Yae, with her distorted little soul, was thinking that it must be worth the years of slavery and the humiliation of disease to have that one day of complete triumph, to be the representative of Beauty upon earth, to feel the admiration and the desire of that vast concourse of men rising round one’s body like a warm flood.
Geoffrey stared fascinated, wondering to see the fact of prostitution advertised so unblushingly as a public spectacle, his hatred and contempt breaking over the heads of the swine-faced men who followed the harlot, and picked their livelihood out of her shame.
Reggie was wondering what might be the thoughts of those little creatures muffled in such splendour that their personality, like that of infant queens, was entirely hidden by the significance of what they symbolized. Not a smile, not a glance of recognition passed over the unnatural whiteness of their faces. Yet they could not be, as they appeared to be, sleep-walkers. Were they proud to wear such finery? Were they happy to be so acclaimed? Did their heart beat for one man, or did their vanity drink in the homage of all? Did their mind turn back to the mortgaged farm and the work in the paddy-fields, to the thriftless shop and the chatter of the little town, to the sake-sodden father who had sold them in the days of their innocence, to the first numbing shock of that new life? Perhaps; or perhaps they were too taken up with maintaining their equilibrium on their high shoes, or perhaps they thought of nothing at all. Reggie, who had a poor opinion of the intellectual brightness of uneducated Japanese women, thought that the last alternative was highly probable.
“I wonder what those little houses are where they pay their visits,” Reggie said.
“Oh, those are the hikite chaya” said Yae glibly, “the Yoshiwara tea-houses.”
“Do they live there?” asked Asako.
“Oh, no; rich men who come to the Yoshiwara do not go to the big houses where the oiran live. They go to the tea-houses; and they order food and geisha to sing, and the oiran to be brought from the big house. It is more private. So the tea-houses are called hikite chaya, ‘tea-houses which lead by the hand.’”
“Yae,” said Reggie, “you know a lot about it.”
“Yes,” said Miss Smith, “my brothers have told me. They tell me lots of things.”
After a stay of about half an hour, the oiran left their tea-houses. The processions reformed; and they slowly tottered back to the places whence they had come. Across their path the cherry petals were already falling like snowflakes; for the cherry-blossom is the Japanese symbol of the impermanence of earthly beauty, and of all sweet things and pleasant.
“By Jove!” said Geoffrey Harrington to the world in general, “that was an extraordinary sight. East is East and West is West, eh? I never felt that so strongly before. How often does this performance take place?”