When we looked intently, here and there we saw, often built in counterscarp on the very brink of an abyss, some old, tiny, mysterious pagoda, half hidden in the foliage of the overhanging trees, bringing to the minds of new arrivals, like ourselves, a sense of unfamiliarity and strangeness, and the feeling that in this country the spirits, the sylvan gods, the antique symbols, faithful guardians of the woods and forests, were unknown and incomprehensible.
When Nagasaki appeared, the view was rather disappointing. Situated at the foot of green overhanging mountains, it looked like any other ordinary town. In front of it lay a tangled mass of vessels, flying all the flags of the world; steamboats, just as in any other port, with dark funnels and black smoke, and behind them quays covered with warehouses and factories; nothing was wanting in the way of ordinary, trivial, every-day objects.
Some time, when man shall have made all things alike, the earth will be a dull, tedious dwelling-place, and we shall have even to give up travelling and seeking for a change which can no longer be found.
About six o’clock we dropped anchor noisily amid the mass of vessels already in the harbor, and were immediately invaded.
We were visited by a mercantile, bustling, comical Japan, which rushed upon us in full boat-loads, in waves, like a rising sea. Little men and little women came in a continuous, uninterrupted stream, but without cries, without squabbles, noiselessly, each one making so smiling a bow that it was impossible to be angry with them, so that by reflex action we smiled and bowed also. They carried on their backs little baskets, tiny boxes, receptacles of every shape, fitting into one another in the most ingenious manner, each containing several others, and multiplying till they filled up everything, in endless number. From these they drew forth all manner of curious and unexpected things: folding screens, slippers, soap, lanterns, sleeve-links, live cicalas chirping in little cages, jewelry, tame white mice turning little cardboard mills, quaint photographs, hot soups and stews in bowls, ready to be served out in rations to the crew;—china, a legion of vases, teapots, cups, little pots and plates. In one moment, all this was unpacked, spread out with astounding rapidity and a certain talent for arrangement; each seller squatting monkey-like, hands touching feet, behind his fancy ware—always smiling, bending low with the most engaging bows. Under the mass of these many-colored things, the deck presented the appearance of an immense bazaar; the sailors, very much amused and full of fun, walked among the heaped-up piles, taking the little women by the chin, buying anything and everything; throwing broadcast their white dollars. But how ugly, mean, and grotesque all those folk were! I began to feel singularly uneasy and disenchanted regarding my possible marriage.
Yves and I were on duty till the next morning, and after the first bustle, which always takes place on board when settling down in harbor—boats to lower, booms to swing out, running rigging to make taut—we had nothing more to do but look on. We said to each other: “Where are we in reality?—In the United States?—In some English colony in Australia, or in New Zealand?”