V. No.

My quest still carrying me westward along the line of the new railway, I took the train again, and in the compartment of the carriage I found two other travelers. They were a typical Japanese couple in middle life, and in something above middle circumstances. He affected European clothes in part, while she still clung to the costume of her ancestors. Both were smoking, - she her little pipe, and he the fashionable cigarette. Their mutual relations were those of substance to shadow. She followed him inevitably, and he trod on her feelings regardless of them. She had been pretty when he took her to wife, and though worn and withered she was happy still. As for him, he was quite satisfied with her, as he would have been quite satisfied without her.

The roadbed soon left the Shinano plain, across which peered the opposite peaks, still hooded with snow, and wound up through a narrow valley, to emerge at last upon a broad plateau. Three mountains flanked the farther side in file, the last and highest of the three, Myokosan, an extinct volcano; indeed, hardly more than the ruins of one. Time has so changed its shape, and the snow whitens its head so reverently, it would be possible to pass it by without a suspicion of its wild youth. From the plateau it rose proudly in one long sweep from moor to shoulder, from shoulder to crag, from crag to snow, up into the leaden sky, high into its second mile of air. Subtly the curve carried fancy with it, and I found myself in mind slowly picking my way upward, threading an arete here and scaling a slope there, with all the feelings of a genuine climb. While I was still ascending in this insubstantial manner, clouds fell upon the summit from the sky, and from the summit tumbled down the ravines into the valley, and met me at Naoyetsu in a drizzling rain.

Naoyetsu is not an enlivening spot to be landed at in a stress of weather; hardly satisfactory, in fact, for the length of time needed to hire jinrikisha. It consisted originally of a string of fishermen's huts along the sea. To these the building of the railway has contributed a parallel row of reception booths, a hundred yards in-shore; and to which of the two files to award the palm for cheerlessness it would be hard to know. The huts are good of a kind which is poor, and the booths are poor of a kind which is good. To decide between such rivals is a matter of mood. For my part, I hasted to be gone in a jinrikisha, itself not an over-cheerful conveyance in a pour.

The rain shut out the distance, and the hood and oil-paper apron eclipsed the foreground. The loss was not great, to judge by what specimens of the view I caught at intervals. The landscape was a geometric pattern in paddyfields. These, as yet unplanted, were swimming in water, out of which stuck the stumps of last year's crop. It was a tearful sight. Fortunately the road soon rose superior to it, passed through a cutting, and came out unexpectedly above the sea, - a most homesick sea, veiled in rain-mist, itself a disheartening drab. The cutting which ushered us somewhat proudly upon this inhospitable outlook proved to be the beginning of a pass sixty miles long, between the Hida-Shinshiu mountains and the sea of Japan.

I was now to be rewarded for my venture in an unlooked-for way; for I found myself introduced here to a stretch of coast worth going many miles to see.

The provinces of Hida and Etchiu are cut off from the rest of Japan by sets of mountain ranges, impassable throughout almost their whole length. So bent on barring the way are the chains that, not content with doing so in mid-course, they all but shut it at their ocean end; for they fall in all their entirety plumb into the sea. Following one another for a distance of sixty miles, range after range takes thus its header into the deep. The only level spots are the deltas deposited by the streams between the parallels of peak. But these are far between. Most of the way the road belts the cliffs, now near their base, now cut into the precipice hundreds of feet above the tide. The road is one continuous observation point. Along it our jinrikisha bowled. In spite of the rain, the view had a grandeur that compensated for much discomfort. It was, moreover, amply diversified. Now we rushed out to the tip of some high cape, now we swung round into the curve of the next bay; now we wound slowly upward, now we slipped merrily down. The headlands were endless, and each gave us a seascape differing from the one we folded out of sight behind; and a fringe of foam, curving with the coast, stretched like a ribbon before us to mark the way.

We halted for the night at a fishing village called No: two lines of houses hugging the mountain side, and a single line of boats drawn up, stern on, upon the strand; the day and night domiciles of the amphibious strip of humanity, in domestic tiff, turning their backs to one another, a stone's throw apart. As our kuruma men knew the place, while we did not, we let them choose the inn. They pulled up at what caused me a shudder. I thought, if this was the best inn, what must the worst be like! However, I bowed my head to fate in the form of a rafter lintel, and passed in. A dim light, which came in part from a hole in the floor, and in part from an ineffective lamp, revealed a lofty, grotto-like interior. Over the hole hung a sort of witches' caldron, swung by a set of iron bars from the shadowy form of a soot-begrimed rafter. Around the kettle crouched a circle of gnomes.

Our entrance caused a stir, out of which one of the gnomes came forward, bowing to the ground. When he had lifted himself up enough to be seen, he turned out quite human. He instantly bustled to fetch another light, and started to lead the strangers across the usual slippery sill and up the nearly perpendicular stairs. Why I was not perpetually falling down these same stairways, or sliding gracefully or otherwise off the corridors in a heap, will always be a mystery to me. Yet, with the unimportant exception of sitting down occasionally to put on my boots, somewhat harder than I meant, I remember few such mishaps. It was not the surface that was unwilling; for the constant scuffle of stocking feet has given the passageways a polish mahogany might envy.

The man proved anything but inhuman, and very much mine host. How courteous he was, and in what a pleased mind with the world, even its whims of weather, his kind attentions put me! He really did so little, too. Beside numberless bows and profuse politeness, he simply laid a small and very thin quilt upon the mats for me to sit on, and put a feeble brazier by my side. So far as mere comfort went, the first act savored largely of supererogation, as the mats were already exquisitely clean, and the second of insufficiency, since the brazier served only to point the cold it was powerless to chase. But the manner of the doing so charmed the mind that it almost persuaded the grumbling body of content.

As mine host bowed himself out, a maid bowed herself in, with a tray of tea and sugar-plums, and a grace that beggared appreciation.

"His Augustness is well come," she said, as she sank on her knees and bowed her pretty head till it touched the mats; and the voice was only too human for heaven. Unconsciously it made the better part of a caress.

"Would his Augustness deign to take some tea? Truly he must be very tired;" and, pouring out a cup, she placed it beside me as it might have been some beautiful rite, and then withdrew, leaving me, beside the tea, the perfume of a presence, the sense that something exquisite had come and gone.

I sat there thinking of her in the abstract, and wondering how many maids outside Japan were dowried with like grace and the like voice. With such a one for cupbearer, I could have continued to sip tea, I thought, for the rest of my natural, or, alas, unnatural existence.

There I stayed, squatting on my feet on the mats, admiring the mimic volcano which in the orthodox artistic way the charcoal was arranged to represent, and trying my best to warm myself over the idea. But the idea proved almost as cold comfort as the brazier itself. The higher aesthetic part of me was in paradise, and the bodily half somewhere on the chill confines of outer space. The spot would no doubt have proved wholly heaven to that witty individual who was so anxious to exchange the necessities of life for a certainty of its luxuries. For here, according to our scheme of things, was everything one had no right to expect, and nothing that one had. My European belongings looked very gross littering the mats; and I seemed to myself a boor beside the unconscious breeding of those about me. Yet it was only a poor village inn, and its people were but peasants, after all.

I pondered over this as I dined in solitary state; and when I had mounted my funeral pyre for the night, I remember romancing about it as I fell asleep.

I was still a knight-errant, and the princess was saying all manner of charming things to me in her still more charming manner, when I became aware that it was the voice of the evening before wishing me good-morning. I opened my eyes to see a golden gleam flooding the still-shut shoji, and a diamond glitter stealing through the cracks that set the blood dancing in my veins. Then, with a startling clatter, my princess rolled the panels aside.

Windows are but half-way shifts at best. The true good-morning comes afield, and next to that is the thrill that greets the throwing your whole room wide to it. To let it trickle in at a casement is to wash in a dish. The true way is to take the sunshine with the shock of a plunge into the sea, and feel it glow and tingle all over you.

The rain had taken itself off in the night, and the air sparkled with freshness. The tiny garden court lay in cool, rich shadow, flecked here and there with spots of dazzle where a ray reflected found a pathway in, while the roofs above glistened with countless starpoints.

Nor was mine host less smiling than the day, though he had not overcharged me for my room. I was nothing to him, yet he made me feel half sorry to go. A small pittance, too, the tea money seemed, for all that had gone with it. We pay in this world with copper for things gold cannot buy. Humanities are so cheap - and so dear.

The whole household gathered in force on its outer sill to wish us good luck as we took the street, and threw sayonaras ("if it must be so") after us as we rolled away.

There is a touch of pathos in this parting acquiescence in fate. If it must be so, indeed! I wonder did mine host suspect that I did not all leave, - that a part of me, a sort of ghostly lodger, remained with him who had asked me so little for my stay? Probably in body I shall never stir him again from beside his fire, nor follow as he leads the way through the labyrinth of his house; but in spirit, at times, I still steal back, and I always find the same kind welcome awaiting me in the guest room in the ell, and the same bright smile of morning to gild the tiny garden court. The only things beyond the grasp of change are our own memories of what once was.