Quaint Japanese Poet Guest
of Charles W. Stoddard.
LIFE OF FASCINATING FANCIES
He Is a Graduate of the University of
Tokyo and Spent Six Years in the
Home of Joaquin Miller, in the Sier-
ras--How He Came to Meet Mr. Stod-
dard--The Building of the Story.
It was in the bungalow, 300 M street northwest. Outside
the rain was falling and from the sodden grass around the dull red brick house
of the "Poet of the South Seas," ascended little mists like the whiffs of smoke
from Yone Noguchi's cigarettes--only the smoke was warm and comfortable and
"Yone is a fiend," exclaimed Mr. Charles Warren Stoddard from the depths of the Bombay chair, passing his fingers through Yone's blue-black hair, "simply a fiend--how I am choking!"
The little brown poet fellow from Japan laughed merrily, and blow more smoke into Mr. Stoddard's grey beard.
A glass of old Madeira stood on the table near a pillow of pine needles and a litter of New Year's gifts.
"That is all that is left of it," said Mr. Stoddard mournfully, gazing on the Madeira. "It is the most wonderful wine in the world, old--so old it has no age. Why, the bottle itself could not stand up, it was so decrepit. Isn't that true, Yone?"
Buddha," exclaimed Mr. Stoddard, "that is what you are, Yone."
The little Jap has a way of looking subtle and aggravatingly mystic at times, so he nodded again.
"What do you think," Mr. Stoddard turned to the third person in the room, who was lying near where the great sheet of bark from the Fiji Islands swept the mantelpiece. She was eating chocolates with both hands, "what do you think, Yone would not touch a drop of that wine!" He looked mischievously at the little Jap, who was sitting on his knees. "It is against--his religion," he added.
Yone laughed and blew more smoke into Mr. Stoddard's face, so that Mr. Stoddard was obliged to hold up his coat sleeve.
"Neither will he touch candy. Yone, take some candy."
"That I never will touch," said Yone emphatically.
"Candy is only fit for women," observed Mr. Stoddard philosophically,
giving the third person a quite scornful look. "Imagine," he turned to Yone
again, "Imagine a man sitting like that and eating candy without stopping
for a half an hour. Never mind, Yone, when we go to Japan and live in a
temple there we shall see no women--"
"But," broke in the third person.
"Yes, I know that you will come, but you cannot get into a Japanese temple."
"No, you cannot get into Japanese temple," continued Yone, "no woman allowed in Japanese temple."
"We shall have a raft built for you, and you can wave to us from the distance," said Mr. Stoddard, magnanimously.
Yone shielded Mr. Stoddard from an avalanche of chocolate creams and then the Madeira was taken up again. Mrs. Cabot Lodge had sent the wine just the day before. It had come from Spain long ago, and was very fine and rare, so that the health proclaimed with it for the New Year had far more gusto than any drunk with commonplace wine. But, as Ben Jonson has somewhere remarked, "The things that were said were better than the nuts, better than the frolic wine."
It was a fascinating evening. The young Japanese poet has been visiting Mr. Stoddard during the holidays, and will leave the city this week. He is a clever fellow. He is small, slender, brown, like all other Japs; quick and agile in movement, spontaneous and responsive. His face is high caste, remarkably sensitive and full of expression, most delicate and refined in feature, and he has wonderful eyes. Like his books, he is full of odd fancies, heavy weighted with dreams, and has quaint ways of speaking English. He is charming.
His story is a strange one. He left Japan after graduating from the
University of Tokyo, and came to San Francisco, where, as he expressed it,
he slept on the floor of the city. Together with another Japanese he
started a Japanese newspaper.
"I get tired of that life after a while. I think where I can go," said Yone. "My partner say, why not go to Miller's place. He likes Japs; he will see you." Thereupon Yone took up his knapsack and tramped to Oakland, to the mountain home of the poet of the Sierras, Joaquin Miller. He knocked at the door, and Miller opened it.
"I have come to stay with you," said Yone.
"Why, come in; come in," cried old Joaquin. "Why I love Japs. How long can you stay--a week, a month, a year, ten years? Come in."
He gave Yone a cottage, a one-roomed cabin down the hill's slope, not far from the ravine.
"That canyon is most beautiful," said Yone; "more so picturesque than any I have seen--full of trees, California cypress, all kinds of trees, most beautiful. There I stay for six years. Miller, he do his own cooking, camp fashion, out doors, and we eat under the rose bushes when it not rain. I help him some with the cooking. It cost not much to live there, for Miller, so I stay. Miller's mother, she is ninety years old, and she lives also in a cottage on that mountain; has her own garden, her flowers, and her vegetables, and does all her own work. She will let no one even hoe or dig for her, but everything she does herself; big, strong, and muscular she is; never sick, and old as she is, keeps up her work. Miller is a kind old man."
So here Yone stayed, reading, dreaming, and writing, and dreaming
again. That is what he comprehends best how to do -- to dream. His work is
to set his dreams to words or to music. Thus there is melody in his
compositions and a rhythm of the open air and mountain summits in the spirit
of his poems.
"But, oh, do not speak of the little I have done," he cries, "it is so little and it is so poor."
It was while living with Miller that Yone first read those beautiful "South Sea Idyls" of Mr. Stoddard's. He wrote to him, addressing his first letter "Dear Charles Warren Stoddard" instead of Mr., and he very soon became one of the many "children of Mr. Stoddard's adoption.
"Why is it," he said the other evening to Mr. Stoddard, "you do not have at Christmas time a reunion of all these children of yours?"
Mr. Stoddard dropped his hands despairingly.
"Impossible!" he cried. "They would tear one another's eyes out. Two at a time in the bungalow are enough." And he looked at the chocolates scattered over the floor and the cigarette stumps on the table.
Outside the rain was still falling like the sound of far water. The lights dropping from the chandelier inside the little South Sea house brightened it all with gold color and good cheer. Shadows of canoes, cocoanut idols, palm fans, and feathers paraded on the walls, made faces at the rosaries and the crucifixes and the relics of the saints in the long glass cases. Yone's face behind the clouds of smoke looked far off, like a weird Japanese fancy conjured up by the sense of the wonderful Oriental things about the room.
"Buddha!" again exclaimed Mr. Stoddard.
The last drop of the rare old Madeira was drained, the empty glass was turned up. A pack of cards also lay on the table near it, together with a miniature skull and some burned matches.
"There is a story," said Mr. Stoddard. "Let us build the rest." The
skull, the empty glass, the cards, and the cigarette ends grew together and
made the "finis" to start with.
"Yes, he was a sport," said Mr. Stoddard. The third person threw in a pencil and the burned matches.
"The plot thickens. He was a writer." Mr. Stoddard sighed profoundly. "A poet perhaps; his matches are all burned. Poor man!" The third person dropped a chocolate cream into the grewsome pile.
"Ah!" cried Mr. Stoddard; "there is a woman in it," and he turned over the queen of hearts so that she lay facing the wine glass, with two burned matches crossed over her red heart like cross-bones. "Always a woman in it," and Mr. Stoddard leaned back in his chair.
"Why not?" observed the Japanese. It was a subtle question.