THE BLIND ONE

“Upon the road to Nikko,
Where the pilgrims pray,
Along the road to Nikko
Either side the way,
Thundering great camellia trees
Decked with blossoms gay,
Adorn the road to Nikko,
The mountain road to Nikko,
In the month of May.”

The singer stopped singing and began to whistle. Then he broke out into
prose.

“Damn boots! I’ll be lame in another mile. Why can’t we be content with
sandals like our ‘brithers’ the Japs!”

“Dinna damn boots, but their makers,” replied his companion, a sandy
Scot of fifty or more, dressed in broadcloth and a bowler, a figure at
once a blot upon the lonely road and a blasphemy against Japan–a blot
whose name was M’Gourley. “I vara well remember when I was in Gleska–”

“Oh, don’t!” said the poet of the Nikko road, Dick Leslie by name, a
young man, or rather a man still young, very tall, straight, dark, and
good-looking, and a gentleman from the crown of his close-clipped, curly
black head to the soles of the boots that were torturing him. “Don’t
haul up your factory chimneys, your smoke and whisky bottles in this
place of places. I believe if a Scot ever gets into heaven he’ll start
his first conversation with his first angel by making some reference to
Gleska: Look there!”

“Whaur?”

“There!” cried Leslie, turning from the direction of Fubasami and the
beginning of the great Nikko valley before them, and pointing backwards
away towards Kureise over an expanse of distant country where the clouds
were drawing soft shadows across the rice fields and the sinuous hills;
over little woods of fir and cryptomeria trees, lakes where the lotus
flowers spread in summer, and the king-fisher flashed like a jewel; over
occasional fields of flowers, flowers that grew by the million and the
million.

Many of these details were absorbed and dulled by distance, yet still
lent their spirit to the scene, producing a landscape most strange and
quaint.

Nearly every other country seems flung together by nature, but Japan
seems to have been imagined by some great artist of the ancient
days–imagined and constructed.

“Look there,” said Leslie, “saw you ever anything better than that in
Clackmannan?”

“Ay, have I,” replied M’Gourley, contemplating the view before him,
“many’s the time. What sort of country do you call that? Man! I’d as
soon live on a tea-tray if I had ma choice.”

“Well, you’ve lived in Japan long enough to be used to it. It’s always
the way; put a man in a paradise like this where there are all sorts of
flowers and jolly things around him, and he starts grumbling and
growling and pining after rain, and misery, and cold, and sleet, and
peat smoke–if he’s a Scotchman. How long have you been in Japan, Mac,
did you say?”

“Near ever since the Samurai took off their swords and turned
policemen.”

“What kept you in the East so long if you don’t like it?”

“Trade, like the wind, blaweth where it listeth, and a man must e’en
follow his trade,” said M’Gourley; and they resumed their road.

They were walking to Nikko together, this strangely assorted pair,
strangely assorted though they were both Scotchmen. They were
approaching the place, not by that splendid avenue of cryptomeria trees
that leads from Utso-no-Miya, but by the wild hill road, which runs from
Kureise, or rather by the higher hill road, for there are two, and they
had taken the loneliest and the longest by mistake (M’Gourley’s fault,
though he swore that he knew the country like the palm of his hand).

They had come twenty or twenty-five miles of the way by riksha, and were
now hoofing the remainder, their luggage having been sent on to Nikko by
train.

“And talking of trade,” said M’Gourley, “let’s go back to the matter we
were on a moment ago; there’s money in it, and I know the beesiness. I
ken it fine; never a man knows better the Jap Rubbish trade.”

“You were talking of starting at Nagasaki.”

“Ay, Nagasaki’s best.”

“Well, I’ll plank the money,” said Leslie. “I’ll put up a thousand
against a thousand of yours.”

M’Gourley stopped and held out a hand sheathed in a mournful-looking
black dogskin glove.

“Is’t a bargain?” said he.

“It’s a bargain. Funny that we should have only met the other day in
Tokyo, and that you should have come along to Nikko to show me the
sights. I believe all the time you were bent on trepanning me into this
business.”

“I was that,” said M’Gourley, with charming frankness; “for your own
good. A man without a beesiness is a man astray, and when you told me in
the hotel in Tokyo you were a boddie with money, and nothing to do with
it, I said: ‘Here’s my chance.'”

“If I had met you two months ago,” said Leslie bitterly, “I wouldn’t
have been much use, for my father would not have been dead, and I would
not have come into his money. Do you know what I have been?–I have been
a remittance man.”

“I’ve met vera much worse people than some of _them_,” said Mac, who if
his newly found partner had declared himself a demon out of Hades would
perhaps have made the same glossatory remark–the capital being assured.

“I’m hanged if I have,” said Leslie bitterly. “Give me a Sydney
Larrikin, a Dago, a Chinee, before your remittance man. I know what I’m
talking about for I have been one–see?”

“What, may I ask–” began M’Gourley, then he paused.

“You mean what was the reason of my being flung off by my father?
Youthful indiscretions. Let’s sit down; I want to take my boot off.”

The road just here took a bend, and became wilder and more lovely, a
stream gushed from the bank on which they took their seats, and before
them lay a little valley, a valley hedged on either side by cypress
trees, and thronged with crimson azaleas.

Crimson azaleas in wild profusion, here struck with sun, here shadowed
by the cypress trees–a sight to gladden the heart of a poet. Between
the cypress trees, beyond the azaleas, beyond country broken by sunlight
and cloud shadows, lay the sea hills of Tanagura in the dimmest bluest
distance.

“If I could get that into a gold frame,” said Leslie, as he inhaled the
delicious perfume of the azaleas and bathed his naked foot in the tiny
cascade breaking from the bank on which they sat, “I’d take it to London
and send it to the Academy–and they’d reject it.”

“Vara likely,” replied Mac. “It is no fit for a peecture. Who ever saw
the like of yon out of Japan? It’s nought but a fakement.”

“I say,” said Leslie, “talking of fakements–in this business of ours I
hope we’ll steer clear of all that.”

“In this beesiness of oors,” said Mac, “I thought you distinctly
understood my friend Danjuro will be the nominal head of the firrm–we
are but the sleeping pairtners.”

Mac’s Scotch bubbled in him when he grew excited, or when he forgot
himself. Ordinarily he talked pretty ordinary English, but when the
stopper was off the Scotch came out, and you could tell by the
pronunciation of the word “money” whether he was mentioning the article
casually or deep in a deal.

“Well,” said Leslie, “I don’t want my dreams troubled by visions of
Danjuro swindling unfortunate tourists; you say we’re to export things,
but I don’t want to have him roping in people, selling them
five-shilling pagodas at five pounds a-piece.”

Mac sighed as if with regret at the impossibility of such a delightful
deal as that.

“It’s rather jolly going into business,” continued Leslie, dreamily
gazing at the azaleas. “Only crime I’ve never committed, except murder
and a few others. Good God! when I started in life I never thought I’d
end my days peddling paper lanterns, and cheating people into buying
penny-a-dozen kakemonos for a shilling a-piece. Don’t talk to me; all
trade is cheating.”

“You should have known Macbean,” said M’Gourley, who had also taken off
his boots and stockings and was bathing his broad splay feet in the
pretty little torrent.

“Who was he?”

“Forty year ago I was his ‘prentice. Mummies, and idols, and pagods, and
scarabeuses was the output of the firm, and Icknield Street, Birmingham,
its habitation.”

“Idols?”

“Ay, idols. Some the size of your thumb, and some the size of bedposts,
which they were derived from; some with teeth, and some with hair, and
some bald as a bannock. We stocked half West Africa with idols, and the
South Seas absorbed the balance.”

“Well, you certainly take the cake,” said Leslie.

“I took three pun ten a week at Macbean’s, and learnt more eelementary
theology than’s taught in the schules of Edinboro’. Macbean said
artistical idols was what the savages wanted, and what they would get as
long as old bedposteses were to be bought at knockdown prices, and sold
for the waurth of elephants’ tusks.”

“You disgust me,” said Leslie, “upon my word you do.”

“That’s what Macbean said one day to the boddie I had in mind when I
began telling you of this. The boddie came in grumbling about a mummy–a
vara fine mummy it was, too–that had been sold to him for export. The
mummy had been stuftit with newspapers, but the _sachrum ustum_ used for
coloring the stuffing matter being omitted, the printed matter remained
in eevidence when the American who bought the article in Cairo opened it
to hunt for amulets and scarabeuses. ‘Newspapers!’ said Macbean. ‘And
what more do you expect in a fifty-shullin’ mummy? Did y’ expect it
stuffed wi’ dimonds?'”

“Well?” said Leslie.

“That’s all, and that’s the whole of beesiness in a walnut shell; y’
canna expect a fifty-shullin’ mummy to be stuffed with–”

“Rubbish! the whole of swindling, you mean. Anyhow, we’ll keep straight,
if you please; a fair profit I don’t mind, but I object to rank
trickery–by the way, what’s the time? my watch has stopped; and how far
is Nikko off?”

“It’s after two,” said Mac, who had no very definite idea of how far
Nikko might be off, having led his companion by the wrong road and
concealed the fact. “And Nikko is maybe twarree miles, maybe a bit
more–wull we go?”

For all answer Leslie took some bar-chocolate from his pocket, gave some
to his companion, and proceeded to lunch.

“I daresay you think it funny,” said he at last, “my chumming up, and in
your heart of hearts–that is, your business heart (excuse me for being
frank)–you must think it strange I should put up my money with a man
whom I don’t know in the least. But, man! the truth of the matter is I’m
weary for a friend. I have money enough and to spare, but–I’m weary for
a friend.

“I’m the lonest man in the world,” went on Leslie, munching his
chocolate and gazing at the beautiful scene before him; “the lonest man
on God’s earth. What is the matter with me that I should never have
found and kept a friend? If God had ever given me anything to love I’d
have cherished it, but–there is no God that I can see.”

“Whisht, man,” said Mac. “Dinna talk like that.”

“I know I was wild,” went on Leslie, “before I left England, but other
men have been as bad. I quarreled with my father, but other men’s
fathers are different from what mine was. He drove me beyond the sea to
be an alien and an outcast. I’ve seen drunken loafers in the bars of
Sydney, where I was stuck as a remittance man three years; they had
friends of a sort–friends who stuck them, but friend or dog never stuck
to me.”

“No wumman?” asked M’Gourley, spitting out the remains of the chocolate
he was eating, and lighting a vile-looking Hankow cigar.

“I loved a woman once,” said Leslie, staring before him with eyes that
saw not Japan or the cypress trees or the azaleas. “Her name was Jane
Deering; we were boy and girl together, cousins, and her people lived
quite close to mine. We got engaged, and were to have been married,
and–she threw me over.”

“For why?” asked Mac.

“Said she didn’t want to get married.”

“Well, that was deefinite.”

“Damned definite. What’s that noise?”

“Tap, tap, tap.” It was the tapping of a stick upon the ground, and a
man in the dress of a coolie, with a saucer-shaped hat upon his head,
turned the corner of the road, coming in the direction of Nikko. He was
tapping the ground before him with a staff. He was blind.

“What an awful-looking face!” said Leslie, as the figure approached.
“Look, Mac! Did you ever see the like of that?”

One sees many extraordinary and sinister faces in the East, but the face
of the on-comer would have been hard to match, even in the stews of
Shanghai.

The nose seemed to have been smashed flat by a blow. The face was flat
and possessed an awful stolidity, so that at a little distance one could
have sworn that it was carved from stone. It impressed one as the
countenance of a creature long in communion with evil.

The two Scotchmen held motionless to let this undesirable pass, but he
must have possessed some sixth sense, for instead of passing he stopped
and begun to whine.

He spoke in a light, flighty, chanting voice, like the voice of a man
either insane or delirious.

“What’s he say?” asked Leslie.

“He’s a Chinee, and wants money.”

“Tell the beast to go.”

“Says he knows we’re foreigners.”

“Clever that; why, even I can hear your Scotch sticking out of the
gibberish you’re talking.”

“Says he wants opium–hasn’t had any the whole day, and if we will give
him opium, or money to buy it, he’ll show us things.”

“What things?”

“Lord sakes! the creeture’s daft; says he can make great magic–snakes
out of mud or flowers out of nothing.”

“Why doesn’t he make some opium if he’s so clever?”

“Says the woods around here are full of devils.”

“Tell him to show us a devil, then.”

Mac translated and the person so well acquainted with devils made
answer.

“For a piece of gold he will show us one. Why, Leslie, man, don’t you be
a fule.”

Leslie had taken half a sovereign from his pocket.

“Give it him and tell him to show us a devil, and if he plays any tricks
I’ll chivy him into Nikko, and give him up to the police.”

“Don’t be a fule,” said Mac testily. “A’weel!”

Leslie put the piece of gold into the creature’s hand, who put it to his
ear for a moment, and then hid it in his rags. Then he bent his head
sideways to the road.

“What’s he doing now?”

“He’s listening if the road’s clear; he says there’s nothing on it for
two ri on either side, but he hears seven rikshas coming in the
direction of Nikko, but he’ll have time to do what he wants before they
arrive.”

The Blind One bent down rapidly and traced an almost perfect circle
around himself in the dust of the road; then hurriedly outside this he
traced what an initiate might have taken for the form of the Egg, the
horns of Simara, and another form needless to describe. Then he said
something to Mac.

“He says, we’re not to speak, or touch the circle or go near it. I have
not paid for this entertainment, and I juist think I’ll take a bit walk
doon the road.”

“Sit down, you old coward,” said Leslie. “I’m the one that has paid, and
I’m the one the ‘deevil’ will carry off if there is a deevil. Look!”

The Blind One took from his rags a cane pipe such as blind men use in
Japan, only larger, and began to blow mournful notes out of it. It was
as strange a sound as ever left human lips, now ear-piercing, now low,
low and soothing; his face flushed and swelled; he seemed enraptured,
entranced with his own music, and the searching sound of it caused
things to move disturbedly in the trees around, and a low croaking, as
if from some feathered creature disturbed, to come from the cypress
wood.

As he played, he turned north, south, east, and west, lingering, at
last, with the reed pipe pointing between the cypress trees, as though
he were calling to the blue hills in the distance.

As he stood thus, Leslie, who had been looking at the mysterious symbols
around the circle, was seized with an impish impulse, and leaning
forward with his walking-stick, he made in the dust inside the circle,
and just behind the Blind One’s heel, the form of a cross.

In doing this, the point of the stick touched the Blind One’s heel.

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