- chapter: XVI
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AFTER the departure of the strangers, Aoi and Hyacinth, clinging to each other, had gone to the young girl's chamber, where they had shut themselves in alone. The suddenness of the blow had robbed them of the power of even talking it over. The tension of the strain might have been relieved had they done so. But they sat in silence together throughout the night. Aoi appeared to be dazed, stunned, while the feelings of the girl were mixed. The phantoms of her ever-active mind were tangled, but painful. She was to be torn by force from her home--to be taken away from all she loved--she would never see Aoi again--Aoi, her mother, whom she loved deeply, devotedly.
She would be carried away to a | | 148 country where the people lived like barbarians and beasts--a country barren of beauty--cold, cruel. All this the misguided sensei had told her more than once. She felt sure she would languish and become mortally sick there, if she ever reached that distant country. But how would she cross the great, horrible ocean that lay between? Yes, she was quite sure she would die before she reached that America; and she did not want to die. Life had been very sweet for her, and she was so young.
Slow tears of self-pity slipped from her eyes and dropped upon her little, clasped hands. She looked across at the immovable figure of Aoi sitting in the dusky room before her like a statue. She wondered vaguely what Aoi was thinking about. How she did love that dear, small mother. She moved a pace closer to her. Aoi parted her lips as if to speak, then closed them, as though words failed her. Hyacinth covered her face with her hands.| | 149
How long they sat thus together she could not have told. Her thoughts had become blurred and distant.
Later, when Aoi roused herself from her own painful self-communings, she perceived that the young girl had fallen asleep. Her little head rested uncertainly against the wall-panelling, and Aoi saw the undried tears still upon the white, childish face. She gently placed a pillow beneath the girl's head, and softly threw over her the slumber-robe. Then she extinguished the one andon which had dimly lighted the room. She did not, however, retire to her own chamber that night, but lay down beside the girl, creeping under the same robe which covered her.
The following morning brought one of the unwelcome strangers again to the house of Madame Aoi. He was the younger one of the two, and had stood by silently while his companion explained the motive of their call.
Mumè had seen him lingering and | | 150 hesitating at the gate of the garden for some time before he suddenly pushed it open and walked a few paces swiftly up the path, paused in thought a moment, and then continued to the house. He had evidently expected at least a polite reception, and was much disconcerted when the scowling face of the now hostile Mumè confronted him at the threshold. This Oriental virago deigned at first no word of question as to the desire of the caller, but when he had stammeringly stated in uncertain Japanese that the object of his visit was to see Madame Aoi, she broke out into vigorous and violent Japanese abuse.
What did this devil of a barbarian want? How dared he soil the threshold of her august mistress's house. All the fiends of Hades were pestering them lately, it seemed, but she, Mumè, was not to be frightened by any such fiends as he. He had scared the little one and her mother quite speechless. She, Mumè, would defend them from further violence | | 151 at his hands, and he had better begone at once, or she would set the whole community upon him and have him stoned and beaten.
In the midst of this harangue she was interrupted by the interposition of Hyacinth, who had arrived upon the scene and had stood silently in the background for some time quietly listening to the fluent Mumè. Then she stepped forward and spoke a few, low words in Japanese to Mumè. The young man could not have told from the expression of her face whether she had reproved the servant or not. When the angry Mumè, muttering and scowling at every retreating step, had disappeared, the girl turned questioningly to the caller. She did not invite him to enter, and though her words were courteous, he thought her eyes antagonistic. He noticed, too, that there were shadows beneath the eyes, and that she was very pale. As he continued to gaze at her face she slowly and unwillingly flushed.| | 152
"Your business, honorable sir; what is it you desire?"
"You'll excuse me, I'm sure, but I came over--er--I came over by request of Mr. Knowles. You remember Mr. Knowles?"
He paused to gain time, still hoping she would bid him enter. But the expression of her face was coldly forbidding, and at his question she merely inclined her head with the faintest, most frigid smile on her lips. It seemed to the anxious young man that she must see through his flimsy ruse. As a matter of fact, all she thought was that here again was that odious stranger. Were the gods going to pester her forever with their company? The thought nauseated and embittered her.
"You see--Miss--er--if you will allow me a moment of your time," the young man stammered, "I can easily explain."
Again she inclined her head without speaking, as though she conceded the | | 153 moment of time, but had no intention that it should be granted anywhere else. He marvelled that the deliciously blushing and ingenuously coquettish girl of the previous day could have changed to this cold and impassive little stiff figure with the dignity of a woman.
"Mr. Knowles, you see, being a great friend of your father--and mine--we naturally feel that--er--we both wish to express our--our--respects for his daughter."
"Thangs," she said; laconically.
"And if you would do me the honor," he added, taking courage from the one word she had allowed herself, "we would like very much to have you and--of course--your--Madame--A-ah--" he floundered, hopelessly.
"Madame Aoi," said the girl, distantly.
He could not have told how he had happened to invite them to dinner. Certainly it wouldn't do to have them come at once. There was the attorney to be considered--Mr. Knowles--who knew | | 154 nothing of his visit, and might, after all, disapprove of it.
"We'll send you word just when to come," he concluded, lamely.
He saw her lip curl disdainfully, and guessed aright that she was thinking him atrociously uncouth and rude in delivering so ambiguous an invitation. She said:
"We are ten million times grateful--but we don' can come--"
She paused ominously a moment, then slightly moving backward into the hall, she said:
"That's all your business--yes?"
"Yes," he said, confounded.
She closed the sliding-doors between and left him standing there facing it without.
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