THE droning of the insect chorus had diminished ; the tops of the trees began to stir uneasily ; it was time in Japan for the traveller to seek his inn. As I came to a bend in the road something fluttered on a bough. Where a path
turned off at the corner a small wooden batten, hung from a twig, said :—" To the hot springs; 6 cho." The diminutive label, no larger than a leaf, and the path which disappeared into a wood, told me that this was a place probably known only to the local peasants. At any rate it was not in the guide-book.
I took the path which led towards a river, presently revealed through the trees. At the bank the track got finally lost among a sea of rocks, but on the opposite side, supported on piles against the hill, and half in the air, was a long two- storied house. . . .
A kite screamed somewhere overhead, reminding me of the noise of a window suddenly raised in a back street at home ; a few towels hung on the balustrade of the verandah, some steam hung about one end of the house and rose in places from the river bed. . . . The kite screamed and was gone; no sound remained but the twitter of the stream seen here and there like a vein of white quartz in the rocks; nothing else moved, not a towel flapped.
I scrambled across and climbed up to the door, which was open. No answer being given to my call, I took off my boots and entered. Everything was in great disorder. As I passed flown the verandah, heaps of clothes thrown aside in confusion showed the presence of many guests, and the quality and the number of the different belongings in each room that the guests were poor.
Descending again, there was still no sign of life, when suddenly, from the bottom of a flight of stairs which seemed to lead into the bowels of the earth, there came a faint splash and the noise of a bucket overturned. Of course,—the house was built over the spring, and there all were gathered; so down again.
The stairs gave way to stone steps, and these finally ended in a large underground cave. With the noise of my feet on the steps some indistinct chattering had ceased, and for the first few moments, standing in the cave, I could see nothing, —nor whence the noise came. Gradually, however, peering through the darkness and the steam, I saw that the pool was packed with heads turned towards the extraordinary foreign apparition.
The situation was embarrassing as I stood there, but after a minute or so of silent watching a shrill voice cried out: "It is an honourable guest. 0 Rana, prepare a room ! " What proved to be the maid of the inn lifted herself out of the mass, and another voice, evidently addressed to me, said: " Be pleased to enter."
The remarkable sight of a foreigner undressing was to these country people like the unveiling of a being from another planet. As I slid at last like a piece in a puzzle into the place left vacant by the maid, a buzz of excitement passed over the pool. But after frequent turnings of heads to make sure that I was still there, the bathers resumed their dipping and rubbing, with the mental reservation, no doubt, that here was a topic indeed for the evening meaL Suddenly a voice out of the darkness said : "And what, then, Master, became of the first wife ? "
There was a pause ; then a voice at my elbow said : "Oh, she faded and died, and was buried in the temple of Shomyoji in Hongo. You may see her tomb to-day."
" And the man P " asked another.
" His end was more unhappy," said the Master. "Her love was so great that her spirit could not be reborn until that passion was exhausted. And since it was at the feast with a cup that he smote her, her face was reflected in every cup of tea or wine that was set before him; not the face as he had known it, but as it gradually became in the tomb. And as Nature took its course so the cup came to hold a horror such that he dared not lift it to his lips. And to slake his thirst he tried drinking through straws, or out of the spouts of tea- pots, or by sucking oranges. But after the first few drops there came a hair—her hair—and then more which choked him, and in the end he went mad by reason of his thirst and died."
Evidently I had interrupted a remarkable story.
At supper and after I was a topic far more remarkable than the tale. The " Master's " room where to-night all the party were assembled was next to mine, and more than once I heard his voice raised angrily in debate. As I fell asleep the colour of the foreigner's eyes was being discussed. "No," said
the Master, "it is not the reflection of the Western Ocean; that pale blue colour comes from sleeping in the dark with open lids; they all do it, I have read." E. F. C.