I must admit that this episode of my childhood, and the spiders, have little to do with the story of Chrysantheme. But an incongruous interruption is quite in keeping with the taste of this country; everywhere it is practised, in conversation, in music, even in painting; a landscape painter, for instance, when he has finished a picture of mountains and crags, will not hesitate to draw, in the very middle of the sky, a circle, or a lozenge, or some kind of framework, within which he will represent anything incoherent and inappropriate: a bonze fanning himself, or a lady taking a cup of tea. Nothing is more thoroughly Japanese than such digressions, made without the slightest apropos.
Moreover, if I roused my past memories, it was the better to force myself to notice the difference between that day of July last year, so peacefully spent amid surroundings familiar to me from my earliest infancy, and my present animated life passed in the midst of such a novel world.
To-day, therefore, under the scorching midday sun, at two o’clock, three swift-footed djins dragged us at full speed—Yves, Chrysantheme, and myself—in Indian file, each in a little jolting cart, to the farther end of Nagasaki, and there deposited us at the foot of some gigantic steps that run straight up the mountain.
These are the granite steps leading to the great temple of Osueva, wide enough to give access to a whole regiment; they are as grand and imposing as any work of Babylon or Nineveh, and in complete contrast with all the finical surroundings.
We climb up and up—Chrysantheme listlessly, affecting fatigue, under her paper parasol painted with pink butterflies on a black ground. As we ascended, we passed under enormous monastic porticoes, also in granite of rude and primitive style. In truth, these steps and these temple porticoes are the only imposing works that this people has created, and they astonish, for they do not seem Japanese.
We climb still higher. At this sultry hour of the day, from top to bottom of the enormous gray steps, only we three are to be seen; on all that granite there are but the pink butterflies on Chrysantheme’s parasol to give a cheerful and brilliant touch.
We passed through the first temple yard, in which are two white china turrets, bronze lanterns, and the statue of a large horse in jade. Then, without pausing at the sanctuary, we turned to the left, and entered a shady garden, which formed a terrace halfway up the hill, at the extremity of which was situated the Donko-Tchaya—in English, the Teahouse of the Toads.
This was the place where Chrysantheme had wished to take us. We sat down at a table, under a black linen tent decorated with large white letters (of funereal aspect), and two laughing ‘mousmes’ hastened to wait upon us.
The word ‘mousme’ means a young girl, or very young woman. It is one of the prettiest words in the Nipponese language; it seems almost as if there were a little pout in the very sound—a pretty, taking little pout, such as they put on, and also as if a little pert physiognomy were described by it. I shall often make use of it, knowing none other in our own language that conveys the same meaning.