Hallie Erminie Rives.

The kingdom of slender swords online

. (page 13 of 23)
Online LibraryHallie Erminie RivesThe kingdom of slender swords → online text (page 13 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

house and passed down the moon-lighted street. He walked stumblingly,
cowering at the tree-shadows, peering nervously over his shoulder like
one who feels the presence of a ghastly familiar.

In the great room he had left, Bersonin stood by the fireplace. The
nervous strain and exaltation were still on him. He poured out a glass
of the liqueur which he had not yet tasted and drank it off. The hot
pungent mint sent a glow along his nerves. Behind him Ishida was
methodically removing the dinner service. The doctor crossed the room
and stood before the bamboo cage. He drew back the spring-door and
whistling, held out his finger.

"Here, Dick!" he called. "Here, boy!"

There was no response.

He started. His face turned a gray-green. He drew back and stealthily
turned his head.

But the Japanese did not seem to have noticed the silence. With the tray
in his hands, he was looking fixedly at the feathery sprays of
reddish-yellow dust on the polished top of the desk.



Barbara pushed open the bamboo gate of the temple garden, then paused.
The recluse with whom she had talked yesterday sat a little way
inside, while before him, in an attitude of deepest attention, stood
the diminutive figure on the huge clogs whose morning acquaintance she
had made from her window. Thorn was looking at him earnestly with his
great myopic eye, through a heavy glass mounted with a handle like a

"My son," he said. "Why will you persist in eating _amé_, when I have
taught you the classics and the true divinity of the universe? It is too
sweet for youthful teeth. One of these days you will be carried to a
dentist, an esteemed person with horrible tools, prior to the removal of
a small hell, containing several myriads of lost souls, from the left
side of your lower jaw!"

Barbara's foot grated on a pebble and he rose with a startled quickness.
The youngster bent double, his face preternaturally grave. Thorn thrust
the glass into his sleeve and smiled.

"I am experimenting on this oriental raw material," he said, "to
illustrate certain theories of my own. Ishikichi-_San_, though a slave
to the sweetmeat dealer, is a learned infant. He can write forty Chinese
characters and recite ten texts of Mencius. He also knows many damnable
facts about figures which they teach in school. He has just propounded a
question that Confucius was too wise to answer: 'Why is poverty?' Not
being so wise as the Chinese sage, I attempted its elucidation. Thus
endeth our lesson to-day, Ishikichi. _Sayonara_."

He bowed. The child ducked with a jerky suddenness that sent his round,
battered hat rolling at Barbara's feet. She picked it up and set it on
the shaven head.

"Oh!" she said humbly. "I beg your pardon, Ishikichi! I put the rim
right in your eye!"

"Don't menshum it," he returned solemnly. "I got another." He stalked to
the gate, faced about, bobbed over again and disappeared.

Barbara looked after him smilingly. "Is Ishikichi in straitened
circumstances? Or is his bent political economy?"

"His father has been ill for a long time," Thorn replied. "He keeps a
shop, and in some way the child has heard that they will have to give it
up. It troubles him, for he can't imagine existence without it."

"What a pity! I would be so glad to - do you think I could give them

He shook his head. "After you have been here a while, you will find that
simple charity in Japan is not apt to be a welcome thing."

"I am beginning to understand already," she said, as they walked along
the stepping-stones, "that these gentle-mannered people do not lack the
sterner qualities. Yet how they grace them! The iron-hand is here, but
it has the velvet glove. Courtesy and kindness seem almost a religion
with them."

"More," he answered. "This is the only country I have seen in the world
whose people, when I walk the street, do not seem to notice that I am

She made no pretense of misunderstanding. "Believe me," she said gently,
"it is no disfigurement. But I understand. My father lived all his life
in the dread of blindness."

A faint sound came from him. She was aware, without lifting her eyes to
his, that he was staring at her strangely.

"All his life. Then your father is not ... living?"

"He died before I was born."

She glanced at him as she spoke, for his tone had been muffled and
indistinct. There was a deep furrow in his forehead which she had not
seen before.

"Do you look like him?"

"No, he was dark. I am like my mother."

Thorn was looking away from her, toward the lane, where, beyond the
hedge, a man was passing, half-singing, half-chanting to himself in a
repressed, sepulchral voice.

"My mother died, too, when I was a little girl," she added, "so I know
really very little about him."

She had forgotten to look for the Flower-of-Dream. They had come to the
little lake with its mossy stones and basking, orange carp. Through the
gap in the shrubbery the white witchery of Fuji-San glowed in the sun
with far-faint shudderings of lilac fire. She sat down on a sunny
boulder. Thorn stooped over the water, looking into its cool, green
depths, and she saw him pass his hand over his brow in that familiar,
half-hesitant gesture of the day before.

"Will you tell me that little?" he asked. "I think I should like to

"I very seldom talk about him," she said, looking dreamily out across
the distance, "but not because I don't like to. You see, knowing so
little, I used to dream out the rest, so that he came to seem quite
real. Does that sound very childish and fanciful?"

"Tell me the dreams," he answered. "Mine are always more true than

"He was born," she began, "in the Mediterranean - "

She turned her head. The stone on which Thorn's foot rested had crashed
into the water. He staggered slightly in regaining his balance, and his
face had the pale, startled look it wore when he had first seen her from
the roadside. He drew back, and again his hand went up across his face.

"Yes," he said. "Go on."

"In the Mediterranean - just where, I don't know, but on an island - and
his mother was Romaic. I have never seen Greece, but I like to know that
some of it is in my blood. His father was American, of a family that had
a tradition of Gipsy descent. Perhaps he was born with the 'thumb-print'
on the palm that they call the Romany mark. As a child I used to wonder
what it looked like."

She smiled up at him, but his face was turned away. He had taken his
hand from his brow, and slipped it into his loose sleeve, and stood
rigidly erect.

"I often used to try to imagine his mother. I am sure she had a dark and
beautiful face, with large, brown eyes like a wild deer's, that used to
bend above his cradle. Perhaps each night she crossed her fingers over
him, and said - "

"_En to onoma tou Patros_," he repeated, "_kai tou Ouiou kai tou Agiou

"Yes," she said, surprised. "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy
Ghost. You know it?"

"It is the old Greek-orthodox fashion," he said in a low voice.

"I should not wonder," she continued, "if she made three little wounds
on him, as a baby, as I have read Greek mothers do, to place him under
the protection of the Trinity. She must have loved him - her first
boy-baby! And I think the most of what he was came to him from her."

Thorn moved his position suddenly, and Barbara saw his shoulders rise in
a deep-taken breath.

"Love of right and hatred of wrong," he said, "admiration for the
beautiful and the true, faith in man and woman, sensitiveness to
artistic things - ah, it is most often the mother who makes men what they
are. Not our strength or power of calculation, but her heart and power
to love! In the twilight of every home one sees the mother-souls glowing
like fireflies. I never had a picture of my mother. I would rather have
her portrait than a fortune!"

His voice was charged with feeling. She felt a strange flutter of the
heart, a painful and yearning sympathy such as she had never felt

"I wonder what he saw from that Greek cradle," she resumed. "I could
never fancy the room so well. I suppose it had pictures. Do you think

He nodded. "And maybe - on one wall - a Greek _ikon_, protected by a
silver case ... I've seen such ... that left exposed only the
olive-brown faces and hands and feet of the figures. Perhaps ... when he
was very little ... he used to think the brown Virgin represented his
mother and the large-eyed child himself."

"Ah," she cried, and a deeper light came in her eyes. "You have been in
Greece! You have seen what he saw!" But he made no reply, and after a
moment she went on:

"He had never known what terror was till one day an accident, received
in play, brought him the fear of blindness. It must have stayed with him
all his life after that, wherever he went - for he lived in other
countries. I have a few leaves of an old diary of his ... here and there
I feel it in the lines."

She, too, fell silent. "And then - ?" he said.

"There my dreams end. You see how little I know of him. I don't know why
he came to Japan. But he met my mother here and here they were married.
I should always love Japan, if only for that."

"He - died here?"

"In Nagasaki. My mother went back to America, and there I was born."

She was looking out across the wide space where the roofs sank out of
sight - to the foliaged slope of Aoyama. Suddenly a thrill, a curiously
complex motion, ran over her. Above those far tree-tops, sailing in
slow, sweeping, concentric circles, she saw a great machine, like a
gigantic vulture. She knew instantly what it was, and there flashed
before her the memory of a day at Fort Logan when a brave young
lieutenant had crashed to death before her eyes in a shattered

If Daunt were to fall ... what would it mean to her! In that instant the
garden about her, Thorn, the blue sky above, faded, and she stared
dismayed into a gulf in whose shadows lurked the disastrous, the
terrifying, the irreparable. "I love him! I love him!" - it seemed to
peal like a temple-bell through her brain. Even to herself she could
never deny it again!

She became aware of music near at hand. It brought her back to the
present, for it was the sound of the organ in the new Chapel across the

Looking up, she was struck by the expression on Thorn's face. He seemed,
listening, to be held captive by some dire recollection. It brought to
her mind that bitter cry:

"I can not but remember such things were,
That were most precious to me!"

She rose with a sudden swelling of the throat.

"I must go now," she said. "The Chapel is to be dedicated this morning.
The organ is playing for the service now."

She led the way along the stepping-stones to the bamboo gate. As they
approached, through the interstices of the farther hedge she could see
the figure of the Ambassador, with Mrs. Dandridge, among the _kimono_
entering the chapel door. In the temple across the yard the baton had
begun its tapping and the dulled, monotonous tom-tom mingled weirdly
with the soaring harmonies of the organ.

With her hand on the paling she spoke again:

"One thing I didn't tell you. It was I who built the Chapel. It is in
the memory of my father. See, there is the memorial window. They were
putting it in place when I came a little while ago."

She was not looking at Thorn, or she would have seen his face overspread
with a whiteness like that of death. He stood as if frozen to marble.
The morning sun on the Chapel's eastern side, striking through its open
casements, lighted the iridescent rose-window with a tender radiance,
gilding the dull yellow aureole about the head of the Master and giving
life and glow to the face beside Him - dark, beardless, and passionately
tender - at which Thorn was staring, with what seemed almost an agony of

"St. John," she said softly, "'the disciple whom Jesus loved.'" She drew
from the bosom of her dress the locket she always wore and opened it.
"The face was painted from this - the only picture I have of my father."

His hand twitched as he took it. He looked at it long and earnestly - at
the name carved on its lid. "Barbara - Barbara Fairfax!" he said. She
thought his lips shook under the gray mustache.

"You - are a Buddhist, are you not?" she asked. "And Buddhists believe
the spirits of the dead are always about us. Do you think - perhaps - he
sees the Chapel?"

He put her locket into her hands hastily. "God!" he said, as if to
himself. "He will see it through a hundred existences!"

Her eyes were moist and shining. "I am glad you think that," she said.

In the Chapel the bishop's gaze kindled as it went out over the kneeling

"_We beseech Thee, that in this place now set apart to Thy
service, Thy holy name may be worshiped in truth and purity
through all generations._"

The voice rang valiant and clear in the summer hush. It crossed the
still lane and entered a window where, in a temple loft, a man sat still
and gray and quiet, his hands clenched in his _kimono_ sleeves:

"_We humbly dedicate it to Thee, in the memory of one for the
saving of whose soul Thou wert lifted upon the Cross._"

The man in the loft threw himself on his face with a terrible cry.

"My child!" he cried in a breaking voice. "My little, little child, whom
they have robbed me of - whom I have never known in all these weary
years! You have grown away from me - I shall never have you now! Never
... never!"

Behind him the unfinished image of Kwan-on the All-Pitying, tossed the
sunlight about the room in golden-lettered flashes, and beneath his
closed and burning lids these seemed to blend and weave - to form bossed
letters which had stared at him from the rim of the rose-window:




The day had dawned sultry, with a promise of summer humidity, and Daunt
was not surprised to find the barometer performing intemperate antics.
"Confound it!" he muttered irritably, as he dressed. "If it was a month
later, one would think there was a typhoon waltzing around somewhere in
the China Sea."

That morning had seen his first trial of his new fan-propeller, and
the Glider's action had surpassed his wildest expectation. The flight,
of which Barbara had caught a glimpse from Thorn's garden, had been a
longer one than usual - quite twelve miles against a sluggish upper
current - but even that failed to bring its customary glow. Thereafter
he had spent a long morning immersed in the work of the Chancery: the
study of a disputed mining concession in Manchuria; a report on a
contemplated issue of government bonds; a demand for a passport by a
self-alleged national with a foreign accent and a paucity of
naturalization papers; the daily budget of translations from
vernacular newspapers, by which a home government gains a bird's-eye
view of comment and public opinion in far-away capitals. The Chancery
was a pleasant nest of rooms opening into one another. Through its
windows stole the smell of the garden blossoms, and across the
compound wall sounded the shrill ventriloquistic notes of peddlers, the
brazen chorus of a marching squad of buglers, or the warning "_Hek!
Hek!_" of a flying _rick'sha_. The main room was cool, furnished with
plain desks and filing cabinets. Against one wall yawned a huge safe in
which were kept the code-books and records, and framed pictures of
former Chiefs of Mission hung on the walls. In the anteroom Japanese
clerks and messengers sat at small tables. The place was pervaded by the
click of type-writer keys, tinkling call-bells, and the various notes of
a busy office, and floating down from a stairway came the buzzing
monotone of a Student Interpreter in his mid-year oral examinations
under the Japanese secretary.

But to-day Daunt could not exorcise with the mass of detail the leering
imps that plagued him. They peered at him over the edge of the
code-books and whispered from the margins of decorous despatches,
chuckling satirically.

"Barbara!" they sneered. "Mere acquaintances often name steam-yachts for
girls, don't they! Arrived the same day as her ship, eh? Rather singular
coincidence! What a flush she had when Voynich spoke of Phil's brother
last night at the tea-house. Angry? Of course she was! What engaged girl
likes to have the fact paraded - especially when she's practising on
another man? And how about the telegram? How long have you known her, by
the way? Two days? Really, now!"

The weekly governmental pouch had closed at noon, and pouch-days were
half-holidays, but Daunt did not go to the Embassy. An official letter
had arrived from Washington which must be delivered in Kamakura. Daunt
seized this excuse, plunged ferociously into tweeds and an hour
afterward found himself in a railway carriage thudding gloomily toward
the lower bay. In his heart he knew that he was trying to run away - from
something that nevertheless traveled with him.

The sky was palely blue, without a cloud, but the bay, where the rails
skirted it, was heaving in long swells of oily amethyst like a vast
carpet shaken at a distance in irregular undulations, on which _junk_
with flapping, windless sails, of the deep gold color of old straw,
tumbled like ungainly sea-spiders. The western hills looked misty and
uncertain, and Fuji was wrapped in a wraith-like mist into which its
glimmering profile disappeared.

At a way-station a coolie with a huge tray piled with neat, flat, wooden
boxes passed the window calling "_Ben-to! Ben-to!_" It reminded Daunt
that he had had no luncheon, and he bought one. He had long ago
accustomed himself to Japanese food and liked it, but to-day the two
shallow sections inspired no appetite. The half which held the rice he
viciously threw out of the window and unrolling the fresh-cut
chop-sticks from their paper square, rummaged discontentedly among the
contents of the other: dried cuttlefish, bean-curd, slices of boiled
lily-bulb, cinnamon-sticks, lotos stems and a coil of edible seaweed,
all wrapped in green leaves. In the end, the _mélange_ followed the

At Kamakura an immediate answer to the letter he brought was not
forthcoming, and to kill the time he strolled far down the curved beach.
The usual breeze was lacking. A haze as fine as gossamer had drawn
itself over the sky, and through it gulls were calling plaintively. Here
and there on the sea-wall women were spreading fish-nets, and along the
causeway trudged blue-legged peasant-women, their backs bent beneath
huge loads of brushwood. In one place a bronze-faced fisherman in a
fantastic _kimono_ on which was painted sea-monsters and hobgoblins in
crimson and orange, seated on the gunwale of his _sampan_ drawn above
the shingle, watched a little girl who, with clothing clutched
thigh-high, was skipping the frothy ripples as if they were ropes of
foam. A mile from the town he met a regiment of small school-boys, in
indigo-blue and white _kimono_, marching two and two like miniature
soldiers, a teacher in European dress at either end of the line - future
Oyamas, Togos and Kurokis in embryo.

They were coming from Enoshima, the hill-island that rises in the bay
like an emerald St. Michael, where in a rocky cave, looking seaward,
dwells holy Ben-ten, the Buddhist Goddess of Love. Daunt could see its
masses of dark green foliage with their pink veinings of cherry-trees,
and the crawling line of board-walk, perched on piling, which gave
access from the mainland when the tide was in. On its height, if
anywhere, would be coolness. He filled his pipe and set off toward it
along the sultry sand. The hot dazzle of the sun was in his face. There
was no movement in the crisp leaves of the bamboo trees and the damp
heat beat up stiflingly from the gray glare. Somewhere in the air,
stirless and humid, there rested a faint, weedy smell like a steaming
sea-growth in a tidal ooze.

Daunt's pipe sputtered feebly, and, girding at the heat, he hurled it at
a handful of blue ducks that plashed tiredly in the gray-green heave,
and watched them dive, to reappear far away, like bobbing corks. He
wished he could as easily scatter the blue-devils that dogged him.

He drew a sigh of relief as he reached the long elevated board-walk and
shook the sand from his shoes. Underneath its shore-end a fisherman sat
in the stern of a boat fishing with cormorants. A row of the solemn
birds sat on a pole projecting over the water, each tethered by a string
whose end was tied to the man's wrist. They seemed to be asleep, but now
and then one would plunge like a diver, to reappear with a fish
wriggling in its beak. Daunt watched them listlessly a moment, then,
passing beneath a great bronze _torii_, he slowly climbed the single
shaded street that staggered up the hill between the multitudes of gay
little shops running over with colored sea-shells, with grotesque
lanterns made of inflated fish-skins, with carved crystal and pink and
white coral - up and up, by old, old flights of mossy steps, under more
ancient trees, by green monuments and lichen-stippled Buddhas, till the
sea below crawled like a wrinkled counterpane. Daunt knew a tea-house on
the very lip of the cliff, the _Kinki-ro_ - "Inn of the Golden
Turtle" - and he bent his steps lazily in its direction.

In the heavy heat the low tile roof looked cool and inviting. Tall
soft-eyed iris were standing in its garden overlooking the water, and
against the green their velvety leaves made vivid splashes of golden
blue. On a dead tree two black crows were quarreling and cherry-petals
powdered the paths like pink hail. The haze, sifting from the sky,
seemed to wrap everything in a vast, shimmering veil. At the hedge he
paused an instant. Some one, somewhere, was humming, low-voiced, an air
that he had once loved. He pushed open the gate and went on into the
tremulous radiance. Then he stopped short.

Barbara was seated above him in the fork of a low camelia tree, one arm
laid out along a branch, her green gown blending with a bamboo thicket
behind her and her vivid face framed in the blossoms. She sat, chin in
hand, looking dreamily out across the bay, and the hummed song had a
rhythm that seemed to fit her thought - slow and infinitely tender.

"You!" he cried.

She turned with a startled movement that dissolved into low, delicious

"Fairly caught," she answered. "I don't often revert far enough to climb
trees, but I thought no one but Haru and I was here. Will you come and
help me down, Honorable Fly-man?"

"Wait - " he said. "What was the song you were humming?"

She looked at him with a quick intake of breath, then for answer began
to sing, in a voice that presently became scarce more than a whisper:

"Forgotten you? Well, if forgetting
Be hearing all the day
Your voice through all the strange babble
Of voices grave, now gay -
If counting each moment with longing
Till the one when I see you again,
If this be forgetting, you're right, dear!
And I have forgotten you then!"

Daunt's hand fell to his side. A young girl's face nested in creamy,
pink blossoms - a sweet, shy, flushed face under a mass of curling,
gold-bronze hair. "I remember now!" he said in a low voice. "I ... sang
it to you ... that day!"

"I am flattered!" she exclaimed. "The day before yesterday you had
forgotten that you ever saw poor little me! It was Mrs. Claybourne, of
course, that you sang to! Yet you were my idol for a long month and a

"It was to _you_," he said unsteadily. "I didn't know your name. But I
never forgot the song. I remembered it that night in the garden, when I
first heard you playing!"



They walked together around the curving road, leaving Haru with the
tea-basket. "Patsy would have come," Barbara had said, "but she is in
the clutches of her dressmaker." And Daunt had answered, "I have a
distinct regard for that Chinaman!"

His black mood had vanished, and the leering imps had flown. In the
brightness of her physical presence, how baseless and foolish seemed his
sullen imaginings! What man who owned a steam yacht, knowing her, would
not wish to name it the _Barbara_? Walking beside her, so near that he
could feel the touch of her light skirt against his ankles, it seemed

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHallie Erminie RivesThe kingdom of slender swords → online text (page 13 of 23)