HotFreeBooks.com
Bakemono Yashiki (The Haunted House) - Tales of the Tokugawa, Volume 2 (of 2)
by James S. De Benneville
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The day light waned. The sound of the birds going to roost came to the ears. It was now spring, the gladsome period of the year. The cooing and chirping brought no charm to the prisoner's ear. These birds were as the birds of Shideyama (in Hell). Mournful the dirge they sang. Filled with foreboding, with dread for self and the passing from the darkness of the womb to the darkness of death for the unborn child, faintness of heart was made worse by the faintness of hunger. I sank into a kind of slumber, more racking than the working hours. Then the harsh cries of the crows aroused me. Daylight was again streaming through the window bars. At a corner of the sill was a jar. The water in it was stale and foul smelling. None other was to hand. A mimitarai (hand basin) was found in the closet. Thus was the nauseating ablution performed. Near mid-day, when ready to cry out with hunger, for sake of child not self, the door opened. It was O'Han who brought me food. One strip of takuan, the bitter pickled radish; for drink, ice cold water. Such was the meal. At night some pickled greens replaced the radish. On my knees I plead with O'Han, besought her mercy for the unborn child. She laughed at my misery. "Good living on forbidden fruits has made O'Shimo Dono fat. Her big belly is perchance to be reduced by diet. Such are the orders of the okugata. Han can do nothing; and would do nothing if she could. What a fool! Cannot one please his lordship, all night and every night, without promise of an heir to the House? Condescend the vacancy and leave such matter to this Han...." Perhaps she felt that she had said too much. Abruptly she turned and left the room.

I was not long alone. At least it seemed not so, for the light slumbers were disturbed by the pangs of hunger. Then came a hand fingering the outside bar. It was done stealthily. In aid or menace? A deadly fear came over me. With wild staring eyes, loosened hair framing an anguished and distorted figure I faced the object without, seeking its entrance. The terror was not relieved by the appearance of the chamberlain, Nishioka Shintaro[u]. His face was set and drawn, as of a man who has a problem to work out, as of one who would carry out the purpose with certainty and expedition. He closed the door, set the lamp carefully on the floor in a distant corner. Not a word was spoken. Eyes bright with terror I watched his movements. He carried something in one hand. Shaken loose it was allowed to trail behind him. His preparations made he came toward me with decision. Retreating before his advance the wall was reached. By this time he was on me. Then I saw what it was he held; a slender rope, its dreadful meaning plain. I screamed in terror. Roughly he silenced me, one hand on open mouth. In stifled tones I plead for mercy. Then failing sign of respite, by desperate effort my struggles called for all his strength. My screams resounded loud in the room. "Are! Are! Murder! Deep the grudge, to seven lives! Nishioka San! The grudge of one dying against Nishioka! Against man and woman who would cut off the life of Shimo and her child. Ah! Her ladyship! The grudge!" The cord had tightened round my throat. The ends were in the strong hands of Nishioka Shintaro[u]. I mocked and stuck out my tongue at him. I know I did so, as the breath came with greater and greater difficulty. His face, that of a demon, grew to huge proportions, bright scarlet. Now heart and lungs were bursting with fullness. Dreadful the agony, dreadful the grudge for this ill deed. Thus I died. Then followed the ruin of the House of Nakakawachi Shu[u]zen.



CHAPTER IV

THE O'KAGE SAMA

On the following night all were gathered in the apartments of her ladyship. O'Tsugi was engaged in putting back the koto (harp) into its cover. O'Hagi Dono touched the instrument with no mean skill, and on this night had deigned to please herself and those who heard her. O'Han was engaged in heating the sake bottles. Rarely did her ladyship retire without this indulgence. The old woman, O'Saku, aimlessly moved about the room. She seemed to be awaiting some news. A sound of steps in the corridor, and with pleased countenance she made sign to her ladyship. A moment later and Nishioka Shintaro[u] entered the room. There was not a trace of difference from the ordinary in his composed harsh reverential manner to her ladyship. The latter gave a look at O'Saku. The old women asked the momentous question. "The matter in hand—has all gone well? The wench no longer troubles the peace and future of the okugata?"—"Everything to perfection: the chu[u]gen and servants were given tasks to take them far removed. There was barely a struggle. By the hands of this Shintaro[u] the affair was soon carried to completion." With complacence he displayed two lean strong hands, regarded with fondness and admiration by her ladyship. They could bestow a more tender embrace than that suffered by the unfortunate koshimoto. "And later; the traces of the deed, these are to be removed?"—"There are none. The time was waited until the body grew cold. It was safe to do so. The weather is yet raw, the room one seldom entered, and the bar key in the hands of Shintaro[u]. But just now the task of dismemberment and disposal has been completed. On pretext of repairs to the ashigaru quarters much plaster was obtained. With this the severed fragments of the hussy and her foetus were mingled, and thus concealed in the wall of the tokonoma. The whole new surfaced no trace of the deed appears; nor is there fear of stench from the corpse. Her ladyship can be assured that all is well. O'Shimo no longer will give trouble with her pretensions to his lordship's fondness. In a few days Shintaro[u] will notify the father that the girl has run off with some lover. A worthless jade, thus dismissed the yashiki, he will be too ashamed to make inquiry here; and his searches elsewhere are not likely to bear fruit.... How strange!" He brushed away a firefly which had flown into his face. With surprise those present watched the bug flitting here and there in the darkness of the corners and the open corridor. It was barely the middle of the third month (April), and no season for the appearance of those insects of the hottest period of the year. Failing to catch it, O'Tsugi drove it into the outer darkness. Then closed the screens.

More lights were brought. Her ladyship would take wine, and talk of nothing but the joy and relief. "For life this deed shall not be forgotten. Always in the ready courage and resource of Nishioka has support been found; many awkward corners turned. If he finds favour with his lord, still greater the regard of this Hagi. A cup—Shintaro[u]!" Herself she offered it, leaning fondly toward him. Her hand trembled in her passion as he took it, with purposed glance and pressure. Always formal in outward seeming, the intimate relations of the pair for past months were more than understood by these immediate attendants and abettors. Nishioka Shintaro[u] long had been the honoured substitute of his lord—the shadow, the O'Kage Sama, of Nakakawachi Dono. In this case the shadow was the substance. This ugly virile woman was boiling over with passion. In the old O'Saku she had a bawd to her service. She had entered this House as friend or enemy, according as the event would turn out. Neglected by Shu[u]zen, unable to rule him by will or personal attraction, she sought to do so by substitution, to the satisfaction of both. Hence she made Nishioka Shintaro[u] her lover. He was nephew of O'Saku and foster brother of O'Hagi. Once introduced into the house he easily made his way into the confidence of Shu[u]zen Dono, by taking all cares off his shoulders, beyond those of ceremonial attendance and pleasure. The minutest details of everything were looked to by Nishioka. This pleased Shu[u]zen, who placed confidence in the readiness and proved resourcefulness of the man. Nishioka was an infallible guide in all minutiae of the palace service and intrigue; his knowledge gained by a long experience in attendance on the great Doi House. Here he had risen from chu[u]gen to kyu[u]nin (house officer). When he came to the yashiki of Shu[u]zen he soon replaced the karo[u] (minister) of the fief in his lord's intimacy, and the latter official found honourable banishment in continued occupation and residence at the fief in Ko[u]shu[u], where Shu[u]zen played the role of a castle lord (jo[u]shu[u]), a fudai daimyo[u], a subordinate and spy on his greater neighbours. The new comer was source of congratulation to her ladyship. As O'Saku—and perhaps O'Hagi Dono intended, revenge was sought on Shu[u]zen by promptly throwing the mistress into the arms of Nishioka. Behind the impenetrable shield of the inner apartments—a place that Shu[u]zen only sought to avoid—they could live as husband and wife. Other arrangement now was met by the cold reception meted out to her lord by the lady of the House. Any compunction Shu[u]zen might feel as to what he thought to be the enforced sterility of O'Hagi thus was salved.

Merry almost to madness was the progress of the wine feast. Her ladyship went beyond the bonds even of a decent veil of sobriety. Her loving attitude to Nishioka found more open expression than usual in the presence of the others. Her abandonment was undisguised. All rejoiced with her; congratulated the strong man on his ready energy. Only the girl O'Han showed some lack of spirit, which she attributed to headache. In kindness her ladyship forbade further concern with the service of the wine, with the aggravation of its fumes; but she had too little consideration for those about her to relieve the suffering girl from attendance. Then the hour came to retire. According to the decent formula in practice, Nishioka, notified of the fact, rose to take his leave—to the next chamber. Here the O'Kage Sama did his disrobing. The girl O'Tsugi was the first to leave her ladyship, on some mission. She came behind Shintaro[u], to administer a rousing slap between the shoulders which brought him almost to his knees. Grumbling and gasping he turned to meet her admiring looks. "A fine figure of a man! And one to act as well as pose. For us his lordship has but pretty words. O'Shimo alone profited otherwise. But the O'Kage Sama of his lordship is of another kind. Deign to favour this Tsugi from time to time." Shintaro[u] volunteered a grimace which could pass for a consenting smile. His shoulders burned under the heat of the lady's passion. In search for a reply the screens again parted, and O'Saku made her appearance. O'Tsugi at once took to flight, somewhat in derision. The old woman followed her with eyes of suspicion. Then she marched straight up to Nishioka—"An impudent jade! Shintaro[u] is to place no confidence in her or her words. She brings nothing but shame, and perhaps worse. There is not a serving man in the yashiki who does not know her. And remember this well. It is this Saku who holds the string of her ladyship's favour. O'Hagi Dono is not so far enamoured as not to accept a substitute at Saku's hands.... But he is a fine figure of a man! Too fine to be spoiled by his lordship's hand." To avoid the threatening lascivious gleam in the eyes of this withered branch Nishioka made pretence of trouble with a knot in his girdle. The whispered invitation grazed a negligent ear, to be interrupted by the sound of her ladyship's voice. O'Saku was in no haste to leave or to say more. O'Han was the last to appear. There were anger and tears in her eyes as the girl stopped a few feet from him. She spoke half turned away, as ready to take flight at expected interruption. "Nishioka Dono keeps faith with her ladyship! Does he keep faith with Han? Earnest was the promise that at all events Han should share his favour with O'Hagi Dono. Nearly a month has passed since he has deigned a visit. Surely her ladyship is not so exacting. Give fair answer. Is will or power lacking?" She waited the reply, eyes cast down on the tatami, for she at least had some remains of modesty. Thus the almost despairing gesture of Shintaro[u] escaped her. He spoke in low voice, with emphasis, to this fairest of his bevy of fair ones—"As for the okugata, O'Han knows her almost as well as this Shintaro[u]. What would be the fate of both if their treachery were suspected? Deign to be patient. The fountain of plenty has not run dry. Shintaro[u] would go but so far. In this horde of women he must look to himself. The dependence now is on her ladyship and O'Saku Dono. Shu[u]zen Sama is cajoled by having thought for nothing. The karo[u] now is very old. This Shintaro[u] surely will take his place. A break then with her ladyship finds punishment in exile to Ko[u]shu[u]. Then comes the time for O'Han openly to join Shintaro[u], for the happy bond of two lives." The girl's lips barely moved. Both were startled at peremptory call from the neighbouring room. She spoke rapidly—"'Tis small matter, even with her ladyship. But from time to time a visit to this Han? Condescend it."—"Agreed!" was the impatient answer. "But with O'Hagi Dono, O'Tsugi, O'Han.... O'Saku, the occasions must be limited." He suddenly seized her in his arms and silenced her protest in an embrace. Then with hasty steps he passed to her ladyship's bed-chamber, leaving O'Han with wide staring eyes which shifted from the room of the lovers to the door through which she had witnessed the old woman's departure.

Such was the vileness of the life in which was engaged Nishioka Shintaro[u]. A week had barely elapsed. There was occasion to make purchases for the yashiki. The chu[u]gen Jisuke remained respectfully prostrate before the officer. Nishioka again ran over the list required. "These are to be got at the Owariya in Mikawacho[u]. The month's settlement is yet far off. The order stands sufficient. Now off with you." The man did not budge. Rising to a sitting posture he looked fixedly in the face of Nishioka. "What now?" grumbled the yo[u]nin. Answered the chu[u]gen with respect—"Something of a tip will be well."—"A tip!" said Nishioka in astonishment. "For what is the month's wage paid to a chu[u]gen? Is he to be given drink money for carrying out his duties? Take the furoshiki; and now out with it and yourself." "'Out with it'; just so." Such the answer; but the fellow did not budge. The steady insolence of his attitude made Nishioka straighten up as by a shock. He was too surprised to speak. The chu[u]gen spoke for him. "Yes—out with it. Ah! It is quite private with Shintaro[u]. Jisuke can speak at ease. Drink money is just the thing for Jisuke. Jisuke Dono is fond of drink. The O'Kage Sama will supply the coin, three ryo[u], in return for the silence of Jisuke."

At the suggestive nickname, known only to the few in the secrets of the oku Nishioka fairly gasped. Jisuke did not give time for answer. He drove the matter home. "'Heaven knows, Earth knows, Man knows.' So does this Jisuke, of the doings of Shintaro[u] with the Okusama. Naruhodo! No strange sight. When the honoured Sun (Tento[u] Sama) disappears toward Ko[u]shu[u], the honoured Moon (Tsuki Sama) appears in the ascendant in Musashi. The matter is a most important one, not to be brought to an end by a gesture. Bring the Okusama on the head and shoulders of Jisuke; and Jisuke tells all to his lordship. The proof is easy, and this Jisuke the fitting messenger between these lovers.... Oh! Don't lay hand to sword. Jisuke is active, and the way of retreat is open. The honoured Jisuke is not one to perish by the hand of the low fellow (yaro[u]) Shintaro[u]. In plain terms, the rascal is male concubine of her ladyship; who knows little of the even balance with which her paramour shares his favours with her women. Surely Shintaro[u] was born under the sign of the goat. But that is not all. The very walls can talk. At least that in which the unhappy O'Shimo, seven months gone with child, stands walled in. Naruhodo! Such punishment is inflicted on bugs, and worms, and creeping things; not on human beings. How does Jisuke know? Go question the plaster, you coward; or learn that Jisuke is, and has been, everywhere present at council and at deeds. But a word to Cho[u]bei Dono, and Nishioka crouches at the white sand for confession."

At first astonishment and incredulity, then wrath, now dismay filled the heart of Nishioka Shintaro[u]. The fellow's insolence, the honorifics bestowed on Jisuke, the vile terms heaped on himself, showed the secure ground on which Jisuke stood in his full knowledge of events. For whom was he spy? He must find out. Jisuke, however, volunteered the information. "Spy? Jisuke Dono is spy for no one's interest but that of Jisuke Sama. He would have warned O'Shimo Dono, but repented in time to have all more completely in his hands. She passed on to her death, carried out under the eyes of Jisuke, and at the hands—Yes, the hands of the low fellow Shintaro[u]. Ah! Did beautiful eyebrows inspire this deed? Was it the love for O'Hagi now, or love for O'Han hereafter? As rival to his lordship the rascal Shintaro[u] had no chance with O'Shimo Dono. The clothes prop is the most useful instrument of the house. It brings things long unseen to light and sight. Jisuke Dono will be the clothes prop for this completed wickedness—unless his silence be well bought. Come! Fifty ryo[u]: not down: but ten suffices for the occasion.... Come and demand it of the Okusama? No indeed! Before her ladyship the prescribed etiquette demands obeisance, and off is whipped the head of Jisuke. It is money and—a sword cut. On the contrary, off with Shintaro[u] to beg the needed sum. The tongue of Jisuke Sama is silenced only by the coin which secures his absence."

Nishioka could not help himself. "Jisuke is right. It is a matter of importance. But her ladyship alone can supply the sum. Remain here, where safety has been so well secured." Then he betook himself to the inner apartments. At his tale O'Hagi was aghast. She touched the root of the matter at once. "The man must have the money demanded. And afterward...." Nishioka smiled grimly at the kindred thought. "Into the oku he is not to be inveigled. Leave the matter to this Shintaro[u]. After all be is but a chu[u]gen, plainly a fellow with two eyes; but despite his long experience he must leave the yashiki or conform to the etiquette of the service. He will not leave a place where lies his future mine of gold, no matter what his insolence in private. All will be well. His ignorance and position offer chance to play upon. Shintaro[u] surely will find a way to kill him." With this solace and the coin he took his way back to the waiting Jisuke. "I say now! His lordship's shadow indeed! This rascal Shintaro[u] has but to shake the tree and the golden fruit falls into his hands. The kind of friend to possess! Ask; and one receives. Sheet metal too! A very thief, he is more generous than the Tono Sama! So far thanks. And now—sayonara! Jisuke Dono is off to the pleasant land—the Amatsuki of Fushimicho[u], the land of reed plains (Yoshiwara). The knave Jisuke, values higher than the knave (yaro[u]) Shintaro[u]. The Honoured Sir pays for the favours of his queen; his queen pays the yaro[u] Shintaro[u]." With this parting shot Jisuke was up and out into the open. With some surprise he halted for a moment. Nishioka had received the sally in good part. He was laughing, half in amusement, half in vexation. Thought Jisuke—"Truly this rascal of a yo[u]nin matches even the honoured Jisuke. Both spring from the farm, and the jest touches him, and not his rank. Between the two, lord and lady are like to pay dear."

Nishioka returned slowly to the inner apartments, to make report as to this rather doubtful progress. For several days nothing was seen of Jisuke. For a time, as one satisfied, he resumed his duties in the old respectful role. Only a sly veiled jest would show the wolf lying in wait. Then came further demands, promptly responded to by Nishioka. He began to be curious as to the adventures of Jisuke. He made the chu[u]gen talk; whose experiences were painted in glowing colours. With a sigh Nishioka handed over the cash demanded, granted the leave of absence. Grumbled Jisuke—"'Tis like digging the metal from the ground. Few are the miners of another's hoard. Why grudge this Jisuke what costs Shintaro[u] nothing!" Nishioka grasped at the opening. "What costs nothing, carries no grudge. But Jisuke has the cash at the cost of this Shintaro[u], only obtained in the company of an ugly old woman. With this coin it is Jisuke who commands the selected beauty of Nippon. Come! There has been enough of this. To-night Shintaro[u] takes Jisuke as guide. He too will take his pleasure amid the beauties of the Yoshiwara." He spoke expansively, with far off smile and look, as if the beauties were ranged before his vision. Jisuke stood with mouth wide open. "What! Not even the whole private apartments of a daimyo[u] satisfies this lecher? Ah! The rascal would plant horns on the Okusama. Husband and wife alike adorned! How now: is not her ladyship already something of a demon? Nishioka Dono will be impaled on one or the other." With mock respect he gave advice and bowed before his officer. His interest in this rebellion was plain. Nishioka was seen to hesitate. He looked doubtfully at Jisuke, as if seeking counsel in this questionable matter. To Jisuke the matter was a jest; thus to involve all three victims in a common treachery to one another. The temptation was great, and he was a match for any underhand design on the part of Nishioka. No safer place for him than Yoshiwara, in which his enemy might be still more involved. Samurai were particularly marked in the place. Meanwhile the chamberlain would be his butt for the evening. Jisuke's hints as to his source of revenue were broad enough to the companions of his evening pleasures. They would be delighted at a sight of this generous official.

Hence he urged objections to his company, and himself found answers. Said Nishioka—"It is agreed. To-night all is propitious. The old girl has taken cold. She intends a sweating. Such the notice to this Shintaro[u]. It is his time to be fickle. He accompanies Jisuke." His mind was made up, with some evident tear and reluctance. Jisuke aided him in his preparations. Wearing zukin (hood) he passed out the gate with Jisuke. The latter handed in two chu[u]gen tickets to the momban, and none knew that the honoured yo[u]nin had left the yashiki. In merry company they descended the Gomizaka. Shintaro[u] was as a boy just out of school, so merry was he. He lagged behind, then went ahead. At the top of the Kudanzaka he halted. "On with you, Jisuke. Shintaro[u] stops here a moment." He passed to the side of the road. Jisuke in turn halted. He was standing in the moonlight. Said he, with a touch of his usual insolent jesting—"How explain to the ladies the presence of the honoured chamberlain? Shintaro[u] yaro[u] wears two swords. Jisuke Dono is but a chu[u]gen. Odd company! Notable will be the compliment."—"No explanation is required." Terrible the voice from the shadow beside him. "Ei!" Quick as a flash Jisuke made a spring forward, not too soon to prevent arm and back being ripped open by the keen weapon.—"Ah! The low fellow Shintaro[u] is not the one to kill the honoured Jisuke. He has already said it.... The beast! He has cut me. The devil lies between Jisuke and the lights of the O[u]mon. With Cho[u]bei San is found safety and vengeance." With all speed he fled up the Ushinakizaka to seek safety in the darkness of its wood. Nishioka pursued with determination. The rip of cloth and flesh showed him that he had reached his man. Loss of blood would bring him down. Jisuke aimed for the middle of the grove, for the Hachiman shrine, now the site of the Sho[u]konsha. Under the dark shadow of the trees he hoped to escape the pursuer. Alas! A tree root caught his foot and threw him on his face. As he rose the sword ran him through from back to breast. Staggering, grasping at air, he turned on Nishioka; spitting out his grudge with the clots of blood. His last words of hate were mingled with the rumblings of the storm close over head. The moon's brightness had disappeared. Heavy clouds rolled up, illuminated time and again by a glare of dismal light. Big gouts of rain began to wet the clothes of living and of dead in this solitude. For surety Nishioka gave the final thrust through the throat. Just then the bell of Ichigaya Gekkeiji reverberated through the thick wood. In the night hour it sounded sharp and sudden, like a harsh call to men to rise and witness. Nishioka wiped his sword on the dead man's dress. A flash of lightning lit the face, horrible and mocking in the death agony. As the chamberlain leaned over the corpse a voice spoke behind him, harsh and as if half stifled with the blood filling gorge and lungs—"Yai! Shintaro[u] has his way. He murders Jisuke—not once, but twice. Deep the grudge! Deep the grudge!" Then it broke into a wail, chilling in the helplessness of the malice expressed. Nishioka sprang to his feet and whirled around. In the uncertain light close by stood Jisuke. His hair in wild disorder, cheeks fallen in and corpse like with the bluishness of clay, the chu[u]gen grinned and threatened. The living man could match him with his pallor. "Namu Amida Butsu! Get you hence vile spectre, or stay the test of Nishioka's sword." He made a sweep with the weapon. The figure disappeared. A mocking laugh resounded far and wide, followed by the same chilling hopeless wail. In haste, and pursued by the wild laughter, stumbling over stones and roots, Nishioka fled the wood, to make report at the feet of her ladyship. For long the figure of the chu[u]gen, crying, wailing in baffled malice, haunted the wood of the Ushinakizaka. Men hastened to pass by, none would enter; and in time the apparition became one of the seven marvels (the Nana-Fushigi) of the Bancho[u].



CHAPTER V

THE REPORT TO THE TONO SAMA

On the dull evening of the rainy season (June) Nakakawachi Shu[u]zen sat looking out on the dripping plants and trees. The home coming had brought no pleasure. The treachery of the favoured Shimo was assured. The father himself admitted the search made for the lover; wept and grovelled in shame and apology. O'Saku had seen him in person, when he came to the yashiki several weeks before the flight. O'Tsugi had heard him call—"choi! choi!" had overheard O'Shimo's surprised exclamation—"my lover! my lover!" After several mysterious absences, on excuse to see her father lying ill, she had disappeared. On inquiry it was found that Cho[u]bei had never known a day of illness. The excuse was all a lie. "A case of the wild duck; the cock had come." Whose was the child she bore? O'Hagi laughed, and her attendant woman smiled, at his credulity.

Shu[u]zen never suspected the deceit. Something of a dilettante for the period he was learned in the Chinese tradition. Seventeen years, and a woman has no heart. This Shimo was a debauched wench. Truly she had foxed him with her superficial charms, picked him up thus easily in the Bancho[u]. With gesture of weariness and disgust he turned to the papers and scrolls on the desk before him. They were house accounts submitted by Nishioka, and none too pleasing. A round sum was missing on the person of the chu[u]gen Jisuke. Sent out to make important payment, he had run off with the money, leaving no sign of his whereabouts. Just then the bell of Gekkeiji struck the hour of the pig (9 P.M.). With impatience Shu[u]zen swept the papers together. Her ladyship as companion of his wine feasts chilled the bottles with freezing glance. The monotonous talk of debts and expenses, exchanged with those around, added a bitter flavour. Always demands, or hints of demands, which made the meal a very time of penance.

With some slowness he rose to attend the repast. Then from the garden side came a sad wailing voice. "Grateful the honoured return, so long delayed. Fond the thoughts of the past long weeks. Deep the longing for the honoured presence. Report is to be made to his lordship. Alas! Alas!" A chill went to the very heart of Shu[u]zen. Lamentable and grievous as was the sound, he had no difficulty in recognizing the voice of O'Shimo. Startled he turned in indignant anger to the ro[u]ka whence the sound had come. He looked out into the darkness of the dripping night. Nothing was to be seen. Plainly he had thought too much of the girl, of her condition and the disappointment. He gave his body a violent shake to throw off this cold oppression and foreboding. Then slowly he took his way to the wine feast. The sake would bring warmth. This was not the case. Freely as he drank, it added to powers of vision. His mind now always on the missing girl, the familiarity between spouse and chamberlain seemed strange for the relation between mistress and servant. As usual, with the finish of the last bottle, Nishioka accompanied him to his retirement. Shu[u]zen spoke sharply of the large increase in the expenses of the inner apartments. To meet these the revenues would have to be forestalled, the income anticipated. The smooth fellow met him more than half way in agreement. His lordship was too estranged from the okugata. Greater familiarity toward the women's apartments would be the needed restraint. Deign his presence this very night. Nishioka Shintaro[u] spoke in no hypocrisy. The O'Kage Sama now was longing for the rightful substitution. His nest well feathered, he would seek safer quarters with the softer charms of O'Han. On Shu[u]zen's abrupt gesture and refusal he took his departure, almost betraying his own disgruntlement. Comical was his despairing gesture as he took his way to the bed of her ladyship.

The temple bell struck the seventh hour (3 A.M.). It roared and reverberated through the room. Shu[u]zen opened his eyes. He was tormented with the thirst inspired by his copious libations. His head was heavy and whirling. He took a long draft from the jar close by his pillow. Then he rose to tread the corridor. On his return he sought to wash his hands. Turning to find the towel, close by him he saw a woman. Dressed all in white, slender to emaciation, her face concealed by the long hair which hung in heavy disordered masses over shoulders and bosom, she presented to him the desired article. As he would take the towel he spoke in surprise—"Who may this be, awake at this late hour for Shu[u]zen's service?" Again the sad lamentable voice made reply—"Fond the thoughts of his lordship. Long waited his return. Report is to be made." At sight of her face he gave a cry—"Shimo!" At the words the figure faded away. The outstretched towel fell to the ground. A slight rustle of the breeze swept the corridor. "Shimo! Shimo!" In amaze and suspicion came the words. Something had gone wrong here. Shu[u]zen pressed the towel to his lips, as to get rid of the nauseating taste in his mouth. Then came the voice from the garden. With hasty movement he threw back the amado. The wind sighed through the pines; a gentle patter of rain came in gusts. Close by the voice spoke again—as from a yukimido[u]ro, one of those broad capped stone lanterns, like to some squat figure of a gnome, and so beautiful an ornament with white snow cap or glistening with the dripping mirror of the rain.

"Report is to be made. Long has Shimo waited her lord's return. In this Shimo was no treachery of heart. Devoted was her service to her lord. By the hand of Nishioka Shintaro[u], by the malice of O'Hagi Dono, Shimo and her unborn babe met a miserable end. Nor has the ill deed ended there. Go now to the chamber of the wife, and witness the adulterous deed. Deign to learn the truth from Shimo." The voice ceased. Shu[u]zen passed a hand over his wine heated brow. Fox or badger? Did some over bold and infamous apparition seek to delude him? With a bound he sought his chamber and the sword at his pillow. He would deal harshly with such lies. Then came a second thought. Why not ascertain the fact? He was the husband. His presence was a right. Softly he made his way to the inner apartments. At the outer ward he stumbled in the darkness against some object. "Are! The Tono Sama!" With a cry of alarm up sprang the sleeping O'Han. She would have outstripped him in a race to the inner rooms, but Shu[u]zen was too quick for her. With hand over mouth he dragged her to the garden side. She would have cried out, and made resistance. Then he changed her tune. Lacking confession he held her flat and prostrate under him. Firmly grasping both wrists tight together, he forced his dagger between the hands, and began to twist the keen blade. Unable to resist the torture she soon told all she knew, confessed her own part of watch and ward in the offense. This done, he drove the weapon through her throat and left her pinned to where she lay, the limbs feebly twitching in the last throes.

Assured of his suspicions Shu[u]zen now sought to surprise the lovers. Cautiously he approached the sleeping room of her ladyship from the inner side. There was no doubt of it. In the very throes of her passion O'Hagi was without disguise. Shu[u]zen threw back the screens on this vileness. "Lechers! For this disloyalty Shu[u]zen finds revenge! Make ready!" Nishioka Shintaro[u] sprang to his feet, only to sink down in a pool of blood which soaked the bed he had dishonoured. Severed from shoulder to pap he died forthwith. With wild screams O'Hagi fled to the corridor. As she reached it the point of the weapon was thrust through her back, to come out at the navel. As she writhed and twisted on the floor, Shu[u]zen measured the blow and nearly cut the body in twain. "Ah! In good season the old bawd presents herself." In fright the old woman's head had been thrust between the screens into the room close by the master. An easy mark it fell severed to the ground, the blood spouting its powerful streams from the arteries as from a pump. The woman O'Tsugi was a sterner task. Aroused by the noise she came stalking into the middle of the room, still rubbing eyes confused by sleep. "Ah! The villainous cuckold. He has murdered these, and now would add the next (tsugi). Not so!" With her wild jest she threw herself upon him. Trained soldier as he was Shu[u]zen found the contest no easy one against this virile woman. Getting the worst of it, she fastened her teeth deep into his hand. Grunting with pain Shu[u]zen flung her off, and quickly brought down the sword. Prostrate she lay, the blood stream pouring over the real lord of this harem.

With a long breath Shu[u]zen surveyed his work. It was complete. Then he went to the outer ward of the apartments. To his call no one came. Repeated, in the distance of the ro[u]ka appeared from the outer ward (omote) the old and faithful Nakamura Saisuke. At sight of his lord, dyed in blood from head to foot, he threw up his hands. Without undue haste or any words Shu[u]zen led him to the scene of the punishment. Respectfully Saisuke brought a cushion. Then prostrate he waited for his lord to speak. Long endured the silence. Then said Shu[u]zen briefly—"Caught in the act of adultery this Shu[u]zen has put to death the guilty. The results are most important. The lack of discipline in the House is sure to lead to the honoured punishment by the suzerain. From this there is no escape." Saisuke surveyed the scene with the calm eye of experience. "Be in no haste, my lord. This Saisuke in his long experience has seen many deeds of violence. For the present this matter need not be published. Of the outer apartments (omote), the chu[u]gen and servants need know nothing. In any case they do not count, and can be sent away. The others are not curious; moreover they are loyal, as samurai.... Of the inner apartments—a very clean sweep has been made. Deign to leave matters for the present to this Saisuke." With approval the old man examined the handiwork of his lord. It was most thorough, even to the eye of this remnant of the battle field. Then he went to work. The bodies he conveyed to the side of the artificial mound in the garden. Digging out part of the hill, here he buried them; forced in, dove-tailed together, in the smallest space; the old man grumbling at the ground they occupied. Then with water he washed out the blood stains on the wood work. When dry he would plane out tell-tale marks. Meanwhile he would serve his lord, to the exclusion of all others. Would the Tono Sama deign to rest? With sad misgivings the kyu[u]nin (house officer) watched Shu[u]zen as he retired to his room. Himself he mounted guard at the women's entrance, to prevent all intrusion.

Nakamura Saisuke's heart was pure. His age beyond recall. For two days he struggled, alone in his task. On one pretext or another the samurai were sent off, one here one there, on lengthy missions. Perhaps the old man's efforts had been too great. In the course of the day a chu[u]gen, come on some affair, found him flat on his belly, groaning with pain as in the very last extremities. To the man's inquiries he could but cry out with colic and distress. Aid was brought, but only to find him dead. Then a second discovery was made. Report was necessary to his lordship. Here all was found closed against reception. On making their way into the inner room Shu[u]zen was found, clad all in white, the bloody dirk in hand, the body fallen forward on the ceremonial mats. He had cut his belly open, on retiring for the night. All now was in confusion. Should the karo[u] be awaited. None knew this exile to the Ko[u]shu[u] fief, beyond his reputed morose severity. Official there was none to whom to make report. They were afraid, and took their own part. With everything of value they could lay their hands on they fled in different directions. The open gate and abandonment attracted attention. The dead body of Shu[u]zen was proved a voluntary seppuku (cut belly) for some cause; that of the old man required no explanation. The inquiry set on foot led only to confusion, and was soon lost in the greater question of the heirship. Placed in charge of Yamada Dono, a caretaker was sought for the yashiki. A property tangled in a long dispute, this would seem a pleasing task and one to summon many applicants. But this was not the case. Successful candidacy was followed by early exodus. None could endure the frightful sounds heard every night; the cries of pleasure followed by the screams of those in the agony of a painful dying. Spectral lights were seen, the old well in the garden poured forth its confined spirits, all the evil influence of the place was rejuvenated in the minds of people by this last disaster. "Thus the matter rests. 'Tis not this Shimo who is the cause of these nightly scenes of strife and pain. In mad chase Shu[u]zen Dono, the Okusama, the villainous Nishioka and his concubines, act the scene of their cutting off. Shimo has but her part, to find Nirvana in the worship of the upright. Deign this act of kindness." At the fierceness of the voice Endo[u] Saburo[u]zaemon started. The red light of dawn was pouring into the open room. All sight of the dreadful vision had faded from the wall before him. Vision, or fact? It had been too vivid to doubt. Yet as he came to the mound he passed around it. On the side next to the lake now he noticed that it was all caved in, an obvious depression. The tale then had truth. Thus he took his way from the haunted precincts, determined to secure the yashiki as his own, and the future rest and peace of Nirvana to the unhappy O'Shimo.



CHAPTER VI

THE SHRINE OF THE O'INARI SAMA

Something has been already said of the chu[u]gen Isuke, unwilling guide of Endo[u] Saburo[u]zaemon to the haunted house of the Go Bancho[u]. Thus is the second person of the name of Shu[u]zen introduced into the traditions and history of the Bancho[u]. Of him and his experiences with its denizens something is to be said.

Okumura Shu[u]zen had distinguished himself in the Amakusa uprising of 1637-8. A retainer of Matsudaira Nobutsuna he had not been the last man to force his way into the blazing ruins of Arima castle. He did his very best amid the struggling mass of halt, maimed, and blind, after the real defenders of the castle had died weapons in hand. He was able to present himself before his lord with a reasonable number of his own company with heads on their shoulders; and a phenomenal number of heads minus shoulders, of all ages and sexes—men, women, and children—of the castle inmates. Against the once owners Shu[u]zen had little grudge. So much was to be said of him. In private he railed against the bad rule which had brought him and his fellows into the field against the embattled farmers. But this was a thing to be endured; not cured, except by time. Rebellion against the liege lord, under the leadership of samurai once retainers of the cowardly Konishi Yukinaga, added edge to his sword and point to his spear. His service brought him in the train of his lord's progress to Edo. In the report made Okumura Shu[u]zen figured so well, that request—amounting to command—transferred him to the Tokugawa over-lord. Made hatamoto with fief of four hundred koku he was as well liked by his greater lord as when in the humbler service of a daimyo[u]. Five years of faithful work, and the necessities of Government for his yashiki site in Mita received the reward of a liberal grant of another site in the Go Bancho[u], together with the thousand ryo[u] of costs of removal.

The work of transfer was pushed forward. The more modest abode of a lord of moderate income, and the massive gateway with its supporting walls and fence of closely woven, sharp pointed, bamboo retiring into the distance now were ready to shut in Shu[u]zen to the privacy of his share in the suzerain's defence. Plainly Shu[u]zen Dono put more confidence in his own prowess, or insignificance, than in the strength of outer defences against sudden attack of those at feud with him. Part of his tract inclosed a shrine of the Inari goddess. This had still its worshippers. On his inspection Shu[u]zen noted the loneliness of the building, its desolation. Yet it was clean swept and kept, and a money box for offerings was proof of attendance at the shrine. Whether this was of man or beast was not so easy to determine, for traces of the latter were plain to the eye. Their tracks swarmed about the building itself. As Shu[u]zen stood in some uncertainty, a woman of the middle class appeared. To inquiries she admitted that the care of the shrine was due to herself and her piety; a care gladly rendered to its efficacy. It had returned to her a son once sent adrift to the provinces; and to her affection a husband who had gone astray much closer home, for the intruding female was a minor member of her own household. Finding excuse in some domestic misdeed, the worthy cit had sent forth the damsel into the wilderness of the world with the fruit of her experience. The relief of this incubus, and the return of a more rightful heir than promised, the good lady attributed to the virtue of her prayers to the Inari Sama. She was urgent to bring support to her views in the general opinion of all the neighbourhood, mainly of the Ko[u]jimachi village. These corroborated what she said as to the shrine's efficacy and petitioned for its continued support. Made the tutelary shrine of the yashiki, separated therefrom by a mere brushwood fence, this Inari Jinja of the Bancho[u] continued to exist for the good of the public and the annoyance of the amiable Okumura Shu[u]zen. Its kannushi (Shinto priest) he could never find. The woman and others said that he lived at Ushinakizaka. At least the money contributions were always accounted for, although they had never seen his face. A few days before the formal opening of the yashiki the chu[u]gen Isuke and the workmen stood with puzzled faces before a hole discovered underneath the flooring of the shrine. It led to some passage or cave. None were in humour to investigate, perhaps to the annoyance of the O'Inari Sama. At Isuke's direction, and with difficulty in the cramped space, it was found possible to shove into place the massive granite slab which fitted tightly into the aperture, and plainly belonged to it. "A one time store house of the god," quoth Isuke. With that he and the others betook themselves to their divers tasks of finishing the clearing up of building and surroundings. In the excitement and confusion of moving in there was little thought of the cavity in this twelfth month of Kwanei twentieth year (January 1644), and the idea of making report was lost sight of until other conditions brought up again the subject.

The ceremonial visits of the New Year, the congratulations and presents, were to be made to the suzerain by his attendant hatamoto and the daimyo[u] then in Edo town. Every yashiki was in a turmoil of excitement and confusion. Even in the greater yashiki there was demand for outsiders to carry the hakomochi or long boxes, for the rokushaku (six footers) or tall fellows to carry the sedan chair, for others to bear the kappakago or rain-coat boxes. Samurai, ashigaru, spearholders, chu[u]gen, zo[u]ri holders—these were attendant in the yashiki. But the minor establishments were mainly dependent on outside aid to swell the lord's train. Hence the role of Bandzuin Cho[u]bei and his successors was no sinecure, in addition to the exercise of the art of arranging time and place so that the inferior lords would be least inconvenienced by the necessary and often humiliating deference to their superiors in rank. The guild patron looked well to the interests of his employers—daimyo[u]—with small regard to those who shifted for themselves; which was one of the causes of grudge by the hatamoto against Cho[u]bei, later removed from the scene by assassination.

Every horse in Edo, destined for the morrow's ceremony, underwent the pampered treatment that the groom Kakunai devoted to his master's nag. On the preceding day Kage (Fawn colour) had been treated to all the luxuries of horse diet. He must eat for to-day and for to-morrow, and perform all the offices connected there with beforehand. Said Kakunai—"Kage, be circumspect and constipated. To-morrow the master offers congratulations at the castle. Kage is stuffed beyond measure to-day, that he be able to fast to-morrow. Show no discontent. For the passage of the sun there is to be no eating, and but a modicum of drinking. Halt not the procession for unseemly purposes." He stroked the horse, and the pleased animal purred and whinnied with the contentment of a cat at being petted. Then harshly said a voice in the ear of the bending Kakunai—"For this feed of the year's end thanks are rendered. Though not exactly of the kind desired, the intent has been good and the stomach filled. Hence congratulations in turn for the New Year season."

Kakunai jumped as if some one had thrust the unblunted end of a spear into his posteriors. He looked around, and over, and under the horse. "Who speaks? Where from? And what concerning?... Yai! Yai! It's Kage!... Is no one hiding hereabouts, to make a fool of Kakunai?" With eyes bolting out he backed away in terror. The horse grinned broadly, showing its ugly yellow teeth in attempt at graciousness—"It is true. Kage, addresses the honoured betto[u] Kakunai, gives congratulations to his friend." Kakunai did not wait to receive them. Now he bolted forth in person, to burst into the room of the chu[u]gen Isuke, just then struggling to arrange garments and hair for attendance on his lord's progress. Head throbbing from not unliberal potations due to the seasons festivities this was no pleasant task. To Kakunai's report the answer was prompt and sour—"Kakunai is a liar or a fool; or if he would play a jest on Isuke, his own head shall ache as badly." Kakunai accepted the challenge and asseverated the truth of his report. Not at all convinced, and with a gloomy satisfaction of the idea of having it out with Kakunai on failure of the proof, Isuke accompanied the groom to the stable. Kakunai gingerly made up to the horse—"Kakunai has been friend to Kage. Hence he is called liar or fool or mountebank. Deign to prove his truth, Kage Dono." Respectfully he bowed to the horse. The latter at once turning to the chu[u]gen, brayed into his face—"'Tis fact. Kage is at least as human as these his brothers. He speaks to whom he wills. Not so with Isuke and Kakunai. A word to the Tono Sama, and Kage will kill and eat these his friends. Keep his good will by friendship." Gently the horse raised a front hoof. The voice was harsh; and the push, though gentle—for a horse—sent Isuke flat, with reminder of Kage thus closely applied. Without a word the chu[u]gen wallowed from the floor, none too clean, and took to flight. Kakunai followed after, holding his nose. In the privacy of the chu[u]gen's room Isuke changed to sweeter garb and discussed the matter with Kakunai. Should his lordship be informed? Kakunai, as immediate attendant and in greatest danger, earnestly protested. Isuke at any time might be brought into closest contact with Kage in his office of chu[u]gen attending his master. They agreed that it would be very disagreeable to be killed and eaten, especially with such evidences of Kage's powers of disposition. Hence nothing was to be said; or rather each agreed to leave the matter of report to the other.

Great was the crush and excitement on this day of the year. Long and continuous were the processions (gyo[u]retsu) of daimyo[u] and hatamoto making their way to and from the castle. The rule of the day was to avoid unnecessary collision, as far as possible; not only in the matter of precedence, but of order. Commoners, male and female, old and young, ro[u]nin, samurai, according to their caste squatted or prostrated themselves in reverential attitude as the palanquin of some lord passed by. Caustic or benign, generally malicious, the comment of the Kidahachi and Yajiro[u]bei—"O[u]kubo Hikoroku Dono; 'tis true he possesses influence, and the roughness of Hikoza Sama, but the keen wit of the honoured father lacks."—"Yet the lord O[u]kubo has much kindness beneath his roughness. The latter is passport to the favour of the suzerain." Iyeyasu Ko[u] ruled by statecraft; Hidetada Ko[u] by benevolence; the third Sho[u]gun Iyemitsu Ko[u], by rough energy. Such the tradition of the personality of these three men handed down in Nippon's history. With the passage of Tadamune Ko[u], of the great Sendai fief, heads went very low. Great his wealth, and greater still was his influence with the Suzerain. Tadamune swept proudly on; the future disasters represented in the boy who rode close to the palanquin, and whose licentious life later threatened to wreck the wealth and position of the great house.

At the dismount notice (geba-fuda) Okumura Shu[u]zen, accompanied by two pages, donned zo[u]ri (sandals) and betook himself to the palace. He was a small figure in this crush of great nobles, but as hatamoto had his right and duty of being present at the palace; both rigidly enforced, and assuredly with greater regard and welcome than most of the men of much greater rank, always regarded with suspicion. The modest train of a four hundred koku lord was squeezed into a corner of this mass of underlings waiting the return of their masters from audience. Close companion to his beloved and now feared Kage, the groom Kakunai was well satisfied with his insignificance. Great was his consternation to hear the harsh voice of his equine friend in his ear. A whisper to Kage meant a roar to the crowd—"Naruhodo! The stench of these humans excels even that of the stable. One is as much confined here as there. His lordship has now departed. Deign, Kakunai San, to indulge in amusement. Let's be off—to the Kwannon of Asakusa, to the Yoshiwara. Here there is naught but press and riot. In the pleasure quarter both convey diversion. Deign so to regard it." With wide open mouths those around turned to the quarter whence came these uncomplimentary terms. Kakunai was sweating with fear—"Shut up!... Rude? Then deign to be silent. Great the press. To withdraw is difficult; to desert his lordship impossible. Silence is the part of the inferior." At this exercise of authority the horse grumbled loudly—"Away from the stinking stable one feels gay and at ease. Quicksilver runs in the veins. At Yoshiwara the hatsudochu[u] will be in progress. Following the processions of the honoured oiran, liberal will be the sake offered at the tea houses. Deign, Kakunai San, to reconsider your purpose to remain."

At this Kakunai almost melted into the icy puddle on the ground. He shivered as he wiped the cold sweat dripping from his forehead. At first voices said—"Who is speaking in these ribald terms? Kakunai San is it not? Who the companion?... Oya! 'Tis the horse which talks! Asakusa and Yoshiwara? What say the women to the presence of the beast? Eh! Off with you, Kakunai San, to show which is horse and which groom." They crowded around the pair, not daring to come close. Kakunai felt extremely unwell. He could not deny the fact. "Like boys, he boasts beyond his powers. The power of speech runs loose. Yet as a horse it is a wise beast, the treasure of a four hundred koku yashiki, since none other possesses his like. Deign to note his own proclamation of his tastes." This was to throw the consequences of discovery on the animal, to file the sharpness of teeth against the promised mauling of Kakunai's flesh. Then he waxed eloquent and proud—"A fine horse indeed! Such a horse in battle is unequalled. Is it not so, Kage?" And Kage promptly answered to his friend's praise. "A horse of noble quality, with good deeds to his credit, gains reputation. At the astonishment of the foe the rider runs them through with the spear. Hence gain of heads, and reputation to both steed and master." Kage spun round, letting fly hoofs in all directions, shaking his head and biting savagely. At this display of battle fire those too close fled in disorder. At a safe distance wonder and advice was expressed. "Deign to be off, Kakunai San. Truly the animal is foxed, and foxes enough are to be found in Yoshiwara. He will find company without fail." Kakunai, as he restrained the beast, now full at ease—"Of that we are assured. Alas! He cannot squat. In that he is clumsy, as is the red haired, green-eyed western barbarian. Otherwise it is not Kakunai who would bring coin to Nakanocho[u], but convey money hence." Some agreed, and some disagreed, and all congratulated. Thus did horse and groom get much advertisement at the O[u]te-mon, to the subsequent profit of both.

Shu[u]zen, audience granted, appeared at the castle gate. Respectfully the crowd drew apart, and watched the lord depart with his train. Never had one of the minor hatamoto attracted greater attention; and of these many were notable men for personal exploits. Entirely unconscious of this notice Shu[u]zen rode off to his yashiki. In the course of the succeeding days many visits were to be paid, and the wondrous fact had chance to spread from the under world to the surface. At the yashiki of Abe Shiro[u]goro[u] the salutations were exchanged; the spiced sake to preserve life—the to[u]so—was brought forth. Shu[u]zen detected in his host a quizzical, even amused attitude. Said Shiro[u]goro[u]—"Shu[u]zen Uji, did he deign to ride, or mount the kago (palanquin)." The question was abrupt, and seemed not over courteous. A hatamoto of four hundred koku possessed steed and spearmen. Abe Shiro[u]goro[u] was a great lord, and Shu[u]zen answered smoothly, seeking any source of offense. To his affirmative, said the host—"Then Shu[u]zen Dono perhaps deigned to mount the favourite and talking horse.... Surely he knows of the animal's great gift.... Congratulations are due, for what is the talk of the castle precincts." Shu[u]zen's astonishment was too great not to be genuine. He was the first to propose to Abe Dono the taking of a look at the noted beast. He was eager to inspect an animal, which, it seemed, he had as yet never seen. The two lords came forth to the genkwan (house entrance). On summons Kakunai brought forward the horse, expecting his lord to mount, not exactly understanding the presence of the lord of the mansion. Shu[u]zen's first words enlightened him unpleasantly. With some severity—"Kakunai, does this horse talk?" Thunderstruck Kakunai did not know what answer to make. Kage could bite. His master could do worse, if enough angered. He hesitated—"Hai!" Quoth Shu[u]zen—"'Hai' is no answer. Has the horse power of human speech?" Kakunai put his hand to his head, then turned to Kage, who was obstinately silent. He gave him as hard a blow on the neck as he dared, without result. "The Tono Sama has heard the tale; as has this Kakunai. His head in a whirl, Kakunai knows not whether it be true or not. By an humble groom such matters are not understood. To report idle gossip or the illusions of one's brain, savours of impudence. Deign the question in person. Kage refuses answer to this Kakunai."

Thus skilfully he lied. Kage eyed him with approval; Shu[u]zen with some doubt. He turned to the horse—"Kage, it is said you speak. Shu[u]zen is the master. Answer without lying." Kage spoke, indifferent to rank and without circumlocution of polite society—"'Tis so; and just as does a human being. Truly Shu[u]zen Sama has supplied a most foul smelling place to learn the art." Abe Shiro[u]goro[u] snickered—"Kage Dono is too precise. Would he learn the art of converse over his master's wine?"—"Not unwillingly," replied the nag. "But in any case he would have Isuke and this lazy groom make better and more frequent use of broom and bucket. The good offices of Abe Dono are requested." By this retort courteous the two noblemen were silenced and amused. Uncertain as to the course of further converse with the beast Okumura made salutation, mounted and departed homewards. As he gave the horse into the groom's charge he said—"It is for Kakunai to keep in mind the words of Kage." As he vigorously applied broom and water to the stall and vicinity of the favoured animal, Kakunai mentally determined that on the whole Shu[u]zen Dono was the more dangerous of the two. Hence-forward he would be careful to remember all that Kage said—and make report.



CHAPTER VII

THE LUCK OF OKUMURA SHU[U]ZEN

The first efforts of Shu[u]zen at solving this mystery were not overly successful. A samurai, he betook himself to the highest exponent of the caste cult. In search of illumination he hit upon Hayashi Daigaku no Kami Dono. This man, learned in all the lore of Morokoshi (China), head of the certified institute of letters—the University—could but confess his ignorance—vicariously. Rats nesting in the tails of horses formed part of the experience of books, but not of that of men. Of talking horses there was no authenticated case. The whole matter remained without proof. He had never heard of such. Shu[u]zen squatted in a drowsy stupefaction as an incomprehensible learning was poured into his ear. He choked with the dust raised from the ancient volumes, tenderly and reverently pawed over by the learned doctor, who seemed dust-proof. Finally through the mist he heard the asseveration that it must be the work of fox or badger. It was matter for the diviner, not the divinity of the learned. With this Hayashi Dono gave the pile of dusty script before him a mighty thump, and disappeared behind the cloud he had raised.

Okumura Shu[u]zen sought the open air and respiration. Where now should he go for counsel? He would sell the beast. Kakunai sought mercy. He was but a groom, and death was easy at his master's hand. At all events easier than the one promised by Kage, if Kakunai should lead him out to the market, and with fluent lies send him forth to earn the cruel livelihood of his kind between the shafts of a cart. Shu[u]zen was a kindly man; the horse one deserving better treatment. The groom's terror and the beast's threat added a new and interesting element to this search into the unknown. On the next day was to be heard memorial service for the ancestral tablets. This was to be performed in person by the abbot of the Seisho[u]ji of Shiba, Bankei Osho[u] known to fame. Shu[u]zen snoozed and exercised patience as the abbot read and expounded the lengthy sutra scroll. Over the subsequent repast he broached the subject of the talk of beasts, and his own particular difficulties. Bankei Osho[u] was most interested. All animals had speech and memory according to their kind. Food, a master's kindness, their own particular concerns, were matters of great intelligence among them. Why then should speech be aught else than to possess the organ? Such was the case with parrots. Monkeys evidently understood each other well, understood the gestures of men. As to the horse, there were very ancient records of the speech of such; so dim in the memory of men that probably they were mere talk of ignorance. But he would see this wondrous beast. Deign that guidance be supplied.

Shu[u]zen grasped at the offer. The abbot spoke with an ease and glibness that only the ecclesiastic on his own ground can show to those ignorant of his subject. He wrapped his lore, made easy for the beginner, in such technical phraseology, that Shu[u]zen could grasp at the meaning without knowing anything about what the abbot said, and hence had all the greater respect for the immense truth which he could see and not understand. Appreciation is as good as knowing—for the one who would pose—and soon Shu[u]zen and the cleric stood at the house entrance, waiting the production of the horse. Isuke in haste had carried the message to Kakunai. Kakunai, assured of his master's forbearance and Kage's accomplishments, had been none too sober since that happy day. Said he aloud—"A horse is not an ass; and a talking horse is one of his kind. Tip money to see the wondrous beast has flowed into the stable; and wine has flowed into Kakunai. For Kage there has been soft rice paste (mochi) and dumpling (dango) in unstinted quantities. The pastry cook has been overworked. Kage, now seize the opportunity. Speak with fluency and argument. Ah! If you had but the taste of this Kakunai! Wine would be an inspiration."—"Just try me!" chimed in the brute's voice. "Follow up the wine with rice cakes in syrup (shiruko). Otherwise Kage opens not his mouth, except to bite. Grievous is it to exercise speech, and to witness the benefits accruing to the human hog. Henceforth Kakunai must share alike with Kage." At this rebellion Kakunai was dumbfounded—"Nay, Kage! Shiruko and sake for a beast? Never would such come to the inside of the belly (mind) of Kakunai. If you did but know its content...."—"Shut up!" was the nag's discourteous response. "Kage knows it well. You have eaten takuan (pickled radish), and it smells none too sweet. A little further off, good Sir: now—who is this would be interviewer?"

Reduced to proper proportion Kakunai made humble reply. "Most fitting company for the honoured Kage Sama. The abbot Bankei deigns his presence." The horse gave a violent snort, and plunged back to the limit of his halter. "Kage talks not with a priest, nor henceforth with anyone." Kakunai was all consternation—"But Kage Dono ... the tips! This refusal is terrific. Why not favour the curiosity of the Osho[u] Sama? Deign to reconsider. The dainties of Kage, the wine of Kakunai, are at stake. Silent before the Osho[u], the Danna Sama in anger will strike off the head of Kage. Kakunai loses friend and fortune at a blow." The animal duly mused. "It is so. Shu[u]zen Dono of late has been short tempered. It cannot be avoided. Better had it been for Kakunai to take this Kage and depart to country fairs and towns; to pick up much coin for wine and dainties. However, all may go well. Delay not past the coming night to join yourself with Kage. Between the service of Shu[u]zen and that of Kage this low fellow (yaro[u]) Kakunai must not hesitate."—"Just so," agreed the groom. "It is mere matter of gambling anyhow that any ill occurs. Drinking wine, does Kage also gamble?" A shudder went through the frame of the horse—"Why speak thus? Of horses' bones the dice are made. Would Kage trifle with the relics of his kind? Make answer, Kakunai." He spoke with a fierce earnestness. Kakunai stammering sought answer. Just then Isuke appeared, to urge all speed.

With lowered heads man and beast appeared at the house entrance. Kakunai touched three fingers to the ground. To insure due reverence Kakunai had haltered Kage so that he could talk, but hardly move a limb. At sight of the beast Bankei Osho[u] took his most severe ecclesiastical pose. Dressed in violet robes, the gold embroidered stole (kesa) over his shoulders, the rosary of crystal beads in hand, he approached the horse. With the brush of long white hair which clears away the dust of the world's offences (hossu) he swept the circumambient air. Long he observed the nag. Then coming close to it he grasped the forelock. Kage raised his head, with open mouth as if about to snap. The abbot continued his recitation of the holy sutra. Mouth still wide open, clumsily the horse sank on his knees before the priest. Then suddenly and deftly Bankei thrust a bolus into the open mouth, which closed as moved by springs. Sweeping the air with hossu and his rescued arm—"Acquire the heart of virtue. Assume the true nature, and seek Nirvana." He kept on stroking the beast's head with the rosary. Once or twice Kage opened his mouth as if to speak. Then incontinently the body rolled over lifeless. The bystanders looked on with fear and amazement. Without speaking the abbot took the arm of Shu[u]zen and accompanied him within.

Kakunai, left to himself, rolled to the ground as speechless as his four legged charge. Tears of sorrow and anger flowed copiously. "Ah! He is dead! Kage is dead! Wise was he to advise flight. Alas! This beast of a bo[u]zu (priest), what purge did he use, thus to cut off at once the breath of Kage? No more gambling, no more wine, with Kage nicely bedded and asleep in his stable, and Kakunai with equal luck asleep in the pleasure quarter! Alas! Alas! Kage is no better now than a dead ass—while Kakunai still lives." Thus he vented his grief, to the amusement of his fellows who had shared but little in his fortunes. Meanwhile Shu[u]zen and the abbot were otherwise engaged. Said Bankei—"Deign to relate something of how Shu[u]zen Dono came to this yashiki. Honoured Sir, was not the former site in Mita? How came the change?" Shu[u]zen explained the conditions and the time of change to his new site and experiences. If there was aught of grudge, it attached rather to place than person. To this Bankei Osho[u] was agreed. "The fact of the case is plain to Bankei. The spirit directing the actions of the horse is not the spirit of the animal. The possession brought to an end by the exorcism, the alien spirit departed, and the carcass of the animal deprived of this influence, it fell to the ground an inert mass, like to the abandoned shell of the cicada. But the malevolent influence is to be found. This is the task of Shu[u]zen Dono. Deign, honoured sir, then to have memorial rites performed by this Bankei, and no longer will the yashiki be haunted by such unusual and unseemly performance.... Daigaku no Sensei? He is but a Confucianist, bound to the letter of material substance. Nor would he confess the ignorance of the spiritual world he undoubtedly is gifted with, of the law of punishment for deeds performed in a past existence (ingwai) as taught by the Lord Buddha. The materialist has his nose to earth, and can see naught else. The idiot has his nose to heaven, and can see naught else. The Buddha's Law comprehends Heaven and Earth. Hence its truth." With this expression of the odium theologicum the worthy abbot departed templewards, accompanied, as gage for further proceedings and profit, by the carcass of the horse. Bankei had this inhumed in the ground behind the main hall of the temple. Kakunai superintended these last obsequies. The abbot's words, as to the malevolence of the influence involved, was proved to Shu[u]zen the next day, when report was brought that the groom had hanged himself at the gratings of the stall once occupied by Kage. Moved by this strong hint, Kakunai was sent to join his equine friend in one common grave.

Warned by the unusual nature of these events Shu[u]zen determined at once to trace out the source of this evil influence. It was his duty as a samurai to suppress such manifestations occurring so close to the suzerain's dwelling. It was to his own interest to free the yashiki from such noxious vapours. The karo[u], Beita Heima, set on foot an investigation. Then it was that Isuke the chu[u]gen had thought of the hole detected under the shrine of the O'Inari Sama. On Shu[u]zen's order the karo[u] undertook the task of examining this suspicious adjunct to the yashiki. Torches in hand several chu[u]gen, under the direction of the samurai, were appointed to the work. The men hesitated a little to violate the precincts of the shrine. Growled Beita—"The carpenters did not hesitate to build it. What they put up, men can destroy. Up with the boarding. Thus the stone easily will be raised." The directions were carried out. There were many tracks of beasts, all of which seemed to converge to this spot. With removal of flooring and joists, soon the massive lid of granite was raised on edge. With a thud and cloud of dust it fell to one side. The men drew away, not only checked by the dark aperture exposed, but by the foul odour which poured up from the confined space. Holding his nose the karo[u] took a lighted torch for further inspection of depth and means of entrance. "Um! A shallow place; not more than a jo[u] (10 feet). Who volunteers to enter? Come! Don't be backward on his lordship's service. Isuke, eh?"

Isuke came forward readily enough at the call. He was a brave man, and moreover a little angered at the fate of his one time friend, Kakunai. If the beast of a horse, or the spirit beast, held occupancy here, Isuke would deal with him. The kick of spiritual hoofs and the bite of immaterial teeth had no terrors for Isuke. Carefully inspecting his ground he took the leap. A lighted torch was lowered to him. With this he marched off, the light growing quickly faint in the darkness. "Oya! Oya! 'Tis strange. The stench—it is unendurable. The darkness too thick even for the torch. It fails to burn." For a time his voice was heard rumbling off with increasing distance. To repeated shouts no answer was returned. Said Heima—"Isuke has gone too far, out of range. Some other must bear him aid.... What! All milk livers? You, Gensuke, love the wine cellar. Its care would seem to be your calling. Now down with you! Here is one made to hand for the yashiki. Make report of the discovery to his lordship." Gensuke was most unwilling, but his comrades loudly applauded the choice. He was lowered into the hole by hands energetic to lend him assistance in reaching its depths. Provided with a light he too started off on his march into the darkness. "Iya! Iya! What stench! 'Tis past endurance. Ah! There is a loud roaring yonder. Gensuke will investigate. Deign support in necessity." His voice also faded off with the distance. Then all was silence. Those outside now could hear the faint reverberation spoken of. To their shouts there was no answer. All were much alarmed. They looked into each others' faces. At the karo[u]'s order there was now no hesitation, though there was some grumbling at the rashness of those who risked the wrath of the O'Inari Sama by the heedless undertaking.

Three or four men at once jumped down into the hole. With dimly burning torches, and holding each other by the hand, they made their way into the blackness of the cavern. Almost at once came a cry, answered by others. Those above leaned eagerly over the aperture. Some took the leap. Soon the men appeared, dragging along the limp and helpless body of Gensuke. The trouble now was clear. The men had been overcome by the vicious air of the cave. Soon Isuke also was brought to the upper air. With the removal all the roar and reverberation was transferred to the surface. The two men lay unconscious, breathing noisily, and to all appearance in great extremity. Beita San at once ordered local aid. While friction and cold water was being applied, the leech summoned, Saito[u] Sensei, came on the ground. Heima questioned anxiously as to the men's condition. The Sensei reassured him—"It is but the noxious air of the cavern which has overcome them. A day or two, and they will be as good as ever." The old man wrinkled his face and chuckled a little as he surveyed the victims of the O'Inari Sama. Greatly was the reputation of the shrine for efficacy added to in this punishment. "Boy and man this aging Saito[u] Genan has known the place. Evil its repute. The cave is very ancient, and in the past much feared by people round about. Failure to worship has been followed by misfortune. Horse or cow has disappeared, house been burned down, or pregnant wife frightened into miscarriage by apparitions. Young girls attending at the shrine have disappeared. Its reputation is as evil as that of the Ko[u]jimachi well yonder." He jerked a finger in the direction indicated, at the neighbouring site beyond the bamboo fence. "A bolus, and these fellows are restored to consciousness." From his wallet he prepared the drug. Gensuke showed signs of life, opened his eyes, uneasily moving first this limb, and then that. Isuke sat bolt upright, with most stentorian snort. He waved both arms with a violence which sent his two supporters to the ground. In wrath he sprang up, but the malign effect was still too powerful. His legs wavered under him, and they had to come again to his aid. However, it was necessary to carry off Gensuke limp and helpless; with the support of the arms on each side of him, Isuke made his way back to the yashiki on his own legs.

Heima made report to his lord of what had passed, of the history of the place as reported by Saito[u] Sensei. Shu[u]zen pursed his lips, and inquired as to the condition of Isuke. The chu[u]gen was a favoured attendant; one much trusted. At the end of a week he was summoned to his lord's presence. "And Katai (tough) Isuke, his experience has gone beyond his powers?" Shu[u]zen spoke with that slight jeering condolence which arouses obstinacy. Isuke, prostrate on his hands, expressed gratitude for his lord's reproof. The fault was not his. Overcome by the foul air he became giddy, then lost all sensation of time or place. "And the roaring and noises, these did not frighten Isuke into his faint?"—"Roaring, noise, there were none; beyond the gentle drip of water often heard in such places. The roaring heard must have been due to the snoring of Gensuke. The cowardly fellow still clings to the bed, sucking in the dainty fare of the invalid; not so, Isuke." Shu[u]zen had an idea. All the others were too struck by fear to be of aid—"Then Isuke fears not the work of fox or badger. He will again make the venture?"—"For the Tono Sama; though none too willingly," was the chu[u]gen's reply. "Fox or badger? Let them but come under the knife of Isuke, and he will make soup of them; a better soup than they supply otherwise. But the stench!"—"And the foxes of Nakano (Shinjuku)?" Isuke blushed. His master was far too knowing.

At Shu[u]zen's order that night Isuke met his lord at the steps of the Inari Shrine. The adventure pleased Shu[u]zen. He was still young enough to delight in exposure and difficulties. Plainly old Beita was not the man for this task. His retainers readily would obey their lord's direction. But Shu[u]zen hungered for a more direct credit. He stripped to his loin cloth in the cold winter night. Isuke followed his lord's example. The job would be no clean one. Then the two men dropped to the floor of the cavern. Isuke spoke in surprise. "Naruhodo! At night the place seems much brighter than by day." He looked around in some suspicion and astonishment. Then his eye rested on the torches. "Oya! The torch burns brightly, not dimly as before. Pfu! The stench is unaltered, but the air at least is breathable." Preceding his master by some ten paces, Shu[u]zen heard him give a shout. Hastening up, with Isuke he bent over the aperture of what seemed to be a well. What was its depth? "In with you, Isuke," said Shu[u]zen. The chu[u]gen protested—"Nay! The Tono Sama deigns to jest. Is Isuke a bat (ko[u]mori), one to fly off into the darkness.... Ah! The depth is terrific. The light hardly shows the blackness of the place. It may reach down to Meido itself." Shu[u]zen lit a second torch, then cast it down into the cavity. He broke into a laugh. The light continued to burn brightly. "Meido then is not far off. The bottom of the well lies not five shaku (feet) below. Now in with you!" Anticipating the chu[u]gen he sprang down himself.

Isuke spoke, holding his nose—"Heigh! Tono Sama, deign to go no further. The stink passes beyond measurement. It increases with distance gone. Peugh! It blows from yonder." He pointed to a low aperture in one corner of the roundish space in which they stood. Shu[u]zen could understand better now. The whole cave was due to water; had been formed by water in the loose volcanic soil. The well was a mere passage way by which it once had risen, and been drained off again. Isuke was right. With decuple vigour the stench now rose close to hand. "In with you," was the peremptory order. "Anything found in way of gold and silver belongs to Isuke; and caves are always rich in such finds."—"Is that so?" said the chu[u]gen—"It is the tale of old books; which often lie. But in with you, and find out." Under spur of avarice and command Isuke crawled into the passage. He had gone but a bare ten feet when Shu[u]zen heard a most fearful yell, saw the rapid progress outwards of the posteriors of Isuke. The man's face was chalk white—"Deign, Danna Sama, to go no further." He choked for utterance. "How now!" said Shu[u]zen in pretended astonishment. "Fox or badger? They were to be converted into soup for Katai Isuke, soft food for his grinders."—"For fox or badger Isuke cares not. He invites their presence.... Kiya!" Shu[u]zen in sport had placed a cold wet hand on his neck. "Ah! The Danna jests. Of fox and badger soup is made. With human stench it is not savoured. There is a dead body within. Hence the frightful odour."

Shu[u]zen at once began to twist his head towel around his nose. With feeblest protest Isuke saw him take the torch and disappear into the passage. Soon his voice was heard. "Isuke! Isuke! Is he milk livered? How about the gold and silver? Would Isuke abandon it?" Isuke would not. In a trice he was on hands and knees, to rejoin his master who was roaring with laughter. "Gold and silver may be here," Shu[u]zen explained. "Otherwise Isuke would have backed out of the undertaking, all the way to the cave's entrance. Turn the body over. See whether it is of man or woman." Much put out Isuke did as he was bid. "Pfugh! Stirring does no good. The very flesh is melting from the bones. The hair of the beard and head show it to be a man." Shu[u]zen turned to a wider passage, plainly due in part to hand. By crouching he could enter into a larger chamber. In wonder and admiration he called to Isuke. In so far, the chu[u]gen would pursue the venture. Besides would he not follow his master to Meido itself? "Look, Isuke! Such groining of the roof is only made by Nature's hand. The cave of Fudo[u] Sama at Meguro shows no finer sight." He pointed to the mass of interlacing roots of some huge icho[u] rising from the ground above. Isuke grumbled assent, without much vigour. He was getting tired of this adventure. It was a satisfaction they could go no further. Shu[u]zen meanwhile was rummaging the place, which evidently had been a kind of dwelling. In a closet were found some coarse cooking utensils and crockery for food. A supply of firewood in one corner, and a box, completed the furniture. With curiosity Shu[u]zen turned over the books in the box. A cry brought Isuke to his side. "Your share, Isuke." He pointed to three shining silver ryo[u] which lay below the scrolls. Isuke looked incredulous at the find. Then he prostrated himself before his master in deepest gratitude. With joy he pocketed the coin and shouldered the scrolls. There was nothing more to do. They sought the open air.

The strange sight reported to him, Beita Heima the karo[u] appeared before his master. In the early morning light Shu[u]zen was pouring buckets of cold water over Isuke, having himself undergone the same treatment at the chu[u]gen's hands. "Kan mairi, Heima,"[7] said Shu[u]zen with a laugh. Then he explained matters to the astonished karo[u]. Isuke's further ablutions were left to other hands. The affair now was cleared up. The removal of the slab, the fresh air penetrating the cavern, made the removal of the body easy. This was to be sent to Bankei's care for proper burial and rites. Meanwhile Shu[u]zen with interest and increasing gravity examined his prize. The books were all on war. One was in the suspected script of the western barbarian. From its plates, it was a work on fortification, and the art of attack and defence. Shu[u]zen did not understand the Dutch words, but he regarded the find as of importance, at least as adding to his own merit. So likewise did Abe Bungo no Kami, minister for the month, and with a great liking for Shu[u]zen. He saw to it that the affair was to the latter's profit. The Ometsuke inspected the books, inspected the cave, drank Shu[u]zen's wine, and commended the vigilance and energy of the hatamoto. The report was worth an added hundred koku to his modest income. Isuke also counted his gains with joy; a means of continued defiance and pursuit of the foxes of the Nakano pleasure quarter.

As to Bankei—the funeral rites had been performed, the sutra read, the body inhumed in the same mound with those of Kakunai and the horse. Liberal had been the gift of Okumura Shu[u]zen for all these divers interments, and great the unction of Bankei at the accomplishment and solution of the mystery of the cave in the Bancho[u]. But one thing rested uneasily on his mind. What the identity of the evil spirit which caused these wonders? That night, as the abbot rested in his bed, there appeared at his pillow a man of some thirty odd years, tall, gaunt, hairy, ugly, and much dejected. "His eyes were prominent in his head, his lofty nose showed ability, he had the mouth of a shark." Plainly very great had been his wickedness. Prostrate the apparition gave thanks to the saint. All the spice and joy of evil doing had been exchanged for the insipidity of Paradise. Now he was threatened with Nirvana through the prayers of the saintly abbot. In life he had been the wicked So[u]ja Mushuku (lodgeless). A famous thief, he was the source of the raids on purse and person, on yashiki in particular and the common people in general, which had caused much fear and distress in Edo. The cave of the Inari, a lucky discovery, had been his safe haunt from pursuit. None could betray him, for none of his band knew his lair. He would betray no one; but he would tell the abbot of his fate. It was Isuke who had sealed him up in the cave by thrusting into place the heavy cover. Here he passed miserable days in hunger until the poisonous air, gradually accumulating, had put an end to him. His spirit, however, had haunted the place, with no disposition to leave. With the opportunity he had entered the body of Kage, in search of human requirements and enjoyments. Betrayed by appetite he had been driven forth by the prayers of the abbot, and solaced by his petitions for the future life. Deign to let the matter rest there, and not pursue him into the inanity, the nothingness of Nirvana. To this the practiced ear of the holy Bankei gave deep thought. This fellow already had forced the unhappy Kakunai to follow in his tracks. What might he not do to others in whom the abbot had far greater interest? "To such wickedness the gift of Nirvana is not likely. Bankei wastes his breath, and Shu[u]zen Dono his substance. Deign to enter Meido, be wholly purified of wickedness, and in a second birth, if in human form, be of a virtuous House. For present and past sins atonement is to be made. For those still living Bankei holds not his lips silent. Off with you at once to these insipid joys." He thrust the rosary of crystal beads into the vision's face. At once it disappeared, and Bankei woke amid a nauseating odour. He stretched himself in weariness—"A dream? Tribulation of the Five Viscera?" Yet he would report it to Shu[u]zen, and on the uncertainty of the truth secure further aid for man and horse. Hence the monument of the Bato[u] (horse-headed) Kwannon, which long stood on its mound behind the hondo[u] of the Seisho[u]ji of Shiba.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse