Natsu-San: A Japanese Tea House Girl

Natsu-San

By Onoto Watanna
Illustrated by Frederick McCormick
She was in a reminiscent mood. She was sitting in one of the American’s big chairs, and because she was so very small her feet reached only half way to the floor, and the chair seemed to envelop her altogether. She looked at the American out of a pair of very sharp little eyes, and there was just the least touch of pique in her voice.
You tell me long time ago, hah! six, ten, twenty monts, that you come bag soon at Japan to see me. But you naever come in long time. What do you do all that long time?
The young man laughed.
Been pretty near round the world, Natsu-san, since then.
Hum! an’ you say you naever forgit me—-I naever forgit you—-but wen I come see you—-you say jus’ lig’ this—-she frowned heavily—-‘ Hem! Wha’s want? Wha’s that liddle-girl? How? You want me? Ah, yaes, I ‘member now—-tha’ you, Natsu-san? My, but you change—-you grown vaery big!’ But me, I reckonize you at once, but you—-you forgit me lig‘ I only a pritty liddle play-toy.
Nonsense! He was still laughing. I knew you at once, Natsu-san. What are you doing now? Still at the geisha business?
Oh, no, she said, pretending to be provoked. Now, what you thing—-that I be geisha-girl foraever and aever? This was not true, however, for she was still a geisha-girl
Come, stand up, he said, and let me see what you look like now.
She rose obediently from the chair, and stood in a charming attitude, with her little hands stretched daintily out and her head tilted the least bit to one side.
Now, I know what you goin’ to say. ‘My, how ugly you grown, Natsu-san! Grashes! How old you be! Look lig’ a—-a ole wooman!’
The young man laughed outright. She was irresistible. He had been trying ever since they had met again not to let himself be carried away by her charms, for of course it was impossible for him now to—-well, care for her as he used to do two years ago. And yet how pretty she had grown! At that time she had been too young—-only fifteen. Now she was dazzling.
Then, too, his vanity was immensely flattered that she had not forgotten him, and that she had been the first to meet him at the boat. She evidently considered he had stood up in position plenty long enough for him to see her, and suddenly subsided to the floor, her little feet under her, looking, if possible, even more bewitching than before.
Now tell me all about yourself. she said, coaxingly.
Nothing to tell, Natsu-san, that you would understand. Besides, I’d rather hear you talk.
Now you are selfeesh again, she said, reproachfully, but proceeded to recite to him a few of the little incidents that had occurred in Tokyo since he had left.
Now, Tom Eyster had left Japan with the fixed intention of getting over his infatuation for Natsu-san. She was the youngest and prettiest geisha-girl in a tea-house that Tom had always found particularly attractive because, perhaps of the picturesqueness of its situation, being on the highway between Yedo and Kyoto, and within sight of Fuji-Yama. He had known hundreds of geisha girls, but none of them had ever seemed to him as charming as Natsu-san, to whom he had attached himself almost from the first day when she had knelt at his feet holding the tray while he drank his saké hot. After that day he had been almost constantly at the tea-house, and a friendship had sprung up between them. A friendship? Well, perhaps something more than that, for the last time Tom had seen her he had taken her bodily into his arms, in true American fashion, and had kissed her very ardently.
I am coming back soon, Natsu-san, he had said to the doleful little figure; but as the ship began to move down the bay he shut his lips together very grimly, as he said, Don’t expect ever to see her again. Hope not, for obvious reasons.
That was two years ago. Tom had succeeded very nicely in forgetting Natsu-san, and, in fact, had taken a dose of the best medicine for love; that is, he had fallen in love with another. Now he was taking another trip through Japan before returning to America, there to settle down with the new love, who, by the way, was a fair American girl. Tom felt quite capable of meeting Natsu-san now, what with the added two years to his former twenty years and the assurance of his American girl that she trusted him utterly. It really was not Tom’s fault that he was frightfully susceptible. In fact, he would have told you it was Natsu’s fault. She had no business to grow so pretty and charming. Tom was more helplessly smitten than ever this time.
You change vaery much, the girl told him, looking at him very critically.
In what way. Natsu-san?
Oa, I dunno. I thing you grown more nize-loogin’.
This was artful, shrewd, diplomatic. It broke down a certain stiff dignity with which Tom was trying to surround himself. A boy in his twenties is usually vainer than a girl in her teens. Tom grinned at this compliment.
The girl continued. Bud you change some ways else, too.
Yes?
Yes, indeed, ‘Fore you go ’way from Japan you always lig’ poor liddle me jus’ a liddle bit; now you naever—-here she paused, throwing a glance half of invitation, half of reproach, at him—-now you naever even kees me any more.
That settled it. By this time she had risen to her feet again and was standing before him in the most inviting manner in the world. There is no need to tell how Tom answered her. Besides, that was one of the American tricks he had taught her long ago.
It was about a month later. Tom had prolonged his visit in Japan. His original intention had been only to stay there a few weeks, certainty not more than a few days or a week in any one city. One morning, as Natsu-san sat very comfortably at his feet trying to make him laugh and chase away the gloom that had suddenly possessed him, he said to her as firmly as he could:
Now, Natsu-san, I want you to listen to me! Yaes? the girl interrogated. I listenin’, Mr. Solemn Angery-patch. She meant Crosspatch.
Tom himself was not quite sure what it was he wanted to tell her. His engagement had been preying on him of late, and this day his American mail had brought him quite a batch of letters that—-well, that made him feel very glum and remorseful and blue, on someone else’s account. As he looked down at the confident little figure at his feet he felt weak, very weak. He had been trying to summon enough courage all week to tell her he was to be married soon, that he did not think she ought to visit him so much; that he, of course, did not love her. Yet he could not contemplate a day passing without his seeing something of her. He was silent now at the crucial moment, when, aided by the letters, he should have been spurred on to the heroism of telling her.
Wha’ you skeered, she asked, tha’ you not tell me?
Tom got up suddenly and began pacing the floor, with his hands thrust deep in his trousers-pockets, a look of perplexity on his face. He couldn’t help liking Natsu immensely, that was certain, but as for being in love with her—-Pshaw! he said, bravely, to himself, Evalyn has my heart, of course, in the right place. He began to imagine that he might have some trouble in getting rid of Natsu on her own account. She might make it unpleasant for him, and Tom detested scenes. He wished he had not been so weak—-had not encouraged her—-for he had done so, not deliberately, but unconsciously. He braced all his strength together.
Come here, Natsu-san, he said; I want you to look at a picture.
It was a photograph of a young American girl. She was dressed in fashionable clothes, with a large hat on her head trimmed with birds, flowers and imitation cherries.
What a ugly girl! said Natsu-san, spitefully, making a face. She all so fonny! See all the ugly things on her haed! Wha’ you call that—-a hat? Ugh! I not lig’ a hat lig’ that—all fool of ve-veget-ables an’ birds an’—-an’—-
But look at the face, Natsu-san.
The young man was getting red. Natsu regarded the face very critically.
How tha’ is fonny! See, she roll her eyes, so! and she turned her own little eyes in irresistible mimicry of the American girl’s, which were turned heavenward.
Do you know who this is? Tom asked, sternly.
Perhaps Natsu guessed the truth. She caught her breath with a sudden pain at the sharpness of Tom’s voice, but she did not betray to him in the slightest way that she was concerned. In fact, there was an indifference in her face and voice that the most finished Western coquette would have been glad to emulate.
No, an’ I don keer vaery much
Well, Tom said, stung by what she had said, she is—-a—-she is—-er-—I expect to marry her some day.
He did not look at Natsu-san as he spoke, and it gave the girl time to recover herself.
The pallor of her face was scarcely noticeable, and her voice did not tremble in the slightest; in fact, there was extreme mockery in it.
How nize that is! she said, How you mus’ lofe her!
She did not come to see him all the next day, and with a restlessness he could not conquer he went over to seek her in the tea-garden.
Why did you not come over to-day? he asked her, nervously.
Well, she said, shrugging her little shoulders, I thing it bes’ not. What kin I do? You goin’ to marry! I goin’ to marry! Tha’s bes’ we not see each other foraevermore.
You going to marry? repeated Tom, stupidly.
Yaes, she said, calmly.
He was conscious of a feeling of unreasonable jealousy. Why had she told him nothing of this before?
When? he began, and could get no further. When—-when? he repeated, stupidly.
Oa, the girl answered, coolly, I bin engaged,, you call it, long time now. I egspeg to marry nex’ mont.
Then you were just fooling with me?
Tha’s grade fun! she admitted.
He turned abruptly and left the gardens.
Just like these Japanese women! he said, between his teeth, with an unaccountable lump in his throat. No heart to break. And to think all this time I was suffering on her account, fearing I would hurt her so, and—-well—- He lit a cigar and turned into his house miserably—-His amour propre was suffering terribly.
As for her? She was singing very gaily in the tea-garden, and her fingers seemed to pull the samisen strings with an added vigor. But her eyes looked tired, and there was a wistful look about her little white face.

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.

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.

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