- chapter: XXVII
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"HURRY down to Takashima, Taro, and tell him he must send us without fail two large cases of the best and brightest fire-flies. Now, remember, they must be delivered by to-morrow morning at latest."
"Can't we bring them back, grandma?" queried Taro.
"No, oh no, you might break the netting and the flies escape. Where is Beely?"
"Here I am, gam," answered the boy from his place on the back piazza. He was engaged in pasting carefully in a scrap-book several newspaper pictures of his step-father.| | 237
"Beely," said Madame Sano, speaking now in English, "you must go down to the river and get all the white pebbles and shells you can find. Fill up your sleeves full."
"Aw right, gam," said the boy, obediently, though he left his fascinating book reluctantly.
"What d'ye want with them, gam?"
"For the flower-beds I desire. You would not have them look shabby when your honorable father comes."
Billy sauntered off on his errand, whistling, overtook Taro, and they raced down the street, Taro in the lead.
"Marion!" the grandmother called up the little stairway. In answer to the call she came running.
"Where's those bamboo palms?"| | 238
"I'll get them. Do you want them now?"
Madame Sano took them from her and showed the little girl how to dust the eaves with them.
"Bamboo means long life," she explained. "I always clean the house with them, and the gods will deign long life to give."
"The gods!" gasped Marion, reproachfully. "Oh, grandmamma!"
Madame Sano's withered little face turned rosy. She had been from girlhood a Christian, as she was proud to say.
"I speak, my child," she explained, "only poetically, not religiously."
"Oh," said Marion, dubiously; then after a moment of silent work she stopped and regarded the old woman earnestly.| | 239
"Dear grandma, you aren't a heathen, are you?"
"Dear grandma" grunted, but went on with her work, her little old face puckered into a rather disdainful expression.
"Are you, grandma?" pleaded Marion.
"Little girls make foolish question," she answered finally, crossly.
"Well, are you a Christian, dear grandma?" persisted Marion.
"Certainly I am," replied the old lady, with dignity.
Marion kissed her impulsively, whereupon she declared that the little girl was honorably rude, and no help at all.
"Join your sisters for flowers," she ordered.
"Shall we want so many flowers for the house, grandma?" asked Marion.| | 240
"No, no, no. Only one small bunch for house."
"The flowers are for the honorable picnic booth. It must have plenty."
"O--o-h! Why, grandma, it's just covered heavy with wistarias now--"
"Such a talk-child! Hush! Go at once."
The little girl obeyed this time, though she thrust a mischievous face back between the shoji for a moment.
"Grandma," she called, "I'm going to take a wagon along and fill it. Will that be enough?"
"Go, go, naughty one!" and the naughty one fled.
On this day the Kurukawa house seemed alive with busy ones. In every room some one was moving about. Many of the old servants had been recalled. From the top to the bottom of the house work was in | | 241 progress. The shoji of the entire upper floor had been pushed aside, making a sort of roofed pavilion of this upper level. The little balconies were heaped with flowers and green trailing vines were threaded in and out among the railings. The long, bare expanse of exquisite matted floor needed no relief of furniture. This cool interior was the most attractive place imaginable. From all sides the breezes swept in, making it delightfully cool. Madame Sano bustled about the place throwing mats about.
Here the family would dine this day. The outlook was picturesque, for one could see the blooming country and the blue fields and hills, and nestling in its heart the little village.
This was the floor on which the children slept. It was only the work of a few minutes to slip the sliding- | | 242 walls back into place again. Japanese beds need no making. On the second floor Madame Sano had been most busy. How the chamber of the okusama shone! The long, white, foreign bed seemed not at all out of place in the room. It was the only furniture Mrs. Kurukawa had brought with her. She used the little toilet-boxes of Japan, and there were several bamboo chairs and one small rocker her husband had bought for her in Yokohama.
The room was sweet with the odor of some faint perfume. Perhaps it was only the sandal-wood of the toilet-boxes, or the odor of sweet-smelling incense which had recently been burned to purify the house. There was not a speck of dust on the floor. Even Madame Sano, from whose sharp little eyes nothing seemed to escape, seemed satisfied as she | | 243 drew the sliding-doors in place and descended to the lower floor.
In the guest-room a maid was polishing something round and dark golden in color. It was very ancient and beautiful, an old hibachi, highly prized by the master of the house. A serving-boy stood waiting at the tokonoma. He handed Madame Sano reverently the things he had brought from the go-down.
She did not put the kakemona in place, but left it on a stand, for there was much else to see before she could spare the time for the tokonoma, always the last and pleasantest task. Besides, she had promised Plum Blossom the task of flower arrangement in the ancient house, and the hanging of the scroll.
A visit to the kitchen revealed the fact that the cook and four assistants were deep in the preparation of | | 244 meal which promised to be perfect in its excellence.
Madame Sano felt and smelled of every bit of fish and meat, of fruit and vegetable, to see that everything was fresh. She condescended to speak a word of praise to the cook, an old man long in the service of the family.
"Choice marketing is an art, excellent Taguchi. Worthily you excel."
The cook bowed with the grace of an old-time courtier, his face wreathed in smiles. Did the elderly grandmother believe that the okusama would deign to be satisfied?
The okusama would be honorably pleased, indeed, Madame Sano assured him. She left the kitchen helpers in a glow, and outside the door listened, her old face smiling to their happy chatter within.| | 245
"Hah! the master always liked his fish just so. If I give one more beat to the fish it will be spoiled. These cakes are ready now for frying."
"The master," said another, "has not eaten civilized food for many moons. These rice-balls will water his palate."
A woman's voice broke in shrilly.
"Okusama will ask for the sugarcoated beans first of all. Look at these, fresh as if growing. Think of the pleasure of her tongue."
"Talk less, work more," came the admonishing voice of the old chief cook. For a moment there was silence, then a woman's voice broke into song, and the song she sang was of war, furious, glorious war!
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