Immortals Crowned by the French Academy, Madame Chrysantheme
by Pierre Loti
LOUIS-MARIE-JULIEN VIAUD, "Pierre Loti," was born in Rochefort, of
an old French-Protestant family, January 14, 1850. He was connected
with the. French Navy from 1867 to 1900, and is now a retired officer
with full captain's rank. Although of a most energetic character and
a veteran of various campaigns—Japan, Tonkin, Senegal, China
(1900)—M. Viaud was so timid as a young midshipman that his comrades
named him "Loti," a small Indian flower which seems ever discreetly to
hide itself. This is, perhaps, a pleasantry, as elsewhere there is a
much more romantic explanation of the word. Suffice it to say that
Pierre Loti has been always the nom de plume of M. Viaud.
Lod has no immediate literary ancestor and no pupil worthy of the
name. He indulges in a dainty pessimism and is most of all an
impressionist, not of the vogue of Zola—although he can be, on
occasion, as brutally plain as he—but more in the manner of Victor
Hugo, his predecessor, or Alphonse Daudet, his lifelong friend. In
Loti's works, however, pessimism is softened to a musical melancholy;
the style is direct; the vocabulary exquisite; the moral situations
familiar; the characters not complex. In short, his place is unique,
apart from the normal lines of novelistic development.
The vein of Loti is not absolutely new, but is certainly novel. In
him it first revealed itself in a receptive sympathy for the rare
flood of experiences that his naval life brought on him, experiences
which had not fallen to the lot of Bernardin de St. Pierre or
Chateaubriand, both of whom he resembles. But neither of those
writers possessed Loti's delicate sensitiveness to exotic nature as it
is reflected in the foreign mind and heart. Strange but real worlds
he has conjured up for us in most of his works and with means that
are, as with all great artists, extremely simple. He may be compared
to Kipling and to Stevenson: to Kipling, because he has done for the
French seaman something that the Englishman has done for "Tommy
Atkins," although their methods are often more opposed than similar;
like Stevenson, he has gone searching for romance in the ends of the
earth; like Stevenson, too, he has put into all of his works a style
that is never less than dominant and often irresistible. Charm,
indeed, is the one fine quality that all his critics, whether friendly
or not, acknowledge, and it is one well able to cover, if need be, a
multitude of literary sins.
Pierre Loti was elected a member of the French Academy in 1891,
succeeding to the chair of Octave Feuillet. Some of his writings are:
'Aziyade,' written in 1879; the scene is laid in Constantinople. This
was followed by 'Rarahu,' a Polynesian idyl (1880; again published
under the title Le Mariage de Loti, 1882). 'Roman d'un Spahi (1881)
deals with Algiers. Taton-gaye is a true 'bete-humaine', sunk in
moral slumber or quivering with ferocious joys. It is in this book
that Loti has eclipsed Zola. One of his masterpieces is 'Mon Freye
Yves' (ocean and Brittany), together with 'Pecheur d'Islande' (1886);
both translated into German by Elizabeth, Queen of Roumania (Carmen
Sylva). In 1884 was published 'Les trois Dames de la Kasbah,'
relating also to Algiers, and then came 'Madame Chrysantheme' (1887),
crowned by the Academy. 'Japoneries d'automne' (1889), Japanese
scenes; then 'Au Maroc' (Morocco; 1890). Partly autobiographical are
'Le Roman d'un Enfant' (1890) and 'Le Livre de la Pitie et de la Mort'
(1891). Then followed 'Fantomes d'Orient (1892), L'Exilee (1893), Le
Desert (Syria; 1895), Jerusalem, La Galilee (Palestine; 1895), Pages
choisies (1896), Ramuntcho (1897), Reflets sur la Sombre Route'
(1898), and finally 'Derniers Jours de Pekin' (1903). Many exquisite
pages are to be found in Loti's work. His composition is now and then
somewhat disconnected; the impressions are vague, almost illusory, and
the mirage is a little obscure, but the intense and abiding charm of
Nature remains. Loti has not again reached the level of Madame
Chrysantheme, and English critics at least will have to suspend their
judgment for a while. In any event, he has given to the world many
great books, and is shrined with the Forty "Immortals."
de l'Academie Francaise.
To Madame la Duchesse de Richelieu
MADAME LA DUCHESSE,
Permit me to beg your acceptance of this work, as a respectful
tribute of my friendship.
I feel some hesitation in offering it, for its theme can not be
deemed altogether correct; but I have endeavored to make its
expression, at least, in harmony with good taste, and I trust that my
endeavors have been successful.
This record is the journal of a summer of my life, in which I have
changed nothing, not even the dates, thinking that in our efforts to
arrange matters we succeed often only in disarranging them. Although
the most important role may appear to devolve on Madame Chrysantheme,
it is very certain that the three principal points of interest are
myself, Japan, and the effect produced on me by that country.
Do you recollect a certain photograph—rather absurd, I must
admit— representing that great fellow Yves, a Japanese girl, and
myself, grouped as we were posed by a Nagasaki artist? You smiled
when I assured you that the carefully attired little damsel placed
between us had been one of our neighbors. Kindly receive my book with
the same indulgent smile, without seeking therein a meaning either
good or bad, in the same spirit in which you would receive some quaint
bit of pottery, some grotesquely carved ivory idol, or some fantastic
trifle brought to you from this singular fatherland of all fantasy.
Believe me, with the deepest respect,
Madame la Duchesse,
We were at sea, about two o'clock in the morning, on a fine night,
under a starry sky.
Yves stood beside me on the bridge, and we talked of the country,
unknown to both, to which destiny was now carrying us. As we were to
cast anchor the next day, we enjoyed our anticipations, and made a
"For myself," I said, "I shall marry at once."
"Ah!" said Yves, with the indifferent air of one whom nothing can
"Yes—I shall choose a little, creamy-skinned woman with black hair
and cat's eyes. She must be pretty and not much bigger than a doll.
You shall have a room in our house. It will be a little paper house,
in a green garden, deeply shaded. We shall live among flowers,
everything around us shall blossom, and each morning our dwelling
shall be filled with nosegays—nosegays such as you have never dreamed
Yves now began to take an interest in these plans for my future
household; indeed, he would have listened with as much confidence if I
had expressed the intention of taking temporary vows in some monastery
of this new country, or of marrying some island queen and shutting
myself up with her in a house built of jade, in the middle of an
I had quite made up my mind to carry out the scheme I had unfolded
to him. Yes, led on by ennui and solitude, I had gradually arrived at
dreaming of and looking forward to such a marriage. And then, above
all, to live for awhile on land, in some shady nook, amid trees and
flowers! How tempting it sounded after the long months we had been
wasting at the Pescadores (hot and arid islands, devoid of freshness,
woods, or streamlets, full of faint odors of China and of death).
We had made great way in latitude since our vessel had quitted that
Chinese furnace, and the constellations in the sky had undergone a
series of rapid changes; the Southern Cross had disappeared at the
same time as the other austral stars; and the Great Bear, rising on
the horizon, was almost on as high a level as it is in the sky above
France. The evening breeze soothed and revived us, bringing back to
us the memory of our summer-night watches on the coast of Brittany.
What a distance we were, however, from those familiar coasts! What
a tremendous distance!
CHAPTER I. THE MYSTERIOUS LAND
At dawn we beheld Japan.
Precisely at the foretold moment the mysterious land arose before
us, afar off, like a black dot in the vast sea, which for so many days
had been but a blank space.
At first we saw nothing by the rays of the rising sun but a series
of tiny pink-tipped heights (the Fukai Islands). Soon, however,
appeared all along the horizon, like a misty veil over the waters,
Japan itself; and little by little, out of the dense shadow, arose the
sharp, opaque outlines of the Nagasaki mountains.
The wind was dead against us, and the strong breeze, which steadily
increased, seemed as if the country were blowing with all its might,
in a vain effort to drive us away from its shores. The sea, the
rigging, the vessel itself, all vibrated and quivered as if with
CHAPTER II. STRANGE SCENES
By three o'clock in the afternoon all these far-off objects were
close to us, so close that they overshadowed us with their rocky
masses and deep green thickets.
We entered a shady channel between two high ranges of mountains,
oddly symmetrical—like stage scenery, very pretty, though unlike
nature. It seemed as if Japan were opened to our view through an
enchanted fissure, allowing us to penetrate into her very heart.
Nagasaki, as yet unseen, must be at the extremity of this long and
peculiar bay. All around us was exquisitely green. The strong sea-
breeze had suddenly fallen, and was succeeded by a calm; the
atmosphere, now very warm, was laden with the perfume of flowers. In
the valley resounded the ceaseless whirr of the cicalas, answering one
another from shore to shore; the mountains reechoed with innumerable
sounds; the whole country seemed to vibrate like crystal. We passed
among myriads of Japanese junks, gliding softly, wafted by
imperceptible breezes on the smooth water; their motion could hardly
be heard, and their white sails, stretched out on yards, fell
languidly in a thousand horizontal folds like window-blinds, their
strangely contorted poops, rising up castle- like in the air,
reminding one of the towering ships of the Middle Ages. In the midst
of the verdure of this wall of mountains, they stood out with a snowy
What a country of verdure and shade is Japan; what an unlooked-for
Beyond us, at sea, it must have been full daylight; but here, in
the depths of the valley, we already felt the impression of evening;
beneath the summits in full sunlight, the base of the mountains and
all the thickly wooded parts near the water's edge were steeped in
The passing junks, gleaming white against the background of dark
foliage, were silently and dexterously manoeuvred by small, yellow,
naked men, with long hair piled up on their heads in feminine fashion.
Gradually, as we advanced farther up the green channel, the perfumes
became more penetrating, and the monotonous chirp of the cicalas
swelled out like an orchestral crescendo. Above us, against the
luminous sky, sharply delineated between the mountains, a kind of hawk
hovered, screaming out, with a deep, human voice, "Ha! Ha! Ha!" its
melancholy call prolonged by the echoes.
All this fresh and luxuriant nature was of a peculiar Japanese
type, which seemed to impress itself even on the mountain-tops, and
produced the effect of a too artificial prettiness. The trees were
grouped in clusters, with the pretentious grace shown on lacquered
trays. Large rocks sprang up in exaggerated shapes, side by side with
rounded, lawn- like hillocks; all the incongruous elements of
landscape were grouped together as if artificially created.
When we looked intently, here and there we saw, often built in
counterscarp on the very brink of an abyss, some old, tiny, mysterious
pagoda, half hidden in the foliage of the overhanging trees, bringing
to the minds of new arrivals, like ourselves, a sense of unfamiliarity
and strangeness, and the feeling that in this country the spirits, the
sylvan gods, the antique symbols, faithful guardians of the woods and
forests, were unknown and incomprehensible.
When Nagasaki appeared, the view was rather disappointing.
Situated at the foot of green overhanging mountains, it looked like
any other ordinary town. In front of it lay a tangled mass of
vessels, flying all the flags of the world; steamboats, just as in any
other port, with dark funnels and black smoke, and behind them quays
covered with warehouses and factories; nothing was wanting in the way
of ordinary, trivial, every-day objects.
Some time, when man shall have made all things alike, the earth
will be a dull, tedious dwelling-place, and we shall have even to give
up travelling and seeking for a change which can no longer be found.
About six o'clock we dropped anchor noisily amid the mass of
vessels already in the harbor, and were immediately invaded.
We were visited by a mercantile, bustling, comical Japan, which
rushed upon us in full boat-loads, in waves, like a rising sea.
Little men and little women came in a continuous, uninterrupted
stream, but without cries, without squabbles, noiselessly, each one
making so smiling a bow that it was impossible to be angry with them,
so that by reflex action we smiled and bowed also. They carried on
their backs little baskets, tiny boxes, receptacles of every shape,
fitting into one another in the most ingenious manner, each containing
several others, and multiplying till they filled up everything, in
endless number. From these they drew forth all manner of curious and
unexpected things: folding screens, slippers, soap, lanterns,
sleeve-links, live cicalas chirping in little cages, jewelry, tame
white mice turning little cardboard mills, quaint photographs, hot
soups and stews in bowls, ready to be served out in rations to the
crew;—china, a legion of vases, teapots, cups, little pots and
plates. In one moment, all this was unpacked, spread out with
astounding rapidity and a certain talent for arrangement; each seller
squatting monkey-like, hands touching feet, behind his fancy
ware—always smiling, bending low with the most engaging bows. Under
the mass of these many-colored things, the deck presented the
appearance of an immense bazaar; the sailors, very much amused and
full of fun, walked among the heaped-up piles, taking the little women
by the chin, buying anything and everything; throwing broadcast their
white dollars. But how ugly, mean, and grotesque all those folk were!
I began to feel singularly uneasy and disenchanted regarding my
Yves and I were on duty till the next morning, and after the first
bustle, which always takes place on board when settling down in
harbor— boats to lower, booms to swing out, running rigging to make
taut—we had nothing more to do but look on. We said to each other:
"Where are we in reality?—In the United States?—In some English
colony in Australia, or in New Zealand?"
Consular residences, custom-house offices, manufactories; a dry
dock in which a Russian frigate was lying; on the heights the large
European concession, sprinkled with villas, and on the quays, American
bars for the sailors. Farther off, it is true, far away behind these
commonplace objects, in the very depths of the vast green valley,
peered thousands upon thousands of tiny black houses, a tangled mass
of curious appearance, from which here and there emerged some higher,
dark red, painted roofs, probably the true old Japanese Nagasaki,
which still exists. And in those quarters—who knows?—there may be,
lurking behind a paper screen, some affected, cat's-eyed little woman,
whom perhaps in two or three days (having no time to lose) I shall
marry! But no, the picture painted by my fancy has faded. I can no
longer see this little creature in my mind's eye; the sellers of the
white mice have blurred her image; I fear now, lest she should be like
At nightfall the decks were suddenly cleared as by enchantment; in
a second they had shut up their boxes, folded their sliding screens
and their trick fans, and, humbly bowing to each of us, the little men
and little women disappeared.
Slowly, as the shades of night closed around us, mingling all
things in the bluish darkness, Japan became once more, little by
little, a fairy- like and enchanted country. The great mountains, now
black, were mirrored and doubled in the still water at their feet,
reflecting therein their sharply reversed outlines, and presenting the
mirage of fearful precipices, over which we seemed to hang. The stars
also were reversed in their order, making, in the depths of the
imaginary abyss, a sprinkling of tiny phosphorescent lights.
Then all Nagasaki became profusely illuminated, sparkling with
multitudes of lanterns: the smallest suburb, the smallest village was
lighted up; the tiniest but perched up among the trees, which in the
daytime was invisible, threw out its little glowworm glimmer. Soon
there were innumerable lights all over the country on all the shores
of the bay, from top to bottom of the mountains; myriads of glowing
fires shone out in the darkness, conveying the impression of a vast
capital rising around us in one bewildering amphitheatre. Beneath, in
the silent waters, another town, also illuminated, seemed to descend
into the depths of the abyss. The night was balmy, pure, delicious;
the atmosphere laden with the perfume of flowers came wafted to us
from the mountains. From the tea-houses and other nocturnal resorts,
the sound of guitars reached our ears, seeming in the distance the
sweetest of music. And the whirr of the cicalas—which, in Japan, is
one of the continuous noises of life, and which in a few days we shall
no longer even be aware of, so completely is it the background and
foundation of all other terrestrial sounds—was sonorous, incessant,
softly monotonous, like the murmur of a waterfall.
CHAPTER III. THE GARDEN OF FLOWERS
The next day the rain fell in torrents, merciless and unceasing,
blinding and drenching everything—a rain so dense that it was
impossible to see through it from one end of the vessel to the other.
It seemed as if the clouds of the whole world had amassed themselves
in Nagasaki Bay, and chosen this great green funnel to stream down.
And so thickly did the rain fall that it became almost as dark as
night. Through a veil of restless water, we still perceived the base
of the mountains, but the summits were lost to sight among the great
dark masses overshadowing us. Above us shreds of clouds, seemingly
torn from the dark vault, draggled across the trees, like gray
rags-continually melting away in torrents of water. The wind howled
through the ravines with a deep tone. The whole surface of the bay,
bespattered by the rain, flogged by the gusts of wind that blew from
all quarters, splashed, moaned, and seethed in violent agitation.
What depressing weather for a first landing, and how was I to find
a wife through such a deluge, in an unknown country?
No matter! I dressed myself and said to Yves, who smiled at my
obstinate determination in spite of unfavorable circumstances:
"Hail me a 'sampan,' brother, please."
Yves then, by a motion of his arm through the wind and rain,
summoned a kind of little, white, wooden sarcophagus which was
skipping near us on the waves, sculled by two yellow boys stark naked
in the rain. The craft approached us, I jumped into it, then through
a little trap-door shaped like a rat-trap that one of the scullers
threw open for me, I slipped in and stretched myself at full length on
a mat in what is called the "cabin" of a sampan.
There was just room enough for my body to lie in this floating
coffin, which was scrupulously clean, white with the whiteness of new
deal boards. I was well sheltered from the rain, that fell pattering
on my lid, and thus I started for the town, lying in this box, flat on
my stomach, rocked by one wave, roughly shaken by another, at moments
almost overturned; and through the half-opened door of my rattrap I
saw, upside- down, the two little creatures to whom I had entrusted my
fate, children of eight or ten years of age at the most, who, with
little monkeyish faces, had, however, fully developed muscles, like
miniature men, and were already as skilful as regular old salts.
Suddenly they began to shout; no doubt we were approaching the
landing- place. And indeed, through my trap-door, which I had now
thrown wide open, I saw quite near to me the gray flagstones on the
quays. I got out of my sarcophagus and prepared to set foot on
Japanese soil for the first time in my life.
All was streaming around us, and the tiresome rain dashed into my
Hardly had I landed, when there bounded toward me a dozen strange
beings, of what description it was almost impossible to distinguish
through the blinding rain—a species of human hedgehog, each dragging
some large black object; they came screaming around me and stopped my
progress. One of them opened and held over my head an enormous,
closely-ribbed umbrella, decorated on its transparent surface with
paintings of storks; and they all smiled at me in an engaging manner,
with an air of expectation.
I had been forewarned; these were only the djins who were touting
for the honor of my preference; nevertheless I was startled at this
sudden attack, this Japanese welcome on a first visit to land (the
djins or djin-richisans, are the runners who drag little carts, and
are paid for conveying people to and fro, being hired by the hour or
the distance, as cabs are hired in Europe).
Their legs were naked; to-day they were very wet, and their heads
were hidden under large, shady, conical hats. By way of waterproofs
they wore nothing less than mats of straw, with all the ends of the
straws turned outward, bristling like porcupines; they seemed clothed
in a thatched roof. They continued to smile, awaiting my choice.
Not having the honor of being acquainted with any of them in
particular, I chose at haphazard the djin with the umbrella and got
into his little cart, of which he carefully lowered the hood. He drew
an oilcloth apron over my knees, pulling it up to my face, and then
advancing, asked me, in Japanese, something which must have meant:
"Where to, sir?" To which I replied, in the same language, "To the
Garden of Flowers, my friend."
I said this in the three words I had, parrot-like, learned by
heart, astonished that such sounds could mean anything, astonished,
too, at their being understood. We started, he running at full speed,
I dragged along and jerked about in his light chariot, wrapped in
oilcloth, shut up as if in a box—both of us unceasingly drenched all
the while, and dashing all around us the water and mud of the sodden
"To the Garden of Flowers," I had said, like a habitual frequenter
of the place, and quite surprised at hearing myself speak. But I was
less ignorant about Japan than might have been supposed. Many of my
friends, on their return home from that country, had told me about it,
and I knew a great deal; the Garden of Flowers is a tea-house, an
elegant rendezvous. There I should inquire for a certain
Kangourou-San, who is at the same time interpreter, laundryman, and
confidential agent for the intercourse of races. Perhaps this very
evening, if all went well, I should be introduced to the bride
destined for me by mysterious fate. This thought kept my mind on the
alert during the panting journey we made, the djin and I, one dragging
the other, under the merciless downpour.
Oh, what a curious Japan I saw that day, through the gaping of my
oilcloth coverings, from under the dripping hood of my little cart! A
sullen, muddy, half-drowned Japan. All these houses, men, and beasts,
hitherto known to me only in drawings; all these, that I had beheld
painted on blue or pink backgrounds of fans or vases, now appeared to
me in their hard reality, under a dark sky, with umbrellas and wooden
shoes, with tucked-up skirts and pitiful aspect.
At times the rain fell so heavily that I closed up tightly every
chink and crevice, and the noise and shaking benumbed me, so that I
completely forgot in what country I was. In the hood of the cart were
holes, through which little streams ran down my back. Then,
remembering that I was going for the first time in my life through the
very heart of Nagasaki, I cast an inquiring look outside, at the risk
of receiving a drenching: we were trotting along through a mean,
narrow, little back street (there are thousands like it, a labyrinth
of them), the rain falling in cascades from the tops of the roofs on
the gleaming flagstones below, rendering everything indistinct and
vague through the misty atmosphere. At times we passed a woman
struggling with her skirts, unsteadily tripping along in her high
wooden shoes, looking exactly like the figures painted on screens,
cowering under a gaudily daubed paper umbrella. Again, we passed a
pagoda, where an old granite monster, squatting in the water, seemed
to make a hideous, ferocious grimace at me.
How large this Nagasaki is! Here had we been running hard for the
last hour, and still it seemed never-ending. It is a flat plain, and
one never would suppose from the view in the offing that so vast a
plain lies in the depth of this valley.
It would, however, have been impossible for me to say where I was,
or in what direction we had run; I abandoned my fate to my djin and to
my good luck.
What a steam-engine of a man my djin was! I had been accustomed to
the Chinese runners, but they were nothing beside this fellow. When I
part my oilcloth to peep at anything, he is naturally always the first
object in my foreground; his two naked, brown, muscular legs,
scampering along, splashing all around, and his bristling hedgehog
back bending low in the rain. Do the passers-by, gazing at this
little dripping cart, guess that it contains a suitor in quest of a
At last my vehicle stops, and my djin, with many smiles and
precautions lest any fresh rivers should stream down my back, lowers
the hood of the cart; there is a break in the storm, and the rain has
ceased. I had not yet seen his face; as an exception to the general
rule, he is good- looking; a young man of about thirty years of age,
of intelligent and strong appearance, and a frank countenance. Who
could have foreseen that a few days later this very djin? But no, I
will not anticipate, and run the risk of throwing beforehand any
discredit on Chrysantheme.
We had therefore reached our destination, and found ourselves at
the foot of a high, overhanging mountain; probably beyond the limits
of the town, in some suburban district. It apparently became
necessary to continue our journey on foot, and to climb up an almost
perpendicular narrow path.
Around us, a number of small country-houses, garden-walls, and high
bamboo palisades shut off the view. The green hill crushed us with
its towering height; the heavy, dark clouds lowering over our heads
seemed like a leaden canopy confining us in this unknown spot; it
really seemed as if the complete absence of perspective inclined one
all the better to notice the details of this tiny corner, muddy and
wet, of homely Japan, now lying before our eyes. The earth was very
red. The grasses and wild flowers bordering the pathway were strange
to me; nevertheless, the palings were covered with convolvuli like our
own, and I recognized china asters, zinnias, and other familiar
flowers in the gardens. The atmosphere seemed laden with a curiously
complicated odor, something besides the perfume of the plants and
soil, arising no doubt from the human dwelling-places—a mingled odor,
I fancied, of dried fish and incense. Not a creature was to be seen;
of the inhabitants, of their homes and life, there was not a vestige,
and I might have imagined myself anywhere in the world.
My djin had fastened his little cart under a tree, and together we
climbed the steep path on the slippery red soil.
"We are going to the Garden of Flowers, are we not?" I inquired,
desirous to ascertain whether I had been understood.
"Yes, yes," replied the djin, "it is up there, and quite near."
The road turned, steep banks hemming it in and darkening it. On
one side it skirted the mountain, all covered with a tangle of wet
ferns; on the other appeared a large wooden house almost devoid of
openings and of evil aspect; it was there that my djin halted.
What, was that sinister-looking house the Garden of Flowers? He
assured me that it was, and seemed very sure of the fact. We knocked
at a large door which opened immediately, slipping back in its groove.
Then two funny little women appeared, oldish-looking, but with
evident pretensions to youth: exact types of the figures painted on
vases, with their tiny hands and feet.
On catching sight of me they threw themselves on all fours, their
faces touching the floor. Good gracious! What can be the matter? I
asked myself. Nothing at all, it was only the ceremonious salute, to
which I am as yet unaccustomed. They arose, and proceeded to take off
my boots (one never keeps on one's shoes in a Japanese house), wiping
the bottoms of my trousers, and feeling my shoulders to see whether I
What always strikes one on first entering a Japanese dwelling is
the extreme cleanliness, the white and chilling bareness of the rooms.
Over the most irreproachable mattings, without a crease, a line, or
a stain, I was led upstairs to the first story and ushered into a
large, empty room—absolutely empty! The paper walls were mounted on
sliding panels, which, fitting into each other, can be made to
disappear—and all one side of the apartment opened like a veranda,
giving a view of the green country and the gray sky beyond. By way of
a chair, they gave me a square cushion of black velvet; and behold me
seated low, in the middle of this large, empty room, which by its very
vastness is almost chilly. The two little women (who are the servants
of the house and my very humble servants, too), awaited my orders, in
attitudes expressive of the profoundest humility.
It seemed extraordinary that the quaint words, the curious phrases
I had learned during our exile at the Pescadores Islands—by sheer
dint of dictionary and grammar, without attaching the least sense to
them—should mean anything. But so it seemed, however, for I was at
I wished in the first place to speak to one M. Kangourou, who is
interpreter, laundryman, and matrimonial agent. Nothing could be
easier: they knew him and were willing to go at once in search of him;
and the elder of the waiting-maids made ready for the purpose her
wooden clogs and her paper umbrella.
Next I demanded a well-served repast, composed of the greatest
delicacies of Japan. Better and better! they rushed to the kitchen to
Finally, I beg they will give tea and rice to my djin, who is
waiting for me below; I wish,—in short, I wish many things, my dear
little dolls, which I will mention by degrees and with due
deliberation, when I shall have had time to assemble the necessary
words. But the more I look at you the more uneasy I feel as to what
my fiancee of to-morrow may be like. Almost pretty, I grant you, you
are—in virtue of quaintness, delicate hands, miniature feet, but
ugly, after all, and absurdly small. You look like little monkeys,
like little china ornaments, like I don't know what. I begin to
understand that I have arrived at this house at an ill-chosen moment.
Something is going on which does not concern me, and I feel that I am
in the way.
From the beginning I might have guessed as much, notwithstanding
the excessive politeness of my welcome; for I remember now, that while
they were taking off my boots downstairs, I heard a murmuring chatter
overhead, then a noise of panels moved quickly along their grooves,
evidently to hide from me something not intended for me to see; they
were improvising for me the apartment in which I now am just as in
menageries they make a separate compartment for some beasts when the
public is admitted.
Now I am left alone while my orders are being executed, and I
listen attentively, squatted like a Buddha on my black velvet cushion,
in the midst of the whiteness of the walls and mats.
Behind the paper partitions, feeble voices, seemingly numerous, are
talking in low tones. Then rises the sound of a guitar, and the song
of a woman, plaintive and gentle in the echoing sonority of the bare
house, in the melancholy of the rainy weather.
What one can see through the wide-open veranda is very pretty; I
will admit that it resembles the landscape of a fairytale. There are
admirably wooded mountains, climbing high into the dark and gloomy
sky, and hiding in it the peaks of their summits, and, perched up
among the clouds, is a temple. The atmosphere has that absolute
transparency, that distance and clearness which follows a great fall
of rain; but a thick pall, still heavy with moisture, remains
suspended over all, and on the foliage of the hanging woods still
float great flakes of gray fluff, which remain there, motionless. In
the foreground, in front of and below this almost fantastic landscape,
is a miniature garden where two beautiful white cats are taking the
air, amusing themselves by pursuing each other through the paths of a
Lilliputian labyrinth, shaking the wet sand from their paws. The
garden is as conventional as possible: not a flower, but little rocks,
little lakes, dwarf trees cut in grotesque fashion; all this is not
natural, but it is most ingeniously arranged, so green, so full of
In the rain-soaked country below me, to the very farthest end of
the vast scene, reigns a great silence, an absolute calm. But the
woman's voice, behind the paper wall, continues to sing in a key of
gentle sadness, and the accompanying guitar has sombre and even gloomy
Stay, though! Now the music is somewhat quicker—one might even
suppose they were dancing!
So much the worse! I shall try to look between the fragile
divisions, through a crack which has revealed itself to my notice.
What a singular spectacle it is; evidently the gilded youth of
Nagasaki holding a great clandestine orgy! In an apartment as bare as
my own, there are a dozen of them, seated in a circle on the ground,
attired in long blue cotton dresses with pagoda sleeves, long, sleek,
and greasy hair surmounted by European pot-hats; and beneath these,
yellow, worn- out, bloodless, foolish faces. On the floor are a
number of little spirit-lamps, little pipes, little lacquer trays,
little teapots, little cups-all the accessories and all the remains of
a Japanese feast, resembling nothing so much as a doll's tea-party.
In the midst of this circle of dandies are three overdressed women,
one might say three weird visions, robed in garments of pale and
indefinable colors, embroidered with golden monsters; their great
coiffures are arranged with fantastic art, stuck full of pins and
flowers. Two are seated with their backs turned to me: one is holding
the guitar, the other singing with that soft, pretty voice; thus seen
furtively, from behind, their pose, their hair, the nape of their
necks, all is exquisite, and I tremble lest a movement should reveal
to me faces which might destroy the enchantment. The third girl is on
her feet, dancing before this areopagus of idiots, with their lanky
locks and pot-hats. What a shock when she turns round! She wears over
her face the horribly grinning, death-like mask of a spectre or a
vampire. The mask unfastened, falls. And behold! a darling little
fairy of about twelve or fifteen years of age, slim, and already a
coquette, already a woman—dressed in a long robe of shaded dark-blue
china crape, covered with embroidery representing bats-gray bats,
black bats, golden bats.
Suddenly there are steps on the stairs, the light foot steps of
barefooted women pattering over the white mats. No doubt the first
course of my luncheon is just about to be served. I fall back
quickly, fixed and motionless, upon my black velvet cushion. There
are three of them now, three waiting-maids who arrive in single file,
with smiles and curtseys. One offers me the spirit-lamp and the
teapot; another, preserved fruits in delightful little plates; the
third, absolutely indefinable objects upon gems of little trays. And
they grovel before me on the floor, placing all this plaything of a
meal at my feet.
At this moment, my impressions of Japan are charming enough; I feel
myself fairly launched upon this tiny, artificial, fictitious world,
which I felt I knew already from the paintings on lacquer and
porcelains. It is so exact a representation! The three little
squatting women, graceful and dainty, with their narrow slits of eyes,
their magnificent coiffures in huge bows, smooth and shining as
shoe-polish, and the little tea-service on the floor, the landscape
seen through the veranda, the pagoda perched among the clouds; and
over all the same affectation everywhere, in every detail. Even the
woman's melancholy voice, still to be heard behind the paper
partition, was evidently the proper way for them to sing—these
musicians I had so often seen painted in amazing colors on rice-paper,
half closing their dreamy eyes among impossibly large flowers. Long
before I arrived there, I had perfectly pictured Japan to myself.
Nevertheless, in the reality it almost seems to be smaller, more
finicking than I had imagined it, and also much more mournful, no
doubt by reason of that great pall of black clouds hanging over us,
and this incessant rain.
While awaiting M. Kangourou (who is dressing himself, it appears,
and will be here shortly), it may be as well to begin luncheon.
In the daintiest bowl imaginable, adorned with flights of storks,
is the most wildly impossible soup made of seaweed. After which there
are little fish dried in sugar, crabs in sugar, beans in sugar, and
fruits in vinegar and pepper. All this is atrocious, but above all
unexpected and unimaginable. The little women make me eat, laughing
much, with that perpetual, irritating laugh which is peculiar to
Japan—they make me eat, according to their fashion, with dainty
chop-sticks, fingered with affected grace. I am becoming accustomed
to their faces. The whole effect is refined—a refinement so entirely
different from our own that at first sight I understand nothing of it,
although in the long run it may end by pleasing me.
Suddenly enters, like a night butterfly awakened in broad daylight,
like a rare and surprising moth, the dancing-girl from the other
compartment, the child who wore the horrible mask. No doubt she
wishes to have a look at me. She rolls her eyes like a timid kitten,
and then all at once tamed, nestles against me, with a coaxing air of
childishness, which is a delightfully transparent assumption. She is
slim, elegant, delicate, and smells sweet; she is drolly painted,
white as plaster, with a little circle of rouge marked very precisely
in the middle of each cheek, the mouth reddened, and a touch of
gilding outlining the under lip. As they could not whiten the back of
her neck on account of all the delicate little curls of hair growing
there, they had, in their love of exactitude, stopped the white
plaster in a straight line, which might have been cut with a knife,
and in consequence at the nape appears a square of natural skin of a
An imperious note sounds on the guitar, evidently a summons! Crac!
Away she goes, the little fairy, to entertain the drivelling fools on
the other side of the screens.
Suppose I marry this one, without seeking any further. I should
respect her as a child committed to my care; I should take her for
what she is: a fantastic and charming plaything. What an amusing
little household I should set up! Really, short of marrying a china
ornament, I should find it difficult to choose better.
At this moment enters M. Kangourou, clad in a suit of gray tweed,
which might have come from La Belle Jardiniere or the Pont Neuf, with
a pot-hat and white thread gloves. His countenance is at once foolish
and cunning; he has hardly any nose or eyes. He makes a real Japanese
salutation: an abrupt dip, the hands placed flat on the knees, the
body making a right angle to the legs, as if the fellow were breaking
in two; a little snake- like hissing (produced by sucking the saliva
between the teeth, which is the highest expression of obsequious
politeness in this country).
"You speak French, Monsieur Kangourou?"
"Yes, Monsieur" (renewed bows).
He makes one for each word I utter, as if he were a mechanical toy
pulled by a string; when he is seated before me on the ground, he
limits himself to a duck of the head—always accompanied by the same
hissing noise of the saliva.
"A cup of tea, Monsieur Kangourou?"
Fresh salute and an extra affected gesticulation with the hands, as
if to say, "I should hardly dare. It is too great a condescension on
your part. However, anything to oblige you."
He guesses at the first words what I require from him.
"Of course," he replies, "we shall see about it at once. In a
week's time, as it happens, a family from Simonoseki, in which there
are two charming daughters, will be here!"
"What! in a week! You don't know me, Monsieur Kangourou! No, no,
either now, to-morrow, or not at all."
Again a hissing bow, and Kangourou-San, understanding my agitation,
begins to pass in feverish review all the young persons at his
disposal in Nagasaki.
"Let us see—there was Mademoiselle Oeillet. What a pity that you
did not speak a few days sooner! So pretty! So clever at playing the
guitar! It is an irreparable misfortune; she was engaged only
yesterday by a Russian officer.
"Ah! Mademoiselle Abricot!—Would she suit you, Mademoiselle
Abricot? She is the daughter of a wealthy China merchant in the Decima
Bazaar, a person of the highest merit; but she would be very dear: her
parents, who think a great deal of her, will not let her go under a
hundred yen— [A yen is equal to four shillings.]—a month. She is
very accomplished, thoroughly understands commercial writing, and has
at her fingers'-ends more than two thousand characters of learned
writing. In a poetical competition she gained the first prize with a
sonnet composed in praise of 'the blossoms of the blackthorn hedges
seen in the dew of early morning.' Only, she is not very pretty: one
of her eyes is smaller than the other, and she has a hole in her
cheek, resulting from an illness of her childhood."
"Oh, no! on no account that one! Let us seek among a less
distinguished class of young persons, but without scars. And how
about those on the other side of the screen, in those fine
gold-embroidered dresses? For instance, the dancer with the spectre
mask, Monsieur Kangourou? or again she who sings in so dulcet a
strain and has such a charming nape to her neck?"
He does not, at first, understand my drift; then when he gathers my
meaning, he shakes his head almost in a joking way, and says:
"No, Monsieur, no! Those are only geishas,—[Geishas are
professional dancers and singers trained at the Yeddo
"Well, but why not a geisha? What difference can it make to me
whether they are geishas or not?" Later, no doubt, when I understand
Japanese affairs better, I shall appreciate myself the enormity of my
proposal: one would really suppose I had talked of marrying the devil.
At this point M. Kangourou suddenly calls to mind one Mademoiselle
Jasmin. Heavens! how was it he had not thought of her at once? She
is absolutely and exactly what I want; he will go to-morrow, or this
very evening, to make the necessary overtures to the parents of this
young person, who live a long way off, on the opposite hill, in the
suburb of Diou-djen-dji. She is a very pretty girl of about fifteen.
She can probably be engaged for about eighteen or twenty dollars a
month, on condition of presenting her with a few costumes of the best
fashion, and of lodging her in a pleasant and well-situated house—all
of which a man of gallantry like myself could not fail to do.
Well, let us fix upon Mademoiselle Jasmin, then—and now we must
part; time presses. M. Kangourou will come on board to-morrow to
communicate to me the result of his first proceedings and to arrange
with me for the interview. For the present he refuses to accept any
remuneration; but I am to give him my washing, and to procure him the
custom of my brother officers of the 'Triomphante.' It is all
settled. Profound bows—they put on my boots again at the door. My
djin, profiting by the interpreter kind fortune has placed in his way,
begs to be recommended to me for future custom; his stand is on the
quay; his number is 415, inscribed in French characters on the lantern
of his vehicle (we have a number 415 on board, one Le Goelec, gunner,
who serves the left of one of my guns; happy thought! I shall
remember this); his price is sixpence the journey, or five-pence an
hour, for his customers. Capital! he shall have my custom, that is
promised. And now, let us be off. The waiting- maids, who have
escorted me to the door, fall on all fours as a final salute, and
remain prostrate on the threshold as long as I am still in sight down
the dark pathway, where the rain trickles off the great overarching
bracken upon my head.
CHAPTER IV. CHOOSING A BRIDE
Three days have passed. Night is closing, in an apartment which
has been mine since yesterday. Yves and I, on the first floor, move
restlessly over the white mats, striding to and fro in the great bare
room, of which the thin, dry flooring cracks beneath our footsteps; we
are both rather irritated by prolonged expectation. Yves, whose
impatience shows itself more freely, from time to time looks out of
the window. As for myself, a chill suddenly seizes me, at the idea
that I have chosen to inhabit this lonely house, lost in the midst of
the suburb of a totally strange town, perched high on the mountain and
almost opening upon the woods.
What wild notion could have taken possession of me, to settle
myself in surroundings so foreign and unknown, breathing of isolation
and sadness? The waiting unnerves me, and I beguile the time by
examining all the little details of the building. The woodwork of the
ceiling is complicated and ingenious. On the partitions of white
paper which form the walls, are scattered tiny, microscopic,
"They are late," said Yves, who is still looking out into the
As to being late, that they certainly are, by a good hour already,
and night is falling, and the boat which should take us back to dine
on board will be gone. Probably we shall have to sup Japanese fashion
tonight, heaven only knows where. The people of this country have no
sense of punctuality, or of the value of time.
Therefore I continue to inspect the minute and comical details of
my dwelling. Here, instead of handles such as we should have made to
pull these movable partitions, they have made little oval-holes, just
the shape of a finger-end, into which one is evidently to put one's
thumb. These little holes have a bronze ornamentation, and, on looking
closely, one sees that the bronze is curiously chased: here is a lady
fanning herself; there, in the next hole, is represented a branch of
cherry in full blossom. What eccentricity there is in the taste of
this people! To bestow assiduous labor on such miniature work, and
then to hide it at the bottom of a hole to put one's finger in,
looking like a mere spot in the middle of a great white panel; to
accumulate so much patient and delicate workmanship on almost
imperceptible accessories, and all to produce an effect which is
absolutely nil, an effect of the most complete bareness and nudity.
Yves still continues to gaze forth, like Sister Anne. From the
side on which he leans, my veranda overlooks a street, or rather a
road bordered with houses, which climbs higher and higher, and loses
itself almost immediately in the verdure of the mountain, in the
fields of tea, the underwood and the cemeteries. As for myself, this
delay finally irritates me thoroughly, and I turn my glances to the
opposite side. The other end of my house, also a veranda, opens first
of all upon a garden; then upon a marvellous panorama of woods and
mountains, with all the venerable Japanese quarters of Nagasaki lying
confusedly like a black ant-heap, six hundred feet below us. This
evening, in a dull twilight, notwithstanding that it is a twilight of
July, these things are melancholy. Great clouds heavy with rain and
showers, ready to fall, are travelling across the sky. No, I can not
feel at home in this strange dwelling I have chosen; I feel sensations
of extreme solitude and strangeness; the mere prospect of passing the
night in it gives me a shudder of horror.
"Ah! at last, brother," said Yves, "I believe—yes, I really
believe she is coming at last."
I look over his shoulder, and I see a back view of a little doll,
the finishing touches to whose toilette are being put in the solitary
street; a last maternal glance is given the enormous bows of the sash,
the folds at the waist. Her dress is of pearl-gray silk, her obi
(sash) of mauve satin; a sprig of silver flowers trembles in her black
hair; a parting ray of sunlight touches the little figure; five or six
persons accompany her. Yes! it is undoubtedly Mademoiselle Jasmin;
they are bringing me my fiancee!
I rush to the ground floor, inhabited by old Madame Prune, my
landlady, and her aged husband; they are absorbed in prayer before the
altar of their ancestors.
"Here they are, Madame Prune," I cry in Japanese; "here they are!
Bring at once the tea, the lamp, the embers, the little pipes for the
ladies, the little bamboo pots! Bring up, as quickly as possible, all
the accessories for my reception!"
I hear the front door open, and hasten upstairs again. Wooden
clogs are deposited on the floor, the staircase creaks gently under
little bare feet. Yves and I look at each other, with a longing to
An old lady enters—two old ladies—three old ladies, emerging from
the doorway one after another with jerking and mechanical salutations,
which we return as best we can, fully conscious of our inferiority in
this particular style. Then come persons of intermediate age—then
quite young ones, a dozen at least, friends, neighbors, the whole
quarter, in fact. And the entire company, on arriving, becomes
confusedly engaged in reciprocal salutations: I salute you—you salute
me—I salute you again, and you return it—and I re-salute you again,
and I express that I shall never, never be able to return it according
to your high merit—and I bang my forehead against the ground, and you
stick your nose between the planks of the flooring, and there they
are, on all fours one before another; it is a polite dispute, all
eager to yield precedence as to sitting down, or passing first, and
compliments without end are murmured in low tones, with faces against
They seat themselves at last, smiling, in a ceremonious circle; we
two remaining standing, our eyes fixed on the staircase. And at
length emerges the little aigrette of silver flowers, the ebony
coiffure, the gray silk robe and mauve sash of Mademoiselle Jasmin, my
Heavens! why, I know her already! Long before setting foot in
Japan, I had met her, on every fan, on every teacup with her silly
air, her puffy little face, her tiny eyes, mere gimlet-holes above
those expanses of impossible pink and white cheeks.
She is young, that is all I can say in her favor; she is even so
young that I should almost scruple to accept her. The wish to laugh
leaves me suddenly, and instead, a profound chill seizes my heart.
What! share even an hour of my life with that little doll? Never!
The next question is, how to get rid of her.
She advances smiling, with an air of repressed triumph, and behind
her looms M. Kangourou, in his suit of gray tweed. Fresh salutes, and
behold her on all fours, she too, before my landlady and before my
neighbors. Yves, the big Yves, who is not about to be married, stands
behind me, with a comical grimace, hardly repressing his
laughter—while to give myself time to collect my ideas, I offer tea
in little cups, little spittoons, and embers to the company.
Nevertheless, my discomfited air does not escape my visitors. M.
Kangourou anxiously inquires:
"How do you like her?" And I reply in a low voice, but with great
"Not at all! I won't have that one. Never!"
I believe that this remark was almost understood in the circle
around me. Consternation was depicted on every face, jaws dropped, and
pipes went out. And now I address my reproaches to Kangourou: "Why
have you brought her to me in such pomp, before friends and neighbors
of both sexes, instead of showing her to me discreetly, as if by
chance, as I had wished? What an affront you will compel me now to
put upon all these polite persons!"
The old ladies (the mamma, no doubt, and aunts), prick up their
ears, and M. Kangourou translates to them, softening as much as
possible, my heartrending decision. I feel really almost sorry for
them; the fact is, that for women who, not to put too fine a point
upon it, have come to sell a child, they have an air I was not
prepared for: I can hardly say an air of respectability (a word in use
with us which is absolutely without meaning in Japan), but an air of
unconscious and good-natured simplicity. They are only doing a thing
that is perfectly admissible in their world, and really it all
resembles, more than I could have thought possible, a bona fide
"But what fault do you find with the little girl?" asks M.
Kangourou, in consternation.
I endeavor to present the matter in the most flattering light:
"She is very young," I say; "and then she is too white, too much
like our own women. I wished for one with an ivory skin, just as a
"But that is only the paint they have put on her, Monsieur!
Beneath it, I assure you, she is of an ivory hue."
Yves leans toward me and whispers:
"Look over there, brother, in that corner by the last panel; have
you noticed the one who is sitting down?"
Not I. In my annoyance I had not observed her; she had her back to
the light, was dressed in dark colors, and sat in the careless
attitude of one who keeps in the background. The fact is, this one
pleased me much better. Eyes with long lashes, rather narrow, but
which would have been called good in any country in the world; with
almost an expression, almost a thought. A coppery tint on her rounded
cheeks; a straight nose; slightly thick lips, but well modelled and
with pretty corners. A little older than Mademoiselle Jasmin, about
eighteen years of age perhaps, already more of a woman. She wore an
expression of ennui, also of a little contempt, as if she regretted
her attendance at a spectacle which dragged so much, and was so little
"Monsieur Kangourou, who is that young lady over there, in dark
"Over there, Monsieur? She is called Mademoiselle Chrysantheme.
She came with the others you see here; she is only here as a
spectator. She pleases you?" said he, with eager suddenness, espying
a way out of his difficulty. Then, forgetting all his politeness, all
his ceremoniousness, all his Japanesery, he takes her by the hand,
forces her to rise, to stand in the dying daylight, to let herself be
seen. And she, who has followed our eyes and begins to guess what is
on foot, lowers her head in confusion, with a more decided but more
charming pout, and tries to step back, half-sulky, half-smiling.
"It makes no difference," continues M. Kangourou, "it can be
arranged just as well with this one; she is not married either,
She is not married! Then why didn't the idiot propose her to me at
once instead of the other, for whom I have a feeling of the greatest
pity, poor little soul, with her pearl-gray dress, her sprig of
flowers, her now sad and mortified expression, and her eyes which
twinkle like those of a child about to cry.
"It can be arranged, Monsieur!" repeats Kangourou again, who at
this moment appears to me a go-between of the lowest type, a rascal of
the meanest kind.
Only, he adds, we, Yves and I, are in the way during the
negotiations. And, while Mademoiselle Chrysantheme remains with her
eyelids lowered, as befits the occasion, while the various families,
on whose countenances may be read every degree of astonishment, every
phase of expectation, remain seated in a circle on my white mats, he
sends us two into the veranda, and we gaze down into the depths below
us, upon a misty and vague Nagasaki, a Nagasaki melting into a blue
haze of darkness.
Then ensue long discourses in Japanese, arguments without end. M.
Kangourou, who is laundryman and low scamp in French only, has
returned for these discussions to the long formulas of his country.
From time to time I express impatience, I ask this worthy creature,
whom I am less and less able to consider in a serious light:
"Come now, tell us frankly, Kangourou, are we any nearer coming to
some arrangement? Is all this ever going to end?"
"In a moment, Monsieur, in a moment;" and he resumes his air of
political economist seriously debating social problems.
Well, one must submit to the slowness of this people. And, while
the darkness falls like a veil over the Japanese town, I have leisure
to reflect, with as much melancholy as I please, upon the bargain that
is being concluded behind me.
Night has closed in; it has been necessary to light the lamps.
It is ten o'clock when all is finally settled, and M. Kangourou
comes to tell me:
"All is arranged, Monsieur: her parents will give her up for twenty
dollars a month—the same price as Mademoiselle Jasmin."
On hearing this, I am possessed suddenly with extreme vexation that
I should have made up my mind so quickly to link myself in ever so
fleeting and transient a manner with this little creature, and dwell
with her in this isolated house.
We return to the room; she is the centre of the circle and seated;
and they have placed the aigrette of flowers in her hair. There is
actually some expression in her glance, and I am almost persuaded that
Yves is astonished at her modest attitude, at her little timid airs
of a young girl on the verge of matrimony; he had imagined nothing
like it in such a connection as this, nor I either, I must confess.
"She is really very pretty, brother," said he; "very pretty, take
my word for it!"
These good folks, their customs, this scene, strike him dumb with
astonishment; he can not get over it, and remains in a maze. "Oh!
this is too much," he says, and the idea of writing a long letter to
his wife at Toulven, describing it all, diverts him greatly.
Chrysantheme and I join hands. Yves, too, advances and touches the
dainty little paw. After all, if I wed her, it is chiefly his fault;
I never should have remarked her without his observation that she was
pretty. Who can tell how this strange arrangement will turn out? Is
it a woman or a doll? Well, time will show.
The families, having lighted their many-colored lanterns swinging
at the ends of slight sticks, prepare to retire with many compliments,
bows, and curtseys. When it is a question of descending the stairs,
no one is willing to go first, and at a given moment, the whole party
are again on all fours, motionless and murmuring polite phrases in
"Haul back there!" said Yves, laughing, and employing a nautical
term used when there is a stoppage of any kind.
At length they all melt away, descending the stairs with a last
buzzing accompaniment of civilities and polite phrases finished from
one step to another in voices which gradually die away. He and I
remain alone in the unfriendly, empty apartment, where the mats are
still littered with the little cups of tea, the absurd little pipes,
and the miniature trays.
"Let us watch them go away!" said Yves, leaning out. At the door
of the garden is a renewal of the same salutations and curtseys, and
then the two groups of women separate, their bedaubed paper lanterns
fade away trembling in the distance, balanced at the extremity of
flexible canes which they hold in their fingertips as one would hold a
fishing-rod in the dark to catch night-birds. The procession of the
unfortunate Mademoiselle Jasmin mounts upward toward the mountain,
while that of Mademoiselle Chrysantheme winds downward by a narrow old
street, half- stairway, half-goat-path, which leads to the town.
Then we also depart. The night is fresh, silent, exquisite, the
eternal song of the cicalas fills the air. We can still see the red
lanterns of my new family, dwindling away in the distance, as they
descend and gradually become lost in that yawning abyss, at the bottom
of which lies Nagasaki.
Our way, too, lies downward, but on an opposite slope by steep
paths leading to the sea.
And when I find myself once more on board, when the scene enacted
on the hill above recurs to my mind, it seems to me that my betrothal
is a joke, and my new family a set of puppets.
CHAPTER V. A FANTASTIC MARRIAGE
July 10, 1885.
Three days have passed since my marriage was an accomplished fact.
In the lower part of the town, in one of the new cosmopolitan
districts, in an ugly, pretentious building, which is a sort of
registry office, the deed was signed and countersigned, with
marvellous hieroglyphics, in a large book, in the presence of those
absurd little creatures, formerly silken-robed Samurai, but now called
policemen, dressed up in tight jackets and Russian caps.
The ceremony took place in the full heat of midday; Chrysantheme
and her mother arrived together, and I alone. We seemed to have met
for the purpose of ratifying some discreditable contract, and the two
women trembled in the presence of these ugly little men, who, in their
eyes, were the personification of the law.
In the middle of their official scrawl, they made me write in
French my name, Christian name, and profession. Then they gave me an
extraordinary document on a sheet of rice-paper, which set forth the
permission granted me by the civilian authorities of the island of
Kiu-Siu, to inhabit a house situated in the suburb of Diou-djen-dji,
with a person called Chrysantheme, the said permission being under the
protection of the police during the whole of my stay in Japan.
In the evening, however, in our own quarter, our little marriage
became a very pretty affair—a procession carrying lanterns, a festive
tea and some music. All this seemed quite necessary.
Now we are almost an old married couple, and we are gently settling
down into everyday habits.
Chrysantheme tends the flowers in our bronze vases, dresses herself
with studied care, proud of her socks with the divided big toe, and
strums all day on a kind of long-necked guitar, producing sweet and
CHAPTER VI. MY NEW MENAGE
In our home, everything looks like a Japanese picture: we have
folding- screens, little odd-shaped stools bearing vases full of
flowers, and at the farther end of the apartment, in a nook forming a
kind of altar, a large gilded Buddha sits enthroned in a lotus.
The house is just as I had fancied it should be in the many dreams
of Japan I had had before my arrival, during the long night watches:
perched on high, in a peaceful suburb, in the midst of green gardens;
made up of paper panels, and taken to pieces according to one's fancy,
like a child's toy. Whole families of cicalas chirp day and night
under our old resounding roof. From our veranda we have a bewildering
bird's-eye view of Nagasaki, of its streets, its junks, and its great
pagodas, which, at certain hours, is illuminated at our feet like some
scene in fairyland.
CHAPTER VII. THE LADIES OF THE FANS
Regarded as a mere outline, little Chrysantheme has been seen
everywhere and by everybody. Whoever has looked at one of those
paintings on china or silk that are sold in our bazaars, knows
perfectly the pretty, stiff head-dress, the leaning figure, ever ready
to try some new gracious salutation, the sash fastened behind in an
enormous bow, the large, flowing sleeves, the drapery slightly
clinging about the ankles with a little crooked train like a lizard's
But her face—no, not every one has seen that; there is something
special about it.
Moreover, the type of women the Japanese paint mostly on their
vases is an exceptional one in their country. It is almost
exclusively among the nobility that these personages are found, with
their long, pale faces, painted in tender rose-tints, and silly, long
necks which give them the appearance of storks. This distinguished
type (which I am obliged to admit was also Mademoiselle Jasmin's) is
rare, particularly at Nagasaki.
Among the middle classes and the common people, the ugliness is
more pleasant and sometimes becomes a kind of prettiness. The eyes
are still too small and hardly able to open, but the faces are
rounder, browner, more vivacious; and in the women remains a certain
vagueness of feature, something childlike which prevails to the very
end of their lives.
They are so laughing, and so merry, all these little Nipponese
dolls! Rather a forced mirth, it is true, studied, and at times with a
false ring; nevertheless one is attracted by it.
Chrysantheme is an exception, for she is melancholy. What thoughts
are running through that little brain? My knowledge of her language
is still too limited to enable me to find out. Moreover, it is a
hundred to one that she has no thoughts whatever. And even if she
had, what do I care?
I have chosen her to amuse me, and I should really prefer that she
should have one of those insignificant little thoughtless faces like
all the others.
CHAPTER VIII. THE NECESSARY VEIL
When night comes on, we light two hanging lamps of religious
symbolism, which burn till daylight, before our gilded idol.
We sleep on the floor, on a thin cotton mattress, which is unfolded
and laid out over our white matting. Chrysantheme's pillow is a
little wooden block, cut so as to fit exactly the nape of her neck,
without disturbing the elaborate head-dress, which must never be taken
down; the pretty black hair I shall probably never see undone. My
pillow, a Chinese model, is a kind of little square drum covered over
with serpent- skin.
We sleep under a gauze mosquito-net of sombre greenish-blue, dark
as the shades of night, stretched out on an orange-colored ribbon.
(These are the traditional colors, and all respectable families of
Nagasaki possess a similar net.) It envelops us like a tent; the
mosquitoes and the night- moths whirl around it.
This sounds very pretty, and written down looks very well. In
reality, however, it is not so; something, I know not what, is
lacking, and everything is very paltry. In other lands, in the
delightful isles of Oceania, in the old, lifeless quarters of
Stamboul, it seemed as if mere words could never express all I felt,
and I struggled vainly against my own inability to render, in human
language, the penetrating charm surrounding me.
Here, on the contrary, words exact and truthful in themselves seem
always too thrilling, too great for the subject; seem to embellish it
unduly. I feel as if I were acting, for my own benefit, some
wretchedly trivial and third-rate comedy; and whenever I try to
consider my home in a serious spirit, the scoffing figure of M.
Kangourou rises before me— the matrimonial agent, to whom I am
indebted for my happiness.
CHAPTER IX. MY PLAYTHING
Yves visits us whenever he is free, in the evening at five o'clock,
after his duties on board are fulfilled.
He is our only European visitor, and, with the exception of a few
civilities and cups of tea, exchanged with our neighbors, we lead a
very retired life. Only in the evenings, winding our way through the
steep, narrow streets and carrying our lanterns at the end of short
sticks, we go down to Nagasaki in search of amusement at the theatres,
at the tea- houses, or in the bazaars.
Yves treats my wife as if she were a plaything, and continually
assures me that she is charming.
I find her as exasperating as the cicalas on my roof; and when I am
alone at home, side by side with this little creature twanging the
strings of her long-necked guitar, facing this marvellous panorama of
pagodas and mountains, I am overcome by sadness almost to tears.
CHAPTER X. NOCTURNAL TERRORS
Last night, as we reposed under the Japanese roof of
Diou-djen-dji—the thin old wooden roof scorched by a hundred years of
sunshine, vibrating at the least sound, like the stretched-out
parchment of a tomtom—in the silence which prevails at two o'clock in
the morning, we heard overhead a sound like a regular wild huntsman's
chase passing at full gallop.
"Nidzoumi!" ("The mice!") said Chrysantheme.
Suddenly the word brings back to my mind yet another phrase, spoken
in a very different language, in a country far away from here:
"Setchan!" a word heard elsewhere, a word that has likewise been
whispered in my ear by a woman's voice, under similar circumstances,
in a moment of nocturnal terror—"Setchan!" It was during one of our
first nights at Stamboul spent under the mysterious roof of Eyoub,
when danger surrounded us on all sides; a noise on the steps of the
black staircase had made us tremble, and she also, my dear little
Turkish companion, had said to me in her beloved language, "Setchan!"
At that fond recollection, a thrill of sweet memories coursed
through my veins; it was as if I had been startled out of a long ten
years' sleep; I looked down upon the doll beside me with a sort of
hatred, wondering why I was there, and I arose, with almost a feeling
of remorse, to escape from that blue gauze net.
I stepped out upon the veranda, and there I paused, gazing into the
depths of the starlit night. Beneath me Nagasaki lay asleep, wrapped
in a soft, light slumber, hushed by the murmuring sound of a thousand
insects in the moonlight, and fairy-like with its roseate hues. Then,
turning my head, I saw behind me the gilded idol with our lamps
burning in front of it; the idol smiling the impassive smile of
Buddha; and its presence seemed to cast around it something, I know
not what, strange and incomprehensible. Never until now had I slept
under the eye of such a god.
In the midst of the calm and silence of the night, I strove to
recall my poignant impressions of Stamboul; but, alas, I strove in
vain, they would not return to me in this strange, far-off world.
Through the transparent blue gauze appeared my little Japanese, as
she lay in her sombre night- robe with all the fantastic grace of her
country, the nape of her neck resting on its wooden block, and her
hair arranged in large, shiny bows. Her amber-tinted arms, pretty and
delicate, emerged, bare up to the shoulders, from her wide sleeves.
"What can those mice on the roof have done to him?" thought
Chrysantheme. Of course she could not understand. In a coaxing
manner, like a playful kitten, she glanced at me with her half-closed
eyes, inquiring why I did not come back to sleep—and I returned to my
place by her side.
CHAPTER XI. A GAME OF ARCHERY
This is the National Fete day of France. In Nagasaki Harbor, all
the ships are adorned with flags, and salutes are fired in our honor.
Alas! All day long, I can not help thinking of that last
fourteenth of July, spent in the deep calm and quiet of my old home,
the door shut against all intruders, while the gay crowd roared
outside; there I had remained till evening, seated on a bench, shaded
by an arbor covered with honeysuckle, where, in the bygone days of my
childhood's summers, I used to settle myself with my copybooks and
pretend to learn my lessons. Oh, those days when I was supposed to
learn my lessons! How my thoughts used to rove—what voyages, what
distant lands, what tropical forests did I not behold in my dreams!
At that time, near the garden-bench, in some of the crevices in the
stone wall, dwelt many a big, ugly, black spider always on the alert,
peeping out of his nook ready to pounce upon any giddy fly or
wandering centipede. One of my amusements consisted in tickling the
spiders gently, very gently, with a blade of grass or a cherry-stalk
in their webs. Mystified, they would rush out, fancying they had to
deal with some sort of prey, while I would rapidly draw back my hand
in disgust. Well, last year, on that fourteenth of July, as I
recalled my days of Latin themes and translations, now forever flown,
and this game of boyish days, I actually recognized the very same
spiders (or at least their daughters), lying in wait in the very same
places. Gazing at them, and at the tufts of grass and moss around me,
a thousand memories of those summers of my early life welled up within
me, memories which for years past had lain slumbering under this old
wall, sheltered by the ivy boughs. While all that is ourselves
perpetually changes and passes away, the constancy with which Nature
repeats, always in the same manner, her most infinitesimal details,
seems a wonderful mystery; the same peculiar species of moss grows
afresh for centuries on precisely the same spot, and the same little
insects each summer do the same thing in the same place.
I must admit that this episode of my childhood, and the spiders,
have little to do with the story of Chrysantheme. But an incongruous
interruption is quite in keeping with the taste of this country;
everywhere it is practised, in conversation, in music, even in
painting; a landscape painter, for instance, when he has finished a
picture of mountains and crags, will not hesitate to draw, in the very
middle of the sky, a circle, or a lozenge, or some kind of framework,
within which he will represent anything incoherent and inappropriate:
a bonze fanning himself, or a lady taking a cup of tea. Nothing is
more thoroughly Japanese than such digressions, made without the
Moreover, if I roused my past memories, it was the better to force
myself to notice the difference between that day of July last year, so
peacefully spent amid surroundings familiar to me from my earliest
infancy, and my present animated life passed in the midst of such a
To-day, therefore, under the scorching midday sun, at two o'clock,
three swift-footed djins dragged us at full speed—Yves, Chrysantheme,
and myself—in Indian file, each in a little jolting cart, to the
farther end of Nagasaki, and there deposited us at the foot of some
gigantic steps that run straight up the mountain.
These are the granite steps leading to the great temple of Osueva,
wide enough to give access to a whole regiment; they are as grand and
imposing as any work of Babylon or Nineveh, and in complete contrast
with all the finical surroundings.
We climb up and up—Chrysantheme listlessly, affecting fatigue,
under her paper parasol painted with pink butterflies on a black
ground. As we ascended, we passed under enormous monastic porticoes,
also in granite of rude and primitive style. In truth, these steps
and these temple porticoes are the only imposing works that this
people has created, and they astonish, for they do not seem Japanese.
We climb still higher. At this sultry hour of the day, from top to
bottom of the enormous gray steps, only we three are to be seen; on
all that granite there are but the pink butterflies on Chrysantheme's
parasol to give a cheerful and brilliant touch.
We passed through the first temple yard, in which are two white
china turrets, bronze lanterns, and the statue of a large horse in
jade. Then, without pausing at the sanctuary, we turned to the left,
and entered a shady garden, which formed a terrace halfway up the
hill, at the extremity of which was situated the Donko-Tchaya—in
English, the Teahouse of the Toads.
This was the place where Chrysantheme had wished to take us. We
sat down at a table, under a black linen tent decorated with large
white letters (of funereal aspect), and two laughing 'mousmes'
hastened to wait upon us.
The word 'mousme' means a young girl, or very young woman. It is
one of the prettiest words in the Nipponese language; it seems almost
as if there were a little pout in the very sound—a pretty, taking
little pout, such as they put on, and also as if a little pert
physiognomy were described by it. I shall often make use of it,
knowing none other in our own language that conveys the same meaning.
Some Japanese Watteau must have mapped out this Donko-Tchaya, for
it has rather an affected air of rurality, though very pretty. It is
well shaded, under a shelter of large trees with dense foliage, and a
miniature lake close by, the chosen residence of a few toads, has
given it its attractive denomination. Lucky toads, who crawl and
croak on the finest of moss, in the midst of tiny artificial islets
decked with gardenias in full bloom. From time to time, one of them
informs us of his thoughts by a 'Couac', uttered in a deep bass croak,
infinitely more hollow than that of our own toads.
Under the tent of this tea-house, we sit on a sort of balcony
jutting out from the mountain-side, overhanging from on high the
grayish town and its suburbs buried in greenery. Around, above, and
beneath us cling and hang, on every possible point, clumps of trees
and fresh green woods, with the delicate and varying foliage of the
temperate zone. We can see, at our feet, the deep roadstead,
foreshortened and slanting, diminished in appearance till it looks
like a sombre rent in the mass of large green mountains; and farther
still, quite low on the black and stagnant waters, are the men-of-war,
the steamboats and the junks, with flags flying from every mast.
Against the dark green, which is the dominant shade everywhere, stand
out these thousand scraps of bunting, emblems of the different
nationalities, all displayed, all flying in honor of far- distant
France. The colors most prevailing in this motley assemblage are the
white flag with a red ball, emblem of the Empire of the Rising Sun,
where we now are.
With the exception of three or four 'mousmes' at the farther end,
who are practising with bows and arrows, we are today the only people
in the garden, and the mountain round about is silent.
Having finished her cigarette and her cup of tea, Chrysantheme also
wishes to exert her skill; for archery is still held in honor among
the young women.
The old man who keeps the range picks out for her his best arrows
tipped with white and red feathers—and she takes aim with a serious
air. The mark is a circle, traced in the middle of a picture on which
is painted, in flat, gray tones, terrifying chimera flying through the
Chrysantheme is certainly an adroit markswoman, and we admire her
as much as she expected.
Then Yves, who is usually clever at all games of skill, wishes to
try his luck, and fails. It is amusing to see her, with her mincing
ways and smiles, arrange with the tips of her little fingers the
sailor's broad hands, placing them on the bow and the string in order
to teach him the proper manner. Never have they seemed to get on so
well together, Yves and my doll, and I might even feel anxious, were I
less sure of my good brother, and if, moreover, it was not a matter of
perfect indifference to me.
In the stillness of the garden, amid the balmy peacefulness of
these mountains, a loud noise suddenly startles us; a unique,
powerful, terrible sound, which is prolonged in infinite metallic
vibrations. It begins again, sounding more appalling: 'Boum!' borne
to us by the rising wind.
"Nippon Kane!" exclaims Chrysantheme—and she again takes up her
brightly feathered arrows. "Nippon Kane ("the Japanese brass"); it is
the Japanese brass that is sounding!" It is the monstrous gong of a
monastery, situated in a suburb beneath us. It is powerful indeed,
"the Japanese brass"! When the strokes are ended, when it is no
longer heard, a vibration seems to linger among the suspended foliage,
and a prolonged quiver runs through the air.
I am obliged to admit that Chrysantheme looks very charming
shooting her arrows, her figure well bent back the better to bend her
bow; her loose- hanging sleeves caught up to her shoulders, showing
the graceful bare arms polished like amber and very much the same
color. Each arrow whistles by with the rustle of a bird's wing—then
a short, sharp little blow is heard, the target is hit, always.
At nightfall, when Chrysantheme has gone up to Diou-djen-dji, we
cross, Yves and I, the European concession, on our way to the ship, to
take up our watch till the following day. The cosmopolitan quarter,
exhaling an odor of absinthe, is dressed up with flags, and squibs are
being fired off in honor of France. Long lines of djins pass by,
dragging, as fast as their naked legs can carry them, the crew of the
'Triomphante,' who are shouting and fanning themselves. The
Marseillaise is heard everywhere; English sailors are singing it,
gutturally, with a dull and slow cadence like their own "God Save."
In all the American bars, grinding organs are hammering it with many
an odious variation and flourish, in order to attract our men.
One amusing recollection comes back to me of that evening. On our
return, we had by mistake turned into a street inhabited by a
multitude of ladies of doubtful reputation. I can still see that big
fellow Yves, struggling with a whole band of tiny little 'mousmes' of
twelve or fifteen years of age, who barely reached up to his waist,
and were pulling him by the sleeves, eager to lead him astray.
Astonished and indignant, he repeated, as he extricated himself from
their clutches, "Oh, this is too much!" so shocked was he at seeing
such mere babies, so young, so tiny, already so brazen and shameless.
CHAPTER XII. HAPPY FAMILIES!
By this time, four officers of my ship are married like myself, and
inhabiting the slopes of the same suburb. This arrangement is quite
an ordinary occurrence, and is brought about without difficulties,
mystery, or danger, through the offices of the same M. Kangourou.
As a matter of course, we are on visiting terms with all these
First, there is our very merry neighbor Madame Campanule, who is
little Charles N——-'s wife; then Madame Jonquille, who is even
merrier than Campanule, like a young bird, and the daintiest fairy of
them all; she has married X——-, a fair northerner who adores her;
they are a lover- like and inseparable pair, the only one that will
probably weep when the hour of parting comes. Then Sikou-San with
Doctor Y——-; and lastly the midshipman Z——— with the tiny Madame
Touki-San, no taller than a boot: thirteen years old at the outside,
and already a regular woman, full of her own importance, a petulant
little gossip. In my childhood I was sometimes taken to the Learned
Animals Theatre, and I remember a certain Madame de Pompadour, a
principal role, filled by a gayly dressed old monkey; Touki-San
reminds me of her.
In the evening, all these folk usually come and fetch us for a long
processional walk with lighted lanterns. My wife, more serious, more
melancholy, perhaps even more refined, and belonging, I fancy, to a
higher class, tries when these friends come to us to play the part of
the lady of the house. It is comical to see the entry of these
ill-matched pairs, partners for a day, the ladies, with their
disjointed bows, falling on all fours before Chrysantheme, the queen
of the establishment. When we are all assembled, we set out, arm in
arm, one behind another, and always carrying at the end of our short
sticks little white or red paper lanterns; it is a pretty custom.
We are obliged to scramble down the kind of street, or rather
goat's- path, which leads to the Japanese Nagasaki—with the prospect,
alas! of having to climb up again at night; clamber up all the steps,
all the slippery slopes, stumble over all the stones, before we shall
be able to get home, go to bed, and sleep. We make our descent in the
darkness, under the branches, under the foliage, among dark gardens
and venerable little houses that throw but a faint glimmer on the
road; and when the moon is absent or clouded over, our lanterns are by
no means unnecessary.
When at last we reach the bottom, suddenly, without transition, we
find ourselves in the very heart of Nagasaki and its busy throng in a
long illuminated street, where vociferating djins hurry along and
thousands of paper lanterns swing and gleam in the wind. It is life
and animation, after the peace of our silent suburb.
Here, decorum requires that we should separate from our wives. All
five take hold of each others' hands, like a batch of little girls out
walking. We follow them with an air of indifference. Seen from
behind, our dolls are really very dainty, with their back hair so
tidily arranged, their tortoiseshell pins so coquettishly placed.
They shuffle along, their high wooden clogs making an ugly sound,
striving to walk with their toes turned in, according to the height of
fashion and elegance. At every minute they burst out laughing.
Yes, seen from behind, they are very pretty; they have, like all
Japanese women, the most lovely turn of the head. Moreover, they are
very funny, thus drawn up in line. In speaking of them, we say: "Our
little trained dogs," and in truth they are singularly like them.
This great Nagasaki is the same from one end to another, with its
numberless petroleum lamps burning, its many-colored lanterns
flickering, and innumerable panting djins. Always the same narrow
streets, lined on each side with the same low houses, built of paper
and wood. Always the same shops, without glass windows, open to all
the winds, equally rudimentary, whatever may be sold or made in them;
whether they display the finest gold lacquer ware, the most marvellous
china jars, or old worn-out pots and pans, dried fish, and ragged
frippery. All the salesmen are seated on the ground in the midst of
their valuable or trumpery merchandise, their legs bared nearly to the
And all kinds of queer little trades are carried on under the
public gaze, by strangely primitive means, by workmen of the most
Oh, what wonderful goods are exposed for sale in those streets!
What whimsical extravagance in those bazaars!
No horses, no carriages are ever seen in the town; nothing but
people on foot, or the comical little carts dragged along by the
runners. Some few Europeans straggling hither and thither, wanderers
from the ships in harbor; some Japanese (fortunately as yet but few)
dressed up in coats; other natives who content themselves with adding
to their national costume the pot-hat, from which their long, sleek
locks hang down; and all around, eager haggling, bargaining, and
In the bazaars every evening our mousmes make endless purchases;
like spoiled children they buy everything they fancy: toys, pins,
ribbons, flowers. And then they prettily offer one another presents,
with childish little smiles. For instance, Campanule buys for
Chrysantheme an ingeniously contrived lantern on which, set in motion
by some invisible machinery, Chinese shadows dance in a ring round the
flame. In return, Chrysantheme gives Campanule a magic fan, with
paintings that change at will from butterflies fluttering around
cherry-blossoms to outlandish monsters pursuing each other across
black clouds. Touki offers Sikou a cardboard mask representing the
bloated countenance of Dai-Cok, god of wealth; and Sikou replies with
a present of a long crystal trumpet, by means of which are produced
the most extraordinary sounds, like a turkey gobbling. Everything is
uncouth, fantastical to excess, grotesquely lugubrious; everywhere we
are surprised by incomprehensible conceptions, which seem the work of
In the fashionable tea-houses, where we finish our evenings, the
little serving-maids now bow to us, on our arrival, with an air of
respectful recognition, as belonging to the fast set of Nagasaki.
There we carry on desultory conversations, full of misunderstandings
and endless 'quid pro quo' of uncouth words, in little gardens lighted
up with lanterns, near ponds full of goldfish, with little bridges,
little islets, and little ruined towers. They hand us tea and white
and pink-colored sweetmeats flavored with pepper that taste strange
and unfamiliar, and beverages mixed with snow tasting of flowers or
To give a faithful account of those evenings would require a more
affected style than our own; and some kind of graphic sign would have
also to be expressly invented and scattered at haphazard among the
words, indicating the moment when the reader should laugh—rather a
forced laugh, perhaps, but amiable and gracious. The evening at an
end, it is time to return up there.
Oh! that street, that road, that we must clamber up every evening,
under the starlit sky or the heavy thunder-clouds, dragging by the
hands our drowsy mousmes in order to regain our homes perched on high
halfway up the hill, where our bed of matting awaits us.
CHAPTER XIII. OUR "VERY TALL FRIEND"
The cleverest among us has been Louis de S———-. Having formerly
inhabited Japan, and made a marriage Japanese fashion there, he is now
satisfied to remain the friend of our wives, of whom he has become the
'Komodachi taksan takai' ("the very tall friend," as they say, on
account of his excessive height and slenderness). Speaking Japanese
more readily than we, he is their confidential adviser, disturbs or
reconciles our households at will, and has infinite amusement at our
This "very tall friend" of our wives enjoys all the fun that these
little creatures can give him, without any of the worries of domestic
life. With brother Yves, and little Oyouki (the daughter of Madame
Prune, my landlady), he makes up our incongruous party.
CHAPTER XIV. OUR PIOUS HOSTS
M. Sucre and Madame Prune, my landlord and his wife, two perfectly
unique personages recently escaped from the panel of some screen, live
below us on the ground floor; and very old they seem to have this
daughter of fifteen, Oyouki, who is Chrysantheme's inseparable friend.
Both of them are entirely absorbed in the practices of Shinto
religion: perpetually on their knees before their family altar,
perpetually occupied in murmuring their lengthy orisons to the
spirits, and clapping their hands from time to time to recall around
them the inattentive essences floating in the atmosphere. In their
spare moments they cultivate, in little pots of gayly painted
earthenware, dwarf shrubs and unheard-of flowers which are
delightfully fragrant in the evening.
M. Sucre is taciturn, dislikes society, and looks like a mummy in
his blue cotton dress. He writes a great deal (his memoirs, I fancy),
with a paint-brush held in his fingertips, on long strips of
rice-paper of a faint gray tint.
Madame Prune is eagerly attentive, obsequious, and rapacious; her
eyebrows are closely shaven, her teeth carefully lacquered with black,
as befits a lady of gentility, and at all and no matter what hours,
she appears on all fours at the entrance of our apartment, to offer us
As to Oyouki, she rushes upon us ten times a day—whether we are
sleeping or dressing—like a whirlwind on a visit, flashing upon us, a
very gust of dainty youthfulness and droll gayety—a living peal of
laughter. She is round of figure, round of face; half baby, half
girl; and so affectionate that she bestows kisses on the slightest
occasion with her great puffy lips—a little moist, it is true, like a
child's, but nevertheless very fresh and very red.
Our dwelling is open all the night through, and the lamps burning
before the gilded Buddha bring us the company of the insect
inhabitants of every garden in the neighborhood. Moths, mosquitoes,
cicalas, and other extraordinary insects of which I don't even know
the names—all this company assembles around us.
It is extremely funny, when some unexpected grasshopper, some
free-and- easy beetle presents itself without invitation or excuse,
scampering over our white mats, to see the manner in which
Chrysantheme indicates it to my righteous vengeance—merely pointing
her finger at it, without another word than "Hou!" said with bent
head, a particular pout, and a scandalised air.
There is a fan kept expressly for the purpose of blowing them out
of doors again.
CHAPTER XVI. SLEEPING JAPAN
Here I must own that my story must appear to the reader to drag a
Lacking exciting intrigues and tragic adventures, I wish I knew how
to infuse into it a little of the sweet perfumes of the gardens which
surround me, something of the gentle warmth of the sunshine, of the
shade of these graceful trees. Love being wanting, I should like it
to breathe of the restful tranquillity of this faraway spot. Then,
too, I should like it to reecho the sound of Chrysantheme's guitar, in
which I begin to find a certain charm, for want of something better,
in the silence of the lovely summer evenings.
All through these moonlit nights of July, the weather has been
calm, luminous, and magnificent. Ah, what glorious clear nights!
What exquisite roseate tints beneath that wonderful moon, what
mystery of blue shadows in the thick tangle of trees! And, from the
heights where stood our veranda, how prettily the town lay sleeping at
After all, I do not positively detest this little Chrysantheme, and
when there is no repugnance on either side, habit turns into a
makeshift of attachment.
CHAPTER XVII. THE SONG OF THE CICALA
Forever, throughout everything, rises day and night from the whole
country the song of the cicalas, ceaseless, strident, and insistent.
It is everywhere, and never-ending, at no matter what hour of the
burning day, or what hour of the refreshing night. From the harbor,
as we approached our anchorage, we had heard it at the same time from
both shores, from both walls of green mountains. It is wearisome and
haunting; it seems to be the manifestation, the noise expressive of
the kind of life peculiar to this region of the world. It is the
voice of summer in these islands; it is the song of unconscious
rejoicing, always content with itself and always appearing to inflate,
to rise, in a greater and greater exultation at the sheer happiness of
It is to me the noise characteristic of this country—this, and the
cry of the falcon, which had in like manner greeted our entry into
Japan. Over the valleys and the deep bay sail these birds, uttering,
from time to time, their three cries, "Ha! ha! ha!" in a key of
sadness that seems the extreme of painful astonishment. And the
mountains around reecho their cry.
CHAPTER XVIII. MY FRIEND AND MY DOLL
Chrysantheme, Yves, and little Oyouki have struck up a friendship
so intimate that it amuses me. I even think that in my home life this
intimacy is what affords me the greatest entertainment. They form a
contrast which gives rise to the most absurd jokes, and unexpected
situations. He brings into this fragile little paper house his
nautical freedom and ease of manner, and his Breton accent; and these
tiny mousmes, with affected manners and bird-like voices, small as
they are, rule the big fellow as they please; make him eat with
chop-sticks; teach him Japanese pigeon-vole, cheat him, and quarrel,
and almost die of laughter over it all.
Certainly he and Chrysantheme take a pleasure in each other's
society. But I remain serenely undisturbed, and can not imagine that
this little doll, with whom I play at married life, could possibly
occasion any serious trouble between this "brother" and me.
CHAPTER XIX. MY JAPANESE RELATIVES
Japanese relatives, very numerous and conspicuous, are a great
source of amusement to those of my brother officers who visit me in my
villa on the hill—most especially to 'komodachi taksan takai' ("the
I have a charming mother-in-law—quite a woman of the world—tiny
sisters -in-law, little cousins, and aunts who are still quite young.
I have even a poor second cousin, who is a djin. There was some
hesitation in owning this latter to me; but, behold! during the
ceremony of introduction, we exchanged a smile of recognition. It was
Over this poor Number 415 my friends on board crack no end of
jokes—one in particular, who, less than any one has the right to make
them, little Charles N——-, for his mother-in-law was once a
concierge, or something of the kind, at the gateway of a pagoda.
I, however, who have a great respect for strength and agility, much
appreciate this new relative of mine. His legs are undoubtedly the
best in all Nagasaki, and whenever I am in haste, I always beg Madame
Prune to send down to the djin-stand and engage my cousin.
CHAPTER XX. A DEAD FAIRY
Today I arrived unexpectedly at Diou-djen-dji, in the midst of
burning noonday heat. At the foot of the stairs lay Chrysantheme's
wooden shoes and her sandals of varnished leather.
In our rooms, upstairs, all was open to the air; bamboo blinds hung
on the sunny side, and through their transparency came warm air and
golden threads of light. Today the flowers Chrysantheme had placed in
the bronze vases were lotus, and as I entered, my eyes fell upon their
wide rosy cups.
According to her usual custom, Chrysantheme was lying flat on the
floor enjoying her daily siesta.
What a singular originality these bouquets of Chrysantheme always
have: a something, difficult to define, a Japanese slightness, an
artificial grace which we never should succeed in imparting to them.
She was sleeping, face down, upon the mats, her high headdress and
tortoise-shell pins standing out boldly from the rest of the
horizontal figure. The train of her tunic appeared to prolong her
delicate little body, like the tail of a bird; her arms were stretched
crosswise, the sleeves spread out like wings, and her long guitar lay
She looked like a dead fairy; still more did she resemble some
great blue dragon-fly, which, having alighted on that spot, some
unkind hand had pinned to the floor.
Madame Prune, who had come upstairs after me, always officious and
eager, manifested by her gestures her sentiments of indignation on
beholding the careless reception accorded by Chrysantheme to her lord
and master, and advanced to wake her.
"Pray do nothing of the kind, my good Madame Prune; you don't know
how much I prefer her like that!" I had left my shoes below,
according to custom, beside the little shoes and sandals; and I
entered on the tips of my toes, very, very, softly to sit awhile on
What a pity this little Chrysantheme can not always be asleep; she
is really extremely decorative seen in this manner—and like this, at
least, she does not bore me. Who knows what may be passing in that
little head and heart! If I only had the means of finding out! But
strange to say, since we have kept house together, instead of
advancing in my study of the Japanese language, I have neglected it,
so much have I felt the impossibility of ever interesting myself in
Seated upon my veranda, my eyes wandered over the temples and
cemeteries spread at my feet, over the woods and the green mountains,
over Nagasaki lying bathed in the sunlight. The cicalas were chirping
their loudest, the strident noise trembling feverishly in the hot air.
All was calm, full of light and full of heat.
Nevertheless, to my taste, it is not yet enough so! What, then,
can have changed upon the earth? The burning noondays of summer, such
as I can recall in days gone by, were more brilliant, more full of
sunshine; Nature seemed to me in those days more powerful, more
terrible. One would say this was only a pale copy of all that I knew
in early years— a copy in which something is wanting. Sadly do I ask
myself—Is the splendor of the summer only this? Was it only this?
or is it the fault of my eyes, and as time goes on shall I behold
everything around me fading still more?
Behind me comes a faint and melancholy strain of music—melancholy
enough to make one shiver—and shrill, shrill as the song of the
grasshoppers, it began to make itself heard, very softly at first,
then growing louder and rising in the silence of the noonday like the
diminutive wail of some poor Japanese soul in pain and anguish; it was
Chrysantheme and her guitar awaking together.
It pleased me that the idea should have occurred to her to greet me
with music, instead of eagerly hastening to wish me good-morning. At
no time have I ever given myself the trouble to pretend the slightest
affection for her, and a certain coldness even has grown up between
us, especially when we are alone. But to-day I turn to her with a
smile, and wave my hand for her to continue. "Go on, it amuses me to
listen to your quaint little impromptu." It is singular that the
music of this essentially merry people should be so plaintive. But
undoubtedly that which Chrysantheme is playing at this moment is worth
listening to. Whence can it have come to her? What unutterable
dreams, forever hidden from me, surge beneath her ivory brow, when she
plays or sings in this manner?
Suddenly I hear some one tapping three times, with a harsh and bony
finger, against one of the steps of our stairs, and in our doorway
appears an idiot, clad in a suit of gray tweed, who bows low. "Come
in, come in, Monsieur Kangourou. You come just in the nick of time!
I was actually becoming enthusiastic over your country!"
M. Kangourou brought a little laundry bill, which he wished
respectfully to hand to me, with a profound bend of the whole body,
the correct pose of the hands on the knees, and a long, snake-like
CHAPTER XXI. ANCIENT TOMBS
Pursuing the path that winds past our, dwelling, one passes a dozen
or more old villas, a few garden-walls, and then sees nothing but the
lonely mountain-side, with little paths winding upward toward the
summit through plantations of tea, bushes of camellias, underbrush,
and rocks. The mountains round Nagasaki are covered with cemeteries;
for centuries and centuries they have brought their dead up here.
But there is neither sadness nor horror in these Japanese
sepulchres; it seems as if, among this frivolous and childish people,
death itself could not be taken seriously. The monuments are either
granite Buddhas, seated on lotus, or upright tombstones with
inscriptions in gold. They are grouped together in little enclosures
in the midst of the woods, or on natural terraces delightfully
situated, and are usually reached by long stairways of stone carpeted
with moss. Sometimes these pass under one of the sacred gateways, of
which the shape, always the same, rude and simple, is a smaller
reproduction of those in the temples.
Above us, the tombs of our mountain are of an antiquity so hoary
that they no longer alarm any one, even at night. It is a region of
forsaken cemeteries. The dead hidden away there have long since
become one with the earth around them; and these thousands of little
gray stones, these multitudes of ancient little Buddhas, eaten away by
lichens, seem to be now no more than a proof of a series of
existences, long anterior to our own, and lost forever and altogether
in the mysterious depths of ages.
CHAPTER XXII. DAINTY DISHES FOR A
The meals that Chrysantheme enjoys are something almost
She begins in the morning, when she wakes, with two little green
wild plums pickled in vinegar and rolled in powdered sugar. A cup of
tea completes this almost traditional breakfast of Japan, the very
same that Madame Prune is eating downstairs, the same that is served
in the inns to travellers.
At intervals during the day the meals are continued by two little
dinners of the drollest description. They are brought up on a tray of
red lacquer, in microscopic cups with covers, from Madame Prune's
apartment, where they are cooked: a hashed sparrow, a stuffed prawn,
seaweed with a sauce, a salted sweetmeat, a sugared chili!
Chrysantheme tastes a little of all, with dainty pecks and the aid of
her little chopsticks, raising the tips of her fingers with affected
grace. At every dish she makes a face, leaves three parts of it, and
dries her finger-tips after it in apparent disgust.
These menus vary according to the inspiration that may have seized
Madame Prune. But one thing never varies, either in our household or
in any other, neither in the north nor in the south of the Empire, and
that is the dessert and the manner of eating it: after all these
little dishes, which are a mere make-believe, a wooden bowl is brought
in, bound with copper—an enormous bowl, fit for Gargantua, and filled
to the very brim with rice, plainly cooked in water. Chrysantheme
fills another large bowl from it (sometimes twice, sometimes three
times), darkens its snowy whiteness with a black sauce flavored with
fish, which is contained in a delicately shaped blue cruet, mixes it
all together, carries the bowl to her lips, and crams down all the
rice, shovelling it with her two chop- sticks into her very throat.
Next the little cups and covers are picked up, as well as the tiniest
crumb that may have fallen upon the white mats, the irreproachable
purity of which nothing is allowed to tarnish. And so ends the dinner.
CHAPTER XXIII. A FANTASTIC FUNERAL
Below, in the town, a street-singer had established herself in a
little thoroughfare; people had gathered around her to listen to her
singing, and we three—that is, Yves, Chrysantheme, and I—who
happened to be passing, stopped also.
She was quite young, rather fat, and fairly pretty, and she
strummed her guitar and sang, rolling her eyes fiercely, like a
virtuoso executing feats of difficulty. She lowered her head, stuck
her chin into her neck, in order to draw deeper notes from the
furthermost recesses of her body; and succeeded in bringing forth a
great, hoarse voice—a voice that might have belonged to an aged frog,
a ventriloquist's voice, coming whence it would be impossible to say
(this is the best stage manner, the last touch of art, in the
interpretation of tragic pieces).
Yves cast an indignant glance upon her.
"Good gracious," said he, "she has the voice of a——" (words
failed him, in his astonishment) "the voice of a—a monster!"
And he looked at me, almost frightened by this little being, and
desirous to know what I thought of it.
Yves was out of temper on this occasion, because I had induced him
to come out in a straw hat with a turned-up brim, which did not please
"That hat suits you remarkably well, Yves, I assure you," I said.
"Oh, indeed! You say so, you. For my part, I think it looks like
a magpie's nest!"
As a fortunate diversion from the singer and the hat, here comes a
cortege, advancing toward us from the end of the street, something
remarkably like a funeral. Bonzes march in front, dressed in robes of
black gauze, having much the appearance of Catholic priests; the
principal object of interest of the procession, the corpse, comes
last, laid in a sort of little closed palanquin, which is daintily
pretty. This is followed by a band of mousmes, hiding their laughing
faces beneath a kind of veil, and carrying in vases of the sacred
shape the artificial lotus with silver petals indispensable at a
funeral; then come fine ladies, on foot, smirking and stifling a wish
to laugh, beneath parasols on which are painted, in the gayest colors,
butterflies and storks.
Now they are quite close to us, we must stand back to give them
room. Chrysantheme all at once assumes a suitable air of gravity, and
Yves bares his head, taking off the magpie's nest.
Yes, it is true, it is death that is passing!
I had almost lost sight of the fact, so little does this procession
The procession will climb high above Nagasaki, into the heart of
the green mountain covered with tombs. There the poor fellow will be
laid at rest, with his palanquin above him, and his vases and his
flowers of silvered paper. Well, at least he will lie in a charming
spot commanding a lovely view.
Then they will return half laughing, half snivelling, and tomorrow
no one will think of it again.
CHAPTER XXIV. SOCIABILITY
Our ship, the 'Triomphante', which has been lying in the harbor
almost at the foot of the hill on which stands my house, enters the
dock to-day to undergo repairs rendered necessary by the long blockade
I am now a long way from my home, and am compelled to cross by boat
the whole breadth of the bay when I wish to see Chrysantheme; for the
dock is situated on the shore, opposite to Diou-djen-dji. It is sunk
in a little valley, narrow and deep, midst all kinds of
foliage—bamboos, camellias, trees of all sorts; our masts and spars,
seen from the deck, look as if they were tangled among the branches.
The situation of the vessel—no longer afloat—gives the crew a
greater facility for clandestine escapes from the ship at no matter
what hour of the night, and our sailors have made friends with all the
girls of the villages perched on the mountains above us.
These quarters, and this excessive liberty, give me some uneasiness
about my poor Yves; for this country of frivolous pleasure has a
little turned his head.
Moreover, I am more and more convinced that he is in love with
It is really a pity that the sentiment has not occurred to me
instead, since it is I who have gone the length of marrying her.
CHAPTER XXV. UNWELCOME GUESTS
Despite the increased distance, I continue my regular visits to
Diou- djen-dji. When night has fallen, and the four couples who
compose our society have joined us, as well as Yves and the "amazingly
tall friend"— we descend again into the town, stumbling by
lantern-light down the steep stairways and slopes of the old suburb.
This nocturnal ramble is always the same, and is accompanied always
by the same amusements: we pause before the same queer booths, we
drink the same sugared drinks served to us in the same little gardens.
But our troop is often more numerous: to begin with, we chaperon
Oyouki, who is confided to our care by her parents; then we have two
cousins of my wife's—pretty little creatures; and lastly
friends—guests of sometimes only ten or twelve years old, little
girls of the neighborhood to whom our mousmes wish to show some
Thus a singular company of tiny beings forms our suite and follows
us into the tea-gardens in the evenings! The most absurd faces, with
sprigs of flowers stuck in the oddest fashion in their comical and
childish heads. One might suppose it was a whole school of mousmes
out for an evening's frolic under our care.
Yves returns with us, when the time comes to remount our hill;
Chrysantheme heaves great sighs like a tired child, and stops on every
step, leaning on our arms.
When we have reached our destination he says "Goodnight," just
touches Chrysantheme's hand, and descending once more by the slope
which leads to the quays and the shipping, he crosses the roadstead in
a sampan, to get on board the 'Triomphante.'
Meantime, we, with the aid of a sort of secret key, open the door
of our garden, where Madame Prune's pots of flowers, ranged in the
darkness, send forth delicious odors in the night air. We cross the
garden by moonlight or starlight, and mount to our own rooms.
If it is very late—a frequent occurrence—we find all our wooden
panels drawn and tightly shut by the careful M. Sucre (as a precaution
against thieves), and our apartment is as close and as private as if
it were a real European house.
In this dwelling, when every chink is thus closed, a strange odor
mingles with the musk and the lotus—an odor essential to Japan, to
the yellow race, belonging to the soil or emanating from the venerable
woodwork; almost an odor of wild beasts. The mosquito-curtain of
dark-blue gauze, ready hung for the night, falls from the ceiling with
the air of a mysterious vellum. The gilded Buddha smiles eternally at
the night-lamps burning before him; some great moth, a constant
frequenter of the house, which during the day sleeps clinging to our
ceiling, flutters at this hour under the very nose of the god, turning
and flitting round the thin, quivering flames. And, motionless on the
wall, its feelers spread out star-like, sleeps some great garden
spider, which one must not kill because it is night. "Hou!" says
Chrysantheme, indignantly, pointing it out to me with levelled finger.
Quick! where is the fan kept for the purpose, wherewith to hunt it
out of doors?
Around us reigns a silence which is almost oppressive after all the
joyous noises of the town, and all the laughter, now hushed, of our
band of mousmes—a silence of the country, of some sleeping village.
CHAPTER XXVI. A QUIET SMOKE
The sound of the innumerable wooden panels, which at nightfall are
pulled and shut in every Japanese house, is one of the peculiarities
of the country which will remain longest imprinted on my memory. From
our neighbor's houses these noises reach us one after the other,
floating to us over the green gardens, more or less deadened, more or
Just below us, Madame Prune's panels move very badly, creak and
make a hideous noise in their wornout grooves.
Ours are somewhat noisy too, for the old house is full of echoes,
and there are at least twenty screens to run over long slides in order
to close in completely the kind of open hall in which we live.
Usually, it is Chrysantheme who undertakes this piece of household
work, and a great deal of trouble it gives her, for she often pinches
her fingers in the singular awkwardness of her too tiny hands, which
never have been accustomed to do any work.
Then comes her toilette for the night. With a certain grace she
lets fall the day-dress, and slips on a more simple one of blue
cotton, which has the same pagoda sleeves, the same shape all but the
train, and which she fastens round her waist with a sash of muslin of
the same color.
The high head-dress remains untouched, it is needless to say—that
is, all but the pins, which are taken out and laid beside her in a
Then there is the little silver pipe that must absolutely be smoked
before going to sleep; this is one of the customs which most provoke
me, but it has to be borne.
Chrysantheme squats like a gipsy before a certain square box, made
of red wood, which contains a little tobacco-jar, a little porcelain
stove full of hot embers, and finally a little bamboo pot serving at
the same time as ash-tray and cuspidor. (Madame Prune's smoking-box
downstairs, and every smoking-box in Japan, is exactly the same, and
contains precisely the same objects, arranged in precisely the same
manner; and wherever it may be, whether in the house of the rich or
the poor, it always lies about somewhere on the floor.)
The word "pipe" is at once too trivial and too big to be applied to
this delicate silver tube, which is perfectly straight and at the end
of which, in a microscopic receptacle, is placed one pinch of golden
tobacco, chopped finer than silken thread.
Two puffs, or at most three; it lasts scarcely a few seconds, and
the pipe is finished. Then tap, tap, tap, tap, the little tube is
struck smartly against the edge of the smoking-box to knock out the
ashes, which never will fall; and this tapping, heard everywhere, in
every house, at every hour of the day or night, quick and droll as the
scratchings of a monkey, is in Japan one of the noises most
characteristic of human life.
"Anata nominase!" ("You must smoke too!") says Chrysantheme.
Having again filled the tiresome little pipe, she puts the silver
tube to my lips with a bow. Courtesy forbids my refusal; but I find
it detestably bitter.
Before laying myself down under the blue mosquito-net, I open two
of the panels in the room, one on the side of the silent and deserted
footpath, the other on the garden side, overlooking the terraces, so
that the night air may breathe upon us, even at the risk of bringing
the company of some belated cockchafer, or more giddy moth.
Our wooden house, with its thin old walls, vibrates at night like a
great dry violin, and the slightest noises have a startling resonance.
Beneath the veranda are hung two little AEolian harps, which, at
the least ruffle of the breeze running through their blades of grass,
emit a gentle tinkling sound, like the harmonious murmur of a brook;
outside, to the very farthest limits of the distance, the cicalas
continue their sonorous and never-ending concert; over our heads, on
the black roof, is heard passing, like a witch's sabbath, the raging
battle, to the death, of cats, rats, and owls.
Presently, when in the early dawn a fresher breeze, mounting upward
from the sea and the deep harbor, reaches us, Chrysantheme rises and
slyly shuts the panels I have opened.
Before that, however, she will have risen at least three times to
smoke: having yawned like a cat, stretched herself, twisted in every
direction her little amber arms, and her graceful little hands, she
sits up resolutely, with all the waking sighs and broken syllables of
a child, pretty and fascinating enough; then she emerges from the
gauze net, fills her little pipe, and breathes a few puffs of the
bitter and unpleasant mixture.
Then comes tap, tap, tap, tap, against the box to shake out the
ashes. In the silence of the night it makes quite a terrible noise,
which wakes Madame Prune. This is fatal. Madame Prune is at once
seized also with a longing to smoke which may not be denied; then, to
the noise from above, comes an answering tap, tap, tap, tap, from
below, exactly like it, exasperating and inevitable as an echo.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE PRAYERFUL MADAME
More cheerful are the sounds of morning: the cocks crowing, the
wooden panels all around the neighborhood sliding back upon their
rollers; or the strange cry of some fruit-seller, patrolling our lofty
suburb in the early dawn. And the grasshoppers actually seem to chirp
more loudly, to celebrate the return of the sunlight.
Above all, rises to our ears from below the sound of Madame Prune's
long prayers, ascending through the floor, monotonous as the song of a
somnambulist, regular and soothing as the plash of a fountain. It
lasts three quarters of an hour at least, it drones along, a rapid
flow of words in a high nasal key; from time to time, when the
inattentive spirits are not listening, it is accompanied by a clapping
of dry palms, or by harsh sounds from a kind of wooden clapper made of
two discs of mandragora root. It is an uninterrupted stream of
prayer; its flow never ceases, and the quavering continues without
stopping, like the bleating of a delirious old goat.
"After washing the hands and feet," say the sacred books, "the great
God Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami, who is the royal power of Japan, must be
invoked; the manes of all the defunct emperors descended from him
must also be invoked; next, the manes of all his personal ancestors,
to the farthest generation; the spirits of the air and the sea; the
spirits of all secret and impure places; the spirits of the tombs of
the district whence you spring, etc., etc."
"I worship and implore you," sings Madame Prune, "O
Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami, royal power! Cease not to protect your faithful
people, who are ready to sacrifice themselves for their country.
Grant that I may become as holy as yourself, and drive from my mind
all dark thoughts. I am a coward and a sinner: purge me from my
cowardice and sinfulness, even as the north wind drives the dust into
the sea. Wash me clean from all my iniquities, as one washes away
uncleanness in the river of Kamo. Make me the richest woman in the
world. I believe in your glory, which shall be spread over the whole
earth, and illuminate it for ever for my happiness. Grant me the
continued good health of my family, and above all, my own, who, O
Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! do worship and adore you, and only you, etc.,
Here follow all the emperors, all the spirits, and the interminable
list of ancestors.
In her trembling old woman's falsetto, Madame Prune sings all this,
without omitting anything, at a pace which almost takes away her
And very strange it is to hear: at length it seems hardly a human
voice; it sounds like a series of magic formulas, unwinding themselves
from an inexhaustible roller, and escaping to take flight through the
air. By its very weirdness, and by the persistency of its
incantation, it ends by producing in my half-awakened brain an almost
Every day I wake to the sound of this Shintoist litany chanted
beneath me, vibrating through the exquisite clearness of the summer
mornings— while our night-lamps burn low before the smiling Buddha,
while the eternal sun, hardly risen, already sends through the cracks
of our wooden panels its bright rays, which dart like golden arrows
through our darkened dwelling and our blue gauze tent.
This is the moment at which I must rise, descend hurriedly to the
sea by grassy footpaths all wet with dew, and so regain my ship.
Alas! in the days gone by, it was the cry of the muezzin which used
to awaken me in the dark winter mornings in faraway, night-shrouded
CHAPTER XXVIII. A DOLL'S
Chrysantheme has brought but few things with her, knowing that our
domestic life would probably be brief.
She has placed her gowns and her fine sashes in little closed
recesses, hidden in one of the walls of our apartment (the north wall,
the only one of the four which can not be taken to pieces). The doors
of these niches are white paper panels; the standing shelves and
inside partitions, consisting of light woodwork, are put together
almost too finically and too ingeniously, giving rise to suspicions of
secret drawers and conjuring tricks. We put there only things without
any value, having a vague feeling that the cupboards themselves might
spirit them away.
The box in which Chrysantheme stores away her gewgaws and letters,
is one of the things that amuse me most; it is of English make, tin,
and bears on its cover the colored representation of some manufactory
in the neighborhood of London. Of course, it is as an exotic work of
art, as a precious knickknack, that Chrysantheme prefers it to any of
her other boxes in lacquer or inlaid work. It contains all that a
mousme requires for her correspondence: Indian ink, a paintbrush, very
thin, gray-tinted paper, cut up in long narrow strips, and odd-shaped
envelopes, into which these strips are slipped (having been folded up
in about thirty folds); the envelopes are ornamented with pictures of
landscapes, fishes, crabs, or birds.
On some old letters addressed to her, I can make out the two
characters that represent her name: Kikousan ("Chrysantheme, Madame").
And when I question her, she replies in Japanese, with an air of
"My dear, they are letters from my woman friends."
Oh, those friends of Chrysantheme, what funny little faces they
have! That same box contains their portraits, their photographs stuck
on visiting cards, which are printed on the back with the name of
Uyeno, the fashionable photographer in Nagasaki—the little creatures
fit only to figure daintily on painted fans, who have striven to
assume a dignified attitude when once their necks have been placed in
the head-rest, and they have been told: "Now, don't move."
It would really amuse me to read the letters of my mousme's
friends—and above all her replies!
CHAPTER XXIX. SUDDEN SHOWERS
It rained this evening heavily, and the night was close and dark.
About ten o'clock, on our return from one of the fashionable
tea-houses we frequent, we arrived—Yves, Chrysantheme and I—at the
familiar angle of the principal street, the turn where we must take
leave of the lights and noises of the town, to climb up the dark steps
and steep paths that lead to our dwelling at Diou-djen-dji.
But before beginning our ascent, we must first buy lanterns from an
old tradeswoman called Madame Tres-Propre, whose regular customers we
are. It is amazing what a quantity of these paper lanterns we consume.
They are invariably decorated in the same way, with painted
nightmoths or bats; fastened to the ceiling at the farther end of the
shop, they hang in enormous clusters, and the old woman, seeing us
arrive, gets upon a table to take them down. Gray or red are our
usual choice; Madame Tres- Propre knows our preferences and leaves the
green or blue lanterns aside. But it is always hard work to unhook
one, on account of the little short sticks by which they are held, and
the strings with which they are tied getting entangled together. In
an exaggerated pantomime, Madame Tres- Propre expresses her despair at
wasting so much of our valuable time: oh! if it only depended on her
personal efforts! but ah! the natural perversity of inanimate things
which have no consideration for human dignity! With monkeyish antics,
she even deems it her duty to threaten the lanterns and shake her fist
at these inextricably tangled strings which have the presumption to
It is all very well, but we know this manoeuvre by heart; and if
the old lady loses patience, so do we. Chrysantheme, who is half
asleep, is seized with a fit of kitten-like yawning which she does not
even trouble to hide behind her hand, and which appears to be endless.
She pulls a very long face at the thought of the steep hill we must
struggle up tonight through the pelting rain.
I have the same feeling, and am thoroughly annoyed. To what
purpose do I clamber up every evening to that suburb, when it offers
me no attractions whatever?
The rain increases; what are we to do? Outside, djins pass
rapidly, calling out: "Take care!" splashing the foot-passengers and
casting through the shower streams of light from their many-colored
lanterns. Mousmes and elderly ladies pass, tucked up, muddy, laughing
nevertheless under their paper umbrellas, exchanging greetings,
clacking their wooden pattens on the stone pavement. The whole street
is filled with the noise of the pattering feet and pattering rain.
As good luck will have it, at the same moment passes Number 415,
our poor relative, who, seeing our distress, stops and promises to
help us out of our difficulty; as soon as he has deposited on the quay
an Englishman he is conveying, he will come to our aid and bring all
that is necessary to relieve us from our lamentable situation.
At last our lantern is unhooked, lighted, and paid for. There is
another shop opposite, where we stop every evening; it is that of
Madame L'Heure, the woman who sells waffles; we always buy a provision
from her, to refresh us on the way. A very lively young woman is this
pastry-cook, and most eager to make herself agreeable; she looks quite
like a screen picture behind her piled-up cakes, ornamented with
little posies. We will take shelter under her roof while we wait;
and, to avoid the drops that fall heavily from the waterspouts, wedge
ourselves tightly against her display of white and pink sweetmeats, so
artistically spread out on fresh and delicate branches of cypress.
Poor Number 415, what a providence he is to us! Already he
reappears, most excellent cousin! ever smiling, ever running, while
the water streams down his handsome bare legs; he brings us two
umbrellas, borrowed from a China merchant, who is also a distant
relative of ours. Like me, Yves has till now never consented to use
such a thing, but he now accepts one because it is droll: of paper, of
course, with innumerable folds waxed and gummed, and the inevitable
flight of storks forming a wreath around it.
Chrysantheme, yawning more and more in her kitten-like fashion,
becomes coaxing in order to be helped along, and tries to take my arm.
"I beg you, mousme, this evening to take the arm of Yves-San; I am
sure that will suit us all three."
And there they go, she, tiny figure, hanging on to the big fellow,
and so they climb up. I lead the way, carrying the lantern that
lights our steps, whose flame I protect as well as I can under my
fantastic umbrella. On each side of the road is heard the roaring
torrent of stormy waters rolling down from the mountain-side.
To-night the way seems long, difficult, and slippery; a succession of
interminable flights of steps, gardens, and houses piled up one above
another; waste lands, and trees which in the darkness shake their
dripping foliage on our heads.
One would say that Nagasaki is ascending at the same time as
ourselves; but yonder, and very far away, is a vapory mist which seems
luminous against the blackness of the sky, and from the town rises a
confused murmur of voices and laughter, and a rumbling of gongs.
The summer rain has not yet refreshed the atmosphere. On account
of the stormy heat, the little suburban houses have been left open
like sheds, and we can see all that is going on. Lamps burn
perpetually before the altars dedicated to Buddha and to the souls of
the ancestors; but all good Nipponese have already lain down to rest.
Under the traditional tents of bluish-green gauze, we can see whole
families stretched out in rows; they are either sleeping, or hunting
the mosquitoes, or fanning themselves. Nipponese men and women,
Nipponese babies too, lying side by side with their parents; each one,
young or old, in his little dark-blue cotton nightdress, and with his
little wooden block on which to rest the nape of his neck.
A few houses are open, where amusements are still going on; here
and there, from the sombre gardens, the sound of a guitar reaches our
ears, playing some dance which gives in its weird rhythm a strange
impression of sadness.
Here is the well, surrounded by bamboos, where we are wont to make
a nocturnal halt for Chrysantheme to take breath. Yves begs me to
throw forward the red gleam of my lantern, in order to recognize the
place, for it marks our halfway resting-place.
And at last, at last, here is our house! The door is closed, all
is silent and dark. Our panels have been carefully shut by M. Sucre
and Madame Prune; the rain streams down the wood of our old black
In such weather it is impossible to allow Yves to return down hill,
and wander along the shore in quest of a sampan. No, he shall not
return on board to-night; we will put him up in our house. His little
room has indeed been already provided for in the conditions of our
lease, and notwithstanding his discreet refusal, we immediately set to
work to make it. Let us go in, take off our boots, shake ourselves
like so many cats that have been out in a shower, and step up to our
In front of Buddha, the little lamps are burning; in the middle of
the room, the night-blue gauze is stretched.
On entering, the first impression is favorable; our dwelling is
pretty this evening; the late hour and deep silence give it an air of
mystery. And then, in such weather, it is always pleasant to get home.
Come, let us at once prepare Yves's room. Chrysantheme, quite
elated at the prospect of having her big friend near her, sets to work
with a good will; moreover, the task is easy; we have only to slip
three or four paper panels in their grooves, to make at once a
separate room or compartment in the great box we live in. I had
thought that these panels were entirely white; but no! on each is a
group of two storks painted in gray tints in those inevitable
attitudes consecrated by Japanese art: one bearing aloft its proud
head and haughtily raising its leg, the other scratching itself. Oh,
these storks! how tired one gets of them, at the end of a month spent
Yves is now in bed and sleeping under our roof.
Sleep has come to him sooner than to me to-night; for somehow I
fancy I had seen long glances exchanged between him and Chrysantheme.
I have left this little creature in his hands like a toy, and I
begin to fear lest I should have caused some perturbation in his mind.
I do not trouble my head about this little Japanese girl. But
Yves—it would be decidedly wrong on his part, and would greatly
diminish my faith in him.
We hear the rain falling on our old roof; the cicalas are mute;
odors of wet earth reach us from the gardens and the mountain. I feel
terribly dreary in this room to-night; the noise of the little pipe
irritates me more than usual, and as Chrysantheme crouches in front of
her smoking- box, I suddenly discover in her an air of low breeding,
in the very worst sense of the word.
I should hate her, my mousme, if she were to entice Yves into
committing a fault—a fault which I should perhaps never be able to
CHAPTER XXX. A LITTLE DOMESTIC
The Y—— and Sikou-San couple were divorced yesterday. The
Charles N—- and Campanule household is getting on very badly. They
have had some trouble with those prying, grinding, insupportable
little men, dressed up in gray suits, who are called police agents,
and who, by threatening their landlord, have had them turned out of
their house (under the obsequious amiability of this people lurks a
secret hatred toward Europeans)—they are therefore obliged to accept
their mother-in-law's hospitality, a very disagreeable situation. And
then Charles N—- fancies his mousme is faithless. It is hardly
possible, however, for us to deceive ourselves: these would-be
maidens, to whom M. Kangourou has introduced us, have already had in
their lives one adventure, at least, and perhaps more; it is therefore
only natural that we should have our suspicions.
The Z——- and Touki-San couple jog on, quarrelling all the time.
My household maintains a more dignified air, though it is none the
less dreary. I had indeed thought of a divorce, but have really no
good reason for offering Chrysantheme such a gratuitous affront;
moreover, there is another more imperative reason why I should remain
quiet: I, too, have had difficulties with the civilian authorities.
The day before yesterday, M. Sucre, quite upset, Madame Prune,
almost swooning, and Mademoiselle Oyouki, bathed in tears, stormed my
rooms. The Nipponese police agents had called and threatened them with
the law for letting rooms outside of the European concession to a
Frenchman morganatically married to a Japanese; and the terror of
being prosecuted brought them to me, with a thousand apologies, but
with the humble request that I should leave.
The next day I therefore went off, accompanied by "the wonderfully
tall friend"—who expresses himself in Japanese better than I—to the
registry office, with the full intention of making a terrible row.
In the language of this exquisitely polite people, terms of abuse
are totally wanting; when very angry, one is obliged to be satisfied
with using the 'thou', a mark of inferiority, and the familiar
conjugation, habitually used toward those of low birth. Sitting upon
the table used for weddings, among the flurried little policemen, I
opened the conversation in the following terms:
"In order that thou shouldst leave me in peace in the suburb I am
inhabiting, what bribe must I offer thee, oh, little beings more
contemptible than any mere street porter?"
Great and general dismay, silent consternation, and low bows greet
They at last reply that my honorable person shall not be molested,
indeed, they ask for nothing better. Only, in order to subscribe to
the laws of the country, I ought to have come here and given my name
and that of the young person that—with whom—
"Oh! that is going too far! I came here for that purpose,
contemptible creatures, not three weeks ago!"
Then, taking up myself the civil register, and turning over the
pages rapidly, I found my signature and beside it the little
hieroglyphics drawn by Chrysantheme:
"There, idiots, look at that!"
Arrival of a very high functionary—a ridiculous little old fellow
in a black coat, who from his office had been listening to the row:
"What is the matter? What is it? What is this annoyance put upon
the French officers?"
I state my case politely to this personage, who can not make
apologies and promises enough. The little agents prostrate themselves
on all fours, sink into the earth; and we leave them, cold and
dignified, without returning their bows.
M. Sucre and Madame Prune may now make their minds easy; they will
not be disturbed again.
CHAPTER XXXI. BUTTERFLIES AND
The prolonged sojourn of the Triomphante in the dock, and the
distance of our dwelling from the town, have been my excuse these last
two or three days for not going up to Diou-djen-dji to see
It is dreary work in these docks. At early dawn a legion of little
Japanese workmen invade us, bringing their dinners in baskets and
gourds like the workingmen in our arsenals, but with a poor, shabby
appearance, and a ferreting, hurried manner which reminds one of rats.
Silently they slip under the keel, at the bottom of the hold, in all
the holes, sawing, nailing, repairing.
The heat is intense in this spot, overshadowed by the rocks and
tangled masses of foliage.
At two o'clock, in the broad sunlight, we have a new and far
prettier invasion: that of the beetles and butterflies.
There are butterflies as wonderful as those on the fans. Some, all
black, giddily dash up against us, so light and airy that they seem
merely a pair of quivering wings fastened together without any body.
Yves, astonished, gazes at them, saying, in his boyish manner: "Oh,
I saw such a big one just now, such a big one, it quite frightened me;
I thought it was a bat attacking me."
A steersman who has captured a very curious specimen carries it off
carefully to press between the leaves of his signal-book, like a
flower. Another sailor, passing by, taking his small roast to the oven
in a mess- bowl, looks at him quizzically and says:
"You had much better give it to me. I'd cook it!"
CHAPTER XXXII. STRANGE YEARNINGS
Nearly five days have passed since I abandoned my little house and
Since yesterday we have had a tremendous storm of rain and wind (a
typhoon that has passed or is passing over us). We beat to quarters
in the middle of the night to lower the topmasts, strike the lower
yards, and take every precaution against bad weather. The butterflies
no longer hover around us; everything tosses and writhes overhead: on
the steep slopes of the mountain the trees shiver, the long grasses
bend low as if in pain; terrible gusts rack them with a hissing sound;
branches, bamboo leaves, and earth fall like rain upon us.
In this land of pretty little trifles, this violent tempest is out
of harmony; it seems as if its efforts were exaggerated and its music
Toward evening the dark clouds roll by so rapidly that the showers
are of short duration and soon pass over. Then I attempt a walk on
the mountain above us, in the wet verdure: little pathways lead up it,
between thickets of camellias and bamboo.
Waiting till a shower is over, I take refuge in the courtyard of an
old temple halfway up the hill, buried in a wood of century plants
with gigantic branches; it is reached by granite steps, through
strange gateways, as deeply furrowed as the old Celtic dolmens. The
trees have also invaded this yard; the daylight is overcast with a
greenish tint, and the drenching torrent of rain is full of torn-up
leaves and moss. Old granite monsters, of unknown shapes, are seated
in the corners, and grimace with smiling ferocity: their faces are
full of indefinable mystery that makes me shudder amid the moaning
music of the wind, in the gloomy shadows of the clouds and branches.
They could not have resembled the Japanese of our day, the men who
had thus conceived these ancient temples, who built them everywhere,
and filled the country with them, even in its most solitary nooks.
An hour later, in the twilight of that stormy day, on the same
mountain, I encountered a clump of trees somewhat similar to oaks in
appearance; they, too, have been twisted by the tempest, and the tufts
of undulating grass at their feet are laid low, tossed about in every
direction. There was suddenly brought back to my mind my first
impression of a strong wind in the woods of Limoise, in the province
of Saintonge, twenty-eight years ago, in a month of March of my
That, the first wind-storm my eyes ever beheld sweeping over the
landscape, blew in just the opposite quarter of the world (and many
years have rapidly passed over that memory), the spot where the best
part of my life has been spent.
I refer too often, I fancy, to my childhood; I am foolishly fond of
it. But it seems to me that then only did I truly experience
sensations or impressions; the smallest trifles I saw or heard then
were full of deep and hidden meaning, recalling past images out of
oblivion, and reawakening memories of prior existences; or else they
were presentiments of existences to come, future incarnations in the
land of dreams, expectations of wondrous marvels that life and the
world held in store for me-for a later period, no doubt, when I should
be grown up. Well, I have grown up, and have found nothing that
answered to my indefinable expectations; on the contrary, all has
narrowed and darkened around me, my vague recollections of the past
have become blurred, the horizons before me have slowly closed in and
become full of gray darkness. Soon will my time come to return to
eternal rest, and I shall leave this world without ever having
understood the mysterious cause of these mirages of my childhood; I
shall bear away with me a lingering regret for I know not what lost
home that I have failed to find, of the unknown beings ardently longed
for, whom, alas, I never have embraced.
CHAPTER XXXIII. A GENEROUS HUSBAND
Displaying many affectations, M. Sucre dips the tip of his delicate
paint-brush in India-ink and traces a pair of charming storks on a
pretty sheet of rice-paper, offering them to me in the most courteous
manner, as a souvenir of himself. I have put them in my cabin on
board, and when I look at them, I fancy I can see M. Sucre tracing
them with an airy touch and with elegant facility.
The saucer in which he mixes his ink is in itself a little gem. It
is chiselled out of a piece of jade, and represents a tiny lake with a
carved border imitating rockwork. On this border is a little mamma
toad, also in jade, advancing as if to bathe in the little lake in
which M. Sucre carefully keeps a few drops of very dark liquid. The
mamma toad has four little baby toads, in jade, one perched on her
head, the other three playing about under her.
M. Sucre has painted many a stork in the course of his lifetime,
and he really excels in reproducing groups and duets, if one may so
express it, of this bird. Few Japanese possess the art of
interpreting this subject in a manner at once so rapid and so
tasteful; first he draws the two beaks, then the four claws, then the
backs, the feathers, dash, dash, dash—with a dozen strokes of his
clever brush, held in his daintily posed hand, it is done, and always
perfectly well done!
M. Kangourou relates, without seeing anything wrong in it whatever,
that formerly this talent was of great service to M. Sucre. It
appears that Madame Prune—how shall I say such a thing, and, who
could guess it now, on beholding so devout and sedate an old lady,
with eyebrows so scrupulously shaven?—however, it appears that Madame
Prune used to receive a great many visits from gentlemen—gentlemen
who always came alone—which led to some gossip. Therefore, when
Madame Prune was engaged with one visitor, if a new arrival made his
appearance, the ingenious husband, to induce him to wait patiently,
and to wile away the time in the anteroom, immediately offered to
paint him some storks in a variety of attitudes.
And this is why, in Nagasaki, all the Japanese gentlemen of a
certain age have in their collections two or three of these little
pictures, for which they are indebted to the delicate and original
talent of M. Sucre!
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE FEAST OF THE
Sunday, August 25th.
About six o'clock, while I was on duty, the 'Triomphante' abandoned
her prison walls between the mountains and came out of dock. After
much manoeuvring we took up our old moorings in the harbor, at the
foot of the Diou-djen-dji hills. The weather was again calm and
cloudless, the sky presenting a peculiar clarity, as if it had been
swept by a cyclone, an exceeding transparency bringing out the
minutest details in the distance till then unseen; as if the terrible
blast had blown away every vestige of the floating mists and left
behind it nothing but void and boundless space. The coloring of woods
and mountains stood out again in the resplendent verdancy of spring
after the torrents of rain, like the wet colors of some freshly washed
painting. The sampans and junks, which for the last three days had
been lying under shelter, had now put out to sea, and the bay was
covered with their white sails, which looked like a flight of enormous
At eight o'clock, at nightfall, our manoeuvres having ended, I
embarked with Yves on board a sampan; this time it is he who is
carrying me off and taking me back to my home.
On land, a delicious perfume of new-mown hay greets us, and the
road across the mountains is bathed in glorious moonlight. We go
straight up to Diou-djen-dji to join Chrysantheme; I feel almost
remorseful, although I hardly show it, for my neglect of her.
Looking up, I recognize from afar my little house, perched on high.
It is wide open and lighted; I even hear the sound of a guitar. Then
I perceive the gilt head of my Buddha between the little bright flames
of its two hanging night-lamps. Now Chrysantheme appears on the
veranda, looking out as if she expected us; and with her wonderful
bows of hair and long, falling sleeves, her silhouette is thoroughly
As I enter, she comes forward to kiss me, in a graceful, though
rather hesitating manner, while Oyouki, more demonstrative, throws her
arms around me.
Not without a certain pleasure do I see once more this Japanese
home, which I wonder to find still mine when I had almost forgotten
its existence. Chrysantheme has put fresh flowers in our vases,
spread out her hair, donned her best clothes, and lighted our lamps to
honor my return. From the balcony she had watched the 'Triomphante'
leave the dock, and, in the expectation of our prompt return, she had
made her preparations; then, to wile away the time, she was studying a
duet on the guitar with Oyouki. Not a question did she ask, nor a
reproach did she make. Quite the contrary.
"We understood," she said, "how impossible it was, in such dreadful
weather, to undertake so lengthy a crossing in a sampan."
She smiled like a pleased child, and I should be fastidious indeed
if I did not admit that to-night she is charming.
I announce my intention of taking a long stroll through Nagasaki;
we will take Oyouki-San and two little cousins who happen to be here,
as well as some other neighbors, if they wish it; we will buy the most
amusing toys, eat all sorts of cakes, and entertain ourselves to our
"How lucky we are to be here, just at the right moment," they
exclaim, jumping with joy. "How fortunate we are! This very evening
there is to be a pilgrimage to the great temple of the jumping
Tortoise! "The whole town will be there; all our married friends have
already started, the whole set, X——, Y——, Z——, Touki-San,
Campanule, and Jonquille, with "the friend of amazing height." And
these two, poor Chrysantheme and poor Oyouki, would have been obliged
to stay at home with heavy hearts, had we not arrived, because Madame
Prune had been seized with faintness and hysterics after her dinner.
Quickly the mousmes must deck themselves out. Chrysantheme is
ready; Oyouki hurries, changes her dress, and, putting on a
mouse-colored gray robe, begs me to arrange the bows of her fine
sash-black satin lined with yellow-sticking at the same time in her
hair a silver topknot. We light our lanterns, swinging at the end of
little sticks; M. Sucre, overwhelming us with thanks for his daughter,
accompanies us on all fours to the door, and we go off gayly through
the clear and balmy night.
Below, we find the town in all the animation of a great holiday.
The streets are thronged; the crowd passes by—a laughing,
capricious, slow, unequal tide, flowing onward, however, steadily in
the same direction, toward the same goal. From it rises a penetrating
but light murmur, in which dominate the sounds of laughter, and the
low-toned interchange of polite speeches. Then follow lanterns upon
lanterns. Never in my life have I seen so many, so variegated, so
complicated, and so extraordinary.
We follow, drifting with the surging crowd, borne along by it.
There are groups of women of every age, decked out in their smartest
clothes, crowds of mousmes with aigrettes of flowers in their hair, or
little silver topknots like Oyouki—pretty little physiognomies,
little, narrow eyes peeping between their slits like those of new-born
kittens, fat, pale, little cheeks, round, puffed-out, half-opened
lips. They are pretty, nevertheless, these little Nipponese, in their
smiles and childishness.
The men, on the other hand, wear many a pot-hat, pompously added to
the long national robe, and giving thereby a finishing touch to their
cheerful ugliness, resembling nothing so much as dancing monkeys.
They carry boughs in their hands, whole shrubs even, amid the foliage
of which dangle all sorts of curious lanterns in the shapes of imps
As we advance in the direction of the temple, the streets become
more noisy and crowded. All along the houses are endless stalls
raised on trestles, displaying sweetmeats of every color, toys,
branches of flowers, nosegays and masks. There are masks everywhere,
boxes full of them, carts full of them; the most popular being the one
that represents the livid and cunning muzzle, contracted as by a
deathlike grimace, the long straight ears and sharp-pointed teeth of
the white fox, sacred to the God of Rice. There are also others
symbolic of gods or monsters, livid, grimacing, convulsed, with wigs
and beards of natural hair. All manner of folk, even children,
purchase these horrors, and fasten them over their faces. Every sort
of instrument is for sale, among them many of those crystal trumpets
which sound so strangely—this evening they are enormous, six feet
long at least—and the noise they make is unlike anything ever heard
before: one would say gigantic turkeys were gobbling amid the crowd,
striving to inspire fear.
In the religious amusements of this people it is not possible for
us to penetrate the mysteriously hidden meaning of things; we can not
divine the boundary at which jesting stops and mystic fear steps in.
These customs, these symbols, these masks, all that tradition and
atavism have jumbled together in the Japanese brain, proceed from
sources utterly dark and unknown to us; even the oldest records fail
to explain them to us in anything but a superficial and cursory
manner, simply because we have absolutely nothing in common with this
people. We pass through the midst of their mirth and their laughter
without understanding the wherefore, so totally do they differ from
Chrysantheme with Yves, Oyouki with me, Fraise and Zinnia, our
cousins, walking before us under our watchful eyes, move slowly
through the crowd, holding hands lest we should lose one another.
Along the streets leading to the temple, the wealthy inhabitants
have decorated the fronts of their houses with vases and nosegays.
The peculiar shed-like buildings common in this country, with their
open platform frontage, are particularly well suited for the display
of choice objects; all the houses have been thrown open, and the
interiors are hung with draperies that hide the back of the
apartments. In front of these hangings, and standing slightly back
from the movement of the passing crowd, the various exhibited articles
are placed methodically in a row, under the full glare of hanging
lamps. Hardly any flowers compose the nosegays, nothing but
foliage—some rare and priceless, others chosen, as if purposely, from
the commonest plants, arranged, however, with such taste as to make
them appear new and choice; ordinary lettuce-leaves, tall
cabbage-stalks are placed with exquisite artificial taste in vessels
of marvellous workmanship. All the vases are of bronze, but the
designs are varied according to each changing fancy: some complicated
and twisted, others, and by far the larger number, graceful and
simple, but of a simplicity so studied and exquisite that to our eyes
they seem the revelation of an unknown art, the subversion of all
acquired notions of form.
On turning a corner of a street, by good luck we meet our married
comrades of the Triomphante and Jonquille, Toukisan and Campanule!
Bows and curtseys are exchanged by the mousmes, reciprocal
manifestations of joy at meeting; then, forming a compact band, we are
carried off by the ever-increasing crowd and continue our progress in
the direction of the temple.
The streets gradually ascend (the temples are always built on a
height); and by degrees, as we mount, there is added to the brilliant
fairyland of lanterns and costumes yet another, ethereally blue in the
haze of distance; all Nagasaki, its pagodas, its mountains, its still
waters full of the rays of moonlight, seem to rise with us into the
air. Slowly, step by step, one may say it springs up around,
enveloping in one great shimmering veil all the foreground, with its
dazzling red lights and many-colored streamers.
No doubt we are drawing near, for here are steps, porticoes and
monsters hewn out of enormous blocks of granite. We now have to climb
a series of steps, almost carried by the surging crowd ascending with
We have arrived at the temple courtyard.
This is the last and most astonishing scene in the evening's
fairy-tale —a luminous and weird scene, with fantastic distances
lighted up by the moon, with the gigantic trees, the sacred
cryptomerias, elevating their sombre boughs into a vast dome.
Here we are all seated with our mousmes, beneath the light awning,
wreathed in flowers, of one of the many little teahouses improvised in
this courtyard. We are on a terrace at the top of the great steps, up
which the crowd continues to flock, and at the foot of a portico which
stands erect with the rigid massiveness of a colossus against the dark
night sky; at the foot also of a monster, who stares down upon us,
with his big stony eyes, his cruel grimace and smile.
This portico and the monster are the two great overwhelming masses
in the foreground of the incredible scene before us; they stand out
with dazzling boldness against the vague and ashy blue of the distant
sphere beyond; behind them, Nagasaki is spread out in a bird's-eye
view, faintly outlined in the transparent darkness with myriads of
little colored lights, and the extravagantly dented profile of the
mountains is delineated on the starlit sky, blue upon blue,
transparency upon transparency. A corner of the harbor also is
visible, far up, undefined, like a lake lost in clouds the water,
faintly illumined by a ray of moonlight, making it shine like a sheet
Around us the long crystal trumpets keep up their gobble. Groups
of polite and frivolous persons pass and repass like fantastic
shadows: childish bands of small-eyed mousmes with smile so candidly
meaningless and coiffures shining through their bright silver flowers;
ugly men waving at the end of long branches their eternal lanterns
shaped like birds, gods, or insects.
Behind us, in the illuminated and wide-open temple, the bonzes sit,
immovable embodiments of doctrine, in the glittering sanctuary
inhabited by divinities, chimeras, and symbols. The crowd,
monotonously droning its mingled prayers and laughter, presses around
them, sowing its alms broadcast; with a continuous jingle, the money
rolls on the ground into the precincts reserved to the priests, where
the white mats entirely f disappear under the mass of many-sized coins
accumulated there as if after a deluge of silver and bronze.
We, however, feel thoroughly at sea in the midst of this festivity;
we look on, we laugh like the rest, we make foolish and senseless
remarks in a language insufficiently learned, which this evening, I
know not why, we can hardly understand. Notwithstanding the night
breeze, we find it very hot under our awning, and we absorb quantities
of odd-looking water-ices, served in cups, which taste like scented
frost, or rather like flowers steeped in snow. Our mousmes order for
themselves great bowls of candied beans mixed with hail—real
hailstones, such as we might pick up after a hailstorm in March.
Glou! glou! glou! the crystal trumpets slowly repeat their notes,
the powerful sonority of which has a labored and smothered sound, as
if they came from under water; they mingle with the jingling of
rattles and the noise of castanets. We have also the impression of
being carried away in the irresistible swing of this incomprehensible
gayety, composed, in proportions we can hardly measure, of elements
mystic, puerile, and even ghastly. A sort of religious terror is
diffused by the hidden idols divined in the temple behind us; by the
mumbled prayers, confusedly heard; above all, by the horrible heads in
lacquered wood, representing foxes, which, as they pass, hide human
faces—hideous livid masks.
In the gardens and outbuildings of the temple the most
inconceivable mountebanks have taken up their quarters, their black
streamers, painted with white letters, looking like funeral trappings
as they float in the wind from the tops of their tall flagstaffs.
Thither we turn our steps, as soon as our mousmes have ended their
orisons and bestowed their alms.
In one of the booths a man, stretched on a table, flat on his back,
is alone on the stage; puppets of almost human size, with horribly
grinning masks, spring out of his body; they speak, gesticulate, then
fall back like empty rags; with a sudden spring they start up again,
change their costumes, change their faces, tearing about in one
continual frenzy. Suddenly three, even four, appear at the same time;
they are nothing more than the four limbs of the outstretched man,
whose legs and arms, raised on high, are each dressed up and capped
with a wig under which peers a mask; between these phantoms tremendous
fighting and battling take place, and many a sword-thrust is
exchanged. The most fearful of all is a certain puppet representing
an old hag; every time she appears, with her weird head and ghastly
grin, the lights burn low, the music of the accompanying orchestra
moans forth a sinister strain given by the flutes, mingled with a
rattling tremolo which sounds like the clatter of bones. This creature
evidently plays an ugly part in the piece—that of a horrible old
ghoul, spiteful and famished. Still more appalling than her person is
her shadow, which, projected upon a white screen, is abnormally and
vividly distinct; by means of some unknown process this shadow, which
nevertheless follows all her movements, assumes the aspect of a wolf.
At a given moment the hag turns round and presents the profile of her
distorted snub nose as she accepts the bowl of rice which is offered
to her; on the screen at the very same instant appears the elongated
outline of the wolf, with its pointed ears, its muzzle and chops, its
great teeth and hanging tongue. The orchestra grinds, wails, quivers;
then suddenly bursts out into funereal shrieks, like a concert of
owls; the hag is now eating, and her wolfish shadow is eating also,
greedily moving its jaws and nibbling at another shadow easy to
recognize—the arm of a little child.
We now go on to see the great salamander of Japan, an animal rare
in this country, and quite unknown elsewhere, a great, cold mass,
sluggish and benumbed, looking like some antediluvian experiment,
forgotten in the inner seas of this archipelago.
Next comes the trained elephant, the terror of our mousmes, the
equilibrists, the menagerie.
It is one o'clock in the morning before we are back at
We first get Yves to bed in the little paper room he has already
once occupied. Then we go to bed ourselves, after the inevitable
preparations, the smoking of the little pipe, and the tap! tap! tap!
tap! on the edge of the box.
Suddenly Yves begins to move restlessly in his sleep, to toss
about, giving great kicks on the wall, and making a frightful noise.
What can be the matter? I imagine at once that he must be dreaming
of the old hag and her wolfish shadow. Chrysantheme raises herself on
her elbow and listens, with astonishment depicted on her face.
Ah, happy thought! she has guessed what is tormenting him:
"Ka!" ("mosquitoes") she says.
And, to impress the more forcibly her meaning on my mind, she
pinches my arm so hard with her little pointed nails, at the same time
imitating, with such an amusing play of her features, the grimace of a
person who is stung, that I exclaim:
"Oh! stop, Chrysantheme, this pantomime is too expressive, and
indeed useless! I know the word 'Ka', and had quite understood, I
It is done so drolly and so quickly, with such a pretty pout, that
in truth I can not think of being angry, although I shall certainly
have tomorrow a blue mark on my arm; about that there is no doubt.
"Come, we must get up and go to Yves's rescue; he must not be
allowed to go on thumping in that manner. Let us take a lantern, and
see what has happened."
It was indeed the mosquitoes. They are hovering in a thick cloud
about him; those of the house and those of the garden all seem
collected together, swarming and buzzing. Chrysantheme indignantly
burns several at the flame of her lantern, and shows me others (Hou!)
covering the white paper walls.
He, tired out with his day's amusement, sleeps on; but his slumbers
are restless, as may be easily imagined. Chrysantheme gives him a
shake, wishing him to get up and share our blue mosquito-net.
After a little pressing he does as he is bid and follows us,
looking like an overgrown boy only half awake. I make no objection to
this singular hospitality; after all, it looks so little like a bed,
the matting we are to share, and we sleep in our clothes, as we always
do, according to the Nipponese fashion. After all, on a journey in a
railway, do not the most estimable ladies stretch themselves without
demur by the side of gentlemen unknown to them?
I have, however, placed Chrysantheme's little wooden block in the
centre of the gauze tent, between our two pillows.
Without saying a word, in a dignified manner, as if she were
rectifying an error of etiquette that I had inadvertently committed,
Chrysantheme takes up her piece of wood, putting in its place my
snake-skin drum; I shall therefore be in the middle between the two.
It is really more correct, decidedly more proper; Chrysantheme is
evidently a very decorous young person.
Returning on board next morning, in the clear morning sun, we walk
through pathways full of dew, accompanied by a band of funny little
mousmes of six or eight years of age, who are going to school.
Needless to say, the cicalas around us keep up their perpetual
sonorous chirping. The mountain smells delicious. The atmosphere,
the dawning day, the infantine grace of these little girls in their
long frocks and shiny coiffures-all is redundant with freshness and
youth. The flowers and grasses on which we tread sparkle with
dewdrops, exhaling a perfume of freshness. What undying beauty there
is, even in Japan, in the fresh morning hours in the country, and the
dawning hours of life!
Besides, I am quite ready to admit the attractiveness of the little
Japanese children; some of them are most fascinating. But how is it
that their charm vanishes so rapidly and is so quickly replaced by the
elderly grimace, the smiling ugliness, the monkeyish face?
CHAPTER XXXV. THROUGH A MICROSCOPE
The small garden of my mother-in-law, Madame Renoncule, is, without
exception, one of the most melancholy spots I have seen in all my
travels through the world.
Oh, the slow, enervating, dull hours spent in idle and diffuse
conversation on the dimly lighted veranda! Oh, the detestable
peppered jam in the tiny pots! In the middle of the town, enclosed by
four walls, is this park of five yards square, with little lakes,
little mountains, and little rocks, where all wears an antiquated
appearance, and everything is covered with a greenish mold from want
Nevertheless, a true feeling for nature has inspired this tiny
representation of a wild spot. The rocks are well placed, the dwarf
cedars, no taller than cabbages, stretch their gnarled boughs over the
valleys in the attitude of giants wearied by the weight of centuries;
and their look of full-grown trees perplexes one and falsifies the
perspective. When from the dark recesses of the apartment one
perceives at a certain distance this diminutive landscape dimly
lighted, the wonder is whether it is all artificial, or whether one is
not one's self the victim of some morbid illusion; and whether it is
not indeed a real country view seen through a distorted vision out of
focus, or through the wrong end of a telescope.
To any one familiar with Japanese life, my mother-in-law's house in
itself reveals a refined nature—complete bareness, two or three
screens placed here and there, a teapot, a vase full of lotus-flowers,
and nothing more. Woodwork devoid of paint or varnish, but carved in
most elaborate and capricious openwork, the whiteness of the pinewood
being preserved by constant scrubbing with soap and water. The posts
and beams of the framework are varied by the most fanciful taste: some
are cut in precise geometrical forms; others are artificially twisted,
imitating trunks of old trees covered with tropical creepers.
Everywhere are little hiding-places, little nooks, little closets
concealed in the most ingenious and unexpected manner under the
immaculate uniformity of the white paper panels.
I can not help smiling when I think of some of the so-called
"Japanese" drawing-rooms of our Parisian fine ladies, overcrowded with
knickknacks and curios and hung with coarse gold embroideries on
exported satins. I would advise those persons to come and look at the
houses of people of taste out here; to visit the white solitudes of
the palaces at Yeddo. In France we have works of art in order to enjoy
them; here they possess them merely to ticket them and lock them up
carefully in a kind of mysterious underground room called a 'godoun',
shut in by iron gratings. On rare occasions, only to honor some
visitor of distinction, do they open this impenetrable depositary.
The true Japanese manner of understanding luxury consists in a
scrupulous and indeed almost excessive cleanliness, white mats and
white woodwork; an appearance of extreme simplicity, and an incredible
nicety in the most infinitesimal details.
My mother-in-law seems to be really a very good woman, and were it
not for the insurmountable feeling of spleen the sight of her garden
produces on me, I should often go to see her. She has nothing in
common with the mammas of Jonquille, Campanule, or Touki she is vastly
their superior; and then I can see that she has been very good-looking
and fashionable. Her past life puzzles me; but, in my position as a
son-in-law, good manners prevent my making further inquiries.
Some assert that she was formerly a celebrated geisha in Yeddo, who
lost public favor by her folly in becoming a mother. This would
account for her daughter's talent on the guitar; she had probably
herself taught her the touch and style of the Conservatory.
Since the birth of Chrysantheme (her eldest child and first cause
of this loss of favor), my mother-in-law, an expansive although
distinguished nature, has fallen seven times into the same fatal
error, and I have two little sisters-in-law: Mademoiselle La
Neige,—[Oyouki-San]—and Mademoiselle La Lune,—[Tsouki-San.]—as
well as five little brothers- in-law: Cerisier, Pigeon, Liseron, Or,
Little Bambou is four years old—a yellow baby, fat and round all
over, with fine bright eyes; coaxing and jolly, sleeping whenever he
is not laughing. Of all my Nipponese family, Bambou is the one I love
CHAPTER XXXVI. MY NAUGHTY DOLL
Tuesday, August 27th.
During this whole day we—Yves, Chrysantheme, Oyouki and
myself—have spent the time wandering through dark and dusty nooks,
dragged hither and thither by four quick-footed djins, in search of
antiquities in the bric- a-brac shops.
Toward sunset, Chrysantheme, who has wearied me more than ever
since morning, and who doubtless has perceived it, pulls a very long
face, declares herself ill, and begs leave to spend the night with her
mother, Madame Renoncule.
I agree to this with the best grace in the world; let her go,
tiresome little mousme! Oyouki will carry a message to her parents,
who will shut up our rooms; we shall spend the evening, Yves and I, in
roaming about as fancy takes us, without any mousme dragging at our
heels, and shall afterward regain our own quarters on board the
'Triomphante', without having the trouble of climbing up that hill.
First of all, we make an attempt to dine together in some
fashionable tea-house. Impossible! not a place is to be had; all the
absurd paper rooms, all the compartments contrived by so many
ingenious tricks of slipping and sliding panels, all the nooks and
corners in the little gardens are filled with Japanese men and women
eating impossible and incredible little dishes. Numberless young
dandies are dining tete-a- tete with the ladies of their choice, and
sounds of dancing-girls and music issue from the private rooms.
The fact is, to-day is the third and last day of the great
pilgrimage to the temple of the jumping Tortoise, of which we saw the
beginning yesterday; and all Nagasaki is at this time given over to
At the tea-house of the Indescribable Butterflies, which is also
full to overflowing, but where we are well known, they have had the
bright idea of throwing a temporary flooring over the little lake—the
pond where the goldfish live—and our meal is served here, in the
pleasant freshness of the fountain which continues its murmur under
After dinner, we follow the faithful and ascend again to the
Up there we find the same elfin revelry, the same masks, the same
music. We seat ourselves, as before, under a gauze tent and sip odd
little drinks tasting of flowers. But this evening we are alone, and
the absence of the band of mousmes, whose familiar little faces formed
a bond of union between this holiday-making people and ourselves,
separates and isolates us more than usual from the profusion of
oddities in the midst of which we seem to be lost. Beneath us lies
always the immense blue background: Nagasaki illumined by moonlight,
and the expanse of silvered, glittering water, which seems like a
vaporous vision suspended in mid- air. Behind us is the great open
temple, where the bonzes officiate, to the accompaniment of sacred
bells and wooden clappers-looking, from where we sit, more like
puppets than anything else, some squatting in rows like peaceful
mummies, others executing rhythmical marches before the golden
background where stand the gods. We do not laugh to-night, and speak
but little, more forcibly struck by the scene than we were on the
first night; we only look on, trying to understand. Suddenly, Yves,
turning round, says:
"Hullo! brother, there is your mousme!"
Actually, there she is, behind him; Chrysantheme, almost on all
fours, hidden between the paws of a great granite beast, half tiger,
half dog, against which our fragile tent is leaning.
"She pulled my trousers with her nails, for all the world like a
little cat," said Yves, still full of surprise, "positively like a
She remains bent double in the most humble form of salutation; she
smiles timidly, afraid of being ill received, and the head of my
little brother- in-law, Bambou, appears smiling too, just above her
own. She has brought this little mousko—[Mousko is the masculine of
mousme, and signifies little boy. Excessive politeness makes it
mousko-san (Mr. little boy).] —with her, perched astride her back; he
looks as absurd as ever, with his shaven head, his long frock and the
great bows of his silken sash. There they stand gazing at us, anxious
to know how their joke will be taken.
For my part, I have not the least idea of giving them a cold
reception; on the contrary, the meeting amuses me. It even strikes me
that it is rather pretty of Chrysantheme to come around in this way,
and to bring Bambou-San to the festival; though it savors somewhat of
her low breeding, to tell the truth, to carry him on her back, as the
poorer Japanese women carry their little ones.
However, let her sit down between Yves and myself and let them
bring her those iced beans she loves so much; and we will take the
jolly little mousko on our knees and cram him with sugar and
sweetmeats to his heart's content.
When the evening is over, and we begin to think of leaving, and of
going down again, Chrysantheme replaces her little Bambou astride upon
her back, and sets forth, bending forward under his weight and
painfully dragging her Cinderella slippers over the granite steps and
flagstones. Yes, decidedly low, this conduct! but low in the best
sense of the word: nothing in it displeases me; I even consider
Chrysantheme's affection for Bambou-San engaging and attractive in its
One can not deny this merit to the Japanese—a great love for
little children, and a talent for amusing them, for making them laugh,
inventing comical toys for them, making the morning of their life
happy; for a specialty in dressing them, arranging their heads, and
giving to the whole personage the most fascinating appearance
possible. It is the only thing I really like about this country: the
babies and the manner in which they are understood.
On our way we meet our married friends of the Triomphante, who,
much surprised at seeing me with this mousko, jokingly exclaim:
"What! a son already?"
Down in the town, we make a point of bidding goodby to Chrysantheme
at the turning of the street where her mother lives. She smiles,
undecided, declares herself well again, and begs to return to our
house on the heights. This did not precisely enter into my plans, I
confess. However, it would look very ungracious to refuse.
So be it! But we must carry the mousko home to his mamma, and then
begin, by the flickering light of a new lantern bought from Madame
Tres- Propre, our weary homeward ascent.
Here, however, we find ourselves in another predicament: this
ridiculous little Bambou insists upon coming with us! No, he will
take no denial, we must take him with us. This is out of all reason,
However, it will not do to make him cry, on the night of a great
festival too, poor little mousko! So we must send a message to Madame
Renoncule, that she may not be uneasy about him, and as there will
soon not be a living creature on the footpaths of Diou-djen-dji to
laugh at us, we will take it in turn, Yves and I, to carry him on our
backs, all the way up that climb in the darkness.
And here am I, who did not wish to return this way tonight,
dragging a mousme by the hand, and actually carrying an extra burden
in the shape of a mousko on my back. What an irony of fate!
As I had expected, all our shutters and doors are closed, bolted,
and barred; no one expects us, and we have to make a prodigious noise
at the door. Chrysantheme sets to work and calls with all her might
"Hou Oume-San-an-an-an!" (In English: "Hi! Madame Pru-u-uu-une!")
These intonations in her little voice are unknown to me; her
long-drawn call in the echoing darkness of midnight has so strange an
accent, something so unexpected and wild, that it impresses me with a
dismal feeling of far-off exile.
At last Madame Prune appears to open the door to us, only half
awake and much astonished; by way of a nightcap she wears a monstrous
cotton turban, on the blue ground of which a few white storks are
playfully disporting themselves. Holding in the tips of her fingers,
with an affectation of graceful fright, the long stalk of her
beflowered lantern, she gazes intently into our faces, one after
another, to reassure herself of our identity; but the poor old lady
can not get over her surprise at the sight of the mousko I am
CHAPTER XXXVII. COMPLICATIONS
At first it was only to Chrysantheme's guitar that I listened with
pleasure now I am beginning to like her singing also.
She has nothing of the theatrical, or the deep, assumed voice of
the virtuoso; on the contrary, her notes, always very high, are soft,
thin, and plaintive.
She often teaches Oyouki some romance, slow and dreamy, which she
has composed, or which comes back to her mind. Then they both
astonish me, for on their well-tuned guitars they will pick out
accompaniments in parts, and try again each time that the chords are
not perfectly true to their ear, without ever losing themselves in the
confusion of these dissonant harmonies, always weird and always
Usually, while their music is going on, I am writing on the
veranda, with the superb panorama before me. I write, seated on a mat
on the floor and leaning upon a little Japanese desk, ornamented with
swallows in relief; my ink is Chinese, my inkstand, just like that of
my landlord, is in jade, with dear little frogs and toads carved on
the rim. In short, I am writing my memoirs,—exactly as M. Sucre does
downstairs! Occasionally I fancy I resemble him—a very disagreeable
My memoirs are composed of incongruous details, minute observations
of colors, shapes, scents, and sounds.
It is true that a complete imbroglio, worthy of a romance, seems
ever threatening to appear upon my monotonous horizon; a regular
intrigue seems ever ready to explode in the midst of this little world
of mousmes and grasshoppers: Chrysantheme in love with Yves; Yves with
Chrysantheme; Oyouki with me; I with no one. We might even find here,
ready to hand, the elements of a fratricidal drama, were we in any
other country than Japan; but we are in Japan, and under the narrowing
and dwarfing influence of the surroundings, which turn everything into
ridicule, nothing will come of it all.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE HEIGHT OF
In this fine town of Nagasaki, about five or six o'clock in the
evening, one hour of the day is more comical than any other. At that
moment every human being is naked: children, young people, old people,
old men, old women—every one is seated in a tub of some sort, taking
a bath. This ceremony takes place no matter where, without the
slightest screen, in the gardens, the courtyards, in the shops, even
upon the thresholds, in order to give greater facility for
conversation among the neighbors from one side of the street to the
other. In this situation visitors are received; and the bather,
without any hesitation, leaves his tub, holding in his hand his little
towel (invariably blue), to offer the caller a seat, and to exchange
with him some polite remarks. Nevertheless, neither the mousmes nor
the old ladies gain anything by appearing in this primeval costume. A
Japanese woman, deprived of her long robe and her huge sash with its
pretentious bows, is nothing but a diminutive yellow being, with
crooked legs and flat, unshapely bust; she has no longer a remnant of
her little artificial charms, which have completely disappeared in
company with her costume.
There is yet another hour, at once joyous and melancholy, a little
later, when twilight falls, when the sky seems one vast veil of
yellow, against which stand the clear-cut outlines of jagged mountains
and lofty, fantastic pagodas. It is the hour at which, in the
labyrinth of little gray streets below, the sacred lamps begin to
twinkle in the ever-open houses, in front of the ancestor's altars and
the familiar Buddhas; while, outside, darkness creeps over all, and
the thousand and one indentations and peaks of the old roofs are
depicted, as if in black festoons, on the clear golden sky. At this
moment, over merry, laughing Japan, suddenly passes a sombre shadow,
strange, weird, a breath of antiquity, of savagery, of something
indefinable, which casts a gloom of sadness. And then the only gayety
that remains is the gayety of the young children, of little mouskos
and little mousmes, who spread themselves like a wave through the
streets filled with shadow, as they swarm from schools and workshops.
On the dark background of all these wooden buildings, the little blue
and scarlet dresses stand out in startling contrast,—drolly
bedizened, drolly draped; and the fine loops of the sashes, the
flowers, the silver or gold topknots stuck in these baby chignons, add
to the vivid effect.
They amuse themselves, they chase one another, their great pagoda
sleeves fly wide open, and these tiny little mousmes of ten, of five
years old, or even younger still, have lofty head-dresses and imposing
bows of hair arranged on their little heads, like grown-up women. Oh!
what loves of supremely absurd dolls at this hour of twilight gambol
through the streets, in their long frocks, blowing their crystal
trumpets, or running with all their might to start their fanciful
kites. This juvenile world of Japan—ludicrous by birth, and fated to
become more so as the years roll on—starts in life with singular
amusements, with strange cries and shouts; its playthings are somewhat
ghastly, and would frighten the children of other countries; even the
kites have great squinting eyes and vampire shapes.
And every evening, in the little dark streets, bursts forth the
overflow of joyousness, fresh, childish, but withal grotesque to
excess. It would be difficult to form any idea of the incredible
things which, carried by the wind, float in the evening air.
CHAPTER XXXIX. A LADY OF JAPAN
My little Chrysantheme is always attired in dark colors, a sign
here of aristocratic distinction. While her friends Oyouki-San,
Madame Touki, and others, delight in gay-striped stuffs, and thrust
gorgeous ornaments in their chignons, she always wears navy-blue or
neutral gray, fastened round her waist with great black sashes
brocaded in tender shades, and she puts nothing in her hair but
amber-colored tortoiseshell pins. If she were of noble descent she
would wear embroidered on her dress in the middle of the back a little
white circle looking like a postmark with some design in the centre of
it—usually the leaf of a tree; and this would be her coat-of-arms.
There is really nothing wanting but this little heraldic blazon on
the back to give her the appearance of a lady of the highest rank.
In Japan the smart dresses of bright colors shaded in clouds,
embroidered with monsters of gold or silver, are reserved by the great
ladies for home use on state occasions; or else they are used on the
stage for dancers and courtesans.
Like all Japanese women, Chrysantheme carries a quantity of things
in her long sleeves, in which pockets are cunningly hidden. There she
keeps letters, various notes written on delicate sheets of rice-paper,
prayer amulets drawn up by the bonzes; and above all a number of
squares of a silky paper which she puts to the most unexpected
uses—to dry a teacup, to hold the damp stalk of a flower, or to blow
her quaint little nose, when the necessity presents itself. After the
operation she at once crumples up the piece of paper, rolls it into a
ball, and throws it out of the window with disgust.
The very smartest people in Japan blow their noses in this manner.
CHAPTER XL. OUR FRIENDS THE BONZES
Fate has favored us with a friendship as strange as it is rare:
that of the head bonzes of the temple of the jumping Tortoise, where
we witnessed last month such a surprising pilgrimage.
The approach to this place is as solitary now as it was thronged
and bustling on the evenings of the festival; and in broad daylight
one is surprised at the deathlike decay of the sacred surroundings
which at night had seemed so full of life. Not a creature to be seen
on the time- worn granite steps; not a creature beneath the vast,
sumptuous porticoes; the colors, the gold-work are dim with dust. To
reach the temple one must cross several deserted courtyards terraced
on the mountain-side, pass through several solemn gateways, and up and
up endless stairs rising far above the town and the noises of humanity
into a sacred region filled with innumerable tombs. On all the
pavements, in all the walls, are lichen and stonecrop; and over all
the, gray tint of extreme age spreads like a fall of ashes.
In a side temple near the entrance is enthroned a colossal Buddha
seated in his lotus—a gilded idol from forty-five to sixty feet high,
mounted on an enormous bronze pedestal.
At length appears the last doorway with the two traditional giants,
guardians of the sacred court, which stand the one on the right hand,
the other on the left, shut up like wild beasts, each in an iron cage.
They are in attitudes of fury, with fists upraised as if to strike,
and features atrociously fierce and distorted. Their bodies are
covered with bullets of crumbled paper, which have been aimed at them
through the bars, and which have stuck to their monstrous limbs,
producing an appearance of white leprosy: this is the manner in which
the faithful strive to appease them, by conveying to them their
prayers written upon delicate leaflets by the pious bonzes.
Passing between these alarming scarecrows, one reaches the
innermost court. The residence of our friends is on the right, the
great hall of the pagoda is before us.
In this paved court are bronze torch-holders as high as turrets.
Here, too, stand, and have stood for centuries, cyca palms with
fresh, green plumes, their numerous stalks curving with a heavy
symmetry, like the branches of massive candelabra. The temple, which
is open along its entire length, is dark and mysterious, with touches
of gilding in distant corners melting away into the gloom. In the
very remotest part are seated idols, and from outside one can vaguely
see their clasped hands and air of rapt mysticism; in front are the
altars, loaded with marvellous vases in metalwork, whence spring
graceful clusters of gold and silver lotus. From the very entrance
one is greeted by the sweet odor of the incense-sticks unceasingly
burned by the priests before the gods.
To penetrate into the dwelling of our friends the bonzes, which is
situated on the right side as you enter, is by no means an easy
A monster of the fish tribe, but having claws and horns, is hung
over their door by iron chains; at the least breath of wind he swings
creakingly. We pass beneath him and enter the first vast and lofty
hall, dimly lighted, in the corners of which gleam gilded idols,
bells, and incomprehensible objects of religious use.
Quaint little creatures, choir-boys or pupils, come forward with a
doubtful welcome to ask what is wanted.
"Matsou-San!! Dondta-San!!" they repeat, much astonished, when
they understand to whom we wish to be conducted. Oh! no, impossible,
they can not be seen; they are resting or are in contemplation.
"Orimas! Orimas!" say they, clasping their hands and sketching a
genuflection or two to make us understand better. ("They are at
prayer! the most profound prayer!")
We insist, speak more imperatively; even slip off our shoes like
people determined to take no refusal.
At last Matsou-San and Donata-San make their appearance from the
tranquil depths of their bonze-house. They are dressed in black crape
and their heads are shaved. Smiling, amiable, full of excuses, they
offer us their hands, and we follow, with our feet bare like theirs,
to the interior of their mysterious dwelling, through a series of
empty rooms spread with mats of the most unimpeachable whiteness. The
successive halls are separated one from the other only by bamboo
curtains of exquisite delicacy, caught back by tassels and cords of
The whole wainscoting of the interior is of the same wood, of a
pale yellow shade made with extreme nicety, without the least
ornament, the least carving; everything seems new and unused, as if it
had never been touched by human hand. At distant intervals in this
studied bareness, costly little stools, marvellously inlaid, uphold
some antique bronze monster or a vase of flowers; on the walls hang a
few masterly sketches, vaguely tinted in Indian ink, drawn upon strips
of gray paper most accurately cut but without the slightest attempt at
a frame. This is all: not a seat, not a cushion, not a scrap of
furniture. It is the very acme of studied simplicity, of elegance
made out of nothing, of the most immaculate and incredible
cleanliness. And while following the bonzes through this long suite
of empty halls, we are struck by their contrast with the overflow of
knickknacks scattered about our rooms in France, and we take a sudden
dislike to the profusion and crowding delighted in at home.
The spot where this silent march of barefooted folk comes to an
end, the spot where we are to seat ourselves in the delightful
coolness of a semi- darkness, is an interior veranda opening upon an
artificial site. We might suppose it the bottom of a well; it is a
miniature garden no bigger than the opening of an oubliette, overhung
on all sides by the crushing height of the mountain and receiving from
on high but the dim light of dreamland. Nevertheless, here is
simulated a great natural ravine in all its wild grandeur: here are
caverns, abrupt rocks, a torrent, a cascade, islands. The trees,
dwarfed by a Japanese process of which we have not the secret, have
tiny little leaves on their decrepit and knotty branches. A pervading
hue of the mossy green of antiquity harmonizes all this medley, which
is undoubtedly centuries old.
Families of goldfish swim round and round in the clear water, and
tiny tortoises (jumpers probably) sleep upon the granite islands,
which are of the same color as their own gray shells.
There are even blue dragon-flies which have ventured to descend,
heaven knows whence, and alight with quivering wings upon the
miniature water- lilies.
Our friends the bonzes, notwithstanding an unctuousness of manner
thoroughly ecclesiastical, are very ready to laugh—a simple, pleased,
childish laughter; plump, chubby, shaven and shorn, they dearly love
our French liqueurs and know how to take a joke.
We talk first of one thing and then another. To the tranquil music
of their little cascade, I launch out before them with phrases of the
most erudite Japanese, I try the effect of a few tenses of verbs:
'desideratives, concessives, hypothetics in ba'. While they chant
they despatch the affairs of the church: the order of services sealed
with complicated seals for inferior pagodas situated in the
neighborhood; or trace little prayers with a cunning paint-brush, as
medical remedies to be swallowed like pills by invalids at a distance.
With their white and dimpled hands they play with a fan as cleverly
as any woman, and when we have tasted different native drinks,
flavored with essences of flowers, they bring up as a finish a bottle
of Benedictine or Chartreuse, for they appreciate the liqueurs
composed by their Western colleagues.
When they come on board to return our visits, they by no means
disdain to fasten their great round spectacles on their flat noses in
order to inspect the profane drawings in our illustrated papers, the
'Vie Parisienne' for instance. And it is even with a certain
complacency that they let their fingers linger upon the pictures
The religious ceremonies in their great temple are magnificent, and
to one of these we are now invited. At the sound of the gong they
make their entrance before the idols with a stately ritual; twenty or
thirty priests officiate in gala costumes, with genuflections,
clapping of hands and movements to and fro, which look like the
figures of some mystic quadrille.
But for all that, let the sanctuary be ever so immense and imposing
in its sombre gloom, the idols ever so superb, all seems in Japan but
a mere semblance of grandeur. A hopeless pettiness, an irresistible
effect the ludicrous, lies at the bottom of all things.
And then the congregation is not conducive to thoughtful
contemplation, for among it we usually discover some acquaintance: my
mother-in-law, or a cousin, or the woman from the china-shop who sold
us a vase only yesterday. Charming little mousmes, monkeyish-looking
old ladies enter with their smoking-boxes, their gayly daubed
parasols, their curtseys, their little cries and exclamations;
prattling, complimenting one another, full of restless movement, and
having the greatest difficulty in maintaining a serious demeanor.
CHAPTER XLI. AN UNEXPECTED CALL
My little Chrysantheme for the first time visited me on board-ship
to day, chaperoned by Madame Prune, and followed by my youngest sister
in- law, Mademoiselle La Neige. These ladies had the tranquil manners
of the highest gentility. In my cabin is a great Buddha on his
throne, and before him is a lacquer tray, on which my faithful sailor
servant places any small change he may find in the pockets of my
clothes. Madame Prune, whose mind is much swayed by mysticism, at
once supposed herself before a regular altar; in the gravest manner
possible she addressed a brief prayer to the god; then drawing out her
purse (which, according to custom, was attached to her sash behind her
back, along with her little pipe and tobacco-pouch), placed a pious
offering in the tray, while executing a low curtsey.
They were on their best behavior throughout the visit. But when
the moment of departure came, Chrysantheme, who would not go away
without seeing Yves, asked for him with a thinly veiled persistency
which was remarkable. Yves, for whom I then sent, made himself
particularly charming to her, so much so that this time I felt a shade
of more serious annoyance; I even asked myself whether the laughably
pitiable ending, which I had hitherto vaguely foreseen, might not,
after all, soon break upon us.
CHAPTER XLII. AN ORIENTAL VISION
Yesterday I encountered, in an ancient and ruined quarter of the
town, a perfectly exquisite mousme, charmingly dressed; a fresh touch
of color against the sombre background of decayed buildings.
I met her at the farthest end of Nagasaki, in the most ancient part
of the town. In this region are trees centuries old, antique temples
of Buddha, of Amiddah, of Benten, or Kwanon, with steep and pompous
roofs; monsters carved in granite sit there in courtyards silent as
the grave, where the grass grows between the stones. This deserted
quarter is traversed by a narrow torrent running in a deep channel,
across which are thrown little curved bridges with granite balustrades
eaten away by lichen. All the objects there wear the strange grimace,
the quaint arrangement familiar to us in the most antique Japanese
I walked through it all at the burning hour of midday, and saw not
a soul, unless, indeed, through the open windows of the bonze-houses,
I caught sight of some few priests, guardians of tombs or sanctuaries,
taking their siesta under dark-blue gauze nets.
Suddenly this little mousme appeared, a little above me, just at
the point of the arch of one of these bridges carpeted with gray moss;
she was in full sunshine, and stood out in brilliant clearness, like a
fairy vision, against the background of old black temples and deep
shadows. She was holding her robe together with one hand, gathering it
close round her ankles to give herself an air of greater slimness.
Over her quaint little head, her round umbrella with its thousand
ribs threw a great halo of blue and red, edged with black, and an
oleander-tree full of flowers, growing among the stones of the bridge,
spread its glory beside her, bathed, like herself, in the sunshine.
Behind this youthful figure and this flowering shrub all was
blackness. Upon the pretty red and blue parasol great white letters
formed this inscription, much used among the mousmes, and which I have
learned to recognize: 'Stop! clouds, to see her pass!' And it was
really worth the trouble to stop and look at this exquisite little
person, of a type so ideally Japanese.
However, it will not do to stop too long and be ensnared—it would
only be another delusion. A doll like the rest, evidently, an
ornament for a china shelf, and nothing more. While I gaze at her, I
say to myself that Chrysantheme, appearing in this same place, with
this dress, this play of light, and this aureole of sunshine, would
produce just as delightful an effect.
For Chrysantheme is pretty, there can be no doubt about it.
Yesterday evening, in fact, I positively admired her. It was quite
night; we were returning with the usual escort of little married
couples like ourselves, from the inevitable tour of the tea-houses and
bazaars. While the other mousmes walked along hand in hand, adorned
with new silver topknots which they had succeeded in having presented
to them, and amusing themselves with playthings, she, pleading
fatigue, followed, half reclining, in a djin carriage. We had placed
beside her great bunches of flowers destined to fill our vases, late
iris and long-stemmed lotus, the last of the season, already smelling
of autumn. And it was really very pretty to see this Japanese girl in
her little car, lying carelessly among all these water-flowers,
lighted by gleams of ever-changing colors, as they chanced from the
lanterns we met or passed. If, on the evening of my arrival in Japan,
any one had pointed her out to me, and said: "That shall be your
mousme," there can not be a doubt I should have been charmed. In
reality, however, I am not charmed; it is only Chrysantheme, always
Chrysantheme, nothing but Chrysantheme: a mere plaything to laugh at,
a little creature of finical forms and thoughts, with whom the agency
of M. Kangourou has supplied me.
CHAPTER XLIII. THE CATS AND THE
The water used for drinking in our house, for making tea, and for
lesser washing purposes, is kept in large white china tubs, decorated
with paintings representing blue fish borne along by a swift current
through distorted rushes. In order to keep them cool, the tubs are
kept out of doors on Madame Prune's roof, at a place where we can,
from the top of our projecting balcony, easily reach them by
stretching out an arm. A real godsend for all the thirsty cats in the
neighborhood, on warm summer nights, is this corner of the roof with
our gayly painted tubs, and it proves a delightful trysting-place for
them, after all their caterwauling and long solitary rambles on the
tops of the walls.
I had thought it my duty to warn Yves the first time he wished to
drink this water.
"Oh!" he replied, rather surprised, "cats, do you say? But they
are not dirty!"
On this point Chrysantheme and I agree with him: we do not consider
cats unclean animals, and we do not object to drink after them.
Yves considers Chrysantheme much in the same light. "She is not
dirty, either," he says; and he willingly drinks after her, out of the
same cup, putting her in the same category with the cats.
These china tubs are one of the daily preoccupations of our
household: in the evening, when we return from our walk, after the
clamber up, which makes us thirsty, and Madame L'Heure's waffles,
which we have been eating to beguile the way, we always find them
empty. It seems impossible for Madame Prune, or Mademoiselle Oyouki,
or their young servant, Mademoiselle Dede,—[Dede-San means "Miss
Young Girl," a very common name.]—to have forethought enough to fill
them while it is still daylight. And when we are late in returning
home, these three ladies are asleep, so we are obliged to attend to
the business ourselves.
We must therefore open all the closed doors, put on our boots, and
go down into the garden to draw water.
As Chrysantheme would die of fright all alone in the dark, in the
midst of the trees and buzzing of insects, I am obliged to accompany
her to the well. For this expedition we require a light, and must
seek among the quantity of lanterns purchased at Madame Tres-Propre's
booth, which have been thrown night after night into the bottom of one
of our little paper closets; but alas, all the candles are burned
down! I thought as much! Well, we must resolutely take the first
lantern to hand, and stick a fresh candle on the iron point at the
bottom; Chrysantheme puts forth all her strength, the candle splits,
breaks; the mousme pricks her fingers, pouts and whimpers. Such is
the inevitable scene that takes place every evening, and delays our
retiring to rest under the dark-blue gauze net for a good quarter of
an hour; while the cicalas on the roof seem to mock us with their
All this, which I should find amusing in any one else,—any one I
loved —irritates me in her.
CHAPTER XLIV. TENDER MINISTRATIONS
A week has passed very quietly, during which I have written
By degrees I am becoming accustomed to my Japanese household, to
the strangeness of the language, costumes, and faces. For the last
three weeks no letters have arrived from Europe; they have no doubt
miscarried, and their absence contributes, as is usually the case, to
throw a veil of oblivion over the past.
Every day, therefore, I climb up to my villa, sometimes by
beautiful starlit nights, sometimes through downpours of rain. Every
morning as the sound of Madame Prune's chanted prayer rises through
the reverberating air, I awake and go down toward the sea, by grassy
pathways full of dew.
The chief occupation in Japan seems to be a perpetual hunt after
curios. We sit down on the mattings, in the antique-sellers' little
booths, taking a cup of tea with the salesmen, and rummage with our
own hands in the cupboards and chests, where many a fantastic piece of
old rubbish is huddled away. The bargaining, much discussed, is
laughingly carried on for several days, as if we were trying to play
off some excellent little practical joke upon each other.
I really make a sad abuse of the adjective little; I am quite aware
of it, but how can I do otherwise? In describing this country, the
temptation is great to use it ten times in every written line.
Little, finical; affected,—all Japan is contained, both physically
and morally, in these three words.
My purchases are accumulating in my little wood and paper house;
but how much more Japanese it really was, in its bare emptiness, such
as M. Sucre and Madame Prune had conceived it. There are now many
lamps of sacred symbolism hanging from the ceiling; many stools and
many vases, as many gods and goddesses as in a pagoda.
There is even a little Shintoist altar, before which Madame Prune
has not been able to restrain her feelings, and before which she has
fallen down and chanted her prayers in her bleating, goat-like voice:
"Wash me clean from all my impurity, O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! as one
washes away uncleanness in the river of Kamo."
Alas for poor Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami to have to wash away the
impurities of Madame Prune! What a tedious and ungrateful task!!
Chrysantheme, who is a Buddhist, prays sometimes in the evening
before lying down; although overcome with sleep, she prays clapping
her hands before the largest of our gilded idols. But she smiles with
a childish disrespect for her Buddha, as soon as her prayer is ended.
I know that she has also a certain veneration for her Ottokes (the
spirits of her ancestors), whose rather sumptuous altar is set up at
the house of her mother, Madame Renoncule. She asks for their
blessings, for fortune and wisdom.
Who can fathom her ideas about the gods, or about death? Does she
possess a soul? Does she think she has one? Her religion is an
obscure chaos of theogonies as old as the world, treasured up out of
respect for ancient customs; and of more recent ideas about the
blessed final annihilation, imported from India by saintly Chinese
missionaries at the epoch of our Middle Ages. The bonzes themselves
are puzzled; what a muddle, therefore, must not all this become, when
jumbled together in the childish brain of a sleepy mousme!
Two very insignificant episodes have somewhat attached me to
her—(bonds of this kind seldom fail to draw closer in the end). The
first occasion was as follows:
Madame Prune one day brought forth a relic of her gay youth, a
tortoise- shell comb of rare transparency, one of those combs that it
is good style to place on the summit of the head, lightly poised,
hardly stuck at all in the hair, with all the teeth showing. Taking
it out of a pretty little lacquered box, she held it up in the air and
blinked her eyes, looking through it at the sky—a bright summer
sky—as one does to examine the quality of a precious stone.
"Here is," she said, "an object of great value that you should
offer to your little wife."
My mousme, very much taken by it, admired the clearness of the comb
and its graceful shape.
The lacquered box, however, pleased me more. On the cover was a
wonderful painting in gold on gold, representing a field of rice, seen
very close, on a windy day; a tangle of ears and grass beaten down and
twisted by a terrible squall; here and there, between the distorted
stalks, the muddy earth of the rice-swamp was visible; there were even
little pools of water, produced by bits of the transparent lacquer on
which tiny particles of gold seemed to float about like chaff in a
thick liquid; two or three insects, which required a microscope to be
well seen, were clinging in a terrified manner to the rushes, and the
whole picture was no larger than a woman's hand.
As for Madame Prune's comb, I confess it left me indifferent, and I
turned a deaf ear, thinking it very insignificant and expensive. Then
Chrysantheme answered, mournfully:
"No, thank you, I don't want it; take it away, dear Madame Prune."
And at the same time she heaved a deep sigh, full of meaning, which
"He is not so fond of me as all that.—Useless to bother him."
I immediately made the wished-for purchase.
Later when Chrysantheme will have become an old monkey like Madame
Prune, with her black teeth and long orisons, she, in her turn, will
retail that comb to some fine lady of a fresh generation.
On another occasion the sun had given me a headache; I lay on the
floor resting my head on my snake-skin pillow. My eyes were dim; and
everything appeared to turn around: the open veranda, the big expanse
of luminous evening sky, and a variety of kites hovering against its
background. I felt myself vibrating painfully to the rhythmical sound
of the cicalas which filled the atmosphere.
She, crouching by my side, strove to relieve me by a Japanese
process, pressing with all her might on my temples with her little
thumbs and turning them rapidly around, as if she were boring a hole
with a gimlet. She had become quite hot and red over this hard work,
which procured me real comfort, something similar to the dreamy
intoxication of opium.
Then, anxious and fearful lest I should have an attack of fever,
she rolled into a pellet and thrust into my mouth a very efficacious
prayer written on rice-paper, which she had kept carefully in the
lining of one of her sleeves.
Well, I swallowed that prayer without a smile, not wishing to hurt
her feelings or shake her funny little faith.
CHAPTER XLV. TWO FAIR ARISTOCRATS
Today, Yves, my mousme and I went to the best photographer in
Nagasaki, to be taken in a group. We shall send the picture to
France. Yves laughs as he thinks of his wife's astonishment when she
sees Chrysantheme's little face between us, and he wonders how he
shall explain it to her.
"I shall just say it is one of your friends, that's all!" he says
In Japan there are many photographers like our own, with this
difference, that they are Japanese, and inhabit Japanese houses. The
one we intend to honor to-day carries on his business in the suburbs,
in that ancient quarter of big trees and gloomy pagodas where, the
other day, I met the pretty little mousme. His signboard, written in
several languages, is posted against a wall on the edge of the little
torrent which, rushing down from the green mountain above, is crossed
by many a curved bridge of old granite and lined on either side with
light bamboos or oleanders in full bloom.
It is astonishing and puzzling to find a photographer perched
there, in the very heart of old Japan.
We have come at the wrong moment; there is a file of people at the
door. Long rows of djins' cars are stationed there, awaiting the
customers they have brought, who will all have their turn before us.
The runners, naked and tattooed, their hair carefully combed in sleek
bands and shiny chignons, are chatting, smoking little pipes, or
bathing their muscular legs in the fresh water of the torrent.
The courtyard is irreproachably Japanese, with its lanterns and
dwarf trees. But the studio where one poses might be in Paris or
Pontoise; the self-same chair in "old oak," the same faded "poufs,"
plaster columns, and pasteboard rocks.
The people who are being photographed at this moment are two ladies
of quality, evidently mother and daughter, who are sitting together
for a cabinet-size portrait, with accessories of the time of Louis XV.
A strange group this, the first great ladies of this country I have
seen so near, with their long, aristocratic faces, dull, lifeless,
almost gray by dint of rice-powder, and their mouths painted
heart-shape in vivid carmine. Withal they have an undeniable look of
good breeding that strongly impresses us, notwithstanding the
intrinsic differences of race and acquired notions.
They scanned Chrysantheme with a look of obvious scorn, although
her costume was as ladylike as their own. For my part, I could not
take my eyes off these two creatures; they captivated me like
incomprehensible things that one never had seen before. Their fragile
bodies, outlandishly graceful in posture, are lost in stiff materials
and redundant sashes, of which the ends droop like tired wings. They
make me think, I know not why, of great rare insects; the
extraordinary patterns on their garments have something of the dark
motley of night-moths. Above all, I ponder over the mystery of their
tiny slits of eyes, drawn back and up so far that the tight-drawn lids
can hardly open; the mystery of their expression, which seems to
denote inner thoughts of a silly, vague, complacent absurdity, a world
of ideas absolutely closed to ourselves. And I think as I gaze at
them: "How far we are from this Japanese people! how totally
dissimilar are our races!"
We are compelled to let several English sailors pass before us,
decked out in their white drill clothes, fresh, fat, and pink, like
little sugar figures, who attitudinize in a sheepish manner around the
shafts of the columns.
At last it is our turn; Chrysantheme settles herself slowly in a
very affected style, turning in the points of her toes as much as
possible, according to the fashion.
And on the negative shown to us we look like a supremely ridiculous
little family drawn up in a line by a common photographer at a fair.
CHAPTER XLVI. GRAVE SUSPICIONS
Tonight Yves is off duty three hours earlier than I; occasionally
this happens, according to the arrangement of the watches. At those
times he lands first, and goes up to wait for me at Diou-djen-dji.
From the deck I can see him through my glass, climbing up the green
mountain-path; he walks with a brisk, rapid step, almost running; what
a hurry he seems in to rejoin little Chrysantheme!
When I arrive, about nine o'clock, I find him seated on the floor,
in the middle of my rooms, with naked torso (this is a sufficiently
proper costume for private life here, I admit). Around him are
grouped Chrysantheme, Oyouki, and Mademoiselle Dede the maid, all
eagerly rubbing his back with little blue towels decorated with storks
and humorous subjects.
Good heavens! what can he have been doing to be so hot, and to
have put himself in such a state?
He tells me that near our house, a little farther up the mountain,
he has discovered a fencing-gallery: that till nightfall he had been
engaged in a fencing-bout against Japanese, who fought with two-handed
swords, springing like cats, as is the custom of their country. With
his French method of fencing, he had given them a good drubbing. Upon
which, with many a low bow, they had shown him their admiration by
bringing him a quantity of nice little iced things to drink. All this
combined had thrown him into a fearful perspiration.
Ah, very well! Nevertheless, this did not quite explain to me!
He is delighted with his evening; intends to go and amuse himself
every day by beating them; he even thinks of taking pupils.
Once his back is dried, all together, the three mousmes and
himself, play at Japanese pigeon-vole. Really I could not wish for
anything more innocent, or more correct in every respect.
Charles N—— and Madame Jonquille, his wife, arrived unexpectedly
about ten o'clock. (They were wandering about in the dark shrubberies
in our neighborhood, and, seeing our lights, came up to us.)
They intend to finish the evening at the tea-house of the toads,
and they try to induce us to go and drink some iced sherbets with
them. It is at least an hour's walk from here, on the other side of
the town, halfway up the hill, in the gardens of the large pagoda
dedicated to Osueva; but they stick to their idea, pretending that in
this clear night and bright moonlight we shall have a lovely view from
the terrace of the temple.
Lovely, I have no doubt, but we had intended going to bed.
However, be it so, let us go with them.
We hire five djins and five cars down below, in the principal
street, in front of Madame Tres-Propre's shop, who, for this late
expedition, chooses for us her largest round lanterns-big, red
balloons, decorated with starfish, seaweed, and green sharks.
It is nearly eleven o'clock when we make our start. In the central
quarters the virtuous Nipponese are already closing their little
booths, putting out their lamps, shutting the wooden framework,
drawing their paper panels.
Farther on, in the old-fashioned suburban streets, all is shut up
long ago, and our carts roll on through the black night. We cry out
to our djins: "Ayakou! ayakou!" ("Quick! quick!")and they run as
hard as they can, uttering little shrieks, like merry animals full of
wild gayety. We rush like a whirlwind through the darkness, all five
in Indian file, dashing and jolting over the old, uneven flagstones,
dimly lighted up by our red balloons fluttering at the end of their
bamboo stems. From time to time some Japanese, night-capped in his
blue kerchief, opens a window to see who these noisy madcaps can be,
dashing by so rapidly and so late. Or else some faint glimmer, thrown
by us on our passage, discovers the hideous smile of a large stone
animal seated at the gate of a pagoda.
At last we arrive at the foot of Osueva's temple, and, leaving our
djins with our little gigs, we clamber up the gigantic steps,
completely deserted at this hour of the night.
Chrysantheme, who always likes to play the part of a tired little
girl, of a spoiled and pouting child, ascends slowly between Yves and
myself, clinging to our arms.
Jonquille, on the contrary, skips up like a bird, amusing herself
by counting the endless steps.
She lays a great stress on the accentuations, as if to make the
numbers sound even more droll.
A little silver aigrette glitters in her beautiful black coiffure;
her delicate and graceful figure seems strangely fantastic, and the
darkness that envelops us conceals the fact that her face is quite
ugly, and almost without eyes.
This evening Chrysantheme and Jonquille really look like little
fairies; at certain moments the most insignificant Japanese have this
appearance, by dint of whimsical elegance and ingenious arrangement.
The granite stairs, imposing, deserted, uniformly gray under the
nocturnal sky, appear to vanish into the empty space above us, and,
when we turn round, to disappear in the depths beneath, to fall into
the abyss with the dizzy rapidity of a dream. On the sloping steps
the black shadows of the gateways through which we must pass stretch
out indefinitely; and the shadows, which seem to be broken at each
projecting step, look like the regular creases of a fan. The
porticoes stand up separately, rising one above another; their
wonderful shapes are at once remarkably simple and studiously
affected; their outlines stand out sharp and distinct, having
nevertheless the vague appearance of all very large objects in the
pale moonlight. The curved architraves rise at each extremity like
two menacing horns, pointing upward toward the far-off blue canopy of
the star-spangled sky, as if they would communicate to the gods the
knowledge they have acquired in the depths of their foundations from
the earth, full of sepulchres and death, which surrounds them.
We are, indeed, a very small group, lost now in the immensity of
the colossal acclivity as we move onward, lighted partly by the wan
moon, partly by the red lanterns we hold in our hands, floating at the
ends of their long sticks.
A deep silence reigns in the precincts of the temple, even the
sound of insects is hushed as we ascend. A sort of reverence, a kind
of religious fear steals over us, and, at the same moment, a delicious
coolness suddenly pervades the air, and passes over us.
On entering the courtyard above, we feel a little daunted. Here we
find the horse in jade, and the china turrets. The enclosing walls
make it the more gloomy, and our arrival seems to disturb I know not
what mysterious council held between the spirits of the air and the
visible symbols that are there, chimeras and monsters illuminated by
the blue rays of the moon.
We turn to the left, and go through the terraced gardens, to reach
the tea-house of the toads, which this evening is our goal; we find it
shut up—I expected as much—closed and dark, at this hour! We drum
all together on the door; in the most coaxing tones we call by name
the waiting-maids we know so well: Mademoiselle Transparente,
Mademoiselle Etoile, Mademoiselle Rosee-matinale, and Mademoiselle
Margueritereine. Not an answer. Good-by, perfumed sherbets and
In front of the little archery-house our mousmes suddenly jump
aside, terrified, declaring that there is a dead body on the ground.
Yes, indeed, some one is lying there. We cautiously examine the
place by the light of our red balloons, carefully held out at arm's
length for fear of this dead man. It is only the marksman, he who on
the 4th of July chose such magnificent arrows for Chrysantheme; and he
sleeps, good man! with his chignon somewhat dishevelled, a sound
sleep, which it would be cruel to disturb.
Let us go to the end of the terrace, contemplate the harbor at our
feet, and then return home. To-night the harbor looks like only a
dark and sinister rent, which the moonbeams can not fathom—a yawning
crevasse opening into the very bowels of the earth, at the bottom of
which lie faint, small glimmers, an assembly of glowworms in a
ditch—the lights of the different vessels lying at anchor.
CHAPTER XLVII. A MIDNIGHT ALARM
It is the middle of the night, perhaps about two o'clock in the
morning. Our lamps are burning somewhat dimly before our placid idols.
Chrysantheme wakes me suddenly, and I turn to look at her: she has
raised herself on one arm, and her face expresses the most intense
terror; she makes a sign, without daring to speak, that some one or
something is near, creeping up to us. What ill-timed visit is this?
A feeling of fear gains possession of me also. I have a rapid
impression of some great unknown danger, in this isolated spot, in
this strange country of which I do not even yet comprehend the
inhabitants and the mysteries. It must be something very frightful to
hold her there, rooted to the spot, half dead with fright, she who
does comprehend all these things.
It seems to be outside; it is coming from the garden; with
trembling hand she indicates to me that it will come through the
veranda, over Madame Prune's roof. Certainly, I hear faint noises,
and they do approach us.
I suggest to her
"Neko-San?" ("It is Messieurs the cats?")
"No!" she replies, still terrified, and in an alarmed tone.
"Bakemono-Sama?" ("Is it my lords the ghosts?") I have already the
Japanese habit of expressing myself with excessive politeness.
"No! 'Dorobo'!" ("Thieves!")
Thieves! Ah! this is better; I much prefer this to a visit such as
I have just been dreading in the sudden awakening from sleep: from
ghosts or spirits of the dead; thieves, that is to say, worthy fellows
very much alive, and having, undoubtedly, inasmuch as they are
Japanese thieves, faces of the most meritorious oddity. I am not in
the least frightened, now that I know precisely what to expect, and we
will immediately set to work to ascertain the truth, for something is
certainly moving on Madame Prune's roof; some one is walking upon it.
I open one of our wooden panels and look out.
I can see only a vast expanse, calm, peaceful, and exquisite under
the full brilliance of the moonlight; sleeping Japan, lulled by the
sonorous song of the grasshoppers, is charming indeed to-night, and
the free, pure air is delicious.
Chrysantheme, half hidden behind my shoulder, listens tremblingly,
peering forward to examine the gardens and the roofs with dilated eyes
like a frightened cat. No, nothing! not a thing moves. Here and
there are a few strangely substantial shadows, which at first glance
were not easy to explain, but which turn out to be real shadows,
thrown by bits of wall, by boughs of trees, and which preserve an
extremely reassuring stillness. Everything seems absolutely tranquil,
and profound silence reigns in the dreamy vagueness which moonlight
sheds over all.
Nothing; nothing to be seen anywhere. It was Messieurs the cats
after all, or perhaps my ladies the owls; sounds increase in volume in
the most amazing manner at night, in this house of ours.
Let us close the panel again carefully, as a measure of prudence,
and then light a lantern and go downstairs to see whether there may be
any one hidden in corners, and whether the doors are tightly shut; in
short, to reassure Chrysantheme we will go the round of the house.
Behold us, then, on tiptoe, searching together every hole and
corner of the house, which, to judge by its foundations, must be very
ancient, notwithstanding the fragile appearance of its panels of white
paper. It contains the blackest of cavities, little vaulted cellars
with worm-eaten beams; cupboards for rice which smell of mould and
decay; mysterious hollows where lies accumulated the dust of
centuries. In the middle of the night, and during a hunt for thieves,
this part of the house, as yet unknown to me, has an ugly look.
Noiselessly we step across the apartment of our landlord and
landlady. Chrysantheme drags me by the hand, and I allow myself to be
led. There they are, sleeping in a row under their blue gauze tent,
lighted by the night-lamps burning before the altars of their
ancestors. Ha! I observe that they are arranged in an order which
might give rise to gossip. First comes Mademoiselle Oyouki, very
taking in her attitude of rest! Then Madame Prune, who sleeps with her
mouth wide open, showing her rows of blackened teeth; from her throat
arises an intermittent sound like the grunting of a sow. Oh! poor
Madame Prune! how hideous she is!! Next, M. Sucre, a mere mummy for
the time being. And finally, at his side, last of the row, is their
servant, Mademoiselle Dede!
The gauze hanging over them throws reflections as of the sea upon
them; one might suppose them victims drowned in an aquarium. And
withal the sacred lamps, the altar crowded with strange Shintoist
symbols, give a mock religious air to this family tableau.
'Honi soit qui mal y pense', but why is not that maidservant rather
laid by the side of her mistresses? Now, when we on the floor above
offer our hospitality to Yves, we are careful to place ourselves under
our mosquito-net in a more correct style!
One corner, which as a last resort we inspect, inspires me with a
certain amount of apprehension. It is a low, mysterious loft, against
the door of which is stuck, as a thing no longer wanted, a very old,
pious image Kwanon with the thousand arms, and Kwanon with the horses'
head, seated among clouds and flames, both horrible to behold with
their spectral grins.
We open the door, and Chrysantheme starts back uttering a fearful
cry. I should have thought the robbers were there, had I not seen a
little gray creature, rapid and noiseless, rush by her and disappear;
a young rat that had been eating rice on the top of a shelf, and, in
its alarm, had dashed in her face.
CHAPTER XLVIII. UNUSUAL HOSPITALITY
Yves has let fall his silver whistle in the ocean, the whistle so
absolutely indispensable for the manoeuvres; and we search the town
all day long, followed by Chrysantheme and Mesdemoiselles La Neige and
La Lune, her sisters, in the endeavor to find another.
It is, however, very difficult to find such a thing in Nagasaki;
above all, very difficult to explain in Japanese what is a sailor's
whistle of the traditional shape, curved, and with a little ball at
the end to modulate the trills and the various sounds of official
orders. For three hours we are sent from shop to shop; at each one
they pretend to understand perfectly what is wanted and trace on
tissue-paper, with a paint-brush, the addresses of the shops where we
shall without fail meet with what we require. Away we go, full of
hope, only to encounter some fresh mystification, till our breathless
djins get quite bewildered.
They understand admirably that we want a thing that will make a
noise, music, in short; thereupon they offer us instruments of every,
and of the most unexpected, shape—squeakers for Punch-and-Judy
voices, dog- whistles, trumpets. Each time it is something more and
more absurd, so that at last we are overcome with uncontrollable fits
of laughter. Last of all, an aged Japanese optician, who assumes a
most knowing air, a look of sublime wisdom, goes off to forage in his
back shop, and brings to light a steam fog-horn, a relict from some
After dinner, the chief event of the evening is a deluge of rain,
which takes us by surprise as we leave the teahouses, on our return
from our fashionable stroll. It so happened that we were a large
party, having with us several mousme guests, and from the moment that
the rain began to fall from the skies, as if out of a watering-pot
turned upside down, the band became disorganized. The mousmes run
off, with bird-like cries, and take refuge under doorways, in the
shops, under the hoods of the djins.
Then, before long-when the shops shut up in haste, when the emptied
streets are flooded, and almost black, and the paper lanterns, piteous
objects, wet through and extinguished—I find myself, I know not how
it happens, flattened against a wall, under the projecting eaves,
alone in the company of Mademoiselle Fraise, my cousin, who is crying
bitterly because her fine robe is wet through. And in the noise of
the rain, which is still falling, and splashing everything with the
spouts and gutters, which in the darkness plaintively murmur like
running streams, the town appears to me suddenly an abode of the
The shower is soon over, and the mousmes come out of their holes
like so many mice; they look for one another, call one another, and
their little voices take the singular, melancholy, dragging
inflections they assume whenever they have to call from afar.
"Hi! Mademoiselle Lu-u-u-u-une!"
"Hi! Madame Jonqui-i-i-i-ille!"
They shout from one to another their outlandish names, prolonging
them indefinitely in the now silent night, in the reverberations of
the damp air after the great summer rain.
At length they are all collected and united again, these tiny
personages with narrow eyes and no brains, and we return to
Diou-djen-dji all wet through.
For the third time, we have Yves sleeping beside us under our blue
There is a great noise shortly after midnight in the apartment
beneath us: our landlord's family have returned from a pilgrimage to a
far- distant temple of the Goddess of Grace. (Although Madame Prune
is a Shintoist, she reveres this deity, who, scandal says, watched
over her youth.) A moment after, Mademoiselle Oyouki bursts into our
room like a rocket, bringing, on a charming little tray, sweetmeats
which have been blessed and bought at the gates of the temple yonder,
on purpose for us, and which we must positively eat at once, before
the virtue is gone out of them. Hardly rousing ourselves, we absorb
these little edibles flavored with sugar and pepper, and return a
great many sleepy thanks.
Yves sleeps quietly on this occasion, without dealing any blows to
the floor or the panels with either fists or feet. He has hung his
watch on one of the hands of our gilded idol in order to be more sure
of seeing the hour at any time of the night, by the light of the
sacred lamps. He gets up betimes in the morning, asking: "Well, did I
behave properly?" and dresses in haste, preoccupied about duty and the
Outside, no doubt, it is daylight already: through the tiny holes
which time has pierced in our wooden panels, threads of morning light
penetrate our chamber, and in the atmosphere of our room where night
still lingers, they trace vague white rays. Soon, when the sun shall
have risen, these rays will lengthen and become beautifully golden.
The cocks and the cicalas make themselves heard, and now Madame Prune
will begin her mystic drone.
Nevertheless, out of politeness for Yves-San, Chrysantheme lights a
lantern and escorts him to the foot of the dark staircase. I even
fancy that, on parting, I hear a kiss exchanged. In Japan this is of
no consequence, I know; it is very usual, and quite admissible; no
matter where one goes, in houses one enters for the first time, one is
quite at liberty to kiss any mousme who may be present, without any
notice being taken of it. But with regard to Chrysantheme, Yves is in
a delicate position, and he ought to understand it better. I begin to
feel uneasy about the hours they have so often spent together alone;
and I make up my mind that this very day I will not play the spy upon
them, but speak frankly to Yves, and make a clean breast of it.
Suddenly from below, clac! clac! two dry hands are clapped
together; it is Madame Prune's warning to the Great Spirit. And
immediately after her prayer breaks forth, soars upward in a shrill
nasal falsetto, like a morning alarum when the hour for waking has
come, the mechanical noise of a spring let go and running down.
" . . .The richest woman in the world! Cleansed from all my sins,
O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! in the river of Kamo."
And this extraordinary bleating, hardly human, scatters and changes
my ideas, which were very nearly clear at the moment I awoke.
CHAPTER XLIX. RUMORS OF DEPARTURE
Rumor of departure is in the air. Since yesterday there has been
vague talk of our being sent to China, to the Gulf of Pekin; one of
those rumors which spread, no one knows how, from one end of the ship
to the other, two or three days before the official orders arrive, and
which usually turn out tolerably correct. What will the last act of
my little Japanese comedy be? the denouement, the separation? Will
there be any touch of sadness on the part of my mousme, or on my own,
just a tightening of the heartstrings at the moment of our final
farewell? At this moment I can imagine nothing of the sort. And then
the adieus of Yves and Chrysantheme, what will they be? This question
preoccupies me more than all.
Nothing very definite has been learned as yet, but it is certain
that, one way or another, our stay in Japan is drawing to a close. It
is this, perhaps, which disposes me this evening to look more kindly
on my surroundings. It is about six o'clock, after a day spent on
duty, when I reach Diou-djen-dji. The evening sun, low in the sky, on
the point of setting, pours into my room, and floods it with rays of
red gold, lighting up the Buddhas and the great sheaves of quaintly
arranged flowers in the antique vases. Here are assembled five or six
little dolls, my neighbors, amusing themselves by dancing to the sound
of Chrysantheme's guitar. And this evening I experienced a real charm
in feeling that this dwelling and the woman who leads the dance are
mine. On the whole, I have perhaps been unjust to this country; it
seems to me that my eyes are at last opened to see it in its true
light, that all my senses are undergoing a strange and abrupt
transition. I suddenly have a better perception and appreciation of
all the infinity of dainty trifles among which I live; of the fragile
and studied grace of their forms, the oddity of their drawings, the
refined choice of their colors.
I stretch myself upon the white mats; Chrysantheme, always eagerly
attentive, brings me my pillow of serpent's-skin; and the smiling
mousmes, with the interrupted rhythm of a while ago still running in
their heads, move around me with measured steps.
Their immaculate socks with the separate great toes make no noise;
nothing is heard, as they glide by, but a 'froufrou' of silken stuffs.
I find them all pleasant to look upon; their dollish air pleases me
now, and I fancy I have discovered what it is that gives it to them:
it is not only their round, inexpressive faces with eyebrows far
removed from the eyelids, but the excessive amplitude of their dress.
With those huge sleeves, it might be supposed they have neither back
nor shoulders; their delicate figures are lost in these wide robes,
which float around what might be little marionettes without bodies at
all, and which would slip to the ground of themselves were they not
kept together midway, about where a waist should be, by the wide
silken sashes—a very different comprehension of the art of dressing
to ours, which endeavors as much as possible to bring into relief the
curves, real or false, of the figure.
And then, how much I admire the flowers in our vases, arranged by
Chrysantheme, with her Japanese taste lotus-flowers, great, sacred
flowers of a tender, veined rose color, the milky rose-tint seen on
porcelain; they resemble, when in full bloom, great water-lilies, and
when only in bud might be taken for long pale tulips. Their soft but
rather cloying scent is added to that other indefinable odor of
mousmes, of yellow race, of Japan, which is always and everywhere in
the air. The late flowers of September, at this season very rare and
expensive, grow on longer stems than the summer blooms; Chrysantheme
has left them in their large aquatic leaves of a melancholy
seaweed-green, and mingled with them tall, slight rushes. I look at
them, and recall with some irony those great round bunches in the
shape of cauliflowers, which our florists sell in France, wrapped in
Still no letters from Europe, from any one. How things change,
become effaced and forgotten! Here am I, accommodating myself to this
finical Japan and dwindling down to its affected mannerism; I feel
that my thoughts run in smaller grooves, my tastes incline to smaller
things- things which suggest nothing greater than a smile. I am
becoming used to tiny and ingenious furniture, to doll-like desks, to
miniature bowls with which to play at dinner, to the immaculate
monotony of the mats, to the finely finished simplicity of the white
woodwork. I am even losing my Western prejudices; all my preconceived
ideas are this evening evaporating and vanishing; crossing the garden
I have courteously saluted M. Sucre, who was watering his dwarf shrubs
and his deformed flowers; and Madame Prune appears to me a highly
respectable old lady, in whose past there is nothing to criticise.
We shall take no walk to-night; my only wish is to remain stretched
out where I am, listening to the music of my mousme's 'chamecen'.
Till now I have always used the word guitar, to avoid exotic terms,
for the abuse of which I have been so reproached. But neither the
word guitar nor mandolin suffices to designate this slender instrument
with its long neck, the high notes of which are shriller than the
voice of the grasshopper; and henceforth, I will write 'chamecen'.
I will also call my mousme Kikou, Kikou-San; this name suits her
better than Chrysantheme, which, though translating the sense exactly,
does not preserve the strange-sounding euphony of the original.
I therefore say to Kikou, my wife:
"Play, play on for me; I shall remain here all the evening and
listen to you."
Astonished to find me in so amiable a mood, she requires pressing a
little, and with almost a bitter curve of triumph and disdain upon her
lips, she seats herself in the attitude of an idol, raises her long,
dark-colored sleeves, and begins. The first hesitating notes are
murmured faintly and mingle with the music of the insects humming
outside, in the quiet air of the warm and golden twilight. First she
plays slowly, a confused medley of fragments which she does not seem
to remember perfectly, of which one waits for the finish and waits in
vain; while the other girls giggle, inattentive, and regretful of
their interrupted dance. She herself is absent, sulky, as if she were
only performing a duty.
Then by degrees, little by little, the music becomes more animated,
and the mousmes begin to listen. Now, tremblingly, it grows into a
feverish rapidity, and her gaze has no longer the vacant stare of a
doll. Then the music changes again; in it there is the sighing of the
wind, the hideous laughter of ghouls; tears, heartrending plaints, and
her dilated pupils seem to be directed inwardly in settled gaze on
some indescribable Japanesery within her own soul.
I listen, lying there with eyes half shut, looking out between my
drooping eyelids, which are gradually lowering, in involuntary
heaviness, upon the enormous red sun dying away over Nagasaki. I have
a somewhat melancholy feeling that my past life and all other places
in the world are receding from my view and fading away. At this
moment of nightfall I feel almost at home in this corner of Japan,
amidst the gardens of this suburb. I never have had such an
CHAPTER L. A DOLLS' DUET
Seven o'clock in the evening. We shall not go down into Nagasaki
tonight; but, like good Japanese citizens, remain in our lofty suburb.
In undress uniform we shall go, Yves and I, in a neighborly way, as
far as the fencing-gallery, which is only two steps away, just above
our villa, and almost abutting on our fresh and scented garden.
The gallery is closed already, and a little mousko, seated at the
door, explains, with many low bows, that we come too late, all the
amateurs are gone; we must come again tomorrow.
The evening is so mild and fine that we remain out of doors,
following, without any definite purpose, the pathway which rises ever
higher and higher, and loses itself at length in the solitary regions
of the mountain among the upper peaks.
For an hour at least we wander on—an unintended walk—and finally
find ourselves at a great height commanding an endless perspective
lighted by the last gleams of daylight; we are in a desolate and
mournful spot, in the midst of the little Buddhist cemeteries, which
are scattered over the country in every direction.
We meet a few belated laborers, who are returning from the fields
with bundles of tea upon their shoulders. These peasants have a
half-savage air. They are half naked, too, or clothed only in long
robes of blue cotton; as they pass, they salute us with humble bows.
No trees in this elevated region. Fields of tea alternate with
tombs: old granite statues which represent Buddha in his lotus, or
else old monumental stones on which gleam remains of inscriptions in
golden letters. Rocks, brushwood, uncultivated spaces, surround us on
We meet no more passers-by, and the light is failing. We will halt
for a moment, and then it will be time to turn our steps homeward.
But, close to the spot where we stand, a box of white wood provided
with handles, a sort of sedan-chair, rests on the freshly disturbed
earth, with its lotus of silvered paper, and the little
incense-sticks, burning yet, by its side; clearly some one has been
buried here this very evening.
I can not picture this personage to myself; the Japanese are so
grotesque in life that it is almost impossible to imagine them in the
calm majesty of death. Nevertheless, let us move farther on, we might
disturb him; he is too recently dead, his presence unnerves us. We
will go and seat ourselves on one of these other tombs, so unutterably
ancient that there can no longer be anything within it but dust. And
there, seated in the dying sunlight, while the valleys and plains of
the earth below are already lost in shadow, we will talk together.
I wish to speak to Yves about Chrysantheme; it is indeed somewhat
in view of this that I have persuaded him to sit down; but how to set
about it without hurting his feelings, and without making myself
ridiculous, I hardly know. However, the pure air playing round me up
here, and the magnificent landscape spread beneath my feet, impart a
certain serenity to my thoughts which makes me feel a contemptuous
pity, both for my suspicions and the cause of them.
We speak, first of all, of the order for departure, which may
arrive at any moment, for China or for France. Soon we shall have to
leave this easy and almost amusing life, this Japanese suburb where
chance has installed us, and our little house buried among flowers.
Yves perhaps will regret all this more than I. I know that well
enough; for it is the first time that any such interlude has broken
the rude monotony of his hard-worked career. Formerly, when in an
inferior rank, he was hardly more often on shore, in foreign
countries, than the sea-gulls themselves; while I, from the very
beginning, have been spoiled by residence in all sorts of charming
spots, infinitely superior to this, in all sorts of countries, and the
remembrance still haunts me pleasurably.
In order to discover how the land lies, I risk the remark:
"You will perhaps be more sorry to leave little Chrysantheme than
Silence reigns between us.
After which I go on, and, burning my ships, I add:
"You know, after all, if you have such a fancy for her, I haven't
really married her; one can't really consider her my wife."
In great surprise he looks in my face.
"Not your wife, you say? But, by Jove, though, that's just it; she
is your wife."
There is no need of many words at any time between us two; I know
exactly now, by his tone, by his great good-humored smile, how the
case stands; I understand all that lies in the little phrase: "That's
just it, she is your wife." If she were not, well, then, he could not
answer for what might happen—notwithstanding any remorse he might
have in the depths of his heart, since he is no longer a bachelor and
free as air, as in former days. But he considers her my wife, and she
is sacred. I have the fullest faith in his word, and I experience a
positive relief, a real joy, at finding my stanch Yves of bygone days.
How could I have so succumbed to the demeaning influence of my
surroundings as to suspect him even, and to invent for myself such a
mean, petty anxiety?
We never shall even mention that doll again.
We remain up there very late, talking of other things, gazing at
the immense depths below, at the valleys and mountains as they become,
one by one, indistinct and lost in the deepening darkness. Placed as
we are at an enormous height, in the wide, free atmosphere, we seem
already to have quitted this miniature country, already to be freed
from the impression of littleness which it has given us, and from the
little links by which it was beginning to bind—us to itself.
Seen from such heights as these, all the countries of the globe
bear a strong resemblance to one another; they lose the imprint made
upon them by man, and by races; by all the atoms swarming on the
As of old, in the Breton marshes, in the woods of Toulven, or at
sea in the night-watches, we talk of all those things to which
thoughts naturally revert in darkness; of ghosts, of spirits, of
eternity, of the great hereafter, of chaos—and we entirely forget
When we arrive at Diou-djen-dji in the starry night, the music of
her 'chamecen', heard from afar, recalls to us her existence; she is
studying some vocal duet with Mademoiselle Oyouki, her pupil.
I feel myself in very good humor this evening, and, relieved from
my absurd suspicions about my poor Yves, am quite disposed to enjoy
without reserve my last days in Japan, and to derive therefrom all the
Let us then repose ourselves on the dazzling white mats, and listen
to the singular duet sung by those two mousmes: a strange musical
medley, slow and mournful, beginning with two or three high notes, and
descending at each couplet, in an almost imperceptible manner, into
actual solemnity. The song keeps its dragging slowness; but the
accompaniment, becoming more and more accentuated, is like the
impetuous sound of a far- off hurricane. At the end, when these
girlish voices, usually so soft, give out their hoarse and guttural
notes, Chrysantheme's hands fly wildly and convulsively over the
quivering strings. Both of them lower their heads, pout their
underlips in the effort to bring out these astonishingly deep notes.
And at these moments their little narrow eyes open, and seem to
reveal an unexpected something, almost a soul, under these trappings
But it is a soul which more than ever appears to me of a different
species from my own; I feel my thoughts to be as far removed from
theirs as from the flitting conceptions of a bird, or the dreams of a
monkey; I feel there is between them and myself a great gulf,
mysterious and awful.
Other sounds of music, wafted to us from the distance, interrupt
for a moment those of our mousmes. From the depths below, in
Nagasaki, arises a sudden noise of gongs and guitars; we rush to the
balcony of the veranda to hear it better.
It is a 'matsouri', a fete, a procession passing through the
quarter which is not so virtuous as our own, so our mousmes tell us,
with a disdainful toss of the head. Nevertheless, from the heights on
which we dwell, seen thus in a bird's-eye view, by the uncertain light
of the stars, this district has a singularly chaste air, and the
concert going on therein, purified in its ascent from the depths of
the abyss to our lofty altitudes, reaches us confusedly, a smothered,
enchanted, enchanting sound.
Then it diminishes, and dies away into silence.
The two little friends return to their seats on the mats, and once
more take up their melancholy duet. An orchestra, discreetly subdued
but innumerable, of crickets and cicalas, accompanies them in an
unceasing tremolo—the immense, far-reaching tremolo, which, gentle
and eternal, never ceases in Japan.
CHAPTER LI. THE LAST DAY
At the hour of siesta, a peremptory order arrives to start tomorrow
for China, for Tche-fou (a terrible place, in the gulf of Pekin).
Yves comes to wake me in my cabin to bring me the news.
"I must positively get leave to go on shore this evening," he says,
while I endeavor to shake myself awake, "if it is only to help you to
dismantle and pack up."
He gazes through my port-hole, raising his glance toward the green
summits, in the direction of Diou-djen-dji and our echoing old
cottage, hidden from us by a turn of the mountain.
It is very nice of him to wish to help me in my packing; but I
think he counts also upon saying farewell to his little Japanese
friends up there, and I really can not find fault with that.
He finishes his work, and does in fact obtain leave, without help
from me, to go on shore at five o'clock, after drill and manoeuvres.
As for myself I start at once, in a hired sampan. In the vast
flood of midday sunshine, to the quivering noise of the cicalas, I
mount to Diou- djen-dji.
The paths are solitary, the plants are drooping in the heat. Here,
however, is Madame Jonquille, taking the air in the bright,
grasshoppers' sunshine, sheltering her dainty figure and her charming
face under an enormous paper parasol, a huge circle, closely ribbed
and fantastically striped.
She recognizes me from afar, and, laughing as usual, runs to meet
I announce our departure, and a tearful pout suddenly contracts her
childish face. After all, does this news grieve her? Is she about to
shed tears over it? No! it turns to a fit of laughter, a little
nervous perhaps, but unexpected and disconcerting—dry and clear,
pealing through the silence and warmth of the narrow paths, like a
cascade of little mock pearls.
Ah, there indeed is a marriage-tie which will be broken without
much pain! But she fills me with impatience, poor empty-headed
linnet, with her laughter, and I turn my back upon her to continue my
Above-stairs, Chrysantheme sleeps, stretched out on the floor; the
house is wide open, and the soft mountain breeze rustles gently
That same evening we had intended to give a tea-party, and by my
orders flowers had already been placed in every nook and corner of the
house. There were lotus in our vases, beautifully colored lotus, the
last of the season, I verily believe. They must have been ordered
from a special gardener, out yonder near the Great Temple, and they
will cost me dear.
With a few gentle taps of a fan I awake my surprised mousme; and,
curious to catch her first impressions, I announce my departure. She
starts up, rubs her eyelids with the backs of her little hands, looks
at me, and hangs her head: something like an expression of sadness
passes in her eyes.
This little sinking at the heart is for Yves, no doubt!
The news spreads through the house.
Mademoiselle Oyouki dashes upstairs, with half a tear in each of
her babyish eyes; kisses me with her full red lips, which always leave
a wet ring on my cheek; then quickly draws from her wide sleeve a
square of tissue-paper, wipes away her stealthy tears, blows her
little nose, rolls the bit of paper in a ball, and throws it into the
street on the parasol of a passer-by.
Then Madame Prune makes her appearance; in an agitated and
discomposed manner she successively adopts every attitude expressive
of dismay. What on earth is the matter with the old lady, and why
does she keep getting closer and closer to me, till she is almost in
It is wonderful to think of all that I still have to do this last
day, and the endless drives I have to make to the old curiosity-shops,
to my tradespeople, and to the packers.
Nevertheless, before my rooms are dismantled, I intend making a
sketch of them, as I did formerly at Stamboul. It really seems to me
as if all I do here is a bitter parody of all I did over there.
This time, however, it is not that I care for this dwelling; it is
only because it is pretty and uncommon, and the sketch will be an
I fetch, therefore, a leaf out of my album, and begin at once,
seated on the floor and leaning on my desk, ornamented with
grasshoppers in relief, while behind me, very, very close to me, the
three women follow the movements of my pencil with astonished
attention. Japanese art being entirely conventional, they have never
before seen any one draw from nature, and my style delights them. I
may not perhaps possess the steady and nimble touch of M. Sucre, as he
groups his charming storks, but I am master of a few notions of
perspective which are wanting in him; and I have been taught to draw
things as I see them, without giving them an ingeniously distorted and
grimacing attitudes; and the three Japanese are amazed at the air of
reality displayed in my sketch.
With little shrieks of admiration, they point out to one another
the different things, as little by little their shape and form are
outlined in black on my paper. Chrysantheme gazes at me with a new
kind of interest "Anata itchiban!" she says (literally "Thou first!"
meaning: "You are really quite wonderful!")
Mademoiselle Oyouki is carried away by her admiration, and
exclaims, in a burst of enthusiasm:
"Anata bakari!" ("Thou alone!" that is to say: "There is no one
like you in the world, all the rest are mere rubbish!")
Madame Prune says nothing, but I can see that she does not think
the less; her languishing attitudes, her hand that at each moment
gently touches mine, confirm the suspicions that her look of dismay a
few moments ago awoke within me: evidently my physical charms speak to
her imagination, which in spite of years has remained full of romance!
I shall leave with the regret of having understood her too late!
Although the ladies are satisfied with my sketch, I am far from
being so. I have put everything in its place most exactly, but as a
whole, it has an ordinary, indifferent, French look which does not
suit. The sentiment is not given, and I almost wonder whether I
should not have done better to falsify the perspective—Japanese
style—exaggerating to the very utmost the already abnormal outlines
of what I see before me. And then the pictured dwelling lacks the
fragile look and its sonority, that reminds one of a dry violin. In
the pencilled delineation of the woodwork, the minute delicacy with
which it is wrought is wanting; neither have I been able to give an
idea of the extreme antiquity, the perfect cleanliness, nor the
vibrating song of the cicalas that seems to have been stored away
within it, in its parched-up fibres, during hundreds of summers. It
does not convey, either, the impression this place gives of being in a
far-off suburb, perched aloft among trees, above the drollest of
towns. No, all this can not be drawn, can not be expressed, but
remains undemonstrable, indefinable.
Having sent out our invitations, we shall, in spite of everything,
give our tea-party this evening—a parting tea, therefore, in which we
shall display as much pomp as possible. It is, moreover, rather my
custom to wind up my exotic experiences with a fete; in other
countries I have done the same.
Besides our usual set, we shall have my mother-in-law, my
relatives, and all the mousmes of the neighborhood. But, by an extra
Japanese refinement, we shall not admit a single European friend—not
even the "amazingly tall" one. Yves alone shall be admitted, and even
he shall be hidden away in a corner behind some flowers and works of
In the last glimmer of twilight, by the light of the first
twinkling star, the ladies, with many charming curtseys, make their
appearance. Our house is soon full of the little crouching women, with
their tiny slit eyes vaguely smiling; their beautifully dressed hair
shining like polished ebony; their fragile bodies lost in the many
folds of the exaggerated, wide garments, that gape as if ready to drop
from their little tapering backs and reveal the exquisite napes of
their little necks.
Chrysantheme, with somewhat a melancholy air, and my mother-in-law,
Madame Renoncule, with many affected graces busy themselves in the
midst of the different groups, where ere long the miniature pipes are
lighted. Soon there arises a murmuring sound of discreet laughter,
expressing nothing, but having a pretty exotic ring about it, and then
begins a harmony of tap! tap! tap!—sharp, rapid taps against the
edges of the finely lacquered smoking-boxes. Pickled and spiced
fruits are handed round on trays of quaint and varied shapes. Then
transparent china teacups, no larger than half an egg-shell, make
their appearance, and the ladies are offered a few drops of sugarless
tea, poured out of toy kettles, or a sip of 'saki'—(a spirit made
from rice which it is the custom to serve hot, in elegantly shaped
vases, long-necked like a heron's throat).
Several mousmes execute, one after another, improvisations on the
'chamecen'. Others sing in sharp, high voices, hopping about
continually, like cicalas in delirium.
Madame Prune, no longer able to make a mystery of the long-pent up
feelings that agitate her, pays me the most marked and tender
attentions, and begs my acceptance of a quantity of little souvenirs:
an image, a little vase, a little porcelain goddess of the moon in
Satsuma ware, a marvellously grotesque ivory figure;—I tremblingly
follow her into the dark corners whither she calls me to give me these
presents in tete- a-tete.
About nine o'clock, with a silken rustling, arrive the three
geishas in vogue in Nagasaki: Mesdemoiselles Purete, Orange, and
Printemps, whom I have hired at four dollars each—an enormous price
in this country.
These three geishas are indeed the very same little creatures I
heard singing on the rainy day of my arrival, through the thin
panelling of the Garden of Flowers. But as I have now become
thoroughly Japanized, today they appear to me more diminutive, less
outlandish, and in no way mysterious. I treat them rather as dancers
that I have hired, and the idea that I ever had thought of marrying
one of them now makes me shrug my shoulders—as it formerly made M.
The excessive heat caused by the respiration of the mousmes and the
burning lamps, brings out the perfume of the lotus, which fills the
heavy-laden atmosphere; and the scent of camellia-oil, which the
ladies use in profusion to make their hair glisten, is also strong in
Mademoiselle Orange, the youngest geisha, tiny and dainty, her lips
outlined with gilt paint, executes some delightful steps, donning the
most extraordinary wigs and masks of wood or cardboard. She has masks
imitating old, noble ladies which are valuable works of art, signed by
well-known artists. She has also magnificent long robes, fashioned in
the old style, with trains trimmed at the bottom with thick pads, in
order to give to the movements of the costume something rigid and
unnatural which, however, is becoming.
Now the soft balmy breezes blow through the room, from one veranda
to the other, making the flames of the lamps flicker. They scatter
the lotus flowers faded by the artificial heat, which, falling in
pieces from every vase, sprinkle the guests with their pollen and
large pink petals, looking like bits of broken, opal-colored glass.
The sensational piece, reserved for the end, is a trio on the
'chamecen', long and monotonous, that the geishas perform as a rapid
pizzicato on the highest strings, very sharply struck. It sounds like
the very quintessence, the paraphrase, the exasperation, if I may so
call it, of the eternal buzz of insects, which issues from the trees,
old roofs, old walls, from everything in fact, and which is the
foundation of all Japanese sounds.
Half-past ten! The programme has been carried out, and the
reception is over. A last general tap! tap! tap! the little pipes are
stowed away in their chased sheaths, tied up in the sashes, and the
mousmes rise to depart.
They light, at the end of short sticks, a quantity of red, gray, or
blue lanterns, and after a series of endless bows and curtseys, the
guests disperse in the darkness of the lanes and trees.
We also go down to the town, Yves, Chrysantheme, Oyouki and I—in
order to conduct my mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and my youthful
aunt, Madame Nenufar, to their house.
We wish to take one last stroll together in our old familiar
pleasure- haunts, to drink one more iced sherbet at the house of the
Indescribable Butterflies, buy one more lantern at Madame
Tres-Propre's, and eat some parting waffles at Madame L'Heure's!
I try to be affected, moved, by this leave-taking, but without
success. In regard to Japan, as with the little men and women who
inhabit it, there is something decidedly wanting; pleasant enough as a
mere pastime, it begets no feeling of attachment.
On our return, when I am once more with Yves and the two mousmes
climbing up the road to Diou-djen-dji, which I shall probably never
see again, a vague feeling of melancholy pervades my last stroll.
It is, however, but the melancholy inseparable from all things that
are about to end without possibility of return.
Moreover, this calm and splendid summer is also drawing to a close
for us-since to-morrow we shall go forth to meet the autumn, in
Northern China. I am beginning, alas! to count the youthful summers I
may still hope for; I feel more gloomy each time another fades away,
and flies to rejoin the others already disappeared in the dark and
bottomless abyss, where all past things lie buried.
At midnight we return home, and my removal begins; while on board
the "amazingly tall friend" kindly takes my watch.
It is a nocturnal, rapid, stealthy removal—" doyobo (thieves)
fashion," remarks Yves, who in visiting the mousmes has picked up a
smattering of the Nipponese language.
Messieurs the packers have, at my request, sent in the evening
several charming little boxes, with compartments and false bottoms,
and several paper bags (in the untearable Japanese paper), which close
of themselves and are fastened by strings, also in paper, arranged
beforehand in the most ingenious manner—quite the cleverest and most
handy thing of its kind; for little useful trifles these people are
It is a real treat to pack them, and everybody lends a helping
hand— Yves, Chrysantheme, Madame Prune, her daughter, and M. Sucre.
By the glimmer of the reception-lamps, which are still burning, every
one wraps, rolls, and ties up expeditiously, for it is already late.
Although Oyouki has a heavy heart, she can not prevent herself from
indulging in a few bursts of childish laughter while she works.
Madame Prune, bathed in tears, no longer restrains her feelings;
poor old lady, I really very much regret . . . .
Chrysantheme is absent-minded and silent.
But what a fearful amount of luggage! Eighteen cases or parcels,
containing Buddhas, chimeras, and vases, without mentioning the last
lotus that I carry away tied up in a pink cluster.
All this is piled up in the djins' carts, hired at sunset, which
are waiting at the door, while their runners lie asleep on the grass.
A starlit and exquisite night. We start off with lighted lanterns,
followed by the three sorrowful ladies who accompany us, and by abrupt
slopes, dangerous in the darkness, we descend toward the sea.
The djins, stiffening their muscular legs, hold back with all their
might the heavily loaded little cars which would run down by
themselves if let alone, and that so rapidly that they would rush into
empty space with my most valuable chattels. Chrysantheme walks by my
side, and expresses, in a soft and winning manner, her regret that the
"wonderfully tall friend" did not offer to replace me for the whole of
my night-watch, as that would have allowed me to spend this last
night, even till morning, under our roof.
"Listen!" she says, "come back to-morrow in the daytime, before
getting under way, to bid one good-by; I shall not return to my mother
until evening; you will find me still up there."
And I promise.
They stop at a certain turn, whence we have a bird's-eye view of
the whole harbor. The black, stagnant waters reflect innumerable
distant fires, and the ships—tiny, immovable objects, which, seen
from our point of view, take the shape of fish, seem also to
slumber,—little objects which serve to bear us elsewhere, to go far
away, and to forget.
The three ladies are about to turn back home, for the night is
already far advanced and, farther down, the cosmopolitan quarters near
the quays are not safe at this unusual hour.
The moment has therefore come for Yves—who will not land again—to
make his last tragic farewells to his friends the little mousmes.
I am very curious to see the parting between Yves and Chrysantheme;
I listen with all my ears, I look with all my eyes, but it takes place
in the simplest and quietest fashion: none of that heartbreaking which
will be inevitable between Madame Prune and myself; I even notice in
my mousme an indifference, an unconcern which puzzles me; I positively
am at a loss to understand what it all means.
And I muse as I continue to descend toward the sea. "Her
appearance of sadness was not, therefore, on Yves's account. On
whose, then?" and the phrase runs through my head:
"Come back to-morrow before setting sail, to bid me goodby; I shall
not return to my mother until evening; you will find me still up
Japan is indeed most delightful this evening, so fresh and so
sweet; and little Chrysantheme was very charming just now, as she
silently walked beside me through the darkness of the lane.
It is about two o'clock when we reach the 'Triomphante' in a hired
sampan, where I have heaped up all my cases till there is danger of
sinking. The "very tall friend" gives over to me the watch that I
must keep till four o'clock; and the sailors on duty, but half awake,
make a chain in the darkness, to haul on board all my fragile luggage.
CHAPTER LII. "FAREWELL!"
I intended to sleep late this morning, in order to make up for my
lost sleep of last night.
But at eight o'clock three persons of the most extraordinary
appearance, led by M. Kangourou, present themselves with profound bows
at the door of my cabin. They are arrayed in long robes bedizened
with dark patterns; they have the flowing locks, high foreheads, and
pallid countenances of persons too exclusively devoted to the fine
arts; and, perched on the top of their coiffures, they wear sailor
hats of English shape tipped jauntily on one side. Tucked under their
arms, they carry portfolios filled with sketches; in their hands are
boxes of water-colors, pencils, and, bound together like fasces, a
bundle of fine stylets with the sharp and glittering points.
At the first glance, even in the bewilderment of waking up, I
gather from their appearance what their errand is, and guessing with
what visitors I have to deal, I say: "Come in, Messieurs the
These are the specialists most in renown in Nagasaki; I had engaged
them two days ago, not knowing that we were about to leave, and since
they are here I will not turn them away.
My friendly and intimate relations with primitive man, in Oceania
and elsewhere, have imbued me with a deplorable taste for tattoo-work;
and I had wished to carry away on my own person, as a curiosity, an
ornament, a specimen of the work of the Japanese tattooers, who have a
delicacy of finish which is unequalled.
From their albums spread out upon my table I make my choice. There
are some remarkably odd designs among them, appropriate to the
different parts of the human body: emblems for the arms and legs,
sprays of roses for the shoulders, great grinning faces for the middle
of the back. There are even, to suit the taste of their clients who
belong to foreign navies, trophies of arms, American and French flags
entwined, a "God Save the Queen" amid encircling stars, and figures of
women taken from Grevin's sketches in the Journal Amusant.
My choice rests upon a singular blue and pink dragon two inches
long, which will have a fine effect upon my chest on the side opposite
Then follows an hour and a half of irritation and positive pain.
Stretched out on my bunk and delivered over to the tender mercies of
these personages, I stiffen myself and submit to the million
imperceptible pricks they inflict. When by chance a little blood
flows, confusing the outline by a stream of red, one of the artists
hastens to stanch it with his lips, and I make no objections, knowing
that this is the Japanese manner, the method used by their doctors for
the wounds of both man and beast.
A piece of work, as minute and fine as that of an engraver upon
stone, is slowly executed on my person; and their lean hands harrow
and worry me with automatic precision.
Finally it is finished, and the tattooers, falling back with an air
of satisfaction to contemplate their work, declare it to be lovely.
I dress myself quickly to go on shore, to take advantage of my last
hours in Japan.
The heat is fearful to-day: the powerful September sun falls with a
certain melancholy upon the yellowing leaves; it is a day of clear
burning heat after an almost chilly morning.
As I did yesterday, I ascend to my lofty suburb, during the drowsy
noontime, by deserted pathways filled only with light and silence.
I noiselessly open the door of my dwelling, and enter cautiously on
tiptoe, for fear of Madame Prune.
At the foot of the staircase, upon the white mats, beside the
little sabots and tiny sandals which are always lying about in the
vestibule, a great array of luggage is ready for departure, which I
recognize at a glance-pretty, dark robes, familiar to my sight,
carefully folded and wrapped in blue towels tied at the four corners.
I even fancy I feel a little sad when I catch sight of a corner of
the famous box of letters and souvenirs peeping out of one of these
bundles, in which my portrait by Ureno now reposes among divers
photographs of mousmes. A sort of long-necked mandolin, also ready
for departure, lies on the top of the pile in its case of figured
silk. It resembles the flitting of some gipsy, or rather it reminds
me of an engraving in a book of fables I owned in my childhood: the
whole thing is exactly like the slender wardrobe and the long guitar
which the cicala who had sung all the summer, carried upon her back
when she knocked at the door of her neighbor the ant.
Poor little gipsy!
I mount the steps on tiptoe, and stop at the sound of singing that
I hear in my room.
It is undoubtedly Chrysantheme's voice, and the song is quite
cheerful! This chills me and changes the current of my thoughts. I am
almost sorry I have taken the trouble to come.
Mingled with the song is a noise I can not understand: Chink!
chink! a clear metallic ring as of coins flung vigorously on the
floor. I am well aware that this vibrating house exaggerates every
sound during the silence of night; but all the same, I am puzzled to
know what my mousme can be doing. Chink! chink! is she amusing
herself with quoits, or the 'jeu du crapaud', or pitch-and-toss?
Nothing of the kind! I fancy I have guessed, and I continue my
upward progress still more gently, on all fours, with the precautions
of a red Indian, to give myself for the last time the pleasure of
She has not heard me come in. In our great white room, emptied and
swept out, where the clear sunshine pours in, and the soft wind, and
the yellowed leaves of the garden, she is sitting all alone, her back
turned to the door; she is dressed for walking, ready to go to her
mother's, her rose-colored parasol beside her.
On the floor are spread out all the fine silver dollars which,
according to our agreement, I had given her the evening before. With
the competent dexterity of an old money-changer she fingers them,
turns them over, throws them on the floor, and, armed with a little
mallet ad hoc, rings them vigorously against her ear, singing the
while I know not what little pensive bird-like song which I daresay
she improvises as she goes along.
Well, after all, it is even more completely Japanese than I could
possibly have imagined it—this last scene of my married life! I feel
inclined to laugh. How simple I have been, to allow myself to be
taken in by the few clever words she whispered yesterday, as she
walked beside me, by a tolerably pretty little phrase embellished as
it was by the silence of two o'clock in the morning, and all the
wonderful enchantments of night.
Ah! not more for Yves than for me, not more for me than for Yves,
has any feeling passed through that little brain, that little heart.
When I have looked at her long enough, I call:
She turns confused, and reddening even to her ears at having been
caught at this work.
She is quite wrong, however, to be so much troubled, for I am, on
the contrary, delighted. The fear that I might be leaving her in some
sadness had almost given me a pang, and I infinitely prefer that this
marriage should end as it had begun, in a joke.
"That is a good idea of yours," I say; "a precaution which should
always be taken in this country of yours, where so many evil-minded
people are clever in forging money. Make haste and get through it
before I start, and if any false pieces have found their way into the
number, I will willingly replace them."
However, she refuses to continue before me, and I expected as much;
to do so would have been contrary to all her notions of politeness,
hereditary and acquired, all her conventionality, all her Japanesery.
With a disdainful little foot, clothed as usual in exquisite socks,
with a special hood for the great toe, she pushes away the piles of
white dollars and scatters them on the mats.
"We have hired a large, covered sampan," she says to change the
conversation, "and we are all going together—Campanule, Jonquille,
Touki, all your mousmes—to watch your vessel set sail. Pray sit down
and stay a few minutes."
"No, I really can not stay. I have several things to do in the
town, you see, and the order was given for every one to be on board by
three o'clock in time for muster before starting. Moreover, I would
prefer to escape, as you can imagine, while Madame Prune is still
enjoying her siesta; I should be afraid of being drawn into some
corner, or of provoking some heartrending parting scene."
Chrysantheme bows her head and says no more, but seeing that I am
really going, rises to escort me.
Without speaking, without the slightest noise, she follows me as we
descend the staircase and cross the garden full of sunshine, where the
dwarf shrubs and the deformed flowers seem, like the rest of the
household, plunged in warm somnolence.
At the outer gate I stop for the last adieu: the little sad pout
has reappeared, more accentuated than ever, on Chrysantheme's face; it
is the right thing, it is correct, and I should feel offended now were
Well, little mousme, let us part good friends; one last kiss even,
if you like. I took you to amuse me; you have not perhaps succeeded
very well, but after all you have done what you could: given me your
little face, your little curtseys, your little music; in short, you
have been pleasant enough in your Japanese way. And who knows,
perchance I may yet think of you sometimes when I recall this glorious
summer, these pretty, quaint gardens, and the ceaseless concert of the
She prostrates herself on the threshold of the door, her forehead
against the ground, and remains in this attitude of superlatively
polite salute as long as I am in sight, while I go down the pathway by
which I am to disappear for ever.
As the distance between us increases, I turn once or twice to look
at her again; but it is a mere civility, and meant to return as it
deserves her grand final salutation.
CHAPTER LIII. OFF FOR CHINA
When I entered the town, at the turn of the principal street, I had
the good luck to meet Number 415, my poor relative. I was just at
that moment in want of a speedy djin, and I at once got into his
vehicle; besides, it was an alleviation to my feelings, in this hour
of departure, to take my last drive in company with a member of my
Unaccustomed as I was to be out of doors during the hours of
siesta, I had never yet seen the streets of the town thus overwhelmed
by the sunshine, thus deserted in the silence and solitary brilliancy
peculiar to all hot countries.
In front of all the shops hang white shades, adorned here and there
with slight designs in black, in the quaintness of which lurks I know
not what—something mysterious: dragons, emblems, symbolical figures.
The sky is too glaring; the light crude, implacable; never has this
old town of Nagasaki appeared to me so old, so worm-eaten, so bald,
notwithstanding all its veneer of new papers and gaudy paintings.
These little wooden houses, of such marvellous cleanly whiteness
inside, are black outside, timeworn, disjointed and grimacing. When
one looks closely, this grimace is to be found everywhere: in the
hideous masks laughing in the shop-fronts of the innumerable
curio-shops; in the grotesque figures, the playthings, the idols,
cruel, suspicious, mad; it is even found in the buildings: in the
friezes of the religious porticoes, in the roofs of the thousand
pagodas, of which the angles and cable-ends writhe and twist like the
yet dangerous remains of ancient and malignant beasts.
And the disturbing intensity of expression reigning over inanimate
nature, contrasts with the almost absolute blank of the human
countenance, with the smiling foolishness of the simple little folk
who meet one's gaze, as they patiently carry on their minute trades in
the gloom of their tiny open-fronted houses. Workmen squatted on
their heels, carving with their imperceptible tools the droll or
odiously obscene ivory ornaments, marvellous cabinet curiosities which
have made Japan so famous with the European amateurs who have never
seen it. Unconscious artists tracing with steady hand on a background
of lacquer or of porcelain traditional designs learned by heart, or
transmitted to their brains by a process of heredity through thousands
of years; automatic painters, whose storks are similar to those of M.
Sucre, with the inevitable little rocks, or little butterflies
eternally the same. The least of these illuminators, with his
insignificant, eyeless face, possesses at his fingers' ends the
maximum of dexterity in this art of decoration, light and wittily
incongruous, which threatens to invade us in France, in this epoch of
imitative decadence, and which has become the great resource of our
manufacturers of cheap "objects of art."
Is it because I am about to leave this country, because I have no
longer any link to bind me to it, any resting-place on its soil, that
my spirit is ready on the wing? I know not, but it seems to me I have
never as clearly seen and comprehended it as to-day. And more even
than ever do I find it little, aged, with wornout blood and worn-out
sap; I feel more fully its antediluvian antiquity, its centuries of
mummification, which will soon degenerate into hopeless and grotesque
buffoonery, as it comes into contact with Western novelties.
It is getting late; little by little, the siestas are everywhere
coming to an end; the queer little streets brighten up and begin to
swarm in the sunshine with manycolored parasols. Now begins the
procession of ugliness of the most impossible description—a
procession of long-robed, grotesque figures capped with pot-hats or
sailors' headgear. Business transactions begin again, and the
struggle for existence, close and bitter here as in one of our own
artisan quarters, but meaner and smaller.
At the moment of my departure, I find within myself only a smile of
careless mockery for the swarming crowd of this Lilliputian curtseying
people—laborious, industrious, greedy of gain, tainted with a
constitutional affectation, hereditary insignificance, and incurable
Poor cousin Number 415! how right I was to have held him in good
esteem! He was by far the best and most disinterested of my Japanese
family. When all my commissions are finished, he puts up his little
vehicle under a tree, and, much touched by my departure, insists upon
escorting me on board the 'Triomphante', to watch over my final
purchases in the sampan which conveys me to the ship, and to see them
himself safely into my cabin.
His, indeed, is the only hand I clasp with a really friendly
feeling, without a suppressed smile, on quitting Japan.
No doubt in this country, as in many others, there is more honest
friendship and less ugliness among the simple beings devoted to purely
At five o'clock in the afternoon we set sail.
Along the line of the shore are two or three sampans; in them the
mousmes, shut up in the narrow cabins, peep at us through the tiny
windows, half hiding their faces on account of the sailors; these are
our wives, who have wished, out of politeness, to look upon us once
There are other sampans as well, in which other Japanese women are
also watching our departure. These stand upright, under great
parasols decorated with big black letters and daubed over with clouds
of varied and startling colors.
CHAPTER LIV. A FADING PICTURE
We move slowly out of the wide green bay. The groups of women grow
smaller in the distance. The country of round umbrellas with a
thousand ribs fades gradually from our sight.
Now the vast ocean opens before us, immense, colorless, solitary; a
solemn repose after so much that is too ingenious and too small.
The wooded mountains, the flowery capes disappear. And Japan
remains faithful to itself, with its picturesque rocks, its quaint
islands on which the trees tastefully arrange themselves in
groups—studied, perhaps, but charmingly pretty.
CHAPTER LV. A WITHERED LOTUS-FLOWER
One evening, in my cabin, in the midst of the Yellow Sea, my eyes
fall upon the lotus-blossoms brought from Diou-djen-dji; they had
lasted several days; but now they are withered, and strew my carpet
pathetically with their pale pink petals.
I, who have carefully kept so many faded flowers, fallen, alas!
into dust, stolen here and there, at moments of parting in different
parts of the world; I, who have kept so many that the collection is
now an absurd, an indistinguishable herbarium—I try hard, but without
success, to awaken some sentiment for these lotus—and yet they are
the last living souvenirs of my summer at Nagasaki.
I pick them up, however, with a certain amount of consideration,
and I open my port-hole.
From the gray misty sky a strange light falls upon the waters; a
dim and gloomy twilight descends, yellowish upon this Yellow Sea. We
feel that we are moving northward, that autumn is approaching.
I throw the poor lotus into the boundless waste of waters, making
them my best excuses for consigning them, natives of Japan, to a grave
so solemn and so vast.
An Appeal to the Gods
Oama-Terace-Omi-Kami, wash me clean
from this little marriage of mine,
in the waters of the river of Kamo!