The Summer Serial 2011.
By George Bassett.
THE PLEASURES OF LIFE are not so hot or so frequent that one can afford to treat lightly the promise of their coming, and I prepared myself to hear the story which I knew Ysonde Potwin had to tell as thoughtfully as an epicure prepares himself for a feast. For a whole day I let her severely alone, knowing that her theory of life was one of oscillation, and that she would be the more friendly and confidential the day after my abstention. And when the time came, and our chairs extended themselves side by side in a remote corner of the deck, I asked her, direct enough, why all the Japanese on board made so much fuss about her.
” Oh, I can’t tell you that!” she exclaimed. “It’s a secret, and you know women love secrets !”
“Yes, they love secrets as much as they love their rings,” I replied. “But if you keep your diamonds shut up in a little tin box at your banker’s, you get no joy out of them; and if you don’t tell your secrets, you might as well not have any.”
“Oh, it wouldn’t make you like me any better if I told you,” she said.
“I don’t believe the secret is as black as that,” I replied. “You know I told you, long ago, that I was too lazy to lose my heart to you, as those other fellows do, and you said we would be frank and loyal shipmates. And if you have secrets from me, I shall hide all sorts of thrilling and tremulous mysteries from you, and see what a loss that would be all around.”
“Well,” said she, ” I suppose I must tell you. It would be rather a relief to tell somebody, and no one knows about it, not even my maid. I’ll tell you all about it; but if I find you don’t like me any more, and neglect me the rest of the voyage as you did yesterday, it will be real mean of you.”
Playing with the rings on her soft white fingers, and looking out over the silvered waves of the summer sea, she told me the story of Temehichi.
“Once upon a time, to begin with, I was divorced. I told you that before. And Mr. Potwin went off to Europe or somewhere ; and that’s the end of him. And I couldn’t go to Europe or anywhere, because it was in May, and I had given the lawyers nearly all my money, and I wasn’t going to have any more till October. So I took a little flat in San Francisco, and I lived there alone with old Delia, who is here with me now, and whom I am going to send back to America as soon as we get to Japan, and who has been with me ever since I was a little girl, and who is the dearest old woman in the world, only that she will drink too much, sometimes ; and when she drinks too much she keens all night because her friends in Ireland are dead. And Delia got an Irish girl to do the house-work and to cook my breakfast in the morning. I always used to go out for lunch and for dinner, it was so much brighter and gayer in the restaurants than being alone at home. Delia and the Irish girl quarrelled about Home Rule, and I got a Swedish girl. She stamped about like a cart-horse, and broke everything she touched, and I couldn’t have her any more. So I thought I’d try a Japanese boy. You know we have a great many Japanese and Chinese boys for servants in San Francisco, more Chinese than Japanese, but this was a Japanese boy. They’re always called boys, but they’re grown up, you know. He was very quiet and very quick, and got his work done in no time at all ; and he used to sit in the little kitchen and write letters all day; and he was always out at night, nearly. It didn’t make any difference to me, as long as his work was done; but Delia used to hear him come in at five o’clock in the morning. She told him once that if he didn’t sleep more he’d be sick and did; and he told her people had different ways of sleeping, and that he slept while he was cleaning up the flat. He made beautiful buckwheat cakes, and he didn’t care a cent if I had my breakfast one morning at nine o’clock and the next morning at eleven ; he never complained the least little bit, and everything was as nice as could be. And one afternoon Charley Hart came to take me down to the Maison Riche for dinner. You know the Maison Riche is one of tlie French restaurants in San Francisco, and Charley Hart was a great friend of mine. He is in the insurance business, and he plays the banjo splendidly, and he belongs to one of the clubs, and he is a great society man. Well, it was raining so hard that I thought it would be fun to send a messenger-boy out and have something brought in from a restaurant, and have our dinner there. So I told Temehichi — Temehichi was the Japanese boy’s name — to call a district messenger and order enough for two. Temehichi asked me what time I wanted it, and I told him in about an hour. We had a lovely dinner, and I found out afterwards that instead of having things from a restaurant, Temehichi had cooked it all himself. He was the handiest human being I ever saw ; he could just do anything; so after that, when I was alone, I often used to have my meals at the flat instead of going out ; and every one who came to see me said there never was such a boy as Temehichi. You see, I have a lot of gentlemen friends in San Francisco. They used to be Mr. Potwin’s friends, but they all took my side about the divorce, and they used to come to see me all the time. But Charley Hart came oftener than any of the others. If you knew anything about San Francisco you’d understand it better, because everybody there knows him. You see, he is such a society favorite, and yet he is lonesome, after all. He always leads the german everywhere; and when any of the rich people want to give a big party, they get Charley to come and arrange everything. He knows whom to ask and whom to leave out, and all about ordering the supper and the music; and he has had lots of lovely things given him by people he has been nice to in that way. One of them gave him an elegant gold watch with his monogram on it in diamonds. And when a young lady first goes into society in San Francisco, if he isn’t on her side she can’t do anything at all. He is asked out to dine nearly every night, and of course it all helps him in his business, because he is agent for both life and fire companies, and lots of people who are trying to get into society do their insuring through him. Well, ever}’body thinks he has such a lovely time, but he isn’t so very happy, after all. He is nearly forty now; and last fall he began to get so fat that it was awful for him to have to dance. But of course it wouldn’t do for him not to dance, so he had to go without eating lots of things he likes. And whenever there happened to be an evening when he wasn’t asked to a dinner-party anywhere, it was awfully stupid for him, because he hasn’t any real friends — they are all society friends — so he got into the way of coming to see me a great deal. We would go to dine together somewhere, and perhaps go to the theatre afterwards. He can always have seats at any theatre he wants, because the managers like to have him go to see all the new attractions, he’s such a society man. And then, after the theatre, we would go up on the car together to my flat, and sit down and eat pickled limes and lady -fingers: that’s about the only thing he can eat for supper. And then he would sit and play on the banjo, and tell me what he had been doing the night before, for ever so long. Of course going to so many parties he had got into the way of staying up late, and I never used to think anything of his being there till one o’clock.
“ONE MONDAY ABOUT THREE months ago one of the most prominent men in San Francisco died, and it just so happened that different people who were going to give parties or have companies to dinner Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were all distant relations of his, or else were so much connected with him in their business, through the railroad or something like that, that ever}^thing had to be postponed, and there were hardly any theatre parties either. So that all Charley’s engagements were broken off ; and instead of only getting orchestra seats, he had proscenium boxes given to him for two different theatres — one for Tuesday night and one for Wednesday night. We went out to dinner together both nights, and then to the theatre afterwards; and Thursday night I said I was tired going out, and I got Temehichi to cook dinner for us at the flat. And Charley brought up a lot of new songs, and after dinner he played his banjo and I played my hired upright, and we sang and had lots of fun, and he stayed awfully late. I told him he was silly not to go home, because he was at so many parties he ought to be glad to go to bed early when he got the chance. But he said he wasn’t a bit sleepy, and I don’t know what time it was when he went home at last ; but it was ridiculous of him to stay so long, anyhow. When I went to let him out, I saw that the kitchen door was ajar and the gas was burning; so I knew Temehichi, instead of going out that night, must have stayed there writing his letters. I went to bed, humming over to myself one of the songs Charley and I had been learning. I should think I must have been asleep about an hour before I heard a noise in my room that woke me up. I always turn the gas down low when I go to bed, but it was turned on full now, and there in the middle of the room, right near the corner of my bed, stood Temehichi, dressed in a magnificent Japanese costume, embroidered all over with dragons and snakes. And fastened in his belt there were two curved scabbards for swords, but the swords were not in them. He had one in each hand — great, long, crooked swords. He looked just like one of the pictures of ancient Japanese soldiers that you see on a fan. At first I thought I must be dreaming, and I was noticing how beautifully his things were embroidered, when he took a step nearer to me, and said :
“You bad woman; now you die.”
“It was so much like a crazy kind of a dream that at first I wasn’t frightened at all. If a man had come in there with a revolver, I suppose I’d have screamed; but this was so different from anything I ever thought could happen to me, that I couldn’t realize it enough to be scared. I didn’t say anything—just lay there without taking my head off the pillow, and he said over again, very slowly :
“You bad woman ; now you die.” And he rattled together the two swords like a man sharpening knives. That woke me up more, but I didn’t say a word; I just looked at him in a stupid kind of way, thinking all the while how cute his Japanese things were. Then he made a long speech, not in as good English as he used to speak when he wasn’t excited, and his eyes looked as if he were out of his head, but every other way he was quiet enough, only you could see he was awfully angry. I can remember every word of it, nearly, just the way he said it.
“Yes, you bad woman,” he began. “I thought you good woman, but to-night your Charley-dog he stay too late. You think I only a common servant boy, you bad woman! Now I tell you who I am. My people all daimio, what you call princes. I belong Tokugawa family. Tokugawa lyeyasu was my fifteen times grandfather, and he was shogun, what you call king, three hundred years before now. All my people kings or brothers of kings. Then you born. Very year you born everything in Japan change. Just to-day I ask Delia how old you are — you born same day Tokugawa soldiers lose Wakamatsu Castle. Since that war all Japan change — no more shoguns now; all government different. Hundred years ago, priests say some day beautiful white bird be born with Gold Beak, and that day Tokugawa kings end. You that bird with Gold Beak — bad woman! When you born you bring trouble my people — but that not enough for you — Gold Beak. You listen : I speak your dog-English very slow — I remember all I learn at school. Tokugawa people great people, every way — great when they fight, great when they make uta poems, great when they try to learn. Now I speak slow like a dog-English book, and you listen every word I say — for you never hear anybody else talk any more. Listen, Gold Beak — listen both your ears ! My grandfather was not shogun — shogun’s brother, and when revolution come he was killed, and my father had to go north — what we call Yezo — very wild island, where very poor wild people live — what we call Ainos — people all hairy like bears, and very cruel. My father so kind, so good, so brave, all the Ainos learn to love him, and he live there quiet. For long time I was hidden — for I was born wartime, Gold Beak, three months before you, and my mother was afraid Satsuma people kill me if they find me. But by-and-by my father send for me to come to him in Yezo — and he bring me up to be strong. He teach me to use a sword, he give me these swords here, swords of my family, same swords that will now cut off head of Bird with Golden Beak. When I am older my father say to me: “You see that mountain, Komaga-take, all snow, snow up to shoulders? Our family is like that mountain — under snow. The mikado sees the snow, and he says: ‘Very cold, very cold! Tokugawa people all under snow — like last spring cherry blossoms,’ Then he laughs. But look again, my boy, if you go up through snow to top of mountain, you find there small ponds of boiling water, and if you step too hard the ground gives way, and you go through where all inside mountain is fire. Sometimes top of mountain opens, and hot stones and all hot things fiy out, and the snow is all steam, and people in villages at the foot of the mountain — who laugh when they look at the snow — are all killed, Tokugawa family same way: we lie cold now, snow over us, but still have fire at heart — and some day the mikado and the Satsuma people and the Choshiu people and the Tosa people all find tlu snow can change to steam very quick — and they see old Tokugawa swords swing again. But you must learn, my boy, Japan is full of new ways — European ways — dog-ways. I hate those ways, and you must hate them — but you must learn them, I am going to send you far from Japan, where you learn a new language — dog-language — where you learn all the Choshiu and the Satsuma people learn; and when you have learned all this— you and all the others who had daimio fathers — some day there come another war, and some day another Tokugawa shogim have Japan.”
“‘That is how my father talked to me, Golden-Beak — that is why I came to America. I came alone with one servant — his grandfathers had been servants of my grandfathers for three hundred years. I went to your schools, I learned your doglanguage. I can speak your English when I speak slowly — plenty of it. But you die — bad woman ! We are all alone — I tell you all my story very slowly — so you see I can speak your English. After the schools I go to Washington. I study law, to learn how English laws, American laws, dog-laws, are made — and then I had no more money, and my father was dead. But I wanted not to go back to Japan. I wanted to learn more ; I said I stay here until I go back with my two swords in my hands. I left Washington; I come here San Francisco. I find it very hard to live here. My old servant could carve out of the wood, and he carve the wood to keep us alive, then he die. Now listen — bad woman! You think because I am your servant that I am nothing here. You say : “In Japan maybe so his people great people — but here he no money, no friends — he nobody.” Big mistake, Golden-Beak — big mistake. I have friends, good many hundreds, Japanese friends, who love me and believe in me — and believe that before my hair is gray I perhaps be shogun. We are a few hundreds in your dog-town here, together in a club — we are many thousands in Japan. We don’t speak yet — we only whisper. But some day we speak, and all Japan will hear — mikado will hear — Satsuma people will hear— all will hear — and shogunsviiW rule Japan again. All those others in this club here, they poor boys like me — but in Japan we have for our side people who have some money left, after the mikado and the Choshiu people and the Tosa people and the Satsuma people have robbed them. They still have money, and they offer me money. They say: ” Sons of Tokugawa no work like coolies; you must not sweep a floor — we give you all you need.” I say: “No. A son of Tokugawa will sweep a floor, but no son of Tokugawa will let you give him food when he is poor. When he is a great man, then, yes, you shall give it to him, and he will have it ; but now — never !” So you see. Golden-Beak, I sweep your floor, I clean the mat where dog-Charley wipes his feet — and you laugh. You laugh, all of you. You say : ” Oh, very clean ; oh, very good boy.” But the snow is only on the skin of Komaga-take. When Charley-dog have dinner here, I spit in his soup. You think I am a broom ; you think I am an iron to stir the fire with ; but all the while I am a man, Golden-Beak, and all the while you are a woman. And I love you, bad woman ! One day you left your door open — I see you with your hair all down your breast, and I see your breast under your hair — bad woman! After that I often stand at your door. I think you know it all the time — bad woman! I think you laugh; I think you say: ” Poor Japanese boy, he look at me; he may look — he not a man, he only a broom, an iron to stir the fire with.” And every time I look I love you more, bad woman! And now it is Charley-dog who looks at your hair all down your breast, and you no laugh at him. I know, GoldenBeak, he stay too late to-night. And now you die! I think you don’t have much religion, even your dog-religion. You sleep all the Sunday morning, you don’t go to church. But all you dog-Christians very religious when you going to die. If you want to be religious now — bad woman! — you make a prayer; you never make another.’
“THAT WAS WHAT THE boy said to me, standing there dressed in the embroidered robes of a Japanese nobleman, and with his two swords in his hands. Of course I was scared. Anybody would have been, let alone me. But as soon as the boy told me that he was in love with me, and I remembered that I sometimes had seen him hanging around my door, I wasn’t so much scared. When a man is in love with you he’s a fool. That is what I always think. He will threaten to murder you, and he will do all sorts of awful things, but you can manage him. And I was sure that I could manage Temehichi. I told him he must be crazy. I told him that Charley Hart and I were very good friends, and that was all; and that if Charley had stayed later than usual that night, it was only because we had a lot of new songs to learn. And I told him that if he was to be a great man and a great soldier, it was a poor way for him to begin by killing a helpless woman. And I told him that he ought to have let me know his story long before, and have let me try to be his friend. He stood quite still for a long time, looking at the blue edges of the swords, and then he said to me:
“‘Bad woman, if I let you live, would you try to be good?’
“I said I didn’t think I had been very bad, but that of course I would try to be good if he would not murder me.
“‘After you have got to be a good woman, will you love me said he.
“I told him that I didn’t know, that he couldn’t expect to make me love him by threatening to chop my head off, that he must wait and see.
“Finally he said he would not kill me that night, he would wait, and that if I would be a good woman he would marry me, and when he went back to Japan, and the revolution came, and he was a great man, I should be his wife. And he told me that he knew he was doing wrong, that it had been his father’s idea that when the new government was established all foreigners should be driven out of Japan, and that for him to have a foreign consort when he was made shogun would be very inconsistent. But he hoped, he said, that if I tried hard I could grow to become almost like a Japanese. Then he made me a low bow, put his swords back in his scabbards, and marched out of the room.
“WHEN I GOT UP the next morning he cooked my breakfast for me as usual, and then I went down to Charley Hart’s office to ask him what I had better do. He was awfully frightened, and said that if I didn’t complain to the police and have Temehichi locked up we would both probably be killed. But I told him that I couldn’t do that— that it would make an awful scandal, and people would say all sorts of things about me and about him, and that anyhow I wouldn’t do it. I said that as long as I didn’t allow my friends to stay too late in the evening, I didn’t believe the boy would murder me or give me any more trouble, and that it was all his fault for having stayed so late, anyway. Charley said :
“‘All right, have your own way about it ; but I am never going up to your flat again while you have that raving maniac there.’
“And he didn’t ; he was frightened nearly to death. Well, for a month or so Temehichi never said a word to me except about his work. I didn’t know whether to believe his story or to think that he was out of his head. And about that time I began to get awfully tired of San Francisco. I had given one of my friends who was on the Stock Exchange three hundred and fifty dollars to speculate with for me, and he had been so lucky with it that I made up my mind that I would go off to Europe. Then I thought how much I would like to take a trip around the world, and I thought that if I went by the way of Japan I would stop there for a while, and see what kind of a place it was. I sort of half believed what Temehichi had told me. It sounded kind of crazy, but with his Japanese dress and his swords and all that, he really seemed to be somebody very wonderful. And, anyhow, I thought I would speak to him about it. So one morning I told him that I had made up my mind to go to Japan and see what kind of a country it was, and see if. I would like to live there, and that in the meantime he and his friends could go on getting ready their revolution. Then he asked me if I really loved him, and was going to marry him, and I told him it was too early to talk about that, because I didn’t know until I had seen Japan whether I could turn myself into a Japanese or not. He said that when I got to Japan the members of his Reactionary Society would do everything in the world for me, and that I should see what a lot of power he really had. Of course I don’t know how much of all his talk is nonsense, but, anyhow, I know that all the Japanese on the steamer are as sweet as pie to me, and wait on me hand and foot. The only thing I don’t like about it is that he seems to have arranged things so that I can’t talk to a man five minutes without one of his Japanese coming sneaking up to see what is going on.”
“But surely,” said I, my dear Mrs. Potwin, you don’t mean to tell methat every Jap on the ship belongs to this wonderful society, and take his ordrs from your friend Temehichi?”
“I don’t know anything about that,” replied Mrs. Potwin, “but perhaps those who are not in it are afraid of those who are — and that is why it is that they all look after me so much.”
This then was the secret which had perplexed the purser, and as I said good-night to Mrs. Potwin, I had an eye over my shoulder to see if any of the Japanese were watching us. But so far as I could see we were not observed.
The whole story was wild and fantastic, and yet I couldn’t for the moment make up my mind altogether to disbelieve it. I was, at any rate, enough interested to wonder very much what the Beautiful Bird with the Golden Beak would do in Japan.
| Chapter index |