Yves visits us whenever he is free, in the evening at five o’clock, after his duties on board are fulfilled.
He is our only European visitor, and, with the exception of a few civilities and cups of tea, exchanged with our neighbors, we lead a very retired life. Only in the evenings, winding our way through the steep, narrow streets and carrying our lanterns at the end of short sticks, we go down to Nagasaki in search of amusement at the theatres, at the tea-houses, or in the bazaars.
Yves treats my wife as if she were a plaything, and continually assures me that she is charming.
I find her as exasperating as the cicalas on my roof; and when I am alone at home, side by side with this little creature twanging the strings of her long-necked guitar, facing this marvellous panorama of pagodas and mountains, I am overcome by sadness almost to tears.
Last night, as we reposed under the Japanese roof of Diou-djen-dji—the thin old wooden roof scorched by a hundred years of sunshine, vibrating at the least sound, like the stretched-out parchment of a tomtom—in the silence which prevails at two o’clock in the morning, we heard overhead a sound like a regular wild huntsman’s chase passing at full gallop.
“Nidzoumi!” ("The mice!”) said Chrysantheme.
Suddenly the word brings back to my mind yet another phrase, spoken in a very different language, in a country far away from here: “Setchan!” a word heard elsewhere, a word that has likewise been whispered in my ear by a woman’s voice, under similar circumstances, in a moment of nocturnal terror—“Setchan!” It was during one of our first nights at Stamboul spent under the mysterious roof of Eyoub, when danger surrounded us on all sides; a noise on the steps of the black staircase had made us tremble, and she also, my dear little Turkish companion, had said to me in her beloved language, “Setchan!” ("the mice!").
At that fond recollection, a thrill of sweet memories coursed through my veins; it was as if I had been startled out of a long ten years’ sleep; I looked down upon the doll beside me with a sort of hatred, wondering why I was there, and I arose, with almost a feeling of remorse, to escape from that blue gauze net.
I stepped out upon the veranda, and there I paused, gazing into the depths of the starlit night. Beneath me Nagasaki lay asleep, wrapped in a soft, light slumber, hushed by the murmuring sound of a thousand insects in the moonlight, and fairy-like with its roseate hues. Then, turning my head, I saw behind me the gilded idol with our lamps burning in front of it; the idol smiling the impassive smile of Buddha; and its presence seemed to cast around it something, I know not what, strange and incomprehensible. Never until now had I slept under the eye of such a god.