- chapter: III
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WHILE the husband assisted the children and nurse to alight from the jiririkishas, Mrs. Kurukawa the second stood looking about her.
She was a little woman, possibly thirty-five years old. Her face was expressive, showing a somewhat shy and timid nature. Her large, brown eyes had a look of appeal in them as she turned them towards her husband. He smiled reassuringly and put an affectionate hand upon her arm. Immediately her momentary restraint and fear left her.
"Is this the famous Plum Blossom Avenue?" she asked, indicating the | | 26 budding trees under which they now passed, and which served as an exquisite pathway through the garden.
"This is Plum Blossom Avenue," replied her husband, "and as you see, I keep my promise. You know I cabled to Japan to have the plum blossoms all in bud for us when we should arrive."
"How good of you!" she laughed. "Just as if you didn't know they bloom at the end of March! But where are the children? You also promised that they would be under the trees waiting for us."
Mr. Kurukawa looked a bit worried.
"It's strange," he said. "Ah, here come my mother and father-in-law."
His first wife's father and mother hastened down the path to meet them.
To the delight of the little American children, the old man and woman | | 27 favored them with the most wonderful bows they had ever seen. In fact, the boy afterwards insisted that the old man's bald head had literally touched his own boots.
The new wife held out both her bands with a pretty impulse.
"Oh," she said, "I have heard all about you--how very, very good you have been to the children."
The old couple did not quite understand what she said, but feeling assured that it was something complimentary, they began a fresh series of bows, repeating over and over again one of the English words they had learned.
"Thangs, thangs, very thangs."
Mr. Kurukawa now inquired anxiously for his children. He had certainly expected they would be at the gate to meet them. The grandmother explained that only a mo- | | 28 ment before the two little boys had been with her, and she had sent immediately for the little girls. But just as they came to the door the little boys had run away in fright, and were now shyly hiding somewhere.
"Gozo? What of Gozo?"
The two old people looked at each other. They did not know what to say.
"Pray come into the house, my son," said Madame Sano. "We can better speak there."
They had been talking in Japanese. Noting her husband's look of worry, Mrs. Kurukawa anxiously inquired the reason. Without explaining, he led her into the house. As they entered they were startled by the strange sound that greeted them. It was like the sharp sigh of a wind in an empty house. In reality it | | 29 was the panic-stricken flight from the hallway of the children of Mr. Kurukawa.
Grouped closely together, the four children and Miss Summer had retreated to the far end of the hall, where they awaited the advent of the dreaded "barbarian" stepmother, for such Gozo had made them believe she must be. For many months they had conjured up in imagination pictures of their stepmother and her children.
They had seen but one foreigner in their town, the missionary, who had been their teacher. Him they had held in as much awe and fear as they would a strange animal.
Now their father appeared in the hall, holding by the arm what seemed to the children a most extraordinary looking creature, while behind them came, hand in hand, the strangest | | 30 looking little boy and girl, with eyes so big that Plum Blossom thought them like those of a goblin. The face, however, which frightened them most was that of the Irish nurse, who bore the baby in her arms. The children gazed only a moment at this outlandish group; then with one accord they fled, each in a different direction.
The strangers coming from the out-door sunlight into the darkened hall had barely time to see the children ere they were gone. They had a hazy glimpse of a patch of color at the end of the hall, and then its sudden, wild dispersion. For a moment they stood looking about them in blank astonishment. Suddenly Mr. Kurukawa, who was ebullient with humor and good-nature, burst into laughter. He laughed so hard, indeed, that his wife, the children, and | | 31 the nurse joined him. This unusual mirth in the house brought the children cautiously back, too curious and inquisitive to withstand the novelty of the situation.
Through the paper walls little fingers were cautiously thrust; little black eyes peered at the new-comers from behind these frail retrenchments.
When his mirth had subsided, Mr. Kurukawa favored his wife with a sly wink, and then quick as a flash he pushed back one of the shojis, disclosing the little figure behind it. He lifted it up by the bow of its obi. Something strange stuck closely to it and invited the gaze of Mrs. Kurukawa. It was the corset!
At the same time the father perceived it, and, pulling it off, held it aloft.
"Ah, ha!" he cried, "here is surely a little flag of truce."| | 32
He threw it aside and caught the little, trembling Plum Blossom in his arms, hugging her tightly. She hid her face in his bosom. After a time he set her down upon the floor.
"This," he said, "is Plum Blossom. In America she would be called Roly-poly--she is so fat, and, like her father, good-natured," and he pinched her cheek. "Go now," he bade her, "and kiss your new mother."
She went obediently, but with fear in her eyes, towards Mrs. Kurukawa. The latter knelt and held out both her arms. She was crying a bit, and possibly it was the tears and the sweet sound of her voice that won Plum Blossom. She tried to remember the speech she had learned, but the only words that came to her lips were:
"Come agin," and this she kept | | 33 mechanically reiterating. "Come agin--come agin--come agin."
Here it is painful to relate that the young son of Mrs. Kurukawa chose to make himself heard in uncouth American slang. Billy spoke almost reflectively, as if he had heard that "Come agin" somewhere before. "Come agin, on agin, gone agin, Finnegan!" said Billy, promptly.
"Oh, Billy, hush!" said his mother, reprovingly, but Plum Blossoms' face radiated. Here was a kindred spirit, one who had repeated her own words. "Come agin," and then possibly finer ones.
Meanwhile, Iris, showing first a curious little topknot, gradually projected her head, and then her whole body through the dividing doors. She stood in the opening greedily watching Plum Blossom. Half hidden behind her scanty little skirt, | | 34 the small, fat face of Juji peered. Though no one so far had seen him, Juji, with the usual consciousness of two and a half years, was alternately showing and then hiding his face, being divided between a desire to stand joyfully on his head, or indulge in one of his famous roars. Iris, edging farther into the room, drew him after her. Mrs. Kurukawa perceived them. On the instant Juji sank to the floor, impeding the further progress of his sister by clinging to her legs.
"Oh, the darling little boy!" cried the little American girl, and ran to him to lift him up. Juji's lip began to protrude ominously. Plum Blossom sprang into the breach.
"Juji! Juji!" she cried, in motherly Japanese, "don't cry! Good boy! Give nice present to--l-lady!"
Whereupon Juji held out a grimy | | 35 little hand, from which Plum Blossom extracted a crumpled paper package. She presented it to Mrs. Kurukawa with a smiling bow.
"Peanut!" said she, in English; "nize. For you!" She had remembered the words now.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, darling," said Mrs. Kurukawa. Wishing to show her delight in the gift, she added:
"Come, we will all have some."
She emptied the contents into her lap, then stared for a moment. Gradually her astonishment changed to laughter.
The package contained only shells. Juji had eaten the peanuts.
Plum Blossom and Iris felt completely disgraced. Iris, from the shelter of her father's arms, whither she had gone, now flew towards the wicked Juji.
"Oh, the bad boy!" she cried.| | 36
Jujis lip broke. One of his terrific roars ensued. He was borne from the room by the humiliated little girls.
"And now," said Mr. Kurukawa, rubbing his hands and speaking in a loud voice: "Where are my sons? Taro!" he called.
Promptly the boy answered. He came literally tumbling into the hall, which, with the panels pushed aside, had now become a large room.
Taro's eyes evaded his father. For some time he had been watching intently the American boy from his peep-hole in the paper shoji. As he appeared at the call of his father, his eyes were still riveted upon his hated rival. Suddenly he made a catlike spring in the boy's direction and landed sprawling on Billy's chest. For the astonished Billy, tripped unawares, was lying on his back. A great flame of indignation, and yet | | 37 almost unwilling admiration, stirred within the heart of the prize fighter of a certain Chicago school.
Could it be possible that this little mite of a Jap was sitting victoriously on his chest? He growled and moved a bit, but Taro, wildly trying to keep in mind the few jiu-jitsu tricks he had lately learned, touched the boy's arm in a sensitive place.
Billy rose like a lion shaking off a troublesome cub. As Taro caught him about the calf of his leg, Billy reached down and took the little Japanese boy by the waist and coolly tucked him under his arm; then he marched up and down, singing at the top of his voice:
Riding on a pony--
Took a little Jappy Jap
Who was a bit too funny!"
Here it may he well to explain that Billy, besides being the prize fighter of his school, was also the class poet.
Mrs. Kurukawa rescued the little "Jappy Jap" from her big son's hands, and gave the latter a reproving look, saying:
"Oh, Billy, is that the way to treat your little brother?"
"Well, mother," protested Billy, "he did get funny, now didn't he, father?" He appealed to Mr. Kurukawa, who was patting the ruffled head of the discomfited and conquered jiu-jitsu student.
Taro's expression had undergone a change. In his little black eyes a gleam of respect for Billy might have been seen. Suddenly he nodded his head significantly, and made a motion of his hand towards the garden, signifying in boy language the invitation:| | 39
"Come outside. I'll show you some things."
Out they wandered together, excellent friends at once.
"Sa-ay," said Taro, pausing on the brink of his own private garden brook, "you--you," he touched Billy with a stiff little finger--"you--Gozo!"
Billy was at a loss to understand what "say--you--Gozo!" could mean, but he liked the look on Taro's face, so grinned and said: "Me--Gozo." Taro nodded. He had paid Billy the highest compliment in his power, likening him to the hero of the Kurukawa family, the great, elder brother Gozo.
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