* * * * *
In the stillness of the garden, mid the balmy peacefulness of these mountains, a loud noise suddenly startles us; a unique, powerful, terrible sound, which is prolonged in infinite metallic vibrations. It begins again sounding more appalling: Boum! borne to us by the rising wind.
“Nippon Kane!” explains Chrysantheme,—and she again takes up her brightly-feathered arrows. “Nippon Kane (the Japanese brass); it is the Japanese brass that is sounding!” It is the monstrous gong of a monastery, situated in a suburb beneath us. Well, it is powerful indeed “the Japanese brass!” When the strokes are ended, when it is no longer heard, a vibration seems to linger among the suspended foliage, and an endless quiver runs through the air.
* * * * *
I am obliged to admit that Chrysantheme looks very charming shooting her arrows, her figure well bent back the better to bend her bow; her loose-hanging sleeves caught up to her shoulders, showing the graceful bare arms polished like amber and very much of the same color. Each arrow whistles by with the rustle of a bird’s wing,—then a short sharp little blow is heard, the target is hit, always.
At nightfall, when Chrysantheme has gone up to Diou-djen-dji, we cross, Yves and myself, the European concession, on our way to the ship, to take up our watch till the following day. The cosmopolitan quarter exhaling an odor of absinthe, is dressed up with flags, and squibs are being fired off in honor of France. Long lines of djins pass by, dragging as fast as their naked legs can carry them, the crew of the Triomphante, who are shouting and fanning themselves. The “Marseillaise” is heard everywhere; English sailors are singing it, gutturally with a dull and slow cadence like their own “God Save.” In all the American bars, grinding organs are hammering it with many an odious variation and flourish, in order to attract our men.
* * * * *
Just one funny recollection comes back to me of that evening. On our return, we had by mistake got into a street inhabited by a multitude of ladies of doubtful reputation. I can still see that big fellow Yves, struggling with a whole band of tiny little mousmes of some twelve or fifteen years of age, who barely reached up to his waist, and were pulling him by the sleeves, anxious to lead him astray. Astonished and indignant he repeated as he extricated himself from their clutches: “Oh, this is too much!” So shocked was he at seeing such mere babies, so young, so tiny, already so brazen and shameless.
There are now four of us, four officers of my ship, married like myself, and inhabiting the slopes of the same suburb. It is quite an ordinary occurrence, and is arranged without difficulties, mystery or danger, through the negotiations of the same M. Kangourou.