“But I’ve never been away without you!” objected Geoffrey, “I think it would be beastly.”
This side of the question had not struck Asako. She was so taken up with her project. Now, however, she felt a momentary thrill of relief. She would be able to give all her time to her beloved Japanese home. Geoffrey was a darling, but he was so uninterested in everything.
“It will only be for a few days,” she said, “you want the change; and when you come back it will be like being married again.”
AMONG THE NIKKO MOUNTAINS
Io chikaki Tsumagi no michi ya Kure-nuramu; Nokiba ni kudaru Yama-bito no koye!
Dusk, it seems, has come
To the wood-cutter’s track
That is near my hut;
The voices of the mountainmen
Going down to the shed!
Geoffrey left early one morning in a very doubtful frame of mind, after having charged Tanaka to take the greatest care of his lady, and to do exactly what she told him.
It was not until half-way up the steep climb between Nikko and Chuzenji that his lungs suddenly seemed to break through a thick film, and he breathed fresh air again. Then he was glad that he had come.
He was afoot. A coolie strode on before him with his suit-case strapped on his back. They had started in pouring rain, a long tramp through narrow gorges. Geoffrey could feel the mountains around him; but their forms were wrapped in cloud. Now the mist was lifting; and although in places it still clung to the branches like wisps of cotton-wool, the precipitous slopes became visible; and overhead, peeping through the clouds at impossible elevations, pieces of the mountain seemed to be falling from the grey sky. Everything was bathed in rain. The sandstone cliffs gleamed like marble, the luxuriant foliage like polished leather. The torrent foamed over its wilderness of grey boulders with a splendid rush of liberty.
Country people passed by, dressed in straw overcoats which looked like bee-hives, or with thin capes of oiled paper, saffron or salmon-coloured. The kimono shirts were girt up like fishers—both men and women—showing gnarled and muscular limbs. The complexions of these mountain folk were red like fruit; the Mongolian yellow was hardly visible.
Some were leading long files of lean-shanked horses, with bells to their bridles and high pack-saddles like cradles, painted red. Rough girls rode astride in tight blue trunk-hose. It was with a start that Geoffrey recognised their sex; and he wondered vaguely whether men could fall in love with them, and fondle them. They were on their way to fetch provision for the lake settlements, or for remote mining-camps way beyond the mountains.
The air was full of the clamour of the torrent, the heavy splashing of raindrops delayed among the leaves, and the distant thunder of waterfalls.