It was a scene of sheer enchantment. The tea-house was perched on a cliff which overhung the city. The light pavilion seemed like the car of some pullman aeroplane hovering over the bay. It was the brief half-hour of evening, the time of day when the magic of Japan is at its most powerful. All that was cheap and sordid was shut out by the bamboo fence and wrapped away in the twilight mists. It was a half-hour of luminous greyness. The skies were grey and the waters of the bay and the roofs of the houses. A grey vapour rose from the town; and a black-grey trail of smoke drifted from the dockyards and from the steamers in the harbour. The cries and activities of the city below rose clear and distinct but infinitely remote, as sound of the world might reach the Gods in Heaven. It was a half-hour of fairyland when anything might happen.
Two little maids brought tea and sugary cakes, green tea like bitter hot water, insipid and unsatisfying. It was a shock to see the girls’ faces as they raised the tiny china teacups. Under the glaze of their powder they were old and wise.
They observed Asako’s nationality, and began to speak to her in Japanese.
“Their politeness is put on to order,” thought Geoffrey, “they seem forward and inquisitive minxes.”
But Asako only knew a few set phrases of her native tongue. This baffled the ladies, one of whom after a whispered consultation and some giggling behind sleeves, went off to find a friend who would solve the mystery.
“Nesan, Nesan (elder sister)” she called across the garden.
Strange little dishes were produced on trays of red lacquer, fish and vegetables of different kinds artistically arranged, but most unpalatable.
A third nesan appeared. She could speak some English.
“Is Okusama (lady) Japanese?” she began, after she had placed the tiny square table before Geoffrey, and had performed a prostration.
Renewed prostration before okusama, and murmured greetings in Japanese.
“But I can’t speak Japanese,” said Asako laughing. This perplexed the girl, but her curiosity prompted her.
“Danna San (master) Ingiris’?” she asked, looking at Geoffrey.
“Yes,” said Asako. “Do many Englishmen have Japanese wives?”
“Yes, very many,” was the unexpected answer. “O Fuji San,” she continued, indicating one of the other maids, “have Ingiris’ danna San very many years ago; very kind danna san; give O Fuji plenty nice kimono; he say, O Fuji very good girl, go to Ingiris’ wit him; O Fuji say, No, cannot go, mother very sick; so danna san go away. Give O Fuji San very nice finger ring.”
She lapsed into vernacular. The other girl showed with feigned embarrassment a little ring set with glassy sapphires.
“Oh!” said Asako, dimly comprehending.