5

His Wife’s Husband

Illustrated by S. Ehrhart
She sidled close up to him, and as soon as they were alone together told him she lufed him.
But we scarcely know each other, he replied, with a trace of embarrassment mingled with the amusement in his face.
The girl scoffed at the idea.
Oa, she said, tha’s nodding. I thing’ perhaps we knowing each odder in nodder life? Yaes?
She smiled at him so engagingly that he relented.
Well what do you want me to do?
She peeped at him sideways a moment, and he caught the glimmer of her black, saucy eyes between the half- closed lids.
Tha’s nize you marry with me? she questioned. And thus tempted, Frank, who was being initiated into Japan and things Japanese, fell.
They started housekeeping in a fairy cottage which nestled in the very heart of a blue valley, close by the beautiful waters of the Hayama, and within sight of the peerless mountain Fuji-Yama. All about them the fields were alive with color, changing with every month, but always beautiful, sometimes vivid with a burning glory of natané or azalea blossoms, sometimes languorous and sleepy with the pale blue of the wistaria, or again the exquisite delight of the tinted cherry or plum blossom, both of which rivaled each other in beauty.
Amid such surroundings, with only a man and maid to command, was it any wonder that these two were happy, or that the American soon succumbed both to the dolce far niente of the atmosphere and the irresistible charms of Otama-san, who had infected him with some of her blissful delight in her new home? For Otama had been only a poor working-girl before she had met the American, and although he was merely receiving a good salary from the American-Oriental Railroad Company, yet to Otama he was as wealthy as any millionaire in the Empire.
Frank expected to spend the spring and summer in Japan, as his position as inspector of the road kept him seldom longer than a few months in any one particular place. He saw no reason why he should not make his visit as pleasant as possible. And so, waited on hand and foot by Otama, and beguiled and amused by her pretty speech, her singing and dainty charms, he was happy and blissfully unconscious, for the time being at least, of everything save that Japan with all its dreamy beauty was a Garden of Eden, wherein he was the Adam and Otama the Eve. Moreover, his duties were not at all heavy, and he had accomplished them inside of a few weeks after his coming to the island, so that he had a great deal of time to himself to see the country.
You gitting vaery lazy, Otama told him reproachfully one morning, when she discovered him rolled in a sleepy heap in the hammock, his cap pulled over his eyes. She had been bustling in and out of the house attending to her household duties, but finding time every few minutes to run out and talk to her big, sleepy husband.
Frank turned his head around on the pillow and surveyed her with lazy pleasure.
Come here, witch, he said, stretching his long arms out and trying to draw her into the hammock with him. Do you know what I was thinking about?
She knew, but preferred to appear mystified.
No. Whad kin it be? ’Bout the beautiful Americazan ladies?
Nope. He shook his head.
Eenglish?
No, smiling.
French? German? she began, naming all the nations she had ever heard of. Tha’s mos’ hard thing I aever heard to guess.
He pinched her cheek.
I’m thinking of my wife, and whether she is going to be a good little girl while I am gone.
The girl’s face instantly grew serious.
You goin’ to desert me sure thing? she said, with a questioning note which wanted to be denied in her voice.
Only for a little while.
Tha’s whad they all say, she said, scornfully now. All big mans from the West tell thad liddle story. I dunno thad I believe.
Well, I’m different from the rest. He was still smiling. She shrugged her little shoulders.
They also say thad: aever one them.
Well, you’re my wife, you know, Otama-san.
Tha’s so? The cynicism she had learned somewhere from some Japanese woman whose American husband had deserted her peeped out of her words still. I thing’ tha’s only your wife s’long as you stay at Japan. You go way an’—
Nonsense, Mrs. Boyd.
Why you nod tek me with you?
He stirred uneasily. It wouldn’t do, Otama-san. People wouldn’t understand you there, you know, and— er— besides, I like you better in Japan.
He had not banished the skepticism from her face in the slightest, but she preferred to change the subject since she could do nothing with him.
Aenhow, I egspeg you lig’in’ me jus’ now?
Well I don’t know about that.
She pouted roguishly.
I don’t know ’bout thad, needer—’bout lig’in’ you. The question they had discussed was a sore one between them. With all the girl’s apparent artlessness there was a shrewd vein in her which had ever made her cautious in her marriage with the American. She was well aware that it was no uncommon thing for foreigners to marry Japanese girls, and after a short, happy, convenient season desert them. The girl, who had grown a trifle hardened through working in the factory among girls who were her inferior in every way, and which her dire poverty had driven her to, was determined not to suffer in the same way, and made up her mind, with all the strength of a Japanese woman, that if she did not go with her husband she surely would not become wretched on his account: for in his refusal to take her with him she fancied she detected his desire to leave her altogether, and although she was too proud to hold him, she would not permit herself to suffer more than she could help.
At last the day set for his departure arrived. Otama packed his clothes with trembling hands, and went about the house with a white, wistful little face that her husband made a point of taking between his hands and kissing into laughter every time he saw her. He was quite cheerful, and made big promises to Otama—promises which Otama secretly believed he would break, but which she smiled at very bravely. At the last moment even his eyes were moist, for the girl clung to him in a perfect agony, pitifully begging to be taken with him. He put her from him very gently, whispered he would be back ere the first snow fell, and sprang up the gang-plank.
When his ship had once passed out of sight Otama-san walked home with a still, hard look about her eyes.
Bring me my prettiest gown, my jewels, and dress my hair more becomingly than ever before, she said to the little maid; and when, after a couple of hours, she had emerged from the maid’s hands she looked very beautiful, with her face very pink, gay flowers and ornaments in her hair, and a smile on her lips. Then she called to the man. Haste! Go to the honorable Nakoda and bid him come to me.
She walked through the rooms in the house, destroying all traces of her husband, burning his pictures and books. When the Nakoda arrived she was very dignified and calm.
A husband? he inquired. He would have one for her in a week. Would he not have to consult her father and uncles? No, she had no near relatives. Ah! she was a widow? Her husband had deserted her—she had divorced him.
When the Nakoda had gone, and she was alone with the little maid, she flung herself wearily down. The timid little maid approached and put her arms about her.
Perhaps he—the big barbarian would come back!
No—they never come—they always said so—that was all. They liked to give pain, but they cared not to see it, her mistress had answered, and added that she had discussed the subject well with those who knew and had suffered in that way.
And so, before the ship that bore her American husband back to his home was quarter way on its journey, Otama-san had married again. She had married again for several reasons. Her husband had left her only sufficient money to last her a few weeks, telling her he would send more. Otama had always desired a life of ease and comfort, and could not bear the idea of going back to the old drudgery. Hence her determination to marry some one who would be able to support her in the way she wished to live. Her beauty had grown since her marriage, and it was heightened by her clothes and surroundings, so that she could command a better husband now than formerly.
The Nakoda had an applicant on his list for a wife who exactly filled all Otama’s requirements; he was well off, polite and kind, with influential relatives. He desired a wife who was beautiful, besides being modest and good. And so, with a philosophy she must have inherited from some old Samourai ancestor, Otama refused to permit herself to even think of her former husband, and tried in every way possible to please her new one and fulfill her duties as a good wife.
Four months had scarcely passed, and the first snow had not yet fallen. It was the middle of December, and the people were busy preparing for the New-Year holiday season. The streets looked very busy in Tokyo, which was only a short distance from where Otama lived.
The Empress of India crowded with foreign passengers, who chose this season, the pleasantest, for visiting Japan, had just arrived. One of the first passengers to alight was Frank Boyd. His open, boyish face looked happy and eager and he hailed a kurumma with all his old-time familiarity with things Japanese.
He was met at the door by Yuri, the little maid, and in his boyish delight at seeing her familiar little face once more he caught her in his arms and kissed her joyously.
Her mistress? The girl sank in a heap at his feet, imploring him to go away. He thought at first she was fooling with him, and in his impatience to see his wife pushed her aside and strode into the house, the thin walls of which seemed to shake with his joyous tread.
He called her name in the old, happy fashion.
Otama! Otama! It is I—your big barbarian!
She came to meet him, shivering, her eyes averted and frightened, and when he tried to take her in his arms6 she, too, shrank from him and knelt at his feet as the maid had done. This was too much for Frank. He lifted her up bodily, and fell to kissing her in spite of her pitiful protesting, calling her by all the fond, ridiculous names he had loved to lavish on her in the past, and telling her how he had missed her and thought of her constantly. She must forgive him that he had not written. She did not understand English writing; he could not write in Japanese; he had the American’s repugnance to having strangers read his letters to her. He had sent the money, however. Had she received it?
When his fluency had abated the girl extricated herself from his arms. She was dizzy and afraid of him.
Tha’s too lade. Her voice was faint and strained.
Why, little blossom, what do you mean?
Thad I marry ag’in, she said, and shrank back from him as though fearful he would strike her. The little maid began to sob bitterly behind the fusuma. The man still did not understand.
You nod onderstan’? she repeated, wildly.
Of course not. He was impatient now.
I nod believe you aever goin’ come bag to me, so I git nodder husban’.
His face had grown gray in one moment, and all the boyish joy was gone, leaving only a haggard, dull contempt mingled with slow comprehension.
I see. He did not know his own voice even. You had so little faith that you could not wait even a few months. 1 remember you used to hint of such things to me. He was speaking slowly—half to himself. She was clinging to his hands now, pressing them to her face, but he shook her off with the uttermost dislike.
In my country they would consider you the lowest, most despicable of things, he said, cruelly. One month one man’s plaything—the next another’s.
He found a seat and sat down stupidly, trying to recover his wits. It was one of the American chairs he had left behind, and it reminded him that the house was still his, according to the lease.
Whad you goin’ ter do? She had dried her tears now.
To stay in my own house, he told her, recklessly, though he did not himself know what he intended doing.
She blanched whiter, if possible.
Thad my husban’ nod lig’— she began, timidly.
I am your husband, he told her, fiercely gripping her arm in a vise. She stared at him in terror, and then clung about his neck.
Oh, why you nod tek me away to you home, Frang? she said, bitterly. Tha’s goin’ ter save all so much suffer.
Now that she was clinging to him he detested her again, and pushed her from him. She crept from the room like a wounded bird.
When her husband came home he found the American waiting for him. He was very urbane and polite.
What did his augustness want? How was it he had deigned to enter his honorably miserable house?
This is my house, the American told him, savagely. He had rented it for a number of years. What the devil did he—the Japanese—want in it?
The Japanese was too surprised to answer for a moment, and Frank continued: Furthermore, everything in the house is mine; do you understand—my wife, servants, furniture, everything—and I want you to get out! he finished.
The Japanese was still smiling in a ghastly fashion and bowing politely. He failed to understand his claim. His wife was divorced from the American—the lease had been forfeited by his departure from Japan—he, the Japanese, refused to take commands from the American. If he desired further counsel as to his rights there were legal authorities to whom he could go in Japan.
The hopelessness of his claim came home to Frank. He restrained himself from strangling the Japanese, who, after all, was not the one to blame. For a time he stood looking straight before him, with miserable, unseeing eyes. Then without a word he strode across the room and passed out of the house. As he went down the hill mistress and maid watched till they could no longer see him; then the maid looked at her mistress’ face and renewed her weeping, and this time the mistress wept with her.

People Mentioned

Ken Ip

Ken Ip is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia and was a research assistant for The Winnifred Eaton Archive. During this time, his research interests were focused towards digital humanities and Indigenous literatures. During his time with the project, he contributed mainly as a transcriber and encoder for several of Eaton’s works. He is currently working with the International Society of Cell and Gene Therapy as Coordinator, Training and Education.

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and the User Interface Developer at the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (Simon Fraser University). He is also an M.A. student in English at the University of British Columbia where his research focuses on Indigenous and diasporic Canadian literature; he is currently completing a digital edition of His Royal Nibs.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonym used in this text

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/.

Organizations Mentioned

Woman’s Home Companion

American women’s magazine published from 1896 until 1957. Prior to 1896, the magazine was called the Ladies’ Home Companion, but the name was changed to distance the publication from Ladies’ Home Journal, their rival publication.

Published