Yei Theodora Ozaki.

Warriors of old Japan : and other stories online

. (page 12 of 14)
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the middle of the street, not knowing which way to turn. But people,
passing by, stared at her so that she soon realized that she must not
stand like that all day, so she began to move whither her feet led her.

In this way she came to the bank of a large river. As she stood and
looked at the flowing water, she could not help thinking that it would
be far better for her to become the dust of the river-bed than endure
the hardships of her present lot. Would it not be better to die and so
join her mother than wander about like a beggar from place to place
begging her rice? With this thought she made up her mind to drown
herself. But the roar of the river was so great as it dashed over the
boulders of its rocky bed that the maiden hesitated at first. Then,
summoning up all her courage with a desperate effort, she jumped in.

Strange to say, however, the bowl, which had hitherto been such a curse
to her, was now a blessing. It lifted her head clear above the water and
would not let her sink. As she floated down the stream a fishing-boat
came by. The fisherman, seeing a big bowl rising out of the water,
lifted it up. His surprise was great when underneath the bowl he found a
human being. Thinking it to be some strange monster, he threw it upon
the bank.

The poor girl was at first stunned by her fall. When she came to
herself, she said that it was a pity she could not die as she had
wished. She got up from the ground and, in a miserable plight, for her
clothes were dripping with water, began to walk on, and after some time
she found herself in the streets of a town.

Here the people, as soon as they saw her, began to point the finger of
scorn at her, and to jeer and laugh at the strange-looking bowl on her
head.

"Oh! oh! do you see this queer creature with the bowl coming down from
the mountains? Look! Look!" Then as some of them came nearer they said:
"It is strange that a monster should have such beautiful hands and feet.
What a pity this creature was not born a woman!"

Just then the lord of the district passed by on his way home from the
hunt. Seeing the gathering of people, he stopped and inquired what was
the matter. His retainers pointed out the Bowl-Wearer to him. From the
grace of her slender form, and the modesty of her bearing, Lord Yamakage
judged her to be a young woman, though he could not of course see her
face, which was completely hidden by the bowl. He ordered the
Bowl-Wearer to be brought to him. Two or three of his retainers went to
execute his orders, and came back bringing the poor unhappy Princess
with them.

"Tell me the truth," said Lord Yamakage to the girl; "who or what are
you?"

"I am the daughter of one Minetaka by name, and my home is near Katano.
My mother, when dying, placed this bowl on my head, and since her death
it has become so firmly fixed there that no one can take it off, and I
am obliged to wear it always, as you see me now. Because of the
unsightliness of my appearance I have been driven away from my home. No
one takes pity on me, and I am forced to wander from place to place
without knowing where to lay my head at night."

"Well, well!" said the kind man. "Your story is truly a pitiful one. I
will take the bowl off for you!"

When he had said these words, Lord Yamakage ordered his retainers to
pull off the bowl from the girl's head. The men, one and all, tried to
free the Princess from the obnoxious bowl, but it stuck so obstinately
to her head that all their efforts were useless. It even uttered loud
cries and groans of pain as they tugged at it. Every one was dumbfounded
at the inexplicable mystery, and at last they all began to laugh.

When Lord Yamakage saw that there was nothing to be done to help her, he
spoke to the Bowl-Wearer again. "Where are you going to spend to-night?"

"I am quite homeless," answered the Bowl-Wearer, in a heartbroken way,
"and I do not know where I shall lay my head to-night. There is no one
in the wide world to take pity on me, and every one who sees me either
jeers or runs away because of the bowl on my head."

Lord Yamakage felt his heart fill with pity and said: "It may bring luck
to have such a strange creature in my house!" Then he turned to the girl
and said: "How would you like to come home with me for the present,
Bowl-Wearer?"

And with these words he gave her in charge of his attendants, who took
her with them to their lord's house.

It was an easy matter to take her to the house, but not so easy to find
her a place there. His wife objected to her becoming a waiting-maid,
saying that no one could bear the sight of so strange a creature about.
So the servants at last took her to the bath-room, and told her that she
must fetch and carry the water and look after the fire for heating the
bath. This was to be her work!

As the little Princess had never done such rough work in the whole of
her life, she suffered much in obeying these cruel orders; but she
resigned herself to her fate and tried with all humility and patience to
perform her hard task faultlessly.

But her lot was far from being a happy one, even though she had found
the safe shelter of Lord Yamakage's home. The young and uncouth
tradesmen, coming on errands to the house, made fun of her, some even
trying to peep under the bowl to get a glimpse of the beautiful face
beneath. While she was thus persecuted in the daytime, in the evening
the servants gave her no rest with their peremptory orders. "Hot water
here!" "Cold water there!" "Get the bath ready!" and so on.

The poor girl bore all this rude usage patiently; but as she went about
her work she could not help remembering the old times of her happy
childhood, spent under the loving care of her own dear mother, of the
honoured place she had held in her father's household till within the
last few days; and as she carried the hot water or stoked the bath-fire
she pretended that those fast-falling tears of sadness were caused by
the fumes of charcoal and the steam which rose from the hot water. When
she crept weeping to bed at night it seemed to her as if the past day
must be an evil dream.

Lord Yamakage had four sons. The three elder ones were married to
daughters of three of the leading men of the province. The youngest son,
Saisho, was still unmarried. He had been away for some time in the gay
smart capital of Kyoto. But now he returned to his home.

Now every time he went to take his bath or called for hot water, he saw
the Bowl-Wearing maiden, and, as he had a kind and compassionate heart,
he could not but be touched by her unhappy appearance, and her modest
and gentle behaviour and her quickness and diligence at her work.

Whenever he had an opportunity he spoke to the Bowl-Wearer, and to his
surprise he found that she was no servant, that she spoke in the refined
language of his class, and though so young she was well read in the
literature and poetry of her country, and could answer a literary
allusion wittily and to the point. When at last she told him something
of her sad story, he knew, though she did not tell him, that she
belonged to some family of high rank. From this time on he often spoke
to the girl, and he found that the stolen conversations with her grew to
be the chief pleasure of the day.

One day he managed to take a sly peep under the bowl. The face, even
though overshadowed by the huge cover, was of such rare beauty that he
fell madly in love with the Princess, and made up his mind that none
other than the Bowl-Wearer should be his wife.

His mother soon heard of Saisho's friendship for her husband's protege,
and when she learned that he had promised to marry her she forbade him
to think of such a thing. She at first thought that her son could not be
in earnest, but when she sent for Saisho and asked him seriously if what
she had been told was true, he answered: "I really and truly intend to
make the Bowl-Wearer my wife!"

His mother was not a little angry at his determined front. How could
Saisho fall in love with a girl with a bowl on her head? Who ever heard
of such ridiculous nonsense?

Then she sent for her son's nurse, the woman who had nursed him from the
day he was born, and together they tried to deter him from his purpose.

Saisho was obliged to listen to all they had to say, but did not answer
them. He could not say "Yes" to their demand that he should give up all
idea of marrying the Bowl-Wearer, and he knew that if he firmly said
"No" he would raise up such a storm of opposition that no one could tell
how it would end. He knew that the life of the Bowl-Wearer was a truly
pitiable one, and his determination to marry her and help her out of all
her difficulties remained unchanged. His mother soon saw that her son
would by no means listen to her persuasions, and her anger was great
towards the Bowl-Wearer. She almost made up her mind to drive her from
the house before her husband could know what happened.

Saisho, on hearing this, told her that if the girl was driven away he
would go with her. The mother's distraction can be imagined, for she was
thwarted in every way. She at last said that the Bowl-Wearer was a
wicked witch who had thrown her spells over Saisho and would not leave
him till she had compassed his death.

She determined if possible to separate them by fair means or foul. For
a long time she pondered over the matter, and at last hit upon a
stratagem which she trusted would rid the house of the presence of the
obnoxious girl. Her plan she called "The Comparison of the Brides." She
would hold in the house a family council of all the relations, and
assemble the wives of her three elder sons, and before the whole
gathering compare them with the Bowl-Wearer whom Saisho had elected to
marry. If the Bowl-Wearer had any self-respect she would be too
conscious of her deformity and her poverty, and too ashamed to make an
appearance, - would leave the house to escape from the ordeal. What an
excellent plan! Why had she never thought of this before?

So the mother sent messengers post-haste to all the family and
relations, requesting their presence at a "Bride Comparing Ceremony" and
a feast which would close the ceremony.

When Saisho heard of this he was greatly troubled, for he knew what it
meant. His mother meant to drive the girl he loved from the house by
comparing her with his brothers' rich and pretty wives. What was to be
done? How could he help the poor Bowl-Wearer?

The little Princess saw how unhappy he was, and blamed herself, she was
so sorry for him.

"It is all because of me that this trouble has come to you. Instead of
happiness I have only brought you worry. Woe is me! It is better that I
go away at once," said the girl.

Saisho told her at once that he would never let her go alone; that if
she went he would go with her.

At last the day fixed for the ceremony of the "Comparison of the Brides"
came round. Saisho and the unhappy little Bowl-Wearer rose before the
dawn, and taking each other by the hand left the house together.

Notwithstanding his love for the Bowl-Wearer and his resolve to marry
her at whatever cost, Saisho was very sad at the thought of leaving his
parents in this way. He told himself that they would never forgive his
obstinacy and probably would refuse to see him again, so this parting
was probably forever. He felt at each step as if his heart was torn
backwards. With slow steps he and the Bowl-Wearer, hand in hand, wended
their way down the garden. No sooner, however, did they put their feet
outside the gate than the bowl on the girl's head burst with a loud
noise and fell in a thousand pieces upon the ground.

What untold joy for both of them! Saisho, too astonished to speak,
looked for the first time full on the girl's face. The beauty of the
damsel was so dazzling that he could compare it only to the glory of the
full moon as it rides triumphantly above the clouds on the fifteenth
night of September. Her figure, too, now that the dwarfing bowl had
gone, was more graceful than anything he had ever seen. The young
lovers, too happy for words at this unexpected deliverance, could do
nothing but gaze at each other.

The mother's purpose in covering her daughter's head with the hideous
bowl was at last made clear. Fearing that her daughter's beauty would
prove to be a peril to her, with no mother to watch over her, she had
hidden it thus, and the intensity of her wish had assumed supernatural
power, so that all attempts to remove it were useless till the moment
came when it was no longer needed; then it broke off of its own accord.

At last the lovers stooped to pick up the pieces of the bowl, when to
their amazement they found the ground strewn with treasures and all that
a bride could possibly need for her portion. There were many gold
_kanzashi_ (ornamental pins for the hair), silver wine-cups, many
precious stones and gold coins, and a wedding-garment of twelve folded
_kimono_, and a _hakama_ of brilliant scarlet brocade.

"Oh, surely," said the Princess, "these treasures must be what my mother
prepared for my marriage portion. Indeed a mother's tender love is above
everything!"

She wept with mingled feelings of joy and pain, - pain of the remembrance
of her mother and joy at her present unlooked-for deliverance and the
certainty of future happiness.

Saisho told her that there was now no need for her to leave the house.
She was not only a richly dowered bride, but now that her face was no
longer hidden by the hideous bowl, so beautiful that even a king would
be proud to wed her. She need no longer fear to be present at the coming
ceremony and feast. So they both turned back, and hastened to prepare
for the trial which awaited the Bowl-Wearer, but Bowl-Wearer now no
longer.

As soon as day broke, the house was full of movement, servants hurrying
to and fro to usher in and wait upon the relations, who now began to
arrive. The murmur of their chattering was like the sound of breaking
waves on a distant shore, and the object of all this talk was nothing
else than the poor little Princess. The servants told every one that she
was in her room getting ready for the approaching feast, and they all
thought it strange that she had not fled away for shame. Little did they
dream of all that had happened to her!

At last the hour of the "Bride Comparing Ceremony" arrived. The family
and the relations all took their places at the upper end of the big
guest-hall of thirty mats.

First entered the bride of the eldest son. She was only twenty-two years
of age, and as it was the season of autumn, she wore a brightly coloured
kimono and walked into the room in a stately fashion, with her scarlet
hakama trailing over the cream mats behind her. Her costume was indeed
beautiful to behold! To her parents-in-law she brought gifts of ten
rolls of rich silk and two suits of the ceremonial gown called _kosode_
(each _kosode_ consisting of twelve long _kimono_ folded one over the
other), all of which she placed on a fine lacquer tray to present them.

Next came the bride of the second son. She was twenty years of age, and
was of the aristocratic type of beauty, thin and slender, with a long
pale oval face. She wore a heavy silk robe, and over this a flowing gown
of gold brocade. Her _hakama_ was embroidered profusely with crimson
plum-blossoms. She came into the room quietly, with a gentle bearing,
and offered as her gifts of presentation thirty suits of silk robes to
her husband's parents.

Then came the bride of the third son. She was only eighteen years of
age. Quite different from the first two proud beauties, she was very
pretty and dainty, and though small had more sweetness and charm in her
manner than her sisters. Her dress was of rich silk embroidered with
cherry-blossoms. She presented thirty pieces of rare and handsome crape
to her parents-in-law.

The three sat side by side in their conscious pride and prosperity,
their beauty enhanced by the sheen and splendour of their silken gowns.
As the father and mother, uncles and aunts and relations, all gazed
upon them, no one could say who deserved the palm of superiority, for
they were all lovely.

At the lower end of the room, far away from every one else, was placed a
torn mat. It was the seat destined for the Bowl-Wearer.

"We have seen the three elder brides of the house, and they are all so
handsome and so beautifully robed that we are sure there are no women to
compare with them in the whole province," said the relations. "Now it is
the turn of the Bowl-Wearer, who aspires to marry the youngest son of
the house. When she comes in with that ridiculous bowl on her head, let
us greet her with a burst of laughter!"

The roomful of people eagerly waited for the Bowl-Wearer to come, even
as the birds sitting on the eaves of a house long for the morning. The
three brides were also curious to see the cripple girl of whom they had
heard so much. How dared such a creature aspire to become their sister?
they haughtily asked each other.

But the mother felt differently. She in no wise wished to see the girl
appear, for she had arranged this day's ceremony, hoping that the
Bowl-Wearer, knowing herself to be a deformed beggar-maid, would be too
ashamed to appear before such a grand company and would flee away rather
than face the trial. On asking the servants, however, she was told that
she was still in the house, and she wondered what the girl could be
doing, and almost regretted what she had done.

Lord Yamakage and his wife at last grew impatient and sent word to the
Bowl-Wearer that she was to hasten, as every one was waiting for her.

The servants went to the back of the house where the Bowl-Wearer had her
little room of three mats, and gave her the message.

"I am coming now," she answered from within the paper screens.

The Princess now came out and entered the room of the "Bride Comparing
Ceremony," where every one was waiting for her. She was only sixteen
years of age, but so beautiful that she reminded them of the weeping
cherry-blossoms in the dew of a spring morning. Her hair was as black as
the sheen on a raven's wing, and her face was lovelier far than that of
any human being they had ever seen. Her under-robes were of rich white
silk, and her upper kimono was purple, embroidered with white and pink
plum-blossoms. As the stars pale before the fuller glory of the moon, so
the three elder brides shrank into insignificance beside the dazzling
beauty of this maiden.

To all it seemed as if one of the _Amatsu Otome_ (heavenly virgins) who
wait upon the Goddess of Mercy had glided into the room. They had
expected to see a poverty-stricken girl with a large bowl stuck upside
down on the top of her head, and they were lost in astonishment when
they beheld the Princess in all the radiance of her loveliness and the
splendour of her rich clothes.

The Princess was about to sit down in the seat left for her, but Lord
Yamakage made a place for her beside his wife, saying that he could not
allow her to sit in such a lowly spot. She now presented to her
father-in-law a silver wine-cup on a gold pedestal, with one hundred
_rye_ (old _yen_ in gold), and thirty rolls of silk which she brought in
on a beautiful tray. To his wife she presented the rarest and most
delectable fruit of ancient Japan, Konan oranges and Kempo pears, and
one hundred pieces of coloured cloth which she put upon a gold stand.

In her surpassing beauty, in the grace of her carriage, in the richness
of her costume, in the sumptuousness of the gifts to her parents, she
left the other brides far and away behind. Speechless with wonder and
admiration, every one present could not but gaze at her. Before the
Bowl-Wearer had appeared, the three elder brides had seemed beautiful
enough, but now the difference was as marked as when a sparkling jewel
is placed side by side with a crystal; and as the crystal suffers from
the comparison, so did they.

Saisho's elder brothers were looking between the cracks of the sliding
screens, and they were filled with envy at Saisho and his good fortune
in becoming the husband of such a beautiful princess, for such they now
felt she must be. Not even her rivals could deny that she was
bewilderingly fair to look upon; but they whispered among themselves
that unless she were skilled in all womanly accomplishments, for all her
beauty she would be no better than a common man's daughter. She must
play on the _koto_ at once. No one could perform on that instrument
without years of instruction. If they waited till the next day, who
knows, she was so clever that she might get Saisho to teach her. So the
jealous brides proposed aloud that they should all play a quartette; the
eldest would play the _biwa_ (lute), the second the _sho_ (flute), the
third the _tsuzumi_ (a kind of a small drum beaten with the hand), and
they asked the Bowl-Wearer to join them and play the _koto_ (harp).

The Princess, who was very modest, at first refused; but on second
thoughts, she said to herself: "They ask me to do this because they wish
to try me, thinking me to be ignorant of such accomplishments. Well,
then, I will play, for my mother taught me." She pulled the _koto_ near
her, and slipping the ivory tips on her fingers began to stroke chords.
The astonishment of every one was great, for she played with great
skill.

Saisho, who had hidden himself in the room behind a lacquer cabinet, and
was watching with the utmost eagerness all that went on, could hardly
keep in his hiding-place, he was so delighted.

The three brides, who were quite put out of countenance, for their
performance could in no wise be compared to that of the little Princess,
now proposed that she should write a poem.

"Write a poem, a _tanka_ [a poem of thirty-one syllables], which shall
describe the character of each season, such as the blooming of the peach
and the cherry-blossom in the spring, the orange and wistaria in summer,
and the beauty of the chrysanthemum in autumn."

"Oh," said the Bowl-Wearer, "this is indeed a task too difficult for me.
Is there nothing else you will give me to do instead of this? I can take
care of the bath-room, and pull up water from the well, and heat the
bath. Since this is my daily occupation, how is it possible that I
should even know how to write a poem, much less compose one?" She
blushed as she spoke.

But her rivals insisted, and so at last she took up a poem card and a
brush and wrote: -

Haru wa hana,
Natsu wa tachibana,
Aki wa kiku,
Izure to wakete,
Tsuyu ya okuran.

The cherry-blossom of spring,
The orange-flower of summer,
The autumn chrysanthemum,
Perplexed between them all,
Alike on each the dew may fall.

She showed not the least hesitation in writing these lines, and her
handwriting was so beautiful that even the famous Tofu[1] and her brush
could not have surpassed it. The three brides retired from the room,
grumbling and speaking evil of the Bowl-Wearer.

"She must be a witch," they said. "Probably the spirit of the ancient
Tamamono Maye!"

Lord Yamakage, now quite pleased with her, handed her a cup of _saké_.
He gave his full consent to her marrying his son Saisho, and bestowed
upon them as a settlement twenty-three hundred _cho_ of land, together
with twenty-four servants to wait upon them, and for their bridal
chamber he allotted them the Hall of Bamboos.

So Saisho and the Bowl-Wearer were at last married, and all their
troubles ended. Never was there such a merry wedding, such a lovely
bride, or such a happy bridegroom. The days flew into weeks, the weeks
flew into months, for the flight of time is unnoticed when one is happy.

At last one day Saisho said to his wife: "I cannot believe you to be the
daughter of a common man. Will you not tell me who your father is? I
should like to know. Whatever wrong you have suffered, why hide your
parentage any longer?"

The Princess knew that if she told her husband the truth, the name of
her cruel stepmother would have to be mentioned, and it would be most
unfilial to speak of the woman's cruelty, for she was her father's wife,
so she decided not to tell Saisho to what family she belonged. She made
some excuse, saying that he should know all in good time, and begged him
to wait a little longer.

[Illustration: SAISHO AND THE BOWL-WEARER WERE AT LAST MARRIED]

When they had been happily married for a year, she gave birth to a son.
The bliss of the faithful young couple now seemed complete. Yet with her
ever-growing happiness her thoughts turned more and more to her father.
What had happened to him in these past years? How she longed to show him


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Online LibraryYei Theodora OzakiWarriors of old Japan : and other stories → online text (page 12 of 14)