- chapter: A JAPANESE BLOSSOM I
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A JAPANESE BLOSSOM
THE children sat in a little semicircle about their grandmother, listening intently as she read to them the last letter from their father in America. Ever since they could remember, his business as a tea merchant had taken him away from Japan on long visits to the foreign countries. His latest absence had continued for three years now, and little Juji--born a short time after his departure--had never seen him.
As the grandmother finished the letter, the children instinctively looked | | 2 first of all at Juji, sitting there in placid indifference, stolidly sucking his thumb. Juji had ceased to be the baby of the Kurukawa family. Afar off in America a new, strange baby had been born, and had taken the place of Juji, just as its mother one year before had taken the place of Juji's mother, who was dead.
When the old grandmother, with whom they made their home, had gently broken the news to the children that their father had taken a new wife from the daughters of America, she had impressed upon them the seriousness of their duty to their new parent. They must love her as a mother, revere her as their father's wife, remember her with their father in their prayers, and endeavor to learn those things which would be pleasing to her.| | 3
Gozo, who was the eldest of the children--he was seventeen years of age--set his little brothers and sisters a bad example. He grew red with anger, allowing himself to be so overcome by his feelings that for a moment he could not speak. Finally, he snapped his fingers and said, as his eyes blazed:
"Very well. So my father has put a barbarian in my mother's place. I cannot respect him. Therefore I cannot further obey him. I shall leave his house at once!"
At these revolutionary words, his old grandfather commanded him sternly to keep his place while he taught him a lesson.
"To whom," asked the old man, "do you owe your existence, and therefore your first duty in life?"
The hot-headed boy, who for a number of years had had neither | | 4 father nor mother to guide him, answered, immediately:
"To the Emperor I owe my existence and duty, sir. He comes even before my father. Therefore, in leaving my father's house to enter the service of Ten-shi-sama [the Mikado] I am but doing my highest duty."
The grandfather looked at the flushed face of the young boy.
"You will enlist?"
"You are too young, my boy."
"I can pass for much older," said Gozo, proudly.
"You are but seventeen," said his grandfather, quietly.
The boy's heart heaved.
"Life would be unbearable here," said he, "with such a change in the family."
"Do not use such expressions before your young brothers and sisters," | | 5 said the grandfather, sternly. "You almost make me think you are unfit to be an elder brother."
At this Gozo winced and became pale. He had always been proud of his position as the young master of the family.
Then his grandmother spoke, and her words reached the heart of the boy.
"Be not rash, my Gozo. Our dearest daughter, your mother, would have been the first to urge you to filial thought for your father."
"Grandmother," cried the boy, "I can't bear--" He flung his hand across his eyes as though to hide the tears. Now all the children began to weep in sympathy with their big brother. Miss Summer, the daughter of their father's friend, set up a great wail, declaring between her sobs that never, never, never could | | 6 she be induced to wash the feet or be the slave of a barbarian woman. For Summer, though but twelve years old, was some day to marry Gozo--so their fathers had said--and in Japan a daughter-in-law is under the command of the mother-in-law.
By patience and reasoning, the grandparents at last exacted from Gozo a promise that he would not leave home until his step-mother came to Japan. It was possible she might never come. Gozo, the proud and stubborn, sullenly gave the promise. During the months that followed, however, he seemed greatly changed in disposition. He became studious, quiet, given to gloomy moods, when he would lock himself up in his room and brood over what he considered the wrong and insult done to his mother's memory. He | | 7 would have found it hard enough to bear if his father had married a Japanese woman, but the thought of an American mother overwhelmed him with dismay. He pictured to his young mind her influence upon his sisters Plum Blossom and Iris, twelve and eight years old respectively; in boyish indignation he saw her punishing his little ten-year-old brother Taro, who could not keep his face and hands clean nor keep his clothes whole. One night Gozo dreamed he saw his stepmother in the guise of a hated fox-woman soundly switching with a bamboo stick his little, fat, baby brother Juji. When he awoke in the middle of the night to find it only a dream, he got up from his couch, and, going to where Juji slept, carried him to his own bed. He held the little, warm body closely in his arms. Juji slept on, | | 8 and snuggled down comfortably in his brother's arms for the rest of the night.
It was the following morning that the letter had come from America telling of the birth of the new baby. As if this news were not bad enough, the father, unconscious of the resentment he had awakened, announced his intention of returning at once to Japan with his wife, the new baby, and his two young step-children, for he had married a young American widow.
The children's faces wore a frightened expression as the grandmother read the letter aloud. Little Plum Blossom glanced stealthily at her brother; then suddenly, to the surprise of them all, she spoke up:
"Well," said she, "Daikoku [god of fortune] is good. He has given us another sister. I shall make him a great offering this year."| | 9
Iris, who was a mere echo of her sister, ventured a little sing-song assent.
"I shall make a big offering, too."
Taro grinned apprehensively in the direction of his moody brother; then said, defiantly:
"As for me, I shall beat every single day of the honorable year that barbarian step-brother"; for there was a little step-brother of the same age as Taro, and the latter, boy-like, longed to try his powers upon him.
Gozo ground his teeth together.
"The gods only know," said he, "what you poor little ones will do. As for me, I shall not be here to bow to the barbarian. My time has come. The Emperor needs me."
"Oh, please don't leave us, brother," said Iris, resting her face on his hand; "I shall die of fear if you are not here to help us defy her."| | 10
"Children, hush!" cried the old grandmother. "Never did I dream I should hear such words from my children. Ah, had my beloved daughter lived, you little ones would have had more filial principles."
"It is not right to distress grandmother," said Plum Blossom, "and it is very wrong to speak evil of one we do not even know. I, for one, am going to--to--love the foreign devil!"
"So am I," sobbed Iris, still caressing Gozo's hand, "b--but I shall hate her if she drives our Gozo away!"
Gozo patted the little girl's head, but said nothing.
Meanwhile, little Juji's thumb had fallen from his mouth. For some time he had been watching in perplexed wonder the expressions upon the faces of his brothers and sisters. He could not decide in his small mind just what was troubling them | | 11 all; but troubled they surely were. The weeping Iris had finally decided Juji. Plainly something was wrong. The baby's lower lip, unnoticed by any one, had gradually been swelling out. Suddenly a gasp escaped him, the next moment the room resounded with his cries. When Juji cried, it seemed as if the very house shook. Though not often given to these tempestuous storms, he seemed fairly convulsed when once started upon one. He would lie on his back on the floor, stiffened out. First he would hold his breath, then gasp, then roar. Juji's crying could never be stopped until a pail of water was thrown in the face of the enraged child. This time, however, he became the object of intense commiseration. The children felt that he had acquired somehow a sense of their common calamity.| | 12
The screaming child was alternately hugged and petted and fanned, until finally, his fat little legs kicking out in every direction, he was carried from the room by Gozo. Out in the garden, the big brother ducked him in the family pond. Kind travellers in Japan have made the extraordinary statement that Japanese children never cry. Certainly they could never have heard Juji--and there are many Jujis in Japan, just as there are in every country.
Juji's crying fit broke up the little family council for that day, but he was the only member of the family who slept soundly that night.
The little girls cried softly together, is they whispered under the great padded coverlid, of their bed. Taro was quite feverish in his imaginative battles with his step-brother.| | 13
As for Gozo, he sat up all night long, gazing with melancholy eyes at the stars, thinking himself the most miserable being on the face of the earth. He, too, like Juji, needed a little pail of something dashed upon him, and soon he was to have it!
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