The high head-dress remains untouched, it is needless to say; all but the pins which are taken out and laid beside her in a lacquer box.
Then there is the little silver pipe that must absolutely be smoked before going to sleep; this is one of the customs which most provokes me, but has to be borne.
Chrysantheme, like a gypsy, squats before a particular square box, made of red wood, which contains a little tobacco jar, a little porcelain stove full of hot embers, and finally a little bamboo pot serving at the same time as ash-tray and spittoon. (Madame Prune’s smoking-box downstairs, and every smoking-box in Japan, both of men and women, is exactly the same, and contains precisely the same objects, arranged in precisely the same manner; and wherever it may be, whether in the house of the rich or the poor, it always lies about somewhere on the floor.)
The word “pipe” is at once too trivial and too big to be applied to this delicate silver tube, which is perfectly straight and at the end of which, in a microscopic receptacle, is placed one pinch of golden tobacco, chopped finer than silken thread.
Two puffs, or at most three; it lasts scarcely a few seconds, and the pipe is finished. Then pan, pan, pan, pan, the little tube is struck smartly against the edge of the smoking-box to knock out the ashes, which never will fall; and this tapping, heard everywhere, in every house, at every hour of the day or night, quick and droll as the scratching of a monkey, is in Japan one of the noises most characteristic of human life.
“Anata nominase!” ("You must smoke too!”) says Chrysantheme.
Having again filled the vexatious little pipe, she puts the silver tube to my lips with a bow. Courtesy forbids my refusal; but I find it detestably bitter.
Now, before laying myself down under the blue mosquito-net, I open two of the panels in the room, one on the side of the silent and deserted footpath, the other one on the garden side, overlooking the terraces, so that the night air may breathe upon us, even at the risk of bringing us the company of some belated cockchafer, or more giddy moth.
Our wooden house, with its thin old walls, vibrates at night like a great dry fiddle; the slightest noises grow great in it, become disfigured and positively disquieting.
Beneath the verandah are hung two little AEolian harps, which at the least ruffle of the breeze running through their blades of grass, emit a gentle tinkling sound, like the harmonious murmur of a brook; outside, to the very furthest limits of the distance, the cicalas continue their great and everlasting concert; over our heads, on the black roof, is heard passing like a witch’s sabbath, the raging battle to the death of cats, rats and owls.
Presently, when in the early dawn, a fresher breeze, mounting upwards from the sea and the deep harbor, reaches us, Chrysantheme will slyly get up and shut the panels I have opened.