XII. At Sea Again.
I was roused from my mid-Noto reverie by tidings that our boat was ready and waiting just below the bridge. This was not the steamer which had long since gone on its way, but a small boat of the country we had succeeded in chartering for the return voyage. The good inn-folk, who had helped in the hiring, hospitably came down to the landing to see us off.
The boat, like all Japanese small boats, was in build between a gondola and a dory, and dated from a stage in the art of rowing prior to the discovery that to sit is better than to stand even at work. Ours was a small specimen of its class, that we might the quicker compass the voyage to Nanao, which the boatmen averred to be six ri (fifteen miles). My estimate, prompted perhaps by interest, and certainly abetted by ignorance, made it about half that distance. My argument, conclusive enough to myself, proved singularly unshaking to the boatmen, who would neither abate the price in consequence nor diminish their own allowance of the time to be taken.
The boat had sweeps both fore and aft, each let in by a hole in the handle to a pin on the gunwale. She was also provided with a sail hoisting on a spar that fitted in amidships. The sail was laced vertically: a point, by the way, for telling a Japanese junk from a Chinese one at sea, for Cathay always laces horizontally.
Whatever our private beliefs on the probable length of the voyage, both crew and passengers agreed charmingly in one hope, namely, that there might be as little rowing about it as possible. Our reasons for this differed, it is true; but as neither side volunteered theirs, the difference mattered not. So we slipped down the canal.
The hoopskirt fisher-dames were just where we had left them some hours before, and were still too much absorbed in doing nothing to waste time looking at us. I would gladly have bothered them for a peep at their traps, but that it seemed a pity to intrude upon so engrossing a pursuit. Besides, I feared their apathy might infect the crew. Our mariners, though hired only for the voyage, did not seem averse to making a day of it, as it was.
One thing, however, I was bent on stopping to inspect, cost what it might in delay or discipline; and that was a fish-lookout. To have seen the thing from a steamer's deck merely whetted desire for nearer acquaintance. To gratify the wish was not difficult; for the shore was dotted with them like blind light-houses off the points. I was for making for the first visible, but the boatmen, with an eye to economy of labor, pointed out that there was one directly in our path round the next headland. So I curbed my curiosity till on turning the corner it came into view. As good luck would have it, it was inhabited.
We pulled up alongside, gave its occupants good-day, and asked leave to mount. The fishermen, hospitable souls, offered no objection. This seemed to me the more courteous on their part, after I had made the ascent, for there were two of them in the basket, and a visitor materially added to the already uneasy weight. But then they were used to it. The rungs of what did for ladder were so far apart as to necessitate making very long legs of it in places, which must have been colossal strides for the owners. The higher I clambered, the flimsier the structure got. However, I arrived, not without unnecessary trepidation, wormed my way into the basket and crouched down in some uneasiness of mind. The way the thing swayed and wriggled gave me to believe that the next moment we should all be shot catapultwise into the sea. To call it topheavy will do for a word, but nothing but experience will do for the sensation. This oscillation, strangely enough, was not apparent from the sea; which reminds me to have noticed differences due the point of view before.
I was greeted by an extensive outlook. The shore, perhaps a hundred yards away, ran shortly into a fisher hamlet, and then into a long line of half submerged rocks, like successive touches of a skipping stone. Beyond the end of this indefinite point, and a little to the right of it, stood another lookout. This was our only near neighbor, though others could be seen in miniature in the distance, faint cobwebs against the coast. The bay stretched away on all sides, landlocked at last, except where to the east an opening gave into the sea of Japan.
To a dispassionate observer the basket may have been twenty feet above the water. To one in the basket, it was considerably higher - and its height was emphasized by its seeming insecurity. The fishermen were very much at home in it, but to me the sensation was such as to cause strained relations between my will to stay and my wish to be gone.
But strong feelings are so easily changed into their opposites! I can imagine one of these eyries a delightful setting to certain moods. A deserted one should be the place of places for reading a romance. The solitude, the strangeness, and the cradle-like swing, would all compose to shutting out the world. To paddle there some May morning, tie one's boat out of sight beneath, and climb up into the nest to sit alone half poised in the sky in the midst of the sea, should savor of a new sensation. After a little acclimatization it would probably become a passion. Certainly, with a pipe, it should induce a most happy frame of mind for a French novel. The seeming risk of the one situation would serve to point those of the other.
The fishermen received my thanks with amiability, watched us with stolid curiosity as we pulled off, and then relapsed into their former semi-comatose condition. Their eyrie slipped perspectively astern, sank lower and lower, and suddenly was lost against the background of the coast.