The Japanese Lantern (7 page)

“Shall I let him in?” Jason asked her. There was a slightly sardonic note in his voice that she did her best to ignore.

“I’ll go straight out,” she said. “I think he expected to be a little earlier.”

Jason shrugged his shoulders.

“If you’re last in, don’t forget to lock up,” he reminded her.

Now what in the world was there for her to take exception to in that? She looked up at him quickly to see what he was really thinking, but his eyes were veiled. He threw himself down into a chair, picked up the book he was reading and began to look through the pages for his place.

Edward looked very suave and Western in his dinner jacket and she wondered again what it could possibly have been that she had disliked about
him
in Manila. He opened the door of the car for her and smiled as she pulled her skirt out of his way.

“You look very charming,” he told her, as he got in beside her.

“Why, thank you,” she said.

It was nice to know he thought so. And he did really
think
so, she knew, by the intangible something in his eyes when he looked at her.

“I had an awful race to get ready,” she laughed, and told him about her adventures with the bath.

“I was glad you could come,” he smiled. “Unfortunately I have to go to Kyoto tomorrow and I don't know exactly when I shall be back. The snags of not being one’s own master
!

“Oh.” She was immensely sorry. It was ridiculous that his presence in Tokyo should mean anything to her, but it had been comforting to know that he was there. She thought it was his
kin
dness
in telephoning her that first evening, when everything had been so strange.

“I shall miss you,” she said at last.

He smiled at that.

“Will you? I’m very flattered. But perhaps we shall meet there. You never know. The great Mr. Tate has a house there, I believe, and Kyoto is Yoshiko’s home town.”

“I hope so. Is it really so much more lovely than Tokyo?”

He gave her rather an odd look of amusement mixed with enquiry.

“I’ll tell you when I get back,” he said. “Like you, this is my first visit to Japan. I thought you knew that?”

She remembered now that she had been told that. It must be the confidence with which he found his way around that had made her forget, about it.

“You must have travelled a great deal, though,” she said. “You seem quite at home here, not in the least uncertain as I am. Yesterday I travelled on my first bus, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t get out at the right place.”

She thought he seemed pleased, for he grinned and said:

“Girls should always be a little uncertain. It makes it so much easier for us men to be properly protective.”

Edward drove well, she thought. The traffic might well have flustered a lesser man, especially the cheaper rated taxis that pushed through unbelievably narrow spaces, intimidating the private drivers as they went.

“Are we going far?”
she
asked.

Edward shook his head.

“I thought we’d dine at
th
e Imperial” he said. “They serve Danish food, which suits me better than these other peculiar dishes. I think you
’ll like it.”

She couldn’t help being a little disappointed that they were not going to a genuine Japanese restaurant, but she had to admit that the Imperial Hotel was an experience in itself.

It was on
e
of the few buildings that were still standing after the tragic earthquake that demolished Tokyo before the war. It had been designed by a famous American architect, who had floated the foundations in mud. The idea must have worked, for while the rest of Tokyo was
being laboriously rebuilt, the Imperial had stood, proud and defiant, exactly where it had always been
.

“Tell me all about this job of yours,” Edward suggested as they waited for their smorgasbord to be brought to them.

“I have really very little to do,” Jonquil began. “The Tates are being very kind to me—Mrs. Tate is a cripple, you know, which is rather sad. I think it was because of her that they decided to have me. She gets rather lonely when she is on her own a great deal.”

Edward looked thoughtful.

“Mrs. Tate? Is she Mrs. Buckmaster’s aunt?” Jonquil nodded. She was no longer very surprised by the amount Edward knew about her employers. The Tates were obviously a well-known
f
ami
ly
in Japan. But it gave her an uncomfortable feeling all the same. Bother Mrs. Tate! She thought. She didn’t
want
to have to worry about Jason.

“You make me curious,” Edward said laughingly. ‘I had no idea she was crippled.”

“There’s not much to tell. She has a rather malicious sense of humour, but one can’t help liking her.”

Edward smiled.

“Is that so? I hear she takes a great interest in Tate’s firm. Put a lot of money into it and that sort of thing. With reason too, I should say. Rumour has it that he’s found a new alloy that doesn’t ice up so easily.”

“Is that a very important discovery?” Jonquil asked. It sounded somewhat disappointing to her.

“Oh, very! It’ll save the aeroplane companies quite a bit, make it easier for them to take off in cold weather and so on.”

“Then your firm would be interested too?” she asked him cautiously.

Edward shrugged his shoulders casually.

“I shouldn’t think so. I’m interested as a man, but my firm goes in for much smaller stuff than that. It leaves us much freer, not having to have such heavy equipment.”

Jonquil wasn’t quite sure whether she believed him or not He certainly didn’t look the part of an unscrupulous trickster, trying to break up Jason’s firm and his career, but she knew very well that the two men didn’t like each other and so she couldn’t help wondering why Edward should go to such lengths to pretend an interest in some alloy or other, just as a man.

“It all sounds very dull to me,” she said deliberately.

He smiled at that.

“I expect it does,” he admitted. “But if you should get to know anything at all about it, I should like to know. Think of all the air crashes it might save.”

Jonquil thought he couldn’t possibly he a very big-time operator if he expected Jason to tell
her
anything about his discovery.

Rather to her relief they talked about other things after that, until they had finished their excellent meal; then he summoned the waiter with a careless hand and rose to help her into the light coat she had brought with her.

“It seems a pity to cover up that dress,” he said softly.

Jonquil coloured a little.

“Don’t you like the coat?” she asked.

He smiled.

“I’ll tell you later, when we’ve got to know each other better,” he said.

Seated again in the car, Jonquil began to grow curious as to where he was taking her.

“You promised me a slice of Japanese life,” she
reminded him.

“So I did. I thought we might go and take a look at a temple. The Himmonji temple, to be more exact.”

He looked so exactly like a small boy with a treasured secret that Jonquil almost laughed. For the first time since she had arrived in Japan she had lost that feeling of confusion. Mitchi Boko might have scraped up an acquaintanceship with Jason, but Edward was obviously nothing more
than
an overgrown schoolboy, and great
f
un to be with!

“It sounds exciting,” she said.

“It might be,” he agreed, “if things go as well as I plan.”

She looked up at him enquiringly.

“Do
y
ou really want to know?” he asked, and then when she nodded: “I thought you were quite the prettiest girl I had ever seen in Manila—you may have noticed that I was practically flattene
d
?
And now that I’ve got you to myself for a little while, I don’t plan to waste a moment!”

Jonquil felt uncomfortable. It was flattering, of course, that he should have gone to so much trouble for her entertainment, but she wasn’t really sure that she wanted him to think of her that way.

“I—I—” she began.

He smiled reassuringly.

“I don’t expect much,” he said quickly. “I just wanted to put in an early claim. I shan’t mention it again, but just remember that I’m around, will you?”

“Of course I shall!” she exclaimed. “Oh,
Edward,
I thought you were going to tell me about the temple,
n
ot


H
e laughed.

“You’re very sweet. I really believe that you would rather hear about the temple at that
!

She blushed and made a deprecating movement with her hand, anxious not to hurt
him
,

“The temple,” he began. “They’re celebrating

perhaps commemorating would be a better word —the death of Nichirin Shonin, the founder of the Nichirin sect of Buddhism.”

“And that means

?”

“A
nice, pretty little festival for you and me to go and watch!”

They laughed happily together, and Edward took her hand
in
his and held it loosely as he drove along. Jonquil would have liked to release herself at first, for she couldn’t believe that anyone could drive in Tokyo
w
ith only one, hand, but after a few minutes she got to like the sensation and found that she didn’t mind in the least when he took a slightly firmer grip.

I
t had been dark some time, though it had not been so noticeable in “Downtown Tokyo”, as
everyone seemed to refer to the area around the Ginza. But, further out, the streets seemed very
dark and mysterious. An occasional street light would show up some narrow turning, down
which who knew what lay? This was Tokyo proper that had hardly noticed the American
occupation. The Tokyo that was still purely Japanese.

Then before them was the temple, its outlines blurred against the black sky, the forecourt one mass of people carrying lanterns.

“Oh, it’s beautiful
!
” Jonquil exclaimed.

“We’ll go and take a look,” Edward promised.

He managed to park the car and hurried her after him towards the thronging pilgrims. Little stalls along the way blazed with a myriad of tiny lights, most of them selling tourist objects or food, sweets and decorations for the lanterns.

Jonquil’s eyes took in the scene with delight. Never had she seen so many human candlesticks. The lights flickered and blurred into each other until it seemed like a continuous river of light, fed by tributaries of yet more pilgrims as they arrived.

One new group of women particularly caught her attention, for they were all in national costume, stepping carefully in their high wooden sandals. At first she was too busy looking at their beautiful clothes to notice their faces, but someone in the crowd lowered a lantern and the glow fell full on the face of one of the girls.

“Edward, look! There’s Mitchi Boko!”

She turned round quickly to make sure that he had heard her, but there was no one behind her. Somehow she must have been parted from him in the crowd. At first she thought that he too must have seen the Japanese girl and she pressed forward into the mass of people, trying to reach the spot where she had seen her. The pilgrims parted obligingly to let her through, but then they knitted together again and she was no longer sure exactly where she was aiming for.

Then suddenly all around her everyone began to chant. Again and again they sang out the same words until she began to be afraid and they took on some fearful meaning for her.

“Namu Myoho Renge Kyo! Namu Myoho Reng
e
Kyo!”

Someone smiled at her and thrust his lantern into her hands. It was square and mounted on a stick, with an umbrella-like decoration of flowers over it. She tried to thank him, but he had already disappeared.

The chanting went on and on in the background. Breathlessly, she tried to make her way to one side of the forecourt. Then she thought she saw Edward and an instant later Mitchi Boko. Almost
in
tears she tried to get to them, but as soon as she reached the spot where she thought she had seen them, they had disappeared again.

“Edward!” she called out, but her voice was lost amidst the chanting pilgrims.

Hopelessly she looked about her, just as someone grabbed her by the arm and began to steer her out of the crowds. She tried to struggle, but there was no escape.

“Hand me that mando!” a voice commanded her. “The lantern, Jonquil
!

She gave it up reluctantly, knowing that it was Jason who had somehow appeared from nowhere to rescue her.

“That’s better!” he said with satisfaction. “The car’s over on your right.”

She allowed herself to be propelled towards it, becoming conscious of the ache in her arm where he held her.

“Let me go,” she begged.

He did so and she rubbed the tender spot resentfully. He held the light above her head and looked critically down at her.

“You look about all in,” he said at last.

“Well, I don’t feel it,” she said fiercely. “I was enjoying it all!”

And then, quite suddenly, and much to her chagrin, she burst into tears.

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