I Take Gen's Pholograph-The Pay of Fisher-Folk-Where All the World Works-We Help Gen Pull Her Cart-And Surprise Some Wayfarers-The Road Grows Long-Fairy DébutantesIN AN exceptionally picturesque fishing village a few miles on, I paused to take some photographs. On a platform outside an old house overhanging the gray sea-wall at the margin of the beach, three women were unloading baskets of fish from a heavy handcart. One of them was fully sixty years of age, another I judged to be thirty, but the third was a girl not over twenty, a sturdy brown lass with eyes like those of a wild deer, and a ready smile which showed a set of glorious white teeth. She was as pretty a peasant girl as I had seen in Japan, wherefore through my bi-lingual friend, I asked permission to take her picture. From the amount of talking my friend did, and the laughter with which, on both sides, it was accompanied, I judged that the request, as it reached her, was festooned with gallantries. At all event she readily consented to be photographed-as a pretty girl generally will-and when the shutter had snapped she asked that I send her a print. This I agreed to do if she would write her name and address in my notebook. She did so in kana, which, being translated by my invaluable companion, revealed her name as Gen Tajima.
Asked if all three of them were of the same family, the women replied that they were merely neighbours. They resided in the village of Amatsu-machi, several miles farther along the road that we were travelling, and it was their daily business to draw the cart from Amatsu-machi to this place, laden with baskets of fish to be salted and shipped. Their pay for this labour amounted to the equivalent of twenty-five cents a day in our money.
"I suppose you are all of you married?" asked my friend.
The old woman replied that she was; the other two laughed and declared that they were not. But they soon betrayed each other. "Don't, you believe what she says!" they warned us gaily. "She is married. I'm the one who is looking for a match." Then, having had their little joke, each owned to a husband and children. Their husbands were fishermen, and earned, they said, two yen a day-about a dollar.
"You work hard?" asked my friend.
"Why 'of course'?"
"Everybody down here works hard."
"Even those who don't have to?"
"Yes. Even people with a lot of money work hard. Here any one who did not work would be laughed at." They were typical Japanese women of the fisher class, happy, innocent, industrious. They interested me profoundly. But there was a long trip ahead of us and it was necessary to push on. We bade them farewell, got into the basha, and drove away.
But we had not seen the last of them. When we had driven a quarter of a mile or so, they came running up behind us with their cart. Pretty Gen was between the shafts, the other girl was pulling at a rope tied to one side, and the grandmother was at the rear, pushing. They ran pigeon-toed, like Indians, and what with the commotion caused by their rope sandals and the wheels, left a cloud of dust behind them.
Full of merriment they closed in upon us. One of them called to us in Japanese.
"What did she say?" I asked.
My friend translated:
"She says that because we are strangers they will escort us."
"Come on," I said, jumping out of the basha. "Let's help them pull the cart."
He joined me at once. We Look up our places, naturally, at either side of Gen.
She was full of questions. Where were we from? How long did it take to come all the way from America? What was America like? Didn't the American people like the Japanese people? Her brother was a sailor. He had made a voyage to America and said it was a very fine place, and that everyone was rich. It wasn't like that in Japan. Her almost everyone was poor. It was hard to earn enough to live on, now that food cost so much.
Finding that there were now too many willing hands at the cart, we discharged the grandmother and the other woman, placing them in our seats in the basha.
"It is a pity you can't ride, too," my friend said to Gen, "but it is better for you to stay here and see that we don't steal the cart."
To which the old woman leaning out of the back seat of the basha remarked that she thought us much more likely to steal the cart if Gen went with it.
This caused much hilarity. Gen, I think, was a little embarrassed, but she enjoyed it all the same.
"As things are," she said, smiling and looking at the road, "I am well satisfied to walk."
The chatter was so lively that I had a good deal of difficulty in finding out all that was being said; it was no small task for my companion to keep up his end of the conversation against all three of them, and at the same time translate for me. I began to find myself left out.
Moreover, I had not anticipated that we should attract so much attention. The mere fact that we were aliens made us conspicuous in this part of the country, and the sight of two foreign men helping a peasant girl pull a cart, while the girl's usual companions rode ahead in the comparative magnificence of a basha, caused people in the villages through which we passed not only to stare in amazement, but to call their friends to come and witness the unheard-of spectacle.
I remember an old woman bent under a great load of straw which she was carrying on her back, who, when she glanced up and saw us, looked as if she were going to fall over, and I shall never forget the quizzical, puzzled, fixed gaze of a middleaged coolie, with a load of wood on his back and a little pipe in his mouth, who, on sight of us, hurriedly seated himself on the bank at the roadside to pass us in review. He was a fine type. I dropped my hold upon the shaft, unslung my kodak, and embalmed his features on a film.
"Come on back here!" called my companion. " Gen and I need you with our cart."
Gen and I! . . . Our cart, indeed! Who first thought of helping Gen with her cart, I should like to know!
Without enthusiasm I returned and took hold of the shaft again. The cart was getting heavier. He and Gen weren't pulling as they should. They were too busy talking-that was the trouble with them!
"Say, how far is it to this' town where these people live?" I demanded of him.
"I guess it's not very much farther," my friend interrupted his conversation with Gen to reply.
"I should hope not! We've pulled this infernal cart about five miles already."
"If you don't like it," he answered, "why don't you get back in the basha?"
How am I going to do that, when that old woman is in my place?"
"Tell her you want to ride. Tell her to come back here and get on the job again."
I looked up at her. It was quite out of the question to do such a thing. Much as I should have enjoyed my seat in the basha, she was enjoying it more. She and the younger woman were having a magnificent time, chattering, giggling, hailing every acquaintance they passed. And when other peasants who knew them gazed, astonished, they would burst into roars of mirth. All of which gave our progress more than ever the aspect of a circus parade in which, it began to seem to me, I figured as the clown.
Left to my own thoughts I endeavoured to meet the situation philosophically. If I had been foolish to get myself into this cart-pulling adventure my folly was of a kind common to my sex. Other men without number had made even greater fools of themselves. And, whereas in a little while this incident would be ended, some men got into scrapes that lasted all their lives. It was pleasant to reflect on that.
I began to see an allegory in the episode. In miniature it was like the story of a hasty marriage. . . . A man travelling the road of life in the comfortable basha of bachelorhood sees a pretty girl. Bright eyes, white teeth shown in a smile, and out he jumps.
"Let, me help you pull the cart!" he cries, without giving a thought to the future. So he takes hold, and as likely as not she eases off and lets him do most of the pulling.
He wants companionship, but when he begins to look for it, what does he discover? He discovers that she doesn't know a word of his language, nor he a word of hers. He has sold his birthright for a mess of pulchritude.
The road is long, the hills steep, the cart heavy. Presently appears another man and offers to help- some smart-aleck who can talk her kind of talk. And, of course, this linguistic ass begins prattling a lot of nonsense to her and turns her head. The more she listens to him the more inflated he becomes. That's what happens to some men if a pretty girl shows them a little attention! Does he stop for a minute to consider that his advantages is purely one of language? Not at all! The idiot thinks himself fascinating.
So much for that.
But now imagine another picture. Take those two men out of a situation in which one has manifestly an unfair advantage, and place them on an equal footing in a totally different environment. Take them, let us say, to an American city, place them in a ballroom, bring in a lot of beautiful débutantes-hundreds of them, all in pretty little evening gowns and satin slippers-start up the band. Then see what happens!
One of these men is a bookworm. He knows a lot about languages. He can speak Japanese. (You see I am being perfectly fair to him.) But the other, though he cannot peak Japanese, is-you understand this is purely an imaginary case-a handsome, dashing, debonair fellow. While one has been learning Japanese the other has learned a few effective steps. In the intricate mazes of the dance he seems to float godlike through the air.
All right! Now I ask you, which one of these two men is going to be a success with all those débutantes? Is Japanese going to advance a man very far with an American débutantes? In all fairness I say No! A débutantes is too clever-too clever with her feet-to be misled by mere linguistic talent. True worth is the thing that counts with her. She looks for solid merit in a man. In other words: What kind of a dancer is he?
Is not the conclusion obvious? In the environment I have pictured one of those two men will be left practically alone, while the other will find himself constantly surrounded by a bevy of dainty, beautiful-
"This is Amatsu-machi," I heard my companion say.
With a start I came back to Japan.
"They're leaving us at the crossroads," said he.
The basha drew up. The two women got out. They thanked us prettily. Then amid many "Sayonaras" we drove off, while they stood and watched us, smiling and waving until we passed from their sight around a bend in the road.
"They have lovely natures, these Japanese women," the linguist presently remarked.
If you'll look over a lot of American débutantes," I replied, "you'll find that they are just about as-"
"You don't understand," he interrupted. "I'm not talking about mere prettiness-though you'd hardly say that girl Gen wasn't pretty. I'm talking about spiritual quality. Couldn't you tell, just by looking at her, that she was sweet right straight through?"
"I guess she's all right," I answered in an off-hand tone.
That did not half satisfy him. But though he kept at me for a long time, trying to make me say something more enthusiastic, I would not be coerced. He was too much puffed up as it was.
I had another reason, too, for withholding from that pretty peasant girl the fullest praise. I must be faithful to the débutantes who, from far away, had come floating like a swarm of fairies to console me as I tugged Gen Tajima's lumbering cart along a dusty road upon the seacoast of Japan.