XIX. Our Passport and the Basha.

It was bound to come, and we knew it; it was only a question of time. But then we had braved the law so far so well, we had almost come to believe that we should escape altogether. I mean the fatal detection by the police that we were violating my passport. That document had already outrun the statute of limitations, and left me no better than an outlaw. For practical purposes my character was gone, and being thus self-convicted I might be arrested at any moment!

In consequence of pending treaty negotiations the government had become particular about the privileges it granted. One of the first counter-moves to foreign insistence on exterritoriality was the restricting of passports to a fortnight's time. You might lay out any tour you chose, and if granted by the government, the provinces designated would all be duly inscribed in your passport, but you had to compass them all in the fortnight or be punished. Of course this could be evaded, and a Japanese friend in the foreign office had kindly promised to send me an extension on telegraph. But the dislike of being tied to times and places made me sinfully prefer the risk of being marched back to Tokyo under the charge of a policeman, a fate I had seen overtake one or two other malefactors caught at somewhat different crimes, whom we had casually met on the road. The Harinoki toge was largely to blame for the delay, it is true. But then unluckily the Harinoki toge could not be arrested, and I could.

The bespectacled authorities who examined my credentials every night had hitherto winked at my guilt, so that the bolt fell upon us from a clear sky. It is almost questionable whether it had a right to fall at that moment at all. It was certainly a case of officious officialdom. For we had stopped simply to change kuruma, and the unwritten rule of the road runs that so long as the traveler keeps moving he is safe. To catch him napping at night is the recognized custom.

Besides, the police might have chosen, even by day, some other opportunity to light upon us than in the very thick of our wrestle with the extortionate prices of fresh kuruma. It was inconsiderate of them, to say the least; for the attack naturally threw us into a certain disrepute not calculated to cheapen fares. Then, too, our obvious haste helped furnish circumstantial evidence of crime.

Nevertheless, in the very midst of these difficult negotiations at Matsumoto, evil fate presented itself, clothed as a policeman, and demanded our papers. Luckily they were not at the very bottom of the baggage, but in Yejiro's bosom; for otherwise our effects would have become a public show, and collected an even greater crowd than actually gathered. The arm of the law took the passport, fell at once on the indefensible date, and pointed it out to us. There we were, caught in the act. We sank several degrees instantly in everybody's estimation.

How we escaped is a secret of the Japanese force; for escape we did. We admitted our misfortune to the policeman, and expressed ourselves as even more desirous of getting back to Tokyo than he could be to have us there. But we pointed out that now the Tenriugawa was to all intents as short a way as any, and furthermore that it was the one expressly nominated in the bond. The policeman stood perplexed. Out of doubt or courtesy, or both, he hesitated for some moments, and then reluctantly handed the passport back. We stood acquitted. Indeed we were not only suffered to proceed, and that in our own way, but he actually accelerated matters himself, for he turned to against the kuruma, to their instant discomfiture. Indeed, this was quite as it should be, for he was as anxious to be rid of us as we were to be quit of him.

On the road the kuruma proved unruly. The exposure we had sustained may have helped to this, or the coercion of the policeman may have worked revolt. They jogged along more and more reluctantly, till, at last, the worst of them refused to go on at all. After some quite useless altercation, we made what shift we might with the remainder, but had not got far when we heard the toot of a fish-horn behind, and the sound gradually overhauled us. Now, a fish-horn on a country road in Japan means a basha, and a basha means the embodiment of the objectionable. It is a vehicle to be avoided; both externally like a fire-engine, and internally like an ambulance or a hearse. Indeed, so far as its victim is concerned, it usually ends by becoming a cross between the latter two. It is a machine absolutely devoid of recommendations. I speak from experience, for in a moment of adventure I once took passage in one, some years ago, and I never mean to do so again. Even the sound of its fish-horn now provokes me to evil thoughts. But we were in a bad way, and, to my wonder, I found my sentiments perceptibly softening. Before the thing caught up with us, I had actually resolved to take it.

We made signals of distress, and, rather contrary to my expectation, the machine stopped. The driver pulled up, and the guard, a half-grown boy, who sat next him on the seat in front, making melody on the horn, jumped down, a strange bundle of consequence and courtesy, and helped us and our belongings in. He then swung himself into his seat, as the basha set off again, and fell to tooting vociferously. We had scarce got settled before the vehicle was dashing along at what seemed, to our late perambulator experience, a perfectly breakneck speed. The pace and the enthusiasm of the boy infected us. Yejiro and I fell to congratulating each other, with some fervor, on our change of conveyance, and each time we spoke, the boy whisked round in his seat and cried out, with a knowing wag of his head, "I tell you, it's fast, a basha! He!" and then as suddenly whisked back again, and fell to tooting with renewed vigor, like one who had been momentarily derelict in duty. The road was quite deserted, so that so much noise would have seemed unnecessary. The boy thought otherwise. Meanwhile, we were being frightfully jolted, and occasionally slung round corners in a way to make holding on a painful labor.

I suppose the unwonted speed must have intoxicated us. There is nothing else that will account for our loss of head. For, before we were well out of the machine, we had begun negotiations for its exclusive possession on the morrow; and by the time we were fairly installed in the inn at Shiwojiri, the bargain stood complete. In consideration of no exorbitant sum, the vehicle, with all appertaining thereto, was to be taken off its regular route and wander, like any tramp, at our sweet will, in quite a contrary direction. The boy with the horn was expressly included in the lease. By this arrangement we hoped to compass two days' journey in one, and reach by the morrow's night the point where boats are taken for the descent of the Tenriugawa rapids. We knew the drive would be painful, but we had every promise that it would be fast.

The inn at Shiwojiri possessed a foreign table and chairs; a bit of furnishing from which the freshness of surprise never wore off. What was even less to be looked for, the son of the house was proficient in English, having studied with a missionary in Tokyo. I had some talk with him later, and lent him an English classic which he showed great desire to see.

Betimes the next morning the basha appeared, both driver and guard got up in a fine dark-green uniform, a spruceness it much tickled our vanity to mark. With a feeling akin to princely pride we stepped in, the driver cracked his whip, and, amid the bows of the inn household, we went off up the street. Barring the loss of an umbrella, which had happened somewhere between the time we boarded the basha on the yestereen and the hour of departure that morning, and an exhaustive but vain hunt for the same, first in the vehicle and then at the stables, nothing marred the serenity of our first half hour. The sky was dreamy; a delicate blue seen through a golden gauze. I fancy it was such a sky with which Danae fell in love. We rose slowly up the Shiwojiri pass, which a new road enabled even the basha to do quite comfortably; and the southern peaks of the Hida-Shinshiu range rose to correspond across the valley, the snow line distinctly visible, though the nearer ranges did their best to cut it off. Norikura, the Saddle, especially, showed a fine bit of its ten thousand feet, wrapped in the indistinctness of the spring haze. The heavy air gave a look of slumber to the peaks, as if those summits, waked before the rest of the world, had already grown drowsy. We had not yet ceased gazing at them when a turn of the road shut them out. A rise of a few feet, a dip, a turn, and the lake of Suwa lay below us on the other side, flanked by its own mountains, through a gap in which showed the just perceptible cone of Fuji.

The Shiwojiri toge is not a high pass, and yet it does duty as part of a great divide. A drop of water, falling on the Shiwojiri side, if it chance to meet with other drops before it be snatched up again into the sky, wanders into the sea of Japan; while its fellow, coming to earth not a yard away, ends at last in the Pacific ocean. Our way now lay with the latter. For the Tenriugawa, or River of the Heavenly Dragon, takes its rise in the lake of Suwa, a bowl of water a couple of miles or more across. It trickles out insignificantly enough at one end; gathers strength for fifty miles of flow, and then for another hundred cuts its way clean across a range of mountains. How it ever got through originally, and why, are interesting mysteries. Its gorge is now from one to two thousand feet deep, cleft, not through a plateau, but through the axis of a mountain chain. In most places there is not a yard to spare.

We were still a doubtful day off from where it is customary to take a boat. We had started somewhat late, stopped for the lack of umbrella, and now were committed to a digression for letters I expected at Shimonosuwa. I never order my letters to meet me on the line of march but I bitterly repent having chosen that special spot. There is always some excellent reason why it turns out most inconvenient. But as yet I was hopeful, for I thought I knew the speed of the basha, and the day was still young.

The day had grown older and I wiser by the time my letters were read, with their strange perfume from outre-mer, the horses harnessed afresh, and we under way once more, clattering down the main street of the village. It was not only in the village that we made a stir. A basha is equal to the occasion anywhere. The whole countryside stopped in its tracks to turn and stare as we passed, and at one point we came in for a perfect ovation; for our passage and the noonday recess of a school happening to coincide, the children, at that moment let loose, instantly dashed after us pell-mell, in a mass, shouting. One or two of them were so eager in the chase that they minded not where they went, and, tripping over stones or ruts, fell headlong in the mud. The rest pursued us panting, each according to his legs, and gave over at last only for want of wind.

The guard was supremely happy. What time the upper half of him was too tired to toot the lower half spent in hopping off his seat and on again upon imaginary duty. Meanwhile, in spite of enlivenments not included in the bill, my old dislike was slowly but surely coming back. I began to be uneasy on the score of time. The speed was not what hope and the company had led me to expect. I went through some elaborate rule-of-three calculation between the distance, the speed, and the time; and, as far as I could make out, it began to look questionable whether we should arrive that night at all. I had already played the part of goad out of precaution; I now had to take to it in good earnest, - futiley, to boot. Meanwhile my body was as uneasy as my mind. In the first place, the seats faced sideways, so that we progressed after the fashion of crabs. Secondly, the vehicle hardly made apologies for springs. We were rattled about like parched corn in a hopper.

What a blessed trick of memory that, of winnowing the joys of travel from its discomforts, and letting the latter slip unconsciously away! The dust and the heat and the thousand petty annoyances pass with the fact to be forgotten, while the snow-hooded mountains and the deep blue sky and the smiling fields stay with us, a part of ourselves. That drive seems golden as I look back upon it; yet how sadly discomforting it was at the time!

Toward afternoon a rumor became current that the road had been washed away ahead, and that the basha would have to stop some miles short of where we had hoped to be that night. This was disheartening. For with all its shortcomings the basha was undeniably faster than perambulators. The rumor gathered substance as we advanced, until in consequence we ceased to advance at all. At a certain village, called Miyada, the basha drew up, and we were informed that it was impossible to proceed further.

There was nothing for it but to hire kuruma. The men were a rascally lot, and made gain of our necessity. But we were not as sorry to leave the basha as we might have been, and the reports of impassability substantiated themselves before we had got a mile out. In further consolation, the kuruma men turned out well on the road, and bowled us along right merrily. The road ran along the skirts of the mountains on the right, which fell in one long sweep to the river, a breadth of plain unexpectedly gored by streams. The canons were startlingly abrupt, and the darkness which now came on took nothing from the effect. A sudden zigzag down to a depth of a hundred feet, a careful hitching over a decrepit bridge, and a zigzag up the other side, and we were off at a good trot again. This dispatch on the part of the men brought us in much-improved spirits and in very good time into Iijima, our hoped-for goal.