(With acknowledgments to Heroichiro Myderco)
I dreamed of us as eagles in the air,
Adventurers through lightning-riven space,
Children of danger -- for you seemed to wear
Her careless colors in your laughing face;
I thought of us met high above the press
Of common hopes and fears, too swiftly daring
To forfeit our own storm-bright happiness,
And what our doom might be, too little caring!
Will nothing less content me? No, not me --
Who too familiar am with wind and star
To have much patience with mortality.
Will you put off this human guise, unbar
Your strong-winged spirit to the realms of sky?
You will not, Sweet? Forgive me -- and good-by.
to explain Greenwich Village to our Japanese friend. We said that
it represented the revolt of modern youth against tribal custom.
And of us all, Fan was the most eloquent, remembering her twenty-odd
of imprisonment in the quaint respectability of a Southern town.
The war, which had upset so many things throughout the world, had
its disturbing influences even into the town of Shiloh, sufficiently to
permit this daughter of an old family to come to New York and try to
a living. In that respect her adventure had not been so far a
success. She had found and lost one tiny job after another, but
had stuck it out for nearly a year, with the assistance of some kind of
allowance from her family. But there were compensations; once in
New York, she had flown like a bird to Greenwich Village and found
a lover. Carlo was one of our most talented young artists, and a
charming fellow. It was in the studio which they jointly occupied
that we were having this discussion. Carlo's canvasses -- he had
done a great deal of very good work during this last year -- were
against the walls; and there were dozens of gayly colored pillows
all over the floor, upon which we now lounged in conversation, sipping
our iced drinks. Fan had chosen for their studio-home a location
on a back street of which the name was not yet associated in the
with Greenwich Village -- so that her address would not cause alarm
at home. For Greenwich Village and its lawless freedoms had been
all too well advertised throughout the nation by shocked moralists; Fan
herself, immersed in Shiloh, had received her most definite information
about it from a sermon by the Episcopal rector, who related as a sign
these decadent and godless times the fact that in Greenwich Village
people kept house together without being married, and -- worse, if that
were possible -- separated without asking anybody's permission!
then and there, "Fan told us in her soft Southern voice, "I resolved to
come to Greenwich Village." In the whole history of the town, she
said, there had been but one divorce; and people were still talking
it, though it had happened ten years ago. Nobody, meanwhile,
of the misery, the cruelty, the wretchedness of marriages like her
and mother's. Such things were taken for granted! No
then, that this beautiful, idle girl, bred up for marriage, had managed
to reach the age of twenty still unwed; and no wonder that, without any
intellectual background, she had nevertheless idealized the scandalous
freedom of Greenwich Village in the manner of mutings and
We veteran Villagers had come to take this kind of freedom rather
But to Fan, a beautiful tame bird escaped from her cage to next with us
wild ones, this freedom was the final meaning of the Village. And
so it was she, rather than any of us, who discoursed eloquently to our
Japanese friend upon that aspect of our Village life.
Our Japanese friend, who was a poet at home and here a student of social conditions, listened courteously to all we said, and then remarked gravely:
"Yes, your American Green Village reminds me of our Japanese Green Houses."
We were rather shocked at such a comparison; we were disappointed in the perspicacity of our Japanese friend. Indeed, we were too embarrassed at the insult to say anything. But Fan, when the reference to "Green Houses" had been quietly explained to her by Carlo, turned upon the offender such a look of indignation that he felt himself in the wrong and began hastily to apologize and explain.
"No doubt it was absurd for me to think that," he said, "I had forgotten for the moment that you here in Greenwich Village are revolutionists -- you feel confident of your power to overthrow the old conventions based on property. But we in Japan are more humble. We see that property considerations have ruled human lives for a long time, and we fear that it is destined to remain so. And what place, in a social system based on property rights, is there for the vagrant and incalculable impulses of love? Little or none, it seems. There is a place for loyalty, for honor, for domestic affection -- but scarcely for love. That would be too upsetting. And so it is banished from respectable society, to find its refuge outside -- in the Green Houses. Let me remind you that the true oiran has been with us a representative of the charms of art and intellect; and it is she, naturally, who stands for individual choice in love. Without her, we should have no love stories, no love poems. Our great legendary tales of heroic and faithful and tragic love are woven about some celebrated oiran and her emperor or poet lover. Our great popular art of color-print design arose as a means of celebrating her beauty and her charm. She, in her little Green Town, like you free artists in your Village, was an inspiration to a populace confined in a routine too dutiful, too orderly, too dull -- a reminder of the existence of beauty and freedom: that was all I meant by my comparison. I am very sorry to have offended you. Doubtless it seemed to have other objectionable implications which were far from my thoughts. It was a stupid thing for me to say."
We were all placated except Fan, who flung at him the Village's worst word of rebuke: "It was a very bourgeois thing to say about us!"
"I did not mean it so," he said, and smiled at her. "May I make amends by telling you a story which has come into my head?"
"Please do!" we all urged him. We knew his stories -- incredibly romantic, too beautiful to be true, woven like a delicate and fragile pattern in silk threads of many and shining colors.
"A moment of freedom -- or so we believe in Japan -- is better than none. You here in your Village, planning freedom for the whole world, may despise so slight a thing as a moment's freedom -- no doubt you have the right. But I shall tell you a tale of respectable young man in Japan, and his brief moment of freedom."
We lighted new cigarettes and settled back on Fan's pillows to listen. And thus he began:
"Spring Flower opened her eyes, awakened by the patter of house-clogs along the little porch outside her room. Then she saw Osomé, her little twelve-year-old attendant, peeping in from behind the screen which stood before the door. 'Is it time to get up?' Spring Flower asked sleepily.
"'Yes, beautiful mistress,' answered Osomé.
"And just then the bells of Uyeno temple began to chime the noon-hour. Osomé entered, carrying between her hands a great polished brass bowl filled with water. Still holding it, she knelt beside the quilted bed. 'Another day!' said Spring Flower, lifting her head from the lacquered pillow. Leaning on a pink elbow, she smiled across the bowl at Osomé. 'Another day,' she repeated idly. 'What will it bring?'
"In the bowl there floated a single delicate white blossom. 'Mah!' cried Spring Flower, bending over it to smell the fragrance. 'That is a good omen!'
"At this moment, as it happened, a handsome youth was stepping into a jinrikisha in front of the Tokio-ya, the Tokio Hotel. 'Where, honorable master?' asked the 'rikisha-man, turning in the shafts.
"The young man hesitated, and then said, in as lordly a way as possible, 'I wish to see the city.'
"'Hai!' said the 'rikisha-man. 'The gardens, the temples, dinner in Uyeno, a theater, and then the Green Houses!'
"'I understand perfectly!' said the 'rikisha-man. 'The honorable master may depend upon me.' He made a clicking noise with his tongue and started off.
"Isamu -- for that was the young man's name -- sat in the jinrikisha stiffly. His haori, with his family crest embroidered on the back and sleeves, was new, and so was his European felt hat. He pressed one hand against the folds above his sash, to reassure himself that his money was still there.
"He arrived in Tokio the night before, and early this morning he had hastened to get through the preliminaries of the business which had brought him here. He had gone straight to the silk-house of Sato, in Silver-Seat Street, an enormous tile house with closed shutters. A great awning paraded the sign 'Sa' -- the first syllable of the great silk-merchant Sato; the walls were a dingy checkered black-and-white, and an ancient willow stood in front. He had felt very young as he entered the deep shadowy doorway and let the boy remove his sandals. A man at a table in the further corner was calculating on an abacus; that was Sato's head-clerk. He now came forward, and they exchanged bows, while the boy spread a cloak for them to sit on. Isamu announced himself, and made suitable replies concerning his father's honorable health, and then tea was served. Isamu admitted that it was his first visit to Tokio, and that he was now beginning to take an active part in his father's honorable business. Gradually the talk arrived at the subject of silk, and samples were brought in. The master of the stock room was sent for; and as the heavy silent doors at the back slid open, Isamu had a glimpse of clerks rushing to and fro in an atmosphere of bustle and importance. Subdues by this brief suggestion of the huge transactions of the great house of Sato, he followed the expert and deferential advice of the head clerk and the master of the stock room, scarcely daring to use his own judgment in the selection of two of the new stripes and an imported sarasa. At last it had all been finished. Now, as he rode through the streets in his jinrikisha, he thought of that gloomy building and those grave men, behind whose suavity was an icy sternness. He knew; his father was like that.
"Tomorrow he would go to the silk-house and pay for the goods he had ordered; and next day he would return to the quiet town of Mito, and live in the strict precincts of his father's house, as usual. Bu today was his for pleasure!
"It was mid April, and sunshine flooded the streets. The crowds jostles along good-humoredly. Beautiful dressed ladies, with finely penciled eyebrows and tiny carmined lips sped by in jinrikishas. In and out of shop doors they flowed in streams, their pink u-moji flashing about their clogs as they walked. They were different from the girls he had seen at Mito; different from Ofumi, to whom he had been betrothed in childhood, and whom he was to marry next year. Women had always been to him remote beings. Now that difference became mysterious and impressive. His mind lingered upon them as he passed.
"Soon he had seen all of Tokio, its streets, its temples, its gardens. He had dined in the Uyeno at a Western cafe, daring such strange food as beefsteak, pie, and coffee. He had been to the Kabuki Theater, and seen a performance of 'The Love-Death of the Tea-House at Osaka;' he had come out deeply thrilled, and reminded of his boyhood with its romantic legends of hero love.
"'And now,' said the 'rikisha-man, 'the honorable young master wishes to see the famous Green Houses.!'
"'Go then!' Isamu commanded boldly.
"The 'rikisha-man seemed filled with new energy by the command. The cart rolled swiftly through the dark streets. Isamu's heart was filled with an obscure and delicious fear. He was going into the legendary world of the oiran. The bay appeared before him, a silver-blue under a sky of many stars. The water lapped faintly against the rotting timbers of the dyke which cuts off the lower end of the bay. Across this dyke the road stretched white in the starlight, lined with willow trees that sighed gently in the cool breeze. Ahead were the Green Houses.
"The old wooden gate, beaten with the weathers of a century, loomed up at the end of the road. An old willow tree dreamed beside it. The murmur of voices drifted past.
"Isamu paid off the 'rikisha-man generously, and entered the long street, filled with a laughing and curious crowd that halted in front of each tea-house for a moment and then drifted on. In the crowd were men of every sort -- officers in their bright uniforms, nobles, merchants, foreigners, youths in gaudy clothes, ragged students -- an irregular procession that flowed endlessly both ways through the long street in jocund promenade. The tea-houses, graceful little two-story structures with blue-tiled roofs, stood close together, with now and then a sweetmeat-shop or a restaurant among them. At each tea-house entrance hung a huge lantern, and the immediate interior blazed with light. Over the shoulders of the crowd Isamu caught glimpses, through the wide lattices which stood in place of a front wall, of the beautifully dressed joros , sitting quietly as the image of Buddha in the temple, with calm marble-white faces, black slender eyebrows, and little scarlet mouths that uttered no sound. They seemed beings to worship -- beautiful and distant beings, in their gorgeous gold-brocaded uchika-ke, which fell in rich folds to the tiny brocaded quilts on which they knelt. Their hair rose in magnificent coiffures, in which like golden rays centered a dozen jeweled pins. Behind them stood a long golden screen, with a pine tree, wave and Fuji decoration. Fronting the open lattice they sat, in a row of four or five, in shop after shop, silent, with eyes seemingly cast down in divine scorn, unconscious of the crowd that passed and stared.
"Isamu caught fragments of talk. A flashily dressed young man was saying, 'Yohie, the rice-wine seller, spent two hundred yen last night.' One student to another: 'Yes, they say she knows The Collection of a Myriad Leaves by heart!' Keen-eyed attendants from the tea-shops mingled with the passers-by, and singling out those that were richly dressed, recounted extravagantly the charms and talents of the joros who sat waiting silently within.
"Of this one it was said, 'Her voice is the wonder and admiration of all Tokio!' Of that one, 'Every word that falls from her lips is a perfect poem.' Of another, 'The wittiest oiran of them all!' Isamu knew that this things must be true.
"One by one, as he paused in front of a particularly gorgeous group in a very splendid tea-shop, four of these divinities arose at some word spoken within, and with slender, stately grace and infinite dignity passed across the golden screen, out of sight. There remained a single oiran, the most beautiful of them all, holding a little pipe that now and then she lifted delicately to her lips. As she breathed forth a faint cloud of pale blue smoke, her glance wandered over the crowd beyond the lattice. For one moment it rested on the figure of Isamu, and then looked him full in the eyes. She seemed to smile slightly, and then turned and spoke imperiously to some one within, and seemed to nod toward him. 'She must have mistaken me for some one else,' thought Isamu, his heart throbbing violently.
"But a respectful attendant came from within the shop, bowed to him, and said: 'The honorable young master is desired to come within. The beautiful Spring Flower wishes him to be her guest.'
"Spring Flower! It was a good omen. She was in every way like her name. 'But,' he stammered, 'is it permitted to ask to what I owe this good fortune?'
"The attendant smiled. 'It may be that she recognizes your family crest, and would ask news of you concerning those who are known to you. Or, it may be merely that you please her. The beautiful Spring Flower has many whims.'
"Isamu entered. The attendant called out a number, and a maid came forward and took his sandals; Isamu's eyes followed her cautiously: she put them in a box marked with that number -- the box in which the sandals of Spring Flower's admirers were kept. He was ushered up to a room -- Spring Flower's receiving room. In front of him was a wall of black sand, with sliding landscaped panels boxing it in on three sides; a floor covered with square mats, whose fringed edges made a checkered pattern. A young girl attendant help up a bright-colored nemaki or house-gown for him to put on, and spread an embroidered quilt on the floor. When he had seated himself, a man attendant, entering softly, inquired what the young master wished to order.
"'Whatever is customary,' said Isamu. 'Wine, then,' suggested the man. 'A keg of rice-wine? Yes. And a troupe of geisha-girls? Of course. And an entertainer? It is well. I understand that the young master wishes the best of everything. All shall be provided!' He bowed himself out.
"Isamu pressed his hand against a fold in his clothes; yes, his money was still there. He had not taken too literally this amigos invitation; he understood well enough that it was likely to cost. It remained to be seen how he could account to his father for the missing money; but did a merchant's son ever come to Tokio without secretly hoping for some such escapade? He was still filled with elation at the thought that Spring Flower had chosen him -- for whatever unknown reason. It was of such an adventure as this that he had dreamed. And come what might, he should never regret it!
"The troupe of geisha-girls entered. There were seven of them, delicate flower-like creatures of about fifteen years, with eyes that sparkled like drops of dew; one of them carried a samisen. Tripping softly, in their light garments, they filed in, stood
before him, and bowed, with a motion like blossoms swaying in the wind. Then the leader spread out her arms, and the others, as though impelled by the magic of the gesture, were scattered into an irregular semi-circle. The one with the samisen dropped on her knees in the corner. Their lithe young bodies, moving in subtle rhythms, seemed to melt into their draperies; and these were no longer merely garments -- they were the soul of motion made visible. The leader raised her hands, her white arms flashed like tall lilies from the indolent sleeves, the strings of the samisen sounded sharply in the silence, and the dance had begun.
"At that moment the panels slid open, and Spring Flower stood there, looking down at him with calm eyes. The panels closed behind her, and she came, stepping delicately in her clogs, to his side, and sank on the little quilt before his own. The girl attendant carried in her fire-box, set it on the floor between them, and placed beside it a box of cigarettes. She took one, lighted it, and gave it to Isamu. 'It is like life,' she said, in a voice which made her words seem like the saying of a poem; 'pleasant while it lasts, and vanishing too soon into nothingness.'
"While she spoke, the rice-wine was set before them in slender-mouthed blue flasks. She poured a steaming cupful, and offered it to him. 'It is like love,' she said; 'once tasted, it cannot ever be refused.'
"He took the cup. 'It is my first taste,' he said. He had not taken his eyes from her since she entered. When she sat down facing him, the silken sounds of her garments made him tremble, and a perfume that was like ume troubled his will with its fragrance. Her mouth as she spoke was like two rose-petals unfolding. The white glimpse of her arm as she offered him the cup of wine was like the crescent moon breaking from a cloud. He wished to tell her so, but could not.
"'Drink then, he said, 'O happy youth!'
"He drank, and the first sip of the hot sweet wine gave him power over words. 'It was for your presence that I thirsted,' he said. 'Why did you keep me so many ages in loneliness?'
"She smiled. 'When the field is awaiting the spring, she first puts on her robes of green; but when spring has come, she decks herself out in her most beautiful garments to meet him!' She had indeed changed into a more splendid dress.
"The music changed, and she bent her head toward the dancers. "The sun shines on all the flowers alike,' she said. 'Let my lord graciously look upon those who are here in his honor.'
"'When one looks too long upon the sun,' he answered, 'one does well to look at its reflection in the water!' -- and he turned toward the dancers, seeing their loveliness indeed only as a reflection of that marvelous being beside him, of whom he was still afraid. While he watched, the dancers swayed in the climax of the dance and then sank gracefully to the floor.
"Spring Flower glanced at the girl attendant, who went into an inner room and returned with a samisen . 'I have looked into your heart through your eyes,' she said, 'and read there that you are no lover of the new songs, but would rather I sang for you one of the old ballads. Am I right, my friend?'
"'You have read me truly,' he replied, and to his delight and astonishment she began to sing the Ballad of Shinnai, which he had always loved. Her voice in signing became different, deeper and more resonant. As the stanzas followed, one after another, in their quiet and noble melancholy, and with their wild and heart-breaking refrain, he forgot her and was swept back into his childhood dreams.
"He was recalled suddenly, after a silence, from that far land by a noise like the barking of a tiny chow dog. He looked at Spring Flower in surprise, for she had been transformed in a moment from a voice out of the past into a street-urchin, with comic twisted face, like those idle ragamuffins that played 'being-a-demon' in front of his father's shop. Her fingers, which had but a moment before stroked the strings with a slow processional dignity, now tickled them into a succession of little hysterical sounds, accompanying the swift, sharp, smart little words which exploded from her tongue, breaking now and then into a tiny and irresistible chow-dog yelp. It was the 'little-laugh song,' the 'giggle song,' the very newest thing in the Green Houses, the fashion of the moment. Next month it would be supplanted by another, and next year it would be utterly forgotten.
"She finished the song, and clapped her hands together, and the geisha girls swayed to their feet and untangled the complicated rhythms of another dance. Bending toward him, Spring Flower said: "You need not be ashamed of enjoying that foolish song, my hero! The samurai Goto himself would have listened to it with pleasure.'
"'You made it beautiful, as moonlight makes beautiful the roofs of a town,' he replied.
"'The bees,' she said, 'know there is a sweet in every kind of flower. I gather the sweets of song, my lord, from the pastures of the shadow world, and from the weeds in the gutter.'
"The entertainer arrived mid-dance, and presently began to tell stories. He was a fat little old man with a droll face; he drank enormous quantities of hot rice wine. He started in very gravely with an episode of The Forty-seven Ronin, changed abruptly to The Boy Who Went Fishing, and went on with tales that set them all rocking with laughter; and finally proposed a game of 'flower cards.' But Spring Flower shook her head at that, and instead they played another game, with a hundred cards, each bearing on its face a poem and a portrait of a poet. These were spread out, fifty on each side, and the geisha-girls and Osomé the maid joined them, ranged five against five, seated before the cards. The entertainer read from a book containing the same poems, opening to a page at random; and the first word was hardly uttered when some one with eyes roving swiftly over the cards would put a quick finger on it, and place it in the little pile on that side. Spring Flower and Isamu were on opposite sides. Isamu knew the poems well enough, but was unfamiliar with the game; at first he played badly, and then, his faculties stirred by the zest of competition, began to be one of the best among them. But Spring Flower won the game for her side; while Isamu was recognizing a card, she had put her finger on it. 'Do not consider the matter so thoughtfully, my pet,' she said laughingly; 'when the eagle sees his prey, he strikes!' The game broke up amid laughter and talk and the drinking of many cups of rice wine.
"As the entertainer and the geisha-girls prepared to leave, Spring Flower sent her maid from the room; and she returned with a handful of little envelopes ties with colored cord, which Spring Flower gave to the man attendant to distribute among them. 'I am hostess tonight,' she said. 'This is for the leader -- this is to be divided equally among the geishas -- this for the entertainer -- and this for yourself.' 'And this, too,' said Isamu, taking from his bosom a handful of ten yen bills. His father's money! But what did that matter now? He had his reward in her smile, and in the awed silence with which they bowed their thanks for his princely munificence. The attendant whispered to him: 'Then the honorable young master will deign to remain?' Yes, Isamu would remain. He was no longer afraid of Spring Flower. More adorable than ever, she was less remote; he had touched her hand in the card game, and breathed the perfume of her breath.
"The recipients of his bounty had bowed themselves back to the door panels; they smiled at him and wished him good night, and their eyes seemed to flash him other merry wishes as they bowed themselves out and the door panels closed behind them. Isamu looked over to where Spring Flower stood, beside the empty wine-flasks. Her long eyelashes lifted slowly, her eyes met his. 'The cherry trees bloomed today in honor of your coming,' she said, 'and tonight my heart is a bough that has put forth new blossoms.' The bells of Uyeno temple chimed midnight. Spring Flower took his hand lightly and led him into her chamber.
"The next day Isamu had his midday meal at the Tokio-ya, and then climbed into a jinriksha. 'Where, honorable young master?" asked the 'risisha-man. It was the same one. 'Anywhere,' said Isamu. The jinriksha started up the street. He could not go to the silk-house and pay for the goods he had ordered the day before. He had found better uses for his money. He had left it all in the little lacquered cabinet where Spring Flower kept her sweetmeats. He had put it there early in the morning while she still slept in her deep, sweet sleep; she would find it when she awakened and remember him. He had kept only a bill that would pay for his stay at the hotel, and his journey back home. That was as it should be; anything less than all he had would have been too little to give. But how was he to face his father? ... It was no use to think of that. And so he thought, instead of Spring Flower.
"He wished he could send her some message, And then a thought came to him, and he bought at a jeweler's shop a long gold hair-pin set with a red stone, and sent it to her with a little poem saying: 'The pine tree remembers the lightning.'
"He had left now only a handful of silver in his sleeve, but it was enough to pay for the jinriksha, and that evening he resolved to look upon her face again. The jinriksha sped swiftly though the dark streets, the bay loomed up ahead, the white road stretched on beneath the stars, the old, old willow tree by the gate bent down its slender fingers caressingly -- crowds -- the tea-house of Wakamatsu -- and there behind the lattice, Spring Flower! She saw him, and smiled, and a moment later the attendant humbly besought his honorable entrance. It was no use to explain to the man, and so he went inside.
"Without any delay, she came to him in her receiving room, wearing his golden pin in her high coiffure. 'I have been waiting for you, my lord,' she said.
"'I have no right to be here,' he told her simply. 'I am a beggar. I only came to look upon your face once more.'
"She smiled. 'If you are a beggar, then it is fitting that I should befriend you,' she said. 'Men have given me rich gifts; but no man before has given me all he had. Now it is my turn to give. Be seated, my lord.'
"She clapped her hands, and bade Osomé bring rice-wine. 'I think,' she said, 'that we would rather be alone tonight, But I shall sing to you, if you wish. Osomé, my samisen!'
"While she waited for the samisen, she said to him: 'I sat in the garden today, catching the cherry petals that fell from the tree, and thinking of my lord, who came with the first cherry blossoms of the spring.' Then she touched the jeweled pin that she had sent her. 'I was glad that you had not forgotten me. And glad for the poem you sent me. I was not mistaken, then, in thinking my lord a poet!'
"'You bring poems from my heart,' he said, 'as the wind brings music from the wind bell,' -- and he thought of how last night the moonlight had cast on the paper window of her chamber the shadow of the wind bell -- a shadow that swayed vaguely to and fro, while the porch came its ghostly tinkle. A panel in the wall had stood half open, and the moonlight had swept in across the floor; and a cloud, journeying across the moon, had darkened with its shadow the face of Spring Flower. And remembering these shadows, he said to her now: "I am not truly here, my beloved; I know that I am sitting in the countinghouse of a stern old merchant in Mito, dreaming a boy's dreams. The light of my desire has cast my shadow for a moment into your life -- that is all.'
"'You do wrong to believe that,' she said. 'You and I are real, and Mito is only a bad dream.' She shivered. 'I know -- for I have dreamed that dream of Mito. In my dream I seemed to be a child, a little girl of seven; a poor little girl, wishing for the laughter and bright colors and happiness that she never could have: my father a porter, a human beast of burden, with a back scarred and deformed by his burdens -- my mother, gaunt and weary from endless toil, his servant and the sharer of his sorrows -- and I, their child, doomed to become a drudge like her -- oh, yes, I have dreamed that dream! And in my dream there was a little boy, a few years older that I, with the eyes of a poet and the bearing of a prince -- a rich merchant's son. I wanted to play with him, I wanted him to say kind and beautiful things to me, such things as never are said by human beasts of burden, even if they are kind, to the women who humbly serve them and share their miseries. And in my dream this rich merchant's son sometimes looked at me and smiled as I stood in my rags in the doorway of my father's house. And he passed on without a word, for what speech could there ever be between us? And at night I wept, to know that I was unworthy of him. Yes, you see I too have dreamed the bad dream of Mito.'
"'And you, he said wonderingly, 'are that little girl!'
"'No,' she answered, smiling, 'I tell you it is only a bad dream. And here' -- she offered him a cup of the steaming rice wine -- 'is a charm against bad dreams. Drink, my beloved, and then I will sing to you again.'
"'That night the light doze of Osomé was broken by her mistress's soft hand clap. She opened the sliding panel of Spring Flower's chamber, and peered around the screen. 'Tea,' commanded Spring Flower, 'and cakes, and sweetmeats, -- When we talk so much,' she said to her lover, 'we must have some refreshment. And now tell me -- but, no, I will ask no more questions. Mito is the same as it was -- it will always remain the same. But what have we to do with such things as Mito!'
"Through the open panel in the black outer wall the light of the waning moon entered softly. It silvered the creamy folds if their silken night dresses, and became entangled in Spring Flower's eyelashes. From the garden came the faint sound of cherry blossoms shaken in the wind. 'The blossoms only last three days in Tokyo,' she said/ 'Already they have commenced to fall.'
"At noon, after they had breakfasted merrily in her chamber, she took him into the garden. At the foot of the steps were garden clogs ready for them; flat stones made an irregular path about the tiny pond to the miniature Fuji with its little twisted pine trees -- a cloud of blossoms. They walked on the strewn petals, inventing sweet names for each other. He thought of Ofumi, whom he was to marry next year, and would live with him in the gloomy shadows of his father's house. He sighed.
"'Why are you sad, my beloved?'
"'I was thinking of Mito, he said, 'I shall have to go back there. I had thought of losing myself in Tokyo, of becoming an artisan. But what could I do? My hands are intrained. And I am my father's only son. He will seek for me and find me and take me home. I shall be back in Mito.'
"'You will have memories,' she said, 'if you wish to keep them.'
"'Memories are not enough,' he said impatiently. 'O Spring Flower, do you not wish we could destroy Mito, destroy everything that is reaching out its iron fingers toward our happiness?'
"'Every poet had wished that,' she said softly. 'But the iron fingers are too strong. Nevertheless, they shall not part us yet. You will stay with me tonight, beloved?'
"That night an anxious merchant from Mito made inquiries at the Tokyo-ya concerning his son. He was met with polite and reassuring smiles. 'Do not be alarmed, honorable sir,' they told him. 'Your son will be back. It is only that he is young, and in Tokyo!' They knew much of life, these people.
"There was moonlight on the floor of Spring Flower's chamber. But beauty could not assuage the grief and anger in Isamu's heart. 'I hate my father!' he cried wildly in Spring Flower's arms.
"And she whispered: 'It is true, my beloved, that no woman has ever told you that you are the most beautiful of men?'
"'I will not be a dutiful son any longer!' he muttered.
"And she whispered to him again: 'O golden hummingbird, the sweetest honey lies yet untasted at the flower's heart!'
"'I want you to be mine for ever, Spring Flower!'
"'Hush, my beloved!' she said sadly."
At this point in the story telling, there was an
interruption. We were sufficiently under the spell of the
to have scarcely noticed a mere knock on the door -- except that it
Fan abruptly to her feet with a startled look. One would almost
thought that she had been expecting some unwelcome visit. She
there a moment as if to compose herself, and summon up her
and then went resolutely to the door, with a brief look
I think she was seeing our careless attitudes, as we sat or lay star
about the studio floor, with the eyes of a possible maiden aunt from
But it was only a messenger boy with a telegram. She stood in the
door staring at it while the boy clattered whistling down the stairs;
then she shut the door and came back to us smiling, with the telegram
in her hand.
"Is anything the matter?" Carlo asked.
"No -- nothing," she said. "It's too bad to have the story broken into like that -- please go on." She took up the glass which she had set on the mantel over the fireplace when she rose; it was empty. "But first may I help myself to a drink?" And while she spoke she looked about, in that way she could not help, for some man to perform this service for her. I rose. "I'll mix you one," I said, and went to the kitchen. She followed me restlessly, and stood there silent and preoccupied with her thoughts while I chopped ice. Carlo came in a moment later, and demanded of her abruptly: "who is that from?"
"My mother," she said, and showed it to him.
"Oh-ho!" he said, thoughtfully. "She's really coming!"
"And who's this Aunt Elvira that's coming along?"
"Her sister. And I don't know what to do, Carlo! I've staved the family off as long as I could. I think they're suspicious. At any rate, thank goodness, they haven't walked in on us without warning."
"Wouldn't that be the best thing," he said, "just to let them walk in on us? They might as well know the truth."
"She shook her head. "I hate scenes so! And what would be the use of it? You don't suppose for a moment they'd let me go on living here with you?"
"We can run down to City Hall," he said. "Then they couldn't object."
"Oh, they couldn't? Couldn't they, though! I'd like to see their faces at that news. You may not realize it, Carl dear, but no Breckenridge in all the history of America has ever married anybody with a name like Ostrovsky. I think they'd much more easily accept the fact of my living in sin with you!"
"And is that the way you feel about it too?" he asked haughtily.
"Carlo, darling," she said, "we've argued all that out. It would simply mean that they'd cut me off; and you know I can't support myself. I'm no good at any kind of work. I haven't earned enough in these eight months to keep me in underclothes -- you know that. It's just no use my trying to hold a job!"
"And I," he said bitterly, "can't support you. Not now -- perhaps never."
"No, poor darling -- and I don't want you to. I'd be an awful nuisance to you as a wife."
"I'd take the chance of that," he said. "We'd get along somehow."
"No, Carlo -- I can't marry a poor man. I've been too badly brought up."
They had apparently forgotten my presence; and I should have been more ill at ease during this intimate conversation, if they had not already discussed the matter openly, in our Greenwich Village fashion. This was only the expected climax of a situation which we all knew about, and had talked over for months, without having been able to offer any happy solution; every one here tonight, except of course our Japanese friend, could guess the nature of the telegram, and would be awaiting anxiously the conclusion of this kitchen conference. We all wanted to save Fan from the dreadful fate of going back to Shiloh. We had all tried to think of something she could make a living at here in New York; but she had brought up for twenty years to be gracefully and expensively useless -- that was just the trouble. In our admiration and affection for her there had been, at first, because of this decorative uselessness of hers, a shade of kindly mockery, which turned soon enough into pity when we came to know her better. The tragic problem of a soul that truly desired freedom and yet lacked hands capable of securing and defending it, had left us all bewildered. In time, as we devoutly believed, she would have learned to be self-supporting -- but these months of effort had only proved to her how ill adapted she was to the struggle for existence. She was now utterly discouraged about herself -- and the fact that she had only that day been fired from a job she had tried terribly hard to hold and had fondly believed she was getting along very well with, was perhaps the final stroke of disillusion.
"Oh, well," said Carlo, "I can move on tomorrow, if that's the answer."
"It's hell," said Fan, bitterly. "But I know one thing -- my kid sister is going to learn to earn her own living! At least, I can see to that."
"You'll go back with me, then?"
"They'll make me, Carlo. That's what they've come here for. I've put them off with lies as long as I could."
"I'm sick of these lies!" said Carlo savagely.
"Yes, I know -- but you don't have to lie to anybody. I do. If it weren't for my lies, we never could have known each other at all," she said defensively.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean that. I -- damn it all, I love you, Fan!"
"And I love you, Carlo boy!"
They clung to each other for a moment desperately. They were right in front of the closed door, and I couldn't get out without disturbing them.
"But, she said, "we might as well face the truth between ourselves. They won't ever let me come back here. They'll keep me in Shiloh."
"And marry you off?"
"Must you think of that now? What is the difference? Oh, yes, they will try to marry me off."
"Will you let them?" he demanded. "Oh, I've no right to ask that," he went on bitterly. "Why should you stay an old maid for my sake? It's ridiculous. And that man you've told me about -- the one your mother wants you to marry -- it will be him, I suppose."
"Suppose it, then, if it gives you any pleasure," she said coldly. "I'm not asking who your next Greenwich Village sweetheart will be." She turned away from him.
"Oh, Fan! Fan!" he cried out in torment, putting his hand on her shoulder.
"I know," she said. "It's the way life is. We must forgive each other, Carlo. Whatever happens -- we've had this!"
They were again in each other's arms. The door was clear, and I might slip out quietly and leave them in this farewell embrace. But I didn't want to go, and for an odd reason. The others, out there in the studio, would read from my face the conclusion of this scene. They would know that Fan was going back to Shiloh, to marry a man who could take care of her; they would know that her brave adventure was to be only a sentimental episode in her life -- and I couldn't face them with that news. Because I didn't want to believe that Greenwich Village was no more than that to Fan. I couldn't accept what had happened as the last word. The scene wasn't over for me -- and so I waited, desperately, chopping more ice.
But just then Fan took notice of my existence, and said to me: "Please tell them to go on with the story and not wait for us!"
I went out into the studio, avoiding the anxious eyes of Fan's and Carlo's friends, and delivered that message.
"It was practically finished," said the storyteller. "The end can readily be imagined. But if you wish me to put it into words, here it is." And he went on:
"At sunset the lovers walked for the last time in the little garden; stood on the tiny lacquered bridge to feed the scarlet carp; and drank tea under the vines. They were saying farewell to the place of their happiness.
"The ground was carpeted with white petals. 'See," said Spring Flower, 'how few are left now on the tree!' The glow of sunset beyond the walls was dying away, and there had come up a little sharp wind from the west. The temple bells chimed the hour, and as if in the solemn vibration of their chime the last blossoms trembled and drifted down slowly. A misty rain began to fall.
"When he had reached the gate of the town of Green Houses, Isamu realized that he had no money to pay for a jinrikisha. 'Well, what does it matter?' he thought, and set off on foot, across the dyke. A jinrikisha hurried past, bearing an eager youth toward the gate -- the first of the evening throng.
"Halfway across, Isamu turned and looked back. He saw the weather-beaten gate, and the lonely willow beside it -- 'the looking-back willow,' so named because it is the last thing one sees as one goes away. The Isamu turned, and walked on, in the rain."
We thanked the story-teller, and praised him for his tale. But in all of our minds it had another meaning that he did not quite know about -- a meaning that had shaken our gay confidence in ourselves. In spite of myself, I was taking this as the end of that scene in the kitchen. Would Fan look back that way at the Washington Arch from the bus that took her for the last time up Fifth Avenue to the station? Some one was arguing half-irritably with the story-teller over the sociological implications of his tale, and he was maintaining a polite and skeptical calm. He looked so sure! Was life like that, after all? Fan would come in, in a moment; and we should never know, to look at her face, of the ordeal she had gone through nor the decision she had arrived at; her training had done that for her. Oh, they would both be good sports about it all!... I couldn't bear not knowing any longer. I went boldly to the kitchen, and entered. They did not look up, and I stood there against the closed door.
Fan was perched upon the kitchen table, frowning.
"What are you thinking about, now? asked Carlo.
"ABout my kid sister,' she said. "And about my Aunt Elvira. There's a story about my Aunt Elvira. She gave up the man she was in love with, and never married. The family objected to him, for some reason. But now I realize something that I never knew. I've always been a favorite of hers; and when I was a little girl she used to talk to me seriously -- seriously and vaguely. She was trying to tell me something; and now I think that she was trying to tell me what I've been planning to tell my kid sister. But I was a gay and giddy little thing, and it meant nothing to me. It won't mean anything to my kid sister, either -- not a damn thing. Because I shan't tell her the truth -- I shan't dare. I'm too much of a coward. And in the end I'll give up trying to help her. In ten years I'll be like everybody else in Shiloh. Here's Aunt Elvira coming to tell me now that mother knows best after all. I shall be like that. -- Isn't life funny?"
"You won't be like that," he said.
"Oh, yes, I shall. And if I'm faithful to your memory, Carlo, and don't marry anybody -- then I'll think that young people haven't any right to be braver than I was. I'll have all my Greenwich Village memories laid away in lavender, and I'll take them out now and then and sniffle over them -- the way that God-damn' Jap is doing with his romantic memories of some slant-eyed beauty back home, and telling us that we're just like him and that girl. Well, I guess we are."
"No, we're not. I'm not afraid of two old women -- and I don't believe you are!"
"Yes, I am, Carlo. Those two old women have all the world's wisdom between them. They know what will happen to me if I try to be braver than I am. And they're quite right about it. I'll fail -- miserably. The only thing is -- perhaps my failure might help my kid sister to get free. She'd know the truth, at least -- she'd know that a girl didn't have to stay in Shiloh!"
"You'll stick it out, then? he said eagerly.
"I don't know. If I do stick it out -- it won't be a pretty story for either of us to sentimentalize over. Without money to spend, I'll be unhappy, I know that. We'll be sick of each other many a time. I doubt it will work out at all. I'll be wretched without all the pretty things you couldn't buy me. I'm lazy -- and ignorant -- and a coward. I'll make a failure of it, I'm sure. I'll be a hell of a helpmeet to you, Carlo. But -- if you want me to try--"
"Good girl!" he almost shouted, lifting her triumphantly in his arms.
"I'll go out and look for another job tomorrow morning!" she said.
We all went back into the studio. "I'm so sorry," said Fan, "that I couldn't hear the end of your beautiful story."
"You missed very little," he assured her. "The ending was merely the inevitable one."
I looked at Fan and Carlo, and smiled. Why should we trouble to contradict him?
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