|I.||A POOR DEVIL|
|II.||THE SOUL OF THE SAMURAI|
|III.||THE HUGE TRENCH AT JOKOJI|
|IV.||OWANNON'S BEWITCHING HAND|
|VI.||THE CELESTIAL ABDUCTION|
|VII.||"NAMU AMIDA BUTSU!"|
|VIII.||THE TINY YELLOW CURL|
A POOR DEVIL
But, if you should, unwisely, ask yourself afterward why you had chosen him rather than one of his more goodly fellows, you would be a little puzzled for a reason—if you cared for reasons. It was not because he would carry you for less than they,—whatever you chose to give, and with greater despatch (were you minded to hurry rather than kill the lazy days). These you would not at that time have learned. You would, in fact, be left without an adequate motive. And this, if you must always have motives, would be vexatious. For there would be left you but an indefinable sense of faithfulness, and a vague, necessitous beseeching which Kito had somehow inspired. And perhaps you noted this the more because he did not solicit you—only looked at you as a vagrant dog looks. You would probably end by declaring a truce to sentiment, which you found persistently attaching itself to your coolie,—entirely without his connivance, you would admit,—and you would not keep the truce. Nothing is so insidious as sentiment. And when its object is before you it is often insistent.
Kite's departures from the mood and habitude of his sprightly fellows were so many that he was quite alien among them. Mere physical differences you would probably have noticed first in your perambulatory acquaintance. As you drowsed along behind him, day after day, in the air that has always the languor of afternoon, you would be driven by the mere fact of having him constantly in your eye, and your eye constantly reacting upon an Eastern vacuity of mind (which you were surprised to find yourself acquiring in spite of yourself), to a comparison of your coolie with others you met, passed, and traveled with; for his kind are legion. These comparisons, even though your analytical edge were somewhat dulled by the lotus air, would inevitably be unfavorable to Kito. Perhaps you were on the lookout for the picturesque in Japan, where it is fondly fancied to be indigenous? Well, Kito was commonplace—repellent. You probably adored Truth? But—there were certain contradictions about your 'riki'-man which struck you with the disfavor of detected prevarication. Thus, if you regarded his appearance only, he was quite a patriarch among his short-lived fellows. If you pressed him to tell his age and not lie,—for it is a very gentle infamy of the Japanese to add other years to their own,—he would confess, with such shamefacedness as disarmed your just indignation, that he was but little more than thirty—how much more he would leave you to guess, hoping you would fix it near forty. Again, you would be surprised to see him, now and then, straighten up into a man tall enough to do credit to his Satsuma ancestry, while you had settled it irrevocably that he was below even the medium Japanese stature. And, once more: maybe you had fancied from his humility that his extraction was humble. Not so. He was a samurai. The sole adornment of his severe physiognomy (and perhaps you did not regard it as an adornment at all, nor his physiognomy worth adorning) was the queue which was the badge of his caste. Part of his small earnings went for the regular shaving of his head and the care of this excrescence upon it. He might have worn two swords! He had them at home—wherever that was—to wear. But then he could not have been your riki'-man. They were long Kio blades—not such as the Tokio fops carried, but swords that were heavy enough to cleave a skull if they were but let fall. Old swords. And they had done this grisly office. They were nicked in a way any samurai understood. But of that a little later. At first the queue might have struck you as not only another ambiguity, but an arrogance. There was nothing " military " or stalwart about the poor devil. His calves were knubby and fluctuating. His bowed legs, instead of strength, spoke of feebleness. His coloring was a mere matter of patchwork, from the African blackness of his sunken cheeks to the ivory ghastliness of the frontal bones where the tight-drawn skin outlined the sutures. And he had no pride that thing which no samurai ever before lacked.
Kito's attire (like that of his fellows in those days—I have since seen baggy breeches which make a 'riki'-man look like a Zouave) was just as much as, and no more than, modern Japanese virtue enacted into law (after our Western kind) obliged him to cover his former nakedness with. Heaven be praised! the law was made for the treaty ports alone. A loin-cloth; a wide, ill-fitting shirt of cotton stuff, blue, with some seal-characters in white stamped on its back—his seal. The sleeves, in their infinite length and breadth, carried everything some of them quite unmentionable. Upon occasion he added to these a spherical hat and a raincoat—each of straw. But these were also mere concessions to public morals and law. He preferred that the rain should beat upon his body and the sun upon his head. He had a certain kinship with the elements. And there were other occasions, happily infrequent, when the eyes of the pretty police were sharpened by new orders,—the transportation of a "barbarian" with a tall hat (which was, in those days, taken for earnest of foreign greatness), or of a native aristocrat who wore European attire, or of a woman who wore spectacles,—when he was constrained to don a frail, trouser-like garment and straw sandals, which he kept surreptitiously in his 'rikisha. He was then, if ever, in full dress—and most miserable. At other times he went barefooted, barelegged, bareheaded—and was a little happier.
Curiously enough, Kite's 'rikisha had faithfully acquired his characteristics, and in a less meliorable form. Its appearance bred, at first, a suspicion of decrepitude. But there was, withal, a worn-out usefulness about it which would appeal to you like an old garment. And, like an old garment, it would reward you with great comfort and entire faithfulness—lacking only beauty and grace. Still, in its grizzled age there were yet traces of brilliant lacquer and glittering brass. And you could easily supply, in fancy, the lanterns and streamers which must have hung from the shafts of such an equipage and all the other finery with which Kito had begun his career. There are no such now. But there were then—and Kito had truly the gayest 'rikisha in all Tokio. For then he had also hope. There was a rich yellow hood, and the cushions were of crimson Kio velvet. And there was no difficulty about fares. For his wheels ran so true, and there was such softness in the springs, that to take passage with Kito was like wooing lotus dreams. Think of that rush down the Tokaido! White-green rice-fields, black-green palms, glittering bamboos, pink cherries, golden temples, red shrines, laughing yadoya, bridges, canals, rivers, people, swiftly as the flight of the stork. How could he run all day? Why, he had stouter legs and a stouter heart then. You can measure, if you please, the decline of his hopes, the loss of his joy, very accurately by inspecting him and his 'rikisha, and remembering what I have told you, shall tell you. Now, as you chose him, perhaps you perceived that there were holes in the mongrel-tinted hood; the brazen bravery had taken on the oxid of many evil years; the lacquer had been wounded by countless shocks and had been healed by artless repairs.
In short, both Kito and his vehicle had fallen into a gaunt and unfriended old age, not of years, but of circumstances—circumstances which you somehow felt, but could not guess. Both had the appearance of having all to do that was possible in keeping body and soul together. For things in Japan have souls also.
I have spoken of Kito's brethren. Yet, in a sense other than professional, he had none. And even his professional attachments were tenuous in the extreme. So that those who lived by the same business, and whose companionship he could not entirely evade, had finally found a name for him which meant "silent, sulky fellow"—the harshest in theif polite vocabulary. Yet he was courtesy itself in his intercourse with them. If he had only added to his courtesy comradeship! But their hilarity, songs, dances, races, wrestles, went on without him—without so much as a smile. The Japanese face is made and educated to express nothing. Kito, looking always within, could have' taught his fellows something even of this art. As for comradeship—that was impossible.
His foreign fares usually cursed him for his animal-like imperviousness to things human—such, for instance, as laughter. He could n't laugh—though sometimes he piteously tried. They always gave him up after a brief effort, and called him un misérable if they were French or Russian, "poor devil" if they were English or American. But in one thing they were curiously alike: none ever failed to add to the pittance of his tariff the rin which came up with the small coin from their pockets.
Take him for all in all, if you had come to Japan, where meekness is soil of the soil, seeking its completest incarnation, Kito and his 'rikisha (for they were but a single entity) must have satisfied you utterly. His humility, by reason of its unobtrusiveness, would have obtruded itself so persistently upon you as at first to give offense. You would hastily havesuspected him of a habit of vainglory in it—of getting under your feet, like some of those beggars in India, simply to call your attention upon him. You would have noticed that the dogs (and what mongrel curs they are!) took their way leisurely from under his wheels, knowing that he would stop and risk your displeasure rather than run them down. You would come, after a while, nevertheless, to understand that the back bent toward you had other burdens than you to bear—weightier ones. Then you would pity the back. You would respect the humility,—perhaps because there was no whine in it,—and your words to him would take on the emphasis of hope and cheer—as if it were these he needed. And if you had not been a little afraid you would probably have patted him on his bent back and told him to brace up—or something like that—in the cheerful American fashion. And though he would have said nothing and looked little, your words would have comforted him, and you would somehow know this and be glad you had uttered them. For he had a child's simplicity, and would believe what you told him because you were "honorable"; that is, entirely worthy of belief. But your speech would have to be quite direct. He drew no inferences, he understood no innuendo, he made no analogies. If he comprehended you at all, it was in the way of your very words.
Kito's was a short-lived trade; and he had already (if we speak of his outside only) outlived his time. Yet he held on, sustained by something within,—it must have been,—unsteady, faltering sometimes, sometimes with a gasp of pain at the cardiac region, sometimes overcome by a weariness his will could not entirely subdue—on, silent and gray in the cheer and light about him, to some hopeless goal that no one knew, no one cared to know. Well, your care was simply what it would have been in the hiring of a horse. If Kito chose to import into the transaction the human equation, that was his affair, not yours. Sentiment in either case would have been an impudent imposition upon the terms of the contract. You wanted speed. And yet, sentiment would tug hard at your heart as you watched Kito's pitiful back, and you would sometimes forget about speed.
When not "otherwise engaged" (and he had other engagements, as we shall see) Kito could be found at the railway-station aforesaid. At the sacred groves of Shiba was always "otherwise engaged." To the former place he came only after passing a number of profitless days at the latter. If you asked him why he did not seek a more busy center—the Castle, where the patronage of officialdom was to be had, the great temple of Asakusa, where all the humbler and merrier people were, the improvident, with holiday purses in their sleeves—he would hang his head in confusion; he would not answer. To answer would be to involve his history, and he would not presume to your very face to the possession of such an absurd thing. To press him would be unwise; for then he would slink away, and for some days you would not find him at Shiba, or the station in the Shimbashi-dori, or anywhere. And, believe me, you would miss him.
Perhaps you would think of it occasionally. The railway-station you would understand in one word—money. But Shiba, the wondrous, the beautiful—no money was there, nor anything but silence and awe. Grim and ancient vaults of cryptomeria, shrines whose charms of color and form intoxicate one's eyes, tombs of Japan's ancient rulers by the sword, the shoguns, temples where art has lavished itself like libations to the gods of the place, and over all the dead silence which awes one into littleness, and somehow befits the worship of Buddha, Prince of Heaven. And here too was Kito, unhallowed, unbeautiful, like a shade, haunting the beauty. Do you care for the story? It is like going seriously into the private chronicles of your pack-horse.
THE SOUL OF THE SAMURAI
Well, then, there was a day when Kito wore the two swords I have mentioned. And yet he did not care for swords, nor honors, nor glory. The only thing he cared for was Owannon. At this time he had her—but he had her because of the swords. He got his swords, his rank (of samurai), and his wife at the same time. And when the first summons came to attend his lord in battle, his wife was reclining across his knees. She was laughing up in his face. The baby was between them. The swords were rusting in their chest (he had only seen them once). He had forgotten who his lord was!
Said his wife, with a sigh, after her shiver of fear:
"No samurai, whose soul is the sword, whose watchword is Honor, will disobey his lord. Put on your armor, take your swords, and—go!"
But then she sobbed.
Nevertheless, she dragged the rattling armor from its chest, dropping tears upon it, and put it on him. Then they could stop trembling and laugh a little; for it was a sorry figure indeed that he cut. There was a huge bamboo head-piece with a great golden crest—noble and dignified, but very heavy at the top. There was a casque of many layers of lacquered bamboo. There were greaves which projected above his knees; for he was too small for the armor. Thus accoutred, Kito, a little later, went out, with Saigo and others accoutred like him, to meet the imperial army with its guns and cannon. The heaven-sent Sword—the Excalibur of Japan—and the Brocade Banner were also with the army. These were the symbols of righteous war. And Saigo, the rebel, had nothing but those long, ancient swords and bamboo armor.
Kito knew nothing about the quarrel. No rumors of war had reached him in his secluded home. It is doubtful if he knew that he was in rebellion against his sovereign; for all about him, from his august chieftain to the abjectest ronin, wore the imperial brocade. He made no inquiries. What he wished was to kill the men he supposed it was his duty to kill, whoever they were, and go home. He could not understand why all his comrades had left their homes to fight. He understood a little better after some thought. None of them would have been there if they had had wives and babies such as his, he felt quite sure. To his covert inquiries they answered that they had neither of these. But—and he laughed gladly—of course not! there was not another Owannon nor another Yuki in the world. That was the reason. Then he laughed again, and was quite patient for the rest of the campaign.
THE HUGE TRENCH AT JOKOJI
Well, the agony of revolt was short enough to please even Kito. Saigo and his gallant, fatuous band went to death at Shiroyama with the blood of their first conflict still upon their swords. And there they lie today, in the little graveyard of Jokoji, in a huge trench—all of them but Kito. For when they drew their swords for Saigo they swore never to sheathe them until he should command it—all but Kito. And when he did command it they refused, preferring to die with him—all but Kito. They sheathed them deeply in their own bodies and died. He gashed his throat and lay with them.
But at night he stole back over the fire and devastation to his home on the hills of Kagoshima, only to find, where his rice-fields had been, the imperial tents, and in his dainty house the booted and spurred officers of the imperial army—and not his wife, not his baby.
They were kind to him, these imperial officers. They did not ignominiously kill him, as they had the emperor's warrant for doing; they permitted him to kill himself, that he might continue to be accredited (as he now was) to the glorious trench at Jokoji, which was to live in history forever. Kito assented, felt the edge of his sword, smiled in a ghastly fashion, and—inquired hesitatingly the whereabouts of his wife and child. He cared nothing for the glory of the trench. The officers drove him away from his own door with fierce gibes and strict injunctions to die at once, or—
From a secluded nook in the hills Kito looked down upon his home for many days. Perhaps he shed a few tears, soldier though he was. And who would not? His rice-fields were dry; his mats, which nothing harsher than his own bared feet had ever touched, were being trodden to shreds by the steel-shod officers; and his tiny garden, with its bamboos, its oranges, its wistaria-covered tea-house, all fashioned by his own hands, was but a pretty booth for sake-drinking.
Yet, could it all have purchased one word of the whereabouts of his wife and child, Kito would have gone away and left it.
Then, one day, as he looked, a sudden flame burst from the thatch of the roof. Kito leaped up and ran without thought toward his little house. Every now and then, through the trees, he caught a glimpse of the flames which were eating it up. When he arrived it was but a heap of ashes. The officers were jogging merrily away in the valley below. The rebellion was crushed. Peace had come. Thus they celebrated it.
As he stood there, a man he knew spoke to him.
"Who are you?" he asked savagely.
"Me?" answered Kito, dizzily. "I am a man." His beard had grown in his absence.
"Yes," said his neighbor, ironically, "I supposed that. But one of this kind?"
He pointed to the ruins. "If so, may such a fate befall you!"
Everybody was imperialist then.
"What what is his fate?" asked Kito.
"He is dead. He is in the trench at Jokoji, with Saigo, more honored than he ought to be. The emperor has taken his house and burned it. He is dead, I say."
"And had he a a family?" questioned Kito.
"He had a wife and child; both very beautiful—more beautiful than he deserved. When he killed himself with the rest at Shiroyama, they heard of it and disappeared. Some say the Lord Buddha took them. They disappeared—like that smoke." He pointed to it. " They have never been seen since the news came home. As for me, I think they are still on earth. Others think them in heaven. He is dead—do you hear? What can it matter where they are? "
"Yes," said Kito, softly, "I hear. He is dead. And what can it matter—what can it matter?"
He turned and went back to the hills, repeating to himself: "He is dead—he is dead! What can it matter?"
For many days he sought them there. And when the days had lengthened into weeks, and the weeks into months, he met a woman, one day, who said, with quite an air, that it was nothing more mysterious than a pilgrimage to Isé. It was the season of the cherry-blossoms when they went, and perhaps they meant to renew the god-slips in the kamidana. That was their custom. Perhaps they had gone to supplicate the Sun-Goddess for his return. Him? Her husband, and the father of the child. But he was dead—in the trench at Jokoji. What luck for an undeserving fool! Did he know that he was dead? Did he believe it? There was no doubt of that to her, though there had been a whisper of doubt as to his end. Perhaps she had gone to Jokoji. Perhaps she had heard that whisper.
He was quite sure, upon the instant, that they had gone to Jokoji! Possibly he had just missed them. He hastened back again to the battle-field. He was very sure. Sometimes, on the way, he sang. The ghastly trench was green now. There was nothing to remind one of its horrors. They were not there. They had not been there, it seemed. No one had seen them. In the time he spent at Jokoji he wondered sometimes whether he were not indeed beneath the green of that trench. Was this himself or another who was so bereft? He had been very happy at Jokoji. But now it seemed eternities since then. And should he ever be happy again? There was terror in the doubt.
Then on to Isé, with a little less hope—because the woman had suggested that. They were not at the shrines, and the bonzes could tell him nothing. Then, after wearily waiting and searching there, back and forth over all the great roads, looking into every face he could, questioning every one who would bear it.
So all over the empire, until age and weariness began to have their way with him, and all he knew, in a dazed, half-conscious way, was that he must search on if he would find them. Presently his head went wrong, and he had only the recollection of long and dusty ways, of much turning aside to temples and shrines, of a child's face here, a woman's there. Sometimes there were kind words, sometimes revilings, sometimes neglect—always cold and hunger and less and less joy. And these sap one's life.
Then, one day, he found himself in quiet, sorrowful Shiba, telling, in his half-delirium, his story to the shaven priests. His despair must have moved their sluggish hearts to pity; for, miserable as he was, they took him in and fed and clothed him, then nursed back his wandering mind. Between his ravings and his supplications they learned his history as I have written it—as I write it.
OWANNON'S BEWITCHING HAND
In the establishment of the Tokugawa dynasty the daimio to whom Kito's ancestor owed allegiance lost his head; whereby Kito's father and his father before him were left to draw their sword for whom they pleased—which meant, in truth, wherever plunder or affection invited. But in the latter years of Kito's father the empire began to draw together, which circumscribed his military usefulness to such an extent that he became, perforce, in his age, a law-abiding citizen, coming to live at last by the labor of his son's hands. To see this son of his gathering the beggarly rice which he had once won by a sweep of his halberd was like wormwood to him. And so, one day, after an explosion of wrath, he spat blood and died. But not before he had sent for Madzuri, his neighbor, and had a mysterious conference. After that he said a pleasant farewell to his son and died with satisfaction.
His death made no difference in the affairs of Kito, except that life cost less. He began to enlarge his domain.
I have said, I think, that he had adored Owannon, the daughter of Madzuri, from infancy. But his adoration was confined to such shy smiles as he might lavish at their infrequent meetings. He had little enough hope; for her father had managed to keep some of the state of a samurai, and in circumstances was infinitely above his father, who had died a mere ronin.
But now, when he was ready for his first full sowing, and was splashing delightedly about in his new rice-fields, strewing the grains, singing a little, all in the early morning, who should come down to him, daintily picking her way along his dikes, but Owannon! He looked up, and at first thought he had seen a vision. But no; she spoke, hurriedly, with a heart that he could see palpitating in her bosom. And her eyes were full of tears. He knelt to her just where he was—in the water and mud of his rice-field.
Would he get his box of remedies quickly, and hasten to her father, who was suddenly ill? He was back in a moment with his medicines,—he had been taught some simple rules of healing,—and then Owannon led the way back along his dikes, hallowing them with every step. It was a long walk, and he did not take his eyes off her. And it is to be feared that he thought less of how he was to succor her father than he should have done. She was dressed in the crape and brocade finery of the night's revel at which her father had got his illness, and to his honest eyes was the fairest woman in all the world.
Kite's little skill was of no avail. Madzuri died. And then only it transpired what the compact between the two old samurai had been. Before the death of the last of the two the child of the remaining one was to be adopted, or married to the child of the other, as they should choose, and the Kio blades and the bamboo armor were to be delivered to Kito, who was to swear to stand in the place of the two old samurai, and fight their battles, and avenge their wrongs, and those of all the samurai whose swords the imperial government threatened to take; and Madzuri had put it off a little too long. But they knew his wishes.
Kito received the arms and swore the oath. There was nothing else to do. But as to the other, Madzuri died before it could be accomplished. When they were alone he, nevertheless, laid his hands at the feet of Owannon, and his head upon them, and asked:
"Will you have me for your brother or your husband?"
Owannon looked vastly frightened at first, then, covering her face from him, whispered:
"I will have you for my—brother."
She hesitated just an instant before the last word.
Kito did not move.
"Is that not—best? " she asked, trembling.
Then Kito knew her heart and looked up. There was tenderness infinite in his eyes.
"That is best," he said, "which you desire."
There was a long silence between them.
"I desire that you shall be my" But she hesitated a long while now. "Yes, I desire that you shall be my—my—brother."
"Your brother," repeated Kito, with his new smile, and he took her beautiful hands.
He asked nothing more, but was very gentle to her. All through the great funeral he was at her side. And if he was not, she was frightened and found him hastily. They went about hand in hand. She liked this. It was infinitely comforting. If he did not take her hand (sometimes he would pretend to forget it) she would slip it into his with a shy smile that had heaven in it to Kito.
And this went on after the funeral, in their walks abroad.
"Without your hand," she would say, "I am lost—brother."
"Without yours I die, sister," he would answer.
Kito himself charged the nostrils of his dead benefactor with the scented vermilion, and covered the patrician face with the funeral paint, whispering beatitudes the while to the departed spirit. They might as well have been whispered to Owannon, who sat with bowed head at his side; for they were for the living and not for the dead. And when the final rite was performed he left her at her door, saying:
"Good night, sister. In the morning I will come."
And she answered:
"Good night, brother. In the morning come."
"I shall come every morning."
"Yes," she smiled, "every morning—every morning."
And some great joy leaped up within her at that.
But she did not sleep that night. And she sat where she could look over the hills to where he had gone. It was very cold and lonesome. And when he came in the morning, much earlier than she could possibly have expected, she said with great joyousness:
"I did not think I should be so—glad."
"I also did not," he answered, taking the hands she gave him.
"Because I did not sleep," she confessed.
"Nor did I," he smiled.
"I did not wish to sleep," she said.
"Nor I," said he.
"I thought of you."
"And I of you."
"It is very pleasant to have a brother."
"And a sister."
"Such a brother."
"Such a sister."
They said thanks together and laughed.
When Kito went home that night he laughed and sang and floundered into the water once or twice.
"'Kio no yume, Osaka no yume,'" he repeated.
He waited. But he was. very sure—so sure that he built a house dainty enough for the little person he meant to cage in it. And that was dainty indeed. (Pray believe that from her toes to her head she was exquisite, immaculate.) There were mats of such softness as Kito had never seen till now. And the shoji were of such exquisite paper that it might be taken for filmy silk. The kamidana (for Owannon was very devout) was crowded with gods to suit such a personality, from jolly Binzuru to grim Ojin Tenno. And the garden! What a fairy nook it was! A lake that onemight tumble into and not wet more than one's boots. On it a boat moored at a leafy tea-house for two—no more—no more possibly. A tiny waterfall turned a wheel that cast a jet of spray upon the newly planted palms—two, and no more. Indeed, everything was two, and only two.
And Owannon saw all this day by day from her chamber—saw his journeyings to and fro with the belongings. She wondered why he said so little about it. Once or twice she dared to guess at the truth. But no. It could not be! Could it be? At last it began to pique her, and she determined to know—as a woman will.
"Your house is very beautiful, brother," she said suddenly, thinking it would surprise him. But it did not.
"Yes," he said quite calmly, "yes, sister. I think she will like it. That is the way to build a house—to fit the person who is to live in it. She—"
Her heart stopped beating for a moment.
"My wife," he said.
Something choked her. She rose suddenly and made an errand to the outside. When she returned it was with some refreshments. But her hands trembled as she served them.
"Shall we talk further about—my wife?" he asked politely.
"If you please—no," she begged.
"Some other time?"
She tried to smile. It was an inward sob, though.
"Yes, some other time."
"Some other time, then," he acquiesced.
And that night again she did not sleep.
And when she looked for him in the morning he did not come. And she had never wanted him so badly—madly. She went up-stairs and sat all the day where she could see the new house. But he did not come. And so for three days, till she was ill. In the dusk of the fourth came his servant. She saw him and hastened down to meet him.
"Is he ill?" she asked. "My brother—is he also ill? Speak—speak quickly!"
The man grinned. He carried a huge bunch of cherry-blossoms.
"No; he is not—ill," he said.
He fastened the blossoms at the door. Owannon's heart was leaping so that it took both hands to keep it in her bosom.
"What do you mean?" she cried; "by all the gods, what do you mean?"
For you must know that this was the way a Japanese made a proposal of marriage in those days.
"How should I know?" said the man, arranging the flowers with an artist hand.
"Here—here—" as if he had just discovered it—"is a scroll."
She darted at it and tore it off. The man was turning indifferently away as if his errand were done.
It was a poem. And she—her hands and eyes and hair—was the subject of it. She crushed it against that leaping heart—and it leaped the more.
"Wait! " she called. "Come back!"
And again she had to hold her heart in her bosom.
She did not wait for him to return she ran after him and took him by the elbow.
"Tell him—yes! Tell him his flowers are taken in and cared for. Tell him to come to me now—now—do you hear? and never to go away again! Tell him—tell him— And hasten—oh, hasten as with eagles' wings. But why do you not hasten? " For the man did not.
It was apparent in a moment why he did not. When she turned, Kito was behind her. He must have been hiding. She plunged straight into his arms. She tried to escape. But it was too late. Kito led her a captive into her own house.
She did not make him wait. Having surrendered, she had no reservations. She gave herself to him with all the sweetness he had known—and infinitely more than he had ever fancied. So there was soon a tedious, sake-drinking ceremony, a procession gay with lanterns, torches, and wedding-garments, which disbanded at the new house of Kito.
Now the days came and went as lightly as the winds which fanned Kito's fertile fields. And he sowed and gathered and grew placid much beyond the lot or deserts of any man. The ancient armor reposed forgotten in its bronze-bound chest. There was rust upon the blades which had never yet been tarnished but with foemen's blood. Kito had forgotten that he had a lord to serve. He knew him not.
Alas! perfect happiness is ominous.
But a little more happiness was possible to even Kito. Our cup is never quite full. One morning a wee baby with the eyes of the gentle Owannon lay beside her. True, it was a girl. That was unfortunate from a Japanese man's point of view. But Owannon rebelliously pulled him down to her and confessed, with a light in her eyes that he had never before seen there, that she had treasonably prayed that it might be a girl! Kito capitulated to her eyes, and swore that he too had done so. I know not but he did—though it seems improbable. But we know that he was not a warrior, and we may presume that he had no mind to breed warriors. At all events, there was indisputable evidence of his satisfaction in the indiscriminate and lavish offerings he made at the neighboring shrines of all religions. The child grew amazingly, and they called her Yuki—the Snowflake. To Kito she was little short of angelic. Was his cup full now? Had each been asked what yet they required to be happy, I am persuaded each would have answered, "Nothing."
It was into this joy and peace, like a bolt from Fuji, that the summons to attend his lord in the field came to Kito. He had lost sight of the covenants upon which his happiness was founded. Kito was aghast, and for a moment rebellious. But Owannon, like the daughter of a samurai, as I have told you, bade him go. He would find them waiting for him when he returned, she said. And the tears in her dear eyes were illuminated by a smile at Kito in her father's huge armor.
Thus he saw her last: half laughing, half crying; bidding him with her lips to go, begging him with her eyes to stay. Yuki clung to his engreaved leg to the uttermost moment, and threatened to go with him. At the last he had to close the door upon them. And even then they made holes in the shoji, and it was:
"Sayonara—sayonara! All the gods bless you and bring vou back! Sayonara!" as long as he could hear.
THE CELESTIAL ABDUCTION
Kito's history must have moved the priests to unwonted benefaction. For while he lay ill they wooed back his life with gentleness. And when he went from them to take up its dull way again, they blessed him with incense, and left in his heart a transcendent hope that else had never blossomed there. Doubtless, they said, the Lord Buddha, seeing his wife and child defenseless in the midst of peril, had reached with his great arm out of heaven, and lifted them into his Bosom with intent to send them back again in more glorious bodies. And perhaps, if he were faithful, and lived to the extinction of all passion, all desire, he might see them. Such things had been known here on earth. To his breathless question of where, they answered, wherever the Lord Buddha pleased—perhaps, nay probably, at this very temple!
Cunning bonzes! They bound his allegiance beyond possibility of rupture in those few words.
At first the Bosom of the Lord did not seem great enough to hide them from him. He rebelled against this celestial abduction. Then came madness for them once more, and he throttled one of the priests. But this passed. Gradually the benign comfort of the priests' words found a firm lodgment in his heart. They knew the value of iteration upon simple minds. Gradually, from dwelling upon the countenance of the gracious Lord of Life, the sweet, dead calm of the face possessed him. He began to experience that ineffable death-in-life trance which scarcely contemplates, only waits for that nameless absorption which shall be but a deeper and more tranquil death-in-life—life-in-death.
Almost, in the passage of the years, Kito had attained to the extinction of passion. As to desire, there yet was one. Heaven could not be his as long as that remained. Nor should he have wished for heaven without it. Had that desire but been fulfilled he would have had his heaven. But for this, the priests told him, his title was clear. Could he not abandon this desire? He must!
Kito shook his head and went out.
It was not quite the same after that. He was more often hungry and cold. And there were women and children, who had felt his sudden scrutiny, who wondered why he was not confined.
That he might have food, that he might have offerings for the altars, that he might follow his vigil at the temple of Shiba, he had become a 'rikisha-man.
"NAMU AMIDA BUTSU!"
All this, as I have said, was ten years and more ago. The rest of Kito's story may be found in a few lines of vertical writing among the records of the police court of Tokio, at the Saibansho. Kito's testimony it is called under the new code. Under the old it would have been Kito's confession under the torture. The difference is mainly one of nomenclature.
Under every great calm there is the quality of suppressed and controlled violence which may break through whenever the limit of compression is reached. So with the calm which Kito had accomplished. The priests no longer aided in the control of the frenzied hope they had conjured up for him. And his frailty admonished him that the end of his life was approaching. Those spasms at the heart were more frequent now, and sometimes he staggered, and fought away a blindness which fell upon him. Was he to die without his hope being realized? Was the Lord Buddha unkind as that, after all? One day he went to Shiba and savagely besieged the priests. They drove him away. He had come to be an annoyance. His offerings were now pitifully small, and himself shabby in the extreme. And he had but the one prayer:
"Hail, Holy Buddha! Wife—child—Hail, Holy Buddha! Namu Amida Butsu!"
They turned him out of the temple. But out under the great trees in the court he made a temple, and there indulged his soul to the full. Away from the cold eyes of the priests, at the foot of a giant cryptomeria, with the summer air to fan him and the leafy dome to shade him, out of control and encouraged by the silence, his prayer was a vociferous challenge to Shaka and all the gods who had baited and deceived him. He shouted anathemas at heaven. He railed upon the gods and defied them. But presently, as if to warn him, the night fell. With awe he remembered who it was that made night and day, and his voice dropped to supplication, the humblest that ever man addressed to gods. He tried to make the Prince of Heaven his friend now. He pleaded and confessed and cajoled with cunning. He was very tired. Sometimes his eyes would close for a moment. But his lips kept up that iteration which is Japanese praying. And presently, as he prayed, dropping the words like a dreamer now, the Lord of Light himself appeared. His placid eyes were unveiled, and a smile which had the peace and sweetness of heaven in it (so that he understood what peace meant, for the first time) was on his face. And in his hands was a child, which he placed in Kito's arms, saying:
Then he vanished, and Kito slept, till a soft touch fell upon his hollow cheek, and he opened his eyes to see the child of the vision. For that and this had all been one to him. He lay quite still while her tiny hands strayed adventurously over his features. Some one lighted a lantern down at the gate, and he saw the hands—like snowflakes. The palms were damp with the tears she had rubbed out of her eyes. Her hair was an exquisite yellow aureole in the dim light, and her baby face gleamed in the midst of it.
She was quite satisfied with her exploration of him. She sighed happily and patted his cheek. Then the light of the lantern shifted upon his face, and she put her hands on her knees and bent to look at it. She started a little when she saw that the eyes were open. Kito put out his hand and whispered:
She came closer and gazed once more into his eyes. She was satisfied.
"Me 'ikes 'oo. Me want turn to 'oo. Me dot 'ost."
It was a wondrous little voice! And she held out her arms. What mortal could have resisted that? Kito did not try. She was his little Yuki—given back to him by Amida Buddha. She had the celestial air, just as it had fallen from the divine presence upon her. There could be no doubt that it was she. But was she substantial? He knew there were spirits, and he had been often deceived. As he hesitated, a sob broke from the overwrought heart of the child.
"Tita 's 'ost! Tita 's 'ost! "she sobbed, "an' nobody—nobody don' tare! Nobody do'n' fine her for her's mama!"
Kito warily approached, like a serpent, upon his belly, and opened his arms. He was not yet sure. The little waif darted into them and nestled there, scattering the tears with her fists. And Kito, thrilled nearly to bursting, clutched at his leaping heart to stop it. It was all true. It was she.
The baby put her fists into his eyes and rubbed the tears out.
"Don' 'oo ky too. Jes me ky when me 's dot 'ost. But now I 's finded. 'Oo 's do'n' tate me me's mama. Me 's 'ood 'ikkle dirl—if—" she shook her tiny finger in his face, "if 'oo tate me to me's mama!"
She put her curls under his chin, as if to sleep, then suddenly turned upon him.
"'Oo dot tate me to me's mama! 'Oo dot! Me ky if 'oo don'. Tita was 'fraid at firs'. Tita fought 'oo big beas'—bow-wow-wow! Tita not 'fraid now. Tate me to me's mama. "
Kito did not understand a word of this. But that it was the veritable language of heaven he had no doubt. He kept smoothing the tangled curls with his great horny hands and whispering his one word of endearment:
"Not Ooti—Tita. Tate me me's mama."
She got out of his arms now and tugged imperiously at his wretched sleeve. Kito understood this. There was not a soul in the grove. And the silence which always broods here at night had come down. He stood up with the baby close in his arms. He looked around a moment. No one was in sight—no one to ask a question. He laughed a great, harsh, unused laugh that startled himself as he heard it. He stopped. He had meant it only for joy. But it had been very long since he had laughed. He had forgotten how to laugh for joy. Tita was frightened at it also. But she understood his caresses and the warmth of his arms, and put her head back on his shoulder.
"Tita tire'. Tate Tita her's mama. Tate Ti-ta—" Her head fell limply upon his breast.
Kito fled noiselessly down the long path to his 'rikisha. The strength of his youth was in his legs once more, the hope of his youth in his heart. As he went, the warm young head burrowed deeper and deeper into his bosom. The ravishing curls swept his face. The tender little body grew limp upon his arm. He could feel the tiny heart beating just over his own. The perfumed breath fanned his cheek. The bare knees tempted him with their dimples, and he passed his hand over them till they began to grow cold. Then he slipped his haori off on one side and covered them.
No moment of Kito's life had been so charged with ecstasy. The past was forgotten. Or if not, it was all well spent in the purchase of this one moment.
THE TINY YELLOW CURL
Perhaps Kito never heard the stentorian criers who went about that labyrinthine city proclaiming the loss of the little Titania, only daughter of one Lady Jane Coventry, strayed or stolen from her Japanese nurse in the woods of Shiba, or thereabouts, and the pains to be suffered by any person concealing guilty knowledge of the kidnapping. Perhaps, even, the edict which the tears of an agonized mother won from the imperial throne of Japan, calling upon all good citizens of the empire to aid in the restoration of the child to its mother, never reached him in his humble retreat among the debris of the burnt district. His testimony says he knew naught of this, and I prefer to believe him. Yet he was not in hiding.
But, one day, some months after his last memorable visit to Shiba (he had not been there since), he took the little Titania out for a ride in his 'rikisha. For he had discovered that it was the only thing that would appease her. She was very unhappy with him, fretting constantly. Still, this was not strange, he thought, for one who had come from heaven to earth. He hoped it would be better by and by. But how to make a heaven for her on earth troubled him greatly. However, when out in the queer old carriage, she was alert for something, which, it pleased Kito to see, kept her tears away. She had become thin and old-looking.
On this day they were passing a shop in the Kojimachi-dori, when a pale woman draped in mourning came out and paused at the street to adjust her boots. Rising to go, she turned her face toward the approaching 'rikisha and its burden. Other people were looking. But the restless little eyes in the 'rikisha singled her out.
"Mama, tate me—tate me—tate me 'way f'om dis bad ole man—tate me!" wailed Tita, holding her wasted hands far out over the strange old carriage.
In a moment Tita was in her mother's arms and Kito on his way to prison.
One day he was "examined," and gave his simple testimony. He was gentle and tractable under the rigors of the law. After it was over he was utterly broken in body and spirit. On another day the constables went to bring him up for sentence. They found him with his face to the wall—his eyes fixed on a tiny yellow curl in his hands. There were traces of tears on his face. He was quite dead.
- A samurai who had lost his lord and become a free-booter.
- "A dream of Kioto, a dream of Osaka"—a dream of happiness and riches.