- chapter: XXI
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MADAME Aoi was fluttering from room to room, her face anxious, her whole being disturbed and agitated. Although she knew that the expected guests might arrive at any minute, she could not remain still a moment.
In and out of Hyacinth's chamber she wandered, distracted, and with the yearning pain of a mother wringing her heart. The little room, with its dainty, pretty mattings, its exquisite panellings, seemed to reflect the personality of the loved one who had left her to bitter loneliness. Even the sunlight seemed less golden now that she was gone, and the dressing-table, with its mirror, propped up by a lacquer stick behind it, had a forlorn appearance.
Everything about the chamber, about | | 189 the whole house, bore a deserted aspect. Aoi was not one given to the indulgence of tears, but her quiet pain was all the more acute. Her appealing face was drawn and devoid of all color. The anguish of her heart was manifest in her eyes and in her quivering lips.
Once she opened the panelling and looked for a moment within at the clothes of the dead mother. She drew back the panel almost sharply. The sight of those dumb, silent articles struck her with a nameless horror. Woman-like, she recalled the face of the one to whom they had belonged. Then she began to conjure up fancies of what this mother would have desired her to do with her child. And the face which returned to her memory seemed, somehow, to reproach her with its sad and melancholy eyes.
For the first time since she had adopted Hyacinth, poor, childish Aoi began to doubt whether she had done right. Did not the little one, after all, belong to | | 190 these people? Was it not, therefore, wrong to have kept her in ignorance of them, and permitted her to grow to maidenhood after the fashion of a Japanese girl? This emotional arraignment caused Aoi anguish.
Time now hung heavily upon her; the minutes seemed to creep. She stared out at the graying sky, and wondered where the little one was now. At that moment Hyacinth had halted in her pilgrimage on the shore of the bay to gaze upon the same sunset, wistfully, yearningly.
The sight of the fading day aroused a fear in the breast of the watching Aoi. She sprang to her feet, smoothed her gown with hasty, trembling hands, and moved towards the street door.
She would go to the mission-house people and tell her story. They might assist her, advise her what course to pursue. They had always taken deep interest in the little one. Perhaps they, too, loved her. Oh, if anything should | | 191 happen to her, out there in the darkness of the hills!
Aoi had hardly reached the foot of the little spiral stairs when there were sharp rappings upon the door. With her hand pressed tight to her fluttering heart, she hastened forward. Without waiting for the slow Mumè to answer the summons, she pushed the door aside.
Then she stood still, dumbly, on the threshold. The next instant Komazawa had seized her in his arms and was covering her face with kisses. Against her son's breast she began to sob in a helpless, hopeless fashion, piteous to see.
He, with his arm close about her, comforted softly, and then turning to the strangers who were with him, he said, quietly:
"You see my unexpected arrival has upset my mother. You must excuse the welcome. But, come, let us enter."
The man and woman, exchanging | | 192 glances, followed the young man and his mother into the guest-room.
The woman was tall and had once been pretty. She was faded now, and her blond hair was dull and streaked, showing the effects of having once been bleached. The man was well preserved, but bore the evidence of rich living in the somewhat reddened and bloated appearance of eyes and cheeks. His hair was gray and he wore a short imperial. Just now his expression was one of extreme uneasiness. His lips twitched nervously, and his brow was drawn. He had long, slender, white hands, the fingers nicotine stained. He had a straight, military figure, and was dressed in a rather outré manner.
Aoi regarded him with undisguised fearfulness. She had no notion who these strangers could be, yet there was something in the man's restless attitude that aroused her apprehensions. She turned anxiously to her son. He was grave and pale.| | 193
"Mother," he said, "this is Mr. and Mrs. Lorrimer. You have been expecting them, I believe."
Aoi was so moved that she could only bow feebly to her visitors.
Her son's voice was low and, to her agitated fancy, strained.
"Mother," he said, "why was I not informed of the claims made by--Mr. Lorrimer?"
"Oh, son, I feared to tell you," she replied, tremulously; "the little one besought me not to do so."
"It was only by accident," he said, "that I learned the facts. We happened to cross on the same steamer, and, somehow, Mr. Lorrimer confided in me."
Aoi clung to her son's hand, but she did not speak. Her face was raised to his as though she listened eagerly to every word he uttered.
"I came back to Japan," he said, "for another purpose--to prevent, if I could, Hyacinth's marriage. It was entirely without my approval. I consider her | | 194 little more than a child. However, I shortly discovered that I had no right to dictate to her even in this matter. Her father--" He indicated, slightly, Mr. Lorrimer, who seized the opportunity to step forward.
He spoke jerkily and somewhat impatiently.
"It seems to me that we are wasting time. You will, I am sure, perceive my intense anxiety to see my--er--daughter."
"I beg your pardon for detaining you. It was very stupid of me." Komazawa turned back to Aoi.
"Where is she, mother?" he asked, simply.
Silently Aoi shook her drooped head. She could not speak.
"Where is she?" repeated Koma, now with a slight thrill of apprehension in his voice.
Still that silent, drooping little figure, with its bowed head and lips that refused to speak.| | 195
The shadows deepened in the room, and without the skies were darkening.
Aoi raised her head, shivered, and looked about her dazedly. Then suddenly she clapped her hands mechanically.
She was sending for the girl, thought the other three, as they waited in tense silence for a response to her summons. But when Mumè thrust in her fat, reddened face, Aoi only mechanically said:
"Lights, honorable maid."
Koma placed his hand heavily on her shoulder.
"Mother," he said, "you do not make me answer. Where is Hyacinth?"
"Gone," said Aoi, faintly.
"Gone! What do you mean?"
"Ah, excellencies," she cried, turning to the visitors and speaking in broken English, "the liddle one's heart broke at thought of leaving her home. She is still but a child, and she had a child's fear of meeting--of meeting strangers, | | 196 and so--and so--she went, excellencies, she--"
"Ran away," said the woman. "Well, what do you think of that?" She turned her lip ever so slightly, pushing the point of her parasol into Aoi's immaculate matting. "Runs in the family, apparently," she said.
Ignoring her utterly, Mr. Lorrimer addressed Aoi in a hoarse voice:
"When did she go, and where? You must know."
"She went, illustrious excellency, only a little while ago."
"Where? You know?"
"Nay, I do not know, save that she has gone to the hills. But, oh, excellency, there are so many hills, so large, so dense! Can we find the one ant by searching in its hill? Who can find the little one among the monstrous hills?"
"I can," said Komazawa, stepping forward suddenly.
Aoi rushed to him frantically.
"Oh, son," she cried, in Japanese, "do | | 197 not assist these strangers. Do not track the little one to give her to them. You will not take part with them against us?"
"Mother," he answered, in Japanese, "you do wrong in speaking thus. You misjudge me. It is not to assist these people I would search for her. No, though they had a thousand claims on her. But I must go to save her from herself. The cliffs on the hills are perilous, and the night would frighten the little one. It is for that reason I would seek her."
He caught up his hat and made to leave the room, but again his mother stayed him.
"Oh, son, in such a garb you would frighten the little one."
He paused in thought a moment, then turned in the opposite direction.
"It is true. My room--it is as ever?"
"As ever, son. Always awaiting thy return."
He vanished through the folding | | 198 doors. They heard him speeding rapidly up the stairs.
"Where has he gone?" asked Mrs. Lorrimer, sharply.
"To arrange his dress," the Japanese woman answered, without raising her head.
"Oh, such folly!" she cried, angrily. "There is no time to be lost. He should start at once. What shall we do?"
This last question she shot at her husband, who was staring miserably before him.
"I don't know, I'm sure," he said, dejectedly. "I declare, I'm quite--quite done up."
"Well, I know what to do," she said. "We must look up those mission-house people and have a search-party sent out at once. We can get no satisfaction from these people. Come."
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