The Shadow of the East (Chapter 3, page 1 of 15)


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Chapter 3

Owing to a breakdown on the line the boat-train from Marseilles crawled into the Gare du Lyon a couple of hours late. Craven had not slept. He had given his berth in the waggon-lit to an invalid fellow passenger and had sat up all night in an overcrowded, overheated carriage, choked with the stifling atmosphere, his long legs cramped for lack of space.

It was early March, and the difference between the temperature of the train and the raw air of the station struck him unpleasantly as he climbed down on to the platform.

Leaving Yoshio, equally at home in Paris as in Yokohama, to collect luggage, he signalled to a waiting taxi. He had the hood opened and, pushing back his hat, let the keen wind blow about his face. The cab jerked over the rough streets, at this early hour crowded with people--working Paris going to its daily toil--and he watched them hurrying by with the indifference of familiarity. Gradually he ceased even to look at the varied types, the jostling traffic, the bizarre posters and the busy newspaper kiosks. His thoughts were back in Yokohama. It had been six weeks before he could get away, six interminable weeks of misery and self-loathing. He had shirked nothing and evaded nothing. Much had been saved him by the discreet courtesy of the Japanese officials, but the ordeal had left him with jangling nerves. Fortunately the ship was nearly empty and the solitude he sought obtainable. He felt an outcast. To have joined as he had always previously done in the light-hearted routine of a crowded ship bent on amusements and gaiety would have been impossible.

He sought mental relief in action and hours spent tramping the lonely decks brought, if not relief, endurance.

And, always in the background, Yoshio, capable and devoted, stood between him and the petty annoyances that inevitably occur in travelling--annoyances that in his overwrought state would have been doubly annoying--with a thoughtfulness that was silently expressed in a dozen different devices for his comfort. That the Jap knew a great deal more than he himself did of the tragedy that had happened in the little house on the hill Craven felt sure, but no information had been volunteered and he had asked for none. He could not speak of it. And Yoshio, the inscrutable, would continue to be silent. The perpetual reminder of all that he could wish to forget Yoshio became, illogically, more than ever indispensable to him. At first, in his stunned condition, he had scarcely been sensible of the man's tact and care, but gradually he had come to realize how much he owed to his Japanese servant. And yet that was the least of his obligation. There was a greater--the matter of a life; whatever it might mean to Craven, to Yoshio the simple payment of a debt contracted years ago in California. That more than this had underlain the Japanese mind when it made its quick decision Craven could not determine; the code of the Oriental is not that of the Occidental, the demands of honour are interpreted and satisfied differently. Life in itself is nothing to the Japanese, the disposal of it merely the exigency of a moment and withal a personal prerogative. By all the accepted canons of his own national ideals Yoshio should have stood on one side--but he had chosen to interfere. Whatever the motive, Yoshio had paid his debt in full.

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