XIX. Our Passport and the Basha.
It was bound to come, and we knew it; it was only a question of time. But then we had braved the law so far so well, we had almost come to believe that we should escape altogether. I mean the fatal detection by the police that we were violating my passport. That document had already outrun the statute of limitations, and left me no better than an outlaw. For practical purposes my character was gone, and being thus self-convicted I might be arrested at any moment!
In consequence of pending treaty negotiations the government had become particular about the privileges it granted. One of the first counter-moves to foreign insistence on exterritoriality was the restricting of passports to a fortnight's time. You might lay out any tour you chose, and if granted by the government, the provinces designated would all be duly inscribed in your passport, but you had to compass them all in the fortnight or be punished. Of course this could be evaded, and a Japanese friend in the foreign office had kindly promised to send me an extension on telegraph. But the dislike of being tied to times and places made me sinfully prefer the risk of being marched back to Tokyo under the charge of a policeman, a fate I had seen overtake one or two other malefactors caught at somewhat different crimes, whom we had casually met on the road. The Harinoki toge was largely to blame for the delay, it is true. But then unluckily the Harinoki toge could not be arrested, and I could.
The bespectacled authorities who examined my credentials every night had hitherto winked at my guilt, so that the bolt fell upon us from a clear sky. It is almost questionable whether it had a right to fall at that moment at all. It was certainly a case of officious officialdom. For we had stopped simply to change kuruma, and the unwritten rule of the road runs that so long as the traveler keeps moving he is safe. To catch him napping at night is the recognized custom.
Besides, the police might have chosen, even by day, some other opportunity to light upon us than in the very thick of our wrestle with the extortionate prices of fresh kuruma. It was inconsiderate of them, to say the least; for the attack naturally threw us into a certain disrepute not calculated to cheapen fares. Then, too, our obvious haste helped furnish circumstantial evidence of crime.
Nevertheless, in the very midst of these difficult negotiations at Matsumoto, evil fate presented itself, clothed as a policeman, and demanded our papers. Luckily they were not at the very bottom of the baggage, but in Yejiro's bosom; for otherwise our effects would have become a public show, and collected an even greater crowd than actually gathered. The arm of the law took the passport, fell at once on the indefensible date, and pointed it out to us. There we were, caught in the act. We sank several degrees instantly in everybody's estimation.
How we escaped is a secret of the Japanese force; for escape we did. We admitted our misfortune to the policeman, and expressed ourselves as even more desirous of getting back to Tokyo than he could be to have us there. But we pointed out that now the Tenriugawa was to all intents as short a way as any, and furthermore that it was the one expressly nominated in the bond. The policeman stood perplexed. Out of doubt or courtesy, or both, he hesitated for some moments, and then reluctantly handed the passport back. We stood acquitted. Indeed we were not only suffered to proceed, and that in our own way, but he actually accelerated matters himself, for he turned to against the kuruma, to their instant discomfiture. Indeed, this was quite as it should be, for he was as anxious to be rid of us as we were to be quit of him.
On the road the kuruma proved unruly. The exposure we had sustained may have helped to this, or the coercion of the policeman may have worked revolt. They jogged along more and more reluctantly, till, at last, the worst of them refused to go on at all. After some quite useless altercation, we made what shift we might with the remainder, but had not got far when we heard the toot of a fish-horn behind, and the sound gradually overhauled us. Now, a fish-horn on a country road in Japan means a basha, and a basha means the embodiment of the objectionable. It is a vehicle to be avoided; both externally like a fire-engine, and internally like an ambulance or a hearse. Indeed, so far as its victim is concerned, it usually ends by becoming a cross between the latter two. It is a machine absolutely devoid of recommendations. I speak from experience, for in a moment of adventure I once took passage in one, some years ago, and I never mean to do so again. Even the sound of its fish-horn now provokes me to evil thoughts. But we were in a bad way, and, to my wonder, I found my sentiments perceptibly softening. Before the thing caught up with us, I had actually resolved to take it.