All was streaming around us, and the irritating, tiresome rain dashed into my eyes.
No sooner had I landed, than there bounded towards me about a dozen strange beings, of what description it was almost impossible to make out through the blinding showers—a species of human hedge-hog, each dragging some large black thing; they came screaming around me and stopped my progress. One of them opened and held over my head an enormous closely-ribbed umbrella, decorated on its transparent surface with paintings of storks; and they all smiled at me in an engaging manner with an air of expectation.
I had been forewarned: these were only the djins who were touting for the honor of my preference; nevertheless I was startled at this sudden attack, this Japanese welcome on a first visit to land (the djins or djin-richisans, are the runners who drag little carts, and are paid for conveying people to and fro, being hired by the hour or the distance, as cabs are with us).
Their legs were naked; to-day they were very wet, and their heads were hidden under large shady conical hats. By way of waterproofs they wore nothing less than mats of straw, with all the ends of the straws turned outwards bristling like porcupines; they seemed clothed in a thatched roof. They went on smiling, awaiting my choice.
Not having the honor of being acquainted with any of them in particular, I choose at haphazard the djin with the umbrella and get into his little cart, of which he carefully lowers the hood. He draws an oil-cloth apron over my knees, pulling it up to my face, and then advancing near, asks me in Japanese something which must have meant: “Where to, sir?” To which I reply in the same language, “To the Garden of Flowers, my friend.”
I said this in the three words I had parrot-like learnt by heart, astonished that such sounds could mean anything, astonished too at their being understood. We started off, he running at full speed, I dragged along by him, jerked about in his light chariot, wrapped in oiled cloth, shut up as if in a box;—both of us unceasingly drenched all the while, and dashing all around us the water and mud of the sodden ground.
“To the Garden of Flowers,” I had said, like an habitual frequenter of the place, and quite surprised at hearing myself speak. But I was less ignorant about Japan than might have been supposed. Many of my friends had, on their return home from that country, told me about it, and I knew a great deal; the Garden of Flowers is a tea-house, an elegant rendezvous. There, I would inquire for a certain Kangourou-San, who is at the same time interpreter, washerman, and confidential agent for the intercourse of races. Perhaps this very evening, if all went well, I should be introduced to the bride destined to me by mysterious fate. This thought kept my mind on the alert during the panting journey we have been making, the djin and myself, one dragging the other, under the merciless downpour.