Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 25

Unwelcome Guests

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; Chrysanthème 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 Chrysanthème’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 Chrysanthème, 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.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36