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   Chapter 10 ON THE SEARCH

The Honorable Percival By Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice Characters: 14647

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The clerk's prophecy proved all too true. Percival and his valet sat all night in a crowded, smoke-dimmed car, between a fat Japanese wrestler and a fatter Buddhist priest, both of whom squatted on their heels and read aloud in monotonous, wailing tones. The air was close, and the floor was strewn with orange peel, spilt tea, and cigarette ends. Percival's fastidious senses were offended as they had never been offended before. Under ordinary circumstances nothing could have induced him to submit to such discomfort, but the circumstances were not ordinary.

The alternative of remaining calmly in Yokohama and allowing an aggressive young American to monopolize the girl of his even temporary choice was utterly intolerable. Moreover, he was coming to see that while Bobby had failed to droop under the frost of his displeasure, it was still probable that she would melt into penitence at the first smile of royal forgiveness.

During the long hours of that interminable night he had ample time to reflect upon the folly of pursuing an object which he did not mean to possess. But though wisdom urged discretion, a blue eye and a furtive dimple beckoned.

When morning came, he straightened his stiff legs and, picking his way through the wooden sandals that cluttered the aisle, went out to the small platform. The train had stopped at a village, and a boy with a tray suspended from his shoulders, bearing boxes of native food, was howling dismally:

"Bento! Eo Bento!"

Percival beckoned to him. "I say, can't you get me a roll and a cup of coffee!"

"Bento?" asked the boy, expectantly.

"Coffee!" shouted Percival. "Rather strong, you know, and hot."

"Tan San? Rhomenade?" asked the boy.

"Coffee. Café. What a silly fool!" Percival muttered.

About this time several windows in the car went up, and many voices took up the cry of "Bento." When Percival re?ntered, he found that a large pot of boiling water had been deposited in the aisle, and small tea-pots had been distributed among the passengers. Everybody was partaking of breakfast, and everybody seemed to be enjoying it, especially Judson, who was attacking his neatly arranged bamboo sprouts, pickled eels, and snowy rice with avidity.

"This is a bit of all right, sir," he said with enthusiasm. "Shall I fetch you a box, sir!"

Percival lifted a protesting hand. And yet the pungent odor of the pickle and the still smoking rice was not unpleasant. He watched with increasing appetite the disappearance of the various viands. There were occasions when a man might even envy his valet.

At the Kioto Hotel there was no record of the Weston party, so he snatched a hasty bite, and rushed on to the other large hotel. It was on a hillside well out from the city, and two coolies were required for each jinrikisha. Seeing that they had a newly arrived tourist, they were moved to show him the sights, much to Percival's annoyance.

"San-ju-san-gen-do Temple," the man in front said, putting down the shafts of the jinrikisha confidently. "Thirty-three thousand images of great god Kwannon. Come see? No? So desu ka?"

Later he stopped at a flower-girt tea-house.

"Geisha maybe! Very fine dancers. Come see? No? So desu ka?"

So it continued, the two small guides trying in vain to arouse some interest in the stern young gentleman who sat so rigidly in the jinrikisha, with his mind bent solely on reaching the Yaami Hotel in the shortest possible time.

On his arrival, he met with disappointment. The effusive proprietor informed him that a party of five, "one single lady, and two young married couples, he thought," had breakfasted there and left immediately with Dr. Weston for Hieizan. They would not return until night.

"What, pray, is Hieizan?" Percival asked, dimly remembering Mrs. Weston's outlined plan.

"Very grand mountain," said the proprietor; "view of Lake Biwa. Biggest pine-tree in the world."

The last thing that Percival desired to see was a big pine-tree, but the prospect of sharing the sight of it with Bobby Boynton spurred him to further inquiry.

"But they must come back, mustn't they? Perhaps I could meet them halfway?"

"Oh, yes. They go by kago over mountain; you go by 'rickisha to Otsu, and wait. Very nice, very easy. All come home together. I furnish fine jinrikisha and very good man, Sanno; spik very good English."

Percival had an early lunch, and, leaving Judson sitting disconsolately among the hand-bags, started for Otsu. From the first his runner justified his reputation of speaking English; he began by counting up to fifty, looking over his shoulder for approval, and expecting to be prompted when his memory failed. He received Percival's peremptory order to be silent with an uncomprehending smile and a glib recitation of the Twenty-third Psalm. He was an unusually tall coolie, and the jinrikisha-shafts resting in his hands were a foot higher than they ought to be, throwing his passenger at a most awkward angle. Before Otsu was reached a sudden rainstorm came on, and Percival was made yet more uncomfortable by having the hood of the jinrikisha put up, and a piece of stiff oilcloth tucked about him.

By the time he rattled into the courtyard of the small Japanese inn, he was cramped and cold and very cross. Even the voluble welcome of the proprietor and the four girls, who received him on their knees, failed to revive his spirits. It was going to be deuced awkward explaining his sudden appearance to the Weston party. There might even be jokes at his expense. He decided to take a room and not make his appearance unless everything seemed propitious.

An animated discussion was in progress between Sanno and the innkeeper, the import of which Sanno explained with much difficulty. Owing to the autumn festival of the imperial ancestors, the inn was quite full, but hospitality could not he refused to so distinguished a foreign guest.

"Foreign bedstead is not," concluded Sanno; "foreign food is not; hot bath is."

"I sha'n't want a bed, and I sha'n't want a bath," said Percival, then, seeing that a diminutive maiden was unloosing his shoes, he added petulantly: "My boots are quite dry. Tell her to go away."

But Sanno was getting his jinrikisha under cover, and Percival had to submit to the gentle, but firm, determination of the nesan. She was small and demure, but her attitude towards him was that of a nurse towards a refractory child. She conducted him, with much sliding of screens, through several compartments, to a room at the back of the house that opened out on a tiny balcony overhanging a noisy stream.

Percival, standing in his stockinged feet on the soft mats, looked about him. The room was devoid of furniture, its only decoration being a vase of carefully arranged flowers in an alcove, and a queer kakemono that hung on an ivory stick. As he was inspecting the latter, the nesan again approached him.

This time she seemed to have designs upon his coat, and despite his protest began to remove it. When he forestalled her at one point she attacked another, until the situation became so embarrassing that he shouted indignantly for Sanno.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded furiously. "Why doesn't the girl go away, and leave me alone?"

"Gentleman bass already," said Sanno, soothin

gly. "Kimono? So?" he joined forces with the nesan to get Percival out of his clothes and into the fresh-flowered kimono that lay on the mat.

"But I never take a tub in the afternoon," persisted Percival.

Preparations went politely, but steadily, forward.

"What's this she's putting on me?" he cried. "I say, I won't wear a sash; the whole thing's too beastly silly. Tell her to take it off."

But despite his protests, the long red scarf was wound about his waist and tied with many deft twists and pats into a butterfly bow at the back. Seeing that protests were quite useless, and being still chilled from his long ride, he decided to resist no longer, but to take the bath that was so insisted upon, and be free to watch undisturbed for the returning party.

The nesan produced a sponge and towel from her long sleeves and, taking Percival by the hand, led him down the hall. Once in the big, square wooden tank, with the hot water up to his chin, he forgot his trouble, and gave himself up to the luxury of the moment. Even the knowledge that the determined little nesan was waiting outside the door, and that she frequently applied a round, black eye to a hole in the screen, did not interfere with his enjoyment.

When he was again in his room, clothed except for his shoes, his troubles once more assailed him. Suppose the Weston party did not return by this route! The possibility of missing Bobby fired his desire to see her at once. He had never known twenty-four hours to contain so many minutes.

During the early stages of his malady it had only been necessary for him to recall the aristocratic faces and bearing of his mother and sisters to have his vision instantly cleared and his reason enthroned. Later it became necessary to add the captain's sturdy countenance to his list of exorcising spirits. Now Bobby routed them all, not only taking entire possession of his mind, but actually invading Hascombe Hall, dancing through the gloomy, corridors, and waking the echoes with her youth and merriment.

Of course the Honorable Percival tried to stamp out these wild imaginings, and assured himself repeatedly that the moment he landed in Hong-Kong the whole episode would be relegated to oblivion. But Hong-Kong was yet ten days away, and Percival saw no use in forgetting before he had to. He went out to the courtyard and impatiently surveyed the rain-soaked road.

"No come," said Sanno, cheerfully, from the step where he was keeping watch. "Tea?"

Without waiting for an answer, he clapped his hands, calling, "O Cha!"

Another small maiden in a cherry-blossom kimono, carrying a brazier full of live coals, trotted around the corner and conducted Percival back to his apartment. She proved even more irritating than the first one, for during the tea-making she stopped many times to examine his cuff-links, wrist-watch, and ring, making purring exclamations of delight over each discovery. When he used his monocle she tried it also, and when he took out his cigarette-case, she must examine every detail and help herself to a cigarette into the bargain. Percival was acutely bored. He regarded her as a persistent fly that refused to be brushed away. He sat with his back against the paper screen, his stockinged feet rigidly extended, drinking his tea as solemnly as if he had been in the most formal drawing-room of Grosvenor Square.

The rainy afternoon closed in to twilight, and still the Weston party did not come. Percival's impatience gave place to anger, but he doggedly waited.

"Could they have gone back another way?" he demanded of Sanno.

"Way?" repeated Sanno.

Percival made a drawing on paper and tried to convey his meaning, but it was useless.

"'Merican game?" asked Sanno, grinning.

At last, in desperation, Percival decided to return.

"Yaami Hotel, Kioto," he directed.

"Very sorry," said Sanno. "No come Kioto to-night. Big rain. Bridge him very bad. Jinrikisha upset, maybe."

Percival declared this to be nonsense; he insisted that he would start immediately. But as Sanno refused to bring out the jinrikisha, it was not possible to carry out his intention. Then the Honorable Percival, who was not used to being crossed, lost his temper, and the entire household came out to see him do it. Sanno and the proprietor watched him with bland and smiling faces, and the girls tucked their heads behind their sleeves and laughed immoderately at his scowls and vehement gestures.

Seeing that he was gaining nothing by argument, he stalked sullenly back to his room, where active preparations were in progress for dinner. The brazier which had been used for the tea still stood in the middle of the floor, and all around it were porcelain bowls and lacquer trays, and a wooden bucket full of steaming rice.

He took refuge on the two-foot balcony and gazed gloomily on the sprawling stream below. The Westons were probably back in Kioto by this time, and would be off again in the morning before he could possibly get there. What headway might not that presumptuous Andy Black make with Bobby Boynton in forty-eight uninterrupted hours!

His tragic reflections were interrupted by the announcement that dinner was served. Seated on the floor before a twelve-inch table, with disgust written on every feature, he drank fish-soup out of a bowl, and tasted dish after dish as it was borne in and respectfully placed before him.

"Haven't you a fork?" he asked when the chop-sticks were proffered him.

"Forku?" repeated one of the three maidens who knelt before him; then she joined the other two in a giggling chorus.

There had been moments in the Honorable Percival's life when his dignity trembled on its pedestal, but never had it swayed so perilously as when he tried to use chop-sticks for the first time under the fire of those six mischievous black eyes. It was only by maintaining his haughtiest manner that he remained master of the situation.

When bedtime came, a new difficulty arose. Sanno's prophecy that "foreign bedstead probably is not" proved true. A neat pile of quilts in the middle of the floor was offered as a substitute, and Percival, after a long argument, stretched himself on the soft heap and courted oblivion. But the Fates were against him. As if his thoughts were not sufficient to torment him, hundreds of mosquitos swarmed up from the stream below, and assailed him so viciously that at midnight he rose and called loudly for Sanno.

With Sanno came the household, all eager to know what new excitement the foreign gentleman was creating. When the trouble was explained, elaborate preparations were set on foot to remedy it. After much discussion, hooks were driven into the corners of the ceiling, and a huge net cage, the size of the room, suspended therefrom.

During this performance Percival suffered great embarrassment, owing to the fact that the pink silk underwear in which he was arrayed was an object of the liveliest interest to the ladies.

When at last he was left alone, he fell into a troubled sleep. He dreamed that the world was peopled solely by mosquitos, and he knew them all, Captain Boynton, Andy Black, Sanno, the Lady Hortense, and even Bobby herself. One by one they came and nipped him while he lay helpless, clad only in a pink suit of silken underwear.

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