The Pot of Paint


The Pot of Paint

To a Portuguese great-grandfather the face of Moonshine owed its peculiar beauty. Moonshine had heard of this ancestor; a blot he was to her upon the proud Japanese genealogy of her family, despite the fact that he had been one of those remarkable Portuguese who brought to Japan the first knowledge of Western science. When her Japanese friends remarked that her eyes were yellow instead of black and her hair waved barbarously, she would apologize very humbly. But to the few foreigners whom she chanced to meet in Nagasaki, Moonshine traded on her nationality in order to win their favor.
This fact, and of course her undoubted beauty, had been her attraction for Dudley. He was an American of the usual sort, seeing Japan through rose-colored glasses, marveling that he was not indeed in another world altogether. Despite the glamor of the land of poetry and flowers, however, never for one moment did he lose his own Western point of view. Nevertheless, he fell in love with Moonshine.
Tomlinson, who was his intimate 416friend and kinsman, had pleaded with him to give up the rash notion of marrying Moonshine; or if he must do so, to follow the example of his countrymen and marry her only in Japanese fashion. Dudley had answered with a stubborn pride that would brook no criticism of the girl herself. She was above reproach. For this reason, and because he honestly loved her, he intended to marry and protect her with all the homage he would have given to any woman who became his wife.
Tomlinson had said: “She may be good and lovely and all the rest, you know, old fellow, but you never can tell just what to expect of these Orientals. The Pagan must out in them.” To which Dudley returned:
“You forget that she is not entirely Japanese. She has always had ideas alien to those among whom she has had to live: she has always felt a stranger here. You will see, Tomlinson, as my wife, she will absorb in time our Western way of thinking and living, though I would not have her lose her charm of Oriental birth.” He added with a little confident laugh:
“Really, Tomlinson, we’ll make a bewitching little Christian of her yet.”
Tomlinson went to Helen Martin at the Hotel Imperial.
“Try and do something to dissuade him from this,” he said to the girl, who was strangely pale over the intelligence. “He will ruin his whole career if he lets this infatuation get the better of him.”
“If Francis must marry her,” said Miss Martin very gently, “we should be thankful that he will do so properly.”
Meanwhile, Moonshine made some important purchases at the chief European store in Nagasaki. In fact, she bought a corset, a pair of little patent leather shoes, silken hose, kid gloves, skirts, waists, and a bonnet.
On the day of the wedding she arrayed herself in all this finery before the little beveled mirror in her room, only large enough to reflect back her own exquisite face. All the morning she had labored on her hair, painfully endeavoring to dress it after some European mode which she had seen in an old Parisian fashion plate. The result was a trifle tousled, but nevertheless quite becoming.
Then she put the corsets on, pulling them hard by the strings, panting and breathing heavily with the exertion.
“I cannot bear this corset long,” she said, sighing hugely. She slipped a skirt on, then the waist, and somehow or other she managed to fasten them correctly. Next she put on the bonnet, then the gloves, several sizes too large for her, and last of all, she sat down on the floor, drawing on the little high-heeled Parisian shoes.
When she was all quite dressed she slipped out of the house just as she was, glancing about her fearfully lest she might encounter some shocked relative. On the road the little dogs sniffed and barked at her, missing the familiar sound of her little wooden clogs. She reproved them gently:
“Dear, my honorable friends,” said she, “certainly you are not acquainted with any American lady. Some day, maybe, you will learn.”
At the church, they were awaiting her—-Dudley, Tomlinson, Helen Martin and a fat missionary—-whose deep, solemn voice made her shiver.
At first when she came to the door of the church they did not recognize her in her changed attire, until she announced in a queer little subtle voice, as she tried to make graceful obeisance, despite the horrible corsets that caused her agony:
“Dear my augustnesses, I come!”
Dudley started violently and paled all over. His lips quivered fearfully as he went quickly down the aisle of the little mission church to meet her.
“God bless you!” he said brokenly to her. “It was all quite wrong—the clothes—but you did it for me!
After the first ejaculation of amazement at her changed appearance, the two witnesses composed themselves, though Tomlinson said in an audible whisper:
“Good Lord! She has come all alone!”
She replied to Dudley in a timid un-418 der tone that had a tremor in it:
“Pray excuse the honorable rudeness of my honorable relatives. They doan like me mek marriage with barbarian. But I also liddle bit like unto you, an’ behold I jus’ runnin’ away to you elope!”
Dudley held her hand closely. She could not altogether follow the marriage service, but she went through it bravely, and repeated the beautiful words in a broken accent, with far less nervousness than Dudley, who was shaking like an aspen.
After the ceremony he took her straightway to his hotel, whence he sent word to her honorable family, which met in indignant counsel, solemnly and completely to disown her forever.
During the first month of his marriage, Dudley raved of his unalloyed bliss to the cynical Tomlinson, who merely thumped him hard on the back, wishing ardently that it might continue. Aside he would say to Helen Martin:
“What’s the use? He can’t see he’s living in a fool’s paradise.”
“Why?” Helen would demand somewhat impatiently, “she is all and more than we could have hoped.”
“Wait!” said Tomlinson, the raven, “I have lived long in the East. The Pagan must out!”
Although he disapproved of his wife’s habit of rising with the sun, Dudley awoke one morning very early. The glorious sunshine of Japan had forced its way in a golden stream through the closed shutters into the room. At an open shoji he saw his wife almost before he was fully awake. She was sitting, with her back to him, on the floor. Before her was a little black lacquer box, its wide-open lid showing the shining surface of inlaid mirror. Over it her head was bending and her hands were very busy.
Dudley got out of bed noiselessly, thinking to startle her by coming on her of a sudden and catching her in his arms. But as he came closer to her he became at first interested, then mystified, and finally horrified at her strange occupation. She was smearing big blotches of red paint on her cheeks and lips. That done, she penciled her eyebrows in the finest lines. Finally she began doing something to her teeth.
Watching her in almost a fascinated silence, Dudley remained transfixed. When she had finished, the keenest eye could hardly have detected the make-up, he thought, so artfully had she laid it on.
“Moonshine!” he called to her sharply.
She started, truly, but from surprise rather than guilt. She even sprang up joyfully, running to meet him, with her small hands outstretched to his. He held her off.
“I can’t kiss you with that stuff on your face,” he said sternly.
Her long, yellow eyes grew large in bewilderment.
“You kinnod kees me?” she said slowly. “Why, my lord?”
“With that—that paint on your face! How can you ask?”
She smiled.
He observed something else which alarmed him more than before.
“What have you done to your teeth?” he demanded.
She parted her lips just a trifle. The little straight row of pearly teeth was stained hideously in some brown dye.
She essayed a little laugh of wonder and remonstrance.
“O, dear my lord,” she said, “I nod any longer thad liddle bit maiden. I nize married leddy now—-”
“Will that come off?”
Dudley pointed with a shaking finger to her teeth.
She nodded, her troubled eyes still seeking his for explanation.
“Take it off—and all the rest!” he shouted at her in such a big thundering voice that she began to tremble.
“You doan like me do—” she began.
“Don’t like!” he repeated. “Do you think I want my wife to be a painted—”
“You doan desire,” she began slowly, still past understanding.
Dudley began to have a conception of her viewpoint. To this she had doubtless been educated and accus-419 tomed all her life. He must effect the cure, gently but firmly.
“Moonshine, I ask you to take all that stain off your teeth.”
“Yeas—yeas,” she agreed, “I doan keer put thad on—no, I doan keer thad I married leddy or nod; only all my honorable ancestors—”
“I know,” he said, “it is a custom of your race. But you are married now to an American, remember. Women of my country don’t disfigure themselves in that way. Come—off with it.” He led her to the wash-basin.
She removed the stain from her teeth readily and willingly enough, and she rubbed with a little sponge the black lines above her eyes; but she stopped at taking off the paint, begging and coaxing to be excused from such humiliation. She could not bear to have him see her without what seemed to her one of the chief perquisites of her beauty.
But he was inexorable, and stood over her peremptorily, as with trembling hands and tearful eyes she rubbed her cheeks.
When she had quite finished, he held her at arm’s length and looked at her. He marveled that she should attempt to spoil her natural delicate loveliness with such hideous cosmetics.
“Now,” said he, “I love you again. You must never disfigure yourself in that way.”
Delighted to discover that she was far prettier without the make-up on her face, the depression her use of the cosmetics caused him rapidly vanished. He even joked and teased her about it as he dressed himself.
She sat on the floor, leaning her head languidly against the foot of the bed. Somehow, despite the chairs and couches about their rooms, she seemed to slip naturally to her little crouched up position on the floor, and her husband could find no fault with this little pagan habit, for she looked so quaint and pretty.
As he talked, her eyes were downcast, and he noted with pleasure how long and silky were the lashes that shadowed them. She appeared to be all attention, listening to him politely. Suddenly she put a question to him:
“Dear my lord, you doan will condescend to kees me eef I puttin’ thad honorable paint on my insignificant, homely countenance?”
“I should say not,” said her husband with Western decisiveness.
“Eef,” said she, argumentatively, “you, my lord, an’ me your honorable insignificant wife go out on street togedder, will you also kees me there whicheven?”
“Of course not. American men don’t do such things in public, much as they may revel in it in private.”
He was using the military brushes to his smooth brown hair, smiling at her tenderly the while.
“Then,” she said, “therefore I only puttin’ thad honorable paint on my honorable face wen I goin’ out on street. Then you ‘scuse yourself to nod kees me, account thad augustly unpoliteness for American gendleman. I doan keer then. You kinnod do. Therefore I wear thad honorable paint,” she explained triumphantly.
“What!” said her husband, one hand pausing with a brush halfway to his head. “You mean you’d put that paint on when we go out?”
“And take it off, my lord, wen you desire kees me,” she finished for him.
Dudley threw his brushes down on the bed and burst out laughing. She was really irresistible, he thought. But, of course, she must be converted. He sat down beside her on the floor.
“Listen, Mrs. Dudley,” said he, “you swore to honor and obey me, did you not?”
She inclined her head.
“Then,” he continued. “I order you to destroy or throw away every scrap of that make-up stuff. You’ll do it?”
“I will destroy all thad honorable beautiful stuff, my lord,” she said.
A few of his friends remarked that the bride’s vivid color had faded to a beautiful pink flush, to which Dudley replied with a glance at his wife, that she could not be said to lack color.
“Of course, Mrs. Dudley isn’t pale; but then she had such a phenomenally gorgeous complexion before,” drawled Tomlinson, with what seemed to the 420 truth-knowing Dudley, veiled meaning. However, he was indifferent to comment. He knew that her appearance had changed for the better, but he wondered that she should still have so much color, for he remembered how on that first day her skin had been peculiarly clear and creamy when she had washed the paint off it, with scarcely a tinge of color.
A few days later, when she had dressed hurriedly to go with him to an entertainment at the American Consulate, he noticed a little red blotch on her nose.
“What is that?” he inquired suspiciously, and he led her before a long mirror.
“Thad!” Her eyes flickered guiltily. “I jus’ scratch my honorable nose liddle bit,” she said.
He took his handkerchief out and rubbed the spot, despite her protests. Then he looked at the piece of linen in his hand. It was stained in blurred red. Her honorable nose was free of its scratch.
Without a word he led her back to their rooms. Holding her face over a basin he washed it clean with a wet towel end. After the flush resulting from his brisk motion had died down, he found she was quite pale.
“It is not,” he said, “so much the fact that you have disobeyed me, but that you have deceived and lied to me. Where is that paint box?”
“I dinnod lie to you,” she denied with a burst of passion, “I destroy thad same honorable box. I buy altogedder new pot of paint, jus’ nize liddle light paint this-a-time.”
“Get me it,” he ordered. He was quite angry this time, and she dared not disobey him. The contents of the box he emptied into the fireplace. Then he smashed the box.
“I don’t expect to find any more of that stuff around these rooms; do you understand?”
“Yeas, my lord,” she said, in such a small, humble voice that his anger melted completely.
He sat down and took her on his knee.
“Little one, you will not use that stuff if I tell you it pains me for you to do so, will you? Try and see things as I do. Anything that is artificial is wrong, disgusting. In America only women of a certain shunned type use paint, or silly superficial women whose vanity is their sap of life. I cannot bear to have my wife do so. Don’t, Moonshine, don’t.”
She began to sob piteously.
“Aeverybody goin’ mek laugh ad me eef I doan did so.”
“Nonsense; no, they won’t,” he consoled her.
“I loog so ole an’ oogly this away.”
“You look younger and prettier and fresher and sweeter in every way,” he assured her eagerly.
For a few days following, her manifest unhappiness communicated itself to Dudley. His love made him quickly conscious of and responsive to her moods. She had been of a naturally exuberant and buoyant disposition; but now she became quiet and passive, a shadow loitering constantly in her troubled eyes. She went with him reluctantly, and often would plead weariness or illness in order to be excused from leaving her rooms.
“Of course,” thought her husband patiently, “it is natural for the poor little thing to feel badly about it at first, but she will get used to it. She must.”
Moonshine brooded over her unhappiness. Despite the fact that she really loved the stranger she had married with all the force of her passionate nature, nevertheless the customs of her people were strongly implanted in her nature. She could not feel at home among the people with whom she now associated and who were almost altogether of her husband’s nationality. They were kindly and beautiful, she admitted, but she resented their good-natured and humorous encouragement of her efforts to dress and act like them.
“Why,” she would argue inwardly, “should she continue this struggle when all her efforts made her seem only the more a stranger among them, a guest as it were? And why should she be placed under this restraint and denied that which a Japanese husband 422would have purchased for her?”1 It was all very hard and bitter. She tortured herself with the thought that with the loss of her pot of paint her beauty departed also. She could not imagine Japanese feminine beauty without the lurking presence of a magic toilet box. Of course her honorable husband would continue to praise her face, but that was only natural. He did not wish to pain her by letting her know the truth. In this she judged him from a purely Japanese standpoint. A Japanese husband, she knew, would continue to assure his wife that she was beautiful, even long after she had become an ancestor (grandmother).
Then Moonshine conceived a plot by which she would put her beauty to the test. Gowning herself in an exquisite dove-colored kimono, tied about with a lavender obi, with a little purple parasol shading her bare head, the hair of which was dressed after the prevailing Japanese fashion, and being careful to put no paint or powder whatever on her face, she went down to that quarter of Nagasaki where she had previously lived, hoping to encounter some of her old friends, who would surely enlighten her as to the truth.
She had excused herself from accompanying her husband on a little business trip by wrapping her head up in wet linen in the morning and pleading a violent headache.
At first, when Moonshine left the hotel, her guilty heart beat rapidly with the excitement and fear of her proposed scheme. She felt like a naughty child running away from home. But gradually, as the flying feet of her runner put a great distance between her and the hotel the fear vanished from her; she even forgot the fact that she had come out in Japanese attire and with her face untouched by any beauty save that of nature. A sense of delight possessed her as they neared the old familiar quarter of the town where she had spent nearly her entire life. She smiled with delight over her stolen holiday.
In a little street, gay with painted signboards and posters and quaint goods displayed in front of shops, Moonshine alighted from her jinrikisha, and bidding her man not to lose sight of her, she started down the street, stopping at several stores to make small purchases for herself. She was bending over a silk merchant’s counter, examining the quality of a rich obi, when the titter of familiar, silvery laughter caused her to look up.
Two young Japanese girls were standing near her, their little almond eyes sparking with fun over the tops of their fans, and undisguisedly and openly laughing at the pale Moonshine.
The girl took a couple of little steps toward them, opening her own little fan with a whirl.
“Ah, good morning, Perfume and Spring,” she said in soft Japanese. “Pray, is your honorable health good?”
The girls giggled, but answered with seeming politeness.
“Good morning, Madame Moonshine. Yes, our honorable health is good. And yours?”
“Honorably excellent,” said Moonshine, with a piteous look of entreaty as the two girls again lapsed into tittering. “Why do you indulge in the honorable laugh, dear, my friends?” she inquired with unfeigned anxiety, for she feared she had lost forever all her friends and earned their ridicule by her marriage to the foreigner.
“Oh, Moonshine—he-he-he-he,” said Perfume, “you do look so honorably ridiculous.”
Moonshine grew paler.
“He-he-he—” giggled Spring. “Oh, Moonshine, has some honorably wicked fiend or demon struck your august face?”
“My face!” faltered Moonshine, unconsciously putting up her little trembling hands to it, and then all in a moment understanding. “Ah-h!” she breathed, “you think me—-a little bit ugly, maybe?”
“Honorably hideous,” said Perfume, spitefully, and Spring’s laughter rang shrill.
Moonshine looked at them a moment without speaking. One of her packages fell from her hand to the 423 floor. She stooped and picked it up mechanically, placing it in the sleeve of her kimono. Then she turned about slowly. In a half-dazed fashion she held her hand up to her runner, who had followed her obediently with the vehicle.
The girls laughed vehemently now.
Ah bah!(good bye) honorable ghost!” they called after her.
That night when her husband returned, he found her sitting in the dark waiting for him. A great wan moon had stolen high in the heavens and one sheer silvery beam came into the open window and loitered upon the white face of his wife. It was ghastly in its pallor, for she had been suffering many hours.
To his extreme horror, she crept on her knees to him, and, putting her head at his feet, began a piteous supplication for his honorable permission to purchase a little pot of paint.
He raised her to her feet, and drawing her into his arms, tried to hush the sobs that had welled up from her little overcharged heart.
“Don’t cry like that,” he said. “I can’t bear it. You are breaking my heart. Oh, why do you let such a foolish trifle distress you and come between us?”
“Pray, pray, my lord, allow me this liddle bit favor.”
“Oh, this is quite foolish of you, Moonshine.”
That night her sobbing slumber troubled him so he lay awake. Then he made a blunder. He advised her to notice how the American women of the finer class scorned the use of such cosmetics. In particular he held up Miss Helen Martin as a sample.
He could not have said anything that would so quickly have offended the supersensitive girl. She had acquired an extraordinary aversion for the American girl, despite the fact that Miss Martin had sought her out and tried in every way to be kindly and friendly. Without the slightest cause, Moonshine was positive that in Miss Martin she had a rival, one who apparently could not conceal her feeling for Dudley, and one whom she knew her husband absolutely admired and respected.
When Dudley had gone to the American Consulate for his mail, as was his morning custom, Moonshine drew from a hiding place her last remaining pot of paint. She thought of the pale American girl with hatred, as she rubbed the paint violently into her skin.
Just at this time, Dudley was reading a letter from his mother.
“Bring her home to us, my son. Helen has told us so much of her lovely personality, and I cannot tell you what joy it gives us to know that at least she is a Christian. Our grandchild must be born and christened here in America by all means.”
He came back to Moonshine joyously. As she confronted him at the threshold with her shining, defiant eyes and painted cheeks, he staggered.
“Why you doan marry thad Miss Helen Martin, my honorable lord?” she queried.
After that, recognizing the impossibility of taking her to his mother, Dudley rented a little house in a suburb close to the city, where he installed Moonshine. His love had deepened to an all-absorbing tenderness and pity that was touching. It was with the utmost patience that he continued the struggle against the paint nightmare that had now taken up its abode permanently with them, for despite her spasmodic washings pure of her face, he knew that she never was without it in the house.
Autumn had crept upon the land with stealing step. A melancholy sweetness pervaded hill and dale. The flowers were turning to the hue of the golden brown leaves, which in their turn reflected the colors of the dying sunset, when Moonshine awakened in the night and piercingly called for her mother. The old nurse that attended her refused to leave her side, and Dudley started out in the night, shaken with a great premonition of disaster and a vain hope to gratify the wish of the sick girl to have her mother once more with her.
On his way back, sick with the fruit- 424 lessness of his mission, for her people had been politely obdurate, his Japanese valet, who had come to meet him, flung himself at his feet, and after bitter tears and lamentations told him of the death of his wife hardly an hour after his departure, and of the birth of an honorable man-child.
Crazed and distracted with the horror of the tragedy that had come upon him, Dudley rushed to the hotel where they had previously lived, and where still abided a few of his friends. There, like one bereft of all hope on earth, he flung himself into Tomlinson’s apartments. Tomlinson promptly sent for Helen Martin. After vainly trying to comfort the bereft man, they finally succeeded in prevailing on him to return to the little house which had so lately held his happiness.
The place was dimly lighted by dull andons and horribly silent when they reached it. Their own footsteps rang out hollow and ghostly as they crossed the zashishi and ascended the thin little stairway.
Her nurse had dressed Moonshine in all the white deathrobes of a Japanese girl. Trembling like one afflicted with ague, the husband bent over her still form, great beads of perspiration standing out on his own brow. Slowly, and with shaking hand, he took the white cloth from Moonshine’s face.
Miss Martin started back with an exclamation of horror.
“Oh-h!” she said, “we must wash all that hideous paint off. She must be buried as a Christian.”
“No, no,” said Dudley, softly, “leave it on.”


The original does not signal the end of this inner thought using any terminal quotation marks.


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People Mentioned

Jean Lee Cole

Jean Lee Cole is Senior Consultant on The Winnifred Eaton Archive, author of The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity (2002), co-editor of A Japanese Nightingale and Madame Butterfly: Two Orientalist Texts (2002, with Maureen Honey), and editor of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive (2004). She is Professor of English at Loyola University Maryland.

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

Greg Murray

Greg Murray is the Director of Digital Initiatives at Princeton Theological and has a MA in Literature and Religion from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Ethan Gruber

Ethan Gruber is the Director of Data Science at the American Numismatic Society and has an M.A. in Art and Architectural History from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

John Ivor Carlson

John Ivor Carlson is the Digital Production Editor at Yale University Press and has a PhD in Medieval Literature from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Jolie Sheffer

Jolie Sheffer is Associate Professor in English and American Culture Studies and the Director of the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at Bowling Green State University. She was a research assistant on the original Winnfired Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

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 a Developer at Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL). He is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia where he specialized in Indigenous and diasporic literature, science and technology studies, and the digital humanities.

Organizations Mentioned

Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly

First published in 1876, this monthly magazine focused on popular literature. Renamed Leslie’s Monthly Magazine in 1904, and Leslie’s Magazine in 1905. Ceased publication in 1956.
Written by Samantha Bowen