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"Well, mainly because I 'm a junkheaded fool," I replied, this time acridly.
He looked slowly at me-at the braid and epaulets of my rather smart uniform, then at his squalor. The contrast was not pleasant, but he smiled, perhaps with amusement at the thought of the humiliation it would cause me, evidently a person without humor, to walk the tourist-thronged streets with him. The smile, though sardonic, was unspeakably wretched.
"As you please," he assented, a touch of mockery still left, for self-respect, in his bow; and we turned into the street.
He walked beside me with shame and yet with contemptuous enjoyment. Our way was past the rich curio-shops, displaying shadowy treasures of bronze, silver, and ivory. It took all Mrs. Neilson's attractions, I 'm willing to admit, to keep me from turning him loose with yen in his pocket, or at best from handing him over somehow to the care of the consulate.
But, with clothes obtained, he was at length seated before a substantial lunch on the balcony of my room at the hotel. The rain had ceased. The bund, with its moist human stream, flowed below. In the harbor were the tethered ships of many nations, swarmed about by sampans, and from my destroyer floated the beloved stars and stripes.
He ate and drank in silence. I stood with my back to him, looking over the sea I had been glad to get away from a few hours since, but that I now heartily wished myself back on, out of this irritating pother.
It had to be got over, however; so I turned. He was just finishing his whisky and soda, and was doubtless considering the particular tone in which to thank me, when I spoke.
"I don't know who you are, where you came from, or what you are doing in Yokohama," I began, with an intensity that made him stare, "but I 've got to ask you to be good enough to tell me where you wish to go."
This was not entirely impressive or tactful, as he was quick to see. He scanned me coolly; then his lip curled.
"Have I informed you," he replied quietly, "that I desire to change my residence? I 'm obliged to you, no doubt," he shrugged deprecatingly toward the empty dishes,-"but as I have only lately arrived in this delightful city-delightful, that is, to you," he added, with secret hatred in his eyes, "I don't see just why you are so particularly interested in my departure."
"Nor do I," I answered harshly, realizing that I must speak plainer. "But there is a reason, and I 've no doubt it's a good one."
His stare became more guarded, but there was only such doubt in his face as comes easily to those who distrust destiny at large.
"This is most interesting," he said with more elaborate irony, yet at the same time clenching an uncontrolled hand. "I've no love for this city, mind you; no more than you, a seaman, would have for a rotten ship in a China typhoon. I came here first fifteen And then, my friend, I happy, healthy, hopeful
years ago. was a lad, my God!"
He paused at the vision his words had unintentionally raised before him -paused as if it were a ghost ready to strangle him. I knew I must say more to get the scene over.
"Well, you must clear out," I growled, "and the sooner the better. If you lack money, all right. That's all I 've got to say, except that one can't hang around making women miserable."
"The woman with me this morning when I passed you was Mrs. Hilda Neilson."
It took a moment before the name got through the blankness of his stare; then he quivered as if a harpoon had suddenly been hooked in his heart, and a flood of horror surged over his face such horror, it seemed, as might break into any terrible passion.
"Hilda-Neilson?" fell from him, like slow drops of blood. "HildaNeilson?"
I stared in turn. The inner cause of his horror and anguish was of course unknown to me, but of one thing I be
came aware: the thought that he had stood there in his degradation begging of her, and had been recognized, was an overwhelming poison.
"God! God! God!" he exclaimed, gazing at me with the expression of one who has been diabolically betrayed, and not for the first time, by chance. Then, as if on the verge of hysteria, or at least with an indignation that made him writhe, he cried: "It's a lie. She lives in San Francisco. She would n't come back here. She would n't. Who
are you, anyway?"
His debilitated body shook from head to foot.
"I don't think she believed you would come back," I said. It was getting hard to keep pity and kindness out of my voice, for back of his ruin, I began to feel, was some calamity greater than mere infirmity of individual will. Life had sometimes a way of destroying us with subtle and impersonal mischances more relentless than our own folly.
His passion, however, was now caught up and torn by another thought.
"She sent you to me," he raged— "sent you with money left her by Howard Neilson, whom she never loved, never, though she did marry him! She sent you to get me out of town-out of sight. Brushing her skirts against a memory that has become bloated is n't, doubtless, to her taste."
I did not deny this. At the moment it would have been useless. His loud sense of betrayal was deafening him to any other possible interpretation.
"You, my gallant friend, may know nothing of all this, you who no doubt want to marry her yourself. But you shall know it, endure it. I came here, as I told you, fifteen years ago—came to marry Hilda Holt. Yes, I. We had been engaged for a year, and had written each other two, three, four times a week. It was April, the month set for the wedding, when I sailed from San Francisco. I was young," his voice broke, and irony dropped away from it as he added: "The Golden Gate seemed to me the very gate of heaven as our ship put out through it."
He paused. Undeniable sobs were on the point of breaking from him.
"She met me out there in the harbor; came on a tug. As it danced up and down on the waves, it seemed to me she was dancing with joy at seeing me. And perhaps she was inwardly; perhaps not. God! I don't know now. She was flushed, anyhow, and happy and beautiful, fatally beautiful. And yet she was restrained; she was Hilda Holt.
"My things were taken to the hotel and handed to the porter, an ivoryfaced villain who-but, no; wait till you have heard, to judge him. Then we went to Hilda's home to see her people.
"The streets seemed enchanted, for I'd never been out of America before, and our kuruma was double; so I sat close to her, as you did this morning. To live in this place, as I expected to, and to work for her among these little people, who seemed so pleasant and kindly-it suffocates me with despair as I recall it.
"Her people received me open-armed, as was right. They jested at my infatuation and about the wedding. Meanwhile we went out through the streets of little shops, whose blue-andwhite hangings, with Japanese characters on them, seemed to me like goodluck signs. Good luck? They are writhing serpents of hell to me now."
He reached for his empty whiskyglass and drained the few drops that had gathered at the bottom. The mere habit seemed to steady him.
"The third day Hilda was occupied with clothes. I was left alone at the hotel, with nothing to do. The charm of the land had already intoxicated me. It can, with almost any man. It soothes the senses, yet lures them. And the curst place does so with such quaintness and witchery of beautiful sights and sounds that he never thinks of evil or danger.
"An idea struck me that I would buy something for Hilda-something wonderful and unique; something that even the connoisseurs would gape at; something, too, for our home, which was to be built in Japanese fashion. For we intended to be real Orientals, Hilda and I did, with mats, shoji, kakemono, and all.
"I told the porter at the door that
I wanted a treasure of the rarest sort, and asked him to tell my kurumaya. I was young, and no doubt love and desire were rawly apparent in me. Perhaps that porter misunderstood me; perhaps he did n't. For years after I would have killed him at sight, anywhere, merely on the strength of the doubt."
He pushed the knife, unconsciously picked up from the table, away from him as he said it, and went on:
"My kurumaya quickly wheeled me away, off across the canal, where the fishermen sunned themselves in sampans, past Motomachi, up the hill,—you know the way,-and along the winding residence road leading to Mississippi Bay.
"The cherries were in bloom; bamboos swayed. I sat back, and crossed my legs. Flowers and miniature gardens were everywhere, as now, and those shady rocks the natives prize so.
"I was transported." He faltered. The bitterness and irony of years again fell from him, and it was easy to imagine him as he must have been, young, handsome, radiant, with a blissful future before him. "Yes, transported and in love. And I had been faithful, too, never untrue to Hilda, even in thought. Yet if desire was at work in me, was n't I a man? Anyhow, I drank in beauty at every pore, though being all the while in a sort of Nirvana."
Some hatred of the word, as he said it, brought him back to his present bitter self, from which, indeed, more than a moment's escape was impossible to him.
"My kurumaya had taken a direction away from the shopping district, but that did n't seem strange. What did it matter where I bought my gift? What did anything matter but the sunshine and enchantment, but the lure and sweetness of this precious land of the lotus, where I had come to marry Hilda?
"Well, before I knew it we were reaching the edge of the city; and again before I knew it my kurumaya had turned suddenly to the left into a little bamboo-walled garden, and had circled around a rocky pool and several
pine-trees in the center. There he stopped, hot, smiling, and panting, before a Japanese door, with its shoji thrown open. And inside"
Speech failed him again, and this time his head sank to his arms, which rested on the table. His face was twitching. When he lifted it to continue, he asked, with startling hopelessness, "Do you believe in freedom of the will?"
The question was evidently always at the bottom of his heart-and of his soul, which had been overthrown and betrayed. He did not wait for an
"Inside there stood a girl. That porter had, indeed, sent me to something rare. She was the aristocratic type of Japanese beauty, with long oval face, black hair done up in the geisha fashion, dreamy eyes-that kind. A kimono of light-rose silk hung, and fell open, from her shoulders. She was wonderful.
"She turned and smiled at me in the way Japanese women can, a submissive, irresistible smile. They get it, I suppose, through ages of wheedling their indifferent men.
'Please to come in?' she said. Then, when she saw clearly that I was taken by surprise and stood helpless before her beauty, 'Please to come up-stairs.'
"They were her only words of English, but as I followed, they seemed like a leash that at the moment I would rather have died than broken. She gave me food, sake, music on the koto, dancing-and herself.
"Yes," he went on almost fiercely, "herself. And Puritan as I was and am yet in belief, those two hours did not seem wrong, but only a part of the enchantment of the land."
This old insoluble perplexity of desire, somehow implanted, that yet can bring ruin-was, I fancy, much in his thought; but now he dismissed it with a sentence.
"Nature's trick is to punish us most when she tempted us most. We heard a sudden noise of voices down-stairs, and what seemed to be terrified denials from several inmates of the house. Then there were feet on the stairs, the shoji of our room were thrown open,
Hilda had turned to stone. She would not see or hear him, giving as a reason that unfaithfulness at the moment of marriage meant certain unfaithfulness afterward.
He had written pages of pleas for three months; his letters always came back. Oh, she was hard, frozen cruel, Hilda was, as only the proud can be. And then in six months she had married-she who had scorned marriage except for love!
He had gone away to Shanghai and into wild company. From Shanghai he went to Java and put the little money he had left in a coffee concern, which failed.
Then malaria had attacked him. He was for months in a Surabaya hospital, friendless and moneyless. When he got up he was too done for to work; and he wanted liquor, wanted it badly, to forget.
Only a step remained from that to becoming a beach-comber, to drifting here, there, anywhere, helped from time to time by a little money borrowed, begged, or earned; for he would not appeal to his people. Then he had come back to Yokohama with the promise in a month's time of a job. It was a last chance for him. An old friend was on the way from San Francisco, one who might help him.
I heard him out, and ordered more whisky, loath as I was to do so. When he had drunk it at a gulp, I could speak.
"I don't know," I said, "whether character is destiny, as we 've heard it contended, but destiny is often enough hell. And as it has been so for you, Lowry, I don't mind saying I'm sorry. In fact, as I 'm a man myself, you have as much of my sympathy in this matter as Mrs. Neilson. Nevertheless, you must leave Yokohama."
He took this, looking hard at me, and wiping his drink-swollen lips in the habitual way. An understanding of man to man passed slowly between us.
He rose silently and looked around the room, as if not only Yokohama streets, but indeed the whole world, were stark prison-walls for him. Then his gaze went far away out the window, past the ships and the sea, to another world he had long lost sight of the world of noblesse oblige and of the ideals to which he had been bred.
The struggle which took place in him. was brief. Perhaps he had suffered too much to keep it up long. Perhaps, as I am inclined to think, the result was a clear spiritual triumph for him.
"Yes," he said and smiled miserably, sardonically, as when he had first met me, "I must go. Chances are only for those who don't need a chance. And you may tell Hilda," he added, with a tinge of scorn concealing the gallantry of what seemed to him a lie, "that she was right. Hilda, you know, always liked to be right."
This was his last submission. The sense of wrong he had suffered was the one thing he could oppose to his unforgetable sense of degradation; it was his ballast against the reelings of despair.
"I will tell her," I said.
He took up his hat, offered me his hand, hesitantly, and, after I had grasped it, went out.
I SAT smoking till dusk, and after dinner went to see Hilda. The rain had ceased. The moon was damnably haunting. It poured phosphorescent silver on the temples, where crimson lanterns swung; on shadowy gateposts, whose ideographs, I recalled, seemed to Lowry like writhing hellserpents; on the branches of bamboo and pine; and on the mystery of the
Hilda, herself again, was expecting me, in manner and attire cool, handsome, complete. It was fascinating, partly, I believe, because the uncertainty of life at sea made the certainty that she would always be thus presentable most tempting.
We walked in the garden that I might smoke, or perhaps that she might throw over her shoulders a rarely embroidered mandarin coat of irresistible hue. I was given an account of the day at the embassy, begun with regret that I had missed it, but related with the satisfaction and assuredness of one who has recently been soothed by admiration and flattery.
Yet flattery had not proved a complete anodyne to the encounter of the morning it only covered insecurity. I could see that. And she was little pleased with the silence I was determined to keep until she asked for what she most wished to hear.
"Well?" she said at length, laying an intimate hand for the first time on my arm.
The touch was crucial. Twentyfour hours before it would have brought ardent avowal to my lips. Now I let it rest there without seeming to consider the caress or even to be aware of it.
"Oh, he 's going away," I said, as if that was all that was needed.