Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 48

Unusual Hospitality

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 Chrysanthème 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 djins.

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 through.

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, Chrysanthème 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 Chrysanthème, 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.

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