Read The Japanese Lantern Online

Authors: Isobel Chace

The Japanese Lantern

THE JAPANESE LANTERN

Isobel Chace

 

This novel has an unusual setting—modern Japan, where age-old beauty mingles with bustling Western ideas. The love story of two Australians temporarily working in the country is seasoned with an enlivening, but not too sinister touch of mystery.

 

CHAPTER I

Jonquil Kennedy
thought—and realized the absurdity of it—that if she stood on her very tiptoes she would be better able to see the aeroplane that was coming in to the airport. The lights from the runway lit up the sweeping wings and for an instant it seemed enormous, before it disappeared again into the darkness to land.

“Will passengers holding flight card No. 7, travelling to Manila and Tokyo, please prepare to pass through the Customs,” came from the loudspeaker.

“That’s me!” Jonquil thought out loud. “Jonquil Kennedy, passenger to Tokyo!” It was amazing what exotic fantasies those few words could conjure up, for, to Jonquil, there was something very thrilling about this trip to Japan. She was longing to see the women in their kimonos, obis and parasols—and the gardens! As she had lived all her life in the Northern Territory of Australia, where her father had emigrated to from England, gardens fascinated her and she wanted to see if they really were as excitingly romantic as she had imagined from the travel brochure pictures. But at the moment she was still standing in the middle of Darwin Airport and there was little time for day-dreaming. Hastily her brother picked up her suitcase and they joined the Customs queue. The men there had almost all seen her before, for there are few people living out in the bush who do not spend a large part of their lives in the air. Jonquil greeted them with a friendly nod and in a very short time her luggage had received
its squiggle of chalk and she was free to make her way to the lounge beyond, while her brother went to buy her some magazines to read on the night.

“Miss Kennedy?” a smiling stewardess asked
her.

Jonquil nodded.

“Good, that completes my list nicely
.”
The stewardess placed an extra large tick against Jonquil’s name and smiled again.

“I see you’re going right through to Tokyo,

she said. “You do know that you will have to stop over at Manila for the night, don’t you? This aeroplane has been booked out by a delegation for some conference. They’re putting another one on
for you the next day.”

“They did tell me,” Jonquil agreed.

To tell you the truth I was rather glad. I can’t imagine any other way I shall get to see the Philippines!

The stewardess perched herself on a stool beside
her. “
Your first flight abroad?” she asked sympathetically.

Again Jonquil nodded.

“I’m going to look after a little boy while his parents are away in America,” she confided. It was the most marvellous opportunity, though my family weren

t
frightfully
pleased.

“I know,” the older girl responded. Many people feel like that, but they’ll come round when you write and tell them how beautiful it all is. At
least mine did.”

She stood up just as the loudspeaker clicked, preparatory to making another announcement.

“That’ll be us,” she said quickly. You
’ll
just have time to freshen up and say your goodbyes if you hurry. I’ll see you at the gate.

And then with a gay nod of her head she was gone.

Looking at herself in the looking
glass
though a few minutes later, Jonquil found it difficult to believe that it was actually she who was going
to
fly off into the unknown beyond. She stared at herself with unseeing eyes, hastily touching up her lips with the brand new lipstick her mother had given her as a parting present.

Anyone else looking in the same glass would have seen that she was the possessor of naturally wavy fair hair, that had bleached in the hot sunlight to the colour of straw, and that her eyes were of so dark a grey that they easily rivalled the stormclouds that came so seldom to that part of the world. Her mouth too was becomingly shaped and smiled easily and with generosity. She was not perhaps really beautiful, though occasionally, when she moved, she gave the appearance of being so, for she moved with unusual grace.

But Jonquil was hardly in the mood to study her own appearance. Instead she hurried out after the other passengers, anxious to have as long as possible with her brother before it was time to go.

It was dark and still outside and she looked round eagerly for the aeroplane that was to carry her as far as Manila. Excitement fountained up inside her as she saw the flares lighting up the runway and the multitude of lights from the airport building.

In the distance she saw her brother and hurried towards him, fingering her passport and ticket as she went to make sure she still had them. It was not until she had bumped into a shape that she realized that her brother was talking to someone.

“I'm so sorry,” she said quickly. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“No, you weren’t,” the stranger agreed.

She could feel rather than see his eyes looking her over and drew herself up to her full five feet, three inches.

“We only have a moment, Tim,” she said to her brother, “so I’ll say goodbye properly now.”

She flung herself into his arms, knowing
that
he still wasn’t very happy about her going.

“I shall be all right,” she whispered in his ear. “You’re not to worry about me,
any of
you.

“Who said we’re worrying?

her brother te
a
sed her. “You’ll be fine with Mr. Tate to look after
you.”


Mr. Tate?” She remembered the st
r
anger and turned to look at him. She could tell by the flash of white in the moonlight that he was smiling.

“Did

did you come up from Sydney?

s
he
asked tentatively, not at all sure how to greet him.

“Uh-huh, most of us did. But I kept your seat warm for you, right next to the window and
in
front of the wing so that you can really see where
you’re going!”

Jonquil chuckled. She had a nice chuckle that was warm and friendly, and he grinned in re
sponse.
“Don’t you believe me, young lady?” he asked with mock sternness.

She shook her head.

“No,” she said, “but it sounds very nice.

Then the stewardess came running up and the passengers began to pass through the barrier and out into the mysterious darkness beyond where the giant aeroplane gleamed faintly and enticingly, rattier like something in a stage set. Jonquil gave her brother one final hug and followed them. It was a pity, she thought, that it was dar
k
. She would have liked to take one last look at Darwin before leaving Australia. To say a formal goodbye to the countryside that was so familiar and dear
to her.

Of course, she was bound to admit that
f
ew people shared her admiration for
the administrative centre of the Northern Territory. Most Australians came
reluctantly up north to do their tour of duty there and were only too glad to be
recalled to Canberra. It was too hot for one thing. Recently people had started
building their houses on stilts to keep them cool, but, even so, it was only in the
early mornings and in the evenings that anyone was able to do any
work.

From habit she let her eyes roam across the starry sky until she found the Southern Cross. If it had been daytime she would not have been able to take a last look at that, she told herself, and smiled at herself for being so sentimental.

The stewardess had taken up her stand at the entrance to the aeroplane, with the flight orders under her arm, and a list of the passengers in her hand from which she was checking off the names of everyone as they entered. When it came to Jonquil’s turn she gave her a conspiratorial glance and smiled slightly.

“So Mr. Tate found you,” she said in a voice that only just betrayed her curiosity. “He insisted on my keeping seat No. 31 for you. It’s up in the front on the right.”

Jonquil thanked her, thoroughly aware of her companion’s amused glance even though he was several paces behind her, and hurried up the aeroplane to her seat. It was all very peculiar, she thought. How could he possibly have known that she was going to travel on the aeroplane
?
She had never met him before. In fact she didn’t think her brother had either, which made it all the more mysterious that he should have made that extraordinary remark about her being fine with Mr. Tate to look after her. It was all very intriguing and just a little disturbing.

He looked pleased with himself when he settled into the seat next to hers. There was a faint smile round his lips and a slight twitch to his eyebrows that was extremely attractive.

“Do you believe me now?” he asked, and his amusement was more than ever in evidence.

She gave a little gesture of despair and said, “I must! But I don’t understand it at all!”

If she had hoped that he was going to give her some explanation she was doomed to disappointment, for he looked more secretive than ever and smiled maddeningly at her.

“Are you going straight to sleep, or would you like one of these magazines?” he asked.

She accepted one of the journals somewhat crossly and rustled the pages noisily to show him how little she cared whether he told her or not. Soon, however, she realized that he was genuinely deep in his own magazine and she found a new use for hers by using it as cover so that she could study him without appearing rude.

His hair was so dark a brown that it was nearly black and his eyes were navy blue, set deep
in
his head beneath heavy brows. It was not an everyday face. The slightly cynical twist to his lips gave him a cruel look, but the lines round his eyes were kindly ones. His age might have been anywhere
in
the thirties, though Jonquil set him at first over thirty-five. And he had an aura of success about him that made her think he had done well
in
whatever calling he had chosen.

He stirred in his seat and glanced up towards the doorway leading into the cockpit. Jonquil followed his glance and noticed that the sign h
a
d come on warning them that they were on the point of taking off:

PLEASE FASTEN YOUR SAFETY BELTS.

NO SMOKING.

Her own belt was too loose and it took her a moment to tighten it so that it would be of some
use to her.


Can you manage?” Mr. Tate asked her.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, giving it a last pull
into position.

This was it! she told herself. They were actually starting the long journey to Manila! Anxiously, she peered out of the window, determined to miss nothing of this great moment.

Beneath her she could see the beginning of the
long line of lights that guided the pilot along the runway. And then they began to move and the individual lights became a blur of colour and then finally fell away behind them as they reached out for the sky. Only an occasional light told her that they were still above the land and she waited for the black nothingness that would be the sea.

It was only when they were several miles beyond the shore, high over the Pacific Ocean, that she relaxed back into her seat with a sigh of satisfaction.

“Happy?” Mr. Tate asked.

She nodded enthusiastically.

“It’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I adore flying, but I’ve never been on anything like this before. It’s
—”
she broke off at a loss for words to
describe her feelings.

His eyes twinkled as he leant hack and regarded her.

“You’re very easily pleased,” he commented dryly.

With some difficulty she swallowed down her anger. Why should he treat her as though she were a child?

“I suppose if you’ve done it often it does lose some of its novelty,” she said in a more sophisticated voice. “Though I must say I can’t imagine
anyone
ever getting bored with the actual moment of take-off.”

He looked a little surprised at that, as though he was not accustomed to people criticizing
him,
even if only by inference, but he smiled and admitted that even he had found
that
moment exciting.

“Though I imagine I looked considerably more
blasé
than you were able to,” he added, and she had the strong suspicion that he was teasing her in his own peculiar manner. She was surprised to discover that she did not mind in the least and a glint of mischief came into her eyes.

“But then perhaps you’re not so easily pleased,” ' she suggested, and was glad when he laughed out
loud.

But after that their conversation became more and more sporadic and Jonquil became aware how terribly sleepy she was. The stewardess was beginning to make her rounds of the passengers to settle them down for the night, and she was glad when her turn came and her seat was tilted backwards for her and she was given a warm cellular blanket to wrap herself up in.

Some of the passengers made their way to the hack of the plane and changed into neglige
e
s or something more comfortable to sleep in, but Jonquil remained where she was, happily aware that the cotton frock she was wearing would come to no harm and that she had two equally attractive ones in her zip bag that she could change into later
.

Mr. Tate exchanged his coat for a kimono that he wrapped around his body with competent ease. He looked very handsome indeed in it, the beautiful maroon-coloured silk acting as a foil to his dark eyes and hair.

“Most sensible costume ever invented,” he told her when he saw her eyes on it. “More comfortable than any dressing-gown I’ve ever been able to find.”

She looked at it more carefully, her interest caught.

“I must get one,” she yawned, “when we get to Japan. In yellow, I think.”

He looked amused.

“Yellow would suit you,” he agreed. “You

d look charming—though I can’t guarantee that the women’s attire is so comfortable,” he warned her. But she was already asleep.

The first intimation they had of the storm was a series of air-pockets that jerked the aeroplane
about the skies as though it were a kite with someone tugging on the string.

Jonquil dreamed that she was falling down a cliff and was immediately wide awake, as one often is after a nightmare. Outside the window she could see the lightning playing up and down the skies and felt a little shiver of fear.

“Spacemen celebrating the Fourth of July!” Mr. Tate suggested sleepily. “Let me remind you that the paper bags are in that locker thing in front of you!”

Jonquil regarded him indignantly.

“I’m not in the least inclined to air-sickness,” she informed him coldly.

He smiled comfortably, looking younger with all his hair standing on end.

“Pity. I was hoping to try out our latest cure on you,” he said calmly.

“Your latest cure?” She sat up very straight and eyed him suspiciously. “What are you?” Some kind of patent medicine traveller?” she asked.

“Good God, no! I’m a research chemist for a highly reputable firm.”

“Oh!” She felt deflated by his answer
. S
he might have known that he did something like that, she thought. He was just as confident and as overbearing as she had always imagined extremely clever scientists to be!

She might have asked him more about himself then, but at that moment the aeroplane chose to do some extraordinary contortion and she had to hang on with everything she had to remain in her chair. The sign bidding everyone to fasten their safety belts flickered on and she hastily obeyed, glad of its support.

She was not quite sure when she became aware of someone moaning in front of her. At first she thought she could ignore it, but then she began to worry as to whether something might not genuinely be wrong. It was impossible for the stewardess to travel up and down the plane while the storm was on and she felt that someone should go and see what the matter was.

Mr. Tate appeared to be asleep again and so very carefully she edged her way past him and dropped into the empty seat beside the woman in
front.

“Are you all right?” she asked diffidently, conscious that her attentions might not be in the least welcome.

The woman looked up and attempted a pathetic
smile.

“I all light,” she agreed, “but flightened!”

It was the first time that Jonquil had seen a Japanese and her eyes took in with delight the flower of a face before her, with its high cheekbones and pretty Mongolian-shaped eyes.

“I’m a bit frightened too,” she said consolingly, “but it’s very beautiful. Lighting up the whole sky for our especial benefit!”

“It is rike one of our festivals, the festival for rovers,” the Japanese woman agreed; “but not so
cosy!

Jonquil laughed. It was delightful to hear her soft accent, she thought, with the curious inability to pronounce the English “
l
” or “r”. She had a consonant all of her own for both letters, somewhere between the two, and yet Jonquil could not help hearing, quite distinctly, the “
l
” for the

r

and vice versa.

“And do you fly to my country?” the woman went on, somehow reminding Jonquil of magic carpets and fairy godmothers granting wishes as she brushed away the remains of her tears with one petal of a hand.

“I’m going to stay in Tokyo. I’m terribly excited about it, especially as I’ve never been to Japan before. Are you going home?

“Yes. My name is Mitchi Boko—or, for the
English
, Boko Mitchi. I work in the Ginza. I hostess at very good restaurant. You come visit me, perhaps, yes?”

“I should love to. Miss—Mitchi?”

“Mitchi-san.”

Jonquil tried it, making it come up her nose and was gratified that it sounded quite as Japanese as Mitchi Boko’s pronunciation. “My name is Jonquil Kennedy,” she added.

Another streak of lightning tore through the sky and the two girls ducked instinctively,
sh
ivering
in the sudden darkness that followed the flash. In the distance the thunder rolled round the black sky.

“It’s nearly over—I think,” Jonquil said cautiously. “That last one was much further away.”

Mitchi Boko shuddered dramatically, but it was truly over, as suddenly as it had begun. The stewardess switched on the main lights in the cabin and began her round to make sure that everyone was all right.

It was only then that Jonquil was able to see the Japanese girl properly. Before in the half
-
light she had seen that she was beautiful, but now she saw that she was exactly like an exquisite little Japanese doll.

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