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THE BARRED GATE
THE mighty Shogun Ieyasu lay upon his death-bed. In a sudden flash of consciousness he turned his glazing eyes upon his little grandson.
“Take,”1 he gasped, “Heed my dying counsel. Three barbarian devils have invaded Dai Nippon: Gunpowder, Christianity, and the Portuguese. The first have I made an ally against the rest. Our land is now secure from the last, but the Evil Sect, expelled to the Spanish Isles, doth return in secret to corrupt our credulous folk. Wherefore, my child, thou must for ever bar the door.”
1Pet name for Iemitsu
Springing to his feet, the boy swiftly closed the shoji. “Look, Grandfather,” he laughed, “there is not a cranny where-through the devils may enter.”
“’Tis well,” approved the Shogun. “Let them ne’er be opened.”
His eyes closed. A smile fluttered on his grim lips. The mighty Ieyasu lay in the grasp of the inexorable Master.
Down sinuous streets the cortege gaily trails,
Led by bald bonzes clad in purple frieze
Loosing aloft great banners to the breeze,
Gorgeous with glyptic gold, like galley sails.
Mild mousmees follow, wreathed in rosy veils
With lotus-bloom bedight, from neck to knees,
Swarming about the chrysalis like bees,
Wherefrom the spirit shed its silken scales.
Then mourners file on foot, a motley crew,
Masking their smiles with ill-pretended sighs,
Beneath huge parasols of every hue,
Blazoned with flying storks and butterflies.
Incongruous appears this festive funeral,
So little bitter death it doth recall!
Amid a group of onlookers stood a craftsman holding upon his shoulder a little girl. To her childish fancy this never-ending procession up the sinuous streets of Kunozan seemed a festive fairy pageant.
Iemitsu spied the little maid and, spurring his pony forward, smilingly offered her a white peony.
He remembered how his grandfather had once taken him to a temple, and pointing out among the carvings a lion surrounded by peonies had said:
“The peony is the queen of flowers, even as the lion is king of beasts.”
Presenting the blossom Iemitsu murmured gallantly: “Behold thy name, beauteous Princess Peony.”
Smiling timidly the little maid took the gift. “White Peony shall be my name,” she replied as the boy galloped swiftly away.
The moonlight flooded his chamber, a restlessness possessed him, and, stealing out of the castle, he strode into the forest. The glamour of its lanterns illumined the gloom, and woke in the lad’s mind a sentiment of mysterious awe. He half hoped that his grandsire’s spirit might burst its brazen sepulchre and descend the long flight of steps to meet him.
He was turning back crestfallen from his vain and ghostless quest when a sound as of a child sobbing broke upon his ear.
“Where art thou, darling? Come to me, else my heart will break?” moaned the voice.
“I come, sweet child,” cried the lad compassionately. Was he bewitched, he wondered, was it a goblin luring him to his lair?
Again the elfin voice called, “Take, Take, I was talking to Amber. She hath run away, help me to find her.”
The bushes parted and White Peony stood beside him.
“Thou must return,” he commanded manfully. “Little maids should not wander forth by night.”
“I’m not affrighted,” she protested, ‘‘and ‘tis not dark. See, there is the moon.” She broke into a little nursery song:
“Lady Moon, Lady Moon, peep out again,
Open thy shoji. A cat and a rat
Scamper now swiftly, o’er mountain and plain,
Bearing of sake a wonderful vat.
Lady Moon, Lady Moon, peep out again.”
Old wives’ tattle,” flouted the lad, with the superiority of his sex. “In the moon are no cats. They be base, degraded beasts.”
Cats be not beasts,” retorted Peony. “Amber is my own child. When she dieth she will be a Buddha, and will live in the moon.”
Stupid! Cats become goblins. They haunt tombs and devour corpses, that they may return to life in their likenesses.”
“’Tis false! My Amber ne’er would do so foul a deed. She is an angel cat, with more wit than horrid, teasing boys.’’
Of a sudden a bloodcurdling howl rent the stilly night, and the angel cat leapt upon her mistress.
Mistaking the pet for some malign brute Iemitsu chivalrously strove to wrest it from her shoulders.
With a demoniac snarl the infuriated cat buried its claws in his throat. Crazed with pain the lad tore it off and trampled it to death.
“Assassin!” cried the little maid, “thou hast slain my angel Amber. My child! My beautiful child! Odious monster, I ne’er will speak to thee again!”
Clasping her pet, White Peony ran weeping away, while sullen and abashed the boy strode slowly homeward.
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephyrus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye
That slepen al the nyght with open eye,
So pryketh hem nature in hir corages;
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
A score of years have passed, and the boy, grown to manhood reigns all-powerful Shogun of Japan.
Implicitly had he obeyed the last counsels of his grandfather. Believing that the Jesuits were but
Emissaries of Philip Second he had posted at every crossroad the following proclamation:
So long as the sun shall warm the earth, let no Christian be so bold to come to Japan; and let all know that the King of Spain himself, or the Christian’s god, or the great god of all, if he violate this command, shall pay for it with his head.
Nippon was now as wholly isolated from the world as the lonely Shogun from his light-hearted folk.
He burned with a flaming desire to share their humble joys and sorrows. He craved a life that would bring into full play a stalwart body and a subtle mind. Relinquishing his lofty office he would make trial of his strength, and, a simple man among men, risk his throw in the great hazard Life.
At dawn Iemitsu went to the stables and lovingly patted his great black destrier farewell. The stallion was too well known and he selected instead a fleet and slender mare. Mounting hastily he rode out into the vast unknown. Twilight shrouded the sleeping city in a veil of opal mist. The streets and gardens were deserted, vague, and mysterious.
It was late April; the great festival of Inari1 would take place at Kyoto in May. Already pilgrims were setting out for the imperial city to witness the processions, horse races, and contests of swordsmanship. No festival was dearer to the popular heart or celebrated with more joyous abandon. Iemitsu determined to make pilgrimage thither in the guise of a simple samurai, absconding from his shogunate with the eagerness of a schoolboy stealing a holiday.
1Inari, the Fox God, was also god of rice, of sword-smiths, and of thieves.
Silently he crossed the palace moat, and, traversing an avenue of cherry-trees, entered the quarter of the artisans. Here he chanced upon two men engaged in lively altercation before a newly lettered sign.
The complainant, a dealer in horses, was roundly rating his painter for omitting a dot in the ideograph denoting horse:
“That animal hath four legs, hath he not? Thou hast made but three! People will laugh me to scorn, saying that I deal in crippled beasts. Get thee hence, rascal, fetch thy ladder and mend thy work.”
“That shall I not,” retorted the painter of the sign.
“Then no money shalt thou have from me.”
“Nay, not so hasty, good sir; I shall speedily correct the fault, but verily I have no need of a ladder. Behold!” Whereupon the artist dipped a brush, poised it between his thumb and forefinger, and with a dexterous fillip hurled it into the air.
It described a flying somersault, smote the sign, and fell; but in its brief impact the brush had placed the missing dot in exact position.
“Bravo,” cried Iemitsu.
“It undulated over naked knolls and pine-clad uplands
Till it lost itself in distant forest gloom”
Permission Armand Dayot, Paris
“Lowly wayfarers and labours, laden with faggots
homeward, their naked shoulders glistening with the sweat of toil”
The dealer’s jaw fell in mute astonishment and he grudgingly counted out the painter’s hire.
“How art thou called, my young magician?” asked the Shogun, regarding the artist shrewdly.
“Jingoro, at thy service, worthy Sir.”
‘Thy service would greatly content me,” assented Iemitsu. “In faith I sorely need a squire, and if thou art minded to journey with me on a merry pilgrimage I shall not haggle over thy wage.”
“Gladly will I go with thee, sweet Sir, for I perceive that thou art a valiant samurai. I doubt not I shall tumble into choice adventures; but first, with thy good lief, we will seek certain instruments of my craft wherewith we may earn a dinner upon the road if thy purse be light.”
Jingoro led the Shogun to his workshop, where bloomed a garden of sculptured peonies and painted peacocks preened their lacquered plumes.
“Worker of wonders,” marvelled Iemitsu, “I would that the Shogun might see thy handiwork.”
The artist smiled scornfully: “The great Ieyasu was pleased to commend my paltry talent; but thy master Iemitsu is a witling who knoweth not genius when he setteth eyes thereon.”
“I call no man master, Sirrah,” stormed the Shogun.
“If thou be a freelance wherefore wearest thou the Tokugawa crest?” questioned the artisan. “Caitiff, thou didst steal thine armour. Not one step will I go with thee, thief!”
“Nay, my good man, I came by it honestly; yet since I am a ronin, I would fain rid me of this device.”
“Two dabs of my brush—thus, and thou art now a masterless man,” rejoined Jingoro, suiting the act to the words.
“Hast thou a fitting mount?” queried Iemitsu, “for in sooth my squire must not trudge afoot.”
“Better than horse have I,” boasted Jingoro, “for Brindle, my bullock, can bear more grievous loads, and, pricked by the goad, whisk his tail in the face of any steed.”
“Tis a quaint mount,” smiled the Shogun within himself, “still so much the better, since none will suspect who goeth thus escorted.” Then jauntily— “Bravo, my gallant defender. Caparison thy charger, and let us to the road.”
Iemitsu and his sculptor-squire jogged merrily along the Tokaido.1
1The Tokaido (“the Eastern Sea Road”) which united Kyoto, the ancient capital, with Yedo (Tokio), the city of the Tokugawa Shoguns.
Lithe and gleaming the long highway uncoiled before them like a serpent. It wound its sinuous folds around wind-swept cliffs and surf-lashed promontories. It meandered through flowery moors and watery rice plains. It undulated over naked knolls and pine-clad uplands till it lost itself in distant forest gloom.
Near and far the highway was thronged with a host of wayfarers — daimios in palanquins, escorted by mounted samurai, throwing clouds of dust into the eyes of lowly foot-passengers; merchants belabouring jaded pack-mules, and labourers, laden with faggots tramping stolidly homeward, their naked shoulders glistening with the sweat of toil.
An we find an inn,” pledged Jingoro, “I vow to Inari a tori built of steel.”
“That were a strange and costly gift,” marvelled the Shogun.
“Pst!” whispered the artisan behind his hand, “tis simply done; thus” — and taking three needles he set two uprights in the earth and crossed the third above them.
“Trickster,” laughed Iemitsu. “Inari send the hostlery soon, for I perish of hunger.”
Doubtless the Fox God condoned Jingoro’s jest for, rounding a turn, they came upon a tavern. The courtyard swarmed with samurai bearing the Owari crest.
Loth to encounter the daimio, Iemitsu demanded that his repast be served behind a screen.
He gulped his seaweed soup, and was greedily devouring a freshly broiled tai when a troop of horsemen entered.
The raucous voice of their leader Iemitsu knew for that of Matsakura, daimio of Arima, a knave and miscreant whose malversations were renowned.
“Methought when last I met thee, pretty Prince,” said the newcomer, “thou hadst no mind so soon to visit Yedo.”
“A solemn duty summoneth me thither,” assented Owari pompously.
“Such as the purchase of a poodle for the Princess?” chaffed the other.
“Nay, a mandate from our beloved Shogun,” retorted the Prince with irony.
Iemitsu pricked his ears and crouched closer to a rent in the screen that he might better play the eavesdropper.
“Listen,” cried the Prince, “I will read thee a letter:
“To the PRINCE OF OWARI:
“TRUSTED AND BELOVED KINSMAN:
“I am about to quit Yedo upon a secret quest. During my absence I desire thee to assume the responsibilities of the shogunate, which, in the event of my death, may one day fall upon thy shoulders.
“In the bonds of secrecy.
“He is mad,” laughed Matsakura. “Truly he is possessed by a fox.”
“Of a surety,” assented Owari, “and must be trapped and skinned.”
“I am not an Eta to slay and flay,” growled the bravo.
“Nor I,” retorted Owari, “yet is his pelt a rich one, and one may hunt with hounds what we would disdain to slaughter with our own hands.”
“And if I put my pack upon the scent, what share of the game have I, but carrion?” demanded Matsakura, “since the pelt falleth on thy shoulders.”
The Prince pondered. “There is a little trifle pending, the mur — err — we will say the disappearance of a certain Christian daimio, whose seigniory thou now boldest. We will imagine the affair forgotten.”
The bravo bowed. “I will slay the fox,” he promised, “though I hunt through hell.”
“Search the hells of Yedo,” chuckled the Prince, “none should know them better than thou!”
“The morrow,” agreed Matsakura. “I have business this night.”
“A love-tryst?” leered Owari.
“Yea, though my mistress weeneth it not.”
“Beware lest coursing two foxes thou miss the nobler quarry and art trapped by the vixen.”
“Never fear, I shall bag them both,” bragged the bravo, swaggering from the room.
“Have the rogues departed?” whispered Iemitsu.
“Yea, Master,” Jingoro rejoined tremblingly, “the Prince hath gone; but Matsakura and his henchmen bide, as goodly a band of cutthroats as e’er mine eyes beheld. But now the daimio did pour into the palm of mine host a stream of gold rios, bidding him, like the three monkeys, this night neither speak, hear, nor see!”
“I trust thou art not affrighted,” smiled the Shogun reassuringly.
“Nay, Master, but yet misliketh me their monkey tricks; for in the chamber adjoining thine bideth a lone and lovely damsel.”
“Alone in this nest of hornets!” exclaimed Iemitsu indignantly. “No maid may bide by night beneath the same roof with that scoundrel and keep her name unsullied. Listen, Friend, eavesdropping behind the screen I discovered Matsakura and the Prince conspiring ‘gainst my life. Fear not, but heed what I command. When all is still, saddle our mounts and wait in yonder grove. Perchance we may yet deliver the maid.”
The Shogun hastened to his chamber. Faintly through the shoji came a stifled sobbing. Iemitsu pondered. It woke within his slumbrous memory a vague forgotten voice. He tapped softly and the sound suddenly ceased.
He strove to thrust the partition aside, but the voice cried imperiously:
“Dare not to enter else will I throw myself into the sea!”
‘‘In pity hear me,” he pleaded insistently. “Thou art in peril and I fain would aid thee.”
An eye peered stealthily through the crevice. Then the voice murmured:
“Jesu be praised, who hath sent thee to mine aid.”
With a crashing sword stroke he splintered the frail partition and entered.
A sudden cry of alarm rang from a startled sentry.
“Quick!” cried Iemitsu, “the hounds yelp at our heels.”
Tearing her kimono in strips and braiding it in a rope, the maiden fastened it to the balcony. “To the ravine!” She whispered, “the road swarms with samurai.”
Down sprang Iemitsu and the maid followed, clambering, slipping, swaying till she reached the extremity of the rope. Full two lance lengths lay between her and the river-bed.
“Leap,” urged Iemitsu, stretching forth his hands. The maiden hesitated for an instant, then with a little cry fell swooning in his arms.
Clasping his light burden Iemitsu plunged into a thicket of tall bamboo. Scarce had he advanced a dozen paces when he heard the crashing of branches behind him.
Wheeling upon his heel he found himself suddenly confronted by a masked samurai.
“Matsakura!” he laughed. “By good fortune I have found the very man I would meet.”
The sword of the daimio flashed a semicircle, but springing deftly aside the Shogun smote him upon the temple with mailed fist. He fell like a stone, his armour clanging upon the ground.
“Is he dead?” gasped the maiden, pallid with terror.
“Nay,” smiled Iemitsu, “but somewhiles will he bide quiet.” Then turning to the girl he asked gallantly: “Who art thou, my fair and nameless Lady?”
“Lord, I am called White Peony, hither faring in quest of my father,” she answered simply.
“Come with me, Peony, and I will aid thee in thy pilgrimage,” he pleaded.
Nothing speaking, with eyes abased, the maid assented, toddling beside him with little limping steps. Her feet were clad only in thin cloven tabi, scant protection from the rough stones over which she toiled. Nevertheless the maid plodded on uncomplainingly, until, swaying as about to fall:
“Suffer me to rest a little space, good my Lord,” she panted.
“Nay, Peony, I shall bear thee,” he protested, lifting her tenderly. Her head drooping upon his shoulder, her sweet breath fanning his cheek, Iemitsu bore the maiden to the grove where in the shadows waited Jingoro.
With a sudden laugh of delight she ran to the sculptor. “My father,” she cried, sobbing for very joy, “Have I truly found thee?”
“My little Peony, my White Peony,” murmured Jingoro gently, tears welling in his eyes.
Iemitsu stood at gaze, bewildered by the consciousness that fate had revealed to him the object of his quest.
“Strange,” he pondered, “its appeal lay for me in freedom from human ties; — yet here is a distressed maiden thrown unsought upon my chivalry; and my only misgiving is the fear lest she vanish as suddenly as she came!”
Converting his cloak into a pillion he invited the maiden to mount behind him.
“By thy leave, good my Lord, I would fain ride upon Brindle,” she replied modestly. “The bullock knows me. See how he licks my hand.”
Well pleased to secure her company on any terms, Iemitsu transferred the pillion to the bullock and seated White Peony gallantly thereon.
Grey Shinto shrines blurred here and there the mossy tapestry of trees. Palpitating in the sunlight like a gleaming mirror stretched interminable rice fields, their turbid waters spotted with smears of green. A lonely stork winged its zigzag flight across the sky. Pale lotus buds peered from out crumpled pads, while nude peasants, knee deep in the mire, bent their bronze backs beneath the sun.
“Thou wilt not return to Yedo?” demanded Iemitsu.
“Never,” she answered firmly, “so long as Matsakura bideth there.”
“A most sweet and treacherous knave,” commented Iemitsu drily.
Peony only smiled sadly.
“The daimio of Arima,” explained Jingoro, “sent a go-between to demand my daughter in marriage; but she would none of him, wherefore I thought the matter ended, else would I not have left Yedo.”
“But that very morning,” resumed the maiden, “Matsakura sent me a letter bidding me meet him secretly, wherefore I fled from Yedo seeking thee.”
“Yet is he a great and wealthy lord. Wouldst thou not be happy as his lady?” asked Iemitsu wonderingly.
The maiden shuddered. “Nay my Lord, to the Christians he is merciless.”
Suddenly she clutched her father’s arm and hid her face upon his shoulder. A ragged ronin was resting his hard-ridden nag by the roadside. As they neared he turned, glanced shiftily at them, then spurred furiously toward the inn.
“One of Matsakura’s sentinels,” smiled Iemitsu; “we would best press forward ere we are overtaken.”
“Up steep and tortuous trails they toiled –
to a sapphire lake shrined in dim purple hills”
“Brindle, my bullock, can bear more grievous
and whisk his tail in the face of any steed”
“Ware, Master,” warned Jingoro, “an we go forward we fall into the hands of more of these gentry. See, here are fresh hoofprints of a troop of horse, and methinks I discern yonder the glint of halberds. We are trapped, nathless I will essay to hew for ye a passage.”
“Nay! valiant squire, when one is not strong, needs must one be crafty. We will double on our tracks like sly foxes, and take the mountain trail we passed upon our right an hour syne. The spy will tell Matsakura that he met us beyond it. Thus shall we throw the hounds from the scent and lie in covert till the course be clear.”
Our stout-calved kurumayas groan and strain
Beneath the burden of the sedan-chair,
As up the steep and tortuous trail we fare,
Through bamboo thickets, lush with tropic rain,
To the high lake, above the verdurous plain,
Where, like the facets of a diamond rare,
Hakone flashes in the summer air,
A dazzling jewel without flaw or stain.
While far beyond, the slopes of Fuji loom,
Up-slanting o’er the hills aloof, alone,
Shimmer of snow by sunset softly kissed
‘Mid shattered shards of scudding cloud, its cone
Limned like the lotus that beneath it bloom,
A vague, inverted fan of amethyst.
Up steep and sinuous paths they toiled, through groves of frail bamboo and giant cryptomeria, by grassy ways and stony mountain-trails, up, ever upward to a sapphire lake shrined in dim purple hills. Above its azure waters, floating miraculously in the sunset sky, glimmered a shining vision, slope rising above slope, height towering over height, in ever uplifting might, enwrapt in a mantle of roseate cloud — loomed Fujiyama, Mountain of Eternal Fire!
Descending, they fared through dusky forests till they came to a lonely hermitage beneath whose straw-thatched shelter sat a solitary bonze.
“Far from all worldly care and strife
Remote from pomp and pride
Let me pursue my peaceful life,
And in an humble hut abide,
On some lone mountainside.”
Thus droned the hermit.
Then the instinct of acquisitiveness overcoming him, as he caught sight of the wayfarers, he solicited humbly:
“I have, great and august seigniors, a guest-house, with noble entertainment for man and beast, furnished with all manner of bathing-pools, both cool and torrid, and grateful bowers wherein ye may repose your wearied limbs — for but a paltry pittance.”
‘‘Well met,” rejoined Iemitsu joyously “for we be both sorely famished and spent.”
The bonze led them to a cluster of cottages, shrined amid bosky leafage in a mossy glen, a safe retreat from all pursuers. He proved a most assiduous host, serving his guests with shoots of young bamboo, rice-cakes, and goat’s milk while Jingoro lured a trout from the mountain brook, which he broiled most toothsomely.
Hard by simmered a hot spring in which the hermit was wont to hibernate, entering with First Frost, and never quitting it until Cherry-Bloom; sleeping, eating, and dreaming of Nirvana, the while steaming torrents swirled about his withered limbs.
Jingoro took up mallet and chisel to carve an image of his daughter.
“Why canst thou not portray her wistful smile?” demanded the Shogun. “E’en her eyebrow hath lost its likeness in thy pencilled curve.”
The sculptor shrugged and hummed an ancient saw:
“A maiden’s eyebrow is a whetted scythe that moweth down the mind of man.”
With deft strokes of his brush he applied a lustrous lacquer to the coils of blue-black hair.
“‘Tis but a sorry likeness,” still insisted Iemitsu, “that none would recognize.”
“Brindle, my bullock, hath more wit than thou,” bandied the carver. “I wager thee a bowl of sake that he will know the maid.” With that he set the image upon a stone lantern.
Whereupon the bullock ceased his cropping, burst his tether, and, snorting gleefully, galloped to the statue. Lovingly he licked the painted cheeks and lacquered tresses, lowing gently the while.
Iemitsu gazed in round-eyed wonder.
“My roguish little father is ever at his tricks,” laughed White Peony. “He hath daubed the image with brine and Brindle is daft for salt!”
On a day, the portrait completed, they bade their hermit-host a regretful farewell and resumed their journey.
“No longer need we fear the hounds of Matsakura,” chuckled the sculptor. “They have coursed in pursuit of other game.”
“Wherefore mounted they not hither?” demanded the Shogun bemused.
“Verily thou shalt see with thine own eyes,” grinned Jingoro, pointing to a newly painted sign which read:
“Lazar house for Lepers!”
In Sal-no-Kawara, land of the Departed,
The little white spirits of dead children dwell.
Remote from their parents, they roam broken-hearted
On the pebble-strewn shores of the River of Hell.
And the sound of their cries and their pitiful moaning,
Is not like the voices of children alive.
“O Chichi, Koishi!” with sobbing and groaning,
“Koishi! Koishi!” they wail as they strive;
As they strive at the pitiless task never-ending
To gather white stones from the River of Souls.
Each day thus they labour, their little backs bending,
To heap up great towers in the pebble-strewn shoals.
Pagodas of Love for their father and mother
They toilsomely build in the bed of the stream,
Each pebble a prayer for a sister or brother
Abiding on earth in the sun’s joyous gleam.
From daylight till dusk, thus they toil ever-weeping;
But soon as the sun sinketh low in the west;
Come the Oni, the demons of Hell, never sleeping,
To torture their victims with scoffing and jest.
Ad they cast down the towers with blows of the hammer,
And they shatter the shrines which each child-ghost uprears,
And they scatter the stones with a terrible clamour,
When Lo! In the heavens a vision appears!
‘Tis Jizo, the gentle, the father benignant,
The patron of children who fatherless dwell
In Sai-no-Kawara mid spirits malignant
On the pebble-strewn strand of the River of Hell.
“Too soon little souls, from the world ye departed
To Sai-no-Kawara the land of the dead,
Remote from your parents to roam broken-hearted.
Children mine never fear!” Thus the good Jizo said.
Then he brandished his staff and the demons departed!
Enfolding his robe with a fatherly grace
He takes to his bosom each child broken-hearted
And kisses the tears from its sorrowful face.
And they cling to his garments no longer affrighted,
Like lambkins they gambol and sweetly they sing:
“O Chichi! O Jizo, our Father!” Delighted,
They laughingly dance round the feet of their King!
After LAFCADIO HEARN.
Before a rock-carven statue of Jizo knelt a bereaved mother. She had heaped at the feet of the Never Slumbering God her little pile of pebbles and was showering thereon her tears, crooning the whiles a piteous tune:
"Where doth my little child to-night,
Beneath ne’er darkening skies,
In some far land still find delight
In chasing dragonflies?”
As though in answer to her prayer, from the face of compassionate Jizo there fluttered down a golden dragonfly to the sorrowing suppliant.
“Grieve not, dear mother,” cried White Peony, enfolding the weeping woman gently in her arms. “Jesu shall bring thy lost one back to thee.” She moved her hand slowly from brow to heart and shoulder to shoulder in the sign of the cross.
“Everywhere was joy and tumult”
“Strong men wrestled and tumbled”
“Mountebanks performed merry antics”
“Climbed, balanced and capered”
“On a dais stood White Peony, her robe bedight with gleaming jewels”
Iemitsu gasped in consternation. She was a Christian, one whom he must punish with banishment or death.
“Thou wilt not betray me to thy master!” she pleaded.
“I swear,” vowed the unsuspected Shogun, “that I will keep thy secret. I love thee with a deathless flame; I will renounce my hope of Nirvana and fight for thine evil faith.”
She laid her hand in his. “Jesu will give thee light,” she said, “thou shalt know it is not evil.”
“Since thou dost love me,” he protested, “there is no power of earth or heaven
can part us. Let us go to my sister in Kyoto. There shall we be wed,” and he
smiled, thinking of the little maid’s surprise when she should know his sister
was the Empress.
A land not like ours, that land of strange flowers,
Of dæmons and spooks with mysterious powers —
Of gods who breathe ice, who cause peach-blooms and rice,
And manage the moonshine and turn on the showers.
Each day has its fair or its festival there,
And life seems immune to all trouble and care —
Perhaps only seems, in that island of dreams
Sea-girdled and basking in magical air.
They’ve streets of bazaars filled with lacquers and jars,
And silk stuffs, and sword-blades that tell of old wars;
They’ve Fuji’s white cone looming up, bleak and lone,
As if it were trying to reach to the stars.
They’ve temples and gongs, and grim Buddhas in throngs,
And pearl-powdered geisha with dances and songs;
Each girl at her back has an imp, brown or black,
And dresses her hair in remarkable prongs.
On roadside and street toddling images meet,
And smirk and kowtow in a way that is sweet;
Their obis are tied with particular pride,
Their silken kimonos hang scant to the feet.
With purrs like a cat they all giggle and chat,
Now spreading their fans, and now holding them flat;
A fan by its play whispers, “Go now!” or “Stay!”
“I hate you!” “I love you!”—a fan can say that!
Beneath a dwarf tree, here and there, two or three
Squat coolies are sipping small cups of green tea;
They splutter, and leer, and cry out, and appear
Like bad little chessmen gone off on a spree.
At night—ah, at night the long streets are a sight,
With garlands of soft-coloured lanterns alight—
Blue, yellow, and red twinkling high overhead,
Like thousands of butterflies taking their flight.
Somewhere in the gloom that no lanterns illume
Stand groups of slim lilies and jonquils in bloom;
On tiptoe, unseen ‘mid a tangle of green,
They offer the midnight their cups of perfume.
The whiles, sweet and clear from some tea garden near,
A ripple of laughter steals out to your ear;
And the fragrant wind brings from a samisen’s strings
That pathos that’s born of a smile and a tear.
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH.
Kyoto was abloom. Festooned with multicoloured lanterns it resembled a sunny garden, quivering with a swarm of brilliant butterflies.
From all the countryside madcap throngs flocked the teeming city, mingling song and laughter with droning of drum and samisen, the treble of women and children with the bass of brawling men. Hawkers shouted wares of every description, from a child’s trumpery toy to a priceless Muramasa sword-blade. Goldsmiths lured the ladies with jewelled gewgaws and carved jade. Humble maidens bartered hard-earned sen for paper fans and cotton fabrics, whose painted patterns vied in beauty of design with the broideries of proud aristocrats.
Booths lined the streets, with tarnished armour, images and kakemonos pilfered from crumbling castles and forgotten fanes. Parasol painters splashed flying storks and pine-boughs upon glowing sunset skies.
Tea-houses flung wide their doors. From overhanging balconies smiling geisha showered fragrant blossoms.
Stalwart bronze-skinned coolies bearing the gilded norimon of some great lady, whose slant eyes peered between the silken curtains, beat with fist and halberd a pathway through the crowd.
Everywhere was joy and tumult. In the square mountebanks performed merry antics. Strong men wrestled and tumbled, pole-vaulters climbed, balanced, and capered. The bullock of Jingoro attracted scant notice, for here were stranger beasts; bears, snakes, and monkeys danced, writhed, and mimicked the carnival of humanity.
The travellers paused before a troupe of acrobats who, guised in feathered garments as Tengu, with long prehensile noses, juggled balls and coins while a feminine member of their company wrote fortunes upon a screen.
Recognizing White Peony the girl traced the word, “Beware,” then drew a picture of a pack of hounds pursuing a frightened fox.
At that instant like a sudden avalanche a troop of Hatamotos galloped furiously down the street. Shrieking women and children flattened themselves against the walls and fled helter-skelter in frantic fright from beneath the chargers’ hoofs.
White Peony was thrown violently to the ground, but Iemitsu snatched her swiftly aside.
“What dog dares thus imperil the lives of our people?” he cried indignantly, when to his astonishment he descried his own crest, the Tokugawa trefoil.
“It is the garrison of the citadel,” rejoined a bystander, “ordered forth to crush the uprising in Arima.”
Peony sought his arm. “Arima!” she echoed anxiously. “That is the daimiate of Matsakura, my childhood home, whose folk are meek and peaceful Christians. Intercede with the Mikado, I pray thee, to stay this bloodshed.”
The Shogun flushed with wrath, but swiftly mastering himself he reassured her: “I will seek the Emperor and plead for thy friends. Meanwhile wait my return in the temple of Inari. Thou wilt be safe with the priestesses.”
Her heart freighted with vague foreboding White Peony entered the temple torii.
The priestesses were busily arranging their famous festival-float, on which was to be presented a scene from an ancient drama.
Delightedly they added White Peony to their cast, while Jingoro aided them in the decoration of their sumptuous car. Stretched across the front of the lofty float was a magnificent tapestry, a gift from the merchants of Deshima. Above, on a canopied stage, were posed the actors and actresses garbed in wondrous robes of blood-red satin spangled with silver suns. On a dais stood White Peony representing the Fox Goddess Inari, her white fur robe bedight with gleaming jewels.
Musicians clashed cymbals and beat upon gongs as the sacred car lumbered by, its lofty pagoda overtopping the roofs.
The tumult of the forenoon had increased tenfold. Doves from the temple hovered bewildered over the crowd, unable to alight upon the pavement.
Into a surging sea the can wedged itself and halted.
Suddenly the mob shrieked:
“The samurai! The samurai!”
A troop of soldiery rode down the helpless bystanders. Throwing back his helmet the leaden stared wonder-stricken at White Peony.
The colour fled from her cheeks as she met the gaze of Matsakura.
With a sudden wrench he tore her from the car and muffling her in his cloak, rode from the city gate.
Meanwhile Iemitsu hastened to his ancestral castle of Nio and robed himself in sumptuous court regalia.
Despatching a herald to announce his coming he mounted a great black stallion and accompanied by a suite of mailed Hatamotos rode into the palace court. Here he dismounted and followed only by a page bearing his sword entered the palace. Traversing a series of antechambers he was ceremoniously conducted to the “Mysterious Purple Hall.” The great golden doors flew open as by magic at the whisper of his name. The Shogun entered. The daimios of an hundred provinces were convened in a grand council of war. Ranged on successive terraces according to rank, they waited in hushed expectancy.
Suddenly the chrysanthemum-broidered draperies were drawn aside and revealed a timid, slender youth.
With one accord the throng prostrated themselves and chanted reverently1:
1 Hymn to the Mikado.
In the vale of Kashiwara dwells the monarch of the mountains,
In Yamato, land of mountains, isle of even-blooming trees,
Sweet and gentle is the murmur of its ever-plashing fountains
And its ever-rushing rivers, seeking ceaselessly the seas.
Here, of yore, Amaterasu, she the goddess of the heaven,
Throned her offspring in Yamato o’er the flowery isle to reign,
Here through endless generations till the earth to dust be riven,
And the firmament eternal fade to ceaseless gloom again.
Then as long as on the mountains blooms the plum with blossoms bending,
And as long as in the valleys sings the nightingale of love,
And as long as in the forests ‘neath the showers of heaven descending
Fall the blood-red leaves of Autumn from the maple boughs above,
Shall our god-descended monarch ever reign in joy unending
O’er Yamato, land of mountains, isle of plenty, peace, and love!
On bended knees Iemitsu approached the throne.
“Thou art too late, trusted Shogun,” smiled the monarch; “the die is cast, the deliberations of our inner council are ended.”
“Ended, and without us!” Iemitsu ironically repeated. “I could scarce believe my ears were it not that my troops have been ordered forth without my authority. Who hath put this affront upon me?”
The Mikado winced, but gave no answer.
Scanning the Shogun with narrowed lids, Owari interposed adroitly:
“Mine honoured kinsman, thou didst confer upon me power to act in thy behalf, and the need was urgent.”
“What momentous matter could not await my consideration?" questioned Iemitsu contemptuously.
The Mikado clicked his fan. Thereupon the Chancellor droned:
“Whereas a violent and sudden uprising hath broken out in the province of Arima, his Heaven-Descended Majesty the Emperor Go Komatsu, having duly hearkened to the counsel of his advisers, hath despatched an army of one hundred thousand warriors, under the command of Matsakura Shigasaira, to take whatsoever measures he deemeth fitting for the quelling of said revolt and the restoration of peace.”
“Hath just inquisition been made concerning the cruelties that caused this peace-loving folk to rise
against their tyrant?” demanded the Shogun sternly.
“A petition hath indeed been submitted which doth not meet my imperial pleasure,” retorted the Mikado.
“Shall thy subjects, Sire, be condemned without a hearing?” demanded Iemitsu indignantly. “Let the petition be read!”
Casting a furtive glance at the Mikado, who bowed assent, the Chancellor read:
“For the sake of our wives and children we have taken refuge in this castle.
“It must not be thought that our act is one of rebellion against the august Mikado. It is simply because we consider our faith in Christ the one matter of supreme moment. . . . For this we have suffered shame, torture, and death!
“It is not a malicious insurrection against our humane government, but the appeal of a loyal people to the protection of their loved sovereign.”
“August Tenshu and most wise Councillors,” pleaded Iemitsu, “doth not our ancient faith teach compassion to our enemies? How much more, then, should we display to our friends
The Spirit of Bushido”
From dim, departed days the Sunrise Isle
Hath shrined an heaven-descended Trinity,
Three sister-goddesses celestial smile,
Wisdom and Valour, and Humanity,
To hearten man to deeds of chivalry.
Three heaven-sent treasures have the gods assigned,
The threefold emblems of “The Knightly Way”:
The shining Mirror, symbol of the Mind,
The sacred Sword, sceptre of Valour’s sway,
And flawless Jewel, sign of Mercy kind.
Wisdom the warrior’s helm is, we arc taught,
And Valour is his shield amid the press.
Yet, an he bath not Mercy, bath he naught;
For vain is Wit and idle, Dauntlessness
Companioned not with Pity ‘gainst distress.
For e’en the knights most valiant and most great,
The most endeared in memory reverent,
Were yet withal the most compassionate.
Like Kusunoki, who, with pity rent,
Wept for his vanquished foes’ untimely fate.
Like to that hero, who, one wintry day,
Beneath the frosty moon, undaunted, led
His little band of warriors to the fray,
‘Gainst whelming odds, into the conflict red.
With one great shout, clashes the surging throng.
Fast flows the tide of battle to and fro.
Now falls a youth, upon his lips a song;
Anon, a burly bonze rides high and low
With lance in rest and brave uplifted shield,
Like an avenging god against the foe,
Charging on stallion fleet across the field,
Sends two score warriors down to endless woe.
Bleeding with grievous wounds from sword and spear
The leader turns his flagging troops to flight,
And spurs his sore-spent steed, in mortal fear,
Into the icy waters of the night.
Then the brave victor, satiate of gore,
Sped to the succour of his drowning foes,
And haled them safe to land and dressed each sore,
Gave them to eat and solaced all their woes,
And set them free—his friends for evermore!
That perfect knight, fearless and free from blame,
Prince Satsuma, of brave, benignant reign,
Who home in triumph from Korea came,
Raised a great tomb to all the unknown slain,
Foeman or friend, in Pity’s sacred name,
That their shrived souls might mount to Heaven’s High Plain!
Such are the men we needs must emulate
To gain the crown of kingly chivalry,
The holy lives of knights compassionate
Who hold within their hearts the virtues three,
Greatest of which is sweet Humanity.
Then grant us zeal to tread “The Knightly Way,”
And hearten us to deeds of Chivalry,
That Mirror, Sword, and Gem of Shining Day,
Wisdom, and Valour and Humanity,
These glorious heaven-sent gifts of purest gold,
We keep unsullied as in days of old!
“Surely,” declared Iemitsu, “our course is plain. The code of Ieyasu commands: ‘Should a daimio, by unwarrantable cruelties, provoke his vassals to just revolt . . . the castles and estates of said daimio shall be forever confiscated.’ Wherefore let a courier he dispatched instantly to Matsakura summoning him hither to answer to this indictment.”
“Nay, the code of Ieyasu doth not concern this case,” retorted the Emperor. “These members of the accursed sect are beyond the pale and should suffer banishment or death.”
“Know, most august Tenshu,” replied the unruffled Shogun, “that thou hast been maliciously deceived. Ieyasu banished the Jesuits, not on account of their faith, but because they were secret spies of Philip, King of Spain. These Krishitans are thine own kindred, than whom no more loyal subjects of thy rule exist.
“Unknown to all I have witnessed their sacred rites and marvelled at the wondrous spirit wherewith in long-suffering silence they have borne the causeless oppressions of their brutal daimio.
“They have suffered the torments of hell. They have been burned, torn asunder, crucified, and boiled alive; they have wandered naked and shelterless, destitute and despised of men.
“Wherefore, most august Master, thou hast erred in despatching Matsakura, for a keener blade than his should cut this knot!”
Seizing the edict Temitsu with a single brush-stroke blotted out the name of Matsakura, then calmly inscribed his own.
“If I may not even be permitted to name my servitors,” stormed the incontinent Mikado, “I will not remain a helpless puppet; but do hereby abdicate!”
“Thy wise and august determination is most obediently accepted. Faithfully shall I guard the reins of power for thine infant son,” smiled Iemitsu blandly, while, white with fury, the dethroned monarch staggered from the hail.
Seating himself upon the throne the Shogun addressed his subjects:
“My friends, it is now my prerogative to command, yours to render me implicit obedience. If any one here resents this claim, I will end the argument with my sword!”
Enthusiastic acclamations greeted this announcement, and Iemitsu commanded:
“The Council shall conduct affairs of state in my absence, for upon the instant shall I set forth to deal punishment upon Matsakura.”
it not be that there behind the sky
Snow-blossoms falling, falling from on high,"
"The spring, the long-longed spring hath come at last?"
"A light flared fitfully upon the malignant face of Matsakura"
(Battle Hymn of the Arima Christians.)
Let us march, tramp! tramp!
Against the Powers of Gloom,
The sons of Faith, in Christ his name,
Defying Death’s dark tomb
With dauntless will unbeaten still,
The legion of the Lord,
A smile of Peace upon our lips
But in our hands a sword!
While shot and powder still remain
Our thund’rous guns shall flame
And blast Sin’s teeming ramparts till
The craven foe in shame,
Like sand before the whirlwind swept,
Shall falter, fall, and flee.
By grace of God and our great guns
We’ll gain the victory!
With dauntless will, etc.
At the head of an hundred thousand warriors rode Matsakura, proud, triumphant, and exultant.
It seemed to him that Fortune had granted all his desires. The confiscation of the Christians’ estates would mean for him untold wealth. The quelling of the rebellion would elevate him to the rank of Commander-in-Chief why not to the very Shogunate? Nay, softly, ambition was bearing him too far. Iemitsu must be reckoned with.
But where was the wary fox?
‘‘What matters?” lie shrugged. “Suffice it for the nonce to annihilate the Evil Sect! A mere handful of peasants and ronins,” he smiled, “pitted against my army!”
“However there is no time to lose,” he reflected. “Each day the rebels gather strength. They burn and plunder castles and cities. Each hour counts!”
Hara Castle jutted from a crag girt on three sides by the sea. On the fourth it was fortified by a wide moat. Within its massy walls were gathered twenty thousand Christian warriors with their wives and children, waiting vainly their appeal to the Mikado.
Matsakura rushed to the assault, but the valiant garrison repulsed his army with bloody loss. His culverins could scarcely scratch the massive walls.
But a deadlier foe confronted the Christians—Famine.
One moonless night a thousand warriors filed from a sally-port in a desperate sortie.
Skirting the cliff in single file they clambered down to a fishing hamlet. Here the friendly peasants gave them food, and they set forth for the castle.
Scarcely had they reached the cliff when the rising sun disclosed them to their foes. With sword and lance the samurai of Matsakura fell upon them and massacred them to a man.
Still undismayed the starving Christians held out, but their hearts turned to stone as they beheld a vessel flying the Dutch flag enter the roadstead. From its deck the Hollanders lowered a score of monstrous guns. These the troops of Matsakura mounted in position and trained upon the fortress.
They battered the beleaguered castle, shattered battlements and towers, breached the walls, but the white-cross banner floated still.
In the face of death the unconquerable Christians chanted their battle-hymn:
“With dauntless will unbeaten still,
The legion of the Lord,
A smile of Peace upon our lips
But in our hands a sword!”
Attaching thereto a missive, Matsakura shot an arrow into the castle, promising pardon in the name of the Shogun if the defenders would lay down their arms.
The trustful garrison complied, hoisted a white flag, threw their arms from the battlements, and opened their gates.
The treacherous host poured in, putting the weapon-less Christians to fire and sword.
Wresting stones from the battlements, the defenders hurled them upon the assailants. Tooth and nail they fought, clutching their foes in a desperate struggle with death.
So swift was the onslaught that the invaders slew each other in blind confusion. Wounded and dying they trampled underfoot. Men, women, and children they ruthlessly slaughtered. Babes from their mothers’ bosoms they flung into the sea.
Suddenly there rose a shout: “The Shogun! The Shogun!” as Iemitsu and his brave hatamotos surged into the shambles.
He wore an expression of implacable wrath.
“How he hateth us!” murmured the Christians.
Hate indeed possessed his soul, the holy wrath of an avenging god, cold, silent, and inexorable. But that hate was not for the Christians.
“Succour the wounded,” he commanded; “dispose the dead for burial! Proclaim pardon to all who have survived this ruthless massacre! Matsakura hath signed his death-warrant!”
He stayed not for further parley but rushed into the castle. From crypt to parapet he searched, questing vainly his beloved.
At last, when hope had died within his heart, he spied upon the battlements a frail pagoda. From its topmost story fluttered—a white peony!
Threading a labyrinth of fallen timbers, he gained a shattered gate. The great bronze doors stood ajar. Crossing the courtyard he passed a guardhouse whence issued voices; but none perceived him as he stole silently to the stairway.
Of a sudden a plank creaked under his tread! A guard came forth and peered stealthily around.
“Only the mad maid, screaming in vain for aid,” he shrugged, slinking back to the guardhouse.
Iemitsu smiled. She was there. He had come in time.
A light gleamed from an upper landing.
He climbed the stairway and tapped softly upon the shoji.
“Peony,” he whispered.
A footstep rustled the matting, then all was still.
Again he tapped and called.
A soft voice questioned timidly: “Who art thou?”
“It is I, Iemitsu,” he murmured.
A quick cry of delight greeted his ears.
Bracing himself against the wall he thrust with all his strength. The shoji failed to budge. Drawing his sword he splintered the screen with a sharp crash.
Alarmed by the uproar the guards ran out in angry altercation.
Iemitsu waited, scarce drawing breath.
Of a sudden he caught the glint of a pair of eyes peering at him through the shadows.
He lunged at them with his sword. With a frightened gasp the samurai scurried down the stairs.
A roar of curses and clatter of armour rose as a group of guardsmen rushed in.
The Shogun unsheathed his sword and sprang to meet them, his blade brandished, prepared to strike.
From the shattered shoji a light flared fitfully upon the malignant face of Matsakura.
Iemitsu smiled, waiting in scornful silence.
The leader paused midway up the flight, not daring to engage at such disadvantage.
“So my fox,” he gibed, “thou didst plot to rob my hen-roost!”
Iemitsu stood calm and motionless, disdaining to reply.
Matsakura burst into a volley of oaths:
“Vile accomplice of Krishitans, come down, and I will carve the cross upon thy heart!”
Still the Shogun was silent, biding his time. Finding threats futile Matsakura shifted from bluster to flattery.
“Most honoured friend,” he fawned, “do not force me to slay thee. Yield me but the maid and I will set thee free!”
A smothered cry came from behind the shoji. With a sudden sweep Iemitsu crashed his blade upon the helm of Matsakura, who staggered back upon the landing.
Two samurai sprang instantly into his place. The first attacked furiously; the second edged around the Shogun, striving to stab him from behind.
With a twist of the wrist Iemitsu sent the sword of the first flying, then, wheeling abruptly, he thrust the other through the throat.
Groaning horribly he fell lifeless to the floor, while his companion fled terror-stricken down the stairs.
Iemitsu looked sternly down. “Come dog,” he muttered, “tis thy turn!”
Matsakura cowered, cursing between his teeth.
“Poltroon,” scoffed the Shogun, “if thou wilt not fight slay thyself!”
Stung by the taunt Matsakura bounded up the stairs. The tower rang like a smithy. Steel clanged upon steel, in lightning thrust and parry. Inch by inch Matsakura lost ground, beset more and more relentlessly by his exultant adversary.
Step by step he retreated, till, suddenly, Iemitsu with a swift stroke sent him reeling against the rail, which crashed beneath his weight bearing him lifeless to the pavement.
Iemitsu ran to the chamber and threw open the shoji. With a joyous cry White Peony sprang into his arms. “A little more beloved, and thou wouldst have been too late,” she smiled.
“Wouldst thou have slain thyself?” he demanded anxiously.
“Nay,” she laughed. “I would have fled with another.”
Lifting the hibachi she disclosed a hidden ladder, from whose lower rungs emerged —Jingoro.
“Brindle waiteth at the postern gate, good Master,” he whispered; “thou knowest he can carry double.”
“Nay,” cried Iemitsu, “thou shalt bestride thy trusty bullock and ride at my right hand, as becomes the sire of the Shogun’s bride.”
Jingoro threw himself on his knees.
“Daughter of mine is she not,” he confessed, “but child of the murdered daimio of Arima, whom I saved from this very castle, and reared as mine own daughter.”
“Wherefore twice hast thou rescued her,” smiled Iemitsu. “Still shall I call thee Father. Thou shalt make resplendent with thy carving my ancestral temples of Nikko. What shall he carve for thee, my Love?”
“A portrait of Amber in a bower of peonies,” she pleaded winsomely.
“Thy cat!” he smiled.
Peony clapped her hands.
“Thou art the lad,” she laughed, “who played with me in the long ago!”
“I am indeed that unlovely youth,” he confessed, clasping her to his heart.
White shine the buds a-dream against the sky,
In verdant glades small, feathered fowl give voice,
All joyance is! The very gods rejoice,
Gladsome to greet Earth’s merry minstrelsy.
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