“It’s a pity we can’t see it,” said Geoffrey.
“Yes; it’s the only big thing in the whole darned country,” said a saturnine American, sitting opposite; “and then, when you get on to it, it’s just a heap of cinders.”
Asako was not worrying about the landscape. Her thoughts were directed to a family of well-to-do Japanese, first-class passengers, who had settled in the observation car for half an hour or so, and had then withdrawn. There was a father, his wife and two daughters, wax-like figures who did not utter a word but glided shadow-like in and out of the compartment. Were they relations of hers?
Then, when she and her husband passed down the corridor train to lunch, and through the swarming second-class carriages, she wondered once more, as she saw male Japan sprawling its length over the seats in the ugliest attitudes of repose, and female Japan squatting monkey-like and cleaning ears and nostrils with scraps of paper or wiping stolid babies. The carriages swarmed with children, with luggage and litter. The floors were a mess of spilled tea, broken earthenware cups and splintered wooden boxes. Cheap baggage was piled up everywhere, with wicker baskets, paper parcels, bundles of drab-coloured wraps, and cases of imitation leather. Among this debris children were playing unchecked, smearing their faces with rice cakes, and squashing the flies on the window pane.
Were any of these her relatives? Asako shuddered. How much did she actually know about these far-away cousins? She could just remember her father. She could recall great brown shining eyes, and a thin face wasted by the consumption which killed him, and a tenderness of voice and manner quite apart from anything which she had ever experienced since. This soon came to an end. After that she had known only the conscientiously chilly care of the Muratas. They had told her that her mother had died when she was born, and that her father was so unhappy that he had left Japan forever. Her father was a very clever man. He had read all the English and French and German books. He had left special word when he was dying that Asako was not to go back to Japan, that Japanese men were bad to women, that she was to be brought up among French girls and was to marry a European or an American. But the Muratas could not tell her any intimate details about her father, whom they had not known very well. Again, although they were aware that she had rich cousins living in Tokyo, they did not know them personally and could tell her nothing.