- chapter: XIII
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Two strangers to Sendai, tall and uncouth-appearing foreigners, came down the main street, walking in the swift, swinging fashion peculiar to the Westerner, so totally unlike the shuffling slide of the native.
They seemed both amused and irritated at the sensation they were creating, for a veritable little procession followed at their heels. Small, solemn, and mystified Japanese boys they were for the most part, who regarded them with the same awesome curiosity they would have bestowed on a wild beast. A round-eyed, startled little boy of twelve had followed them all the way from the station, through which they had entered the city. Others had quickly joined him, until gradually the follow- | | 117 ing had increased uncomfortably for the foreigners, since these astonished and curious Japanese ran sometimes ahead of them, to stand in their track and gaze up at their faces.
Annoyed, the strangers quickened their speed to a rapid gait, which forced the sandal-wearers into a run in order to keep pace with them.
It was noonday and very warm. No jinrikishas were in sight. The strangers would have welcomed the piping cries of the numerous jinrikisha men of Tokyo, who had pestered and swarmed about them there like flies. Here in the City of Sendai there appeared to be no public jinrikisha stand as yet, and the "tavern" to which they had been directed had not as yet dawned upon their vision.
"We seem to be on the chief street," said one of them. "Better turn here."
They turned swiftly down a cross-street which seemed rather a long road, on the sides of which tall bamboos sprang upward to a great height, bend- | | 118 ing at the top into an arch which cast its shade below. The houses were set back some distance from the road, though garden walls, in which were small bamboo gates, isolated each dwelling.
The foreigners had now slackened their speed. Their following had diminished considerably, and those who remained were now keeping at a respectful distance from the heavy cane which one of the two swung back and forth in his hand with apparent carelessness. There was a hideous head on the knob of this stick. Was it possible that this might be a fiend whose touch would kill any little boy venturing too near? So the strangers, less troubled by their dwindled following, began to look about them with some interest.
The street upon which they found themselves appeared cool and refreshing because of its shadowing trees. There was an atmosphere of refinement and aestheticism about it that delighted the appreciative foreigners.| | 119
"Do you see where it leads?" said the one of the cane, pointing with his stick down the thoroughfare.
"Straight down to the water. What a wonderful sight!"
At a point where the street curved upward to a slight elevation, Matsushima, still at a good distance from them, burst upon their view. The visitors stood as if entranced. One of them lifted a pair of field-glasses to his eyes. After a full minute's use of the glasses, he passed them silently to his companion. The other regarded the scene with equal admiration.
"We must go up there to-morrow without fail," he said, waving his hand towards the heights on the opposite shore.
"Yes," assented the other; "I understand there's quite a party coming along to-morrow."
"Yes, some Tokyo priest is escorting them. Well, a tourist might well visit the cemetery of his household."| | 120
The other regarded him with some bewilderment.
"The cemetery of his household?" he repeated.
"This is the place where, three hundred years ago, a Japanese feudal lord, named Date, I believe, sent an envoy to Rome acknowledging the Catholic supremacy. This is practically the birthplace of Catholicism in Japan."
"Well, this is all very interesting, I must say. Yet I understand the only mission here, at present, is Presbyterian."
"Exactly. Catholicism has been practically stamped out. There was a horrible massacre of the Jesuits here at one time, I believe. This visit by the priest and the party may do something for the place."
They resumed their walk in silence.
"I don't fancy," said the elder one, "that it will be possible for us to shake off this little herd behind us. The thing for us to do is to find that will-o'-the-wisp | | 121 of a tavern or the mission-house. Where do you suppose the place is?"
"The mission-house, rest assured, is elevated on some hill. Suppose we turn upward and--"
He broke off, at the same time stopping abruptly in his walk.
They were before a little garden composed of white stones and fantastic-spreading trees, seeming to bend their boughs over the miniature lake as if to regard their own reflected beauty. But it was not the distinction of the garden which attracted and startled the strangers, but the little figure which leaned over the gate.
Filtering through the tree-top by the gate, the sun slanted full upon the head of the girlish form, bronzing the hair almost to the color of deep gold. The girl's eyes were wide open as if with faint surprise, her lips were apart, and she was plainly flushed with some unwonted excitement. She wore a plum-colored kimono, simple and exquisite. About | | 122 her waist was an old-gold obi, and there was a flower ornament in her hair. The wings of her sleeves fell backward, disclosing arms of perfect whiteness and little hands which clung in tremulous excitement to the bamboo railing of the gate.
The tourists had been some months in Japan. One of them was an attaché to an American consulate. Well acquainted as they were with the soft-eyed, cherry-lipped beauty of young Japanese girls, they stood speechless, startled, before the picture that Hyacinth presented, as she in her turn gazed in wide-eyed astonishment at them. The mission-house folk were the only Westerners she had ever seen. These strangers did not at all resemble the Reverend Blount or his friends who came at different times to visit him. Even their clothes had a different cut, and their pleasant faces, in spite of their light eyes, to which she could never become accustomed, were shaven smooth and clean. | | 123 No devils, thought Hyacinth quickly, would have such countenances. A mistake had been made in the popular impression. Nevertheless, the strangers were certainly odd curiosities.
She blushed all rosy red, even her little ears and neck tingling with pink, as they paused before her. Half unconsciously she bent her head and made a timid little motion of greeting to them.
The younger man, the one with the huge stick, said, in an undertone, "I'm going to speak to her," and he went a pace nearer.
"Can you tell me where the Dewdrop Tavern is?" he asked, in atrocious Japanese.
For a moment she hesitated. Then the faintest smile lurked at the corners of her mouth and a dimple peeped out in her chin. Her voice was sweet and low.
"The humble one cannot understand such language," she said, pretending ignorance of his words, and secretly hoping | | 124 that she might provoke further speech from these strange men.
Before the stranger could frame his question in plainer language, Aoi appeared in the path, hastening down anxiously to the gate. She was overwhelmed with distress, she declared, that the august ones were followed so rudely by the children of the community. Would not the excellencies condescend to pardon the little ones? They must appreciate how strange they appeared to them. But as for her, Madame Aoi, she was well acquainted with their people, since her own lord had been English also.
The two men looked at each other and then at the young girl, as though understanding now her strange beauty.
"What," asked Aoi, "is it the excellencies desire that they have deigned to halt before our insignificant abode?"
"We wish to be directed to some tavern--some place where we can secure accommodation."| | 125
"Ah, yes, exactly. In the village on the shore of Matsushima there is the Dewdrop Tavern, but that is some distance away. If the excellencies will follow the street for a little while longer they will come to the Snowdrop Hostelry. There the honorable ones would be welcomed with august hospitality."
The strangers lingered a moment, watching the two figures at the gate, now courtesying very deeply. Then they turned slowly and resumed their walk.
Hyacinth turned to Aoi in great excitement.
"I am going to follow them also, mother. I wish to hear them speak again. What strange, deep voices! It was enough to make a maiden jump ten feet with fright. And how the gods have blasted their countenances! Did you notice, mother, how their skins were bleached like white linen?"
Aoi smiled indulgently.
"When one becomes accustomed to | | 126 the white skin, little one, it appears very beautiful."
"Ah, not on a man!" said the girl, with immeasurable disgust. "But perhaps it is a custom of their country. Who knows! They are barbarians, are they not? Perhaps these men whiten or chalk their skins like the priestesses at the temple."
"Nay, it is all natural."
But Hyacinth shook her head, still uncertain. Such beings were unnatural, more so even than the Reverend Blount or the mission men. Curiosity stirred within her. She must know if the strangers acted as the human beings she knew. Quickly she formed a plan. She would follow them at a distance and slip in at the back entrance of the Snowdrop Hostelry. Then surely her friend, Miss Perfume, the daughter of the proprietor of the tavern, would permit her to listen behind the shoji, and to watch these curious strangers, unperceived, through peep-holes in the wall.
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