Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 36

My Naughty Doll

Tuesday, August 27th.

During this whole day we — Yves, Chrysanthème, 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, Chrysanthème, 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; Chrysanthème, 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 Chrysanthème 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, Chrysanthème 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 Chrysanthème’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 Chrysanthème 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. Chrysanthème 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.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57