Tuesday, April 12, 2016

北京麻雀 - Beijing - 10

A fragment of a novel, written by the man during his stay in Beijing.
4 January 1905

It is in profile Japanese officer sees her face, the nose is long, and aristocratic - beneath the eyes whose liquid blue was strange to me, coming from the land that the people from here called "the orient". we did not call it that - it was just home. She looked at the gathered people in the drawing room, in the year 1905 - a year when most still had to think to write 19 rather than 18 when drawing up a letter. It was also one of the last days to have Christmas ornaments up, for there was a strict provision among the upper classes of Britain to have them removed by the Twelfth Night.

You have to draw your mind back to the early years, when the faint embers of a distant era where still warm. When frocks and all the other signs of horse and buggy whip were still on everyone's lips. The woman herself seemed to stare only for a moment at every man or couple for just a moment, seemingly to reinforce that she was like everyone else – that she too was of this past moment. But looking at her eyes, the way he did, would belie this notion: because rather than a dull maneuver of cold bright eyes, hers danced with a gay remnance, which one could see underneath her veil. She was covered with black from skull to feet with only jewels which were opalescent or viridescent. But she hid her eyes, leaving only a glance to each individual person, so that those who did not know her would think she was of the patrician class which ruled Britannia.

But he knew better than this, not because of personal learning mind you, but because he had inside information which detailed that she was brighter than she looked – or rather, she hid how she looked to the masses, whether plebeian or patrician. Because, after all, just because one had breeding and status did not mean one was gifted with the keen eye or elite beau monde of intelligence. So he observed how she would only cast a glance at each individual or couple, hiding behind her shroud. The diplomatic officer, of course, would cast his eyes over the entire multitude – whispering sweet nothings that his emperor's government had selected. Because, Britain and Nippon were in fact secretly allies, but the official line was that they were neutral. This was of course a lie, which she actively participated in – because she was in fact in the employ of the Foreign Office. But this was known only to a view people, of which both she and he were both members. Because while he could not hide the intelligence of his eyes, this was still a time when his countenance could easily disguise his superior intelligence. At home he was fourth in the top of 東京帝國大學, the Imperial University of Tokyo, or Todai as it was known to the inhabitants of the island emperor's chain. But this would not be known of in the present, Westerner's, company – because they would only see a man who was dressed in black and had nothing to suggest that he was anything out of the ordinary.

There were some 20 or so people to convey their condolences to the lady - some had left, while some were taking their time getting here and had not arrived, while it was obvious that some remembered him by well, with some reminiscence of what a fine man the recently deceased husband was. Though it was obvious that from the age gap of the married pair, it was probable that it was a marriage of convenience – he defined lust, and she to provided and settle down with a large inheritance after he was dead. This was entirely proper for this day and age. He was married before and had two children which were almost the same age. And though no one talked about it, neither the children or the mother talked to one another. This was also appropriate to this time and place.

The room was brightened by the fact that it had been redone just a short while ago in the new mode: in England it was called “Art Nouveau”, but there were a myriad of different names in different countries. What is most important about it was the curve to all of the lines, and a certain jouyssance and a sense that the art style was total in its makeup, no detail whether architecture, interior design, or jewelry should be out of character. Of course there were pieces of furniture from the 19th century, but they were relics of the past. So from the gilt bronze adornments to the wall cabinets made in the new style, the mode was new, not old. This was to be taken as her gift to her husband, showing the modern style of his new wife. She sat on a long chair, resting beneath a very long mural composed of a satyr and a nymph squatting down while he played a tune on a lilting blend of pipes. Thus it was odd to be decked out in an older fashion of dress, while the room said that it was modern. If this was unusual no one said anything.

Though people did not say they were broken down in two groups, this was exactly what happened. The their were British, American, French, and German speakers all gathered around each other. In a what could only be described as a faction, over to the side, were a trinity of Frenchmen speaking there own language, about what appeared to be a dispatch in the right-hand corner of L'Echo De Paris which openly questioned whether the United kingdom was in fact neutral, and that the Republic of France knew this and was trying to attain assurances that Britain would not engage against its ally, Russia. In the Journal, it was openly suggesting a more forceful approach to his Majesty's government. Of course, at a funeral for a distinguished gentleman – the husband of the woman – it would be impolite and impolitic to raise such an issue, because making de rigueur what was known inappropriately by glancing at a journal.

“Come now, monsieur, you must speak in English, because everyone will want to know what is engaging the three French officers so delightfully. They would think it a monumental secret which they are not entitled to know.” Her face was glittering with the ornaments of the Christmas tree, which she was enrobe from his position.As was the usual custom, there were candles on the Christmas tree, because the use of electric lights had not gone in to fashion as yet. At once the lady had made a pronouncement, while her azure eyes were fixed on the eldest French gentleman, who it was obvious was the leader of the three. And the Frenchman turned to look at her directly, as was his custom, unlike a military man who would be stiff and formal, he was more fluid in his nature.

The man who she was addressing was a trained diplomat, who had served underneath all range of political leaders, he was devoted to France of whatever leadership could forge a government in the turbulent Third Republic. He was tall, thin, with a mustache which was then and by this point white – and a face which oblique to what he actually felt. He had a full head of hair, bur he Paid it no attention, as if it were normal for a man his age to have one. He was also, once known to all involved, rather fluid in his alliances – as if it someone whose main focus was to gain loyalty for France on whatever course she had said her so on. It was not his decision what was to be done, only to carry it out with such zeal as he could muster. Which while not as much as he originally felt towards his native royalist leanings, was still a great deal more than most people could have managed on any particular day.

“We are sorry, we were talking about some trivia in one of the French newspapers. We shall not be given again on these sorry tidings, where are concern is for your beloved husband.” His voice was cold and his accent betrayed only a little bit of his native language – which was proper for a diplomat, because in actuality his English was flawless, but there was a semblance to maintain, that France was a trifle superior, even if it was not the case. It was a point of pride for such Frenchman, but it was also not truly the case. Something that the Frenchman, the lady, and the Japanese gentleman all new to well. France was a paper tiger in fact, though not yet in name, because it was the birthplace of the last great conqueror – Napoleon – and the last great buffoon – Napoleon the Third.

“I thought I heard something about the war between Japan and Russia, could I be mistaken about this? As you know my French is what it once was, and lord knows I have been mistaken before.” At this point, with the hostess calling him on the mat for his little indiscretion, it was obvious to the Frenchman that he must admit that that is what they were talking about, and obviously her French was in no form to be lightly dismissed. If you knew the French diplomat, you would know that such information would be filed away for future reference, as he had a meticulous mind for such details.

“Their had been a brief reference to this, yes. But as we said, we shall speak no more about it – because your Majesty's Government has pleaded to be neutral.” not a trace of any movement betrayed what he was feeling on the inside, he was totally reserved as was the custom among diplomats. And above all he was a diplomat to the core – it was inbred through many years and many generations. It was also the case that a person on the other side was standing just a few feet away from her – that is the Japanese diplomat, who suddenly received a whirlwind of scrutiny from all apparent. But he betrayed nothing of what he was feeling, and other than his eyes, he seemed rather monotonous. Nor did he betray the actual thing that was questioning his own mind, and that is why did she make an issue of this now? It was not the sort of thing that one would ask in polite company, on the contrary, one should have avoided this at all cost, seen as it was a formal occasion, with no hint of politics or any sort of official business. Then he spied the Japanese man, and realized that 4 Russian gentleman had just left, so obviously she had sprung a trap after the Russians left. He noted that, and put it in his deep file.

“Was it something to do with the very rare picture on the front page on the 2nd of L'Echo? Of the frontline between the Russia and Japan?” Her lips turned upward, though the French diplomat did not know why; until he raised and eyebrow and with and almost imperceptible nod came to realize that the one odd face in the group was the one person who he did not know. He then guessed that the face did not belong to an individual from China, but one who was drawn from the northern part of the park – Mongolian, Korean, or Japanese. He stared to the face of this – to him – extraordinary face, and for the first time examined in detail the hues and contours which reflected deep below his features, a man. Since the French diplomat was not an ordinary man, he was not in any way in all of the yellowish cast of the skin, that being the detail which he tossed aside – unlike many of that time and place. Instead he looked beyond any form of what people in his time called “race”, to form a deeper impression. Though what that impression was could not be divined by an outside observer. But what could be said was that the French gentleman gained a new respect for the Japanese diplomat, because he knew that they were all on the same side – of the side of gaining trust and manipulating favor through the art of words. And this was a very large thing indeed. The French gentleman would also note that the lady – while looking like the contrary – was actually a very astute observer, because even to glance at L'Echo was a sign that she knew Parisian French quite well. He would not make that mistake again; he was here for remembrance of the dead man, but now he kept his eye on the lady, because even in the feminine form an adversary was still potent. In fact more so, because of its alluring form. This to was an adaptation of those older days, when most men thought nothing of the fairer sex.

Thus amidst the Christmas ornaments strewn around the room, a triangle was developing of the English lady, the French diplomat, and the Japanese gentleman – that would grip the three of them in a tight little bow, and how it would develop only fate would know. Because, after all, most cultures will admit that faith is also of the fairer sex. And the French diplomat knew this all to well.

From the Japanese man's point of view, he knew that she had arranged this conflict, but he knew that the purpose of this was to draw them together, not split them apart. But he also realized that this would be opaque to the French gentleman. He flicked his eyes over this gentleman, and wondered if this would be a sound way to introduce the two of them, with all of the bystanders. But he knew that this was also part of her plan, and he knew that no one would assuage her desire. Because underneath all of the trappings, he knew that she was a woman of intense desires – both in government, in business, and in bed – though the last he would have to take the word of several gentlemen who had had the attention.

It then crept up on everyone involved that there was a intense clash between the lady and the French diplomat, as if they were measuring each other, and trying to find out who was the dominant character. On one side the French diplomat was male, which counted for a great deal, on the other hand, the lady was both stern and in her own element – this was, after all, her domain. Then gradually the French diplomat eyes rolled down in his head as he graciously bowed to the lady. And it was not just for the sake of it, he was showing submission to her. Which she graciously accepted, with a small nod and bend of the head. All at once the rest of the gathering chimed into noise, because they had seen that the French diplomat had bowed his head and made a hesitation which was all he needed to do. And everything about the conversation was about anything but the trial between the two, there would be recompense later, of course, but for now each person would hold in their head a distinct view that was completely their own, pronounced in their own particular way and in the language that they enunciated with. But each one had one thing in mind – a persistence that the lady had one the battle, but the war between them – as between the Russians and the Japanese - was as yet undecided. It was for anyone to guess which war would be over first, one could take a fair piece of action on both sides pitting components of the to – it would be roughly even now that the Russians were not involved. Of course dvoryanstva would object to such a demeaning figure, and they would maintain that Russia would be the winner over the Oriental foe which had taken the field against them. But when looking at them concretely, the amount of land – there principle object of attention – was going down from a peak o f9/10 of all, to roughly 6/10 of all, and seemed to be going down sequentially from their. And without land they controlled nothing. And they knew that, quite well.

What was interesting was that a tall Englishman came up to speak to the Japanese gentleman, and immediately inquired what he thought of the way Englishmen dealt with tragedy. “ it must be unusual for you to observe the etiquette of this for land.” the Japanese gentleman, not yet 30, looked at his new interlocutory, and tried to remain bland.

“Not at all, in fact it has a deep resonance with the way we commemorate the same feelings. Perhaps it is because this island and ours are separated from one each would call the continent.” He betrayed nothing of his content for this mannered display. And he thought of the ritual that would occupy the customs back and home, most particularly many warriors would be taking their own lives in a ritual of seppuku, which for men involved cutting open the gut, and with great grace turning a sword left than right and left again, and finally up. They would also write a poem in classic style. It was nothing like the gathering that the lady displayed. But he was polite, and it not say any of this to the tall English gentlemen. “I do not believe I have caught your name, while mine is long, you may call me Daichi, with the family name of Ishikawa.”

“You will forgive me if I Mispronounce your name, because while I speak many languages – all of them are what we call Indo-European and thus are related in some manner, while yours is unrelated to these and I must be forgiven for taking a little bit of time to remember it.” His white mustache ebbing and dripping as said this. He then pronounced the last name rather badly – sounding something like Ishagawa – rather than Ishikawa. But he was sincerely trying, so the Japanese man gave him an encouraging nod. The Englishman then launched into his real objective: “ I was wondering if you, and if possible your wife – in you have one – would like to spend and evening at the place that my wife and myself maintain here in town.” it was obvious that the Englishman maintained at least two houses, one in the Metropolitan landscape – and another in a more rural setting, being rich enough to do so. “You can call me Earl of Lansdowne, or simply Lord Lansdowne.” By the way the Englishman said the title, the Japanese gentleman knew it must be important, though he would have to look up just how important it was, there was a Japanese house of lords, of course, but it had only been recently establish by Ito Hirobumi, largely imitating the Great Kingdom model, thus it was not as important. But he knew that it was important, because he had served under both liberal and conservative governments, and was always in the mix of important people, especially in the foreign affairs sphere – he would not be a man to cross with. And the Japanese man saw beneath the façade of the men, a cold and impartial stare, as if the Japanese man were a monkey. Then the realization that this man was secretary of state for foreign affairs exonerated itself, and the manners that the Japanese gentleman took on a renewed vigor, since the English was both older and more senior and held in greater esteem.

The Japanese man nearly bowed, but remembered that he should only execute a flourish rather than a true deep bow, because the Englishmen had a distinct set of flexion which was distinct from the Japanese way of doing things, which would more characteristically be said to be obeisance then anything else, where as the English manner was more in the way of genuflection – a distinct point of difference if you knew your way around different manners. And both of them did.
It seemed very likely that while his approach had been formal, there was more than a hint of gruff gravel to his voice, which when stirred could lash out into everything but excrescence in its scope, and perhaps even that would be ordained if necessary. The Englishman was a hard man, with hard experience, and ruthless means of attaining what he wanted. And the Japanese gentleman, though many years his junior, recognized this fact.