THE GARDEN OF FLOWERS
The next day the rain fell in torrents, merciless and unceasing, blinding and drenching everything—a rain so dense that it was impossible to see through it from one end of the vessel to the other. It seemed as if the clouds of the whole world had amassed themselves in Nagasaki Bay, and chosen this great green funnel to stream down. And so thickly did the rain fall that it became almost as dark as night. Through a veil of restless water, we still perceived the base of the mountains, but the summits were lost to sight among the great dark masses overshadowing us. Above us shreds of clouds, seemingly torn from the dark vault, draggled across the trees, like gray rags-continually melting away in torrents of water. The wind howled through the ravines with a deep tone. The whole surface of the bay, bespattered by the rain, flogged by the gusts of wind that blew from all quarters, splashed, moaned, and seethed in violent agitation.
What depressing weather for a first landing, and how was I to find a wife through such a deluge, in an unknown country?
No matter! I dressed myself and said to Yves, who smiled at my obstinate determination in spite of unfavorable circumstances:
“Hail me a ‘sampan,’ brother, please.”
Yves then, by a motion of his arm through the wind and rain, summoned a kind of little, white, wooden sarcophagus which was skipping near us on the waves, sculled by two yellow boys stark naked in the rain. The craft approached us, I jumped into it, then through a little trap-door shaped like a rat-trap that one of the scullers threw open for me, I slipped in and stretched myself at full length on a mat in what is called the “cabin” of a sampan.
There was just room enough for my body to lie in this floating coffin, which was scrupulously clean, white with the whiteness of new deal boards. I was well sheltered from the rain, that fell pattering on my lid, and thus I started for the town, lying in this box, flat on my stomach, rocked by one wave, roughly shaken by another, at moments almost overturned; and through the half-opened door of my rattrap I saw, upside-down, the two little creatures to whom I had entrusted my fate, children of eight or ten years of age at the most, who, with little monkeyish faces, had, however, fully developed muscles, like miniature men, and were already as skilful as regular old salts.
Suddenly they began to shout; no doubt we were approaching the landing-place. And indeed, through my trap-door, which I had now thrown wide open, I saw quite near to me the gray flagstones on the quays. I got out of my sarcophagus and prepared to set foot on Japanese soil for the first time in my life.
All was streaming around us, and the tiresome rain dashed into my eyes.
Hardly had I landed, when there bounded toward me a dozen strange beings, of what description it was almost impossible to distinguish through the blinding rain—a species of human hedgehog, each dragging some large black object; they came screaming around me and stopped my progress. One of them opened and held over my head an enormous, closely-ribbed umbrella, decorated on its transparent surface with paintings of storks; and they all smiled at me in an engaging manner, with an air of expectation.