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The girded sword is the living soul of the Samurai.
The Sword’s the Soul of thy vast seigniory,
Forged in the white hot flame, from flawless steel,
With mighty hammer-stroke and slow anneal,
Upon the anvil of eternity.
Their hearts aglow with pride and loyalty
For Sire and Land, thy Sons with dauntless zeal
Press forward to the fray, through woe or weal,
Seeking delight in life’s extremity!
Land of the Cods! Thy sword-smiths as of yore
Still forge the perfect glaives of purest ore.
Still live the Samurai, who honour breathe,
And, rather than to shame their ancestry,
To live dishonoured and dishonour thee,
In their own hearts their swords would sooner sheathe.
TEN score years syne, in the fruitful province of Harima, there dwelt a mighty daimio, Asano no Kami, overlord of the puissant castle of Ako, who was beloved by all for manifold deeds of kindness throughout his seigniory.
Now it fortuned that after long years of laborious upbuilding of his province, Lord Asano was one day summoned by royal decree to appear at Yedo in company with another nobleman, Lord Kamei, to receive and feast the Envoy of the Mikado.
Accordingly, the Master of Ceremonies, Kira, an overbearing, boorish knave, was appointed to teach them the ritual. Overwhelming his pupils with unceasing insult and irony, he jeered at their provincial manners, seeking to make laughing-stocks of them in the eyes of the Envoy.
Upon Asano most especially he vented a resentment born of greed and envy. Long had he coveted the grand domain of Ako, and under pretext that all mines were imperial fiefs, had seized its mountain fastnesses. But the ancestral castle still remained in possession of Asano, wherefore Kira plotted to provoke its lord to some violent act, which would compass his disgrace and the confiscation of his seigniory.
Kira commanded each daimio to bring a councillor or second. The Lord of Ako had bidden his friend Kurano attend him; but this nobleman had been unwillingly detained and Asano came alone.
Kira would hear neither explanation nor apology, insisting that Asano had shown wilful negligence and contempt of ceremony.
“Unmannerly boor,” he blustered, “Atone for thine insolence. Kneel and tie the ribbon of my sandal.”
Asano rose to his full height.
“If my loyalty to the Mikado requires such menial service,” he smiled, “I will perform it for the Imperial Envoy, but I decline to act as the foot-servant of Lord Kira.”
Foiled in his attempt to provoke Asano, Kira sneered:
“Perchance thou deemest thyself sufficiently versed in etiquette to dispense with my instruction! So be it then. The lessons are ended.”
Whereupon Honzo, councillor of Lord Kamei, deeming that the ill-will of Kira might be propitiated by a bribe, prostrated himself at the foot of the dais.
“A thousand pardons, sweet and gentle lord,” he fawned, “I have failed to fulfil a command most urgently enjoined upon me by my master.”
“We have no further concern with thy master,” retorted Kira arrogantly.
“Nay, most august Seignior,” protested Honzo, “my Lord, realizing thy condescension in squandering so much precious time, bade me present thee this trifling token of his gratitude, the largest and most perfect pearl of his fisheries.”
Kira eyed the jewel greedily.
“This is a wondrous gem,” he gloated, “perfect of form, of size unexampled, and lustre exquisite. Its worth must be beyond all price.”
“But not so priceless as the value my master places upon thine honourable instructions.”
“Fool,” thundered Kira, “why didst thou not give this to me before?”
“My master enjoined me to wait until the lesson was terminated, ‘Else,’ said he, ‘Lord Kira may think it a bribe, whereas ‘tis merely a token of gratitude.”
“Lord Kamei has displayed both tact and munificence. Summon thy master that I may complete his instruction.”
“May our heaven-gendered lord with joys o’erflow,
Live for a thousand ages!” Thus we pray,
“Until the tiny pebbles slowly grow
To giant boulders clad with lichens grey!”
Twin-peaked Tsukuba hath a shadow vast
On this side and on that alike down-cast,
But thy great shadow stretcheth on and on,
Its length exceeding and excelled by none!
Thus chanted courtiers and singing-maidens, scattering chrysanthemum petals before his triumphal path, the whiles with fanfare of trumpets and droning of drums the Imperial Envoy and his majestic suite filed solemnly into the hail.
An hundred daimios fluttered their broidered robes of rainbow-painted silks. Golden lacquered pillars gleamed against a background of multicoloured carving. Azure wreaths of incense curled upward from bronze censers to the coffered ceiling, and the air was laden with scent of many flowers.
When the procession had wound its lengthy train through the pillared galleries amid gasping genuflexions of the multitude, Prince Taiko mounted the dais and thus addressed the assemblage:
“Loyal subjects of my heaven-descended brother, we thank you for this fitting welcome so graciously vouchsafed us. May ye ever dwell in ceaseless love and righteousness in this fair-flowered land of our fathers.
“If ye have petitions I will hear them. If injustice hath been done, it shall be requited. All wrongs shall be redressed.”
“August honourable Prince,” fawned Kamei, “the spirit of our heaven-descended sovereign is as the rising sun Upon the cherry-blossom. Under his beneficent rule sorrow is illusory and evil unknown.”
The eyes of all turned to Asano in tense expectancy. White with wrath the haughty daimio loosed the pent-up passion of his soul.
“Enough of flattery,” he cried. “Thou hast promised, most august Prince, to requite all wrong. I therefore accuse Lord Kira of stealing my estates, and condemning to servitude my free-born peasants!”
“Silence,” thundered the Envoy. “Retire forthwith from this sacred place whose spirit thou hast profaned!”
Asano was about to go when a sudden blow sent him sprawling on the mats. Staggering to his feet he rushed upon his adversary with bared blade.
“Seize the miscreant,” cried Kira, “he would assassinate the Prince!”
Asano slashed, cutting a gash in Kira’s forehead.
The guards sprang upon him. He lunged blindly and fell beneath their crashing halberds.
That night Kurano came to his prison.
“Ne’er shall I forgive myself,” he mourned, “that I deserted thee in thine hour of need!”
“Friend, do not reproach thyself,” protested Asano, I must suffer the penalty of folly. My daughter I commit to thy care. In happier days I hoped that she might wed thy son. But alas! Kira will despoil me of all and Camellia will be dowerless.”
“Nathless,” vowed Kurano, “I swear that, betide what may, my son shall wed thy daughter!”
A troop of white-robed Hatamoto tramped solemnly in.
“I have the unwelcome duty, Lord Asano,” vouch-safed the leader, “to apprise thee of the imperial decree. Thou art condemned to commit seppuku!”
Asano bowed in calm assent.
“Tis the dearest privilege of a samurai,” he smiled dauntlessly.
BEFORE THE STORM
Fair goddess of the sapphire Nippon sky,
Upon what elfin loom with fingers light
Weavest thou thus for our supreme delight
Thy wondrous web of living broidery,
The red brocade and russet tapestry
Of forest, field and moor aflame and bright,
Glory of golden grain and blossoms white,
All merged through mellow haze in harmony?
Dreaming awake, the mild-eyed cattle stand
Knee-deep within the lilies of the nil.
A breathless languor broods on every hand
In plenitude of peace, unspoken, still,
Save for a single, bold, upsoaring butterfly,
Winging its fragile petals to the sky.
The castle of Ako gleamed white through billowing oaks and maples, its massy abutments jutting defiantly from the russet hillside. Behind frowned a wail of serrated ranges; while before it, sloping gently to the sea, drowsed a grassy moorland, dotted with thatch-roofed cottages wherein dwelt the joyous peasants of Asano.
Where the highway rounded an escarpment a youth drew rein, and gazed wistfully upon the scene. He was now returning, after years of absence, to the home of his childhood.
Struck by the grandeur of this ancestral domain, a vague, unwonted sense of aloofness oppressed him. He wondered whether Camellia would be changed from the rompling little playfellow, so winsome in all her moods, to whom he had been betrothed in infancy.
Of a sudden a short, shrill whistle rent the air. It was their signal in the long ago. Upon the bough of a twisted pine, whither she had so often clambered in her boyish girlhood, sat Camellia, her little feet flitting in and out of covert, like timorous birds. A flame leaped and died on her dusky cheeks. A smile blossomed a moment, then faded from her lips. Her jade-blue eyes sought the youth’s questioningly.
“Camellia!” he cried, joyously, “I am come to claim thy love!”
“All the morning Shikara, have I been watching for thee,” she smiled shyly. “Why didst thou ride so slowly?”
“Beloved, I came as swiftly as my steed could gallop. Tell me,” he pleaded. “Hast thou longed for me as I for thee? Art thou content that I have come?”
With a faint cry she nestled in his arms, her eyes brimming with joy:
“Content indeed, for I love thee more than life.”
Shikara felt the tumultuous beating of her heart. Her sweet breath fanned his cheek. The assurance of requited love swept away all barriers of wealth and caste that lay between them.
“Longer than life,” he vowed, “shall my love for thee endure.”
Onward they rode, their hearts athrill with a joy hitherto undreamed, all unconscious of the tragedy enacted by their fathers.
The moorland gleamed silver in the morning sunshine, the hills loomed lazuli beneath lowering clouds. A hush brooded over all the countryside, broken only by the cawing of rooks, and a myriad feathered creatures flying frantically to shelter.
But little heed paid the lovers to these doomful cries, nor did vain foreboding cloud their bliss. They babbled of childish trifles: the familiar objects they passed, the cave where they played at pirates, and the cliff they had often scaled in search of cormorant eggs.
A turn of the road brought Ako again into view.
“Dost thou not love its time-stained walls?” asked Camellia.
A moment before he would have answered: “I hate it, since it bars me from thee.”
But now her love had transfigured the grim old castle. Its great gate opened in whole-souled welcome; its massive walls spelled protection and hospitality.
“I love it,” Shikara answered, “since it bars me in with thee.”
“But why are the villages so silent, the farms deserted?” he asked; “no smoke wreaths rising from the cottages, no fishing boats upon the bay?”
“Kira hath forced the peasants to leave their homes and labour in the mines,” she said sadly.
Suddenly a furious gust of wind smote the overhanging trees till they writhed like accursed spirits.
“Shikara! I am aifrighted,” she shuddered. “Some terrible evil bodeth.”
“Nay,” he laughed, “what evil may befall while I am at thy side?”
The youth spurred his steed forward; but ere they could reach the castle-gate a horseman overtook them.
“Art thou of the household, little rose-blossom?” he demanded leering upon Camellia with lustful eyes.
“Insolent knave, this is the Lady of Ako!” Shikara retorted, hand upon hilt.
“I would thy words were sooth,” laughed Kira, “for I am Lord of Ako!”
“When my Lord Asano returneth he will dispute that claim,” flared the youth haughtily.
“He hath disputed his last claim,” sneered Kira. “The castle now is mine.”
Camellia went suddenly white.
“Nay, do not take it so hard, my pretty, thou hast but to accept my love and thou shalt remain Lady of Ako.”
“Dastard!” cried the youth, dismounting swiftly. Kira drove his spurs deep into the flanks of his steed. As the powerful stallion reared above him with distended nostrils and threatening hoofs, Shikara struck it across the face with his riding whip. The charger swerved suddenly and flung his rider violently to the ground.
Clambering heavily to his feet the daimio strove to draw his sword; but Shikara, with a trick of jujutsu, tripped him suddenly. Kira stumbled and fell. Ere he could recover the youth sprang to the saddle.
Lightning flashed, a peal of thunder rent the heavens. Camellia crouched shuddering behind her lover.
“Fear not, Dear One,” he whispered, “the clouds will swiftly flee.”
Within my treasure house a casket lies,
And shut therein two dragons writhe and moan;
As I keep vigil in the night alone
My spirit is tormented with their cries.
Be still my swords. Alas! not yet, not yet.
The day of vengeance dawns; ye need not fear,
Inexorably swift it draweth near.
Be still nor deem that e’er I shall forget!
The next day Kurano confirmed the evil tidings; bidding the lonely orphan come to Yedo and share his home.
“Father,” entreated Shikara, “since Camellia and I love each other may we not now be wedded?”
“Graver duties now confront us,” confided Kurano. “It is written: ‘A man may not live under the same heaven with the murderer of his friend.”
“Wilt thou slay him?” gasped the youth.
“Verily he shall die; but this is not the hour. A thousand samurai guard him night and day, while we have scarce six score. Nathless shall I bide my time!”
To all observers it appeared that he had forgotten his oath. He dismissed the samurai of Asano, seventy of whom sought service under new masters. Two score and seven, however, remained loyal, meeting secretly at a mountain camp where Kurano unfolded his plan.
“Let us bide our time,” he counselled, “till Kira deem all danger past, when we shall more surely compass his death.”
Each conspirator signed the compact with his blood and as symbol of allegiance bound about his arm a silken scarlet thread. Full well each warrior knew the certain penalty. Though enjoined by ancient custom, avenging murder was punishable by death.
Having sworn vengeance they parted, wandering throughout the lands as ronins (masterless men), maintaining themselves as best they might. Coolies, fishermen, and porters, they plied their menial tasks, patiently biding their time.
Their arms having been confiscated, they fabricated helmets, bucklers, and swords. A thieves’ patter enabled them to communicate with one another and peddlers bore their messages.
Disguised as servants they listened to the secret councils of Kira and reported all to Kurano.
Kira immured himself in his yashiki. The great gate was flanked by strong guardhouses. About a central courtyard loomed the barracks. A labyrinth of corridors led to the vast audience hall patrolled by vigilant guards. A band of archers on the roof commanded all the courtyards. Thus stoutly defended, how could the ronins hope to take the yashiki?
When Kira fared abroad mounted samurai surrounded him with a wall of steel. At hoard he was served by armed retainers, and “drank his wine through helmet barred.” Day and night lie wore chain-mail beneath his broidered robe. A lurking fear of sudden death stalked ever at his side, banishing sleep from his sunken eyelids.
‘‘Golden wine in a silver bowl
Is true contentment to the soul.
A Geisha maid with lustrous eyes
Is true contentment to the wise.
Then dance and drink for man is meant
To laugh and love and be content!”
Months dragged by and the ronins gave no sign. To all seeming they had vanished from the face of the earth.
Kurano sought to lull Kira into a sense of security. He feigned the life of a drunkard. Abandoning wife and children he frequented the Yoshiwara.
Ishi surprised him one evening roystering amid a troop of geisha.
Tearfully she pleaded, “Come back with me my husband. Hast thou forgotten, when our first-born babe died, how affliction only bound us more closely? No sorrow can be too great for us to face together.”
“Get thee gone, old hag,” Kurano retorted, tossing down a bowl of sake. “By Benten, I am weary of thee. Here be pretty maids aplenty. These be my sweethearts!”
LAUGHTER, SAKE, AND SONG.
“How true the saying of the olden age
Of sages, now whose learned lips are dust,
Who gave to sake blest the name of ‘Sage.’
Drink ere ye crumble too to common rust!
Better than futile mouthings of the wise
Is sake sweet, beloved of all good men.
Drink while ye may! The golden moment flies,
Once flown, you ne’er the cup may sip again.
Who loves not sake, song, and women sweet,
Remaineth all his life a beggar blind.
Who such an one I sometimes sadly meet,
Scarce better than an ape this fool I find.
What worth are priceless gems and treasures rare,
Or all the gold of Ophir shining bright?
Can they with one small sake cup compare
To banish care and summon sure delight?
So long as in my hand I hold the key
To open wide the door of life’s glad feast,
What boots it though the future fate decree
That I become an insect or a beast?
If in another form, another life,
Aught else but man, I rather then would be
A sake-jar, my heart with gladness rife,
Though wrought from earth I hold the heavens in me!”
“Surely, dear husband, thou art mad,” bemoaned Ishi. “Grief for thy friend hath crazed thy mind.”
“Art thou not afeared to live with a madman?” laughed Kurano.
“Nay, beloved Lord, I fear thee not. Cruelty and unkindness are foreign to thy nature. Come, let me take thee home!”
Kurano smiled for a moment in his old, loving way:
“Thou art a noble soul,” he whispered, then resumed his raving.
“Canst thou give me back my dead Asano, whom I loved more than wife or child? Canst thou efface the memory of his murder? These hands dealt the death-blow that he might not linger in agony. With his own sword I severed his dear head. It rolled a little way, then gazed upon me with wide reproachful eyes. I lifted it, the lips quivered as though they whispered. I listened but the lips were silent. Then I wrapped it in my robe and fled. Alas! my beloved Asano, thou wilt ne’er return!” He droned a plaintive rune:
“Fate with her changing tune
Keeps her appointed time,
Her ever breaking thread
For ever spinning,
We who are singing, soon
Will cease to rhyme,
Our moment will be sped…”
How sad his heart as slowly he departed
Far from his home, where oft his feet had trod
Through the deep snow of fallen cherry blossoms,
Far from Harima, where on autumn nights
He donned the red brocade of maple leaflets.
Despondent now, his mind could dwell on naught
But thought of home, of wife, and child beloved,
Whose future loomed so sinister and dark.
One bitter evening as Camellia crouched over the hibachi, the shoji were thrust suddenly aside and Kurano staggered in.
With a trill of joyful recognition she ran to greet him, then shrank back in dismay—Kurano was drunk!
“Where is fam’ly?” he asked thickly.
“Mother has gone to Yedo and Shikara not yet returned from work. The children are playing in the garden.”
“Ho, Take!” called Kurano. “What mischief art thou about? Burying thy brother in the snow? Faith, ‘tis a pretty game. Let me play it with you,” and he sallied forth. “Lo we will make each others’ funeral lanterns.”
Camellia watched with vague misgiving.
“Lanterns of the dead! an evil omen,” she shuddered. Kurano was not as drunk as he seemed, for he worked with the skill of a stone carver, chiselling his lantern with bold strokes, to the unbounded delight of the boys.
Shouts of uproarious hilarity resounded from the garden.
Shaking the snow from his straw coat Shikara entered.
“Father is here!” he exclaimed eagerly.
“His body is here,” sighed Camellia, “his soul hath not yet returned from its wandering.”
Kurano entered erect of bearing and clear of speech. Camellia gazed upon him in wide-eyed wonder.
“Father,” rejoiced Shikara, “thou hast come at last!”
“O lad of little faith,” he reproached gently, “didst thou not divine that my madness was but a ruse to deceive Kira?”
“Thanks be to the gods,” cried the youth. “Wilt thou not give Camellia a father’s blessing? May we not wed when fall the cherry blossoms?”
“Alas!” he sighed. “I fear it may not be.” lie pointed to the snow-lanterns. “The monuments of men outlast their lives,” he said solemnly. “Ere the camellias flower thy lantern and thy life may alike have vanished.”
“Grant us hope,” Shikara besought, “if only for a winter’s day.”
|“Then hope one little blissful hour
Brief as the fleeting dew,
Though she henceforth like some frail flower
Yearn endlessly for you.”
Murmured the father, joining their hands in blessing.
Amidst the silver-lichened branches light
Singeth the nightingale: “Lo, spring hath come!”
Perchance it dreams—mistaking snowflakes white
For wind-blown blossoms of the burgeoned plum.
Thus carolled Camellia as she went to meet her lover. Snow had fallen. Bare boughs and tiny twigs gleamed as with a burden of blossoms.
“Spring will soon be here,” smiled the maid, her heart filled with ineffable joy.
The plangent boom of a monastery bell echoed through the wood. Its solemn notes died mournfully away. A thud of galloping hoofs suddenly hammered the ground.
Camellia leaped behind a tree, as a troop of horsemen rushed from the forest.
Springing to earth they dragged her from hiding, and threw her swooning into a norimon.
Shikara waited in bitter apprehension. Why had Camellia failed to keep the tryst? Had some unknown peril encompassed her? He strode swiftly forward hoping each moment to glimpse her smiling face.
Then he came to a clearing where the fresh fallen snow was mired by trampling feet. Presently he discerned prints of little cloven tabi. Following these, half hidden in the snow, he found a maiden’s clog.
Assailed by dire forebodings he hurried home.
“Where is Camellia?” he cried distractedly.
“Didst thou not meet her?” gasped his mother.
“Is this her geta?” he demanded, displaying the tiny clog.
“Of a surety Shikara. Behold the band is broken I mended yestreen.”
The youth ran to the garden. “Father,” he cried, “Kira hath rapt Camellia! Now is the time to strike!”
He lifted from the tokonoma the blood-stained sword of Asano. Raising the blade reverently to his forehead he prayed:
“Half the band clambered over the roofs, while Kurano forced the Water Gate”
Reproduced from “The Faithful,” by John Masefield
Permission of Wm. Heineman, London
“Instantly Shikara loomed above him, his blade flashing like a lightning-bolt”
From “Old-World Japan,” by T. H. Robinson
Permission of Macmillan Co.
“Dread Amida! Grant me the honour of washing away these stains in the blood of Kira!”
The time dragged by till our hearts were broken,
The time dragged by till we cursed the sun;
Now the hour has struck and the word is spoken.
The time is fallen and the deed begun.
Cautious taps on darkened shoji, hurried whisperings at doors held stealthily ajar, and the forty-seven, gathered for the attack, tramped grimly through the thick-fallen snow.
At a few paces from the yashiki they halted, while Kurano alone approached the great gate. Without, retainers holding their lords’ horses and litter-bearers stamping to keep themselves warm, thronged the courtyard. Within, lights glittered, servitors ran to and fro, and from encircling galleries lute, samisen, and laughter broke upon the winter night.
“Kira holds high revel,” he warned. “We must wait until the drunkards have departed and the household is wrapped in slumber. Then half our band shall clamber over the roofs while I will force the water-gate.”
“How can I wait?” cried Shikara. “While he carouses with his boon companions, Camellia is still safe; but after—. Let me go to her upon the instant!”
“They might deem thee a guest wert thou fittingly garbed,” mused Kurano, “but thine armour will betray thee.”
The youth drew from his saddlebag a gilt encrusted robe.
“Tis well, my son,” assented the father, “but beware to attack Kira until I give the sign. I will sound my horn when we have overpowered the guards at the water-gate.”
Having donned the broidered robe above his lacquered mail, Shikara made his way unchallenged to the lofty banquet-hall. Behind the dais, where Kira was enthroned before a group of parasites, crouched the youth silently biding his opportunity.
Overcome with sake a roysterer lumbered against the tokonoma, crashing its sacred images to the floor.
Kira went suddenly white.
Drawing his sword, Shikara edged his way nearer and nearer the doomed man. An instant later a triumphant cry rang through the silent courtyard.
Guards and guests rushed madly forth.
Kira rose and met the relentless eyes of Shikara, a scornful sneer tightening his flabby lips.
They glared at each other like two mountain lions, the giant daimio towering over his diminutive antagonist.
Nearer and nearer, with stealthy step, crept the avenging youth. The smile of disdain upon the face of Kira widened to a snarl of rage. Like a stroke of lightening his sword flashed and fell!
Lithe as a serpent Shikara darted from beneath the descending blade, as its keen edge fleshed his left arm, from elbow to wrist.
Blind with pain the boy lunged blunderingly against his cool and watchful adversary.
With a sudden feint Kira caught him off his guard and, tripping his feet, threw him to the floor.
Ere he could recover the dastard dashed over his prostrate body into the open court.
Clambering dazedly to his feet, Shikara pursued his fleeing enemy through courtyard and palace, gallery, loft, and chamber, till he came to the garden of the geisha. Thrusting aside shrieking women, the youth rushed in, only to find it vacant.
Returning to the corridors he found himself confronted by a dozen lusty knaves. Fencing warily he was driven backward, step by step.
He had smitten two to earth, but the remainder were slowly closing in upon him. A halberd point had pierced his mail and he felt himself growing faint from loss of blood.
Suddenly the sound of a horn was heard, succeeded by the boom of a great battering ram. Kurano was charging through the water gate!
A clamour of shouts mingled with clash of steel and the youth’s opponents fled.
All was silent save for the piteous cries of the geisha.
“Go,” commanded Kurano loosing the bars of the great gate, and sounding the assembly.
Eagerly each ronin scanned his fellow, then bowed his head. No trace of Kira could be found. Their enterprise had failed!
“Lend a torch,” cried Shikara, and bent himself to scrutiny of a plan.
But as his finger traced chamber after chamber the ronins swore they had made the rounds of all.
“Have you searched this building?” demanded the youth pointing to a “go-down,” near the outer wall.
“There is no door by which we may enter,” protested the ronins.
“Then will we make one,” declared Shikara. Followed by the band the youth stole down a corridor, tapping the walls cautiously with his hands.
As he pressed the frame of an ancient painting the panel yielded, revealing an opening through which a man might pass.
Climbing through the screen, the youth found himself in a cloistered garden. Upon its snow-strewn pathways he discerned footprints, which led to the storehouse, hidden behind a thicket of tall bamboo.
Forcing the heavy door he entered. In the sooty darkness half-concealed beneath a pile of charcoal crouched a white-robed form.
“Come forth, murderer,” cried Shikara, but the cowering figure only shrunk more deeply into the gloom.
The youth prodded the heap with his halberd.
Crying for mercy knelt the craven Kira.
Inexorably the ronins led him to the Judgment Chamber. Respectfully as became his exalted station Kurano addressed the condemned daimio.
“We are the followers of Lord Asano, sworn to avenge our master’s unjust death. It is my duty, Lord Kira, to command you to perform seppuku.”
But the trembling prisoner gave no answer. Again the demand was repeated and a sword extended to him.
He snatched the dirk and aimed a treacherous thrust at Kurano, which the latter parried; then, springing through the doorway, Kira strove to save himself by flight.
Instantly Shikara loomed above him. His blade flashed like a lightning-bolt, and from Kira’s severed head a “Scarlet Thread” reddened the snow-white pebbles of the court!
THE BREAKING OF THE THREAD
The Heart of a Samurai
The snow-flowers frail are falling cold and white,
Athwart thin pines the pallid moonlight gleams,
Slanting its frosty rays in fitful streams
Upon the dark brocade of winter night.
A loveliness endues the mountain-height
Born of the drifting mist of dying dreams;
So to my frost-bound heart all living seems
But ghosts of vanished blooms of vain delight.
Sorrow and Joyance, Fear and Hate and Love,
Phantoms of faded blossoms cold and stark,
Blown to that endless Nothing whence they came,
Melting like snow-flowers falling from above
Beneath the ruthless rays of Noon’s red flame,
Thus flares our light a little—then is dark.
Soon shall a scarlet-thread pollute my sword
And give my earthly spirit back to Death;
But, though my body be bereft of breath,
Still shall my deathless Soul protect my Lord.
Wiping his blade upon the robe of the dead daimio, Shikara hurried forth in quest of Camellia.
The stillness of death brooded over the vast yashiki. White and silent the murdered guards lay before the open gate.
The youth made his way through the dim, deserted galleries. A gust of wind chilled him to the bone as he entered a frost-bound garden. A wan moon threw its Blue-White beams upon the muffled forms of flowers. Frozen lilies bent their fragile stalks burdened with wealth of mimic bloom.
An ancient quatrain came to his mind:
The lilies shrouded lie beneath the snow,
So deep we may no trace of them behold;
But still their presence we may surely know,
Their fragrance fadeth not, though dead and cold.
A great stone lantern threw its ghostly ray upon a maiden’s snow-shrouded form.
“Camellia,” he cried, a cruel foreboding gripping his heart.
Silent and motionless she lay in the drifting snow, a scarlet ribbon fluttering from her throat.
Clasping her in his arms Shikara strained her to with the strength of inexorable hope.
A poniard fell from her hand. She uttered a low moan. A smile blossomed on her lips, then swiftly faded and was gone.
A flurry of snow petals fell upon her flower-white face.
“Grieve not, Beloved,” whispered Shikara. “I shall clasp thy spirit as I clasp thy body!”
He sank upon his sword and a great darkness came over him.
As fall the silent snowflakes to the ground,
So drifts my soul unto the ceaseless night
Of life’s relentless winter stark and white,
Where Time is not nor Light nor any sound,
Only an endless silence all around,
Ruthless Nirvana, cold and infinite,
Eternal nothing, void of love’s delight—
Is thus my worn out thread of life unwound.
Wherefore as falls a fragile frosted flower
Beneath the crushing weight of winter’s blast,
Break now my thread of life this hour!
May 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?
Dauntlessly the forty-seven paid with their own hands the death-penalty.
Upon the grave of their lord they laid the head of Kira, praying:
“Spirit of our dead master! We come this day to cheerfully lay down our lives. We who have eaten thy bread could not live under the same heaven nor tread the same earth with the enemy of our lord!”
“Perry’s fleet lay at anchor in the storm-lashed bay and I hopefully boarded the ‘Susquehanna’”
Narrative of Expedition to Japan, by Commodore M. C. Perry. W. Heine. U.S. Government Report.
“Beyond the mist-shrouded horizon,
Where hills and rice fields merge looms the snow-white cone of Fujiyama”
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