- chapter: II
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IT was the season of Seed Rain. The country was green and fragrant and the crops thirstily absorbed the rain. The villagers sat at their thresholds, some of them even indolently lounging in the open, unmindful or perhaps enjoying the seething rain, an antidote for the heat, which was somewhat sweltering for the season.
Children were playing in the street, nimbly jumping over the puddle ponds, or climbing, with the agility of monkeys, the trees that lined the streets, and about whose boughs they hung in various attitudes of daring delight.
One small boy had climbed to the very tip of a bamboo, and there he clung by his feet, swaying with the shakings of the slender tree, and the motion of those below him--far below him.| | 11
It was not often that the son of Madame Aoi was permitted such absolute freedom. Indeed, it was only upon those occasions when Komazawa, momentarily blind to the reproach of his mother's sad eyes, literally thrust away the bonds which seemed to hold and chain him to their quiet household and burst out and beyond their reach. Surely, at the tip of this long, perilous bamboo he was quite beyond the reach of little Madame Aoi and her old servant, Mumè. But even in his present lofty position Komazawa had kept his eyes from the possible glimpse of his mother. His feet clung to the tree only because his hands were engaged in covering his ears.
Yet, even in the open, Komazawa was alone. The neighbors' children played in little bodies and groups together, and Komazawa from his perch watched them with the same ardent wistfulness with which he was wont to regard them from the door of his little isolated home.| | 12
Old Mumè was angry. Her voice had become hoarse, and she was tired of her position in the rain, for the bamboo gave but scant shelter. She shook the tree angrily.
"Do not so," entreated the gentle Aoi. "See how the tree bends. Take care lest it become angry with us and vent its vengeance upon my son. But, pray you, good Mumè, return to the home and give food and succor to our honorable guest."
As Mumè shuffled off, her heavy clogs clicking against the pavement, Aoi called up, entreatingly, to the truant:
"Ah, Koma, Koma, son, do pray come down."
But Komazawa, with head thrown backward, was whistling to the clouds. He was very well content, and it pleased him much to be wet through. How long he sat there, whistling softly strange airs and imagining wild and fanciful things, he could not have told, since the passage of time in these days of freedom was a thing which he noted little.| | 13
Gradually he became aware that the rain was becoming colder and the sky had darkened. Komazawa looked downward. There was nothing but darkness beneath him. He shivered and shook his little body and head, the hair of which was weighted with rain. Komazawa began to slide downward, feeling the way with his feet and hands. It was quite a journey down. In the darkness he had knocked his little shins against out-jutting broken boughs. He landed with both feet upon something palpitating and soft--something that caught its breath in a sigh, then inclosed him in its arms.
Komazawa guilty, but not altogether tamed, spoke no words to his mother. He stood stiffly and quietly still while she felt his wetness with her hands. But he threw off the cape in which she endeavored to wrap him. He was obliged to stand on tiptoe to put it back around his mother, and as this was an undignified position, his bravado broke down.| | 14
Gradually he nestled up against her, and--strange marvel in Japan!--these two embraced and kissed each other.
After a while, as they trudged silently clown the street homeward, Komazawa inquired, in a sharp little voice, as he looked up apprehensively at his mother:
"And the honorable stranger, mother?"
Aoi hesitated. The hand about her son trembled somewhat. His thin little fingers clutched it almost viciously. He flushed angrily.
"Why do you not answer me?" he asked, with peevishness.
"I have not seen the honorable one," said Aoi, gently.
"Pah!" snapped the boy. "No, certainly, and we do not wish to see her. We do not like such bold intrusion."
"Nay, son," she reproved, "we must not so regard it. Let us remember the words of the good master, the august missionary."
"What words?" inquired Koma, tart- | | 15 ly. "Why, his excellency does not even know of the coming of the woman, since he is gone three days from Sendai now."
"Ah, but my son, do you not remember that he taught us to treat with kindness the stranger within our gates?"
Koma made a sound of disapproval, his little, ill-tempered face puckered in a frown. After a moment he inquired again:
"But where is the woman, mother?" Aoi regarded her small son almost apologetically.
"She is within our humble house," she replied.
Koma pulled his hand from hers with a jerk. For a time he walked beside her in silence. He was strangely old for his years, and already he showed the inheritance of his father's pride.
"Mother," he said, "we do not wish the stranger to disturb our home. My father would not have permitted it. We are happy alone together. What do we want with this woman stranger?"| | 16
"But, my son, she is very ill."
"She should have stayed at the honorable tavern. We do not keep a hostelry."
"Well," she said, hopefully, "let us bear with her for a little while and afterwards--"
"We will turn her out," quickly finished the boy.
"We will entreat her to remain," said Aoi. "It would be proper for us to do so. But the stranger will not be lacking in all courtesy. She will not remain."
They had reached their home. Now they paused on the threshold, the mother regarding the son somewhat appealingly, and he with his sulky head turned from her. Aoi pushed the sliding-doors apart. A gust of wind blew inward, flaring up the light of the dim andon and then extinguishing it. The house was in darkness.
Suddenly a voice, a piercing, shrill voice, rang out through the silent house.| | 17
"The light, the light!" it cried; "oh, it is gone, gone!"
Koma clutched his mother's hand with a sudden, tense fear.
"The light!" he repeated. "Quickly, mother; the honorable one fears the darkness. Quickly, the light!"
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