To be free, to have escaped from the watchful eyes and the whispering tongues to be at liberty to walk about the streets and to visit the shops, as an independent lady of Japan—these were such unfamiliar joys to her that for a time she forgot how unhappy she really was, and how she longed for Geoffrey’s company as of old. Only in the evenings a sense of insecurity rose with the river mists, and a memory of Sadako’s warning shivered through the lonely room with the bitter cold of the winter air. It was then that Asako felt for the little dagger resting hidden in her bosom just as Sadako had shown her how to wear it. It was then that she did not like to be alone, and that she summoned Tanaka to keep her company and to while away the time with his quaint loquacity.
Considering that he had been largely instrumental in breaking up her happy life, considering that every day he stole from her and lied to her, it was wonderful that his mistress was still so attached to him, that, in fact, she regarded him as her only friend. He was like a bad habit or an old disease, which we almost come to cherish since we cannot be delivered from it.
But, when Tanaka protested his devotion, did he mean what he said? There is a bedrock of loyalty in the Japanese nature. Half-way down the road to shame, it will halt of a sudden, and bungle back its way to honour. Then there is the love of the beau geste which is an even stronger motive very often than the love of right-doing for its own sake. The favorite character of the Japanese drama is the otokodate, the chivalrous champion of the common people who rescues beauty in distress from the lawless, bullying, two-sworded men. It tickled Tanaka’s remarkable vanity to regard himself as the protector of this lonely and unfortunate lady. It might be said of him as of Lancelot, that—
“His honour rooted in dishonour
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.”
Asako was glad on the whole that she had no visitors. The Fujinami were busy with their New Year preparations. Christmas Day passed by, unheeded by the Japanese, though the personality and appearance of Santa Claus are not unknown to them. He stands in the big shop windows in Tokyo as in London, with his red cloak, his long white beard and his sack full of toys. Sometimes he is to be seen chatting with Buddhist deities, with the hammer-bearing Daikoku, with Ebisu the fisherman, with fat naked Hotei, and with Benten, the fair but frail. In fact, with the American Billiken, Santa Claus may be considered as the latest addition to the tolerant theocracy of Japan.
Asako attended High Mass at the Catholic Cathedral in Tsukiji, the old foreign settlement. The music was crude; and there was a long sermon in Japanese. The magnificent bearded bishop, who officiated, was flanked by two native priests. But the familiar sounds and movements of the office soothed her, and the fragrance of the incense. The centre of the aisle was covered with straw mats where the Japanese congregation was squatting. Chairs for the foreigners were placed in the side aisles These were mostly members of the various Embassy and Legation staffs. For a moment Asako feared recognition. Then she remembered how entirely Japanese she had become—in appearance.