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Title: Madame Chrysantheme — Complete
Author: Loti, Pierre
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Pierre Loti

With a Preface by ALBERT SOREL, of the French Academy


LOUIS-MARIE-JULIEN VIAUD, “Pierre Loti,” was born in Rochefort, of an
old French-Protestant family, January 14, 1850. He was connected with
the. French Navy from 1867 to 1900, and is now a retired officer with
full captain’s rank. Although of a most energetic character and a
veteran of various campaigns--Japan, Tonkin, Senegal, China (1900)--M.
Viaud was so timid as a young midshipman that his comrades named him
“Loti,” a small Indian flower which seems ever discreetly to hide
itself. This is, perhaps, a pleasantry, as elsewhere there is a much
more romantic explanation of the word. Suffice it to say that Pierre
Loti has been always the nom de plume of M. Viaud.

Lod has no immediate literary ancestor and no pupil worthy of the name.
He indulges in a dainty pessimism and is most of all an impressionist,
not of the vogue of Zola--although he can be, on occasion, as brutally
plain as he--but more in the manner of Victor Hugo, his predecessor,
or Alphonse Daudet, his lifelong friend. In Loti’s works, however,
pessimism is softened to a musical melancholy; the style is direct; the
vocabulary exquisite; the moral situations familiar; the characters not
complex. In short, his place is unique, apart from the normal lines of
novelistic development.

The vein of Loti is not absolutely new, but is certainly novel. In him
it first revealed itself in a receptive sympathy for the rare flood of
experiences that his naval life brought on him, experiences which had
not fallen to the lot of Bernardin de St. Pierre or Chateaubriand, both
of whom he resembles. But neither of those writers possessed Loti’s
delicate sensitiveness to exotic nature as it is reflected in the
foreign mind and heart. Strange but real worlds he has conjured up
for us in most of his works and with means that are, as with all
great artists, extremely simple. He may be compared to Kipling and
to Stevenson: to Kipling, because he has done for the French seaman
something that the Englishman has done for “Tommy Atkins,” although
their methods are often more opposed than similar; like Stevenson, he
has gone searching for romance in the ends of the earth; like Stevenson,
too, he has put into all of his works a style that is never less than
dominant and often irresistible. Charm, indeed, is the one fine quality
that all his critics, whether friendly or not, acknowledge, and it is
one well able to cover, if need be, a multitude of literary sins.

Pierre Loti was elected a member of the French Academy in 1891,
succeeding to the chair of Octave Feuillet. Some of his writings are:
‘Aziyade,’ written in 1879; the scene is laid in Constantinople. This
was followed by ‘Rarahu,’ a Polynesian idyl (1880; again published under
the title Le Mariage de Loti, 1882). ‘Roman d’un Spahi (1881) deals with
Algiers. Taton-gaye is a true ‘bete-humaine’, sunk in moral slumber or
quivering with ferocious joys. It is in this book that Loti has eclipsed
Zola. One of his masterpieces is ‘Mon Freye Yves’ (ocean and Brittany),
together with ‘Pecheur d’Islande’ (1886); both translated into German by
Elizabeth, Queen of Roumania (Carmen Sylva). In 1884 was published
‘Les trois Dames de la Kasbah,’ relating also to Algiers, and then
came ‘Madame Chrysantheme’ (1887), crowned by the Academy. ‘Japoneries
d’automne’ (1889), Japanese scenes; then ‘Au Maroc’ (Morocco; 1890).
Partly autobiographical are ‘Le Roman d’un Enfant’ (1890) and ‘Le Livre
de la Pitie et de la Mort’ (1891). Then followed ‘Fantomes d’Orient
(1892), L’Exilee (1893), Le Desert (Syria; 1895), Jerusalem, La Galilee
(Palestine; 1895), Pages choisies (1896), Ramuntcho (1897), Reflets sur
la Sombre Route’ (1898), and finally ‘Derniers Jours de Pekin’ (1903).
Many exquisite pages are to be found in Loti’s work. His composition is
now and then somewhat disconnected; the impressions are vague, almost
illusory, and the mirage is a little obscure, but the intense and
abiding charm of Nature remains. Loti has not again reached the level of
Madame Chrysantheme, and English critics at least will have to suspend
their judgment for a while. In any event, he has given to the world many
great books, and is shrined with the Forty “Immortals.”

                    ALBERT SOREL
                  de l’Academie Francaise.


To Madame la Duchesse de Richelieu MADAME LA DUCHESSE,

Permit me to beg your acceptance of this work, as a respectful tribute
of my friendship.

I feel some hesitation in offering it, for its theme can not be deemed
altogether correct; but I have endeavored to make its expression, at
least, in harmony with good taste, and I trust that my endeavors have
been successful.

This record is the journal of a summer of my life, in which I have
changed nothing, not even the dates, thinking that in our efforts to
arrange matters we succeed often only in disarranging them. Although the
most important role may appear to devolve on Madame Chrysantheme, it
is very certain that the three principal points of interest are myself,
Japan, and the effect produced on me by that country.

Do you recollect a certain photograph--rather absurd, I must
admit--representing that great fellow Yves, a Japanese girl, and myself,
grouped as we were posed by a Nagasaki artist? You smiled when I assured
you that the carefully attired little damsel placed between us had been
one of our neighbors. Kindly receive my book with the same indulgent
smile, without seeking therein a meaning either good or bad, in the
same spirit in which you would receive some quaint bit of pottery, some
grotesquely carved ivory idol, or some fantastic trifle brought to you
from this singular fatherland of all fantasy.

   Believe me, with the deepest respect,
     Madame la Duchesse,
        Your affectionate
               PIERRE LOTI.


We were at sea, about two o’clock in the morning, on a fine night, under
a starry sky.

Yves stood beside me on the bridge, and we talked of the country,
unknown to both, to which destiny was now carrying us. As we were to
cast anchor the next day, we enjoyed our anticipations, and made a
thousand plans.

“For myself,” I said, “I shall marry at once.”

“Ah!” said Yves, with the indifferent air of one whom nothing can

“Yes--I shall choose a little, creamy-skinned woman with black hair
and cat’s eyes. She must be pretty and not much bigger than a doll. You
shall have a room in our house. It will be a little paper house, in a
green garden, deeply shaded. We shall live among flowers, everything
around us shall blossom, and each morning our dwelling shall be filled
with nosegays--nosegays such as you have never dreamed of.”

Yves now began to take an interest in these plans for my future
household; indeed, he would have listened with as much confidence if I
had expressed the intention of taking temporary vows in some monastery
of this new country, or of marrying some island queen and shutting
myself up with her in a house built of jade, in the middle of an
enchanted lake.

I had quite made up my mind to carry out the scheme I had unfolded
to him. Yes, led on by ennui and solitude, I had gradually arrived at
dreaming of and looking forward to such a marriage. And then, above all,
to live for awhile on land, in some shady nook, amid trees and flowers!
How tempting it sounded after the long months we had been wasting at
the Pescadores (hot and arid islands, devoid of freshness, woods, or
streamlets, full of faint odors of China and of death).

We had made great way in latitude since our vessel had quitted that
Chinese furnace, and the constellations in the sky had undergone a
series of rapid changes; the Southern Cross had disappeared at the
same time as the other austral stars; and the Great Bear, rising on the
horizon, was almost on as high a level as it is in the sky above France.
The evening breeze soothed and revived us, bringing back to us the
memory of our summer-night watches on the coast of Brittany.

What a distance we were, however, from those familiar coasts! What a
tremendous distance!




At dawn we beheld Japan.

Precisely at the foretold moment the mysterious land arose before us,
afar off, like a black dot in the vast sea, which for so many days had
been but a blank space.

At first we saw nothing by the rays of the rising sun but a series of
tiny pink-tipped heights (the Fukai Islands). Soon, however, appeared
all along the horizon, like a misty veil over the waters, Japan itself;
and little by little, out of the dense shadow, arose the sharp, opaque
outlines of the Nagasaki mountains.

The wind was dead against us, and the strong breeze, which steadily
increased, seemed as if the country were blowing with all its might, in
a vain effort to drive us away from its shores. The sea, the rigging,
the vessel itself, all vibrated and quivered as if with emotion.


By three o’clock in the afternoon all these far-off objects were close
to us, so close that they overshadowed us with their rocky masses and
deep green thickets.

We entered a shady channel between two high ranges of mountains, oddly
symmetrical--like stage scenery, very pretty, though unlike nature. It
seemed as if Japan were opened to our view through an enchanted fissure,
allowing us to penetrate into her very heart.

Nagasaki, as yet unseen, must be at the extremity of this long and
peculiar bay. All around us was exquisitely green. The strong sea-breeze
had suddenly fallen, and was succeeded by a calm; the atmosphere,
now very warm, was laden with the perfume of flowers. In the valley
resounded the ceaseless whirr of the cicalas, answering one another
from shore to shore; the mountains reechoed with innumerable sounds; the
whole country seemed to vibrate like crystal. We passed among myriads of
Japanese junks, gliding softly, wafted by imperceptible breezes on the
smooth water; their motion could hardly be heard, and their white sails,
stretched out on yards, fell languidly in a thousand horizontal
folds like window-blinds, their strangely contorted poops, rising up
castle-like in the air, reminding one of the towering ships of the
Middle Ages. In the midst of the verdure of this wall of mountains, they
stood out with a snowy whiteness.

What a country of verdure and shade is Japan; what an unlooked-for Eden!

Beyond us, at sea, it must have been full daylight; but here, in the
depths of the valley, we already felt the impression of evening; beneath
the summits in full sunlight, the base of the mountains and all the
thickly wooded parts near the water’s edge were steeped in twilight.

The passing junks, gleaming white against the background of dark
foliage, were silently and dexterously manoeuvred by small, yellow,
naked men, with long hair piled up on their heads in feminine fashion.
Gradually, as we advanced farther up the green channel, the perfumes
became more penetrating, and the monotonous chirp of the cicalas swelled
out like an orchestral crescendo. Above us, against the luminous sky,
sharply delineated between the mountains, a kind of hawk hovered,
screaming out, with a deep, human voice, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” its melancholy
call prolonged by the echoes.

All this fresh and luxuriant nature was of a peculiar Japanese type,
which seemed to impress itself even on the mountain-tops, and produced
the effect of a too artificial prettiness. The trees were grouped in
clusters, with the pretentious grace shown on lacquered trays. Large
rocks sprang up in exaggerated shapes, side by side with rounded,
lawn-like hillocks; all the incongruous elements of landscape were
grouped together as if artificially created.

When we looked intently, here and there we saw, often built in
counterscarp on the very brink of an abyss, some old, tiny, mysterious
pagoda, half hidden in the foliage of the overhanging trees, bringing to
the minds of new arrivals, like ourselves, a sense of unfamiliarity
and strangeness, and the feeling that in this country the spirits, the
sylvan gods, the antique symbols, faithful guardians of the woods and
forests, were unknown and incomprehensible.

When Nagasaki appeared, the view was rather disappointing. Situated
at the foot of green overhanging mountains, it looked like any other
ordinary town. In front of it lay a tangled mass of vessels, flying all
the flags of the world; steamboats, just as in any other port, with dark
funnels and black smoke, and behind them quays covered with warehouses
and factories; nothing was wanting in the way of ordinary, trivial,
every-day objects.

Some time, when man shall have made all things alike, the earth will
be a dull, tedious dwelling-place, and we shall have even to give up
travelling and seeking for a change which can no longer be found.

About six o’clock we dropped anchor noisily amid the mass of vessels
already in the harbor, and were immediately invaded.

We were visited by a mercantile, bustling, comical Japan, which rushed
upon us in full boat-loads, in waves, like a rising sea. Little men and
little women came in a continuous, uninterrupted stream, but without
cries, without squabbles, noiselessly, each one making so smiling a bow
that it was impossible to be angry with them, so that by reflex action
we smiled and bowed also. They carried on their backs little baskets,
tiny boxes, receptacles of every shape, fitting into one another in the
most ingenious manner, each containing several others, and multiplying
till they filled up everything, in endless number. From these they drew
forth all manner of curious and unexpected things: folding screens,
slippers, soap, lanterns, sleeve-links, live cicalas chirping in little
cages, jewelry, tame white mice turning little cardboard mills, quaint
photographs, hot soups and stews in bowls, ready to be served out in
rations to the crew;--china, a legion of vases, teapots, cups, little
pots and plates. In one moment, all this was unpacked, spread out with
astounding rapidity and a certain talent for arrangement; each
seller squatting monkey-like, hands touching feet, behind his fancy
ware--always smiling, bending low with the most engaging bows. Under the
mass of these many-colored things, the deck presented the appearance of
an immense bazaar; the sailors, very much amused and full of fun, walked
among the heaped-up piles, taking the little women by the chin, buying
anything and everything; throwing broadcast their white dollars. But
how ugly, mean, and grotesque all those folk were! I began to feel
singularly uneasy and disenchanted regarding my possible marriage.

Yves and I were on duty till the next morning, and after the first
bustle, which always takes place on board when settling down in
harbor--boats to lower, booms to swing out, running rigging to make
taut--we had nothing more to do but look on. We said to each other:
“Where are we in reality?--In the United States?--In some English colony
in Australia, or in New Zealand?”

Consular residences, custom-house offices, manufactories; a dry dock
in which a Russian frigate was lying; on the heights the large European
concession, sprinkled with villas, and on the quays, American bars for
the sailors. Farther off, it is true, far away behind these commonplace
objects, in the very depths of the vast green valley, peered thousands
upon thousands of tiny black houses, a tangled mass of curious
appearance, from which here and there emerged some higher, dark red,
painted roofs, probably the true old Japanese Nagasaki, which still
exists. And in those quarters--who knows?--there may be, lurking behind
a paper screen, some affected, cat’s-eyed little woman, whom perhaps in
two or three days (having no time to lose) I shall marry! But no, the
picture painted by my fancy has faded. I can no longer see this little
creature in my mind’s eye; the sellers of the white mice have blurred
her image; I fear now, lest she should be like them.

At nightfall the decks were suddenly cleared as by enchantment; in a
second they had shut up their boxes, folded their sliding screens and
their trick fans, and, humbly bowing to each of us, the little men and
little women disappeared.

Slowly, as the shades of night closed around us, mingling all things
in the bluish darkness, Japan became once more, little by little, a
fairy-like and enchanted country. The great mountains, now black,
were mirrored and doubled in the still water at their feet, reflecting
therein their sharply reversed outlines, and presenting the mirage of
fearful precipices, over which we seemed to hang. The stars also were
reversed in their order, making, in the depths of the imaginary abyss, a
sprinkling of tiny phosphorescent lights.

Then all Nagasaki became profusely illuminated, sparkling with
multitudes of lanterns: the smallest suburb, the smallest village was
lighted up; the tiniest but perched up among the trees, which in the
daytime was invisible, threw out its little glowworm glimmer. Soon there
were innumerable lights all over the country on all the shores of the
bay, from top to bottom of the mountains; myriads of glowing fires shone
out in the darkness, conveying the impression of a vast capital rising
around us in one bewildering amphitheatre. Beneath, in the silent
waters, another town, also illuminated, seemed to descend into
the depths of the abyss. The night was balmy, pure, delicious; the
atmosphere laden with the perfume of flowers came wafted to us from the
mountains. From the tea-houses and other nocturnal resorts, the sound of
guitars reached our ears, seeming in the distance the sweetest of music.
And the whirr of the cicalas--which, in Japan, is one of the continuous
noises of life, and which in a few days we shall no longer even be
aware of, so completely is it the background and foundation of all other
terrestrial sounds--was sonorous, incessant, softly monotonous, like the
murmur of a waterfall.


The next day the rain fell in torrents, merciless and unceasing,
blinding and drenching everything--a rain so dense that it was
impossible to see through it from one end of the vessel to the other.
It seemed as if the clouds of the whole world had amassed themselves in
Nagasaki Bay, and chosen this great green funnel to stream down. And
so thickly did the rain fall that it became almost as dark as night.
Through a veil of restless water, we still perceived the base of the
mountains, but the summits were lost to sight among the great dark
masses overshadowing us. Above us shreds of clouds, seemingly torn from
the dark vault, draggled across the trees, like gray rags-continually
melting away in torrents of water. The wind howled through the ravines
with a deep tone. The whole surface of the bay, bespattered by the rain,
flogged by the gusts of wind that blew from all quarters, splashed,
moaned, and seethed in violent agitation.

What depressing weather for a first landing, and how was I to find a
wife through such a deluge, in an unknown country?

No matter! I dressed myself and said to Yves, who smiled at my obstinate
determination in spite of unfavorable circumstances:

“Hail me a ‘sampan,’ brother, please.”

Yves then, by a motion of his arm through the wind and rain, summoned a
kind of little, white, wooden sarcophagus which was skipping near us on
the waves, sculled by two yellow boys stark naked in the rain. The craft
approached us, I jumped into it, then through a little trap-door shaped
like a rat-trap that one of the scullers threw open for me, I slipped
in and stretched myself at full length on a mat in what is called the
“cabin” of a sampan.

There was just room enough for my body to lie in this floating coffin,
which was scrupulously clean, white with the whiteness of new deal
boards. I was well sheltered from the rain, that fell pattering on my
lid, and thus I started for the town, lying in this box, flat on my
stomach, rocked by one wave, roughly shaken by another, at moments
almost overturned; and through the half-opened door of my rattrap I saw,
upside-down, the two little creatures to whom I had entrusted my fate,
children of eight or ten years of age at the most, who, with little
monkeyish faces, had, however, fully developed muscles, like miniature
men, and were already as skilful as regular old salts.

Suddenly they began to shout; no doubt we were approaching the
landing-place. And indeed, through my trap-door, which I had now thrown
wide open, I saw quite near to me the gray flagstones on the quays. I
got out of my sarcophagus and prepared to set foot on Japanese soil for
the first time in my life.

All was streaming around us, and the tiresome rain dashed into my eyes.

Hardly had I landed, when there bounded toward me a dozen strange
beings, of what description it was almost impossible to distinguish
through the blinding rain--a species of human hedgehog, each dragging
some large black object; they came screaming around me and stopped
my progress. One of them opened and held over my head an enormous,
closely-ribbed umbrella, decorated on its transparent surface with
paintings of storks; and they all smiled at me in an engaging manner,
with an air of expectation.

I had been forewarned; these were only the djins who were touting for
the honor of my preference; nevertheless I was startled at this sudden
attack, this Japanese welcome on a first visit to land (the djins or
djin-richisans, are the runners who drag little carts, and are paid for
conveying people to and fro, being hired by the hour or the distance, as
cabs are hired in Europe).

Their legs were naked; to-day they were very wet, and their heads were
hidden under large, shady, conical hats. By way of waterproofs they wore
nothing less than mats of straw, with all the ends of the straws turned
outward, bristling like porcupines; they seemed clothed in a thatched
roof. They continued to smile, awaiting my choice.

Not having the honor of being acquainted with any of them in particular,
I chose at haphazard the djin with the umbrella and got into his little
cart, of which he carefully lowered the hood. He drew an oilcloth apron
over my knees, pulling it up to my face, and then advancing, asked me,
in Japanese, something which must have meant: “Where to, sir?” To which
I replied, in the same language, “To the Garden of Flowers, my friend.”

I said this in the three words I had, parrot-like, learned by heart,
astonished that such sounds could mean anything, astonished, too, at
their being understood. We started, he running at full speed, I dragged
along and jerked about in his light chariot, wrapped in oilcloth, shut
up as if in a box--both of us unceasingly drenched all the while, and
dashing all around us the water and mud of the sodden ground.

“To the Garden of Flowers,” I had said, like a habitual frequenter of
the place, and quite surprised at hearing myself speak. But I was less
ignorant about Japan than might have been supposed. Many of my friends,
on their return home from that country, had told me about it, and I
knew a great deal; the Garden of Flowers is a tea-house, an elegant
rendezvous. There I should inquire for a certain Kangourou-San, who is
at the same time interpreter, laundryman, and confidential agent for
the intercourse of races. Perhaps this very evening, if all went well,
I should be introduced to the bride destined for me by mysterious fate.
This thought kept my mind on the alert during the panting journey
we made, the djin and I, one dragging the other, under the merciless

Oh, what a curious Japan I saw that day, through the gaping of my
oilcloth coverings, from under the dripping hood of my little cart! A
sullen, muddy, half-drowned Japan. All these houses, men, and beasts,
hitherto known to me only in drawings; all these, that I had beheld
painted on blue or pink backgrounds of fans or vases, now appeared to
me in their hard reality, under a dark sky, with umbrellas and wooden
shoes, with tucked-up skirts and pitiful aspect.

At times the rain fell so heavily that I closed up tightly every chink
and crevice, and the noise and shaking benumbed me, so that I completely
forgot in what country I was. In the hood of the cart were holes,
through which little streams ran down my back. Then, remembering that
I was going for the first time in my life through the very heart of
Nagasaki, I cast an inquiring look outside, at the risk of receiving a
drenching: we were trotting along through a mean, narrow, little back
street (there are thousands like it, a labyrinth of them), the
rain falling in cascades from the tops of the roofs on the gleaming
flagstones below, rendering everything indistinct and vague through the
misty atmosphere. At times we passed a woman struggling with her skirts,
unsteadily tripping along in her high wooden shoes, looking exactly like
the figures painted on screens, cowering under a gaudily daubed paper
umbrella. Again, we passed a pagoda, where an old granite monster,
squatting in the water, seemed to make a hideous, ferocious grimace at

How large this Nagasaki is! Here had we been running hard for the last
hour, and still it seemed never-ending. It is a flat plain, and one
never would suppose from the view in the offing that so vast a plain
lies in the depth of this valley.

It would, however, have been impossible for me to say where I was, or in
what direction we had run; I abandoned my fate to my djin and to my good

What a steam-engine of a man my djin was! I had been accustomed to the
Chinese runners, but they were nothing beside this fellow. When I part
my oilcloth to peep at anything, he is naturally always the first object
in my foreground; his two naked, brown, muscular legs, scampering along,
splashing all around, and his bristling hedgehog back bending low in the
rain. Do the passers-by, gazing at this little dripping cart, guess that
it contains a suitor in quest of a bride?

At last my vehicle stops, and my djin, with many smiles and precautions
lest any fresh rivers should stream down my back, lowers the hood of the
cart; there is a break in the storm, and the rain has ceased. I had
not yet seen his face; as an exception to the general rule, he is
good-looking; a young man of about thirty years of age, of intelligent
and strong appearance, and a frank countenance. Who could have foreseen
that a few days later this very djin? But no, I will not anticipate, and
run the risk of throwing beforehand any discredit on Chrysantheme.

We had therefore reached our destination, and found ourselves at the
foot of a high, overhanging mountain; probably beyond the limits of
the town, in some suburban district. It apparently became necessary to
continue our journey on foot, and to climb up an almost perpendicular
narrow path.

Around us, a number of small country-houses, garden-walls, and high
bamboo palisades shut off the view. The green hill crushed us with its
towering height; the heavy, dark clouds lowering over our heads seemed
like a leaden canopy confining us in this unknown spot; it really seemed
as if the complete absence of perspective inclined one all the better to
notice the details of this tiny corner, muddy and wet, of homely Japan,
now lying before our eyes. The earth was very red. The grasses and wild
flowers bordering the pathway were strange to me; nevertheless, the
palings were covered with convolvuli like our own, and I recognized
china asters, zinnias, and other familiar flowers in the gardens. The
atmosphere seemed laden with a curiously complicated odor, something
besides the perfume of the plants and soil, arising no doubt from the
human dwelling-places--a mingled odor, I fancied, of dried fish and
incense. Not a creature was to be seen; of the inhabitants, of their
homes and life, there was not a vestige, and I might have imagined
myself anywhere in the world.

My djin had fastened his little cart under a tree, and together we
climbed the steep path on the slippery red soil.

“We are going to the Garden of Flowers, are we not?” I inquired,
desirous to ascertain whether I had been understood.

“Yes, yes,” replied the djin, “it is up there, and quite near.”

The road turned, steep banks hemming it in and darkening it. On one side
it skirted the mountain, all covered with a tangle of wet ferns; on the
other appeared a large wooden house almost devoid of openings and of
evil aspect; it was there that my djin halted.

What, was that sinister-looking house the Garden of Flowers? He assured
me that it was, and seemed very sure of the fact. We knocked at a large
door which opened immediately, slipping back in its groove. Then
two funny little women appeared, oldish-looking, but with evident
pretensions to youth: exact types of the figures painted on vases, with
their tiny hands and feet.

On catching sight of me they threw themselves on all fours, their faces
touching the floor. Good gracious! What can be the matter? I asked
myself. Nothing at all, it was only the ceremonious salute, to which I
am as yet unaccustomed. They arose, and proceeded to take off my boots
(one never keeps on one’s shoes in a Japanese house), wiping the bottoms
of my trousers, and feeling my shoulders to see whether I am wet.

What always strikes one on first entering a Japanese dwelling is the
extreme cleanliness, the white and chilling bareness of the rooms.

Over the most irreproachable mattings, without a crease, a line, or a
stain, I was led upstairs to the first story and ushered into a large,
empty room--absolutely empty! The paper walls were mounted on sliding
panels, which, fitting into each other, can be made to disappear--and
all one side of the apartment opened like a veranda, giving a view of
the green country and the gray sky beyond. By way of a chair, they gave
me a square cushion of black velvet; and behold me seated low, in the
middle of this large, empty room, which by its very vastness is almost
chilly. The two little women (who are the servants of the house and my
very humble servants, too), awaited my orders, in attitudes expressive
of the profoundest humility.

It seemed extraordinary that the quaint words, the curious phrases I
had learned during our exile at the Pescadores Islands--by sheer dint
of dictionary and grammar, without attaching the least sense to
them--should mean anything. But so it seemed, however, for I was at once

I wished in the first place to speak to one M. Kangourou, who is
interpreter, laundryman, and matrimonial agent. Nothing could be easier:
they knew him and were willing to go at once in search of him; and the
elder of the waiting-maids made ready for the purpose her wooden clogs
and her paper umbrella.

Next I demanded a well-served repast, composed of the greatest
delicacies of Japan. Better and better! they rushed to the kitchen to
order it.

Finally, I beg they will give tea and rice to my djin, who is waiting
for me below; I wish,--in short, I wish many things, my dear little
dolls, which I will mention by degrees and with due deliberation, when I
shall have had time to assemble the necessary words. But the more I look
at you the more uneasy I feel as to what my fiancee of to-morrow may
be like. Almost pretty, I grant you, you are--in virtue of quaintness,
delicate hands, miniature feet, but ugly, after all, and absurdly small.
You look like little monkeys, like little china ornaments, like I don’t
know what. I begin to understand that I have arrived at this house at an
ill-chosen moment. Something is going on which does not concern me, and
I feel that I am in the way.

From the beginning I might have guessed as much, notwithstanding the
excessive politeness of my welcome; for I remember now, that while
they were taking off my boots downstairs, I heard a murmuring chatter
overhead, then a noise of panels moved quickly along their grooves,
evidently to hide from me something not intended for me to see; they
were improvising for me the apartment in which I now am just as in
menageries they make a separate compartment for some beasts when the
public is admitted.

Now I am left alone while my orders are being executed, and I listen
attentively, squatted like a Buddha on my black velvet cushion, in the
midst of the whiteness of the walls and mats.

Behind the paper partitions, feeble voices, seemingly numerous, are
talking in low tones. Then rises the sound of a guitar, and the song of
a woman, plaintive and gentle in the echoing sonority of the bare house,
in the melancholy of the rainy weather.

What one can see through the wide-open veranda is very pretty; I
will admit that it resembles the landscape of a fairytale. There are
admirably wooded mountains, climbing high into the dark and gloomy sky,
and hiding in it the peaks of their summits, and, perched up among the
clouds, is a temple. The atmosphere has that absolute transparency, that
distance and clearness which follows a great fall of rain; but a thick
pall, still heavy with moisture, remains suspended over all, and on the
foliage of the hanging woods still float great flakes of gray fluff,
which remain there, motionless. In the foreground, in front of and
below this almost fantastic landscape, is a miniature garden where two
beautiful white cats are taking the air, amusing themselves by pursuing
each other through the paths of a Lilliputian labyrinth, shaking the wet
sand from their paws. The garden is as conventional as possible: not
a flower, but little rocks, little lakes, dwarf trees cut in grotesque
fashion; all this is not natural, but it is most ingeniously arranged,
so green, so full of fresh mosses!

In the rain-soaked country below me, to the very farthest end of the
vast scene, reigns a great silence, an absolute calm. But the woman’s
voice, behind the paper wall, continues to sing in a key of gentle
sadness, and the accompanying guitar has sombre and even gloomy notes.

Stay, though! Now the music is somewhat quicker--one might even suppose
they were dancing!

So much the worse! I shall try to look between the fragile divisions,
through a crack which has revealed itself to my notice.

What a singular spectacle it is; evidently the gilded youth of Nagasaki
holding a great clandestine orgy! In an apartment as bare as my own,
there are a dozen of them, seated in a circle on the ground, attired in
long blue cotton dresses with pagoda sleeves, long, sleek, and greasy
hair surmounted by European pot-hats; and beneath these, yellow,
worn-out, bloodless, foolish faces. On the floor are a number of little
spirit-lamps, little pipes, little lacquer trays, little teapots,
little cups-all the accessories and all the remains of a Japanese feast,
resembling nothing so much as a doll’s tea-party. In the midst of this
circle of dandies are three overdressed women, one might say three weird
visions, robed in garments of pale and indefinable colors, embroidered
with golden monsters; their great coiffures are arranged with fantastic
art, stuck full of pins and flowers. Two are seated with their backs
turned to me: one is holding the guitar, the other singing with that
soft, pretty voice; thus seen furtively, from behind, their pose, their
hair, the nape of their necks, all is exquisite, and I tremble lest a
movement should reveal to me faces which might destroy the enchantment.
The third girl is on her feet, dancing before this areopagus of idiots,
with their lanky locks and pot-hats. What a shock when she turns round!
She wears over her face the horribly grinning, death-like mask of a
spectre or a vampire. The mask unfastened, falls. And behold! a darling
little fairy of about twelve or fifteen years of age, slim, and already
a coquette, already a woman--dressed in a long robe of shaded dark-blue
china crape, covered with embroidery representing bats-gray bats, black
bats, golden bats.

Suddenly there are steps on the stairs, the light foot steps of
barefooted women pattering over the white mats. No doubt the first
course of my luncheon is just about to be served. I fall back quickly,
fixed and motionless, upon my black velvet cushion. There are three of
them now, three waiting-maids who arrive in single file, with smiles
and curtseys. One offers me the spirit-lamp and the teapot; another,
preserved fruits in delightful little plates; the third, absolutely
indefinable objects upon gems of little trays. And they grovel before me
on the floor, placing all this plaything of a meal at my feet.

At this moment, my impressions of Japan are charming enough; I feel
myself fairly launched upon this tiny, artificial, fictitious
world, which I felt I knew already from the paintings on lacquer and
porcelains. It is so exact a representation! The three little squatting
women, graceful and dainty, with their narrow slits of eyes, their
magnificent coiffures in huge bows, smooth and shining as shoe-polish,
and the little tea-service on the floor, the landscape seen through
the veranda, the pagoda perched among the clouds; and over all the same
affectation everywhere, in every detail. Even the woman’s melancholy
voice, still to be heard behind the paper partition, was evidently the
proper way for them to sing--these musicians I had so often seen painted
in amazing colors on rice-paper, half closing their dreamy eyes among
impossibly large flowers. Long before I arrived there, I had perfectly
pictured Japan to myself. Nevertheless, in the reality it almost seems
to be smaller, more finicking than I had imagined it, and also much more
mournful, no doubt by reason of that great pall of black clouds hanging
over us, and this incessant rain.

While awaiting M. Kangourou (who is dressing himself, it appears, and
will be here shortly), it may be as well to begin luncheon.

In the daintiest bowl imaginable, adorned with flights of storks, is
the most wildly impossible soup made of seaweed. After which there are
little fish dried in sugar, crabs in sugar, beans in sugar, and fruits
in vinegar and pepper. All this is atrocious, but above all unexpected
and unimaginable. The little women make me eat, laughing much, with that
perpetual, irritating laugh which is peculiar to Japan--they make me
eat, according to their fashion, with dainty chop-sticks, fingered
with affected grace. I am becoming accustomed to their faces. The whole
effect is refined--a refinement so entirely different from our own that
at first sight I understand nothing of it, although in the long run it
may end by pleasing me.

Suddenly enters, like a night butterfly awakened in broad daylight, like
a rare and surprising moth, the dancing-girl from the other compartment,
the child who wore the horrible mask. No doubt she wishes to have a
look at me. She rolls her eyes like a timid kitten, and then all at once
tamed, nestles against me, with a coaxing air of childishness, which is
a delightfully transparent assumption. She is slim, elegant, delicate,
and smells sweet; she is drolly painted, white as plaster, with a little
circle of rouge marked very precisely in the middle of each cheek, the
mouth reddened, and a touch of gilding outlining the under lip. As they
could not whiten the back of her neck on account of all the delicate
little curls of hair growing there, they had, in their love of
exactitude, stopped the white plaster in a straight line, which might
have been cut with a knife, and in consequence at the nape appears a
square of natural skin of a deep yellow.

An imperious note sounds on the guitar, evidently a summons! Crac! Away
she goes, the little fairy, to entertain the drivelling fools on the
other side of the screens.

Suppose I marry this one, without seeking any further. I should respect
her as a child committed to my care; I should take her for what she is:
a fantastic and charming plaything. What an amusing little household I
should set up! Really, short of marrying a china ornament, I should find
it difficult to choose better.

At this moment enters M. Kangourou, clad in a suit of gray tweed,
which might have come from La Belle Jardiniere or the Pont Neuf, with a
pot-hat and white thread gloves. His countenance is at once foolish
and cunning; he has hardly any nose or eyes. He makes a real Japanese
salutation: an abrupt dip, the hands placed flat on the knees, the body
making a right angle to the legs, as if the fellow were breaking in two;
a little snake-like hissing (produced by sucking the saliva between the
teeth, which is the highest expression of obsequious politeness in this

“You speak French, Monsieur Kangourou?”

“Yes, Monsieur” (renewed bows).

He makes one for each word I utter, as if he were a mechanical toy
pulled by a string; when he is seated before me on the ground, he limits
himself to a duck of the head--always accompanied by the same hissing
noise of the saliva.

“A cup of tea, Monsieur Kangourou?”

Fresh salute and an extra affected gesticulation with the hands, as if
to say, “I should hardly dare. It is too great a condescension on your
part. However, anything to oblige you.”

He guesses at the first words what I require from him.

“Of course,” he replies, “we shall see about it at once. In a week’s
time, as it happens, a family from Simonoseki, in which there are two
charming daughters, will be here!”

“What! in a week! You don’t know me, Monsieur Kangourou! No, no, either
now, to-morrow, or not at all.”

Again a hissing bow, and Kangourou-San, understanding my agitation,
begins to pass in feverish review all the young persons at his disposal
in Nagasaki.

“Let us see--there was Mademoiselle Oeillet. What a pity that you did
not speak a few days sooner! So pretty! So clever at playing the guitar!
It is an irreparable misfortune; she was engaged only yesterday by a
Russian officer.

“Ah! Mademoiselle Abricot!--Would she suit you, Mademoiselle Abricot?
She is the daughter of a wealthy China merchant in the Decima Bazaar,
a person of the highest merit; but she would be very dear: her parents,
who think a great deal of her, will not let her go under a hundred
yen--[A yen is equal to four shillings.]--a month. She is very
accomplished, thoroughly understands commercial writing, and has at her
fingers’-ends more than two thousand characters of learned writing. In
a poetical competition she gained the first prize with a sonnet composed
in praise of ‘the blossoms of the blackthorn hedges seen in the dew of
early morning.’ Only, she is not very pretty: one of her eyes is smaller
than the other, and she has a hole in her cheek, resulting from an
illness of her childhood.”

“Oh, no! on no account that one! Let us seek among a less distinguished
class of young persons, but without scars. And how about those on the
other side of the screen, in those fine gold-embroidered dresses? For
instance, the dancer with the spectre mask, Monsieur Kangourou? or again
she who sings in so dulcet a strain and has such a charming nape to her

He does not, at first, understand my drift; then when he gathers my
meaning, he shakes his head almost in a joking way, and says:

“No, Monsieur, no! Those are only geishas,--[Geishas are professional
dancers and singers trained at the Yeddo Conservatory.]--Monsieur--

“Well, but why not a geisha? What difference can it make to me whether
they are geishas or not?” Later, no doubt, when I understand Japanese
affairs better, I shall appreciate myself the enormity of my proposal:
one would really suppose I had talked of marrying the devil.

At this point M. Kangourou suddenly calls to mind one Mademoiselle
Jasmin. Heavens! how was it he had not thought of her at once? She is
absolutely and exactly what I want; he will go to-morrow, or this very
evening, to make the necessary overtures to the parents of this young
person, who live a long way off, on the opposite hill, in the suburb
of Diou-djen-dji. She is a very pretty girl of about fifteen. She can
probably be engaged for about eighteen or twenty dollars a month, on
condition of presenting her with a few costumes of the best fashion, and
of lodging her in a pleasant and well-situated house--all of which a man
of gallantry like myself could not fail to do.

Well, let us fix upon Mademoiselle Jasmin, then--and now we must part;
time presses. M. Kangourou will come on board to-morrow to communicate
to me the result of his first proceedings and to arrange with me for the
interview. For the present he refuses to accept any remuneration; but I
am to give him my washing, and to procure him the custom of my brother
officers of the ‘Triomphante.’ It is all settled. Profound bows--they
put on my boots again at the door. My djin, profiting by the interpreter
kind fortune has placed in his way, begs to be recommended to me for
future custom; his stand is on the quay; his number is 415, inscribed in
French characters on the lantern of his vehicle (we have a number 415
on board, one Le Goelec, gunner, who serves the left of one of my
guns; happy thought! I shall remember this); his price is sixpence the
journey, or five-pence an hour, for his customers. Capital! he
shall have my custom, that is promised. And now, let us be off. The
waiting-maids, who have escorted me to the door, fall on all fours as
a final salute, and remain prostrate on the threshold as long as I am
still in sight down the dark pathway, where the rain trickles off the
great overarching bracken upon my head.


Three days have passed. Night is closing, in an apartment which has been
mine since yesterday. Yves and I, on the first floor, move restlessly
over the white mats, striding to and fro in the great bare room, of
which the thin, dry flooring cracks beneath our footsteps; we are both
rather irritated by prolonged expectation. Yves, whose impatience shows
itself more freely, from time to time looks out of the window. As for
myself, a chill suddenly seizes me, at the idea that I have chosen to
inhabit this lonely house, lost in the midst of the suburb of a totally
strange town, perched high on the mountain and almost opening upon the

What wild notion could have taken possession of me, to settle myself in
surroundings so foreign and unknown, breathing of isolation and sadness?
The waiting unnerves me, and I beguile the time by examining all
the little details of the building. The woodwork of the ceiling is
complicated and ingenious. On the partitions of white paper which form
the walls, are scattered tiny, microscopic, blue-feathered tortoises.

“They are late,” said Yves, who is still looking out into the street.

As to being late, that they certainly are, by a good hour already, and
night is falling, and the boat which should take us back to dine on
board will be gone. Probably we shall have to sup Japanese fashion
tonight, heaven only knows where. The people of this country have no
sense of punctuality, or of the value of time.

Therefore I continue to inspect the minute and comical details of my
dwelling. Here, instead of handles such as we should have made to pull
these movable partitions, they have made little oval-holes, just the
shape of a finger-end, into which one is evidently to put one’s thumb.
These little holes have a bronze ornamentation, and, on looking closely,
one sees that the bronze is curiously chased: here is a lady fanning
herself; there, in the next hole, is represented a branch of cherry in
full blossom. What eccentricity there is in the taste of this people!
To bestow assiduous labor on such miniature work, and then to hide it at
the bottom of a hole to put one’s finger in, looking like a mere spot
in the middle of a great white panel; to accumulate so much patient and
delicate workmanship on almost imperceptible accessories, and all
to produce an effect which is absolutely nil, an effect of the most
complete bareness and nudity.

Yves still continues to gaze forth, like Sister Anne. From the side on
which he leans, my veranda overlooks a street, or rather a road bordered
with houses, which climbs higher and higher, and loses itself almost
immediately in the verdure of the mountain, in the fields of tea,
the underwood and the cemeteries. As for myself, this delay finally
irritates me thoroughly, and I turn my glances to the opposite side. The
other end of my house, also a veranda, opens first of all upon a garden;
then upon a marvellous panorama of woods and mountains, with all the
venerable Japanese quarters of Nagasaki lying confusedly like a black
ant-heap, six hundred feet below us. This evening, in a dull twilight,
notwithstanding that it is a twilight of July, these things are
melancholy. Great clouds heavy with rain and showers, ready to fall, are
travelling across the sky. No, I can not feel at home in this strange
dwelling I have chosen; I feel sensations of extreme solitude and
strangeness; the mere prospect of passing the night in it gives me a
shudder of horror.

“Ah! at last, brother,” said Yves, “I believe--yes, I really believe she
is coming at last.”

I look over his shoulder, and I see a back view of a little doll,
the finishing touches to whose toilette are being put in the solitary
street; a last maternal glance is given the enormous bows of the sash,
the folds at the waist. Her dress is of pearl-gray silk, her obi (sash)
of mauve satin; a sprig of silver flowers trembles in her black hair; a
parting ray of sunlight touches the little figure; five or six persons
accompany her. Yes! it is undoubtedly Mademoiselle Jasmin; they are
bringing me my fiancee!

I rush to the ground floor, inhabited by old Madame Prune, my landlady,
and her aged husband; they are absorbed in prayer before the altar of
their ancestors.

“Here they are, Madame Prune,” I cry in Japanese; “here they are! Bring
at once the tea, the lamp, the embers, the little pipes for the ladies,
the little bamboo pots! Bring up, as quickly as possible, all the
accessories for my reception!”

I hear the front door open, and hasten upstairs again. Wooden clogs are
deposited on the floor, the staircase creaks gently under little bare
feet. Yves and I look at each other, with a longing to laugh.

An old lady enters--two old ladies--three old ladies, emerging from the
doorway one after another with jerking and mechanical salutations, which
we return as best we can, fully conscious of our inferiority in this
particular style. Then come persons of intermediate age--then quite
young ones, a dozen at least, friends, neighbors, the whole quarter, in
fact. And the entire company, on arriving, becomes confusedly engaged in
reciprocal salutations: I salute you--you salute me--I salute you again,
and you return it--and I re-salute you again, and I express that I shall
never, never be able to return it according to your high merit--and I
bang my forehead against the ground, and you stick your nose between
the planks of the flooring, and there they are, on all fours one before
another; it is a polite dispute, all eager to yield precedence as to
sitting down, or passing first, and compliments without end are murmured
in low tones, with faces against the floor.

They seat themselves at last, smiling, in a ceremonious circle; we
two remaining standing, our eyes fixed on the staircase. And at length
emerges the little aigrette of silver flowers, the ebony coiffure, the
gray silk robe and mauve sash of Mademoiselle Jasmin, my fiancee!

Heavens! why, I know her already! Long before setting foot in Japan, I
had met her, on every fan, on every teacup with her silly air, her puffy
little face, her tiny eyes, mere gimlet-holes above those expanses of
impossible pink and white cheeks.

She is young, that is all I can say in her favor; she is even so young
that I should almost scruple to accept her. The wish to laugh leaves
me suddenly, and instead, a profound chill seizes my heart. What! share
even an hour of my life with that little doll? Never!

The next question is, how to get rid of her.

She advances smiling, with an air of repressed triumph, and behind her
looms M. Kangourou, in his suit of gray tweed. Fresh salutes, and behold
her on all fours, she too, before my landlady and before my neighbors.
Yves, the big Yves, who is not about to be married, stands behind me,
with a comical grimace, hardly repressing his laughter--while to give
myself time to collect my ideas, I offer tea in little cups, little
spittoons, and embers to the company.

Nevertheless, my discomfited air does not escape my visitors. M.
Kangourou anxiously inquires:

“How do you like her?” And I reply in a low voice, but with great

“Not at all! I won’t have that one. Never!”

I believe that this remark was almost understood in the circle around
me. Consternation was depicted on every face, jaws dropped, and pipes
went out. And now I address my reproaches to Kangourou: “Why have you
brought her to me in such pomp, before friends and neighbors of both
sexes, instead of showing her to me discreetly, as if by chance, as I
had wished? What an affront you will compel me now to put upon all these
polite persons!”

The old ladies (the mamma, no doubt, and aunts), prick up their ears,
and M. Kangourou translates to them, softening as much as possible, my
heartrending decision. I feel really almost sorry for them; the fact is,
that for women who, not to put too fine a point upon it, have come to
sell a child, they have an air I was not prepared for: I can hardly
say an air of respectability (a word in use with us which is absolutely
without meaning in Japan), but an air of unconscious and good-natured
simplicity. They are only doing a thing that is perfectly admissible in
their world, and really it all resembles, more than I could have thought
possible, a bona fide marriage.

“But what fault do you find with the little girl?” asks M. Kangourou, in

I endeavor to present the matter in the most flattering light:

“She is very young,” I say; “and then she is too white, too much like
our own women. I wished for one with an ivory skin, just as a change.”

“But that is only the paint they have put on her, Monsieur! Beneath it,
I assure you, she is of an ivory hue.”

Yves leans toward me and whispers:

“Look over there, brother, in that corner by the last panel; have you
noticed the one who is sitting down?”

Not I. In my annoyance I had not observed her; she had her back to the
light, was dressed in dark colors, and sat in the careless attitude of
one who keeps in the background. The fact is, this one pleased me much
better. Eyes with long lashes, rather narrow, but which would have been
called good in any country in the world; with almost an expression,
almost a thought. A coppery tint on her rounded cheeks; a straight nose;
slightly thick lips, but well modelled and with pretty corners. A little
older than Mademoiselle Jasmin, about eighteen years of age perhaps,
already more of a woman. She wore an expression of ennui, also of a
little contempt, as if she regretted her attendance at a spectacle which
dragged so much, and was so little amusing.

“Monsieur Kangourou, who is that young lady over there, in dark blue?”

“Over there, Monsieur? She is called Mademoiselle Chrysantheme. She
came with the others you see here; she is only here as a spectator. She
pleases you?” said he, with eager suddenness, espying a way out of
his difficulty. Then, forgetting all his politeness, all his
ceremoniousness, all his Japanesery, he takes her by the hand, forces
her to rise, to stand in the dying daylight, to let herself be seen.
And she, who has followed our eyes and begins to guess what is on foot,
lowers her head in confusion, with a more decided but more charming
pout, and tries to step back, half-sulky, half-smiling.

“It makes no difference,” continues M. Kangourou, “it can be arranged
just as well with this one; she is not married either, Monsieur!”

She is not married! Then why didn’t the idiot propose her to me at once
instead of the other, for whom I have a feeling of the greatest pity,
poor little soul, with her pearl-gray dress, her sprig of flowers, her
now sad and mortified expression, and her eyes which twinkle like those
of a child about to cry.

“It can be arranged, Monsieur!” repeats Kangourou again, who at this
moment appears to me a go-between of the lowest type, a rascal of the
meanest kind.

Only, he adds, we, Yves and I, are in the way during the negotiations.
And, while Mademoiselle Chrysantheme remains with her eyelids
lowered, as befits the occasion, while the various families, on whose
countenances may be read every degree of astonishment, every phase of
expectation, remain seated in a circle on my white mats, he sends us
two into the veranda, and we gaze down into the depths below us, upon
a misty and vague Nagasaki, a Nagasaki melting into a blue haze of

Then ensue long discourses in Japanese, arguments without end. M.
Kangourou, who is laundryman and low scamp in French only, has returned
for these discussions to the long formulas of his country. From time to
time I express impatience, I ask this worthy creature, whom I am less
and less able to consider in a serious light:

“Come now, tell us frankly, Kangourou, are we any nearer coming to some
arrangement? Is all this ever going to end?”

“In a moment, Monsieur, in a moment;” and he resumes his air of
political economist seriously debating social problems.

Well, one must submit to the slowness of this people. And, while the
darkness falls like a veil over the Japanese town, I have leisure to
reflect, with as much melancholy as I please, upon the bargain that is
being concluded behind me.

Night has closed in; it has been necessary to light the lamps.

It is ten o’clock when all is finally settled, and M. Kangourou comes to
tell me:

“All is arranged, Monsieur: her parents will give her up for twenty
dollars a month--the same price as Mademoiselle Jasmin.”

On hearing this, I am possessed suddenly with extreme vexation that
I should have made up my mind so quickly to link myself in ever so
fleeting and transient a manner with this little creature, and dwell
with her in this isolated house.

We return to the room; she is the centre of the circle and seated; and
they have placed the aigrette of flowers in her hair. There is actually
some expression in her glance, and I am almost persuaded that she--this

Yves is astonished at her modest attitude, at her little timid airs of a
young girl on the verge of matrimony; he had imagined nothing like it in
such a connection as this, nor I either, I must confess.

“She is really very pretty, brother,” said he; “very pretty, take my
word for it!”

These good folks, their customs, this scene, strike him dumb with
astonishment; he can not get over it, and remains in a maze. “Oh! this
is too much,” he says, and the idea of writing a long letter to his wife
at Toulven, describing it all, diverts him greatly.

Chrysantheme and I join hands. Yves, too, advances and touches the
dainty little paw. After all, if I wed her, it is chiefly his fault;
I never should have remarked her without his observation that she was
pretty. Who can tell how this strange arrangement will turn out? Is it a
woman or a doll? Well, time will show.

The families, having lighted their many-colored lanterns swinging at the
ends of slight sticks, prepare to retire with many compliments, bows,
and curtseys. When it is a question of descending the stairs, no one is
willing to go first, and at a given moment, the whole party are again on
all fours, motionless and murmuring polite phrases in undertones.

“Haul back there!” said Yves, laughing, and employing a nautical term
used when there is a stoppage of any kind.

At length they all melt away, descending the stairs with a last buzzing
accompaniment of civilities and polite phrases finished from one step to
another in voices which gradually die away. He and I remain alone in the
unfriendly, empty apartment, where the mats are still littered with the
little cups of tea, the absurd little pipes, and the miniature trays.

“Let us watch them go away!” said Yves, leaning out. At the door of the
garden is a renewal of the same salutations and curtseys, and then the
two groups of women separate, their bedaubed paper lanterns fade away
trembling in the distance, balanced at the extremity of flexible canes
which they hold in their fingertips as one would hold a fishing-rod
in the dark to catch night-birds. The procession of the unfortunate
Mademoiselle Jasmin mounts upward toward the mountain, while that
of Mademoiselle Chrysantheme winds downward by a narrow old street,
half-stairway, half-goat-path, which leads to the town.

Then we also depart. The night is fresh, silent, exquisite, the eternal
song of the cicalas fills the air. We can still see the red lanterns
of my new family, dwindling away in the distance, as they descend and
gradually become lost in that yawning abyss, at the bottom of which lies

Our way, too, lies downward, but on an opposite slope by steep paths
leading to the sea.

And when I find myself once more on board, when the scene enacted on
the hill above recurs to my mind, it seems to me that my betrothal is a
joke, and my new family a set of puppets.


July 10, 1885.

Three days have passed since my marriage was an accomplished fact.

In the lower part of the town, in one of the new cosmopolitan districts,
in an ugly, pretentious building, which is a sort of registry office,
the deed was signed and countersigned, with marvellous hieroglyphics, in
a large book, in the presence of those absurd little creatures, formerly
silken-robed Samurai, but now called policemen, dressed up in tight
jackets and Russian caps.

The ceremony took place in the full heat of midday; Chrysantheme and
her mother arrived together, and I alone. We seemed to have met for
the purpose of ratifying some discreditable contract, and the two women
trembled in the presence of these ugly little men, who, in their eyes,
were the personification of the law.

In the middle of their official scrawl, they made me write in French my
name, Christian name, and profession. Then they gave me an extraordinary
document on a sheet of rice-paper, which set forth the permission
granted me by the civilian authorities of the island of Kiu-Siu, to
inhabit a house situated in the suburb of Diou-djen-dji, with a person
called Chrysantheme, the said permission being under the protection of
the police during the whole of my stay in Japan.

In the evening, however, in our own quarter, our little marriage became
a very pretty affair--a procession carrying lanterns, a festive tea and
some music. All this seemed quite necessary.

Now we are almost an old married couple, and we are gently settling down
into everyday habits.

Chrysantheme tends the flowers in our bronze vases, dresses herself with
studied care, proud of her socks with the divided big toe, and strums
all day on a kind of long-necked guitar, producing sweet and plaintive


In our home, everything looks like a Japanese picture: we have
folding-screens, little odd-shaped stools bearing vases full of flowers,
and at the farther end of the apartment, in a nook forming a kind of
altar, a large gilded Buddha sits enthroned in a lotus.

The house is just as I had fancied it should be in the many dreams
of Japan I had had before my arrival, during the long night watches:
perched on high, in a peaceful suburb, in the midst of green gardens;
made up of paper panels, and taken to pieces according to one’s fancy,
like a child’s toy. Whole families of cicalas chirp day and night
under our old resounding roof. From our veranda we have a bewildering
bird’s-eye view of Nagasaki, of its streets, its junks, and its great
pagodas, which, at certain hours, is illuminated at our feet like some
scene in fairyland.


Regarded as a mere outline, little Chrysantheme has been seen everywhere
and by everybody. Whoever has looked at one of those paintings on china
or silk that are sold in our bazaars, knows perfectly the pretty, stiff
head-dress, the leaning figure, ever ready to try some new gracious
salutation, the sash fastened behind in an enormous bow, the large,
flowing sleeves, the drapery slightly clinging about the ankles with a
little crooked train like a lizard’s tail.

But her face--no, not every one has seen that; there is something
special about it.

Moreover, the type of women the Japanese paint mostly on their vases is
an exceptional one in their country. It is almost exclusively among the
nobility that these personages are found, with their long, pale faces,
painted in tender rose-tints, and silly, long necks which give them the
appearance of storks. This distinguished type (which I am obliged to
admit was also Mademoiselle Jasmin’s) is rare, particularly at Nagasaki.

Among the middle classes and the common people, the ugliness is more
pleasant and sometimes becomes a kind of prettiness. The eyes are still
too small and hardly able to open, but the faces are rounder, browner,
more vivacious; and in the women remains a certain vagueness of feature,
something childlike which prevails to the very end of their lives.

They are so laughing, and so merry, all these little Nipponese dolls!
Rather a forced mirth, it is true, studied, and at times with a false
ring; nevertheless one is attracted by it.

Chrysantheme is an exception, for she is melancholy. What thoughts are
running through that little brain? My knowledge of her language is still
too limited to enable me to find out. Moreover, it is a hundred to one
that she has no thoughts whatever. And even if she had, what do I care?

I have chosen her to amuse me, and I should really prefer that she
should have one of those insignificant little thoughtless faces like all
the others.


When night comes on, we light two hanging lamps of religious symbolism,
which burn till daylight, before our gilded idol.

We sleep on the floor, on a thin cotton mattress, which is unfolded
and laid out over our white matting. Chrysantheme’s pillow is a little
wooden block, cut so as to fit exactly the nape of her neck, without
disturbing the elaborate head-dress, which must never be taken down;
the pretty black hair I shall probably never see undone. My pillow,
a Chinese model, is a kind of little square drum covered over with

We sleep under a gauze mosquito-net of sombre greenish-blue, dark as the
shades of night, stretched out on an orange-colored ribbon. (These are
the traditional colors, and all respectable families of Nagasaki possess
a similar net.) It envelops us like a tent; the mosquitoes and the
night-moths whirl around it.

This sounds very pretty, and written down looks very well. In reality,
however, it is not so; something, I know not what, is lacking, and
everything is very paltry. In other lands, in the delightful isles of
Oceania, in the old, lifeless quarters of Stamboul, it seemed as if mere
words could never express all I felt, and I struggled vainly against
my own inability to render, in human language, the penetrating charm
surrounding me.

Here, on the contrary, words exact and truthful in themselves seem
always too thrilling, too great for the subject; seem to embellish it
unduly. I feel as if I were acting, for my own benefit, some wretchedly
trivial and third-rate comedy; and whenever I try to consider my home
in a serious spirit, the scoffing figure of M. Kangourou rises before
me--the matrimonial agent, to whom I am indebted for my happiness.


July 12th

Yves visits us whenever he is free, in the evening at five o’clock,
after his duties on board are fulfilled.

He is our only European visitor, and, with the exception of a few
civilities and cups of tea, exchanged with our neighbors, we lead a very
retired life. Only in the evenings, winding our way through the steep,
narrow streets and carrying our lanterns at the end of short sticks,
we go down to Nagasaki in search of amusement at the theatres, at the
tea-houses, or in the bazaars.

Yves treats my wife as if she were a plaything, and continually assures
me that she is charming.

I find her as exasperating as the cicalas on my roof; and when I am
alone at home, side by side with this little creature twanging the
strings of her long-necked guitar, facing this marvellous panorama of
pagodas and mountains, I am overcome by sadness almost to tears.


July 13th.

Last night, as we reposed under the Japanese roof of Diou-djen-dji--the
thin old wooden roof scorched by a hundred years of sunshine, vibrating
at the least sound, like the stretched-out parchment of a tomtom--in the
silence which prevails at two o’clock in the morning, we heard overhead
a sound like a regular wild huntsman’s chase passing at full gallop.

“Nidzoumi!” (“The mice!”) said Chrysantheme.

Suddenly the word brings back to my mind yet another phrase, spoken in
a very different language, in a country far away from here: “Setchan!” a
word heard elsewhere, a word that has likewise been whispered in my
ear by a woman’s voice, under similar circumstances, in a moment of
nocturnal terror--“Setchan!” It was during one of our first nights
at Stamboul spent under the mysterious roof of Eyoub, when danger
surrounded us on all sides; a noise on the steps of the black staircase
had made us tremble, and she also, my dear little Turkish companion, had
said to me in her beloved language, “Setchan!” (“the mice!”).

At that fond recollection, a thrill of sweet memories coursed through my
veins; it was as if I had been startled out of a long ten years’ sleep;
I looked down upon the doll beside me with a sort of hatred, wondering
why I was there, and I arose, with almost a feeling of remorse, to
escape from that blue gauze net.

I stepped out upon the veranda, and there I paused, gazing into the
depths of the starlit night. Beneath me Nagasaki lay asleep, wrapped
in a soft, light slumber, hushed by the murmuring sound of a thousand
insects in the moonlight, and fairy-like with its roseate hues. Then,
turning my head, I saw behind me the gilded idol with our lamps burning
in front of it; the idol smiling the impassive smile of Buddha; and its
presence seemed to cast around it something, I know not what, strange
and incomprehensible. Never until now had I slept under the eye of such
a god.

In the midst of the calm and silence of the night, I strove to recall
my poignant impressions of Stamboul; but, alas, I strove in vain, they
would not return to me in this strange, far-off world. Through the
transparent blue gauze appeared my little Japanese, as she lay in her
sombre night-robe with all the fantastic grace of her country, the nape
of her neck resting on its wooden block, and her hair arranged in large,
shiny bows. Her amber-tinted arms, pretty and delicate, emerged, bare up
to the shoulders, from her wide sleeves.

“What can those mice on the roof have done to him?” thought
Chrysantheme. Of course she could not understand. In a coaxing manner,
like a playful kitten, she glanced at me with her half-closed eyes,
inquiring why I did not come back to sleep--and I returned to my place
by her side.


July 14th.

This is the National Fete day of France. In Nagasaki Harbor, all the
ships are adorned with flags, and salutes are fired in our honor.

Alas! All day long, I can not help thinking of that last fourteenth of
July, spent in the deep calm and quiet of my old home, the door shut
against all intruders, while the gay crowd roared outside; there I had
remained till evening, seated on a bench, shaded by an arbor covered
with honeysuckle, where, in the bygone days of my childhood’s summers, I
used to settle myself with my copybooks and pretend to learn my lessons.
Oh, those days when I was supposed to learn my lessons! How my thoughts
used to rove--what voyages, what distant lands, what tropical forests
did I not behold in my dreams! At that time, near the garden-bench, in
some of the crevices in the stone wall, dwelt many a big, ugly, black
spider always on the alert, peeping out of his nook ready to pounce upon
any giddy fly or wandering centipede. One of my amusements consisted
in tickling the spiders gently, very gently, with a blade of grass or
a cherry-stalk in their webs. Mystified, they would rush out, fancying
they had to deal with some sort of prey, while I would rapidly draw back
my hand in disgust. Well, last year, on that fourteenth of July, as I
recalled my days of Latin themes and translations, now forever flown,
and this game of boyish days, I actually recognized the very same
spiders (or at least their daughters), lying in wait in the very same
places. Gazing at them, and at the tufts of grass and moss around me, a
thousand memories of those summers of my early life welled up within me,
memories which for years past had lain slumbering under this old wall,
sheltered by the ivy boughs. While all that is ourselves perpetually
changes and passes away, the constancy with which Nature repeats, always
in the same manner, her most infinitesimal details, seems a wonderful
mystery; the same peculiar species of moss grows afresh for centuries on
precisely the same spot, and the same little insects each summer do the
same thing in the same place.

I must admit that this episode of my childhood, and the spiders,
have little to do with the story of Chrysantheme. But an incongruous
interruption is quite in keeping with the taste of this country;
everywhere it is practised, in conversation, in music, even in painting;
a landscape painter, for instance, when he has finished a picture of
mountains and crags, will not hesitate to draw, in the very middle of
the sky, a circle, or a lozenge, or some kind of framework, within which
he will represent anything incoherent and inappropriate: a bonze fanning
himself, or a lady taking a cup of tea. Nothing is more thoroughly
Japanese than such digressions, made without the slightest apropos.

Moreover, if I roused my past memories, it was the better to force
myself to notice the difference between that day of July last year,
so peacefully spent amid surroundings familiar to me from my earliest
infancy, and my present animated life passed in the midst of such a
novel world.

To-day, therefore, under the scorching midday sun, at two o’clock, three
swift-footed djins dragged us at full speed--Yves, Chrysantheme, and
myself--in Indian file, each in a little jolting cart, to the farther
end of Nagasaki, and there deposited us at the foot of some gigantic
steps that run straight up the mountain.

These are the granite steps leading to the great temple of Osueva,
wide enough to give access to a whole regiment; they are as grand and
imposing as any work of Babylon or Nineveh, and in complete contrast
with all the finical surroundings.

We climb up and up--Chrysantheme listlessly, affecting fatigue, under
her paper parasol painted with pink butterflies on a black ground. As we
ascended, we passed under enormous monastic porticoes, also in granite
of rude and primitive style. In truth, these steps and these temple
porticoes are the only imposing works that this people has created, and
they astonish, for they do not seem Japanese.

We climb still higher. At this sultry hour of the day, from top to
bottom of the enormous gray steps, only we three are to be seen; on
all that granite there are but the pink butterflies on Chrysantheme’s
parasol to give a cheerful and brilliant touch.

We passed through the first temple yard, in which are two white china
turrets, bronze lanterns, and the statue of a large horse in jade. Then,
without pausing at the sanctuary, we turned to the left, and entered
a shady garden, which formed a terrace halfway up the hill, at the
extremity of which was situated the Donko-Tchaya--in English, the
Teahouse of the Toads.

This was the place where Chrysantheme had wished to take us. We sat down
at a table, under a black linen tent decorated with large white letters
(of funereal aspect), and two laughing ‘mousmes’ hastened to wait upon

The word ‘mousme’ means a young girl, or very young woman. It is one
of the prettiest words in the Nipponese language; it seems almost as
if there were a little pout in the very sound--a pretty, taking little
pout, such as they put on, and also as if a little pert physiognomy were
described by it. I shall often make use of it, knowing none other in our
own language that conveys the same meaning.

Some Japanese Watteau must have mapped out this Donko-Tchaya, for it
has rather an affected air of rurality, though very pretty. It is
well shaded, under a shelter of large trees with dense foliage, and a
miniature lake close by, the chosen residence of a few toads, has given
it its attractive denomination. Lucky toads, who crawl and croak on
the finest of moss, in the midst of tiny artificial islets decked with
gardenias in full bloom. From time to time, one of them informs us of
his thoughts by a ‘Couac’, uttered in a deep bass croak, infinitely more
hollow than that of our own toads.

Under the tent of this tea-house, we sit on a sort of balcony jutting
out from the mountain-side, overhanging from on high the grayish town
and its suburbs buried in greenery. Around, above, and beneath us cling
and hang, on every possible point, clumps of trees and fresh green
woods, with the delicate and varying foliage of the temperate zone. We
can see, at our feet, the deep roadstead, foreshortened and slanting,
diminished in appearance till it looks like a sombre rent in the mass
of large green mountains; and farther still, quite low on the black and
stagnant waters, are the men-of-war, the steamboats and the junks,
with flags flying from every mast. Against the dark green, which is the
dominant shade everywhere, stand out these thousand scraps of bunting,
emblems of the different nationalities, all displayed, all flying in
honor of far-distant France. The colors most prevailing in this motley
assemblage are the white flag with a red ball, emblem of the Empire of
the Rising Sun, where we now are.

With the exception of three or four ‘mousmes’ at the farther end, who
are practising with bows and arrows, we are today the only people in the
garden, and the mountain round about is silent.

Having finished her cigarette and her cup of tea, Chrysantheme also
wishes to exert her skill; for archery is still held in honor among the
young women.

The old man who keeps the range picks out for her his best arrows tipped
with white and red feathers--and she takes aim with a serious air. The
mark is a circle, traced in the middle of a picture on which is painted,
in flat, gray tones, terrifying chimera flying through the clouds.

Chrysantheme is certainly an adroit markswoman, and we admire her as
much as she expected.

Then Yves, who is usually clever at all games of skill, wishes to try
his luck, and fails. It is amusing to see her, with her mincing ways and
smiles, arrange with the tips of her little fingers the sailor’s broad
hands, placing them on the bow and the string in order to teach him the
proper manner. Never have they seemed to get on so well together, Yves
and my doll, and I might even feel anxious, were I less sure of my good
brother, and if, moreover, it was not a matter of perfect indifference
to me.

In the stillness of the garden, amid the balmy peacefulness of these
mountains, a loud noise suddenly startles us; a unique, powerful,
terrible sound, which is prolonged in infinite metallic vibrations. It
begins again, sounding more appalling: ‘Boum!’ borne to us by the rising

“Nippon Kane!” exclaims Chrysantheme--and she again takes up her
brightly feathered arrows. “Nippon Kane [‘the Japanese brass’); it is
the Japanese brass that is sounding!” It is the monstrous gong of a
monastery, situated in a suburb beneath us. It is powerful indeed, “the
Japanese brass”! When the strokes are ended, when it is no longer heard,
a vibration seems to linger among the suspended foliage, and a prolonged
quiver runs through the air.

I am obliged to admit that Chrysantheme looks very charming shooting
her arrows, her figure well bent back the better to bend her bow; her
loose-hanging sleeves caught up to her shoulders, showing the graceful
bare arms polished like amber and very much the same color. Each arrow
whistles by with the rustle of a bird’s wing--then a short, sharp little
blow is heard, the target is hit, always.

At nightfall, when Chrysantheme has gone up to Diou-djen-dji, we cross,
Yves and I, the European concession, on our way to the ship, to take up
our watch till the following day. The cosmopolitan quarter, exhaling an
odor of absinthe, is dressed up with flags, and squibs are being fired
off in honor of France. Long lines of djins pass by, dragging, as fast
as their naked legs can carry them, the crew of the ‘Triomphante,’
who are shouting and fanning themselves. The Marseillaise is heard
everywhere; English sailors are singing it, gutturally, with a dull
and slow cadence like their own “God Save.” In all the American bars,
grinding organs are hammering it with many an odious variation and
flourish, in order to attract our men.

One amusing recollection comes back to me of that evening. On our
return, we had by mistake turned into a street inhabited by a multitude
of ladies of doubtful reputation. I can still see that big fellow Yves,
struggling with a whole band of tiny little ‘mousmes’ of twelve or
fifteen years of age, who barely reached up to his waist, and were
pulling him by the sleeves, eager to lead him astray. Astonished and
indignant, he repeated, as he extricated himself from their clutches,
“Oh, this is too much!” so shocked was he at seeing such mere babies, so
young, so tiny, already so brazen and shameless.



July 18th.

By this time, four officers of my ship are married like myself, and
inhabiting the slopes of the same suburb. This arrangement is quite an
ordinary occurrence, and is brought about without difficulties, mystery,
or danger, through the offices of the same M. Kangourou.

As a matter of course, we are on visiting terms with all these ladies.

First, there is our very merry neighbor Madame Campanule, who is little
Charles N-----‘s wife; then Madame Jonquille, who is even merrier than
Campanule, like a young bird, and the daintiest fairy of them all;
she has married X-----, a fair northerner who adores her; they are a
lover-like and inseparable pair, the only one that will probably weep
when the hour of parting comes. Then Sikou-San with Doctor Y-----; and
lastly the midshipman Z------with the tiny Madame Touki-San, no taller
than a boot: thirteen years old at the outside, and already a regular
woman, full of her own importance, a petulant little gossip. In my
childhood I was sometimes taken to the Learned Animals Theatre, and I
remember a certain Madame de Pompadour, a principal role, filled by a
gayly dressed old monkey; Touki-San reminds me of her.

In the evening, all these folk usually come and fetch us for a long
processional walk with lighted lanterns. My wife, more serious, more
melancholy, perhaps even more refined, and belonging, I fancy, to a
higher class, tries when these friends come to us to play the part
of the lady of the house. It is comical to see the entry of these
ill-matched pairs, partners for a day, the ladies, with their disjointed
bows, falling on all fours before Chrysantheme, the queen of the
establishment. When we are all assembled, we set out, arm in arm, one
behind another, and always carrying at the end of our short sticks
little white or red paper lanterns; it is a pretty custom.

We are obliged to scramble down the kind of street, or rather
goat’s-path, which leads to the Japanese Nagasaki--with the prospect,
alas! of having to climb up again at night; clamber up all the steps,
all the slippery slopes, stumble over all the stones, before we shall
be able to get home, go to bed, and sleep. We make our descent in the
darkness, under the branches, under the foliage, among dark gardens and
venerable little houses that throw but a faint glimmer on the road; and
when the moon is absent or clouded over, our lanterns are by no means

When at last we reach the bottom, suddenly, without transition, we find
ourselves in the very heart of Nagasaki and its busy throng in a long
illuminated street, where vociferating djins hurry along and thousands
of paper lanterns swing and gleam in the wind. It is life and animation,
after the peace of our silent suburb.

Here, decorum requires that we should separate from our wives. All
five take hold of each others’ hands, like a batch of little girls out
walking. We follow them with an air of indifference. Seen from behind,
our dolls are really very dainty, with their back hair so tidily
arranged, their tortoiseshell pins so coquettishly placed. They shuffle
along, their high wooden clogs making an ugly sound, striving to walk
with their toes turned in, according to the height of fashion and
elegance. At every minute they burst out laughing.

Yes, seen from behind, they are very pretty; they have, like all
Japanese women, the most lovely turn of the head. Moreover, they are
very funny, thus drawn up in line. In speaking of them, we say: “Our
little trained dogs,” and in truth they are singularly like them.

This great Nagasaki is the same from one end to another, with
its numberless petroleum lamps burning, its many-colored lanterns
flickering, and innumerable panting djins. Always the same narrow
streets, lined on each side with the same low houses, built of paper
and wood. Always the same shops, without glass windows, open to all
the winds, equally rudimentary, whatever may be sold or made in them;
whether they display the finest gold lacquer ware, the most marvellous
china jars, or old worn-out pots and pans, dried fish, and ragged
frippery. All the salesmen are seated on the ground in the midst of
their valuable or trumpery merchandise, their legs bared nearly to the

And all kinds of queer little trades are carried on under the public
gaze, by strangely primitive means, by workmen of the most ingenious

Oh, what wonderful goods are exposed for sale in those streets! What
whimsical extravagance in those bazaars!

No horses, no carriages are ever seen in the town; nothing but people on
foot, or the comical little carts dragged along by the runners. Some
few Europeans straggling hither and thither, wanderers from the ships in
harbor; some Japanese (fortunately as yet but few) dressed up in coats;
other natives who content themselves with adding to their national
costume the pot-hat, from which their long, sleek locks hang down; and
all around, eager haggling, bargaining, and laughter.

In the bazaars every evening our mousmes make endless purchases; like
spoiled children they buy everything they fancy: toys, pins, ribbons,
flowers. And then they prettily offer one another presents, with
childish little smiles. For instance, Campanule buys for Chrysantheme an
ingeniously contrived lantern on which, set in motion by some invisible
machinery, Chinese shadows dance in a ring round the flame. In return,
Chrysantheme gives Campanule a magic fan, with paintings that change at
will from butterflies fluttering around cherry-blossoms to outlandish
monsters pursuing each other across black clouds. Touki offers Sikou a
cardboard mask representing the bloated countenance of Dai-Cok, god of
wealth; and Sikou replies with a present of a long crystal trumpet, by
means of which are produced the most extraordinary sounds, like a turkey
gobbling. Everything is uncouth, fantastical to excess, grotesquely
lugubrious; everywhere we are surprised by incomprehensible conceptions,
which seem the work of distorted imaginations.

In the fashionable tea-houses, where we finish our evenings, the little
serving-maids now bow to us, on our arrival, with an air of respectful
recognition, as belonging to the fast set of Nagasaki. There we carry on
desultory conversations, full of misunderstandings and endless ‘quid pro
quo’ of uncouth words, in little gardens lighted up with lanterns, near
ponds full of goldfish, with little bridges, little islets, and little
ruined towers. They hand us tea and white and pink-colored sweetmeats
flavored with pepper that taste strange and unfamiliar, and beverages
mixed with snow tasting of flowers or perfumes.

To give a faithful account of those evenings would require a more
affected style than our own; and some kind of graphic sign would have
also to be expressly invented and scattered at haphazard among the
words, indicating the moment when the reader should laugh--rather a
forced laugh, perhaps, but amiable and gracious. The evening at an end,
it is time to return up there.

Oh! that street, that road, that we must clamber up every evening, under
the starlit sky or the heavy thunder-clouds, dragging by the hands our
drowsy mousmes in order to regain our homes perched on high halfway up
the hill, where our bed of matting awaits us.


The cleverest among us has been Louis de S-------. Having formerly
inhabited Japan, and made a marriage Japanese fashion there, he is now
satisfied to remain the friend of our wives, of whom he has become
the ‘Komodachi taksan takai’ (“the very tall friend,” as they say, on
account of his excessive height and slenderness). Speaking Japanese
more readily than we, he is their confidential adviser, disturbs or
reconciles our households at will, and has infinite amusement at our

This “very tall friend” of our wives enjoys all the fun that these
little creatures can give him, without any of the worries of domestic
life. With brother Yves, and little Oyouki (the daughter of Madame
Prune, my landlady), he makes up our incongruous party.


M. Sucre and Madame Prune, my landlord and his wife, two perfectly
unique personages recently escaped from the panel of some screen,
live below us on the ground floor; and very old they seem to have this
daughter of fifteen, Oyouki, who is Chrysantheme’s inseparable friend.

Both of them are entirely absorbed in the practices of Shinto religion:
perpetually on their knees before their family altar, perpetually
occupied in murmuring their lengthy orisons to the spirits, and clapping
their hands from time to time to recall around them the inattentive
essences floating in the atmosphere. In their spare moments they
cultivate, in little pots of gayly painted earthenware, dwarf shrubs and
unheard-of flowers which are delightfully fragrant in the evening.

M. Sucre is taciturn, dislikes society, and looks like a mummy in his
blue cotton dress. He writes a great deal (his memoirs, I fancy), with
a paint-brush held in his fingertips, on long strips of rice-paper of a
faint gray tint.

Madame Prune is eagerly attentive, obsequious, and rapacious; her
eyebrows are closely shaven, her teeth carefully lacquered with black,
as befits a lady of gentility, and at all and no matter what hours, she
appears on all fours at the entrance of our apartment, to offer us her

As to Oyouki, she rushes upon us ten times a day--whether we are
sleeping or dressing--like a whirlwind on a visit, flashing upon us,
a very gust of dainty youthfulness and droll gayety--a living peal of
laughter. She is round of figure, round of face; half baby, half girl;
and so affectionate that she bestows kisses on the slightest occasion
with her great puffy lips--a little moist, it is true, like a child’s,
but nevertheless very fresh and very red.


Our dwelling is open all the night through, and the lamps burning before
the gilded Buddha bring us the company of the insect inhabitants of
every garden in the neighborhood. Moths, mosquitoes, cicalas, and other
extraordinary insects of which I don’t even know the names--all this
company assembles around us.

It is extremely funny, when some unexpected grasshopper, some
free-and-easy beetle presents itself without invitation or excuse,
scampering over our white mats, to see the manner in which Chrysantheme
indicates it to my righteous vengeance--merely pointing her finger at
it, without another word than “Hou!” said with bent head, a particular
pout, and a scandalised air.

There is a fan kept expressly for the purpose of blowing them out of
doors again.


Here I must own that my story must appear to the reader to drag a

Lacking exciting intrigues and tragic adventures, I wish I knew how
to infuse into it a little of the sweet perfumes of the gardens which
surround me, something of the gentle warmth of the sunshine, of the
shade of these graceful trees. Love being wanting, I should like it to
breathe of the restful tranquillity of this faraway spot. Then, too, I
should like it to reecho the sound of Chrysantheme’s guitar, in which
I begin to find a certain charm, for want of something better, in the
silence of the lovely summer evenings.

All through these moonlit nights of July, the weather has been calm,
luminous, and magnificent. Ah, what glorious clear nights! What
exquisite roseate tints beneath that wonderful moon, what mystery of
blue shadows in the thick tangle of trees! And, from the heights where
stood our veranda, how prettily the town lay sleeping at our feet!

After all, I do not positively detest this little Chrysantheme, and when
there is no repugnance on either side, habit turns into a makeshift of


Forever, throughout everything, rises day and night from the whole
country the song of the cicalas, ceaseless, strident, and insistent. It
is everywhere, and never-ending, at no matter what hour of the burning
day, or what hour of the refreshing night. From the harbor, as we
approached our anchorage, we had heard it at the same time from
both shores, from both walls of green mountains. It is wearisome and
haunting; it seems to be the manifestation, the noise expressive of the
kind of life peculiar to this region of the world. It is the voice of
summer in these islands; it is the song of unconscious rejoicing, always
content with itself and always appearing to inflate, to rise, in a
greater and greater exultation at the sheer happiness of living.

It is to me the noise characteristic of this country--this, and the cry
of the falcon, which had in like manner greeted our entry into Japan.
Over the valleys and the deep bay sail these birds, uttering, from time
to time, their three cries, “Ha! ha! ha!” in a key of sadness that seems
the extreme of painful astonishment. And the mountains around reecho
their cry.


Chrysantheme, Yves, and little Oyouki have struck up a friendship so
intimate that it amuses me. I even think that in my home life this
intimacy is what affords me the greatest entertainment. They form a
contrast which gives rise to the most absurd jokes, and unexpected
situations. He brings into this fragile little paper house his nautical
freedom and ease of manner, and his Breton accent; and these tiny
mousmes, with affected manners and bird-like voices, small as they are,
rule the big fellow as they please; make him eat with chop-sticks; teach
him Japanese pigeon-vole, cheat him, and quarrel, and almost die of
laughter over it all.

Certainly he and Chrysantheme take a pleasure in each other’s society.
But I remain serenely undisturbed, and can not imagine that this little
doll, with whom I play at married life, could possibly occasion any
serious trouble between this “brother” and me.


Japanese relatives, very numerous and conspicuous, are a great source
of amusement to those of my brother officers who visit me in my villa
on the hill--most especially to ‘komodachi taksan takai’ (“the tall

I have a charming mother-in-law--quite a woman of the world--tiny
sisters-in-law, little cousins, and aunts who are still quite young.

I have even a poor second cousin, who is a djin. There was some
hesitation in owning this latter to me; but, behold! during the ceremony
of introduction, we exchanged a smile of recognition. It was Number 415!

Over this poor Number 415 my friends on board crack no end of jokes--one
in particular, who, less than any one has the right to make them, little
Charles N-----, for his mother-in-law was once a concierge, or something
of the kind, at the gateway of a pagoda.

I, however, who have a great respect for strength and agility, much
appreciate this new relative of mine. His legs are undoubtedly the best
in all Nagasaki, and whenever I am in haste, I always beg Madame Prune
to send down to the djin-stand and engage my cousin.


Today I arrived unexpectedly at Diou-djen-dji, in the midst of burning
noonday heat. At the foot of the stairs lay Chrysantheme’s wooden shoes
and her sandals of varnished leather.

In our rooms, upstairs, all was open to the air; bamboo blinds hung on
the sunny side, and through their transparency came warm air and golden
threads of light. Today the flowers Chrysantheme had placed in the
bronze vases were lotus, and as I entered, my eyes fell upon their wide
rosy cups.

According to her usual custom, Chrysantheme was lying flat on the floor
enjoying her daily siesta.

What a singular originality these bouquets of Chrysantheme always have:
a something, difficult to define, a Japanese slightness, an artificial
grace which we never should succeed in imparting to them.

She was sleeping, face down, upon the mats, her high headdress and
tortoise-shell pins standing out boldly from the rest of the horizontal
figure. The train of her tunic appeared to prolong her delicate little
body, like the tail of a bird; her arms were stretched crosswise, the
sleeves spread out like wings, and her long guitar lay beside her.

She looked like a dead fairy; still more did she resemble some great
blue dragon-fly, which, having alighted on that spot, some unkind hand
had pinned to the floor.

Madame Prune, who had come upstairs after me, always officious and
eager, manifested by her gestures her sentiments of indignation on
beholding the careless reception accorded by Chrysantheme to her lord
and master, and advanced to wake her.

“Pray do nothing of the kind, my good Madame Prune; you don’t know how
much I prefer her like that!” I had left my shoes below, according to
custom, beside the little shoes and sandals; and I entered on the tips
of my toes, very, very, softly to sit awhile on the veranda.

What a pity this little Chrysantheme can not always be asleep; she
is really extremely decorative seen in this manner--and like this,
at least, she does not bore me. Who knows what may be passing in that
little head and heart! If I only had the means of finding out! But
strange to say, since we have kept house together, instead of advancing
in my study of the Japanese language, I have neglected it, so much have
I felt the impossibility of ever interesting myself in the subject.

Seated upon my veranda, my eyes wandered over the temples and cemeteries
spread at my feet, over the woods and the green mountains, over Nagasaki
lying bathed in the sunlight. The cicalas were chirping their loudest,
the strident noise trembling feverishly in the hot air. All was calm,
full of light and full of heat.

Nevertheless, to my taste, it is not yet enough so! What, then, can have
changed upon the earth? The burning noondays of summer, such as I can
recall in days gone by, were more brilliant, more full of sunshine;
Nature seemed to me in those days more powerful, more terrible. One
would say this was only a pale copy of all that I knew in early years--a
copy in which something is wanting. Sadly do I ask myself--Is the
splendor of the summer only this? Was it only this? or is it the fault
of my eyes, and as time goes on shall I behold everything around me
fading still more?

Behind me comes a faint and melancholy strain of music--melancholy
enough to make one shiver--and shrill, shrill as the song of the
grasshoppers, it began to make itself heard, very softly at first,
then growing louder and rising in the silence of the noonday like the
diminutive wail of some poor Japanese soul in pain and anguish; it was
Chrysantheme and her guitar awaking together.

It pleased me that the idea should have occurred to her to greet me with
music, instead of eagerly hastening to wish me good-morning. At no time
have I ever given myself the trouble to pretend the slightest affection
for her, and a certain coldness even has grown up between us, especially
when we are alone. But to-day I turn to her with a smile, and wave my
hand for her to continue. “Go on, it amuses me to listen to your quaint
little impromptu.” It is singular that the music of this essentially
merry people should be so plaintive. But undoubtedly that which
Chrysantheme is playing at this moment is worth listening to. Whence can
it have come to her? What unutterable dreams, forever hidden from me,
surge beneath her ivory brow, when she plays or sings in this manner?

Suddenly I hear some one tapping three times, with a harsh and bony
finger, against one of the steps of our stairs, and in our doorway
appears an idiot, clad in a suit of gray tweed, who bows low. “Come in,
come in, Monsieur Kangourou. You come just in the nick of time! I was
actually becoming enthusiastic over your country!”

M. Kangourou brought a little laundry bill, which he wished respectfully
to hand to me, with a profound bend of the whole body, the correct pose
of the hands on the knees, and a long, snake-like hiss.


Pursuing the path that winds past our, dwelling, one passes a dozen
or more old villas, a few garden-walls, and then sees nothing but the
lonely mountain-side, with little paths winding upward toward the summit
through plantations of tea, bushes of camellias, underbrush, and rocks.
The mountains round Nagasaki are covered with cemeteries; for centuries
and centuries they have brought their dead up here.

But there is neither sadness nor horror in these Japanese sepulchres;
it seems as if, among this frivolous and childish people, death itself
could not be taken seriously. The monuments are either granite Buddhas,
seated on lotus, or upright tombstones with inscriptions in gold. They
are grouped together in little enclosures in the midst of the woods, or
on natural terraces delightfully situated, and are usually reached by
long stairways of stone carpeted with moss. Sometimes these pass under
one of the sacred gateways, of which the shape, always the same, rude
and simple, is a smaller reproduction of those in the temples.

Above us, the tombs of our mountain are of an antiquity so hoary that
they no longer alarm any one, even at night. It is a region of forsaken
cemeteries. The dead hidden away there have long since become one with
the earth around them; and these thousands of little gray stones, these
multitudes of ancient little Buddhas, eaten away by lichens, seem to be
now no more than a proof of a series of existences, long anterior to our
own, and lost forever and altogether in the mysterious depths of ages.


The meals that Chrysantheme enjoys are something almost indescribable.

She begins in the morning, when she wakes, with two little green wild
plums pickled in vinegar and rolled in powdered sugar. A cup of tea
completes this almost traditional breakfast of Japan, the very same that
Madame Prune is eating downstairs, the same that is served in the inns
to travellers.

At intervals during the day the meals are continued by two little
dinners of the drollest description. They are brought up on a tray
of red lacquer, in microscopic cups with covers, from Madame Prune’s
apartment, where they are cooked: a hashed sparrow, a stuffed prawn,
seaweed with a sauce, a salted sweetmeat, a sugared chili! Chrysantheme
tastes a little of all, with dainty pecks and the aid of her little
chopsticks, raising the tips of her fingers with affected grace. At
every dish she makes a face, leaves three parts of it, and dries her
finger-tips after it in apparent disgust.

These menus vary according to the inspiration that may have seized
Madame Prune. But one thing never varies, either in our household or in
any other, neither in the north nor in the south of the Empire, and
that is the dessert and the manner of eating it: after all these little
dishes, which are a mere make-believe, a wooden bowl is brought in,
bound with copper--an enormous bowl, fit for Gargantua, and filled to
the very brim with rice, plainly cooked in water. Chrysantheme fills
another large bowl from it (sometimes twice, sometimes three times),
darkens its snowy whiteness with a black sauce flavored with fish, which
is contained in a delicately shaped blue cruet, mixes it all together,
carries the bowl to her lips, and crams down all the rice, shovelling it
with her two chop-sticks into her very throat. Next the little cups and
covers are picked up, as well as the tiniest crumb that may have fallen
upon the white mats, the irreproachable purity of which nothing is
allowed to tarnish. And so ends the dinner.


Below, in the town, a street-singer had established herself in a little
thoroughfare; people had gathered around her to listen to her singing,
and we three--that is, Yves, Chrysantheme, and I--who happened to be
passing, stopped also.

She was quite young, rather fat, and fairly pretty, and she strummed her
guitar and sang, rolling her eyes fiercely, like a virtuoso executing
feats of difficulty. She lowered her head, stuck her chin into her neck,
in order to draw deeper notes from the furthermost recesses of her body;
and succeeded in bringing forth a great, hoarse voice--a voice that
might have belonged to an aged frog, a ventriloquist’s voice, coming
whence it would be impossible to say (this is the best stage manner, the
last touch of art, in the interpretation of tragic pieces).

Yves cast an indignant glance upon her.

“Good gracious,” said he, “she has the voice of a----” (words failed
him, in his astonishment) “the voice of a--a monster!”

And he looked at me, almost frightened by this little being, and
desirous to know what I thought of it.

Yves was out of temper on this occasion, because I had induced him to
come out in a straw hat with a turned-up brim, which did not please him.

“That hat suits you remarkably well, Yves, I assure you,” I said.

“Oh, indeed! You say so, you. For my part, I think it looks like a
magpie’s nest!”

As a fortunate diversion from the singer and the hat, here comes a
cortege, advancing toward us from the end of the street, something
remarkably like a funeral. Bonzes march in front, dressed in robes
of black gauze, having much the appearance of Catholic priests; the
principal object of interest of the procession, the corpse, comes last,
laid in a sort of little closed palanquin, which is daintily pretty.
This is followed by a band of mousmes, hiding their laughing faces
beneath a kind of veil, and carrying in vases of the sacred shape the
artificial lotus with silver petals indispensable at a funeral; then
come fine ladies, on foot, smirking and stifling a wish to laugh,
beneath parasols on which are painted, in the gayest colors, butterflies
and storks.

Now they are quite close to us, we must stand back to give them room.
Chrysantheme all at once assumes a suitable air of gravity, and Yves
bares his head, taking off the magpie’s nest.

Yes, it is true, it is death that is passing!

I had almost lost sight of the fact, so little does this procession
recall it.

The procession will climb high above Nagasaki, into the heart of the
green mountain covered with tombs. There the poor fellow will be laid
at rest, with his palanquin above him, and his vases and his flowers of
silvered paper. Well, at least he will lie in a charming spot commanding
a lovely view.

Then they will return half laughing, half snivelling, and tomorrow no
one will think of it again.


August 4th.

Our ship, the ‘Triomphante’, which has been lying in the harbor almost
at the foot of the hill on which stands my house, enters the dock to-day
to undergo repairs rendered necessary by the long blockade of Formosa.

I am now a long way from my home, and am compelled to cross by boat the
whole breadth of the bay when I wish to see Chrysantheme; for the dock
is situated on the shore, opposite to Diou-djen-dji. It is sunk in a
little valley, narrow and deep, midst all kinds of foliage--bamboos,
camellias, trees of all sorts; our masts and spars, seen from the deck,
look as if they were tangled among the branches.

The situation of the vessel--no longer afloat--gives the crew a greater
facility for clandestine escapes from the ship at no matter what hour of
the night, and our sailors have made friends with all the girls of the
villages perched on the mountains above us.

These quarters, and this excessive liberty, give me some uneasiness
about my poor Yves; for this country of frivolous pleasure has a little
turned his head.

Moreover, I am more and more convinced that he is in love with

It is really a pity that the sentiment has not occurred to me instead,
since it is I who have gone the length of marrying her.


Despite the increased distance, I continue my regular visits to
Diou-djen-dji. When night has fallen, and the four couples who compose
our society have joined us, as well as Yves and the “amazingly tall
friend”--we descend again into the town, stumbling by lantern-light down
the steep stairways and slopes of the old suburb.

This nocturnal ramble is always the same, and is accompanied always by
the same amusements: we pause before the same queer booths, we drink
the same sugared drinks served to us in the same little gardens. But our
troop is often more numerous: to begin with, we chaperon Oyouki, who
is confided to our care by her parents; then we have two cousins of my
wife’s--pretty little creatures; and lastly friends--guests of sometimes
only ten or twelve years old, little girls of the neighborhood to whom
our mousmes wish to show some politeness.

Thus a singular company of tiny beings forms our suite and follows us
into the tea-gardens in the evenings! The most absurd faces, with sprigs
of flowers stuck in the oddest fashion in their comical and childish
heads. One might suppose it was a whole school of mousmes out for an
evening’s frolic under our care.

Yves returns with us, when the time comes to remount our hill;
Chrysantheme heaves great sighs like a tired child, and stops on every
step, leaning on our arms.

When we have reached our destination he says “Goodnight,” just touches
Chrysantheme’s hand, and descending once more by the slope which leads
to the quays and the shipping, he crosses the roadstead in a sampan, to
get on board the ‘Triomphante.’

Meantime, we, with the aid of a sort of secret key, open the door of our
garden, where Madame Prune’s pots of flowers, ranged in the darkness,
send forth delicious odors in the night air. We cross the garden by
moonlight or starlight, and mount to our own rooms.

If it is very late--a frequent occurrence--we find all our wooden panels
drawn and tightly shut by the careful M. Sucre (as a precaution against
thieves), and our apartment is as close and as private as if it were a
real European house.

In this dwelling, when every chink is thus closed, a strange odor
mingles with the musk and the lotus--an odor essential to Japan, to
the yellow race, belonging to the soil or emanating from the venerable
woodwork; almost an odor of wild beasts. The mosquito-curtain of
dark-blue gauze, ready hung for the night, falls from the ceiling with
the air of a mysterious vellum. The gilded Buddha smiles eternally
at the night-lamps burning before him; some great moth, a constant
frequenter of the house, which during the day sleeps clinging to our
ceiling, flutters at this hour under the very nose of the god, turning
and flitting round the thin, quivering flames. And, motionless on the
wall, its feelers spread out star-like, sleeps some great garden spider,
which one must not kill because it is night. “Hou!” says Chrysantheme,
indignantly, pointing it out to me with levelled finger. Quick! where is
the fan kept for the purpose, wherewith to hunt it out of doors?

Around us reigns a silence which is almost oppressive after all the
joyous noises of the town, and all the laughter, now hushed, of our band
of mousmes--a silence of the country, of some sleeping village.


The sound of the innumerable wooden panels, which at nightfall are
pulled and shut in every Japanese house, is one of the peculiarities of
the country which will remain longest imprinted on my memory. From our
neighbor’s houses these noises reach us one after the other, floating to
us over the green gardens, more or less deadened, more or less distant.

Just below us, Madame Prune’s panels move very badly, creak and make a
hideous noise in their wornout grooves.

Ours are somewhat noisy too, for the old house is full of echoes, and
there are at least twenty screens to run over long slides in order to
close in completely the kind of open hall in which we live. Usually, it
is Chrysantheme who undertakes this piece of household work, and a great
deal of trouble it gives her, for she often pinches her fingers in
the singular awkwardness of her too tiny hands, which never have been
accustomed to do any work.

Then comes her toilette for the night. With a certain grace she lets
fall the day-dress, and slips on a more simple one of blue cotton, which
has the same pagoda sleeves, the same shape all but the train, and which
she fastens round her waist with a sash of muslin of the same color.

The high head-dress remains untouched, it is needless to say--that is,
all but the pins, which are taken out and laid beside her in a lacquer

Then there is the little silver pipe that must absolutely be smoked
before going to sleep; this is one of the customs which most provoke me,
but it has to be borne.

Chrysantheme squats like a gipsy before a certain square box, made of
red wood, which contains a little tobacco-jar, a little porcelain stove
full of hot embers, and finally a little bamboo pot serving at the same
time as ash-tray and cuspidor. (Madame Prune’s smoking-box downstairs,
and every smoking-box in Japan, is exactly the same, and contains
precisely the same objects, arranged in precisely the same manner; and
wherever it may be, whether in the house of the rich or the poor, it
always lies about somewhere on the floor.)

The word “pipe” is at once too trivial and too big to be applied to
this delicate silver tube, which is perfectly straight and at the end
of which, in a microscopic receptacle, is placed one pinch of golden
tobacco, chopped finer than silken thread.

Two puffs, or at most three; it lasts scarcely a few seconds, and the
pipe is finished. Then tap, tap, tap, tap, the little tube is struck
smartly against the edge of the smoking-box to knock out the ashes,
which never will fall; and this tapping, heard everywhere, in every
house, at every hour of the day or night, quick and droll as
the scratchings of a monkey, is in Japan one of the noises most
characteristic of human life.

“Anata nominase!” (“You must smoke too!”) says Chrysantheme.

Having again filled the tiresome little pipe, she puts the silver
tube to my lips with a bow. Courtesy forbids my refusal; but I find it
detestably bitter.

Before laying myself down under the blue mosquito-net, I open two of the
panels in the room, one on the side of the silent and deserted footpath,
the other on the garden side, overlooking the terraces, so that the
night air may breathe upon us, even at the risk of bringing the company
of some belated cockchafer, or more giddy moth.

Our wooden house, with its thin old walls, vibrates at night like a
great dry violin, and the slightest noises have a startling resonance.

Beneath the veranda are hung two little AEolian harps, which, at the
least ruffle of the breeze running through their blades of grass, emit
a gentle tinkling sound, like the harmonious murmur of a brook; outside,
to the very farthest limits of the distance, the cicalas continue their
sonorous and never-ending concert; over our heads, on the black roof, is
heard passing, like a witch’s sabbath, the raging battle, to the death,
of cats, rats, and owls.

Presently, when in the early dawn a fresher breeze, mounting upward from
the sea and the deep harbor, reaches us, Chrysantheme rises and slyly
shuts the panels I have opened.

Before that, however, she will have risen at least three times to smoke:
having yawned like a cat, stretched herself, twisted in every direction
her little amber arms, and her graceful little hands, she sits up
resolutely, with all the waking sighs and broken syllables of a child,
pretty and fascinating enough; then she emerges from the gauze net,
fills her little pipe, and breathes a few puffs of the bitter and
unpleasant mixture.

Then comes tap, tap, tap, tap, against the box to shake out the ashes.
In the silence of the night it makes quite a terrible noise, which wakes
Madame Prune. This is fatal. Madame Prune is at once seized also with a
longing to smoke which may not be denied; then, to the noise from above,
comes an answering tap, tap, tap, tap, from below, exactly like it,
exasperating and inevitable as an echo.


More cheerful are the sounds of morning: the cocks crowing, the wooden
panels all around the neighborhood sliding back upon their rollers; or
the strange cry of some fruit-seller, patrolling our lofty suburb in the
early dawn. And the grasshoppers actually seem to chirp more loudly, to
celebrate the return of the sunlight.

Above all, rises to our ears from below the sound of Madame Prune’s
long prayers, ascending through the floor, monotonous as the song of a
somnambulist, regular and soothing as the plash of a fountain. It lasts
three quarters of an hour at least, it drones along, a rapid flow of
words in a high nasal key; from time to time, when the inattentive
spirits are not listening, it is accompanied by a clapping of dry palms,
or by harsh sounds from a kind of wooden clapper made of two discs of
mandragora root. It is an uninterrupted stream of prayer; its flow never
ceases, and the quavering continues without stopping, like the bleating
of a delirious old goat.

   “After washing the hands and feet,” say the sacred books, “the great
   God Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami, who is the royal power of Japan, must be
   invoked; the manes of all the defunct emperors descended from him
   must also be invoked; next, the manes of all his personal ancestors,
   to the farthest generation; the spirits of the air and the sea; the
   spirits of all secret and impure places; the spirits of the tombs of
   the district whence you spring, etc., etc.”

“I worship and implore you,” sings Madame Prune, “O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami,
royal power! Cease not to protect your faithful people, who are ready to
sacrifice themselves for their country. Grant that I may become as holy
as yourself, and drive from my mind all dark thoughts. I am a coward and
a sinner: purge me from my cowardice and sinfulness, even as the north
wind drives the dust into the sea. Wash me clean from all my iniquities,
as one washes away uncleanness in the river of Kamo. Make me the richest
woman in the world. I believe in your glory, which shall be spread over
the whole earth, and illuminate it for ever for my happiness. Grant me
the continued good health of my family, and above all, my own, who, O
Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! do worship and adore you, and only you, etc., etc.”

Here follow all the emperors, all the spirits, and the interminable list
of ancestors.

In her trembling old woman’s falsetto, Madame Prune sings all this,
without omitting anything, at a pace which almost takes away her breath.

And very strange it is to hear: at length it seems hardly a human voice;
it sounds like a series of magic formulas, unwinding themselves from an
inexhaustible roller, and escaping to take flight through the air. By
its very weirdness, and by the persistency of its incantation, it ends
by producing in my half-awakened brain an almost religious impression.

Every day I wake to the sound of this Shintoist litany chanted
beneath me, vibrating through the exquisite clearness of the summer
mornings--while our night-lamps burn low before the smiling Buddha,
while the eternal sun, hardly risen, already sends through the cracks of
our wooden panels its bright rays, which dart like golden arrows through
our darkened dwelling and our blue gauze tent.

This is the moment at which I must rise, descend hurriedly to the sea by
grassy footpaths all wet with dew, and so regain my ship.

Alas! in the days gone by, it was the cry of the muezzin which used
to awaken me in the dark winter mornings in faraway, night-shrouded


Chrysantheme has brought but few things with her, knowing that our
domestic life would probably be brief.

She has placed her gowns and her fine sashes in little closed recesses,
hidden in one of the walls of our apartment (the north wall, the only
one of the four which can not be taken to pieces). The doors of
these niches are white paper panels; the standing shelves and inside
partitions, consisting of light woodwork, are put together almost too
finically and too ingeniously, giving rise to suspicions of secret
drawers and conjuring tricks. We put there only things without any
value, having a vague feeling that the cupboards themselves might spirit
them away.

The box in which Chrysantheme stores away her gewgaws and letters, is
one of the things that amuse me most; it is of English make, tin, and
bears on its cover the colored representation of some manufactory in the
neighborhood of London. Of course, it is as an exotic work of art, as
a precious knickknack, that Chrysantheme prefers it to any of her other
boxes in lacquer or inlaid work. It contains all that a mousme requires
for her correspondence: Indian ink, a paintbrush, very thin, gray-tinted
paper, cut up in long narrow strips, and odd-shaped envelopes, into
which these strips are slipped (having been folded up in about thirty
folds); the envelopes are ornamented with pictures of landscapes,
fishes, crabs, or birds.

On some old letters addressed to her, I can make out the two characters
that represent her name: Kikousan (“Chrysantheme, Madame”). And when I
question her, she replies in Japanese, with an air of importance:

“My dear, they are letters from my woman friends.”

Oh, those friends of Chrysantheme, what funny little faces they have!
That same box contains their portraits, their photographs stuck on
visiting cards, which are printed on the back with the name of Uyeno,
the fashionable photographer in Nagasaki--the little creatures fit
only to figure daintily on painted fans, who have striven to assume
a dignified attitude when once their necks have been placed in the
head-rest, and they have been told: “Now, don’t move.”

It would really amuse me to read the letters of my mousme’s friends--and
above all her replies!


August 10th.

It rained this evening heavily, and the night was close and dark. About
ten o’clock, on our return from one of the fashionable tea-houses we
frequent, we arrived--Yves, Chrysantheme and I--at the familiar angle
of the principal street, the turn where we must take leave of the lights
and noises of the town, to climb up the dark steps and steep paths that
lead to our dwelling at Diou-djen-dji.

But before beginning our ascent, we must first buy lanterns from an old
tradeswoman called Madame Tres-Propre, whose regular customers we are.
It is amazing what a quantity of these paper lanterns we consume. They
are invariably decorated in the same way, with painted nightmoths or
bats; fastened to the ceiling at the farther end of the shop, they hang
in enormous clusters, and the old woman, seeing us arrive, gets upon
a table to take them down. Gray or red are our usual choice; Madame
Tres-Propre knows our preferences and leaves the green or blue lanterns
aside. But it is always hard work to unhook one, on account of the
little short sticks by which they are held, and the strings with which
they are tied getting entangled together. In an exaggerated pantomime,
Madame Tres-Propre expresses her despair at wasting so much of our
valuable time: oh! if it only depended on her personal efforts! but ah!
the natural perversity of inanimate things which have no consideration
for human dignity! With monkeyish antics, she even deems it her duty to
threaten the lanterns and shake her fist at these inextricably tangled
strings which have the presumption to delay us.

It is all very well, but we know this manoeuvre by heart; and if the
old lady loses patience, so do we. Chrysantheme, who is half asleep, is
seized with a fit of kitten-like yawning which she does not even trouble
to hide behind her hand, and which appears to be endless. She pulls
a very long face at the thought of the steep hill we must struggle up
tonight through the pelting rain.

I have the same feeling, and am thoroughly annoyed. To what purpose do
I clamber up every evening to that suburb, when it offers me no
attractions whatever?

The rain increases; what are we to do? Outside, djins pass rapidly,
calling out: “Take care!” splashing the foot-passengers and casting
through the shower streams of light from their many-colored lanterns.
Mousmes and elderly ladies pass, tucked up, muddy, laughing nevertheless
under their paper umbrellas, exchanging greetings, clacking their wooden
pattens on the stone pavement. The whole street is filled with the noise
of the pattering feet and pattering rain.

As good luck will have it, at the same moment passes Number 415, our
poor relative, who, seeing our distress, stops and promises to help
us out of our difficulty; as soon as he has deposited on the quay an
Englishman he is conveying, he will come to our aid and bring all that
is necessary to relieve us from our lamentable situation.

At last our lantern is unhooked, lighted, and paid for. There is
another shop opposite, where we stop every evening; it is that of Madame
L’Heure, the woman who sells waffles; we always buy a provision from
her, to refresh us on the way. A very lively young woman is this
pastry-cook, and most eager to make herself agreeable; she looks quite
like a screen picture behind her piled-up cakes, ornamented with little
posies. We will take shelter under her roof while we wait; and, to
avoid the drops that fall heavily from the waterspouts, wedge
ourselves tightly against her display of white and pink sweetmeats, so
artistically spread out on fresh and delicate branches of cypress.

Poor Number 415, what a providence he is to us! Already he reappears,
most excellent cousin! ever smiling, ever running, while the water
streams down his handsome bare legs; he brings us two umbrellas,
borrowed from a China merchant, who is also a distant relative of ours.
Like me, Yves has till now never consented to use such a thing, but
he now accepts one because it is droll: of paper, of course, with
innumerable folds waxed and gummed, and the inevitable flight of storks
forming a wreath around it.

Chrysantheme, yawning more and more in her kitten-like fashion, becomes
coaxing in order to be helped along, and tries to take my arm.

“I beg you, mousme, this evening to take the arm of Yves-San; I am sure
that will suit us all three.”

And there they go, she, tiny figure, hanging on to the big fellow, and
so they climb up. I lead the way, carrying the lantern that lights
our steps, whose flame I protect as well as I can under my fantastic
umbrella. On each side of the road is heard the roaring torrent of
stormy waters rolling down from the mountain-side. To-night the way
seems long, difficult, and slippery; a succession of interminable
flights of steps, gardens, and houses piled up one above another; waste
lands, and trees which in the darkness shake their dripping foliage on
our heads.

One would say that Nagasaki is ascending at the same time as ourselves;
but yonder, and very far away, is a vapory mist which seems luminous
against the blackness of the sky, and from the town rises a confused
murmur of voices and laughter, and a rumbling of gongs.

The summer rain has not yet refreshed the atmosphere. On account of the
stormy heat, the little suburban houses have been left open like sheds,
and we can see all that is going on. Lamps burn perpetually before the
altars dedicated to Buddha and to the souls of the ancestors; but all
good Nipponese have already lain down to rest. Under the traditional
tents of bluish-green gauze, we can see whole families stretched out in
rows; they are either sleeping, or hunting the mosquitoes, or fanning
themselves. Nipponese men and women, Nipponese babies too, lying side by
side with their parents; each one, young or old, in his little dark-blue
cotton nightdress, and with his little wooden block on which to rest the
nape of his neck.

A few houses are open, where amusements are still going on; here and
there, from the sombre gardens, the sound of a guitar reaches our ears,
playing some dance which gives in its weird rhythm a strange impression
of sadness.

Here is the well, surrounded by bamboos, where we are wont to make a
nocturnal halt for Chrysantheme to take breath. Yves begs me to throw
forward the red gleam of my lantern, in order to recognize the place,
for it marks our halfway resting-place.

And at last, at last, here is our house! The door is closed, all is
silent and dark. Our panels have been carefully shut by M. Sucre and
Madame Prune; the rain streams down the wood of our old black walls.

In such weather it is impossible to allow Yves to return down hill, and
wander along the shore in quest of a sampan. No, he shall not return
on board to-night; we will put him up in our house. His little room has
indeed been already provided for in the conditions of our lease, and
notwithstanding his discreet refusal, we immediately set to work to make
it. Let us go in, take off our boots, shake ourselves like so many cats
that have been out in a shower, and step up to our apartment.

In front of Buddha, the little lamps are burning; in the middle of the
room, the night-blue gauze is stretched.

On entering, the first impression is favorable; our dwelling is pretty
this evening; the late hour and deep silence give it an air of mystery.
And then, in such weather, it is always pleasant to get home.

Come, let us at once prepare Yves’s room. Chrysantheme, quite elated at
the prospect of having her big friend near her, sets to work with a good
will; moreover, the task is easy; we have only to slip three or four
paper panels in their grooves, to make at once a separate room or
compartment in the great box we live in. I had thought that these panels
were entirely white; but no! on each is a group of two storks painted
in gray tints in those inevitable attitudes consecrated by Japanese
art: one bearing aloft its proud head and haughtily raising its leg, the
other scratching itself. Oh, these storks! how tired one gets of them,
at the end of a month spent in Japan!

Yves is now in bed and sleeping under our roof.

Sleep has come to him sooner than to me to-night; for somehow I fancy I
had seen long glances exchanged between him and Chrysantheme.

I have left this little creature in his hands like a toy, and I begin to
fear lest I should have caused some perturbation in his mind. I do not
trouble my head about this little Japanese girl. But Yves--it would be
decidedly wrong on his part, and would greatly diminish my faith in him.

We hear the rain falling on our old roof; the cicalas are mute; odors
of wet earth reach us from the gardens and the mountain. I feel terribly
dreary in this room to-night; the noise of the little pipe irritates
me more than usual, and as Chrysantheme crouches in front of her
smoking-box, I suddenly discover in her an air of low breeding, in the
very worst sense of the word.

I should hate her, my mousme, if she were to entice Yves into committing
a fault--a fault which I should perhaps never be able to forgive.


August 12th.

The Y----and Sikou-San couple were divorced yesterday. The Charles
N---and Campanule household is getting on very badly. They have had some
trouble with those prying, grinding, insupportable little men, dressed
up in gray suits, who are called police agents, and who, by threatening
their landlord, have had them turned out of their house (under the
obsequious amiability of this people lurks a secret hatred toward
Europeans)--they are therefore obliged to accept their mother-in-law’s
hospitality, a very disagreeable situation. And then Charles N---fancies
his mousme is faithless. It is hardly possible, however, for us to
deceive ourselves: these would-be maidens, to whom M. Kangourou has
introduced us, have already had in their lives one adventure, at least,
and perhaps more; it is therefore only natural that we should have our

The Z-----and Touki-San couple jog on, quarrelling all the time.

My household maintains a more dignified air, though it is none the
less dreary. I had indeed thought of a divorce, but have really no good
reason for offering Chrysantheme such a gratuitous affront; moreover,
there is another more imperative reason why I should remain quiet: I,
too, have had difficulties with the civilian authorities.

The day before yesterday, M. Sucre, quite upset, Madame Prune, almost
swooning, and Mademoiselle Oyouki, bathed in tears, stormed my rooms.
The Nipponese police agents had called and threatened them with the
law for letting rooms outside of the European concession to a Frenchman
morganatically married to a Japanese; and the terror of being prosecuted
brought them to me, with a thousand apologies, but with the humble
request that I should leave.

The next day I therefore went off, accompanied by “the wonderfully
tall friend”--who expresses himself in Japanese better than I--to the
registry office, with the full intention of making a terrible row.

In the language of this exquisitely polite people, terms of abuse are
totally wanting; when very angry, one is obliged to be satisfied with
using the ‘thou’, a mark of inferiority, and the familiar conjugation,
habitually used toward those of low birth. Sitting upon the table
used for weddings, among the flurried little policemen, I opened the
conversation in the following terms:

“In order that thou shouldst leave me in peace in the suburb I am
inhabiting, what bribe must I offer thee, oh, little beings more
contemptible than any mere street porter?”

Great and general dismay, silent consternation, and low bows greet my

They at last reply that my honorable person shall not be molested,
indeed, they ask for nothing better. Only, in order to subscribe to the
laws of the country, I ought to have come here and given my name and
that of the young person that--with whom--

“Oh! that is going too far! I came here for that purpose, contemptible
creatures, not three weeks ago!”

Then, taking up myself the civil register, and turning over the pages
rapidly, I found my signature and beside it the little hieroglyphics
drawn by Chrysantheme:

“There, idiots, look at that!”

Arrival of a very high functionary--a ridiculous little old fellow in a
black coat, who from his office had been listening to the row:

“What is the matter? What is it? What is this annoyance put upon the
French officers?”

I state my case politely to this personage, who can not make apologies
and promises enough. The little agents prostrate themselves on all
fours, sink into the earth; and we leave them, cold and dignified,
without returning their bows.

M. Sucre and Madame Prune may now make their minds easy; they will not
be disturbed again.


August 23d.

The prolonged sojourn of the Triomphante in the dock, and the distance
of our dwelling from the town, have been my excuse these last two or
three days for not going up to Diou-djen-dji to see Chrysantheme.

It is dreary work in these docks. At early dawn a legion of little
Japanese workmen invade us, bringing their dinners in baskets and gourds
like the workingmen in our arsenals, but with a poor, shabby appearance,
and a ferreting, hurried manner which reminds one of rats. Silently
they slip under the keel, at the bottom of the hold, in all the holes,
sawing, nailing, repairing.

The heat is intense in this spot, overshadowed by the rocks and tangled
masses of foliage.

At two o’clock, in the broad sunlight, we have a new and far prettier
invasion: that of the beetles and butterflies.

There are butterflies as wonderful as those on the fans. Some, all
black, giddily dash up against us, so light and airy that they seem
merely a pair of quivering wings fastened together without any body.

Yves, astonished, gazes at them, saying, in his boyish manner: “Oh, I
saw such a big one just now, such a big one, it quite frightened me; I
thought it was a bat attacking me.”

A steersman who has captured a very curious specimen carries it off
carefully to press between the leaves of his signal-book, like a flower.
Another sailor, passing by, taking his small roast to the oven in a
mess-bowl, looks at him quizzically and says:

“You had much better give it to me. I’d cook it!”


August 24th.

Nearly five days have passed since I abandoned my little house and

Since yesterday we have had a tremendous storm of rain and wind (a
typhoon that has passed or is passing over us). We beat to quarters in
the middle of the night to lower the topmasts, strike the lower yards,
and take every precaution against bad weather. The butterflies no longer
hover around us; everything tosses and writhes overhead: on the steep
slopes of the mountain the trees shiver, the long grasses bend low as if
in pain; terrible gusts rack them with a hissing sound; branches, bamboo
leaves, and earth fall like rain upon us.

In this land of pretty little trifles, this violent tempest is out of
harmony; it seems as if its efforts were exaggerated and its music too

Toward evening the dark clouds roll by so rapidly that the showers
are of short duration and soon pass over. Then I attempt a walk on
the mountain above us, in the wet verdure: little pathways lead up it,
between thickets of camellias and bamboo.

Waiting till a shower is over, I take refuge in the courtyard of an
old temple halfway up the hill, buried in a wood of century plants
with gigantic branches; it is reached by granite steps, through strange
gateways, as deeply furrowed as the old Celtic dolmens. The trees have
also invaded this yard; the daylight is overcast with a greenish tint,
and the drenching torrent of rain is full of torn-up leaves and moss.
Old granite monsters, of unknown shapes, are seated in the corners,
and grimace with smiling ferocity: their faces are full of indefinable
mystery that makes me shudder amid the moaning music of the wind, in the
gloomy shadows of the clouds and branches.

They could not have resembled the Japanese of our day, the men who had
thus conceived these ancient temples, who built them everywhere, and
filled the country with them, even in its most solitary nooks.

An hour later, in the twilight of that stormy day, on the same mountain,
I encountered a clump of trees somewhat similar to oaks in appearance;
they, too, have been twisted by the tempest, and the tufts of undulating
grass at their feet are laid low, tossed about in every direction. There
was suddenly brought back to my mind my first impression of a strong
wind in the woods of Limoise, in the province of Saintonge, twenty-eight
years ago, in a month of March of my childhood.

That, the first wind-storm my eyes ever beheld sweeping over the
landscape, blew in just the opposite quarter of the world (and many
years have rapidly passed over that memory), the spot where the best
part of my life has been spent.

I refer too often, I fancy, to my childhood; I am foolishly fond of it.
But it seems to me that then only did I truly experience sensations or
impressions; the smallest trifles I saw or heard then were full of
deep and hidden meaning, recalling past images out of oblivion,
and reawakening memories of prior existences; or else they were
presentiments of existences to come, future incarnations in the land of
dreams, expectations of wondrous marvels that life and the world held
in store for me-for a later period, no doubt, when I should be grown
up. Well, I have grown up, and have found nothing that answered to my
indefinable expectations; on the contrary, all has narrowed and darkened
around me, my vague recollections of the past have become blurred,
the horizons before me have slowly closed in and become full of gray
darkness. Soon will my time come to return to eternal rest, and I shall
leave this world without ever having understood the mysterious cause
of these mirages of my childhood; I shall bear away with me a lingering
regret for I know not what lost home that I have failed to find, of the
unknown beings ardently longed for, whom, alas, I never have embraced.


Displaying many affectations, M. Sucre dips the tip of his delicate
paint-brush in India-ink and traces a pair of charming storks on a
pretty sheet of rice-paper, offering them to me in the most courteous
manner, as a souvenir of himself. I have put them in my cabin on board,
and when I look at them, I fancy I can see M. Sucre tracing them with an
airy touch and with elegant facility.

The saucer in which he mixes his ink is in itself a little gem. It is
chiselled out of a piece of jade, and represents a tiny lake with a
carved border imitating rockwork. On this border is a little mamma toad,
also in jade, advancing as if to bathe in the little lake in which M.
Sucre carefully keeps a few drops of very dark liquid. The mamma toad
has four little baby toads, in jade, one perched on her head, the other
three playing about under her.

M. Sucre has painted many a stork in the course of his lifetime, and he
really excels in reproducing groups and duets, if one may so express it,
of this bird. Few Japanese possess the art of interpreting this subject
in a manner at once so rapid and so tasteful; first he draws the two
beaks, then the four claws, then the backs, the feathers, dash, dash,
dash--with a dozen strokes of his clever brush, held in his daintily
posed hand, it is done, and always perfectly well done!

M. Kangourou relates, without seeing anything wrong in it whatever, that
formerly this talent was of great service to M. Sucre. It appears that
Madame Prune--how shall I say such a thing, and, who could guess it
now, on beholding so devout and sedate an old lady, with eyebrows so
scrupulously shaven?--however, it appears that Madame Prune used to
receive a great many visits from gentlemen--gentlemen who always came
alone--which led to some gossip. Therefore, when Madame Prune was
engaged with one visitor, if a new arrival made his appearance, the
ingenious husband, to induce him to wait patiently, and to wile away the
time in the anteroom, immediately offered to paint him some storks in a
variety of attitudes.

And this is why, in Nagasaki, all the Japanese gentlemen of a certain
age have in their collections two or three of these little pictures, for
which they are indebted to the delicate and original talent of M. Sucre!



Sunday, August 25th.

About six o’clock, while I was on duty, the ‘Triomphante’ abandoned
her prison walls between the mountains and came out of dock. After much
manoeuvring we took up our old moorings in the harbor, at the foot of
the Diou-djen-dji hills. The weather was again calm and cloudless, the
sky presenting a peculiar clarity, as if it had been swept by a cyclone,
an exceeding transparency bringing out the minutest details in the
distance till then unseen; as if the terrible blast had blown away every
vestige of the floating mists and left behind it nothing but void and
boundless space. The coloring of woods and mountains stood out again in
the resplendent verdancy of spring after the torrents of rain, like the
wet colors of some freshly washed painting. The sampans and junks, which
for the last three days had been lying under shelter, had now put out to
sea, and the bay was covered with their white sails, which looked like a
flight of enormous seabirds.

At eight o’clock, at nightfall, our manoeuvres having ended, I embarked
with Yves on board a sampan; this time it is he who is carrying me off
and taking me back to my home.

On land, a delicious perfume of new-mown hay greets us, and the road
across the mountains is bathed in glorious moonlight. We go straight
up to Diou-djen-dji to join Chrysantheme; I feel almost remorseful,
although I hardly show it, for my neglect of her.

Looking up, I recognize from afar my little house, perched on high.
It is wide open and lighted; I even hear the sound of a guitar. Then I
perceive the gilt head of my Buddha between the little bright flames of
its two hanging night-lamps. Now Chrysantheme appears on the veranda,
looking out as if she expected us; and with her wonderful bows of hair
and long, falling sleeves, her silhouette is thoroughly Nipponese.

As I enter, she comes forward to kiss me, in a graceful, though rather
hesitating manner, while Oyouki, more demonstrative, throws her arms
around me.

Not without a certain pleasure do I see once more this Japanese home,
which I wonder to find still mine when I had almost forgotten its
existence. Chrysantheme has put fresh flowers in our vases, spread out
her hair, donned her best clothes, and lighted our lamps to honor my
return. From the balcony she had watched the ‘Triomphante’ leave the
dock, and, in the expectation of our prompt return, she had made her
preparations; then, to wile away the time, she was studying a duet on
the guitar with Oyouki. Not a question did she ask, nor a reproach did
she make. Quite the contrary.

“We understood,” she said, “how impossible it was, in such dreadful
weather, to undertake so lengthy a crossing in a sampan.”

She smiled like a pleased child, and I should be fastidious indeed if I
did not admit that to-night she is charming.

I announce my intention of taking a long stroll through Nagasaki; we
will take Oyouki-San and two little cousins who happen to be here, as
well as some other neighbors, if they wish it; we will buy the most
amusing toys, eat all sorts of cakes, and entertain ourselves to our
hearts’ content.

“How lucky we are to be here, just at the right moment,” they exclaim,
jumping with joy. “How fortunate we are! This very evening there is to
be a pilgrimage to the great temple of the jumping Tortoise! The whole
town will be there; all our married friends have already started, the
whole set, X----, Y----, Z----, Touki-San, Campanule, and Jonquille,
with ‘the friend of amazing height.’ And these two, poor Chrysantheme
and poor Oyouki, would have been obliged to stay at home with heavy
hearts, had we not arrived, because Madame Prune had been seized with
faintness and hysterics after her dinner.”

Quickly the mousmes must deck themselves out. Chrysantheme is ready;
Oyouki hurries, changes her dress, and, putting on a mouse-colored gray
robe, begs me to arrange the bows of her fine sash-black satin lined
with yellow-sticking at the same time in her hair a silver topknot.
We light our lanterns, swinging at the end of little sticks; M. Sucre,
overwhelming us with thanks for his daughter, accompanies us on all
fours to the door, and we go off gayly through the clear and balmy

Below, we find the town in all the animation of a great holiday. The
streets are thronged; the crowd passes by--a laughing, capricious, slow,
unequal tide, flowing onward, however, steadily in the same direction,
toward the same goal. From it rises a penetrating but light murmur, in
which dominate the sounds of laughter, and the low-toned interchange of
polite speeches. Then follow lanterns upon lanterns. Never in my
life have I seen so many, so variegated, so complicated, and so

We follow, drifting with the surging crowd, borne along by it. There
are groups of women of every age, decked out in their smartest clothes,
crowds of mousmes with aigrettes of flowers in their hair, or little
silver topknots like Oyouki--pretty little physiognomies, little, narrow
eyes peeping between their slits like those of new-born kittens, fat,
pale, little cheeks, round, puffed-out, half-opened lips. They are
pretty, nevertheless, these little Nipponese, in their smiles and

The men, on the other hand, wear many a pot-hat, pompously added to
the long national robe, and giving thereby a finishing touch to their
cheerful ugliness, resembling nothing so much as dancing monkeys. They
carry boughs in their hands, whole shrubs even, amid the foliage of
which dangle all sorts of curious lanterns in the shapes of imps and

As we advance in the direction of the temple, the streets become more
noisy and crowded. All along the houses are endless stalls raised
on trestles, displaying sweetmeats of every color, toys, branches of
flowers, nosegays and masks. There are masks everywhere, boxes full of
them, carts full of them; the most popular being the one that represents
the livid and cunning muzzle, contracted as by a deathlike grimace, the
long straight ears and sharp-pointed teeth of the white fox, sacred to
the God of Rice. There are also others symbolic of gods or monsters,
livid, grimacing, convulsed, with wigs and beards of natural hair. All
manner of folk, even children, purchase these horrors, and fasten them
over their faces. Every sort of instrument is for sale, among them many
of those crystal trumpets which sound so strangely--this evening they
are enormous, six feet long at least--and the noise they make is unlike
anything ever heard before: one would say gigantic turkeys were gobbling
amid the crowd, striving to inspire fear.

In the religious amusements of this people it is not possible for us to
penetrate the mysteriously hidden meaning of things; we can not divine
the boundary at which jesting stops and mystic fear steps in. These
customs, these symbols, these masks, all that tradition and atavism have
jumbled together in the Japanese brain, proceed from sources utterly
dark and unknown to us; even the oldest records fail to explain them to
us in anything but a superficial and cursory manner, simply because we
have absolutely nothing in common with this people. We pass through
the midst of their mirth and their laughter without understanding the
wherefore, so totally do they differ from our own.

Chrysantheme with Yves, Oyouki with me, Fraise and Zinnia, our cousins,
walking before us under our watchful eyes, move slowly through the
crowd, holding hands lest we should lose one another.

Along the streets leading to the temple, the wealthy inhabitants have
decorated the fronts of their houses with vases and nosegays. The
peculiar shed-like buildings common in this country, with their open
platform frontage, are particularly well suited for the display of
choice objects; all the houses have been thrown open, and the interiors
are hung with draperies that hide the back of the apartments. In front
of these hangings, and standing slightly back from the movement of the
passing crowd, the various exhibited articles are placed methodically in
a row, under the full glare of hanging lamps. Hardly any flowers compose
the nosegays, nothing but foliage--some rare and priceless, others
chosen, as if purposely, from the commonest plants, arranged, however,
with such taste as to make them appear new and choice; ordinary
lettuce-leaves, tall cabbage-stalks are placed with exquisite artificial
taste in vessels of marvellous workmanship. All the vases are of bronze,
but the designs are varied according to each changing fancy: some
complicated and twisted, others, and by far the larger number, graceful
and simple, but of a simplicity so studied and exquisite that to our
eyes they seem the revelation of an unknown art, the subversion of all
acquired notions of form.

On turning a corner of a street, by good luck we meet our married
comrades of the Triomphante and Jonquille, Toukisan and Campanule! Bows
and curtseys are exchanged by the mousmes, reciprocal manifestations of
joy at meeting; then, forming a compact band, we are carried off by the
ever-increasing crowd and continue our progress in the direction of the

The streets gradually ascend (the temples are always built on a height);
and by degrees, as we mount, there is added to the brilliant fairyland
of lanterns and costumes yet another, ethereally blue in the haze of
distance; all Nagasaki, its pagodas, its mountains, its still waters
full of the rays of moonlight, seem to rise with us into the air.
Slowly, step by step, one may say it springs up around, enveloping in
one great shimmering veil all the foreground, with its dazzling red
lights and many-colored streamers.

No doubt we are drawing near, for here are steps, porticoes and monsters
hewn out of enormous blocks of granite. We now have to climb a series of
steps, almost carried by the surging crowd ascending with us.

We have arrived at the temple courtyard.

This is the last and most astonishing scene in the evening’s
fairy-tale--a luminous and weird scene, with fantastic distances lighted
up by the moon, with the gigantic trees, the sacred cryptomerias,
elevating their sombre boughs into a vast dome.

Here we are all seated with our mousmes, beneath the light awning,
wreathed in flowers, of one of the many little teahouses improvised in
this courtyard. We are on a terrace at the top of the great steps, up
which the crowd continues to flock, and at the foot of a portico which
stands erect with the rigid massiveness of a colossus against the dark
night sky; at the foot also of a monster, who stares down upon us, with
his big stony eyes, his cruel grimace and smile.

This portico and the monster are the two great overwhelming masses in
the foreground of the incredible scene before us; they stand out with
dazzling boldness against the vague and ashy blue of the distant sphere
beyond; behind them, Nagasaki is spread out in a bird’s-eye view,
faintly outlined in the transparent darkness with myriads of little
colored lights, and the extravagantly dented profile of the mountains
is delineated on the starlit sky, blue upon blue, transparency upon
transparency. A corner of the harbor also is visible, far up, undefined,
like a lake lost in clouds the water, faintly illumined by a ray of
moonlight, making it shine like a sheet of silver.

Around us the long crystal trumpets keep up their gobble. Groups of
polite and frivolous persons pass and repass like fantastic shadows:
childish bands of small-eyed mousmes with smile so candidly meaningless
and coiffures shining through their bright silver flowers; ugly men
waving at the end of long branches their eternal lanterns shaped like
birds, gods, or insects.

Behind us, in the illuminated and wide-open temple, the bonzes sit,
immovable embodiments of doctrine, in the glittering sanctuary inhabited
by divinities, chimeras, and symbols. The crowd, monotonously droning
its mingled prayers and laughter, presses around them, sowing its alms
broadcast; with a continuous jingle, the money rolls on the ground into
the precincts reserved to the priests, where the white mats entirely
f disappear under the mass of many-sized coins accumulated there as if
after a deluge of silver and bronze.

We, however, feel thoroughly at sea in the midst of this festivity; we
look on, we laugh like the rest, we make foolish and senseless remarks
in a language insufficiently learned, which this evening, I know not
why, we can hardly understand. Notwithstanding the night breeze, we find
it very hot under our awning, and we absorb quantities of odd-looking
water-ices, served in cups, which taste like scented frost, or rather
like flowers steeped in snow. Our mousmes order for themselves great
bowls of candied beans mixed with hail--real hailstones, such as we
might pick up after a hailstorm in March.

Glou! glou! glou! the crystal trumpets slowly repeat their notes, the
powerful sonority of which has a labored and smothered sound, as if they
came from under water; they mingle with the jingling of rattles and the
noise of castanets. We have also the impression of being carried away
in the irresistible swing of this incomprehensible gayety, composed, in
proportions we can hardly measure, of elements mystic, puerile, and
even ghastly. A sort of religious terror is diffused by the hidden idols
divined in the temple behind us; by the mumbled prayers, confusedly
heard; above all, by the horrible heads in lacquered wood, representing
foxes, which, as they pass, hide human faces--hideous livid masks.

In the gardens and outbuildings of the temple the most inconceivable
mountebanks have taken up their quarters, their black streamers, painted
with white letters, looking like funeral trappings as they float in the
wind from the tops of their tall flagstaffs. Thither we turn our steps,
as soon as our mousmes have ended their orisons and bestowed their alms.

In one of the booths a man, stretched on a table, flat on his back, is
alone on the stage; puppets of almost human size, with horribly grinning
masks, spring out of his body; they speak, gesticulate, then fall back
like empty rags; with a sudden spring they start up again, change their
costumes, change their faces, tearing about in one continual frenzy.
Suddenly three, even four, appear at the same time; they are nothing
more than the four limbs of the outstretched man, whose legs and arms,
raised on high, are each dressed up and capped with a wig under which
peers a mask; between these phantoms tremendous fighting and battling
take place, and many a sword-thrust is exchanged. The most fearful of
all is a certain puppet representing an old hag; every time she appears,
with her weird head and ghastly grin, the lights burn low, the music of
the accompanying orchestra moans forth a sinister strain given by the
flutes, mingled with a rattling tremolo which sounds like the clatter of
bones. This creature evidently plays an ugly part in the piece--that of
a horrible old ghoul, spiteful and famished. Still more appalling than
her person is her shadow, which, projected upon a white screen, is
abnormally and vividly distinct; by means of some unknown process this
shadow, which nevertheless follows all her movements, assumes the
aspect of a wolf. At a given moment the hag turns round and presents the
profile of her distorted snub nose as she accepts the bowl of rice which
is offered to her; on the screen at the very same instant appears the
elongated outline of the wolf, with its pointed ears, its muzzle and
chops, its great teeth and hanging tongue. The orchestra grinds, wails,
quivers; then suddenly bursts out into funereal shrieks, like a concert
of owls; the hag is now eating, and her wolfish shadow is eating
also, greedily moving its jaws and nibbling at another shadow easy to
recognize--the arm of a little child.

We now go on to see the great salamander of Japan, an animal rare in
this country, and quite unknown elsewhere, a great, cold mass, sluggish
and benumbed, looking like some antediluvian experiment, forgotten in
the inner seas of this archipelago.

Next comes the trained elephant, the terror of our mousmes, the
equilibrists, the menagerie.

It is one o’clock in the morning before we are back at Diou-djen-dji.

We first get Yves to bed in the little paper room he has already
once occupied. Then we go to bed ourselves, after the inevitable
preparations, the smoking of the little pipe, and the tap! tap! tap!
tap! on the edge of the box.

Suddenly Yves begins to move restlessly in his sleep, to toss about,
giving great kicks on the wall, and making a frightful noise.

What can be the matter? I imagine at once that he must be dreaming of
the old hag and her wolfish shadow. Chrysantheme raises herself on her
elbow and listens, with astonishment depicted on her face.

Ah, happy thought! she has guessed what is tormenting him:

“Ka!” (“mosquitoes”) she says.

And, to impress the more forcibly her meaning on my mind, she pinches my
arm so hard with her little pointed nails, at the same time imitating,
with such an amusing play of her features, the grimace of a person who
is stung, that I exclaim:

“Oh! stop, Chrysantheme, this pantomime is too expressive, and indeed
useless! I know the word ‘Ka’, and had quite understood, I assure you.”

It is done so drolly and so quickly, with such a pretty pout, that in
truth I can not think of being angry, although I shall certainly have
tomorrow a blue mark on my arm; about that there is no doubt.

“Come, we must get up and go to Yves’s rescue; he must not be allowed to
go on thumping in that manner. Let us take a lantern, and see what has

It was indeed the mosquitoes. They are hovering in a thick cloud about
him; those of the house and those of the garden all seem collected
together, swarming and buzzing. Chrysantheme indignantly burns several
at the flame of her lantern, and shows me others (Hou!) covering the
white paper walls.

He, tired out with his day’s amusement, sleeps on; but his slumbers are
restless, as may be easily imagined. Chrysantheme gives him a shake,
wishing him to get up and share our blue mosquito-net.

After a little pressing he does as he is bid and follows us, looking
like an overgrown boy only half awake. I make no objection to this
singular hospitality; after all, it looks so little like a bed, the
matting we are to share, and we sleep in our clothes, as we always
do, according to the Nipponese fashion. After all, on a journey in a
railway, do not the most estimable ladies stretch themselves without
demur by the side of gentlemen unknown to them?

I have, however, placed Chrysantheme’s little wooden block in the centre
of the gauze tent, between our two pillows.

Without saying a word, in a dignified manner, as if she were rectifying
an error of etiquette that I had inadvertently committed, Chrysantheme
takes up her piece of wood, putting in its place my snake-skin drum;
I shall therefore be in the middle between the two. It is really
more correct, decidedly more proper; Chrysantheme is evidently a very
decorous young person.

Returning on board next morning, in the clear morning sun, we walk
through pathways full of dew, accompanied by a band of funny little
mousmes of six or eight years of age, who are going to school.

Needless to say, the cicalas around us keep up their perpetual sonorous
chirping. The mountain smells delicious. The atmosphere, the dawning
day, the infantine grace of these little girls in their long frocks and
shiny coiffures-all is redundant with freshness and youth. The flowers
and grasses on which we tread sparkle with dewdrops, exhaling a perfume
of freshness. What undying beauty there is, even in Japan, in the fresh
morning hours in the country, and the dawning hours of life!

Besides, I am quite ready to admit the attractiveness of the little
Japanese children; some of them are most fascinating. But how is it
that their charm vanishes so rapidly and is so quickly replaced by the
elderly grimace, the smiling ugliness, the monkeyish face?


The small garden of my mother-in-law, Madame Renoncule, is, without
exception, one of the most melancholy spots I have seen in all my
travels through the world.

Oh, the slow, enervating, dull hours spent in idle and diffuse
conversation on the dimly lighted veranda! Oh, the detestable peppered
jam in the tiny pots! In the middle of the town, enclosed by four walls,
is this park of five yards square, with little lakes, little mountains,
and little rocks, where all wears an antiquated appearance, and
everything is covered with a greenish mold from want of sunlight.

Nevertheless, a true feeling for nature has inspired this tiny
representation of a wild spot. The rocks are well placed, the dwarf
cedars, no taller than cabbages, stretch their gnarled boughs over the
valleys in the attitude of giants wearied by the weight of centuries;
and their look of full-grown trees perplexes one and falsifies the
perspective. When from the dark recesses of the apartment one perceives
at a certain distance this diminutive landscape dimly lighted, the
wonder is whether it is all artificial, or whether one is not one’s self
the victim of some morbid illusion; and whether it is not indeed a real
country view seen through a distorted vision out of focus, or through
the wrong end of a telescope.

To any one familiar with Japanese life, my mother-in-law’s house in
itself reveals a refined nature--complete bareness, two or three screens
placed here and there, a teapot, a vase full of lotus-flowers, and
nothing more. Woodwork devoid of paint or varnish, but carved in most
elaborate and capricious openwork, the whiteness of the pinewood being
preserved by constant scrubbing with soap and water. The posts and beams
of the framework are varied by the most fanciful taste: some are cut in
precise geometrical forms; others are artificially twisted, imitating
trunks of old trees covered with tropical creepers. Everywhere are
little hiding-places, little nooks, little closets concealed in the most
ingenious and unexpected manner under the immaculate uniformity of the
white paper panels.

I can not help smiling when I think of some of the so-called “Japanese”
 drawing-rooms of our Parisian fine ladies, overcrowded with knickknacks
and curios and hung with coarse gold embroideries on exported satins. I
would advise those persons to come and look at the houses of people of
taste out here; to visit the white solitudes of the palaces at Yeddo.
In France we have works of art in order to enjoy them; here they possess
them merely to ticket them and lock them up carefully in a kind of
mysterious underground room called a ‘godoun’, shut in by iron gratings.
On rare occasions, only to honor some visitor of distinction, do
they open this impenetrable depositary. The true Japanese manner
of understanding luxury consists in a scrupulous and indeed almost
excessive cleanliness, white mats and white woodwork; an appearance of
extreme simplicity, and an incredible nicety in the most infinitesimal

My mother-in-law seems to be really a very good woman, and were it
not for the insurmountable feeling of spleen the sight of her garden
produces on me, I should often go to see her. She has nothing in common
with the mammas of Jonquille, Campanule, or Touki she is vastly their
superior; and then I can see that she has been very good-looking
and fashionable. Her past life puzzles me; but, in my position as a
son-in-law, good manners prevent my making further inquiries.

Some assert that she was formerly a celebrated geisha in Yeddo, who lost
public favor by her folly in becoming a mother. This would account for
her daughter’s talent on the guitar; she had probably herself taught her
the touch and style of the Conservatory.

Since the birth of Chrysantheme (her eldest child and first cause
of this loss of favor), my mother-in-law, an expansive although
distinguished nature, has fallen seven times into the same fatal
error, and I have two little sisters-in-law: Mademoiselle La
Neige,--[Oyouki-San]--and Mademoiselle La Lune,--[Tsouki-San.]--as
well as five little brothers-in-law: Cerisier, Pigeon, Liseron, Or, and

Little Bambou is four years old--a yellow baby, fat and round all over,
with fine bright eyes; coaxing and jolly, sleeping whenever he is not
laughing. Of all my Nipponese family, Bambou is the one I love the most.


Tuesday, August 27th.

During this whole day we--Yves, Chrysantheme, Oyouki and myself--have
spent the time wandering through dark and dusty nooks, dragged hither
and thither by four quick-footed djins, in search of antiquities in the
bric-a-brac shops.

Toward sunset, Chrysantheme, who has wearied me more than ever since
morning, and who doubtless has perceived it, pulls a very long face,
declares herself ill, and begs leave to spend the night with her mother,
Madame Renoncule.

I agree to this with the best grace in the world; let her go, tiresome
little mousme! Oyouki will carry a message to her parents, who will shut
up our rooms; we shall spend the evening, Yves and I, in roaming about
as fancy takes us, without any mousme dragging at our heels, and shall
afterward regain our own quarters on board the ‘Triomphante’, without
having the trouble of climbing up that hill.

First of all, we make an attempt to dine together in some fashionable
tea-house. Impossible! not a place is to be had; all the absurd paper
rooms, all the compartments contrived by so many ingenious tricks of
slipping and sliding panels, all the nooks and corners in the little
gardens are filled with Japanese men and women eating impossible
and incredible little dishes. Numberless young dandies are dining
tete-a-tete with the ladies of their choice, and sounds of dancing-girls
and music issue from the private rooms.

The fact is, to-day is the third and last day of the great pilgrimage
to the temple of the jumping Tortoise, of which we saw the beginning
yesterday; and all Nagasaki is at this time given over to amusement.

At the tea-house of the Indescribable Butterflies, which is also full to
overflowing, but where we are well known, they have had the bright idea
of throwing a temporary flooring over the little lake--the pond
where the goldfish live--and our meal is served here, in the pleasant
freshness of the fountain which continues its murmur under our feet.

After dinner, we follow the faithful and ascend again to the temple.

Up there we find the same elfin revelry, the same masks, the same music.
We seat ourselves, as before, under a gauze tent and sip odd little
drinks tasting of flowers. But this evening we are alone, and the
absence of the band of mousmes, whose familiar little faces formed
a bond of union between this holiday-making people and ourselves,
separates and isolates us more than usual from the profusion of oddities
in the midst of which we seem to be lost. Beneath us lies always the
immense blue background: Nagasaki illumined by moonlight, and the
expanse of silvered, glittering water, which seems like a vaporous
vision suspended in mid-air. Behind us is the great open temple, where
the bonzes officiate, to the accompaniment of sacred bells and wooden
clappers-looking, from where we sit, more like puppets than anything
else, some squatting in rows like peaceful mummies, others executing
rhythmical marches before the golden background where stand the gods. We
do not laugh to-night, and speak but little, more forcibly struck by
the scene than we were on the first night; we only look on, trying to
understand. Suddenly, Yves, turning round, says:

“Hullo! brother, there is your mousme!”

Actually, there she is, behind him; Chrysantheme, almost on all fours,
hidden between the paws of a great granite beast, half tiger, half dog,
against which our fragile tent is leaning.

“She pulled my trousers with her nails, for all the world like a little
cat,” said Yves, still full of surprise, “positively like a cat!”

She remains bent double in the most humble form of salutation; she
smiles timidly, afraid of being ill received, and the head of my little
brother-in-law, Bambou, appears smiling too, just above her own. She
has brought this little mousko--[Mousko is the masculine of mousme,
and signifies little boy. Excessive politeness makes it mousko-san (Mr.
little boy).]--with her, perched astride her back; he looks as absurd
as ever, with his shaven head, his long frock and the great bows of his
silken sash. There they stand gazing at us, anxious to know how their
joke will be taken.

For my part, I have not the least idea of giving them a cold reception;
on the contrary, the meeting amuses me. It even strikes me that it is
rather pretty of Chrysantheme to come around in this way, and to
bring Bambou-San to the festival; though it savors somewhat of her low
breeding, to tell the truth, to carry him on her back, as the poorer
Japanese women carry their little ones.

However, let her sit down between Yves and myself and let them bring her
those iced beans she loves so much; and we will take the jolly little
mousko on our knees and cram him with sugar and sweetmeats to his
heart’s content.

When the evening is over, and we begin to think of leaving, and of going
down again, Chrysantheme replaces her little Bambou astride upon her
back, and sets forth, bending forward under his weight and painfully
dragging her Cinderella slippers over the granite steps and flagstones.
Yes, decidedly low, this conduct! but low in the best sense of the word:
nothing in it displeases me; I even consider Chrysantheme’s affection
for Bambou-San engaging and attractive in its simplicity.

One can not deny this merit to the Japanese--a great love for little
children, and a talent for amusing them, for making them laugh,
inventing comical toys for them, making the morning of their life happy;
for a specialty in dressing them, arranging their heads, and giving to
the whole personage the most fascinating appearance possible. It is the
only thing I really like about this country: the babies and the manner
in which they are understood.

On our way we meet our married friends of the Triomphante, who, much
surprised at seeing me with this mousko, jokingly exclaim:

“What! a son already?”

Down in the town, we make a point of bidding goodby to Chrysantheme at
the turning of the street where her mother lives. She smiles, undecided,
declares herself well again, and begs to return to our house on the
heights. This did not precisely enter into my plans, I confess. However,
it would look very ungracious to refuse.

So be it! But we must carry the mousko home to his mamma, and then
begin, by the flickering light of a new lantern bought from Madame
Tres-Propre, our weary homeward ascent.

Here, however, we find ourselves in another predicament: this ridiculous
little Bambou insists upon coming with us! No, he will take no denial,
we must take him with us. This is out of all reason, quite impossible!

However, it will not do to make him cry, on the night of a great
festival too, poor little mousko! So we must send a message to Madame
Renoncule, that she may not be uneasy about him, and as there will soon
not be a living creature on the footpaths of Diou-djen-dji to laugh at
us, we will take it in turn, Yves and I, to carry him on our backs, all
the way up that climb in the darkness.

And here am I, who did not wish to return this way tonight, dragging a
mousme by the hand, and actually carrying an extra burden in the shape
of a mousko on my back. What an irony of fate!

As I had expected, all our shutters and doors are closed, bolted, and
barred; no one expects us, and we have to make a prodigious noise at the
door. Chrysantheme sets to work and calls with all her might:

“Hou Oume-San-an-an-an!” (In English: “Hi! Madame Pru-u-uu-une!”)

These intonations in her little voice are unknown to me; her long-drawn
call in the echoing darkness of midnight has so strange an accent,
something so unexpected and wild, that it impresses me with a dismal
feeling of far-off exile.

At last Madame Prune appears to open the door to us, only half awake
and much astonished; by way of a nightcap she wears a monstrous cotton
turban, on the blue ground of which a few white storks are playfully
disporting themselves. Holding in the tips of her fingers, with an
affectation of graceful fright, the long stalk of her beflowered
lantern, she gazes intently into our faces, one after another, to
reassure herself of our identity; but the poor old lady can not get over
her surprise at the sight of the mousko I am carrying.


At first it was only to Chrysantheme’s guitar that I listened with
pleasure now I am beginning to like her singing also.

She has nothing of the theatrical, or the deep, assumed voice of the
virtuoso; on the contrary, her notes, always very high, are soft, thin,
and plaintive.

She often teaches Oyouki some romance, slow and dreamy, which she has
composed, or which comes back to her mind. Then they both astonish me,
for on their well-tuned guitars they will pick out accompaniments in
parts, and try again each time that the chords are not perfectly true
to their ear, without ever losing themselves in the confusion of these
dissonant harmonies, always weird and always melancholy.

Usually, while their music is going on, I am writing on the veranda,
with the superb panorama before me. I write, seated on a mat on the
floor and leaning upon a little Japanese desk, ornamented with swallows
in relief; my ink is Chinese, my inkstand, just like that of my
landlord, is in jade, with dear little frogs and toads carved on the
rim. In short, I am writing my memoirs,--exactly as M. Sucre does
downstairs! Occasionally I fancy I resemble him--a very disagreeable

My memoirs are composed of incongruous details, minute observations of
colors, shapes, scents, and sounds.

It is true that a complete imbroglio, worthy of a romance, seems ever
threatening to appear upon my monotonous horizon; a regular intrigue
seems ever ready to explode in the midst of this little world of
mousmes and grasshoppers: Chrysantheme in love with Yves; Yves with
Chrysantheme; Oyouki with me; I with no one. We might even find here,
ready to hand, the elements of a fratricidal drama, were we in any other
country than Japan; but we are in Japan, and under the narrowing and
dwarfing influence of the surroundings, which turn everything into
ridicule, nothing will come of it all.


In this fine town of Nagasaki, about five or six o’clock in the evening,
one hour of the day is more comical than any other. At that moment every
human being is naked: children, young people, old people, old men, old
women--every one is seated in a tub of some sort, taking a bath. This
ceremony takes place no matter where, without the slightest screen, in
the gardens, the courtyards, in the shops, even upon the thresholds, in
order to give greater facility for conversation among the neighbors
from one side of the street to the other. In this situation visitors
are received; and the bather, without any hesitation, leaves his tub,
holding in his hand his little towel (invariably blue), to offer
the caller a seat, and to exchange with him some polite remarks.
Nevertheless, neither the mousmes nor the old ladies gain anything by
appearing in this primeval costume. A Japanese woman, deprived of her
long robe and her huge sash with its pretentious bows, is nothing but a
diminutive yellow being, with crooked legs and flat, unshapely bust;
she has no longer a remnant of her little artificial charms, which have
completely disappeared in company with her costume.

There is yet another hour, at once joyous and melancholy, a little
later, when twilight falls, when the sky seems one vast veil of yellow,
against which stand the clear-cut outlines of jagged mountains and
lofty, fantastic pagodas. It is the hour at which, in the labyrinth
of little gray streets below, the sacred lamps begin to twinkle in the
ever-open houses, in front of the ancestor’s altars and the familiar
Buddhas; while, outside, darkness creeps over all, and the thousand and
one indentations and peaks of the old roofs are depicted, as if in black
festoons, on the clear golden sky. At this moment, over merry, laughing
Japan, suddenly passes a sombre shadow, strange, weird, a breath of
antiquity, of savagery, of something indefinable, which casts a gloom
of sadness. And then the only gayety that remains is the gayety of
the young children, of little mouskos and little mousmes, who spread
themselves like a wave through the streets filled with shadow, as they
swarm from schools and workshops. On the dark background of all these
wooden buildings, the little blue and scarlet dresses stand out in
startling contrast,--drolly bedizened, drolly draped; and the fine loops
of the sashes, the flowers, the silver or gold topknots stuck in these
baby chignons, add to the vivid effect.

They amuse themselves, they chase one another, their great pagoda
sleeves fly wide open, and these tiny little mousmes of ten, of five
years old, or even younger still, have lofty head-dresses and imposing
bows of hair arranged on their little heads, like grown-up women. Oh!
what loves of supremely absurd dolls at this hour of twilight gambol
through the streets, in their long frocks, blowing their crystal
trumpets, or running with all their might to start their fanciful kites.
This juvenile world of Japan--ludicrous by birth, and fated to become
more so as the years roll on--starts in life with singular amusements,
with strange cries and shouts; its playthings are somewhat ghastly,
and would frighten the children of other countries; even the kites have
great squinting eyes and vampire shapes.

And every evening, in the little dark streets, bursts forth the overflow
of joyousness, fresh, childish, but withal grotesque to excess. It would
be difficult to form any idea of the incredible things which, carried by
the wind, float in the evening air.


My little Chrysantheme is always attired in dark colors, a sign here of
aristocratic distinction. While her friends Oyouki-San, Madame Touki,
and others, delight in gay-striped stuffs, and thrust gorgeous ornaments
in their chignons, she always wears navy-blue or neutral gray, fastened
round her waist with great black sashes brocaded in tender shades, and
she puts nothing in her hair but amber-colored tortoiseshell pins. If
she were of noble descent she would wear embroidered on her dress in the
middle of the back a little white circle looking like a postmark with
some design in the centre of it--usually the leaf of a tree; and this
would be her coat-of-arms. There is really nothing wanting but this
little heraldic blazon on the back to give her the appearance of a lady
of the highest rank.

In Japan the smart dresses of bright colors shaded in clouds,
embroidered with monsters of gold or silver, are reserved by the great
ladies for home use on state occasions; or else they are used on the
stage for dancers and courtesans.

Like all Japanese women, Chrysantheme carries a quantity of things in
her long sleeves, in which pockets are cunningly hidden. There she keeps
letters, various notes written on delicate sheets of rice-paper, prayer
amulets drawn up by the bonzes; and above all a number of squares of a
silky paper which she puts to the most unexpected uses--to dry a teacup,
to hold the damp stalk of a flower, or to blow her quaint little nose,
when the necessity presents itself. After the operation she at once
crumples up the piece of paper, rolls it into a ball, and throws it out
of the window with disgust.

The very smartest people in Japan blow their noses in this manner.


September 2d.

Fate has favored us with a friendship as strange as it is rare: that
of the head bonzes of the temple of the jumping Tortoise, where we
witnessed last month such a surprising pilgrimage.

The approach to this place is as solitary now as it was thronged and
bustling on the evenings of the festival; and in broad daylight one is
surprised at the deathlike decay of the sacred surroundings which at
night had seemed so full of life. Not a creature to be seen on the
time-worn granite steps; not a creature beneath the vast, sumptuous
porticoes; the colors, the gold-work are dim with dust. To reach the
temple one must cross several deserted courtyards terraced on the
mountain-side, pass through several solemn gateways, and up and up
endless stairs rising far above the town and the noises of humanity into
a sacred region filled with innumerable tombs. On all the pavements, in
all the walls, are lichen and stonecrop; and over all the gray tint of
extreme age spreads like a fall of ashes.

In a side temple near the entrance is enthroned a colossal Buddha seated
in his lotus--a gilded idol from forty-five to sixty feet high, mounted
on an enormous bronze pedestal.

At length appears the last doorway with the two traditional giants,
guardians of the sacred court, which stand the one on the right hand,
the other on the left, shut up like wild beasts, each in an iron cage.
They are in attitudes of fury, with fists upraised as if to strike, and
features atrociously fierce and distorted. Their bodies are covered with
bullets of crumbled paper, which have been aimed at them through the
bars, and which have stuck to their monstrous limbs, producing an
appearance of white leprosy: this is the manner in which the faithful
strive to appease them, by conveying to them their prayers written upon
delicate leaflets by the pious bonzes.

Passing between these alarming scarecrows, one reaches the innermost
court. The residence of our friends is on the right, the great hall of
the pagoda is before us.

In this paved court are bronze torch-holders as high as turrets. Here,
too, stand, and have stood for centuries, cyca palms with fresh, green
plumes, their numerous stalks curving with a heavy symmetry, like the
branches of massive candelabra. The temple, which is open along its
entire length, is dark and mysterious, with touches of gilding in
distant corners melting away into the gloom. In the very remotest part
are seated idols, and from outside one can vaguely see their clasped
hands and air of rapt mysticism; in front are the altars, loaded with
marvellous vases in metalwork, whence spring graceful clusters of gold
and silver lotus. From the very entrance one is greeted by the sweet
odor of the incense-sticks unceasingly burned by the priests before the

To penetrate into the dwelling of our friends the bonzes, which is
situated on the right side as you enter, is by no means an easy matter.

A monster of the fish tribe, but having claws and horns, is hung
over their door by iron chains; at the least breath of wind he swings
creakingly. We pass beneath him and enter the first vast and lofty hall,
dimly lighted, in the corners of which gleam gilded idols, bells, and
incomprehensible objects of religious use.

Quaint little creatures, choir-boys or pupils, come forward with a
doubtful welcome to ask what is wanted.

“Matsou-San!! Dondta-San!!” they repeat, much astonished, when they
understand to whom we wish to be conducted. Oh! no, impossible, they can
not be seen; they are resting or are in contemplation. “Orimas! Orimas!”
 say they, clasping their hands and sketching a genuflection or two
to make us understand better. (“They are at prayer! the most profound

We insist, speak more imperatively; even slip off our shoes like people
determined to take no refusal.

At last Matsou-San and Donata-San make their appearance from the
tranquil depths of their bonze-house. They are dressed in black crape
and their heads are shaved. Smiling, amiable, full of excuses, they
offer us their hands, and we follow, with our feet bare like theirs,
to the interior of their mysterious dwelling, through a series of
empty rooms spread with mats of the most unimpeachable whiteness.
The successive halls are separated one from the other only by bamboo
curtains of exquisite delicacy, caught back by tassels and cords of red

The whole wainscoting of the interior is of the same wood, of a pale
yellow shade made with extreme nicety, without the least ornament, the
least carving; everything seems new and unused, as if it had never been
touched by human hand. At distant intervals in this studied bareness,
costly little stools, marvellously inlaid, uphold some antique bronze
monster or a vase of flowers; on the walls hang a few masterly sketches,
vaguely tinted in Indian ink, drawn upon strips of gray paper most
accurately cut but without the slightest attempt at a frame. This is
all: not a seat, not a cushion, not a scrap of furniture. It is the very
acme of studied simplicity, of elegance made out of nothing, of the most
immaculate and incredible cleanliness. And while following the bonzes
through this long suite of empty halls, we are struck by their contrast
with the overflow of knickknacks scattered about our rooms in France,
and we take a sudden dislike to the profusion and crowding delighted in
at home.

The spot where this silent march of barefooted folk comes to an end,
the spot where we are to seat ourselves in the delightful coolness of a
semi-darkness, is an interior veranda opening upon an artificial site.
We might suppose it the bottom of a well; it is a miniature garden no
bigger than the opening of an oubliette, overhung on all sides by the
crushing height of the mountain and receiving from on high but the dim
light of dreamland. Nevertheless, here is simulated a great natural
ravine in all its wild grandeur: here are caverns, abrupt rocks, a
torrent, a cascade, islands. The trees, dwarfed by a Japanese process of
which we have not the secret, have tiny little leaves on their decrepit
and knotty branches. A pervading hue of the mossy green of antiquity
harmonizes all this medley, which is undoubtedly centuries old.

Families of goldfish swim round and round in the clear water, and tiny
tortoises (jumpers probably) sleep upon the granite islands, which are
of the same color as their own gray shells.

There are even blue dragon-flies which have ventured to descend,
heaven knows whence, and alight with quivering wings upon the miniature

Our friends the bonzes, notwithstanding an unctuousness of manner
thoroughly ecclesiastical, are very ready to laugh--a simple, pleased,
childish laughter; plump, chubby, shaven and shorn, they dearly love our
French liqueurs and know how to take a joke.

We talk first of one thing and then another. To the tranquil music of
their little cascade, I launch out before them with phrases of the
most erudite Japanese, I try the effect of a few tenses of verbs:
‘desideratives, concessives, hypothetics in ba’. While they chant they
despatch the affairs of the church: the order of services sealed with
complicated seals for inferior pagodas situated in the neighborhood; or
trace little prayers with a cunning paint-brush, as medical remedies to
be swallowed like pills by invalids at a distance. With their white and
dimpled hands they play with a fan as cleverly as any woman, and when we
have tasted different native drinks, flavored with essences of flowers,
they bring up as a finish a bottle of Benedictine or Chartreuse, for
they appreciate the liqueurs composed by their Western colleagues.

When they come on board to return our visits, they by no means disdain
to fasten their great round spectacles on their flat noses in order
to inspect the profane drawings in our illustrated papers, the ‘Vie
Parisienne’ for instance. And it is even with a certain complacency that
they let their fingers linger upon the pictures representing women.

The religious ceremonies in their great temple are magnificent, and
to one of these we are now invited. At the sound of the gong they make
their entrance before the idols with a stately ritual; twenty or thirty
priests officiate in gala costumes, with genuflections, clapping of
hands and movements to and fro, which look like the figures of some
mystic quadrille.

But for all that, let the sanctuary be ever so immense and imposing in
its sombre gloom, the idols ever so superb, all seems in Japan but a
mere semblance of grandeur. A hopeless pettiness, an irresistible effect
the ludicrous, lies at the bottom of all things.

And then the congregation is not conducive to thoughtful contemplation,
for among it we usually discover some acquaintance: my mother-in-law,
or a cousin, or the woman from the china-shop who sold us a vase only
yesterday. Charming little mousmes, monkeyish-looking old ladies enter
with their smoking-boxes, their gayly daubed parasols, their curtseys,
their little cries and exclamations; prattling, complimenting one
another, full of restless movement, and having the greatest difficulty
in maintaining a serious demeanor.


September 3d.

My little Chrysantheme for the first time visited me on board-ship to
day, chaperoned by Madame Prune, and followed by my youngest sister
in-law, Mademoiselle La Neige. These ladies had the tranquil manners of
the highest gentility. In my cabin is a great Buddha on his throne, and
before him is a lacquer tray, on which my faithful sailor servant places
any small change he may find in the pockets of my clothes. Madame Prune,
whose mind is much swayed by mysticism, at once supposed herself before
a regular altar; in the gravest manner possible she addressed a brief
prayer to the god; then drawing out her purse (which, according to
custom, was attached to her sash behind her back, along with her little
pipe and tobacco-pouch), placed a pious offering in the tray, while
executing a low curtsey.

They were on their best behavior throughout the visit. But when the
moment of departure came, Chrysantheme, who would not go away without
seeing Yves, asked for him with a thinly veiled persistency which
was remarkable. Yves, for whom I then sent, made himself particularly
charming to her, so much so that this time I felt a shade of more
serious annoyance; I even asked myself whether the laughably pitiable
ending, which I had hitherto vaguely foreseen, might not, after all,
soon break upon us.


September 4th.

Yesterday I encountered, in an ancient and ruined quarter of the town,
a perfectly exquisite mousme, charmingly dressed; a fresh touch of color
against the sombre background of decayed buildings.

I met her at the farthest end of Nagasaki, in the most ancient part of
the town. In this region are trees centuries old, antique temples of
Buddha, of Amiddah, of Benten, or Kwanon, with steep and pompous roofs;
monsters carved in granite sit there in courtyards silent as the grave,
where the grass grows between the stones. This deserted quarter is
traversed by a narrow torrent running in a deep channel, across which
are thrown little curved bridges with granite balustrades eaten away
by lichen. All the objects there wear the strange grimace, the quaint
arrangement familiar to us in the most antique Japanese drawings.

I walked through it all at the burning hour of midday, and saw not a
soul, unless, indeed, through the open windows of the bonze-houses, I
caught sight of some few priests, guardians of tombs or sanctuaries,
taking their siesta under dark-blue gauze nets.

Suddenly this little mousme appeared, a little above me, just at the
point of the arch of one of these bridges carpeted with gray moss; she
was in full sunshine, and stood out in brilliant clearness, like a fairy
vision, against the background of old black temples and deep shadows.
She was holding her robe together with one hand, gathering it close
round her ankles to give herself an air of greater slimness. Over her
quaint little head, her round umbrella with its thousand ribs threw a
great halo of blue and red, edged with black, and an oleander-tree full
of flowers, growing among the stones of the bridge, spread its glory
beside her, bathed, like herself, in the sunshine. Behind this youthful
figure and this flowering shrub all was blackness. Upon the pretty red
and blue parasol great white letters formed this inscription, much used
among the mousmes, and which I have learned to recognize: ‘Stop! clouds,
to see her pass!’ And it was really worth the trouble to stop and look
at this exquisite little person, of a type so ideally Japanese.

However, it will not do to stop too long and be ensnared--it would only
be another delusion. A doll like the rest, evidently, an ornament for a
china shelf, and nothing more. While I gaze at her, I say to myself that
Chrysantheme, appearing in this same place, with this dress, this play
of light, and this aureole of sunshine, would produce just as delightful
an effect.

For Chrysantheme is pretty, there can be no doubt about it. Yesterday
evening, in fact, I positively admired her. It was quite night; we
were returning with the usual escort of little married couples like
ourselves, from the inevitable tour of the tea-houses and bazaars. While
the other mousmes walked along hand in hand, adorned with new silver
topknots which they had succeeded in having presented to them, and
amusing themselves with playthings, she, pleading fatigue, followed,
half reclining, in a djin carriage. We had placed beside her
great bunches of flowers destined to fill our vases, late iris and
long-stemmed lotus, the last of the season, already smelling of autumn.
And it was really very pretty to see this Japanese girl in her little
car, lying carelessly among all these water-flowers, lighted by gleams
of ever-changing colors, as they chanced from the lanterns we met or
passed. If, on the evening of my arrival in Japan, any one had pointed
her out to me, and said: “That shall be your mousme,” there can not be a
doubt I should have been charmed. In reality, however, I am not charmed;
it is only Chrysantheme, always Chrysantheme, nothing but Chrysantheme:
a mere plaything to laugh at, a little creature of finical forms and
thoughts, with whom the agency of M. Kangourou has supplied me.


The water used for drinking in our house, for making tea, and for lesser
washing purposes, is kept in large white china tubs, decorated with
paintings representing blue fish borne along by a swift current through
distorted rushes. In order to keep them cool, the tubs are kept out of
doors on Madame Prune’s roof, at a place where we can, from the top of
our projecting balcony, easily reach them by stretching out an arm.
A real godsend for all the thirsty cats in the neighborhood, on warm
summer nights, is this corner of the roof with our gayly painted tubs,
and it proves a delightful trysting-place for them, after all their
caterwauling and long solitary rambles on the tops of the walls.

I had thought it my duty to warn Yves the first time he wished to drink
this water.

“Oh!” he replied, rather surprised, “cats, do you say? But they are not

On this point Chrysantheme and I agree with him: we do not consider cats
unclean animals, and we do not object to drink after them.

Yves considers Chrysantheme much in the same light. “She is not dirty,
either,” he says; and he willingly drinks after her, out of the same
cup, putting her in the same category with the cats.

These china tubs are one of the daily preoccupations of our household:
in the evening, when we return from our walk, after the clamber up,
which makes us thirsty, and Madame L’Heure’s waffles, which we have
been eating to beguile the way, we always find them empty. It seems
impossible for Madame Prune, or Mademoiselle Oyouki, or their young
servant, Mademoiselle Dede,--[Dede-San means “Miss Young Girl,” a very
common name.]--to have forethought enough to fill them while it is still
daylight. And when we are late in returning home, these three ladies are
asleep, so we are obliged to attend to the business ourselves.

We must therefore open all the closed doors, put on our boots, and go
down into the garden to draw water.

As Chrysantheme would die of fright all alone in the dark, in the midst
of the trees and buzzing of insects, I am obliged to accompany her to
the well. For this expedition we require a light, and must seek among
the quantity of lanterns purchased at Madame Tres-Propre’s booth, which
have been thrown night after night into the bottom of one of our little
paper closets; but alas, all the candles are burned down! I thought as
much! Well, we must resolutely take the first lantern to hand, and stick
a fresh candle on the iron point at the bottom; Chrysantheme puts forth
all her strength, the candle splits, breaks; the mousme pricks her
fingers, pouts and whimpers. Such is the inevitable scene that takes
place every evening, and delays our retiring to rest under the dark-blue
gauze net for a good quarter of an hour; while the cicalas on the roof
seem to mock us with their ceaseless song.

All this, which I should find amusing in any one else,--any one I
loved--irritates me in her.


September 11th.

A week has passed very quietly, during which I have written nothing.

By degrees I am becoming accustomed to my Japanese household, to the
strangeness of the language, costumes, and faces. For the last
three weeks no letters have arrived from Europe; they have no doubt
miscarried, and their absence contributes, as is usually the case, to
throw a veil of oblivion over the past.

Every day, therefore, I climb up to my villa, sometimes by beautiful
starlit nights, sometimes through downpours of rain. Every morning
as the sound of Madame Prune’s chanted prayer rises through the
reverberating air, I awake and go down toward the sea, by grassy
pathways full of dew.

The chief occupation in Japan seems to be a perpetual hunt after curios.
We sit down on the mattings, in the antique-sellers’ little booths,
taking a cup of tea with the salesmen, and rummage with our own hands in
the cupboards and chests, where many a fantastic piece of old rubbish is
huddled away. The bargaining, much discussed, is laughingly carried on
for several days, as if we were trying to play off some excellent little
practical joke upon each other.

I really make a sad abuse of the adjective little; I am quite aware
of it, but how can I do otherwise? In describing this country, the
temptation is great to use it ten times in every written line. Little,
finical; affected,--all Japan is contained, both physically and morally,
in these three words.

My purchases are accumulating in my little wood and paper house; but
how much more Japanese it really was, in its bare emptiness, such as
M. Sucre and Madame Prune had conceived it. There are now many lamps of
sacred symbolism hanging from the ceiling; many stools and many vases,
as many gods and goddesses as in a pagoda.

There is even a little Shintoist altar, before which Madame Prune has
not been able to restrain her feelings, and before which she has fallen
down and chanted her prayers in her bleating, goat-like voice:

“Wash me clean from all my impurity, O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! as one
washes away uncleanness in the river of Kamo.”

Alas for poor Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami to have to wash away the impurities of
Madame Prune! What a tedious and ungrateful task!!

Chrysantheme, who is a Buddhist, prays sometimes in the evening before
lying down; although overcome with sleep, she prays clapping her hands
before the largest of our gilded idols. But she smiles with a childish
disrespect for her Buddha, as soon as her prayer is ended. I know that
she has also a certain veneration for her Ottokes (the spirits of her
ancestors), whose rather sumptuous altar is set up at the house of her
mother, Madame Renoncule. She asks for their blessings, for fortune and

Who can fathom her ideas about the gods, or about death? Does she
possess a soul? Does she think she has one? Her religion is an obscure
chaos of theogonies as old as the world, treasured up out of respect
for ancient customs; and of more recent ideas about the blessed final
annihilation, imported from India by saintly Chinese missionaries at
the epoch of our Middle Ages. The bonzes themselves are puzzled; what
a muddle, therefore, must not all this become, when jumbled together in
the childish brain of a sleepy mousme!

Two very insignificant episodes have somewhat attached me to her--(bonds
of this kind seldom fail to draw closer in the end). The first occasion
was as follows:

Madame Prune one day brought forth a relic of her gay youth, a
tortoise-shell comb of rare transparency, one of those combs that it is
good style to place on the summit of the head, lightly poised, hardly
stuck at all in the hair, with all the teeth showing. Taking it out of
a pretty little lacquered box, she held it up in the air and blinked her
eyes, looking through it at the sky--a bright summer sky--as one does to
examine the quality of a precious stone.

“Here is,” she said, “an object of great value that you should offer to
your little wife.”

My mousme, very much taken by it, admired the clearness of the comb and
its graceful shape.

The lacquered box, however, pleased me more. On the cover was a
wonderful painting in gold on gold, representing a field of rice, seen
very close, on a windy day; a tangle of ears and grass beaten down and
twisted by a terrible squall; here and there, between the distorted
stalks, the muddy earth of the rice-swamp was visible; there were even
little pools of water, produced by bits of the transparent lacquer on
which tiny particles of gold seemed to float about like chaff in a thick
liquid; two or three insects, which required a microscope to be well
seen, were clinging in a terrified manner to the rushes, and the whole
picture was no larger than a woman’s hand.

As for Madame Prune’s comb, I confess it left me indifferent, and I
turned a deaf ear, thinking it very insignificant and expensive. Then
Chrysantheme answered, mournfully:

“No, thank you, I don’t want it; take it away, dear Madame Prune.”

And at the same time she heaved a deep sigh, full of meaning, which
plainly said:

“He is not so fond of me as all that.--Useless to bother him.”

I immediately made the wished-for purchase.

Later when Chrysantheme will have become an old monkey like Madame
Prune, with her black teeth and long orisons, she, in her turn, will
retail that comb to some fine lady of a fresh generation.

On another occasion the sun had given me a headache; I lay on the
floor resting my head on my snake-skin pillow. My eyes were dim; and
everything appeared to turn around: the open veranda, the big expanse
of luminous evening sky, and a variety of kites hovering against its
background. I felt myself vibrating painfully to the rhythmical sound of
the cicalas which filled the atmosphere.

She, crouching by my side, strove to relieve me by a Japanese process,
pressing with all her might on my temples with her little thumbs and
turning them rapidly around, as if she were boring a hole with a gimlet.
She had become quite hot and red over this hard work, which procured me
real comfort, something similar to the dreamy intoxication of opium.

Then, anxious and fearful lest I should have an attack of fever, she
rolled into a pellet and thrust into my mouth a very efficacious prayer
written on rice-paper, which she had kept carefully in the lining of one
of her sleeves.

Well, I swallowed that prayer without a smile, not wishing to hurt her
feelings or shake her funny little faith.


Today, Yves, my mousme and I went to the best photographer in Nagasaki,
to be taken in a group. We shall send the picture to France. Yves laughs
as he thinks of his wife’s astonishment when she sees Chrysantheme’s
little face between us, and he wonders how he shall explain it to her.

“I shall just say it is one of your friends, that’s all!” he says to me.

In Japan there are many photographers like our own, with this
difference, that they are Japanese, and inhabit Japanese houses. The
one we intend to honor to-day carries on his business in the suburbs,
in that ancient quarter of big trees and gloomy pagodas where, the other
day, I met the pretty little mousme. His signboard, written in several
languages, is posted against a wall on the edge of the little torrent
which, rushing down from the green mountain above, is crossed by many a
curved bridge of old granite and lined on either side with light bamboos
or oleanders in full bloom.

It is astonishing and puzzling to find a photographer perched there, in
the very heart of old Japan.

We have come at the wrong moment; there is a file of people at the door.
Long rows of djins’ cars are stationed there, awaiting the customers
they have brought, who will all have their turn before us. The runners,
naked and tattooed, their hair carefully combed in sleek bands and shiny
chignons, are chatting, smoking little pipes, or bathing their muscular
legs in the fresh water of the torrent.

The courtyard is irreproachably Japanese, with its lanterns and dwarf
trees. But the studio where one poses might be in Paris or Pontoise; the
self-same chair in “old oak,” the same faded “poufs,” plaster columns,
and pasteboard rocks.

The people who are being photographed at this moment are two ladies of
quality, evidently mother and daughter, who are sitting together for
a cabinet-size portrait, with accessories of the time of Louis XV. A
strange group this, the first great ladies of this country I have seen
so near, with their long, aristocratic faces, dull, lifeless, almost
gray by dint of rice-powder, and their mouths painted heart-shape in
vivid carmine. Withal they have an undeniable look of good breeding that
strongly impresses us, notwithstanding the intrinsic differences of race
and acquired notions.

They scanned Chrysantheme with a look of obvious scorn, although her
costume was as ladylike as their own. For my part, I could not take my
eyes off these two creatures; they captivated me like incomprehensible
things that one never had seen before. Their fragile bodies,
outlandishly graceful in posture, are lost in stiff materials and
redundant sashes, of which the ends droop like tired wings. They make me
think, I know not why, of great rare insects; the extraordinary patterns
on their garments have something of the dark motley of night-moths.
Above all, I ponder over the mystery of their tiny slits of eyes,
drawn back and up so far that the tight-drawn lids can hardly open; the
mystery of their expression, which seems to denote inner thoughts of a
silly, vague, complacent absurdity, a world of ideas absolutely closed
to ourselves. And I think as I gaze at them: “How far we are from this
Japanese people! how totally dissimilar are our races!”

We are compelled to let several English sailors pass before us, decked
out in their white drill clothes, fresh, fat, and pink, like little
sugar figures, who attitudinize in a sheepish manner around the shafts
of the columns.

At last it is our turn; Chrysantheme settles herself slowly in a very
affected style, turning in the points of her toes as much as possible,
according to the fashion.

And on the negative shown to us we look like a supremely ridiculous
little family drawn up in a line by a common photographer at a fair.


September 13th.

Tonight Yves is off duty three hours earlier than I; occasionally this
happens, according to the arrangement of the watches. At those times he
lands first, and goes up to wait for me at Diou-djen-dji.

From the deck I can see him through my glass, climbing up the green
mountain-path; he walks with a brisk, rapid step, almost running; what a
hurry he seems in to rejoin little Chrysantheme!

When I arrive, about nine o’clock, I find him seated on the floor, in
the middle of my rooms, with naked torso (this is a sufficiently
proper costume for private life here, I admit). Around him are grouped
Chrysantheme, Oyouki, and Mademoiselle Dede the maid, all eagerly
rubbing his back with little blue towels decorated with storks and
humorous subjects.

Good heavens! what can he have been doing to be so hot, and to have put
himself in such a state?

He tells me that near our house, a little farther up the mountain,
he has discovered a fencing-gallery: that till nightfall he had been
engaged in a fencing-bout against Japanese, who fought with two-handed
swords, springing like cats, as is the custom of their country. With his
French method of fencing, he had given them a good drubbing. Upon which,
with many a low bow, they had shown him their admiration by bringing him
a quantity of nice little iced things to drink. All this combined had
thrown him into a fearful perspiration.

Ah, very well! Nevertheless, this did not quite explain to me!

He is delighted with his evening; intends to go and amuse himself every
day by beating them; he even thinks of taking pupils.

Once his back is dried, all together, the three mousmes and himself,
play at Japanese pigeon-vole. Really I could not wish for anything more
innocent, or more correct in every respect.

Charles N----and Madame Jonquille, his wife, arrived unexpectedly about
ten o’clock. (They were wandering about in the dark shrubberies in our
neighborhood, and, seeing our lights, came up to us.)

They intend to finish the evening at the tea-house of the toads, and
they try to induce us to go and drink some iced sherbets with them. It
is at least an hour’s walk from here, on the other side of the town,
halfway up the hill, in the gardens of the large pagoda dedicated to
Osueva; but they stick to their idea, pretending that in this clear
night and bright moonlight we shall have a lovely view from the terrace
of the temple.

Lovely, I have no doubt, but we had intended going to bed. However, be
it so, let us go with them.

We hire five djins and five cars down below, in the principal street,
in front of Madame Tres-Propre’s shop, who, for this late expedition,
chooses for us her largest round lanterns-big, red balloons, decorated
with starfish, seaweed, and green sharks.

It is nearly eleven o’clock when we make our start. In the central
quarters the virtuous Nipponese are already closing their little booths,
putting out their lamps, shutting the wooden framework, drawing their
paper panels.

Farther on, in the old-fashioned suburban streets, all is shut up long
ago, and our carts roll on through the black night. We cry out to our
djins: “Ayakou! ayakou!” (“Quick! quick!”)and they run as hard as they
can, uttering little shrieks, like merry animals full of wild gayety.
We rush like a whirlwind through the darkness, all five in Indian file,
dashing and jolting over the old, uneven flagstones, dimly lighted up by
our red balloons fluttering at the end of their bamboo stems. From time
to time some Japanese, night-capped in his blue kerchief, opens a window
to see who these noisy madcaps can be, dashing by so rapidly and so
late. Or else some faint glimmer, thrown by us on our passage, discovers
the hideous smile of a large stone animal seated at the gate of a

At last we arrive at the foot of Osueva’s temple, and, leaving our
djins with our little gigs, we clamber up the gigantic steps, completely
deserted at this hour of the night.

Chrysantheme, who always likes to play the part of a tired little girl,
of a spoiled and pouting child, ascends slowly between Yves and myself,
clinging to our arms.

Jonquille, on the contrary, skips up like a bird, amusing herself by
counting the endless steps.

She lays a great stress on the accentuations, as if to make the numbers
sound even more droll.

A little silver aigrette glitters in her beautiful black coiffure; her
delicate and graceful figure seems strangely fantastic, and the darkness
that envelops us conceals the fact that her face is quite ugly, and
almost without eyes.

This evening Chrysantheme and Jonquille really look like little fairies;
at certain moments the most insignificant Japanese have this appearance,
by dint of whimsical elegance and ingenious arrangement.

The granite stairs, imposing, deserted, uniformly gray under the
nocturnal sky, appear to vanish into the empty space above us, and,
when we turn round, to disappear in the depths beneath, to fall into the
abyss with the dizzy rapidity of a dream. On the sloping steps the
black shadows of the gateways through which we must pass stretch
out indefinitely; and the shadows, which seem to be broken at each
projecting step, look like the regular creases of a fan. The porticoes
stand up separately, rising one above another; their wonderful shapes
are at once remarkably simple and studiously affected; their outlines
stand out sharp and distinct, having nevertheless the vague appearance
of all very large objects in the pale moonlight. The curved architraves
rise at each extremity like two menacing horns, pointing upward toward
the far-off blue canopy of the star-spangled sky, as if they would
communicate to the gods the knowledge they have acquired in the depths
of their foundations from the earth, full of sepulchres and death, which
surrounds them.

We are, indeed, a very small group, lost now in the immensity of the
colossal acclivity as we move onward, lighted partly by the wan moon,
partly by the red lanterns we hold in our hands, floating at the ends of
their long sticks.

A deep silence reigns in the precincts of the temple, even the sound of
insects is hushed as we ascend. A sort of reverence, a kind of religious
fear steals over us, and, at the same moment, a delicious coolness
suddenly pervades the air, and passes over us.

On entering the courtyard above, we feel a little daunted. Here we find
the horse in jade, and the china turrets. The enclosing walls make
it the more gloomy, and our arrival seems to disturb I know not what
mysterious council held between the spirits of the air and the visible
symbols that are there, chimeras and monsters illuminated by the blue
rays of the moon.

We turn to the left, and go through the terraced gardens, to reach the
tea-house of the toads, which this evening is our goal; we find it
shut up--I expected as much--closed and dark, at this hour! We drum
all together on the door; in the most coaxing tones we call by name the
waiting-maids we know so well: Mademoiselle Transparente, Mademoiselle
Etoile, Mademoiselle Rosee-matinale, and Mademoiselle Margueritereine.
Not an answer. Good-by, perfumed sherbets and frosted beans!

In front of the little archery-house our mousmes suddenly jump aside,
terrified, declaring that there is a dead body on the ground. Yes,
indeed, some one is lying there. We cautiously examine the place by the
light of our red balloons, carefully held out at arm’s length for fear
of this dead man. It is only the marksman, he who on the 4th of July
chose such magnificent arrows for Chrysantheme; and he sleeps, good man!
with his chignon somewhat dishevelled, a sound sleep, which it would be
cruel to disturb.

Let us go to the end of the terrace, contemplate the harbor at our feet,
and then return home. To-night the harbor looks like only a dark and
sinister rent, which the moonbeams can not fathom--a yawning crevasse
opening into the very bowels of the earth, at the bottom of which lie
faint, small glimmers, an assembly of glowworms in a ditch--the lights
of the different vessels lying at anchor.



It is the middle of the night, perhaps about two o’clock in the
morning. Our lamps are burning somewhat dimly before our placid idols.
Chrysantheme wakes me suddenly, and I turn to look at her: she has
raised herself on one arm, and her face expresses the most intense
terror; she makes a sign, without daring to speak, that some one or
something is near, creeping up to us. What ill-timed visit is this? A
feeling of fear gains possession of me also. I have a rapid impression
of some great unknown danger, in this isolated spot, in this strange
country of which I do not even yet comprehend the inhabitants and the
mysteries. It must be something very frightful to hold her there, rooted
to the spot, half dead with fright, she who does comprehend all these

It seems to be outside; it is coming from the garden; with trembling
hand she indicates to me that it will come through the veranda, over
Madame Prune’s roof. Certainly, I hear faint noises, and they do
approach us.

I suggest to her

“Neko-San?” (“It is Messieurs the cats?”)

“No!” she replies, still terrified, and in an alarmed tone.

“Bakemono-Sama?” (“Is it my lords the ghosts?”) I have already the
Japanese habit of expressing myself with excessive politeness.

“No! ‘Dorobo’!” (“Thieves!”)

Thieves! Ah! this is better; I much prefer this to a visit such as I
have just been dreading in the sudden awakening from sleep: from ghosts
or spirits of the dead; thieves, that is to say, worthy fellows very
much alive, and having, undoubtedly, inasmuch as they are Japanese
thieves, faces of the most meritorious oddity. I am not in the least
frightened, now that I know precisely what to expect, and we will
immediately set to work to ascertain the truth, for something is
certainly moving on Madame Prune’s roof; some one is walking upon it.

I open one of our wooden panels and look out.

I can see only a vast expanse, calm, peaceful, and exquisite under the
full brilliance of the moonlight; sleeping Japan, lulled by the sonorous
song of the grasshoppers, is charming indeed to-night, and the free,
pure air is delicious.

Chrysantheme, half hidden behind my shoulder, listens tremblingly,
peering forward to examine the gardens and the roofs with dilated eyes
like a frightened cat. No, nothing! not a thing moves. Here and there
are a few strangely substantial shadows, which at first glance were not
easy to explain, but which turn out to be real shadows, thrown by bits
of wall, by boughs of trees, and which preserve an extremely reassuring
stillness. Everything seems absolutely tranquil, and profound silence
reigns in the dreamy vagueness which moonlight sheds over all.

Nothing; nothing to be seen anywhere. It was Messieurs the cats after
all, or perhaps my ladies the owls; sounds increase in volume in the
most amazing manner at night, in this house of ours.

Let us close the panel again carefully, as a measure of prudence, and
then light a lantern and go downstairs to see whether there may be any
one hidden in corners, and whether the doors are tightly shut; in short,
to reassure Chrysantheme we will go the round of the house.

Behold us, then, on tiptoe, searching together every hole and corner
of the house, which, to judge by its foundations, must be very ancient,
notwithstanding the fragile appearance of its panels of white paper.
It contains the blackest of cavities, little vaulted cellars with
worm-eaten beams; cupboards for rice which smell of mould and decay;
mysterious hollows where lies accumulated the dust of centuries. In the
middle of the night, and during a hunt for thieves, this part of the
house, as yet unknown to me, has an ugly look.

Noiselessly we step across the apartment of our landlord and landlady.
Chrysantheme drags me by the hand, and I allow myself to be led. There
they are, sleeping in a row under their blue gauze tent, lighted by the
night-lamps burning before the altars of their ancestors. Ha! I observe
that they are arranged in an order which might give rise to gossip.
First comes Mademoiselle Oyouki, very taking in her attitude of rest!
Then Madame Prune, who sleeps with her mouth wide open, showing her rows
of blackened teeth; from her throat arises an intermittent sound like
the grunting of a sow. Oh! poor Madame Prune! how hideous she is!! Next,
M. Sucre, a mere mummy for the time being. And finally, at his side,
last of the row, is their servant, Mademoiselle Dede!

The gauze hanging over them throws reflections as of the sea upon them;
one might suppose them victims drowned in an aquarium. And withal the
sacred lamps, the altar crowded with strange Shintoist symbols, give a
mock religious air to this family tableau.

‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’, but why is not that maidservant rather laid
by the side of her mistresses? Now, when we on the floor above offer
our hospitality to Yves, we are careful to place ourselves under our
mosquito-net in a more correct style!

One corner, which as a last resort we inspect, inspires me with a
certain amount of apprehension. It is a low, mysterious loft, against
the door of which is stuck, as a thing no longer wanted, a very old,
pious image Kwanon with the thousand arms, and Kwanon with the horses’
head, seated among clouds and flames, both horrible to behold with their
spectral grins.

We open the door, and Chrysantheme starts back uttering a fearful cry. I
should have thought the robbers were there, had I not seen a little gray
creature, rapid and noiseless, rush by her and disappear; a young rat
that had been eating rice on the top of a shelf, and, in its alarm, had
dashed in her face.


September 16th.

Yves has let fall his silver whistle in the ocean, the whistle so
absolutely indispensable for the manoeuvres; and we search the town all
day long, followed by Chrysantheme and Mesdemoiselles La Neige and La
Lune, her sisters, in the endeavor to find another.

It is, however, very difficult to find such a thing in Nagasaki; above
all, very difficult to explain in Japanese what is a sailor’s whistle
of the traditional shape, curved, and with a little ball at the end to
modulate the trills and the various sounds of official orders. For
three hours we are sent from shop to shop; at each one they pretend to
understand perfectly what is wanted and trace on tissue-paper, with a
paint-brush, the addresses of the shops where we shall without fail meet
with what we require. Away we go, full of hope, only to encounter some
fresh mystification, till our breathless djins get quite bewildered.

They understand admirably that we want a thing that will make a noise,
music, in short; thereupon they offer us instruments of every, and
of the most unexpected, shape--squeakers for Punch-and-Judy voices,
dog-whistles, trumpets. Each time it is something more and more absurd,
so that at last we are overcome with uncontrollable fits of laughter.
Last of all, an aged Japanese optician, who assumes a most knowing
air, a look of sublime wisdom, goes off to forage in his back shop, and
brings to light a steam fog-horn, a relict from some wrecked steamer.

After dinner, the chief event of the evening is a deluge of rain, which
takes us by surprise as we leave the teahouses, on our return from our
fashionable stroll. It so happened that we were a large party, having
with us several mousme guests, and from the moment that the rain began
to fall from the skies, as if out of a watering-pot turned upside down,
the band became disorganized. The mousmes run off, with bird-like cries,
and take refuge under doorways, in the shops, under the hoods of the

Then, before long-when the shops shut up in haste, when the emptied
streets are flooded, and almost black, and the paper lanterns, piteous
objects, wet through and extinguished--I find myself, I know not how it
happens, flattened against a wall, under the projecting eaves, alone in
the company of Mademoiselle Fraise, my cousin, who is crying bitterly
because her fine robe is wet through. And in the noise of the rain,
which is still falling, and splashing everything with the spouts and
gutters, which in the darkness plaintively murmur like running streams,
the town appears to me suddenly an abode of the gloomiest sadness.

The shower is soon over, and the mousmes come out of their holes like so
many mice; they look for one another, call one another, and their little
voices take the singular, melancholy, dragging inflections they assume
whenever they have to call from afar.

“Hi! Mademoiselle Lu-u-u-u-une!”

“Hi! Madame Jonqui-i-i-i-ille!”

They shout from one to another their outlandish names, prolonging them
indefinitely in the now silent night, in the reverberations of the damp
air after the great summer rain.

At length they are all collected and united again, these tiny personages
with narrow eyes and no brains, and we return to Diou-djen-dji all wet

For the third time, we have Yves sleeping beside us under our blue tent.

There is a great noise shortly after midnight in the apartment
beneath us: our landlord’s family have returned from a pilgrimage to a
far-distant temple of the Goddess of Grace. (Although Madame Prune is a
Shintoist, she reveres this deity, who, scandal says, watched over her
youth.) A moment after, Mademoiselle Oyouki bursts into our room like a
rocket, bringing, on a charming little tray, sweetmeats which have been
blessed and bought at the gates of the temple yonder, on purpose for us,
and which we must positively eat at once, before the virtue is gone
out of them. Hardly rousing ourselves, we absorb these little edibles
flavored with sugar and pepper, and return a great many sleepy thanks.

Yves sleeps quietly on this occasion, without dealing any blows to the
floor or the panels with either fists or feet. He has hung his watch on
one of the hands of our gilded idol in order to be more sure of seeing
the hour at any time of the night, by the light of the sacred lamps. He
gets up betimes in the morning, asking: “Well, did I behave properly?”
 and dresses in haste, preoccupied about duty and the roll-call.

Outside, no doubt, it is daylight already: through the tiny holes
which time has pierced in our wooden panels, threads of morning light
penetrate our chamber, and in the atmosphere of our room where night
still lingers, they trace vague white rays. Soon, when the sun shall
have risen, these rays will lengthen and become beautifully golden. The
cocks and the cicalas make themselves heard, and now Madame Prune will
begin her mystic drone.

Nevertheless, out of politeness for Yves-San, Chrysantheme lights a
lantern and escorts him to the foot of the dark staircase. I even
fancy that, on parting, I hear a kiss exchanged. In Japan this is of no
consequence, I know; it is very usual, and quite admissible; no matter
where one goes, in houses one enters for the first time, one is quite at
liberty to kiss any mousme who may be present, without any notice being
taken of it. But with regard to Chrysantheme, Yves is in a delicate
position, and he ought to understand it better. I begin to feel uneasy
about the hours they have so often spent together alone; and I make up
my mind that this very day I will not play the spy upon them, but speak
frankly to Yves, and make a clean breast of it.

Suddenly from below, clac! clac! two dry hands are clapped together; it
is Madame Prune’s warning to the Great Spirit. And immediately after
her prayer breaks forth, soars upward in a shrill nasal falsetto, like
a morning alarum when the hour for waking has come, the mechanical noise
of a spring let go and running down.

“... The richest woman in the world! Cleansed from all my sins, O
Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami! in the river of Kamo.”

And this extraordinary bleating, hardly human, scatters and changes my
ideas, which were very nearly clear at the moment I awoke.


September 15th.

Rumor of departure is in the air. Since yesterday there has been vague
talk of our being sent to China, to the Gulf of Pekin; one of those
rumors which spread, no one knows how, from one end of the ship to the
other, two or three days before the official orders arrive, and which
usually turn out tolerably correct. What will the last act of my little
Japanese comedy be? the denouement, the separation? Will there be
any touch of sadness on the part of my mousme, or on my own, just a
tightening of the heartstrings at the moment of our final farewell? At
this moment I can imagine nothing of the sort. And then the adieus of
Yves and Chrysantheme, what will they be? This question preoccupies me
more than all.

Nothing very definite has been learned as yet, but it is certain that,
one way or another, our stay in Japan is drawing to a close. It is
this, perhaps, which disposes me this evening to look more kindly on my
surroundings. It is about six o’clock, after a day spent on duty, when
I reach Diou-djen-dji. The evening sun, low in the sky, on the point
of setting, pours into my room, and floods it with rays of red gold,
lighting up the Buddhas and the great sheaves of quaintly arranged
flowers in the antique vases. Here are assembled five or six little
dolls, my neighbors, amusing themselves by dancing to the sound of
Chrysantheme’s guitar. And this evening I experienced a real charm in
feeling that this dwelling and the woman who leads the dance are mine.
On the whole, I have perhaps been unjust to this country; it seems to me
that my eyes are at last opened to see it in its true light, that all my
senses are undergoing a strange and abrupt transition. I suddenly have a
better perception and appreciation of all the infinity of dainty trifles
among which I live; of the fragile and studied grace of their forms, the
oddity of their drawings, the refined choice of their colors.

I stretch myself upon the white mats; Chrysantheme, always eagerly
attentive, brings me my pillow of serpent’s-skin; and the smiling
mousmes, with the interrupted rhythm of a while ago still running in
their heads, move around me with measured steps.

Their immaculate socks with the separate great toes make no noise;
nothing is heard, as they glide by, but a ‘froufrou’ of silken stuffs.
I find them all pleasant to look upon; their dollish air pleases me now,
and I fancy I have discovered what it is that gives it to them: it is
not only their round, inexpressive faces with eyebrows far removed from
the eyelids, but the excessive amplitude of their dress. With those
huge sleeves, it might be supposed they have neither back nor shoulders;
their delicate figures are lost in these wide robes, which float around
what might be little marionettes without bodies at all, and which would
slip to the ground of themselves were they not kept together midway,
about where a waist should be, by the wide silken sashes--a very
different comprehension of the art of dressing to ours, which endeavors
as much as possible to bring into relief the curves, real or false, of
the figure.

And then, how much I admire the flowers in our vases, arranged by
Chrysantheme, with her Japanese taste lotus-flowers, great, sacred
flowers of a tender, veined rose color, the milky rose-tint seen on
porcelain; they resemble, when in full bloom, great water-lilies, and
when only in bud might be taken for long pale tulips. Their soft but
rather cloying scent is added to that other indefinable odor of mousmes,
of yellow race, of Japan, which is always and everywhere in the air. The
late flowers of September, at this season very rare and expensive, grow
on longer stems than the summer blooms; Chrysantheme has left them in
their large aquatic leaves of a melancholy seaweed-green, and mingled
with them tall, slight rushes. I look at them, and recall with some
irony those great round bunches in the shape of cauliflowers, which our
florists sell in France, wrapped in white lace-paper!

Still no letters from Europe, from any one. How things change, become
effaced and forgotten! Here am I, accommodating myself to this finical
Japan and dwindling down to its affected mannerism; I feel that
my thoughts run in smaller grooves, my tastes incline to smaller
things-things which suggest nothing greater than a smile. I am becoming
used to tiny and ingenious furniture, to doll-like desks, to miniature
bowls with which to play at dinner, to the immaculate monotony of the
mats, to the finely finished simplicity of the white woodwork. I am even
losing my Western prejudices; all my preconceived ideas are this evening
evaporating and vanishing; crossing the garden I have courteously
saluted M. Sucre, who was watering his dwarf shrubs and his deformed
flowers; and Madame Prune appears to me a highly respectable old lady,
in whose past there is nothing to criticise.

We shall take no walk to-night; my only wish is to remain stretched out
where I am, listening to the music of my mousme’s ‘chamecen’.

Till now I have always used the word guitar, to avoid exotic terms,
for the abuse of which I have been so reproached. But neither the word
guitar nor mandolin suffices to designate this slender instrument with
its long neck, the high notes of which are shriller than the voice of
the grasshopper; and henceforth, I will write ‘chamecen’.

I will also call my mousme Kikou, Kikou-San; this name suits her better
than Chrysantheme, which, though translating the sense exactly, does not
preserve the strange-sounding euphony of the original.

I therefore say to Kikou, my wife:

“Play, play on for me; I shall remain here all the evening and listen to

Astonished to find me in so amiable a mood, she requires pressing a
little, and with almost a bitter curve of triumph and disdain upon her
lips, she seats herself in the attitude of an idol, raises her long,
dark-colored sleeves, and begins. The first hesitating notes are
murmured faintly and mingle with the music of the insects humming
outside, in the quiet air of the warm and golden twilight. First she
plays slowly, a confused medley of fragments which she does not seem to
remember perfectly, of which one waits for the finish and waits in
vain; while the other girls giggle, inattentive, and regretful of their
interrupted dance. She herself is absent, sulky, as if she were only
performing a duty.

Then by degrees, little by little, the music becomes more animated, and
the mousmes begin to listen. Now, tremblingly, it grows into a feverish
rapidity, and her gaze has no longer the vacant stare of a doll. Then
the music changes again; in it there is the sighing of the wind, the
hideous laughter of ghouls; tears, heartrending plaints, and her
dilated pupils seem to be directed inwardly in settled gaze on some
indescribable Japanesery within her own soul.

I listen, lying there with eyes half shut, looking out between
my drooping eyelids, which are gradually lowering, in involuntary
heaviness, upon the enormous red sun dying away over Nagasaki. I have
a somewhat melancholy feeling that my past life and all other places in
the world are receding from my view and fading away. At this moment
of nightfall I feel almost at home in this corner of Japan, amidst the
gardens of this suburb. I never have had such an impression before.


September 16th.

Seven o’clock in the evening. We shall not go down into Nagasaki
tonight; but, like good Japanese citizens, remain in our lofty suburb.

In undress uniform we shall go, Yves and I, in a neighborly way, as far
as the fencing-gallery, which is only two steps away, just above our
villa, and almost abutting on our fresh and scented garden.

The gallery is closed already, and a little mousko, seated at the door,
explains, with many low bows, that we come too late, all the amateurs
are gone; we must come again tomorrow.

The evening is so mild and fine that we remain out of doors, following,
without any definite purpose, the pathway which rises ever higher
and higher, and loses itself at length in the solitary regions of the
mountain among the upper peaks.

For an hour at least we wander on--an unintended walk--and finally find
ourselves at a great height commanding an endless perspective lighted by
the last gleams of daylight; we are in a desolate and mournful spot, in
the midst of the little Buddhist cemeteries, which are scattered over
the country in every direction.

We meet a few belated laborers, who are returning from the fields with
bundles of tea upon their shoulders. These peasants have a half-savage
air. They are half naked, too, or clothed only in long robes of blue
cotton; as they pass, they salute us with humble bows.

No trees in this elevated region. Fields of tea alternate with tombs:
old granite statues which represent Buddha in his lotus, or else old
monumental stones on which gleam remains of inscriptions in golden
letters. Rocks, brushwood, uncultivated spaces, surround us on all

We meet no more passers-by, and the light is failing. We will halt for a
moment, and then it will be time to turn our steps homeward.

But, close to the spot where we stand, a box of white wood provided with
handles, a sort of sedan-chair, rests on the freshly disturbed earth,
with its lotus of silvered paper, and the little incense-sticks, burning
yet, by its side; clearly some one has been buried here this very

I can not picture this personage to myself; the Japanese are so
grotesque in life that it is almost impossible to imagine them in the
calm majesty of death. Nevertheless, let us move farther on, we might
disturb him; he is too recently dead, his presence unnerves us. We
will go and seat ourselves on one of these other tombs, so unutterably
ancient that there can no longer be anything within it but dust. And
there, seated in the dying sunlight, while the valleys and plains of the
earth below are already lost in shadow, we will talk together.

I wish to speak to Yves about Chrysantheme; it is indeed somewhat in
view of this that I have persuaded him to sit down; but how to set about
it without hurting his feelings, and without making myself ridiculous,
I hardly know. However, the pure air playing round me up here, and the
magnificent landscape spread beneath my feet, impart a certain serenity
to my thoughts which makes me feel a contemptuous pity, both for my
suspicions and the cause of them.

We speak, first of all, of the order for departure, which may arrive at
any moment, for China or for France. Soon we shall have to leave this
easy and almost amusing life, this Japanese suburb where chance has
installed us, and our little house buried among flowers. Yves perhaps
will regret all this more than I. I know that well enough; for it is the
first time that any such interlude has broken the rude monotony of his
hard-worked career. Formerly, when in an inferior rank, he was
hardly more often on shore, in foreign countries, than the sea-gulls
themselves; while I, from the very beginning, have been spoiled by
residence in all sorts of charming spots, infinitely superior to
this, in all sorts of countries, and the remembrance still haunts me

In order to discover how the land lies, I risk the remark:

“You will perhaps be more sorry to leave little Chrysantheme than I.”

Silence reigns between us.

After which I go on, and, burning my ships, I add:

“You know, after all, if you have such a fancy for her, I haven’t really
married her; one can’t really consider her my wife.”

In great surprise he looks in my face.

“Not your wife, you say? But, by Jove, though, that’s just it; she is
your wife.”

There is no need of many words at any time between us two; I know
exactly now, by his tone, by his great good-humored smile, how the case
stands; I understand all that lies in the little phrase: “That’s just
it, she is your wife.” If she were not, well, then, he could not answer
for what might happen--notwithstanding any remorse he might have in the
depths of his heart, since he is no longer a bachelor and free as air,
as in former days. But he considers her my wife, and she is sacred. I
have the fullest faith in his word, and I experience a positive relief,
a real joy, at finding my stanch Yves of bygone days. How could I have
so succumbed to the demeaning influence of my surroundings as to suspect
him even, and to invent for myself such a mean, petty anxiety?

We never shall even mention that doll again.

We remain up there very late, talking of other things, gazing at the
immense depths below, at the valleys and mountains as they become, one
by one, indistinct and lost in the deepening darkness. Placed as we are
at an enormous height, in the wide, free atmosphere, we seem already
to have quitted this miniature country, already to be freed from the
impression of littleness which it has given us, and from the little
links by which it was beginning to bind--us to itself.

Seen from such heights as these, all the countries of the globe bear a
strong resemblance to one another; they lose the imprint made upon them
by man, and by races; by all the atoms swarming on the surface.

As of old, in the Breton marshes, in the woods of Toulven, or at sea
in the night-watches, we talk of all those things to which thoughts
naturally revert in darkness; of ghosts, of spirits, of eternity, of the
great hereafter, of chaos--and we entirely forget little Chrysantheme!

When we arrive at Diou-djen-dji in the starry night, the music of
her ‘chamecen’, heard from afar, recalls to us her existence; she is
studying some vocal duet with Mademoiselle Oyouki, her pupil.

I feel myself in very good humor this evening, and, relieved from my
absurd suspicions about my poor Yves, am quite disposed to enjoy without
reserve my last days in Japan, and to derive therefrom all the amusement

Let us then repose ourselves on the dazzling white mats, and listen to
the singular duet sung by those two mousmes: a strange musical
medley, slow and mournful, beginning with two or three high notes, and
descending at each couplet, in an almost imperceptible manner, into
actual solemnity. The song keeps its dragging slowness; but the
accompaniment, becoming more and more accentuated, is like the impetuous
sound of a far-off hurricane. At the end, when these girlish
voices, usually so soft, give out their hoarse and guttural notes,
Chrysantheme’s hands fly wildly and convulsively over the quivering
strings. Both of them lower their heads, pout their underlips in the
effort to bring out these astonishingly deep notes. And at these
moments their little narrow eyes open, and seem to reveal an unexpected
something, almost a soul, under these trappings of marionettes.

But it is a soul which more than ever appears to me of a different
species from my own; I feel my thoughts to be as far removed from theirs
as from the flitting conceptions of a bird, or the dreams of a monkey;
I feel there is between them and myself a great gulf, mysterious and

Other sounds of music, wafted to us from the distance, interrupt for a
moment those of our mousmes. From the depths below, in Nagasaki, arises
a sudden noise of gongs and guitars; we rush to the balcony of the
veranda to hear it better.

It is a ‘matsouri’, a fete, a procession passing through the quarter
which is not so virtuous as our own, so our mousmes tell us, with a
disdainful toss of the head. Nevertheless, from the heights on which
we dwell, seen thus in a bird’s-eye view, by the uncertain light of the
stars, this district has a singularly chaste air, and the concert going
on therein, purified in its ascent from the depths of the abyss to
our lofty altitudes, reaches us confusedly, a smothered, enchanted,
enchanting sound.

Then it diminishes, and dies away into silence.

The two little friends return to their seats on the mats, and once more
take up their melancholy duet. An orchestra, discreetly subdued but
innumerable, of crickets and cicalas, accompanies them in an unceasing
tremolo--the immense, far-reaching tremolo, which, gentle and eternal,
never ceases in Japan.


September 17th

At the hour of siesta, a peremptory order arrives to start tomorrow for
China, for Tche-fou (a terrible place, in the gulf of Pekin). Yves comes
to wake me in my cabin to bring me the news.

“I must positively get leave to go on shore this evening,” he says,
while I endeavor to shake myself awake, “if it is only to help you to
dismantle and pack up.”

He gazes through my port-hole, raising his glance toward the green
summits, in the direction of Diou-djen-dji and our echoing old cottage,
hidden from us by a turn of the mountain.

It is very nice of him to wish to help me in my packing; but I think
he counts also upon saying farewell to his little Japanese friends up
there, and I really can not find fault with that.

He finishes his work, and does in fact obtain leave, without help from
me, to go on shore at five o’clock, after drill and manoeuvres.

As for myself I start at once, in a hired sampan. In the vast flood
of midday sunshine, to the quivering noise of the cicalas, I mount to

The paths are solitary, the plants are drooping in the heat.
Here, however, is Madame Jonquille, taking the air in the bright,
grasshoppers’ sunshine, sheltering her dainty figure and her charming
face under an enormous paper parasol, a huge circle, closely ribbed and
fantastically striped.

She recognizes me from afar, and, laughing as usual, runs to meet me.

I announce our departure, and a tearful pout suddenly contracts her
childish face. After all, does this news grieve her? Is she about to
shed tears over it? No! it turns to a fit of laughter, a little nervous
perhaps, but unexpected and disconcerting--dry and clear, pealing
through the silence and warmth of the narrow paths, like a cascade of
little mock pearls.

Ah, there indeed is a marriage-tie which will be broken without much
pain! But she fills me with impatience, poor empty-headed linnet, with
her laughter, and I turn my back upon her to continue my journey.

Above-stairs, Chrysantheme sleeps, stretched out on the floor; the house
is wide open, and the soft mountain breeze rustles gently through it.

That same evening we had intended to give a tea-party, and by my orders
flowers had already been placed in every nook and corner of the house.
There were lotus in our vases, beautifully colored lotus, the last of
the season, I verily believe. They must have been ordered from a special
gardener, out yonder near the Great Temple, and they will cost me dear.

With a few gentle taps of a fan I awake my surprised mousme; and,
curious to catch her first impressions, I announce my departure. She
starts up, rubs her eyelids with the backs of her little hands, looks at
me, and hangs her head: something like an expression of sadness passes
in her eyes.

This little sinking at the heart is for Yves, no doubt!

The news spreads through the house.

Mademoiselle Oyouki dashes upstairs, with half a tear in each of her
babyish eyes; kisses me with her full red lips, which always leave a wet
ring on my cheek; then quickly draws from her wide sleeve a square of
tissue-paper, wipes away her stealthy tears, blows her little nose,
rolls the bit of paper in a ball, and throws it into the street on the
parasol of a passer-by.

Then Madame Prune makes her appearance; in an agitated and discomposed
manner she successively adopts every attitude expressive of dismay. What
on earth is the matter with the old lady, and why does she keep getting
closer and closer to me, till she is almost in my way?

It is wonderful to think of all that I still have to do this last day,
and the endless drives I have to make to the old curiosity-shops, to my
tradespeople, and to the packers.

Nevertheless, before my rooms are dismantled, I intend making a sketch
of them, as I did formerly at Stamboul. It really seems to me as if all
I do here is a bitter parody of all I did over there.

This time, however, it is not that I care for this dwelling; it is only
because it is pretty and uncommon, and the sketch will be an interesting

I fetch, therefore, a leaf out of my album, and begin at once, seated
on the floor and leaning on my desk, ornamented with grasshoppers in
relief, while behind me, very, very close to me, the three women follow
the movements of my pencil with astonished attention. Japanese art being
entirely conventional, they have never before seen any one draw from
nature, and my style delights them. I may not perhaps possess the steady
and nimble touch of M. Sucre, as he groups his charming storks, but I am
master of a few notions of perspective which are wanting in him; and I
have been taught to draw things as I see them, without giving them an
ingeniously distorted and grimacing attitudes; and the three Japanese
are amazed at the air of reality displayed in my sketch.

With little shrieks of admiration, they point out to one another the
different things, as little by little their shape and form are outlined
in black on my paper. Chrysantheme gazes at me with a new kind of
interest “Anata itchiban!” she says (literally “Thou first!” meaning:
“You are really quite wonderful!”)

Mademoiselle Oyouki is carried away by her admiration, and exclaims, in
a burst of enthusiasm:

“Anata bakari!” (“Thou alone!” that is to say: “There is no one like you
in the world, all the rest are mere rubbish!”)

Madame Prune says nothing, but I can see that she does not think the
less; her languishing attitudes, her hand that at each moment gently
touches mine, confirm the suspicions that her look of dismay a few
moments ago awoke within me: evidently my physical charms speak to her
imagination, which in spite of years has remained full of romance! I
shall leave with the regret of having understood her too late!

Although the ladies are satisfied with my sketch, I am far from being
so. I have put everything in its place most exactly, but as a whole,
it has an ordinary, indifferent, French look which does not suit. The
sentiment is not given, and I almost wonder whether I should not have
done better to falsify the perspective--Japanese style--exaggerating to
the very utmost the already abnormal outlines of what I see before me.
And then the pictured dwelling lacks the fragile look and its sonority,
that reminds one of a dry violin. In the pencilled delineation of the
woodwork, the minute delicacy with which it is wrought is wanting;
neither have I been able to give an idea of the extreme antiquity, the
perfect cleanliness, nor the vibrating song of the cicalas that seems
to have been stored away within it, in its parched-up fibres, during
hundreds of summers. It does not convey, either, the impression this
place gives of being in a far-off suburb, perched aloft among trees,
above the drollest of towns. No, all this can not be drawn, can not be
expressed, but remains undemonstrable, indefinable.

Having sent out our invitations, we shall, in spite of everything, give
our tea-party this evening--a parting tea, therefore, in which we shall
display as much pomp as possible. It is, moreover, rather my custom to
wind up my exotic experiences with a fete; in other countries I have
done the same.

Besides our usual set, we shall have my mother-in-law, my relatives,
and all the mousmes of the neighborhood. But, by an extra Japanese
refinement, we shall not admit a single European friend--not even the
“amazingly tall” one. Yves alone shall be admitted, and even he shall be
hidden away in a corner behind some flowers and works of art.

In the last glimmer of twilight, by the light of the first twinkling
star, the ladies, with many charming curtseys, make their appearance.
Our house is soon full of the little crouching women, with their tiny
slit eyes vaguely smiling; their beautifully dressed hair shining like
polished ebony; their fragile bodies lost in the many folds of the
exaggerated, wide garments, that gape as if ready to drop from their
little tapering backs and reveal the exquisite napes of their little

Chrysantheme, with somewhat a melancholy air, and my mother-in-law,
Madame Renoncule, with many affected graces busy themselves in the midst
of the different groups, where ere long the miniature pipes are lighted.
Soon there arises a murmuring sound of discreet laughter, expressing
nothing, but having a pretty exotic ring about it, and then begins a
harmony of tap! tap! tap!--sharp, rapid taps against the edges of the
finely lacquered smoking-boxes. Pickled and spiced fruits are handed
round on trays of quaint and varied shapes. Then transparent china
teacups, no larger than half an egg-shell, make their appearance, and
the ladies are offered a few drops of sugarless tea, poured out of toy
kettles, or a sip of ‘saki’--(a spirit made from rice which it is the
custom to serve hot, in elegantly shaped vases, long-necked like a
heron’s throat).

Several mousmes execute, one after another, improvisations on
the ‘chamecen’. Others sing in sharp, high voices, hopping about
continually, like cicalas in delirium.

Madame Prune, no longer able to make a mystery of the long-pent
up feelings that agitate her, pays me the most marked and tender
attentions, and begs my acceptance of a quantity of little souvenirs: an
image, a little vase, a little porcelain goddess of the moon in Satsuma
ware, a marvellously grotesque ivory figure;--I tremblingly follow her
into the dark corners whither she calls me to give me these presents in

About nine o’clock, with a silken rustling, arrive the three geishas in
vogue in Nagasaki: Mesdemoiselles Purete, Orange, and Printemps, whom I
have hired at four dollars each--an enormous price in this country.

These three geishas are indeed the very same little creatures I heard
singing on the rainy day of my arrival, through the thin panelling of
the Garden of Flowers. But as I have now become thoroughly Japanized,
today they appear to me more diminutive, less outlandish, and in no way
mysterious. I treat them rather as dancers that I have hired, and the
idea that I ever had thought of marrying one of them now makes me shrug
my shoulders--as it formerly made M. Kangourou.

The excessive heat caused by the respiration of the mousmes and the
burning lamps, brings out the perfume of the lotus, which fills the
heavy-laden atmosphere; and the scent of camellia-oil, which the ladies
use in profusion to make their hair glisten, is also strong in the room.

Mademoiselle Orange, the youngest geisha, tiny and dainty, her lips
outlined with gilt paint, executes some delightful steps, donning the
most extraordinary wigs and masks of wood or cardboard. She has masks
imitating old, noble ladies which are valuable works of art, signed by
well-known artists. She has also magnificent long robes, fashioned in
the old style, with trains trimmed at the bottom with thick pads,
in order to give to the movements of the costume something rigid and
unnatural which, however, is becoming.

Now the soft balmy breezes blow through the room, from one veranda to
the other, making the flames of the lamps flicker. They scatter the
lotus flowers faded by the artificial heat, which, falling in pieces
from every vase, sprinkle the guests with their pollen and large pink
petals, looking like bits of broken, opal-colored glass.

The sensational piece, reserved for the end, is a trio on the
‘chamecen’, long and monotonous, that the geishas perform as a rapid
pizzicato on the highest strings, very sharply struck. It sounds like
the very quintessence, the paraphrase, the exasperation, if I may so
call it, of the eternal buzz of insects, which issues from the trees,
old roofs, old walls, from everything in fact, and which is the
foundation of all Japanese sounds.

Half-past ten! The programme has been carried out, and the reception is
over. A last general tap! tap! tap! the little pipes are stowed away
in their chased sheaths, tied up in the sashes, and the mousmes rise to

They light, at the end of short sticks, a quantity of red, gray, or blue
lanterns, and after a series of endless bows and curtseys, the guests
disperse in the darkness of the lanes and trees.

We also go down to the town, Yves, Chrysantheme, Oyouki and I--in order
to conduct my mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and my youthful aunt,
Madame Nenufar, to their house.

We wish to take one last stroll together in our old familiar
pleasure-haunts, to drink one more iced sherbet at the house of the
Indescribable Butterflies, buy one more lantern at Madame Tres-Propre’s,
and eat some parting waffles at Madame L’Heure’s!

I try to be affected, moved, by this leave-taking, but without success.
In regard to Japan, as with the little men and women who inhabit it,
there is something decidedly wanting; pleasant enough as a mere pastime,
it begets no feeling of attachment.

On our return, when I am once more with Yves and the two mousmes
climbing up the road to Diou-djen-dji, which I shall probably never see
again, a vague feeling of melancholy pervades my last stroll.

It is, however, but the melancholy inseparable from all things that are
about to end without possibility of return.

Moreover, this calm and splendid summer is also drawing to a close for
us-since to-morrow we shall go forth to meet the autumn, in Northern
China. I am beginning, alas! to count the youthful summers I may still
hope for; I feel more gloomy each time another fades away, and flies to
rejoin the others already disappeared in the dark and bottomless abyss,
where all past things lie buried.

At midnight we return home, and my removal begins; while on board the
“amazingly tall friend” kindly takes my watch.

It is a nocturnal, rapid, stealthy removal--“doyobo (thieves) fashion,”
 remarks Yves, who in visiting the mousmes has picked up a smattering of
the Nipponese language.

Messieurs the packers have, at my request, sent in the evening several
charming little boxes, with compartments and false bottoms, and several
paper bags (in the untearable Japanese paper), which close of themselves
and are fastened by strings, also in paper, arranged beforehand in the
most ingenious manner--quite the cleverest and most handy thing of its
kind; for little useful trifles these people are unrivalled.

It is a real treat to pack them, and everybody lends a helping
hand--Yves, Chrysantheme, Madame Prune, her daughter, and M. Sucre. By
the glimmer of the reception-lamps, which are still burning, every one
wraps, rolls, and ties up expeditiously, for it is already late.

Although Oyouki has a heavy heart, she can not prevent herself from
indulging in a few bursts of childish laughter while she works.

Madame Prune, bathed in tears, no longer restrains her feelings; poor
old lady, I really very much regret....

Chrysantheme is absent-minded and silent.

But what a fearful amount of luggage! Eighteen cases or parcels,
containing Buddhas, chimeras, and vases, without mentioning the last
lotus that I carry away tied up in a pink cluster.

All this is piled up in the djins’ carts, hired at sunset, which are
waiting at the door, while their runners lie asleep on the grass.

A starlit and exquisite night. We start off with lighted lanterns,
followed by the three sorrowful ladies who accompany us, and by abrupt
slopes, dangerous in the darkness, we descend toward the sea.

The djins, stiffening their muscular legs, hold back with all their
might the heavily loaded little cars which would run down by themselves
if let alone, and that so rapidly that they would rush into empty space
with my most valuable chattels. Chrysantheme walks by my side,
and expresses, in a soft and winning manner, her regret that the
“wonderfully tall friend” did not offer to replace me for the whole of
my night-watch, as that would have allowed me to spend this last night,
even till morning, under our roof.

“Listen!” she says, “come back to-morrow in the daytime, before getting
under way, to bid one good-by; I shall not return to my mother until
evening; you will find me still up there.”

And I promise.

They stop at a certain turn, whence we have a bird’s-eye view of the
whole harbor. The black, stagnant waters reflect innumerable distant
fires, and the ships--tiny, immovable objects, which, seen from our
point of view, take the shape of fish, seem also to slumber,--little
objects which serve to bear us elsewhere, to go far away, and to forget.

The three ladies are about to turn back home, for the night is already
far advanced and, farther down, the cosmopolitan quarters near the quays
are not safe at this unusual hour.

The moment has therefore come for Yves--who will not land again--to make
his last tragic farewells to his friends the little mousmes.

I am very curious to see the parting between Yves and Chrysantheme; I
listen with all my ears, I look with all my eyes, but it takes place in
the simplest and quietest fashion: none of that heartbreaking which
will be inevitable between Madame Prune and myself; I even notice in my
mousme an indifference, an unconcern which puzzles me; I positively am
at a loss to understand what it all means.

And I muse as I continue to descend toward the sea. “Her appearance of
sadness was not, therefore, on Yves’s account. On whose, then?” and the
phrase runs through my head:

“Come back to-morrow before setting sail, to bid me goodby; I shall not
return to my mother until evening; you will find me still up there.”

Japan is indeed most delightful this evening, so fresh and so sweet; and
little Chrysantheme was very charming just now, as she silently walked
beside me through the darkness of the lane.

It is about two o’clock when we reach the ‘Triomphante’ in a hired
sampan, where I have heaped up all my cases till there is danger of
sinking. The “very tall friend” gives over to me the watch that I must
keep till four o’clock; and the sailors on duty, but half awake, make a
chain in the darkness, to haul on board all my fragile luggage.


September 18th.

I intended to sleep late this morning, in order to make up for my lost
sleep of last night.

But at eight o’clock three persons of the most extraordinary appearance,
led by M. Kangourou, present themselves with profound bows at the
door of my cabin. They are arrayed in long robes bedizened with dark
patterns; they have the flowing locks, high foreheads, and pallid
countenances of persons too exclusively devoted to the fine arts; and,
perched on the top of their coiffures, they wear sailor hats of English
shape tipped jauntily on one side. Tucked under their arms, they
carry portfolios filled with sketches; in their hands are boxes of
water-colors, pencils, and, bound together like fasces, a bundle of fine
stylets with the sharp and glittering points.

At the first glance, even in the bewilderment of waking up, I gather
from their appearance what their errand is, and guessing with what
visitors I have to deal, I say: “Come in, Messieurs the tattooers!”

These are the specialists most in renown in Nagasaki; I had engaged them
two days ago, not knowing that we were about to leave, and since they
are here I will not turn them away.

My friendly and intimate relations with primitive man, in Oceania and
elsewhere, have imbued me with a deplorable taste for tattoo-work; and I
had wished to carry away on my own person, as a curiosity, an ornament,
a specimen of the work of the Japanese tattooers, who have a delicacy of
finish which is unequalled.

From their albums spread out upon my table I make my choice. There are
some remarkably odd designs among them, appropriate to the different
parts of the human body: emblems for the arms and legs, sprays of roses
for the shoulders, great grinning faces for the middle of the back.
There are even, to suit the taste of their clients who belong to foreign
navies, trophies of arms, American and French flags entwined, a “God
Save the Queen” amid encircling stars, and figures of women taken from
Grevin’s sketches in the Journal Amusant.

My choice rests upon a singular blue and pink dragon two inches long,
which will have a fine effect upon my chest on the side opposite the

Then follows an hour and a half of irritation and positive pain.
Stretched out on my bunk and delivered over to the tender mercies
of these personages, I stiffen myself and submit to the million
imperceptible pricks they inflict. When by chance a little blood flows,
confusing the outline by a stream of red, one of the artists hastens to
stanch it with his lips, and I make no objections, knowing that this is
the Japanese manner, the method used by their doctors for the wounds of
both man and beast.

A piece of work, as minute and fine as that of an engraver upon stone,
is slowly executed on my person; and their lean hands harrow and worry
me with automatic precision.

Finally it is finished, and the tattooers, falling back with an air of
satisfaction to contemplate their work, declare it to be lovely.

I dress myself quickly to go on shore, to take advantage of my last
hours in Japan.

The heat is fearful to-day: the powerful September sun falls with a
certain melancholy upon the yellowing leaves; it is a day of clear
burning heat after an almost chilly morning.

As I did yesterday, I ascend to my lofty suburb, during the drowsy
noontime, by deserted pathways filled only with light and silence.

I noiselessly open the door of my dwelling, and enter cautiously on
tiptoe, for fear of Madame Prune.

At the foot of the staircase, upon the white mats, beside the little
sabots and tiny sandals which are always lying about in the vestibule,
a great array of luggage is ready for departure, which I recognize at
a glance-pretty, dark robes, familiar to my sight, carefully folded and
wrapped in blue towels tied at the four corners. I even fancy I feel a
little sad when I catch sight of a corner of the famous box of letters
and souvenirs peeping out of one of these bundles, in which my portrait
by Ureno now reposes among divers photographs of mousmes. A sort of
long-necked mandolin, also ready for departure, lies on the top of the
pile in its case of figured silk. It resembles the flitting of some
gipsy, or rather it reminds me of an engraving in a book of fables
I owned in my childhood: the whole thing is exactly like the slender
wardrobe and the long guitar which the cicala who had sung all the
summer, carried upon her back when she knocked at the door of her
neighbor the ant.

Poor little gipsy!

I mount the steps on tiptoe, and stop at the sound of singing that I
hear in my room.

It is undoubtedly Chrysantheme’s voice, and the song is quite cheerful!
This chills me and changes the current of my thoughts. I am almost sorry
I have taken the trouble to come.

Mingled with the song is a noise I can not understand: Chink! chink! a
clear metallic ring as of coins flung vigorously on the floor. I am
well aware that this vibrating house exaggerates every sound during the
silence of night; but all the same, I am puzzled to know what my mousme
can be doing. Chink! chink! is she amusing herself with quoits, or the
‘jeu du crapaud’, or pitch-and-toss?

Nothing of the kind! I fancy I have guessed, and I continue my upward
progress still more gently, on all fours, with the precautions of a red
Indian, to give myself for the last time the pleasure of surprising her.

She has not heard me come in. In our great white room, emptied and
swept out, where the clear sunshine pours in, and the soft wind, and the
yellowed leaves of the garden, she is sitting all alone, her back turned
to the door; she is dressed for walking, ready to go to her mother’s,
her rose-colored parasol beside her.

On the floor are spread out all the fine silver dollars which, according
to our agreement, I had given her the evening before. With the competent
dexterity of an old money-changer she fingers them, turns them over,
throws them on the floor, and, armed with a little mallet ad hoc, rings
them vigorously against her ear, singing the while I know not what
little pensive bird-like song which I daresay she improvises as she goes

Well, after all, it is even more completely Japanese than I could
possibly have imagined it--this last scene of my married life! I feel
inclined to laugh. How simple I have been, to allow myself to be taken
in by the few clever words she whispered yesterday, as she walked beside
me, by a tolerably pretty little phrase embellished as it was by
the silence of two o’clock in the morning, and all the wonderful
enchantments of night.

Ah! not more for Yves than for me, not more for me than for Yves, has
any feeling passed through that little brain, that little heart.

When I have looked at her long enough, I call:

“Hi! Chrysantheme!”

She turns confused, and reddening even to her ears at having been caught
at this work.

She is quite wrong, however, to be so much troubled, for I am, on
the contrary, delighted. The fear that I might be leaving her in some
sadness had almost given me a pang, and I infinitely prefer that this
marriage should end as it had begun, in a joke.

“That is a good idea of yours,” I say; “a precaution which should always
be taken in this country of yours, where so many evil-minded people are
clever in forging money. Make haste and get through it before I start,
and if any false pieces have found their way into the number, I will
willingly replace them.”

However, she refuses to continue before me, and I expected as much;
to do so would have been contrary to all her notions of politeness,
hereditary and acquired, all her conventionality, all her Japanesery.
With a disdainful little foot, clothed as usual in exquisite socks, with
a special hood for the great toe, she pushes away the piles of white
dollars and scatters them on the mats.

“We have hired a large, covered sampan,” she says to change the
conversation, “and we are all going together--Campanule, Jonquille,
Touki, all your mousmes--to watch your vessel set sail. Pray sit down
and stay a few minutes.”

“No, I really can not stay. I have several things to do in the town,
you see, and the order was given for every one to be on board by three
o’clock in time for muster before starting. Moreover, I would prefer
to escape, as you can imagine, while Madame Prune is still enjoying
her siesta; I should be afraid of being drawn into some corner, or of
provoking some heartrending parting scene.”

Chrysantheme bows her head and says no more, but seeing that I am really
going, rises to escort me.

Without speaking, without the slightest noise, she follows me as we
descend the staircase and cross the garden full of sunshine, where
the dwarf shrubs and the deformed flowers seem, like the rest of the
household, plunged in warm somnolence.

At the outer gate I stop for the last adieu: the little sad pout has
reappeared, more accentuated than ever, on Chrysantheme’s face; it is
the right thing, it is correct, and I should feel offended now were it

Well, little mousme, let us part good friends; one last kiss even, if
you like. I took you to amuse me; you have not perhaps succeeded very
well, but after all you have done what you could: given me your little
face, your little curtseys, your little music; in short, you have been
pleasant enough in your Japanese way. And who knows, perchance I may yet
think of you sometimes when I recall this glorious summer, these pretty,
quaint gardens, and the ceaseless concert of the cicalas.

She prostrates herself on the threshold of the door, her forehead
against the ground, and remains in this attitude of superlatively polite
salute as long as I am in sight, while I go down the pathway by which I
am to disappear for ever.

As the distance between us increases, I turn once or twice to look at
her again; but it is a mere civility, and meant to return as it deserves
her grand final salutation.


When I entered the town, at the turn of the principal street, I had
the good luck to meet Number 415, my poor relative. I was just at that
moment in want of a speedy djin, and I at once got into his vehicle;
besides, it was an alleviation to my feelings, in this hour of
departure, to take my last drive in company with a member of my family.

Unaccustomed as I was to be out of doors during the hours of siesta,
I had never yet seen the streets of the town thus overwhelmed by the
sunshine, thus deserted in the silence and solitary brilliancy peculiar
to all hot countries.

In front of all the shops hang white shades, adorned here and there with
slight designs in black, in the quaintness of which lurks I know not
what--something mysterious: dragons, emblems, symbolical figures. The
sky is too glaring; the light crude, implacable; never has this old
town of Nagasaki appeared to me so old, so worm-eaten, so bald,
notwithstanding all its veneer of new papers and gaudy paintings. These
little wooden houses, of such marvellous cleanly whiteness inside,
are black outside, timeworn, disjointed and grimacing. When one looks
closely, this grimace is to be found everywhere: in the hideous masks
laughing in the shop-fronts of the innumerable curio-shops; in the
grotesque figures, the playthings, the idols, cruel, suspicious, mad;
it is even found in the buildings: in the friezes of the religious
porticoes, in the roofs of the thousand pagodas, of which the angles and
cable-ends writhe and twist like the yet dangerous remains of ancient
and malignant beasts.

And the disturbing intensity of expression reigning over inanimate
nature, contrasts with the almost absolute blank of the human
countenance, with the smiling foolishness of the simple little folk who
meet one’s gaze, as they patiently carry on their minute trades in
the gloom of their tiny open-fronted houses. Workmen squatted on their
heels, carving with their imperceptible tools the droll or odiously
obscene ivory ornaments, marvellous cabinet curiosities which have
made Japan so famous with the European amateurs who have never seen it.
Unconscious artists tracing with steady hand on a background of lacquer
or of porcelain traditional designs learned by heart, or transmitted
to their brains by a process of heredity through thousands of years;
automatic painters, whose storks are similar to those of M. Sucre, with
the inevitable little rocks, or little butterflies eternally the same.
The least of these illuminators, with his insignificant, eyeless face,
possesses at his fingers’ ends the maximum of dexterity in this art of
decoration, light and wittily incongruous, which threatens to invade us
in France, in this epoch of imitative decadence, and which has become
the great resource of our manufacturers of cheap “objects of art.”

Is it because I am about to leave this country, because I have no longer
any link to bind me to it, any resting-place on its soil, that my spirit
is ready on the wing? I know not, but it seems to me I have never as
clearly seen and comprehended it as to-day. And more even than ever do
I find it little, aged, with wornout blood and worn-out sap; I feel more
fully its antediluvian antiquity, its centuries of mummification, which
will soon degenerate into hopeless and grotesque buffoonery, as it comes
into contact with Western novelties.

It is getting late; little by little, the siestas are everywhere coming
to an end; the queer little streets brighten up and begin to swarm in
the sunshine with manycolored parasols. Now begins the procession of
ugliness of the most impossible description--a procession of long-robed,
grotesque figures capped with pot-hats or sailors’ headgear. Business
transactions begin again, and the struggle for existence, close and
bitter here as in one of our own artisan quarters, but meaner and

At the moment of my departure, I find within myself only a smile of
careless mockery for the swarming crowd of this Lilliputian curtseying
people--laborious, industrious, greedy of gain, tainted with a
constitutional affectation, hereditary insignificance, and incurable

Poor cousin Number 415! how right I was to have held him in good esteem!
He was by far the best and most disinterested of my Japanese family.
When all my commissions are finished, he puts up his little vehicle
under a tree, and, much touched by my departure, insists upon escorting
me on board the ‘Triomphante’, to watch over my final purchases in the
sampan which conveys me to the ship, and to see them himself safely into
my cabin.

His, indeed, is the only hand I clasp with a really friendly feeling,
without a suppressed smile, on quitting Japan.

No doubt in this country, as in many others, there is more honest
friendship and less ugliness among the simple beings devoted to purely
physical work.

At five o’clock in the afternoon we set sail.

Along the line of the shore are two or three sampans; in them the
mousmes, shut up in the narrow cabins, peep at us through the tiny
windows, half hiding their faces on account of the sailors; these are
our wives, who have wished, out of politeness, to look upon us once

There are other sampans as well, in which other Japanese women are
also watching our departure. These stand upright, under great parasols
decorated with big black letters and daubed over with clouds of varied
and startling colors.


We move slowly out of the wide green bay. The groups of women grow
smaller in the distance. The country of round umbrellas with a thousand
ribs fades gradually from our sight.

Now the vast ocean opens before us, immense, colorless, solitary; a
solemn repose after so much that is too ingenious and too small.

The wooded mountains, the flowery capes disappear. And Japan remains
faithful to itself, with its picturesque rocks, its quaint islands
on which the trees tastefully arrange themselves in groups--studied,
perhaps, but charmingly pretty.


One evening, in my cabin, in the midst of the Yellow Sea, my eyes fall
upon the lotus-blossoms brought from Diou-djen-dji; they had
lasted several days; but now they are withered, and strew my carpet
pathetically with their pale pink petals.

I, who have carefully kept so many faded flowers, fallen, alas! into
dust, stolen here and there, at moments of parting in different parts
of the world; I, who have kept so many that the collection is now an
absurd, an indistinguishable herbarium--I try hard, but without success,
to awaken some sentiment for these lotus--and yet they are the last
living souvenirs of my summer at Nagasaki.

I pick them up, however, with a certain amount of consideration, and I
open my port-hole.

From the gray misty sky a strange light falls upon the waters; a dim and
gloomy twilight descends, yellowish upon this Yellow Sea. We feel that
we are moving northward, that autumn is approaching.

I throw the poor lotus into the boundless waste of waters, making them
my best excuses for consigning them, natives of Japan, to a grave so
solemn and so vast.

             An Appeal to the Gods

         Oama-Terace-Omi-Kami, wash me clean
          from this little marriage of mine,
         in the waters of the river of Kamo!


     Ah! the natural perversity of inanimate things
     Contemptuous pity, both for my suspicions and the cause of them
     Dull hours spent in idle and diffuse conversation
     Efforts to arrange matters we succeed often only in disarranging
     Found nothing that answered to my indefinable expectations
     Habit turns into a makeshift of attachment
     I know not what lost home that I have failed to find
     Irritating laugh which is peculiar to Japan
     Japanese habit of expressing myself with excessive politeness
     Ordinary, trivial, every-day objects
     Prayers swallowed like pills by invalids at a distance
     Seeking for a change which can no longer be found
     Trees, dwarfed by a Japanese process
     When the inattentive spirits are not listening
     Which I should find amusing in any one else,--any one I loved

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