VIII. Across the Etchiu Delta.

The twilight lingered, and the road threaded its tortuous course for miles through the rice plain, bordered on either hand by the dykes of the paddyfields. Every few hundred feet, we passed a farmhouse screened by clipped hedgerows and bosomed in trees; and at longer intervals we rolled through some village, the country pike becoming for the time the village street. The land was an archipelago of homestead in a sea of rice. But the trees about the dwellings so cut up the view, that for the moments of passing the mind forgot it was all so flat and came back to its ocean in surprise, when the next vista opened on the sides.

Things had already become silhouettes when we dashed into lantern-lighted Mikkaichi. We took the place in form, and a fine sensation we made. What between the shouts of the runners and the clatter of the chaises men, women and children made haste to clear a track, snatching their little ones back and then staring at us as we swept past. Indeed, the teams put their best feet foremost for local effect, and more than once came within an ace of running over some urchin who either would not or could not get out of the way. Fortunately no casualties occurred. For it would have been ignominious to have been arrested by the police during our first ten minutes in the town, not to speak of the sad dampening to our feelings an accident would have caused.

In this mad manner we dashed up the long main street. We were forced to take the side, for the village aqueduct or gutter - it served both purposes - monopolized the middle. At short intervals, it was spanned by causeways made of slabs of stone. Over one of these we made a final swirl and drew up before the inn. Then our shafts made their obeisance to the ground.

A warm welcome greeted the appeal. A crowd of servants came rushing to the front of the house with an eye to business, and a crowd of village folk with an eye to pleasure closed in behind. Between the two fires we stepped out and entered the side court, to the satisfaction of the one audience and the chagrin of the other. But it is impossible to please everybody.

Fortunately it was not so hard to please us, and certainly the inn people did their best; for they led the way to what formerly were the state apartments, that part of the house where the daimyo of Kaga had been wont to lodge when he stopped here over night on his journey north. Though it had fallen somewhat into disrepair, it was still the place of honor in the inn, and therefore politely put at the service of one from beyond sea. There I supped in solitary state, and there I slept right royally amid the relics of former splendor, doubting a little whether some unlaid ghost of bygone times might not come to claim his own, and oust me at black midnight by the rats, his retinue.

But nothing short of the sun called me back to consciousness and bade me open to the tiny garden, where a pair of ducks were preening their feathers after an early bath in their own little lake. On the veranda my lake already stood prepared; a brass basin upon a wooden stand, according to the custom of the country. So ducks and I dabbled and prinked in all innocence in the garden, which might well have been the garden of Eden for any hint it gave of a world beyond. It was my fate, too, to leave it after the same manner. For breakfast over we were once more of the road.

We had a long day of it before us, for I purposed to cross the Etchiu delta and sleep that night on the threshold of my hopes. The day, like all days that look long on the map, proved still longer on the march. Its itinerary diversified discomfort. First seventeen miles in kuruma, then a ferry, then a tramp of twelve miles along the beach through a series of sand dunes; then another ferry, and finally a second walk of seven miles and a half over some foothills to top off with. The inexpensiveness of the transport was the sole relieving feature of the day. Not, I mean, because the greater and worse half of the journey was done on our own feet, but because of the cheap charges of the chaises and even of the porters. To run at a dogtrot, trundling another in a baby carriage, seventeen miles for twenty cents is not, I hold, an extortionate price. Certain details of the tariff, however, are peculiar. For instance, if two men share the work by running tandem, the fare is more than doubled; a ratio in the art of proportion surprising at first. Each man would seem to charge for being helped. The fact is, the greater speed expected of the pair more than offsets the decreased draft.

Otherwise, as I say, the day was depressing. It was not merely the tramp through the sand dunes that was regrettable, though heaven knows I would not willingly take it again. The sand had far too hospitable a trick of holding on to you at every step to be to my liking. Besides, the sun, which had come out with summer insistence, chose that particular spot for its midday siesta, and lay there at full length, while the air was preternaturally still. It was a stupidly drowsy heat that gave no fillip to the feet.

But such discomfort was merely by the way. The real trouble began at Fushiki, the town on the farther side of the second ferry. In the first place the spot had, what is most uncommon in Japan, a very sorry look, which was depressing in itself. Secondly, its inhabitants were much too busy or much too unemployed, or both, to be able to attend to strangers at that hour of the afternoon. Consequently it was almost impossible to get any one to carry the baggage. We dispatched emissaries, however. By good luck we secured some beer, and then argued ourselves dry again on the luggage question. The emissaries were at work, we were assured, and at last some one who had been sent for was said to be coming. Still time dragged on, until finally the burden bearers turned up, and turned out to be - women.

At this I rebelled. The situation was not new, but it was none the less impossible. In out-of-the-way districts I had refused offers of the kind before. For Japanese beasts of burden run in a decreasing scale as follows, according to the poverty of the place: jinrikisha, horses, bulls, men, women. I draw my line at the last. I am well aware how absurd the objects themselves regard such a protective policy, but I cling to my prejudices. To the present proffer I was adamant. To step jauntily along in airy unencumberedness myself, while a string of women trudged wearily after, loaded with my heavy personal effects, was more than an Anglo-Saxon attitude towards the sex could stand. I would none of them, to the surprise and dismay of the inn landlord, and to the no slight wonder of the women. The discarding was not an easy piece of work. The fair ones were present at it, and I have no doubt misinterpreted the motive. For women have a weakness for a touch of the slave-master in a man. Beside, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," though it be only in the capacity of a porter. There was nothing for it, however, but to let it go at that. For to have explained with more insistence would infallibly have deepened their suspicions of wounded vanity. But it did seem hard to be obliged to feel a brute for refusing to be one.

The landlord, thanks to my importunities, managed after some further delay to secure a couple of lusty lads, relatives, I suspect, of the discarded fair ones, and with them we eventually set out. We had not gone far, when I came to consider, unjustly, no doubt, that they journeyed too slow. I might have thought differently had I carried the chattels and they the purse. I shuddered to think what the situation would have been with women, for then even the poor solace of remonstrance would have been denied. As it was, I spent much breath in trying to hurry them, and it is pleasanter now than it was then to reflect how futilely. For I rated them roundly, while they accepted my verbal goadings with the trained stolidity of folk who were used to it.

When at last we approached the village of our destination, which bore the name of Himi, it was already dusk, and this with the long May twilight meant a late hour before we should be comfortably housed. Indeed, I had been quartered in anticipation for the last few miles, and was only awaiting arrival to enter into instant possession of my fancied estate. Not content even with pure insubstantiality, I had interviewed various people through Yejiro on the subject. First, the porters had been exhaustively catechized, and then what wayfarers we chanced to meet had been buttonholed beside; with the result of much contradictory information. There seemed to be an inn which was, I will not say good, but the best, but no two informants could agree in calling it by name. One thought he remembered that the North Inn was the place to go to; another that he had heard the Wistaria House specially commended.

All doubts, however, were set at rest when we reached the town. For without the slightest hesitation, every one of the houses in question refused to take us in. The unanimity was wonderful considering the lack of collusion. Yejiro and I made as many unsuccessful applications together as I could stand. Then I went and sat down on the sill of the first teahouse for a base of operations - I cannot say for my headquarters, because that is just what we could not get - and gave myself up to melancholy. Meanwhile Yejiro ransacked the town, from which excursions he returned every few minutes with a fresh refusal, but the same excuse. It got so at last I could anticipate the excuse. The inn was full already - of assessors and their victims. The assessors had descended on the spot, it seemed, and the whole country-side had come to town to lie about the value of its land. I only wished the inhabitants might have chosen some other time for false swearing. For it was a sad tax on my credulity.

We did indeed get one offer which I duly went to inspect, but the outside of the house satisfied me. At last I adopted extreme measures. I sent Yejiro off to the police station. This move produced its effect.

Even at home, from having contrived to keep on the sunny side of the law and order, my feelings toward the police are friendly enough for all practical purposes; but in no land have I such an affectionate regard for the constabulary as in Japan. Members of the force there, if the term be applicable to a set of students spectacled from over-study, whose strength is entirely moral, never get you into trouble, and usually get you out of it. One of their chief charms to the traveler lies in their open-sesame effect upon obdurate landlords. In this trick they are wonderfully successful.

Having given ourselves up to the police, therefore, we were already by way of being lodged, and that quickly. So indeed it proved. In the time to go and come, Yejiro reappeared with an officer in civilian's clothes, who first made profuse apologies for presenting himself in undress, but it seemed he was off duty at the moment, - and then led the way a stone's throw round the corner; and in five minutes I was sitting as snugly as you please in a capital room in an inn's third story, sipping tea and pecking at sugar plums, a distinctly honored guest.

Here fate put in a touch of satire. For it now appeared that all our trouble was quite gratuitous. Most surprisingly the innkeepers' story on this occasion proved to be entirely true, a possibility I had never entertained for a second; and furthermore it appeared that our present inn was the one in which I had been offered rooms but had refused, disliking its exterior.

Such is the reward for acting on general principles.