Chapter Nine. In the Cave of the Children's Ghosts
'Returning-time-in-to-look-at-as-for-is-good.' As we descend to the bay, the whole of Kaka-ura, including even the long-invisible ancients of the village, accompanies us; making no sound except the pattering of geta. Thus we are escorted to our boat. Into all the other craft drawn up on the beach the younger folk clamber lightly, and seat themselves on the prows and the gunwales to gaze at the marvellous Thing-that-by-looking- at-worn-out-is-not. And all smile, but say nothing, even to each other: somehow the experience gives me the sensation of being asleep; it is so soft, so gentle, and so queer withal, just like things seen in dreams. And as we glide away over the blue lucent water I look back to see the people all waiting and gazing still from the great semicircle of boats; all the slender brown child-limbs dangling from the prows; all the velvety-black heads motionless in the sun; all the boy-faces smiling Jizo-smiles; all the black soft eyes still watching, tirelessly watching, the Thing-that-by-looking-at-worn-out-is-not. And as the scene, too swiftly receding, diminishes to the width of a kakemono, I vainly wish that I could buy this last vision of it, to place it in my toko, and delight my soul betimes with gazing thereon. Yet another moment, and we round a rocky point; and Kaka-ura vanishes from my sight for ever. So all things pass away.
Assuredly those impressions which longest haunt recollection are the most transitory: we remember many more instants than minutes, more minutes than hours; and who remembers an entire day? The sum of the remembered happiness of a lifetime is the creation of seconds. 'What is more fugitive than a smile? yet when does the memory of a vanished smile expire? or the soft regret which that memory may evoke?
Regret for a single individual smile is something common to normal human nature; but regret for the smile of a population, for a smile considered as an abstract quality, is certainly a rare sensation, and one to be obtained, I fancy, only in this Orient land whose people smile for ever like their own gods of stone. And this precious experience is already mine; I am regretting the smile of Kaka.
Simultaneously there comes the recollection of a strangely grim Buddhist legend. Once the Buddha smiled; and by the wondrous radiance of that smile were countless worlds illuminated. But there came a Voice, saying: 'It is not real! It cannot last!' And the light passed.