It must have been the name that made me take that little house on the hilltop. It was mostly view, but the title—supplemented by the very low rent—suggested the first line of a beautiful poem.
Nobody knows who began the custom or when, but for unknown years a night-light had been kept burning in a battered old bronze lantern swung just over my front door. Through the early morning mists the low white building itself seemed made of dreams; but the tiny flame, slipping beyond the low curving eaves, shone far at sea and by its light the Japanese sailors, coming around the rocky Tongue of Dragons point in their old junks, steered for home and rest. To them it was a welcome beacon. They called the place
The House of the Misty Star.
In it for thirty years I have toiled and taught and dreamed. From it I have watched the ships of mighty nations pass—some on errands of peace; some to change the map of the world. Through its casements I have seen Gods glory in the sunsets and the tenderness of His love in the dawns. The pink hills of the spring and the crimson of the autumn have come and gone, and through the carved portals that mark the entrance to my home have drifted the flotsam and jetsam of the world. They have come for shelter, for food, for curiosity and sometimes because they must, till I have earned my title clear as step-mother-in-law to half the waifs and strays of the Orient.
Once it was a Chinese general, seeking safety from a mob. Then it was a fierce-looking Russian suspected as a spy and, when searched, found to be a frightened girl, seeking her sweetheart among the prisoners of war. The high, the low, the meek, and the impertinent, lost babies, begging pilgrims and tailless cats—all sooner or later have found their way through my gates and out again, barely touching the outer edges of my home life. But things never really began to happen to me, I mean things that actually counted, until
Jane Gray came. After that it looked as if they were never going to stop.
You see Id lived about fifty-eight years of solid monotony, broken only by the novelty of coming to Japan as a school teacher thirty years before and, although my soul yearned for the chance to indulge in the frills of romance, opportunity to do so was about the only thing that failed to knock at my door. From the time I heard the name of Ursula Priscilla Jenkins and knew it belonged to me, I can recall but one beautiful memory of my childhood. It is the face of my mother in its frame of poke bonnet and pink roses, as she leaned over to kiss me good-by. I never saw her again, nor my father. Yellow fever laid heavy tribute upon our southern United States. I was the only one left in the big house on the plantation, and my old black nurse was the sole survivor in the servants quarters. She took me to an orphan asylum in a straggly little southern town where everything from river banks to complexions was mud color.
Bareness and spareness were the rule, and when the tall, bony, woman manager stood near the yellow-brown partition, it took keen eyes to tell just where her face left off and the plaster began. She did not believe in education. But I was born with ideas of my own and a goodly share of ambition. I learned to read by secretly borrowing from the wharf master a newspaper or an occasional magazine which sometimes strayed off a river packet. Then I paid for a four years course at a neighboring semi-college by working and by serving the other students. I did everything—from polishing their shoes to studying their lessons for them; it earned me many a penny and a varied knowledge of human nature. But nothing ever happened to me as it did to the other girls. I never had a holiday; I was never sick; I never went to a circus; and I never even had a proposal.
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