XIV. The Harinoki Toge.

There now befell us a sad piece of experience, the result of misplaced confidence in the guidebook. Ours was the faith a simple public pins upon print. Le journal, c'est un jeune homme, as Balzac said, and even the best of guidebooks, as this one really was, may turn out - a cover to many shortcomings.

Its description of the crossing of the Harinoki toge implied a generality of performances that carried conviction. If he who read might not run, he had, at least, every assurance given him that he would be able to walk. That the writer might not only have been the first to cross, but the last, as well, was not evident from the text. Nor was it there apparent that the path which was spoken of as difficult and described as "hanging to the precipitous side of the cliff," might have become tired of hanging thus for the sake of travelers who never came, and have given itself over at last to the abyss.

In the book, the dead past still lived an ever-youthful present. In truth, however, the path at the time of the account, some twelve years before, had just been made by the samurai of Kaga to join them to the capital. Since then the road by the sea had been built, and the Harinoki pass had ceased to be in practice what it purported to be in print. It had in a double sense reverted to type. There was small wonder at this, for it was a very Cerberus of a pass at best, with three heads to it. The farthest from Etchiu was the Harinoki toge proper.

The guidebook and a friend had gone over one season, and the guidebook had induced another friend to accompany him again the year after. Whether there were any unpersonally conducted ascents I am not sure. But at any rate, all this happened in the early days; for years the Harinoki toge had had rest.

We ought to have taken warning from the general skepticism we met with at Toyama, when we proposed the pass. But with the fatal faith of a man in his guidebook, we ignored the native forebodings. Besides, there were just people enough who knew nothing about it, and therefore thought it could be done, to encourage us in our delusion. Accordingly we left Toyama after lunch in the best of spirits, in jinrikisha, for Kamidaki, or Upper Fall, to which there professed to be a jinrikisha road. The distance was three ri, seven miles and a half. Before we had gone one of them the road gave out, and left us to tack on foot in paths through the rice-fields, which in one long inclination kept mounting before us. Just before reaching the village, a huge tree in full faint purple bloom showed up a little to the left. Under a sudden attack of botanical zeal, I struck across lots to investigate, and after much tacking among the paddy dykes found, to my surprise, on reaching it, that the flowers came from a huge wistaria that had coiled itself up the tree. The vine must have been at least six feet round at the base, and had a body horribly like an enormous boa that swung from branches high in air. The animal look of the vegetable parasite was so lifelike that one both longed and loathed to touch it at the same time.

At Kamidaki, after the usual delay, we found porters, who echoed the doubts of the people of Toyama, and went with us protesting. Half an hour after this we came to the Jindogawa, a river of variable importance. It looked to have been once the bed of a mighty glacier that should have swept grandly round from unseen fastnesses among the hills. At the time of our visit, it was, for the most part, a waste of stones through which two larger and several lesser streams were in much worry to find their way to the sea. The two larger were just big enough to be unfordable; so a Charon stationed at each ferried the country folk across. At the smaller, after picking out the likeliest spots, we took off our shoes and socks and waded, and then, upon the other side, sat some time on stones, ill-modeled to that end, to draw our things on again.

Our way now led up the left bank - the right bank, according to aquatic convention, which pleasingly supposes you to be descending the stream. It lay along a plateau which I doubt not to have been the river's prehistoric bed, so evidently had the present one been chiseled out of it to a further depth of over fifty feet. At first the path struck inland, astutely making a chord to the river's bow, an unsuspected sign of intelligence in a path. It was adventurous, too, for soon after coming out above the brink, it began upon acrobatic feats in which it showed itself nationally proficient. A narrow aqueduct had been cut out of the side of the cliff, and along its outer embankment, which was two feet wide, the path proceeded to balance. The aqueduct had given way in spots, which caused the path to take to some rickety boards put there for its benefit. After this exhibition of daring, it descended to the stream, to rise again later. Meanwhile night came on and the river bottom began to fill with what looked to be mist, but was in reality smoke. This gave a weird effect to the now mountainous settings. Into the midst of it we descended to a suspension bridge of twisted strands of the wistaria vine, ballasted at the ends with boulders piled from the river's bed. The thing swayed cheerfully as we passed over.

On the top of the opposite bank stood perched a group of houses, not enough to make a village, and far too humble to support an inn. But in their midst rose a well-to-do temple, where, according to the guidebook, good lodging was to be had. It may indeed be so. For our part we were not so much as granted entry. An acolyte, who parleyed with us through the darkness, reported the priest away on business, and refused to let us in on any terms. Several bystanders gathered during the interview, and had it not been for one of them we might have been there yet. From this man we elicited the information that another hamlet lay half a mile further up, whose head-man, he thought, might be willing to house us. We followed straight on until some buildings showed in still blacker silhouette against the black sky, and there, after some groping in the dark and a second uncanny conversation through a loophole, - for the place was already boarded up for the night, - we were finally taken in.

The house was a generous instance of a mountain farmhouse. The floors were innocent of mats, and the rooms otherwise pitiably barnlike. Yet an air of largeness distinguished the whole. It was clearly the home of a man of standing in his community, one who lived amply the only life he knew. You felt you already knew the man from his outer envelope. And this in some sort prepared me for a little scene I was shortly to witness. For while waiting for Yejiro to get dinner ready I became aware that something was going on in what stood for hall; and on pushing the shoji gently apart I beheld the whole household at evening prayers before an altar piece, lighted by candles and glittering with gilded Buddhas and bronze lotus flowers. The father intoned the service from a kind of breviary, and the family joined from time to time in the responses. There was a sincerity and a sweet simplicity about the act that went to my heart and held me there. At the close of it the family remained bowed while the intoner reverently put out the lights and folded the doors upon the images within. Locked in that little case lay all the luxury which the family could afford, and to which the rest of the house was stranger. There is something touching in any heartfelt belief, and something pathetic too.

This peaceful parenthesis was hardly past before the trials of travel intruded themselves again. The porters proved refractory. They had agreed to come only as far as they could, and now they refused to proceed further. Here was a pretty pass. To turn back now was worse than not to have set out at all. Besides, we had not yet even come in sight of the enemy. Yejiro reasoned with them for some hours in the kitchen, occasionally pausing for lack of further argument to report his want of progress. It seemed the men valued their lives above a money consideration, strangely enough. They made no bones about it; the thing was too dangerous. The streams they declared impassable, and the charcoal burners the only men who knew the path. Yejiro at once had these witnesses subpoenaed, and by good luck one of them came, who, on being questioned, repeated all the porters had said. But Yejiro's blood was up, and he boldly played his last trump. He threatened them with the arm of the law, a much more effective weapon in Japan than elsewhere. He proposed, in fine, to walk three ri down the valley to the nearest police station and fetch a policeman who should compel them to move on. It is perhaps open to doubt whether even a Japanese policeman's omnipotence would have extended so far. But the threat, though not conclusive, had some effect. This strategic stroke I only learnt of later, and I laughed heartily when I did. That night, however, it was no laughing matter, and I began to have doubts myself. But it was no time for misgivings, so I went in to help. The circle round the kitchen fire was not a cheerful sight. To have the courage of one's convictions is rare enough in this weak world, but to have the courage of one's doubts is something I uncover to. To furnish pluck for a whole company including one's self; to hearten others without letting them see how sore in need of heartening is the heartener, touches my utmost admiration. If only another would say to him that he might believe the very things he does not believe, as he says them to that other; they then might at least seem true. Ignorance saved me. Had I known what they did, I should have agreed with them on the spot. As it was, I did what I could, and went back to my own room, the prey of somewhat lonely thoughts.