She was not looking at the distance. Her eyes were fixed on an emerald islet half a mile or less from the steamer’s course, a jewel of the seas. It rose to the height of two hundred feet or so, a conical knoll, densely wooded. On the summit appeared a scar of rock like a ruined castle, and, rising from the rock’s crest, a single pine-tree. Its trunk was twisted by all the winds of Heaven. Its long, lean branches groped the air like the arms of a blinded demon. It seemed to have an almost human personality an expression of fruitless striving, pathetic yet somehow sinister—a Prometheus among trees. Geoffrey followed his wife’s gaze to the base of the island where a shoal of brown rocks trailed out to seawards. In a miniature bay he saw a tiny beach of golden sand, and, planted in the sand, a red gateway, two uprights and two lintels, the lower one held between the posts, the upper one laid across them and protruding on either side. It is the simplest of architectural designs, but strangely suggestive. It transformed that wooded island into a dwelling-place. It cast an enchantment over it, and seemed to explain the meaning of the pine-tree. The place was holy, an abode of spirits.
Geoffrey had read enough by now to recognize the gateway as a “torii”; a religious symbol in Japan which always announces the neighbourhood of a shrine. It is a common feature of the country-side, as familiar as the crucifix in Catholic lands.
But Asako, seeing the beauty of her country for the first time, and unaware of the dimming cloud of archaeological explanations, clapped her hands together three times in sheer delight; or was it in unconscious obedience to the custom of her race which in this way calls upon its gods? Then with a movement entirely occidental she threw her arms round her husband’s neck, kissing him with all the devotion of her being.
“Dear old Geoffrey, I love you so,” she murmured. Her brown eyes were full of tears.
* * * * *
The steamer passed into a narrow channel, a kind of fiord, with wooded hills on both sides. The forests were green with spring foliage. Never had Geoffrey seen such a variety or such density of verdure. Every tree seemed to be different from its neighbour; and the hillsides were packed with trees like a crowded audience. Here and there a spray of mountain cherry-blossom rose among the green like a jet of snow.
At the foot of the woods, by the edge of the calm water, the villages nestled. Only roofs could be seen, high, brown, thatched roofs with a line of sword-leaved irises growing along the roof-ridge like a crown. These native cottages looked like timid animals, cowering in their forms under the protecting trees. One felt that at any time an indiscreet hoot of the steamer might send them scuttering back to the forest depths. There were no signs of life in these submerged villages, where the fight between the forester’s axe and primal vegetation