East is West
By Olaf Stapledon
I LEFT MY LODGINGS IN WEST KIRBY IN THE MIDDLE OF the morning and walked along the Estuary shore, I arriving at my favourite bathing place when the tide was only a few yards from the foot of the clay cliffs. The sand, as usual on a fine Sunday, was crowded with parties, bathing and sun-bathing. I undressed and Swam out till the coast was but a strip between sea and sky. At my farthest point I floated for a long while, the sun pouring through my closed eyelids. I began to feel giddy and slightly sick, so I hurried back to land.
During the rather lengthy swim I was surprised to see that the shore and the cliff-top, which I thought had been crowded, were in fact deserted. The one heap of clothes which I could detect, and which I therefore took to be my own, perplexed me by its colour. I was still more perplexed when I walked out of the water to it and found that apparently someone had removed my own flannels and had substituted a queer fancy dress of "Chinesy," pyjama-like trousers and jacket, both made of richly ornamented blue brocade. Even the towel was decorated with a Chinese or Japanese pattern; but in one comer it was marked with my own name. After a vain search for my proper clothes, I dried myself, and began experimenting with the fancy dress, shivering, and cursing the practical joker.
A bright silver
the size of a florin, fell out of one of the pockets. Picking it up, I
surprised by its odd look. Closer inspection surprised me still more,
bore on one side a grim but not unhandsome female profile, surrounded
legend, "Godiva Dei Gra. Brit. et Gall. Reg." On the obverse was a
seemingly archaic version of the royal arms, which included the French
but omitted the Irish harp. Round the edge I read "One Florin 1934."
There were also some Japanese characters, which, to my amazement, I
By this time I was thoroughly alarmed about the state of my mind. How came it that I could read Japanese? Whence these clothes? What had become of the holiday crowd?
Since the letter was addressed to me, I read it. The writer accepted an invitation to visit me for a few days with his wife. After referring to various shipping matters, which came to me with a distressing blend of familiarity and novelty, he signed himself, if I remember rightly, "Azuki Kawamura."
Sick with cold and fright, I put on the clothes, and could not help noting that every movement executed itself with the ease of well-established habit, not with the clumsiness of one struggling with fancy dress.
I hurried along
Two figures approached me. What would they think of my fancy dress? But apparently it was not fancy dress; it was the orthodox costume of a gentleman. As the couple advanced, it revealed itself as a man and a girl, walking arm in arm. A few paces from me, they unlinked. He touched his cap, she curtsied. Indifferently, almost contemptuously, I acknowledged their salute. We passed.
I had been
surprised to see
that their dress was neither that of modem
Arriving at the
found that it was not West Kirby at all, not the
The parade was thronged with people of all ages and both sexes, dressed mostly in semi-Asiatic style. In some cases a native English costume had been overlaid with foreign additions, here a Chinese dragoned scarf, there a coloured sunshade. The best dressed women wore what I should describe as silk kimonos; but many of these garments were sleeveless, and none reached to the ankles. They displayed silk stockings of a type that in my own world would be regarded as European and modern, save for their great diversity and brilliance of colouring, One or two of the women, seemingly the bolder, wore very gay silk trousers and sleeveless vests. The loose brocade suits of the men were mostly of more sombre colour. I was surprised to note that many even of the best dressed promenaders had pock-marked faces. I was surprised, too, at the large number of smartly uniformed men, evidently army officers, in Robin Hood green with wide-brimmed hats. On their hips large-hilted cutlasses and neat pistol holsters combined the medieval and the modern.
The language of all these strange people was recognisably English, but of a grotesque and, I judged, a somewhat archaic type. Words of Japanese origin occurred, but not frequently. Most technical words, it seemed, were English translations of Japanese or Chinese originals. On a minute concrete building, which turned out to be a telephone call box, I noticed the phrase "Public Lightning Speaker," and under it in Japanese characters the Japanese word "Denwa."
Motors there were in plenty; but horse-drawn vehicles also, and a number of sedan chairs. Out at sea I saw a small, high-pooped, antique sailing vessel, and on the horizon a great ocean liner, trailing her black smoke.
At a certain point I turned off the Parade and passed along the shop-lined streets. The windows were all veiled for the Sabbath. Many of the large shops displayed Chinese or Japanese signs as well as English ones. I passed a small Asiatic building which I took to be a Buddhist temple. Examining the printed notices displayed at its entrance, I judged that it catered not only for Asiatic visitors but for English converts. My course now led me into the poorer quarter, and I was shocked to note the overcrowding and filth of this part of the town. Swarms of ragged urchins in native English dress played in every gutter. They had an unpleasant tendency to flee as I approached, though a few stood their ground and sullenly touched their forelocks. Many were also rickety, or covered with festering sores. In the heart of this poor district I came upon an old Gothic church. It turned out to be the parish church, and Roman Catholic. A constant stream of the devout, mostly rather shabby, flowed in at one door and out at another.
After a while the streets began to improve, and presently I emerged upon a great avenue bordered by gardens and opulent-looking houses of the sort which I now recognized as both Asiatic and modern.
One of these pocket-mansions was apparently my own, for I entered it without permission. It was a delightful, even a luxurious building, and I reflected that changing my world I had also "gone up in the world."
At the sound of my entry a manservant appeared in a vaguely "Beefeater" kind of livery. Flinging him my bathers and towel, I opened a door out of the entrance hall and went into a sitting room. Before I had time to study it, a woman rose from some cushions on the floor and caught me in her arms.
"Tom! Base Tom," she said, smiling gaily. "'Tis but a month since we wed, and already thou art entarded for thy Sunday dinner! Foolish me to let thee practice thy Asiatic water-vice unkeepered!"
A bachelor, I might have shown some confusion at this reception, but I found myself embracing her with proprietary confidence and zestfully kissing her lips.
"Sweet Betty, let me envisage thee," I said, "to see if thou art worn with pining for me."
So this was my wife, and her name was Betty, and we had been married a month and were evidently still very pleased about it. She was fair, superbly Nordic. Behind the sparkle of her laughing eyes I detected a formidable earnestness. She was tall. Her green silk kimono veiled the contours of an Amazon. As she broke from me and swept through the door, smiling over her shoulder, I wondered how I had ever persuaded such a splendid creature to marry me.
The gong (a Chinese bronze) was sounding for our Sunday dinner. I rushed upstairs to wash, but on the landing I encountered our Japanese guests. He was a slim middle-aged figure in brocade of decent grey. She, much younger, was slight, trousered in deep blue shantung, and vested in crimson. The light was behind her, and I saw almost nothing of her face.
I bowed deeply and began to speak in Japanese. It was rather terrifying to watch the appropriate thoughts emerge in my mind and embody themselves fluently in a language of which I supposed myself to be completely ignorant. "I hope, sir, that you had a successful morning, and that you will not have to leave us again today. We should like to take you to call on some friends who long to meet you." The couple returned my salute, I thought, rather sadly. I was soon to discover that they had reason for gloom.
"Alas," he said, "our experience this morning suggests that we had better not appear in public more than we can help. Since the crisis, your countrymen do not like the Yellows. If you still permit, we will stay with you till my business is done and our ship sails; but for your sakes and our own, it is better that we should not risk further trouble." I was about to protest, but he raised his hand, smiled, and ushered his wife downstairs.
After washing in the tiled and chromium-plated bathroom (the taps screwed the wrong way), I hurried into our bedroom to brush my hair. It was a relief to find that the mirror still showed my familiar face; but whether through the refreshment of the bathe or owing to more enduring causes, I appeared rather healthier and more prosperous than was customary in my other world.
On the dressing
table was a
newspaper. The bulk of it was written in English, but a few columns and
advertisements were in Japanese. I vaguely remembered reading it in bed
early cup of tea. It was called, I think, The Sunday Watchman.
it, and discovered on the main page, in huge headlines, "Ultimatum to
Yellow Peoples. Hands off
Betty's clear voice bade me hurry, and not be so "special" over my toilet.
When I arrived downstairs, she was explaining to the guests, in her serviceable but rather inaccurate Japanese, that she had again taken them at their word, and ordered a typical English meal for them. "Although," she said, with the faintest emphasis, "we ourselves are now more used to Eastern diet."
It fell to me to
roast beef of old
Yet every moment
experience was completely novel and fantastic. With curiosity and yet
my eyes roamed about the room. The dinner service was of
The company was
as the room. Two English maidservants in mobcaps and laced bodices
demurely in the background. Opposite me sat my exquisitely English
warm tone of her sunned arms contrasting with the cool parchment-like
the Japanese lady. The grave and slightly grizzled Mr. Kawamura was
half guessed it, half remembered) of the finer sort of Japanese man of
He was a "shipping director," which was the Japanese equivalent of a
ship owner. That is, he was a civil servant in control of a line of
This fact, along
others that cropped up in the course of conversation, made me revise my
the relation of my new world to my old. I had guessed that the roles of
everything, and my anxiety lest my own behaviour should betray me, bid
be eclipsed by a third interest, namely the fascination of Mrs.
personality. I was at first inclined to think of her as a modernized
conscious reincarnation of the Lady Murasaki; but presently I learned
was in fact a native not of
Kawamura drew a cigarette case from her pochette and asked if it was
to smoke at such an early stage in an English meal. Betty, after a
pause, hastened to say, "Why, of course, in the houses of those who
travelled." Up to this point I had played my part without a single
but now at last I tripped. Automatically I produced a matchbox from my
struck a light, and offered it for her convenience. Mrs. Kawamura
a moment, looked me in the eyes, glanced at my wife, then smilingly
head and used her own cigarette lighter. Betty, I saw, was blushing and
not to show bewilderment and distress. In a flash it came upon me that
Betty and lightly touched the hand that still nervously crumbled a
bread. There was nothing of patronage in the act; or if there was, it
rendered inoffensive by the sincere and rather timid respect of the
which is already in full and determinate blossom for the culture which
still to unfold. "You English women," she said, "have a great
task. You have to see that your men preserve what is best in
Thus far the talk
avoided the subject which was in all our minds, the international
common consent we had spoken only of personal matters, of a Kawamura
was studying in
Mrs. Kawamura remarked that in the East there was now a strong conviction that commercialism and mechanization had in fact done more harm than good. It had blinded the great majority to all that was most desirable in life. Were not the English now in grave danger of ruining their own admirable native culture in their haste to dominate the world with their new industrial power? "To us," she said, "it seems terrible that, in spite of our tragic example, you should plunge blindly into the modern barbarism and grossness from which we ourselves are only today struggling to escape. And now, just when we are at last finding the beginnings of peace and wisdom and general happiness, when the Chinese nations are at last outgrowing their age-old enmities, when all the Yellow Peoples are becoming reconciled even to the half-European but mellowing culture of Russia, must we be drawn into this terrible quarrel between yourselves and New Nippon? If there is war, how can I ever think of you two dear English people as my enemies?"
At the mention of
Nippon, I remembered with a shock of surprise the great independent
which included the whole of
"But why," I
asked, "should you come in at all? This quarrel is so remote from you.
have no longer any European possessions except
said Mr. Kawamura. Then, after a pause, "The true reason, I think, is
this. Though we have lost our empire we are still bound to it. Our
Betty broke in to
"But surely you see that we must free
Mr. Kawamura, "on the whole you have a pretty strong case; though of
course we can't believe you are really going to free
"Yes, Azuki," said Mrs. Kawamura. "But surely by now the less balanced sections of our public have very little effect on government action. After all, since our Great Change we are rapidly becoming civilized enough and cosmopolitan enough to laugh at a few cattish insults." She checked herself, smiled deprecatingly at Betty, and proceeded. "No, if our government wanted to keep out, it could. But somehow it seems to lack the courage to do so. I wonder whether New Nippon has some horrible secret financial control over us. Not that we can actually help them much by coming in. But the wealthy caste of New Nippon are inclined to hate us because we have learned the lesson that they cannot bring themselves to learn. They know that war would ruin our modest prosperity and make nonsense of our new, hard-won culture. Might they not bring us in for sheer spite?"
Her husband raised his eyebrows, and said nothing. The dessert was now over, and we moved into our "withdrawing room." Here there was rather more of Japanese influence than in the dining room. The furniture was of lacquer. A great stone or concrete fireplace, however, betrayed the English character of the house.
Tea was served in cups of eggshell china, which Mrs. Kawamura tactfully admired. Betty explained with some self-consciousness that though tea was not included in the orthodox English diet, we had grown very dependent on this most refreshing Oriental drink and could not face the prospect, of doing without it after our Sunday dinner. The habit was indeed rapidly spreading.
myself I had
picked up a large book which I rightly expected to be an atlas. During
ensuing conversation I turned over its pages. I came first on a map of
Turning to a map
I found the northern half of
A map of the
While I was still poring over the atlas, the church clock chimed the hour. Betty rose, saying to the guests, "It is almost time for the Queen's speech. I hope you will excuse us if we listen, for it is a solemn duty for all Britons to hear Her Majesty today." The Kawamuras assured her that, though they could not understand English, they would gladly listen to the world-famous voice. Betty thanked them, pressed the switch, and resumed her seat.
The news bulletin was being announced in an intensively cultivated English voice. The language was a kind of English which in my "other world" I should have regarded as a fantastic hybrid of Babu and Elizabethan. Familiar words bore strange yet intelligible meanings, or were piquantly misshapen. As I listened I interjected an occasional sentence of Japanese translation for our guests. If my memory is faithful, what I heard was roughly as follows; but much of the linguistic oddity has escaped me.
In the East End
the voice assured us, revulsion was now stilled. The Lord High Sheriff,
of the foreign peril, had gripped this homely peril firmly. He was
convince the erring commonalty of that region that they had been
foreign tongue-wielders, and that the witful British people would none
treason. All good Europeans should be mindful that, though
After a pause the
resumed in an awed tone which skillfully suggested suppressed
Listeners, it said, were now to hear the living voice of their
the speaker solemnly commanded all who heard to stand, Betty and I
rose to our feet. Our guests, after one bewildered glance, followed
suit. In an
awed monotone, the announcer proclaimed: "Her Most Pure and Invincible
Majesty, Godiva, by the Grace of God, Defender of the Christian Faith,
Protector of the
After another pause another voice possessed the air, a somewhat husky, but regal, and withal seductive contralto.
"My subjects! My
loyal friends, English and Scottish! And ye, my few but faithful Welsh!
all whose home is
Such undiplomatic language was startling, even from our outspoken Queen. Explanation was soon to follow.
"It is not long since the last great war obtended its dark bloody wings over our continent. I myself, though scarce in the full bloom of my womanhood," (Betty at this point made a movement of surprise) "even I can remember the victorious geste of British and French hosts against the heroic but miswitting Germans, whom foreign devils had abduced. I can recall well the day, soon after the handfasting of the peace, when I, the child Queen of Britain, was plauded by the rejoyed Parisians and crowned Queen of France, thereby resuming the lapsed title of my forebears. I can remember how the North German lords, who had by then destrued their own traitorous princes, now wishfully and gladly laid their crownlets at my feet, my small ensatined feet."
Here the Queen paused. Mrs. Kawamura took the opportunity of disposing of a lengthy and precarious cigarette ash. Our eyes met. She knew no English, but it seemed that merely through the Queen's vocal demeanour she sensed the essence of the situation. I shall not forget how, when I had signalled mock distress, the noncommittal politeness of her glance was lit by relief and sad amusement.
"Oh, Great White Peoples, since that war, much has happened. Through
those years I have striven to be worthy of the task which the ensworded
has set upon me, the delivery of
Strange, I thought to myself, that only yesterday, before I had my mysterious dream of the other world (for I was beginning to reverse my view as to which world was real and which was fantasy) 1 might have applauded the Queen's apologia! And there stood Betty, till now my soul's twin, drinking the royal words with no misgiving.
"I have recently and justly claimed on behalf of the Germans,
Again the Queen paused. Betty's large eyes sought mine, but I dared not face them. Mrs. Kawamura's had found diversion in watching a tomtit through the window. Her husband was obviously wondering if he could sit without committing lese majeste.
The royal voice
"Oh men and women of
I sprang to the radio and snapped the switch. "Tom, Tom," cried Betty, gripping my arm. "What ails thee? Her Majesty! If someone should have heard you check her!" Then laughter seized me. Mrs. Kawamura smiled, perplexed, demure. Mists and irrelevant shapes came before my eyes. Still laughing, I woke in my "other world." I was in the horsehair chair by the fireplace in my lodging-house sitting room. My landlady, who was clearing away my Sunday dinner, was laughing too, apparently at something I had said or done, for she now remarked, "Well, you are a queer one!" The lace curtains fluttered by the open window. In the garden my "bather" and towel were swinging on the clothesline.
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