"My son," began the abbot, leaning gently over the bed, "I have a message from—her—"
"No, no," moaned the boy, his wound opening anew. "Do not speak it. I was beginning to feel a little peace from pain. Do not speak of her. You can have no message."
"I have known Kano Ume-ko her whole life long," persisted the holy man. "She is worthy of a nobler love than this you are giving her."
"There may be love more noble, but none—none—more terrible than mine," wailed out the sick man. "I cannot even die. I am quickened by the flames that burn me; fed by the viper, Life, that feeds on my despair. My flesh cankers with a self-renewing sore! Could I but bathe my wounds in death!"
"Poor suffering one, this flesh is only the petal fallen from a perfected bloom! Whether her tender body, or this racked and twitching frame upon your bed, all flesh is illusion. Think of your soul and its immortal lives! Think of your wife's pure soul, and for its sake make effort to defy and vanquish this demon of self-destruction."
"Was not her own deed that of self-destruction?" challenged Tatsu, his sunken eyes set in bitter triumph upon the abbot. "I shall but go upon the road she went."
"To compare your present motives with your wife's is blasphemy," cried the other. "Her deed held the glory of self-sacrifice, that you might gain enlightenment; while you, railing impotently here, giving out affront against the gods, are as the wild beast on the mountain that cannot bear the arrow in its side."
"And it is true," said Tatsu, "I cannot bear the arrow,—I cannot endure this pain. Show me the way to death, if you have true pity. Let me go to her who waits me in the Meido-land."
"She does not wait you there, oh, grief deluded boy," then said the priest. "The message that I brought is this: bound still to earth by her great love for you her soul is near you,—in this room,—now, as I speak, seeking an entrance to your heart, and these wild railings hold her from you."
Tatsu half started from his pillow, and sank back. "I believe you not. You trick me as you would a child," he moaned.
The priest knelt slowly by the bed. "In the name of Shaka,—whom I worship,—these words of mine are true. Here, in this room, at this moment, your Ume-ko is waiting."
"But I want her too," whispered the piteous lips. "Not only her aerial spirit! I want her smile,—her little hands to touch me, the golden echo of her laughter,—I want my wife, I say! Oh, you gods, demons, preta of a thousand hells!" he shrieked, springing to a sitting posture in his bed, and beating the air about him with distracted hands. "These are the memories that whir down and close about me in a cloud of stinging wasps! I cannot endure! In the name of Shaka, whom you worship, strike me dead with the staff you hold,—then will I bless you and believe!" In a transport of madness, he leaned out, clutching at the staff, clawing down the stiff robes from the abbot's throat, snarling, praying, menacing with a vehemence so terrible, that the little acolyte, flinging down the still-burning koro, screamed aloud for help.
It was many hours before the nurses and physicians could quiet this last paroxysm. Exhaustion and a relapse followed. The long, dull waiting on hope began anew. After this no visitor but Kano was allowed. He entered the sick chamber only at certain hours, placing himself near the head of the bed where Tatsu need not see him. He never spoke except in answer to questions addressed him directly by his son, and these came infrequently enough. With this second slow return to vitality, Tatsu's most definite emotion seemed to be hatred of his adopted father. He writhed at the sound of that timid, approaching step, and dreaded the first note of the deprecating voice.
Kano was fully aware of this aversion. He realized that, perhaps, it would be better for Tatsu if he did not come at all; yet in this one issue the selfishness of love prevailed. Age and despair were to be kept at bay. He had no weapons but the hours of comparative peace he spent at Tatsu's bedside. Full twenty years seemed added to the old man's burden of life. His back was stooped far over; his feet shuffled along the wooden corridors with the sound of the steps of one too heavily burdened. He never walked now without the aid of his friendly bamboo cane. The threat of Tatsu's self-destruction echoed always in his ears. Away from the actual presence of his idol it gnawed him like a famished wolf, and his mind tormented itself with fantastic and dreadful possibilities. Once Tatsu had hidden under his foreign pillow the china bowl in which broth was served. Kano whispered his discovery to the nurse, and when she wondered, explained to her with shivering earnestness that it was undoubtedly the boy's intention to break it against the iron bedstead the first moment he was left alone, and with a shard sever one of his veins. Tatsu grinned like a trapped badger when it was wrested from him, and said that he would find a way in spite of them all. After this not even a medicine bottle was left in the room, and the watch over the invalid was strengthened.
"But," as old Kano remonstrated, "even though we prevent him for a few weeks more, how will it be when he can stand and walk,—when he is stronger than I?" To these questions came no answer. The second convalescence, so eagerly prayed for, became now a source of increasing dread. Something must be done,—some way to turn his morbid thoughts away from self-destruction. The old man climbed often, now, to the temple on the hill.
The hospital room, in an upper story, was small, with matted floors, and a single square window to the east. The narrow white iron bed was set close to this window, so that the invalid might gaze out freely. Tatsu did not ask that it be changed though, indeed, each recurrent dawn brought martyrdom to him. The sound of sparrows at the eaves, the smell of dew, the look of the morning mist as it spread great wings above the city, hovering for an instant before its flight, the glow of the first pink light upon his coverlid, each was an iron of memory searing a soul already faint with pain. The attendant often marvelled why, at this hour, Tatsu buried his face from sight, and, emerging into clearer day, bore the look of one who had met death in a narrow pass.
At noon, when the window showed a square of turquoise blue, he grew to watch with some faint pulse of interest the changing hues of light, and the clouds that shifted lazily aside, or heaped themselves up into rounded battlements of snow. Quite close to the window a single cherry branch, sweeping downward, cut space with a thick, diagonal line. Silvery lichens frilled the upper surface of the bark, and at the tip of each leafless twig, brown buds—small armored magazines of beauty—hinted already of the spring's rebirth. Life was all about him, and he hated life. Why should cherry blooms and sparrows dare to come again,—why should that old man near him wheeze and palpitate with life, why—why—should he, Tatsu, be held from his one friend, Death, when she, the essence of all life and beauty,—she who should have been immortal,—drifted alone, helpless, a broken white sea-flower, on some black, awful tide?
In the midst of such dreary imaginings, old Kano, late in the last month of the year, crept in upon his son. He was an hour earlier than his custom. Also there was something unusual,—a new energy, perhaps a new fear, noticeable in face and voice. But Tatsu, still bleeding with his visions of the dawn, saw nothing of this. The premature visit irritated him. "Go, go," he cried, turning his face sharply away. "This is a full hour early. Am I to have no moments to myself?"
"My son, my son," pleaded the old man, "I have come a little before time, because I have brought—"
"Do not call me son," interrupted the petulant boy. "It is wretchedness to look upon you. She would be here now, but for you. You killed her! You drove her to it!"
"No, Tatsu, you wrong me! As I have assured you, and as her own words say,—she made the sacrifice from her own heart. It was that her presence obscured your genius, my son. She was unselfish and noble beyond all other women. She—went—for your sake—"
"For my sake!" jeered the other. "You mean, for the sake of the things you want me to paint! Well, I tell you again, I will neither live nor paint! Yes, that touches you. Human agony is nothing to your heart of jade. You would catch these tears I shed to mix a new pigment! You do not regret her. You would think the price cheap, if only I will paint. I hate all pictures! I curse the things I have done! Would that, indeed, I had the tongue of a dragon, that I might lick them from the silk!"
"Tatsu, my poor son, be less violent. I urge nothing! The gods must do with you as they will, but here is something—a letter—" Fumbling, with shaking fingers, in his long, black sleeve, he drew out a filmy, white rectangle. The look of it, so like to one pinned to a certain pillow in the dawn, sent a new thrill of misery through the boy.
"A letter! Who would write me a letter,—unless souls in the Meido-land can write! Back, back,—do not touch me, or ere I kill myself I will find strength to slay you first. I will drag you with me to the underworld, as I journey in searching for my wife, and fling your craven soul to devils, as one would fling offal to a dog! Speak not to me of painting, nor of her!"
At the sight of extra attendants hurrying in, Tatsu waved them to leave him, threw himself back, stark, upon the pillow, and closed his eyes so tightly that the wrinkles radiated in black lines from the corners. He panted heavily, as from a long race. His forehead twitched and throbbed with purple veins.
Flung down cruelly from the exhilaration which a moment before had been his, old Kano seated himself on a chair directly in sight of Tatsu's bed. The nurses stole away, leaving the two men together. Each remained motionless, except for hurried breathing, and the pulsing of distended veins. A crow, perched on the cherry branch outside the window, tilted a cold, inquisitive eye into the room.
Tatsu was the first to move. The reaction of excitement was creeping upon him, drawing the sting from pain. He turned toward his visitor and began to study, with an impersonal curiosity, the aspect of the pathetic figure. Kano was sitting, utterly relaxed, at the edge of the cane-bottomed foreign chair His head hung forward, and his lids were closed. For the first time Tatsu noted how scanty and how white his hair had grown; how thin and wrinkled the fine old face. Something akin to compassion rose warm and human in the looker's throat. He had opened his lips to speak kindly (it would have been the first gentle word since Ume's loss) when the sight of his name, in handwriting, on the letter, froze the very air about him, and held him for an instant a prisoner of fear. The envelope dangled loosely from Kano's fingers. On it was traced, in Ume-ko's beautiful, unmistakable hand, "For my beloved husband, Kano Tatsu."
"The letter, the letter," he cried hoarsely, pointing downward. "It is mine,—give it!"
Kano raised his head. The reaction of excitement was on him too, and it had brought for him a patient hopelessness. It did not seem to matter a great deal just now what Tatsu did or thought. He would never paint. That alone was enough blackness to fill a hell of everlasting night.
"Give it to me," insisted the boy, leaning far out over the bed. "Did you bring it only to torture me? Quick, quick,—it is mine!"
"I brought it to give, and you repulsed me. I had found it but this morning, in your painting room, pinned to a silken frame on which you had begun her picture! She must have put it there before—before—"
"If you have a shred of pity or of love for me, give it and go," gasped the boy.
Kano rose with slow dignity. "Yes, it is for you, and I will give it and leave, as you ask, if I can have your promise—"
"Yes, yes, I promise everything,—anything,—I will not strive to slay myself,—at least until after your return—"
"That is enough," said the old man, and with a sigh held the missive out. Tatsu snatched it through the air. The perfume of plum blossoms was stealing from it. Once alone he crushed the delicate tissue against eyes and lips and throat. He rolled upon the bed in agony, only to press again to his heart this balm of her written words. It seemed to him, then, that the letter might really have come from the Meido-land. Could it be true, as the old priest said, that her soul continually hovered near, waiting only for him to give it recognition? "Ume, Ume,—my wife! Come back to me!" he cried aloud in an agony so great that it should drag her backward through that dark shadow-world,—not only the phantom of what she was, but Ume-ko herself, with the flower-like body, and the smile of light. He opened the missive slowly, that not a shred should be torn, and spread the thin tissue smoothly on his foreign pillow.
"This, beloved, being the forty-ninth day,—the seven-times-seventh-day after my passing,—when souls of those departed are given special privilege to return to earth, I speak thus, dumbly, to my lord. Although the fingers tracing now these timid lines are not permitted to touch you, oh, believe that, as you read, I wait at the door of your heart. O thou who art so dear, give to me, I pray, a shelter and a habitation. Then, because of my great love, I shall be one with you, bringing you comfort and myself great blessedness. O thou, who art still my husband, I beseech you to realize that any act on your part of violence and self-destruction will hurl our lives apart to the full width of the ten existences; so that, through another thousand years of unfulfilment we shall be groping in the dark, like children who have lost their way, calling ever, each on the name of the other.
"The birds of the air know, when storms arise, where to find their nests. Even the fox has shelter in the hill. Shall the soul of Ume-ko seek and find no shelter? Send me not forth again in lonely travail! Open your heart to me, O thou who art loved as no man was ever loved before thee! Ume-ko."
Kano, listening at the door, thought that the boy had fainted. One nurse, then another, crept near. At last the old man, unable to endure the strain, peered through a crevice. He fell back instantly, pressing both hands upon his mouth to stifle the cry of joy. Tatsu alive, awake, with eyes opened wide, gazed upward smiling, as into the face of Buddha.
The New Year festival, Shogatsu, had come and gone: white-flower buds gleamed like pearls on the lichen-covered, twisted limbs of the old "dragon-plum" by Ume's chamber ledge, when Tatsu and his adopted father entered once more together the little Kano home. If the young husband had realized, all along, what this coming ordeal might mean, he had given no sign of it. Kano and the physicians feared for him. The last test, it was to be, of sanity and of endurance. The actual hour of departure from the hospital fell late in January. More than once before a day had been decreed, only to be postponed because of a sudden physical weakening—mysterious and apparently without cause—on the part of the patient.
"I will return with you as soon as I may," Tatsu had assured his father on the day of reading Ume's letter. "I will try to live, and even to paint. Only, I pray you, speak not the name of—her I have lost."
This promise was given willingly enough. Kano's chief difficulty now was to hide his growing happiness. It was much to his interest that the subject of Ume be avoided. Even a dragon painter from the mountains must know something of certain primitive obligations to the dead, and for Ume not even an ihai had been set up by that of her mother in the family shrine. When Tatsu learned this he would marvel, and probably be angry. If by his own condition of silence he were debarred from attacking Kano, so much the better for Kano.
It was this disgraceful and unheard-of negligence—a matter already of common gossip in the neighborhood—that added the last measure of bitterness to old Mata's grief. Was her master demented through sorrow that he so challenged public censure, and was willing to cast dishonor upon the name of his only child? Hour after hour in the lonely house did the old dame seek to piece together the broken edges of her shattered faith. The master had always been a religious man, over-zealous, she had thought, in minute observances. Yet now he was willing to neglect, to ignore, the very fundamental principles of social decency. Personally he had seemed wretched enough after Ume's loss. The kindly neighbors had at first marvelled aloud at his whitening hair and heavily burdened frame. Mata, pleased at the sympathy, did nothing to distract it; but in her heart she knew that it was Tatsu's illness, not his daughter's death, that bore upon old Kano like the winter snow upon his pines.
On that most sacred period of mourning, the seven-times-seventh day after "divine retirement," when the spirit is privileged to enter most closely into the hearts of those that pray, Mata had believed that, beyond doubt, the full ceremony would be held. Surely the sweet, wandering soul was now to be given its kaimyo, was to be soothed by prayer, and be refreshed by the ghostly essence of tea and rice and fruit, placed before its ihai upon the shrine! What must the dead girl's mother have been thinking all this time? Mata woke before the dawn to pray. Kano, too, was awake early. She hurried to him, her first words a petition. But, no, he had no thought, even on this day of all days, for his child. He was off without his breakfast, an hour earlier than usual, to the hospital, a letter in his hand. Mata literally fell upon her knees before him, importuning him for the honor of the family name, if not in love for Ume-ko, to give orders at the temple for the holding of religious ceremonies. But Kano, himself almost in tears, eager, excited, though obviously in quite another whirlpool of emotions, urged her to be patient just a little longer. "I think all will yet be well," he assured her. "I have some hope to-day!"
"All will yet be well!" mocked the old dame through clenched teeth, watching the bent old figure hurrying from her. "As if anything could ever again be well, with my young mistress dead, and not even her body recovered for burial!"
In spite of her dislike for Tatsu, the lonely woman found herself watching, with some impatience, for the day of his actual return. Successive postponements had fretted her, and sharpened curiosity. She had not seen him since his illness. Upon that January noon when his kuruma rolled slowly in under the gate-roof, followed by anxious Kano and one of the male nurses from the hospital, she had turned toward him the old look of resentment: but, instead of the brief and chilling glance she had thought to use, found herself staring, gaping, in amazement and incredulity. She did not believe, for the first moment, that the wreck she saw was Tatsu. This bowed and shrunken ghost of suffering,—this loose, pallid semblance of a man, the beautiful, defiant, compelling demigod of the mountains that had swept down upon them! No! sorrow could wreak miracles of the soul, but no such physical transformation as this!
She continued to watch furtively, in a sort of terror, the tall figure as it was assisted from the kuruma and led, shambling, through the house. The three moved on to the wing containing Ume's chamber, and the painting room. Mata heard the fusuma close gently, the nurse's voice give admonition to "keep his spirit strong for this last stress," heard old Kano falter, "Farewell, my son, no one shall disturb you in these rooms," and had barely time to regain her presence of mind as the two men, Kano and the nurse, entered her kitchen. The former spoke: "Mata, your young master is to remain, unmolested, in that part of the house. Do not offer him rice, or tea, or anything whatever. When he needs and desires it he will himself emerge and ask for food. Above all things, do not knock upon his fusuma or call his name. These are the physician's orders."
"Exactly!" corroborated the nurse, with a professional air.
"Kashikomarimashita!" muttered the old dame in sullen acquiescence. "You need not have feared that I should intrude upon him!"
For three days and nights Tatsu remained to himself. The anxious listeners heard at times the sound of restless pacing up and down,—the thin, sibilant noise of stockinged feet sliding on padded straw. Again there would be a thud, as of a body fallen, or sunken heavily to the floor. Kano, on the second day, pale with apprehension, went early to the hospital for a revocation, or at least a modification of the instructions. The doctor's mandate was the same, "Do not go near him. Life, as well as reason, may depend upon this battle with his own despair. Only the gods can help him." To the gods, then, Kano went as well; climbing the long, steep road to the temple, where he made offerings and poured out from his anxious heart the very essence of loving prayer.
On the third day, Kano being thus absent, and old Mata alone in her kitchen as nervous, she would have told you, as a fish with half its scales off, she heard the fusuma of the distant room shudder, and then, with a sound of feeble jerks, begin to separate. She knew that it was Tatsu, and rallied herself for the approach. Through the shaded corridor came a figure scarcely animate, moving it would seem in answer to a soundless call. It entered the kitchen halting, and looking about as one in an unfamiliar place. On a square stone brasier, fed with glowing coals, the rice-pot steamed. The delicate vapor, tinged with aroma of the cooking food, made a fine mist in the air. Suddenly he thrust an arm out toward the fire. "Rice!—I am faint with hunger," he whispered. As if the few words had taken his last store of strength, he sank to the floor. Mata sprang to him. He had swooned. His face, young and beautiful in spite of the centuries of pain upon it, lay back, helpless, on her arm. She stared strangely down upon him, wondering where the old antipathy had gone, and striving (for she was an obstinate old soul, was Mata) consciously to recall it,—but the core of her hate was gone. Like a true woman she began to make self-excuses for the change. "It may have been because of this poor boy and his unhappy karma that my nursling had to die," said she. "But, look what love has done to him! Death is only another name for paradise compared with the agony sunken deep into this young face!"
She placed him gently, at full length, upon the padded floor. She chafed the flaccid wrists, the temples, the veins about his ears, and then, leaning over, blew on the heavy lids. "Ume-ko, my wife, my wife," he whispered, and tried to smile.
A wave of pity swept from the old dame's mind the last barrier of mistrust. "Yes, Master, here is Ume's nurse," she said in soothing tones. "Not Ume-ko,—she has gone away from us,—but the poor old nurse who loves her. I will serve you for her sake. Here, put your head upon this pillow,—she has often used it,—and now lie still until old Mata brings you rice and tea." She bustled off, her hands clattering busily among the cups and trays. As she worked, thankful, through her great agitation, for the familiar offices, she fought down, one by one, those great, distending sobs that push so hard a way upward through wrinkled throats.
Tatsu was still a little dazed. His eyes followed her about the room with a plaintive regard, as if not entirely sure that she was real. "Did you say that you were—Ume's—nurse," he asked.
"Yes. Don't you remember me, Master Tatsu? I am Mata, the old servant, and your Ume's nurse. I—I—was not always kind to you, I fear. I opposed your marriage, fearing for her some such sorrow as that which came. But it is past. The gods allowed it. I will now, for her sake, love and serve you,—my true master you shall be from this day, because I can see that your heart is gnawed forever by that black moth, grief, as mine is. Old Kano does not grieve,—he is a man of stone, of mud!" she cried. "But I must not speak of his sins, yet; here is the good tea, Master, and the rice." She fed him like a child, allowing, at first, but a single sip of tea, a grain or two of rice. He, in his weakness, was gentle and obedient, like a good child, eating all she bade him, and refraining when she told him that he had enough. It was a new Tatsu that sorrow had given to the Kano home.
But more wonderful than the transformation in him was, in Mata's thought, the complete reversal of her own emotions. Even in the midst of service she stopped to wonder how, so soon, it could be sweet to serve him,—to minister thus to the man she had called the evil genius of the house. In some mysterious way it seemed that through him the dead young wife was being served. In the smile he bent upon her, the old nurse fancied that she caught a tenderness as of Ume's smile. Perhaps, indeed, the homeless soul, denied its usual shelter in the shrine, made sanctuary of the husband's earthly frame. Perhaps, too, Kano had hoped for this, and so refused the ihai. However these high things might be, Mata knew she had gained strange comfort in the very fact of Tatsu's presence, in the companionship of his suffering.
When, being nourished, Tatsu insisted on sitting upright, and had recalled the scene about him, his first question was of Ume's shrine, where the ihai had been set, and what the kaimyo. This loosened Mata's tongue, and, with a sensation of deep relief, she began to empty her heart of its pent-up acrimony. Tatsu listened now, attentively; not as would have been his way three months before with gesticulations and frequent interruptions, but gravely, with consideration, as one intent to learn the whole before forming an opinion. Even at the end he would say nothing but the words, "Strange, strange; there must be a reason that you have not guessed."
"But we will get the ihai, will we not, Master? Together, when you are strong, we will climb the long road to the temple?" she questioned tremulously.
"Indeed we shall," said Tatsu, with his heartrending smile; "for at best, the thoughts of Kano Indara cannot be our thoughts. He let her die."
At this the other burst into such a passion of tears that she could not speak, but rocked, sobbing, to and fro, on the mats beside him. He wondered, with a feeling not far from envy, at this open demonstration of distress.
"I cannot weep at all," he said. Then, a little later, when she had become more calm, "Are your tears for me or for Ume-ko?"
"For both, for both," was the sobbing answer. "For her, that she had to die,—for you, that you must live."
"Both are things to weep for," said the boy, and stared out straight before him, as one seeing a long road.
Kano, returning later and finding the two together, marking as he did, at once, with the quick eye of love, how health already cast faint premonitions of a flush upon the boy's thin face, had much ado to keep from crying aloud his joy and gratitude. By strong effort only did he succeed in making his greeting calm. He used stilted, old-fashioned phrases of ceremony to one recently recovered from dangerous illness, and bowed as to a mere acquaintance. Tatsu, returning the bows and phrases, escaped in a few moments to his room, and emerged no more that day. Kano sighed a little, for the young face had been cold and stern. No love was to be looked for,—not yet, not yet.
For a few days Tatsu did nothing but lie on the mats; or wander, aimlessly, over the house and garden. He came whenever Mata summoned him to meals, and ate them with old Kano, observing all outer semblances of respect. But it seemed an automaton who sat there, eating, drinking, and then, at the last, bowing over to the exact fraction of an inch, each time, and moving away to its own rooms. The old artist, mindful of certain professional warnings from the hospital physicians, never spoke in Tatsu's presence of paintings, or of anything connected with art. Within a few days it seemed to him that Tatsu had begun to watch him keenly, as if expecting, every instant, the broaching of that subject which he knew was always uppermost in the other's mind. But the old man, for the first time in his whole life, had begun to use tact. He never followed Tatsu to his rooms, never intruded into those long conversations now held, many times a day, between Mata and her young master; never even commented to Mata upon her change of attitude. About five days after his first appearance in the kitchen, Tatsu and the old servant left the house together, giving Kano no hint of their destination. He watched them with a curious expression on his face. He knew that they were to climb together to the temple, and that it was a pilgrimage from which he was contemptuously debarred. They returned, some hours later, and were busied all the afternoon with the placing and decorations of an exquisite "butsu-dan," or Buddhist shelf, on which the ihai of the dead are placed. At the abbot's advice (and yet against all precedent) this was put, not beside the butsu-dan, where Kano's young wife had for so many years been honored, but in Tatsu's own bed-chamber, thus making of it a "mita-yama," or spirit room.
Kano, visiting it, unperceived, next day, noted with the same curious, half-quizzical, half-pathetic look that no Buddhist kaimyo or after-name had been given to his daughter. It was the earth-name, Kano Ume-ko, which the old abbot had written upon the lacquered tablet of wood. Added to it, as a sort of title, was the phrase, "To her who loves much." "That is true enough," thought old Kano, and touched his eyes an instant with his sleeve.
During the following week Tatsu, of himself, drew out his painting materials and tried to work. An instant later he had hurled the things from him with a cry, had slammed together the walls of his chamber, and lay in silence and darkness for many hours. At the time of the night-meal he came forth. Kano, to whom sorrow was teaching many things, made no comment upon his exclusion; and even old Mata refrained from searching his face with her keen eyes.
The next day he made the second attempt. His fusuma were opened, and Mata could see how his face blanched to yellow wax, how the lips writhed until they were caught back by strong, cruel teeth, and how the thin hands wavered. Notwithstanding this inward torture, he persisted. At first the lines of his brush were feeble. His work looked like that of a child.
Through subsequent days of discouragement and brave effort his power of painting grew with a slow but normal splendor of achievement. His fame began to spread. The "New Kano" and "The Dragon Painter of Kiu Shiu" the people of the city called him. Not only his work but his romantic, miserable story drew sympathy to him, and bade fair to make of him a popular idol. Older artists wished to paint his portrait. Print-makers hung about his house striving to catch at least a glimpse of him, which being elaborated, might serve as his likeness in the weekly supplement of some up-to-date newspaper. Sentimental maidens wrote poems to him, tied them with long, shining filaments of hair, and suspended them to the gate, or upon the bamboo hedges of the Kano home.
But against all these petty, personal annoyances Tatsu had the double guard of Kano and old Mata San. The pride of the latter in this "Son of our house" was unbounded. One would have thought that she discovered him, had rescued him from death and that it was now through her sole influence his reputation as an artist grew. Noble patrons came to the little cottage bearing rolls of white silk, upon which they entreated humbly, "That the illustrious and honorable young painter, Kano Tatsu, would some day, when he might not be augustly inconvenienced by so doing, trace a leaf or a cloud,—anything, in fact, that fancy could suggest, so that it was the work of his own inimitable hand. For the condescension they trusted that he would allow them to give a present of money,—as large a sum as he was willing to name."
"A second Sesshu! A second Sesshu!" old Kano would murmur to himself, in subdued ecstacy. "So did they load his ship with silk, four centuries ago!"
Of most of these commissions, Tatsu never heard. Kano did not wish the boy's work to be blown wide over the great city as it had been blown along the mountain slopes of Kiu Shiu. Nor did he wish the thought of gain or of personal ambition to creep into Tatsu's heart. Now he spent most of the day-lit hours secluded in his little study, painting those scenes and motives suggested by the keynote of his mood. Of late he had begun to read, with deep interest, the various essays on art, gathered in Kano's small, choice library. He would sometimes talk with his father about art, and let the eager old man demonstrate to him the different brush-strokes of different masters. The widely diversified schools of painting as they had flourished throughout the centuries of his country's social and religious life aroused in him an impersonal curiosity. He began to try experiments, realizing, perhaps, that to a genius strong and sane as his even fantastic ventures in technique were little more than bright images flecking, for an instant, the immutable surface of a mirror.
All methods were essayed,—the liquid, flowing line of the Chinese classics, Tosa's nervous, shattered lightning-strokes of painted motion, the soft, gray reveries of the great Kano school of three centuries before, when, to the contemplative mind all forms of nature, whether of the outer universe or in the soul of man, were but reflecting mirrors of a single faith; the heaped-up gold and malachite of Korin's decoration, sweet realistic studies of the Shijo school, even down to the horrors of "abura-ye," oil-painting, as it is practised in the Yeddo of to-day, each had for him its special interest and its inspiration. He leaned above the treasure-chests of time, choosing from one and then another, as a wise old jewel-setter chooses gems. Because ambition, art, existence had come to be, for him, gray webs spun thin across the emptiness of his days, because all hope of earthly joy was gone, he had now the power to trace, with almost superhuman mimicry and skill, the shadow-pictures of his shadow-world.
Yet gradually it became not merely a dull necessity to paint, the one barrier that held from him a devastating grief, but also something of a solace. The room where Ume's ever-lighted shrine was kept came more and more to seem the expression of herself. This the old priest had promised; Ume's letter had assured him that thus she would be near. In the blurred, purple hour of dusk when paints must be laid aside, and the heart given over to dreaming, the little room became her very earthly entity, the soft, smoke-tinted walls her breathing, the elastic matted floor but the remembered echoes of her feet, the sliding sliver fusuma her sleeves, the butsudan, with its small, clear lamp, its white wood, and its flowers, her face.
Now always he kept the walls that used to separate their chamber and his painting room removed; so that a single essence filled both rooms. And here, as he worked silently day after day, it seemed to him that she had learned to come. At first shy, undecided, in some far corner of the space she watched him; then, taking courage, would drift near. She leaned now by his shoulder, as he worked. Always it was the left shoulder. He could feel her breath—colder indeed than from a living woman—upon his bared throat. Sometimes a little hand, light as the dust upon a moth's wing, rested the ghost of a moment on his robe. Once, he could have sworn her cheek had touched his hair. So strong was this impression that an ague shivered through him, and his heart stopped, only to beat again with violent strokes. When the physical tremor was over he arose, took up her round metal mirror, and went to the veranda to see by strong light whether any trace of the spirit touch remained. No, there was only, as usual, the tossed, black locks of hair through which sorrow had begun to weave her silver strands.
January, with its snows, had passed. The plum-tree buds had opened, one by one, in the chill, early winds of spring, giving at times unwilling hospitality to flakes of snow whiter than themselves. In February, under warmer sunshine, the blossoms showed in constellations, a myriad on a single branch. Then, all too soon, the falling of wan petals made a perfumed tragedy of snow upon the garden paths.
Tatsu grew to love the old dragon plum as Ume-ko had loved it. She was its name-child, Ume, and he felt its sweetness to be one with her. At night the perfume crept in to him through crannies of the close-shut amado and shoji, revivifying, to keen agony, his longing for his wife. There were moonlit nights he could not rest for it, but would rise, pacing the cold, wet pebbles of the garden, or wandering, like a distracted spirit that had lost its way, through the thoroughfares of the sleeping town.
His whole life now, since he had cheated death, was blurred and vague. To himself he seemed an unreal thing projected, like a phantom light, upon the wavering umbra of two contrasting worlds. The halves of him, body and animating thought, fitted each other loosely, and had a strange desire to drift apart. The quiet, obedient Tatsu, regaining day by day the strength and beauty that his clean youth owed him, was to the inner Tatsu but a painted shell. The real self, clouded in eternal grief, knew clarity and purpose only before a certain flower-set shrine. He believed now, implicitly, that Ume's soul dwelt near him, was often with him in this room. A resolve half formed, and but partially admitted to himself,—for things of the other world are not well to meddle with,—grew slowly in him, to compel, by worship and never-relaxing prayer, the presence of her self,—her insubstantiate body, outlined upon the ether in pale light, or formed in planes of ghostly mist. Others had thus drawn visions from the under-world, and why not he?
Even now she was, for him, the one fact of the ten existences. She knew it and he knew it. Why should not sight be added to the unchallenged datum of the mind. Living, they had often read each other's thoughts. They held, he knew, as yet, their separate intelligences,—still they could bridge a blessed duality by love. Even now it would have surprised him little to hear the very sound of her voice echo from the inner shrine, to feel a little white hand pass like a cloud across his upraised brow. At such moments he told himself that he was satisfied, she was his until death and beyond. No one could separate them now!
These were, alas, the higher peaks of love. There waited for him, as he knew too well, steep hillsides set with swords, and valleys terrible with fire.
"So that we be together, Even the Hell of the Blood Lake, Even the Mountain of Swords, Mean nothing to us at all!"
So they had sung. So that we be together! Ah, together,—that was the essence of it, that the key! "And this is what I want!" groaned the suffering man. "This ghostly resignation is a self-numbing of the heart. I care not for the ghost, the spirit, however pure. I want the wife I have lost,—her smile, her voice, her little hands to touch me! Oh, Ume-ko, my wife, my wife!" If, as the abbot said, this phase of grief were bestial, were unworthy of the woman who had died for him, then why did not the listening soul of her shrink? He knew that it was not repelled, whatever the frenzy of his grief. Indeed, at such times of agony she leaned down closer, longing to comfort him. If it were given her to speak she would have cried, "My husband!" Wherever she might drift,—in the black ocean, in the Meido-land, yes, even in the smile of Buddha on his throne,—she yearned for her lover as he for her, with a human love; she stretched out arms of mist to him, and tinged the pale ether of the spirit world with love's rosy flame.
One such night, during the time of plum-tree falling, when the boy, tortured by the almost human sweetness of the flowers, had risen from his bed to flee memory across the wide, cold plains of night, he had left, in his hurried going, the doors and shutters of his room spread wide. Mata and old Kano, accustomed to these midnight sounds, merely turned on their lacquered pillows, murmured "Poor tormented Tatsu," and went to sleep again. It had been a day of power for the young artist, but not a day of peace. The picture he had worked on he would have called one of his "nightmare fancies." It showed a slender form in gray with one arm about a willow. She and the tree both leaned above swift, flowing water, and her eyes were fixed in sombre brooding. On the bank, in abrupt foreshortening, lay the figure of a man. He looked at her. From the river, unmarked as yet by either, rose the gray face and long, red hair of a Kappa, or malicious river sprite. This sketch, unfinished, for the Kappa was a mere indication of red locks and a tall, thin form, stood against a pillar of the tokonoma at just the angle where the soft light of the butsu-dan shed a pale glow across it. Brushes, paints, and various small saucers littered the floor. Tatsu had stopped his work abruptly, overcome by the very power of his own delineation.
He was absent from the house for several hours. The long walk through unseen streets and over unnoticed bridges had given the boon, at least, of physical fatigue. Now, perhaps, he could get to sleep before the black ants of thought had rediscovered him. Entering the room quietly he closed the shoji, smoothed the bed-clothes with an impatient hand, and knelt, for an instant, before the shrine. Perhaps, after all, rest was not to come. The air was sweet and heavy with Ume-ko. The faint perfume of sandalwood which, living, always hung about her garments, flowed in with the odor of the plum. She must be near,—Ume herself, in mortal garments. In the next room, the veranda, hiding in the closet to spring out merrily upon him! He groaned and strove to plunge his mind into prayer.
The unfinished picture stood close at hand. Suddenly he noticed it, and, with a gasp, stooped to it. Something had changed; the whole vibration of its lines were subtly new. There was the girl's figure, the leaning willow, the man,—content, insensate, sprawling upon the bank,—but the Kappa! Buddha the Merciful, could it be true? Where he had left a Kappa, waiting until to-morrow to give the triumph, the leering satisfaction at the human grief it fed on, rose the white form and pitying face of Kwannon Sama,—she to whom his Ume loved to pray. The eyes, soft, humid with compassion, looked directly out to his. They were Ume's eyes! He caught up one brush after the other. All had been used, and Ume's touch was upon them. Her aura permeated them.
He rushed now to the veranda. In leaving the rooms, three hours before, he had not taken the usual stone step which led into the garden under the branches of the plum, but had leaped directly from the low flooring, not caring where he trod. He remembered now that the stone had been white in the moonlight. It was now swept clean of petals, as though by the hurried trailing of a woman's dress. Was this the way in which she was to manifest herself? And would a spirit-robe brush surfaces so vehemently? And would a ghostly hand use brushes and pigments of ground-earth?
Unable to endure the room, he went again into the night, no further this time than the little garden. In the neighborhood dogs were barking fiercely, as though in the wake of a presence. By sound he followed it, and it moved up the hill. The very garden now was tinged with sandalwood.
Until the dawn, and after, he walked the pebbled paths, not thinking, indeed not fearing, hoping, or giving conscious form to speculation. He was dazed. But the young blood in his veins ran alternate currents of fire and ice.
With the first sun-ray he perceived a companion in the dewy solitude. He had noticed the figure before, but always, until this hour, at twilight. It was the form of a nun standing, high above him on the temple cliff, with one arm about a tree.
After this nothing mysterious broke the quiet routine of his life. The presence of Ume in the chamber seemed to fade a little, but, for some reason inexplicable to himself, this brought now no poignant grief. He did not tell the wonderful thing to Mata or old Kano, but hid the still unfinished picture where no one but himself could see it.
So February passed, and March.
With April came the cherry-flowers, wistaria, and peonies; with iris in the bud, and shy hedge-violets; wonder of yama buki shrubs that played gold fountains on the hills, and the swift, bright contagion of young grass. Even from old Kano's moon-viewing hillock one might see, in looking out across the desert of gray city roofs, round tops of cherry trees rising like puffs of rosy smoke. From out the face of the temple cliff long, supple fronds of ferns unrolled, bending uncertain arms toward the garden. The tangled sasa-grass rustled new sleeves of silk; and the great camphor tree, air-hung in blue, seemed caught in a jewelled mesh of chrysoprase and gold.
Down in the lower level of the garden, too, springtime busied itself with beauty. The potted plants, once Ume-ko's loved charges, had become now, quite mysteriously to himself, Tatsu's companions and his special care. Among the more familiar growths a few foreign bushes had been given place, a rose, a heliotrope, and a small, frightened cyclamen. Slips of chrysanthemum needed already to be set for the autumn yield. Tatsu, watering and tending them, thought with wistful sadness upon these plans for future enjoyment. "We are all bound upon the wheel of life," he said to them. "Would that with me, as you, the turning were but for a single season!"
"My son," the elder man began abruptly, at a certain noonday meal about the middle of the month, "how is it that you never go with me to the temple on the hill?"
Tatsu looked up from his rice-bowl in some surprise. The relations between these two, though externally kind, had never approached intimacy. Kano indeed idolized his adopted son with pathetic and undisguised fervor; but with Tatsu, though other things might have been forgiven, the old man's continued disrespect to his daughter's memory, his refusal to join even in the simplest ceremony of devotion, kept both him and old Mata chilled and distant. The one possible explanation,—aside from that of wanton cruelty,—was a thing so marvellous, so terrible in implied suggestion, that the boy's faint soul could make for it no present home; let it drift, a great luminous nebula of hope, a little longer on the rim of nothingness.
The answer now to Kano's question betrayed a hint of the more rational animosity.
"You had never seemed to desire it. And I have my place of worship here."
"Yes, I know. Of course I knew that!" the other hurried on in some agitation. Then he paused, as if uncertain how to word the following thought. "I do wish it!" he broke forth, with an effort. "I make request now that you go with me, this very day, at twilight."
"If it is your honorable desire," said Tatsu, bowing in indifferent acquiescence. A moment later he had finished his meal, and rose to go.
Kano moved restlessly on the mats. He drew out the solace of a little pipe, but his nervous fingers fumbled and shook so, that the slim rod of bamboo tipped with silver escaped him, and went clattering down among the empty dishes of the tray. Mata's apprehensive face showed instantly at a parting of the kitchen fusuma. She sighed aloud, as she noted a great triangle chipped from the edge of an Imari bowl. Only two of those bowls had remained; now there was but one.
"Tatsu, my son, may I depend upon you? This day, as soon as the light begins to fail?"
Tatsu, in the doorway, paused to look. Evidently the speaker struggled with a strong excitement. Something in the twitching face, the eager, shifting eyes, brought back a vision of that meal on the evening that preceded Ume's death, when she and her father had leaned together, whispering, ignoring him, and afterward had left the house, giving him no hint of their errand. He felt with dread a premonition of new bitterness.
"I shall be ready at the twilight hour," he said, and went to his room.
That afternoon Tatsu did little painting. Silent and motionless as one of the frames against the wall, he sat staring for long intervals out upon the garden. The sunshine gave no pleasure, only a blurring of his sight. Beauty was not there for him, this day. He was thinking of those hours of October sunlight, when the whole earth reeled with joy, for Ume-ko was of it! Where was she now? And what had there been in Kano's look and voice to rouse those sleeping demons of despair? Could any new sorrow await him at the temple? No, his present condition had at least the negative value of absolute void. From nothing, nothing could be taken; and to it, nothing be supplied!
In spite of this colorless assurance it was with something of reluctance, of shrinking, that he prepared to leave the house. Few words were spoken between the two. Catching up the skirts of narrow, silken robes a little higher, they tucked the folds into their belts, and side by side began the long, slow climbing of the road.
The city roofs beneath them hurried off to the edge of the world like ripples left in the gray sand-bed of a stream. Above the plain the mist drew in its long, horizontal lines of gray.
About half the distance up the steep the temple bell above them sounded six slow, deliberate strokes. First came the sonorous impact of the swinging beam against curved metal, then the "boom," the echo,—the echoes of that echo to endless repetition, sifting in layers through the thinner air upon them, sweeping like vapor low along the hillside with a presence and reality so intense that it should have had color, or, at least, perfume; settling in a fine dew of sound on quivering ferns and grasses, permeating, it would seem, with its melodious vibration the very wood of the houses and the trunks of living trees.
Reaching at last the temple court, old Kano took the lead, crossed the wide-pebbled space, and halted with his companion at the edge of the cliff. A cry of wonder came from Tatsu's lips; that low, inimitable cry of the true artist at some new stab of beauty. Delicately the old man withdrew, and hid himself in the shadow of the temple.
Tatsu stared out, alone. He saw the round bay like a mirror,—like Ume's mirror; and to the west the peak of Fuji, a porphyry cone against the sunset splendor. No wonder that the gray nuns came here at this hour, or that she, the slender, isolated one, lingered to drain the last bright drop of beauty! He looked about now to discover her tree. Yes, there it was, quite close; not a willow as he had sometimes thought, but a young maple, unusually upright of growth. It had been leafless, but now the touch of spring had lighted every twig with a pale flame-point of red. He recalled that in the autumn it had made a crimson heart against the sky; and later had sent down into the Kano garden frail alms of ruby films. Ume had loved to catch them in her hands, wondering at their brightness, and trying to make him wonder, too. Love-letters of the passing year, she called them; songs dyed with the autumn's heart's-blood of regret that he must yield the sweet, warm earth to his gray rival, winter. She had pretended that the small, crossed veinlets of the leaves were Chinese ideographs which it was given her to decipher. Holding him off with one outstretched arm she would have read to him,—fantastic, exquisite interpreter of love,—but he, mad brute, had caught the little hands, the autumn leaves, and crushed them to one hot glow, crying aloud that nature, beauty, love were all made one in her. Such grief he must have given many times.
He threw his head hack as in sudden hurt, a gesture becoming habitual to him, and drew a long, impatient, tremulous sigh. As if to cast aside black thought, he strode over quickly to the maple tree, flung an arm around it, and leaned over to stare down into his garden with the gray nun's eyes. There it was, complete, though in miniature;—rocks, pines, the pigmy pool, the hillock squatting in one corner like an old, gray garden toad, and in another corner, scarcely of larger size, the cottage.
Kano plucked nervously at his sleeve. "You lean too far. Come, Tatsu, I have a—a—place to show you."
Tatsu wheeled with a start. Try as he would he shivered and grew faint, even yet, at the sound of Kano's voice breaking abruptly in upon a silence. He gave a nod of acquiescence and, with downbent head, followed his guide diagonally across the temple court, past the wide portico where sparrows and pigeons fought for night-quarters in the carved, open mouths of dragons, along the side of the main building until, to Tatsu's wonder, they stopped before a little gate in the nunnery wall.
"I thought it was almost death for a man to enter here!" exclaimed the boy.
"For most men it is," said Kano, producing a key of hammered brass about nine inches long. "But I desired to go the short path to the cemetery, and it lies this way. As I have told you, the abbot was my boyhood's friend."
Within the convent yard,—a sandy space enclosed in long, low buildings of unpainted wood,—Tatsu saw a few gray figures hurrying to cover; and noticed that more than one bright pair of eyes peered out at them through bamboo lattices. Over the whole place brooded the spirit of unearthly peace and sweetness which had been within the gift of the holy bishop and his acolytes even at that time of torment in the hospital cell. The same faint Presence, like a plum tree blossoming in the dark, stole through the young man's senses, luring and distressing him with its infinite suggestions of lost peace.
At the farther wall of the court they came to an answering door. This was already unlocked and partially ajar. It opened directly upon the highest terrace of the cemetery which led down steeply in great, curved, irregular steps to a plain. The crimson light in the west had almost gone. Here to the north, where rice-fields and small huddled villages stretched out as far as the eye could see, a band of hard, white light still rested on the horizon, throwing back among the hillside graves a pale, metallic sheen. Each shaft of granite was thus divided, one upright half, blue shadow, the other a gray-green gleam. All looked of equal height. A gray stone Buddha on his lotos pedestal, or the long graceful lines of a standing Jizo, only served to emphasize the uniformity.
This was a place most dear to Kano, and had been made so to his child. He even loved the look of the tombs. "Gray, splintered stalagmites of memory," he had called them, and when the child Ume had learned the meaning of the simile she had put her little finger to a spot of lichen and asked, "Then are these silver spots our tears?"
The old man stepped down very softly to the second tier. A nightingale was calling low its liquid invocation, "Ho-ren-k-y-y-o-o-o!" Perhaps old Kano moved so softly that he might not lose the echoes of this cry. The two men seemed alone in the silent scene. Once Tatsu thought his eye caught a swift flicker, as of a gray sleeve, but he was not sure. At any rate he would not think of it, or speculate, or marvel! He was beginning to tremble before the unknown. The sense of shrinking, of miracle, of being, perhaps, too small to contain the thing decreed, bore hard upon him. With it came a keen impression of the unreality of the material universe,—of Buddhist illusion. Even these adamantine records of death, rising on every side to challenge him,—even these might recombine their particles before his very eyes,—might shiver into mist and float down to the plain to mingle with the smoke of cooking as it rose from the peasant huts. Anything might happen, or nothing!
Kano had stopped short before a grave. For once Tatsu was glad to hear his voice.
"Here lie the clean ashes of my young wife, Kano Uta-ko," said the old man, without preface or explanation.
"In former days, before—before my illness, I came here often," said the other. His eyes hung on the written words of the kaimyo. "If you grieved deeply, it must have been great solace that you could come thus to her grave," he added wistfully. Then, as Kano still remained silent, he read aloud the beautiful daishi, "A flower having blossomed in the night, the Halls of the Gods are Fragrant."
Kano drew a long sigh. "For nineteen years I have mourned her," he went on slowly. "As you know, a son was not given to us. She died at Ume's birth. I could not bring myself to replace her, even in the dear longing for a son."
"A son!" Tatsu knew well what the old man meant. He lifted his eyes and stared out, mute, into the narrowing band of light. The old man drew his thin form very straight, moved a few feet that he might look squarely into the other's face, and said deliberately. "So did I mourn the young wife whom I loved, and so, if I know men, will you mourn, Kano Tatsu. Of such enduring stuff will be your grief for Ume-ko."
It was said. The old man's promise had been torn like a leaf,—not to be mended or recalled,—torn and flung at his listener's feet. Yet such was the simplicity of utterance, such the nobility of poise, the beauty of the old face set like a silver wedge into the deepening mist, that Tatsu could only give him look for look, with no resentment. The young voice had taken on strangely the timbre of the old as, in equal soberness, he answered,
"Such, Kano Indara, though I be burdened with years as many as your own,—will be the never-ceasing longing for my lost wife, Ume-ko."
A little sob, loosed suddenly upon the night, sped past them. "What was it? Who is there?" cried Tatsu, sharply, wheeling round.
Kano began to shake. "Perhaps—perhaps a night-bird," he stammered out.
"A bird!" echoed Tatsu. "That sound was human. It is a woman, the Presence that has hung about me! Put down your arms,—you cannot keep me back!"
"Be still!" cried out old Kano in the voice of angry kings. "Nothing will happen,—nothing, I say, if you act thus like the untamed creature that you were! Your fate is still in my hands, Kano Tatsu!"
Tatsu fell down upon his knees, pulling at the old man's sleeves. "Father, father, have pity! I will be self-controlled and docile as I have been these long, long months. But now there is a thing so great that would possess me, my soul faints and sickens. Father, I ask your help, your tenderness. I think I have wronged you from the first,—my father!"
Suddenly the old man hurled his staff away and sank weeping into the stronger arms. "I fear, I fear!" he wailed. "It may be still too early. But she said not,—the abbot counselled it! O gods of the Kano home!"
"Father," asked Tatsu, rising slowly to his feet, his arms still close about the other, "can it be joy that is to find me, even in this life?"
"Wait, you shall see," cried the old man, now laughing aloud, now weeping, like a hysterical girl. "You shall see in a moment! My dead wife takes me by the hand and leads me from you,—just a little way, dear Tatsu, just here among the shadows. No longer are the shadows for you,—joy is for you. Yes, Uta-ko, I 'm coming. The young love springs like new lilies from the old. Stand still, my son; be hushed, that joy may find you."
He faltered backward and was lost. Upon the hillside came a stillness deeper than any previous interval of pause. From it the nightingale's low note thrust out a wavering clew. The day had gone, and a few stars dotted the vault of the sky. Tatsu threw back his head. There was no pain in the gesture now; he was trying to make room in his soul for an unspeakable visitor. The arch of heaven had grown trivial. Eternity was his one boundary. The stars twinkled in his blood.
He heard the small human sob again, just at his elbow. All at once he was frozen in his place; he could not turn or move. His arms hung to his sides, his throat stiffened in its upward lines. And then a little hand, stealing from a nun's gray sleeve, slipped into his, and in a pause, a hush, it was before the full splendor of love's cry, he turned and saw that it was Ume-ko, his wife.
* * * * * *
Yeddo and modern Tokyo alike give entertainment to the traditional nine days' wonder. Sometimes the wonder does not fade at all, and so it was with the case of Tatsu and his wife. If he had been an idol, he was now a demigod, Ume-ko sharing the sweet divinity of human tenderness with him.
Had it all happened a century before, the people would have built for them a yashiro, with altar and a shrine. Here they would have been worshipped as gods still in the flesh, and lovers would have prayed to them for aid and written verses and burned sweet incense.
Being of modern Tokyo, most of this adulation went into newspaper articles. Old men envied Kano his dutiful daughter, young men envied Tatsu his beautiful and loving wife. The print-makers, indeed, perpetrated a series of representations that put old Kano's artistic teeth on edge. First there was Ume at the willow; then Tatsu, in the same place, taking his mad plunge for death's oblivion; Ume, the hooded acolyte, kneeling in the sick chamber at the head of her husband's bed; Ume, the nun, standing each day at twilight on the edge of the temple cliff to catch a glimpse of him she loved; and, at the last, Tatsu and Ume rejoined beside the tomb of Kano Uta-ko. Fortunately these pictures were never seen by the two most concerned.
They went away on a second bridal journey, this time to Tatsu's native mountains in Kiu Shiu. While there, the good friend Ando Uchida was to be sought, and made acquainted with the strange history of the previous months.
Mata and her old master remained placidly at home. They had no fears. At the appointed date—only a week more now—the two would come back, as they had promised, to begin the long, tranquil life of art and happiness. There were to be great pictures! Kano chuckled and rubbed his lean hands together, as he sat in his lonely room. Then the thought faded, for a tenderer thought had come. In a year or more, if the gods willed, another and a keener blessedness might be theirs.
To dream quite delicately enough of this, the old man shut his eyes. Oh, it was a dream to make the springtime of the world stir at the roots of being! A tear crept down from the blue-veined lids, making its way through wrinkles, those "dry river-beds of smiles." If the baby fingers came,—those small, fearless fingers that were one's own youth reborn,—they would press out all fretful lines of age, leaving only tender traceries. He leaned forward, listening. Already he could hear the tiny feet echo along the rooms, could see small, shaven heads bowing their first good morning to the O Ji San,—revered, beloved patriarch of the home! How old Mata would idolize and scold and pet them! A queer old soul was Mata, with faults, as all women have, but in the main, a treasure! Good times were coming for the old folks in that house! So sat Kano, dreaming, in his empty chamber; and unless we have eternity to spare, nodding beside him on the mats, we must bow, murmuring, "Sayo-nara!"