Among the middle classes and the common people, the ugliness is more pleasant and sometimes becomes a kind of prettiness. The eyes are still too small and hardly able to open, but the faces are rounder, browner, more vivacious; and in the women remains a certain vagueness of feature, something childlike which prevails to the very end of their lives.
They are so laughing, and so merry, all these little Nipponese dolls! Rather a forced mirth, it is true, studied, and at times with a false ring; nevertheless one is attracted by it.
Chrysantheme is an exception, for she is melancholy. What thoughts are running through that little brain? My knowledge of her language is still too limited to enable me to find out. Moreover, it is a hundred to one that she has no thoughts whatever. And even if she had, what do I care?
I have chosen her to amuse me, and I should really prefer that she should have one of those insignificant little thoughtless faces like all the others.
THE NECESSARY VEIL
When night comes on, we light two hanging lamps of religious symbolism, which burn till daylight, before our gilded idol.
We sleep on the floor, on a thin cotton mattress, which is unfolded and laid out over our white matting. Chrysantheme’s pillow is a little wooden block, cut so as to fit exactly the nape of her neck, without disturbing the elaborate head-dress, which must never be taken down; the pretty black hair I shall probably never see undone. My pillow, a Chinese model, is a kind of little square drum covered over with serpent-skin.
We sleep under a gauze mosquito-net of sombre greenish-blue, dark as the shades of night, stretched out on an orange-colored ribbon. (These are the traditional colors, and all respectable families of Nagasaki possess a similar net.) It envelops us like a tent; the mosquitoes and the night-moths whirl around it.
This sounds very pretty, and written down looks very well. In reality, however, it is not so; something, I know not what, is lacking, and everything is very paltry. In other lands, in the delightful isles of Oceania, in the old, lifeless quarters of Stamboul, it seemed as if mere words could never express all I felt, and I struggled vainly against my own inability to render, in human language, the penetrating charm surrounding me.
Here, on the contrary, words exact and truthful in themselves seem always too thrilling, too great for the subject; seem to embellish it unduly. I feel as if I were acting, for my own benefit, some wretchedly trivial and third-rate comedy; and whenever I try to consider my home in a serious spirit, the scoffing figure of M. Kangourou rises before me—the matrimonial agent, to whom I am indebted for my happiness.