Yone Santo: A Child of Japan
ALL things fairly considered, Yone’s lot promised to be less unhappy than I, in my anxious solicitude, had apprehended. It might have been infinitely worse, though, unhappily, there was no assurance that it would not become intolerable at any time ; for Japanese wives are as utterly dependent upon the will of their husbands as any slaves on earth are subservient to their masters. The ill-regulated conjugal system is a blot which has yet to be effaced from the social record of the country. The happiness, comfort, even the life and death, of a wife may hang upon the caprice of the man to whom she has been given in wedlock.
Santo was a rough sort of animal, with even less •education than the average of his order, destitute of the first rudiment of refinement, troubled with no definite ideas respecting morality, despotic in his temper, gifted with small capacity for affection, incredulous of the existence of feminine delicacy or susceptibility, and possessed of an inordinate vanity, — though upon what grounds his self-approval was based he would probably have been unable to explain. On the other hand, he was not reputed violent or brutal, nor rancorous in speech, except when vexed by opposition. He exacted no unreasonable service from his family or other subordinates ; allowed those about him a healthful measure of physical relaxation ; and having no sordid or miserly love of lucre, though fond of accumulating money for the consequence it gave him, there was nothing meagre in his provision for the material wants of his household. At least my poor girl would not languish for lack of proper nourishment, nor droop under labors to which her strength was not commensurate.
Soon after the marriage an event occurred which had the effect of enabling her to secure all the possible advantages of her position. Working in his yard, upon the very boat which I had ordered from him, her husband one day dealt himself, with an adze, a heavy blow upon the foot, the result of which was to keep him on his back for a fortnight, in no little pain, but not in peril of any sort. Accidents of the kind were not uncommon, though they generally fell to the share of the inferior workmen. Santo’s peevish irritability, under the smart of the wound and the inevitable spell of compulsory idleness, was at first outrageous. For a time, he would not bear the sight of Yone near him, and descanted oracularly upon the uselessness of a learned baby at a wounded man’s bedside ; but she presently found means of proving that her patience and gentleness, not to speak of her intelligent sensitiveness to suffering, were of greater value than the more experienced but less sympathetic qualifications of his clumsy-fingered pair of mistresses, — whom, I should mention, it had not occurred to him, any more than it would have occurred to any ordinary Japanese, to dismiss at the advent of his legitimate bride. There was a virtue, till then unknown to him, in her light and dexterous touch. The “ hand of little employment ” had “ the daintier sense,” and it was not long before it pleased the master to discard entirely the attentions of his wonted companions, not at all to their dissatisfaction, and throw the whole duty of nursing him upon his wife.
After all, it was incomparably less exhausting than the toil to which she had been condemned by her grandparent. Santo had started upon his wedded life with an undefined purpose of “ breaking in" his aristocratic spouse ; of bringing her down to his own level in short order, and convincing her that the might of marital authority was to be the only recognized power in his house. But he discovered, rather to his astonishment, that he had no material to work upon. The girl was as docile from the beginning as he could have expected to make her by months of the proposed treatment. This, however, might be a trick of feminine craft, to lure him from his scheme of discipline, and beguile him into habits of indulgence. While these doubts were moving in his mind, not actively by any means, but in a heavy, drowsy fashion, he laid himself low, and gave his sluggish reason an opportunity of acting in the right direction.
The extent of Yone’s influence over him was shown in his totally unexpected consent to submit the injured foot to foreign surgical treatment. Her first attempts at persuasion were pushed aside, with grunts of withering scorn and spite. But when I called, one day, professedly to inquire about my boat, she described so cleverly some of the results of my practice in similar cases — simple enough in point of fact, but marvelous, I presume, in the unaccustomed eyes of the Japanese — that he grudgingly yielded. But only as an experiment, he declared. If the foot did not improve within twenty-four hours, he should, with all courtesy and respect to me, return to his own time-honored specifics. In any case, he could not ruin himself by paying such fees as the foreign physicians always charged. I argued with him that, as the accident had happened while he was working on my account, it was my duty, by all the settled principles of European and American justice, to cure him without any fee at all. He wagged his ugly head with an air of simious sagacity, and said that foreign morality was established on a more honorable basis than he had supposed ; and Yone, believing that I told the truth, lifted her flushed face with an expression of relief such as I would willingly have purchased at the cost of a dozen fibs of the same pattern, or worse.
It was not difficult to set him on his legs with very little delay, and after his recovery he did not resume the subordinating processes which he had previously thought expedient. He manifested no gratitude for the care which had been lavished upon him; that was a matter of course, although he had not thought it was in the girl to do so well. If anybody had suggested to him that it might not be amiss to reward her with a word of acknowledgment, he would simply have stared, and grunted. But, without the slightest direct intention on his part, probably with no consciousness of deviating from his normal course, he certainly did make a new distinction between her and the two women who lived with him in a meaner capacity. Perhaps it was the outgrowth of a feeling similar to that which would be called forth by some workman’s development of special skill. She had done a job better than others had done it before her. But I never looked very deeply into the matter, nor am I sure that there was anything to analyze. It was satisfactory, so far as it went.
Yone’s life would have soon fallen into a dreary routine but for the privilege I had fortunately procured for her. One day in every week she was free to go forth and earn a ridiculous mite, *— though her husband did not know how ridiculous it was, — by discharging nominal duties which, I am free to confess, had not much the appearance of systematic translation. For half an hour, or it might be double that time, she would diligently turn certain passages of my lectures into Japanese, or convert a few pages of native history, science, or philosophy into English. Then she would be dismissed to take a wholesome walk, to visit friends, to idle as industriously as she might; always returning before evening to get the books required for the study with which she was for the time occupied. Of the harmlessness of these mild prevarications she allowed herself to be convinced; and, indeed, I think she fully realized that the dead weight of such an existence as that to which she was doomed would have utterly paralyzed her mind but for the relief provided for her. Every Saturday morning the gentle little woman, who ought to have been kept a child for years to come, appeared with her package of books, on the top of which was always a pretty bunch of flowers for my desk, prepared to repeat on her knees, as a Japanese may do without abasement, her grateful, tremulous formula of thanks to me for having saved her life, she thought, — her reason, she was sure. No protest, however stern ; no request, however earnest; no pretense of displeasure, could ever induce her to forego that touching refrain.
While seeking for the means to make her weekly clay of leisure a happy one, I lighted upon the discovery that she had resumed her friendly relations with the Philipsons. There was no room for lingering resentment in that forgiving heart. She begged me not to be offended. They had been kind to her once ; they meant, in their manner, to be kind to her always. If they had not understood her, it was so easy to excuse them ; and since my anger had been only on her account, would I not make her glad by excusing them, too ? That, in various forms, was her constant plea. Well, well; of what use was it to tell her they were not worthy of the affection she awarded them ? Her humility was as frank and genuine as her bounteous magnanimity. It was not for me to gainsay her, nor to check the outflow of her pure goodness. And so, in her simplicity, she suffered herself to be preached at, pestered, and often saddened by these querulous and discontented old maids, who never dreamed that a light too fine for their dull vision made their sombre house radiant with love and charity whenever she visited it. The only kindred spirits there who felt, without caring to comprehend, her influence were the little children, — especially the invalids, to whom her coming brought a peace like the tranquil beauty of a fairer sphere. These were the friends who never doubted, never pained her. They clung to her when their fading power of recognition extended to no others. Once, a dying girl, whom she had sorrowfully left at nightfall, said to her nurse, —
“ Yone has gone away. It is all dark without her. Please put me near the window; then the stars will shine upon me, as she does always.”
THE GATHERING OF A STORM.
Arthur Milton was a pleasant, brightfaced young American, who, in the summer of 1878, came to Japan with a party of travelers of the class somewhat disrespectfully and not very wittily designated “ globe-trotters,” for no apparent reason, except that their route of exploration embraces the whole circuit of the earth, instead of being confined to a limited section thereof. What there is about this to justify the application of an epithet intended to be offensive, I have never been able to understand. The group of wanderers to which I refer numbered perhaps half a dozen, and included the mother and sister of Milton, both widows, and other near relations. They brought letters to me and to the Philipsons, in Tokio, and one of the methods employed to render their sojourn agreeable was to send Yone about with them on occasional raids among the silk-shops, bricabrac warehouses, and other repositories alluring to casual visitors. It was upon one of these expeditions that she met Miss Gibson, the young delegate from a United States mission, who had crossed the ocean with the Milton party, and had naturally accompanied them in some of their sight-seeing rambles.
When the period arrived for the circumambulators to proceed on their westward course, the young gentleman I have mentioned announced that he found the limitation of time they had assigned to Japan entirely inadequate. He thought that months, not weeks, should be devoted to this interesting land, and regretted that the programme had been so disproportionately laid out. While agreeing with him as to the fascinations of Japan, his friends ventured to suggest that as they had not yet become acquainted with the countries still to be examined, they were hardly in a position to judge of their attractiveness, or lack of attractiveness, as compared with what they had already seen. But he was determined to act upon his own impulses, and declared himself confident that a few weeks could be advantageously taken from China, Siam, Java, and India, and more profitably employed in adding to his stock of information regarding this delightful and romantic next-door neighbor to his own nation. He wanted to discover for himself how these people had managed to perform their tremendous leap from the Middle Ages plump into the heart of the nineteenth century, without dislocating their brains or even losing their balance; alighting, in fact, as squarely and safely on their feet as if vaulting over half a dozen centuries, and bursting through the interposing barriers of custom, tradition, and fixed national policy, were as easy as the commonest trick of the circus. He would remain awhile, and join his companions at a further point of their course.
There was nothing remarkable in this. Nine tenths of the visitors to Japan overpass their allotted time; half of them prolong their stay for years, and not a few settle themselves virtually forever, content to accept this captivating island empire as the pleasantest haven that the world affords. I had known a score of enthusiastic New Englanders who had thus yielded to the various allurements held out to them. Arthur Milton followed the usual routine : proposing to master the language in a few weeks ; projecting scientific and social investigations on the broadest scale ; evolving elaborate strategetic combinations for the overthrow of insolent foreign domination and the immediate revision of the treaties ; pursuing all the bright fancies which are sure to be awakened in ardent and amiable minds, when first brought in contact with the evidences of a national development unparalleled in history. He was not wholly a visionary. He was ready enough to laugh, with a friend, at his own high-flown conceptions, but not less prompt to defend them with unmistakable sincerity, if attacked by any of the narrow trading or “ colonial ” theorists. He really wanted to put his shoulder to the same wheel which so many have striven to lift out of the mire, and, like others before him, was resolutely convinced that nothing but a clear, vigorous statement of Japan’s needs and ill-treatment was needed to make the whole Western world properly ashamed of itself, and to secure atonement for the past and justice for the future.
I took kindly to the lad. Knowing, by disagreeable experience, how little was likely to result from any enterprise that he could set on foot, I had no very deep faith that his energy would long withstand the rebuffs and disappointments which await all those who attempt to redress the wrongs endured by Eastern nations. But he was at least for the moment sincere, and there was a glowing warmth in his tone and manner which proved that his feelings were strongly aroused, and that he was determined to speak and to be heard, while the spirit was upon him, however transitory his fervor might be. I tried to set him upon the right track, helped him to what information he needed, encouraged him by listening patiently whenever he came to lay before me this or that plan of diplomatic or revolutionary action, and abstained from expressing a single doubt as to his perseverance or lasting devotion.
Until the afternoon when Miss Philipson launched her extraordinary imputation, the idea of associating him or his doings in any particular way with Yone Santo had never occurred to me. That she had met the young man more than once, I was well aware ; for I had myself been the means of attaching her to several excursions in which he, with his mother and sister, took part, and I had once conducted him to her husband’s house, in order that he might deliver a friendly souvenir left for her by those ladies. I remembered, too, that he had spoken, on a later occasion, of having obtained from her some information on social subjects, of which he had been in need. But nothing of that sort could cause me the least uneasiness. If I had heard that he visited her every day in the week, it would have concerned me only to the extent of wondering whether her rough husband might not object to such intrusions upon his privacy. I knew my protégée too well to be disturbed by any disagreeable reflections on her account.
Nevertheless, when Milton next called upon me, I thought it not amiss to make a few inquiries.
“ When did you last see Yone Santo ? ” I asked, as soon as our ordinary political conversation began to flag.
“Yone Santo? Let me think,” he answered, hesitatingly; “ when did I see her? Was it yesterday? ”
I could not avoid noticing the awkward and indirect manner of his reply.
“ That is what I am asking you.” I said. “ You probably know whether you saw her yesterday, or not. Certainly, I don’t.”
“ Yes, to be sure,” he responded, still with a suggestion of reluctance in his tone. “ I think it was yesterday, — yesterday morning.”
“Indeed,” I remarked ; “ she seldom goes out, excepting of a Saturday, and the morning is a busy time at Santo’s place.”
“ Yes,” he rejoined, with greater readiness ; “ I was there on business. The old man is going to make me a boat.”
“ Oh, if you want a boat,” said I, “you could not do better than go to him. He is a capital workman, though not always a model of good manners. He made my little wherry, over the way.”
“ Just so,” returned Milton. “ I heard of your giving him that job.”
The words were as simple as possible, but in the accent with which they were spoken there seemed to be a shade of irony, or perhaps of derision. Whatever it might have been, the sound was strange, and did not altogether please me.
“ You could have had my boat, at any time,” I suggested. “ It was hardly worth while to get one built, unless you mean to remain here much longer than you first intended.”
“ The cost is nothing,” he said ; “ and besides, I wanted an excuse for going there as often as I liked.”
“ Ah, then you go there often.”
“ Every day, or so. He amuses me immensely, and I like to talk to the girl.”
“ Which girl ? ” I asked. “ None of Santo’s servants can do much in the way of conversation, I should imagine.”
“ Oh, come, doctor,” he answered, laughing good-humoredly, “ you know whom I mean.”
“ Milton,” said I, “ when did you last hear from your traveling party ? ”
“Two days ago,” he replied, a little surprised at the sudden change of theme.
“ The mails are regular ? ”
“ I suppose so; my people were just leaving Peking.”
“ Your mother was well ? ”
“ Quite well; never better, I should judge.”
“ Rough travel does not disagree with your family, then ? ”
“ Oh, no ; we are a hardy lot.”
“ To be sure ; and how was the girl ? ” He looked at me inquiringly.
“ The girl ? ” he said. “ I hardly understand you.”
“ Oh, yes, you do,” I asserted, with an air which could not well fail to give offense. “ How was she ? ”
A red flush passed over his face.
“ The only girl in the party, Dr. Charwell, is my sister, Mrs. Seaford, a widow, as you probably know. May I inquire what you mean ? ”
“ My young friend,” said I, getting up from my seat, and walking about the room, “you are annoyed at my expression. You are quite justified. I beg your pardon most earnestly. I perceive that a careless word like that might make no end of mischief. There, I entreat you over and again to excuse me. It is the luckiest thing in the world that there were no listeners.”
“ Why, of course, doctor, it’s all right. You need not make so much of it. Say no more.”
“That depends,” said I.
“ What depends,” he asked, “ and how ? ”
“ It depends upon whether you have or have not anything to say, in your turn.”
“ Upon my word, doctor, I have n’t an idea of what you mean.”
“ You shall have, Milton. Your sister, Mrs. Seaford, has the claim of every gentlewoman to be always spoken of with courtesy. The same right belongs to Tone Santo, my friend.”
He stared a moment, and then broke out, excitedly, —
“ What, sir! Do you mean to institute a comparison ” —
I interrupted him sharply.
“ Restrain yourself. I expect you, as a simple act of justice, — or, if you like better, I will ask you as a favor to me, — to reflect upon this matter before saying what is in your mind. A moment’s delay will do you no harm. I will be with you again immediately.”
I left him in my office, while I went to another part of the house. When I returned, five minutes later, he was gone, greatly to my disappointment. But in less than half an hour he reappeared, looking a little abashed and confused, but smiling with the grace and frankness which were his especial charms.
“ Doctor Charwell, listen to me,” he began, as he crossed the threshold. “ I have a speech to make, and I must not be interrupted. In the first place, you were all right, and I was all wrong,— that goes without saying. But that is not enough. The truth is, there is no snare so cunning as common custom. You fall into it without stopping to think. Now, everybody out here speaks of these people as ‘Japs,’ —and so have I, like the other idiots. I wonder how I should relish hearing myself called a 'Yank ’! In the same way, I suppose, every Japanese woman, high or low, is a ‘ girl.’ But this is no excuse for me. Here have I been putting myself forward for the past month as a defender and champion of this country and its inhabitants ; and yet I can’t keep my tongue from insulting them. So much for general principles. Now for particulars. In this matter of your friend, I was doubly to blame. I was going to say, when you stopped me, that I could n’t stand any comparison being made between my sister and a Japanese. Now, however, I see that if we are bound to be more stringent in one case than in the other, it should be when Japanese ladies are alluded to. For they, unless a good fellow like you happens to be at hand, have nobody to stand up for them. It’s cowardly, as well as mean, to slight them by carelessness of speech. If anybody puts an affront upon one of our women, — well, my sister, for example, — it is n’t necessary that I should be there ; a dozen hands will be ready to set the matter right. You may bet as heavily as you like, doctor, that you will never hear me talk about a Japanese ‘girl’ again; that is, in any sense that could possibly be unpleasant.”
I let him run his course, because, as I have said, I liked the young fellow, and was glad to hear how he had reasoned the matter to a fair conclusion. But it was evident that he supposed my reproof to have been tendered on what he called “ general principles,” and did not understand the nature and extent of my interest in Yone ; with which, indeed, nothing had yet occurred to acquaint him. I deemed it better, while the subject was fresh in our thoughts, to let him know that I looked upon myself in a measure as her guardian ; and that I had deeper reason for sensitiveness with respect to her than with the majority of Japanese young women.
“ And so you find it agreeable to visit the Santos’ place ? ” said I, tentatively.
“ Indeed I do,” he promptly answered. “ That clever little lady can tell me more in ten minutes, about the topics which I am looking into, than I can draw from a professed expert in a day. And I suppose there is no harm in saying it is a deal pleasanter to get information from such a charming source than from a set of old humbugs who have no sympathy with my investigations, and who, I believe, have to hunt up one day what they communicate to me the next.”
“ And what has Santo to say to your making yourself at home there ? He has not the reputation of being amiable to strangers.”
“ He does n’t seem to object; and the boat furnishes a sufficient excuse for frequent calls, as you know very well yourself.”
“ Milton,” I said, “ let us have a clearer understanding of this business. I may make a mistake, but I think you have twice put on a satirical tone in referring to my motive in getting a boat from Santo. Now I tell you frankly that I had a motive which did not appear on the surface ” —
“ Precisely,” interrupted he, pertly.
“ My dear fellow,” said I, “ this is no contest of wit. I have no spirit for anything of that kind. I throw myself on your good feeling, in which I have great faith, and beg you to believe that I am serious, deeply serious, in all I have to say upon this matter. Now, being forewarned, you will not wound me, I am sure. I did order the boat for a special purpose, — before Yone’s wedding, you will kindly understand. I knew the marriage was inevitable, and I desired to gather some direct knowledge of the man upon whose character and habits her future comfort must largely depend. And now I shall tell you why.”
I then related, as succinctly as I could, the course of Yone’s joyless life, bringing the history no nearer, however, than the date when the marriage was forced upon her, and suppressing all mention of my futile attempt to arrange the difficulty by adopting the child.
I had no reason to complain of an inattentive listener. He was, indeed, more moved than I had expected, but there was something superficial in his declarations of sympathy, and many of his observations caused me to think he regarded the whole business as a drama of undoubted pathos, yet one in which lie was not wholly disinclined to enact some part. For the moment, however, I had no choice but to trust to his higher instincts ; and I closed the subject by saying that while I could not suppose he would share my feelings. I did rely upon him to abstain from doing anything that might add to the young girl’s troubles. This seemed to surprise him, but with no other response than a warm though vague assurance of discreet behavior, he hastily took leave.
THE COIL OF THE SERPENT.
Through the remainder of the day, a restless spirit possessed me, and in the evening I sought the never-failing recreation of a sail upon the Sumida. I started with no definite object, but the wind carried me up the stream past the islands, and beyond the thick mazes of streets and canals which stretch for miles along the river-banks. Presently I found myself opposite the boat-builder’s domicile, in which a light was still shining, although the hour was late, as hours are counted among the Japanese. Dropping my sail, I drifted shoreward, not precisely conscious of anxiety, but desirous rather to assure myself that no ground for anxiety existed. The night was still and sultry ; but as I drew near Santo’s little pier, the voice of Milton, talking carelessly and cheerfully, sent a sharp chill through me. As I passed the extremity of the tiny garden, making no sign of recognition, I was evidently mistaken for a visitor to Nakamura-ya, the adjoining popular “ teahouse,” and no attention was paid to my movements. Should I openly proclaim my presence ? The conventional theories as to the ignominy of eavesdropping rushed through my mind, and vanished straightway, leaving no indelible impression. What ? fetter myself with chivalrous fancies and affectations, when the promise given me a few hours earlier had been thus shamelessly broken ? Not quite so childish. Since accident had brought me to the situation, I felt no more compunction in discovering what mischief might be afoot than any man would feel in using all means of rescuing an unwitting prey from a venomous snake.
It was not long, nevertheless, before the step which I thus hastily decided upon taking proved to be a most unwise one, at least in so far as its effect upon myself was concerned. It brought me a half hour of torment such as I never thought I could be called to undergo. But I gave no heed, in my impulsive determination, to any consequences excepting those upon which Yone’s safety seemed to depend. A fence, projecting into the river, separated Santo’s premises from the tea-house grounds, and I drew my boat close to its farther side, within the broad shadow which it cast upon the surface of the water. This was the only spot not brilliantly lighted by the moon, and the concealment was doubly desirable, for the reason that the favorite place of resort was filled with guests, whose loud speech revealed that some of them were foreigners. I had certainly no wish to be observed, even by strangers, under the peculiar circumstances, and I held myself close to the convenient barrier, invisible to all, but able to discern everything around me. Through the apertures of the roughly laid boards I saw Yone and her untimely visitor, sitting upon a bench near the shore. At a little distance, a dim figure was perceptible, partly outstretched upon the ground, and partly propped against a tree. This, I assumed, was Santo; and although his silence indicated that he was probably asleep, his mere presence afforded me an unspeakable satisfaction.
The conversation, which had been interrupted by my approach, was soon resumed.
“ How lovely the night is ! ” said Milton. “ Sometimes I think there are no moonlights like these in your country.”
“ Many persons say so, and I am glad to believe it,” was the answer, in Yone’s tranquil and tender accents.
“ It is like fairyland,” he said. “ ‘ In such a night as this ’ ” —
He left the quotation unfinished, and after a little hesitation Yone added, timidly, “ ‘ When the sweet wind ’ ” —
“ Why,” interrupted Milton, in surprise, “ do you know those lines ? ”
“ I know them well,” she replied; “ once I tried to translate them. They are like music, and if I close my eyes I can see wonderful things, when I repeat them. It is strange that such language should come from deceitful mouths.”
“ Deceitful! What do you mean ? ”
“ Their words were beautiful, but faithfulness was not in their hearts.”
“ Poor Jessica ! I won’t attempt to defend Lorenzo, but pretty Jessica, — she could n’t help herself, you know.”
“ She deserted her father.”
“ Oh, that is your way of looking at it. So you don’t like Jessica ? ”
“ Her father trusted her, and she betrayed him. It is not possible to like a woman who would do that. But what she said was like a charm.”
“ Would you not be glad to see the places they spoke of ? ”
“ Have you seen them ? ”
“ I have been near them, at any rate. Have you never thought of going to find them ? ”
“ I did, once; it was only for a few days.”
“ Why should you not think of it again ? I wish we could search for those enchanted regions together. Will you go with me, Yone ? ”
“You are very merry, Mr. Milton. I must be contented with my own little country.”
There was not much in this to make me uneasy, but I already began to regret that I had not broken in upon them at the moment of my arrival, and put an end to the dialogue. Still, for Yone’s sake, I would stay and learn a little more.
“ Do not speak so sadly ; we all have our troubles,” said Milton, in a tone which conveyed but a slight conception of what trouble meant, — “ all of us, young and old.”
“ You do not understand me,” she answered. “ I am not sad. My troubles are gone. I have one best friend who has taken them away. I have no wish to think of them, now.”
“ Who is that friend, Yone ? ”
“ You know him. The good Dr. Charwell.”
“ Oh, yes, I know him. He is an excellent fellow, but I did not think he was so powerful. What, can he remove everybody’s troubles, then ? ”
“ He has cured mine.”
“ What, all ? ”
“If I had any, I would go to him, and then I should suffer no more.”
“ You have great confidence in him! ” exclaimed Milton, somewhat pettishly. “ And so, if you should ever be weary of this hard life and dull home of yours, I suppose you would look to him for relief.”
It needed strong resolution to keep me quiet at this point, for I was persuaded that the young man had a more vicious purpose than was disclosed in his words. But I kept myself under control, confident that Yone’s unsuspecting simplicity would be the most effective foil to his projects.
“ My life is not hard, Mr. Milton, and my home is not dull. Dr. Charwell knows that; and truly, it is his good friendship that helps me to enjoy so much. Oh, no, my life is very easy now, and my husband is very kind. When my neighbors are ill, he lets me go to them freely, and I think by and by he will permit me to have a little school, all for myself.”
“ Wonderful privileges, Yone ! ”
“ That is true, although you do not seem to speak in earnest. Not many wives in my country are allowed so much. It is different, I know, in yours.”
“ Yes, you may well say that. In Boston, now, we would find better work for these pretty hands than nursing the pauper neighborhood, and teaching the young rabble hereabout.”
“ Better work ? I do not think Dr. Charwell would say so.”
“ Dr. Charwell, indeed ! My dear Yone, I don’t believe he knows whether these little hands are coarse or delicate, rough or smooth ; still less what they are fit for.”
“ Do you think rough hands are a misfortune ? ” she asked.
A great misfortune for a girl like you.”
“ Well, then, there is one trouble which the doctor did remove. They were rough indeed, a year ago. But I do not call that a trouble. That is nothing. I think of the sore places in my heart that he has known how to heal. Nobody else could do that.”
He made no immediate answer, but a moment later I heard him say, in a much lower tone, —
“ Yes, they are smooth now, and soft as down, — this one, at least. Is the other like it ? Let me see.”
My patience was exhausted. Reaching for an oar, I prepared to push the boat around the intervening wood-work, and put an end to the knavish work ; but before I could move from my position, a throng of merry-makers issued from the tea-house, and ran noisily down a pathway toward the river-side. To my consternation, I saw that it was composed of residents in the foreign district of Tokio, to all of whom both Yone and I were well known, while most of them had heard of Milton, if they had not met him. I could not venture upon a movement which would expose me to their view, and inevitably direct their attention to the occupants of the neighboring garden. If they should get a glimpse of the scene, their tongues would be wagging, the next day, all over the settlement. Though in a fever of indignation, I was compelled to govern myself, and to continue silent while the colloquy proceeded.
“ Surely my hands are both alike,” said Yone ; “ but it is not comfortable for me when you hold them.”
“ Only one, then, Yone.”
“ No, Mr. Milton, there is no meaning in it.”
“ You are very severe with me, but I suppose that is the privilege of beauty here, as in other lands.”
“ You do forget that it is not pleasant for me to hear you speak in that way. I have asked you not to do it, many times before.”
“ I forget nothing that you say to me, but it is hard if I may not tell you what I think. You know it is the truth.”
“ That I do not know. Indeed, we do not give so many thoughts as foreigners to what our appearance is like. It does not seem to me that this can be the truth. I am sorry to be rude, but I am sure it is not true. You are making a jest of me, Mr. Milton.”
“ Every word I utter is earnest and sincere. I never thought you would doubt that.”
“ Then I shall beg you, as a favor, not to repeat these things.”
“ I will only insist, then, that you are severe. I wonder if you are as severe with everybody. I dare say Dr. Charwell might tell you you are a beauty, without offense.”
“ Dr. Charwell may say anything.”
“ And why not I, Yone ? ”
She made no reply. I was exasperated at the inaction which the delay of the pleasure-party imposed upon me, and waited only for their departure to leap on shore and drag the young scamp away. But now I could not even stir, much less call out, they were so near.
“ Tell me, my little girl, why not ? ” repeated Milton, more urgently.
“ I cannot tell you,” she returned, in a somewhat changed voice. “ Indeed, I do not know. I am very ignorant of many things.”
“ Among others, I may mention my first name. You evidently do not know that.”
“ Oh, yes, I know it.”
“ Then why do you not use it ? I call you ‘ Yone ; ’ you should call me ‘Arthur.’ ”
“ You know that is impossible.”
“ Why, you will do nothing to please me. I would do anything for you.”
“ Ah, you are a learned gentleman; you know what is right, and will not make mistakes. There is nothing strange if you call me ‘Yone.’ Women, with us, are never known by their family names. Those belong to Japanese men, only. But among foreigners — No, no, Mr. Milton, I have studied a little. Your young ladies do not speak so familiarly to gentlemen, unless they are relations, or at least very intimate friends.”
“Very well, let us be intimate friends.”
“ Now you are jesting again.”
“ Listen, Yone : do you call Dr. Charwell by his first name ? ”
“ I do not.”
“ Not even when you are alone with him ? ”
“ Why, no, indeed ; how can any difference be ? ”
“ Ah, you think there cannot ‘ any difference be.’ But if he should ask you ? ”
“ Ah, then — if he told me, I should do it.”
“ You are submissive enough to him, I see.”
“ I should know it would be right.”
“ And your — your husband ? ” " Well ? ”
“You call him by his first — that is, his second name ? ” 1
“ Oh, no ! ”
“ What, not your husband ? ”
“No, never ! ”
“ How singular ! But — you will excuse all my questions, Yone ; you know I am trying to learn a great deal about the Japanese customs in a short time. Let me ask you if all the wives are so reserved in speaking to their husbands.”
“ That is better. I mean it is much easier to answer about all in general — everybody in Japan—than when you question me about myself. Well, it is different in different houses. When the persons are both young, I suppose they use what with your countrymen is the first name; or, in any case, after they have long been married, they probably use it. I do not know very well about these things, myself. I have lived much alone. Others could explain it more exactly.”
“ But you know enough to decide how to address your husband.”
“ That is very simple. A young wife must not be too — must not 'take liberties,’ I think you say, with a husband much older than herself. I show the respect which I owe by speaking only his family name. That is more suitable to him, and more ” —
“ More agreeable to you, no doubt,” said Milton, as she suddenly paused.
“ It is proper that it should be so,” she answered; “and now, shall we not talk of something else ? ”
“ One moment, Yone; only a mo-. ment more. This is curious. It seems there is a choice in your mind between your husband and the worthy doctor. You would willingly call Charwell by the friendlier name, but it is not agreeable to do the same by your husband.”
“ You confuse me, Mr. Milton. It is easy for you to do that. I have told you that I am not clever. I cannot answer any of your questions now, but you have given me many things to ask Dr. Charwell about.”
“Dr. Charwell forever! I declare, Yone, I believe you are in love with the man.”
“ That, indeed, I am,” she answered, composedly. “ I always have been, since I was a little girl. But you are laughing at me. Why do you laugh ? Do you make sport of me with strange phrases ? Oh, that is very unfair,” and she lightly laughed, herself. “ I never heard that phrase before. But I will always tell you I love Dr. Charwell.
I cannot love him too much.”
“ Indeed ! And what does your husband say to that ? ”
“ Why, nothing; what should he say?”
“ He is aware of it ? ”
“ Of course he is. Everybody who knows Yamada Yone.” she added, with an unusual ring in her clear tones,
“ surely knows that. Her life would be all dreariness and gloom but for the goodness of that one friend, and her heart must be false and base before she forgets the love that belongs to him. Are you trying, Mr. Milton, to speak in a way which I do not understand ? ”
The revelers had by this time entered their boats, but they were in no haste to depart, and while they lingered I was chained to my dark corner, though the detention tortured me. Santo’s heavy breathing reminded me of his presence, which was in some sense a relief, and assisted me to hold myself in check.
Milton’s next words were in a more subdued and humble strain : —
“ Forgive me, Yone ; I would not vex you for the world. It is right that you should cling to your old friend, and I honor your fidelity. But I can’t help feeling envious, — just a little ; that is natural, you know. Do not think ill of me. Give me your hand before I go.”
‘‘You have had my hand, already.”
“ If you deny me, I shall know you are displeased. Why, what is it, to clasp hands ? With us it means only a greeting or a farewell, but to refuse is a mark of real dislike.”
“ You shall not suppose that,— no, indeed. And I do not believe you would mislead me. It would be very easy, but not — not very brave. You shall take my hand, and I will trust you, for I have heard that you are good to all the people of my country.”
“ Thank you, Yone; I ” — His voice faltered, and I hoped his treacherous soul was shaken by this evidence of her frank and confiding innocence.
“Your hand trembles,” she said; “ are you not well ? ”
“ Yes, yes, I am quite well. Don’t move; keep as you are, — one second, only.”
Once more there was a pause; and when Yone spoke again, it was with a sternness so strangely at variance with her usual placidity as to make it manifest that she had cause for deep resentment.
“ You have done a foolish thing, Mr. Milton, — foolish and wrong. It is to your shame. You would never have done it if we were not alone and in the dark. Yet I am glad there is no one to see. I do not wish it known that any man could treat me with scorn. Now I shall arouse my husband, and you will go.”
I felt as if the blood would burst from my veins, and nothing but the overwhelming certainty of the malignant scandal that would follow an exposure could have stayed my hand an instant. Why had I yielded to the mad impulse that tempted me to wait and prove the villainy with which my poor child was to be assailed ? But the loiterers were starting at last; a minute more, and I should be free.
“ Yone, you hurt me terribly,” said Milton, with intense vehemence, though speaking scarcely above a whisper. “ I will go, if I must, but I pray you to hear one last word. There was no scorn in what I did. It is an act of reverence ; I swear it is. A man of honor may put his lips to an empress’s hand. It is the token of his loyalty and devotion. I am telling you what every American and European knows to be the truth. Ask whom you like. Ask Dr. Charwell.”
“ It is not needful. No one shall teach me falsehoods, Mr. Milton. There was no reverence in what you did. I know that I am not an empress. I do not know that you are a man of honor.”
“ If you could see all that is in my heart, you would not hate me, Yone.”
“ I do not hate you. You have no right to say it.”
“ Then listen to me ; you shall listen; I will not go until I have told you the whole. Don’t be afraid; I would not harm you to save my life a thousand times over. But I must be heard.”
“ I am not at all afraid; that is not my feeling. But now I am very sure that you are ill.”
“ By Heaven, I am ill, and no living being but you can help me ! Don’t you see, Yone ? Can’t you pity me ? ”
“ I can pity, but it is folly to say that I can help you. I wish Dr. Charwell were here.”
The tea-house boats shot from the shore in a body, their occupants shouting and singing gayly, as they swept down the stream. My time had come.
“ He is here ! ” I cried, swinging myself around the partition, and bursting through the network of willows which fringed the low bank.
SHORT AND SHARP.
Yone sprang up from the bench on which she had been sitting, and came hastily to the water’s edge. Milton also rose, and advanced less rapidly. Santo, startled from his drowsy torpor, lifted himself with a series of jerks, and stood by the tree which had supported him.
“ I was wishing for you,” said Yone. “ Mr. Milton is not — not himself, I think you say.”
“ I have come for him,” I answered; “ he is not fit to be here. Your hand, Milton.”
He gave it mechanically, half unconscious of what he was doing ; and before another word was spoken, he had taken an involuntary header into my boat, where he lay crouched and tangled among the thwarts, in most unheroic guise.
“ Oh, be careful,” said Yone; “ I am sure that is dangerous.”
“ No danger now,” I replied; “ he is in my charge.”
“ But I fear he is ill,” she persisted. “ I pray you to take heed.”
“ I shall do what is necessary,” I said, curtly ; “ have no concern.” Then, changing my speech to French, in order to be understood by my captive alone, and struggling masterfully to deliver myself with apparent lightness and ease, I added, “ You will go with me without opening your mouth to these people, or I will drag you back to the shore, send Yone away, and not only repeat every word you have spoken, but also explain your damnable meaning, from beginning to end, to old Santo. Choose, quickly.”
“I’ll go,” he muttered; “but let loose my wrist, unless you mean to break it with your infernal surgical sleight of hand.”
In fact, I had a grip of iron, in those days, and an athletic skill which I seldom knowingly used. Releasing Milton, I remarked to Santo, who still stood on the bank, dreamily wondering, that my countryman had broken an engagement with me, and compelled me to look sharply after him. I asked him to toss me Milton’s hat, made rapid excuses for our abrupt departure, and with the least possible delay began pulling vigorously down the stream, wholly regardless of the conclusions that might be drawn from my behavior.
Under the shadow of the O-hashi (Great Bridge), I rested on my oars. Milton had picked himself together, and sat motionless in the stern.
“ Now, sir,” I began, “ I will hear whatever you have to say.”
“ I have nothing to say, that I know of,” he answered, sullenly.
“ That will not do,” said I; “ several things must be said and settled between us, this night.”
“ I ’ll say, then, for one thing,” he responded, “ that you are not to imagine you frighten me by any of this fantastic performance. I was taken by surprise when you appeared, and I submitted in order to spare Yone.”
“To spare her!” I retorted. “Ay, that was obvious. You had been sparing her, all along.”
“ Oh, I see ; a listener ! ” he scoffed.
“Yes, sir,” said I, “a listener,— just that; and never likely to be better contented with myself than when listening under such conditions and with such a purpose in view. So none of that cheap sarcasm, if you please.”
“ I don’t know what you may have heard, but ” —
“ It does not matter,” I interposed. “ I had a surfeit long before I could get at you.”
“ You saw that Santo was there,” he observed, after a short silence.
“ Yes ; and I saw the intelligent part he took in the proceedings. I have no high opinion of Japanese husbands generally, and no especial admiration for Santo as a particular specimen ; but I can tell you he would have pounded your skull to splinters with the rudder of your own decoy yacht, if he had suspected your infamous devices, — if you had not barred his comprehension by your despicable use of a language he does not understand. Nor my poor hunted child, neither,” I added, presently. “ Her honest studies, thank God, have taught her none of the meaning of such foulness as you have tried to poison her with to-night. Poor girl, poor girl! To think that her first revelation of deceit and treachery should reach her through me, after all! ”
I broke off with a gasp of pain and fury, and again betook myself to driving the boat madly through the water. Regaining some part of my self-possession, I waited a second time, under the lower bridge, and resumed the dialogue in a less excited key, if not in milder words.
“ There is no reason in wasting our breath, Mr. Milton ; you have broken faith with me, and I shall be extremely short in my measures with you. Within this week, that is to say by the next steamer which goes westward, you will leave Japan. Or, you may take your choice as to direction, but here you shall not stay.”
“ A likely matter ! ” he replied, jeeringly.
“ A certain matter,” I responded, with emphasis. “In token of which, I will go with you to-morrow to Yokohama, while you engage your passage.”
“ And if” —
“ And if you refuse, I will not only disgrace you (for I begin to doubt your sensitiveness to that sort of treatment), but I will beat you as such a cowardly cur should be beaten ; not one day, but every day, and in the public streets, until you go elsewhere to heal your broken bones. Oh, yes, sir ; and all who see shall know for what villainy you are punished.”
“ This is very lively language,” said Milton, speaking in a manner curiously at variance with his usual buoyancy and heartiness ; “ but it will do no harm to you or your object if you listen to me for a moment. As to your threats, if I know myself at all, they do not move me one particle. I don’t know whether you have the power to execute them, to begin with ” —
“Stop, sir,” I interjected; “you are perfectly aware that I am incapable of a vain boast on a theme like this. It is true that I am speaking in great exasperation, and at a later hour I may see cause to modify my plans with regard to you; but there is no more doubt in your mind than in mine that I can accomplish all I choose to warn you of.”
“ Well, it doesn’t strike me as formidable. If I really feel myself in bodily peril,” he pursued, with a sneer, “ I dare say I can provide myself with some contrivance to keep you at a reasonable distance.”
“ Since you show your hand so plainly,” I rejoined, “ I will use my present opportunity. I shall take you straightway to my house, and keep watch over you, as I would over any other vicious and cunning wild beast, until to-morrow. Then the order for your passage shall go to Yokohama by telegraph. This programme is quite as easy as the other, — perhaps easier.”
“ You had better hear me to the end,” he answered. “ I don’t propose to go to your house to-night, and you will not get me there unless you have some clever device for killing me first. What I do propose is this. I will — I will —well, I have undoubtedly broken the pledge I gave you this day, and what I feel about that you are not likely ever to know.” His voice fell gloomily, and for a moment he was silent. After a brief pause he continued: “We will drop promises, then. My statement is that I shall voluntarily be at your house tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, or earlier, if you choose. This subject can then be taken up again, on any basis that suits you. To that I consent, and to nothing else. That is all I have to say, and all I undertake to perform, for the present.”
A hundred feverish thoughts raced through my brain, as I propelled the boat toward Tsukiji, the foreign district of Tokio, at more moderate speed than before. I was not wholly unconscious of the wildness of my recent speech, nor of the violence of my menaces. But I was, nevertheless, at the moment, as ready to carry them through as I was unquestionably able, so far as physical strength was concerned. It was an accident, to which I had never given much consideration, that I possessed far more than the average muscular force ; and in my bitter rage against this smooth-faced rogue, it seemed as if it had been given me only to bruise and maim, or perhaps to crush him out of existence, if he ventured to resist the orders I should lay upon him. As the moments flew by, however, other considerations began to fill my mind. The fierce desire for an immediate revenge gradually gave way to more prudent reflections as to what was most important for Yone’s welfare. Was it my part to create or to magnify a new and cruel scandal ? This was precisely what I had striven to avoid, by keeping myself from observation by the party at Nakamura-ya. Rapidly adjusting these views, I adopted, not without misgiving at the time, what I am now well assured was the wiser conclusion. By acceding to Milton’s proposal, I should run no risk of his escaping me. I could keep as strict a guard upon him, for my purpose, in his own house as in my own. As we drew near the landingsteps, I said : —
“ Very well, Mr. Milton, I agree to your suggestion. I shall expect you not later than eight, to-morrow.”
But it appeared that his ideas had also undergone a change, for he answered, as he stepped ashore, —
“ I shall be there, Dr. Charwell, unless, indeed, you prefer a more prompt discussion. I see an advantage in that, which did not occur to me when you spoke before. It is not late. If you are as little inclined to sleep as I am, and are disposed to give an hour, at once, to the matter in hand, I will go with you, and let you hear my determination, as it now shapes itself before me.”
I was surprised, but by no means illsatisfied. Signifying my assent, I led the way to my quarters, a few paces distant.
E. H. House.
- In Japan, as most readers are probably aware, the name of the family precedes the distinguishing name of each member thereof.↩