XVIII. A Genial Inkyo.

The owner of the farmhouse had inherited it from his father. There was nothing very odd about this even to our other-world notions of property, except that the father was still living, as hale and hearty as you please, in a little den at the foot of the garden. He was, in short, what is known as an inkyo, or one "dwelling in retirement," - a singular state, composed of equal parts of this world and the next; like dying in theory, and then undertaking to live on in practice. For an inkyo is a man who has formally handed in his resignation to the community, and yet continues to exist most enjoyably in the midst of it. He has abdicated in favor of his eldest son, and, having put off all responsibilities, is filially supported in a life of ease and pleasure.

In spite of being no longer in society, the father was greedily social. As soon as he heard a foreigner had arrived, he trotted over to call, and nothing would do but I must visit his niche early in the morning, before going away.

After breakfast, therefore, the son duly came to fetch me, and we started off through the garden. For his sire's place of retirement lay away from the road, toward the river, that the dear old gentleman might command a view of the peaks opposite, of one of which, called the Etchiu Fuji, from its conical form, he was dotingly fond.

It was an expedition getting there. This arose, not from any special fault in the path, which for the first half of the way consisted of a string of stepping-stones neatly laid in the ground, and for the latter fraction of no worse mud than could easily be met with elsewhere. The trouble came from a misunderstanding in foot-gear. It seemed too short a walk to put one's boots twice on and off for the doing of it. On the other hand, to walk in stocking-feet was out of the question, for the mud. So I attempted a compromise, consisting of my socks and the native wooden clogs, and tried to make the one take kindly to the other. But my mittenlike socks would have none of my thongs, and, failing of a grip for my toes, compelled me to scuffle along in a very undignified way. Then every few steps one or the other of the clogs saw fit to stay behind, and I had to halt to recover the delinquent. I made a sorry spectacle as I screwed about on the remaining shoe, groping after its fellow. Once I was caught in the act by my cicerone, who turned round inopportunely to see why I was not following; and twice in attempting the feat I all but lost my balance into the mud.

The worthy virtuoso, as he was, met us at the door, and escorted us upstairs to see his treasures. The room was tapestried with all manner of works of art, of which he was justly proud, while the house itself stood copied from a Chinese model, for he was very classic. But I was pleased to find that above all his heart was given to the view. It was shared, as I also discovered, by the tea-ceremonies, in which he was a proficient; such a mixture is man. But I believe the view to have been the deeper affection. While I was admiring it, he fetched from a cupboard a very suspicious-looking bottle of what turned out to be honey, and pressed a glass of it upon me. I duly sipped this not inappropriate liquor, since cordials savor of asceticism, and this one being of natural decoction peculiarly befitted a secular anchorite. Then I took my leave of one who, though no longer in the world, was still so charmingly of it.

The good soul chanced to be a widower, but such bereavement is no necessary preliminary to becoming a "dweller in retirement." Sometimes a man enters the inkyo state while he still has with him the helpmate of his youth, and the two go together to this aftermath of life. Surely a pretty return, this, of the honeymoon! Darby and Joan starting once more hand in hand, alone in this Indian summer of their love, as they did years ago in its spring-tide, before other generations of their own had pushed them on to less romantic parts; Darby come back from paternal cares to be once more the lover, and Joan from mother and grandam again become his girl.

We parted from our watchman-guide and half our porters with much feeling, as did they from us. As friendships go we had not known one another long, but intimacy is not measured by time. Circumstances had thrown us into one another's arms, and, as we bade good-by first to one and then to another, we seemed to be severing a tie that touched very near the heart.

Two of the porters came on with us, as much for love as for money, as far as Kamiichi, where we were to get kuruma. A long tramp we had of it across leagues of ricefields, and for a part of the way beside a large, deep canal, finely bowered in trees, and flowing with a swift, dark current like some huge boa winding stealthily under the bamboo. It was the artery to I know not how many square miles of field. We came in for a steady drizzle after this, and it was long past noon before we touched our noontide halt, and stalked at last into the inn.

With great difficulty we secured three kuruma, - the place stood on the limits of such locomotion, - and a crowd so dense collected about them that it blocked the way out. Everybody seemed smitten with a desire to see the strangers, which gave the inn servants, by virtue of their calling, an enviable distinction to village eyes. But the porters stood highest in regard, both because of their more intimate tie to us and because we here parted from them. It was severing the final link to the now happy past. We all felt it, and told our rosary of memories in thought, I doubt not, each to himself, as we went out into the world upon our different ways.

Eight miles in a rain brought us to the road by which we had entered Etchiu some days before, and that night we slept at Mikkaichi once more. On the morrow morning the weather faired, and toward midday we were again facing the fringe of breakers from the cliffs. The mountain spurs looked the grimmer that we now knew them so well by repulse. The air was clearer than when we came, and as we gazed out over the ocean we could see for the first half day the faint coast line of Noto, stretching toward us like an arm along the horizon. We watched it at intervals as long as it was recognizable, and when at last it vanished beyond even imagination's power to conjure up, felt a strange pang of personal regret. The sea that snatches away so many lands at parting seems fitly inhuman to the deed.

In the course of these two days two things happened which pointed curiously to the isolation of this part of Japan. The first was the near meeting with another foreigner, which would seem to imply precisely the contrary. But the unwonted excitement into which the event threw Yejiro and me was proof enough of its strangeness. It was while I was sipping tea, waiting for a fresh relay of kuruma at Namerigawa, that Yejiro rushed in to announce that another foreigner was resting at an inn a little further up town. He had arrived shortly before from the Echigo side, report said. The passing of royalty or even a circus would have been tame news in comparison. Of course I hastened into my boots and sallied forth. I did not call on him formally, but I inspected the front of the inn in which he was said to be, with peculiar expectation of spirit, in spite of my affected unconcern. He was, I believe, a German; but he never took shape.

The second event occurred the next evening, and was even more singular. Like the dodo it chronicled survival. It was manifested in the person of a policeman.

Some time after our arrival at the inn Yejiro reported that the police officer wished to see me. The man had already seen the important part of me, the passport, and I was at a loss to imagine what more he could want. So Yejiro was sent back to investigate. He returned shortly with a sad case of concern for consideration, and he hardly kept his face as he told it. The conscientious officer, it seemed, wished to sleep outside my room for my protection. From the passport he felt himself responsible for my safety, and had concluded that the least he could do would be not to leave me for a moment. I assured him, through Yejiro, that his offer was most thoughtful, but unnecessary. But what an out-of-the-world corner the thought implied, and what a fine fossil the good soul must have been! Here was survival with an emphasis! The man had slept soundly through twenty years or more of change, and was still in the pre-foreign days of the feudal ages.

The prices of kuruma, too, were pleasingly behind the times. They were but two-fifths of what we should have had to pay on the southern coast. As we advanced toward Shinshiu, however, the prices advanced too. Indeed, the one advance accurately measured the other. We were getting back again into the world, it was painfully evident. At last fares rose to six cents a ri. Before they could mount higher we had taken refuge in the train, and were hurrying toward Zenkoji by steam.

Our objective point was now the descent of the Tenriugawa rapids. It was not the shortest way home, but it was part of our projected itinerary and took us through a country typical of the heart of Japan. It began with a fine succession of passes. These I had once taken on a journey years before with a friend, and as we started now up the first one, the Saru ga Bamba no toge, I tried to make the new impression fit the old remembrance. But man had been at work upon the place without, and imagination still more upon its picture within. It was another toge we climbed in the light of that latter-day afternoon. With the companion the old had passed away.

Leaving the others to follow, I started down the zigzags on the farther side. It was already dusk, and the steepness of the road and the brisk night air sent me swinging down the turns with something of the anchor-like escapement of a watch. Midway I passed a solitary pedestrian, who was trolling to himself down the descent; and when in turn he passed me, as I was waiting under a tree for the others to catch up, he eyed me suspiciously, as one whose wanderings were questionable. They were certainly questionable to myself, for by that time we were come to habitations, and each fresh light I saw I took for the village where we were to stop for the night, in spite of repeated disillusionings.

Overhead, the larger stars came out and winked at me, and then, as the fields of space became more and more lighted with star-points, the hearth-fires to other homes of worlds, I thought how local, after all, is the great cone of shadow we men call night; for it is only nature's nightcap for the nodding earth, as she turns her head away from the sun to lie pillowed in space.

The next day was notable chiefly for the up-and-down character of the country even for Japan; which was excelled only by the unhesitating acceptance of it on the part of the road, and this in its turn only by the crowds that traveled it. It seemed that the desire to go increased inversely as the difficulty in going. The wayfarers were most sociable folk, and for a people with whom personality is at a discount singularly given to personalities. Not a man who had a decent chance but asked whither we were going and whence we had come. To the first half of the country-side we confided so much of our private history; to the second we contented ourselves in saying, with elaborate courtesy, "The same as six years ago," an answer which sounded polite, and rendered the surprised questioner speechless for the time we took to pass.

Especially the women added to the picturesqueness of the landscape. Their heads done up in gay-colored kerchiefs, framing their round and rosy faces, their kit slung over their shoulders, and their kimono tucked in at their waists, they trudged along on useful pairs of ankles neatly cased in lavender gaiters. Some followed dutifully behind their husbands; others chatted along in company with their kind, - members these last of some pilgrim association.

There were wayfarers, too, of less happy mind. For over the last pass the authorities were building a new road, and long lines of pink-coated convicts marched to and fro at work upon it, under the surveillance of the dark-blue police; and the sight made me think how little the momentary living counts in the actual life. Here we were, two sets of men, doing for the time an identical thing, trudging along a mountain path in the fresh May air; and yet to the one the day seemed all sunshine, to the other nothing but cloud.