Jealousy Without Love
The next day Cleo rallied Takashima because he was unusually quiet, and asked him the cause. He turned and looked at her very directly.
"Will you tell me, Miss Ballard," he said, "why Mr. Sinclair will be so overjoyed that you come to Japan?"
The abrupt question startled the girl. She flushed a violent, almost angry red, and for a moment did not reply. Then she recovered herself and said: "He is a very dear friend of ours."
The Japanese looked thoughtfully at her. There was an embarrassed flush on her face. Again he questioned her very directly, still with his eyes on her face.
"Tell me, Miss Ballard, also, do you flirt only with me?"
Cleo's face was averted a moment. With an effort she turned toward him, a light answer on the tip of her tongue. Something in the earnest, questioning gaze of the young man held her a moment and changed her gay answer. Her voice was very low :
"No," she said. "Please don't believe that of me."
She understood that some one had been trying to poison him against her. Her eyes were dewy - with self-pity, perhaps, for at that moment the coquette in her was subdued, and the natural liking, almost sentiment, she had for Takashima was paramount. A silence fell between them. Takashima broke it after a while to say, very gently: "Will you forgive me, Miss Ballard?"
"There is nothing to forgive."
"Ah! yes," said Takashima, sadly, "because I have misjudged you so?" His voice was raised in a half-question. The girl's eyes were suffused.
"Let us not talk of it any more, " he continued, noticing her distress and embarrassment. "I will draw your chair back here and we will talk. What will we talk of? Of America - of Japan? Of you - and of myself?"
"My life has been uninteresting," she said; "let us not talk of it tonight,- but tell me about yours instead. You must have some very pretty remembrances of Japan. Eight years is not such a long time, after all."
"No; that is true, and yet one may become almost a different being during that time." He paused thoughtfully. "Still, I have many beautiful remembrances of my home - all my memories, in fact, are sweet of it." Again he paused to think, and continued slowly: "I will also have beautiful memories of America. "
"Yes, but they will be different," said the girl, "for, of course, America is not your home."
"One often, though, becomes homesick - let us call it - for a country which is not our own, but where we have sojourned for a time," he rejoined, quickly.
"Then, if Japan is as beautiful as they say it is, I will doubtless be longing for it when I return to America. "
A flush stole to the young man's eager face.
"Ah! Miss Ballard, perhaps if you will say that when you have lived there a while, I might find courage to say that which I cannot say now. I would wish first of all to know how you like my home."
The girl put her hands at the back of her head, and leaned back in the deck-chair with a sudden nervous movement.
"Let us wait till then," she said, hastily. "Tell me now, instead, what is your most beautiful memory of Japan?"
"My pleasantest memory," he said, "is of a little girl named Nume. She was only ten years old when I left home, but she was bright and beautiful as the wild birds that fly across the valleys and make their home close by where we lived. "
A flush had risen to the girl's face. She stirred nervously, and there was a slight faltering in her speech as she said: "Tom once told me of her - he said you had told him - that you had told him - you were betrothed to her. "
She had expected him to look abashed for a moment, but his face was as calm as ever.
"I will not know that till I am home. My plans are unformed." He looked in her face. "They depend a great deal on you, " he continued.
For a moment the girl's lips half-parted to tell him of her own betrothal, but she could not summon the courage to do so while he looked at her with such confidence and trust; besides, her woman's vanity was touched.
"Tell me about Nume," she said, and there was the least touch of pique in her voice.
"Her father and mine are neighbors, and very dear friends. I have known her all my life. When she was a little girl I used to carry her on my shoulders over brooks and through the woods and mountain passes, because she was so little, and I was always afraid she would fall and hurt herself. "
Cleo was silent now. She scarcely stirred while the young man was speaking, but listened to him with strange interest. Takashima continued: "I used to tell her I would some day be her Otto (husband), and because she was so very fond of me that pleased her very much, and when I said so to our fathers, it pleased them also."
The girl was nervously twisting her little handkerchief into odd knots. She was not looking at Takashima.
"How queer," she said, "that our childhood memories are sometimes so clear to us! We so often look back on them and think how - how absurd we were then. Don't you think there is really more in the past to regret than anything else?"
Takashima looked at her in surprise.
"No," he said, almost shortly, "I have nothing to regret."
"And yet," she persisted, "neither of you was old enough to - to care for the other truly." Her words were irrelevant, and she knew it.
"We were inseparable always," the young man answered. "We were children, both of us, but in Japan very often we are always children - always young in heart."
Cleo could not have told why she felt the sudden overwhelming rebellion against his allegiance to Nume, even though she knew only too well that Takashima's heart was safe in her own keeping. With a woman's perversity and delight in being constantly assured of his love for her in various ways, in dwelling on it to feed her vanity, and yes, in wishing to hear the man who loved her disclaim - even ridicule - one whom in the past he might have cared for, she said:
"Do you love her?"
"Love?" the Japanese repeated, dwelling softly on the word. "That is not the word now, Miss Ballard. I have only known its meaning since I have met you," he added, gently.
The girl's heart beat with a pleasurable wildness. It was sweet to hear these words from the lips of one who hesitated always so deferentially from speaking his feelings; from one who a moment before had filled her with a fear that, after all, another might interest him just as she had done; for coquettes are essentially selfish.
"You will not marry her?" she questioned, in a low voice.
She could not restrain the almost pleading tone that crept into her voice ; for though she kept telling herself that they could never be anything to each other, and that she already loved another, yet, after all, was she so sure of her heart? The Japanese was silent. ''That will depend," he said, slowly. "It is the wish of our fathers. They have always looked forward to it. " His voice was very sad as he added : " Perhaps I should grow to love her. Surely, I would try, at least, to do my duty to my parents. "
With a sudden effort the girl rose to her feet.
"It would be a cruel thing to do," she said, "cruel for her and for you. It would be fair to no one. You do not love; therefore, you should not marry her. " Her beautiful eyes challenged him. A wild hope crept into the Japanese's heart that the girl must surely return his feeling for her, or she would not speak so. He was Americanized, and man of the world enough, to understand somewhat of these things. He purposely misled her, taking pleasure in the girl's evident resentment at his marriage with Nume.
"I would never marry a man I did not love," she continued. "No! I would have to love him with my whole heart. "
"It is different in Japan," he said, quietly. "There we do not always marry for love, but rather to please the parents. We try always to love after marriage - and often we succeed."
"Your customs are - are - barbarous, then," Cleo said, defiantly. "We in America could not understand them."
There was a vague reproach now in her voice. The Japanese had risen also. He was smiling, as he looked at the girl. Perhaps she felt unconsciously the tenderness of that look, for she turned her own head away persistently.
"Miss Ballard," he said, softly,- "Miss Cleo- I do not disagree with you, after all, as you think. It is true, as you say - there should be no marriage without love. "
"And yet you are willing to follow the ancient customs of your country, " she said, half-pettishly - almost scornfully.
"I did not say that," he said, smiling.
"Yes, but you make one believe it," she said.
"I did not mean to. I wanted only that you should believe that it might be so for my father's sake, if - if the one I did love was - impossible to me." There was a piercing passion in his voice that she had not thought him capable of.
One of those inexplicable, sudden waves of gentleness and tenderness that sometimes sweep over a woman, came over her. She turned and faced Takashima with a look on her face that would have made the coldest lover's heart throb with delight and hope.
"You must be always sure - always sure she is - she is impossible."
She was appalled at her own words as soon as they were uttered.
The Japanese had taken a step nearer to her. He half held his hands out.
"I am going below," she said, with sudden fright, "I - I - indeed, I don't know what I'm talking about. "