XXI. To the Sea.

It was a ten minutes' walk, the next morning, from the inn down to the boat: an everwinding path along a succession of terraces studded with trees just breaking into leaf, and dotted with cottages, whose folk gave us good-day as we passed. The site of the village sloped to the south, its cheek full turned to the sunshine that stole down and kissed it as it lay. On this lovely May morning, amid the slumbering air, it made as amorous a bit of springtide as the heart could wish. In front of us, in vignette, stretched the stream, half a mile of it to where it turned the corner. Each succeeding level of terrace reset the picture, as if for trial of effect.

The boat was waiting, lightly grounded on a bit of shingle left by a turn of the current. Several enthusiastic followers accompanied us out to it with respectful insistence.

On reaching our craft, we found, to our surprise, that it was full of bales of merchandise of large and plethoric habit. We asked in astonishment what all this cargo meant. The men answered sheepishly that it was to make the boat ride better. The boat had ridden well enough the day before, and on general principles should, it would seem, ride all the better for being light. But indeed their guilt was plain. Our rascally boatmen, who had already charged a goodly sum for their craft, had thought to serve two masters, and after having leased the whole boat to me were intending now to turn a dishonest penny by shipping somebody else's goods into the bargain. In company with the rest of my kind, I much dislike to be imposed upon; so I told them they might instantly take the so-called ballast out again. When I had seen the process of disembarkation fairly begun I relented, deciding, so long as the bales were already aboard, to take them on to the first stopping place, and there put them ashore.

The river, its brief glimpse at civilization over, relapsed again into utter savagery. Rocks and trees, as wild apparently as their first forerunners there, walled us in on the sides, and appeared to do so at the ends, making exit seem an impossibility, and entrance to have been a dream. The stream gave short reaches, disclosing every few minutes, as it took us round a fresh turn, a new variation on the old theme. Then, as we glided straight our few hundred feet, the wall behind us rose higher and higher, stretching out at us as if to prevent our possible escape. We had thought it only a high cliff, and behold it was the whole mountain side that had stood barrier there.

I cannot point the wildness of it all better than did a certain sight we came upon suddenly, round a corner. Without the least warning, a bend in the current introduced us to a fishing-pole and a basket, reposing together on the top of a rock. These two hints at humanity sat all by themselves, keeping one another company; no other sign of man was visible anywhere. The pair of waifs gave one an odd feeling, as might the shadow of a person apart from the person himself. There was something uncanny in their commonplaceness in so uncommon a place. While we were still wondering at the whereabouts of their owner, another turn disclosed him by a sort of cove where his boat lay drawn up. Indeed, it was an ideal spot for an angler, and a lucrative one as well, for the river is naturally full of fish. Were I the angler I have seen others, I would encamp here for the rest of my life and feed off such phosphoric diet as I might catch, to the quickening of the brain and the composing of the body. But fortunately man has more of the river than of the rock in his composition, and whether he will or no is steadily being hurried past such nicks in life toward other adventures beyond.

The rapids here were, if anything, finer than those above Mitsushima. Of them in all there are said to be more than thirty. Some have nicknames, as "the Turret," "the Adze," "Boiling Rice," and "the Mountain Bath." Indeed, probably all of them have distinctive appellations, but one cannot ask the names of everybody in a procession. There were some bad enough to give one a sensation. Two of the worst rocks have been blown up, but enough still remain to point a momentary moral or adorn an after tale. All were exhilarating. Through even the least bad I should have been more than sorry to have come alone. But confiding trust in the boatmen was not misplaced; for if questionable in their morals, they were above reproach in their water-craft.

The rapids were incidents; the gorge we had always with us, superb cleft that it was, hewn as by some giant axe, notching the mountain chain imperiously for passage. Hour followed hour with the same setting. How the river first took it into its head to come through so manifestly unsuitable a place is a secret for the geologist to tell. But I for one wish I had been by to see.

From morning till noon we raced with the water at the bottom of the canon. Each turn was like, and yet unlike, the one before, so that I wonder that I have other than a blurred composite picture on my mind's plate. Yet certain bits have picked themselves out and ousted the rest, and the river comes up to me in thought as vivid as in life.

These repeated disclosures that disclosed nothing lulled us at last into a happy unconsciousness of end in this subterranean passage to a lower world. Though we were cleaving the mountain chain in part against the grain, indeed because we were, it showed no sign of giving out; until without premonition a curve shot us out at the foot of a village perched so perpendicularly on terraces that it almost overhung the stream. It was called Nishinoto, and consisted of a street that sidled up between the dwellings in a more than alpine way. Up it we climbed aerially to a teahouse for lunch; but not before I had directed the boatmen to discharge the smuggled goods.

In another hour we were under way again less the uninvited bales, which, left sitting all alone on the sands, mutely reproached us till they could be seen no more. At the first bend the gorge closed round about us as rugged as ever. The rapids were not so dangerous as those above, but the stream was still fast if less furious. When we looked at the water we did not appear to be moving at all, and when we looked up again at the bank we almost lost our balance for the sudden start.

Then gradually a change crept over the face of things. The stream grew a thought more steady, the canon a shade less wild. We passed through some more rapids, - our last, the boatmen said. The river began to widen, the mountains standing more respectfully apart. They let us see nothing new, but they showed us more of themselves, and grand buttresses they made. Then the reaches grew longer, and other hills less high became visible ahead. By all signs we were come to the beginning of the end. Another turn, and we were confronted with a real view, - a very hilly view, to be sure, but one that belonged to the world of man.

It was like coming out of a tunnel into the light.

The current hurried us on. At each bend the hills in front rose less wild than at the bend before. Villages began to dot the shores, and the river spread out and took its ease. Another curve, and we no longer saw hills and rocks ahead. A great plain stretched before us, over which our eyes wandered at will. Looking back, we marked the mountains already closing up in line. I tried to place the river's gap, but the barrier had grown continuous to the eye. Like adventurers in a fairy tale, the opening through which we had come had closed unrecognizably behind us.

In front all was plain, every-day plain, with people tilling it, and hamlets; and in the immediate foreground, right athwart our course, a ferryboat full of folk. As we bore down between it and the landing place two men gesticulated at us from the bank. We swerved in toward them. They shouted something to the boatmen, and Yejiro turned to me. The wayfarers asked if we would let them go with us to the sea. There was no regular conveyance, and they much desired to reach the Tokaido that night. What would I do?

"Oh! Very well," said I, reluctantly, "take them on board."

So it had come to this, after our romantic solitary voyage! We were to end as a common carrier, after all. One is born a demigod, the French say, to die a grocer.

Our passengers were honest and businesslike. Soon after coming aboard they offered to pay for their passage, an offer I politely declined. Then they fell to chatting with Yejiro, and I doubt not in five minutes had possessed themselves of all our immediate history.

Meanwhile, the river was lazily dropping us down to the sea. On the left, at a respectful distance, a long, low rise, like a bit of fortification, ran down indefinitely in the same direction, by way of encouraging the stream. Pitiable supposition! Was this meadow-meandering bit of water indeed our wild Tenriugawa! It seemed impossible. Once we had a bathetic bit of excitement over a near case of grounding, where the water had spread itself out to ripple down to a lower level. This was all to recall the past. The stream had grown steady and profitable. More than once we passed craft jarringly mercantile, and even some highly respectable automations, water-wheel boats anchored in the current, nose to tail, in a long line, apparently paddling up stream, but never advancing an inch. And all these sights had a work-a-day, machine look like middle age.

The afternoon aged to match. The sun began to dip behind the distant hills; and then toward the east, in front of us, came out the long outline of the Tokaido bridge, three quarters of a mile in length, like a huge caterpillar crawling methodically across the river-bed. Gradually we drew toward it, till its myriad legs glinted in the sunset glow; and then, as we swept under, it wheeled round to become instantly a gaunt stalking silhouette against the sky. From below by the river's mouth the roar of the surf came forebodingly up out of the ashen east. But in the west was still a glory, and as I turned to it I seemed to look down the long vista of the journey to western Noto by the sea. I thought how I had pictured it to myself before starting, and then how little the facts had fitted the fancy. It had lost and gained; if no longer maiden, it was mine, and the glamour that fringes the future had but changed to the glamour that gilds the past. Distance had brought it all back again. Delays, discomforts, difficulties, disappeared, and its memory rose as lovely as the sky past which I looked. For the better part of place or person is the thought it leaves behind.