- chapter: XXIII
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WITH stealing step morning crept up on Matsushima. The sky had scarcely paled to a slumberous gray ere the soft, yellow streaks of the sun shot upward in the east, tinting all the land with its glow. The morning star was poised on high, as though lingering to watch the sun's awakening. Then, softly, it twinkled out into the vapor.
Hyacinth stirred on her strange couch, her eyelashes quivered sleepily against her cheeks. One little hand opened a moment, then clutched the dew-wet moss. The touch of the unfamiliar grass against her hand startled her, and the girl opened her eyes. They looked upward at the softly bluing sky. A breeze of morning swept across her brow, moving a little truant curl. She | | 205 sat up and stared about her wonderingly. Then remembrance coming to her, she sat still, silently watching the sunrise. For some moments she remained in this absorbed silence. Then mechanically she raised her hands to her head and sought to smooth the soft hair that the breeze had ruffled.
"How still it is!" she said. Then, a moment after, "Heu! the rock is so hard, and it is chilly." She shivered.
Then moving along the rock, she came to the edge and began to clamber down. There were clefts in the rock which Koma had cut as a boy, and she had no difficulty in descending. She dropped to the ground as lightly as a bird. Turning about, a sudden little cry escaped her lips.
She stood as if rooted to the ground, regarding with dilated eyes the figure before her. He did not speak. His eyes were upon her face, and he was watching her startled expression with an eager glance. Then she took a step | | 206 towards him, holding out both her hands.
"Komazawa!" she cried. "It is you!"
He did not touch her outstretched hands, and she shrank back as if struck.
"You, too!" she said, and her hand sought her head bewilderedly.
"I, too?" he repeated, stupidly.
"Yes," she cried. "I understand why you are here, why you do not speak to me and embrace me as of old. Ah, it is all very plain."
"What is very plain?" he asked, still keeping his distance from her.
"Why you are here. They have sent you to find me, to give me over to those strangers. It is cruel, cruel!" she cried, covering her face with her hands.
"It is not true!" he cried, going to her and taking her hands from her face and holding them closely in his own.
She did not seek to release them, but permitted them to remain passively in his, as she looked up into his face through her tears.| | 207
"It is not true," he repeated, softly.
"Yet you were not glad to see me," she said, tremulously.
"Ah, but I was," he replied, in that same soft, subtle voice which, somehow, vaguely thrilled her.
"You did not speak to me."
"Your face--your sudden appearance--startled me; I could not speak for a moment," he said.
"Yet even now," she said, catching her breath, "you do not embrace me."
He dropped her hands slowly and drew back a pace.
"It would not be right--now," he said, huskily.
"I do not understand," she said. "Have we not always embraced each other?"
"We were children before," he said, "but now--embraces are for--for lovers only."
She looked at him a long moment in wondering silence, a slow, pink glow | | 208 spreading gradually over her face. Then she repeated, slowly, almost falteringly:
He turned his eyes away from her face. She put a timid hand upon his arm.
"Yet," she said, "Yamashiro Yoshida was my lover, and--and we did not embrace."
"Ah, no, thank the Heavens!" he cried, impetuously, again possessing himself of her hands. "You were safe from such things here, little one. Yet you have much to learn--much, and I--" His eyes became purple and his chin squared in strong resolution. "I'm going to teach you," he said.
"Teach me?" she faltered. "What will you teach me?"
"The meaning of love," he said, the words escaping him as if he could not control them.
"You will be my lover?" she said, timid wonder in her eyes.
He could not speak for some moments. Then--| | 209
"Ah, what have I been saying? Little one, you do not know, you cannot dream of the extent of your own innocence. I would be less than man if your words did not pierce my heart and thrill my whole being. Yet I am not altogether selfish--no--though I have spent years of my life among those who were so. I will not take advantage of the little one. She shall have every opportunity her birth, her beauty, demands. You will go with your father, Hyacinth. Nay, do not interrupt me. It will be for your good. You must see this other world, to which you rightfully belong. Then when you have come to years of womanhood you can decide for yourself."
"I am already a woman," she said, tremulously.
"Only a child--a little girl," he said, softly ; "a poor little one who has been imprisoned so long she has come to believe her own cage is gilded, and will not take her freedom when the doors are opened."| | 210
Earnestly she looked into his face.
"And if I go to the West country, you, too, will go with me, will you not, Koma?"
He shook his head, smiling sadly.
"No. I would not have the right."
"I will not go, then," she said, simply. "If they should force me I can be as brave as others. I would take my life."
"No, you would not do so, for then you would break our hearts."
"Yet you have no pity for mine," she said, near to tears now.
"Poor little heart!" he whispered, tenderly.
After a moment she inquired, quietly:
"And did you come with my august parent, then?"
"On the same steamer--yes. It was an accidental meeting."
"Ah, then you did not come back for the purpose of helping them?"
"No, I had another purpose. I came to break your betrothal with Yamashiro Yoshida."| | 211
"Well, they have saved you that trouble," she said, sighing.
He regarded her keenly.
"Why do you sigh? You have regrets?"
"Yes," she admitted, "for if they had not cast me off I could have remained in Japan. Now--" Her voice faltered and she turned her head away.
"Now?" he repeated.
"Ah, yes," she said, "I begin to see there is nothing else to be done. I am resigned."
"You are resigned," he repeated, disappointment showing in his transparent face.
"Yes," she said, with a fleeting upward glance at his face.
She suddenly laughed quite merrily.
"Come," she said, "let us go home. I must humbly submit myself to the august will of my honorable parent."
Koma said never a word. Manlike, he was regretting his late words of advised self-sacrifice.
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