THE night before we sailed my Tokyo uncle called, bringing with him a package of “friendship ribbons” for the children—those frail, dainty, quivery strips that bind the hands of friends between deck and dock at the moment of starting—and parting.

“I’ll hold a pink one for Toshiko and a blue one for Kuni San,” cried Chiyo, as the bright-coloured rolls tumbled out of the package, “and a white one for my teacher and a purple one for—for you, Uncle Tosa! Two of the most beautiful for you, of any colour you choose!”

“I’ll hold a whole bunch of red and white ones for all Japan!” said Hanano. “Love, much love, and good-bye; for I’ll never come back. I love everybody here, but I’m going to stay for ever with Grandma in ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ ” and she softly hummed the tune as she slipped away, her face full of light. Ah, how little she dreamed that in years to come she would return—more than once—and always with a heart full of double loyalty: half for the land of her birth and half for the land of love, where were husband, children, and home.

Hanano and Chiyo had gone to bed, and I was attending to the last scattered duties of the packing when Sudzu lifted a folded shawl to lay on top of the tray before closing a trunk.

“This is rather loose,” she said. “A cushion would exactly fit; but how ridiculous it would be to carry to a great country like America just an ordinary cushion that we sit on.”

She did not know that in the bottom of my trunk of greatest value was something which, until I had seen it in Sister’s godown, I had never dreamed could be anywhere except beside the familiar fire-box in the room of Honourable Grandmother. It was a square, flat cushion of blue brocade, old and somewhat faded.

I was alone when I wrapped it for its long journey, and, as my hands passed over the silken flowers, my mind went back—back to the day when a little black-haired girl in wooden clogs clattered through the big gateway and, hurrying her polite bows of greeting to the family, spread out before her grandmother, who was seated on this very cushion, a large, flat book.

“Honourable Grandmother,” she said, pointing to a coloured map of the world, “I am much, much troubled. I have just learned that our beloved land is only a few tiny islands in the great world.”

The grandmother adjusted her big horn spectacles and for a few minutes carefully studied the map. Then with slow dignity she closed the book.

“It is quite natural, little Etsu-bo, for them to make Japan look small on this map,” she said. “It was made by the people of the black ships. Japan is made large on the Japanese maps of the world.”

“Who are the people of the black ships?”’ asked the little girl.

“They are the red barbarians who came uninvited to our sacred land. They came in big, black ships that moved without sails.”

“I know. Ishi sings it to me”; and her shrill little voice chanted:

They came from a land of darkness,
Giants with hooked nose like mountain imp;
Giants with rough hair, loose and red;
They stole a promise from our sacred master
And danced with joy as they sailed away
To the distant land of darkness.

“I wonder why they were called ‘black ships.’ Do you know, Honourable Grandmother?”

“Because far out on the waters they looked like clouds of black smoke rolling nearer and nearer, and they had long, black guns that roared. The red barbarians cared nothing for beauty. They laughed at the Japanese boats, whose sails were made of rich brocade and their oars of carved wood, inlaid with coral and mother-of-pearl. They talked like tradesmen and did not want to learn the hearts of the children of the gods.”

The grandmother stopped and slowly shook her head.

“And after that?” asked the eager little voice. “And after that, Honourable Grandmother?”

“The black ships and the rude barbarians sailed away,” she concluded, with a deep sigh. “But they sailed back many times. They are always sailing. And now the people of our sacred land also talk like tradesmen and no longer are peaceful and content.”

“Will they never be peaceful and content again?” asked the little girl, with anxious eyes. “The honourable teacher said that sailing ships bring lands nearer to each other.”

“Listen!” said the grandmother, holding herself very straight. “Little Granddaughter, unless the red barbarians and the children of the gods learn each other’s hearts, the ships may sail and sail, but the two lands will never be nearer.”

Years passed, and Etsu-bo, the little girl who had listened to the story of the black ships and the red barbarians, herself went sailing on a black ship that moved without sails, to a new home in the distant land of the red barbarians. There she learned that hearts are the same on both sides of the world; but this is a secret that is hidden from the people of the East, and hidden from the people of the West. That makes another chapter to my grandmother’s tale—another chapter, but not the last. The red barbarians and the children of the gods have not yet learned each other’s hearts; to them the secret is still unknown, but the ships are sailing—sailing——




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Women's Autobiography Copyright © by dixonk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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