Our object now was to strike the Ashikura trail and follow it down. The guide, however, was not sure of the path, so we hailed the hunters. One of them came across the delta to the edge of the stream within shouting distance, and from him we obtained knowledge of the way.
At first the path was unadventurous enough, though distressingly rough. In truth, it was no path at all; it was an abstract direction. It led straight on, regardless of footing, and we followed, now wading through swamps, now stumbling over roots, now ducking from whip-like twigs that cut us across the face, until at last we emerged above the stream, and upon a scene as grandly desolate as the most morbid misanthrope might wish. A mass of boulders of all sizes, from a barn to a cobblestone, completely filled a chasm at the base of a semicircular wall of castellated clay cliffs. Into the pit we descended. The pinnacles above were impressively high, and between them were couloirs of debris that looked to us to be as perpendicular as the cliffs. Up one of these breakneck slides the guide pointed for our path. Porters and all, we demurred. Path, of course, there was none; there was not even an apology for a suspicion that any one had ever been up or down the place. We felt sure there must be some other way out. The more we searched, however, the less we found. The stream, which was an impassable torrent, barred exit below on our side by running straight into the wall of rock. The slide was an ugly climb to contemplate, yet we looked at it some time before we accepted the inevitable.
When in desperation we finally made up our minds, we began picking our dubious way up among a mass of rocks that threatened to become a stone avalanche at any moment. None of us liked it, but none of us knew how little the others liked it till that evening. In the expansion of success we admitted our past feelings. One poor porter said he thought his last hour had come, and most of us believed a near future without us not improbable. It shows how danger unlocks the heart that just because, halfway up, I had relieved this man of his stick, which from a help had become a hindrance, he felt toward me an exaggerated gratitude. It was nothing for me to do, for I was free, while he had his load, but had I really saved his life he could not have been more beholden. Indeed, it was a time to intensify emotion.
As we scrambled upward on all fours, the ascent, from familiarity, grew less formidable. At least the stones decreased in size, although their tilt remained the same, but the angle looked less steep from above than from below.
At last, one after the other, we reached a place to the side of the neck of the couloir, and scrambling round the coping of turf at the top emerged, to our surprise, upon a path, or rather upon the ghost of one. For we found ourselves upon a narrow ridge of soil between two chasms, ending in a pinnacle of clay, and along this ribbon of land ran a path, perfectly preserved for perhaps a score of paces out, when it broke off bodily in mid-air. The untoward look of the way we had come stood explained. Here clearly had been a cataclysm within itinerary times. Some gigantic landslide must have sliced the mountain off into the gorge below, and instead of a path we had been following its still unlaid phantom. The new-born character of the chasm explained its shocking nakedness. But it was an uncomfortable sight to see a path in all its entirety vanish suddenly into the void.
The uncut end of the former trail led back to a little tableland supporting a patch of tilling and tenanted by an uninhabited hut. The Willow Moor they called it, though it seemed hardly big enough to bear a name. On reconnoitring for the descent, we found the farther side fallen away like the first; so that the plateau was now cut off from all decent approach. One of us, at last, struck the butt end of a path; but we had not gone far down it before it broke off, and delivered us to the gullies. This side, however, was much better than the other, and it took none of us very long to slip down the slope, repair the bridge, and join the Ashikura trail.
We were now once more on the path we had come up, with the certainty of bad places instead of their uncertainty ahead of us, a doubtful betterment. The Oni ga Jo lay in wait round the corner, and the rest of the familiar devils would all appear in due course of time.
Tied over my boots were the straw sandals of the country. They were not made to be worn thus, and showed great uneasiness in their new position, do what we might with the thongs. Everybody tried his hand at it, first and last; but the fidgety things always ended by coming off at the toe or the heel, or sluing round to the side till they were worse than useless. They were supposed to prevent one from slipping, which no doubt they would have done had they not begun by slipping off themselves. They wore themselves out by their nervousness, and had to be renewed every little while from the stock the porters carried. In honor of the Oni ga Jo I had a fresh pair put on beside the brook sacred to the memory of my pocket-handkerchief. We then rose to the Devil Place, and threaded it in single file. Whether it were the companionship, or familiarity, or simply that my right side instead of my left next the cliff gave greater seeming security, I got over it a shade more comfortably this time, though it was still far from my ideal of an afternoon's walk. The road to the next world branched off too disturbingly to the left.
At last the path descended to the river bottom for good. I sat down on a stone, pulled out my tobacco pouch, and lit a pipe. The porters passed on out of sight. Then I trudged along myself. The tension of the last two days had suddenly ceased, and in the expansion of spirit that ensued I was conscious of a void. I wanted some one with me then, perhaps, more than I ever craved companionship before. The great gorge about me lay filled to the brim with purple shadow. I drank in the cool shade-scented air at every breath. The forest-covered mountain sides, patched higher up with snow in the gullies, shut out the world. Only a gilded bit here and there on some lofty spur lingered to hint a sun beyond. The strip of pale blue sky far overhead bowed to meet the vista of the valley behind, a vista of peaks more and more snow-clad, till the view was blocked at last by a white, nun-veiled summit, flushed now, in the late afternoon light, to a tender rose. Past strain had left the spirit, as past fatigue leaves the body, exquisitely conscious; and my fancy came and walked with me there in that lonely valley, as it gave itself silently into the arms of night.
Probably none I know will ever tread where I was treading then, nor I ever be again in that strange wild cleft, so far out of the world; and yet, if years hence I should chance to wander there alone once more, I know the ghost of that romance will rise to meet me as I pass.
I own I made no haste to overtake the caravan.
Darkness fell upon us while we were yet a long way from Ashikura, with an uncertain cliff path between us and it: for the path, like a true mountain trail, had the passion for climbing developed into a mania, and could never rest content with the river's bed whenever it spied a chance to rise. It had just managed an ascent up a zigzag stairway of its own invention, and had stepped out in the dark upon a patch of tall mountain grass, as dry as straw, when Yejiro conceived the brilliant idea of torches. He had learned the trick in the Hakone hills, where it was the habit, he told the guide, when caught out at night; and he proceeded to roll some of the grass into long wisps for the purpose. The torches were remarkably picturesque, and did us service beside. Their ruddy flare, bowing to the breeze, but only burning the more madly for its thwarting, lighted the path like noonday through a circle of fifteen feet, and dropped brands, still flaring, into the stubble, which we felt it a case of conscience to stop and stamp out. The circle, small as it was, sufficed to disclose a yawning gulf on the side, to which the path clung with the persistency of infatuation.
The first thing to tell us of approach to human habitation was the croaking of the frogs. After the wildness of our day it sounded like some lullaby of Mother Earth, speaking of hearth and home, and we knew that we were come back to ricefields and man. It was another half hour, however, before our procession reached the outskirts of the village. Here we threw aside our torches, and in a weary, drawn-out file found our way, one by one, into the courtyard of the inn. It was not an inn the year round; it became such only at certain seasons, of which the present was not one. It had the habit of putting up pilgrims on their way to the Dragon Peak; between the times of its pious offices it relapsed into a simple farmhouse. But the owner received us none the less kindly for our inopportune appearance, and hasted to bring the water-tubs for our feet. Never was I more willing to sit on the sill a moment and dabble my toes; for I was footsore and weary, and glad to be on man's level again. I promise you, we were all very human that evening, and felt a deal aloud.
A Genial Inkyo.
The owner of the farmhouse had inherited it from his father. There was nothing very odd about this even to our other-world notions of property, except that the father was still living, as hale and hearty as you please, in a little den at the foot of the garden. He was, in short, what is known as an inkyo, or one "dwelling in retirement,"—a singular state, composed of equal parts of this world and the next; like dying in theory, and then undertaking to live on in practice. For an inkyo is a man who has formally handed in his resignation to the community, and yet continues to exist most enjoyably in the midst of it. He has abdicated in favor of his eldest son, and, having put off all responsibilities, is filially supported in a life of ease and pleasure.
In spite of being no longer in society, the father was greedily social. As soon as he heard a foreigner had arrived, he trotted over to call, and nothing would do but I must visit his niche early in the morning, before going away.
After breakfast, therefore, the son duly came to fetch me, and we started off through the garden. For his sire's place of retirement lay away from the road, toward the river, that the dear old gentleman might command a view of the peaks opposite, of one of which, called the Etchiu Fuji, from its conical form, he was dotingly fond.
It was an expedition getting there. This arose, not from any special fault in the path, which for the first half of the way consisted of a string of stepping-stones neatly laid in the ground, and for the latter fraction of no worse mud than could easily be met with elsewhere. The trouble came from a misunderstanding in foot-gear. It seemed too short a walk to put one's boots twice on and off for the doing of it. On the other hand, to walk in stocking-feet was out of the question, for the mud. So I attempted a compromise, consisting of my socks and the native wooden clogs, and tried to make the one take kindly to the other. But my mittenlike socks would have none of my thongs, and, failing of a grip for my toes, compelled me to scuffle along in a very undignified way. Then every few steps one or the other of the clogs saw fit to stay behind, and I had to halt to recover the delinquent. I made a sorry spectacle as I screwed about on the remaining shoe, groping after its fellow. Once I was caught in the act by my cicerone, who turned round inopportunely to see why I was not following; and twice in attempting the feat I all but lost my balance into the mud.
The worthy virtuoso, as he was, met us at the door, and escorted us upstairs to see his treasures. The room was tapestried with all manner of works of art, of which he was justly proud, while the house itself stood copied from a Chinese model, for he was very classic. But I was pleased to find that above all his heart was given to the view. It was shared, as I also discovered, by the tea-ceremonies, in which he was a proficient; such a mixture is man. But I believe the view to have been the deeper affection. While I was admiring it, he fetched from a cupboard a very suspicious-looking bottle of what turned out to be honey, and pressed a glass of it upon me. I duly sipped this not inappropriate liquor, since cordials savor of asceticism, and this one being of natural decoction peculiarly befitted a secular anchorite. Then I took my leave of one who, though no longer in the world, was still so charmingly of it.
The good soul chanced to be a widower, but such bereavement is no necessary preliminary to becoming a "dweller in retirement." Sometimes a man enters the inkyo state while he still has with him the helpmate of his youth, and the two go together to this aftermath of life. Surely a pretty return, this, of the honeymoon! Darby and Joan starting once more hand in hand, alone in this Indian summer of their love, as they did years ago in its spring-tide, before other generations of their own had pushed them on to less romantic parts; Darby come back from paternal cares to be once more the lover, and Joan from mother and grandam again become his girl.
We parted from our watchman-guide and half our porters with much feeling, as did they from us. As friendships go we had not known one another long, but intimacy is not measured by time. Circumstances had thrown us into one another's arms, and, as we bade good-by first to one and then to another, we seemed to be severing a tie that touched very near the heart.
Two of the porters came on with us, as much for love as for money, as far as Kamiichi, where we were to get kuruma. A long tramp we had of it across leagues of ricefields, and for a part of the way beside a large, deep canal, finely bowered in trees, and flowing with a swift, dark current like some huge boa winding stealthily under the bamboo. It was the artery to I know not how many square miles of field. We came in for a steady drizzle after this, and it was long past noon before we touched our noontide halt, and stalked at last into the inn.
With great difficulty we secured three kuruma,—the place stood on the limits of such locomotion,—and a crowd so dense collected about them that it blocked the way out. Everybody seemed smitten with a desire to see the strangers, which gave the inn servants, by virtue of their calling, an enviable distinction to village eyes. But the porters stood highest in regard, both because of their more intimate tie to us and because we here parted from them. It was severing the final link to the now happy past. We all felt it, and told our rosary of memories in thought, I doubt not, each to himself, as we went out into the world upon our different ways.
Eight miles in a rain brought us to the road by which we had entered Etchiu some days before, and that night we slept at Mikkaichi once more. On the morrow morning the weather faired, and toward midday we were again facing the fringe of breakers from the cliffs. The mountain spurs looked the grimmer that we now knew them so well by repulse. The air was clearer than when we came, and as we gazed out over the ocean we could see for the first half day the faint coast line of Noto, stretching toward us like an arm along the horizon. We watched it at intervals as long as it was recognizable, and when at last it vanished beyond even imagination's power to conjure up, felt a strange pang of personal regret. The sea that snatches away so many lands at parting seems fitly inhuman to the deed.
In the course of these two days two things happened which pointed curiously to the isolation of this part of Japan. The first was the near meeting with another foreigner, which would seem to imply precisely the contrary. But the unwonted excitement into which the event threw Yejiro and me was proof enough of its strangeness. It was while I was sipping tea, waiting for a fresh relay of kuruma at Namerigawa, that Yejiro rushed in to announce that another foreigner was resting at an inn a little further up town. He had arrived shortly before from the Echigo side, report said. The passing of royalty or even a circus would have been tame news in comparison. Of course I hastened into my boots and sallied forth. I did not call on him formally, but I inspected the front of the inn in which he was said to be, with peculiar expectation of spirit, in spite of my affected unconcern. He was, I believe, a German; but he never took shape.
The second event occurred the next evening, and was even more singular. Like the dodo it chronicled survival. It was manifested in the person of a policeman.
Some time after our arrival at the inn Yejiro reported that the police officer wished to see me. The man had already seen the important part of me, the passport, and I was at a loss to imagine what more he could want. So Yejiro was sent back to investigate. He returned shortly with a sad case of concern for consideration, and he hardly kept his face as he told it. The conscientious officer, it seemed, wished to sleep outside my room for my protection. From the passport he felt himself responsible for my safety, and had concluded that the least he could do would be not to leave me for a moment. I assured him, through Yejiro, that his offer was most thoughtful, but unnecessary. But what an out-of-the-world corner the thought implied, and what a fine fossil the good soul must have been! Here was survival with an emphasis! The man had slept soundly through twenty years or more of change, and was still in the pre-foreign days of the feudal ages.
The prices of kuruma, too, were pleasingly behind the times. They were but two-fifths of what we should have had to pay on the southern coast. As we advanced toward Shinshiu, however, the prices advanced too. Indeed, the one advance accurately measured the other. We were getting back again into the world, it was painfully evident. At last fares rose to six cents a ri. Before they could mount higher we had taken refuge in the train, and were hurrying toward Zenkoji by steam.
Our objective point was now the descent of the Tenriugawa rapids. It was not the shortest way home, but it was part of our projected itinerary and took us through a country typical of the heart of Japan. It began with a fine succession of passes. These I had once taken on a journey years before with a friend, and as we started now up the first one, the Saru ga Bamba no toge, I tried to make the new impression fit the old remembrance. But man had been at work upon the place without, and imagination still more upon its picture within. It was another toge we climbed in the light of that latter-day afternoon. With the companion the old had passed away.
Leaving the others to follow, I started down the zigzags on the farther side. It was already dusk, and the steepness of the road and the brisk night air sent me swinging down the turns with something of the anchor-like escapement of a watch. Midway I passed a solitary pedestrian, who was trolling to himself down the descent; and when in turn he passed me, as I was waiting under a tree for the others to catch up, he eyed me suspiciously, as one whose wanderings were questionable. They were certainly questionable to myself, for by that time we were come to habitations, and each fresh light I saw I took for the village where we were to stop for the night, in spite of repeated disillusionings.
Overhead, the larger stars came out and winked at me, and then, as the fields of space became more and more lighted with star-points, the hearth-fires to other homes of worlds, I thought how local, after all, is the great cone of shadow we men call night; for it is only nature's nightcap for the nodding earth, as she turns her head away from the sun to lie pillowed in space.
The next day was notable chiefly for the up-and-down character of the country even for Japan; which was excelled only by the unhesitating acceptance of it on the part of the road, and this in its turn only by the crowds that traveled it. It seemed that the desire to go increased inversely as the difficulty in going. The wayfarers were most sociable folk, and for a people with whom personality is at a discount singularly given to personalities. Not a man who had a decent chance but asked whither we were going and whence we had come. To the first half of the country-side we confided so much of our private history; to the second we contented ourselves in saying, with elaborate courtesy, "The same as six years ago," an answer which sounded polite, and rendered the surprised questioner speechless for the time we took to pass.
Especially the women added to the picturesqueness of the landscape. Their heads done up in gay-colored kerchiefs, framing their round and rosy faces, their kit slung over their shoulders, and their kimono tucked in at their waists, they trudged along on useful pairs of ankles neatly cased in lavender gaiters. Some followed dutifully behind their husbands; others chatted along in company with their kind,—members these last of some pilgrim association.
There were wayfarers, too, of less happy mind. For over the last pass the authorities were building a new road, and long lines of pink-coated convicts marched to and fro at work upon it, under the surveillance of the dark-blue police; and the sight made me think how little the momentary living counts in the actual life. Here we were, two sets of men, doing for the time an identical thing, trudging along a mountain path in the fresh May air; and yet to the one the day seemed all sunshine, to the other nothing but cloud.
Our Passport and the Basha.
It was bound to come, and we knew it; it was only a question of time. But then we had braved the law so far so well, we had almost come to believe that we should escape altogether. I mean the fatal detection by the police that we were violating my passport. That document had already outrun the statute of limitations, and left me no better than an outlaw. For practical purposes my character was gone, and being thus self-convicted I might be arrested at any moment!
In consequence of pending treaty negotiations the government had become particular about the privileges it granted. One of the first counter-moves to foreign insistence on exterritoriality was the restricting of passports to a fortnight's time. You might lay out any tour you chose, and if granted by the government, the provinces designated would all be duly inscribed in your passport, but you had to compass them all in the fortnight or be punished. Of course this could be evaded, and a Japanese friend in the foreign office had kindly promised to send me an extension on telegraph. But the dislike of being tied to times and places made me sinfully prefer the risk of being marched back to Tokyo under the charge of a policeman, a fate I had seen overtake one or two other malefactors caught at somewhat different crimes, whom we had casually met on the road. The Harinoki toge was largely to blame for the delay, it is true. But then unluckily the Harinoki toge could not be arrested, and I could.
The bespectacled authorities who examined my credentials every night had hitherto winked at my guilt, so that the bolt fell upon us from a clear sky. It is almost questionable whether it had a right to fall at that moment at all. It was certainly a case of officious officialdom. For we had stopped simply to change kuruma, and the unwritten rule of the road runs that so long as the traveler keeps moving he is safe. To catch him napping at night is the recognized custom.
Besides, the police might have chosen, even by day, some other opportunity to light upon us than in the very thick of our wrestle with the extortionate prices of fresh kuruma. It was inconsiderate of them, to say the least; for the attack naturally threw us into a certain disrepute not calculated to cheapen fares. Then, too, our obvious haste helped furnish circumstantial evidence of crime.
Nevertheless, in the very midst of these difficult negotiations at Matsumoto, evil fate presented itself, clothed as a policeman, and demanded our papers. Luckily they were not at the very bottom of the baggage, but in Yejiro's bosom; for otherwise our effects would have become a public show, and collected an even greater crowd than actually gathered. The arm of the law took the passport, fell at once on the indefensible date, and pointed it out to us. There we were, caught in the act. We sank several degrees instantly in everybody's estimation.
How we escaped is a secret of the Japanese force; for escape we did. We admitted our misfortune to the policeman, and expressed ourselves as even more desirous of getting back to Tokyo than he could be to have us there. But we pointed out that now the Tenriugawa was to all intents as short a way as any, and furthermore that it was the one expressly nominated in the bond. The policeman stood perplexed. Out of doubt or courtesy, or both, he hesitated for some moments, and then reluctantly handed the passport back. We stood acquitted. Indeed we were not only suffered to proceed, and that in our own way, but he actually accelerated matters himself, for he turned to against the kuruma, to their instant discomfiture. Indeed, this was quite as it should be, for he was as anxious to be rid of us as we were to be quit of him.
On the road the kuruma proved unruly. The exposure we had sustained may have helped to this, or the coercion of the policeman may have worked revolt. They jogged along more and more reluctantly, till, at last, the worst of them refused to go on at all. After some quite useless altercation, we made what shift we might with the remainder, but had not got far when we heard the toot of a fish-horn behind, and the sound gradually overhauled us. Now, a fish-horn on a country road in Japan means a basha, and a basha means the embodiment of the objectionable. It is a vehicle to be avoided; both externally like a fire-engine, and internally like an ambulance or a hearse. Indeed, so far as its victim is concerned, it usually ends by becoming a cross between the latter two. It is a machine absolutely devoid of recommendations. I speak from experience, for in a moment of adventure I once took passage in one, some years ago, and I never mean to do so again. Even the sound of its fish-horn now provokes me to evil thoughts. But we were in a bad way, and, to my wonder, I found my sentiments perceptibly softening. Before the thing caught up with us, I had actually resolved to take it.
We made signals of distress, and, rather contrary to my expectation, the machine stopped. The driver pulled up, and the guard, a half-grown boy, who sat next him on the seat in front, making melody on the horn, jumped down, a strange bundle of consequence and courtesy, and helped us and our belongings in. He then swung himself into his seat, as the basha set off again, and fell to tooting vociferously. We had scarce got settled before the vehicle was dashing along at what seemed, to our late perambulator experience, a perfectly breakneck speed. The pace and the enthusiasm of the boy infected us. Yejiro and I fell to congratulating each other, with some fervor, on our change of conveyance, and each time we spoke, the boy whisked round in his seat and cried out, with a knowing wag of his head, "I tell you, it's fast, a basha! He!" and then as suddenly whisked back again, and fell to tooting with renewed vigor, like one who had been momentarily derelict in duty. The road was quite deserted, so that so much noise would have seemed unnecessary. The boy thought otherwise. Meanwhile, we were being frightfully jolted, and occasionally slung round corners in a way to make holding on a painful labor.
I suppose the unwonted speed must have intoxicated us. There is nothing else that will account for our loss of head. For, before we were well out of the machine, we had begun negotiations for its exclusive possession on the morrow; and by the time we were fairly installed in the inn at Shiwojiri, the bargain stood complete. In consideration of no exorbitant sum, the vehicle, with all appertaining thereto, was to be taken off its regular route and wander, like any tramp, at our sweet will, in quite a contrary direction. The boy with the horn was expressly included in the lease. By this arrangement we hoped to compass two days' journey in one, and reach by the morrow's night the point where boats are taken for the descent of the Tenriugawa rapids. We knew the drive would be painful, but we had every promise that it would be fast.
The inn at Shiwojiri possessed a foreign table and chairs; a bit of furnishing from which the freshness of surprise never wore off. What was even less to be looked for, the son of the house was proficient in English, having studied with a missionary in Tokyo. I had some talk with him later, and lent him an English classic which he showed great desire to see.
Betimes the next morning the basha appeared, both driver and guard got up in a fine dark-green uniform, a spruceness it much tickled our vanity to mark. With a feeling akin to princely pride we stepped in, the driver cracked his whip, and, amid the bows of the inn household, we went off up the street. Barring the loss of an umbrella, which had happened somewhere between the time we boarded the basha on the yestereen and the hour of departure that morning, and an exhaustive but vain hunt for the same, first in the vehicle and then at the stables, nothing marred the serenity of our first half hour. The sky was dreamy; a delicate blue seen through a golden gauze. I fancy it was such a sky with which Danae fell in love. We rose slowly up the Shiwojiri pass, which a new road enabled even the basha to do quite comfortably; and the southern peaks of the Hida-Shinshiu range rose to correspond across the valley, the snow line distinctly visible, though the nearer ranges did their best to cut it off. Norikura, the Saddle, especially, showed a fine bit of its ten thousand feet, wrapped in the indistinctness of the spring haze. The heavy air gave a look of slumber to the peaks, as if those summits, waked before the rest of the world, had already grown drowsy. We had not yet ceased gazing at them when a turn of the road shut them out. A rise of a few feet, a dip, a turn, and the lake of Suwa lay below us on the other side, flanked by its own mountains, through a gap in which showed the just perceptible cone of Fuji.
The Shiwojiri toge is not a high pass, and yet it does duty as part of a great divide. A drop of water, falling on the Shiwojiri side, if it chance to meet with other drops before it be snatched up again into the sky, wanders into the sea of Japan; while its fellow, coming to earth not a yard away, ends at last in the Pacific ocean. Our way now lay with the latter. For the Tenriugawa, or River of the Heavenly Dragon, takes its rise in the lake of Suwa, a bowl of water a couple of miles or more across. It trickles out insignificantly enough at one end; gathers strength for fifty miles of flow, and then for another hundred cuts its way clean across a range of mountains. How it ever got through originally, and why, are interesting mysteries. Its gorge is now from one to two thousand feet deep, cleft, not through a plateau, but through the axis of a mountain chain. In most places there is not a yard to spare.
We were still a doubtful day off from where it is customary to take a boat. We had started somewhat late, stopped for the lack of umbrella, and now were committed to a digression for letters I expected at Shimonosuwa. I never order my letters to meet me on the line of march but I bitterly repent having chosen that special spot. There is always some excellent reason why it turns out most inconvenient. But as yet I was hopeful, for I thought I knew the speed of the basha, and the day was still young.
The day had grown older and I wiser by the time my letters were read, with their strange perfume from outre-mer, the horses harnessed afresh, and we under way once more, clattering down the main street of the village. It was not only in the village that we made a stir. A basha is equal to the occasion anywhere. The whole countryside stopped in its tracks to turn and stare as we passed, and at one point we came in for a perfect ovation; for our passage and the noonday recess of a school happening to coincide, the children, at that moment let loose, instantly dashed after us pell-mell, in a mass, shouting. One or two of them were so eager in the chase that they minded not where they went, and, tripping over stones or ruts, fell headlong in the mud. The rest pursued us panting, each according to his legs, and gave over at last only for want of wind.
The guard was supremely happy. What time the upper half of him was too tired to toot the lower half spent in hopping off his seat and on again upon imaginary duty. Meanwhile, in spite of enlivenments not included in the bill, my old dislike was slowly but surely coming back. I began to be uneasy on the score of time. The speed was not what hope and the company had led me to expect. I went through some elaborate rule-of-three calculation between the distance, the speed, and the time; and, as far as I could make out, it began to look questionable whether we should arrive that night at all. I had already played the part of goad out of precaution; I now had to take to it in good earnest,—futiley, to boot. Meanwhile my body was as uneasy as my mind. In the first place, the seats faced sideways, so that we progressed after the fashion of crabs. Secondly, the vehicle hardly made apologies for springs. We were rattled about like parched corn in a hopper.
What a blessed trick of memory that, of winnowing the joys of travel from its discomforts, and letting the latter slip unconsciously away! The dust and the heat and the thousand petty annoyances pass with the fact to be forgotten, while the snow-hooded mountains and the deep blue sky and the smiling fields stay with us, a part of ourselves. That drive seems golden as I look back upon it; yet how sadly discomforting it was at the time!
Toward afternoon a rumor became current that the road had been washed away ahead, and that the basha would have to stop some miles short of where we had hoped to be that night. This was disheartening. For with all its shortcomings the basha was undeniably faster than perambulators. The rumor gathered substance as we advanced, until in consequence we ceased to advance at all. At a certain village, called Miyada, the basha drew up, and we were informed that it was impossible to proceed further.
There was nothing for it but to hire kuruma. The men were a rascally lot, and made gain of our necessity. But we were not as sorry to leave the basha as we might have been, and the reports of impassability substantiated themselves before we had got a mile out. In further consolation, the kuruma men turned out well on the road, and bowled us along right merrily. The road ran along the skirts of the mountains on the right, which fell in one long sweep to the river, a breadth of plain unexpectedly gored by streams. The canons were startlingly abrupt, and the darkness which now came on took nothing from the effect. A sudden zigzag down to a depth of a hundred feet, a careful hitching over a decrepit bridge, and a zigzag up the other side, and we were off at a good trot again. This dispatch on the part of the men brought us in much-improved spirits and in very good time into Iijima, our hoped-for goal.
Down the Tenriugawa.
We had made arrangements overnight for a boat, not without difficulty, and in the morning we started in kuruma for the point of embarkation. We were eager to be off upon our voyage, else we should have strolled afoot down the long meadow slope, such invitation lay in it, the dew sparkling on the grass blades, the freshly tilled earth scenting the air, and the larks rising like rockets up into the sky and bursting into song as they went. It seemed the essence of spring, and we had a mile or more of it all before we reached the brink of the canon. For even here the river had begun a gorge for itself through the plain. We left our jinrikisha at the top and zigzagged on foot down the steep descent, and straightway departed the upper life of fields and larks and sunshine for a new and semi-subterranean one. It was not simply a change of scene; it was a complete change of sphere. The world with its face open to the day in a twinkling had ceased to be, and another world, a world of dark water girt by shadowed walls of rock and trees, had taken its place.
Amid farewell wavings from the jinrikisha men we pushed off into the stream. In spite of the rush of the water and the creaking of the oars, a strange stillness had fallen on everything. The swirling, inky flood swept us on past the hushed banks, heights of motionless leaves nearly hiding the gray old rock. Occasionally some puff of wind more adventurous than its fellows swooped down to make the leaves quiver a moment, and then died away in awe, while here and there a bird flew in and out among the branches with strangely subdued twitter.
Although this part of the river could show its gorge and its rapids, it made only the preface to that chapter of its biography we had come to read. At Tokimata, some hours further down, begins the voyage proper. But even the preface was imposing. The black water glided sinuous along, its stealthy course every now and again interrupted by rapids, where the sullen flood lashed itself to a passion of whitecaps with a kind of hissing roar. Down these we shot, the boat bowing first in acquiescence, and then plunging as madly as the water itself. It was hard to believe that both boat and river were not sentient things.
At intervals we met other boats toiling slowly up stream, pulled laboriously by men who strained along the bank at the ends of hundreds of feet of tow-rope, the ropes themselves invisible at first for distance; so that we were aware only of men walking along the shore in attitudes of impossible equilibrium, and of boats that followed them doglike from pure affection. It would seem weary work even for canal-boating. It takes weeks to toil up what it once took only hours to float down. As we sped past the return convoys, we seemed sad profligates, thus wantonly to be squandering such dearly-won vantage of position. The stream which meant money to them was, like money, hard come and easy go.
Still the stream hurried us on. We hugged the cliffs, now on one side, now on the other, only to have them slip by us the quicker. Bend after bend opened, spread out, and closed. The scene changed every minute, and yet was always the same. Then at times we were vouchsafed openings in the surrounding hills, narrow bits of foreground, hints of a something that existed beyond.
For three hours and more we kept on in our serpentine course, for the river meandered as whimsically as if it still had a choice of its own in the matter. Then gradually the land about began to make overtures toward sociability. The trees on the banks disappeared, the banks themselves decreased in height; then the river took to a more genial flow, and presently we were ware of the whole countryside to the right coming down in one long sweep to the water's edge.
The preface was over. The stream was to have a breathing spell of air and sunlight before its great plunge into sixty miles of twilight canon. With a quick turn of his rudder oar the boatman in the stern brought the flat-bottomed craft round, and in a jiffy she lay beached on the shingle at Tokimata. It was now high noon.
The greater part of the village kindly superintended the operation of disembarking, and then the more active of its inhabitants trotted before as guides to the inn. For our boat would go no further, and therefore all our belongings had to come out. It was only when we inquired for further conveyance that the crowd showed signs of satiety and edged off. To our importunities on this head the populace were statuesque or worse. A Japanese assent is not always the most encouraging of replies, and a Japanese "No" touches in you a depth not unlike despair. They have a way of hinting the utter hopelessness of your wish, past, present, and to come, an eternity of impossibility to make you regret that you ever were born. After we had reached the inn, and had stated our wants to a more informed audience, we were told that the nautical part of the inhabitants were in the fields, gathering mulberry leaves for the silkworms. From the bribe we offered to induce a change in pursuit, we judged money to be no object to them. There remained nothing, therefore, but the police.
It is good policy never to invoke the law except in the last extremity, for you are pretty safe to have some flaw shown up in you before you are through with it. The law in this case was represented, Yejiro found, by a person still yellow with the jaundice. He met the demand for boatmen with the counter demand for the passport, and when this was produced his official eye at once detected its anachronism.
"This," said he, "is not in order. I do not see how you can go on at all."
To add artificial impossibility to natural, was too much. Yejiro answered that he had better come to the inn; which he accordingly did. Poor man! I pitied him. For, in the first place, he was still jaundiced; and, in the second, although conscious of guilt as I was, I was much the less disturbed of the two. I was getting used to being a self-smuggler; while he, as the Japanese say, was "taihen komarimasu" (exceedingly "know not what to do"), a phrase which is a national complaint. In this instance he had cause. What to do with so hardened a sinner was a problem passing his powers. Here was a law-breaker who by rights should at once be bundled back to Tokyo under police surveillance. But he could not go himself, he had no one to send, and furthermore the delinquent seemed only too willing to escort himself there, free of government expense, as speedily as possible. All I had to do was to whet his perception that the sooner boatmen were got the sooner I should be on the right side of the law again. After some conflict with himself he went in search of men.
I was left to study the carp-pond, with its gold and silver fish, the pivot of attention of the pretty little garden court which stood handy to the kitchen. This juxtaposition was no accident; for such ponds are landscape and larder in one. Between meals the fish are scenery; at the approach of the dinner hour they turn into game. The inn guest having sufficiently enjoyed the gambols of future repasts, picks out his dish to suit his taste or capacity, and the fish is instantly netted and translated to the gridiron. The survivors, none the wiser, continue to steamboat about, intent on their own dinners, flashing their colors as they turn their armored sides in and out of the light. Eccentric nature has fitted these prototypes of navigation with all the modern improvements. Double and even triple sets of screws are common things in tails, and sometimes the fins, too, are duplex. As for me, I had neither the heart nor the stomach to help depopulate the pond. But I took much mechanical delight in their motions; so I fed them instead of they me.
I had my choice between doing this and watching the late boatmen at their dinner in the distance. No doubt moods have an aesthetic conscience of their own,—they demand appropriate setting; for I was annoyed at the hilarity of these men over their midday meal. I bore them no malice, but I own I should have preferred not to have seen them thus making free with time they had declared themselves unable to sell to me.
Thanks in part to my quality of outlaw, and in part to four hours' propitiation of the gods of delay, the jaundiced policeman finally succeeded in beating up a crew. There were four conscripts in all, kerchiefed, not to say petticoated, in the native nautical costume; a costume not due to being fresh-water sailors, since their salt-water cousins are given to a like disguise of sex. These mariners made us wait while they finished their preparations. It meant a long voyage to them,—a facilis descensus Averni; sed revocare gradum,—a very long pull. Then the bow was poled off, the current took us in its arms and swung us out into the stream, and the crowd on the shingle dropped perspectively astern.
While I was still standing gazing at lessening Tokimata, I heard a cry from behind me, and, turning, ducked just in time to escape being unceremoniously somersaulted into the water by a hawser stretched from bank to bank at a level singularly suited to such a trick. The rope was the stationary half of a ferry to which I had neglected to make timely obeisance. It marked, indeed, an incipient stage in the art of suspension bridges, the ferryboat itself supporting a part of the weight, while the ferryman pulled it and himself across. We met several more in the course of the next few minutes, before which we all bowed down into the bottom of the boat, while the hawser scraped, grumbling impotently, overhead.
Our boat was of adaptive build. It was forty-five feet long, not quite four feet wide, and somewhat over two feet deep. These proportions and the character of the wood made it exceeding lithe, so that it bent like a willow before necessity. In the stern stood the head man, wielding for rudder an oar half as long again as those the others used. There was very little rowing done, nor was there need; the current itself took us along at racing speed.
Shortly after ducking under the last ferry rope we reached the gateway to the canon. Some rapids made an introduction, rocks in places jutting out of the foam, and while we were still curveting to the waves the hills suddenly closed in upon the stream in two beetling cliffs, spanned surprisingly by a lofty cantalever bridge. An individual who chanced to cross at the moment stopped in mid path to watch us through. The stream swept us in, and the countryside contracted to a vanishing vista behind. We were launched on our long canon voyage. The change was as sudden as a thunderstorm of a smiling summer afternoon. It was an eclipse of the earth by the earth itself. Dark rocks picketed with trees rose in still darker shadow on either hand, higher than one could see. The black river swirled beside us, silent, sullen, swift. At the bottom of that gorge untrodden by man, borne by the dark flood that untouched by sunlight coiled snakelike along, we seemed adventured on some unforgotten Styx.
For some time we had voyaged thus with a feeling not unlike awe, when all at once there was a bustle among the boatmen, and one of them went forward and stood up in the bow. We swept round a corner, and saw our first great rapids three hundred yards ahead. We could mark a dip in the stream, and then a tumbled mass of white water, while a roar as of rage came out of the body of it. As we swept down upon the spot, the man in the bow began beating the gunwale with his oar in regularly repeated raps. The board gave out a hollow ring that strangely filled the river chasm; a sound well calculated to terrify the evil spirits of the spot. For indeed it was an exorcism of homoeopathic design. His incantation finished, he stood motionless. So did the rest of us, waiting for the plunge. The boat dipped by the bow, darted forward, and in a trice we were in the midst of a deafening turmoil of boiling waters and crashing breakers. The breakers laid violent hands upon us, grappling at the frail gunwale and coming in part aboard, and then, as we slipped from their grasp, impotently flung their spray in our faces, and with a growl dropped astern. The boat trembled like a leaf, and was trembling yet, when, with nightmare speed, the thing had slipped into the past, and we were shot out into the midst of the seething flood below.
Not the least impressive part of the affair was the strange spirit-rapping on the bow. The boatmen valiantly asserted that this was simply for signal to the man in the stern. Undoubtedly now the action has largely cloaked itself in habit, but that it once was superstitious is unquestionable. Devils still constitute far too respected a portion of the community in peasant parts of Japan.
The steering the boatmen did was clever, but the steering the stream managed of its own motion was more so. For between the rapids proper were swirls and whirlpools and races without end. The current took us in hand at the turns, sweeping us down at speed straight for a rock on the opposite bank, and then, just as shipwreck seemed inevitable, whisked us round upon the other tack. A thick cushion of water had fended the boat off, so that to strike would have been as impossible as it looked certain. And then at intervals came the roar of another rapid, like a stirring refrain, with the boatman in the bow to beat the time.
So we swept on, now through inky swirls of tide, now through snow-capped billows, moods these of the passing stream, while above the grand character of the gorge remained eternally the same.
The trees far up, sharp-etched against the blue, Let but the river's strip of skylight through To trees below, that on each jutting ledge Scant foothold found to overlook the edge,— As still as statues on their niches there, Where no breeze stirred the ever-shadowed air,— Spellbound spectators, crowded tier on tier From where the lowest, bending to be near The shock of spray, with leaves a-tremble stood In shuddering gaze above the swirling flood. The whole deep chasm, some vast natural nave That to the thought a touch of grandeur gave, And touch of grace,—for that wistaria clung Upon the trees, its grapelike bunches hung In stretch to catch their semblance in the stream; Pale purple clusters, meant to live in dream, Placed high above man's predatory clutch, To sight alone vouchsafed, from harming touch Wisely withheld as he is hurried past, And thus the more a memory to last, A violet vision; there to stay—fair fate— Forever virginly inviolate.
Slowly the strip of sky overhead became steeped in color, the half light at the bottom of the gorge deepened in tint, and suddenly a turn brought us out at a blaze in the cliff, where a handful of houses straggled up toward the outer world. We had reached Mitsushima, a shafting in the tunnel, and our halting place for the night.
To the Sea.
It was a ten minutes' walk, the next morning, from the inn down to the boat: an everwinding path along a succession of terraces studded with trees just breaking into leaf, and dotted with cottages, whose folk gave us good-day as we passed. The site of the village sloped to the south, its cheek full turned to the sunshine that stole down and kissed it as it lay. On this lovely May morning, amid the slumbering air, it made as amorous a bit of springtide as the heart could wish. In front of us, in vignette, stretched the stream, half a mile of it to where it turned the corner. Each succeeding level of terrace reset the picture, as if for trial of effect.
The boat was waiting, lightly grounded on a bit of shingle left by a turn of the current. Several enthusiastic followers accompanied us out to it with respectful insistence.
On reaching our craft, we found, to our surprise, that it was full of bales of merchandise of large and plethoric habit. We asked in astonishment what all this cargo meant. The men answered sheepishly that it was to make the boat ride better. The boat had ridden well enough the day before, and on general principles should, it would seem, ride all the better for being light. But indeed their guilt was plain. Our rascally boatmen, who had already charged a goodly sum for their craft, had thought to serve two masters, and after having leased the whole boat to me were intending now to turn a dishonest penny by shipping somebody else's goods into the bargain. In company with the rest of my kind, I much dislike to be imposed upon; so I told them they might instantly take the so-called ballast out again. When I had seen the process of disembarkation fairly begun I relented, deciding, so long as the bales were already aboard, to take them on to the first stopping place, and there put them ashore.
The river, its brief glimpse at civilization over, relapsed again into utter savagery. Rocks and trees, as wild apparently as their first forerunners there, walled us in on the sides, and appeared to do so at the ends, making exit seem an impossibility, and entrance to have been a dream. The stream gave short reaches, disclosing every few minutes, as it took us round a fresh turn, a new variation on the old theme. Then, as we glided straight our few hundred feet, the wall behind us rose higher and higher, stretching out at us as if to prevent our possible escape. We had thought it only a high cliff, and behold it was the whole mountain side that had stood barrier there.
I cannot point the wildness of it all better than did a certain sight we came upon suddenly, round a corner. Without the least warning, a bend in the current introduced us to a fishing-pole and a basket, reposing together on the top of a rock. These two hints at humanity sat all by themselves, keeping one another company; no other sign of man was visible anywhere. The pair of waifs gave one an odd feeling, as might the shadow of a person apart from the person himself. There was something uncanny in their commonplaceness in so uncommon a place. While we were still wondering at the whereabouts of their owner, another turn disclosed him by a sort of cove where his boat lay drawn up. Indeed, it was an ideal spot for an angler, and a lucrative one as well, for the river is naturally full of fish. Were I the angler I have seen others, I would encamp here for the rest of my life and feed off such phosphoric diet as I might catch, to the quickening of the brain and the composing of the body. But fortunately man has more of the river than of the rock in his composition, and whether he will or no is steadily being hurried past such nicks in life toward other adventures beyond.
The rapids here were, if anything, finer than those above Mitsushima. Of them in all there are said to be more than thirty. Some have nicknames, as "the Turret," "the Adze," "Boiling Rice," and "the Mountain Bath." Indeed, probably all of them have distinctive appellations, but one cannot ask the names of everybody in a procession. There were some bad enough to give one a sensation. Two of the worst rocks have been blown up, but enough still remain to point a momentary moral or adorn an after tale. All were exhilarating. Through even the least bad I should have been more than sorry to have come alone. But confiding trust in the boatmen was not misplaced; for if questionable in their morals, they were above reproach in their water-craft.
The rapids were incidents; the gorge we had always with us, superb cleft that it was, hewn as by some giant axe, notching the mountain chain imperiously for passage. Hour followed hour with the same setting. How the river first took it into its head to come through so manifestly unsuitable a place is a secret for the geologist to tell. But I for one wish I had been by to see.
From morning till noon we raced with the water at the bottom of the canon. Each turn was like, and yet unlike, the one before, so that I wonder that I have other than a blurred composite picture on my mind's plate. Yet certain bits have picked themselves out and ousted the rest, and the river comes up to me in thought as vivid as in life.
These repeated disclosures that disclosed nothing lulled us at last into a happy unconsciousness of end in this subterranean passage to a lower world. Though we were cleaving the mountain chain in part against the grain, indeed because we were, it showed no sign of giving out; until without premonition a curve shot us out at the foot of a village perched so perpendicularly on terraces that it almost overhung the stream. It was called Nishinoto, and consisted of a street that sidled up between the dwellings in a more than alpine way. Up it we climbed aerially to a teahouse for lunch; but not before I had directed the boatmen to discharge the smuggled goods.
In another hour we were under way again less the uninvited bales, which, left sitting all alone on the sands, mutely reproached us till they could be seen no more. At the first bend the gorge closed round about us as rugged as ever. The rapids were not so dangerous as those above, but the stream was still fast if less furious. When we looked at the water we did not appear to be moving at all, and when we looked up again at the bank we almost lost our balance for the sudden start.
Then gradually a change crept over the face of things. The stream grew a thought more steady, the canon a shade less wild. We passed through some more rapids,—our last, the boatmen said. The river began to widen, the mountains standing more respectfully apart. They let us see nothing new, but they showed us more of themselves, and grand buttresses they made. Then the reaches grew longer, and other hills less high became visible ahead. By all signs we were come to the beginning of the end. Another turn, and we were confronted with a real view,—a very hilly view, to be sure, but one that belonged to the world of man.
It was like coming out of a tunnel into the light.
The current hurried us on. At each bend the hills in front rose less wild than at the bend before. Villages began to dot the shores, and the river spread out and took its ease. Another curve, and we no longer saw hills and rocks ahead. A great plain stretched before us, over which our eyes wandered at will. Looking back, we marked the mountains already closing up in line. I tried to place the river's gap, but the barrier had grown continuous to the eye. Like adventurers in a fairy tale, the opening through which we had come had closed unrecognizably behind us.
In front all was plain, every-day plain, with people tilling it, and hamlets; and in the immediate foreground, right athwart our course, a ferryboat full of folk. As we bore down between it and the landing place two men gesticulated at us from the bank. We swerved in toward them. They shouted something to the boatmen, and Yejiro turned to me. The wayfarers asked if we would let them go with us to the sea. There was no regular conveyance, and they much desired to reach the Tokaido that night. What would I do?
"Oh! Very well," said I, reluctantly, "take them on board."
So it had come to this, after our romantic solitary voyage! We were to end as a common carrier, after all. One is born a demigod, the French say, to die a grocer.
Our passengers were honest and businesslike. Soon after coming aboard they offered to pay for their passage, an offer I politely declined. Then they fell to chatting with Yejiro, and I doubt not in five minutes had possessed themselves of all our immediate history.
Meanwhile, the river was lazily dropping us down to the sea. On the left, at a respectful distance, a long, low rise, like a bit of fortification, ran down indefinitely in the same direction, by way of encouraging the stream. Pitiable supposition! Was this meadow-meandering bit of water indeed our wild Tenriugawa! It seemed impossible. Once we had a bathetic bit of excitement over a near case of grounding, where the water had spread itself out to ripple down to a lower level. This was all to recall the past. The stream had grown steady and profitable. More than once we passed craft jarringly mercantile, and even some highly respectable automations, water-wheel boats anchored in the current, nose to tail, in a long line, apparently paddling up stream, but never advancing an inch. And all these sights had a work-a-day, machine look like middle age.
The afternoon aged to match. The sun began to dip behind the distant hills; and then toward the east, in front of us, came out the long outline of the Tokaido bridge, three quarters of a mile in length, like a huge caterpillar crawling methodically across the river-bed. Gradually we drew toward it, till its myriad legs glinted in the sunset glow; and then, as we swept under, it wheeled round to become instantly a gaunt stalking silhouette against the sky. From below by the river's mouth the roar of the surf came forebodingly up out of the ashen east. But in the west was still a glory, and as I turned to it I seemed to look down the long vista of the journey to western Noto by the sea. I thought how I had pictured it to myself before starting, and then how little the facts had fitted the fancy. It had lost and gained; if no longer maiden, it was mine, and the glamour that fringes the future had but changed to the glamour that gilds the past. Distance had brought it all back again. Delays, discomforts, difficulties, disappeared, and its memory rose as lovely as the sky past which I looked. For the better part of place or person is the thought it leaves behind.