“Exactly,” said his friend, “and every man of intelligence who has to live in this country thinks that he need only learn their language and use their customs, and then he will find out what is hidden. That is what Lafcadio Hearn did; and that is why I wear a kimono. But what did he find out? A lot of pretty stories, echoes of old civilization and folk-lore; but of the mind and heart of the Japanese people—the only coloured people, after all, who have held their heads up against the white races—little or nothing until he reached the third stage, Disillusionment. Then he wrote Japan, an Interpretation, which is his best book.”
“I haven’t read it.”
“You ought to. His other things are mere melodies, the kind of stuff I can play to you by the hour. This is a serious book of history and political science.”
“Sounds a bit dry for me.” laughed Geoffrey.
“It is a disillusioned man’s explanation of the country into which he had tried to sink, but which had rejected him. He explains the present by the past. That is reasonable. The dead are the real rulers of Japan, he says. Underneath the surface changing, the nation is deeply conservative, suspicious of all interference and unconventionally, sullenly self-satisfied; and above all, still as much locked in its primitive family system as it was a thousand years ago. You cannot be friends with a Japanese unless you are friends with his family; and you cannot be friends with his family unless you belong to it. This is the deadlock; and this is why we never get any forwarder.”
“Then I’ve got a chance since I’ve got a Japanese family.”
“I don’t know of course,” said Reggie; “but I shouldn’t think they would have much use for you. They will receive you most politely; but they will look upon you as an interloper and they will try to steer you out of the country.”
“But my wife?” said Geoffrey, “she is their own flesh and blood, after all.”
“Well, of course, I don’t know. But if they are extremely friendly I should look out, if I were you. The Japanese are conventionally hospitable, but they are not cordial to strangers unless they have a very strong motive.”
Geoffrey Barrington looked in the direction where his wife was seated on a corner of the big cushion, turning over one by one a portfolio full of parti-colored woodprints on their broad white mounts. The firelight flickered round her like a crowd of importunate thoughts. She felt that he was looking at her, and glanced across at him.
“Can you see in there, Mrs. Barrington, or shall I turn the lights on?” asked her host.
“Oh, no,” answered the little lady, “that would spoil it. The pictures look quite alive in the firelight. What a lovely collection you’ve got!”
“There’s nothing very valuable there,” said Reggie, “but they are very effective, I think, even the cheap ones.”
Asako was holding up a pied engraving of a sinuous Japanese woman, an Utamaro from an old block recut, in dazzling raiment, with her sash tied in front of her and her head bristling with amber pins like a porcupine.