- chapter: XIV
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THE Snowdrop Hostelry was as quaint and refreshing as its name. Here the low-voiced, shy-faced mistress overwhelmed the strangers with expressions of welcome, while her maidens vied with one another in caring for their comfort.
The strangers were accustomed to the eccentricities of the country, and so with resignation they seated themselves upon the floor, where on little, brightly polished lacquer trays the waiting-maids set out for them an inviting and delightful repast. Upon one tray was fresh and fragrant tea; egg, fish, rice, and soup on another; fruit--persimmons and plums--on a third; and on a fourth slender, long-stemmed pipes and huge tobacco-bons.
"Now," said the younger of the two, | | 128 "we can talk with some degree of comfort and privacy."
At his companion's slight glance of uneasiness towards the waiting-maids, the other assured him they could not understand English.
"Let us go over the entire matter from the beginning, then," said the other man. "Mr. Matheson, our consul, assured me that you would give me all the assistance and information you could."
"Oh, certainly; but you must remember, Mr. Knowles, that I am entirely in ignorance as to what information you desire. Mr. Matheson gave me a number of papers in the Lorrimer affair, and I presume this case is in some way connected with yours."
"Exactly. I am Mr. Lorrimer's attorney, and have been four months in Japan looking up this matter."
"You already know the circumstances?"
"No, not at all. Except that a letter | | 129 from some missionary started Mr. Matheson on an investigation which brought to light a letter written about seventeen years ago to the Nagasaki consul. He was an awful fool--the consul, you know--let everything take care of itself; so this matter was clean forgotten, or rather ignored. It seems his successor was a brighter fellow, and he sent the correspondence from Sendai to Nagasaki on to Tokyo."
"Yes, and I believe the letters you hold will supply the missing links. Let me tell you the facts of the case--that is, so far as I know them. About eighteen years ago, Mr. Lorrimer was married to a Miss Barbara Woodward, a Boston girl. The marriage was one of those unfortunate, hasty, society affairs in which the parents play the leading parts."
"I understand," the other nodded.
"They were mismated," continued the narrator--"unsuited to each other in every way. Their temperaments con- | | 130 stantly jarred; they had few interests in common. Life became a burden to them. Time, however, did much to heal the breach, and finally Mrs. Lorrimer expected to become a mother. They were in Japan at the time, and she had a fancy that the child should be born here. In spite of her happy expectations, she became excessively morbid and pessimistic. She began to have hallucinations, to suspect my client of impossible things--infidelity and so forth--and hence acted as only a thoroughly unreasonable woman would. She conceived an unreasoning dislike for a Miss Farrell, and, I understand, accused her husband of being in love with the lady. Doubtless, fancying she was wronged, the poor, misguided thing left her husband--in short, ran away from him. Mr. Lorrimer took steps to ascertain her whereabouts, but was unsuccessful. Under the circumstances he returned to Boston, secured a divorce, and--ah--married Miss Farrell."| | 131
The younger man frowned and cleared his throat slightly.
"Ugly affair," he simply essayed, quietly.
"Yes, it was. Average woman a fool. But now I come to my point. There was a child."
The young man whistled softly.
"I see. And the father wants it?"
"And the law gives it to him?"
"Certainly. But we have reason, fortunately, to believe that in this case the power of the law will not be necessary. The mother, we believe, is dead."
"Now I come to the papers in your hand."
"Oh yes; here they are. I haven't even looked at them."
"Ah!" The sheet trembled in the lawyer's hand. Adjusting his glasses, he read the paper carefully, and then struck it sharply with his hand.| | 132
"This is exactly what we want," he said; "it is enough in itself."
"Yes," said the other, laconically.
"It gives us the subsequent history of the wife and practically the whereabouts of the child at that time. Good!"
"I can't see why it is necessary for me to come. It's devilish hot," said the other, mopping his brow complainingly.
"My good fellow, you are lent to me by our consul. I believe you can assist me in the work of finding the child. It--she--is here--in Sendai, it seems--or she was. Let's see what the other missionary writes."
He unfolded the letter and read:
"I take the liberty of addressing this letter to the various English, American, and German consuls in Japan. I wish to advise you that there is a white child in Sendai, the adopted daughter of a Japanese woman, concerning whose parentage there appears to be some mystery. The child has been brought up entirely as a Japanese girl, and does not know as yet of her true nationality. She is soon | | 133 to be married to a Japanese youth, a Buddhist by religion. As she is a minor, and I consider this an outrage, I am of the opinion that steps should be taken to ascertain the parentage of this young white girl."I am, with respect, "(Rev.) JAMES BLOUNT."
"Whew!" said the younger man. "We must be hot on the girl's trail. It would be a coincidence, wouldn't it, though, if she proved to be the same."
"The former missionary also wrote from Sendai," said the lawyer. "There is not the smallest doubt in my mind that the child is the same."
There was a slight stir behind the paper shoji beside them, causing the two men to glance towards it quickly. Then, with slight frowns, they nodded comprehendingly to each other.
"One of the unpleasant things of this country," said the younger man, "is that privacy is an unknown quantity. As you perceive, we have had not only watchers but auditors."| | 134
He indicated with a nod of his head a few little holes in the shoji, through one of which a little rosy-tipped finger protruded, as it carefully and cautiously widened the opening. The next moment the finger withdrew, and an eye, withdrawn from a smaller hole above, was applied to the larger hole. And the eye was blue!
"Christmas!" cried the attorney, springing to his feet indignantly. "Our listeners are not merely Japanese, it seems."
In vexation he strode to the shoji, shook it angrily, and then savagely pushed it aside.
There was a great fluttering from within. The sliding-doors were now pushed wide apart, showing the inner apartment in its entirety. A bright-hued kimono was disappearing around an angle which led to a long hall, and close upon its heels a girl in a plum-colored kimono tripped and fell to the floor in a heap. Over to her strode the | | 135 two men. She put her head to the mats and crouched in speechless fear and shame.
"What do you want?" the elder one demanded; "and what do you mean by listening at the door like this?"
She spoke with her head still bent to the floor.
"The insignificant one wished only to listen to the voices of the excellencies."
The peculiar quality of her voice struck the men with a familiar tone. It was a voice they had heard but a little time since--but where?
"But some white--somebody with blue eyes was here, too--somebody not Japanese."
"Excellency is augustly mistaken."
Excellency was not augustly mistaken, and if she did not explain immediately, excellency said he would raise the roof.
Whereat she got to her feet very slowly, and lifted her face in strangely tremulous appeal to them. They recognized her instantly.| | 136
"Those abominable blue eyes," she said, "alas, belong unto me." She bowed in humble deprecation.
"What were you doing?"
"Pray, pardon the foolish one. I did follow you to gaze upon you," she said.
Flattered against their will, and fascinated by the girl's peculiar beauty, the men smiled upon her.
"And why did you wish to gaze upon us?"
"Because, excellencies, the humble one wanted to satisfy herself whether the illustrious ones were gods--or--or--"
She retreated from them ever so slightly.
"--or," the younger man repeated--"or what?"
"Devils," she said, in a whisper. They burst into laughter. All their good-nature was restored in a moment.
"And what are we?" inquired the elder man.
"Neither," she said, looking at their | | 137 faces very earnestly. "You only just plain men--just like me--same thing."
"How is it you could not understand our Japanese before, yet you answer us now?"
"My ears were stupid then. They are brighter now," was her paradoxical response.
The elder man turned to the other.
"I've an idea; let's question her. She's a half-caste, apparently, and may be able to help us in the search for the Lorrimer child."
"Give me the first letter. Better make sure of the woman's name. Ah, here it is--Madame A--peculiar, unpronounceable name."
"'Hollyhock' in English," said the younger, looking over his shoulder.
The girl suddenly turned to the strangers.
"Excellencies, I also understand liddle bit Engleesh," she said.
"You do?"| | 138
"Yes. And I also listen to that conversation."
"Which was a very wrong thing to do."
She seemed serious and regarded them with an appealing expression in her eyes.
"Is there really liddle Engleesh girl at Sendai?"
"Yes. Do you know her?"
She shook her head.
"But," she said, "I extremely sorry for her."
"Soach a wicked fadder!"
"Oh no. He's a very fine man."
She continued to shake her head.
"He's got nudder wife now?" she suddenly asked.
"Then he don' also wan' his liddle girl?"
"Oh, but he does. He has no other children and is crazy to find this one."
Hyacinth sighed.| | 139
"Well, I think I go home. Excellencies will pardon me."
"One minute. Do you know somebody--a woman--named--how in the deuce is this pronounced, Madame A-o-i."
"Madame A-o," she repeated, softly. "No, I do not know such name--but--but--my mother, her august name is liddle like that--Madame A-o-i."
The two men started, the same idea occurring in a flash to each.
"Jove!" said the younger, "our search is ended."
The girl stared at them with puzzled eyes. The elder man went a step nearer to her, bent down, and looked very closely at her face.
"Do you know," he said, slowly, "I have a strong suspicion that you--you are the child we are looking for?"
"Me!" she stammered.
With sudden fright her lips parted.
She became snow-white, the color ebbing out from her face under their very eyes. | | 140 Her little hand was placed almost unconsciously over her heart.
"Me!" she repeated, faintly, "that--that liddle Engleesh child! Excellencies make august mistake. You excuse yourselves, if you please! You--"
Trembling she turned from them and moved towards the exit rear. As they followed her she turned her head, looking back at them over her shoulder, fright in her eyes.
Suddenly she made a quick dash forward and plunged blindly into the dark inner corridor. Her footfalls were so light they scarce could hear them, even with their ears strained, but, hastening to the window, they saw her fleeing up the street.
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