jolly brave people. They gave the Russians a jolly good hiding.”
It made her feel well to hear him praise her people, but she would say:
“No, no, they’re not. I don’t want to be a Jap. I don’t like them. They’re ugly and spiteful. Why can’t we choose what we are? I would be an English girl–or perhaps French,” she added, thinking of the Rue de la Paix.
* * * * *
They left Paris and went to Deauville; and here it was that the serpent first crawled into Eden, whispering of forbidden fruit. These serpents were charming people, amusing men and smart women, all anxious to make the acquaintance of the latest sensation, the Japanese millionairess and her good-looking husband.
Asako lunched with them and dined with them and sat with them near the sea in wonderful bathing costumes which it would be a shame to wet. Conscious of the shortcomings of her figure as compared with those of the lissom mermaids who surrounded her, Asako returned to kimonos, much to her husband’s surprise; and the mermaids had to confess themselves beaten.
She listened to their talk and learned a hundred things, but another hundred at least remained hidden from her.
Geoffrey left his wife to amuse herself in the cosmopolitan society of the French watering-place. He wanted this. All the wives whom he had ever known seemed to enjoy themselves best when away from their husbands’ company. He did not quite trust the spirit of mutual adoration, which the gods had given to him and his bride. Perhaps it was an unhealthy symptom. Worse still, it might be Bad Form. He wanted Asako to be natural and to enjoy herself, and not to make their love into a prison house.
But he felt a bit lonely when he was away from her. Occupation did not seem to come easily to him as it did when she was there to suggest it. Sometimes he would loaf up and down on the esplanade; and sometimes he would take strenuous swims in the sea. He became the prey of the bores who haunt every seaside place at home and abroad, lurking for lonely and polite people upon whom they may unload their conversation.
All these people seemed either to have been in Japan themselves or to have friends and relations who knew the country thoroughly.
A wonderful land, they assured him. The nation of the future, the Garden of the East, but of course Captain Barrington knew Japan well. No, he had never been there? Ah, but Mrs. Barrington must have described it all to him. Impossible! Really? Not since she was a baby? How very extraordinary! A charming country, so quaint, so original, so picturesque, such a place to relax in; and then the Japanese girls, the little _mousmes_, in their bright kimonos, who came fluttering round like little butterflies, who were so gentle and soft and grateful; but there! Captain Barrington was a married man, that was no affair of his. Ha! Ha!
The elderly _roues_, who buzzed like February flies in the sunshine of Deauville, seemed to have particularly fruity memories of tea-house sprees and oriental philanderings under the cherry-blossoms of Yokohama. Evidently, Japan was just like the musical comedies.
Geoffrey began to be ashamed of his ignorance concerning his wife’s native country. Somebody had asked him, what exactly _bushido_ was. He had answered at random that it was made of rice and curry powder. By the hilarious reception given to this explanation he knew that he must have made a _gaffe_. So he asked one of the more erudite bores to give him the names of the best books about Japan. He would “mug it up,” and get some answers off pat to the leading questions. The erudite one promptly lent him some volumes by Lafcadio Hearn and Pierre Loti’s _Madame Chrysantheme_. He read the novel first of all. Rather spicy, wasn’t it?
Asako found the book. It was an illustrated edition; and the little drawings of Japanese scenes pleased her immensely, so that she began to read the letter press.
“It is the story of a bad man and a bad woman,” she said; “Geoffrey, why do you read bad things? They bring bad conditions.”
Geoffrey smiled. He was wondering whether the company of the fictitious _Chrysantheme_ was more demoralizing than that of the actual Mme. Laroche Meyerbeer, with whom his wife had been that day for a picnic lunch.
“Besides, it isn’t fair,” his wife continued. “People read that book and then they think that all Japanese girls are bad like that.”
“Why, darling, I didn’t think you had read it,” Geoffrey expostulated, “who has been telling you about it?”
“The Vicomte de Brie,” Asako answered. “He called me _Chrysantheme_ and I asked him why.”
“Oh, did he?” said Geoffrey. Really it was time to put an end to lunch picnics and mermaidism. But Asako was so happy and so shiningly innocent.
She returned to her circle of admirers, and Geoffrey to his studies of the Far East. He read the Lafcadio Hearn books, and did not perceive that he was taking opium. The wonderful sentences of that master of prose poetry rise before the eyes in whorls of narcotic smoke. They lull the brain as in a dream, and form themselves gradually into visions of a land more beautiful than any land that has ever existed anywhere, a country of vivid rice plains and sudden hills, of gracious forests and red temple gateways, of wise priests and folk-lore imagery, of a simple-hearted smiling people with children bright as flowers laughing and playing in unfailing sunlight, a country where everything is kind, gentle, small, neat, artistic, and spotlessly clean, where men become gods not by sudden apotheosis but by the easy processes of nature, a country, in short, which is the reverse of our own poor vexed continent where the monstrous and the hideous multiply daily.
One afternoon Geoffrey was lounging on the terrace of the hotel reading _Kokoro_, when his attention was attracted by the arrival of Mme. Laroche Meyerbeer’s motor-car with Asako, her hostess and another woman embedded in its depths. Asako was the first to leap out. She went up to her apartment without looking to right or left, and before her husband had time to reach her. Mme. Meyerbeer watched this arrow flight and shrugged her shoulders before lazily alighting.
“Is all well?” asked Geoffrey.
“No serious damage,” smiled the lady, who is known in Deauville as _Madame Cythere_, “but you had better go and console her. I think she has seen the devil for the first time.”
He opened the door of their sunny bedroom, and found Asako packing feverishly, and sobbing in spasms.
“My poor little darling,” he said, lifting her in his arms, “whatever is the matter?”
He laid her on the sofa, took off her hat, and loosened her dress, until gradually she became coherent.
“He tried to kiss me,” she sobbed.
“Who did?” her husband asked.
“The Vicomte de Brie.”
“Damned little monkey,” cried Geoffrey, “I’ll break every miserable bone in his pretence of a body.”
“Oh, no, no,” protested Asako, “let us go away from here at once. Let us go to Switzerland, anywhere.”
The serpent had got into the garden, but he had not been a very adroit reptile. He had shown his fangs; and the woman had promptly bruised his head and had given him an eye like an Impressionist sunset, which for several days he had to hide from the ridicule of his friends.
But Asako too had been grievously injured in the innocence of her heart; and it took all the snow winds of the Engadine to blow away from her face the hot defilement of the man’s breath. She clung closely to her husband’s protection. She, who had hitherto abandoned herself to excessive amiability, barbed the walls of their violated paradise with the broken glass of bare civility. Every man became suspect, the German professors culling Alpine plants, the mountain maniacs with their eyes fixed on peaks to conquer. She had no word for any of them. Even the manlike womenfolk, who golfed and rowed and clambered, were to her indignant eyes dangerous panders to the lusts of men, disguised allies of _Madame Cythere_.
“Are they all bad?” she asked Geoffrey.
“No, little girl, I don’t suppose so. They look too dismal to be bad.”
Geoffrey was grateful for the turn of events which had delivered up his wife again into his sole company. He had missed her society more than he dared confess; for uxoriousness is a pitiful attitude. In fact, it is Bad Form.
At this period he wanted her as a kind of mirror for his own mind and for his own person. She saw to it that his clothes were spotless and that his tie was straight. Of course, he always dressed for dinner even when they dined in their room. She too would dress herself up in her new finery for his eyes alone. She would listen to him laying down the law on subjects which he would not dare broach were he talking to any one else. She flattered him in that silent way which is so soothing to a man of his character. Her mind seemed to absorb his thoughts with the readiness of blotting paper; and he did not pause to observe whether the impression had come out backwards or forwards. He who had been so mute among Lady Everington’s geniuses fell all of a sudden into a loquaciousness which was merely the reaction of his love for his wife, the instinct which makes the male bird sing. He just went on talking; and every day he became in his own estimation and in that of Asako, a more intelligent, a more original and a more eloquent man.
_Nagaki yo no
To no nemuri no
Nami nori fune no
Oto no yoki kana_.
From the deep sleep
Of a long night
Sweet is the sound
Of the ship as it rides the waves.
When August snow fell upon St. Moritz, the Barringtons descended to Milan, Florence, Venice and Rome. Towards Christmas they found their way to the Riviera, where they met Lady Everington at Monte Carlo, very indignant, or pretending to be so, at the neglect with which she had been treated.
“Fairy godmothers are important people,” she said, “and very easily offended. Then, they turn you into wild animals, or send you to sleep for a hundred years. Why didn’t you write to me, child?”
They were sitting on the terrace with the Casino behind them, overlooking the blue Mediterranean. A few yards farther on, a tall, young Englishman was chatting and laughing with a couple of girls too elaborately beautiful and too dazzlingly gowned for any world but the half-world. Suddenly he turned, and noticed Lady Everington. With a courteous farewell to his companions, he advanced to greet her.
“Aubrey Laking,” she exclaimed, “you never answered the letter I wrote to you at Tokyo.”
“Dear Lady Georgie, I left Tokyo ages ago. It followed me back to England; and I am now second secretary at Christiania. That is why I am in Monte Carlo!”
“Then let me introduce you to Asako Fujinami, who is now Mrs. Barrington. You must tell her all about Tokyo. It is her native city; but she has not seen it since she was in long clothes, if Japanese babies wear such things.”
Aubrey Laking and Barrington had been at Eton together. They were old friends, and were delighted to meet once more. Barrington, especially, was pleased to have this opportunity to hear about Japan from one who had but lately left the country, and who was moreover a fluent and agreeable talker. Laking had not resided in Japan long enough to get tired of orientalism. He described the quaint, the picturesque, the amusing side of life in the East. He was full of enthusiasm for the land of soft voices and smiling faces, where countless little shops spread their wares under the light of the evening lanterns, where the twang of the _samisen_ and the _geisha’s_ song are heard coming from the lighted tea-house, and the shadow of her helmet-like _coiffure_ is seen appearing and disappearing in silhouette against the paper _shoji_.
* * * * *
The East was drawing the Barringtons towards its perilous coasts. Laking’s position at the Tokyo Embassy had been taken by Reggie Forsyth, one of Geoffrey’s oldest friends, his best man at his wedding and a light of Lady Everington’s circle. Already, Geoffrey had sent him a post-card, saying, “Warm up the _sake_ bottle,” (Geoffrey was becoming quite learned in things Japanese), “and expect friends shortly.”
However, when the Barringtons did at last tear themselves from the Riviera, they announced rather disingenuously that they were going to Egypt.
“They are too happy,” Lady Everington said to Laking a few days later, “and they know nothing. I am afraid there will be trouble.”
“Oh, Lady Georgie,” he replied, “I have never known you to be a prophetess of gloom. I would have thought the auspices were most fortunate.”
“They ought to quarrel more than they do,” Lady Everington complained. “She ought to contradict him more than she does. There must be a volcanic element in marriage. It is a sign of trouble coming when the fires are quiet.”
“But they have got plenty of money,” expostulated Aubrey, whose troubles were invariably connected with his banking account, “and they are very fond of each other. Where is the trouble to come from?”
“Trouble is on the lookout for all of us, Aubrey,” said his companion, “it is no good flying from it, even. The only thing to do is to look it in the face and laugh at it; then it gets annoyed sometimes, and goes away. But those two poor dears are sailing into the middle of it, and they don’t even know how to laugh yet.”
“You think that Egypt is hopelessly demoralising. Thousands of people go there and come safely home, almost all, in fact, except Robert Hichens’s heroines.”
“Oh no, not in Egypt,” said Lady Everington; “Egypt is only a stepping-stone. They are going to Japan.”
“Well, certainly Japan is harmless enough. There is nobody there worth flirting with except us at the Embassies, and we generally have our hands full. As for the visitors, they are always under the influence of Cook’s tickets and Japanese guides.”
“Aubrey dear, you think that trouble can only come from flirting or money.”
“I know that those two preoccupations are an abundant source of trouble.”
“What do you think of Mrs. Barrington?” asked her Ladyship, appearing to change the subject.
“Oh, a very sweet little thing.”
“Like your lady friends in Tokyo, the Japanese ones, I mean?”
“Not in the least. Japanese ladies look very picturesque, but they are as dull as dolls. They sidle along in the wake of their husbands, and don’t expect to be spoken to.”
“And have you no more intimate experience?” asked Lady Everington. “Really, Aubrey, you have not been living up to your reputation.”
“Well, Lady Georgie,” the young man proceeded, gazing at his polished boots with a well-assumed air of embarrassment, “since I know that you are one of the enlightened ones, I will confess to you that I did keep a little establishment _a la_ Pierre Loti. My Japanese teacher thought it would be a good way of improving my knowledge of the local idiom; and this knowledge meant an extra hundred pounds to me for interpreter’s allowance, as it is called. I thought, too, that it would be a relief after diplomatic dinner parties to be able to swear for an hour or so, big round oaths in the company of a dear beloved one who would not understand me. So my teacher undertook to provide me with a suitable female companion. He did. In fact, he introduced me to his sister; and the suitability was based on the fact that she held the same position under my predecessor, a man whom I dislike exceedingly. But this I only found out later on. She was dull, deadly dull. I couldn’t even make her jealous. She was as dull as my Japanese grammar; and when I had passed my examination and burnt my books, I dismissed her.”
“Aubrey, what a very wicked story!”
“No, Lady Georgie, it was not even wicked. She was not real enough to sin with. The affair had not even the excitement of badness to keep it going.”
“Do you know the Japanese well?” Lady Everington returned to the highroad of her inquiry.
“No, nobody does; they are a most secretive people.”
“Do you think that, if the Barringtons go to Japan, there is any danger of Asako being drawn back into the bosom of her family?”
“No, I shouldn’t think so,” Laking replied, “Japanese life is so very uncomfortable, you know, even to the Japs themselves, when once they have got used to living in Europe or America. They sleep on the floor, their clothes are inconvenient, and their food is nasty, even in the houses of the rich ones.”
“Yes, it must be a peculiar country. What do you think is the greatest shock for the average traveller who goes there?”
“Lady Georgie, you are asking me very searching questions to-day. I don’t think I will answer any more.”
“Just this one,” she pleaded.
He considered his boots again for a moment, and then, raising his face to hers with that humorous challenging look which he assumes when on the verge of some indiscretion, he replied,–
“Yes,” said her Ladyship, “I have heard of such a place. It is a kind of Vanity Fair, isn’t it, for all the _cocottes_ Of Tokyo?”
“It’s more than that,” Laking answered; “it is a market of human flesh, with nothing to disguise the crude fact except the picturesqueness of the place. It is a square enclosure as large as a small town. In this enclosure are shops, and in the shop windows women are displayed just like goods, or like animals in cages; for the windows have wooden bars. Some of the girls sit there stolidly like stuffed images, some of them come to the bars and try to catch hold of the passers-by, just like monkeys, and joke with them and shout after them. But I could not understand what they said–fortunately, perhaps. The girls,–there must be several thousands–are all dressed up in bright kimonos. It really is a very pretty sight, until one begins to think. They have their price tickets hung up in the shop windows, one shilling up to one pound. That is the greatest shock which Japan has in store for the ordinary tourist.”
Lady Everington was silent for a moment; her flippant companion had become quite serious.
“After all,” she said, “is it any worse than Piccadilly Circus at night?”
“It is not a question of better or worse,” argued Laking. “Such a purely mercenary system is a terrible offence to our most cherished belief. We may be hypocrites, but our hypocrisy itself is an admission of guilt and an act of worship. To us, even to the readiest sinners among us, woman is always something divine. The lowest assignation of the streets has at least a disguise of romance. It symbolises the words and the ways of Love, even if it parodies them. But to the Japanese, woman must be merely animal. You buy a girl as you buy a cow.”
Lady Everington shivered, but she tried to live up to her reputation of being shocked by nothing.
“Well, that is true, after all, whether in Piccadilly or in the Yoshiwara. All prostitution is just a commercial transaction.”
“Perhaps,” said the young diplomat, “but what about the Ideal at the back of our minds? Passion is often a grotesque incarnation of the Ideal, like a savage’s rude image of his god. A glimpse of the ideal is possible in Piccadilly, and impossible in the Yoshiwara. The divine something was visible in Marguerite Gautier; little Hugh saw it even in Nana. For one thing, here in London, in the dirtiest of sordid dramas, it is still the woman who gives, but in Japan it is always the man who takes.”
“Aubrey,” said his friend, “I had no idea that you were a poet, or in other words that you ever talked nonsense without laughing. You think such a shock is strong enough to upset the Barrington _menage_?”
“It will give furiously to think,” he answered, “to poor old Geoffrey, who is a very straight, clean and honest fellow, not overused to furious thinking. I suppose if one married a monkey, one might persuade oneself of her humanity, until one saw her kindred in cages.”
“Poor little Asako, my latest god-daughter!” cried Lady Everington. “Really, Aubrey, you are very rude!”
“I did not mean to be,” said Laking penitently. “She is a most ingratiating little creature, like a lazy kitten; but I think it is unwise for him to take her to Japan. All kinds of latent orientalisms may develop.”
* * * * *
The spring was at hand, the season of impulse, when we obey most readily the sudden stirrings of our hearts. Even in the torrid climate of Egypt, squalls of rain passed over like stray birds of passage. Asako Barrington felt the fresh influence and the desire to do new things in new places. Hitherto she had evinced very little inclination to revisit the home of her ancestors. But on their return from the temples of Luxor, she said quite unexpectedly to Geoffrey,–
“If we go to Japan now, we shall be in time to see the cherry-blossoms.”
“Why, little Yum Yum,” cried her husband, delighted, “are you tired of Pharaohs?”
“Egypt is very interesting,” said Asako, correctly; “it is wonderful to think of these great places standing here for thousands and thousands of years. But it makes one sad, don’t you think? Everybody here seems to have died long, long ago. It would be nice to see green fields again, wouldn’t it, Geoffrey dearest?”
The voice of the Spring was speaking clearly.
“And you really want to go to Japan, sweetheart? It’s the first time I’ve heard you say you want to go.”
“Uncle and Aunt Murata in Paris used always to say about now, ‘If we go back to Japan we shall be in time to see the cherry-blossoms.'”
“Why,” asked Geoffrey, “do the Japanese make such a fuss about their cherry-blossoms?”
“They must be very pretty,” answered his wife, “like great clouds of snow. Besides, the cherry-flowers are supposed to be like the Japanese spirit.”
“So you are my little cherry-blossom–is that right?”
“Oh no, not the women,” she replied, “the men are the cherry-blossoms.”
Geoffrey laughed. It seemed absurd to him to compare a man to the frail and transient beauty of a flower.
“Then what about the Japanese ladies,” he asked, “if the men are blossoms?”
Asako did not think they had any special flower to symbolise their charms. She suggested,–
“The bamboo, they say, because the wives have to bend under the storms when their husbands are angry. But, Geoffrey, you are never angry. You do not give me a chance to be like the bamboo.”
Next day, he boldly booked their tickets for Tokyo.
The long sea voyage was a pleasant experience, broken by fleeting visits to startled friends in Ceylon and at Singapore, and enlivened by the close ephemeral intimacies of life on board ship.
There was a motley company on board _S.S. Sumatra_; a company whose most obvious elements, the noisy and bibulous pests in the smoking-room and the ladies of mysterious destination with whom they dallied, were dismissed by Geoffrey at once as being terrible bounders. Beneath this scum more congenial spirits came to light, officers and Government officials returning to their posts, and a few globe-trotters of leisure. Everybody seemed anxious to pay attention to the charming Japanese lady; and from such incessant attention it is difficult to escape within the narrow bounds of ship life. The only way to keep off the impossibles was to form a bodyguard of the possibles. The seclusion of the honeymoon paradise had to be opened up for once in a way.
Of course, there was much talk about the East; but it was a different point of view, from that of the enthusiasts of Deauville and the Riviera. These men and women had many of them lived in India, the Malay States, Japan, or the open ports of China, lived there to earn their bread and butter, not to dream about the Magic of the Orient. For such as these the romance had faded. The pages of their busy lives were written within a mourning border of discontent, of longing for that home land, to which on the occasion of their rare holidays they returned so readily, and which seemed to have no particular place or use for them when they did return. They were members of the British Dispersion; but their Zion was of more comfort to them as a sweet memory than as an actual home.
“Yes,” they would say about the land of their exile, “it is very picturesque.”
But their faces, lined or pale, their bitterness and their reticence, told of years of strain, laboriously money-earning, in lands where relaxations are few and forced, where climatic conditions are adverse, where fevers lurk, and where the white minority are posted like soldiers in a lonely fort, ever suspicious, ever on the watch.
* * * * *
The most faithful of Asako’s bodyguard was a countryman of her own, Viscount Kamimura, the son of a celebrated Japanese statesman and diplomat, who, after completing his course at Cambridge, was returning to his own country for the first time after many years.
He was a shy gentle youth, very quiet and refined, a little effeminate, even, in his exaggerated gracefulness and in his meticulous care for his clothes and his person. He avoided all company except that of the Barringtons, probably because a similarity in circumstances formed a bond between him and his country-woman.
He had a high, intellectual forehead, the beautiful deep brown eyes of Asako, curling, sarcastic lips, a nose almost aquiline but starting a fraction of an inch too low between his eyes. He had read everything, he remembered everything, and he had played lawn tennis for his university.
He was returning to Japan to be married. When Geoffrey asked him who his fiancee was, he replied that he did not know yet, but that his relatives would tell him as soon as ever he arrived in Japan.
“Haven’t you got any say in the matter?” asked the Englishman.
“Oh yes,” he answered, “If I actually dislike her, I need not marry her; but, of course, the choice is limited, so I must try not to be too hard to please.”
Geoffrey thought that it must be because of his extreme aristocracy that so few maidens in Japan were worthy of his hand. But Asako asked the question,–
“Why is the choice so small?”
“You see,” he said, “there are not many girls in Japan who can speak both English and French, and as I am going into the Diplomatic Service and shall leave Japan again shortly, that is an absolute necessity; besides, she must have a very good degree from her school.”
Geoffrey could hardly restrain himself from laughing. This idea of choosing a wife like a governess for her linguistic accomplishments seemed to him exceedingly comic.
“You don’t mind trusting other people,” he said, “to arrange your marriage for you?”
“Certainly not,” said the young Japanese, “they are my own relatives, and they will do their best for me. They are all older than I am, and they have had the experience of their own marriages.”
“But,” said Geoffrey, “when you saw your friends in England choosing for themselves, and falling in love and marrying for love’s sake–?”
“Some of them chose for themselves and married barmaids and divorced persons, just for the reason that they were in love and uncontrolled. So they brought shame on their families, and are probably now very unhappy. I think they would have done better if they had let their relatives choose for them.”
“Yes; but the others who marry girls of their own set?”
“I think their choice is not really free at all. I do not think it is so much the girl who attracts them. It is the plans and intentions of those around them which urge them on. It is a kind of mesmerism. The parents of the young man and the parents of the young girl make the marriage by force of will. That also is a good way. It is not so very different from our system in Japan.”
“Don’t you think that people in England marry because they love each other?” asked Asako.
“Perhaps so,” replied Kamimura, “but in our Japanese language we have no word which is quite the same as your word Love. So they say we do not know what this Love is. It may be so, perhaps. Anyhow Mr. Barrington will not wish to learn Japanese, I think.”
Geoffrey liked the young man. He was a good athlete, he was unassuming and well-bred, he clearly knew the difference between Good and Bad Form. Geoffrey’s chief misgiving with regard to Japan had been a doubt as to the wisdom of making the acquaintance of his wife’s kindred. How dreadful if they turned out to be a collection of oriental curios with whom he would not have one idea in common!
The company of this young aristocrat, in no way distinguishable from an Englishman except for a certain grace and maturity, reassured him. No doubt his wife would have cousins like this; clean, manly fellows who would take him shooting and with whom he could enjoy a game of golf. He thought that Kamimura must be typical of the young Japanese of the upper classes. He did not realize that he was an official product, chosen by his Government and carefully moulded and polished, not to be a Japanese at home, but to be a Japanese abroad, the qualified representative of a First Class Power.
Kamimura left the boat with them at Colombo and joined them in their visit to some tea-planting relatives. He was ready to do the same at Singapore, but he received an urgent cable from Japan recalling him at once.
“I must not be too late for my own wedding,” he said, during their last lunch together at Raffles’s Hotel. “It would be a terrible sin against the laws of Filial Piety.”
“Whatever is that?” asked Asako.
“Dear Mrs. Barrington, are you a daughter of Japan, and have never heard of the Twenty-four Children?”
“No; who are they?”
“They are model children, the paragons of goodness, celebrated because of their love for their fathers and mothers. One of them walked miles and miles every day to get water from a certain spring for his sick mother; another, when a tiger was going to eat his father, rushed to the animal and cried, ‘No, eat me instead!’ Little boys and girls in Japan are always being told to be like the Twenty-four Children.”
“Oh, how I’d hate them!” cried Asako.
“That is because you are a rebellious, individualistic Englishwoman. You have lost that sense of family union, which makes good Japanese, brothers and cousins and uncles and aunts, all love each other publicly, however much they may hate each other in private.”
“That is very hypocritical!”
“It is the social law,” replied Kamimura. “In Japan the family is the important thing. You and I are nothing. If you want to get on in the world you must always be subject to your family. Then you are sure to get on however stupid you may be. In England you seem to use your families chiefly to quarrel with.”
“I think our relatives ought to be just our best friends,” said Asako.
“They are that too in a way,” the young man answered. “In Japan it would be better to be born without hands and feet than to be born without relatives.”
Akashi no ura no
Fune wo shi zo omou._
My thoughts are with a boat
Which travels island-hid
In the morning-mist
Of the shore of Akashi
After Hongkong, they let the zone of eternal summer behind them. The crossing from Shanghai to Japan was rough, and the wind bitter. But on the first morning in Japanese waters Geoffrey was on deck betimes to enjoy to the full the excitement of arrival. They were approaching Nagasaki. It was a misty dawn. The sky was like mother-of-pearl, and the sea like mica. Abrupt grey islands appeared and disappeared, phantasmal, like guardian spirits of Japan, representatives of those myriads of Shinto deities who have the Empire in their keeping.
Then, suddenly from behind the cliff of one of the islands a fishing boat came gliding with the silent stateliness of a swan. The body of the boat was low and slender, built of some white, shining wood; from the middle rose the high sail like a silver tower. It looked like the soul of that sleeping island setting out upon a dream journey.
The mist was dissolving, slowly revealing more islands and more boats. Some of them passed quite close to the steamer; and Geoffrey could see the fishermen, dwarfish figures straining at the oar or squatting at the bottom of the boat, looking like Nibelungen on the quest for the Rhinegold. He could hear their strange cries to each other and to the steamer, harsh like the voice of sea-gulls.
Asako came on deck to join her husband. The thrill of returning to Japan had scattered her partiality for late sleeping. She was dressed in a tailor-made coat and skirt of navy-blue serge. Her shoulders were wrapped in a broad stole of sable. Her head was bare. Perhaps it was the inherited instinct of generations of Japanese women, who never cover their heads, which made her dislike hats and avoid wearing them if possible.
The sun was still covered, but the view was clear as far as the high mountains on the horizon towards which the ship was ploughing her way.
“Look, Asako, Japan!”
She was not looking at the distance. Her eyes were fixed on an emerald islet half a mile or less from the steamer’s course, a jewel of the seas. It rose to the height of two hundred feet or so, a conical knoll, densely wooded. On the summit appeared a scar of rock like a ruined castle, and, rising from the rock’s crest, a single pine-tree. Its trunk was twisted by all the winds of Heaven. Its long, lean branches groped the air like the arms of a blinded demon. It seemed to have an almost human personality an expression of fruitless striving, pathetic yet somehow sinister–a Prometheus among trees. Geoffrey followed his wife’s gaze to the base of the island where a shoal of brown rocks trailed out to seawards. In a miniature bay he saw a tiny beach of golden sand, and, planted in the sand, a red gateway, two uprights and two lintels, the lower one held between the posts, the upper one laid across them and protruding on either side. It is the simplest of architectural designs, but strangely suggestive. It transformed that wooded island into a dwelling-place. It cast an enchantment over it, and seemed to explain the meaning of the pine-tree. The place was holy, an abode of spirits.
Geoffrey had read enough by now to recognize the gateway as a “_torii_”; a religious symbol in Japan which always announces the neighbourhood of a shrine. It is a common feature of the country-side, as familiar as the crucifix in Catholic lands.
But Asako, seeing the beauty of her country for the first time, and unaware of the dimming cloud of archaeological explanations, clapped her hands together three times in sheer delight; or was it in unconscious obedience to the custom of her race which in this way calls upon its gods? Then with a movement entirely occidental she threw her arms round her husband’s neck, kissing him with all the devotion of her being.
“Dear old Geoffrey, I love you so,” she murmured. Her brown eyes were full of tears.
* * * * *
The steamer passed into a narrow channel, a kind of fiord, with wooded hills on both sides. The forests were green with spring foliage. Never had Geoffrey seen such a variety or such density of verdure. Every tree seemed to be different from its neighbour; and the hillsides were packed with trees like a crowded audience. Here and there a spray of mountain cherry-blossom rose among the green like a jet of snow.
At the foot of the woods, by the edge of the calm water, the villages nestled. Only roofs could be seen, high, brown, thatched roofs with a line of sword-leaved irises growing along the roof-ridge like a crown. These native cottages looked like timid animals, cowering in their forms under the protecting trees. One felt that at any time an indiscreet hoot of the steamer might send them scuttering back to the forest depths. There were no signs of life in these submerged villages, where the fight between the forester’s axe and primal vegetation seemed still undecided. Life was there; but it was hidden under the luxuriance of the overgrowth, hidden to casual passers-by like the life of insects. Only by the seaside, where the houses were clustered together above a seawall of cyclopean stones, and on the beach, where the long narrow boats, sharp-prowed and piratical, were drawn up to the shore, the same gnome-like little men, with a generous display of naked brown limbs, were sawing and hammering and mending their nets.
The steamer glided up the fiord towards a cloud of black smoke ahead. Unknown to Geoffrey, it passed the grey Italianate Catholic cathedral, the shrine of the old Christian faith of Japan planted there by Saint Francis Xavier four hundred years ago. Anchor was cast off the island of Deshima, now moored to the mainland, where during the locked centuries the Dutch merchants had been permitted to remain in profitable servitude. Deshima has now been swallowed up by the Japanese town, and its significance has shifted across the bay to where the smoke and din of the Mitsubishi Dockyard prepare romantic visitors for the modern industrial life of the new Japan. Night and day, the furnace fires are roaring; and ten thousand workmen are busy building ships of war and ships of peace for the Britain of the Pacific.
The quarantine officers came on board, little, brown men in uniform, absurdly self-important. Then the ship was besieged by a swarm of those narrow, primitive boats called _sampan_, which Loti has described as a kind of barbaric gondola, all jostling each other to bring merchants of local wares, damascene, tortoise-shell, pottery and picture post cards aboard the vessel, and to take visitors ashore.
Geoffrey and Asako were among the first to land. The moment of arrival on Japanese soil brought a pang of disappointment. The sea-front at Nagasaki seemed very like a street in any starveling European town. It presented a line of offices and consulates built in Western style, without distinction and without charm. Customs’ officers and policemen squinted suspiciously at the strangers. A few women, in charge of children or market-baskets, stared blankly.
“Why, they are wearing kimonos!” exclaimed Asako, “but how dirty and dusty they are. They look as though they had been sleeping in them!”
The Japanese women, indeed, cling to their national dress. But to the Barringtons, landing at Nagasaki, they seemed ugly, shapeless and dingy. Their hair was greasy and unkempt. Their faces were stupid and staring. Their figures were hidden in the muffle of their dirty garments. Geoffrey had been told they have baths at least once a day, but he was inclined to doubt it. Or else, it was because they all bathed in the same bath and their ablutions were merely an exchange of grime. But where were those butterfly girls, who dance with fan and battledore on our cups and saucers?
The rickshaws were a pleasant experience, the one-man perambulators; and the costume of the rickshaw-runners was delightful, and their gnarled, indefatigable legs. With their tight trunk-hose of a coarse dark-blue material and short coat to match like an Eton jacket and with their large, round mushroom hats, they were like figures from the crowd of a Flemish Crucifixion.
Behind the Barrington’s _sampan_, a large lighter came alongside the wharf. It was black with coal-dust, and in one corner was heaped a pile of shallow baskets, such as are used in coaling vessels at Japanese ports, being slipped from hand to hand in unbroken chain up the ship’s side and down again to the coal barge. The work was finished. The lighter was empty except for a crowd of coal-stained coolies which it was bringing back to Nagasaki. These were dressed like the rickshaw-men. They wore tight trousers, short jackets and straw sandals. They were sitting, wearied, on the sides of the barge, wiping black faces with black towels. Their hair was long, lank and matted. Their hands were bruised and shapeless with the rough toil.
“Poor men,” sighed Asako, “they’ve had hard work!”
The crowd of them passed, peering at the English people and chattering in high voices. Geoffrey had never seen such queer-looking fellows, with their long hair, clean-shaven faces, and stumpy bow-legs. One more disheveled than the others was standing near him with tunic half-open. It exposed a woman’s breast, black, loose and hard like leather.
“They are women!” he exclaimed, “what an extraordinary thing!”
But the children of Nagasaki–surely there could be no such disillusionment. They are laughing, happy, many-coloured and ubiquitous. They roll under the rickshaw wheels. They peep from behind the goods piled on the floors of the shops, a perpetual menace to shopkeepers, especially in the china stores, where their bird-like presence is more dangerous than that of the dreaded bull. They are blown up and down the temple-steps like fallen petals. They gather like humming-birds round the itinerant venders of the streets, the old men who balance on their bare shoulders their whole stock in trade of sweetmeats, syrups, toys or singing grasshoppers. They are the dolls of our own childhood, endowed with disconcerting life. Around their little bodies flames the love of colour of an oriental people, whose adult taste has been disciplined to sombre browns and greys. Wonderful motley kimonos they make for their children with flower patterns, butterfly patterns, toy and fairy-story patterns, printed on flannelette–or on silk for the little plutocrats–in all colors, among which reds, oranges, yellows, mauves, blues and greens predominate.
They invaded the depressing atmosphere of the European-style hotel, where Geoffrey and Asako were trying to enjoy a tasteless lunch–their grubby, bare feet pattering on the worn lino.
It pleased him to watch them, playing their game of _Jonkenpan_ with much show of pudgy fingers, and with restrained and fitful scamperings. He even made a tentative bid for popularity by throwing copper coins. There was no scramble for this largesse. Gravely and in turn each child pocketed his penny; but they all regarded Geoffrey with a wary and suspicious eye. He, too, on closer inspection found them less angelic than at first sight. The slimy horror of unwiped noses distressed him, and the significant prevalence of scabby scalps.
* * * * *
After their dull lunch in this drab hotel, Geoffrey and his wife started once more on their voyage of discovery. Nagasaki is a hidden city; it flows through its narrow valleys like water, and follows their serpentine meanderings far inland.
They soon left behind the foreign settlement and its nondescript ugliness to plunge into the labyrinth of little native streets, wayward and wandering like sheep-tracks, with sudden abrupt hills and flights of steps which checked the rickshaws’ progress. Here, the houses of the rich people were closely fenced and cunningly hidden; but the life of poverty and the shopkeepers’ domesticity were flowing over into the street out of the too narrow confines of the boxes which they called their homes.
With an extra man to push behind, the rickshaws had brought them up a zigzag hill to a cautious wooden gateway half open in a close fence of bamboo.
“Tea-house!” said the rickshaw man, stopping and grinning. It was clearly expected of the foreigners that they should descend and enter.
“Shall we get out and explore, sweetheart?” suggested Geoffrey. They passed under the low gate, up a pebbled pathway through the sweetest fairy garden to the entrance of the tea-house, a stage of brown boards highly polished and never defiled by the contamination of muddy boots. On the steps of approach a collection of _geta_ (native wooden clogs) and abominable side-spring shoes told that guests had already arrived.
Within the dark corridors of the house there was an immediate fluttering as of pigeons. Four or five little women prostrated themselves before the visitors with a hissing murmur of “_Irasshai_! (Condescend to come!).”
The Barringtons removed their boots and followed one of these ladies down a gleaming corridor with another miniature garden in an enclosed courtyard on one side, and paper _shoji_ and peeping faces on the other, out across a further garden by a kind of oriental Bridge of Sighs to a small separate pavilion, which floated on a lake of green shrubs and pure air, as though moored by the wooden gangway to the main block of the building.
This summer-house contained a single small room like a very clean box with wooden frame, opaque paper walls, and pale golden matting. The only wall which seemed at all substantial presented the appearance of an alcove. In this niche there hung a long picture of cherry-blossoms on a mountain side, below which, on a stand of dark sandalwood, squatted a bronze monkey holding a crystal ball. This was the only ornament in the room.
Geoffrey and his wife sat down or sprawled on square silk cushions called _zabuton_. Then the _shoji_ were thrown open; and they looked down upon Nagasaki.
It was a scene of sheer enchantment. The tea-house was perched on a cliff which overhung the city. The light pavilion seemed like the car of some pullman aeroplane hovering over the bay. It was the brief half-hour of evening, the time of day when the magic of Japan is at its most powerful. All that was cheap and sordid was shut out by the bamboo fence and wrapped away in the twilight mists. It was a half-hour of luminous greyness. The skies were grey and the waters of the bay and the roofs of the houses. A grey vapour rose from the town; and a black-grey trail of smoke drifted from the dockyards and from the steamers in the harbour. The cries and activities of the city below rose clear and distinct but infinitely remote, as sound of the world might reach the Gods in Heaven. It was a half-hour of fairyland when anything might happen.
Two little maids brought tea and sugary cakes, green tea like bitter hot water, insipid and unsatisfying. It was a shock to see the girls’ faces as they raised the tiny china teacups. Under the glaze of their powder they were old and wise.
They observed Asako’s nationality, and began to speak to her in Japanese.
“Their politeness is put on to order,” thought Geoffrey, “they seem forward and inquisitive minxes.”
But Asako only knew a few set phrases of her native tongue. This baffled the ladies, one of whom after a whispered consultation and some giggling behind sleeves, went off to find a friend who would solve the mystery.