- chapter: V
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NEAR the Temple Zuiganjii there is one huge rock, where the Date lords in the feudal days were wont to gather yearly, attended by musicians, and seeking recreation in gay amusements. It is of enormous size, and when the sun's rays beat upon its white surface it shines like white, polished glass. Flat, embedded in the soil, there is, however, a part of the rock which rises many feet above the level, its out-jutting point resembling the head of some giant sea-monster. Under this jutting head a natural cave has been formed.
Here, on a summer day, two children were playing together. Far below them the Bay of Matsushima spread out its insistent beauty. Moored to the beach, a few cho below them, was their minia- | | 35 ture raft-sampan, an old weather-beaten boat, in which they had made their pilgrimage from the village. Behind them were the tombs and the eastern hills. The sunlight slanting upon them was no less golden than these summer foot-hills of the mountains beyond.
Bareheaded and barelegged the children were, the sandals upon their feet wet, showing how they had paddled in the bay. The boy, a lad of possibly fifteen years, was stretched full length under the shadow of the rock, only his sandalled feet projecting into the sunlight, which he hoped would dry them. His elbows were in the sand, his chin resting upon one arm. He was reading from a very much worn and ragged book, the leaves of which he turned with the utmost care and tenderness.
The little girl had gradually come from the rock's shadow, and now squatted at his feet. The sun fell upon her. She was a diminutive, odd little mite. Her hair, a dark shining brown, had been | | 36 carefully knotted up into a little chignon at the top of her head, but, being wayward by nature, it had escaped the most persistent brushing and the severe pins which held it. It clung around her ears and little neck in soft, damp curls. Her face and hands were russet, sunburned and freckled. Her eyes were large and gray, shading towards blue. She wore but one garment, a little red, ragged kimono, very much frayed at the ends and soaked from her late paddling. Unlike the average Japanese child, the little girl was restless and lacked all sense of repose, an inherent instinct with Japanese children.
Though the boy had constituted her his audience and was reading aloud to her, she apparently had heard no word of what he had been reading. Having wriggled her way beyond the reach of his hand, she now looked about her for new means of engaging her active little mind. This she discovered in some stalks of grass. Having selected the stiffest blade | | 37 she could find, she stealthily crept back to the feet of the boy, and first tickled, then pricked his feet with the grass. The natural result followed. The boy's droning, monotonous voice in reading changed to a sudden, sharp grunt, and he threw up his heels, whereat the little girl burst into a wild, elfish peal of laughter. At the same time she renewed her jabs at the boy's protesting feet.
Komazawa, still agitating his heels, closed the book with care, placed it in safety in the sleeve of his hakama, and swung upward, drawing his heels under him beyond the reach of his naughty tormentor.
With assumed gravity he regarded the small rogue before him.
"Something bitten you, yes?" she inquired, keeping her distance from him and hugging her knees up to her chin.
Koma nodded, silently.
"What?" she inquired. "What was that bitten you, Koma?"
"Gnat!" said the boy, briefly.| | 38
"Gnat?" She crept a few paces nearer to him, and peered up into his face.
"Yes--gnat," he repeated, "bad devil gnat."
The expression on the little girl's face was involved. How was it possible for any one ever to know just what Komazawa meant when his face was so grave and smileless. She had an odd little trick of glancing up at one sideways under her eyelashes. She peeped up at Koma now for some time in this manner. Her mirth had changed to a matter of speculation. Did or did not Koma know what had bitten him? He had said it was a gnat. Her intelligence was not sufficiently developed to include the possibility that he might have meant her for the gnat. She ventured:
"Did you see that gnat bite you?"
Her eves became wide.
"Where is it gone?" she inquired, breathlessly.
"Still there," was his reply.| | 39
"Where?" She started, actually frightened. Koma's voice and air of mystery began to work upon her active imagination. What was a gnat, anyway? And if one had actually bitten Komazawa, might it not also bite her? By this time she had entirely forgotten her own attacks with the grass blade. She was close to Koma now, her hands upon his arm, her upraised eyes searching his face.
"What is a gnat, Komazawa?"
"Bad little insect."
"Oh! Does it bite?"
"Did it also bite you?"
"Oh!" A palpitating pause. Then "Will it bite me, too?"
She crept completely into his arms, shielding herself with his sleeves.
"Where is it--that bad gnat?"
"Here." He pointed at her with an index-finger.| | 40
"Here!" She gave a little scream. "On my face!"
She was a small bundle of pricked nerves, frightened at a shadow of her own making. Komazawa relented, and pressed her little, fluttering face against his own.
"There--foolish one! No; there is nothing on your face. You are the gnat I meant."
"Me!" She drew back a pace. "But I am not an insect!"
"Little bit like one," said Koma, a smile of sunshine replacing his affected gravity a moment since.
His small companion sat up stiffly, half indignant, half curious.
"How'm I like unto an insect gnat?"
"Gnat jumps--this way, that, every way. So you do so. Can't sit still, listen to beautiful stories."
"I don't like those kind stories. Like better stories about ghosts and--"
"Oh, you always get afraid of such stories, screaming like sea-gull."| | 41
"Yes, but all same, I like to do that--like to hear such stories--like also get frightened and scream."
"Gnat also bites--bites foot, same as you do."
"That don't hurt," she said, her eyes askance. Then, repeating her words, questioningly, "That don't hurt?"
"Oh yes, it does, certainly. What do you suppose I got to keep my feet under me now for?"
Her little bosom heaved.
"Let me see those foots, Komazawa."
Her eyes were beginning to fill. He thrust his two feet out quickly.
"No, no; they are all right."
Her face was aglow again in an instant.
"Oh, I love you, my Koma," she said. "I only pretend hurt your honorable foots."
"That's right. Now, you fix your hands so." He illustrated, doubling his | | 42 own hands into fists, then doubling hers also.
"That's right. Make hand good and hard. So! Now you hit hard against those feet. So!"
He brought her little, closed fist down hard with his own hand on his offending foot. The little girl became pale. Her lips quivered. She began to sob.
Koma lifted her in his arms, jumped her on his shoulder, and carried her down to the beach, soothing her as he walked.
"That's just little punishment for me; punishment for teasing little sister," said Koma, laughing quietly. "That don't hurt. You going to laugh soon? You just little gnat! That's so? You bite just little bit. I am big dog. I bite big."
He set her in the boat.
"Such a foolish little gnat," he said, "always cry--always laugh. Like these waters--sometimes jump--sometimes lie still."
Standing in the boat he pushed it out into the bay with the large pole which served as a sort of paddling oar.
He smiled back over his shoulder at her. "Ah, the wind go blowing us home so quick. Now you smile once more. Good! Sun come up again!"
He had been speaking to her in English, idiomatic, but clear. Now he broke into Japanese song. His voice was round and large, full and sweet for one so young. It seemed to ring out across the bay, and float back to them from the echoing hills.
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