- chapter: X
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THE Reverend Mr. Blount knocked sharply at the door of Madame Aoi's house. There was no response at first to his summons, beyond a slight stir and bustle at the rear. After a pause the sliding doors were pushed aside and the fat face of Mumè appeared for a moment, to disappear the next. She was heard chattering, in a grumbling voice, to some one within.
The visitor, grown impatient, rapped hard upon the panelling. A moment later there was the light patter of feet along the hall and Aoi appeared. She hastened towards the visitor with an apologetic expression.
Would the honorable one pardon her great discourtesy? She had been taking | | 84 her noonday siesta and had not heard the visitor's knock. She would immediately reprove her insignificantly rude and ignorant servant for not having shown the illustrious one welcome and hospitality.
"I want to see Hyacinth," said the caller, entering the guest-room and slowly removing his kid gloves.
Hyacinth, Aoi informed her visitor, was also taking her noon sleep. Would the honorable one deign to excuse her, or should she disturb the little one?
"Asleep?" he repeated, disapprovingly. "How can that be, madame, since I only just saw her at the window?"
"She must have awakened, then," said Aoi, simply.
The other nodded curtly. "No doubt," he said. He seated himself stiffly in the only chair in the room, and when Aoi had quietly seated herself on a mat some distance from him, he clasped his hands together and leaned forward towards her.| | 85
"Madame Aoi," he said, "I have just heard the most improbable, ridiculous tale about Hyacinth."
Madame Aoi elevated her eyes in gentle question.
"That she is, in fact--er--engaged--that is, affianced--you know what I mean."
Aoi smiled beamingly. Yes, she admitted, her daughter was, indeed, betrothed to Yamashiro Yoshida, "son of our most illustrious and respected and honorable friend in Sendai, Yamashiro Shawtaro."
"But," said the visitor, after a moment of speechless surprise, "this is the most preposterous, impossible of things. Why this--this Yamashiro Shawtaro, the father of the boy, is one of the most rabid Buddhists, and, besides, it is barbaric, an unheard-of thing, to think of marrying a girl of her age to any one."
"The betrothal," said Aoi, with a slight smile, "was all arranged by the | | 86 Yamashiro family. The boy is the father's salt of life. He cast eyes of desire upon the little one, and as he is the richest, noblest, and proudest youth in Sendai, we have accepted him. All the town envies us, excellency."
"Does her brother know about this?" demanded Mr. Blount, severely.
"Oh yes, surely."
"And what does he say? He is English enough to perceive the utter impossibility of such a marriage."
"We have not heard from my son yet in the matter," said Aoi, simply.
"Well," said the other, "I can assure you that when he knows the truth he will refuse to countenance it."
"But, illustrious master, how can he do so? He has not that right."
"He has not the right! Why, even your Japanese law makes him her rightful guardian. He is still a citizen of Japan. A brother, in Japan, is his sister's legal guardian. I know this to be a fact."| | 87
"Ah, but, honored sir, you do not know everything."
Mr. Blount looked over his gold-rimmed spectacles sharply, endeavoring to pierce beneath the softness of her tone. Japanese women were all guile was his inner comment.
"Well, now, suppose you explain to me why your son is not his sister's guardian?"
"Because, august minister, he is not the little one's actual brother."
Mr. Blount started so that he actually bounded from his seat.
"What do you mean?" he jerked out to Aoi.
"The little one is only my adopted child," said Aoi, smiling serenely.
The minister could scarcely believe he heard aright. The Japanese woman continued to smile in a manner whose guileless, impenetrable innocence of expression had the effect of irritating him excessively.
"If Hyacinth is not your child, Madame Aoi, who are her parents?"| | 88
"The gods forsaken little Hyacinth. She has no true parents."
In his acute interest in the matter, the minister actually overlooked the slip of Aoi when she alluded to the "gods." What he said, with his eyes fixed very sternly upon her face, was:
"You are deceiving me, Madame Aoi. You are hiding the truth from me."
The slightest frown passed over Aoi's face. Her color deepened, then faded, leaving her inscrutable and impassive once more.
The honorable one was augustly mistaken, for the humble one had nothing to hide. Since the affairs of her adopted child concerned only her foster-parent, it was impossible to deceive the honorable minister.
It was the visitor's turn to flush, and he did so angrily. Plainly this Japanese woman was attempting to conceal, with the prevarication and guile of her people, some mystery concerning Hyacinth. If the girl was not the daughter | | 89 of Aoi by her English husband, who then was she? She certainly was not pure Japanese. Could it be that she was not even in part Japanese? The possibility staggered the missionary.
"Madame Aoi, you are taking a most unusual attitude towards me to-day."
Aoi inclined her head in a motion that might have meant either assent or negation.
"Hitherto," continued the other, "you have not hesitated to accept my advice--"
"In matters concerning that religion, yes," interposed Aoi, softly.
"Which surely concerns all other matters connected with your welfare and that of Hyacinth. No one knows better than you do that the lives of our parishioners, our children, are our particular care and charge. I take the interest of a parent in our little band. So you would not withhold your confidence from a parent?"
"What is it the honorable sir would know?"| | 90
"The history of Hyacinth--who she is, how you came by her, her people's name--all information about her."
"There is nothing to confide," said Aoi, slowly, as though she chose her words carefully before replying. "The old excellency knew the history of the child. It was under his advice that the humble one adopted the little one."
"Under Mr. Radcliffe's advice!"
"What did he know of Hyacinth?"
"The excellency deigned to make effort to discover the little one's parents."
"But you don't mean to tell me that you did not know her parents?"
"Only the mother, and she lived but a day after the coming of the child."
"Did Mr. Radcliffe fail to find her father?"
Nervously Aoi clasped her hands together. She did not answer.
"Did he find her father?" repeated Mr. Blount.| | 91
Aoi looked at him with a gleam of stubbornness in her glance.
"If the excellency did not make confidant of you before he died, why should I do so, also?"
"It is your duty, madame."
She shook her head slowly.
"Certainly, it is your duty. It is perfectly plain that Hyacinth is a white--that she's not pure Japanese, at all events."
Aoi moved uneasily. Then she looked up very earnestly at her interlocutor.
"The little one knows nothing of her parentage, save that she is an orphan confided to my care. It would distress her to be told that--that she is not Japanese."
"Then you admit that?"
"No; I do not so admit. I but begged the honorable one to put no such notion into her mind, so sorely would it distress her."
"I wouldn't think of keeping her in ignorance," exclaimed the other, with | | 92 some indignation. "She ought to have been told the truth long ago. I shall certainly tell her."
"What can you tell her?"
Aoi had risen and was regarding the missionary with a strange expression.
"That I suspect she is not Japanese--not all Japanese."
"She would not believe you," said Aoi, thoughtfully.
"I will see her at once, if you will allow me," said Mr. Blount, also rising. He was somewhat startled at the attitude and the reply of Aoi. She had placed herself before the door, as if to prevent the passage of any one desiring to enter.
"My daughter will not see visitors today," she said. "You will excuse her."
The next moment she had clapped her hands loudly. In answer to her summons, Mumè came shuffling into the room, hastily wiping her hands upon her sleeves, and looking inquiringly towards her mistress.
"The illustrious one," said Aoi, with | | 93 intense sweetness, "wishes to return home. Pray, conduct him to the street."
She bowed with profound grace to the missionary, and stepped aside to permit him to pass.
He hesitated a moment, and then said, slowly and succinctly:
"Madame Aoi, I have only this to say. I shall immediately take it upon myself to unravel this mystery. I will communicate with the nearest open port at once, and find out whether my predecessor had correspondence with any one on this subject. Good-day." He bowed stiffly.
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