IX. Over the Arayama Pass.

The morning that was to give me my self-promised land crept on tiptoe into the room on the third story, and touched me where I slept, and on pushing the shoji apart and looking out, I beheld as fair a day as heart could wish. A faint misty vapor, like a bridal veil, was just lifting from off the face of things, and letting the sky show through in blue-eyed depths. It was a morning of desire, bashful for its youth as yet, but graced with a depth of atmosphere sure to expand into a full, warm, perfect noon; and I hastened to be out and become a part of it.

Three jinrikishas stood waiting our coming at the door, and amidst a pelting of sayonara from the whole household, we dashed off as proudly as possible down the main street of the town, to the admiration of many lookers-on. The air, laden with moisture, left kisses on our cheeks as we hurried by, while the sunshine fell in long scarfs of gauzy shimmer over the shoulders of the eastern hills. The men in the shafts felt the fillip of it all and encouraged one another with lusty cries, a light-heartedness that lent them heels. Even the peasants in the fields seemed to wish us well, as they looked up from their work to grin good-humoredly.

We value most what we attain with difficulty. It was on this principle no doubt that the road considerately proceeded to give out. It degenerated indeed very rapidly after losing sight of the town, and soon was no more than a collection of holes strung on ruts, that made travel in perambulators tiring alike to body and soul. At last, after five miles of floundering, it gave up all pretence at a wheel-way, and deposited us at a wayside teahouse at the foot of a little valley, the first step indeed up the Arayama pass. Low hills had closed in on the right, shutting off the sea, and the ridge dividing Noto from Etchiu rose in higher lines upon the left.

Here we hired porters, securing them from the neighboring fields, for they were primarily peasants, and were porters only as we were tramps, by virtue of the country. Porterage being the sole means of transport, they came to carry our things as they would have carried their own, in skeleton hods strapped to their backs. In this they did not differ from the Japanese custom generally; but in one point they showed a strange advance over their fellows. They were wonderfully methodical folk. They paid no heed to our hurry, and instead of shouldering the baggage they proceeded to weigh it, each manload by itself, on a steelyard of wood six feet long; the results they then worked out conscientiously on an abacus. After which I paid accordingly. Truly an equitable adjustment between man and man, at which I lost only the time it took. Then we started.

From the teahouse the path rose steadily enough for so uneducated a way, leaving the valley to contract into an open glen. The day, in the mean time, came out as it had promised, full and warm, fine basking weather, as a certain snake in the path seemed to think. So, I judge, did the porters. If it be the pace that kills, these simple folk must be a long-lived race. They certainly were very careful not to hurry themselves. Had they been hired for life, so thrifty a husbanding of their strength would have been most gratifying to witness; unluckily they were mine only for the job. They moved, one foot after the other, with a mechanical precision, exhausting even to look at. To keep with them was practically impossible for an ordinary pedestrian. Nothing short of a woman shopping could worthily have matched their pace. In sight their speed was snail-like; out of it they would appear to have stopped, so far did they fall behind. Once I thought they had turned back.

The path we were following was the least traveled of the only two possible entrances into Noto by land. It was a side or postern gate to the place, over a gap on the northern end of a mountain wall; the main approach lying along its other flank. For a high range of uninhabited hills nearly dams the peninsula across, falling on the right side straight into the sea, but leaving on the other a lowland ligature that binds Noto to Kaga. To get from Kaga into Etchiu, the range has to be crossed lower down. Our dip in the chain was called the Arayama toge or Rough Mountain pass, and was perhaps fifteen hundred feet high, but pleasingly modeled in its lines after one ten times its height.

Half-way up the tug of the last furlong, where the ascent became steep enough for zig-zags, I turned to look back. Down away from me fell the valley, slipping by reason of its own slope out into the great Etchiu plain. Here and there showed bits of the path in corkscrew, from my personal standpoint all perfectly porterless. Over the low hills, to the left, lay the sea, the crescent of its great beach sweeping grandly round into the indistinguishable distance. Back of it stretched the Etchiu plain, but beyond that, nothing. The mountains that should have bounded it were lost to sight in the spring haze.

Mechanically my eyes followed up into the languid blue, when suddenly they chanced upon a little cloud, for cloud I took it to be. Yet something about it struck me as strange, and scanning it more closely, by this most natural kind of second sight, I marked the unmistakable glisten of snow. It was a snow peak towering there in isolated majesty. As I gazed it grew on me with ineffable grandeur, sparkling with a faint saffron glamour of its own. Shifting my look a little I saw another and then another of the visions, like puffs of steam, rising above the plain. Half apparitions, below a certain line, the snow line, they vanished into air, for between them and the solid earth there looked to be blue sky. The haze of distance, on this soft May day, hid their lower slopes and left the peaks to tower alone into the void. They were the giants of the Tateyama range, standing there over against me inaccessibly superb.

A pair of teahouses, rivals, crowned the summit of the pass, which, like most Japanese passes, was a mere knife-edge of earth. With a quickened pulse if a slackened gait, I topped the crest, walked - straight past the twin teahouses and their importunities to stop - another half-dozen paces to the brink, and in one sweep looked down over a thousand feet on the western side. Noto, eyelashed by the branches of a tree just breaking into leaf, lay open to me below.

After the first glow of attainment, this initial view was, I will confess, disillusioning. Instead of what unfettered fancy had led me to expect, I saw only a lot of terraced rice-fields backed by ranges of low hills; for all the world a parquet in green and brown tiles. And yet, as the wish to excuse prompted me to think, was this not, after all, as it should be? For I was looking but at the entrance to the land, its outer hallway, as it were; Nanao, its capital, its inland sea, all its beyond was still shut from me by the nearer hills. And feeling thus at liberty to be amused, I forthwith saw it as a satire on panoramas generally.

Panoramic views are painfully plain. They must needs be mappy at best, for your own elevation flattens all below it to one topographic level. Field and woodland, town or lake, show by their colors only as if they stood in print; and you might as well lay any good atlas on the floor and survey it from the lofty height of a footstool. Such being the inevitable, it was refreshing to see the thing in caricature. No pains, evidently, had been spared by the inhabitants to make their map realistic. There the geometric lines all stood in ludicrous insistence; any child could have drawn the thing as mechanically.

The two teahouses were well patronized by wayfarers of both sexes, resting after their climb. Some simply sipped tea, chatting; others made a regular meal of the opportunity. The greater number sat, as we did, on the sill, for the trouble of taking off their straw sandals. Our landlady was the model of what a landlady should be, for it was apparently a feminine establishment. If there was a man attached to it, he kept himself discreetly in the background. She was a kind, sympathetic soul, with a word for every one, and a deliberateness of action as effective as it was efficient. And in the midst of it all, she kept up a refrain of welcomes and good-bys, as newcomers appeared or old comers left. The unavoidable preliminary exercise and the crisp air whetted all our appetites. So I doubt not she drove a thriving trade, although to Western ideas of value her charges were infinitesimally small.

Midday halts for lunch are godsends to tramps who travel with porters. They compel the porters to catch up, and give the hirer opportunity to say things which at least relieve him, if they do no good. I had begun to fear ours would deprive me of this pleasure, and indeed had got so far on in my meal as to care little whether they did, when automatically they appeared. Fortunately they needed but a short rest, and as the descent on the Noto side was much steeper than on the other, half an hour's walk brought us to the level of kuruma once more.

A bit of lane almost English in look, bowered in trees and winding delightfully like some human stream, led us to a teahouse. While we were ordering chaises a lot of children gathered to inspect us, thus kindly giving us our first view of the natives. They looked more open-eyed than Japanese generally, but such effect may have been due to wonder. At all events, the stare, if it was a stare, seemed like a silent sort of welcome.

Leaving the children still gazing after us we bowled away toward Nanao, and in the course of time caught our first glimpse of it from the upper end of a sweep of meadows. It sat by the water's edge at the head of a landlocked bay, the nearer arm of the inland sea; and an apology for shipping rode in the offing. It seemed a very fair-sized town, and altogether a more lively place than I had thought to find. Clearly its life was as engrossing to it as if no wall of hills notching the sky shut out the world beyond. Having heard, however, that a watering-place called Wakura was the sight of the province, and learning now that it was but six miles further, we decided, as it was yet early in the afternoon, to push on, and take the capital later. We did take it later, very much later the next night, than was pleasing.

Wakura, indeed, was the one thing in Noto, except the charcoal, which had an ultra-Noto-rious reputation. Rumors of it had reached us as far away as Shinshiu, and with every fresh inquiry we made as we advanced the rumors had gathered strength. Our informants spoke of it with the vague respect accorded hearsay honor. Clearly, it was no place to pass by.

The road to it from Nanao was not noteworthy, but for two things; one officially commended to sight-seers, the other not. The first was a curious water-worn rock upon the edge of the bay, some waif of a boulder, doubtless, since it stuck up quite alone out of the sand. A shrine perched atop, and a larger temple encircled it below, to which its fantastic cuttings served as gateway and garden. The uncommended sight was a neighboring paddyfield, in which a company of frogs, caught trespassing, stood impaled on sticks a foot high, as awful warnings to their kind. Beyond this the way passed through a string of clay cuttings following the coast, and in good time rolled us into the midst of a collection of barnlike buildings which it seemed was Wakura.

The season for the baths had not yet begun, so that the number of people at the hotels was still quite small. Not so the catalogue of complaints for which they were visited. The list appalled me as I sat on the threshold of my prospective lodging, listening to mine host's encomiums on the virtues of the waters. He expatiated eloquently on both the quantity and quality of the cures, quite unsuspicious that at each fresh recommendation he was in my eyes depreciating his own wares. Did he hope that among such a handsome choice of diseases I might at least have one! I was very near to beating a hasty retreat on the spot. For the accommodation in Japanese inns is of a distressingly communistic character at best, and although at present there were few patients in the place, the germs were presumably still there on the lookout for a victim.

Immediate comfort, however, getting the better of problematical risk, I went in. The room allotted me lay on the ground floor just off the garden, and I had not been there many minutes before I became aware, as one does, that I was being stared at. The culprit instantly pretended, with a very sheepish air, to be only taking a walk. He was the vanguard of an army of the curious. The people in the next room were much exercised over the new arrival, and did all decency allowed to catch a glimpse of me; for which in time they were rewarded. Visitors lodged farther off took aimless strolls to the verandas, and looked at me when they thought I was not looking at them. All envied the servants, who out-did Abra by coming when I called nobody, and then lingering to talk. Altogether I was more of a notoriety than I ever hope to be again; especially as any European would have done them as well. My public would have been greater, as I afterwards learned, if Yejiro had not been holding rival court in the kitchen.

Between us we were given a good deal of local information. One bit failed to cause me unmitigated delight. We were not, it appeared, the first foreigners to set foot in Wakura. Two Europeans had, in a quite uncalled-for way, descended upon the place the summer before, up to which time, indeed, the spot had been virgin to Caucasians. Lured by the fame of the springs, these men had come from Kanazawa in Kaga, where they were engaged in teaching chemistry, to make a test of the waters. I believe they discovered nothing startling. I could have predicted as much had they consulted me beforehand. They neglected to do so, and the result was they came, saw and conquered what little novelty the place had. I was quite chagrined. It simply showed how betrodden in these latter days the world is. There is not so much as a remote corner of it but falls under one of two heads; those places worth seeing which have already been seen, and those that have not been seen but are not worth seeing. Wakura Onsen struck me as falling into the latter halves of both categories.

While discussing my solitary dinner I was informed by Yejiro that some one wished to speak with me, and on admitting to be at home, the local prefect was ushered in. He came ostensibly to vise my passport, a duty usually quite satisfactorily performed by any policeman. The excuse was transparent. He really came that he might see for himself the foreigner whom rumor had reported to have arrived. As a passport on his part he presented me with some pride the bit of autobiography that he had himself once been in Tokyo; a fact which in his mind instantly made us a kind of brothers, and raised us both into a common region of superiority to our surroundings. He asked affectionately after the place, and I answered as if it had been the one thought in both our hearts. It was a pleasing little comedy, as each of us was conscious of its consciousness by the other. Altogether we were very friendly.

Between two such Tokyoites it was, of course, the merest formality to vise a passport, but being one imposed by law he kindly ran his eye over mine. As it omitted to describe my personal appearance in the usual carefully minute manner, as face oval, nose ordinary, complexion medium, and so forth, identification from mere looks was not striking. So he had to take me on trust for what I purported to be, an assumption which did not disconcert him in the least. With writing materials which he drew from his sleeve, he registered me then and there, and, the demands of the law thus complied with to the letter, left me amid renewed civilities to sleep the sleep of the just.