- chapter: VI
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"ALAS!" said Madame Aoi, as she brushed, with long hopeless strokes, the rippling hair of little Hyacinth. "Alas! no use try to keep you nice. Look at those hands--so brown like little boy's--and that neck and face!"
Hyacinth sat upon the weekly chair of torture. Her little russet face had been scrubbed till it shone. Her hair was being brushed uncomfortably smooth with water, to prepare it for being twisted up in a pyramid on her head. Had she been a properly regulated Japanese child, one such hair-dressing a month would have sufficed. But, as a rule, she had scarcely escaped from under the painstaking hands of Aoi before she managed to shake down, or at least | | 45 loosen, the beautiful glossy coiffure upon her head.
Cleaning-day, Hyacinth dreaded. Though Koma had taught her to swim in the bay like a veritable little duck, it is sad to relate that the little girl despised water which was thrown upon her for the purpose of removing that dirt, the inevitable portion of a child who plays continually in the open and burrows in beach sand.
So now, restless, rebellious, and miserable, anything but the usual passive little Japanese girl, she squirmed under the hands of Aoi.
The day was Sunday, a red-letter day for Aoi. The mission-house on the hill opened its doors to its tiny congregation upon this day. Hence Aoi prepared her little family against this weekly event, and poor Hyacinth was the chief subject of torture. Koma's hair grew in a short, smooth mass, which required no brushing or twisting. Also, he had reached an age when he had wholly graduated | | 46 from his mother's hands and was competent to effect his own toilet. But he was forced to sit in the chamber of horrors during the time that his sister was undergoing the weekly operation, since, were his presence removed, it would have been impossible to manage or control the restless child.
"There!" exclaimed Aoi, as she placed the last pin in the child's head. "Now, that is fine. Been good child to-day."
Hyacinth slid down from the small stool, lingered in discontent on the floor a moment, then, with an expression of childish resignation, rose to her feet and stood silently awaiting further operations upon her.
Aoi lightly wafted a little powder towards her face and neck; then removed it with a soft cloth. The tanned skin appeared whitened and softened. Then she dressed her little charge in a fresh crepe kimono--a red-flowered kimono it was--tied a purple obi about it with a huge bow behind, placed a flower orna- | | 47 ment in the side of her hair, and Hyacinth's toilet was completed.
Her appearance did credit to the labor of Aoi. She seemed such a bewitching, quaint little figure--her face, piquantly pretty, her hair shining, the red flower ornament matching her little red cheeks and lips. A moment later, too, the discontent and restlessness had quite fled from her face, for Koma had seized her the instant of her release and given her an enormous hug, to the palpitating anxiety of Aoi, who besought him to be careful not to disturb the elegance of her hair and gown.
"Now," she told them, "go sit at the door like good children. Keep very still. Soon your mother will also be ready."
Aoi expended less pains upon her own person. Her hair erection needed no re-dressing. She changed her cotton kimono for a very elegant silken one, powdered her face lightly in a trice, and a moment later was at the door, anxiously looking about for the children.| | 48
She was still a young woman, so pretty that it was hard to believe her the mother of a boy of sixteen. Her figure was slight and girlish, her face unmarked by any trace of age, save that the eyes were sad and anxious and the lips had a tendency to quiver pathetically. She fluttered down the little garden-path, looking right and left for the truants.
She discovered them bending over the great well in the garden.
"See," said little Hyacinth. "There's big cherry-tree in well, and little girl under it, also."
Aoi looked at the reflection, lingered a moment, smiling pensively at the three faces in the water, then drew them away.
"Come," she said. "Listen; those temple bells already are beginning to ring. We shall be late and disgrace his excellency."
She opened a large paper parasol, and with Koma holding her sleeve on one side and Hyacinth on the other, they | | 49 tripped up the hill to the little mission church.
They were late, as usual, to the extreme humiliation of Aoi, who shrank to the most obscure corner possible in the church. She gave one anxious, fluttering glance about her, shook her head at the restless Hyacinth, then very simply and naturally lifted her little, thin voice in singing with the rest of this strange congregation.
The old missionary at his stand, who had seen her entrance, beamed benignly upon her from over his spectacles. Though so old, his voice could be heard loud and clear, leading his little flock in their hymn of invocation.
The service was exceedingly simple. A reading from a Japanese translation of the Bible, a few announcements by the old pastor, then an address by a thin, curious-looking stranger, the new assistant of the missionary. After that followed the offerings, to which every one in the church contributed, even the chil- | | 50 dren, then a sweet hymn, a solemn word of benediction, and church was over.
How strangely like the church in his own home in far-away England was this little mission-house to the old minister! These gentle people had labored to erect this house on the plan he had described to them. They lifted up the same voices in melodious hymns of praise to the same Creator. Their eyes looked up to their leader with the same profound devotion. Yes, surely, he had done right in the desertion of that small pastorate in England, which a hundred ministers could fill. Here lay his true work--the fruits of his labors. This had become his home.
So down the aisle he went, followed by his new assistant--with a word and a smile, and a hearty grip of the hand for each and all of his little band.
Aoi stood in the little pew, her face turned towards him, wistfully expectant. Even the restless Hyacinth peered at him with sombre, quieted gaze.| | 51
"Ah," he said, "Mrs. Montrose and Koma. How is my little girl?" and he patted Hyacinth upon the head.
The new minister stared with some surprise at the two children, then looked questioningly at the old missionary. He was listening attentively and with old-fashioned courtesy to the words of the anxious Aoi.
"Is it not yet time, excellency? The boy is growing beyond me. What is to be done? I have taught him all the words I myself know of the English language, but, alas! I am very ignorant, and my tongue trips and halts."
The missionary glanced gravely and thoughtfully at Koma, who was engaged in whispering to the inquisitive Hyacinth. The latter was intently engrossed in regarding the pale and anemic face of the new minister.
"He seems such a boy--such a child," said the old missionary, "I think you have done well by him, and it certainly | | 52 was wise to keep him from the schools in Sendai."
"Ah, excellency," said Aoi, "he merely looks like a child. He is, indeed, much older than he appears. Was he not always old for his age? It is merely his constant association with the tiny one which causes him to appear so young."
"Well," said the missionary, "we must think about it. I will talk it over with Mr. Blount." He indicated his assistant, who bowed quietly.
Aoi appeared troubled.
"Excellency," she said, "it was the will of his august father that he should see something of the world when he should have attained to years of manhood."
The missionary nodded thoughtfully.
"I will give you my opinion to-morrow--to-morrow evening," he said. "The matter requires serious reflection."
"Thank you," she murmured, grate- | | 53 fully. "You are so good the gods will bless you."
Thus, even within the house of the new religion, poor Aoi let slip from her lips that almost unconscious faith in the gods of her childhood.
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