- chapter: XII
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ABOUT a fortnight later the honorable Yamashiro family condescended to pay a visit to the house of Aoi. Although they lived but a field's length away, they came in their carriages, very elegant jinrikishas, drawn by liveried runners.
The father was imperious and lordly. A man of samurai birth, he had been one of the first to take advantage of the change in government and go immediately into trade, thus placing behind him all the traditions of caste. In Tokyo he had acquired an enormous fortune. He had a partnership there in a European store. He had purchased much of the land in the region of Sendai, and the townspeople looked with some apprehensions upon his steady advance, | | 107 knowing that wherever he set his heel the land was despoiled of beauty.
Sendai in these latter years had become quite a bustling commercial city, and all because of Yamashiro's enterprise. In ten years he had altered the little coast town's exclusive policy. Thus the townspeople came to believe that Sendai could no longer remain a secluded place of abode, but would become an ugly, commercial centre, a stamping-ground for tradespeople, and in time an open port for the barbarians. In the face of the dissatisfaction of his townspeople Yamashiro steadily kept to his march of progress. Realizing that he could never have the affection of his neighbors, he openly tried to play the despot over them.
A plastic little pupil was his wife, the typical Japanese matron, who, bowing to the will of her lord in all things, scarcely ever spoke save to echo his words, and who lived but for his pleasure and comfort.| | 108
The boy Yoshida was like his father, save that he spent his restlessness upon the pleasures of youth. Having no occasion to work, and being provided with an unlimited supply of money, Yoshida frittered his way through life with the idle and rich young men of Sendai, leisurely inventing amusements for themselves, seeking and chasing every butterfly. Not a geisha of Sendai but knew the gallant Yoshida.
Then, mothlike, with a daintier and as gay a fluttering of wings as the geishas, Hyacinth had crossed his path. Aoi had moved her home about this time from the little village on the shore of the bay to the city proper. This occurred after Komazawa's English lawsuit had been settled, so that the family were now living in more affluent circumstances.
Actually abandoning his geishas, Yoshida, to the envy of the town's young belles and beauties, offered himself to the daughter of Madame Aoi, the girl | | 109 whose eyes did not slant in shape, and yet which had a trick of closing half-way and then glancing out sideways. It was as if Hyacinth, with her wide eyes, had unconsciously fallen into the habit of copying nature, where all eyes about her were narrow and seemingly half closed.
On this day Yoshida and his parents brought gifts for Aoi and her daughter; gorgeous gifts they were and very costly. The girl, quite forgetful of the presence of the watchful parents of her lover, threw all her manners to the winds when she beheld the exquisite obi her father-in-law-elect had brought her from Tokyo. Out of the room she slipped, to return in the space of a few minutes, fluttering in through the sliding-doors like a bird of gay plumage, her eyes brighter, her cheeks and lips rosier than the red gold obi twisted so entrancingly about her slender waist.
Yet in her brief absence the Yamashiro family had exchanged significant | | 110 glances and commented upon her rude actions.
"Your worthy daughter, Madame Aoi," said Yamashiro, the elder, "should be placed under the care of a severe governess."
Aoi looked appealingly from the displeased face of Yamashiro to his wife. The latter sat still as an image, her small vermilion-tipped lips closely sealed together like those of a doll.
"You would not delay the marriage, excellent Yamashiro?" inquired Aoi, faintly, the match-making vanities of a mother stirring within her.
"It might be well," said Yamashiro, stiffly. Languidly the boy interposed:
"Ah, well, she will have time to learn when she has the father and mother-in-law to teach and command her."
"True," said his father, and "True" echoed his mother, stonily, scarce parting her lips to enunciate the word.
Then Hyacinth fluttered in gayly, and the light of her smile fell upon them | | 111 like a shaft of sunlight, to be dissipated, a moment later, by the enshrouding mist. She paused in her tripping pilgrimage of pride across the room, glanced flurriedly at the guests, then sat down hastily beside Madame Aoi. The next moment she was as quiet and still as Madame Yamashiro herself. Her eyes were cast down, as became her age, but even when cast down they gazed in girlish pleasure on the splendor of the new sash.
"Madame Aoi," said Yamashiro, the elder, "we come to-day not upon a visit of pleasure, but for a purpose."
Madame Aoi inclined her head attentively.
"You may not, perhaps, have heard the latest news of the town. We are to have an invasion of the barbarians--Western people, in fact."
"Ah, indeed!" Aoi's eyebrows were raised in surprise. "No, I have not heard the report."
Yamashiro breathed heavily.| | 112
"Well, this matter brings us to the object of our visit. It has been brought to my knowledge that such an invasion will be sure to affect the townspeople, particularly those who have hitherto mingled with these people."
Aoi flushed faintly.
"You allude to the mission people?" she asked.
Aoi bowed. Hyacinth elevated her head ever so slightly. She leaned forward, and her eyes, the lids downcast, were glancing upward sidewise beneath them.
"Such of our people," continued Yamashiro, "as have chosen to affiliate with the foreigners already permitted here are likely to be intimately associated with the new arrivals, especially those who have married among them."
He paused, and coughed in his hand.
"You perceive that the bad effect of such association must be felt by those of us who will not deign to give them | | 113 our friendship. Therefore, madame, knowing that your honorable daughter has spent much time with these people, we desire that hereafter she shall decline all such intimacy."
Aoi bowed her head almost to the mats.
"It shall be as your excellency desires," she said.
Then, raising her head, she asked:
"When do the honorable ones come, and why do they come?"
"They may be here already," replied Yamashiro, "and the reason why they come is because some witless members of our community have advertised in the open ports the unusual beauty of Sendai as a summer resort. The foreigners come out of curiosity. It is very unpleasant."
"Yet, excellency," said the girl, with her candid gaze upon him, "were you not the pioneer in Sendai of those who induced intercourse with these barbarians?"| | 114
"The wares of Sendai," replied the other, coldly, "were placed in Tokyo for the foreigner to purchase. We did not invite the foreigner to our city."
"Sendai is not an open port," interposed Aoi, speaking so that her daughter might cease with grace. "How can the foreigners, then, invade it?"
"They have no legal rights, but their consuls, always rapacious, have power with his Imperial Majesty. They have obtained his sanction just as did these missionaries."
"Too bad," said Aoi.
Hyacinth fidgeted. After a moment, looking fully at Yoshida, she asked: "Are their women beautiful?"
"No, abominably ugly," he returned, frowning contemptuously.
A small, roguish smile dimpled the girl's lips.
"Perhaps," said she, "I am also like unto them."
"Never!" said Yoshida, angrily.
"If you were," said his father, "you | | 115 would never be wife to a Yamashiro. No Yamashiro would marry a white barbarian."
The Yamashiro family believed Hyacinth half English. This fact galled them, but they ignored it.
Hastily, nervously, Aoi moved closer to her daughter, laying her hand upon the little ones in the girl's lap.
"Please, little one," she said, "bring for the august ones the pipes and the tobacco-bon."
Outside the closed shoji the girl paused and drew from her sleeve the little hand mirror. She looked deeply into it, her eyes wide open now.
"Perhaps," she said, "I am like unto them. They are not abominably ugly, if they look like me. No, for Komazawa is also of their blood, and I--and those clothes were Engleesh."
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