- chapter: XVII
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MELANCHOLY now took up its morbid abode in the house of Madame Aoi. Even Mumè felt the pall of its heavy weight, and went about her work no longer complaining loudly, but muttering to herself--shuddering at the silence and shadow that had fallen upon the house. For Aoi, to keep out unwelcome callers, kept the shutters and shoji closed at all times, and the house assumed the aspect of one wherein was illness or sorrow.
But Hyacinth sought solace among her flowers. She kept sedulously to the back of the house, where she knew she would be safe from intrusion. Along the little, white-pebbled paths, which she and Aoi had so cunningly planned among the flower-beds, between the twisted and fantastic trees affected by | | 156 Japanese-garden lovers, she aimlessly wandered.
Meanwhile, the young American attaché fairly haunted the vicinity of Madame Aoi's house. He would spend sometimes an entire morning strolling up and down the street before the house. Indeed, so familiar had his figure become to the neighborhood children that he no longer was molested by them. He had told Mr. Knowles that he was enchanted by the view of the bay Matsushima, but since it was too enervating to walk in the heat such a distance, he preferred watching it afar from the Pinetree Street, whence he obtained the best view possible. The attorney, deep in the preparation of a report and opinion to follow his cable to Mr. Lorrimer, had merely looked up at him keenly a moment, and, marking the ingenuous coloring that flooded the face of the boy, stuck his tongue in his cheek and softly winked. Mr. Knowles was very well satisfied, since young | | 157 Saunders would cease to complain against his enforced stay in this little inland town, so far away from the gay metropolis.
For a week Saunders patiently waited and watched for a glimpse of Hyacinth. But though, in his repeated pilgrimages up and down the street, his pace fell to almost a crawl when he would pass her home, and though he did not, after the first day, hesitate to crane his neck eagerly, and try to see beyond the bushes and trees in the front garden to the portion behind, no glimpse, as yet, had he obtained of the object of his desire. The house, indeed, seemed closed, and but for the fact that once or twice he had seen the fat form of Mumè issue forth on apparent shopping errands, he would have thought the house deserted. Once he had attempted to speak to Mumè, but she had indignantly opened an aggressive parasol squarely in his face, the points of which he had barely escaped.
Saunders became desperate. He told | | 158 himself that he had no intention whatever of allowing a fat little servant to stand in his way, nor was he to be abashed by the haughty dignity of one so completely bewitching as was this little Hyacinth.
Hence, one morning in June, Mr. Saunders came down the Pinetree Street with a much swifter and more dogged step than usual. Reaching Madame Aoi's house, he did not even linger, but, pushing the gate aside, intrepidly entered the hostile country. He was cautious, however, and, mindful of his previous visit, he turned aside from the path which led to the front threshold, and made his way softly around the side of the house. His bravery was usually short-lived, and, though possibly he would not have admitted it, his heart was thumping, and he bore the aspect of a thief, as, creeping stealthily in the shadow of the trees, he plunged ahead. He had had a purpose in mind when he started--the brave one of penetrating the back of the house. | | 159 Experience had taught him that the Japanese practically lived in this part of their house, and that the garden, unseen from the front, was where they were likely to be found. Yet he had the natural contempt of the Japanese idea of privacy. He could not accept the fact that in most personal matters of life they appeared to be almost ignorant of the word privacy.
His surmises were correct. He came upon a member of the family almost as soon as he reached the back garden. Hyacinth was sitting on the moss-grown shelf of an old well and looking at the reflection of her face listlessly, perhaps unseeingly, in the dark water beneath. She made a pretty picture, as, startled by the sudden appearance of the young man, she slipped to the ground and faced him. Her eyes were wide, half with fright, half with growing anger, and from being pale she flushed vividly red. Her voice was harsh and strained when, after a moment, she spoke.| | 160
"What do you want?"
This time she did not even give him the title of "honorable sir."
"I wanted to see you," he said, truthfully.
"You come like a thief," she said. "Is that the custom of the barbarian?"
"I beg your pardon, but really--the fact is--I hoped this way to avoid an encounter with your servant."
She made a scornful movement towards the house, but he sprang before her and barred her passage.
"See here--Miss Lorrimer--I hope you will listen to me. I know I seem to have acted atrociously, but really--"
"Have you some business to speak to my honorable mother?" she inquired, boldly.
"No--I confess I have not--but I wanted--to become acquainted with you."
After that an uncomfortable pause ensued. The girl appeared to be turn- | | 161 ing the matter over in her mind. Then she said:
"Why do you wish make acquaintance with me?"
Simple as her question was, it appeared to have glowing possibilities to the eager Saunders.
"Because," he said, "you are so lovely. Do you know--"
She interrupted him.
"Is that the manner in which your country people address maidens?" she asked, with more curiosity than offence.
"Yes--that is, sometimes--when they mean it, and the girl is lovely, as you are."
"But," she said, "it is augustly rude to tell me so."
"Oh no; you wouldn't think so if you understood."
"I understand," she said.
"I mean, if you understood our point of view."
"Understand it," she repeated, "but I despise it." Then, after a slight pause, | | 162 very earnestly: "I am a Japanese; we are not so uncouth and rude in our intercourse with strangers."
"I wish you would not regard me as a stranger."
She looked puzzled.
"Not regard you as a stranger!" she repeated.
"No. I wish you'd look upon me as a friend; one who admires you and wants to--to do something for you."
"But you are not my friend," she said. Then, catching her breath a moment, she added, "You are an enemy."
"I!" He was very much pained. He an enemy to this charming young girl!
"Yes, yes," she said, with some vehemence. "You come here into our peaceful home and in one day--one minute--you break it all up, bring distress and pain upon us. You have no fine sense; you cannot even be insulted. You come again, again, perhaps again, though your presence we do not desire--"| | 163
She stopped short suddenly; her underlip quivered, and she bit it nervously with little, white teeth. She turned her back half towards young Saunders, and he could see from her trembling that she was on the verge of tears. He could only falter very earnestly:
"I am very sorry--very sorry."
She did not speak again, and for some time they stood in silence, she with her head drooping away from him and he watching her eagerly. He knew she was waiting for him to go, and he was waiting for her to turn to him again. He wanted to see her eyes, those eyes which had flashed at him so wrathfully and then had become so suddenly misty and piteous.
"Will you not at least tell me," he said, "that you will pardon--forgive me for--for my intrusion--"
"I am very unhappy," she said, still with her face turned from him. "I am not in condition to see any one--friends--strangers-any one. You have made | | 164 me so miserable I--I pray to the gods sometimes that I might die."
She slipped to the ground and buried her face in her arms on the little stone shelf of the well.
Now, the young attaché was really a good-hearted boy, in spite of his frivolity; and the sight of the little, sobbing figure touched him. He stood in a confusion of discomfort and remorse, while strange little waves and thrills of tender emotion swept over him and rendered him still more helpless.
He was too stupid to comprehend the cause of the girl's wretchedness, and he was very young. Consequently, he actually experienced a thrill of vague pleasure at the thought that in some way his attractive personality was responsible for Hyacinth's distress.
But while he stood hesitating and perspiring from sheer excitement, he became suddenly conscious of the fact that some one was coming from the house towards them. Aoi came hur- | | 165 riedly across the grass. She paused a moment, startled at the sight of the young foreigner in their private gardens. Then she saw the crouching girl, and in a moment comprehended the situation.
Poor, simple, amiable Aoi! Possibly never in all her life before had such violent feelings assailed her. She turned upon the intruder with flashing eyes.
"You come here! You make my daughter weep! You are bad lot. Leave my grounds or I will have you arrested!"
"Madame Aoi," he protested, "I assure you that I meant no offence, but--"
Hyacinth had slowly risen to her feet. She put her arm gently about Aoi's shoulder.
"Do not speak the words to him, mother," she said, in Japanese. "He did not mean to make me weep."
Aoi was quieted in an instant. She still looked uncertainly, however, at the stranger.
A sudden idea seemed to come to her | | 166 mind. She went a hesitating step nearer to Saunders and raised her face to his, while her eyes searched his face. She said:
"You come to see me, august sir, or--or--my daughter?"
He flushed uncomfortably, but indicated, with a slight nod of his head, the young girl.
Aoi's eyes narrowed curiously. Her trembling lips compressed themselves into a stiff, rigid line. When she spoke her voice was quite hoarse.
"In Japan," she said, "a young man does not visit a maiden unless he is her lover."
Saunders swung his stick uneasily.
"I am an American," he said, lamely.
"Yes," said Aoi. "You are American, and because that is so your visit to my daughter is an insult."
"No, I protest," he said, warmly.
"You came for business?"
"No--but--"| | 167
"You came to make that love to her--yes--it is so?"
Aoi stretched out her slim arm and pointed to the path leading to the front of the house. The gesture could have but one meaning. Young Saunders flushed angrily.
"This is a deuce of a way to take a fellow's attentions," he said, half to himself. "Why, I declare, I meant no harm."
Aoi smiled incredulously.
"I am old," she said, slowly; and at her flushed, almost youthful, face the young man smiled involuntarily. But she repeated her words: "I am old with experience, Mister--sir--and because I was the wife of an Englishman, I know from him the evil meant by such attention as yours to a maiden of Japan."
"But she is not Japanese," he burst out; "I never for a moment thought of her as such."
His words staggered Aoi. In her zeal | | 168 to protect the girl from the overtures of this foreigner she had forgotten the facts of the girl's birth. She became agitated. Her hands fell helplessly to her knees as she bent brokenly forward. With her head bowed, she spoke in a plaintive voice:
"The humble one craves the pardon of the illustrious sir. But will he not condescend to depart?"
Somewhat irritated and provoked, rather sulkily he turned towards the path and slowly, unwillingly, left the garden.
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