Asako Fujinami had been brought to Paris by her father, who had died there while still a young man. He had entrusted his only child to the care of the Muratas with instructions that she should be educated in European ways and ideas, that she should hold no communication with her relatives in Japan, and that eventually a white husband should be provided for her. He had left his whole fortune in trust for her, and the interest was forwarded regularly to M. Murata by a Tokyo lawyer, to be used for her benefit as her guardian might deem best. This money was to be the only tie between Asako and her native land.
To cut off a child from its family, of which by virtue of vested interests it must still be an important member, was a proceeding so revolutionary to all respectable Japanese ideas that even the enlightened Murata demurred. In Japan the individual counts for so little, the family for so much. But Fujinami had insisted, and disobedience to a man’s dying wish brings the curse of a “rough ghost” upon the recalcitrant, and all kinds of evil consequences.
So the Muratas took Asako and cherished her as much as their hearts, withered by exile and by unnatural living, were capable of cherishing anything. She became a daughter of the well-to-do French bourgeoisie, strictly but affectionately disciplined with the proper restraints on the natural growth of her brain and individuality.
Geoffrey Barrington was not very favourably impressed by the Murata household. He wondered how so bright a little flower as Asako could have been reared in such gloomy surroundings. The spirits dominant in the villa were respectable economy and slavish imitation of the tastes and habits of Parisian friends. The living-rooms were as impersonal as the rooms of a boarding-house. Neutral tints abounded, ugly browns and nightmare vegetable patterns on carpets, furniture and wallpapers. There was a marked tendency towards covers, covers for the chairs and sofas, tablecloths and covers for the tablecloths, covers for cushion-covers, antimacassars, lamp-stands, vase-stands and every kind of decorative duster. Everywhere the thick smell of concealed grime told of insufficient servants and ineffective sweeping. There was not one ornament or picture which recalled Japan, or gave a clue to the personal tastes of the owners.
Geoffrey had expected to be the nervous witness of an affecting scene between his wife and her adopted parents. But no, the greetings were polite and formal. Asako’s frock and jewellery were admired, but without that note of angry envy which often brightens the dullest talk between ladies in England. Then, they sat down to an atrocious lunch eaten in complete silence.
When the meal was over, Murata drew Geoffrey aside into his shingly garden.
“I think that you will be content with our Asa San,” he said; “the character is still plastic. In England it is different; but in France and in Japan we say it is the husband who must make the character of his wife. She is the plain white paper; let him take his brush and write on it what he will. Asa San is a very sweet girl. She is very easy to manage. She has a beautiful disposition. She does not tell lies without reason. She does not wish to make strange friends. I do not think you will have trouble with her.”