Yei Theodora Ozaki.

Warriors of old Japan : and other stories online

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recognized in the personage who addressed him the priest whom he had
sheltered on the night of the great snowstorm a year agone.

"You are surely," said Sano after a pause, "the travelling priest who
passed that night of the great snowstorm under my roof last year, are
you not?"

"Yes, I am that priest, and also I am the Regent Saimyoji Tokiyori."

"Oh!" exclaimed Sano, bowing to the ground, "pardon my rudeness to you
that night, for I did not know who my august visitor was," and his heart
filled with fear at the remembrance of his unceremonious behaviour on
that occasion.

Then the ex-Regent spoke again, and this time solemnly: "Sir Sano, you
have no need to apologize, far from that. Do you remember what you said
to me that night when the snowstorm took me to your house? You told me
that through unfortunate circumstances you were now obliged to work like
a farmer, yet if ever the occasion arose that should sound the call of
knights to arms, you would, regardless of your shabby accoutrements,
answer the summons and come forth in the spirit of a _samurai_ to do
glorious deeds worthy of your sword once more before you died! Herewith
I give you back the thirty villages in the district of Sano, of which
you were robbed by your unworthy kinsman. And do you think I have
forgotten your kind action when you burned your precious trees, the last
relics of your prosperous past, to minister to my comfort during that
terrible storm? The glow of that fire remains in my heart to this day.
By way of expressing my thanks for your hospitality that cold and dreary
night, in return for the _Matsu_ [pine tree], I am going to give you
the village of _Matsu-ida_, in the province of Kodzuke; in the place of
the _Ume_ [plum tree], the village of _Umeda_, in the province of Kaga;
and for the _Sakura_ [cherry tree], you shall have _Sakurai_, a village
in the province of Etchiu."

As the knight listened to these golden words of fortune, which dropped
like jewels from the mouth of the beneficent Regent, it seemed to him as
if he must be dreaming, it was all so unexpected. He could not speak,
for the tears rose to his eyes, and sobs of joy choked his utterance.
When at last he looked up, he was alone. He made his way out of the
mansion as in a trance, oblivious of all around him. The news of his
promotion and of the favour he enjoyed in the estimation of the Regent
had already spread outside, and the men who had laughed and jeered at
him before now smiled graciously and bowed respectfully as he passed
along the ranks.

So Sano Genzaemon returned to Kodzuke, not as a poor farmer, but as a
lord under the special favour of the Regent, having won the esteem of
all his countrymen by his knightly conduct in adversity.

All rejoiced that faithfulness, honesty, and kindness had received their
just reward, and none more than the good Regent Tokiyori.




SHIRAGIKU, OR WHITE CHRYSANTHEMUM


On the outskirts of a remote village at the foot of Mount Aso, in
Kiushiu, a bell was slowly pealing from a Buddhist temple. It was the
season of autumn and the twilight was falling fast. Over the lonely
place and the gloom of the deepening dusk of night the solemn music,
reverberating across the hills, seemed to toll the transientness of all
things earthly.

Not far from the temple was a small cottage. At the door stood a young
girl anxiously waiting for her father to come home. From time to time
she wiped away the tears which fell from her eyes, and her face and
attitude expressed great sorrow. She was but fifteen years of age, and
as she stood there, a young and slender figure, she looked like a
cherry-blossom of spring in the falling rain.

She was alone, for her father had gone out to hunt some days before and
had never returned, and she had had no tidings whatever of him since.
She and her father were all in all to each other; her mother was dead
and her elder brother was only a name to her; she could not remember
him; he had run away from home when she was a small child, and no one
knew what had become of him since.

As White Chrysanthemum, her heart full of sorrow and foreboding, watched
and waited for her father's return, she started at everything, - at the
leaves falling from the trees, at the sighing of the wind in their
branches, at the dropping of the water from the bamboo pipe which
brought the hill-stream to the house; as these different sounds from
time to time caught her ear expectation made her hope that they might be
the footsteps of her father coming home. But the hours passed by and
still he did not return.

As the mists rose and the clouds began to close over the mountain, the
loneliness of the scene was deepened by the plaint of insects chirruping
in the grass, and by the slow pattering on the broad banana palm leaves
of the rain just beginning to fall.

At last the dreariness and stillness of approaching night oppressed the
girl so much that she could bear it no longer, and she made up her mind
to go in search of her father.

It was a sad sight to see her as she ran out from the bamboo gate and
turned to give a last look at the little home nestling in the shelter of
the pine trees. Then resolutely she turned away and set her face towards
the mountain path. On her head she wore a large mushroom-shaped
rainhat, and with a stick in her hand she began to climb up the rough
thorny pass into the depths of the mountains, as they towered range upon
range one above the other and were lost in the distance and blackness of
night.

The rain fell more and more heavily, and as the girl stumbled up the
steep pass she had often to wring her sleeves, which were now wet with
rain as well as with tears. So absorbed was White Chrysanthemum in the
thought of finding her father, whom she had watched climb this very road
three mornings before, that she hardly noticed that the storm gave signs
of lifting. Suddenly the rain ceased, the clouds cleared, and the moon
shone brightly. The change in the weather at last roused the girl to
look about her, and she saw that the path now led her downward to the
valley. With a sigh of relief she quickened her pace.

She had walked for about two hours when she saw at some distance in
front of her a single yellow ray of light shining through the gloom. Had
she come to a house where she might possibly hear tidings of her father?
As this hope dawned upon her, she eagerly hastened towards the light.

She soon reached an old Buddhist temple standing in the shadow of a
group of pines and cryptomerias. From within came a voice chanting the
Buddhist scriptures. Who could it be studying in so remote a place at
that hour of the night?

Shiragiku entered the gate and in the moonlight which made everything
visible saw that the whole place was in a dilapidated condition; the
fence was falling in many places, weeds grew all over the garden and
between the flagstones, as if no one ever trod the path; even the posts
which supported the gate shook in the wind.

White Chrysanthemum walked up to the porch and knocked on the heavy
wooden door. Not until she had knocked and called several times did she
hear any stir within; then some one answered in a subdued voice, the
storm-shutters were pushed aside, and a young bonze appeared. He started
when his eyes fell upon the girl, and he stared at her silently as if
wondering who she could be or what had brought her there at that hour.

Shiragiku, seeing his scrutiny, drew near and said in a low sweet voice:
"I am looking for my father. He went out hunting some days ago and has
never come back. I am indeed sorry to trouble you, but will you be so
kind as to tell me if any one has come to this temple either for rest or
food within the last two or three days?"

The girl spoke so quietly and looked at him so gently that the young
bonze was reassured in a moment. Her evident distress appealed to him,
and when he looked at her again he saw that she was as beautiful as a
flower; her skin was white as snow, her jet-black hair, disordered by
the storm through which she had passed, fell like the graceful branches
of a willow tree over her shoulders; her large almond eyes were sad and
full of tears, and as he gazed upon her it seemed to him that she could
not belong to the earth, that she must be a _tennin_ - an angel from the
Buddhist Heaven. He asked her to enter the temple and said: "Tell me who
you are and whence you come, and what brings you out this stormy night.
I will listen to your story if you will tell it to me."

The wind had risen again and was blowing in gusts round the temple and
whistling through the chinks and crannies of the old building, while
from the garden came the mournful cries of an owl. The desolation and
strangeness of the place touched the girl's sorrow to the quick, and she
burst into tears. As soon as she was able to speak, she wiped her eyes
and said between her sobs: "I am the daughter of a certain _samurai_ of
Kumamoto City. Our house was once rich and prosperous, and our hearts
were full of joy; we lived happily, knowing nothing whatever of care or
sorrow. When the war[1] broke out all was changed; the grass round our
house was stained with blood, and even the wind smelt of blood;
families were scattered far and wide from the homes where they were
born, and the air was rent with the cries of parents seeking their lost
children and of children calling for their parents who could no longer
hear them. Pity is no word to express the feeling which filled the heart
at these sights. My father likewise went to the war, and my mother then
escaped with me as far as Mount Aso. There she found a tiny cottage in
the shadow of the temple, and with the money she had managed to bring
with her we lived as best we could. As we were afterward told, my father
fought with the rebels. When we heard that, we were greatly astonished,
and our sleeves were never dry with wiping away our tears. Day by day,
morning, noon, and night, we waited, hoping that my father would
return - thus the summer passed. Autumn came and the wild geese flew
across the sky in flocks toward the south, but there came no news of my
father. My mother pined away with grief and anxiety, till at last she
died. Thus before we knew whether my father was alive or dead, I was
left alone in life. I felt as if I were dreaming in a dream. Whenever I
think of that time my heart is pierced with sorrow. My days were passed
in weeping at my misfortunes and in bemoaning my unhappy fate. Had it
not been for the kindness of neighbours in the village, I should not
have been able to live.

"Last spring my father came back and found me out. I told him of my
mother's death. Since then he has never ceased to grieve. I tried to
cheer him by telling him that it was the fate of all mortals to die, but
my words brought him little comfort, and in this sad way we passed our
time. The other day he went out hunting, and since then has never
returned. Again, I was left alone with no one to look to for help.
Unable to bear the loneliness any longer, I started out this evening to
look for him and have come thus far. Our family name is Honda, my name
is Shiragiku, my father's name is Akitoshi, my mother's name was Take,
and my elder brother's Akihide. I can hardly remember Akihide, for when
I was a small child he ran away, fearing my father's anger because of
his bad conduct. But though he left us, my mother and I never forgot
him. In the morning when it rained and in the winter evenings when the
wind blew chill we longed for him to come again to the shelter of his
home, but from that day to this we have heard nothing of him and know
not what has become of him. My mother gave me many messages for him,
firmly believing that one day we should meet again, and that he would
yet fulfil his duty as a son and restore our house to its former
prosperity and happiness. In this hope she died."

As Shiragiku proceeded with her story the young bonze listened with
eager attention. At these words his face changed with sudden emotion,
and the tears fell from his eyes. After some moments he said to her:
"Poor, poor girl! Your story is a very sad one, and I feel for you in
your many troubles. You can go no further to-night; rest here in peace
until the dawn!"

As he spoke it seemed to Shiragiku that his voice was familiar to her,
and though she could not remember having seen him before, yet for some
unaccountable reason she felt that he was no stranger. His manner was so
kind and gentle and sympathetic as he went and came bringing food for
her supper and quilts for her to sleep upon, that memories of her early
home and childhood stirred her heart. Her thoughts went out to the
runaway brother; if he would only return he would be about the same age
as the young bonze, and surely as good as he to any one in distress.
Glad was she to have found a place of rest for the night. With many
humble prostrations she thanked her host for his hospitality, and
apologized for all the trouble she had given him.

When he withdrew, bidding her "good-night," she knelt in supplication
before the shrine at the end of the room, where Amida Buddha and
Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy, reigned in peace above the lotus and the
burning of incense. Only through the mercy of the gods could she hope
to find her father, only through their help would her long-lost brother
ever come back to those who waited for him year after year. For many
minutes she knelt on, praying earnestly, then, worn out with grief and
fatigue, she rose from her knees and lay down to fall fast asleep.

At the hour when the hush of night is deepest, Shiragiku saw her father
enter the room and draw near her pillow. The tears stood in his eyes and
in a sad voice he said: "Shiragiku, I have fallen over a precipice, and
now I am at the bottom of a chasm many hundred feet deep. Here the
brambles and bamboo grass grow so thick that I am unable to find my way
out of the jungle. I may not live till the morrow, so I came to see you
for the last time in this world."

As soon as he had finished speaking, White Chrysanthemum stretched out
her hands and tried to catch hold of his sleeves to detain him, crying:
"Father! father!" But with the sound of her own voice she awoke.

She sprang up expecting to see her father, but there was nothing in the
room except the night-lantern glimmering faintly. While she was
wondering whether the vision were a dream or a reality, the dawn began
to break and the beating of a drum throbbed through the temple. White
Chrysanthemum rose soon after sunrise, ate the simple breakfast of rice
and bean-soup she found slipped into her room, and quickly left the
temple. She did not wait to see the kind priest, though he had asked her
to do so, saying that he would do what he could to help her; for she had
remembered his diffidence the night before, and thought that very likely
he belonged to a sect which forbade its priests to converse with the
world, and she felt sorry that she had disturbed him.

Her dream was so vividly real to her that it seemed as if she heard her
father calling to her for help; so making all possible speed she set but
once more with the faith and simplicity of childhood to find him. Far
off in the woods the bark of a fox could be heard, while along the path
the cloudy tufts of the _obana_[2] rustled as she passed. Shiragiku
shivered as the cold morning wind pierced through her body. As she
pursued her way along the rough mountain pass wild creatures scuttled
away, frightened, from before her into the woods, and overhead the birds
sang to each other in the trees.

At last she reached the top of the pass, to find it covered with clouds,
and it seemed to White Chrysanthemum as if they must carry her away with
them in their onward sweep. She sat down on a stone to recover her
breath, for the climb had been steep. In a few minutes the mists began
to clear away. She stood up and looked about her, hoping that she might
find some trace of her father, but as far as eye could reach nothing but
mountains, range after range, could be seen riding one above the other
in the blue sky.

Suddenly a noise in the bushes behind her made White Chrysanthemum
start, and before she could flee a band of robbers rushed out upon her.
They seized and bound her tightly. She cried out for help, but only the
echoes answered her. Down the mountain they led her till they reached
the valley; for a whole day they hurried her along till they came to a
strange-looking house.

This was in such a neglected condition that moss covered the walls, and
it was so closely shut up that the sunbeams never entered the rooms.

As they approached the place, a man who seemed to be the chief of the
band came out, and as he caught sight of the maiden, said with an evil
smile: "You've brought a good prize this time!"

The robbers now untied Shiragiku's hands and led her into the house and
then into a room where dinner was prepared, with rice and fish and wine
in great quantities. Then they all sat down, and as they began to eat,
it seemed to her that they were a lot of demons. The chief passed some
food to her and pressed her to eat. The long walk in the bracing air of
the autumn day had made Shiragiku so hungry that in spite of her fear
and distress she was glad of the food. At last, when she had finished
her meal, he turned to her and said: "That you We been caught by my men
and brought here must be the work of fate. So now you must look upon me
as your husband and serve me all your life. I have a good _koto_ [the
Japanese harp] which I keep with great care, and to show your gratitude
for this marriage you will have to play before me often and to cheer me
with your songs, for I am fond of music. If you refuse to obey me, I
will make your life as hard as climbing a mountain of swords or walking
through a forest of needles."

Shiragiku felt that she would rather die than marry this man, but she
could not refuse to play the _koto_ for him. The _koto_ was brought by
one of the men at a word of command from the chief and placed before the
girl, who began to strike the chords, her tears falling fast the while.
She played so well that even those hard-hearted robbers were touched by
her music, and one or two of them whispered together that hers was a
hard fate and they wished that they could find some means of saving her.

Outside the house in the shadow of a large tree stood a young man,
watching all that went on and listening to the music. By the voice of
the singer as she sang, he knew that the player was she whom he sought.
No sooner did the music stop than he rushed into the house and attacked
the robbers with great fury. Anger gave strength to his onslaught, and
the bandits were so taken by surprise that they were paralyzed with fear
and offered no resistance. In a few minutes the chief was killed, while
two others lay senseless on the mats, and the rest ran away.

Then the young man, who was dressed in the black vestments of a priest,
took the trembling girl by the hand and led her to a window, through
which the moonlight streamed. As Shiragiku gazed up in gratitude and
wonder at her deliverer, she saw that he was none other than the young
priest of the temple, who had been so kind to her the night before.

"Don't be afraid!" he said quietly and soothingly; "don't be afraid! I
am no stranger, I am your brother Akihide. Now I will tell you my story,
so listen to me. You cannot remember me, for you were only a little
child of three when my bad conduct roused my father's anger and I ran
away from home and started for the capital. I embarked on a small vessel
and after sailing along for several days I reached Waka-no-ura, passing
the island of Awaji on the way. From Waka-no-ura I proceeded on foot. It
was the close of spring and the cherry-blossoms were falling, and the
ground was covered with the pink snow of their petals; but there was
nothing of the joy of spring in my heart, which was heavy at the
thought of my parents' displeasure and the fearful step I had just
taken. As soon as I reached the capital, I put myself under the charge
of a priest and went through a severe course of study, for I had already
repented of my idle ways and longed to do better. Under my good master's
guidance I learned the way of virtue. My heart was softened by
knowledge, and when I remembered the love of my parents, I regretted my
evil past and never did the sun go down but I wept in secret over it. So
the years went by. At last the pain of homesickness became so great that
I determined to return home and beg my parents' forgiveness. I hoped and
planned to devote myself to them in their old age and to make amends in
the future for the shortcomings of the past. But insurmountable
difficulties beset me in my new-formed purpose. War had broken out, and
the face of the country was entirely changed. Cities were turned into
wildernesses, weeds grew tall and thick all over the roads, and when I
reached our province it was impossible to find either the old home or
any one who could give me the slightest clue as to the whereabouts of
you all. Life became a burden to me. You may imagine something of what I
felt, but my tongue fails to describe my misery. I was desolate with no
one belonging to me, so I resolved to forsake the world and become a
priest, and after wandering about I took up my abode in that old temple
where you found me. But even the religious life could not still my
remorse. I was haunted by the fear of what had become of my father and
mother and sister. Were they alive or were they dead? Should I ever see
them again? These were the questions which tormented me ceaselessly.
Morning and evening I prayed before the shrine in the room where you
slept last night - prayed that I might have news of you all. Great is
the mercy of Buddha! Imagine the mingled joy and sorrow I felt when you
came yesterday and told me of all that had happened since I left home. I
was about to make myself known to you, but I was too ashamed to do so.
It was, however, harder for me to conceal my secret than it would have
been to tell it, for I longed to do so with my whole heart and soul. In
the morning when I came to the room and found you gone, I followed after
you in fear lest you should fall into the hands of the bandits who haunt
these hills and thus it was that I saved you. You can never know how
glad I am to have done this for you, but alas! I am ashamed to meet my
father because of the remembrance of the past! Had I done my duty as a
son, had I never run away wickedly from home, how much suffering I might
have saved my mother and you, poor Shiragiku! Terrible indeed is my
sin!" And with these words the young man drew out a short sword and was
about to take his own life.

When Shiragiku saw what he was going to do, she gave a loud cry, and
springing to his side seized his hands with all her strength, and
stopped him from doing the dread deed. With tender sisterly words she
tried to comfort him, telling him that she knew his father had forgiven
him, and was living in the daily hope of his return - that the happiness
and solace he could now give him in his old age would more than atone
for the past; she begged him to remember his mother's dying prayer that
he would establish their house and keep up the ancestral rites before
the family shrine when his parents were dead. As she spoke, he desisted
from his desperate purpose. The peace of night and the stillness of the
moonlit world around them brought balm to both their troubled hearts,
and as they bade each other good-night the silence was unbroken save for
the cry of the wild geese as they flew across the sky.

In the early morning the brother and sister left the house, hand in
hand. They had not gone far when they heard pursuing footsteps, and
looking back they saw two or three of the men who had escaped the night
before coming after them. Akihide bade his sister run for her life,
while he stayed behind and engaged the robbers in a fight and so gave
her time to escape.

Shiragiku did as she was told and fled through the woods under cover of
the trees. On and on she went, till at last she reached a place of
safety out of sight. But her heart, beating wildly with fear, was behind
with her brother, wondering what had happened to him, whether he had
vanquished the bandits or had been killed by them. Who can describe her
anxiety? She had found her brother only to lose him in this sad and
uncertain way. Afraid to retrace her steps, yet anxious to know what had
become of him, she climbed to the nearest hill-top to try if she could
see anything of him, but around her there was nothing but hills and pine


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Online LibraryYei Theodora OzakiWarriors of old Japan : and other stories → online text (page 10 of 14)