“Ho! Oume-San-an-an-an!” (In English: “Hi! Madame Pru-u-u-u-une!”)
These intonations in her little voice are unknown to me; her longdrawn call in the echoing darkness of midnight has so strange an accent, something so unexpected and wild, that it impresses me with a dismal feeling of far-off exile.
At last Madame Prune appears to open the door to us, only half awake and much astonished; by way of a night-cap she wears a monstrous cotton turban, on the blue ground of which a few white storks are playfully disporting themselves. Holding in the tips of her fingers with an affectation of graceful fright, the long stalk of her beflowered lantern, she gazes intently into our faces, one after another, to assure herself of our identity; but the poor old lady cannot get over the mousko I am carrying.
At first it was only to Chrysantheme’s guitar that I listened with pleasure: now I am beginning to like her singing also.
She has nothing of the theatrical, or the deep assumed voice of the virtuoso; on the contrary, her notes, always very high, are soft, thin, and plaintive.
She will often teach Oyouki some romance, slow and dreamy, which she has composed, or which comes back to her mind. Then they both astonish me, for on their well-tuned guitars they will search out accompaniments in parts, and try again each time that the chords are not perfectly true to their ear, without ever losing themselves in the confusion of these dissonant harmonies, always weird and always melancholy.
Generally, while their music is going on, I am writing in the verandah, with the superb stretched out in front of me. I write, seated on a mat on the floor and leaning upon a little Japanese desk, ornamented with swallows in relief; my ink is Chinese, my ink-stand, just like that of my landlord, is in jade, with dear little frogs and toads carved on the rim. In short, I am writing my memoirs,—exactly as M. Sucre does downstairs! Occasionally I fancy I resemble him—a very disagreeable fancy.
My memoirs,—composed of incongruous details, minute observations of colors, shapes, scents, and sounds.
It is true that a complete imbroglio, worthy of a romance, seems ever threatening to appear upon my monotonous horizon; a regular intrigue seems ever ready to explode in the midst of this little world of mousmes and grasshoppers: Chrysantheme in love with Yves; Yves with Chrysantheme; Oyouki with me; I with no one. We might even find here, ready to hand, the elements of a fratricidal drama, were we in any other country than Japan; but we are in Japan, and under the narrowing and dwarfing influence of the surroundings, which turn everything into ridicule, nothing will come of it all.