XVIII. A Genial Inkyo.
The owner of the farmhouse had inherited it from his father. There was nothing very odd about this even to our other-world notions of property, except that the father was still living, as hale and hearty as you please, in a little den at the foot of the garden. He was, in short, what is known as an inkyo, or one "dwelling in retirement," - a singular state, composed of equal parts of this world and the next; like dying in theory, and then undertaking to live on in practice. For an inkyo is a man who has formally handed in his resignation to the community, and yet continues to exist most enjoyably in the midst of it. He has abdicated in favor of his eldest son, and, having put off all responsibilities, is filially supported in a life of ease and pleasure.
In spite of being no longer in society, the father was greedily social. As soon as he heard a foreigner had arrived, he trotted over to call, and nothing would do but I must visit his niche early in the morning, before going away.
After breakfast, therefore, the son duly came to fetch me, and we started off through the garden. For his sire's place of retirement lay away from the road, toward the river, that the dear old gentleman might command a view of the peaks opposite, of one of which, called the Etchiu Fuji, from its conical form, he was dotingly fond.
It was an expedition getting there. This arose, not from any special fault in the path, which for the first half of the way consisted of a string of stepping-stones neatly laid in the ground, and for the latter fraction of no worse mud than could easily be met with elsewhere. The trouble came from a misunderstanding in foot-gear. It seemed too short a walk to put one's boots twice on and off for the doing of it. On the other hand, to walk in stocking-feet was out of the question, for the mud. So I attempted a compromise, consisting of my socks and the native wooden clogs, and tried to make the one take kindly to the other. But my mittenlike socks would have none of my thongs, and, failing of a grip for my toes, compelled me to scuffle along in a very undignified way. Then every few steps one or the other of the clogs saw fit to stay behind, and I had to halt to recover the delinquent. I made a sorry spectacle as I screwed about on the remaining shoe, groping after its fellow. Once I was caught in the act by my cicerone, who turned round inopportunely to see why I was not following; and twice in attempting the feat I all but lost my balance into the mud.
The worthy virtuoso, as he was, met us at the door, and escorted us upstairs to see his treasures. The room was tapestried with all manner of works of art, of which he was justly proud, while the house itself stood copied from a Chinese model, for he was very classic. But I was pleased to find that above all his heart was given to the view. It was shared, as I also discovered, by the tea-ceremonies, in which he was a proficient; such a mixture is man. But I believe the view to have been the deeper affection. While I was admiring it, he fetched from a cupboard a very suspicious-looking bottle of what turned out to be honey, and pressed a glass of it upon me. I duly sipped this not inappropriate liquor, since cordials savor of asceticism, and this one being of natural decoction peculiarly befitted a secular anchorite. Then I took my leave of one who, though no longer in the world, was still so charmingly of it.
The good soul chanced to be a widower, but such bereavement is no necessary preliminary to becoming a "dweller in retirement." Sometimes a man enters the inkyo state while he still has with him the helpmate of his youth, and the two go together to this aftermath of life. Surely a pretty return, this, of the honeymoon! Darby and Joan starting once more hand in hand, alone in this Indian summer of their love, as they did years ago in its spring-tide, before other generations of their own had pushed them on to less romantic parts; Darby come back from paternal cares to be once more the lover, and Joan from mother and grandam again become his girl.
We parted from our watchman-guide and half our porters with much feeling, as did they from us. As friendships go we had not known one another long, but intimacy is not measured by time. Circumstances had thrown us into one another's arms, and, as we bade good-by first to one and then to another, we seemed to be severing a tie that touched very near the heart.
Two of the porters came on with us, as much for love as for money, as far as Kamiichi, where we were to get kuruma. A long tramp we had of it across leagues of ricefields, and for a part of the way beside a large, deep canal, finely bowered in trees, and flowing with a swift, dark current like some huge boa winding stealthily under the bamboo. It was the artery to I know not how many square miles of field. We came in for a steady drizzle after this, and it was long past noon before we touched our noontide halt, and stalked at last into the inn.
With great difficulty we secured three kuruma, - the place stood on the limits of such locomotion, - and a crowd so dense collected about them that it blocked the way out. Everybody seemed smitten with a desire to see the strangers, which gave the inn servants, by virtue of their calling, an enviable distinction to village eyes. But the porters stood highest in regard, both because of their more intimate tie to us and because we here parted from them. It was severing the final link to the now happy past. We all felt it, and told our rosary of memories in thought, I doubt not, each to himself, as we went out into the world upon our different ways.