- chapter: X
|<< chapter 9||< chapter 1||chapter 11 >||chapter 29 >>|
THIS is the story the Japanese father told, in English, for his own children understood the language better than they spoke it.
You must know, children, that all loyal Japanese love and reverence Ten-shi-sama (the Mikado). No true Japanese would hesitate to give his life for the father of us all. That is why our boys go to war with faces shining like the sun. That is why we bid them go, and do not weep because we love them. We are proud and glad to give them for such service."
"Father," put in little Iris very | | 89 gently, "we are glad to give our Gozo, are we not?"
He hesitated a moment, and then said, simply:
"Yes, my child. But this story is not of Gozo."
It was the first time since his return that he had mentioned his son's name, and he did it without any sign of bitterness. His wife reached out and sought his hand, which she held for a moment closely.
"Go on," urged Billy. "What do you want to interrupt for, Iris?"
She leaned against her father. He put his arm about her.
"Ten million egscuse," said she to Billy.
"Where does the widow come in?" asked Billy.
"Well, she was not a widow at the beginning. She was just a very young and very beautiful girl. But | | 90 she had the spirit of a man. You see, before she came, her parents had prayed for a son to give to the service of Ten-shi-sama; but they were unfortunate. Their gods gave them only a girl, and they never felt quite the same to her as they would to a boy. They were very powerful people, and of noble ancestry, so they did not wish their race to die out. They prayed constantly for a son, and all they got was one daughter. Quite unfairly, they neglected the girl, just as if it were her fault that she were not born a boy. She grew up in the great shiro (palace) all alone, under the care of servants and tutors. None of the relatives cared to see her. Her mother died when she was born, and her father, being in the cabinet service of the Mikado, rarely saw her. But though a maiden, as I have said, she had the | | 91 soul of a man, and she yearned to do the deeds of a man and a hero. Every morning of her life, as a little girl, she would prostrate herself before her shrine and beseech the gods to perform some miracle whereby she might indeed become a man. But that was a child's prayer, and of course vain. So from childhood she came to womanhood. Looking one day into her mirror, she beheld the most beautiful face she had ever seen. Hitherto she had scorned to loiter over her mirror. Her thoughts were on other matters than her looks, she told herself. But this day she picked up her mirror on a sudden impulse, and the face which looked back at her so enthralled her that she could not put it down.
"'Why,' said she, 'I am the most beautiful maiden in Japan!' For | | 92 a long time she continued to look at her face. Then she spoke again:
"'And to think,' said she, 'that no one but my servants have ever seen me!'"
"What did she look like?" asked Marion.
"Well, let me see. I do not know whether Americans would regard her as the highest type of beauty, but to the Japanese mind she would have been considered peerless. Her hair was so black and shiny it was like lacquer. Sometimes when her maid would take it down it fell to her knees in a perfect glory of ebony. Her eyes were of the same color, almost pure black, and they were very long and poetic looking, the thick lashes veiling them. Her brows were perfectly formed, a slim, silky black line above the eyes. Her nose was thin and very delicate. Her mouth | | 93 was small, the lower lip a trifle pointed, curling up just the least bit at the corners. The lips were red as blood. The shape of her face was oval, though her chin was delicately pointed. And she had tiny pink ears, as pretty as a baby's, and small, exquisite hands."
"Kiyo," said Mrs. Kurukawa, gently, "who is this Japanese Venus?" She smiled.
"The Widow of Sanyo," he replied as gently. "This is as she appeared when she looked at her own image in the mirror."
"Well, it was on that very day that Japan proclaimed war against China, and the country was pulsing with fever. Haru, as her name was, had spent many wretched hours in her chamber. Her despair and impatience at being unable to serve the Mikado and her country, was break- | | 94 ing her heart. What could she do, a helpless maiden? All the employment left to women she scorned. She wanted to do something more than a mere woman could accomplish. Her soul was the soul of a man, not a maiden's. All day she prayed, and all night, and then she looked into her mirror and saw that lovely face! Suddenly the face changed, became curiously illuminated. A great idea had come to her. It was this:
"The gods had given her marvellous beauty. What man could resist her? She would wed a man, bear him children, and give them all to the Mikado.
"That was her first thought.
"But the war would be over by the time her children were grown--and they might not be men!
"No, that would never do!| | 95
"A better way presented itself to her. She sprang wildly to her feet, and wildly she clapped her hands, so!"
He illustrated her action, and the children did likewise, as they moved nearer their father to hear, their eyes wide with excitement.
"Her servants came running to answer her summons. She bade them dress her in the most beautiful and luxurious garments. At once a dozen maids waited on her. One brushed her glossy hair, dressed it in the most becoming mode, placed long, golden daggers and pins with sparkling stones glistening in them, and on either side of her ears set precious kanzashi. Another manicured, perfumed, and massaged her little hands. Still another softly kneaded her face until the blood sprang to the surface, and made it | | 96 more beautiful than any paint could do. Then they robed her in a rosy gown--one fit only for a princess--as perhaps she was."
He paused here, and the impatient children prompted him.
"What did she do then?"
"She was carried from the house and gently lifted into a gorgeous norimono."
"A norimono!" cried Billy. "What's a norimono?"
"Why--a little--something they used before jinrikishas."
"But did not this all happen recently?" It was Marion's question.
"Yes, that's so," admitted the romancer. "Now that I think of it, what she did was to walk down to her gate and allow them to lift her into the jinrikisha. That's where the 'lifting' comes in."| | 97
"Then where did she go?"
"I know," said Taro.
"Where?" queried Billy.
"She go ad temple."
"Pray to gods mek her man ride away."
"Did she, father?"
"No. She drove to--" Again he paused.
"To the house of the best known Nakoda in the town."
"Nakoda!" Even Mrs. Kurukawa echoed the word.
"Oh-h--what did she want there?" questioned Marion.
"A husband," said Mr. Kurukawa. "Well, in she walked, and the Nakoda, when he beheld her glorious beauty, was overcome with the honor of her presence in his house. Said she:| | 98
"'Honorable creature, cease to degrade yourself at my insignificant feet. Pray arise.'
"He did so, humbly and apologetically.
"Now, in America, a girl might have said: 'Have you any husbands for sale?' In Japan the girl said: 'Deign to prepare a look-at meeting for me. I wish to marry.'
"Then she proceeded to explain herself further by means of questions.
"Know you many men creatures so depraved of mind they prefer not to go to the war?'
"'I am, alas, acquainted with many such depraved reptiles,' answered the Nakoda.
"'Ah! Well, it is such a one I would marry. Do you think I can secure such a husband?'
"'No man can look in the sublime direction of your serenity without | | 99 immediately being willing to do anything you might command,' declared the Nakoda.
"'That is well, then,' she smiled, graciously. 'Bring forth a man-worm!'
"Well, a man-worm was brought forth and he fell at her feet. The thought of his great fortune in being able to marry any one so beautiful nearly drove him out of his senses.
"They were married at once, without much ceremony, and she took him home. He was like one in a dream of heavenly bliss. Well, the first thing she said to him as they entered the palace was:
"'Man, dost thou adore me?'
"He fell on his face and kissed the hem of her robe."
"Kiyo, I believe you're making it all up as you go along," interposed his wife here.| | 100
"Hush! Hush! We are coming to the thrilling part."
"What a story to tell children!"
"When does the war begin?" asked Billy.
"Oh, the war is going right on now. Well, then, he fell on his face; she graciously bent over and lifted up his head, and she spoke in the most wooing of voices:
"'If you of a truth adore me, are you ready to die for me?'
"He said he wanted to live for her. She shook her head, and said she wanted better proof of his affection than that. He then declared he would do anything she asked.
"She thereupon said: 'You must be a soldier!' At this he began to tremble, for he was a great coward at heart. However, she kept him in her house for five days, teaching him the principles of bravery and valor. | | 101 At the end of that time she had so wrought upon his feelings that she persuaded him to enlist. She went in person to see him march away, which he did quite bravely for him! Her last words were the noble ones Japanese women say to their men at such a time: 'I give you to Ten-shi-sama. Come not back to me. Glorious may be your end. The blessings of Shahra upon you.'
"He was not a good soldier; he turned out to be a wretched one, indeed, and in a short time was killed. She was free again to marry. Then she chose another man-worm, and again she sacrificed him to her Emperor, with the same result. He was one of those doomed in a transport sunk in Chinese waters. She married again, and her third husband was killed. Her fourth husband was blown to atoms, and her fifth met | | 102 the fate of the first. Her sixth died scarcely six months later, and her seventh died of melancholia while in Manchuria.
"Now, seven is a lucky number, and she stopped there. She said: 'If I marry another I will have no more luck. He will live, and I have given seven men already to. the Emperor. What woman of Japan has done more? Behold, I am a widow seven times over.'
"That is why she is called 'The Widow of Sanyo.'"
So the story ended.
"Is she still beautiful?" questioned Plum Blossom, wistfully.
"Ugh!" said Marion, "I think she's horrid."
Taro rolled into Billy on the grass.
"I'll be the next," said Billy.
Iris was softly crying.| | 103
"Why, what's the matter?" asked her father.
"Oh, father," said she, "I--I'm afraid that she was the fox-woman who sent away our Gozo--and not--mother!"
He embraced her.
"There, it was a foolish story."
"And told," said his wife, "in the way an American would tell it--not a Japanese!"
"Hm!" Mr. Kurukawa cleared his throat. "Well, I think you'll admit I began in the most approved Japanese style, but as I went on I fell under your American influence, and by the time I reached the end the story was just as you might have told it."
They gathered up their baskets and piled them into the jinrikishas. Juji was sound asleep on the grass. The cherry-blossom petals had fallen | | 104 so thickly upon him that he seemed half buried in them. Mr. Kurukawa bent over him tenderly. He turned his head back towards his wife; at once she came and knelt among the petals by his side. His voice was husky.
"That is how my Gozo looked as a little boy," he said, softly.
She kissed the sleeping Juji.
|<< chapter 9||< chapter 1||chapter 11 >||chapter 29 >>|