The Honorable Miss Moonlight
THE HONORABLE MISS MOONLIGHT
THE day had been long and sultry. Itwas the season of little heat, when anall-encompassing humidity seemed suspendedover the land. Sky and earthwere of one monotonous color, a dimblue, which faded to shadowy grayness at the fall ofthe twilight.
With the approach of evening, a soothing breezecrept up from the river. Its faint movement broughta measure of relief, and nature took on a more animatedaspect.
Up through the narrow, twisting roads, in andout of the never-ending paths, the lights of countlessjinrikishas twinkled, bound for the Houses ofPleasure. Revelers called to each other out of thebalmy darkness. Under the quivering light of alifted lantern, suspended for an instant, faces gleamedout, then disappeared back into the darkness.
To the young Lord Saito Gonji the night seemedto speak with myriad tongues. Like some finelytuned instrument whose slenderest string must vibrateif touched by a breath, so the heart of theyouth was stirred by every appeal of the night.He heard nothing of the chatter and laughter ofthose about him. For the time at least, he had putbehind him that sickening, deadening thought thathad borne him company now for so long. He wasgiving himself up entirely to the brief hour of joy,which had been agreeably extended to him in extenuationof the long life of thralldom yet to come.
It was in his sole honor that the many relativesand connections of his family had assembled, joyouslyto celebrate the fleeting hours of youth. Forwithin a week the Lord Saito Gonji was to marry.Upon this pale and dreamy youth the hopes of theillustrious house of Saito depended. To him theaugust ancestors looked for the propagating of theirhonorable seed. He was the last of a great family,and had been cherished and nurtured for one purposeonly.
With almost as rigid care as would have beenbestowed upon a novitiate priest, Gonji had beeneducated.
“Send the child you love upon a journey,” admonishedthe stern-hearted Lady Saito Ichigo toher husband; and so at the early age of five the littleGonji was sent to Kummumotta, there to be trainedunder the strictest discipline known to the samourai.Here he developed in strength and grace of body;but, seemingly caught in some intangible web, themind of the youth awoke not from its dreams. Hisarm had the strength of the samourai, said histeachers, but his spirit and his heart were those ofthe poet.
There came a period when he was placed in theImperial University, and a new life opened to thewondering youth. New laws, new modes of thought,the alluring secrets of strange sciences, baffling andfascinating, all opened their doors to the infatuatedand eager Gonji. With the enthusiasm born of hissolitary years, the boy grasped avidly after theideals of the New Japan. His career in college wasnotable. In him professor and student recognizedthe born leader and genius. He was to do greatthings for Japan some day!
Then came a time when the education of the youthwas abruptly halted, and he was ordered to returnto his home. While his mind was still engaged inthe fascinating employment of planning a career,his parents ceremoniously presented him to Ohano,a girl he had known from childhood and a distantrelative of his mother’s family. Mechanically andobediently the dazed Gonji found himself exchangingwith the maiden the first gifts of betrothal.
Ohano was plump, with a round, somewhat sullenface, a pouting, full-lipped mouth, and eyes so smallthey seemed but mere slits in her face. She had inheritedthe inscrutable, disdainful expression of herlofty ancestors.
Though he had played with her as a child and hadseen her upon every occasion during his school vacations,Gonji looked at her now with new eyes. As alittle boy he had liked Ohano. She was his sole playmate,and it had been his delight to tease her. Now,as he watched her stealthily, he was consumed with asense of unutterable despair. Could it be that hisfairest dreams were to end with Ohano?
Like every other Japanese youth, who knows thatsome day his proper mate will be chosen and givento him, Gonji had conjured up a lovely, yieldingcreature of the imagination, a gentle, smiling, mysteriousEve, who, like a new world, should daily surpriseand delight him. As he looked at Ohano,sitting placidly and contentedly by his side, he wasconscious only of an inner tumult of rebellion andrepulsion against the chains they were forging inexorablyabout him and this girl. It was impossible,he felt, to drag him nearer to her. The very thoughtrevolted, stunned him, and suddenly, rudely, heturned his back upon his bride.
The relatives agreed that something should bedone to offset the gloom of the first stages of betrothal.It was suggested that the bridegroom havea full week of freedom. As was the custom amongmany, he should for the first time be introduced tothe life of gaiety and pleasure that lay outside thelofty, ancestral walls, the better, later, to appreciatethe calm and pure joys of home and family.
In single file the jinrikishas had been runningalong a narrow road which overlooked city and bay.Now they swerved into shadowy by-paths andplunged into the heart of the woods. A velvetydarkness, through which the drivers picked theirway with caution, enwrapped them.
For some time the tingling music of samisen anddrum close by had been growing ever clearer. Suddenlythe glimmer of many lights was seen, as ifsuspended overhead. Almost unconsciously faceswere raised, excited breaths drawn in admiration andapproval. Like a great sparkling jewel hung in mid-air,the House of Slender Pines leaned over its woodedterraces toward them.
Gay little mousmés, rubbing hands and knees together,ran to meet them at the gate, kowtowing andhissing in obeisance. The note of a samisen washeard; and a thin little voice, sweet, and incrediblyhigh, broke into song. Geishas, with great flowersin their hair, fell into a posturing group, dancing withhand, head, and fan. Gonji watched them in afascinated silence, noting the minutest detail of theirattire, their expression, their speech. They belongedto a world which, till now, he had not been permittedeven to explore. Nay, till but recently he had beenrigidly guarded from even the slightest possible contactwith these little creatures of joy. Soon he wasto be set in the niche destined for him by his ancestors.Here was his sole opportunity to seize thefleeting delights of youth.
A laughing-faced mousmé, red-lipped and withsaucy, teasing eyes that peeped at him from beneathveiled lashes, knelt to hold his sake-tray. He leanedgravely toward the girl and examined her face witha curious wonder; but her smile brought no responseto the somewhat sad and somber lips of the youngman, nor did he even deign to sip the fragrant cupshe tendered.
An elder cousin offered some chaffing advice, andan hilarious uncle suggested that the master of thehouse put his geishas upon parade; but the father ofGonji roughly interposed, declaring that his son’sthoughts, naturally, were elsewhere. It was so withall expectant bridegrooms. His father’s words awokethe boy from his dreaming. He turned very pale andtrembled. His head drooped forward, and he felt anirresistible inclination to cover his face with his hands.His father’s voice sounded in gruff whisper at his ear:
“Pay attention. You see now the star of thenight. It is the famous Spider, spinning her web!”
As Gonji slowly raised his head and gazed like onespellbound at the dancer, his father added, with asudden vehemence:
“Take care, my son, lest she entrap thee, too, likethe proverbial fly.”
A hush had fallen upon the gardens. Almost itseemed as if the tiny feet of the dancer stirred notat all. Yet, with imperceptible advances, she movednearer and nearer to her fascinated audience. Aboveher flimsy gown of sheerest veiling, which spranglike a web on all sides and above her, her face shonewith its marvelous beauty and allurement. Herlips were apart, smiling, coaxing, teasing; and hereyes, wide and very large, seemed to seek over theheads of her audience for the one who should proveher prey. It was the final motion of the dance ofthe Spider, the seeking for, the finding, the seizingof her imaginary victim. Now the Spider’s eyes hadceased to wander. They were fixed compellinglyupon those of the Lord Saito Gonji.
He had arisen to his feet, and with a half-audibleexclamation—a sound of an indrawn sigh—headvanced toward the dancer. For a moment,breathlessly, he stood close beside her. The subtleodor of her perfumed hair and body stole like acharm over his senses. Her sleeve fluttered againsthis hand for but the fraction of a moment, yetthrilled and tormented him. He looked at theSpider with the eyes of one who sees a new and radiantwonder. Then darkness came rudely betweenthem. The geisha’s face vanished with the light.He was standing alone, staring into the darkness, hisfather’s voice droning meaninglessly in his ear.
HER real name was as poetical as the oneshe was known by was forbidding andrepelling. Moonlight, it was; thoughall the gay world which hovers about afamous geisha, like flies over the honey-pot,knew her solely as the “Spider.”
“Spider” she was called because of the peculiardance she had originated. It was against all classicalprecedents, but of so exceptional a characterthat in a night, a single hour, as it were, she found herselffrom a humble little apprentice the most celebratedgeisha in Kioto, that paradise of geishas.
It was a day of golden fortune for Matsuda, whoowned the girl. She had been bound to his servicesince the age of seven with bonds as drastic as if thedays of