The Little Geisha

(Copyright by Joseph B. Bowles.)
Okikusan was in trouble again.
This time she had offended her master by refusing to dance for the American who threw his money so lavishly about. He had specially asked that the girl with the red cheeks, large eyes and white skin be asked to dance for him.
The dancing mats were thrown, the music started, and Kiku had thrust forward one little foot and had curtsied to the four corners of the earth. Then she twirled clear around on the tips of the toes of one little foot, her hand tapering out toward the American. She had started to dance without once glancing at the visitor. By chance her eye happened to fall on him, and with a sudden whim she paused in her steps and subsided to the mats, her little feet drawn under her.
The American was watching the girl with amused eyes. Then he crossed to where she sat on the ground.
Why did you stop dancing? he asked her, in fairly good Japanese.
She answered him in broken English:
Tha’s account I nod lig’ to danze for you! she told him, candidly.
The girl still sat on the mat, looking straight out before her, her face unreadable in its cold indifference. Hilton could not understand her. She was so unlike any Japanese girl he had ever met, for they generally were so willing and eager to please. After a time he broke the somewhat strained silence to say, in his soft, drawling fashion:
Would you not Iike something—-er-—to drink? Shall I fetch something for you?
The question was so absurd that the girl’s studied indifference broke down.
Tha’s nod your place to waid on me! She said, loftily, rising to her feet. I thing thad you lig something to drlng. Yes? Thad git paid to worg here. I thing I bedder bring you something to dring, she added, stiffly. Bud I nod lig to waid on you. I prefer vaery much Japanese gents.
There was a sibilant softness to ber voice that was bewildering in its charm and sweetness, and her broken English was prettier than anything he had ever heard.
When she brought the hot sake back to him her face was smiling above the dainty tray, and as she knelt at his feet while he drank it, he could see that her former petulant mood was gone, and that she was now using every effort to please and conciliate him.
Now you look like a Japanese sunbeam, he told her, softly, looking unutterable things at her out of his deep gray eyes.
Tha’s account I ‘fraid gitting discharged, she told him, calmly, still smiling. Mr. Takahashi tell me if I nod vaery kin’ to you he goin’ to send me long way from here.
Ah, I see. Then you are only pretending to smile?
She shrugged her little shoulders.
Yes, she said, indifferently. Tha’s worg for geisha girl. Whad you thing we goin’ to git paid for? Account we frown? Or account we laugh? I thing tha’s account we laugh. Thad is my worg. What you thing?
That you are a philosopher, he told her, smiling, and added: But what a cynic, too; I didn’t expect to find it among Japanese women—-cynicism.
The girl smiled a trifle bitterly.
Oa! she said, you nod fin’ thad ‘mong Japanese—-only me! I different from aeverybody else. She set the tray on the ground and sat down at his feet.
How old are you? Hilton asked her, curiously.
Twenty-two, she told him.
You look like a child.
It was two weeks later. With a restless fascination could not understand, Hlilton went every day to the little tea house on the hill. Always he sought out Okikusan, and would spend the entire day with her, totally oblivious to almost all else save the girl’s beauty and charm.
 And Hilton forgot his mission in Japan, forgot that Japanese woman had always been merely the playthings of a moment; that he had tired of life—-everything save the delightful, irresistible feelings that awakened in him. What was it? Hilton was in love, and with a Japanese woman!
Years ago he had married one in Japanese fashion, and had left her. She had been a gentle, clinging little woman, with whom he had passed a dreamy, sleepy summer. What could he do with Kiku? She was unlike any Japanese woman he had ever known—-unlike any woman he had met. She was the one woman in the world he had loved during all his long, checkered career—-a life spent in idle pursuit of his own pleasures.
Hilton’s friend, who had accompanied him on the voyage, was beginning to feel anxious about him, for, in spite of his admission of his own weakness for Japanese women, he was far more alive to and quick to scent real danger than Hilton, who followed extravagant impulses only, while the cooler man kept a level head in the midst of his pleasures.
My dear boy, he said to Hilton, you’ve got the fever, I believe?
Hilton laughed weakly.
Nonsense!
You are in love with some Japanese girl! his friend continued. You want to look out for them, you know.
Hilton rose to his feet and began pacing the room in long, irregular strides.
Don’t you suppose I am old enough to be proof against things?
Well, I don’t know, Hilton, to tell you the truth. You see, Japanese women are different. You’re only human, after all. I’d advise you to marry her—-for awhile, of course, as you did the other one.
I have an idea, Hilton said, with some hesitancy, that I am too old for another affair of that kind. I thought or settling down—-that is, I intended returning to America, and—-er—-marrying.
What are you waiting for, then?
He flung himself restlessly across a couch, staring moodily at the fusuma.
What do you say to our leaving next week?
Good.
Better keep away from the tea house in the meanwhile, his friend advised.
Hilton did not answer.
He found her in a field blazing with a vivid burning glory of natan and  azalea-blossoms. She saw him coming toward her, and stooped down among the long grasses to hide from him. The man was intoxicated with his hunger for her, and caught her in his arms with all his pent-up love and passion.
Kiku, he whispered, I tried to stay away. I could not. Don’t you understand?  He was holding her close to him now, and covering her face with a passion ot kisses. I love you! I love you! I love you! he began, murmuring in her ear.
The girl’s eyes were fixed full on his face. He caught the elfish, searching full gaze, and for a moment released her. She stooped to pick up the scattered blossoms that had fallen.
The girl shivered, and her face grew suddenly white.
Go ‘way! she cried, with almost an imploring note in her voice. I don’ wanter tell you. I thing it bes’ nod. No, I nod tell you—-aeverythlng. Besides, I nod lig you vaery much. Jus’ lidle bit now. At first hate—-hate with all my heart! Now I ver’ sawry—-ver’ sawry thad, thad I bin unkin’. Tha’s account you unkin’ too.
l unkind! he repeated, stupidly. I don’t understand, Kiku-san?
No, you nod onderstan’, she said, in despair. What kin I do? Oh, pitiful Kwannon! help me! I thing I tell you. I bin mos’ vaery onhappy long time now, because aeverybody hate me. Account I loog lig American. You nod onderstand? No? My fadder—-she paused a moment—-he leave my modder. We vaery onhappy so thad she goin’ to die. Then w’en she die I worg, worg hard at the factory, an’ here. Nobody lig me account my fadder American, an’ I thing account thad I goin’ hate all Americans foraever, because my fadder vaery wigged, because he mek my modder suffer! And me? I suffer, too.
A grayness had crept over Hilton’s face. He felt suddenly weak and old.
You still nod onderstand? she asked. Her hands had fallen from his now, and he had staggered back a few paces.
Not yet! he said, faintly.
Then I tell you, she said, firmly. I nod lig you because w’en you come here someone thad know my modder w’en she alive point at you and say: ‘Thad you fadder!’
The silence that was between them now was horrible. It suddenly assumed a savage mockery by the wild singing of a nightingale which flew over their heads and trilled aloud its song of gladness.
The man could not speak. He stood, looking out in front of him with a pitiful look of horror, and only half comprehension on his face.
After awhile the girl continued:
Firs’ I thing will tell you. Then I remember my modder and how onhappy she be, and how hard I worg all those years w’ile you have so much rich, an’ then I hate you foraever and bury all sawry for you in my heart, an I hate all mens from the west, foraever so fool of conceit. Tha’s a liar that I say I twenty-two years old. I thing now thad my time come to fool. I thing I revenge my modder. I thing I mek you suffer lig her. You nod understan’? Always she have pain here! She clasped her hand over her heart, and then continued, wearily: Tha’s account you tich her to luf you. I nod onderstand that liddle word vaery much. Aeverybody say I nod have aeny heart. All hard daed. Tha’s account I luf only my modder, an’ she die. An’ I also hate you thad you kill that modder.
Through the mists of pain and horror that had overcome him the memory of dead days were coming back to Hilton. He could not think of Kiku-san now as his own child—-his very own blood—-he would not!
You must be mistaken! His voice sounded strange, even to his own ears.
My child died—-they told me so.
The girl laughed bitterly.
Tha’s bedder I daed. I going away. Aeverybody thinging I daed ‘cept me. I know always. You thing I loog lig Japanese girl?
She suddenly loosened her hair, and it fell down around her in thick, shining brown curls.
Thad lig Japanese girl?—-thad?—-thad?—-thad? Thad?
She pushed back her sleeves and showed him the white purity of her arms.
Then she turned and left him, with the same still look of despair on his face and the pitiless sun beating on the golden fields.

People Mentioned

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/.

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

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.

Organizations Mentioned

Spanish Fork Press

Weekly newspaper based in Spanish Fork, Utah. First printed in 1902, the press is still in publication today.

Published