“Oh, they are lovely,” cried Asako. “Where can one get them? I must have some.”
Countess Saito gave her the names of some well-known market gardeners.
“You can get pretty little trees from them for fifty to a hundred yen (L5 to L10),” she said. “But of course the real historical trees are so very few; they hardly ever come on the market. They are like animals, you know. They want so much attention. They must have a garden to take their walks in, and a valet of their own.”
This great Japanese lady felt an affection and sympathy for the girl who, like herself, had been set apart by destiny from the monotonous ranks of Japanese women and their tedious dependence.
“Little Asa Chan,” she said, calling her by her pet name, “take care; you can become Japanese again, but your husband cannot.”
“Of course not, he’s too big,” laughed Asako; “but I like to run away from him sometimes, and hide behind the shoji. Then I feel independent.”
“But you are not really so,” said the Japanese, “no woman is. You see the wisteria hanging in the big tree there. What happens when the big tree is taken away? The wisteria becomes independent, but it lies along the ground and dies. Do you know the Japanese name for wisteria? It is fuji—Fujinami Asako. If you have any difficulty ever, come and talk to me. You see, I, too, am a rich woman; and I know that it is almost as difficult to be very rich as it is to be very poor.”
* * * * *
Captain Barrington and the ex-Ambassador were sitting on one of the benches of the terrace when the ladies rejoined them.
“Well, Daddy,” the Countess addressed her husband in English, “what are you talking about so earnestly?”
“About England and Japan,” replied the Count.
As a matter of fact, in the course of a rambling conversation, Count Saito had asked his guest:
“Now, what strikes you as the most surprising difference between our two countries?”
Geoffrey pondered for a moment. He wanted to answer frankly, but he was still awed by the canons of Good Form. At last he said: “This Yoshiwara business.”
The Japanese statesman seemed surprised.
“But that is just a local difference in the manner of regulating a universal problem,” he said.
“Englishmen aren’t any better than they should be,” said Geoffrey; “but we don’t like to hear of women put up for sale like things in a shop.”
“Then you have not actually seen them yourself?” said the Count. He could not help smiling at the characteristic British habit of criticising on hearsay.
“Not actually; but I saw the procession last month.”
“You really think that it is better to let immoral women stray about the streets without any attempt to control them and the crime and disease they cause?”
“It’s not that,” said Geoffrey; “it seems to me horrible that women should be put up to sale and exposed in shop windows ticketed and priced.”