- chapter: XXIII
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THERE came not many letters during the winter months to the little Kurukawa family, but the ones that did come were all the more precious. Before the first flowers of the year had begun to tint the plum-trees with their pink beauty, all Japan knew that the war would have but one ending. Victory followed victory. Instances of heroism became so frequent they could scarcely keep count of them. People, smiling, would hear the tale of a certain officer or soldier's self-sacrifice for his country, then they would say, still with that mysterious smile so com- | | 204 mon in Japan: "He has done only what any soldier of Japan would do."
The newspapers, little, slim sheets, containing less than a quarter of the words an American newspaper would give to the war-story, seemed to drift about the empire. Everywhere they were found, everywhere people carried them.
It was in April that the Far East published a story of a certain act of surpassing heroism performed by a Japanese officer. Mrs. Kurukawa had seen the head-lines, and stopping in the street had bought the paper. She read it through slowly, still standing there in the street. As she stood, perfectly still, her white face tense and drawn, curious passers-by stopped to look at her, wondering what it was the foreign woman found in the paper to make her look so strangely. It was the act of | | 205 a child which aroused her. Passing, he lightly pulled the sleeve of her kimono. She started as if struck, the paper fluttered from her hand. Mechanically she reached for it, but a sudden wind caught it up and blew it hither and thither about the street. She stood there watching its flight until it had passed out of sight. It disappeared utterly. Surely it had never been at all, she had not really held it in her hand and read the story of her husband's terrible fate! Walking unsteadily and blindly, she started down the street.
Madame Sano came swiftly from the garden-path to meet her, for the news had reached the house in Mrs. Kurukawa's absence.
Japanese women are not demonstrative, but they are exquisitely tender. The touch of Madame Sano's hands upon her face was balm itself. | | 206 The stricken woman's features quivered. Sobs burst from her lips, and in the other woman's arms she wept as though she had found the haven of a mother's breast. Without speaking, Madame Sano led her into the house. The children, a pitiful, frightened group, were in the hall, waiting for her. Passionately, Marion called her mother by name, and clung to her a moment, but Madame Sano gently put the little girl aside and took the mother to her room. There she induced her to lie down until she waited upon her, murmuring words in soothing Japanese. When the younger woman was calmer, Madame Sano gently spoke of the sad news. She said, in a reverent voice:
"God is good, my daughter. How gloriously he has rewarded your husband!"| | 207
The woman on the bed did not stir or speak. Madame Sano continued:
"Think how many families there are in Japan whose men have never had the opportunity to give such august service to their Emperor. We are fortunate indeed."
Mrs. Kurukawa covered her face with her hands. The tears came slipping through them; helpless, silent tears which would not be held back. Her voice was choked but inexpressibly sweet:
"I know," she said, "it is all very--glorious--but--I will not give up hope."
"Hope?" repeated Madame Sano. "Our best hopes are realized, my, daughter. Kurukawa Kiyskichi has made the supreme sacrifice. He has given his life to his Emperor and to his country."
Now, Mrs. Kurukawa raised her | | 208 self. Two spots of red appeared in her cheeks. Her eyes were feverish, her nervous fingers clasped each other spasmodically.
"I will tell you my hope--my belief. I feel, in spite of what we have heard, that my husband is not dead. I feel it somehow. I cannot explain. Only this I do know: he promised he would return, and he must! Oh, I am sure he will!"
Gently the old woman spoke, smoothing the hands of the other woman as she did so.
"My child, he will truly return to you as he has promised. All Japanese soldiers expect to return to their wives, but in the spirit!"
Mrs. Kurukawa drew her hands passionately away.
"That was not his meaning," she said.
Madame Sano shook her head sadly.| | 209
"Ah, my child, be reconciled to the august inevitable."
There was a smile upon the pale lips of the younger woman.
"You do not understand my faith," she said, "and I cannot explain it. When I read that story in the street I felt as if something had struck me. I tried to push it from me with my hands, and I do not know how I found my way home. I still feel as if I had been hurt and bruised in some way, and yet I know--I feel--that it is not true--that he is--dead."
Her voice whispered the word, and for a long interval there was silence in the room. Then she said, slowly: "It is a mistake--a horrible mistake. God give us courage to bear the mistake. But that is all it is."
"You do not believe the story of | | 210 your husband's magnificent heroism?"
"I do believe it."
"Then you must admit that he has passed away. Is it not clearly stated that after he had saved almost the entire division that was caught in the ambush that he himself was struck down and his body carried away by the Russians, for what purposes can only be surmised?"
Mrs. Kurukawa was silent. After a while she arose, and, though her hands were trembling, she dressed herself afresh with calmness. Madame Sano watched her in silence.
After a while she asked:
"You are going out?"
"Yes, to learn what I can. If necessary I will go again to Tokio, leaving the children with you."
The old woman nodded.
"They will make an honorable | | 211 effort," she said, "to obtain possession of your husband's body, and he will be given an exalted funeral. 'He died gloriously for Dai Nippon' will say all loyal Japanese."
Mrs. Kurukawa smiled wearily.
"He is not dead," she said. "Do not, clear Madame Sano, rob me of my hope. I want to be courageous, for while I feel he is not gone truly from me, I do not know what may have befallen him. It may be that he is wounded--sick--tortured--a prisoner. Oh, I cannot bear to think of it!"
"Better, my child," urged the old woman, gently, "to believe he is at rest. Cherish not false hopes. Ah, had you been a true daughter of Japan, you would have looked for, expected, and even hailed this bereavement, but--"
"Do not reproach me," cried Mrs. | | 212 Kurukawa. "My husband would not have done so. Oh, I have tried to be as he would wish me, and--and--I feel that he would have me believe as I do. I know he will keep his promised word. He will return to me."
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