Frances Little.

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The House
of the Misty Star

[Illustration: She quickly walked across the burning coal]

The House
of the Misty Star



Frances Little
(Fannie Caldwell Macaulay)

Author of "The Lady of the Decoration," etc.


New York
The Century Co.

Copyright, 1915, by

Copyright, 1914, 1915, by

_Published, April, 1915_






She quickly walked across the burning coal _Frontispiece_

Through the sinister shadows of Flying Sparrow Street 13

Zura Wingate advanced to my lowly seat on the floor, and
listlessly put out one hand to greet me 39

The bowing, bending, and indrawing of breath 75

Page started forward. A sound stopped him 113

"God in Heaven. How can I tell her!" 187

"Oh, God! A thief! It's over!" 245

Oh! boy, boy, I thought I'd lost you 263

The House
of the Misty Star


The House
of the Misty Star



It must have been the name that made me take that little house on the
hilltop. It was mostly view, but the title - supplemented by the very low
rent - suggested the first line of a beautiful poem.

Nobody knows who began the custom or when, but for unknown years a
night-light had been kept burning in a battered old bronze lantern swung
just over my front door. Through the early morning mists the low white
building itself seemed made of dreams; but the tiny flame, slipping
beyond the low curving eaves, shone far at sea and by its light the
Japanese sailors, coming around the rocky Tongue of Dragons point in
their old junks, steered for home and rest. To them it was a welcome
beacon. They called the place "The House of the Misty Star."

In it for thirty years I have toiled and taught and dreamed. From it I
have watched the ships of mighty nations pass - some on errands of peace;
some to change the map of the world. Through its casements I have seen
God's glory in the sunsets and the tenderness of His love in the dawns.
The pink hills of the spring and the crimson of the autumn have come and
gone, and through the carved portals that mark the entrance to my home
have drifted the flotsam and jetsam of the world. They have come for
shelter, for food, for curiosity and sometimes because they must, till I
have earned my title clear as step-mother-in-law to half the waifs and
strays of the Orient.

Once it was a Chinese general, seeking safety from a mob. Then it was a
fierce-looking Russian suspected as a spy and, when searched, found to
be a frightened girl, seeking her sweetheart among the prisoners of war.
The high, the low, the meek, and the impertinent, lost babies, begging
pilgrims and tailless cats - all sooner or later have found their way
through my gates and out again, barely touching the outer edges of my
home life. But things never really began to happen to me, I mean things
that actually counted, until Jane Gray came. After that it looked as if
they were never going to stop.

You see I'd lived about fifty-eight years of solid monotony, broken only
by the novelty of coming to Japan as a school teacher thirty years
before and, although my soul yearned for the chance to indulge in the
frills of romance, opportunity to do so was about the only thing that
failed to knock at my door. From the time I heard the name of Ursula
Priscilla Jenkins and knew it belonged to me, I can recall but one
beautiful memory of my childhood. It is the face of my mother in its
frame of poke bonnet and pink roses, as she leaned over to kiss me
good-by. I never saw her again, nor my father. Yellow fever laid heavy
tribute upon our southern United States. I was the only one left in the
big house on the plantation, and my old black nurse was the sole
survivor in the servants' quarters. She took me to an orphan asylum in a
straggly little southern town where everything from river banks to
complexions was mud color.

Bareness and spareness were the rule, and when the tall, bony, woman
manager stood near the yellow-brown partition, it took keen eyes to tell
just where her face left off and the plaster began. She did not believe
in education. But I was born with ideas of my own and a goodly share of
ambition. I learned to read by secretly borrowing from the wharf master
a newspaper or an occasional magazine which sometimes strayed off a
river packet. Then I paid for a four years' course at a neighboring
semi-college by working and by serving the other students. I did
everything - from polishing their shoes to studying their lessons for
them; it earned me many a penny and a varied knowledge of human nature.
But nothing ever happened to me as it did to the other girls. I never
had a holiday; I was never sick; I never went to a circus; and I never
even had a proposal.

One night I went to church and heard a missionary from Japan speak. My
goodness! how that man could say words! His appeal for workers to go to
the Flowery Kingdom was as convincing as the hump on his nose, as
irresistible as the fire in his eyes. The combination ended in my coming
as a teacher to the eager Nipponese, who were all athirst for English.
Japan I knew was a country all by itself, and not a slice off of China;
that it raised rice, kimonos and heathen. Otherwise it was only a place
on the map. Whatever the new country might hold, at least, I thought,
it would open a door that would lead me far away from the drab world in
which I lived.

My appointment led me to the little city of Hijiyama, overlooking the
magical Inland Sea. It is swung in the cleft of a mountain like a
clustered jewel tucked in the folds of a giant velvet robe. It is a
place of crumbling castles and lotus-filled moats. Here progress
hesitated before the defiant breath of the ancient gods. For centuries a
city of content, whispers of greater things finally reached the
listening ears of eager youth, fired ambition, demanded things foreign,
especially the English language, and I came in on this great wave.

I found near contentment and sober joy in my work and my beautiful old
garden. But deep down in my heart I was waiting, ever waiting, for
something to happen - something big, stirring, and tremendous, something
romantic and poetical; but it never did. Year after year I wore the
groove of my life deeper, but never slipped out of it, and one day was
so like another it was hard to believe that even a night separated them.

Then without the slightest warning the change came. One day in my mail I
found a letter from a student which read as follows:

O! Most Respected Teacher.

How it was our great pleasure to write your noble personage.
When I triumphed to my native home after speaking last lesson
before your honorable face, my knowledge was informed by
rumors of gossip that in most hateful place in city of
Hijiyama was American lady. She wear name of Miss Jaygray. Who
have affliction of kind heart and very bad health. Also she
have white hair and no medicine. Street she live in have also
Japanese gentlemans what kill and steal and even lie. Very bad
for lady who have nice thought for gentlemans, and speak many
words about Christians God. Now not one word can she speak.
Her sicker too great. Your great country say "Unions is strong
and we stand together till divided by falling out." Please
union with lady countryman and also divide. She very tired. I
think little hungry too.

Yours verily

(Some little more.) Go down House of Flying-Sparrow Street and
discover Tube-Rose Lane. There maybe you see policeman. He
whistle his two partner. Hand in hand they show you bad
gentlemens street where lives sick ladys mansion.

I hastened at once to the succor of my sick countrywoman. The way led
through streets obscure and ill-kept, the inhabitants covertly seeking
shelter as the policemen and I approached. It was a section I knew to
be the rendezvous of outcasts of this and neighboring cities. It was a
place where the bravest officer never went alone. For making a last
stand for the right to their pitiful sordid lives, the criminals herded
together in one desperate band when danger threatened any of the
brotherhood. The very stillness of the streets bespoke hidden iniquity.
Every house presented a closed front. Surely, I thought, ignorance of
conditions could be the only excuse for any woman of any creed choosing
to live in such surroundings as these.

In the cleanest of the hovels I found Miss Gray, her middle-aged figure
shrunken to the proportions of a child. There was no difficulty in
finding the cause of her illness. She was half-starved. Her reason for
being in that section was as senseless as it was mistaken, except to one
whose heart had been fired by a passion for saving souls. After being
revived by a stimulant from my emergency kit, she told me her name,
which I already knew, that she was an American and her calling that of a
missionary. I thought I knew every type of the profession and I was
proud to call many of them my friends, but Miss Gray was an original
model, peculiar in quality and indefinite in pattern.

"Does your Mission Board give you permission to live in a place or
fashion like this?" I asked sternly.

"Haven't any Board," she answered weakly. "I'm an Independent."

"Independent what?" I demanded.

"Independent Daughter of Hope."

Her appearance was a libel on any variety of independence and a joke on
hope, but I waited for the rest of the story.

She said that the Order to which she belonged was not large. She was one
of a small band of women bound by a solemn oath to go where they could
and seek to help and uplift fallen humanity by living the life of the
native poor. She had chosen Japan because it was "so pretty and
poetical." She had worked her way across the Pacific as stewardess on a
large steamer, and had landed in Hijiyama a few months before with
enough cash to keep a canary bird in delicate health for a month. Her
enthusiasm was high, her zeal blazed. If only her faith were strong
enough to stand the test, her need for food and clothing would be
supplied from somewhere. "Now," she moaned, "something has happened.
Maybe my want of absolute trust brought me to it. I'm sick and hungry
and I've failed. Oh! I wanted to help these sweet people; I wanted to
save their dear souls."

I was skeptical as to this special brand of philanthropy, but I was
touched by the grief of her disappointed hopes. I knew the particular
sting. At the same time my hand twitched to shake her for going into
this thing in so impractical a way. Teaching and preaching in a foreign
land may include romance, but I've yet to hear where the most
enthusiastic or fanatical found nourishment or inspiration on a diet of
visions pure and simple. While there must be something worth while in a
woman who could starve for her belief, yet in the eyes of the one before
me was the look of a trusting child who would never know the practical
side of life any more than she would believe in its ugliness. It was not
faith she needed. It was a guardian.

"Maybe I had better die," she wailed. "Dead missionaries are far too few
to prove the glory of the cause."

I suggested that live ones could glorify far more than dead ones, and
told her that I was going to take her home with me and put strength into
her body and a little judgment into her head, if I could.

She broke out again. "Oh, I cannot go! I must stay here! If work is
denied me, maybe it is my part to starve and prove my faith by selling
my soul for the highest price."

Although I was to learn that this was a favorite expression of Miss
Gray's, the meaning of which she never made quite clear to me, that day
it sounded like the melancholy mutterings of hunger. For scattering
vapors of pessimism, and stirring up symptoms of hope, I'd pin my faith
to a bowl of thick hot soup before I would a book full of sermons.

Without further argument I called to some coolies to come with a "kago,"
a kind of lie-down-sit-up basket swung from a pole, and in it we laid
the weak, protesting woman.

The men lifted it to their shoulders and the little procession, guarded
fore and aft by a policeman, moved through the sinister shadows of
Flying Sparrow street to the clearer heights of "The House of the Misty

Long training had strengthened, and association had verified my
unshakable belief that the most essential quality of the very high
calling of a missionary, is an unlimited supply of consecrated
commonsense. So far, not a vestige of it had I discovered in the devotee
I was taking to my home, but Jane Gray was as full of surprises as
she was of sentiment.

[Illustration: Through the sinister shadows of Flying Sparrow Street]

She not only stayed in my house, but with her coming the spell of
changeless days was broken. It was as if her thin hand held the charm by
which my door of opportunity was flung wide, and through it I saw my
garden of dreams bursting into flower.



I had always been dead set against taking a companion permanently into
my home. For one reason I heeded the warning of the man who made the
Japanese language. To denote "peace" he drew a picture of a roof with a
woman under it. Evidently being a gentleman of experience, he expressed
the word "trouble" by adding another person of the same sex to the
picture without changing the size of the roof.

Then, too, there was my cash account to settle with. Ever since I'd been
drawing a salary from the National Education Board of Missions, I felt
like apologizing to the few feeble figures that stared accusingly at me
from my small ledger, for the demands I made upon them for charity, for
sickness, and for entertainment of all who knocked at my door.

My classes were always crowded, but there were times when the purses of
my students were more lean than their bodies. Frequently such an one
looked at me and said, "Moneys have all flewed away from my pockets.
Only have vast consuming fire for learning." It being against my
principle to see anybody consumed while I had a rin, there was nothing
to do but make up to the Board what I had failed to collect.

These circumstances caused me to hesitate risking the peace of my
household, or putting one more responsibility on my purse.

Then sweet potatoes decided me. It was a matter of history that famine,
neither wide-spread nor local, ever gained a foothold where "Satsuma
Emo" flourished. This year they were fatter and cheaper than ever
before. I knew dozens of ways to fix them, natural and disguised; so I
bought an extra supply and made up my mind to keep Jane Gray.

The little missionary thrived in her new environment as would a drooping
plant freshly potted. As she grew stronger, she hinted at trying once
again to live in her old quarters, that she might fast and work and pray
for her sinners. I promptly suppressed any plans in that direction.

After all, I had been a lonelier woman than I realized, and Jane was
like a kitten with a bell around its neck - one grows used to its
playing about the house and misses it when gone. She also resembled a
fixed star in her belief that she had been divinely appointed to carry a
message of hope to the vilest of earth, and I felt that the same power
had charged me with the responsibility of impressing her with a measure
of commonsense.

So we compromised for a while at least. She would stay with me, and I
would not interfere with her work in the crime section, nor give way to
remarks on the subject.

I was sure the conditions in the Quarter would prove impossible, but as
some people cannot be convinced unless permitted to draw their own
diagram of failure, it was best for her to try when she was able to make
the effort.

The making of an extra room in a Japanese house is only a matter of
shifting a paper screen or so into a ready-made groove. It took me some
time to decide whether I should screen off Jane in the corner that
commanded a full view of the wonderful sea, or at the end where by
sliding open the paper doors she could step at once into the fairy land
of my garden.

Jane decided it herself. I discovered her stretched in an old
wheel-chair before the open doors, looking into the sun-flooded
greenery of the garden, and heard her softly repeating,

"Fair as plumes of dreams
In a land
Where only dreams come true,
And flutes of memory waken
Longings forgotten."

Any one who felt that way about my garden had a right to live close to

In half an hour Jane was established. My enthusiasm waned a bit the next
day when I found all the pigeons in the neighborhood fluttering about
the open door, fearlessly perching on the invalid's lap and shoulders
while she fed them high-priced rice and dainty bits of dearly-bought

I dispersed the pigeons with a flap of my apron and with forced mildness
protested. "I'm obliged to ask you to be less generous. The price of
rice is higher than those pigeons can fly and, as for chicken, it's
about ten sen a feather. There's abundant food for you; but we cannot
afford to feed all the fowls of the air."

"Oh! dear Miss Jenkins, I couldn't drive them away. The cunning things!
Every coo they uttered sounded like a love word."

I hoped it was the patient's physical weakness, and not a part of her

I could not possibly survive a steady diet of emotion so tender that it
bubbled over at the flutter of a pigeon's wing.

I'd brought it on myself, however, and I was determined to share my home
and my life with Jane Gray. Sentimental and visionary as she was, with
the funny little twist in her tongue, the poor excuse of a body seemed
the last place power of any kind would choose for a habitation. I was
not disposed to attribute the supernatural to my companion, but from the
day of her arrival unusual events popped up to speak for themselves.

A nearby volcano, asleep for half a century, blew off its cap, covering
land and sea with ashes and fiery lava. All my pink roses bloomed weeks
earlier than they had any business to, and for the first time in years
my old gardener got drunk. Between dashes of cold water on his head he
tearfully wailed my unexpressed sentiments, in part:

"Too many damfooly things happen all same time. Evil spirit get loose.
Sake help me fight. Me nice boy. Me ve'y good boy but I no like foreign
devil what is."

Then one day, about a month after my family had been enlarged, I had
just wheeled my newly acquired responsibility out in the garden to sun
when Kishimoto San called. He often came for consultation. While his
chief interest in life was to keep Hijiyama strictly Japanese and
rigidly Buddhist, he was also superintendent of schools for his district
and educational matters gave us a common interest. However, the late
afternoon was an unusual hour for him to appear and one glance at his
face showed trouble of a personal nature had drawn heavy lines in his
mask of calmness. I had known Kishimoto San for twenty years. Part of
him I could read like a primer; the other part was a sealed volume to
which I doubt if even Buddha had the key. Sometimes when he was calling
I wished Gabriel would appear in my doorway and announce the end of the
world to see, if without omitting a syllable, Kishimoto would keep on to
the end of the last phrase in the greeting prescribed for the occasion.

The ceremony off his mind, he sat silent, unresponsive to the openings I
tried to make for a beginning. Not till I had exhausted small talk of
current events and asked after his family in particular instead of his
ancestors in general, did his tongue loosen.

Then the floodgates of his pent-up emotion opened and forth poured a
torrent of anger, disappointment, and outraged pride. I had never before
seen a man so shaken, but then I hadn't seen many, much less one with
the red blood of Daimyos in his veins. He was a man whose soul dwelt in
the innermost place of a citadel built of ancient beliefs and

Out of the unchecked flood of denunciation, I learned that he held
Christianity responsible for his woes. I, as a believer and an American,
must hear what he thought; as his friend I must advise him if I could.

In the twenty years that I had known the school superintendent, he had
always been reserved regarding his personal and family life. To me his
home was a vague, blurred background in which possible members of his
family moved. He surprised me this day by referring in detail to the
bitter grief which had come to him in years gone by through his only

I had heard the story outside, but not even remotely had Kishimoto San
ever before hinted that he possessed a child. I knew his need for help
must be imperative, that the wound was torn afresh, else he was too good
a Buddhist to make "heavy the ears of a friend" with a recital of his
own sorrows.

He said he had been most ambitious for his daughter. Years ago he had
sent her to Yokohama to study English and music. While there the girl
lived with his sister who had absorbed many new ideas regarding liberty
for women. Once he was absent from Japan and without his knowledge the
girl married an American artist, Harold Wingate by name, and went with
him to his country to live.

Kishimoto San had not seen her since her marriage until lately. He had
honorably prayed that he never would. Some weeks before she had returned
to Hijiyama practically penniless, which was bad, and a widow, which
made it very difficult to marry her off again; but worse still was the
half-breed child she had brought with her, a daughter of about
seventeen. This girl, whose name was Zura, I soon found was the sore
spot in Kishimoto San's grievance, the center around which his storm of
trouble brewed.

It was like pouring oil on flames when I asked particularly about the

Though he could speak English that was quite understandable, he broke
loose in Japanese hardly translatable. "She is a wild, untamed
barbarian. She has neither manners nor modesty, and not only dares
openly to scorn the customs of my country and religion, but defies my

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Online LibraryFrances LittleThe House of the Misty Star A Romance of Youth and Hope and Love in Old Japan → online text (page 1 of 12)