SUICIDE

A fortnight later, the snow-capped peak of the lordly and beautiful
Mount Fusiyama appeared in sight, and a few hours afterward the steamer
rounded the promontory and cast anchor in the port of Yokohama. The
ship was soon surrounded by some score of native boats, and having
taken their place in the “sampan” of the Grand Hotel, Frederick and
his inamorata were rowed on shore. The first few days were spent in
visiting the various sights and curiosities of the place, and so
enchanted were the couple with the beauty and picturesque aspect of the
environs that they determined to remain for a time in Japan.

With the assistance of the hotel officials, they secured a very pretty
Japanese “yashiki,” or villa, situated at about half an hour’s distance
from the town, and caused such European furniture as they were likely
to require to be transported thither. When all was ready, they took up
their residence there, with a large retinue of native servants, both
male and female. These were under the orders of an ex-Samurai (member
of the lower grades of the nobility), who spoke both English and
German, and who was to act as their interpreter and major-domo.

The secrecy with which it had been necessary to observe all their
relations until the moment when they left Batavia, had imbued their
intrigue with a certain degree of piquancy, and the constant change of
scene which had passed before their eyes like a kaleidoscope, since
they left Java, had prevented any danger of monotony and _ennui_. The
experiment which they were now, however, about to enter upon was a
most perilous one. With no European society in the neighborhood, and
dependent solely on one another for conversation and diversion, it was
only natural that a man of Frederick’s character and temperament should
soon begin to weary of the sameness and dreariness of his existence. It
is useless to expect that any man should remain in a state of perpetual
adoration for an indefinite length of time before his lady-love, no
matter how beautiful she may be. Familiarity breeds contempt, and this
is especially the case when the lady is no longer young and has become
sentimental and exacting. Accustomed as Nina had been at Batavia to see
Frederick, and in fact all the other men by whom she was surrounded,
anxious for a smile and ever ready to execute her slightest behest,
it cut her to the very heart to see how, after the first few weeks of
their residence in Japan, her lover’s affection toward her decreased.
He betrayed traces of weariness in her society, and spent much of his
time in riding about alone in the neighborhood.

At about a quarter of an hour’s distance from the house, and standing
on the banks of a small river, was a pretty village, of which the chief
attraction was a “chaya,” or tea-house. It was here that Frederick’s
horse might have been frequently seen walking up and down, attended by
his “betto” (native groom), while his master was being entertained by
the graceful “mousmes,” who constitute so charming a feature of every
Japanese restaurant.

Stretched on a mat of the most immaculate whiteness, Frederick would
remain for hours, lazily sipping his tea and watching the voluptuous
dances of the “geishas” (dancing-girls). Although not beautiful, yet
the Japanese women, when young, are exceedingly pretty and captivating.
They have many winning and gracious little ways, and are thoroughly
impressed with the notion that their sole mission in life is to provide
amusement for the sterner sex.

The young man appreciated these little excursions into the country
all the more since, with commendable caution, Madame Van der Beck had
insisted that all the female servants employed in the house should
be married women. In order to realize what this meant, it must be
explained that on their wedding-day, the Japanese wives are obliged
by custom and tradition to shave off their eyebrows and to stain
their teeth a brilliant black, so that their husbands may have no
further grounds for jealousy. Their appearance is therefore scarcely
prepossessing.

Nina, more and more embittered by her lover’s ever-increasing
indifference, lost much of her former good humor and cheerfulness. She
spent the whole day brooding alone in the gardens which surrounded her
villa. These were laid out with much ingenuity and artistic feeling by
one of the most famous Japanese landscape gardeners. Miniature rivers
traversed the ground in every direction, spanned by miniature bridges,
and with miniature temples and pagodas on their banks. There were also
miniature waterfalls, miniature junks, and even miniature trees, the
latter being especially curious. By some method which has been kept a
profound secret by the great guild of horticulturists at Tokio, trees
even two hundred and three hundred years old have been treated in such
a manner as to stunt their growth and to prevent them from attaining a
height of more than two or, at the most, three feet. Their trunks are
gnarled and twisted by age, but there is no trace of the pruning-knife,
and they constitute an exact representation in miniature of the
grand old sycamore, oak, and cedar trees which line the magnificent
fifty-mile avenue which leads up to the sacred shrines of “Nikko.” The
object which the Japanese have in view in thus stunting the growth of
certain classes of their trees is the fact that owing to the want of
space the inhabitants of cities are obliged to content themselves with
very small gardens. In order to make these appear larger and to allow
for the composition of the landscape, which is the Japanese ideal of a
garden, they are obliged to arrange everything in miniature, and since
trees of normal size would be out of keeping with the rest they have
discovered an ingenious scheme of dwarfing them to a corresponding size.

One day, a few minutes after Frederick had arrived on his customary
visit to the (tea-house), he was suddenly called out into the
court-yard, where he found his betto stretched dead on the ground.
Frederick had been in such a hurry to get away from home that he had
ridden too fast, and the unfortunate native, whose duty, as in all
oriental countries, it was to run before the horse, had, on reaching
his destination, expired of the rupture of an aneurism of the heart.
Much annoyed by this incident, Frederick ordered the corpse to be
conveyed home at once, and spent the remainder of the day with the
pretty “mousmes” at the tea-house.

When he returned home that evening, the widow of his ill-fated groom
rushed up to him and, kissing his boot, entreated his pardon for the
“stupidity of which her husband had been guilty in dying while out with
the master and occasioning him thereby the trouble of attending to his
own horse.”

Frederick, much amused at this display of truly oriental courtesy,
tossed the woman a few yen notes and entered the the house, laughing,
with the intention of telling Madame Van der Beck about it. The smile,
however, faded from his lips when he came into her presence, for,
having learned from the men who had brought home the groom’s body, the
nature of the place where Frederick was in the habit of passing his
days, her feelings of jealousy and anger were aroused to a boiling
pitch. Thoroughly spoiled, accustomed to have every whim humored, and
with no notion of how to control her temper, she gave full vent to a
perfect torrent of reproaches and abuse against the man for whom she
had sacrificed husband, rank, and position. She taunted him bitterly
with his ingratitude, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that
he at length succeeded in restoring her to anything like calm.

Had she but known the true character and the past record of the man to
whom she had so rashly confided her happiness, it is probable that she
would have exercised a greater restraint over her temper. Frederick had
now lost all sense of her charms and attractions, and was determined to
cut himself loose from bonds which, though gilded, had become irksome
to him. Moreover, he lived in constant dread that her husband, Mr.
Van der Beck, would end by discovering their place of refuge. This
last encounter with his mistress brought matters to a climax, and
he determined to put into execution, without any further delay, the
projects which he had been maturing for some time past.

A few days later, he rode into Yokohama and took the train up to Tokio.
There he directed his jinrikisha, as the little two-wheeled carriages
(drawn at a sharp trot by one, two, or three coolies, harnessed tandem
fashion) are called, to take him to the quarter of the metropolis
inhabited by the merchants dealing in furs. After considerable trouble,
he succeeded in finding some skins of the wild-cat, with which he
returned to the railway station and thence to Yokohama.

On reaching home, he seized the earliest possible moment to lock
himself up in his room, where he spent an hour in cutting off the
short, hard hairs of the furs which he had purchased, and, locking them
away in a small box, he then destroyed the skins.

While stationed in the interior of Java, a native soldier to whom
he had shown some acts of kindness had displayed his gratitude by
making him acquainted with the properties of the chopped hair of a
wild-cat when mixed with food. These hairs are swallowed without
being noticed, but remain stuck by their points in the intestines. Any
attempts to remove them or to relieve the patient by means of medicines
are useless, since the hairs merely bend in order to give way to the
medicament and then resume their former position. In a very short
space of time, they produce terrible and incurable ulcerations of the
intestines, and in the course of a few weeks the victim, who is unable
to take any further food or nourishment, wastes away and finally dies
of exhaustion and inanition.

It was of this fiendish method that Frederick was about to avail
himself for the purpose of getting rid of his rich inamorata, whose
money, however, he was determined at all costs to retain.

Mme. Van der Beck soon began to notice an agreeable change in the
conduct of Frederick. His indifference and coldness vanished entirely
and he became once more an attentive and devoted lover. He no longer
spent his days at the “chaya,” but remained at home, and only left
the house to accompany her on her drives in the lovely environs of
Yokohama. Nina was at first at a loss to understand the reason of so
radical a reformation, but finally made up her mind that it was to be
attributed to the sorrow she had manifested at his neglect; and her
love for him revived in all its former intensity.

One day while driving in the neighborhood their attention was suddenly
attracted by cries for assistance which proceeded from the banks of
a small stream. On approaching the spot they found that an English
phaeton of somewhat antiquated build, and drawn by an exceedingly
vicious looking pair of half-broken Japanese ponies, had been
overturned into the water. The carriage was imbedded in the mud, and
the grooms were making frantic efforts to extricate the terrified
horses from the tangle of harness and reins. On the bank stood a
Japanese gentleman in native costume, who was giving directions
to his men. Frederick, having alighted, courteously raised his hat
and inquired if he could be of any assistance, an offer which was
gratefully accepted. With the help of his servants the ponies were
at length freed, but it was found impossible to pull the heavy and
cumbrous vehicle out of the mud. At Nina’s pressing solicitation, the
Japanese, who, judging by his dress and appearance, was evidently a
man of high rank, allowed himself to be prevailed upon to accept a
seat in her carriage and to be driven to his home. The latter was an
extremely pretty country house surrounded by vast grounds. On taking
leave of them, with many profuse expressions of gratitude, he requested
permission to call upon them on the following day. They learned
subsequently from their major-domo that their new acquaintance was one
of the most famous statesmen of the land.

On the following day he paid them a long visit, and before he left
requested them to spend the next afternoon at his yashiki. There for
the first time they caught a glimpse of Japanese life such as is rarely
enjoyed by foreigners.

On arriving in the court-yard and entering the house they found the
entire body of servants and dependents of the establishments assembled
in two rows under the heavy portico of carved wood. All were on their
knees, and when Frederick and Nina passed between their ranks every
head was lowered to the ground in silent and respectful greeting to the
guests of their lord. At this moment the master of the house appeared,
and in his flowing silken robes, with his slow and dignified movements,
presented a striking contrast to the restless and frisky little Japs
whom one is accustomed to see rushing through the streets of London and
Paris.

A magnificent banquet was then served in true Japanese style. Six girls
in gorgeous apparel entered the dining hall, and, falling on their
knees, prostrated themselves till their heads touched the floor. They
wore the most artistic of dresses, with huge sashes of a soft rich
color. In their hands they bore several native instruments of music,
including a “koto,” a kind of horizontal harp or zither; a “samasin,”
or banjo, and a “yokobuc,” or flute. The fair musicians, still kneeling
on the floor, began to play and to sing a strangely weird but somewhat
exciting melody. Meanwhile other handmaidens, scarcely less richly
dressed than the first, made their appearance, carrying costly lacquer
trays with egg-shell porcelain cups containing slices of the feelers
of the octopus, or devil-fish, wonderfully contrived soups, oranges
preserved in sirups, and various other extraordinary confections. At
first both Nina and Frederick made fruitless attempts to convey the
viands to their mouths by means of the chop-sticks which had been
placed before them, but soon, following the example of their host, they
overcame this difficulty by raising the cups to their lips and gulping
down the contents.

Then came the most dainty morsel of the feast, which is to the Japanese
epicure what fresh oysters and Russian sterlet are to us. Resting on
a large dish of priceless Kioto porcelain, garnished with a wreath of
variegated bamboo leaves, was a magnificent fish of the turbot species.
It was still alive, for its gills and its mouth moved regularly. To
Nina’s horror, the serving girl raised the skin from the upper side of
the fish, which was already loose, and picked off slice after slice of
the living creature, which, although alive, had been carved in such a
manner that no vital part had been touched; the heart, gills, liver,
and stomach had been left intact, and the damp sea-weed on which the
fish rested sufficed to keep the lungs in action. The miserable thing
seemed to look with a lustrous but reproachful eye upon the guests
while they consumed its body. To be buried alive is horrible enough in
all conscience, but to be eaten alive must be even still worse. It
should be added that this particular fish, the dai, is only good when
eaten alive. The moment it is dead the flesh becomes opaque, tough, and
starchy. The wine consisted of warm “sakke” and other kinds of liquor
distilled from rice.

Toward the end of the repast, which lasted several hours, a sliding
panel was suddenly drawn aside and an elderly Japanese lady made her
appearance, crawling on her hands and knees. She was followed by a
considerably younger looking woman and two little girls. On Frederick
looking inquiringly at his host, the latter, with a contemptuous jerk
backward of his thumb, said:

“Oh! my wife,” at which words the good lady touched the floor with her
forehead.

The younger woman was equally briefly introduced as “Okamisan,” and was
the second wife of the worthy host. Of the two little girls one was a
daughter by the first wife and the other by Okamisan, who all dwelt on
the best of terms together.

Both Frederick and Nina were about to rise from the cushions on which
they were sitting on the floor in order to greet the ladies, but they
were forced by their entertainer to keep their places, while with an
important wave of the hand he dismissed his family.

On her way home that night Nina complained of feeling very ill, but
attributing it to the effects of the extraordinary and mysterious
dishes of which she had partaken, she attached no particular importance
thereto.

On the following day she was but little better, and from that time
forth was scarcely ever well. Her languor and loss of appetite
increased day by day. At Frederick’s suggestion one of the best
European doctors at Yokohama was summoned to attend to her case, but
the remedies which he prescribed proved of no avail. She was rarely
able to leave the grounds of the villa, and grew more feeble as the
time passed by. Frederick was unremitting in his attention, and nursed
her with what was apparently the most tender solicitude.

Their residence at the “vashiki” was brought to a sudden close shortly
afterward by a tragic incident. A valuable gold bracelet belonging to
Nina had disappeared, and as the young Samurai (nobleman) who acted
as interpreter and major-domo, had engaged the servants and rendered
himself personally responsible for their honesty, Frederick laid the
blame on him, and reproached him about the theft in the most violent
and unmeasured terms. The poor fellow seemed to take the matter to
heart very much, but uttered no word of response.

The following day, however, he summoned all his friends and relatives,
to the number of about twenty, and caused them to assemble in one of
the detached pavilions of the villa which had been assigned to his
use. Squatting on their heels around the room, with their “hibashi” or
charcoal boxes in front of them, from the burning embers of which they
every few minutes lighted their small and peculiarly shaped pipes, they
listened in silence to a long document which the young man, who was
seated in the middle of the room, read to them. Its contents were to
the effect that he had rendered himself responsible for the honesty of
the servants of his employer’s establishment, that an important theft
had occurred, that he had been held accountable, and that not only
had he been loaded with reproaches, but even himself been suspected
of being the thief. Dishonor such as this could only be wiped out by
his blood. He had therefore requested his friends and relatives to be
present during his last moments, and to receive his dying wishes.

As soon as he had concluded the reading of this document every one
of those present prostrated himself with a long-drawn exclamation
of “Hai,” which seemed to come from the very depths of the heart.
This was to indicate that they fully approved of the course which he
intended to adopt.

After a few moments of profound silence the young man, in a low but yet
matter-of-fact tone of voice, addressed each one of those present in
succession, giving directions as to the disposal of his property and
messages for absent acquaintances.

Then there was another silence, during which cups of tea and “sakke”
were passed around.

Suddenly, on a sign from the young man, the person nearest to him, and
who was his dearest relative, arose and left the room. On returning a
few minutes later he drew from his loose and flowing sleeve a short
but heavy Japanese sword about twenty inches in length. The whole of
the broad, heavy blade and the razor-like edge were hidden by a double
layer of fine but opaque Japanese tissue paper, which effectually
concealed from sight every trace of the deadly steel excepting about a
quarter of an inch of the point. Prostrating himself before the young
Samurai he handed it to him with much formality.

The latter received it in the same ceremonious manner, and having
taken one last whiff at his pipe and replaced it in the fire-box, he
bared his stomach, and inserting the point into his left side, plunged
it up to its hilt, and then, without a cry, without a moan, or even
a single exclamation of pain, drew it swiftly across to the right
side and halfway back again before he fell forward on his face. A few
gasps were all that was heard, except the deep-drawn sighs of those
present. The plucky young fellow was dead. Almost every internal organ
had been severed by the terrible cut, and he lay there motionless in a
pool of blood, the red color of which contrasted vividly with the pure
whiteness of the straw matting.

[Illustration: COMMITTING HARI-KARI.]

Tenderly raising him up, his friends bore the corpse into an adjoining
room, where, after washing off the blood and cleansing the body, they
clothed it in the full costume of a Samurai and laid him on a mat,
with his legs drawn up and crossed, his hands folded on his breast,
and his two swords—the long one for his enemies and the short one for
himself—lying on the ground by his side. Not a trace of pain or anguish
was to be seen on the dead man’s face, which looked incredibly calm and
peaceful.

During that whole night his friends sat by the body, moaning and
chanting in a low voice some kind of “Shinto” songs or verse.

It was only on the morrow that Frederick and Nina were made acquainted
with all the particulars of the tragedy of the previous evening. The
doctor happening to arrive shortly afterward, and being informed of
the terrible incident, immediately impressed upon them the necessity
of leaving the spot at once, and even recommended them to quit Japan
as soon as possible. At any rate, he urged that they should drive
back with him to Yokohama and take up their residence temporarily at
the Grand Hotel, within the boundaries of the foreign settlement. He
explained to them that since their major-domo had committed hari-kari
in consequence of his deeming himself mortally insulted by Frederick,
it had become the bounden and solemn duty of the nearest relative of
the dead man to avenge his honor.

Nina, whose nerves had already received a terrible shock on hearing of
her major-domo’s tragical end—a shock which in her feeble condition
of health she was scarcely in a position to bear—now became terribly
alarmed, and insisted on acting on the doctor’s advice. Frederick,
knowing how small are the chances of a European against the deadly
swords of the Samurai, which cut through flesh and bone, readily
consented, and, having hastily gathered together their money, jewelry,
papers, and other portable valuables, they drove to Yokohama in the
doctor’s carriage.

Nina, however, even when comfortably established in the handsome
apartments on the first floor of the Grand Hotel, was in a constant
state of dread and terror. She was convinced that every native
whom she saw passing along the wharf was intent on murdering her
beloved Frederick, and the idea of remaining any longer in Japan was
intolerable to her. Having become aware that a steamer was about to
leave two days later for San Francisco, she prevailed upon Frederick
to secure passages, and accordingly at the hour appointed for sailing
she was carried on board in an exceedingly feeble condition.

Before taking leave of them their friend, the doctor, who had attended
to the removal of all their property from the villa, solemnly informed
Frederick that he considered his wife’s case almost hopeless; that he
believed her to be suffering from decomposition of the blood, and that
her only chance of recovery lay in a radical change of climate and a
sea voyage.