On some old letters addressed to her, I can make out the two characters that represent her name: Kikousan ("Chrysantheme, Madame"). And when I question her, she replies in Japanese, with an air of importance:
“My dear, they are letters from my woman friends.”
Oh, those friends of Chrysantheme, what funny little faces they have! That same box contains their portraits, their photographs stuck on visiting cards, which are printed on the back with the name of Uyeno, the fashionable photographer in Nagasaki—the little creatures fit only to figure daintily on painted fans, who have striven to assume a dignified attitude when once their necks have been placed in the head-rest, and they have been told: “Now, don’t move.”
It would really amuse me to read the letters of my mousme’s friends—and above all her replies!
It rained this evening heavily, and the night was close and dark. About ten o’clock, on our return from one of the fashionable tea-houses we frequent, we arrived—Yves, Chrysantheme and I—at the familiar angle of the principal street, the turn where we must take leave of the lights and noises of the town, to climb up the dark steps and steep paths that lead to our dwelling at Diou-djen-dji.
But before beginning our ascent, we must first buy lanterns from an old tradeswoman called Madame Tres-Propre, whose regular customers we are. It is amazing what a quantity of these paper lanterns we consume. They are invariably decorated in the same way, with painted nightmoths or bats; fastened to the ceiling at the farther end of the shop, they hang in enormous clusters, and the old woman, seeing us arrive, gets upon a table to take them down. Gray or red are our usual choice; Madame Tres-Propre knows our preferences and leaves the green or blue lanterns aside. But it is always hard work to unhook one, on account of the little short sticks by which they are held, and the strings with which they are tied getting entangled together. In an exaggerated pantomime, Madame Tres-Propre expresses her despair at wasting so much of our valuable time: oh! if it only depended on her personal efforts! but ah! the natural perversity of inanimate things which have no consideration for human dignity! With monkeyish antics, she even deems it her duty to threaten the lanterns and shake her fist at these inextricably tangled strings which have the presumption to delay us.
It is all very well, but we know this manoeuvre by heart; and if the old lady loses patience, so do we. Chrysantheme, who is half asleep, is seized with a fit of kitten-like yawning which she does not even trouble to hide behind her hand, and which appears to be endless. She pulls a very long face at the thought of the steep hill we must struggle up tonight through the pelting rain.