II. Off and On.

It was on the day but one before the festival of the fifth moon that we set out, or, in English, the third of May; and those emblems of good luck, the festival fishes, were already swimming in the air above the house eaves, as we scurried through the streets in jinrikisha toward the Uyeno railway station. We had been a little behindhand in starting, but by extra exertions on the part of the runners we succeeded in reaching the station just in time to be shut out by the gatekeeper. Time having been the one thing worthless in old Japan, it was truly sarcastic of fate that we should reach our first goal too late. As if to point chagrin, the train still stood in waiting. Remonstrances with the wicket man about the imported five-minute regulation, or whatever it was, proved of no avail. Not one jot or tittle of the rule would he yield, which perhaps was natural, inasmuch as, however we might have managed alone, our companions the baskets never could have boarded the train without offical help. The intrinsic merits of the baggage failed, alas, to affect its mobility. Then the train slowly drew out.

To be stopped on the road is the common lot of travelers; but to be stopped before one has fairly started is nothing less than to be mocked at. It is best, however, to take such gibes in good part. Viewing the situation in this light, the ludicrousness of the disconnection struck me so forcibly as very nearly to console me for my loss, which was not trifling, since the next train did not leave for above three hours; too late to push on beyond Takasaki that night, a thing I had most firmly purposed to do. Here I was, the miserable victim of a punctuality my own people had foisted on a land only too happy without it! There was poetic justice in the situation, after all. Besides, the course of one's true love should not run too smooth. Judicious difficulty whets desire.

There was nothing to turn to on the spot, and I was ashamed to go home. Then I opportunely remembered something.

I have always thought we limited our pharmacopoeia. We prescribe pills enough for the body, while we leave the mind to look after itself. Why should not the spirit also have its draughts and mixtures, properly labeled and dispensed! For example, angling appears to be a strong mental opiate. I have seen otherwise normal people stupefied beyond expression when at the butt of a rod and line. Happening to recall this effect, I instantly prescribed for my perturbed state of mind a good dose of fishing, to be taken as suited the day. So I betook me down a by-street, where the aerial carp promised the thickest, and, selecting a house well placed for a view, asked permission to mount upon the roof. It chanced to be a cast-off clothing shop, along whose front some fine, if aged, garments were hung to catch the public eye. The camera and I were inducted up the ascent by the owner, while my boots, of course, waited dog-like in the porch below.

The city made a spectacle from above. On all sides superb paper carp floated to the breeze, tugging at the strings that held them to the poles quite after the manner of the real fish. One felt as though, by accident, he had stepped into some mammoth globe of goldfish. The whole sky was alive with them. Eighty square miles of finny folk inside the city, and an untold company without. The counterfeit presentments were from five to ten feet long, and painted to mimic life. The breeze entered at the mouth and passed out somewhat less freely at the tail, thus keeping them well bellied and constantly in motion. The way they rose and dove and turned and wriggled was worthy of free will. Indeed, they had every look of spontaneity, and lacked only the thing itself to turn the sky into an ocean, and Tokyo into a sea bottom with a rockery of roof. Each fish commemorates the birth of a boy during the year. It would thus be possible to take a census of the increase of the male population yearly, at the trifling cost of scaling a housetop, - a set of statistics not without an eventual value.

While we were strolling back, Yejiro and I, we came, in the way, upon another species of fish. The bait, which was well designed to captivate, bade for the moment to exceed even the angler's anticipations. It was a sort of un-Christmas tree with fishing-pole branches, from which dangled articulated figures, bodied like men, but with heads of foxes, tortoises, and other less likelybeasts, - bewitching objects in impossible evolution to a bald-pated urchin who stood gazing at it with all his soul. The peddler sat with his eyes riveted on the boy, visions of a possible catch chasing themselves through his brain. I watched him, while the crowd behind stared at me. We made quite a tail of curiosity. The opiate was having its effect; I began to feel soporifically calm. Then I went up to the restaurant in the park and had lunch as quietly as possible, in fear of friendly discovery.

Sufficiently punctual passengers being now permitted to board the next train, I ensconced myself in a kind of parlor compartment, which, fortunately, I continued to have all to myself, and was soon being rolled westward across the great Musashi plain, ruminating. My chief quarrel with railway rules is, I am inclined to think, that they preach to the public what they fail to practice themselves. After having denied me a paltry five minutes' grace at the station, the officials proceeded to lose half an hour on the road in a most exasperating manner. Of course the delay was quite exceptional. Such a thing had never happened before, and would not happen again - till the next time. But the phenomenal character of the occurrence failed to console me, as it should no doubt have done. My delay, too, was exceptional - on this line. Nor was I properly mollified by repeated offers of hard-boiled eggs, cakes, and oranges, which certain enterprising peddlers hawked up and down the platforms, when we stopped, to a rhythmic chant of their own invention.

The only consolation lay in the memory of what travel over the Musashi plain used to be before trains hurried one, or otherwise, into the heart of the land. In those days the journey was done in jinrikisha, and a question of days, not hours, it was in the doing, - two days' worth of baby carriage, of which the tediousness lay neither in the vehicles nor in the way, but in the amount of both. Or, if one put comparative speed above comparative comfort, he rose before the lark, to be tortured through a summer's day in a basha, or horse vehicle, suitable only for disembodied spirits. My joints ached again at the thought. Clearly, to grumble now was to sin against proportion.

Besides, the weather was perfect: argosies of fleecy cloud sailing slowly across a deep blue sky; a broad plain in all its spring freshness of color, picked out here and there with fruit trees smothered in blossom, and bearing on its bosom the passing shadows of the clouds above; in the distance the gradually growing forms of the mountains, each at first starting into life only as a faint wash of color, barely to be parted from the sky itself, pricking up from out the horizon of field. Then, slowly, timed to our advance, the tint gathered substance, grew into contrasts that, deepening minute by minute, resolved into detail, until at last the whole stood revealed in all its majesty, foothill, shoulder, peak, one grand chromatic rise from green to blue.

One after the other the points came out thus along the southern sky: first the summits behind Ome; then Bukosan, like some sentinel, half-way up the plain's long side; and then range beyond range stretching toward the west. Behind Bukosan peeped Cloud's Rest, the very same outline in fainter tint, so like the double reflection from a pane of glass that I had to shift to an open window to make sure it was no illusion. Then the Nikko group began to show on the right, and the Haruna mass took form in front; and as they rose higher and the sunbeams slanted more, gilding the motes in the heavy afternoon air, they rimmed the plain in front into one great bowl of fairy eau de vie de Dantzic. Slowly above them the sun dipped to his setting, straight ahead, burnishing our path as we pursued in two long lines of flashing rail into the west-northwest. Lower he sank, luring us on, and lower yet, and then suddenly disappeared beyond the barrier of peaks.

The train drew up, panting. It was Takasaki, now steeped in saffron afterglow. The guards passed along, calling out the name and unfastening the doors. Everybody got out and shuffled off on their clogs. The baskets, Yejiro, and I followed, after a little, through the gloaming.

It was not far to the inn. It was just far enough, at that hour, to put us in heart for a housing. Indeed, twilight is the time of times to arrive anywhere. Any spot, be it ever so homely, seems homelike then. The dusk has snatched from you the silent companionship of nature, to leave you poignantly alone. It is the hour when a man draws closer to the one he loves, and the hour when most he shrinks from himself, though he want another near. It is then the rays of the house lights wander abroad and appear to beckon the houseless in; and that must be, in truth, a sorry hostelry to seem such to him.

Even Takasaki bore a look of welcome alike to the foreign and the native stranger, which was certainly wonderful for Takasaki. The place used not to fancy foreigners, and its inns bandied the European traveler about like a bale of undesirable merchandise with the duties still due. But now, what a change! The innkeeper not only received us, but led the way at once to the best room, - a room in the second story of the fireproof storehouse at the back, which he hoped would be comfortable. Comfortable! The room actually proffered us a table and chairs. No one who has not, after a long day's tramp, sought in vain to rest his weary body propped up against a side beam in a Japanese inn can enter into the feeling a chair inspires, even long afterward, by recollection.

I cannot say I loved Takasaki in former days. Was it my reception or was it sentiment that made me see it all now through a mist of glamour? Unsuspected by us, that atmosphere of time tints everything. Few things but look lovelier seen down the vista of the years. Indeed, sentiment is a kind of religion; or is it religion that is a kind of sentiment? Both are so subtly busy canonizing the past, and crowning with aureoles very every-day things as well as very ordinary people. Not men alone take on a sanctity when they are no more.