* * * * *
Mr. Ito could scarcely believe such welcome tidings. The Barrington menage had seemed to him so devoted that he had often despaired of his boast to his patron that he would divide the wife from her husband, and restore her to her family. Now, if Tanaka’s story were true, his task would be child’s play. A woman charged with jealousy becomes like a weapon primed and cocked. If Ito could succeed in making Asako jealous, then he knew that any stray spark of misunderstanding would blast a black gulf between husband and wife, and might even blow the importunate Englishman back to his own country—alone.
The lawyer explained his plan to the head of the family, who appreciated its classic simplicity. Sadako was given to understand the part which she was to play in alienating her cousin’s affections from the foreigner. She was to harp on the faithlessness of men in general, and on husbands in particular, and on the importance of money values in matrimonial considerations.
She was to suggest that a foreign man would never choose a Japanese bride merely for love of her. Then when the psychological moment had struck, the name of Yae Smith was to be flashed into Asako’s mind with a blinding glare.
Asako had been visiting her Japanese cousins almost every day. Her conversation lessons were progressing rapidly; for the first stages of the language are easy. The new life appealed to Asako’s love of novelty, and the strangeness of it to her child’s love of make-believe. The summoning of her parents’ spirits awakened in her the desire for a home, which lurks in every one of us; the love of old family things around us, the sense of an inheritance and a tradition. She was tired of hotel life; and she turned for relaxation to playing at Japan with cousin Sadako, just as her husband turned to tennis.
Her favourite haunt was the little tea-house among the reeds at the edge of the lake, which seemed so hidden from everywhere. Here the two girls practised their languages. Here they tried on each others clothes, and talked about their lives and purposes. Sadako was intellectually the cleverer of the two, but Asako had seen and heard more; so they were fairly equally matched.
Often the cousins shocked each other’s sense of propriety. Asako had already observed that to the Japanese mind, the immediate corollary to being married is to produce children as promptly and as rapidly as possible. Already she had been questioned on the subject by Tanaka, by boy sans and by shop-attendants.
“It is a great pity,” said cousin Sadako, “that you have no baby. In Japan if a wife have no baby, she is often divorced. But perhaps it is the fault of Mr. Barrington?”
Asako had vaguely hoped for children in the future, but on the whole she was glad that their coming had been delayed. There was so much to do and to see first of all. It had never occurred to her that her childlessness might be the fault of either herself or her husband. But her cousin went on ruthlessly,—