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Title: The Curse of Koshiu - A Chronicle of Old Japan
Author: Wingfield, Lewis
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=UCQXAAAAYAAJ

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe]; "y" with a circumflex
      above by [^y]; "o" with a macron above by [=o].



                         THE CURSE OF KOSHIU.


                     _A CHRONICLE OF OLD JAPAN_.



                                  BY

                     The Honble. LEWIS WINGFIELD,

                              AUTHOR OF
      "LADY ORIZEL," "IN HER MAJESTY'S KEEPING," "ABIGEL ROWE,"
                       "BARBARA PHILPOT," ETC.



                               LONDON:
                            WARD & DOWNEY,
                    12 YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN.
                              *   *   *
                                1888.

                       [_All Rights reserved_.]



                              EDINBURGH
                         COLSTON AND COMPANY
                               PRINTERS



                              CONTENTS.


                              CHAPTER I.

       Boy and Girl.


                             CHAPTER II.

       The Last Hojo.


                             CHAPTER III.

       Married Life.


                             CHAPTER IV.

       The Abbess gives Advice.


                              CHAPTER V.

       The Farmer girds His Loins.


                             CHAPTER VI.

       The Young Mikado.


                             CHAPTER VII.

       The Farmer's Sentence.


                            CHAPTER VIII.

       Destiny is Busy.


                             CHAPTER IX.

       The Execution.


                              CHAPTER X.

       Forebodings.


                             CHAPTER XI.

       The Curse begins to Work.


                            CHAPTER XII.

       The Daimio of Nara Begins to Work.


                            CHAPTER XIII.

       The Despot obeys Orders.


                             CHAPTER XIV.

       The Mikado does Business.


                             CHAPTER XV.

       Will Buddha Speak?


                             CHAPTER XVI.

       Masago takes the Reins.


                            CHAPTER XVII.

       Under the Moon.


                            CHAPTER XVIII.

       Face to Face.


                             CHAPTER XIX.

       The Web Is Woven.



                         THE CURSE OF KOSHIU.



                              CHAPTER I.

                            BOY AND GIRL.


It was towards the end of the fourteenth century that the grandeur of
the Hojo family rose to its acme, then fell with awful crash. The
feudal story of the Land of the Rising Sun is a long dark chronicle of
blood and tears, of crime and rapine, of vengeance and vendetta, out
of which there glints at intervals a gleam of glorious heroism, of
holy devotion, of pure love and unsullied faith.

In the stately roll of the great names of old Japan, there is none so
terrible as Hojo. From time to time the patient people were ruled by
one race or another of despots, cruel and selfish; the most cruel of
all, the Hojos. Even now, after five hundred years of war and havoc,
of vain aspirations, power misused, and wrecked ambitions, mothers
still hush their babes to silence by breathing the dreaded name. The
most destructive insect that ravages the fairest island in the
world--the most voracious and omnivorous--is yet known as the Hojo
beetle. When the first of the line erected a strong fortress--the
Castle of Tsu, which will serve as background to many scenes in this
our chronicle--he gave to it a bloody baptism, by burying beneath the
foundations two hundred living men. Although their baleful course was
marked by an ensanguined streak like a gory finger drawn across a map,
they were not all black, these gruesome daimios, or even Buddha, whom
we know to be deaf, and prone to somnolence, would earlier in the day
have bestirred himself to punish them. Maybe Buddha drinks too much
saké, for though we piously crack our finger-joints, and beat our
palms, each morn at sunrise, and bang the gongs and pull the
bell-strings each evening in the temple, he recks little of mere
mundane worries, letting things go from bad to worse in grievous
fashion. And yet, once roused to wakefulness, his vengeance is swift
as the typhoon, as destructive and as sweeping.

No. The lurid Hojo cloud that for a hundred years brooded over
long-suffering Japan, had silver breaks in it. The Mikados, as nominal
rulers, dwelt at Ki[^y]oto; while the Shoguns, as military viceroys,
reigned at Kamakura; but the dominating family, as wire-pullers,
directed their movements from behind. The father of Hojo No-Kami, last
of the race, had his good points. None of his supercilious ancestors
was more superbly overbearing, more sublimely indifferent to human
pain; and yet his worst enemies were compelled to admit that, if
stern, his rule was sagacious. The Mikado, and his court of _kugés_ or
lords-in-waiting, shivered before him, for his dirk was loose in the
scabbard, and the order promptly to depart into another world by
uncompromising _harakiri_ was ever trembling on his lips. During his
career three emperors had been summoned to shave their heads and
retire into monkish solitude, each puppet bowled over in its turn for
daring to dispute his will; and yet the very fact of his disdaining to
mask the iron hand under the glove of silk, even in dealing with the
highest, compelled the unwilling admiration of his turbulent and
light-hearted countrymen.

The upper class--Samurai, two-sword men, hatamotos, soldiers--could
appreciate his martial bearing, as, in gallant bravery of scarlet
armour and gold-studded helm, he rode forth to battle, with his
martial wife beside him. For the beautiful Tomoyé was a fit mother for
lion whelps. Of great personal strength as well as graceful carriage,
sheathed in armour like her lord, astride on a swift horse, she was
ever in the van of conflict. With her own hand she cut off the head of
a rival daimio who crossed swords with her; and when her lord died,
pierced through the heart by an arrow she fought till she fell beside
him. The lower class of the unarmed--mechanics, mere farmers,
paltry merchants--could also from their inferior standpoint admire
their ruler, whilst grieving at his rough treatment of the Holy
Mikado--mystic head of all--for he protected the workers of the hive
from the depredations of other tyrants. The burthen of taxes was
nicely weighed to suit the backs of the bearers. The ken of the Hojo
was as piercing, and minutely attentive to details, as it was
farsighted. A petition from the elders of the meanest village was sure
of immediate attention. No petty feudal master, however recklessly
bold or savagely contemptuous, dared to overstep his rights.

The result of the adamantine rule of the last Hojo but one was peace.
The land that was given over usually to turmoil and bloodshed, with
intervals of complete anarchy, enjoyed rest for fifteen years, during
which the despot set himself to consolidate his power, and fix yet
more firmly the family yoke on the necks of lords and people.

He had two sons, the elder of whom--by Japanese paradox--was treated
as if he had been the younger. Sampei, three years older than No-Kami,
was the offspring of a second wife or concubine. The latter,
heir-apparent, was the whelp of the war-queen Tomoyé. Now in Japan
concubinage is a recognised institution, and the son of the handmaid
is no bastard. And yet the child of the bondwoman is not co-heir with
the child of the free. The latter, in the case of a great family, is
undisputed head of the clan, and to him the former owes allegiance,
however much older in years, in the same degree as lesser clansmen.
The institution is so firmly welded into the constitution of the land
as, save in a few cases, to preclude jealousy.

Of course, as in all Eastern countries, ambitious men have striven to
supplant their brothers--have hacked off their heads and reigned in
their stead--but this does not affect the principle. The two sons of
Hojo grew up side by side in perfect amity. Together they learned to
ride and wield the sword and spear under the approving gaze of their
martial parents. They were both soldiers--with a difference. Even
Tomoyé was forced to admit that of the twain Sampei, son of the
concubine, was the most promising. His nature was clear and bright
as running water, simple and unsmirched, unlike that of the
heir-apparent. None more brave than he, more quick and skilful with
his weapons, more ready to smite hard and heavily; and yet on occasion
he could be soft and tender as a woman. A polished politeness and
chivalrous demeanour were so innate in him as to win the admiration of
the ladies. For seductive luxury he had nothing but contempt. No-Kami,
on the other hand, if brave and skilled in arms, was fierce and
selfish and debauched; overfond of the harem and perfumed bath and
saké cup; sullen, too, as an ill-conditioned animal; brutal to women,
ruthlessly tossing them aside like shattered toys when sated with
their charms. People nodded their pates and whispered of him the
timeworn proverb which says that there is no seed to a great man. In
sooth it has ever been a common thing in this otherwise favoured land
to see a great house crumble into speedy ruin through the supineness
and debauchery of its sons.

There was no need for anxiety as to the future of Sampei. A soldier
and a gentleman to the tips of his trim finger-nails, his career, in
the most war-ridden of countries, was carved clear before him. It came
to pass that Corea, conquered long since by the Amazon Empress Jingo,
threw off allegiance.. Who more fitted than doughty young Sampei to
reduce the rebel to obedience? Accordingly, five years before this
story opens, the gay young general, full of life and hope, and
rippling with high spirits, bade a respectful farewell to the father
he was never to see again, a more tender one of his fond mother,
Masago, who, like many another discarded concubine, was now the Abbess
of a convent, and sailed with a fleet and army for Corea, whence news
arrived from time to time, praising his deeds of valour.

As for the future of No-Kami, it was more difficult to prophesy, and
his parents were no little anxious. His prospects were splendid; but
although his father had endeavoured to foresee contingencies, and
build barriers against accidents, the path of the next tyrant must
needs be beset with thorns. His _rôle_ in the future would be arduous,
thick strewn with snares and difficulties. To keep the _entourage_ of
the Mikado in subjection--to hold the daimios--powerful and wealthy
princes as sturdy as the barons of the English John--in the requisite
condition of meekness, would require more statecraft, diplomacy, and
force of iron will, than could be expected of a model youth. And
No-Kami, as we have seen, was by no means a model youth. None knew
better than his astute and experienced parent how difficult to a young
man this task would prove; none was more distinctly aware of the frail
tenure of a despot's life. At any moment he, the father, might be
taken, and what then would happen to his boy?

Treachery stalks through the history of Japan. At any instant the
dominant Hojo might be murdered under his son's eyes. Would the
self-indulgent No-Kami be prepared with vigorous promptitude to avenge
the slain, and, seizing the dropped reins, pursue his policy? Both
father and mother sadly shook their heads. Even their partial vision
could not but perceive that the hope of the house was a leper,
abnormally sinful, inclined to become a sybarite. Was this young man
to be left to steer the bark without a pilot? Certainly not. In case
of anything unexpected arising, a staff must be prepared for him to
lean upon. A man must be placed by his side, old in years and in
experience, whose position and wisdom would command respect, whose
interest it would be to bestow sound advice and timely sage reproof.

What better guide than a prudent father-in-law? What surer loadstone
to lure an embryo debauchee from the muddy byways of low company than
a beautiful patrician bride? one of the pure and slender, refined and
high-bred maidens of noble lineage--fair and sweet as the fragrant
mountain-lily--who now, as five hundred years ago, are the brightest
glory of Japan.

A crafty combination this on the part of the warrior-statesman, which
would doubtless have been crowned with success, if he had not chanced
to live in a world where mischievous spirits delight in frustrating
plans the most cleverly matured. Tomoyé heard, and listened dubiously.
Even among the most elevated Japanese, as well as in the highest
European circles, papas and mammas will differ as to the ideal bride.
What was the precise article that would suit No-Kami? Unfortunately
there was not time to have one specially ordered. Since perfection is
chary of repetition, it was not to be expected that another Tomoyé--a
stern yet loving lioness--could be found for the precious youth.
Indeed, so recreant a scion was he of the stock, that he might have
objected possibly to a muscular and fiery wife whose pastime was the
chopping of heads. And yet not so. A true lion-whelp was he in blood
enjoyment. Even the low-born _Geisha_ singing girls who stocked his
harem, had often cried under his buffets, and shouted shame, with
tears, at his barbarous treatment of his servants.

Alas! how sad it is that even the most sapient in mundane experience
will be guilty of errors sometimes that are patent to the lesser fry.
Is it over-anxiety that blinds them? The problem was to put the finger
on a great noble--daimio among daimios--who could compare in descent
and grandeur _almost_ with the line of Hojo; who, of weight in
counsel, and rather cool than hot, would stem precipitate rashness. He
must have no son, and but one daughter, and devoid therefore of the
ambition which accompanies male issue, must adopt his daughter's
husband as his son; and by thus uniting the two families in closest
bonds, make their interests identical. The child of the magnate (given
that the two were found) must be mentally perfect, and a vision of
corporeal loveliness.

"My dear!" quoth the broad-shouldered but practical Tomoyé, as with
one eye critically closed she assayed the temper of a brand new sword.
The lady was apt to get vexed when her lord grew warm and garrulous.
"My dear," she observed, "we have many rounds of mortal life to climb
ere, reaching the summit, we attain Nirvana. Though you are good
enough to be blind to my blemishes, even I am not quite perfect.
Perfection, in our present low cycle, is so very scarce, you know."
With this she beamed upon her lord, whilst artlessly belying her words
by approvingly fingering her muscles. She was inwardly aware, with
pardonable pride, that no other daimio's daughter could boast such an
arm as hers.

My lord was provoked, and rubbed his nose. When you are erecting airy
towers, practical people are exasperating. It was evident she had
gained a point, so she proceeded to follow it up.

"Where in broad Japan do you propose to seek these paragons? This pink
of perfect daimios, and his yet more model child?"

There was a tendency to irreverence in this tone, which required
nipping in the bud. The eye of the Mikado's master shot forth a gleam,
before which even the lioness cowered. When his mind was made up, the
Hojo brooked no argument.

"Be it as you will!" Tomoyé dutifully murmured. "My lord is all-wise,
all-powerful; his wife his willing slave. Go forth and seek the
paragons, and let us hope you will find them soon."

To please him whom she loved best on earth, Tomoyé made believe to be
convinced; and yet her woman's tact whispered down in the deep
recesses of her manly bosom, that my lord, for all his wiliness, was
wrong; that he was building a fool's paradise far up in [OE]ther, out
of which her dear boy might tumble.

Curious to relate, the paragons concerning whom she was tempted to be
disrespectful were not far to seek. With but little hocus-pocus father
and daughter were conjured on the scene, as absolutely the "very
thing," to all appearance, as the cunning Hojo had conceived them. He
declared as much at least, and dutiful Tomoyé acquiesced, slightly
pinching her lips in silent protest. Instead of the "very thing" which
was to bring about complete success before its time in our weary
pilgrimage of cycles, the mother's instinct beheld with prophetic
vision, in the proposed alliance, the worst elements of discord and
defeat,--of so dire and dread a tragedy as should shake Japan to its
centre, and annihilate the dominating house. Yet who was she, the
warrior wife reflected in her humility, to set up puny instincts
against the ripened statecraft of my lord? Her muscles were better
than her brains. Should she presume to know more than he who held in
his hand Mikado, nobles, people?--whose nod was law in the land
beloved of Buddha? who had preserved it from contamination from
without? Her place was to bend before the will of the dictator, and
offer prayers for her husband and her son.


                          *   *   *   *   *


The most perfectly poetic spot in all poetic Japan, whose ensanguined
history is made beauteous to the eye of a fastidious posterity by the
flora of chivalry and valour, is Nara.

Lovely and secluded, sweet-smelling and umbrageous Nara! The Nara of
to-day--how much more the Nara of five hundred years ago--suggests to
the incursive foreigner a bit of Eden's garden.

In very early times the central mart of Japanese opulence (which ebbed
by-and-by to Ki[^y]oto), it came after a while to be recognised as the
special home of holiness. Accepting the better part, it exchanged the
shimmering sham glory of mundane ambition for the sheen reflected from
above. Some twenty miles from Ki[^y]oto--time-honoured residence of
Mikados, and therefore a sacred city--the small town of Nara stands on
a plain surrounded by rugged hills. Passing through low grey streets,
leaving on the left a huge and ornate pagoda, you enter a tangle of
wild greenery--an ideal wood of immense cryptomerias darkling skyward
after light. A jungle of variegated foliage, so sweet and fresh, masks
half their altitude, while the undulating ground beneath is broken
into verdant waves chequered with blossoms of all hues. This forest is
vast and silent, save where a white-robed group of pilgrims saunters
along its glades--undefended by barriers, save those of religious
custom. And what more tough than they? If sprightly and given to
skull-cracking, the Japanese live in terror of their deities, who
without exception are vindictive. Buddha and the lesser lights
are awful and threatening and ever-present, and the favourite
hunting-grounds of Buddha are the hallowed groves of Nara.

The thickets teem with game. All kinds of coy animals which usually
flee at sight of man, here hold undisputed sway. The intruder is on
their territory, and they let him know it. The timorous doe stands
with soft unstartled eyes across the path, sniffing with moist
nostrils the expected cake. And if the white-clad pilgrim should have
striven to combine economy with cure of soul by investing in cheap
offerings, the scornful stag and his following will shake their ears,
and bound away to relate to the gods the insult. With head on one
side, birds look critically down from boughs, nor think of flight;
hares, taught by impunity, instead of making off, white scut in air,
groom nose with paw, undaunted.

Hidden away, centre of an intricate labyrinth--enclosed in many
courts, each hung with myriad lamps in bronze-like fringes round the
eaves--stands the Holy of Holies, Buddha's hunting-box, wherein a band
of virgins perform weird shinto rites for the behoof of awe-struck
pilgrims. At stated seasons this bevy of priestesses, emerging from
strict retirement, performs the _kagura_, a slow swanlike measure,
with many and intricate figures and waving of fans and bells and
kerchiefs, accompanied by priestly flutes--which (doubtless good for
the soul, since its weary length is interminable) is soothing also to
ear and eye, for the ladies are graceful and slender in their loose
red trousers and gossamer robes, their long locks flowing as they
float to and fro, with a background of gold screens, and beyond the
antique forest. How peaceful a life, free from sordid cares, must
these holy damsels lead! Far from the fretful striving of the churlish
world--its hate and jealousy and bitterness and disillusion--no call
to arms or shock of war invades this calm retreat. They share
ungrudgingly their Eden with the beasts and butterflies, guileless and
content as they, strumming the three-stringed samisen, sailing through
maze of solemn _kagura_, doing tender service in the temple.

Among the troop of maidens was one who wore no religious habit.
Although she had taken no vows, priests and virgins loved her as much
as if one of themselves. Brought up among them with the hares and
birds for comrades, as stately and as gentle as the deer, she shared
from childhood, being motherless, their pure and contemplative life.
Strangers often said that the fairest thing in lovely Nara was the
tall and pale O'Tei. Some compared her to the unblown white lotos as
it sways dreamily in the breeze. Others dubbed her pearl; but later
all agreed that young Sanjo the armourer was delivered of the neatest
simile when he fashioned a white fawn of purest silver and gave it to
the maiden for a hairpin. As a child she had always been still and
given to day-dreams, peering into the flowers as if she could read
secrets there, or gazing into the opal sky in search of angels, or
watching the pallid stars as they glimmered forth out of the deepening
blue. Yet was she as gay as the chirping cicadas in the trees, as
light and fleet as her four-footed friends, as, pattering on dainty
clogs in wayward mood, she would leave the forest for the town, and
peeping in at Sanjo's, shake an arch finger at the brawny armourers,
while they wiped their swart brows, and laughed.

It was by a whimsical coincidence that the celebrated family of Sanjo,
from time immemorial armourers in chief to the Mikados, as the
Miochins were to the Shoguns, should have set up the forge, emblem of
war, hard by the sacred wood, the type of peace. But so it was.
Indeed, as I write, the existing Sanjos occupy the ancestral dwelling.
They are poor now. Their occupation is gone, for civilisation and
European ways have stepped in and ruined them. At the period which
occupies us, the blowing of the forge-bellows and the welding of iron
on the anvil were in curious contrast to the surrounding calm. Many
lords who came hither in pilgrim guise to improve their soul's estate,
looked in at Sanjo's ere they went away, to buy new blades and armour.
The holy forest was an oasis of peace in a world of uproar; for was
not the castle of the powerful lord of Nara but a mile beyond the
town; and did not close by (happily concealed by a hill from his proud
gaze) the fortress of the Daimio of Osaka rear its majestic front,
home of his hereditary foe? Of course it was enough for two great
feudal lords to dwell cheek by jowl for them to hate one another
cordially. These two were as jealous as two rival beauties. The outer
moat at Nara was wider than that of my lord of Osaka, but then the
interior of Osaka's stronghold was the more splendid, and its armoury
more richly furnished. Hence frowns and jibes and backbitings from
generation to generation, varied now and then by siege or battle,
accompanied by fire and massacre.

Among the many who were firm friends of the Sanjos, was, naturally
enough, Sampei. Of course, so gallant a young gentleman could wear no
armour but Sanjo's, could wield no sword but one that bore his mark.
One morning, standing beside the anvil, and laying down the law to an
obsequious audience, on military subjects, he beheld, framed in the
doorway, such a delightful vision, that his heart gave a great thump,
and he dropped the precious blade, whose temper he was critically
testing by the bisecting of a coin. It was only for a second. Startled
by the apparition of a distinguished stranger, and grown unaccountably
bashful of a sudden, the blushing and beautiful O'Tei cried Oh! and,
turning on her clogs, scampered back into the wood, whither the
inflammable Sampei would swiftly have followed, had he not been
restrained by the armourer.

"Beware!" the latter whispered, grasping him tightly by the skirt.
"That maid is not for thee! The heiress of the Daimio of Nara will
look higher than a soldier of fortune!"

Sampei laughed, to conceal his annoyance. It is exasperating and
humiliating too, to a handsome young soldier, who as such adores the
sex, to be bluntly informed that the loveliest girl whom he has ever
looked upon is hopelessly out of reach. And yet he could not deny that
his friend was right. The White Fawn of Nara might never be his, for
one so noble and so fair could command the most splendid of _partis_.
But was that any reason why he should not look at her? He was
heartwhole. No doubt of that. His soul was devoted to his sword; but,
as dashing young warriors have done time out of mind, he liked to
dally with maidens, and the prettier they were the better. Instead of
purchasing a blade and departing straightway, he all at once became
fastidious. This one was too light; that one ill-balanced.

Japan is the land of blades. From the tail of the Dragon was born the
sword which the Sun-goddess bestowed on the first Emperor. By the
sword of the clustering clouds, Yamato-Daké subdued the East. It was
quite fitting that our young general should be particular. Sanjo
produced in vain his rarest achievements. There was "Knee-cutter" and
"Beard-divider," unrivalled masterpieces, which Sanjo himself so loved
that he had always declined to part with them. But there was no
satisfying this capricious and arrogant youth. Sanjo would be good
enough to set himself to work and create an inspiration; and Sampei,
to whom time had all at once become no object, would remain at Nara
and superintend the progress of the miracle. And so it came about that
the blade, taking long to make, O'Tei (curious, after the fashion of
maidens) came pattering along the street, just to see if the young
warrior was gone. Oddly enough, he was still there; with face towards
the door too. This was well, if strange; for he was comely; extremely
civil, to boot; courteous, and vastly respectful; could troll rich
snatches of merry song, and tell diverting tales with dancing eye and
glittering teeth; while as for his smile, it did one good to bask
under it--so bright it was, so warm and genial, exuberant with
bubbling youth.

The brawny workers at the anvil vowed with grins and nudges that 'twas
charming to watch these two--she, the type of the patrician beauty of
her country--complexion of palest olive, nose aquiline, cheek bones a
trifle high, perfectly moulded chin and throat, eyes and hair a deep
black, the former raised the least little bit in the world at the
outer corners--as she lounged in a steely _kimono_ of finest crape
drawn up over one of scarlet. And he was in his way as bonny a
spectacle. Exceeding dark of skin; of low stature, as are most of the
Japanese, but admirably proportioned and muscular; his luxuriant sable
locks (shaven away in the centre, lest the eyes should be obscured in
battle), fastened in two tresses at the back, while a becoming blue
fillet bound his temples, knotted at the side in a bow.

I am afraid I must admit at once that Sampei, to whom I am very
partial, was a sad flirt. He invented appalling tales of death and
slaughter, for the pleasure of seeing the cheek of O'Tei grow whiter,
then set himself to woo the delicate sea-shell colour back with
well-timed jest; and was flattered and pleased to find that he could
learn to play upon her as on some fragile instrument. To the girl his
radiant advent was a strange and wondrous break in the sweet monotony
of years,--a revelation like the raising of some veil that masks the
infinite; and she marvelled vaguely whether the perfumed wood would
hold so rich a charm when _he_ was no longer there to rouse the echoes
with his laughter. Hand in hand they wandered--artless children--while
the soft-eyed deer peeped out at them approvingly. They visited her
favourite haunts; the open glade where the glorious lilies grew in
clusters--lemon-yellow, or white, brown centred; where the great
jewelled butterflies tumbled low along like junks under heavy sail;
where beds of scarlet blossoms like geraniums nestled in sheets on the
bank of a crystal stream--home of flights of glittering dragon-flies,
black and iron-blue, like the cohorts of the warlike Osaka. And then
the sharp _twee twee_ of the cicadas, answering or calling one another
out of the deep stillness of the canopy above, the boom of the hoarse
bees, the buzzing of gossamer wings, the click of the cricket, the hum
of the myriad tiny voices up in the dense green, which joining in
harmonious chorus form a silence--a haven of solitude and rest.

It was not possible to linger in the shadowed aisles whose pillars
were the giant cryptomerias, without feeling subdued and softened; and
a suspicion flitted more than once across the mind of the young
soldier that perchance the career of hurly-burly and the clash of
steel were a mistake, the contemplative life a better. What happier
method of getting through the cycle than to muse away the years, till
called to go, with gentle O'Tei, and the forest, and the animals? And
then, the sylvan influence and flash of the clear eyes removed, Sampei
would wake and shake himself in distress, and know that the ground was
dangerous. The contemplative life was good for girls and shaven
priests, and men who had succumbed in the battle. Youths with lives
spread out before like a trail of moonlight on the sea, must gird up
their loins and elbow their way through the medley. Too long already
had the young General dallied, wasting time. And yet, not wasting, for
he and she were to be friends for life--that was quite settled--dear
brother and loving sister, trusting each other without question,
certain, in moments of emergency, of the completest helpfulness and
sympathy. It was delicious to possess such a sister, a soft warm
sunspot on his harsh career; more she might never be, and he
recognised that this was well.

Her gentleness unnerved his arm, he was wont jestingly to say, for her
nature was woven of such frail glass threads that just as the rush of
the herd snapped the slender lily-stems, a rude puff of wind might
shatter it. Some day she would find a suitable husband, and her
adopted brother would love him for her sake; and then they would
recline in the long grass and fall a-talking of what the lucky mortal
would be like. To match with the perfection of O'Tei he must be a
perfect creature. Not a bluff soldier like Sampei. No, that would
never do, for like a tender plant must the dear maid be cherished. To
the end must the White Fawn be screened from din of war and rude
surroundings. Poor hearts! They were both so young and ignorant and
hopeful. They knew not how futile a pastime is the building of
air-palaces. They were unaware that Fate is a sad marplot, and that if
we plan a matter in a certain way, it will surely come out quite
otherwise.

The Shinto virgins were somewhat scandalised by the romantic
proceedings of the fair O'Tei and the too good-looking General. They
were disinclined to approve of him, for they knew he had said that,
with faces painted a dead white, eyebrows at top of foreheads, and
long flat hair well-oiled, they looked like the dolls of Asakusa. A
ribald military person was not expected to have taste, or to know
wherein lies true beauty, but he might show more respect for youthful
gorgons. O'Tei did little credit, they averred, with tart displeasure,
to her education. If she pined for male society, was not the temple
full of holy bonzes? The heiress of Nara showed lamentable signs of
incipient depravity. What business had she with Sanjo, the common
armourer? She who, wayward always and inconsistent, when taught like
every prospective chatelaine to wield a pike, had been wont to toss
down the silver-mounted weapon, with a pout, vowing that she hated
fighting.

Things could not go on as they were, for the situation was a false
one. Sanjo grew nervous. If the Daimio of Nara, who as Kugé or court
noble lived usually at Ki[^y]oto in attendance on the Emperor, were to
hear that his only child, instead of innocently floating through mazes
of _kagura_, was using his (Sanjo's) forge for flirting purposes with
an ineligible man who was the son of a concubine, there would be
trouble; and Sanjo was not unaware of the parable concerning iron pots
and earthen pipkins. All were relieved, therefore, except O'Tei, who
was hazy as to her own sentiments, when the news arrived that the
rebellion in Corea was to be quelled, and that Sampei was to command
the expedition.

When brother and sister parted, O'Tei clung round the neck of the
youth, and, weeping bitterly, shivered she knew not why. Lovingly he
kissed her brow, and disengaged himself from her embrace, and was more
than ever certain as he rode away that, perfect in a congenial sphere,
as wife of some grandee who would appreciate her gentle excellence,
his sweet and sensitive sister would make the worst of consoles for
one whose trade was war.



                             CHAPTER II.

                            THE LAST HOJO.


Being a cunning and artful reader, you have long since guessed that
the pattern maid whose benign influence was destined to reform the
brutish No-Kami, was no other than O'Tei, while the paragon Daimio was
Nara.

The Shinto virgins, as unjust and purblind as young gorgons may be
expected to prove, were quite wrong as to O'Tei, who was no flirt. She
did all credit to her rearing, for, when summoned to leave the
conventual seclusion of the forest and assume the garb and
responsibilities of her rank, she dutifully murmured, "Let my father's
will be done," and accepted the husband of his choice. She had never
been told--for the holy bonzes knew little about the subject--that in
many marriages there are but two cheerful days--the first and the
last--and marched straight upon her fate without a tremor.

The elder Hojo, though a crafty and long-headed statesman, made a sad
mistake while arranging the affairs of his son. The air palace he
built was complete and imposing, beautiful to the eye, but, as the
muscular and practical Tomoyé had foreseen, its foundations were of
the weakest. He forgot that old Nara, as lord in waiting, was likely
to be deeply attached to the person as well as to the position of the
Mikado; that he, like the rest of the Kugés, would probably treasure
up the insults which were freely showered on his master, with a view
to future vengeance.

Thanks to the uncompromising tactics of the despot, the reigning
Mikado (there were three in exile) was a boy, a _roi fainéant_, a
puppet; but he was hedged about with the intangible and mystic
attributes of the Mikadoate, and the buffets he received reverberated
along the line of Kugés into the hearts of the lower class. To possess
the person of the Emperor was doubtless pleasing to the possessor--a
trump card--but those who did not possess him felt his thraldom
bitterly. That his daughter should wed the heir of the all-powerful
Hojo was satisfactory and flattering to Nara. So long as the tyrant
lived against whom it was hopeless to struggle, he would mask his
game; but after his death, what then? He was expected to assume the
functions of chief adviser, and keep the successor straight--was, in
fact, to tighten the bonds about his master's limbs, for the behoof of
the execrated family.

This was whimsical--illogically planned--and Hojo a fool for his
pains, When he contemplated the folly of the man he hated in his
heart, the grim visage of the cautious Nara was puckered into
unaccustomed smiles. The advice he would give in the future--so the
wily lord decided--must depend on the attitude of his son-in-law, and
be guided by the course of events for the benefit of the imperial
prisoner. In his mind's eye (if Hojo could only have guessed it!) he
beheld with secret exultation the brutish No-Kami sinking lower and
lower by sure degrees into debauchery, until the moment should arrive
when the ruler would become the ruled. And then--and then! Well, time
must show what then. Sufficient for the day is its labour.

Just as a Nimrod of the chase may fly safely over tremendous obstacles
and be undone by a ditch at last, so was it with old Hojo. He sallied
forth one day to put down an insignificant riot in never tranquil
Satsuma, and received there his quietus. As already related, the
faithful Tomoyé died with him, and No-Kami--juvenile, inexperienced,
and cruel--was called to reign in his stead. And now, no longer
restrained in the smallest degree by respect for a severe mother or
fear of a fiery father, the new despot, surrounded by parasites, gave
free rein to all his vices.

The unaccustomed period of peace came to an abrupt conclusion. The
young Mikado having been goaded one day to remonstrate with his new
jailor, the latter raised his fan and slapped the august cheek. The
Kugés flew to arms to avenge their outraged lord, but No-Kami, with
the aureole of his father's prestige still about him, was too much for
them. The nobles who dwelt in the palace bore but little of the stamp
of warriors. The astute Nara, whilst hating the young man, saw that
now, while the aureole remained unfaded, it was not yet the time to
strike. He assumed therefore, with much parade of zeal, the _rôle_ of
mediator between his master and his son-in-law. At first in vain.

An unorganised band of patriots took the field, who were speedily
routed and slain; and No-Kami, like the tyrant that he was,
ungenerously pursued his advantage. Thanks to Nara's intervention, he
refrained from deposing the Mikado; but he made up for this act of
clemency by committing outrageous deeds. Banishment and confiscation
were the order of the day. The estates of those who had dared to
unsheath the _katana_ were distributed among the minions of the
despot. All over Japan, those who loved their country heard with
groans of the annihilation of the loyalists, and the pitiful condition
of the Emperors. There was a puppet Mikado at Ki[^y]oto, and a nominal
Shogun at Kamakura, but they were both under the tutelage of Hojo.

No-Kami, as Nara hoped and expected, flushed with easy victory, and
drunk with blood, resigned himself for a while to luxury, and
neglected public business. A horde of rapacious bravos and licensed
bandits sucked the lifeblood and paralysed the energies of the people.
The weight of taxes, that ever crushes the spirit of the Asiatic
peasant, grew heavier, day by day, until existence became intolerable.
How was an end to be put to this nightmare? That was the question
which all were fearfully whispering, and to which there seemed no
solution.

No-Kami, if self-indulgent and ruthless, was no zany. He knew that his
position was to be maintained by fear and a strong hand, and that
enervation meant destruction. Bundles of bamboo, when bound together,
will dam a stream, though each separate stem is but a feeble wand. The
insurrection of effeminate Kugés had been precipitate and foolish. If
the whole country were to rise like one man, he would, as he was
aware, be swept like rice chaff into the sea. In the mutual jealousy
of the Daimios lay his chief safeguard. While plunging each in
separate discomfort, union at all costs must be prevented. Attempts at
conspiracy among the nobles, or at combinations among the lower
classes, must be frustrated, and to that end he gave strict orders to
officials and tax-collectors to allow of no public meetings. The
people were to pay what was demanded of them, humbly and dutifully, as
best they could, but on no account were to be permitted to hold
gatherings. Even the great festivals of the year were for a while to
be discontinued.

Over and above these precautions, the tyrant surrounded his person
with a picked body-guard of Samurai, or two-sword men; hedged his
fortress with bristling defences; and recalled his brother, the
brilliant Sampei, from his career of victory abroad.

Urged possibly by a spirit of contrariness, a contempt for the society
of his prisoner and the Kugés--perhaps by a sense of freedom from
personal danger there--the favourite abode of No-Kami was his castle
of Tsu, four days' journey from the capital, over precipitous hills.
Here he loved to dwell, surrounded by his brawling warriors;
sojourning from time to time, when business called him to Ki[^y]oto,
at a small but superb villa, called the Golden House, which stood
secluded in a park on the outskirts of the sacred city.

The castle of Tsu was one of the strongest in Japan (the outline of
its foundations still remains to attest to its vast area), and
covered, within the square space of the outer moat, sufficient ground
to accommodate an army. This outer moat, upon which many a shallop
floated, was wide and deep and sluggish on three sides, masked by a
luxuriant crop of lotos; while the fourth wall was washed by a
rapidly-running river, the Iwatagawa, which a couple of miles away
brawled into the sea. Out of the water rose a platform of great
stones, with a fringe of gnarled and rusty pines, through which were
visible battlements of earth crowned by a low parapet. At each corner
was a huge four-storied building, fitted with four wide roofs of
sculptured copper; the walls of whitewashed plaster within frameworks
of unpainted wood. Inside this outer defence was a recreation and
drill-ground of sufficient extent to allow of room for jousts and
spectators, as well as trees and vegetable gardens, and a village of
wooden huts for soldiery and camp followers. Dwellings of a better
class were clustered like seashells about the second or inner moat,
which enclosed a second wall.

Within the inner square was a space of considerable size, in the
centre of which uprose the castle, a four-sided tower three hundred
feet in height, tapering towards the top. By reason of its many roofs
or verandahs of burnished and sculptured bronze, it seemed more like a
cluster of many towers, the centre one the loftiest; and a picturesque
object it was, for owing to the prevalence of earthquakes, all the
walls above the foundation platform were of whitened mud and plaster,
enclosed like the corner buildings within frames of timber; while the
middle roof reared its head with overhanging eaves to a sharp point,
crowned on the apex by a great fish, fashioned of pure gold.

This fortress was, barring miracle or treachery, justly reputed
impregnable. Both moats were crossed by drawbridges, as an extra
caution against surprise. The outer entrance was approached round a
corner, so that the gate with its side postern was doubly commanded
from above. Even if the outer wall were stormed, the inner one frowned
on the intruder with manifold engines, while the ground about it could
be rendered untenable by missiles from the summit of the tower.

A bowshot from the outer moat, westward from the river bank, the town
of Tsu, with straggling suburbs, meandered, low and grey, like a long
serpent. All Japanese towns are of one colour, walls and roofs alike,
of wood unpainted and weatherworn, rendered a shade more silvery by
clusters of pale lichen; but Tsu was more monotonously gloomy in
aspect than most, by reason of damp and misery. The country close
around, with the exception of two low hills, was flat and sedgy,
broken by marshes and shallow rivulets. Away, hazy, melting into blue,
could be discerned the encircling peaks of the range, beyond which is
Ki[^y]oto. Grand mountains these, rugged and austere, with many a
beetling crag. Mikuni Yama; Outake San; and away to the south-east
Asama Yama, the majestic chief volcano of Japan.

The town of Tsu differed from others in that it displayed none of the
spick-and-span cleanliness for which the land of the Rising Sun is as
conspicuous as European Holland. The outlying cottages bore the stamp
of squalor and ague, standing in oozy sludge. So did the people bear
the brand of sorrow, as, listless and inert, they dragged their heavy
feet. As a poor show of enterprise, a few unripe persimmons, which no
one desired to buy, were exposed for sale in the mire; while here and
there a tray of sorrel-like leaves were placed to dry (?)--a plant
used for dying blue the cotton which is the common garment of the
peasant. There was none of the briskness and gaiety to be seen that
make rural Japan so cheery. None of the incessant chatter and laughter
and pattering of clogs, the rush-and-tumble of naked brown babies, the
whirr of the silk-looms, the busy hammer of the carpenters.

The houses, wide open to the street, displayed the usual raised
platform of wood, smoothly planed, covered with matting, with
_hibachi_ or firebox in the middle; but there was no brilliant glimpse
beyond of the wonderful toy gardens, with rocks and dwarfed trees and
straying tortoises and gaudy flowers and crickets in tiny cages, which
distinguish a prosperous village. The paper windows or screens being
always pushed back in their grooves during the day, a rustic Japanese
household of the lower class may be said to live in public; for, till
the screens are replaced, which they usually are at dusk, there may be
said to be no privacy. You have a free view of goodman or matron in
the bath, or at the toilet, or eating, or sleeping, or at work, and
unabashed--with innocence sometimes for only garment--they nod to you
pleasantly with a cheerful "Ohayo!" as you pass. Tsu was too degraded,
steeped to the lips in grinding poverty, to have energy for work or
washing, much less for the homely ornament of a single lily in a
pot. Almost entirely nude the men, unkempt and frowsy, lolled and
slept--such a marvellous variety of attitudes of sleep a sculptor
might find there--while the housewife, thin and sallow, naked to the
waist, fumbled feebly over the weaving of cheap hats, or grass sandals
for man and horse.

Of course the town could boast of a superior quarter, where, in front
of houses of a better kind, were flapping blue cotton awnings, each
one adorned with the dominant daimio's cognisance. Into one of these,
apparently the cleanest and the best, we will enter (first removing
our clogs and swords), for what is proceeding within should interest
us somewhat.

It is evening. The house-platform is raised on stilts as usual, two
feet above ground, and the first room or ante-chamber is open to the
street. When we rap with fan on the paper screen beyond, some one
cries "Enter," and sliding it aside we find ourselves in a large low
room, whose ceiling of unpolished cryptomeria is supported by pillars
of cherry. Above the dais or recess of honour at the end, a single
picture hangs, representing the thirty-three Kwannon; under it is a
gilt image of Buddha; while the monotony of the one wooden wall (the
others are formed by paper screens running in grooves) is broken by a
wandering spray of maple foliage, painted in autumn tints.

Everything is scrupulously clean and severely simple. You only become
aware that this is a superior dwelling, by remarking the fineness of
the mats. In the centre, round a large _hibachi_ of bronze, filled
with charcoal, a group are huddled close, for the all-pervading damp
is chilling to the bones. Two well-known elders of the town are
there--Zembei, and Rokubei his friend--the former talking volubly;
while a man of middle age, the master of the house, is listening with
dubious frown. His wife, Kennui, sits by, his hand in hers; while
apart in a corner, with eyes as bright as a squirrel's, and flushed
cheek, stands their eldest daughter Miné. Her mind--some call her a
forward damsel--is disturbed, for, impatient and annoyed, she pushes
aside a screen, and clatters off into the back garden, to tease with a
finger the darting gold-fish that with mosquitoes reign in a pond.

The frowning man is Koshiu, the most important farmer in these parts,
broad-shouldered, grave, and grizzled, whose opinions are of weight in
the province.

Zembei--aged, with face like a walnut--has brought unpleasant news;
indeed he has often dropped in of late, and each time his tidings are
less agreeable. It is the old story, gruesome and too familiar. The
rapacious Hojo needs more money--is always demanding more. But it is
quite too bad to worry the men of Tsu, his own home, the poorest
district in the Empire. Already the starving population have abandoned
hope. In a former life they must have been very wicked, to suffer so
much in this.

After a long pause of dejection, "Maybe my lord knows not of our
wretchedness," suggests the farmer's wife, by way of pouring oil upon
the waters.

"Peace, Kennui!" sighs her spouse. "As well throw stones at the sun,
or try to scatter a fog with a fan, as look for humanity from a Hojo!
They were ever merciless."

"Too true!" groans Rokubei, the elder. "Thus the matter stands; though
you have shown so little interest of late, that perchance I am wasting
breath."

"Ay, that hath he!" chimes in Zembei. "Why is it? You, Koshiu, whose
words were ever of moment, and treated with respect, although from
your stubborn pride you were never popular, instead of helping us,
have been hanging back, content with grumbling complaint. We must act
now, I tell you, and rend the air no more with idle moaning, or else
we perish all! Gird up your loins, man. Awake! For unless this torrent
of greed be stemmed, although less poor than most, you will soon be a
beggar like the rest."

"My husband," interrupted Kennui, "is misjudged. He loves the people,
and grieves for them, but perceives that resistance is useless--idle
remonstrance will but make their plight more pitiful."

"The beetle in combat with the bear!" laughed the farmer drearily.
"Act, forsooth! All this is idle prate, believe me. What can we do but
die?"

"No idle prate," retorted Zembei. "Listen. By deputation--of which you
would not form one--we humbly prayed and entreated the local
counsellors of my lord:--the leeches--to be more lenient; but they
replied that they were only tools, exactly performing his bidding.
Then, after anxious thought and discussion, gathering together in
secret the chiefs of a hundred villages, at peril of our heads, we
resolved to draw up and send a solemn petition, signed by all, to my
lord's golden dwelling at Ki[^y]oto, imploring justice. Twelve of the
most respected elders, chosen from the assembly by lot, undertook the
dangerous task. Clad in their grass rain-coats, they sallied forth,
and arrived in time at Ki[^y]oto."

"Idiots!" scoffed Koshiu. "Did they pay a long farewell to wives and
little ones?"

"Arrived at the Golden House, they were received at the gate with
blows and contumely."

"What else did they expect?" inquired the farmer--"to be feasted in
the room of honour? Other lords perhaps, dreading public exposure of
their misdeeds, might, if pushed, hasten to repair a wrong--the Hojos
never; for the Hojos have no shame."

Miné pouted, and rapped the pavement with impatient clog.

"To be sweeping is always to be unjust!" she cried shrilly, from the
border of the pond. "There are good as well as bad in every family."

"Hush, child, hush! Be dutiful!" reproved her mother. "Thou wast
bewitched by soft empty speeches and a bold bearing. It was a bad day
for thee when the lord Sampei came among us!"

"He is good and brave and generous," returned the girl, with burning
face, "my lord Sampei!"

Miné cooed out the name that was on every one's lips, with such an
exceeding abandonment of tenderness as startled her father into
attention.

"More words less sense!" he remarked testily. "My lord Sampei! what
hast thou to do with him or his? My lord Sampei forsooth! Wouldst be a
Hojo's concubine? Never! I'd see thee dead first."

"The maid speaks not untruly," nodded Rokubei. "Sampei is in all
things, save his name, unlike his brother. Through his mother Masago,
the holy Abbess, he has peasant blood in his veins."

"And she," chimed in the girl, "the late lord's concubine, although of
peasant stock, is worthy to be noble. As good as her son is the Abbess
Masago. Cold and severe, no doubt, but just and lovable."

"How the child prates!" cried Madam Koshiu. "The lord Sampei has been
absent these five years, skull-cracking, and is but just returned.
What canst thou know of him? When he sailed, thou wert a little maid,
and even than now more foolish."

"From his mother I have heard of him," admitted the blushing girl.

"So this was thy religious fervour, praying so often at the temple!"
exclaimed the angry farmer. "Take heed, thou silly wench, or I will
punish thee, and grievously. What! A cur can bark loudly before its
own gate, and I can defend my own. Once for all, no more of the lord
Sampei, or it will go ill with thee. Banish from thy feather-pate idle
worship of thy betters."

The mien of Koshiu was so stern and threatening, that though words of
indignant protest rose to her lips, the girl was silent.

"What if he were prevailed upon to intercede for us?" mused Rokubei.
"He is as generous as brave--no doubt of that. My lord, after his
brother's career of victory, could scarce refuse him a favour."

"Five years bring about great changes," growled the farmer. "Five
years ago Hojo No-Kami was no worse than others of his rank. You will
never persuade me that aught of good is to be found in a Hojo,
legitimate or otherwise. Enough of him. Go on with your story of the
elders."

"They were received, as I told you, at the outer gate with blows and
curses. Had they not fled, murder would have been done, for a posse of
samurai rushed out of the guardhouse, like devils, brandishing pikes.
Disconcerted, grieved, and bruised, they returned to their inn to
consult. Was the journey to go for nothing? Were they to return like
beaten dogs, without even seeing my lord? Peradventure face to face
with him something might yet be done, and his hard heart softened by
their dismal catalogue of woe. They plumed their ruffled feathers,
therefore, and lay in wait, and when he rode forth citywards, emerged
from a clump of trees, and kneeling humbly in the dust, presented
their petition. He took it, and, grinding his teeth with eyes aflame,
turned savagely to his attendants.

"'Remove these wretches!' he thundered, 'who by persistent insolence
have deserved more than death. By-and-by will I pass judgment on them.
Torment shall reward their temerity.'"

A silence of dismay followed the elder's narrative. Koshiu was surely
right--his deep hate justified. It seemed that the existing Hojo was
worse than any of his ancestors--and so young too! What a gloomy
future for unhappy fatherland! What a sunless roll of years!

"The land is ripe for revolt, if we could find a leader we could
trust," observed Zembei, who had been nursing his knees in silence.
"The other lords are weary of the Hojo, but unfortunately jealous of
each other. If they would bury for a time their private feuds, things
might yet come right. He who ventures not within the den, will never
take the cub."

"There is no trusty leader, except the victorious General, himself a
Hojo!" added the other elder. "Buddha has forgotten us. The case is
beyond mortal settling. There is left for us nothing but to die."

Here was a dismal and unsatisfactory conclusion to the debate, and it
seemed that there was no other, for each with dolorous visage eyed his
neighbour, with nothing more to say.

Miné, tossing off her _geta_ on the garden stones, and springing up
with pretty pink feet upon the matted floor, came forward.

"I am but a girl," she said timidly, "and, my father tells me,
foolish. Yet from mouths of fools sometimes come words of wisdom. You
can die, you say. Is not death the last resource, when all else has
failed, for escaping from earthly woe? Masago, the dear Abbess, is
worshipped for miles around. Prejudiced though you are, you have
nought to say but praise of her goodness and her piety. Sampei is her
son--nay, I will speak--and who should know a son better than his
mother? In your grief you are prone to believe evil, and speak harsh
and unjust words of him you know not. Seek him out, and implore his
intercession with his brother. Seek out the lady O'Tei--an angel come
to earth. She, the chatelaine, is now at the castle yonder. Entreat
her help as well, and sure betwixt the two that stony heart shall
melt."

Miné blushed like a tea-rose at finding herself thus boldly haranguing
a trio of grizzled pates, and flinging herself down by her mother's
side in sudden bashfulness, buried her hot face in her bosom.

"Buddha is not asleep," observed Madame Koshiu, with conviction, as
she stroked her daughter's head. "Verily the child speaks wisely words
that are put into her mouth."

"We will follow her counsel," assented the marvelling Zembei, "for the
gods--whose names be praised--are with us. Urged by his brother and
his wife, my lord will surely give us the lives of the devoted elders.
We--Rokubei and Zembei--will journey ourselves to Ki[^y]oto, and make
another effort. Learn, O stubborn Koshiu, a lesson from thy child, who
has given us the counsel that we needed."

The farmer shook his head.

"Cursed be the tree of Hojo, root and branch!" he cried. "Its fruit is
crime, its blossom, wickedness. My lord Sampei and my lord No-Kami are
scourges both! Go your ways, and do as you think fit. I tell you your
errand will be vain."

Was there ever any one so obstinate as this sturdy Koshiu?--a man who
could only rail instead of bestowing help. The two elders were about
to upbraid him for his mulishness, for they, like others, had naught
but admiration for Sampei, when, raising his hand, he said,--

"Listen, wife and friends. You deem me supine,--my judgment warped by
bias. In this you wrong me. I am ready to lay down my life, if need
be, for the common good, but not to fling it uselessly away. Try your
plan first: go to Ki[^y]oto, and fail; then it shall be my turn. The
arrogance of my lord reached its highest point when, some brief while
ago, he smote with his fan the face of the revered one. For that sin,
vengeance, if tardy, will be complete some day. The horror that flowed
over the land warned him of the danger of his folly, of which,
for safety's sake, he will never again be guilty. The Hojos are
merciless--you will gain nothing from them but stripes. Here is my
plan. I will gird my loins, and journey alone to the capital, and,
biding my time in secret, will, with Heaven's help, thrust a copy of
the petition into the hand of the Mikado himself, as in a litter he
takes the air. Then will he, grieving for us, demand a public
explanation from my lord as to why the poorest portion of the country
should be ground down with such heavy burthens. So will my lord, weary
with much admonishing, be stirred to lighten our backs."

The farmer's wife, hearkening to his decision, groaned and wept, for
she felt that the tyrant, even if he gave way under strong pressure,
would seek a victim for his wrath--that one the weakest. The elders
saw the situation in the same light. They did not strive, however, to
combat his resolve, for though their friend would probably be
sacrificed, themselves would be gainers by his deed. If he chose to
immolate himself, why not? They expressed approval, therefore, nodding
topknots in unison, and, rising, departed to their homes, gossiping in
whispers by the way.

What a relief to know that they had been deceived in Koshiu. 'Twas a
boldly-devised scheme that, whereby a peasant was to dare in person to
address the Holy One. Peradventure he would be cut down by the guards
ere he could present the paper. Well, well, time would show; and if,
in the people's cause, he perished, his name would go down with
blessings to posterity.

His decision was a relief, in other ways, as the two friends agreed,
pattering side by side in the quiet of the night. It was vastly heroic
on their part, considering what had already been undergone by the
other elders, to declare that they would cast themselves in the
breach. If my lord Sampei could be induced to interest himself, they
would be the bearers of his missive to his brother, and so gain credit
in the town for wondrous' devotion to the people's cause. Not that for
them there would be real danger (they had made up their minds of
that), for No-Kami, however ferocious, would surely refrain from
maltreating his brother's messengers. And yet now as they walked
along, it seemed wise to give up the risk. Caution becomes old men.
The independent Koshiu was resolved to make a journey on his own
account: clearly there was nothing to be gained by everybody going.
They would let him go, for obstinate men will have their way. All
things considered, themselves having gained credit by proposing to go,
would stop at home and do honour, by-and-by, to the escaped elders,
when released.

This much satisfactorily settled, they gabbled of other things. Only
to think of that little Miné being so clear-headed. Verily love works
wonders. A comely maid, if unduly ambitious, and warm, to boot, of
temper. How her blood mantled at her father's railing. How undaunted
was her defence of the young General. She must love him much to be
stung into bearding, for his sake, her sturdy parent. He must have won
her heart before he sailed, and had long since, no doubt, forgotten
her.

A silly wench to look so high. A great General might stoop to pluck a
flower as he passed, but, loosely caught, it would speedily fall from
his breast, and he unwitting of the loss. She certainly was pretty;
would develop some day, obstinate and headstrong like her father, into
a shrew. Yes, she was young and fair to look upon at present, and,
perhaps, were she so brazen as to cast herself at the young man's
feet, he might deign to raise her for a moment.

Chattering thus, the cronies parted, each trudging his own way by the
glimmer of his paper lantern. Could they have delved into the mind of
the farmer's daughter, and have seen what was passing there, they
would have had genuine cause for wonder.

Miné, as with frowning brow and dejected step she moved among the
stones in the garden, struck her palms impatiently together.

"I cannot bear it, and I will not!" she muttered. "Hard and unjust and
narrow is my father! Of these taunts there shall be an end. I gave my
heart to _him_ to trample on, and do not regret the gift. His I am or
no one's until death. Each day and hour to hear him and his reviled
and vilified, is constant torture. I will leave a home that is not to
be endured, and take refuge for the present with the Abbess."

Miné was a true daughter of Koshiu. Once her mind made up, there was
no further indecision. Wrapping a mantle around her, she moved on
tiptoe to where her three brothers slept, and then stealing forth into
the night, closed the shutters behind her.

"Adieu, my darlings, perchance for ever!" she murmured tenderly; "for
better or for worse the die is cast. He will soon visit the temple to
see the mother whom he loves. If he will have me, I am his, to do with
according to his pleasure; if not, I will remain to pray for him
within the temple, in the garb of Buddha's handmaid."



                             CHAPTER III.

                            MARRIED LIFE.


The meek obedience of O'Tei to her father's wishes was but ill
requited. The gulf between past and present was so wide that for a
while she was dazed and stunned. It seemed to her that she must have
passed in sleep through the gates of Death, and have been born again
into a new dark world--desolate and drear--which was all evil. How
calm and happy by contrast appeared that other life, as she recalled
to mind the company of prim priestesses slowly floating in the dance;
the lazy, sweet-tempered bonzes tinkling on bells, droning amiably
through noses--their weightiest duty, adoration of the sun with
foreheads in the dust; their loving labour, the cleaning of temple
precincts; their pastime, the gentle craft of gardening. Now she found
herself surrounded by a roistering crew of fierce, rough, ignorant
retainers--scowling, swearing, swaggering samurai--swash-bucklers who
were eternally cleaning and polishing their two swords and dirk, or
practising some horribly nimble feat of arms, or with set teeth in
sudden rage like red-eyed rats flying at one another's throats.

Nuptial pomp and ceremony over, bride and groom retired to their
castle, where, with the laudable intent of making other magnates
jealous, a series of sham fights and sumptuous jousts were
inaugurated, whose unaccustomed din confused the brain of the
chatelaine. For a space No-Kami appeared in his best light, for he was
subjugated by the beauty of his young wife, and unconsciously a little
afraid of her quiet high-bred demeanour. Bravely she strove to
interest herself in his pursuits; with unflagging patience watched the
retainers wrestling or riding at the ring; compelled herself to bestow
applause on bouts at quarter-staff which wearied her. And yet,
discipline herself as she would, the constant thud of stick on skull,
or blade on helm--the guttural shrieks and execrations--chilled her to
the marrow. There could be no sympathy 'twixt the sensitive and poetic
nature reared in the sacred groves, and these grim and savage
warriors. And, sharp to read faces, if ignorant of letters, they knew
it as well as she, for her virtues were strange riddles beyond their
comprehension. What they could be sure of was that their lady was
regrettably white and slender,--too soft and delicate for a hard world
of struggle, where the weak were deservedly mangled. Sorrowfully they
compared her with the late chatelaine, unhappily deceased, the lioness
Tomoyé, much (as is the usual practice) to the disadvantage of the
living one. There is nothing that such men hold in more withering
contempt than weakness. The chivalry of mediæval Europe was mostly
theory. Discontented, they did their liege lady a pathetic and
grudging service, ashamed of her as unsuited to her station.

One day as she sat listless, wondering at the emptiness of life,
No-Kami strode into her bower to claim admiration for a new and
wondrous sword, fresh from Sanjo's anvil. In his nervous grasp it
whizzed through the air with diabolic whistling sound, as he showed
exultantly how he meant to slash off the head with it of the Daimio of
Bizen, and other abominable rivals.

Now although O'Tei, in careless girlish fashion, had been rather fond
of watching the armourers at work (the more perhaps because of the
disapproval of sniffing gorgons), she had never clearly associated the
results of their skill with their true purpose. She had always been
bidden to observe the spring of the glittering blade, the clouded
lines so deftly worked into the steel; the patterned _kogai_ or
stilettoes fitted in the scabbard; the elaborately ornate _tsuba_ or
hilt-guard; and saw as she admired details beautiful works of art fit
to adorn a dwelling. But now when she beheld her husband making fierce
passes, with a blood-curdling expression of ferocity upon his face,
she became aware, for the first time, of his animal greed for blood,
and shuddered as she looked, turning a shade more pale. To this wild
beast she had been tied for life. What sort of existence could she
hope for in the future? Would it be possible to go on to the end
pretending to sympathise with that which in her heart she loathed?
Power, unless kept in leash by thongs and bridles, degenerates into a
tyranny that, feeding on itself, grows every day more infamous. She
had learnt by report that her lord was a tyrant, and disliked by many,
though as yet she knew no details.

She had been taught vaguely by the learned bonzes that the human
animal is by nature a beast of prey, blood-raw till cooked by
education. The man before her was as ignorant, and more lawless than
his own retainers. Was it her task to show him the right path?--to
wean him to better things by gentle influence? A noble mission, for
one who was strong of purpose, firm of will. The girl resolved that
she would try, but felt, with a sinking of the heart, that the task
was beyond her strength. No-Kami discerned upon her features a look of
pained bewilderment out of tune with the occasion, and bluntly growled
his discontent. He was surprised and angry. When a chatelaine is
called on to sympathise and exult with her lord, why does she show
disgust? It came suddenly upon him that there was a barrier between
them which, though intangible, neither might ever pass. A pretty
helpmeet for a Hojo was this degenerate child of Nara's! Strolling
through the well-appointed armoury, displeased and concerned, he
selected the light silver-mounted lance which his grandam had used to
splendid purpose when, in the absence of her spouse, she defended this
very castle. More doughty even than the much-regretted Tomoyé had been
this grandam, and no wonder, for, of noblest lineage, was she not the
direct descendant of that famous Empress Jingo, who, leaving her
new-born babe in the charge of her ministers, sallied forth armed
_cap-à-pié_ to conquer Corea?

"Did O'Tei know even how to hold a lance?" sneered No-Kami.

Of course she did, she replied, with a forced smile. Was not every
noble damsel taught how to defend her home?

At the outset she had made a mistake by showing her thoughts upon her
features, an error that might be yet retrieved. To smooth the
disappointed furrows from his wrinkled brow, she took the lance from
him, and straightway went through the exercise. For a moment it
pleased his vanity to watch the graceful movements of her tall lithe
form as, gathering in one hand the ample folds of her long robe, she
ran forward, thrust, and recovered. And then, happening to glance at
the tell-tale countenance, he cursed and ground his teeth, for her
martial exercise was a sham.

Her thoughts were far away. Like a patient automaton wound up with a
spring, she half consciously did what was required, but clearly found
no pleasure in the act. With a great oath he roughly wrenched the
weapon from her, and bade her go mind her distaff.

She sighed, and, obeying with aggravating meekness, retired to her
chamber; and from this moment there grew up between the wedded
pair a thicket which waxed stronger each day and thicker. The
parasites--braggart samurai, turbulent officers and soldiers, and
truculent hangers-on--were quick to perceive a change with which they
sympathised, and prompt to act upon it. Boisterous, rude, ill-mannered
at the best, they saw that, like themselves, their lord was ashamed
of his handsome and cold but fragile wife, and by insensible
gradations--he unwitting of it--their perfunctory respect dropped from
them. No-Kami was heard one day, in unguarded whirl of wrath, due to
baulked hope and disappointment, to dub her "Puling baby-face," and
loud was the laughter at the _sobriquet_, for one and all they
unconsciously chafed under a refinement of which they had no
experience, and came to hate her for her gentleness.

And so it came about that, abandoning as hopeless at the initial stage
the mission for which (by the late statesman's cunning) she had been
destined, O'Tei withdrew from serious attempts at influencing the
despot, and made the first fatal downward step on her dark and stony
road.

Entrenching herself behind a screen of pride, she withdrew herself
from contact with the samurai, by whom she was treated with a surly
carelessness that was insult but half concealed. When etiquette
required it, she appeared in public beside No-Kami, whose attitude was
sulky and displeased; at other times she abode in her own bower
overlooking the swift river, a retreat where she could not hear the
yells and sword-thuds, embroidering among her maidens, or reading
poetry, or playing on the three-stringed samisen. Though secluded, it
was by her own choice, and she in no sense a prisoner. No-Kami, when
in amiable mood--which, as time went on, became a more and more
unusual circumstance--displayed for his wife an uncouth, sulky,
snarling respect, like that of a wolf under a whip; for instinct
whispered that he was totally unworthy,--that as she came to read
him better she would despise him more,--that already she saw with
those calm clear eyes his many faults and mental smallness, though too
well-mannered and too haughty to admit it. A rude and proud as well as
licentious and undisciplined man finds contempt from her who should be
his congenial helpmeet a constantly galling spur.

If O'Tei, descending from that lofty pedestal, would only have abused
him roundly,--have bandied sharp words,--have stooped to scold him, he
would have breathed more freely. The air would have been cleared of
its oppressiveness, for he would have known himself nearer to her
level. How exasperating was it to the self-indulgent and unscrupulous
tyrant to have this pale and silent and superior woman always at his
elbow dispassionately contemplating his peccadilloes with disapproval
peeping from her eyes. The worst of it was that he knew her to be
right in her estimate of him, and secretly admired his chill and
independent wife. Yet at the same time her presence was irksome, and
goaded her spouse to flashes of rage which drove him, as it were in
protest, to deeds of violence. It was the old story, which is ever
new, of the 'little rift;' of two young lives starting side by side
from standpoints far as the poles, with mutual misunderstanding and
distrust, that increase like a rolling snowball till they grow into
active detestation.

The Hojo neglected and avoided his consort, but was not wilfully
cruel. If he chanced to have it by him, he would, when asked, give her
money for charities; for, like many another misunderstood lady, she
sought a salve for lacerated feelings in good works. It would have
been most impolitic to have been patently unkind to her, because it
was not well to make a foe of Nara by openly ill-using his heiress. He
wist not of the conduct of the samurai, who took their cue from him;
but he certainly saw as little as he conveniently could of his
beautiful better half, spending considerable time at Ki[^y]oto
quarrelling with other daimios, browbeating his imperial lord.

For her part, reared in retirement, and a stranger to town gaieties,
she preferred the castle--when No-Kami was absent with his scowling
retinue. Then, her own mistress, she would order her kago,--a heavy
gorgeous litter, gold lacquered and emblazoned, adorned with rich
curtains, and cushions, and tassels, borne on the shoulders of twelve
staggering men--and penetrating, when the fancy seized her, along the
centipede street of Tsu, make for a garden beyond, to which she had
taken a liking. Reaching the favoured spot was the difficulty, for it
was necessary to pass along two miles and more of straggling street
and suburb, where poverty, if speechless, was rampant. To her pale
face, though, it always showed its less hideous side, for the poor of
Tsu (how many there were of them!) soon learned to adore their
chatelaine.

She could not with her feeble force even attempt to stem the tide of
suffering due to my lord's oppression; but the crushed creatures knew
right well that behind the marble mask was a deep fund of pity--that
their lady would sometimes go dinnerless herself for the sake of
starving children. When she passed by, the toilworn women would look
up, and show their blackened teeth in a wan smile; and the brown
naked children, with their comical shaved pates and elf-locks--their
bat-ears, wide mouths and eyes _à fleur de tête_ like slits--would
come trooping and crowing about her. She was always interested in the
details of their poor homes,--ready with soothing words, and such
money as she happened to possess; would converse with the old men as
they wove sandals, the two straw loops caught on their great toes;
criticise the painting of the ph[oe]nixes on the umbrellas of oil
paper, an industry in vogue in these parts; exhort the languishing men
to renewed courage and hope; and all the while her revolted soul died
within her at contemplation of the wretched huts of mud and bamboo,
some of them mere mats stretched on sticks, and stiffened with wire,
with rotten crumbling roofs of decayed rice thatch, and mud floors
that were never dry. Her heart bled for the patient, suffering people,
and she was glad to get away to her garden, where the sun shone forth
with halcyon brightness, and nature at least was happy. For Tsu, I
would have you know, is not all ugliness. Passing out of the low-lying
oozy suburb, you reach a wooden bridge over one of the numberless
streams that intersect the marsh, and a little further on come to
rising ground, well wooded with the luxuriant vegetation which in
Japan is the lavish gift of the rain-god. At the top of the hill,
under the lee of a group of ancient pines, much tossed and
wind-beaten, is a summer-house. From the road it is not visible, so
deeply is it embowered in cherry and maple, each so glorious and
lovely in its season, the which are closely tangled and entwined with
such cataracts of purple wisteria as no western mind can realise. This
hill or hillock, and another one hard by, stand alone on a wide plain,
and from them may be gained a singularly varied view of flat marsh,
and sedge, and vivid green rice fields, and scattered villages, and
far-off hazy mountains. In front--and this was the view that brought
back peace into the empty breast of the young chatelaine, the ground
shelved gradually, thick strewn with flowers, until--a semicircle of
yellow sand--it was washed by the softly-rippling waves of a blue bay,
land-locked. Here nature, casting her golden glamour over all, masked
the prevailing squalor. No typhoon ever vexed these enchanted waters,
that washed to and fro in slow cadence the clumps of bamboo with which
their edge was feathered. The tiny toy villages on the opposite brink
were mirrored in long shadow. The festooned sails of the little
fishing-boats, and trim white junks, were pictured in quivering double
four times their height. The mountains beyond, of a deep reddish
purple, without detail in the haze, were topped with strange
silhouettes of single pines, clear against opal ether, or sharp cut
against the blue with chasm and precipice. Many rocky islets were
dotted here and there--volcanic, peaked, flat-topped--each with its
long reflection, fringed with feathery foliage, hanging apparently to
nothing--around, a flight of boats, like sea-birds floating. Sitting
for hours gazing down on the fairy scene, her stalwart naked
kago-bearers asleep like statues of warm bronze away in the shade,
O'Tei could forget her disillusions; but then with setting sun the
shadow darkened, for the time was arrived when she must go home again,
and with a return to the panoply of war, and swagger of the sentinels,
peace and light faded out, and her heart was as sick as ever.
Sometimes, more sad than usual, she would make to the sister hill a
pilgrimage.

The gateway or torii at the bottom (one heavy beam curled at the
corners, resting on two others) and the long straight flight of stone
steps leading to a building with huge top-heavy roof, nestling in a
grove of cryptomerias, showed that this was a holy hill surmounted by
a temple. A very important temple too, with an immense gilt Buddha
looming out of twilight on a bronze lotus, in an attitude of perpetual
repose; gardens; fish-ponds, crowded with lotus plants; and a long low
building glinting through the trees, wherein dwelt an abbess and her
nuns.

What would happen to the Japanese if the lotus were banished from
their midst? In winter, a mere yellow whisp languishing in mud; in
early summer there rises a fairy thing from out the ooze--a concave
shield of vivid green, with a blue down as of a grape, and dewdrops
glistening like diamonds. Then a round ball appears, which slowly
opens, trembling upon the water, and gradually reveals the loveliest
flower that blows. To the Japanese child who strives to pluck its
white or roseate blossom, it is a picture of unearthly loveliness; to
the adult it is the symbol of religious truth, the emblem of the
eternal calm which is the highest ultimate reward. Taught from
earliest childhood to love its beauty, the mature Buddhist sees in its
petals creative power and world growth, and knows that when his mortal
body approaches the cremation house, his weary cycle done, a stone
carved to represent a lotus flower will support his bier and receive
the last ashes of his fleshly prison-house.

During her three years of married life, O'Tei had made, under shadow
of these groves, a firm and steady friend, without whose support she
thought sometimes that she must lie down and die--the cold but kindly
Abbess Masago.

As has been told, the second wife or concubine of the late Hojo, so
soon as her fickle lord grew weary of her, shaved off her hair and
donned the Buddhist habit. Monastic life in Japan is a strange
anomaly. Many an abbess or abbot, supposed to have retired from the
world, bestows from the seclusion of the grove mundane advice and
counsel. Some, indeed, gain weight and influence of an important
political kind with the loss of their shaven hair; and so it was with
Masago. As Abbess of Tsu, many of the weary or unstable of lofty
lineage came to crave counsel of her--lords and dames who would have
scoffed at the concubine of Hojo. The religious establishments of
Japan become asylums for the afflicted or the persecuted. In
them the defeated soldier or refugee from the vendetta finds
inviolate sanctuary. Many a man hopelessly crossed in love, or a
grief-stricken father, or fallen minister, has--mundane illusions
vanished--devoted himself to a priestly life. To the nunneries,
widowhood furnishes the greater number of fervent nuns; but a
necessity of evading an uncongenial match, or the brutal lusts of rude
men in unsettled times, gave many an inmate to the convents.

Often enough, after communing with Masago under the solemn
cryptomerias, O'Tei had gone home comforted. There was something
consoling and supporting in the low-toned strong voice of the Abbess,
in the touch of her firm white hand. Her face was more set and stern
than Sampei's, but his kindly eyes looked out from under the shaven
brows, and O'Tei could feel almost as if her dear adopted brother was
walking hand-in-hand with her as in the good old days. Ah, me, how far
away they seemed, those days of five years ago! The gleeful white fawn
was a hundred years older, at least, than then, stricken and
grievously wounded. Her breast was empty; nobody cared whether she was
alive or dead; she loved none, had none to love, and yet there was a
longing within that was positive physical pain, to twine her
affectionate tendrils around something, and exhale to it the treasures
of her sweetness.

Alack, what a cycle is this; what a hard and rugged stage in the long
journey! What are we to think, when injustice rules paramount?--when
we see in this life how many are punished for their virtues, as a
set-off to the peculiar manner in which others are rewarded for their
vices?

On a certain morning, which must now occupy us, our stately lily was
lying disconsolate. Acutely suffering, and much perturbed in mind,
power of judging and weighing all agog, O'Tei crouched on the mat of
her favourite summer-house, watching the swaying waves, yet seeing
nothing; on her finely-chiselled features a grey pallor.

As a rule, the misery through which her bearers carried her was chary
of complaint, for the poor folk had room in their sorrowing hearts for
pity for their solitary lady; but on this morning she had come on such
a scene of anguish that she stopped her kago and alighted. The
housewife was tearing her dishevelled hair, and wringing hands, and
writhing her tortured body, while a young family stood grouped around
in varied attitudes of woe. What could this mean? The house was of the
better kind; there was rice in the brazen pot; unless she was
mistaken, it was the dwelling of one of the elders.

Yes. It was the dwelling of an elder--was--who never would dwell there
more--was dead now, probably. He had dared to go to Ki[^y]oto, and
make one of a set of insolent varlets who had presumed to waylay their
lord, despite of warnings, and, with brow in dust, present a written
prayer. His lord had resented the impertinence, had incarcerated him
and his audacious fellows, with a view to making an example of such
wretches by an end of exquisite torment. For him it was not so bad,
for he would shuffle out of yet another life--one more of that dreary
series so many of which have yet to be endured before we reach
Nirvana. But what of his wife and family without the breadwinner? Like
a faithful spouse, she had borne many children; how now was she to
fill their mouths? Would the dear and noble lady vouchsafe to lend a
hand, and implore her husband's clemency?

O'Tei turned deathly pale, and, catching her breath painfully, leant
against the screen. She would indeed have fallen, if one of the
kago-bearers had not presumed to catch and hold her in his arms. Her
lord! How long was it ago that she had disdainfully given up all hope
of influencing him? She was weak and wrong. It was a crime--she saw it
now--but too late--too late! That separating thicket had grown so
dense, that there was no hewing a passage through it. If the harrowed
wife of the victim was suffering, how much more the sensitive young
chatelaine, whose nerves were so highly strung! The man, if he
perished, was a martyr in the cause of right. Each new delinquency of
the Hojo was a fresh hammer-stroke on his wife's heart.

Out of his sight, O'Tei strove to forget his wickedness, the full
measure of which she had learned to guess by this time. On her
frequent visits to the temple she prayed with sweat of agony for his
reformation, for the repentance of him who, alas! was bone of her bone
for life. She was his--part and parcel of himself--and yet she saw,
with a sickening horror and sense of self-upbraiding, that he grew
worse and worse--more cruel and more reckless,--while she, with folded
hands, looked on. In a vague, terror-stricken way she wondered what
grisly phantom lurked behind the veil, what vengeance would fall from
heaven. And might not this moral descent be in some sort her own
doing, in that, while interference might have been of service, she had
been too hurt and proud to attempt to stay his course? If he had no
conscience, she had enough for both. Oh, for a dose of Tomoyé's
spirit,--of the unbending pluck of the militant grandam concerning
whom the samurai were always trolling ditties.

But no!--the warriors were right--she unfitted for her station. Her
burthen--the sooner the better--might crush and kill her. She quailed
at the thought of ever seeing again the tyrant in whom there were no
bowels of compassion, and who seemed to take delight in augmenting the
calamities of his fellows.

Herself as grey as a corpse, she bent down and kissed the writhing
woman, and without a word (how could she console her?), with parched
lips and catching breath, swung away to her garden on the mountain.
What was she to do? What could she do? If, by giving over her own
tender body to the pincers of the torturers, she could assuage the
growing trouble of the people, how gladly would she bare her breast.
But no--she was condemned to sit and watch, with idle hands and dread
forebodings, a horror-stricken spectator of her husband's deepening
sin, and the lingering anguish of his victims.

What was she to do? What could she do? If madness might be wooed, it
would bring oblivion and relief. Who would have thought that a
delicate and tender girl, so little used to suffering, could bear such
pain and live? As she lay upon the mat, she revolved that unanswerable
question which worries a good many of us. What could she have done in
a previous phase of existence to make the present one so exceedingly
painful? To lie thus in dumb pain was intolerable: action of some kind
was imperative. She would go to the temple and pray, and ask the
advice of Masago.

Turning towards the other hill, she was astonished to see on the
top of the long flight of steps a man--by his dress apparently a
noble--who slowly descended, and mounting a horse, trotted in the
direction of the summer-house. Her heart gave a great bound, then
seemed to stand still. Could it be? Yes! it was Sampei--returned home
at last--and he was coming here!

Yes, it was the victorious Sampei, who, having duly visited his
mother, was coming to see his sister. For she was really his sister
now; and he had heard from the Abbess an account of the condition of
things, which, though guarded, pleased him little. When far away, he
had received the news of the marriage, he had been amazed, and
laughed; annoyed somewhat, he scarcely knew why. To think that the
destined husband should be his own brother! And then he had felt grave
doubts as to the success of the union; and then, light and
_débonnaire_, and occupied with much cheerful splitting of skulls, he
had put the subject from him. He was no marrying man--not he. His
sword was his true love; to others he had not the smallest intention
of being true. To cull the most fragrant flowers while the sun was
shining--as many and as various as possible--and get others when they
were faded, was his soldierly but scarcely moral code of ethics. And
yet, while gaily slaughtering the Coreans, he had time now and then to
hope that all was right at home, and that his white fawn was happy;
and it was gruesome now on his return to discover that she was
wretched instead of happy,--his half-suspected previsions justified.

He flung his bridle to his betto, and striding with the firm and
springy step of buoyant youth through the plantation of cherries and
maples, stood still to take in the scene. And a pretty picture it was
that his vision lighted on. An awning of fine blue linen, broidered
with deer, in memory of beloved Nara, cast a shadow upon the mats of
the summer-house, which were further shaded by a natural cascade of
wisteria. Around the raised platform were tall camellias in full blow,
scarlet and white; and within, the carved but unvarnished woodwork
showed its grain like the pattern on watered silk. A low gilt screen,
painted with chrysanthemums, divided the floor in two, in the front
part of which was a firebox in finest bronze, representing a dragon
coiled round a blossom of the lotus. A long flat _koto_, with thirteen
strings, encrusted with gold and ebony, stood close by; and on the
yellow matting, half raised expectantly, reclined the young mistress
of the hermitage. The eyes of Sampei moistened with unaccustomed
tears, and a knot rose in his throat as he contemplated his old ally.
She was matured--fairer than of yore, paler and thinner, and more
delicately beautiful; but there was that about her that seemed too
ethereal, stamped with predestined misfortune. He seemed to be aware
of a something, reflected in light from the glow of another world. The
roundness of youth was gone. The arch wayward tricks of irresponsible
maidenhood had given place to a reserved and haughty dignity that was
unnaturally still. The eyes were unduly large, and, surrounded with
bistre circles, glistened with feverish lustre. Sampei's affectionate
gaze could mark all this, though the winsome face was brightened now
with the radiance of a glad surprise.

Sampei, bluff and careless though he generally was, could not but
trace with sinking of the heart the line of precocious sorrow ploughed
large and deep upon it. The coils of massive hair appeared heavier and
more sombre by contrast with the ivory whiteness of the skin, slightly
relieved as they were by a bunch of fresh red blossoms, which the
loving hand of a tirewoman had tucked under the comb.

In accordance with the exigencies of her rank, she wore four
under-robes of silk, the edges of which, in stripes of varied colour,
showed at throat and open sleeves, while the ample folds of the heavy
and voluminous outer robe, broidered in a design of fans, were held
together by a magnificent obi--pale brown, bedizened with black
butterflies.

Never had Sampei, whom a wide experience had made an expert in such
matters, looked on a more complete embodiment of patrician womanhood.
Strange! He, so well versed in female charms, so used to the spectacle
of beauty in all ranks and phases, felt his heart throb in quite
unaccustomed fashion, and yearn unaccountably towards his sister.



                             CHAPTER IV.

                       THE ABBESS GIVES ADVICE.


With a great sob O'Tei sprang up, and, clinging closely to Sampei,
burst into tears, while he, embarrassed and somewhat shy, stood
waiting. Why this display of trouble so deep that it racked her frame?
Had his mother concealed aught? She had not led him to suppose that it
was as bad as this. Could No-Kami, careless of the treasure he
possessed, have done her some grievous wrong? At the thought, the
young General's dark face grew darker, and as a flood of wrath surged
over him, he looked a genuine Hojo. And with it came a sense of
something new and astonishing, which was to himself a riddle. Careless
and light of heart, accustomed to look at things from their best
point, and to delve no lower than was needful, he never dreamed of his
old playfellow in her new sphere as wan and wasted and miserable, and
with the feeling of indignation against his brother there was mixed a
whimsical regretful longing. Had he not been wrong, when he might have
taken the maid himself, to leave her for another?

Worldly-wise Sanjo had warned him that so dainty a dish was not for a
soldier of fortune, and he had seen the prudence of the warning. But
cold prudence is a mistake sometimes, as who should know better than a
soldier? He felt sure that if, when playfully talking in the sylvan
glades, he had led her to a pool, and, showing her the two faces
reflected there, had pictured himself as the future lucky one, his
playfellow would have returned his hand-clasp, and submitted to a
lover's embrace. And when a maiden and a youth are of one mind, and
the latter is energetic and determined, nine chances are in his
favour, despite opposition of parents. It was diffidence that had
undone him, and her. Although a rough soldier, he would, at home, have
softened his roughness for her sweet sake, and if careful striving
could have done it, have made her life a pleasant one. And now, fool
that he had been, it was too late! Some such surprising thoughts as
these--dark regretful visions of possibilities vanished--flitted
across the mind of the young man as, her breast against his in
perilous proximity, he kissed her perfumed hair. Scales seem to fall
from his eyes as he questioned his own heart. In his brief career he
had adored many a damsel, and had sworn to each to worship none but
her; but with O'Tei it was quite different. With thought of her was
mingled a respect he had never felt for other women. Once his very
own, he could and would have been true to her,--have made it the joy
of life to give her every pleasure, to watch and guard and shelter her
from the blustering winds of the world--and it was too late! She was
the wife of his own brother,--of him to whom, independent of natural
affection, he owed allegiance as head of his clan. To her also then he
in some sort owed faithful service. Yes, and he would be true and
loyal. He swore it now, silently but fervently, as she lay upon his
bosom. She had never known that he loved her otherwise than as a
brother should. He would be her own true knight, with the privilege of
bestowing all succour and comfort and counsel. Of the three, alas! she
now stood in bitter need.

On his return from his arduous campaign of five years, he had been
received with acclamation by the people, to whom glorious feats of
arms were as the odour of the lily in the nostrils. They had knocked
their foreheads in the dust, had pursued him with shouts in the
streets, nearly tearing his garments from off his back; in their
enthusiasm had well nigh forgotten that he came of the blood of Hojo;
but the sweets of well-earned popularity were no little embittered by
the proceedings of the head of his house. The tales he heard on his
arrival filled him with shame and horror, and his honest soul was sore
perplexed, torn as it was between the traditional blind obedience to
the head of the clan, and indignant disapproval of his acts. He could
not turn against his brother. Death would be better that disloyalty,
and yet it was very terrible by silence to seem to acquiesce in his
misdeeds. When fitting opportunity offered, he would remonstrate
with No-Kami,--point out to him that his course must end in civil
war,--that in his next life he would of a surety be a bear or pig, as
a just and dire retribution for recklessly plunging his country in
blood. It was his duty to remonstrate, and he would do so gently but
firmly, come what might. Not that much good would come of it. He knew
No-Kami to be as headstrong as he was fierce. There would be high
words, and possible estrangement. Estrangement! no, for the sake of
this girl, that must be avoided at all hazards. He must cultivate
diplomacy--he, the simple Sampei. If it was only the pounding of an
enemy, something bluff and straightforward, he would be in his
element. But to smile when inclined to curse, to be compelled to bite
your lip and swallow down the burning words of just anger, to Sampei
would be very difficult. He must try though. His poor sweet sister.
Her sobs were due on this occasion, happily, to joy and relief at his
return, in that she, the lonely and forlorn, had a trusty champion by
her side. Instinct told him this.

For her sake, then, he must not break with his brother, for, forbidden
access to his sister-in-law, he would be of no service in extremity.
In extremity! What prophetic foreboding was it that whispered to him
of something terrible behind, wherein she would need all the help that
his strong arm could give her? Ah! if he had spoken when he might, how
different it would all have been. Too late--that chapter was closed.
He was to be her knight--vigilant and true. With a deep sigh, he
raised her tear-stained face, and kissed her lips, then put her
gently from him.

Side by side, and hand in hand, as in the old days, they reclined
upon the mat, and the frown deepened on his brow as she told her
story,--the uncomely story of selfishness, and greed, and cruelty, and
wrong, waxing with impunity daily worse, till even sleepy Buddha must
needs wake soon, and be impelled to hurl his thunderbolts. She told of
the starving multitudes, to whom the son of the horse-leech cried
"Give"; of the petition, and his brutal treatment of the elders. "If
only I could serve as sacrifice," she said, in conclusion, with a
fresh burst of tears, "how gladly would I lay down my life. But my
lord and I are strangers. I dwell here, and he at Ki[^y]oto. Does not
that tell its tale? The wind might as well preach to him as I. At
first he liked me a little, but that soon passed. Of late his
presence--knowing of what he is capable--has filled me with a nameless
terror, for I seem to detect something in his eye that suggests a
brain distracted. He is blood-drunk; his very laugh conceals a sword.
And yet 'tis an awful thing for me, his wife, to sit by, attempting
nothing."

No doubt the chatelaine ought to do something--what? Like Philippa, at
Calais, she should wring, by pleading, from her lord, the lives of the
condemned. Yet if the pair were so estranged, would she not be laying
herself open uselessly to some insult, some rebuff? She admitted that
she was growing afraid of her husband. That was bad. The situation was
too many-sided for the soldier's unpolished wits. He pondered, and
held his peace, and looked up with a sense of relief when, a shadow
darkening the light, he beheld his mother, Masago.

The ascetic Abbess gazed proudly and fondly on her son, but with a
tinge of concern. She had followed him from the temple, seeing that he
turned his horse towards the summer-house; for she loved O'Tei, and
was aware of the early passages which had passed between girl and boy.
Sampei had such a free way of making love to every woman, that she,
elderly and sensible, saw keenly the danger to both, if the neglected
wife and pitying brother-in-law were thrown too much together. Side by
side, hand clasped in hand, exchanging confidences. An ominous
beginning. It was well that she had come, for these young people must
be protected against themselves.

While O'Tei, with a ghostly revival of coquetry, was arranging her
tumbled hair by aid of a silver mirror, the Abbess drew her son aside,
pleading urgent and important business.

"My boy," she said, as, out of earshot, the two paced slowly in the
shade, "you are as brave and true as even I could desire, and
gratefully I thank the gods for it; but you are guileless; your arm is
stronger than your head, and your blood is overwarm."

Perceiving a ludicrous expression of bewilderment on the honest face
of her son at this mysterious preamble, she gently smiled, and shook
her head at him.

"The best friend a man has," she observed, "is his mother; for a
mother's love, undervalued often, is tinged with no selfish taint.
Child, child," she sighed, placing a fond hand on his broad shoulder,
"take warning while there's time. Do not think me blind, or foolishly
importunate. You love O'Tei, and, for sake of both, had better keep
apart. Think what tragedy might follow if your brother had cause for
jealousy."

Love O'Tei! Was it so patent, then?--he the last to know it? The
General in silence walked up and down, while his mother gazed upon him
wistfully. There was a deep sadness on his face that pained her.
Perhaps in speaking out so plainly, she had been precipitate. Yet no;
she had never been one to beat about a bush. Her stern creed admitted
no half measures. Presently Sampei spoke.

"For once, most dear and wise of mothers, you are wrong," he said. "I
love her; yes, I will not deny it--how much I did not know until ten
minutes since. My love is so true and pure, that to save her a
momentary grief I would fling myself off yonder rock. Be not afraid;
no harm shall come to her through me."

"Noble and chivalrous in intent, just like my boy," nodded the sapient
Abbess. "Maybe you are strong enough to carry out your resolve
unflinchingly; but what of her? What if she, less prudent and more
weak, were to bestow her heart on you? It would lead to general
wretchedness, if not to her undoing."

Sampei had not considered it from that point, and ruefully rubbed his
nose. It would no doubt be very awkward if O'Tei were to become
enamoured of him. In that case, heroic leaps off rocks would be of
little service. Then he burst into a loud shout of laughter.

"How like a mother!" he crowed. "Her own offspring being, of course,
perfect--a full-plumaged ph[oe]nix--all must needs fall down and
worship. Believe me, she is as pure as the dawn; her affection that of
a sister."

"Now, perhaps, and I sincerely hope so," replied the Abbess quietly;
"but you have no right to place her in temptation. So you deem me a
silly old woman, too partial to her featherpated son? Well, then, I am
forced to tell you, as a warning, that which I intended to conceal, to
show that you are over-modest. I trow there are maids galore who wear
the willow in secret for the most brilliant soldier in Japan. There is
one luckless girl I wot of, who has flung her foolish heart at
you--who weeps and languishes for love of you--swears she will have no
other lord. Fie! She is a good and honest girl, who would never have
thus bestowed herself without encouragement."

"Bestowed herself on _me?_" exclaimed Sampei, round-eyed, and feeling
guilty.

"Her name is Miné."

"Miné!" ejaculated the careless scapegrace. "Tush! I know no Miné."

"For shame! Oh, light and fickle, it is as I guessed," returned the
Abbess, with a head-shake that would have been solemn but for a sly
flash of merriment in the usually stern eyes. "I have no excuse for
the maid, since 'tis vastly reprehensible to throw your heart at one
who does not want it; and yet, when her only child is so extremely
fascinating, a mother must be indulgent." Sampei appearing quite
mystified, Masago pursued more gravely,--"You used to single the poor
thing out, bad boy, she says, at the rustic festivals here five years
ago, and give her fans and hairpins. Unfortunate Miné! You turned her
head, and have forgotten even her name. Do you remember Koshiu, the
farmer?"

Miné, Koshiu's daughter. Dear me! a pretty little thing, with a temper
that it was such sport to play upon. Of course Sampei remembered now,
for indeed the too independent Koshiu, dreading some such misfortune
as had come to pass, had testily turned upon the dallying swain, which
had mightily offended his lordship.

And for hopeless love of him this silly soul had been sighing all
these years, with nothing to feed on but a few idle compliments.
Sampei felt a twinge of conscience, was angry with himself, for
perhaps he had been too ardent. Then he felt annoyed with the
too-confiding maiden too easily won. A few common-place attentions,
that was all, out of mere idleness. A pretty pass if all the young
women whom one ogles were to insist on claiming one for life. What a
pother about nothing. It is extremely immodest and indecent of maidens
to give themselves away unasked.

And then his thoughts reverted to that other lady, sitting yonder
before the mirror, and a pang of distress swept over his features as
he dreamed again of what might have been; the which perceiving the
Abbess whispered,--"Be of good cheer, my son. By divine grace it will
be for the best. My prayers added to hers, the maiden's mind will
recover calm, and through the black passage of this hopeless love be
led from earth to heaven. As a daughter of the people who has bestowed
herself on you, I will cherish her. Already she has sought refuge
under our roof, and ere long will become one of us for life."

He then, the light and jovial, was to be responsible for making of the
poor maid a nun.

Sobered and saddened, and made uncomfortable internally by all he had
seen and heard since his return, Sampei led his mother back towards
the summer-house, where the young chatelaine was beginning to marvel
at the length of their private colloquy. In this retreat, where she
expected no visitors, O'Tei dispensed with the service of her ladies,
for it was a relief to think out her dreary thoughts with none to read
them on her countenance. Now, with a new sprightliness to which she
had been long a stranger, she busied herself with hospitable cares.
Placing on the firebox a daintily-wrought kettle of fine bronze, she
produced from a gold-lacquered cabinet three fairy cups of the
eggshell white porcelain of Hirado, placed a pinch of tea in each, and
waiting for the water to boil, made ready to play the hostess.

It was with a tightening about the heart that Sampei watched her long
fingers arranging sweetmeats on a tray, pouring water on the leaves,
which straightway expanded, and turned the liquid of a pale straw
colour. Had he not been so diffident and addlepated while there was
time, she would not now have been so thin and wan; those teacups might
have been his teacups, and--well, well. He was till death her own true
knight, demanding nothing in exchange for his unselfish devotion. To
his heart he would repeat this o'er and o'er again till it was used to
it. What might have been was not to be. There was nothing now to be
gained by brooding or railing against his own stupidity.

Over their refection the trio returned to the all-engrossing
topic,--what was to be done for the poor suffering people?--how was
the despot to be softened, and the imprisoned elders saved? Sampei
related that the news of his coming must have preceded him, for no
sooner had he clattered over the long wooden bridge which gives access
to the main street of Tsu, than two ancient men had stopped him, and
craved an immediate audience. Unlike my lord No-Kami, he had drawn
rein at once, and listened; and the ancient men, with profuse
grovellings, had implored my lord Sampei to use his personal influence
for the rescue of the incarcerated headmen. It was indeed a heinous
deed of insolence, they admitted with groans, to have sinned to the
extent of imploring to be lightened of their burthens, but death of
any kind was preferable to such a life as they endured at present.
They reverently allowed that torments were deserved, but humbly
implored mercy and consideration, for the sake of wives and children
Sampei had been much shocked, for, to his generous nature, grovelling
humility was offensive; and did not know what to do. He, as well as
O'Tei, was resolved that something must be done for the sake of
humanity, as well as to rescue from execration the unpopular name of
Hojo. Perhaps the Abbess, the wise counsellor, would be good enough to
settle what.

Now if Masago had a weakness (I am not prepared to say she had not),
it was an appreciation of her position as chief adviser to every one.
She therefore drank another cup of tea, then clearing her throat,
began,--

"My counsel is this. My lord Hojo No-Kami must be brought to yield.
Probably he will not be sorry of an excuse to do so, considering that
after such an act of clemency as the remitting of torment, the elders,
cowed and abashed, will be too frightened to say more about the taxes;
whereas, if the men suffer, there will be further outcry, and the tax
question will come yet more prominently forward, producing lamentable
results. Hence my lord will probably, as I say, be glad of an excuse
to send the people back, if they promise to be more amenable in
future. It would be well if he owed his way out of the difficulty to
his wife, for it would soften his animosity against her, and would
cause the people to venerate her even more than they do already. My
son, Sampei, could not be more popular than he is--praise be to the
gods--but it would be pleasing to his mother if he were joined in the
work of mercy. I therefore propose that the Lady O'Tei forthwith do
indite upon a roll a personal request to her husband, craving as a
boon the lives of the condemned, and tying it in a box of
tortoiseshell, do consign it to her brother-in-law, that he may ride
with all speed to Ki[^y]oto, and, delivering the box, do add his own
entreaties to his sister's--so may we be sure to gain our end, and
avert a serious danger."

So succinct an oration, brief, and to the point, and patly delivered,
deserved another cup of tea, and while she sipped it leisurely, Masago
improved the occasion.

"My dear," she said, "I saw you shudder. This will never do. It is the
greatest of mistakes to let such a man as Mylord No-Kami know that you
are afraid of him. I noted in his childhood how he always treated more
scurvily the hirelings who cringed."

"I never cringed!" exclaimed O'Tei proudly.

"No; but if I mistake not, you have let him perceive fear, under a
veil of contempt. Should he realise this, he will follow up the
advantage, and all will indeed be lost. You should have coped with him
at first, my lily. It would have been better for both, believe me."

O'Tei twined her fingers together in distress. Had not the small voice
within her whispered this long since. She did fear him, and dislike
him, and despise him. Cope with him forsooth! How could she do it now?
How could she ever have summoned sufficient moral courage? No; having
retired into her shell of pride, she would stop there to the end, but
in this matter of the elders she might bestir herself. Drawing forth a
roll of paper, O'Tei and Sampei, with heads closer together than
Masago approved, proceeded to concoct a warily-worded epistle.

Masago was truly an extremely clever old dame, for with her one stone
she slew a variety of birds. O'Tei would be the happier in that she
had been induced to intercede. She would gain points in the affections
of the people, and so would the beloved Sampei. The latter, as bearer
of the missive, would be removed forthwith from perilous association
with his sister-in-law; he would also be removed from the temptation
to reconnoitre Miné, who, the Abbess firmly resolved, was to shave her
head immediately. This, being obstinate like her father, she would,
doubtless, decline to do if the too warm-blooded warrior were to see
and fancy her afresh.

The combination was artful from all points of view, and did credit to
the adviser of every one. The elders would return unharmed, and, after
a severe lesson, would be more dutiful. The storm would blow over, and
all might repose in peace.

Alack! Masago knew nothing of the resolve of Koshiu. Had she known
that he proposed to call, if necessary, for the individual
intervention of the sublime Mikado himself, her eyes would have
goggled in her head at his audacity, and her counsel might have been
of a different order.



                              CHAPTER V.

                     THE FARMER GIRDS HIS LOINS.


The journey from Tsu to Ki[^y]oto may be made by one in haste, mounted
on a strong horse, in two days, but in a land where trade is carried
on in perfunctory fashion, time is and ever was a cheap commodity. In
a shop the traders squat smoking on the mat, grin, prostrate
themselves with head-knockings on your entrance, offer a cup of tea
and a pipe, and consider that all has been done that may in fairness
be required of them. In need of goods, you must search yourself, pull
things from shelves, till you do or do not find the object you
require. As with trade so is it to this day with travel. An
energetic foreigner, by a liberal showering of yens, may induce his
kuruma-runners to cover thirty miles per diem; but the Japanese of all
ranks prefer to journey quietly, jogging along in kagos, at the
favourite and decorous pace of the familiar snail. Indeed the higher
the social status of the traveller, the slower will be his progress,
for impedimenta are symbols of dignity.

Our magnificent young General, although on horseback, was surrounded
and followed by a rabble, who for the most part were on foot. There
was the inevitable bodyguard of swaggering samurai, who, with hair
shorn from temples, and swords in red lacquer scabbards ostentatiously
displayed, cultivated a scowling expression of perpetual defiance,
incarnation of haughtiness, fanatical patriotism, and contempt of
everybody but themselves. Then there were cotton-coated and
straw-sandalled baggage-men by scores in charge of strings of
packhorses; a group of sutlers; and, swaying in rear of the
procession, an unwieldy but gaily-bedizened kago, for my lord to
recline in when fatigued.

There being no professional fun toward, neither master nor men were in
a hurry. To come upon a roadside tea-house, with its bevy of laughing
waitresses, meant the performance of a variety of operations:
tea-sipping, smoking, drowsy lounging, jesting, active dallying, and
then unlimited sleep.

At first the method of progression was of the slowest, for the marshy
plain was cut by various rivers, which had to be crossed in barges;
then came a stretch of paddy, or rice fields; a green sea of slush
bisected by a narrow gangway of stones, along which two men were
unable to trudge abreast. Then, the foot of the hills being reached,
there was a long and weariful ascent of rock and sliding stones--a
climb over precipice and crag by a way that could scarce be called a
path--and a descent on the other side as difficult. This feat
accomplished, it was, of course, necessary to bathe, and worship in an
adjoining temple, and rest and sleep again, and so it took more than a
week for the cavalcade to reach the capital.

At approach of the noisy procession the mountaineer cottagers peeped
out of their secluded dwellings, but perceiving the company of
samurai, speedily put up their paper shutters, and made believe to be
not at home. For the two-sword man was apt to ape the vices of his
betters, and leave behind a trail of ruin such as marks the passage of
the locust.

Sampei was too busy with his own thoughts--which were gloomy enough,
in sooth--to take heed of those he passed; and even if he had done so,
would probably have failed to recognise an elderly pedestrian, who
glared with hate from under beetle-brows, at the young noble riding
by. Having forgotten even the name of the luckless Miné, it was not
likely that he would quickly recognise her father, clad now in dusty
pilgrim garb of white, and wide mushroom hat of rice straw. For
Koshiu, true to his resolve, was also going to Ki[^y]oto to watch
events, and fulfil, if need were, his self-imposed and dangerous
mission. Like all fervent worshippers of Buddha, the sturdy farmer had
no fear of death; like other natives of Japan, he was eminently
superstitious. Among the Asiatic poor, where ceaseless drudgery,
and hunger never fully satisfied, are the common lot; where the
tax-gatherer and the avaricious noble are the representatives of
government; where earthquake and typhoon cause the forces of nature to
be feared as malignant influences; life is not so pleasant as to cause
the earthly wayfarer to long for its continuance.

The announcement of the Christian dogma that "the gift of God is
eternal life," would rather pain than delight a Japanese, for to him
life in any form is to be dreaded--not because death is at the end of
it, but because another birth and death must follow (possibly more
painful still)--then other births and deaths--links in a long and
weary chain, before attaining the ultimate haven. The moral pang that
may possibly attend decease, consists in the parting from those whom
he holds dear, and will, save under miraculous circumstances, never
see again; for the Christian hope of meeting in a better world finds
place but rarely in the Buddhist's mind. The chief deity, if slow and
somniferous was just, and would (Koshiu argued) surely protect the
family of him who was sacrificed for the common weal. There is a
temple even now at Ki[^y]oto, standing on a dizzy height, whose
terrace is protected by a strong pallisade, for, unless prevented, it
is the practice of the faithful to crave a boon of the god, then fling
themselves over the precipice, in the firm belief that--if the boon is
to be granted--the deity will hold them scathless. It is strange that
the number of bodies shattered on the stones below should not have
shaken their faith either in the goodness or the power of the god.
Having made up his mind that, if need were, he, the humble peasant,
would invoke the sacred and mysterious Mikado's aid, Koshiu passed a
night in prayer, then washed and dressed himself in the attire common
to high and low who are engaged on a holy mission, and took a tender
farewell of his family. There was his dear wife, Kennui; his three
boys, Gennosuké, Sôkei, and Kibachi, ranging in years from thirteen to
seven. Miné was unaccountably absent, but she was always a froward and
unruly maid, wild and disobedient. On this solemn occasion, however,
her father left for her a tender message of farewell, and amid the
tears and outcries of those who feared that they never again might
look on him, tore himself away.

This was on the day before Sampei's arrival,--on the morning which
followed the consultation in the farmer's dwelling. The elders, filled
with admiration for the single-minded heroism of the man whom they had
deemed slow and selfish, went with him, marshalled by Rokubei and
Zembei, to the entrance of the town, and with many blessings and
prayers, wished the traveller success.

Urged on to speed by an engrossing object, he caught up, and, strong
and stout of limb, passed the straggling array of Sampei, arriving in
the capital two days before him. The imprisoned envoys were still in
durance, he learned from one of those who had escaped, and lurked in
hiding. My lord No-Kami--orders having in heat been issued for seizure
and incarceration--had apparently forgotten their existence. The
threatened vengeance of torment had not been wreaked, and yet their
position was no pleasing one, for my lord's soldiers--the peasants
and the military class were never friendly--amused themselves with
the poor wretches, as cats play with mice--haling them out for
diversion--depriving them of drink--pretending to offer saké, and when
they held out eager hands for it, playfully pricking them with dirks.
At the relation, the blood of Koshiu boiled within him.

These men--honoured and revered at home--who had done naught save
humbly to implore redress of grievances, were being murdered
piecemeal. It mattered not that my lord had never ordered it. His
lawless myrmidons took from him their cue, satisfied that they would
not be punished. If the poor things must die, the more speedily the
better; but Koshiu swore, with oaths that terrified his listeners,
that their deaths should be avenged. Alack! Koshiu must be mad. He
prated as if himself a daimio, or a least a samurai or hatamoto! A
mosquito on a wall might as well shake a paw, and vow to avenge the
slaughter of his fellows! And then at the boldness of his speech they
shivered, considering whether it would not be more prudent to withdraw
from the society of so rash a person, and sneak back to their
crumbling homes. Of a certainty it would, for with even the Mikado
himself, the revered and mystical, the insect presumed to find fault.
Next he would be falling foul of Buddha, who, putting out a finger,
would crush him--and them along with him--the blasphemer; and what
then would be their fate in the next cycle? In horror and dread they
wrung their hands, and banged their apologetic foreheads on the floor,
and, drawing forth beads, told them with feverish rapidity.

These were the words that entered their astounded ears. "For
generations stretching back into the shadow of time," the over-bold
farmer said, "has our master dwelt behind a screen, looked on by no
eyes but those of the kugés and his attendants. Nothing outside the
screen penetrates to him save through the mouths of these. Being a
mortal, if a highly-privileged one, he cannot see all, like Buddha,
himself unseen. We are his, and we revere him, but he knows naught of
us, and can know naught, secluded and fenced about, and thereby
neglects his duty--for even he has duties; and if, which is unhappily
true, the latter-day Mikados have been evilly entreated and dethroned
and sent into banishment, 'tis by reason of this sin, and the vile
Hojos have been but instruments of retribution in the hand of an
offended deity."

What subversive doctrines were these uttered by a presuming pigmy? The
horror-stricken elders glanced furtively one at the other with the
same thought. Instead of a possible saviour, this man was a firebrand
who would involve others in his well-merited ruin. Perchance it would
be well to betray him at once to my lord No-Kami, and thereby earn
their pardon? Koshiu read their thoughts, and sighed, wishing them no
evil. The views of the sturdy farmer were beyond them. As well talk to
the trees--better, for the leaves would not shake with terror, and
consider the expediency of treachery. He resolved to shut up his
opinions therefore within his own bosom, and calmly discussed, without
further blasphemy, what the next move should be.

As there was no possibility of, for the present at least, making any
move at all, they were still idly chattering when, a few days later,
they were startled by the appearance of the very envoys whose rescue
was under discussion. They were thin, and gnarled, and haggard, and
wrinkled--but then a Japanese peasant over the age of twenty is never
a pretty object--yet in health seemed well enough. The tale of the
saké and dirks must have been the invention of the foe. And yet to
Koshiu these village elders looked suspiciously meek and lowly, more
so than the humblest peasant should; indeed their bearing was not
unlike that of a mongrel dog, that still smarts under severe
correction. At first it was impossible to get anything out of them but
fawning praise of the Hojo, uttered in trembling accents, in which
fear battled with incoherence. Hojo was excellent and merciful. Had he
not deigned to forgive their unpardonable sin, and set them free
unhurt? Let them live under their own hats and be content, he had
declared. If there were any noble individuals more admirable than the
gracious lord No-Kami--and that was scarcely possible--those two were
their liege lady and the General Sampei; for 'twas through the
intervention of these that my lord had condescended to remember the
existence of his humblest tenants, who might otherwise have been still
in duress.

With lowering brow Koshiu looked upon his fellows, for these cringing,
spirit-broken villagers belonged to the same class as he. Were they
worth saving, at the risk of his own life? And then a vision of the
misery at Tsu, the growing suffering of all down-trodden Japan, rose
upon his vision. No-Kami, thanks to the pleading of his wife and
brother, had been pleased, after outrage and ignominy, to release the
men who had committed no crime. But what of their petition? The
petition? Let it go hang! The well-whipped hounds preferred that the
subject should be dropped. How ill-timed was any mention of the
petition. It had brought nothing but trouble--the less said about it
the better. All they desired was to depart with speed. The sportive
samurai might swoop again. Baring their arms, the envoys showed their
wounds. The story of the saké was true, then. Little wonder if the
starved wretches had had enough of the facetious horseplay of the
soldiers.

Koshiu paced the mat with folded arms. Yes, they were right, and had
better go and save their wizened carcases. Here they were of no
service, only butts for scoffers. My lady O'Tei all knew to be an
angel; but that the newly-arrived General should interest himself in
peasants, was curious; and then the thought flashed suddenly on the
indignant father that the absence of Miné from her home had coincided
with the arrival of Sampei. Her tender pronunciation of his name, and
constant championship, recurred to his memory, and he shrank as from
strokes of the bamboo. As profligate as all the Hojos, he had, of
course, signalled his return by the seduction of an innocent and
too-trusting maiden, who, by-and-by, he would fling away. Perhaps from
out that curtained kago on the road his erring daughter may have
peeped at him. If it were so, never, never would he forgive his child.
Had he not warned her of his undying hatred of Hojos, of all connected
with bloodthirsty brutal tyrants? With difficulty controlling his
emotions, while his comrades more than ever deemed him dangerously
insane, he told them they were right. Since they could serve no
further purpose, they had better go back to Tsu, and speedily. For his
own part, he would remain, and bide his time, and, when opportunity
offered, present the petition to the Emperor.

And so, after a sad and parting feast, the band of elders returned to
their place, and Koshiu dwelt alone, brooding over his wrongs, over
the oppression of his class, and the ruin of his daughter, while his
family bewailed at home. His impression was that the Mikado's
supineness rose not from weakness but from indifference, out of which
he might be roused. One day arrived a pedlar with news from Tsu, and a
melancholy message from his wife, the faithful Kennui, which
completely satisfied his mind that his suspicions were but too well
founded. Miné had never again sought the legitimate shelter of her
parents' roof, but was dwelling, if report spoke truly, with the
mother of Sampei. Even she, then, the peasant-born, suffered under the
taint which enveloped that hated race. The Abbess, who pretended to be
pious, could stoop to shield his daughter's infamy, and give shelter
to the mistress of her son. Poor soul, had she not been herself a
concubine, and debased by pernicious surroundings? Ah, but the
position of second wife--acknowledged concubine--was different from
that of his own degraded daughter. No fixed position was hers, of
course, or ever would be, since she had been so misguided as to throw
herself into her lover's arms. And when he was weary of her? It would
not bear thinking of, for Koshiu in his way was proud as any noble.
Sampei and his mother were as bad as the rest, worthy to wear the
cognisance of Hojo. The longer the farmer brooded, the harder grew his
heart, the more bitter his resentment, and he hailed with fierce joy
the news, at last, that the Mikado was to visit Nara.

It was a solemn ceremony the pilgrimage of the Emperor to the Sacred
Groves of Nara, one which, although the distance was short, he was
expected to perform but once or twice during his career. Unlike lesser
magnates, who were content with kagos--litters, more or less
sumptuous, borne on men's shoulders--the Mikado travelled in a
ponderous carriage on huge cumbrous wheels, its roof thatched with the
long grey straws of a peculiar grass, its wood-work elaborately
lacquered with the imperial crest, its windows closely curtained with
the finest matting, which flapped with many tassels. The progress of
so unwieldy a machine over a primitive road was slow. In front went a
bodyguard on foot, followed by soldiers on horseback; then came the
weighty kagos of the kugés in attendance, brave with banners and
devices; then the Mikado's swaying uneasy carriage, drawn by eight
horses in broidered housings; then more heavy litters and more
soldiers, and a long straggling tail like that of a kite, composed of
servants and rabble. It took many hours to penetrate through the
tortuous and squalid suburbs of the capital, consisting for the most
part of the shops of pawnbrokers and vendors of cheap toys and idols,
jutting at will into the road, the procession stopped from time to
time by hosts of the faithful on their faces.

Once free of buildings, the imperial _cortége_ advanced by a wide way
straight as an arrow across a plain devoted to the cultivation of tea,
and by nightfall reached Uji. Here there was a villa overhanging with
wide, wooden balconies a rushing stream--the Uji-Kawa, which rises in
lake Biwa--spanned by a semicircular bridge formed of an intricate
network of heavy timbers, for in winter this river swells into a
torrent, sweeping all that is weak before it. This villa was for the
special use of the sovereign, as might be guessed, from its lack of
adornment. So high is the Mikado, that, in a general way, he is above
the employment of ornament. His villas and summer-houses (unlike those
of his brother of China) are as conspicuous for simplicity as his
dress. Everything is of the very best that skill can produce, the
woodwork of the very finest which the hand of man can command, the
mats trimmed with a red and white braid forbidden to other men. His
eyes look upon no pictures or porcelains or bronzes, for to one who
communes at will with deities or spirits, and may peep even sometimes
into Nirvana, such trivialities are, of course, superfluous. In the
Imperial Palace of Ki[^y]oto it is different, for there he deigns to
associate in a degree with mere common nobles and wives, to whom
austere simplicity would be depressing if not soul-withering. In this
villa, the Emperor, by time-honoured custom, was to pass the night,
his _cortége_ camping around for the protection of the sacred person.

Now Koshiu, whose object in life was the presenting of a memorial
which should lead to the abrogation of imposts, and the holding up of
the Hojos to deserved obloquy, knew right well that there was no
reaching the imperial ear, either in Ki[^y]oto or on the road to Uji,
by reason of a throng of guards. During the next day's route over the
mountains, on the other side of which was Nara, the cumbrous carriage
would be prevented from toppling over by myriad hands pressed on
either wheel, but the brilliant idea had occurred to the farmer that
in crossing the timber bridge, whose width was just sufficient for the
passage of the vehicle, there would be none to defend either of the
curtained windows, the guards of necessity passing on in front or
dropping behind until the stream was crossed, and that here lay his
only chance. In the night therefore, after prayers and ablutions, he
took advantage of the darkness to swim into mid-stream unnoticed, and
being washed against one of the pillars, to make good his footing, and
climbing on the bridge, to secrete himself under a convenient shadow.
Then with his knife he pruned a long bamboo, split it at the top, and
inserting the memorial therein, awaited day.

The journey was yet long to Nara, and over the mountains fraught with
possible disaster, so all were early astir. With wildly-beating heart
and throbbing temples Koshiu heard the clatter of horses overhead, the
rhythmed step of infantry, and then the thunder of the great wheels
grinding under their heavy load. Now or never. Calculating his time to
a nicety, the farmer nimbly climbed upon the parapet, and before the
astonished guards could stop him, lifted a corner of the mat, and
inserting his bamboo, cried in a loud voice,--

"Take, O great Mikado! Fountain of Honour, this the petition of your
humblest slave. Have pity on your people, O sovereign lord, ground
down by the wicked Hojo!"

The driver of the horses, aghast, stopped open-mouthed; the cavalcade
stood still; the guards, with a yell, dashed clambering forward, to
fling into the stream this audacious one, riddled with sword-thrusts;
but the old Daimio of Nara, who, disdaining a kago, rode close behind,
spurred quickly through the men, and, raising both hands, bade them
refrain. He had caught the words "wicked Hojo," saw that what might
have been a spear was already withdrawn, and was no more than a cleft
stick, and guessed the purport of the attempt.

"'Tis a petition," Nara cried. "Our imperial lord already holds the
man's paper in his sacred hand. It is for him, and not for us, to
decide upon his fate."

Clutched by a dozen fists, Koshiu remained poised and stifled on the
parapet, and presently a low voice issued from the shadow.

"I will read the petition on my return from the sacred groves. Keep
the man close and safe. See that no harm comes to him."

The Daimio of Nara, with a cunning smile lurking about his lips, gave
orders that the pilgrim should be safely conducted to his own private
apartment in the palace, and then the ponderous procession moved on
again, and crawled up the mountain.



                             CHAPTER VI.

                          THE YOUNG MIKADO.


Tomoyé, the brawny but practical, proved herself more clear-sighted
than the statesman-warrior her husband. Hojo, the elder, certainly
made the most serious blunder of his life when he arranged that
marriage for his heir. A gulf 'twixt a husband and a wife cannot but
widen daily, and the part of the latter, right or wrong, is sure to be
espoused by her father. The admirable combinations that were to result
from an alliance of the houses of Hojo and Nara were conspicuous by
absence. As time went on, the haughty No-Kami, averse at all times to
advice, showed to his wife's parent his most aggressive side, lest he
should presume to lecture.

Although the Daimio of Nara had seen but little of his child, he had
received from time to time such affectionate reports concerning the
maiden, from the priests and priestesses who had supervised her
education, that he was fully conscious of her worth. Between the two
lords there was a show of courtesy, which masked on the one side
jealousy of interference, on the other, hate. The father of O'Tei,
although he pretended to perceive nothing, resented bitterly the
scornful neglect with which she was treated by her spouse. During the
rare visits of the young chatelaine to the capital, he could see how
sad she was, and worn and listless, instead of vivacious and gay, as
became her years; and in his heart, antipathy for the despot,
implanted by cruelty to the Mikado, increased a hundredfold. He was
too wary to quarrel yet with Hojo, but whenever he vouchsafed advice
(as he did now and then, for the sake, as he said, of the departed),
it was of a kind which rendered No-Kami more execrated still, more
unpopular with the people he oppressed. The return of Sampei, and the
demeanour of that warrior, produced fresh combinations in the subtle
brain of Nara. It was plain that he was shocked by the excesses of his
brother. He came of ambitious stock, and the long bloody tale of the
history of Japan is full of the rivalry of brothers. What if he could
be cajoled or goaded to take arms against him? The unruly army which
he had brought back from Corea, accustomed to plunder and lawless
licence, would have to be employed somehow, for idleness begets
mischief. So long as Mikado and Daimios remained quiescent, the
swash-bucklers could not be used against them, and, unemployed they
would soon be a source of trouble. What if, by waiting, the enemies of
the Hojo could succeed in turning against him the very troops he had
summoned for his defence; and what if, by crafty man[oe]uvring, the
disgust of Sampei could be raised to such a pitch as to induce him to
resume their command?

As the general who had led them from victory to victory, his soldiers
adored Sampei. In time, they might probably be made useful as a
scourge for Hojo, without their commander, by prospect of pillaging
castles, but if he whom they idolised were to summon them forth in the
direction of their inclinations, there was no doubt they would follow
in a mass. While his master was telling his beads before the great
bronze idol in the Nara temple, the thoughts of the lord of the soil
were engaged elsewhere, and he resolved on the first opportunity to
sound Sampei, and to arrange his plans accordingly.

It was a fortnight after the incident on the bridge of Uji that the
imperial _cortége_ wound down the mountain, and returned to the palace
in the capital. What a dreary spot this same palace, more like a
prison than a free residence, well suited to the ghastly life of blank
monotony led by its miserable occupant.

The chief abode of the Mikado occupies a vast space of ground in
the centre of the city of Ki[^y]oto, surrounded by a high white
wall, devoid of windows. Passing through a postern in a huge and
highly-decorated gate, crowned by an immense tiled roof, you find
yourself in a labyrinth, where you would speedily be lost without a
guide, for long low buildings meander in and out, and meet at angles,
one exactly like another, forming a series of little courtyards,
adorned with prim grey bushes. The walls of these are of one pattern,
formed of white plaster in timber settings, with heavy roofs and
eaves. None of the buildings boast of more than a single storey, which
is elevated on posts, a yard above the ground; this by reason of
earthquakes, and unclean insects, which have no respect for Emperors.
The long outer passages are protected from the weather by verandahs,
because persons below a certain rank may not venture to breathe under
the same roof as the Fountain of Honour, but must squat humbly in the
air without. All the inner wood-work is of pine, smoothly planed, and
left unpolished, set at points of junction with sumptuously sculptured
nails; while mats are of the finest kind, trimmed white and red with
the imperial braid. Within, the sliding screens which at will divide
most of the space into small or large chambers, are of drab silk,
spotted with gold dots, in form of clouds. There is no furniture,
except a few low red lacquer tables.

The private suite of the Mikado saddens the soul, so small, and
dismal, and uncomfortable are the rooms, or rather hutches, with no
prospect or view outside, but three bare walls, a flag-pavement, and
half-a-dozen bushes; and the mind turns involuntarily to the thought
of Spanish Queens, whose drear existences must have been hilariously
gay when compared with those of the Mikados. Sure many of these must
have gone melancholy mad, or have sought relief from despondency by
drowning care in the saké-cup. For the better protection of the
Fountain of Honour, the two closets he inhabits are buried away in the
centre of the labyrinth. There is nothing for him to hear but low,
respectful sibillation, and the tramp of guards; nothing to see but
nobles sprawling on their faces, with a glum background of whitewash,
and a few tortoises wandering over the stones.

At the period which now concerns us, the Mikado usually sat upon a
chair, while the kuges, in court trousers (Uye no Bakama) many yards
under their feet, wearing high black crape hats, and brocaded
trains--narrow and stiff, and of exceeding length--(kiy[=o]) reclined
around him on the mat. When the potentate felt more bored than usual,
he retired into a square tent (of the size of an old-fashioned
European bed) in the middle of the room; which tent was composed of
snowy silk, embroidered with bamboo and storks, and garnished with
long streamers, red and black, decorated with butterflies. Inside the
tent was placed a chair, and two low stools.

A few yards off is a dark place surrounded by gilt folding screens, in
which is another tent. This was for the Fountain of Honour when
boredom reached a climax, and he felt compelled to flee mankind. On
state occasions he moved into a spacious hall at the back, whose
sliding screens are painted with portraits, full length, of Chinese
sages, and whose look-out is a shade more cheerful; for beyond there
is a garden, with a lake full of speckled fish, some groups of pines,
and quaint stone bridges. In the centre of the hall is yet another
tent, precisely similar to the others--for the purpose of special
audience, for the room is so large, that neither the elect, who knelt
around, or the unelect, who crouched in the verandah, could overhear
what passed within the curtains.

Into this hall, on the day after the return, trooped all who possessed
the privilege, while the yards and passages were full of hatamotos and
retainers; for the Fountain of Honour, refreshed by prayer and change
of scene, declared he would attend to business.

In the first place, audience must be vouchsafed to the victorious
General, that he might relate his deeds of valour, and receive thanks
for faithful service; and then a consultation must be held, with
closed doors, on the subject of the peasant and his petition. At
mention of the audacious peasant, Nara smiled quietly, for he thought
he saw his way to make a weapon of him wherewith to vex the enemy.

Owing to the ruin and banishment of three Emperors, the present
reigning one was a cowed youth, a pale and depressed boy, with a look
of constant apprehension lurking in his eyes. So well drilled was he
that the sound of his tyrant's footfall caused him to tremble; so
acutely did he feel his equivocal position, that many a time, after a
period of reverie, he would start and wince, as if expecting the
descent of the blade that was suspended over his head. Poor Koshiu!
Could he have looked on the liege lord--so timorous and helpless--who
was awful, because invisible, he would probably have thought twice
before making that rash attempt.

When Sampei, after prostration and the orthodox nine head-knockings of
humility, was invited to occupy a stool within the tent, Nara was
bidden, by a wave of the august fan, to take the other, and thus
withdrawn from inquisitive eyes and ears, the Daimio of Nara deemed
this to be a propitious moment for peering into the future. He drew
out the modest General, and, as mouthpiece of his master, made pretty
speeches, while the Mikado was anxiously scanning his face, seeking
his brother's features.

Presently the Emperor gave a sigh of relief. It was a good-natured
open visage, considerably tanned, ornamented (from a military point of
view) by a deep scar across the brow, scored by a Corean spear.
Although a Hojo, it was possible to feel comfortable in his presence,
and the heart of the sad recluse quite warmed to him when Nara, with
insidious flattery, related an episode of his career. He told of how
young Sampei, in camp one day, investing the Taira forces, beheld a
warrior whose crimson armour and golden cognisance marked him for a
Taira noble. "Come hither and fight!" he cried, and both charged
fiercely one at the other with gleaming blades. After a few passes,
the Taira dropped his sword, and Sampei, chivalrous always, flung his
away and rushed to clasp his foe. Close-locked they fell from their
saddles on the sand, the Hojo uppermost. Tearing off the bedizened
helm, with intent to strike, he was amazed to see not a hardy old
campaigner but a delicate and lovely boy! Rising, and handing to the
vanquished his headgear. "So young," he said, "thy mother yet lives,
doubtless. To her I give thee--go!"

Sampei looked down and blushed, not ill-pleased that his lord should
learn to like him; while the Mikado muttered behind his fan, "Can this
be the brother of No-Kami?"

After this jocund opening symphony, Nara changed his tune, and as he
spoke of the suffering people, the General's face grew dark and
sorrowful.

"And all this is due," Nara concluded, with emphasis, "to the head of
the house of Hojo, whom the gods have made pre-eminent. The greater
the gift, the greater will be the punishment for opportunities
misused. Dare you deny that it is so?"

Sampei shuffled on his seat, with lowered head.

"My brother is unduly harsh," he stammered,--"perchance is ignorant--"

"What of the elders, then, and their petition?" demanded Nara.

"He has sent them home unhurt!" quickly responded Sampei.

"Ay, but with wrongs unredressed."

The young General was silent.

"You are the senior in years," observed the Daimio, pursuing his
advantage, "and should claim some authority; further, even, if need
be--"

Sampei drew himself up with dignity.

"You, the Daimio of Nara," he said proudly, "should know what is due
from a vassal to his feudal chief. I am older in years, but not pure
in blood. On my mother's side I am a peasant. I may grieve over my
brother's follies, even chide with respectful gentleness, further than
that I may not venture, as none should know better than yourself."

Nara felt angry and disappointed, for this was not what he expected.
Could this brilliant fellow be destitute of personal ambition?
Perhaps, more cunning than he seemed, he was waiting for something
more explicit.

"You, then, an honest man," sneered the Daimio, "are prepared to stand
by and see your flesh and blood perform the work of fiends? Perhaps I
have made of your character a wrong estimate. Can it be that you enjoy
the grievous plight of those to whose class, as you say, you partially
belong? In crime an appreciative partner--perhaps even my lord Hojo's
willing executioner?"

The Daimio laughed hoarsely, while the Mikado listened with pursed
lips. Apparently the young soldier was not to be roused by taunts, for
with a sigh he replied sadly,--

"You wrong me. If I cannot aid, I can perish with them, and so escape
dishonour."

"By hara-kiri?" retorted Nara, with impatience, "a vastly useful way
of helping the afflicted! When all is lost, death by the dirk is the
only appropriate end to a high-born gentleman; but an honest man and a
brave may not declare that things are hopelessly wrong until he has
tried to right them. That they are wrong at present you will admit,
after perusing this memorial, humbly presented to our common lord by
one of Hojo's vassals."

Sampei took the paper, and, as he read, grew hot and cold with pity
and indignation. And it was his own flesh and blood, as Nara said, who
could act thus! The indictment was terrible in its straightforward
simplicity. No wonder that the gentle wife of the tyrant, knowing
what she must know, was fading slowly. And there was more trouble
brewing--even simple Sampei could foresee that. If No-Kami had been so
incensed at the elders daring to present a petition to himself, what
would his feeling be when he knew that another had been handed to the
Emperor? The Mikado having publicly received, would be bound to take
some notice of it,--to make some attempt to check the excesses of the
despot. And, knowing his brother as he now learned to know him, Sampei
looked forward in dismay, for the wheel set rolling down a hill may
not be stopped, and it was but too probable that, goaded by passion
uncontrolled, crime heaped upon crime would, as O'Tei had suggested,
induce some dire catastrophe.

A furtive glance at the dull weak face of the Emperor was not
comforting. There was vacillation in every line of it. A gleam from
No-Kami's wrathful eyes and he would shrivel up. Was it indeed the
duty of his elder brother to stand forward and attempt to stay his
junior's downward course? 'Tis a terrible thing when two of the same
kin hold swords at one another's throats. And languishing O'Tei, what
of her, whom he had secretly sworn to guard and cherish? Perhaps, by
slaying her husband, he would be doing her a service as well as
freeing the oppressed; but that husband his brother! To slay his
brother! As the picture appeared upon his mental retina, Sampei
shuddered; and then the thought flashed on him with vivid clearness
that the stroke which slew his brother would delve for aye an
impassable chasm 'twixt himself and her he loved. The young man heaved
a sigh of relief, and raised his head. He was rescued from temptation
for the time being, O'Tei the saving talisman. And then, his eye
falling on the petition, he grew sorely perplexed. Was the old man
right? Was it his bounden duty to interfere between the tyrant and his
victims? What good would come of interference? Had he not intervened
already for the behoof of the unlucky elders? It was not likely that
the head of his house would brook incessant meddling. Slow-witted at
the best, Sampei, the more he pondered, grew more wretched and
uncertain. Nara marked with approving eye the extent of his
uncertainty, and cast a keen glance of intelligence at his master. The
poison instilled would slowly work, or Nara had mistaken his man. The
seed was sown--must be left to swell and burst. Enough was done for
the present.

Obedient to the signal of his most trusted counsellor, the Mikado
graciously dismissed his General, with hope revived in the future. But
the hope was short-lived. Scarcely had he emerged with lightened heart
from out the tent, and, summoning the kuges together, had commanded
the shutters to be closed, that the petition might be privately
considered, than the sound of the awful footstep was heard on the
creaking boards, and the soul of the hapless Emperor died within him.
He writhed and turned scarlet under the insult, when, pushing back the
shutter with a crash, No-Kami unannounced strode in.

"What is this?" he cried, in a harsh voice, omitting the customary
obeisance. "I should not believe it, if I did not see you shivering
there, red with conscious guilt. Leniency to the scum is worse than a
crime--it is a fault. It was to please your daughter, Nara--that she
should condescend to plead for such insolent vermin, says little for
her rearing--that I forgave those villagers. And no sooner have I
committed that insensate act, than I am most justly punished for it.
Where is he--he who presumed to present to you a paper? He shall never
present another."

The trembling Mikado looked piteously at Nara, who, stolid, and
apparently both deaf and blind, moved no muscle.

"My lord No-Kami--" began the Emperor, but was quickly silenced.

"I ask no explanation," remarked the tyrant sternly, waving away
argument. "I demand the paper and the man. He is my vassal and my
chattel: where is he?"

"Here, under my protection. You forget yourself, my lord!" cried
the Emperor, who, deserted by Nara, was stung to a poor show of
self-assertion. "Under this roof he is safe."

No-Kami raised his brows slightly, and with stiff politeness said,--

"Since when may peasants enter where knights and samurai may not?
These be new manners that we can scarce approve. You, my lord Nara, I
believe took charge of the man. I thank you for your courtesy, and
herewith reclaim my own."

To the consternation of the Emperor, who expected that now, at least,
the one to whom he pinned his faith would speak boldly, the Daimio of
Nara gravely bowed, and said,--

"If such is the pleasure of our master, be it so."

Put to the test, then, Nara was a windbag that had burst! The Mikado
groaned in spirit.

"You will promise that he shall not be injured," stammered he, as,
wincing under the basilisk eye, and seeking support in vain, the poor
boy grew sick and giddy.

"You see, Lord Nara, that 'tis our master's wish," responded No-Kami
bluntly. "I make no promises. My time is valuable, and my retinue
without is waiting. See that the wretch is handed over instantly for
immediate transport to my _yashiki_." And with this the Hojo turned
and strode away, without deigning to await an answer.

The cup was full. The Fountain of Honour overflowed in a torrent of
brackish tears. To be insulted thus before all the court; to be
treated like a child; to be bearded with such dour disdain! The fate
of his three predecessors, in their tranquil monastery, was preferable
to his, alone upon the rack in the midst of empty grandeur. When Nara
attempted to instil words of comfort, he turned on him with the swift,
unreasoning vituperation of the weak.

"You on whom I leaned," he sobbed,--"who are ever prating of the
wondrous things that you are going to do! Before him you tremble more
than all the rest, and sit mumchance! The man will be tormented, and I
thereby eternally disgraced, since I took him under my protection.
When they hear of it, what will my people say, seeing me that
monster's puppet?"

"They, will pity you," replied Nara quietly, "as they pity the other
three. I am not so craven as you think. What if the man be tortured?
He is but a boor of little consequence, and will be none the worse for
martyrdom. Let be, let be--a little patience only. The more scurvily
the man is treated, the better in the end; the deeper the universal
execration for him we all detest. A little time, a little time, and
all will be well, believe me. We have but to sit with hands devoutly
folded, and wait; for the Hojo is preparing his own undoing,--carving
out his own destruction!"



                             CHAPTER VII.

                        THE FARMER'S SENTENCE.


Perhaps the Daimio of Nara was right in his prognostications of the
probable. Although the lives of a few peasants are to Japanese
patricians of but small account, there had been considerable
excitement among the daimios over Hojo's high-handed treatment of the
village elders, a tornado of lamentation among the lower and unarmed
classes. Had the action of the despot been voted orthodox, had he
unwaveringly pursued his course, the other lords would have done the
same as he with joy, to wring out additional sums for pleasant uses;
but as No-Kami gave way with little pressing, and thereby stultified
his action, there was a general chorus of disapproval. If, excited and
cruel, he were now to inflict signal vengeance on the unfortunate
farmer, there would be still further uproar; and each fresh
demonstration tended to a universal rising, for the destruction of the
terrible octopus. Nara was old enough to have learned that the waiting
game is generally best in the end, and preached sage wisdom to his
master, who wept, being foolish, and young, and also uneasy in his
mind.

No-Kami was frantic with wrath when he considered Koshiu's sin. What a
deplorable precedent was this! A petty farmer, little better than the
common labourer, who strews the paddy field with filth, and grubs on
hands on knees like a pig in the mud when the young rice begins to
sprout; this abject, well-nigh four-footed, grovelling creature had
absolutely, erect upon hind legs, dared to approach the head of the
state--the nominal head--with a writing wherein he, the reignina
Hojo--the real head of the state--was impeached and accused of
misdemeanours,--even of deeds called CRIMES! Such audacity to the most
nimble imagination was all but inconceivable. It was no less
preposterous and ludicrous than if the brisk and too sprightly flea
were, with his tiny mandibles, to assault the elephant. As he revolved
the circumstance, the Daimio was so tickled that, as he paced a path
in his garden outside Ki[^y]oto, he laughed a hard and grating
cachination, that was half a snort, and shouted for a cup of warm
saké, the which was brought, with the humblest of genuflections; for
my lord's laugh clanked like rusty chains, and was precursor usually
of bloodshed. But this was really too amusing, or would have been, if
not so impudent. As he drained cup after cup of wine, my lord's mind
became more active, the heat of his resentment more whitely glowing.
What punishment was severe enough for such a caitiff? What was mere
death, even the slowest, with ingeniously long-drawn agonies, but
absurdly insufficient. The doom of the farmer must be something
calculated to appal,--to spread terror broadcast, or his pestilent
example might be followed by other swine. He would be a good riddance,
this Koshiu, for he had always been a dangerous character,--one who
dared to think for himself, actually to think, and frame views and
theories of an independent and subversive kind. Oh for some brilliant
idea, some happy thought, startling and awe-inspiring,--something at
which the ordinary mind would revolt, then shrink down cowering!
Decidedly this was an occasion on which the culprit must be made a
genuine "example;" and as he paced the garden path, the brain of
No-Kami was much exercised to find some awful sentence worthy of his
reputation and his name.

His heart was so hardened by schemes of revenge that the scene around
was powerless to calm his ruffled soul; and yet his villa without
Ki[^y]oto, known as the Golden House (it exists to this day), was a
spot where loving nature had freely given of her best.

On the plain between the city and the mountains is a wood, some three
miles square, wherein branching umbrella pines and lofty cryptomerias
and black-pointed cypresses are mingled in calculated confusion with
the ensanguined foliage of the maple, and a luxuriant shrub covered
with yellow blossoms, which has a scent resembling that of the
apricot. The underbrush being carefully removed, the feet of the trees
stand clear, rising from a tumbled surface of rich moss and rock and
knoll, through which meander crystal streams shaded by grass and
ferns. In a secluded portion of the wood is a large oblong pond,
half-covered with dense reeds, and full offish and tortoises. In this,
between the reed-beds, is mirrored a fairy cot--very small, as
suitable for fairies--with the usual heavy roof and posts, and with
windows inlaid with oyster shell. The peculiarity of the villa, at the
time which occupies us, was that inside and out it was entirely gilt,
which, against the sombre green background, in the limpid atmosphere,
gave it the aspect of an enchanted dwelling. The rooms were of the
smallest, and as naked and uncomfortable as Japanese rooms always are;
and yet, in miniature, there was naught neglected. There was the
porter's lodge, wherein lounged the armed retainers, and where
upright, clean, and ready were the three formidable instruments
designed to entangle, throw down, and pin a quarrelsome or unwelcome
visitor. Stout quarter staves were also ready wherewith to belabour a
struggling wight. There were bows and arrows in plenty, while in a row
hung wooden tickets inscribed with the names of the soldiers in
residence, which, were handed to the keeper of the gate, in token of
absence, as the men passed out. In one corner was a bath--a mere rude
tub--wherein, after the Daimio had bathed, others might be allowed to
plunge; while further on, in the _tokonoma_, or recess of honour, were
ranged in glittering state, ready always for use, the armour of my
lord--his cuirass and greaves, helmet, chainmail, and swords.

As he paced up and down under shadow of the trees, No-Kami had an
inspiration; and summoning his favourite samurai, he bade him produce
the prisoner. With arms crossed on his broad chest, and a mien of
sullen defiance, Koshiu emerged, and having approached, stared hard
into his oppressor's eyes with such undaunted boldness that Hojo felt
almost sorry. It was a pity to have to annihilate so bold a varlet;
and yet the independent ways of these same bold varlets are
pestilent,--dangerous to the lords who are set over them.

"What hast thou to say--what excuse to make?" demanded the imperious
No-Kami.

"The performance of duty calls for no excuse," replied the bluff
farmer.

"Duty!"

"Yes, duty,--to myself, to my fellow-sufferers, to the sublime Mikado,
who, unless told, knows naught--for he dwells apart--of the wicked
such as thee."

"By Buddha's crown, but thou art mad! instead of suing for mercy,
aggravating thy offence."

"The Hojos never knew mercy--thou least of all--and I expect none."

"Will none make a lid for this rascal?" cried the Daimio, his small
stock of patience ebbing. Then, seeing half a score of bright blades
flashing in the sun, he waved them back into their scabbards. "Nay,
nay," he grumbled; "sully not your steel."

"The Hojos were ever bad," observed Koshiu, without blenching. "Thou
and thy brother are the worst."

"Sampei!" exclaimed No-Kami, in surprise. "Why he is half of thy caste
himself, and is adored by the populace. What evil hath he done to
thee?"

"He robbed me of my eldest child, whom I held dear. She has vanished,
seduced by him."

No-Kami laughed long and loud, that very ugly laugh.

"So, so. The General is sly, and keeps his counsel, and hath done thee
and thine far too much honour, ingrate! See, here he comes to answer
for himself."

It was indeed Sampei, who, in extreme haste and heat, was crashing
through the ferns. How unfortunate that the Emperor should not have
detained him ten minutes longer. He would have expostulated with his
brother then and there, in the Imperial presence,--have entreated the
Fountain of Honour not to give up the captive. For in Hojo's greedy
desire to obtain possession of him there was lurking something
sinister. No-Kami's temper was so warm. For his sake, and the name
they both bore, he must be prevented from going to extremities. Thanks
to the gods, he was in time, for there the man stood, unharmed as yet.
Ere he reached the spot where the two were standing, with retainers
grouped in a circle, Sampei cried out, in his strong voice,--

"No-Kami, my brother, give me this man's life!"

"Again," laughed No-Kami. "What a glutton for the lives of prisoners.
Not this one; no, his is a special case; but I'll give thee his little
wanton."

"What wanton?" And then of a sudden the young soldier remembered his
mother's news which had so startled him. This was the father of the
maid whose heart he had unconsciously captured, and whose parent had
five years ago denied to him his doors. It was with a whimsical smile
that he shrugged his shoulders, and said,--"Miné' is no wanton that I
know of. She is as pure for me as Fugi, the holy and snow-capped
mountain."

"Liar!" shouted Koshiu. "What have Hojos to do with truth?"

Whereupon, with a low growl, the retainers drew their dirks and
pressed close round.

Sampei grew a shade paler, but, controlling himself, quietly said,--

"Let be, men! Sheathe your blades! The man labours under a mistake,
and will know better by-and-by. Grant me his life, my brother!"

"Why, of what parentage art thou?" exclaimed No-Kami, with a gesture
of scorn. "He dubbed thee liar! Well, well! A drop of low peasant
blood mingled with the best envenoms the entire stream. Yet am I
ashamed, that thou, who art said to have done deeds of exceeding
prowess, should tamely accept such insolence! And yet--and yet! I see
now that I was wrong, precipitate. So mean a target is not worth your
arrows. Fear not, my sober brother, I will myself avenge thee. Stand
forth thou, and hear thy sentence. Whereas thou--audacious and
stiff-necked--hast set thyself up as a champion and head of the
villagers; and whereas thou hast dared to make light of me, thy feudal
lord, by petitioning the Emperor directly; and whereas thou hast been
guilty of conspiracy--three heinous crimes--it is decreed that thou
shalt be taken in chains to Tsu, in a litter covered with a net of
shame, and there suffer death by crucifixion. Thy wife will suffer
likewise. Thy children shall merely be beheaded. The girl--what is her
name? Miné--alone shall live, since I have bestowed her as a boon upon
my brother."

The samurai knelt down and rested their foreheads on the grass,
clasping their hands in token of admiration and respect; Sampei
covered his glowing face with quivering fingers; the farmer turned
ashen grey. A thunderbolt hurled down to annihilate a family. For
himself he cared not: his life he had known was forfeit. But wife and
innocent babes! Gennosuké, the sturdy little lad; and pretty Sohei,
and Kihachi, who could barely toddle! The unexpected blow was
paralysing--stupefying with overwhelming sweep; and No-Kami, who saw
with delight that the bolt went home, motioned for the condemned to be
removed. Sampei felt stunned,--torn between horror, and the instinct
of blind loyalty to his chief, his creed--the creed in which he had
carefully been nurtured. The innocent and the guilty involved in one
common doom. It was horrible--unjust! Less vindictive by-and-by, the
Daimio would repent him of his severity. Sampei saw clearly that the
man must go. That could not be helped: he had brought on himself his
punishment. But the wife and children! Sampei had hurried hither to
endeavour to rescue the man, and on behalf of the innocent had not
found a word of protest. Thank goodness that, owing to a mistake, Miné
at least was safe. As to the wife and children, he and O'Tei must
combine ere the sentence was carried out, and make a strenuous effort.
There was no help to be looked for from the weak Mikado. What a pity
that he was such a feeble creature! But then, had he been more
formidable, he would have shared the fate of the others long ago. The
Hojo looked so surly, that Sampei felt the moment unpropitious for
remonstrance. Incensed as my lord now was, prayers would but aggravate
him further. Sampei seemed, therefore, to acquiesce in the decision of
the Daimio, and turned to another topic.

"A new eye sees things," he remarked, as they strolled under the
trees, "which escape the ken of him to whom surrounding objects are
familiar. Powerful as you are, swaying with a nod affairs of state,
you strike me as less secure than was our father."

"He governed, as was necessary, with an iron hand, and so do I,"
retorted No-Kami.

"His was not so wet with blood," suggested the other gently.

"Can this be indeed the successful soldier?" asked the Daimio,
stopping in amaze. "More like that puling wife of mine. A pity you did
not wed her!"

Sampei started and winced. Could his brother guess. There was no trace
of suspicion on his visage. His secret was safe. It was only a stray
shot.

"The daimios," he observed quietly, "hate you, and they are
treacherous."

"The daimios always hate him who is in power," replied the other with
composure, "and burn to oust him. And people say that all Japanese are
treacherous. They must be curbed by fear. Hence my severity just now.
Nay, do not speak or waste your breath and anger me. On that my mind
is fixed. I was too mild and compassionate with those elders, and look
on the result! A stupid blunder, due to over-kindliness. The new-born
arrogance of those tillers of the soil must be sternly checked.
Clemency would be construed into a sign of weakness. He who rules with
the sword must not be afraid to use it."

"I would warn you to mistrust Nara," observed Sampei, after a pause of
thought; "he does not wish you well."

"Nara!" echoed the Daimio. "He who our astute father selected as my
special counsellor! You are too suspicious. For Nara I have nothing
but contempt--for him as for his counsel. He assumes sapient airs, and
beneath them is a coward and a fool. Sometimes, in sport, I press down
my heel on him, and he affords no sport, for he does not even writhe.
Since you are a man of valour--the hero of the hour, though I vow you
are more like a girl--furbish up your arms, and drill your cohorts,
and leave policy to me. Drill your troops for my protection, most
doughty of Hojos. As for statecraft, believe me, meddle not with a
complicated tangle which you have not the skill to unravel. Your arm
is more exercised than mine, but of heads, mine is the better."



                            CHAPTER VIII.

                           DESTINY IS BUSY.


When the slow procession of armed men with a guarded litter in its
midst was discerned approaching Tsu, great was the curiosity excited,
for though none spoke of him, the absent farmer, devoted to a forlorn
hope, was uppermost in the minds of all. A vague report gained ground
that he had actually been permitted to see the face of the Sublime
One, who, as just as he was holy, had listened to the tale of wrong.
The stricken people, accustomed to adversity, were dazed by the gleam
of fortune. Buddha had hearkened at last unto their groaning, had
pitied their misery! The Hojo was not so bad after all, for the extra
weight of taxes would doubtless be removed; the elders had returned
forgiven; Koshiu was coming in triumph to his home, where a fitting
reception should be accorded him. The listless men rose up upon their
feet, the hammer and the gong resounded once again, amid blessings on
the name of Koshiu.

The only one who was not joyous was Kennui, the farmer's faithful
wife. She had heard so much from her spouse about the wickedness of
the Hojos, that unconsciously she echoed his words, shaking her head
as she muttered, "The Hojos know not mercy!" As the approaching
procession became clearer to the view, defiling with clank of iron
down the street, she gave a wild shriek, and fell swooning; for in the
litter, under the fatal net, she had recognised the grizzled head and
burly shoulders of him she loved best on earth. Awe-stricken, fearing
they knew not what, the town turned out _en masse_ and silently
followed the procession, until, crossing the bridge that led over the
outer moat of the castle, the ponderous doors closed upon it and the
prisoner. For, strange and incomprehensible as it appeared, there was
no doubt that Koshiu was a prisoner. The net and chains, and scowling
escort told as much. Why? Was the report a false one? Had he not
succeeded in communicating with the Sublime One? Sure he who was the
Fount of Honour had not spurned the humble prayer! If he had been
gracious, why was the victim brought to his home with sinister pomp
and circumstance? While the crowd in scattered knots were discussing
the enigma, the gates opened again, a band of samurai rushed forth,
and presently returned with--wonder of wonders!--Kennui and her little
children, who, driven at point of spear, like the farmer vanished.

Curiosity and impatience were getting the better of alarm, and some of
the elders were about to cross the bridge, and knocking, make
inquiries, when again the door swung upon its hinges, a man posted up
a paper, and the gate was again shut to. A thrill of horror and
consternation shivered over the crowd, as some one, mounting on a
riding block, read aloud the proclamation. Crucifixion for the patriot
and his innocent wife--the annihilation of his family and name! The
injustice and brutality of such a sweeping sentence cried aloud to
Heaven. Japan should ring with it. Come what might, the elders would
remonstrate,--would lift up their voices in supreme protest against
the iniquity of the cold-blooded tyrant.

The head men of the town and surrounding villages assembled, one
hundred and thirty in number, and drew up an appeal, affixing thereto
their seals, and Rokubei and Zembei, whose consciences smote them
somewhat, travelled with it themselves to Ki[^y]oto. There the streets
were in commotion, business was put aside, and men sat on the mats in
groups discussing the darkening future. In whispers, with furtive
glances over the shoulder, they murmured that there must be an end of
it; anything was preferable as a change to such a life as No-Kami
prepared for the people. Submission was making matters worse instead
of better. Letters must be sent to the surrounding provinces. They
must shake off sloth, and rise as one to free themselves and their
Mikado.

Sampei, riding to the Golden House, told his brother of the hubbub. As
he heard, the brow of the despot darkened; his eyeballs became
bloodshot, like those of the demon Razetsu, as in obstinate fume he
gnashed his teeth.

"What?" he cried. "Oh, girl in man's attire, I have borne too long
with your puling! You dare to come hither, and take the part of the
scum against me, your feudal lord! A shivering coward, who calls
himself a soldier! Not a word more, or, despite the army at your back,
I'll have you seized and scourged, and your head flung to the
jackals."

Hot words rose in Sampei's throat, but the mournful face of his pale
love rose before him, and he choked them down. His brother was
distraught with passion,--knew not what he said. His feudal lord! Yes,
that much was true. If danger was brewing, his place was by the side
of his brother, to save him, if might be, from the consequences of the
wickedness instilled by demons; if not, to assist him in his death.

The silence and sullen submission of the young General irritated the
Daimio to frenzy. He cursed and growled like some savage animal,
became the more furious from the conviction that in this matter he
had been precipitate and wrong,--had been guilty of a mistake in
state-craft,--of over-harshness. And yet it would never do to give to
the scum the victory--to the low mechanics, and mean, unarmed
artificers, who were assuming a threatening attitude. What would the
other daimios say, who were eagerly watching the next move, if the
ruler were again to give way,--to succumb like a woman before the
outcry of a few rustics? The prestige of the Hojos would be gone for
ever, and the bearer of the name would be sucked under and drowned by
the torrent which would assuredly break loose. Give way! That, by the
crown of Buddha, he swore he never would; and yet, perceiving too late
the danger, in his heart he longed for a compromise. Hearing that
Rokubei and Zembei, venerable elders, had dared to come pestering, and
that a deputation of priests, headed by the bonzes of Tsu, awaited his
pleasure, he smothered his rage, and bade Sampei admit them. He even
deigned to summon his father's friend, and solicit counsel, placing
the case before him.

Concealing his exultation under an air of sympathy, Nara arrived with
promptitude, and, true to his tactics, gave advice which was
calculated to undo his enemy.

"The peril is extreme," he said, "so I will speak plainly. 'Tis easier
to raise a storm than quell it."

"If you are here to talk platitudes, begone," interrupted No-Kami.

"Be patient, my almost son, and attend," the malicious Daimio
responded, with inward laughter. Like a bear in the toils his foe was
caught, and it should be no fault of his if he became not more closely
enmeshed. "You are right in this," he continued. "It will not do to
lower the proud standard of the Hojos before the rabble; and yet you
must provide them with a sop. Let the sentence stand. What is decreed
should be irrevocable; but grant the boon in the memorial. Remove the
obnoxious taxes. So will you seem clement, as well as stern and
strong. They will fear you more than ever, while compelled to praise
your bounty."

The advice jumped with No-Kami's inclination The more he considered
it, the more crafty it appeared; but, true to his principle of
blood-letting and tyrannising over the weak, he slightly improved on
it. He would pretend to have known nothing of these taxes, and,
as an example, would bring to condign punishment the bailiffs and
tax-gatherers who had so harshly oppressed his vassals.

A master-stroke worthy of his sapient father this. A touch of genius.
He accordingly harangued the deputations; declared his surprise as
well as sympathy and love with such assurance that they scarce could
believe their ears. The sentence, if somewhat harsh, must stand, he
said, for 'twas a grievous crime in a vassal to hold up to obloquy his
feudal lord. The property of the offending farmer should, however, not
all be confiscated, but a part would be handed over to the girl Miné,
who was spared, thanks to his brother's pleading. He assured his
amazed listeners that he grieved over the rapacity of his officers--of
whom he would make an example--in that they had invented new imposts
on their own account, to the detriment of their lord's repute. He was
sorry that the full details of the case had not reached him before.
The town councillors of Tsu would be dismissed from their posts. Four
district governors and three bailiffs would be banished to the
northern island. The chief bailiff of Tsu and one particularly-sinful
officer would be invited to perform harakiri. The objectionable taxes
were abolished.

With this, while his audience stood aghast and dumb, my lord waved his
fan with courteous condescension, in token of dismissal, and retired,
flattering himself that he had got extremely well out of rather an
awkward hobble.

The news which the deputations brought back with them to Tsu was
received with mixed feelings. It was sad that the farmer's family must
perish, but Koshiu would know that they had not died in vain. For the
public good he and his were made a sacrifice. Many litanies should be
chanted in the temples; the martyr should be canonised, enrolled on
the list of saints.

One who was inconsolable was Miné. Spurned by him at whose feet she
had cast herself--for Sampei had never deigned to inquire after
her--she was compelled to admit that her father was right in his
estimate of the reigning family. If he whom she elected to worship as
a hero had not been as cruel as his brother, he would not stand
by--he, a powerful general in command of many soldiers, while so
wicked a sentence was promulgated. Father, mother, brothers--all. And
she had loved this man! Distracted, she rushed to the castle, and
braving the obscene jests of the samurai, implored to be admitted to
her parents. She had done wrong, and must die heartbroken if deprived
of their forgiveness.

A soldier, softened by the maiden's anguish, carried her entreaty, and
returned with the message that her father refused to see her. She who
was the chattel of a Hojo was no child of his, he had declared. Three
beloved sons were his, but no daughter. Miné battered with weak hands
upon the closing door. Her father had judged too harshly, for--alas!
to confess such infamy--the Hojo had repulsed her. She was not his
mistress,--had never even seen him since he sallied forth to war. The
samurai laughed loud at the confession, and gibed at the hapless maid,
bandying foul pleasantries. A likely story. Since, owing to the
General's intervention, she was to have the property, she would
doubtless find some one to pick up that which my lord Sampei had
tossed into the mire. How much would she be worth? Would she set
herself up to auction? By-and-by she could purchase for herself a
husband, if not now a messenger. Her father declined to see her, so if
yet she had a shred of shame left she had best depart, and quickly. If
not, the soldiery would take her in, and for their own delectation
keep her there. In terror she sped away, nor stopped till she reached
the temple; and when in the gloaming the spectral line of nuns and
Abbess entered for the evening prayer, Masago lifted the exhausted and
fainting girl, and pressing cold lips upon her brow, bade her take
rest and comfort. Henceforth she was theirs and Buddha's.

To show that, although clement, he was not to be intimidated, No-Kami
resolved to make of the prospective execution a wholesome precedent,
and to that end journeyed to Tsu in person. He was determined that the
spectacle should abide in the minds of those who were privileged to
witness it, as an ineffaceable lesson and an awful memory. It should
take place within the castle boundaries, he decreed, in the presence
of the Daimio and his suite, in gala robes, and all and sundry were
invited to attend this new and engaging form of public festival.

As the fatal day approached, the fiery temper of the despot was
severely tried, and grew hotter under the trial; for although the
truculent retinue applauded, and looked forward with glee to a rare
frolic, there was hanging over the land a shadow that might be felt.

Men spoke together in isolated knots, scudding away like hares if the
gallop of my lord's escort was heard returning from the chase. This
showed a wholesome and gratifying fear; but there were some who took
no pains to cloke their insolence. The friends of the tax-gatherers
and others who had been condemned, raised an outcry, vowing that they
had obeyed to the letter their lord's behest, and that 'twas hard to
suffer for being only too faithfully obedient. No-Kami increased the
number of his personal attendants, daring no longer to go forth alone,
lest haply some wailing relative should cling to his stirrup, and
decline to be beaten off. Even behind the bristling defences of the
castle he was not secure. Masago and her nuns arrived in solemn
procession at the gate, and the soldiers, hardened though they were,
were afraid to refuse them entrance. The austere Abbess was not to be
browbeaten. Calm and cold, with inflexible mien she looked No-Kami in
the eyes, and in presence of his warriors, in the name of her dead
lord his father, dared him to fulfil his purpose. Solemnly she warned
him of divine rancour. She had had a dream, and, as all the world
knows, the soul during sleep is in active communication with the
departed. Even now, at the eleventh hour, she urged that there was
still time to avert the vengeance of the gods. The growing anger of
Buddha might be appeased by pilgrimage and prayer, self-humbling, and
precious gifts.

But Masago might as well have preached to the lotuses. Her speech was
met with uneasy ribaldry, and smouldering ire.

"Bah! Threats from a troop of women! A made-up ghost to affright
children with. Ye are hungry for the good things of this world,"
snarled the Daimio, "like all the priesthood. Be off! I care not for
nuns or bonzes, self-appointed messengers from Heaven. Chatterers, get
you gone while ye have time, or despite your garb your bodies shall
feel the whip."

With that he bade the doorkeepers open wide the gate, that his guards
might drive forth the embassage.

The unfortunate chatelaine, although none of the castle denizens cared
to know it, was the one who was most hardly stricken by her husband's
culminating sin. When the sad procession arrived with in its midst the
patriot, she was boating outside the walls, deftly guiding her shallop
with a slender pole through the luxuriant floating greenery. The
elders having been spared at her written request, the horizon
seemed less black. This was a first step towards the reclaiming of
No-Kami--by-and-by, little by little, she would by tact and persistent
effort regain over him the influence which at first she had too
quickly abdicated. As she pondered, she blamed herself for lack of
patient perseverance.

What was her own petty pride to the people's good? She had misjudged
No-Kami, for on receipt of her letter he had given way at once. So he
would again, and yet again, till drawn out of himself by tenderness,
he would cast aside his wicked self like a foul garment, and live a
cleanly life. Then she fell a-weaving of plans for assuaging the
misery of her people, and all at once there fell the thunderbolt, and
her new calm was rudely broken.

This horror was worse than all. Retiring to her bower, and dismissing
her maidens, she cast herself upon the floor, and, numbed by despair,
remained inanimate for hours. Had the gods no pity for such frail
things as she? The contemplation of her husband, of the man who could
deliberately plan and execute so vile an atrocity as this, caused her
flesh to creep, her soul to shudder. He proposed, moreover, to
accomplish the dreadful deed _here_, within the precincts of her
house. The smell of the blood would never fade, its stain might never
be effaced; and she was doomed to endure its constant presence for
long years, unless the gods were clement. Some rail at the brief span
of life. To some it seems too short, to others interminable. How
earnestly, lying prone, did O'Tei entreat release. A long vista of
grim dreadful years. No, at bay, she would revolt against the
nightmare, would leap into the waves, and make an end of it. Since men
may relieve themselves with the dirk of a too heavy existence, might
not women seek relief in the embrace of the blessed sea?

He was coming here soon, her husband, to superintend the shocking
details. He would touch, perhaps clasp her in his arms. Oh, no! And
yet, why not? Clutched by him, pressed to the hard heart of the
monster, inhaling the poison of his breath, she must surely wither;
and if her soul were freed, what signified the horror of the means?

Sinking into a condition of dull lethargy, she went forth no more, but
brooded in the quiet of her chamber, from which she could see the hill
crowned by the temple groves. Dim and distant, like the roar in a
sea-shell, she heard the noise of arrival, the neighing of steeds, and
clank of iron, the braying of hoarse throats, the shouts and laughter
at carousal. With sick apprehension she awaited the dreaded footsteps
which soon must cross the threshold. But time went on and it came not,
and she thanked the gods for that. He had inquired for her, the
maidens said, and they had replied that their lady was ill. He had
said no more, and had seemed satisfied. Truth to tell, he was as much
relieved as she at the postponement of a meeting. For, worried and
annoyed by the abominable behaviour of the scum, he was in no mood for
whining, and instinct whispered that on such an occasion as the
forthcoming festival the degenerate O'Tei would whine. When it was
past and over, she would know better than to whimper, since what is
done is done; and once resolved, no whining of silly women-folk should
turn him from his purpose. Whilst dreading the creak of one footfall,
she listened wistfully for another. Where was Sampei, her childhood's
friend? Sure, he would sympathise, for his kind heart would tell him
of the direful condition of his sister. Had he, disgusted with his
brother, deserted him? It was likely; and yet not so, for Sampei--who
should know better than she?--was loyal and true. He had arrived with
my lord; the maidens had seen and admired him, and had grieved to
perceive that he was dejected, the noble young hero. How strange then
that he should not visit his old playmate.

Alack! Sampei avoided O'Tei as diligently as did No-Kami. What could
he say to her that would not increase her sorrow? Fully appreciating
her highly-wrought and reserved and sensitive nature, he knew too well
what she must be suffering; and the sight of her tears, since he might
not dry them, would cut him like a sword-thrust. Moreover, the seed
his mother had prudently sown had taken deep root in his light soil,
by reason of Miné's foolishness. On every account it was well to avoid
personal contact with O'Tei. Without being conceited, the fact was
patent that if one woman fell in love with him without encouragement,
another might. In his ordinary frame of mind, he would cheerfully have
said, "The more the better," and have basked with joy in the sunshine
of unlimited loveliness. But he knew now that he adored O'Tei with an
affection so pure and deep that there was no selfishness in it,--that,
rather than cause her a pang, he would himself make any sacrifice. Her
heart, he knew, was empty. As the Abbess had hinted, it was not at all
impossible that if tempted she might grow to love her brother-in-law
in unbrotherly fashion; and then, what pain to her, to him, to all?
For once the young soldier would be prudent. Near, but unseen, he
would shield his beloved as much as possible,--commune with her as
little as might be,--come forward only in emergency.

With regard to No-Kami, he grew grievously perplexed, marvelling
sometimes whether his brother was sane. The practice of cruelty upon
the weak, for the enjoyment thereof, was something so foreign to his
own open character that he could not comprehend the motives which
moved the Daimio, nor his fits of frenzy when thwarted. Once, since
their arrival at Tsu, he had remonstrated fearlessly with his chief,
who had thereupon threatened to dismiss him into banishment. For the
sake of the chatelaine, in the quickly-clouding future, this must not
be. So Sampei, at his wits' end, like a dutiful son, climbed the
temple stairs and unlocked the secrets of his heart before the shrewd
ken of the Abbess. Masago surveyed him anxiously, then unaccustomed
tears for a moment dimmed her vision as she gave praise to the gods in
that she had been given such a son. Truth and trust looked from out
his eyes. The noble fellow. Placing her firm white hand upon his
shoulder, she kissed his brow.

"The situation is dark," she said; "the skein is tangled. The gods
have marked down for destruction my lord of Tsu. That much is clear to
me. Blindfold he marches to the edge of the abyss. I am a weak,
purblind woman groping in the dark, unable to give counsel in so
difficult a strait. My voice has been raised in vain: he thrust us
forth like dogs. I will pray. Maybe that through prayer and vigil I
may learn to know; and when I know, then will I tell thee, child.
Peradventure divine wrath may yet, by diligent pleading, be turned
aside. The farmer and his family must perish, thou a dumb spectator.
That much cannot be helped. Be patient. Wait. I will prostrate myself
before the altar, that the veil of the future may be rent."

One morning a lull of unaccustomed quietude informed O'Tei that my
lord and all his following had gone scouring over the plain, and her
maids, seeing her listless and sad-eyed, implored their mistress to
mount to the top of the tower, and breathe the fresher air. From the
upper gallery, shaded by the huge copper roof, the weary recluse gazed
over the flat towards the twin hills with an intense longing. Since my
lord's coming, she had not visited her summer-house, for she could not
bear the sight of the mourning which she knew overhung the town. She
yearned to steal forth now and gaze on the lovely view, with its
sequestered temple, and placid land-locked waters, and fishers, and
sunny islets. Alas! all labour was abandoned. The fishers were too
wretched to pursue their avocation. Their boats were drawn up upon the
beach untenanted. She could see them, a white fringe upon the yellow.
Then, as her eye moved homeward, she started, and cried aloud, and
wrung her hands, for down below in the courtyard rose, gaunt and
terrible, the symbols of oppression. In a corner of the space within
the outer moat stood ready a pair of crosses. The preparations were
made then?--the consummation of the tragedy was imminent; and she,
cowering and cowardly, had never attempted to stem the new tide of the
Daimio's anger. A tacit connivance at this villainy!

Shaking herself as from the drowsy clog of sleep, she swiftly
descended the stair with head erect, distended eye, and face as grey
as ashes, and, to the surprise of the sentinels, crossed the first
drawbridge as one in a trance, and made for the place of execution.

It occupied an extreme corner, far from the huts of the soldiers, and
was masked from the path in common use by a belt of trees, concerning
which there were fearsome legends. So many terrible events had taken
place beneath their shade that they were said to be tenanted by souls
of criminals,--to groan at times, and ooze with gore, and be accursed.
To the Asiatic peasant all streams and woods are peopled with
visionary forms,--are the homes of demons or of angels. It was well
known that a sacrilegious cutter had striven once to fell one of these
gnarled trunks, and had been blasted as if by lightning. It was an
equally established fact that their vicinity impelled to suicide, for
many men had, apparently without reason, hung themselves upon their
branches, fascinated to self-destruction by some dread and secret
spell.

O'Tei passed under their shade, and, shivering, recalled the legend,
for though there seemed no wind, they swayed and creaked, spreading
gaunt arms over her head, with trails of grey-green spindles, like
uncanny mildewed hair. Why she had come she knew not--it was in
obedience to no volition of her own. Her heart and temples were
throbbing wildly. Within her swimming brain there was room for but one
idea. The web of a terrible fate was being spun with ruthless fingers
around my lord and her to choke them both. Was she to be permitted
again to intervene between him and his victims?--or, to tear the
meshes which encircled them, were they destined to writhe in vain?
Advocate of mercy, how sweet a privilege! What could she do? Had she
the courage to face that sin-stained man? Irresolute and trembling,
she stood staring at the crosses, marking their shadows as they
lengthened, till, with a gasp and sob, she heard the tread of horses,
accompanied by shouts and laughter.

He had returned from the chase--the tyrant--and it was well that she
was here. She would try not to fear him,--strive hard to do her duty.
They must meet now, and, summoning her puny strength, she would
endeavour to push him from the precipice.

The cavalcade swept past in a cloud of dust--a brilliant, uproarious
company--and clattered across the moat. Two riders were following a
little behind the rest, when one, catching sight of a familiar drapery
among the trees, pulled back his horse upon its haunches.

"The lady O'Tei," he exclaimed, "beneath that baleful canopy!"

And straightway Sampei dismounted, and held the stirrup for his
brother.

And thus they met again, those three, on this fateful day for all---my
lord in an evil mood, for even to him there was something oppressive
in the air. A pall, as of the shadow of death, hung murky over the
land.

With trembling, blue lips, more like a spectre than a woman, O'Tei
awaited my lord's approach, and turning, flung herself upon her knees,
clinging about his feet.

No-Kami glared down in surprised dudgeon, while the soul of Sampei was
thrilled with pity to perceive how wan she looked.

"My lord!" she murmured low, with fluttering heart, "a boon. Oh! spare
them--for my sake--for your own--spare them--spare them--spare them!
Give me at least the lives of the woman and her babes. If the man must
suffer, be it so. You see that for him I say no word, not one--the
gods forgive me! For his act he knew and weighed the penalty. But
those innocents are not to perish. Say 'twas but a pleasantry, and I
will kiss your feet, and bless you."

The visage of No-Kami grew purple as he glowered down upon his wife,
and then, with grinding teeth, he glanced furtively around. There was
no witness to the interview.

"It is well," he hissed, "that the company has gone before, and that I
am spared humiliation in their eyes. Fie! what shameful folly's this?
Can this grovelling thing, like a slave in the dust, be Hojo's wife,
child of the Daimio of Nara? Nay! it is some mean Eta woman, pariah
and outcast. Sampei, raise her up, and quickly, and let us both forget
this spectacle. Arise!" he cried, spurning the prostrate figure with
his foot. "Even among the Etas obedience is a wife's first duty."

Sampei stooped, and gently raising his distracted sister, supported
her upon his breast, whilst the furious despot continued dryly,--

"Know that your existence is a blot on my name and your own. It is
well that you have borne no children to perpetuate disgrace. If any of
the bold samurai had seen you but now, what would they have thought of
me?--of you? how could they respect their lady? Shame, shame! Pluck up
a spirit--borrow one--and make at least pretence to assume a fitting
dignity. The condemned are to die at sundown; no more on that score;
even now the spectators are trooping hitherward. Go; tire your hair
and don your gala robes. When all is ready, I will send for you."

"For me!" gasped O'Tei, turning a shade more white.

"As chatelaine of Tsu, your place is by my side," announced the Daimio
sternly. "Be my will your law. Go now, and try not to degrade us."

His unhappy sister-in-law cast an imploring glance at Sampei, who
stood with head bowed and sullen averted gaze. His blood was coursing
through his veins at fevered speed. Patience, his mother had said, and
wait. How could he wait and practise patience, seeing her he loved so
outraged? Was she to be forced, by the whim of a madman, to give the
sanction of her gracious presence to the deed which all deplored?

Masago, as usual, had been right. The Divine finger was in it, or why
should the heiress of Nara, belying her own pride and the traditions
of her haughty lineage, have selected the very means of interference
which was most sure to offend her lord, and frustrate her own desires?

Had she, with imperious attitude and supercilious air, demanded the
lives of the woman and her offspring, No-Kami might, touched by the
proud beauty of her who was his bone, have, even so late as this, been
surprised into some clemency. Sampei himself, to whom all she did was
dear, felt a sharp twinge of mortification as, burning with sorrowful
regret, he had quickly lifted her.

Both brothers, jealous of the name they bore, suffered in their
tenderest point on seeing her thus prostrate. O'Tei must have been
overcome with grief indeed ere she could have been guilty of so grave
an error. But the Daimio's last demand must be rescinded. He must not
insist upon her being present at the ceremony, or she might succumb
under the ordeal.

Angry words of protest rose to the General's lips, but for her sake
(remembering his mother's injunctions) he mastered them, and, as the
trio moved slowly to the castle, strove to speak with a steady voice
and dispassionate temperance.

"Far be it from me," he began, "to interfere between a wife and her
spouse, or fatigue my lord with argument, yet would I suggest this
much to my brother. Alas! see how weak she is--feeble in health.
Nerves overstrung are not under complete control. But for this, the
heiress of Nara would never have given just cause for a husband's
displeasure by an act which we will all forget. Do not insist upon her
witnessing the ceremony, for she has dwelt of late in such strict
retirement that none will expect her presence."

A look at No-Kami cut him short. There was a lurid glitter in his
glance that boded serious mischief if thwarted, threatening a new
burst of frenzy. How difficult it was to be prudent, to steer without
shipwreck in such troubled waters. Again for a space was the General
torn between contending duties. Was he bound blindly to follow the
head of his clan in his mad recklessness, lead where he would? Could
he be excused were he to look on and refrain from action while the
soul of his love was tortured? Was it not craven idly to mark her
growing misery? Her true knight, forsooth! A knight unarmed, his spear
a rotten bulrush. Was it destined that he might never afford her help?
Better go away then, back to Corea, or farther still. Yet how would
that be possible, she in this desperate quandary? Like a green flash
of pallid light it broke upon him clearly, as he walked beside his
chief, that the day might come when, the weapon in the grasp of a
higher power, he would be compelled to smite his brother. With the
thought came a grisly dread. Desperation drives men to acts for which
a long life of penitence may not atone. Fate is fate, and man may not
master it.

Sampei thought of his mother, and, like her, prayed to be enlightened.
Was the doomed No-Kami indeed to fall by the treacherous hand of him
who should be the first to help? And, ah! what a grievous punishment
would follow, since by the very act of freeing her he would cut
himself off from her for ever. A brother's widow and a brother's
murderer. Wait, the Abbess had said. Wait! How long? Events rolling
onward with the turbid tide, would it be possible to wait?

The toils of destiny were wrapped around the three, clasping them
closer and more close, as, gloomy and tempest-tossed, they passed
under the gateway of the castle.



                             CHAPTER IX.

                            THE EXECUTION.


The Daimio was well served by his subordinates. Nothing was omitted
which could add impressiveness to the coming rite. The two crosses
stood facing the west, gaunt and forbidding, at a convenient distance
one from the other, backed by the green trees, and around them was
spread thick paper, to save the earth from pollution. It had been a
knotty question with the chief samurai, who acted as master of the
ceremonies, as to the exact shade of punctilio which it would be
fitting to employ on the occasion. All the world knows that the most
minute instructions were laid down in 1336 by Ashikaga for the
guidance of those of upper or military class who were to assist either
as principals or seconds at harakiri, or suicide by disembowelling.
The exact hour, the place, the number of lights, of mats, of screens
and hangings, bows and genuflections, according to the rank of the
sufferer, were arranged by him in the form of a long code, and so
complete and comprehensive were these instructions that no room was
left for doubt as to the most trifling detail. But here was a case
without precedent, for the sufferers were plebeians, too low and
common to be worthy of the smallest candle or commonest mat, or,
indeed, of anything whatever except an ignominious slaughter like
swine. But then the Daimio had insisted that the spectators should be
regaled with pomp and circumstance,--that the criminals should have
the honour of being done to death within the castle precincts, and
therefore the chief samurai was obliged to hold a council with his
fellows for the fixing of this weighty matter.

In the first place, the farmer and his wife were of too mean a stock
to be permitted to put an end to themselves, just as the children
were too young to perform the act, even if accorded the privilege. No,
they must be handed over to the Etas, members of the lowest class in
Japan--people who dig graves and kill animals--social outcasts beyond
the pale of society, filthy and degraded, who are never allowed to
enter a house, or eat or drink or cook at any fire in company with
decent persons. Being unworthy of mats or hangings, the device of the
paper was an ingenious thought, for the blood of mere peasants must
not defile the private ground of my lord, and yet the spirits of the
departing must not be overcomforted by too much consideration. As the
execution was to take place at the hour of the cock, or sundown, it
would be necessary to have lights, but not too many, or of too grand a
kind, for excessive illumination would be indecorous. Four tall bamboo
poles, carrying lanterns of plain white, were placed at four corners,
while behind a screen were concealed a lance, a dirk upon a tray,
buckets to contain the heads, an incense burner, cloths, and a pail of
water. In the centre of the space facing the crosses, thick mats were
laid, covered with rich embroideries, for the accommodation of my lord
and his party, behind which was to be arranged, standing in rows, his
brilliant retinue in their most splendid and glittering array. Down
the sides, behind a low barrier, were mats of a coarser kind for the
town's-people, with fire boxes or hibachis, and bronze kettles and tea
things, and cakes and sweetmeats on trays of gold lacquer, in order
that none of his vassals might accuse his benignant lord of want of
hospitality or lack of thought for their comfort.

It was a beautiful and still evening in autumn, with the opalescent
sky of crystalline clearness, which so often in Japan gives us a hint
of the infinite. The sun was just dipping behind the outer wall,
flanked by its massive towers, tipping with gold the eddies of the
brawling river which protected the side of the square opposite the
crosses, when a flourish of conch shells announced that the time was
come.

With a thunder of hoofs over the wooden drawbridge, first there
defiled a troop of cavalry with tapering lances and pennons, in
glistening black armour and housings, each helmet adorned with the
badge of Hojo, the face of each horse covered by a gilded mask of
frowning and horrific aspect. Solemnly the horsemen man[oe]uvred,
forming a hollow square of gold and sable; then at a signal the outer
gates were opened, and with clatter of many clogs there poured in from
the town a sea of men and women, old and young, with anxious pallid
faces. The invitation had been accepted by all classes. Fishermen
there were in short blue cotton shirts and tight gaiters, and mushroom
hats roughly bedizened in colour with tigers or twisting dragons. Old
dames and young rosy girls jostled and fought for places, for sure
never had the oldest inhabitant been bidden to so strange a mummery.
Artisans there were too, burly and bronzed, naked, save for a
loin-cloth and loose jacket; and merchants and superior persons, in
long crape kimonos, adorned with curious designs, bound round the
waist with scarves of silk. The black phalanx looked down with scorn
but half concealed, for never had so motley a rabblement been admitted
within these walls, and many a timid wight glanced trembling at the
swart fierce visages under shadow of the casques, wishing he had
stayed away. There was one, however, conspicuous for gay attire and
many hairpins, who, no whit abashed, looked saucily along the line,
making loud remarks, with pointed finger, as if the motionless figures
were statues. A very pretty little lady like a humming bird, with
dancing eyes and silvery laugh, and hair tricked out and stiffened
with pomade, who, by her gay dress, was a geisha or professional
dancing-girl. All about her was small, but neat and natty and trim,
from her tiny feet and lacquered clogs to her impudent little nose. It
was plain that she was afraid of nothing, taking life lightly,
resolved upon enjoying the day, however dark its setting; for,
elbowing her way to the front, she commenced, with a comical
assumption of haughtiness, to criticise the arrangements, as if all
her short career had been passed in castles and palaces.

The chief samurai was uncertain how to act respecting her, for she
presumed to mock at him, and mimic his rolling swagger and pompous
stride, rating him the while for tardiness,--a lamentable lack of
punctuality. Who was this forward wench? he asked, awaking from dumb
amazement, who, respecting neither place nor persons, mumbled
sweetmeats between cherry lips, and, tapping a garish fan, shouted for
the performance to commence! It was O'Kikú some one said, a celebrated
dancer and spoilt beauty from distant Kamakura, who was in the habit
of walking upon hearts, of attaching herself to richest youths like a
tarantula, and quickly sucking them dry. She was on a pilgrimage to
the groves of Isé--for even frail and flighty young ladies have souls
that require doctoring--but hearing of what was toward, and the
temptation great, had gaily tossed aside her pilgrim robes of white,
and postponed her journey and her prayers.

But now, even naughty and irrepressible O'Kikú was hushed to silence,
for there was another flourish, and, stately and slow, with all the
pomp of state, the procession of the Daimio marched across the bridge.
Very handsome the two brothers looked as, in full dress, and wearing
the courtly Naga-bakama (full long trousers of red silk), they moved
with a lady between them--a lady who, by her exceeding stateliness and
unusual pallor, riveted the attention of the geisha.

"Patrician to the finger ends," muttered the latter approvingly. "I
have never seen so high-bred a lady--no, not even among the gorgeous
court of the Shogun in distant Kamakura--as noble in bearing as her
two supporters. Which is the Daimio, I wonder? The older one, of
course."

The older one. Her heart---or what served as such--went straight out
to him; and from her worldly point of view, in which inclination and
interest seemed in unaccustomed fashion to mingle, she decided, as
rustic Miné had done before her, that he, and he only, should be her
master. The handsome stalwart fellow, bronzed and weather-worn, his
brow crossed by a deep and honourable cicatrice! A typical soldier he,
whom 'twould be a joy to love. The other one? Well, handsome too, but
ill-tempered evidently; as rich in scowls as a tiger in stripes; a
wild beast, whose taming might amuse. And yet toying with wild beasts
is dangerous, for when they scratch they tear. Brothers apparently.
The wife of which was the patrician lady? For a second the world-worn
geisha felt the prick of a curious and new sensation. Could it be
jealousy? If she were the wife of the soldier, she was a rival whom it
would be necessary to fight and crush. Cold--almost inanimate; a
doll--stupid probably--entirely wrapped, like so many of her station,
in contemplation of the family tree. Pooh! an absurd rival; for sure
no man could love an icicle. Were they newly married? This bridegroom
with the scar was delectably attentive to his bride. How mawkish! And
then the observant little woman noticed that the scowls of the younger
brother were specially turned upon the icicle. Why was that? There was
an air about him of discontented proprietorship. Suddenly she became
aware of the richness of his attire as he took his place in the
centre, amid the bows and genuflections of the spectators.

So the younger of the twain was the Daimio, and the icicle his wife.
What a pity that it was not the elder. It was with a twinge of genuine
regret that the geisha turned from the bronzed hero to examine the
chief of the clan. A forbidding savage! Clearly he did not love the
icicle. He was fancy free. Inclination and interest as usual did not
mingle. Heigho! must we always throw over romance for the better
filling of our pockets? An unsatisfactory world, in sooth, where
things have such a provoking way of clashing. A good-looking
aristocratic person this head of the clan, if cross.

"I did well to drop my foolish prayers; this is the moment for
business," she inly murmured. "I shall have first to ensnare the
chief, and his stalwart brother after."

Her line of action thus promptly and practically decided, the young
woman prepared her batteries.

Even No-Kami, with much cause, as he told himself, for displeasure,
could find little room for carping in the attitude of his consort, now
frozen into compliance with his mandate. She had, as it were, gone out
of herself, leaving a stiffened body, moved by automatic springs.
Condemned to do awful penance, she walked mechanically, leaning on the
arm of her brother, who glanced from time to time at her, with mixed
satisfaction and surprise. He had dreaded lest, her task beyond her
strength, she should quail and break down, object of derision to
samurai; but no--the struggle was past--the blood of the Daimios of
Nara asserted itself. Of what use was it for a girl to struggle
against destiny? What must be, will be, despite our feeble protests.
To beat soft palms against a wall is but to bruise and maim them. One
who drowns, battles with futile strength among the waters, then drifts
quiescent beyond the pale, power of resistance gone.

The watchful warriors smiled, relieved, behind their iron-mounted
tans, as silently they dropped into their places. For once their
chatelaine was as chill and disdainful and impassable as the
chatelaine of Tsu should be.

No-Kami cast his eyes, gleaming tawny with malice satisfied, over the
throng. He was well-pleased. As a pageant the affair was a distinct
success, for, hemmed round by the swart square, his vassals were
learning a lesson of fear that should stem their insolence in future.

The executioner and his aids stood ready on their lengthening shadows,
chosen from among the Etas for their breadth of beam. Their athletic
bodies stripped to the waist, dark as burnished bronze, tatooed in
intricate designs, with loins girt up, and hair loosely knotted, and
sandalled feet apart, they awaited the signal of their lord.

The Daimio raised his arm; the shells sent forth a blast, and at the
warning all heads were turned, for there appeared from among the grey
and ghostly trees the sad procession of the doomed.

First, with chains about their ankles, and wrists fast bound, came the
unlucky officials who for too slavishly literal obedience were to
serve as a sop to the people. A purr of applause, a drawing in of the
breath, like the sibillation of the plashing wave, went round the
throng, as the heads of the condemned were severed; for there is no
denying that it is delicious to enjoy the discomfiture of foes. But
this act of popular justice accomplished, there was a pause, and then
the assemblage, changing its tone, sent up a protesting moan of
tribulation, accompanied by tears; for, smiling, with head well poised
and brawny shoulders bare, the patriot, who was one of themselves,
advanced to martyrdom. By his side, in mien as brave as he, walked in
her best kimono his wife, the hapless Kennui, leading in each hand a
child, pathetically crowned with simple field-flowers. Ah me! How
grievous a spectacle was this of innocence marching to the slaughter.

There was a rustle and ripple as of wind over a rice field.
O'Tei alone of all appeared unmoved. But for the twitching of
slightly-contracted brows, her delicate features might have been
carven, as, peering into space and seeing nothing, she sat motionless
with bloodless lips.

Even the fair and outrageously irreverent and saucy O'Kikú, who had
made so merry, with that musical strong voice of hers, Over the rueful
plight of the tax-gatherers, as to draw on herself the flattering
attention of the Daimio, was obliged, at sight of the babes, to dash
away one tiny crystal drop; but then remembering that weeping makes
pink the nose, and that life at best is brief, she resumed the reins
of composure. More, for she succeeded in emitting such a jocund and
appropriate peal of laughter as disconcerted the mob and wrung for
behoof of the stranger a gratified inclination from my lord. Who was
this bewitching creature? he began to ask. As good-looking as
sensible. The eyes of the pretty girl beyond the common barrier and
those of the great man on the mat of honour met, and from beneath a
silky curtain the former shot forth a languishing glance of modest and
reluctant but uncontrollable admiration, which was answered by a
brazen ogle.

O'Kikú blushed like a budding peony, which made her look more engaging
than ever, and lowering her lids behind her fan, began seriously to
congratulate herself. How clever she had been, adapting herself to
circumstances, to postpone those tiresome prayers at Isé; for 'twas
more and more evident that the great man cared nothing for the stony
image by his side, and was susceptible to the blandishments of beauty.
It was rather fortunate, too, that that other one with the scar upon
his brow should be glumly engrossed in contemplating the heavens. Had
she not, with a precision of judgment that was worthy of all praise,
arranged that she would ensnare the great man first, and dally with
the other afterwards? Even so well skilled a person as the geisha
would have found it difficult to angle for both in the presence of one
another. The Daimio caught and landed, fishing for the elder brother
would be a delightful pastime. Yes. Business first and pleasure
afterwards. Buddha is always on his lotus, calm and cross-legged, and
to him, in matter of favours asked, all times are one, for is he not
eternal? Whereas it must be evident to the smallest capacity that the
great ones of the earth are not always accessible, but, within range,
must be shot flying as they pass.

Her plans arranged with accuracy and speed, the wily damsel commenced
such a series of arch man[oe]uvres with eyes and fan as a long and
varied experience had taught were deadly; a silent yet eloquent
language, which pleasantly titillated the nerves of the first of her
intended victims. When public opinion and your own conscience upbraid
your act, it is consoling to be encouraged by a pair of lustrous orbs.
Sympathy, always sweet, is doubly so when we secretly know that we are
wrong. By contrast, O'Tei's recent behaviour now seemed doubly
execrable to No-Kami. Her cold glance, even in the early days had
betrayed a polite indifference, which gradually changed, as he
remembered now with sullen ire, into an expression of scorn half
veiled, varied with dread and horror. As he gazed on the dazzling
geisha, his spirits rose to blytheness.

How whimsical are the arrangements of Nature! He could see now why his
wife, despite her beauty, had always been repellent. She was tall and
frigid, with an assumption of faultlessness which cannot but be
disapproved by those who make no pretence to ph[oe]nixdom; whereas
there, opposite, sent by the gods to comfort his loneliness, was a
fairy vision replete with glowing perfections, accentuated by the
piquancy of frailty, which he yearned to clasp in his arms. Sure so
fragile an atomy would melt away in the fervour of a hot embrace? Yet
no. The flesh was flesh--warm with life, deliciously solid and plump
and peachen, if sylph-like in contour.

Thrilled with desire of possession, the pageant interested my lord no
more save for the amusement it afforded to the stranger. Somewhat
vexed and annoyed by the ill-timed gurgles of the scum (yet what can
you expect of low people but vulgarity?), he was pleased to perceive,
by engaging little pouts and shoulder-shrugs and entrancing
nose-wrinklings, that the stranger from afar was with him. It was
evident that she deemed the sentence just--his severity wise and
opportune. Stealing a glance at the chill statue by his side, upon
which the anxious gaze of his brother was fixed, he became much
annoyed; for in every line of O'Tei's suffering face was imprinted
remonstrance and despair. Sampei, too, the milksop, appeared quite as
miserable. It was a fortunate chance indeed that had brought the
geisha to the castle.

From afar there boomed across the flat a sweet but solemn sound that
stirred the hearts of all; for was not the peal of the great bronze
bell of Buddha a mystic friend close woven in the life of each? Every
day its toll awoke the slumbering peasants for miles around, preaching
with mellow voice a life of honest labour; and, ablutions over, each
simple man and woman, with fervent face turned to the rising sun,
clapped palms together, craving a blessing on their toil.

To the superstitious Japanese the bronze temple bell is a living
entity. It breathes with their breath, joys with their joy, grieves
with their sorrow. As wood and brook are peopled, so are the temple
and groves; and the great bronze bell is the voice of the myriad
spirits, messengers of Buddha's will. How exasperatingly pestilent,
therefore, was it now of Masago to give to the festivity a mournful
turn of warning by slowly beating the bell as if for some popular
calamity.

A shudder passed over the crowd. Hark' What was that? The soughing of
the wind? The twee-twee of the shrill cicada? No. A faint and distant
chant, growing each moment louder; and, as he heard, the face of my
lord grew purple and his brow black with rage, which he was vainly
seeking to control. He, like the others, guessed the purport of the
music, and his fingers mechanically sought his sword-hilt. That
abominable Abbess, not to be daunted by recent contumely, was again
coming to the castle with all her bonzes and her maidens to demand at
least the lifeless bodies of those who were about to die. Nothing
could be more inopportune,--better calculated to mar the pageant; for
of what use were sweetmeats and fruit and the best tea as concomitants
to a grim enjoyment made fascinating by wholesome terror, if the
occasion were suddenly to be turned into one of open mourning? What
was to be done? If 'twas but a bevy of priests, a few deft taps in
tender places with the bamboo would send them squealing; but the
voices were those of women, and even a tyrannical daimio will not gain
in dignity by the scourging of a posse of girls. For an instant he
breathed a deep curse upon all women--universal marplots; but,
catching the glance of the stranger, he recanted. Even she found it
difficult to combat her emotion. Her cheek had blanched, her lovely
bosom heaved under the crape kimono; but being a damsel of strong
will, gifted with a power of seeing ahead, she forced an arch flash
from her eye, for the comfort of her new adorer. By a swift signal
she bade him know that her sympathy was with him still. By instinct
born of new affection, he seemed to read her thoughts. Abbesses are
cross-grained, churlish hags, she seemed to say,--disappointed because
youth has fled. Yet, in her heart, she could not but be aware that
things were going badly, and that the effect produced by that gruesome
festivity was far from the one intended. Well, so much the better, for
her sympathy was rendered thereby more precious. Instead of accepting
their harsh lesson with humble and meek duty, the fractious mob of
artizans and mean persons, who should have been awed by mere admission
within the castle, were presuming, with sighs and lamentations, openly
to side with the convicted! With sobs and streaming cheeks the
spectators leaned over the barriers, and, with low murmurs of "Cruel!"
and "Pitiless!" threw their sweetmeats to the little ones.

Beyond the outer wall, glinting through embrasures in the masonry, the
rapid river rushed red and golden, flushed by the sinking sun. Its
glitter was reflected in the eyes of Koshiu, who, with a martyr's
smile, hearkened to the swell of the dirge. How comforting it was! How
good of Buddha, the silent and watchful, thus to have inspired his
priestesses! The will of a wicked man could keep them beyond the moat,
but their voices, preternaturally clear with words from beyond the
grave, floated over bolts and barriers. 'Twas with exultation and
glee, as of one heated with warm wine, that, drawing his burly form to
its full height, Koshiu turned him to his wife as both were bound to
their crosses.

"Cheer thee, dear Kennui!" he gaily laughed. "A spasm, and then
happiness. It is given me to see, and I behold. Our poor transient
lives are forfeit in this dim world of twilight, but our end is
gained. The odious taxes are removed, and our brethren, not yet ripe
for flitting, may rise upon their feet; for my lord is banned, the
days of his oppression numbered. With deep humility and praise I see a
miracle. In the next cycle--which is but a tiny step--we are rich and
prosperous, ay and, oh wonder! reunited. Gennosuké will be reborn to
us, and our little Sohei and dear Kihachi, in a clime where the Hojos
are not."

As the chant pealed louder yet, the chief victim was wrapped in
ecstasy, shared as it seemed by his faithful helpmeet, for with bright
eyes fixed on him she forgot her children's suffering, wistfully
awaiting their rebirth.

Not so the appalled audience, who, shivering with terror, watched the
Etas at their work. Who may presume to gauge the designs of the
Eternal? For his own mysterious ends--upright on his lotos--he was
permitting this great wickedness; but whilst permitting, and lest
mortals should lose their trust, and topple into unbelief, he deigned
to raise a corner of the veil. 'Twas clear that the doomed farmer was
big with prophecy. What words would next drop from his lips? And about
the heads of the children too--the innocents--there gleamed a mystic
radiance. When, to accompany their feudal leader on his passage of the
river Sandzu, the privileged members of his bodyguard perform the rite
of harakiri, 'tis the deliberate act of mature men, whose hands are
steadied by faith unwavering. As such, it inspires respect and awe in
which there is no fear. But to look on at ignorant and helpless
infants butchered! oh, woeful sight! And, while the dread deed is
being done, to hearken to the prophetic words of him who stands beside
them on the brink. Well may the cheek blanch and the breast heave of
those privileged to witness such a spectacle! Sure 'twas supported by
the holy finger of the Unseen himself that Gennosuké assumed a manly
dignity beyond his thirteen years as, stretching forth his head to the
knife, he looked calmly up at the executioner. "Oh, father and
mother," he simply said, "and little brothers, I go first, to wait for
you, and will put forth my hand to help you across the river. All you
who have come to see us die, farewell! and to you, sir, also a kind
farewell. Hurt me as little as you may."

Even the headsman, a stalwart Eta, brutalised by his bleeding and long
years of taunts and flouts, turned a glassy eye of appeal upon his
lord, but seeing no mercy on his gloomy visage, was fain, unnerved and
stricken to the heart, to do his revolting duty. A gleam through the
still air, and straightway a piteous wail from the onlookers, in
harmony with the distant dirge.

Then said the second lad, miraculously brave,--"I know not how to die,
sir, and I beg you teach me." His blood was quickly swallowed by the
greedy sand; and then 'twas the turn of the babe--the wee naked urchin
with skin so berry-brown, who wist so little what was forward that, as
he stretched his tiny fingers for a persimmon that was tossed to him,
he was sent to rejoin his brethren.

Roused by the groan that was forced from many breasts, Kennui spoke,
her eyes fixed steadily upon her husband. "Mourn not," she said, as
one who beholds a vision. "How blessed are we! From the first you
foresaw this fate. A little wrench--no more. Man lives but for a
lifetime, his good name for many, and that is more precious than
life!"

The voice of Kennui waxed faint, for, tight bound as she was, the
spear of the Eta was more kindly than the Hojo; and it was only when
he knew himself alone--all those he loved waiting on the further
shore--that the farmer roused himself from musing.

Twisting his body towards my lord so far as his bonds permitted, he
slowly wagged his head and laughed low and long. "Could I live here
five hundred lives in pomp like thee," he said, "I would not, knowing
that which will come after. Oh, cruel one! oh, pitiless!--steeped to
the lips in crime. Fence thee with walls, and moats, and barriers of
stone, my spirit shall burst them all to avenge thy deed this day!
Hearken to my voice. Mark my red eyes. Waking and sleeping--in the din
of battle--in thy secret chamber--they shall be with thee. When they
fade, know that thy end is nigh. Thy time is brief. All-patient Buddha
sickens at thee. Last of thy race. Thou and thine--all, all--shall
perish miserably--thy name a horror for all time."

The voice of the martyr choked. The sable phalanx of grim warriors
quaked and rustled in their armour like leaves before the coming
storm. The Eta, scarce knowing what he did, beside himself with fear,
plunged the lance into his side.

The head of the farmer drooped; his eyes filmed, then opened wide
lurid, reflecting the crimson sunset. "See yonder river," he gasped,
"and take a sign. 'Tis tinged with blood already, sucked from thy
fortress stones. See how red it flows! A day shall come when it will
lap those stones no more. Then shall thy house fall, a shapeless ruin.
Cursed, thrice cursed, be the long line of Hojo! In cycles yet to come
may they stumble and wander, led astray, hopeless, and blind, and
never attain oblivion!"

The Daimio, with lightning in his glance, and terror in his heart,
rose up, and, speechless with passion, stretched forth his hand. The
trembling Eta again thrust in his weapon, and the voice of menace was
hushed. But the sightless eyes still gazed at him, who was accursed as
from out of the infinite, and the reflection from the river shone
forth, cast back ensanguined, from them.

A panic fell on the spectators. The men, fearing they knew not what,
grew pale; the women shrieked, and stuffed fingers into ears, or clung
wildly one to another. The samurai, grouped behind their lord, placed
hands on swords, irresolute; for there was no foe worthy of their
steel. A regrettable _dénouement_. 'Twas the Eta's fault--the tardy
caitiff! His life should pay the penalty. Then of a sudden there was a
diversion. The lady O'Tei, who, statue-like and numb, had witnessed
the scene as one who saw not, willowed forward with a moan, and fell
on her face unconscious.

No-Kami looked around, his eyes bloodshot like the dead. Humiliation
on humiliation. So intense was the depth of his impotent wrath, that
his hands trembled, and his nerves were wrung with agony. What?
He? Hojo No-Kami--tyrant of broad Japan, master of the Emperor
himself--before whom all daimios and kugés and hatamotos were wont to
bow, was to be bearded--openly insulted--by a low peasant fellow
within the precincts of his castle, before his assembled vassals! The
wretch was dead, worse luck, out of reach of further torment, bleeding
from many spear-wounds; but ere he died he had covered his lord with
ridicule. How different was the result of the pageant from that which
had been proposed. The superstitious people clearly believed that the
body hanging by its ropes was that of a martyred saint, who had spoken
the words of Buddha; not of an insolent varlet who had perished with
deserved ignominy. They believed the absurd threat about the river,
and looked with awe for the accomplishment of the prophecy. The only
dignified way out of the dilemma was by treating it with light
contempt, turning it off as a sorry jest, with a peal of disdainful
merriment. The attitude of Sampei was worthy of his stock. Involved
with his brother in the curse, he had raised his brows in angry scorn,
while his fingers moved towards his dirk. Then of a sudden, his manner
had lamentably changed. With a sibillation of dismay, he had knelt
over the swooning chatelaine, striving to call her to herself with
gentle words of comfort. O'Tei! Ah, there was the worst point of all!
By fainting thus inopportunely, she had accentuated the falseness of
the position. That she (the chatelaine of Tsu) should cower under the
anathema of a peasant. How different would have been the conduct of
the bellicose Tomoyé. To swoon thus in public, was to betray unfitness
for her rank,--to allow the scum to perceive that she believed in
the curse, and its justice,--that she disapproved the fiat of my
lord,--regretted his well-timed severity. Sampei was right when he
pleaded for the too weak O'Tei. So scalding was the shame of the
Daimio, that, but for the intervening figure of his brother, he would
then and there have struck the craven chatelaine. And yet not so. His
loathing and hatred for his unworthy partner was so intense, that
contact even with her robe-hem would at this juncture have been most
distasteful. Glancing about for consolation, his eyes met those of
O'Kikú, and there shot into his heart a glow of solace which to its
emptiness had been long unknown.

Circumstances were assisting the man[oe]uvres of the cunning geisha
more than she could have dared to hope. The helpless misery of
No-Kami, as he looked down upon his wife, was a confirmation of her
conjectures. A chicken-hearten rival, easily vanquished, this
high-bred chatelaine would prove, since she would obtain no support
from her spouse. The brother was unnecessarily affectionate. What did
this portend? O'Kikú's smooth brow was wrinkled by a frown. Pooh! She
had heard much of the General, whose name was Sampei--the name she
learned from the crowd. He was good-natured and generous, no more.
This was not the moment to dream of him, since the head of his clan
was standing by in need of moral support.

O'Kikú had lived an eventful life, if a short one, and was not one to
be alarmed by spectres. Taken aback for a moment, somewhat frightened
by the scene, involved for a few seconds in the unreasoning panic of
the mob, she had quickly regained aplomb.

Tapping her fan against the barrier with a peevish shrug of shapely
shoulders, she demanded, in a chirrupping voice, as loud and clear as
musical, to be instantly rescued from contamination.

"It serves me right," she cried, tossing her chin, "for abandoning the
realm of fashion. Faugh! Was there ever anything so disgusting as
these rustics? The country with its evil-smelling rice paddy and foul
slush was fit for them, and they for it. What a ridiculous pother, to
be sure, over one paltry man's impertinence! The ways of the coolies
were nauseous. Thank the gods, she was unaccustomed to coolies. If
some one would have the gallantry to remove her from their contact,
she would skip into her kago, and return to Kamakura forthwith." Oh,
intriguing and long-headed O'Kikú! Ah, if O'Tei had had presence of
mind to accept the situation in this spirit! Could No-Kami ever lavish
sufficient gratitude for so signal a service rendered in the nick of
time?

The bewitching tourist had touched the right note, and saved the
Daimio from embarrassment. With a smile of thanks, he bowed, and
commanded an officer without delay to extricate the lady from the
scum. With courteous apologies and well-turned compliments he
descended from the dais, and, taking the stranger by the finger-tips,
led her to the place of honour. Ignoring his wife, who, seemingly as
lifeless as the farmer's family, was being gently borne away, under
the tender surveillance of his brother, he was free to superintend the
stranger's comfort, to see that the new-comer was provided with tea,
in a cup of the best hirado, and plied with the choicest sweetmeats. A
blush of gratified vanity served to add piquancy to her beauty, as,
with an engaging air of bashfulness that went well with long lashes
and sly glances, she seemed to deprecate attention.

"I was so sorry for you," she gently purred; "but 'tis the penalty of
greatness to be misinterpreted."

Fanning herself with demure grace, she turned her pretty head aside to
hearken to the words of her host, gazing the while with studied
nonchalance at the proceedings of the Etas as they placed the heads in
buckets, piled the bodies of the infants behind a convenient screen,
did away with tokens of the sacrifice. The hollow square of
dark-mailed men remained motionless till it should please their lord
to move; but under many an iron vizard was a smile lurking, for the
conduct of the saucy lady was approved by all, and the admiration of
No-Kami no more than natural. Unlike the one who had been borne away,
she was an honour to her sex, a vision of brightness and of courage,
and gladly would one and all have hailed such as she for their
mistress.

"You were cruel just now," whispered No-Kami; "though, after what has
happened, 'twas your right."

"Cruel? Poor little I?" exclaimed the artless geisha. "Why, I never
hurt so much as a buzzing mantis when it tumbled on my head, as the
vexatious insects will! I cruel indeed!"

"You said you would depart forthwith; but you forgot that within these
walls you are our prisoner."

"I was on my way to pray at Isé," remarked the demure damsel; "sure
you would not balk so pious an intent?"

"That can wait--and must!" returned the Daimio. "Bad impressions must
be effaced. You must not relate to the Shogun, on your return to
Kamakura, how the lion of Tsu was bearded. For a few days, at least,
you stay as our guest, or else our captive."

O'Kikú laughed a rippling laugh, as she considered within herself as
to which was likely to be the captive.

"When a great lord commands," she murmured, "a poor weak girl obeys."

Exultant glee pervaded the bosom of the Daimio. The welcome new-comer
should be his guest--his honoured guest---and the pusillanimous O'Tei
should be taught manners by example. He was about to move towards the
castle, conducting with due ceremony the lady thither, when, with a
familiar fan-tap on the arm, she stayed his progress.

"You are so good and kind,--so generous, and so wickedly
misinterpreted," she whispered hurriedly, "that I take courage,
although a stranger, to crave a boon. Your object accomplished, 'tis
the moment to show clemency, and disclaim the stigma of the tyrant.
Those nuns still sing without, awaiting the bodies for interment. Let
them be delivered up to them. The first favour I ever asked," she
added gently, seeing the Daimio hesitate. "Believe me, 'twould be an
act of policy, and stay farther clamour."

No-Kami looked down into the deep dark well of her eyes, from which he
could see peeping his own pleased reflection. Why, what a treasure was
this--a wise little counsellor! More than ever was he disgusted with
the absent chatelaine, who could only implore, and writhe, and groan,
and grovel on the ground in intervals of stony glaring. Practical, and
shrewd, and plump, and purring was this fairy by his side. She should
have her boon, and welcome, with many thanks for the suggestion.

The Daimio having been pleased to announce that, yielding to the
intercession of his charming guest, Masago might be permitted to
remove the corpses, he crossed the inner moat, followed by his
brilliant train, while the grim samurai laughed behind their vizards,
wondering how the ladies would agree.



                              CHAPTER X.

                             FOREBODINGS.


It was with feelings strangely mingled that the concourse prepared to
depart. For their good, the farmer had suffered martyrdom; himself and
his family were swept like insects from the earth, but not from the
grateful memories of the people. No sooner was the inner drawbridge
raised behind the departing despot, than with one accord all meekly
knelt while the Abbess issued orders. Her brow was more sombre than
its wont, her jaw more firmly set, as the troubled elders related what
had happened. She had prayed for light, but Buddha had vouchsafed no
answer. What was this coil that was winding slowly but surely round
the son of him who had been her husband? Ay, round her own son as
well, the noble Sampei. It was under misapprehension that Koshiu had
included him in his anathema, supposing him the seducer of his child;
yet here was the child, clad now in the crape of a nun, as pure as she
had ever been. The farmer was in error, and surely idle curses recoil
on those who launch them. Sampei, the brave and generous, was without
reproach. Even sleepy Buddha must know that. Perchance he was at this
moment rating Koshiu, on the further bank of the mystic Sandzu, for
his precipitate injustice. Masago strove to persuade herself that it
must be so, whilst striving to console the terror-stricken Miné, and
yet at the bottom of her heart there was apprehension, a dull weight
of cold foreboding.

The ways of Heaven are so strange, so unaccountable sometimes, and to
our purblind vision so unjust, that the most robust of faith is
sometimes sorely shaken. Miné wrung her hands, refusing comfort. As
with trembling fingers she untied the bonds which supported her dead
father, she prayed to him with cries and lamentations. It was through
her own wrongheaded madness that the mistake had occurred. Sure her
parent knew it now. If the curse must fall on one of the two, let it
be on her, for she was in fault, not the glorious young General. Could
he hear her now, her father? Oh, for some sign that he could hear and
would grant her humble petition! Wretched, wretched child! Her
punishment was already greater than she could bear, for was not she
doomed to drag on a sad existence, stripped of all her kin. Had she
but behaved as a dutiful daughter should, instead of grieving now,
heart-broken, she would be standing on the further bank of the river
of death along with Gennosuké, and little Sohei, and sweet Kihachi.
Alack! alack! While the bereaved daughter raved, distracted, the
elders of Tsu and the outlying villages were taking counsel. A notice
had been handed to them, on the part of their lord, which ran
thus:--"The property of the deceased, his rice fields and corn fields,
and forest and mountain land, shall be sold without delay, and divided
into two parts; one shall be paid over to the lord of the estate; the
other, by his extreme condescension, shall be the portion of the
culprit's daughter, who has been permitted to live. This is to show
how godlike and noble is your master; and it is hereby strictly
forbidden to make comments on the sentence, or find fault with this
his decision."

One-half for Miné, who was in some sort an heiress, then. Poor heart!
She little recked of her good fortune. The temple yonder would be the
richer for her portion, for she was Buddha's servant now,--his
handmaid till her spirit was released. With regard to the dead, the
elders consulted awhile, and then with calm decision Zembei, supported
by Rokubei, rose from his knees and spoke.

"Dear friends," he said, "Koshiu, who suffered this day, bruised his
bones and crushed his soul for your sakes. In appealing direct to the
Most Holy Mikado he sinned greatly, but 'twas from excess of zeal; and
in being compelled to see those he loved massacred before his eyes,
his punishment was in excess of his misdemeanour. We have decided that
honour shall be paid to him, for indeed before his death he was the
mouthpiece of the Eternal, who deigned to speak through his lips.
It is meet therefore that we, his old friends, who loved him and
his as ourselves--though perhaps on one occasion we were unduly
selfish--should undertake this matter. We will leave our homes and
lands in possession of our heirs, and, shaving our heads, will retire
for a while to the top of the holy mountain; and after a period of
probation, will descend from Mount Kôya in Kishiu, and, becoming
priests, will wander from town to town, praying at every shrine for
the souls of the departed, collecting as we go from the charity of all
good people. And then, having collected enough, we will erect a temple
over their bones, with six Buddhas in bronze to do them honour, and
there shall prayers be offered up for ever for them, and also for us."

The people listened to the oration, and bowed their heads without a
word, for the decision of the elders was good and natural. All
therefore lighting paper lanterns, for it was dark now, turned to
follow across the outer moat, away along the straggling interminable
street, the procession of the dead.

Masago had accepted a temporary trust, and it was well. Within the
darkling groves of her sacred pines should the victims lie at peace,
until such time as, by divine grace, the elders should return to
fulfil their holy task; and it behoved those here assembled, who had
witnessed the sacrifice, to offer a prayer together, and commence
among themselves a collection for the building of a shrine.

Solemn and slow, like an army of glow-worms, the procession wended
along to the sad chant of nuns and bonzes; and, unknown to them, as
the simple people marched, there followed a fervent benison from the
lips of one despairing. The dreary chatelaine was sitting at an upper
casement of the castle, wistfully gazing into the night.

Recovering consciousness, the Lady O'Tei found herself in her bower,
surrounded by grieving maidens, and was relieved, glancing fearfully
around, to miss the figure of my lord. She was spared his hateful
presence. For that small mercy, thanks. For, still and self-possessed
as she had appeared during the ordeal, thereby winning the admiration
of Sampei, and, even for a time, the grudging approval of No-Kami, the
chatelaine had suffered so intensely as to produce a crisis in her
nature.

During the short while that the scene lasted, years seemed to have
passed over her head. Hitherto she had been weary and empty and
unhappy--deeply miserable, but yet with a germ of hope half stifled.
That germ was quite dead now, shrivelled and black. She was beset with
an intense craving for rest and sleep,--for the fragrant perfume of
the earth. Although the execrated name of Hojo was hers, the scathing
curse on all who bore the name passed harmless over her. Her
conscience was clear. She had done all that within her lay to save the
victims, and, calm and still in outward aspect, had suffered far more
than they. A threat of proximate death?--release! The world, whose
beauty she had so intensely enjoyed ages ago at Nara, was repellent
now,--a hideous mockery,--a skull crowned with flowers. For how false
was its song of sweetness, since such wickedness and injustice
flourished in its midst. A world of disease and pain and sorrow. In
this life are not many punished for their virtues, as a set-off to the
manner in which others are rewarded for their vices? What wonder if
people fall under burthens too heavy for their backs?

Koshiu and his had already entered on a new and smiling existence; if
his dying words might be believed, had started under sunny auspices on
the next round of life. And at the same time he had prophesied that no
Hojo henceforth might ever win peace. They were doomed to wander from
one globe to another, gaining no step, rising no higher on the earth,
for all eternity! How horrible! So dread a bolt overshot its mark; for
sure the universe must be ruled by fiends if those whose crime is to
bear an execrated name are for that to be undone for ever. To die, and
try again, and yet again, in vain--a weary prospect. The sooner the
better, after all, for no future phase could be less tolerable to the
Lady O'Tei than the present one. She was condemned, as it seemed,
never to attain aught that she desired; never to have a prayer
answered, or a wish gratified. And all that she now longed for was
repose. Ah, how vain that wish! For never may we enjoy perfect rest
save in far-off Nirvana--away in the incalculable and limitless
Nirvana! where, when time is dead for us, refined and freed from the
last speck of dross, we are to achieve the reward of nonexistence.

O'Tei had learned to despise her husband more and more, but now
she had a new and positive feeling for him--active and sore and
gnawing--one of _intensest hatred_. And she was his--bound to obey his
whim. How long? For his part, he took little trouble to conceal that
he hated her, and would be glad to be rid of an encumbrance. Should
she fling herself at his feet, and, baring her white bosom, implore
the mercy of his dirk? No. She shuddered as she thought that he would
laugh--that fierce and ugly laugh of his that made her blood run
cold--would spurn and revile, hissing forth _recreant_, but yet would
forbear to strike her. There was nothing for it but plodding
patience,--a stringing of the nerves to endurance--slow, continuous,
monotonous--the hardest of all tasks to an overwrought and nervous
woman.

Meanwhile Masago, moving like a tall still ghost at the head of the
procession, was disturbed and exercised in mind. How strangely things
were going. If she might only be allowed to see. What thunderous
clouds were gathering? Was the appalling prophecy to be accomplished
to the letter? Like the chatelaine, her being rose in protest. Was her
own brave boy, innocent of all wrong, to be involved with the rest,
simply because his name was Hojo--the guiltless suffering for the
guilty? Why, so was hers. Though but a second wife or concubine, she
was mother of a Hojo--proud to call herself Hojo--jealous of the
family honour, although of plebeian birth. She could quite understand
the feelings of the rough warriors towards a chatelaine who was to
them a riddle; but she, discerning, renowned for subtle acumen, could
see under the rind what a fragrant nature was O'Tei's, if it had not
been nipped half-blown. She sighed heavily as she walked, and pondered
of O'Tei. What of this new element introduced into the castle--of
discord surely? Not of necessity so. Should No-Kami elect to take the
new-comer to himself, as folk already whispered, what of it? Had not
his father done the same? And she, Masago (concubine), and the
bellicose Tomoyé (wife) had never quarrelled.

But then O'Tei was so different from her predecessor. She was so odd
and sensitive and self-contained, given to contemplative fancies which
served no good purpose. Masago, the sage, was quite angry sometimes
when she considered the education of O'Tei. She, an abbess, should
know something of such matters, and there was no doubt about it that
the bonzes and priestesses of Nara had blundered. The heiress of Nara
was destined by her birth to a grand alliance, to reign in a world of
strife, and they should have combated, while the nature of their pupil
was yet malleable, such tendencies as might be likely to interfere
with the young lady's future happiness. Dancing the kagura in a wood
was all very well for priestesses, but in a fierce age, when every
man's hand is at his fellow's throat, the female head of a warlike
household should be taught to hold her own. Poor O'Tei had never been
properly prepared, and was in truth no more fit to cope with the
difficulties of her high position than would be the merest coolie's
daughter.

In the candour of self-communing Masago admitted this much to herself,
making apologies the while for the shortcomings of her favourite, and
laying the blame upon the priesthood.

And again the question would assert itself--Was the new element for
harmony or discord? If she could only know, and help to keep matters
straight. If O'Tei were sensible, she would accept the second wife
with gratitude, for she would be relieved of the society of one whom
she abhorred. But then O'Tei was so peculiar. And so much depended on
the attitude assumed by the second wife, if second wife she were to
be. She, Masago, and Tomoyé had got on so splendidly that, as she
thought of the past, a faint blush of self-complacency tinged the
Abbess's ascetic cheek. No doubt about it. She, Masago, had displayed,
as she usually did, consummate tact. In fact, in their instance, the
two wives completed each other. Each had the talent which was denied
to her companion, for Tomoyé often declared that though her muscle was
a marvel her brain was wanting, while Masago was the best of advisers,
although no warrior. Hence, whilst both adoring their lord from their
own point of view, they could perfectly trust each other without
jealousy, and play into one another's hands--a fact which was clearly
proven when the regnant Hojo wearied of his concubine. Tomoyé did her
best to retain the second wife (not knowing what the next fancy of her
lord might be), and constantly sought counsel from Masago after her
assumption of the crape.

Masago therefore, as she walked, summoned to her side the
devoted elders who were so soon to embrace the priesthood, and
cross-questioned them narrowly. They had observed, had they, in my
lord's visage, how desperately he had become enamoured? They were
certain that his sudden passion would insist on being gratified? But
what if the travelling geisha were a light-o'-love to be picked up too
easily to-day and cast forth to-morrow? Rokubei shook his head. The
astute Masago--all-wise counsellor--would never venture so futile a
suggestion had she once scanned the lady with her searching scrutiny.
Oh, a cunning and fascinating lady! A petulant and wilful lady, and an
obstinate! Ay, and a circumspect. What object could she have had in
insisting on the bodies being given up, except to ingratiate herself
with the lower lieges? What cared she, a stranger from afar, for a
farmer of Tsu or his family? And then, that way she had of sending
gleams out of her dark velvet eyes from under the deep fringes. Even
he, Rokubei, who spoke, and who shortly on the holy hill was to have
his pate shaven, was fain to admit, under the seal of secrecy, that
his own, for the future ascetic, bosom had been pervaded by
inconvenient warmth under the glamour of those lightning shafts, and
all the while he knew that they were intended for another. And my
lord, so inflammable, so given to indulgence, who knew so little of
the curb! Masago might believe, or not, the speaker, but it was clear
to him that in a few days--nay, hours--the too fascinating geisha
O'Kikú would rule the Daimio and his vassals, whether for good or evil
was as yet in the womb of time.

Masago listened, and became more and more uneasy. Could it be possible
that she, who had that day only appeared upon the scene, was the
chosen instrument--selected beforehand and arrived exactly in
time--for the fulfilment of the prophecy? Was she to undermine with
her pink little fingers the great dynasty of Hojo? and, if so, how?
For the advantage of the dynasty she, the discarded second wife, would
gladly sacrifice herself and wear her fingers to the bone; would even
surrender the life of her dearly-beloved son Sampei for its advantage.
Fool! unreasoning woman, and incorrigible fool! Who was she to presume
to combat Destiny?--to raise her weak hand in feeble protest against
the finger of Buddha, the all-seeing? Although the blasphemous
suggestion had unbidden entered her brain, vigils and much praying
would be needed to atone for its presence. She would kneel on
the stones throughout the ensuing darkness, praying for pardon
and for light. How may we, however watchful, guard against
presumption--against pitting our puny sagacity against the Infinite?

And though she fulfilled her self-imposed penance, remaining until
dawn, despite years and infirmities, with forehead resting on the
stones, maternity struggled with asceticism. Her bowels yearned over
Sampei--the pride, the flower of Japan--and she prayed as only a
mother can pray that her boy might escape the curse. How willingly,
she pleaded, would she herself submit for his dear sake to recommence
the ladder from the bottom. She knew not, of course, how high she had
attained by long and painful climbing, but from her present
consideration and eminence she must be considerably advanced on her
pilgrimage. She would sacrifice all--all--with what ecstatic joy--for
his sake. And as she lay convulsed in the dark, with the drops of a
mother's travail coursing down her wrinkled brow, she never dreamed
that in the pure intensity of undimmed devotion she might be in the
act of rising yet another step. In the morning, feeble and exhausted,
she turned her to the newborn orb as he showed above the glorious sea,
and, vaguely relieved, sat basking in his beams. Then struggling up
she groped to her cell with lagging feet, and sank into a stupor of
fatigue.



                             CHAPTER XI.

                      THE CURSE BEGINS TO WORK.


And Sampei, what of him, under the new _régime_, inaugurated so
unexpectedly? Could his mother have delved into his storm-riven soul,
she would have won no comfort by her prayers. Never was luckless
warrior so hedged about with difficulties, which might not be
vanquished with the sword. His influence over No-Kami was proved to be
practically nil, for the latter was unable to comprehend his brother's
character any better than that of his wife. What good then was to be
gained by lingering at Tsu? The question had propounded itself before,
to be set aside. Why shun it now? More than once Sampei determined
that flight is in some cases the truest valour, and on every occasion
the haunting and ever-present face of his early love upbraided him for
selfishness, in that he was her only champion.

It was a fine specimen of bravery, in sooth, to be self-elected "own
true knight," and run away at the first appearance of the enemy. That
the new-comer would prove an enemy there was little room for doubt.
Such a reproach should never be hurled at our young General, he
doughtily determined. The more he saw of the fair O'Kikú, the more
uneasy did he grow. There was no knowing how soon O'Tei might require
protection from her. He might be of use. That was enough. Under the
circumstances, despite his mother's warnings, Sampei resolved to
stay--moth dancing round a candle--and keep an eye upon the geisha.

The proceedings of that winsome fairy, when installed within the
castle, bade fair to set its inmates by the ears. With a vast parade
of prudery she insisted at first upon apartments being provided as
remote as might be from my lord's. A series of pleading messages,
mingled with threats, were required ere she would consent to appear in
the hall and perform graceful measures, or sing and play upon the
samisen. Her performance finished, she would smile, and bow, and kiss
her finger tips, and then flee like the timid hare. When No-Kami, who,
tantalised, grew hourly more amorous, chid his guest for suspicion of
his motives, she shrugged her shoulders, and imperiously demanded her
kago. "I am detained here against my will," she would remark pouting.
"'Tis monstrous dull, and to return to delightful Kamakura is my most
ardent wish." And then with distracting little sighs wrung from a
plump heaving bosom, she would dilate upon the glories of the Shogun's
court,--tell of the tiltings, the hawking parties--constant flow of
jocund gatherings--till the undisciplined Daimio clenched his nails
into his palms with jealousy, and the lady laughed behind her fan.

Before many days had passed, it was announced that O'Kikú had
consented to remain at Tsu, the acknowledged second wife; and the
samurai congratulated one another, looking forward to a period of
liveliness. As for their chatelaine, they thought no more of her; took
no heed of her incomings or outgoings; for she drew the curtains of
her litter close, and rarely went forth at all except on some
charitable errand. Really such mean-spirited conduct in a Hojo's wife
was a distinct besmirching of the name; and the younger and more
unruly of the warriors purposely turned their backs upon her kago, to
avoid saluting its passage.

The Lady O'Tei, as proud as any of them, though they wist it not,
marked their growing insolence, and stored their insults in her
embittered heart; and more than ever loathed her lord, on account of
her false position, as well as his new favourite. From the moment of
the latter's advent O'Tei abandoned for ever any idea of attempting to
exert influence over him. On that last occasion when she bowed her
pride and humbled herself to the very dust before No-Kami, the attempt
was crowned with disaster. It was decreed that she must live, must
breathe the same air as he. What must be must; but she would look on
him in future as little as she might. That he should choose to take a
second wife, the first or legitimate one proving barren, was not
surprising. The latter had neither right nor desire to object; but it
was clearly his duty to see that the introduction of the second spouse
brought no slight upon the first. Instead of demanding her rights, and
boldly grappling at once with a situation that was ominous of evil,
and so defining the geisha's place without more ado, O'Tei made
another mistake. Haughtily she withdrew within herself and brooded
over her wrongs, leaving to the intruder a clear field, of which she
was not slow to take advantage.

Having achieved the position for which she had so cleverly angled,
O'Kikú threw down the mask, shook off her bashful ways. Wherever my
lord could go, the damsel argued, so could she, for was she not young
and active? By his side in the chase she rode, untiring. When he
reviewed his men within the outer moat, she stood beside him, and with
amusing sharpness rated them all soundly for their awkwardness.
Accustomed to a disdainful mistress who interested herself not at all
in their doings, the warriors were surprised and enchanted. She would
even condescend to come down sometimes, looking so fresh and bright
and cheery, into the outer hall, where the soldiery lounged, yawning,
and administer reviving draughts. The throat of the soldier, she would
laughingly observe, is curiously parched, always yearning for
saké,--quite a serious disease, and catching too; one which was common
in the army. And then she would familiarly take their swords from
them--the swords which are the souls of the samurai--and closely
examining the blades, demand the genealogy of each.

No-Kami was flattered when he observed what a favourite his choice was
becoming with high and low alike. The men, one and all, adored her,
some of them declaring that she was a sunbeam detached miraculously
from the orb of life to illumine the darkness of their fortress.

At this moment the ambition of O'Kikú should have been satisfied, for
she could wind my lord and all his men around her finger, ruling them
as she listed. She held in supremest contempt the real chatelaine, as
an enemy not worthy of her steel--usurping her position and her
duties; taking pleasure in exposing her to ridicule. Low born as she
was herself--sprung from the gutter--there was something particularly
delightful in insulting the heiress of Nara; but the sharp, tiny pins
did not seem to rankle. This was annoying. Egged on little by little,
piqued by O'Tei's attitude of scornful indifference, the concubine
went dangerously far. She gathered around her a bevy of maidens more
numerous and more splendidly attired than those of her superior; she
exacted from the soldiery special homage which was due to the
legitimate chatelaine alone; even presumed, after a time--culminating
impertinence--to take unto herself the best litter, the one emblazoned
with the Hojo badge upon gold lacquer and the gilded poles and
brocaded curtains, declaring that since O'Tei chose to go only into
the low purlieus of the town, a less resplendent equipage was better
suited to her degraded taste.

O'Kikú should have been quite happy. But when is a vulgar-minded,
low-born woman happy who is consumed in the ratio of pampering by
ambition and greed and caprice? Having attained the summit of present
desire as planned on her arrival, she set herself to gratify her fancy
in another way. At first sight she had been smitten with Sampei; but,
on discovering that, though the elder, he held the second place, had
prudently postponed his conquest until a more convenient period. That
moment was now come. She had abundant leisure for the task. Sure a
warrior should be a willing slave of beauty. Yet when she warily
reconnoitred the ground, she marvelled at his coldness. Every inch a
splendid young soldier, he should have been less chill. She made
purring advances, favoured him with a few of the arrows under which
his brother had succumbed; and these shafts fell so short that she
guessed at once, with quick jealousy, that she had a rival. His heart
was not his to give. How provoking! for she had so cleverly arranged
that the two--he and she--were to become such friends!

On his side, Sampei (an adept in such matters) was not slow to read
her purpose, and, horrified at her calculating treachery, boldly
reviled her with rough words. She smarted and winced under the whip,
and wished for him all the more. It was idle to feign, and her speech
was as plain as his. She did not love her husband--O'Tei herself did
not gauge his low worth more clearly--she loved him, Sampei, and
gloried in it. See! For a caress she would be his slave, and fawn at
his feet like a dog. No Eta could be more abject than she, if he would
but look on her with love. A little--a very little--and she would be
so grateful, since, on her side, there was enough for both. Wreathing
her white arms about him, while his body quivered with disgust, she
cooed and prayed and worshipped, and uttered a sharp cry of pain as,
unable to endure the ordeal, he flung her rudely on the ground. _She_
prate of love! he cried. How dared she defile the holy word with such
foul lips as hers?

Furious--burning with shame at her repulse--she scoffed at him.

"_You_ talk big of virtue," she sneered, with cruel lines about her
mouth, "not knowing that I can read your secret. Treachery? What is my
treachery to yours? I am but a concubine. You love your brother's
wife--the mawkish doll of wax!--and she, as guilty as yourself, has
doubtless fallen an easy prey, since 'tis plain that she hates my
lord."

That shaft, at least, went home, for Sampei turned pale. Was it
written so plainly on his face that all who ran might read? A useful
champion--a true knight--whose faithful service it would be to guide
his mistress to her ruin. He must go away--far away--since his
tell-tale features could not keep the secret. And yet--to leave her
here at the mercy of this wicked woman!

O'Kikú perceived what was passing in his mind, and was for the moment
satisfied. She held revenge within her palm whenever she should choose
to use it. Sampei had spurned her. Well, she could afford to wait; for
what he had been powerless to deny might prove an invaluable
discovery. Sampei and O'Tei loved each other. Judging others from her
own standpoint, she had no doubt of their guilt. Perchance he would
soon tire of such an icicle, and she might woo and win him after all.
If not, she could use her discovery to avenge the slight, and free
herself of the inconvenient presence of both wife and paramour. It
would be so easy to open the eyes of the unsuspecting Daimio, and goad
him deftly on until the two brothers were at open enmity.

For a time she must abandon her designs upon the General, and lull the
pangs of disappointment and injured vanity by drowning thought in
excitement. Since she had bared her spotted heart to him, there was no
use in assuming a mask. On the contrary, her recklessness would sting
him like a serpent's bite since, knowing what she knew, he dared not
betray her to No-Kami. It pleased O'Kikú, therefore, to abandon
prudence, and cast shame aside. Secure of unlimited sway over the
infatuated despot, who would gladly accept such explanations as she
vouchsafed, she selected lovers from among the soldiery as they struck
her wanton fancy, disdaining to cloak her proceedings from the shocked
Sampei, who hourly grew more troubled and uneasy.

On which side lay his duty? How should he act? Were he to denounce the
geisha to his brother in the matter of her declaration to himself, she
would swear it was spitefully conceived, and No-Kami would refuse to
be convinced. 'Twas fortunate that O'Tei dwelt in such strict
seclusion, enveloped in the armour of purity, innocent of guile. But
what was to be the upshot of it all? As the falling stone increases in
velocity, so would the insolence of the concubine unchecked in
shamelessness. The tempest growled on the horizon, and grew apace; the
cloudlet was spreading over the heavens. Awe-stricken by the sinister
turn which, so rapidly, events were taking, the martyr's anathema rung
in Sampei's ears. The house of Hojo was to fall. Already, in his
mind's eye, could he see it reel, hear the crash of its disruption.
For a long time past the conduct of the head of the clan had been
indefensible. Buddha, awakened by clamour, was angry--and no wonder!

In his perplexity and indignation an ensanguined mist passed across
the vision of Sampei. The hint thrown out by Nara some time since
festered within his breast. The history of Japan teems with the enmity
of brothers, he had said. Was it indeed written that the last of the
Hojos was to perish by a fraternal hand? For the honour of the name
which they both bore, must the cord of an unworthy career be severed,
and by him? It would be well for the suffering land that No-Kami's
catalogue of misdeeds should be closed, but not by the hand of a
brother. Not murder! The honest soul of Sampei recoiled before the
insidious vision. It was vain to seek counsel of the Abbess, since she
confessed herself as perplexed as he. _Wait_ was all she could advise.
If the curse of Koshiu was to be accomplished, it would be
accomplished, whatever the efforts of the doomed. If his was decreed
to be the avenging sword, was he not a helpless infant in the grip of
destiny? The will of Heaven would be pronounced more clearly soon.
Meanwhile, there was nothing for it but to wait. Peering sadly into
the dark-lined future, Sampei waited in suspense, gloomy on the
threshold of despair.

Tidings reached Masago in her dim retreat of what was passing, and she
sighed. The finger of an outraged God was on them, that was becoming
certain. The fate of Hojo was to be a warning lesson to generations
yet unborn. By-and-by a rumour came, she could not tell from whence,
that the Daimio was going mad. In sooth, he was never sane, and could
scarce be held accountable for his growing pile of crimes. In
accordance with the rearing which befitted his rank and station, he
had scoffed with ribald laughter at a peasant's prophecy, treating
with levity the wild words of one who had deservedly been punished.
And yet there were moments when, though he fought against the
illusion, he was haunted by the dying face,--when those glazing eyes
that reflected the sunset shone out of the dark like glowing coals, to
wither and scorch his soul. In the night he would wake, seeming to
hear again louder than temple bell the words of evil omen, and then he
would hug so fiercely the form of the slumbering O'Kikú upon the mat
beside him, that she would turn on him with peevish reproach.

The visions and the voices increased, till he was afraid to be left
alone. His brutish nature became yet more vindictive and morose, and
the geisha, vowing that as a companion, after his paroxysms of
unreasoning fear, he grew intolerable, freely dosed him with saké, to
subdue his importunate tremors. In his chamber she would leave him
chained by drunken stupor, while she, with the favourite of the hour,
caroused below. This proved so convenient an arrangement, that to
obtain for herself a liberty of action yet more complete, she tempted
her lord to increased potations, till there arrived at length a period
when he was scarcely ever sober.

But then constant inebriety has its intermittent moments of recoil,
when the stomach sickens at the drink, yet craves for it, and at such
dismal times the smile would fade even from the brazen visage of the
baleful enchantress, for my lord would then pass without warning from
the extreme of grovelling anguish to the fury of mania; and O'Kikú
wondered, with blanched cheek, whether, perhaps, some day in one of
these mad fits the Daimio would rise and slay her.

One evening he woke with chattering teeth, and finding himself alone
in the quickly-gathering shadows, stumbled upon his feet, with curses
on the concubine in that she deserted him in his extremity. Did she
not know how much he feared the darkness, and how necessary it was on
many counts to conceal his condition from his warriors? Had he not
raised her up to be partner of his bed, giving her all she desired,
gratifying her every whim? And yet what recked the selfish creature of
his wishes, of his terrors, his requirements? Naught! Regardless of
his agony, she could quietly go away and amuse herself, leaving her
lord and benefactor a prey to goblins. Shivering, with swimming brain,
he groped his way in search of her; and somehow found himself, ere he
was aware, upon the drawbridge that led beyond the moat.

A chill wind was blowing from the river that lapped the frowning
walls--a singing murmur seemed to whisper "Come!" Shuddering, obedient
to a spell against which his will was powerless, he stumbled on. How
dismal dark it was! From the windows of the hall came a ruddy line of
light which served to intensify the black. There was a faint sound of
brawling within, a clash of steel, a din of bandied threats, followed
by the long rippling laugh of the geisha, and then the twang of her
samisen. "Always in that hall among the soldiers," No-Kami querulously
muttered. "She loves me less and less--cares nothing for my trouble."
Since her arrival, he reflected, there had been a gradual and grievous
decrease of discipline among the samurai,--a growing tendency to
quarrel and snarl in open disrespect of _him_. Had she betrayed his
secret? Had she divulged the nameless horror, and the cowardice which
unnerved his arm, unsettled his reason, and undermined his strength?
Impulse bade him turn and stride into the hall, and there assert
himself; and then the breeze, like clammy fingers, stroked his cheek
and murmured, "Come!" Whither was he to proceed? Was it the water that
summoned him? No! had not the farmer said that the river should ebb
away? Folly! why, what was this? Was he, the head of the Hojos, as
infatuated as others? Did he believe in the threats of the martyr?
On--on, away to the left--whither? To the dim belt of grim grey trees
that reared gnarled arms aloft, groaning and swaying in the wind. The
accursed trees--home of malevolent ghosts! The trees that chanted ever
their loving call to ignominious death.

With beads of sweat upon his brow No-Kami listened, and, not knowing
what he did, unwound his long silk sash. Then out of the dark shone
forth, like glowing coals, the eyes he knew too well, and then there
pealed upon the night a mocking shout. Hist! what was that? The voice
of Futen, the wind imp? or Raiden, king of thunder, beating upon his
drums? What was he doing with that sash?--he, the proud No-Kami?
Horror! he, the head of the Hojos, was about to hang himself--to
disgrace his line for ever!

With a growl of fear No-Kami sped away, his fingers in his ears, back
toward the light--and the saucy geisha, seeing a crouching shadow
pass, complained of some unclean animal. With stealthy speed, born of
terror and shame, the Daimio crept away, nor stopped to draw breath
till, safe in the sanctuary of his chamber, he fell panting, prostrate
on the mat. Another instant, and, unconscious of what he did, he would
have swung on the fateful tree. Strange that it should have been the
warning voice of Koshiu that had averted supreme disgrace. Why? Was he
reserved for something yet more infamous? Better now, at once, to make
an end of it--perish as a Daimio should when driven to bay by his own
well-tempered steel. Groping with aspen hands for the sword-rack, he
took his dirk, and unsheathing it, passed a finger on its edge. A
blade of Sanjo's, a masterpiece. Yes. Here in the dark, alone, he
would perform the rites of harakiri, and join with unsmirched brow the
line of haughty ancestors.

Footsteps, a yellow glimmer through the paper of the sliding doors.
O'Kikú's tardy feet? No, the heavier footfall of a man. A panel was
pushed aside. Sampei, shading with his hand the flickering flame of a
candle. The latter peered in, and uttered a cry. The dirk, the body
bared, the kneeling posture. The intention of the Daimio was evident,
though rising with a fierce curse he strove to conceal his purpose.

"I am glad I was in time," Sampei remarked, with cold composure.
"Would the chief of our clan commit harakiri without a second? Where
is he? I see no kaishaku. Pah! When all is lost 'tis time to think of
dying. If you wish it, and have courage, things are not yet past
remedy."

"What do you want?" snarled the Daimio, as with a scowl he retreated
into a corner.

"My lord of Nara has arrived, and is now closeted with his daughter.
Though you seem to have abdicated your dignities, it is right that you
should be informed of it.

"Sent for by her?" inquired No-Kami.

"No!" replied Sampei bitterly. "With all your arrogant parade, she is
more proud than you, and would never stoop to complain of your many
cruelties."

"Sent for more like by _him!_--snake in the grass!" gibed a voice
behind, and the two brothers, turning, beheld the geisha, a frown
puckering her brow, a red spot of annoyance on either cheek bone.
"Yes, snake in the grass!" repeated she, lashed to imprudence by
resentment. "He does well to play the part of the lady O'Tei's
interpreter--he who knows her so much better than others!"

Sampei was silent, while the suspicious gaze of the Daimio was turned
to his brother from the concubine.

"O fool!" she laughed. "To be fooled by women is the lot of the
haughtiest among ye! I vow I pity such blindness. Know that the crust
of a proud woman's nature often conceals a furnace. The lady O'Tei has
kindled a fire on the altar of her heart in honour--well, not of you!"

"You lie!" cried the General, kindling, yet striving still to control
himself for _her_ sake. "It was an evil day for the house of Hojo when
this strumpet came among us!"

"We are not all so blind as my lord," gibed O'Kikú. "When my lady goes
forth, in what direction do the bearers carry her? To the temple of
the vixen Masago, to offer up prayers, of course. A curious
coincidence! My lord Sampei, returning from the chase, pays dutiful
visits to his mother. A pattern son. There, there! be hoodwinked no
more. Stupid mole that you are, he loves O'Tei and she loves him. Look
in his face, man; is it not eloquent enough?"

The soul of No-Kami, already torn, writhed and quivered. Could it be
true, this dreadful thing? Miné already ruined, a mere pretty peasant,
a passing fancy, suitable toy enough--and now O'Tei! Had the lawless
libertine dared to aspire to the legitimate wife of his lord? The dirk
was still in the Daimio's grasp. Tottering forward a step, with
heaving breast and distracted features, he narrowly scrutinised his
brother.

"If I thought this was true," he slowly growled between his teeth, "I
would have speedy and ample vengeance. Sampei, why do you look
confused? Yonder, on the rack, is a sword!"

Again the mist of blood passed across the vision of the General. It
was decreed. No-Kami rushed upon his fate. He himself pointed out the
blade, lying so ready to the hand. A pass or two, and O'Tei, the
long-suffering, would be freed from her grinding bondage.
Involuntarily he stretched forth his arm, while No-Kami stood waiting.
He touched the sword; his hand recoiled, his arm dropped by his side
inert, for beyond the taunting visage of the geisha he seemed to
behold, tearless and pale, the shadowy figure of O'Tei. No, this was a
trap deliberately set by that wicked woman for her undoing and his.
If, in the combat, it was his lot to fall, her fair fame would be for
ever blasted. It would be skilfully bruited abroad by O'Kikú that the
Daimio had avenged his honour. Forcing himself to calmness by strength
of will, aided by an all-absorbing love, Sampei crossed his arms upon
his labouring chest, and sadly shook his head.

"You are insane," he sighed,--"beguiled to frenzy by the glamour of
this sorceress. You know, if you have power to think, that the dawn is
no purer than your wife. What madness is it that has so mastered you
that you would rather believe this harlot--for she is a harlot, and a
shameless one, as every one in the castle knows except yourself? Rave
as you will, I shall not gratify her spleen by fighting with you.
Should the necessity be forced on me, I will summon the samurai to
bind you, for your own protection. Cudgel your distempered brain,
my brother, and see the snare. Your father was mine before
you--unhappily--were born. The honour of our name is mine as well as
yours, and for me it shall remain untarnished. Alas, we are under a
ban, indeed! I can surety trace the finger of the Eternal; this
harlot, the instrument of ruin."

Foiled spite and impotent rage leapt up and invaded the calculating
spirit of the geisha. That he, so hot and careless usually, should be
able to school himself to prudence. How he must adore that pale-face!

It was humiliating to one who justly prided herself on cunning, to be
outwitted by truth and manhood. No doubt it was satisfactory to mark
how firm was her hold upon No-Kami. He had hearkened to her accusation
of his wife and brother, but the countercharge brought by the latter
against herself had remained unnoticed. And yet Sampei had had the
best of it. She was obliged to confess with self-upbraiding that,
exasperated by the appearance of Nara, whose unexpected arrival seemed
like to mar her plots and upset her calculations, she had been
precipitate--led into a foolish error.

The moment chosen was curiously ill-timed for bringing about a
quarrel. Not that she would have permitted blood to flow. Not so silly
as that. At the first onset she would have rushed out with clamour and
shrill cries to summon the sleepy attendants,--have sworn that Sampei
had attacked his feudal lord,--have created such a coil as would
have led to the former's banishment. But, devoted to the paleface, he
had for her sake curbed his heat. Noble and severe in bearing, his
dark brow seamed by battle scars, he was just the man to master a
turbulent plebeian woman of strong passions. As he stood, erect and
self-possessed, O'Kikú adored yet hated him. His scathing antipathy to
her he did not care to mask, and who should know as well as she how
well it was deserved. A man such as this might have wrought a miracle
upon her nature. She could have hugged her gyves, glorying in his
tyranny. Could have! He had repulsed her,--shrunk with loathing
undisguised as from a reptile, and all for love of the pale-face. The
dregs of her low nature bubbled to the surface in a rising surge of
abhorrence. At this moment, as she contemplated his still dignity, she
could have stabbed him to the heart with joy.

As schemes and combinations passed swiftly through her brain, the
geisha hotly blamed herself. A short-sighted novice! An awkward
bungler! The merest tyro could have warned her of the imprudence of
airing family feuds before outsiders. What a moment this, when the
powerful and astute noble of Nara was on the spot, to suggest charges
against his heiress. Well, well, it was for the best that Sampei had
kept his temper. The seed, dropped into the mind of No-Kami, would
swell and burst and blossom by-and-by--the grain of suspicion which at
a fitting season was to make of these brothers enemies. For the
present it was best to drop the subject, to turn it off with a jest;
then to make much of the illustrious visitor, and get rid of him as
soon as possible.

O'Kikú, therefore, suddenly changed her tactics. With a careless laugh
and a wave of shapely arms she swept aside the dangerous topic, and
remarked: "Perhaps I was wrong,--too prone to believe evil. Your
brother was before me with the news. The Daimio of Nara is here, and
must be made welcome. If you will do him honour, I will see to the
bestowing of his retinue. As you are her friend, Sampei--if really
nothing more--I trust you will beg his daughter to refrain from
telling lies of us." With this, awaiting no reply, she vanished, and,
resuming the demureness of the past and assuming a meek and gracious
air that befitted the position of the concubine, proceeded to charm
the retainers of Nara as she had already conquered Hojo's.

What was he here for, this inconvenient guest? What could his object
be in swooping down on Tsu? The question buzzed in her head as she
moved hither and thither, on hospitality intent. He must know that he,
was little welcome. Had the chatelaine been goaded at last out of her
silence? Did the tiny pins at last lacerate her skin? Had she summoned
her father to rescue her from a position that was unbearable?

What then? Would Nara, interfering on his child's behalf, insist upon
the prompt suppression of the second wife? And if he did, would his
mandate be obeyed, or was No-Kami still strong enough to do battle for
his siren? The prestige of Japan's despot had not paled as yet, for
the secret of his peculiar mental condition was well kept. Such
precautions had been taken that, though many knew the Daimio to be
ill, none but O'Kikú and Sampei were aware of his critical state. Had
Sampei, pursuing a tortuous game of his own, summoned Nara to council?
The traitor! And what a simpleton she not to have foreseen and parried
such a stroke. Nara present and siding with Sampei--made aware of
No-Kami's weakness--what easier for the twain than to seize the reins
and fling forth the offending concubine? Again was O'Kikú compelled to
admit with tingling cheeks how unskilfully she had developed plans
which at the start had seemed so promising. By pandering to his fears,
and plying my lord with drink, she gained no doubt a measure of extra
liberty, but purchased at what a cost! At a time when every man's hand
was at his neighbour's throat, to lose your nerve was to lose respect
and be toppled over in the fray. Execrated as she knew my lord to be,
with myriad and lynx eyes watching for a cranny in his armour, why had
she not foreseen that there would be traitors in the camp? O'Kikú had
been so careless because she reckoned on her rival's unpopularity. Not
a swaggerer among the samurai--as she had long since learned--but
looked on his liege mistress with uncomprehending pity. To think that
bluff, single-minded Sampei--so skilful in the field, so blundering at
home--should have had the inspiration to summon Nara! But had he? Sure
his surprise on the arrival of the cavalcade was not feigned? If it
were, then was he a dangerous enemy indeed--concealing consummate
craft under an appearance of simplicity.

The more O'Kikú pondered and considered, the more nebulous grew the
result of her meditations, and on the morrow she was brought to the
highest stage of bewilderment by the departure of the Daimio of Nara
as abruptly as he had arrived, and in a friendly manner too. Gazing
through the hole made by a wetted finger in her paper-covered
casement, she had striven to read on the faces of those concerned the
result of their interview: and her jaw dropped in sheer amazement. Was
the lady O'Tei even more mean-spirited and craven than her rival had
supposed? Fearful of retribution and ill-usage in the future, had she
masked her wounds from her parent, vowing she was well and happy, when
her very looks should betray the truth? In that case, neither she nor
her paramour had summoned Nara. Why then was he come? Could it have
been of his own accord, so speedily to go away, with no result from
his advent? The more she considered, the more knotty did the problem
grow--one that her low instincts could never fathom. She wist not that
a proud nature, instead of crying out with shrill uproar, will conceal
stabs dealt in private by her legitimate lord from the scrutiny even
of a father; the more when her parent bears only the name, since he
has never won her love.

How surprised would the geisha have been could she have read the
riddle aright. It was Masago, the Abbess, who had given the hint. She,
who was but too well aware of the position of her favourite, could see
that she was dying slowly of a breaking heart, for each time that she
visited the temple O'Tei was more frail and wan, more spiritual in
aspect; her step more slow and feeble. Moreover, over and above
personal affection for her, was it not the duty of the Abbess to give
warning to the lady's natural protector, lest her own dear boy Sampei
should be goaded to leap into the breach? Knowing all she knew, it was
a subject for marvel that Sampei should have refrained till now.
School himself as he would, he could not conceal from a mother's
anxious gaze the canker that gnawed his entrails. So far as he was
concerned, the arrows of O'Kikú had not missed their mark. He pined
with sympathy,--was wrung with anguish at the drawn expression of the
wistful face, the dimmed eyes that were once so bright, in which hope
was quite extinguished.



                             CHAPTER XII.

               THE DAIMIO OF NARA IMITATES THE SPHYNX.


What a pity it is that in our odd world the wicked should be so much
more clever than the good,--that the combinations of sinners should so
easily outwit the simply virtuous. But then, were not the good so
naïve, they might not possibly submit so quietly to the unhappiness
which is usually their portion. They might scream, and rail, and wax
obstreperous, point out the cases of flagrant injustice too often to
be observed among their ranks, and become unedifying texts and
examples.

Poor Sampei, being less cunning than the geisha, and not perceiving
the advantage of which he might have availed himself, naturally did
not seize it. It never occurred to him that the appearance of Nara on
the scene might have brought about the salvation of his family,--that
he and Sampei united might have ousted the female marplot. Clearly
this lack of discrimination was due to the interference of the gods.

Sampei was quite as surprised as the concubine at singular conduct of
Nara. He took no umbrage at his sullen reception by the lord of Tsu;
seemed not to perceive how little he was welcomed; showed a
disposition to be easily pleased, a slowness to take offence, such as
ill became a daimio. Closeted with his daughter, he refrained from
searching questions, conversed about the pleasures of Ki[^y]oto, and
the probabilities of a visit in the summer, while she, stony and
indifferent, as reticent as her parent, and dreamily gazing into
vacancy, replied in monosyllables. With studied ceremony he took leave
of her as though she were a stranger, bade farewell of his sulky host
with suave courtesy, and, followed by his brilliant retinue, journeyed
slowly up into the mountains. So cautious was he, even under the
glances of his own people, that it was not until, resigning his horse
to a betto, he retired into a litter, and drew the curtains close,
that he permitted his thoughts to appear upon his features. "It is
very nearly time," he murmured, "very nearly time, and then shall my
child--ay, and all Japan--be avenged, and signally." With gleeful
exultation he rubbed his hands together as he revolved a host of
little points which had not escaped the eagle ken of his experience. A
drunken dissolute cohort now, the redoubtable warriors of Tsu.

Arriving unawares by night, he had found no sentries at the gate. His
men had blown the horn, and hammered with lances, and shouted till
their throats were hoarse, ere any one had appeared upon the walls;
and what a scurry then! The castle, left unprotected in the silent
watches, would have fallen without a struggle into the hands of a
skilful foe. And--the cognisance and titles of the father of the
chatelaine having been recognised, and the drawbridge lowered--the
relaxation of discipline everywhere apparent within did not escape his
practised eye. Before the presence of a stranger was made known, he
had heard sounds of wassail and of quarrelling,--had seen the
abandoned concubine of the Hojo toying with the common soldiers.
And he was enchanted. What mattered it that his child looked
wretched?--women must suffer for the common good. Patience--a little
patience--and her burthen would soon be removed.

The Abbess, proud as she was of considering herself in some sort a
Hojo, had naturally turned, in her anxiety, to him who had been
selected by her now departed lord as the prime adviser of the family.
Unwitting of what she did, it was her finger that first pointed out
how the joints in the harness were loosening; and with a savage laugh
Nara gave her thanks for it.

The young General, who had never learned the arts of diplomacy,
blushed crimson as the eyes of the new arrival took in the situation,
and stammered awkward excuses. His brother was ill, had for some time
past been unable to occupy himself with affairs, and was, moreover, so
jealous of interference, that for a while he, the elder, had let
things go. But now that my lord had come, his father's friend, the
twain would remonstrate, and arrange together. And then, from under
the white bettle-brows of the old man there shot a meaning leer which
chilled the words upon the lips of the younger, and brought to his
mind an earlier interview which had seemed ominous of complications.
Was this man a friend, or the worst of enemies, one who wears
disguise? Buffeting in a sea of knavery, wherein fraud and chicane and
stratagem and pitfall boil into a seething broth, what wonder if the
true and single-minded grow bewildered and confused? Sampei was so
little skilled in double-dealing, that, lulled by specious sentences,
mystified, he concluded that he had been wrong, had misunderstood the
purport of lord Nara's talk in the palace. Was he not his father's
ally,--the man specially picked out for the guidance of the Hojo's
sons? The old Daimio, ever quick to read thoughts, pressed the hand of
his young friend with touching affection.

"All will be well by-and-by," he murmured. His dear young General, of
whom he and Japan were so justly proud, must sit quiet, and hope for
the best. He too, then, was preaching patience. Sure, the venerable
Abbess and the hoary statesman must be right--of course they were. The
loyal Sampei blamed himself accordingly, and put his suspicions from
him.

Although no open confidences passed between the pair, Nara was
satisfied, for he could detect a change in the young man. His easy
confidence in the direction of the straight and honest course was
gone, had given place to a pained perplexity which boded well for the
future. The arrow which the astute kugé had planted during the
interview at the palace, was festering. He seemed to perceive that
much. Sampei's sense of right and wrong had been disturbed. He was
uncomfortable, and half-suspecting he knew not what, held his peace
moodily, while his brain groped in darksome byways. Yes, he was
mistaken when he deemed Nara to be a foe. Yet how was it possible he
could be really friendly, perceiving as he must how bad was his
daughter's treatment, how outrageous on every count were the
proceedings of her spouse? Could any one who loved Japan be Hojo's
friend? Alack, even he, Sampei, his only brother, was but too well
aware that he was his country's scourge--that one who should remove
the incubus would earn his country's gratitude.

The old Daimio, guessing what knotty problem it was that so vexed the
young soldier's mind, evolved a stroke of genius. Suave and sweet in
manner, with an engaging air of candour, he communed with himself
aloud, "What a sad thing it is," he mused abstractedly, "that the
history and the literature of our country should so teem with the
enmity of brothers! And yet, in the main, a happy land, more
privileged than the dim fog-bound realms of the west." Again, how
bewildering was this to one who was groping so anxiously for light.

Looking in the wrinkled face, Sampei could see no meaning there--no
special meaning--addressed to himself especially. And then, as the two
strolled about the precincts of the castle, Sampei became more
bewildered yet and more uneasy, for in some unaccountable way it had
come about, without his knowing how, that old Nara concealed no longer
that he was No-Kami's enemy, that he was aware of the ill-treatment of
his child, and grateful for the sympathy of his companion. He even, as
a matter of course, affected to look on him as a willing accomplice;
gave him no chance of disavowal. And then, tacit consent to this being
given, he dropped mysterious hints. Verily the future was growing
strangely dark, the skein of the race more tangled hourly. With
helpless resignation Sampei was fain to allow that the fiat had gone
forth, that the days of the Hojos were numbered. If, as was growing
every moment plainer, the prophecy of the farmer was to be fulfilled
to the minutest detail, what was to be gained by struggling?

Patience was in very truth the only virtue which it became the doomed
to cultivate. Humbled, therefore, and filled with murky presage, the
young man bowed his neck and folded his hands, resolved to float with
the stream, obedient to the whim of destiny.

Thus Nara--kugé and devoted servant of the Holy Mikado--having been
warned by the Abbess of Tsu of the tottering condition of her house,
came and spied out the land, and returned home delighted; while she,
hearing in due course how he had come and gone, smiling and
dangerously courteous, fell a prey to vague misgivings, and betook
herself to prayer and abstinence. Vainly she cross-examined O'Tei,
grown stonier and whiter. Since her father's unsatisfactory visit, the
unhappy lady appeared to wake from a frozen trance to a sense of
feverish existence, only when prostrate on the temple floor praying
for the untying of her bonds. The words of Koshiu were seared as by an
iron on her heart; sleeping or waking, she saw them burning on the
wall.

The scene within the grey circle of weird trees was never absent from
her vision. What had she done to deserve the ban? The full horror of
the anathema ate into her being slowly. In succeeding cycles she was
destined to be accursed. Little by little she realised her doom; for
her there was to be no rest, no peace, no change for the better. Why?
Because, obedient to her father's commands, she had bestowed her hand
upon a tyrant. For blind obedience, punished for all time; for more
than time--for ever!

There was no justice, then, in this life, or in the realms beyond the
grave. She was created for misfortune and misery, specially picked out
for all the worst evils that beset mortality. If accursed in future
cycles, she might never rise,--never win Nirvana,--never hope for
oblivion. The unflecked blackness of the despair that settled down
like a foldless sable curtain upon O'Tei, caused the heart of Masago
to bleed for her. The gentlest, noblest, most patient, as well as the
most innocent of ladies! Truly the ways of the Eternal are
inscrutable. The austere Abbess strove to instil comfort into the
numbed soul--without avail. Her arguments, after all, were shallowest
platitudes, to be tossed aside by O'Tei with easy scorn. What to her
were the puny arts of O'Kikú the second wife? Shielded by the buckler
of such suffering as hers, the tiny pins of the geisha fell harmless.
Pity that 'twas so, for wholesome indignation might have wakened her
from the stupor which, unless broken, must shortly end in dissolution.

Pondering as she paced the silent groves, the Abbess sought for a clue
in vain. If the family was doomed to be smitten root and branch, it
was doomed. But what a store of faith is needed humbly to acquiesce
in the monstrous belief that the innocent must suffer for the
guilty,--that generations yet unborn are to come into the world
for the express purpose of bearing on their backs the guilt of
their ancestors. With terror Masago felt that she was growing
rebellious,--that her faith was trembling,--that she could no longer
gaze with trustful veneration upon Buddha, the expressionless and the
impassible, reposing cross-legged on his lotus. Herself, O'Tei, the
dearly-loved Sampei, were all to suffer for No-Kami. Sure Tomoyé must
be writhing on some other sphere for being the mother of such a
cockatrice! And so it naturally came about that Masago, as well as
others, looked forward to the sacrificing of Hojo--the chief to whom
they owed allegiance,--of the head of the family of which she was
proud to be one,--that she even prayed for the death of No-Kami as the
only possible solution of the problem.

O'Kikú was not above profiting by the lesson which had been taught by
Nara's visit. Instead of being permitted to subside into hopeless
imbecility, her lord must be aroused,--must be exhorted to tighten the
cords of his nervous system, in preparation for a sudden strain.
Accordingly, after a period of wonder at Nara's visit and its apparent
abortiveness, she began to suspect that, courteous as his manner was,
and suavely ceremonious his departure, they had not yet heard the last
of the kugé's irruption; and that it behoved her, as the guiding
spirit of the castle, to practise caution. That snake, Sampei, was
wriggling in the grass in inconvenient proximity, darting glances of
adoration at the chatelaine. For the dignity of her dear lord's name
(and her own future comfort), she must accentuate and renew her
exposure of the villain and his paramour, now that the coast was
clear. To this end, in order that vengeance might be tempered with
_sang froid_, their deluded victim must be taught to mingle vigilance
with circumspection, which would require a measure of sobriety. It
would be vexatious to have to resign a modicum of personal liberty,
but the sacking of the castle by a watchful enemy, who knew of its
master's sottishness, would be a worse evil. It behoved her for her
own sake to protect my lord from the enemy within the citadel. Arguing
from her own ways of thought, it was a logical deduction that, in love
with No-Kami's wife, Sampei must desire his death.

The geisha, adapting herself to the circumstances of the moment,
became outwardly more circumspect in her behaviour; watched over her
lord with affectionate care; exhorted and chid him with tender
patience till his paroxysms of fear were past; made herself so
absolutely needful to his existence, that he could not but fondly mark
the contrast betwixt her and his legitimate consort. And she was not
slow in administering the deadly drops when occasion served. What
should the lady O'Tei care? she would babble artlessly, that her lord
was well or ill, since her affections were engrossed by another, who
all along had possessed her heart. The silent twilight of cryptomeria
groves is conducive to holy meditation, but is also vastly convenient
for mundane dallying. But no! he must not excite himself. Why should
my lord exercise his shattered nerves, and pace like a caged bear?
What mattered it what they did, or how frequently they met? For
her part, his faithful O'Kikú thought it very diverting that any
warm-blooded man should elect to fall in love with an icicle.

No-Kami hearkened, and although his reason rejected the geisha's
hints, they set him pondering. Of O'Tei's character he had never seen
any side, after the first few days, but the cold, repellent one, made
more obnoxious sometimes by that lack of proper pride, which to his
nostrils was as an evil savour. His brother was also a riddle; as a
soldier brave to a fault, in other concerns hesitating, even timid,
beset with petty scruples incomprehensible to the broader views of his
feudal master. At the bottom of his heart he was afraid of his first
wife, and disliked his brother, who, instinct whispered, was more
worthy than himself. But to suspect those two of love passages!
O'Kikú, unable to read correctly the characters of either, was led
astray by over anxiety on his behalf. And yet, what if she were right?

That dreadful curse that was ringing ever in his ears. Was this one of
the ways in which he was to be stricken? Was he to be held up by wife
and brother as a laughing-stock in the eyes of his assembled warriors?
He had been weak, unnerved; had groaned and grovelled, forgetting his
name and lineage; had all but been lured to submit to degradation that
night among the enchanted trees. He would battle with the phantoms
now, like a true son of his father and Tomoyé--would conquer, by force
of indomitable will, even the goblins that pursued him. Rising up, and
girding his loins, thankful that the samurai had never beheld his
throes of terror, he appeared once more in the hall, overbearing and
stern and firm of step--as fierce and harsh as heretofore, if haggard
and ashen of hue.

Sampei marked the change with approval; for the idea that the head of
the house was to turn coward seemed the most grievous of possibilities
in connection with the martyr's curse. At this juncture an event
occurred which added yet further to his relief. The lord of Tsu was
summoned, by sudden mandate of the Mikado, and was ordered to present
himself in the sacred precincts of Ki[^y]oto without delay,
accompanied by a small following. This order, publicly given, he must
perforce obey, and, removed from the bad influence of the favourite,
there was no knowing what happy turn might follow. Though polygamy was
a recognised institution, it was not etiquette for any other than the
first wife to hold communion with the ladies of the imperial court.

The peremptory nature of the summons surprised and offended the lord
of Tsu. Old Nara, doubtless, had perceived how unstrung he was, had
whispered to the silly babbling kugés and their infatuated head that
the lion was toothless, that the poison-bag of the serpent was
removed. A sense of their mistake, and the speedy discomfiture of the
feeble gang, acted on the system of the despot like a dash of fresh
salt brine. He laughed aloud, as, detaching the clinging arm of the
siren from about his neck, he leapt lightly on Typhoon, his war-horse.
The day was crisp and brightly cold--exhilarating--the sky cloudless,
as he galloped towards the hills. In the frosty reviving air of the
mountains the vengeful shades were exorcised; Koshiu and Kennui and
their baleful family lingered behind in the plains, and stretch forth
in vain their talons. The ghosts faded into thin vapour--nightmare was
shaken off--No-Kami felt ten years younger than yesterday. A fig for
the farmer and his curse! The tyrant of Japan must have been sick
indeed to have shivered under a peasant's puling!

Of a surety a signal change had come over my lord. Peradventure there
was to be an alteration in the mind as well as the body--greater
miracles have come to pass. So mused Sampei--strangely relieved--while
he watched the knot of horsemen as they wound upwards and over the
sky-line. The gods grant it! O'Kikú also mused as she stood watching.
My lord was better--that was a comfort,--would prove to the trembling
courtiers that they had reckoned wrongly. She had a secret for him on
his return which should bind him yet closer to her. Meanwhile she
could enjoy a time of absolute freedom, give vent to her proclivities,
whilst narrowly watching the young General and his love, and weaving
the web of her intrigues.



                            CHAPTER XIII.

                       THE DESPOT OBEYS ORDERS.


The little cavalcade sped swiftly on, for the frost-bound roads were
pleasant travelling, and towards evening a dim mass appeared on the
horizon, which presaged a fall of snow. It behoved the Daimio and his
escort to ascend the wild and rugged pass, and seek the sheltered
plains, before the coming of the storm.

Yes, No-Kami was himself again. The eyes, like burning coals, no
longer glared at him. The good horse Typhoon, idle too long, chafed
under the bit, buffeted with his lord for mastery. A distempered
dream, no more, one that was past and gone. Light of heart and
jovially inclined, he gratified his taste for cruelty by lashing his
steed into a fever. Even he, the horse, was aware how sick he had
been--was mutinous and restive--needed a sharp lesson. The samurai, he
remarked, were more familiar than of yore. There was a shade less of
submission in their manner. One went so far as to bandy a broad jest,
putting forth lips too close to his master's ear, upon which he
received a smart blow upon the cheek, as a hint to keep his distance.

Their lord was himself again, and the warriors were glad. That he
should be fooled by a wanton to their benefit was amusing for a while,
but with satiety rose a feeling of disgust. The fascinating geisha's
heart had room for too many occupants, and the warriors began to
reflect some while since that, by betraying their lord in their
society, she was shaming the house they served. As the charm of
novelty waned, they began to see her as she was. Removed from the
range of O'Kikú's orbs, the more sober among then grieved about that
second marriage. As a dancing-girl--a passing fancy--O'Kikú was all
that could be desired--but as a permanent second wife?--no. On the
whole, even the mawkish chatelaine was less grievous as a mistress.
Her sins were of omission only. Never by word or look had she
disgraced the name she bore. Unfortunately, the same could not be said
for the concubine.

My lord was himself again, and, being so, was desperately tetchy. This
was untoward. Otherwise, a wary hint might have been thrown out by the
trusted and war-beaten officer who rode beside him as to the reckless
proceedings of his favourite. In the present condition of his temper,
interference might produce explosion. Well, time is the best guide. If
detained at Ki[^y]oto, he might see some one he liked better, and
forget O'Kikú, and then she could be relegated to a convent as lumber
is removed to a godown.

The samurai were in high spirits, and noisy withal, and the Daimio
observed with displeasing the effect of discipline relaxed. So
soon as he returned home he would set his castle in order, he
resolved,--suppress undue lawlessness,--check familiarity. When he
returned? Would the nightmare crush him again--numbing his limbs,
breaking his spirit? Surely not. Why should he ever return? Was he not
lord of other castles? Could he not appropriate at will, with the
strong hand of might, any stronghold that should take his fancy? Tsu
could be left to O'Tei and to the goblins. Henceforth it was a hateful
spot, recalling humiliation and pain. And then he mused about
O'Kikú--entrancing little fairy! A pity she was unreasonably jealous,
for all those stories about his wife and his brother were too absurd
to be believed. Yet were they? What, after all, if the concubine were
right, and Sampei's air of offended dignity a piece of clever
masquerading? Had he, the chief, not seemed to detect something like
commiseration on the bronzed features of his warriors? Why should they
pity him? Perhaps they knew too well that, behind his back, his wife
and brother held clandestine meetings. Of course, this must be it.
Scales fell from his eyes, and he trembled with passion. His first
wife was deceiving him, and with his brother! Hence their waning
respect and covert pity. And, fool that he was, he had left the two
together. Grinding his teeth, he twitched the rein so sharply that
Typhoon, beflecked with foam, fell back upon his haunches. And then,
in fitful mood, he laughed again. To Ki[^y]oto first to tie up
loosened strands, then back to Tsu with furtive speed! He would swoop
upon both the guilty ones, catch them off their guard, and make of
them an example for all time.

The peasants, scared out of their wits by the truculent bearing of the
soldiery, betook them to the woods, and lurked in hiding till the
enemy had passed. At the top of the mountain, just where the way is
level, before dipping down through a thicket of wind-tossed pines,
there stood a modest tea-house where my lord was wont to sleep on his
journeys between his castle and the capital. Here he resolved to stop
as usual, and, after bathing, enjoy his dinner. The landlord and his
daughters came smiling forth, and, clapping palms upon their thighs,
knelt down and rapped foreheads on the floor. My lord was paler than
his wont, observed mine host, with profuse sighing; and thin, which
tore in twain the hearts of his loyal vassals; indeed they had heard
that he was grievously sick--almost unto death. Had not my lord of
Nara gone by recently and brought the evil tidings! One and all had
wept, and offered prayers for his recovery. But my lord was young, and
would speedily recover, thanks to the elasticity of youth. And so on,
with many genuflections and drawings in of the breath; sibillations,
and head-rappings; while No-Kami's face grew purple, and he growled a
string of curses.

Nara dared--the insolent dotard!--he dared to spread reports among the
people to the detriment of him, the Hojo! Sick unto death, forsooth!
He burned to continue his journey forthwith, that the old schemer
might be swiftly punished. Hark! What was that? A clatter of hoofs on
the hard road. A betto, breathless, wearing the badge of Tsu. What had
chanced? Not an accident to the fair O'Kikú? Anything but that. The
anxiety of No-Kami caused the warriors to glance with grim meaning
from one to another, and shake their heads. How infatuated was their
lord with that brazen hussy! A lacquer box, bound with a red cord,
containing a roll--a letter scrawled by the dear one. The darling
faithful fairy was pining in the absence of her love! Retiring to the
inner chamber, with its fine white mats, and gold ceiling painted with
many fans, he proceeded to peruse the scroll. "He must not be angry
with his little slave in that she perforce must write to him." (Angry!
and with her? At home he might have snarled, but now time and distance
were between them.) "She was not so well-disciplined, springing from
the warm-hearted people, as my lady, the chill chatelaine." (No, in
sooth! O'Tei would be long ere she despatched love-missives to her
husband.) "She was silly enough to adore my lord so well that each
moment out of his company was like a dagger-stab; and yet, _she had
comfort in his absence!_"

Here was a mystery concerning which he must not be jealous, since the
comfort of which she spoke would affect him as well as her. My lord
must give way before her whim, and be patient, or if not patient, must
hasten home the sooner, that the grand secret of joy might be
divulged. Softened, he laid the paper down. He must be a brute indeed
who hath not a tender spot in his ruggedness for one who so
unselfishly adored! The guileless, silly child! What was the grand
secret that was to be the harbinger of doubly-concentrated bliss?
Stay! there was a postscript to the letter, and the Hojo scrunched its
frail tissue in his palm. Under the green leaf lies the scorpion.
"Since my lord went they are at ease, and the Abbess a shameless
pander!" That was all, but it was enough to remove the sweetness from
the rest,--the one drop of gall that could turn a whole dish sour.

_At ease_, were they! Not for long--not for long! Squatting on the
mat, with a futon, or wadded quilt, about his shoulders, and his cold
hands spread over the hibachi, where charcoal ashes distributed a
mockery of warmth, No-Kami quivered now in every racked sinew. Did
everybody unite to beard him? He was fallen so low as that! The
prestige due to wholesome fear was paling. He had been too lenient.
That pageant had somehow been a failure. Only just in time had he
recovered from his illness. It was time to turn over a new leaf and
coerce the rebellious and unruly with an increase of severity. A
plague on the noisy soldiery! They were as insolent as all the rest.
The world was out of gear. What hideous din was that in the outer
chamber? Springing to his feet, the Daimio flung back in their grooves
the paper-covered doors, and in a voice of thunder demanded the cause
of the uproar. A disgraceful scene, in truth! The landlord, but now so
smiling and obsequious, was tied and gagged. So were the plump girls,
his daughters, whose bosoms heaved with terror-stricken sobs, while
tears coursed down their cheeks, and their locks, though plastered
thick with oil, were bereft of pins and ornaments.

What was the meaning of this? stammered their outraged lord, so soon
as indignation permitted of speech. Sure they must be out of their
senses! He had borne with their impudence upon the road,--their
offensive, rollicking gait and vulgar swagger; but now they had gone
too far, and should feel the weight of his displeasure. Were they
samurai--faithful and obedient henchmen--or ronins--bandits? There had
been more than enough quarrelling of late between the soldiers and the
lower class. Landlord and maidens must be instantly released with full
apologies, with substantial damages in the future, which should be
extorted from the pay of the truculent and peccant braves.

The Hojo was awful in his indignation--a whirlwind! Sure the
thunder-god looked like this while deafening with his gongs the
firmament. The girls were set free with tardy sullenness, and cowered
together, trembling; but the man who menaced the landlord clutched him
still, with the point of a dirk at his throat, while he who was in
command approached his lord with extreme humility, begging to be
permitted to explain.

"We were toying with the maidens," he bluntly urged--"surely an
appropriate amusement for soldiers--when one, too roughly pinched,
perhaps, turned on the aggressor with a jibe. 'Take heed,' she
shrieked, in shrill resentment at that which was only gallantry, 'lest
you strutting fowls get your fine feathers clipped!' She would have
said more, but her sire, in fear, clapped a hand upon her mouth,
exhorting her to prudence. She had betrayed herself--uttered a dark
threat, whose meaning it became us to learn. With the steel at his
throat the man had made confession--and a pretty coil it was! The
clans are gathering, he says; silently, by detachments, in the
mountains, ready, at given signal to fall unawares upon my lord. That
was why the Daimio of Nara deigned to visit us. He came to reconnoitre
the ground, to see if we were prepared and vigilant. While we reposed
in false security (this varlet hath confessed) the hostile daimios
have been summoning their men, have enrolled in their service paid
auxiliaries; disbanded, wandering ronins; soldiers of fortune,
ruffians. And this, as it seems (though one can scarce believe it),
with the tacit consent both of the Holy Mikado and of the Shogun at
Kamakura. This summons to Ki[^y]oto is a snare, detected luckily in
time. May it please my lord--pardoning the arrogance of his poor
servant in advising--to take horse at once, and, riding quickly home
prepare for danger. Finding their plot discovered, they will follow,
striving, by myriads like locusts, to undo us. But the walls of Tsu
are strong. Behind them we may laugh, secure."

Having made this long oration, the chief of the samurai bent down,
touched with his lips the hem of my lord's hanging girdle, and then
rising, with bowed neck awaited orders. A discovery indeed! When
closeted with his child the crafty Nara had doubtless explained the
plot, had held out the hope of freedom to the prisoner; and she, as
consummate in dissimulation as her parent, had seen without a quiver
of an eyelid her husband riding to his death. Perhaps Sampei knew also
of it--of course he did. Ambitious for himself, a willing tool of
Nara's! Faithless traitors all! O'Kikú was the only true one!

His brows knitted in deep concern, the Daimio waved his hand, and
retired for a while to think. The suddenly-opened chasm that yawned
before his feet completed the recovery of No-Kami. His wife, his
brother, false. That was evident now. The adviser selected by his
parent convicted of treason. Incensed Japan ready to rise as one to
shake off a weakened despot. Nobody but himself to trust to; no arm
but his own to succour him. Return with all speed to Tsu, and place
that impregnable stronghold in a condition to endure a siege? Prudent
advice enough; but what if the hovering ghosts should on his
re-entrance there claim and clutch him for their own. Then would he be
undone indeed. But the ghosts had ceased to worry. No-Kami thrilled
with glee as he realised the imminence of his peril. How mistaken in
their estimate they were of him who held them leashed. What! Catch a
Hojo like a rat in a trap? Not they. Not all the united prowess of
Japan should succeed in doing it, provided goblins were kept aloof
from the contest. Return at once to Tsu. No! 'Twould be a sign of
weakness. Instead of retiring, it behoved him to assume the offensive.
He would invade the Mikado, as he had often done before, and cow with
his scowl alone the poor timid array of hares. By the prestige of his
name and the uncompromising power of his will he had held his own
since the demise of his father and Tomoyé. It is a mistake for a
despot to hide his frown too long. The past should be retrieved by a
blow so heavy and unexpected that the hares, quaking with
apprehension, would scuttle off without a sound.

Striding forth again from retirement, No-Kami issued orders so prompt
and to the purpose that there was no gainsaying them.

The betto was to return to Tsu at the top of his speed, with private
instructions to the officers as to increased watchfulness. This scroll
he would deliver to Sampei, and instruct him, at the peril of his life
without delay to join his brother at the capital. The letter was so
sternly worded that he would perceive he had been betrayed,--that the
head of his clan was aware of his perfidy, and he would accordingly
throw up the game, confess, and sue for mercy.

The Daimio himself and his following would, after a few hours of
repose, push on to Ki[^y]oto. The rice of the men consumed, the horses
fed, and a cup of saké all round, and then, away!

The landlord and his daughter; what of them?

The miserable peasant was quaking on the mat, groaning and wringing
hands with incoherent supplications, deeply distressed in mind to
think that through the blabbing of him and his the tyrant should have
received timely warning.

To all posterity would their names go branded down, since but for
their folly the bonds of their land would have been loosened. The
girls, beside themselves with fear, crawled on hands and knees,
imploring clemency.

Folding his arms, No-Kami looked down upon the supplicants, while his
features were contracted by a spasm that might pass for a malignant
grin.

"What of these?" he glowered. "Slash the father's throat; 'tis given
to garrulity and chattering. The girls? Serve them as you will. What
have I to do with vermin?"



                             CHAPTER XIV.

                      THE MIKADO DOES BUSINESS.


Since the return of Nara from his mysterious excursion, the interior
of the sad prison-house of the Mikado was quite lively. The kneeling
kugés chirruped like birds; their tall black headdresses waved and
nodded like sable plumes in the wind. Excitement being contagious, the
un-elect, who might not step within the sacred halls, laughed too and
gabbled on the outer verandahs, showing their white teeth, and
gossiping hopefully. They wist not why they were so light of heart;
but if the privileged denizens of the lugubrious dwelling, usually so
glum, were gay, it meant that the Holy Mikado was well pleased; and if
the Fountain of Honour was content, it was clearly the duty of them,
his lowly faithful ones, to vie one with another in sympathy.

After that terrible interview when he was publicly insulted before his
court, the miserable Mikado retired into darkness, declining to emerge
or to be comforted. He vowed that the three deposed Emperors who were
mumbling prayers in remote monasteries were far better off than he,
for they at any rate were left in peace, so long as they submitted
quietly, and were pitied as well as loved by the Empire. The actual
Emperor, so long as he seemed to reign, was held responsible for what
was done, and he, unfortunately for himself, was of a conscientious
turn of mind. The peasant man who, alas, too trusting, had confided
himself to the safe keeping of the Holy One, had been torn from
sanctuary, ignominiously executed, together with his innocent family,
and the Fountain of Honour was aware that in the eyes of the people he
must be a willing accomplice, or else the meanest of puppets. His
conscience was torn by pincers. He ought somehow to have saved that
family. Humiliation and shame gnawed into his vitals, as rusty gyves
into the wrists. No slavery, he declared, while he crouched in his
dark chamber, with drops of sweat upon his brow, could possibly be
worse than his. A change of masters, if master he must have, would be
for the better, since his plight could not be altered for the worse.
Not the lowest coolie,--the meanest Eta in his dominions, was of less
account than he. If all these chattering kugés, who prostrated
themselves so humbly, drawing in breath like humming insects,
professing profound devotion, would only do something practical, then
would he, the Fountain, sparkle with gratitude, and profusely
distribute benedictions.

Nara was a provoking person. Wise as an owl in aspect, his wisdom was
much an imposture as that of the sapient bird. As usual he exhorted to
patience, droned platitudes through his nose. The friends of that
much-tried individual on a dunghill, whom Christians had been heard to
prate about, were no more exasperating. When the octopus holds you
with his tentacles in fell embrace, you must summon all your strength
in a supreme effort to tear him piecemeal. A series of small struggles
are mere waste of tissue. The Hojo, as all within the holy prison
house were painfully aware, was a portentous octopus, more awful than
any of the forbidding monsters, with arms of five feet and more, that
are to be seen any day in the fish-market.

Those who would measure lances with him must be cautious--very
cautious. Perhaps, looking back on history, the Fountain might
remember Yoriiyé, son of Yoritomo the Great, who, banished to the
temple of Idzu, was compelled to shave off his hair. Objecting, he
rebelled, and, to the general dismay, was found strangled one morning
in his bath. The present Fountain was young and impetuous, a boy, and
ignorant, and must learn to smile and wait--to smile and smile--and
_strike!_ That he should have resolved on a change at any cost, was
well. His trusty lords would beat about and see what was to be done.
Doth not the ratcatcher's cat hide her claws?--to serve her end
perform miracles? With the stirring of the wind the heron rises from
the stream. A little faith, and patience.

It was fortunate for the conspirators, headed by Nara, that after his
deplorable exhibition of cruelty at Tsu the tyrant should remain
quiescent. The snake, for the moment gorged, was comatose. Taking
advantage of his absence and inaction, the Daimio of Nara threw his
spies broadcast over the land--sent letters to absent magnates
inviting them to unite and march for the emancipation of their lord
from serfdom. He even sent privately to the Shogun at Kamakura,
declaring that if any one was despot in future it should be he, since,
by virtue of his post, he was the first General of the Empire, the
legitimate leader of her armies. If the Hojo had been at Ki[^y]oto,
and awake, these proceedings would have been at once detected, and
crushed with an iron hand. Why was he so quiet in his distant castle?

When the message from Masago arrived, declaring that the Daimio of Tsu
was sinking into lowest debauchery, willing victim of a harlot, Nara
thanked the gods, and rushed to his imperial master. The other item in
the communication--concerning the position of his own daughter--was a
trifle. She also must practise patience. She would be amply avenged
for present torment at the same time as the Holy Mikado. Was not this
grand news, well worth a little waiting--a little suffering? Had he
not been right--he, the hoary one, the sage, the experienced, the
prudent? They had waited, and the moment was at hand. In exultant joy
he flung himself headlong on the mat, and embraced his master's feet.

Of course the latter was glad that evil should befall his tyrant; but
Nara was always more glib with tongue than sword. A little patience,
quotha. For patience the times were out of joint. A little action now.
Answers arrived from east and west, from north and south--some
bellicose and ardent, some timid and time-serving. The Fountain of
Honour deigned to come out of darkness like a snail out of its shell;
but as he lay supported on his hand in the centre of the floor, his
mien was so troubled, his young brow so puckered and scowling, that
the kugés squatting around in a circle sat wistful, with heads on one
side--motionless. For hours and hours he remained as inanimate as
they--lost in gloomy thoughts and dumb abstraction. The prospect was
too halcyon. The tyrant, firm in the toils of a low woman, might
become sodden and besotted. What of the other--no less than he a
Hojo--the idol of the army, bravest of the brave? The soul of loyalty
(or his face belied him), he would stand by his brother, a tower of
strength in an emergency.

Plausible and garrulous and self-deceiving as old men are wont to be,
Nara had been quite wrong in his estimate of General Sampei. He, the
General, had appeared distressed at the proceedings of his feudal
superior. And yet could it be denied that he had calmly attended and
approved that shocking massacre,--had stood by with hands before him
while infants were slaughtered,--had remained on the premises ever
since, perfectly composed and comfortable? His face was a lying mask
then. He was as bad, every bit, as his brother,--as much to be feared
and hated; for since it was clear that he approved his acts, he would,
of course, stand by him to the death.

Nara rubbed his chin, and whilst confessing that that much of the
problem was at present not quite so clear as was desirable, stoutly
declared that if the distant chiefs could succeed in quietly gathering
their adherents, and, unsuspected, mass them within distance of the
capital the desired end would be attained, Sampei or no Sampei. The
Hojo must be lulled in false security, and awake to a sense of danger
only in time to perish. In order to reconnoitre the ground, he, the
veteran, would stir his old bones and pay a visit to his son-in-law.
There would be naught in this to raise suspicion, for what could be
more natural than that a fond parent should make a pilgrimage to visit
his only child?

He went, as we have seen, and in due course returned, so jubilant and
radiant that even his glum master perforce believed in him. Their
prayers were heard. The gods were sick of tyranny. The despot,
blindfold, was marching to his fate. His foot was on the edge of the
abyss. As the Fountain of Honour in his inspired wisdom had pointed
out, Sampei was loyal to his chief, so far, but he was evidently full
of disgust, uncertain what he ought to do, harried and worried,
wretched. The citadel was more than half undermined already. He, the
brilliant general, soldier to his finger nails, moved in a centre of
undisciplined debauchery; listess, unshocked, uninterested. Why, a
handful of ronins could take and sack in a trice the castle once
deemed impregnable! The guards were wrapped in drunken sleep, the
sentinels, absent from their posts, were engaged in uproarious wassail
Not a peasant for miles around but would hail with joyous relief the
advent of a new master; not a farmer or artizan but, with full faith
in Koshiu's dying words, would look on No-Kami's downfall as
retribution heaven-born. Nothing would be easier than, guided by
peasants, to march trusty troops by night through the mountain defiles
and take the castle by surprise. Sampei, half-hearted as he was, and
preternaturally listless, would acquiesce in the inevitable (would be
only too glad to do so), and, his brother slain--no longer tied by
fealty--would appear in his true colours. In the absence of their
hereditary chief, the braves of Tsu would lose their heads, throw down
their arms. For the stronghold must fall in the absence of the Hojo,
or the prestige that hung around his dignity might save him after all.
Just see how cautiously and well-prepared were the plans of the
veteran counsellor. Hojo must be summoned to Ki[^y]oto on some
business; then sent back with a reproof, to fall into a skilfully-set
trap. Admitted within the walls that were once his own--but which
would have surrendered in his absence--he could be seized and bound,
and, in this plight, covered with the green net of dishonour, be
exhibited before awed crowds, as a sermon against vaulting ambition.

So fluent was the old man, so completely self-convinced, that the
Mikado revived and sat up, while the eyes of the circle of kugés
goggled in their heads with mingled admiration and alarm. No-Kami, as
we have seen, was sent for in peremptory fashion. The Fountain
suggested timidly that this was rash, perhaps; and then old Nara
laughed loud and long and savagely.

"Time was, O Holy One!" he cried, with wagging headpiece, "when 'twas
I who prated of prudence. Now I say be brave! There is naught to fear:
his claws are cut. I have looked on him! There is terror in his
bloodshot eyes, dread in his shaking hands and shuffling footsteps.
The dying farmer called down a curse, and it works visibly, for his
confidence in himself has gone--his belief in a lucky star!"

All this was vastly refreshing to the inhabitants of the palace,
accustomed as they were to groaning. The Mikado, with mind at ease,
sat on his lacquered chair within the white-curtained tent, and gave
audience to all and sundry. The weather was bitterly cold.

A cutting wind blew down from the hills, sheeted last night with snow.
Nevertheless, so benignantly disposed was he, that the Fountain of
Honour ordered the shutters of the Great Hall to be removed, that
those without might see him, and fall in ecstasy upon their faces.
With a hibachi of fine bronze before him, clad in wadded robes with
seven linings, his wizened visage was cut clear against the background
by the towering black gauze leaf that he only of mortals was permitted
to wear erect. Despite his wadding and his charcoal he was chilly; but
what matters that when the heart is warm, the spirits high? The moment
of triumph was approaching when he would claim an eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth,--exact a cry of pain for each that himself had
uttered. Since the despot was already so stricken by outraged Buddha
as to be spiritless, he, the Fountain, would improve the occasion when
the culprit arrived, in order that all might perceive and applaud the
seasonable resumption of his free will and dignity. Openly now he
discussed with assembled kugés each succeeding step. Troops were
already moving silently, under cover of the dark, towards the castle.
Others were approaching from afar in the direction of the central
rendezvous. On the arrival of the culprit--news had already been
received of his starting--he should be solemnly arraigned and
admonished, then banished in disgrace to his lands at Tsu. There he
would fall into the snare, be brought back with every mark of insult
and ignominy to the capital--and then--and then! What was to happen
after that was too delicious to be too promptly settled. It was a
morsel to be turned over and over on the tongue, not swallowed with a
gulp.

Both Fountain and attendant kugés were never weary now of discussing
"what then?" Of course, the last thing of all was to be harakiri. This
means of final exit he could justly claim by right of name and
lineage. But before the final tragedy there might, if skilfully
thought out, be endless shades of moral torture; and the kugés,
squatting in a row, crumpled their foreheads and stared at the gold
ceiling in the delightful travail of conception. Every one had an idea
which required to be examined and considered, sifted, accepted, or
rejected. Meanwhile the Fountain dribbled out wisdom, encouraged
brains to nimbleness, distributed applause. One of the nobles had an
inspiration, whereon all his fellows cackled. There was a punishment
that none had endured for years, but which might be revived with
advantage for the behoof of the fallen Hojo. In a public place, before
the assembled populace, a series of the lowest and dirtiest Etas were
to be placed in a long line, with straddled legs, and under the arcade
thus formed--a pilgrimage of consummate degradation--the humbled
noble, on hands and knees, was to be condemned to crawl. An admirable
suggestion! Traitorous nobles condemned to this ordeal had been known
to die from very shame--their soul crushed out of them, ere half the
journey was accomplished. Sure the proud-stomached Hojo would not
survive, and thus would go out of the world deprived of the honour of
harakiri.

The Mikado, enchanted, could conjure up the scene. He longed for the
moment to arrive when the culprit, erst so domineering, would shuffle
in, nervous and unstrung. A new and charming sensation this to one who
was wont himself to quiver. Yes, he longed for the moment, but the
wretch should not be admitted at once. Certainly not. He should be
shown his place; he who had ridden roughshod should be kept waiting in
an ante-room. He----Hark! what sound was that? Rapid and dreadfully
familiar? Could it indeed be? A footfall, too well known, was creaking
quickly along the bare boards of the corridor. Shuffling, forsooth! it
was as brisk and elastic as of yore. With a glance of dismayed
reproach the Mikado turned to Nara, then concealed behind a fan his
burning face. Nara frowned, surprised. The crouching kugés twittered.

Mice gambol when their hereditary foe is slumbering; then, when the
green gleaming eyes re-open, scuffle into holes. For these poor mice
there were no holes. The footstep was crunching--crunching on their
hearts. Though it approached more near, more near, with dreadful
swiftness, they might not move, since no shelter was at hand, and they
had not wings to fly. Alack! with idle presumption they had uncorked a
bottle, and out had popped a gin that spread his bat's pinions over
the sky with stifling sulphurous stench.

Dread in his shaking hand indeed! Oh, Nara! Nara! Peeping nervously
between his fan-sticks, as the commanding figure that he knew too well
darkened the doorway, the Fountain of Honour perceived a threatening
outline in which there was no sign of decadence. As with hand lightly
poised on hip, and proud head raised, the Hojo strode into the
Presence, the Mikado marked that he was pale and thin, but his eye, if
bloodshot, was piercing as ever--fierce as the untamed eagle's. That
Nara, who boasted of experience and acumen, should be so grievously
taken in. Well, well! it was all the fault of that old fool. The
embroglio was of his making; it must be for him to get them out of the
hobble.

But Nara, save for a deepening line between the brows, and teeth that
bit the lip, seemed unaware of the apparition. Red and wrinkled lids
blinked over glazed eyes which stared stonily into space from under a
white and shaggy penthouse. The Daimio of Tsu, erect and menacing,
glanced slowly down at the assembled lords, who, with bent backs, were
contemplating the floor--then at the fan and bundle of silks which
concealed the Fountain of Honour--then at the crowd without, who stood
with craned necks on the verandahs, or grouped about the garden. From
between his fan-sticks the Mikado followed the motions of the despot
with increasing trepidation.

If only he dared to command the closing of the doors--but his tongue
refused its office. Instinct told him that the cup of disgrace was
again to be presented to his lips, and that it would be more bitter
than ever to the taste. How hard was fate! Every one of the court
circle--hatamotos, lords, knights, dependants--was to witness the
unpleasing ceremony.

As the Daimio stood quietly glancing round without a word, the silence
became each second less endurable. By bearing and power of eye,
combined with an eloquent past, the tyrant held them cowed. Insolent!
He had presumed to appear in the presence in ordinary garb,--had not
deigned to don the _Uye-no-Bakama_; or the regulation white silk
shirt, or _[=O] Katabira_. And the attitude of the courtiers, too! A
pack of grovelling cowards! fine weather friends. A minute since they
were gabbling, one against another, of future deeds of prowess--of
dazzling achievements; now not one among the startled herd had courage
to sacrifice himself--to save his lord from the dilemma. Piteously the
Mikado looked at Nara, who made no response; then--since it was
absolutely essential that some one should break the silence--he closed
his fan and whispered meekly,--

"Lord Hojo, you are welcome."

No-Kami smiled, and remarked shortly,--

"Very welcome, doubtless. As I came hither I heard a sound of
mirth--now all sit mumchance. Had I not received a special summons, I
should have deemed I had intruded."

The smile and accents of studied courtesy were more galling than rude
speech, to which all were well accustomed. 'Twas as when a tamer of
animals flicks them playfully with a wand. They are too docile to need
whipping, yet, pending possible contingencies, 'tis wholesome that
they should receive a tap.

Suddenly dropping the tone of banter, the Daimio strode nearer to his
master, and sternly said,--

"May I know why I was summoned? No matter. I have come, and, being
here, will ask a question. We are at peace, I think. During the weeks
of my retirement I have heard no news of war. Why, then, a stir of
arms,--a movement of troops,--marching, countermarching in the night?
What is the subject of offence?--is it with China or Corea?"

The sinister eye of No-Kami fell upon Nara, who calmly responded,--"I
know nothing."

"You lie!" retorted the Hojo fiercely. "Oh, base and double-faced and
craven! False and deceitful is the blood of Nara--rotten is stock and
branch! You and your daughter are alike."

Without changing his attitude one tittle, the old man slightly raised
his brows.

"My daughter!" he said, with exceeding calm. "Forbear to breathe her
name. You have broken her heart; driven her to the gate of Death. I
ought to have known that none but a savage was a fit mate for Hojo."

"Pretty innocent!" sneered No-Kami, lashing himself to frenzy as he
advanced towards Nara, hand raised as if to smite. "Know that your
pure white blossom is my brother's paramour!"

A flush passed over the grim features of the old Daimio, then left
them pale. His master nervously scanned the kugés, whose heads were
bent lower than ever. From no quarter was there succour against this
octopus. The Mikado fairly jumped in his seat when No-Kami spoke
again.

"You, boy," he said, "see to this matter of the troops. They were
summoned without your knowledge, I am willing to believe, by others,
who never troubled to consult one so feeble. Or shall I, since you
have called me to your side, undertake to relieve you of the task?
Letters shall be despatched forthwith to the effect that 'twas a false
alarm, bred of mischief and malice,--that the ronins may be disbanded,
the men returned to their homes. I shall remain for the present at the
Golden House, ready with my humble service when required. With you and
yours, my lord, I will settle later."

With a show of exaggerated humility, which was worse than knife-stabs,
and a glare at Nara, the despot departed as he came, leaving in his
wake, as he scrunched away, a trail of terror and discomfiture. The
sliding doors were closed in haste. For a while, the assembly remained
frozen, then the unhappy Mikado heaved a deep sigh, which was met by a
flutter of moaning. He was gone for the present, that was a small
mercy; but then he might return at any moment, abusive and vindictive
instead of caustic. The shuffling step and trembling hand. Oh, Nara,
Nara! Broken reed, false friend; vain, impotent wind-bag; purblind,
blustering dotard!

Gushing with torrents of weak tears, the Fountain relieved his pent-up
anguish with trickling reproaches and sobs, to which the old Daimio
listened gloomily. No doubt, he had been wrong in some measure, he
admitted with hesitation, for so rapid a recovery had never entered
into the complex web of his calculations. Perchance it was but the
bright temporary flicker of the expiring lamp. The Fountain of Honour
must not be too severe on his aged servant. Had he not kept his temper
under grievous provocation, blows would have been exchanged in the
holy presence, imperial prestige in the eyes of the whole court would
have been lowered.

"Rubbish! A paltry excuse! Why, as he stood there, did none of you rid
me of him?" groaned the Fountain, whereupon the abject circle groaned
in echo.

"Of a truth, some one should have done it," bleated one; but surprise,
after what they had heard, unnerved each arm; and, indeed, the Hojo
was a terrible person, an ogre to terrify the doughtiest.

"Bluster and cowardice are sisters!" continued the lamenting Mikado.
He could never trust any of them any more--never, never--the cravens!
His chains, heavy and numbing, were riveted with adamantine links! and
so forth--with a chorus of bleating.

When you know that you have done your best,--that but for some one
unforeseen and ineradicable speck your carefully-wrought blade would
be faultless, a shimmering masterpiece--it is vastly vexatious for
people whom you despise, although they wear the aureole, to go on
ungenerously drivelling anent that one undeniable blemish. Nara, as he
said, had endured a great deal at the hard hand of Hojo, but to sit
calmly any longer under the futile reproaches of the Holy One was
beyond his stock of that patience he was so fond of recommending to
others.

Moreover, is not the putting aside of what is past and unpleasant a
principle approved of by sages? What is done is done. Even after the
late scene, wherein a brutal keeper disported himself among his
animals, and departed triumphing, all was not lost, The Fountain
had been compelled to imbibe another sip of a nauseous draught with
which he was so familiar, that surely it did not signify, at any
rate, it should be the last His faithful Nara promised it. How the
never-sufficiently-to-be-accursed Hojo had ever discovered the
approaching advent of cohorts was a puzzle. But the cohorts were near
by this time, and they must even make an open stand against the
tyrant, since the scheme of treachery had failed. He, the domineering
Hojo, would write angry and imperious letters to the approaching
daimios, bidding them begone; but in the name of the Holy One letters
could also be sent--secretly, of course--exhorting them to ride all
the quicker, since the situation had become acute.

"I will gird my old sword again, despite my many winters," Nara
concluded pompously. "Dost think that because my hair is white my
heart is frozen? Under the snows of Shirané-San and Asama-Yama
smoulder the hidden fires. This man's father has immured three
Emperors, and he himself is preparing to depose a fourth. He has
insulted me, and broken my daughter's heart. A little craft--a very
little more--and the crest of the despot is laid low."

The hapless Mikado suffocated. Tears of impotent wrath welled from his
august eyelids. Cowardice and bluster to the end, and broken reeds to
lean on, while he drained the nauseous cup! Verily the banished
Emperors were to be envied. The young man rose, and retired to his
inner chamber, and lay prone with moans in darkness.



                             CHAPTER XV.

                          WILL BUDDHA SPEAK?


Meanwhile affairs at Tsu were not prospering. Sampei, tossed like a
shuttlecock, formed, as usual, a dozen resolutions daily, and broke
them all. At one moment he was for the flight of O'Tei from the doomed
castle--become now a hell of untramelled debauchery--and her
installation with his mother at the temple. There she would be in
sanctuary, whence even her husband durst not wrest her. But then what
a triumph for O'Kikú! He felt that O'Tei would never consent to a step
which would be a tacit admission of defeat, for she was a Nara of pure
blood, with all the pride of her race. No. She must stop where she
was, and await the unrolling of events; and yet what a life was hers,
compelled to remain much in her bower, lest she should be insulted by
O'Kikú or the braves. As Nara hoped, the evil germ was working
inwardly. A regret rose within the mind of Sampei which scorched and
blackened it. Is a faithful clansman and an honest man ever justified
in turning on his chief? Before there was no question of it: now he
was in more than doubt. May a brother ever be pardoned for taking his
brother's life? Cases of fratricide were common enough, as Nara had
hinted--there were precedents galore--but then the ruling feature of
Sampei's character had always been loyal honesty. The gods in their
wisdom had set over him certain superiors. What would be said to him
when the end came, and accounts were totted up upon the abacus, if he
had rebelled? Buddha, frowning, would demand to know how he dared move
out of his place, arrogantly assuming to be the wiser.

His first duty was to the head of his house: surely there should be no
doubt whatever about that. But what if another urgent duty had been
imposed by his heart--an imperative duty, clashing with the first?
There lay the rub, a problem beyond the solving of the simple General.
And since the shocking suggestion had been spread by the wily geisha
that there were unholy bonds 'twixt him and her whom it was only too
plain he loved, the situation had become so strained as to fill him
with foreboding and dismay. To save her fair fame ought he indeed to
go? To leave her a helpless waif on this whirlpool of black wickedness
was out of the question. And yet how was she benefited by his staying,
since he dared not approach without compromising her? So miserable did
the poor man feel, racked and torn by a difficulty with which he was
incapable of coping, that the light was dark to him, his heart stone
cold. He knew himself as weak as she, a ball at the foot of Fate; and
so he wandered aimless and disconsolate, hearing and seeing nothing,
caring not what befell, waiting--as the rudderless do--to see what
would happen next.

Oh, heart of man, centre of suffering! When one is said to be
heartless, 'tis looked upon as a reproach, instead of a matter for
gratulation! The heart of man! 'Tis barely enough for a kite's dinner,
yet the whole world is not sufficiently large to satisfy its lust, its
greed, its ambition--and how it suffers!

When he sailed so blythely for Corea with his enthusiastic army, how
halcyon was the world to Sampei; what wonders he was going to perform;
what a career of ambition was before him. And now, ambition was dead.
Life had become Endurance. His candid spirit was warped by suspicion.
He, once so open and trustful, saw in everything a hidden meaning; in
every event an occult snare.

In due course the betto brought him the letter of his chief, and he
smiled with pitying derision. Was he to be taken in so easily? Had he
not seen the betto ride off with the missive of O'Kikú? Had he not
heard the woman herself urging the servant to speed? A puerile trick.
The letter had counselled the infatuated Daimio to remove his brother
from her path, that O'Tei, left unprotected and alone, might lie at
her mercy. What other reason could there be for so sudden a summons to
Ki[^y]oto? With disdain he tore the letter up, resolved more firmly
than ever to stick to his post, to carry out his mission to the end.
When my lord should return, there would be time enough for
explanations. They were burning to be rid of O'Tei--the guilty couple.
From this crowning sin, at least, Sampei would save his brother.

It required no little resolution unblenchingly to follow the straight
but rugged path. O'Kikú smarted more than ever under his cold and
implacable disdain. All her arts were useless. Maddened, she strove to
pique him by excesses of abandonment under his very nose, and was
convulsed by fits of corroding acrimony to discover how futile were
her efforts. Against all her attacks he was armed _cap-à-pié_. If my
lord would but return, that she might wreak envenomed spite upon these
two, whom now with her whole soul she hated! Meanwhile the only result
produced by her reckless behaviour was that the samurai, for the most
part, disapproved of her more and more; while Sampei, to shun the
sight of one so odious, devoted himself to excursions and the chase.

Away upon the hill, with its temple and solemn arcades of greenery, as
in the hum of the houses below, the cloud of anxiety was thickening.

The still dim shrine no longer lulled to devout prayer the soul of
Masago. In the midst of supplication her mind turned worldwards. She
yearned over her son and the tottering family. She grieved so for
O'Tei, when the chatelaine arrived for prayers, that her hard face
grew wondrous soft, and she marvelled at the stoniness of destiny.
Seeing now with clearer ken than in the past, when she had admired the
warlike Tomoyé, adored her rude lord, had almost persuaded herself to
believe that all that he did was good, she began to have a denned
perception of his crimes, mingled with a startled regret. He had been
guilty of much that was deplorable. No-Kami had been brought up in his
father's school, had from the first gone lengths that were much more
regrettable, to end in deeds which she preferred not to contemplate.
He deserved to be accursed, and was accursed. Our sins, like sable
ravens, return to roost. Ever since the culminating crime, events had
moved so directly towards a visible goal that the finger of fate was
plain. But why Sampei? Why the fair and good O'Tei, a symbol of all
that was pure? These questions, so bewildering, would rise
persistently to the surface. Why should these two, mixed up in this
horror, without overt act of theirs, be marched as victims to the
sacrifice?

She had heard from Sampei that my lord had rallied suddenly before he
went to Ki[^y]oto, and this started a fresh train of thought.
O'Kikú, the baleful geisha, was at the bottom of all the trouble. She
had suddenly appeared, emissary of devils, on the fatal day, and
ever since had been a scourge. Thanks to an inspiration from above,
the Abbess had been the means of separating my lord from his
concubine. Oh, what if, Heaven relenting, the separation might become
final--No-Kami himself reformed? The soul of Masago gave a great leap.
Yes, she saw light at last--the light for which she had besought so
fervently. _She_ was to be the humble means of unravelling the tangle,
of saving the family honour.

But how was this to be accomplished? With trepidation she remembered
that she was in her sixty-first year, which, as all the world knows,
is the last of the yaku doshi, or evil years, after which a woman may
be at peace. During her thirty-third and forty-second (the other
yaku-doshi--happily passed) she had been very careful lest, tempted
by Ratatzu, she should be capable of something dreadful, that would
ruin her and hers. And now it was terrible to think that in this last
year of ordeal--the one of a long life which was most beset with
brambles--she was called upon to act with decision, to stand forth for
the succour of the innocent, for the shriving and salvation of the
guilty. This state of things would call for much vigil, much putting
off of earth-trammels, and adoration of the sun-god at his rising,
that her old eyes might clearly see.

The more she pondered--a slow, tall figure pacing among the moss-grown
tombs, under the stately criptomerias--the more plain her duty seemed.
Thanks to the benign deities, her prayers for light were answered, and
she saw. It was by Heaven's decree that the geisha had travelled
hitherward, an agent for the fulfilling of a purpose pre-ordained.
Buddha, with omniscient vision, had caused her to come to Tsu for the
accomplishment of the curse of the martyr. But now, through the
prayers and entreaties of his humble handmaid, he had relented,--been
turned from his intent. What a scaffold was the Abbess raising. When
No-Kami should come back, his evil genius would be gone. This favour
granted, Buddha would vouchsafe another. By force of supplication
Masago would obtain that the temper of the Hojo might be changed. He
would repent him of his evil ways, and atone in the future for the
past. Then it should be her proud privilege to bring together again
the husband and the wife. O'Tei must be taught to forgive, to break
down the barrier of ice behind which her better nature had been
shrouded. Warming in the radiance of a new happiness her frozen petals
would unfold, give forth their sweetness, and No-Kami would come to
know the treasure that he had ignorantly tossed aside. The wan cheek
of the old Abbess was flushed, her dimmed eyes sparkled, as she
revolved these things, devoutly giving thanks to Heaven. Is it not the
greatest joy that may be tasted by mortals--the permission to
intervene in the house of discord, and bring to it peace and
happiness? The end was plain to the prophetic vision of Masago, but
the way to it was long. The gentle O'Tei would be brought with little
trouble to play her part.

The difficulty lay with the geisha. The Abbess, mindful of yaku doshi,
resolved to be prudent and cautious--not precipitate; and yet,
whatever had to be done must be done before the return of No-Kami to
the castle. There was not time then for protracted cogitation. She
would appeal in person to the siren,--speak words inspired from on
high which should touch her flinty heart. Seizing her staff, the gaunt
figure in its flowing draperies of crape descended the long flight of
stairs, passed under the torii at the bottom, and strode, buoyed by
celestial fervour, along the winding street which led to the castle
gate. O'Kikú was in a boat upon the river---O'Tei's own favourite
shallop, which she had robbed her of, as of other things--and
marvelled greatly to behold the Abbess of the temple beckoning to her
from the shore.

Approaching, she reclined idly at the bottom of the boat, toying with
some winter blossoms she had plucked; dipping, in saucy contempt of
cold, the fingers of the other hand into the running water. She was
muffled in a robe of furs, her head swathed in a kerchief of thick
silk; and Masago remarked that she looked worn,--had lost that
freshness which had been her most piquant charm. Earnestly the Abbess
spoke; pleaded for the family honour on the verge of wreck; discoursed
with proud eloquence of the illustrious house of which she was a lowly
member; reminded her hearer that she, O'Kikú, also now was one of the
house, in precisely the same position as she, the speaker, had been.
There were two ways open to her. Lest she should bring upon herself
the reproach of having brought a great family to ruin, she must turn
over a new leaf, and eschew in future the vices for which she was
notorious; or, if waywardness was in her blood, she must depart, and
by self-sacrifice atone for the past, and save the family. Amused with
the thought that the Abbess must be mad, the geisha lay listening, a
sly smile playing about her lips, until the unlucky pleader began to
talk about her son. Then starting, as if bitten by an adder, uprose
the concubine, and, taking up the pole, leisurely pushed off from the
bank.

"Sampei, forsooth! A ridiculous old lunatic!" she scoffed, with a
superb head-toss. "You must be very insane. What! You'd have me go
hence and prison myself for the behoof of the pale idiot yonder? Even
if I were myself mad enough to consent, my lord would never love her.
The contemptible creature is barren; whereas I, the second wife--" and
with a trail of mocking merriment, and an attempt to raise a blush,
she smiled at the astounded Abbess, and propelled her bark into the
stream.

Masago remained standing, her tall figure mirrored in the water, her
shrunken hands crossed upon her breast, amazed and troubled. What was
this new factor in the embroglio? She was with child--the interloper.
There would soon be a new bond, a fresh silver link to unite more
closely the pair whom she was bound to separate. The woman's influence
over my lord would be greater than ever; and, all for evil as of yore.
The breach between No-Kami and O'Tei would grow wider. As in a
dream--with slow gait and corrugated brow--the Abbess passed back
towards the grove, heedless of the salutations of the peasants,--of
the brown urchins that plucked at her skirts. A child--a son,
perhaps--that woman's son! Swiftly there passed through her brain a
sense of the results that would accrue. The wife, ambitious and
unscrupulous, who was a mother, would become all-powerful. Fresh
insults would day by day be heaped on the one who was not thus blessed
among women. In her mind's eye Masago beheld a long train of disasters
and calamities, O'Kikú the active agent. Crouched down before the
altar, her chin supported by her palms, she gazed at the bronze symbol
that sat so calm and still and upright, with mouth shut and eyelids
closed.

"Oh, if you would vouchsafe to speak," she murmured imploringly, "one
little word of guidance. One other ray of light; one little, little
ray! During years of unflinching devotion has my life been given to
your service. I know that I have earned nothing save, perhaps, one
touch of pity!"

With sore and heavy heart the Abbess sighed, for the bronzed lips
remained tight shut, the eyelids closed. He was asleep and deaf. There
was no sound of comfort or of counsel.

Presently she distinguished the patter of clogs upon the outer stairs,
and, after a while a man, pushing aside the curtain, stood framed in
the doorway.

"Sampei!" Her boy! Was this the reply of Buddha? Ashy pale, trembling
like a leaf, the old woman bent to the stones with moving lips; while
the General, reverently doffing his geta, and beating his hands
together, approached and knelt. She took his warm broad hand between
her cold ones, and earnestly scrutinised his face. Her thoughts were
in such a turmoil that, though she heard his words, they seemed to
reach her ears from a distance, through a tunnel. Riding listlessly,
as was his wont, with no settled purpose, he had been astonished to
see the geisha in conference with his mother. What could those two
have had to say to each other? Greatly marvelling, he had watched, and
then turned his horse towards the temple. What ailed his mother, that
her features were grey-green? Was she ill? She looked so scared and
strange and terrified. Was it some ghost she saw that caused that look
of awe?

Without taking her eyes from her son's, the Abbess rose, and like one
in a trance led him behind the altar, down the open corridor, into her
own quiet chamber. Nothing could be more simple than its furnishing.
The woodwork was unadorned, but scrupulously clean, so were the mats
and screens. A plain fire-box of iron stood in the centre. Above the
low dais in the tokonoma, or place of honour, there hung a single and
very ancient kakemono, representing Kwannon, the thousand-handed; and
under it, upon the dais, stood in a lacquered sword-rack, a dirk in
its silken case.

Floating before Sampei she lifted the weapon, pressed it to her bosom,
then slowly unfastening the case, drew forth the dirk, which, with a
cry, he recognised. It was a precious blade, forged by Miochin
himself, adorned with a hilt minutely worked with gold--a dirk which
in childhood he had been wont to play with.

"My father's!" he murmured, and pressed it to his lips and forehead.

"Your father's!" echoed the Abbess, in a whisper, drawing herself to
the full height of her commanding stature, and placing on the bent
head of her son a trembling hand. "Your father, and _his_, wore yonder
blade in many a fray, and it was never sullied with dishonour. To you,
my dear son, do I surrender it. The gods have spoken. She must die!"

As pale as his mother, who looked on him now with a rapt and solemn
smile, Sampei heaved a sigh of relief. _She_. His nerves tingled to
his finger ends, for he had thought that the deed must be done which
had so often crossed his mind, and which he had always put away from
him with dread. It was not his brother--thanks to the gods for
that--but the wicked concubine, whose blood was required in atonement.

Then the two sat down, and the inspired priestess spoke.

"The honour of the family was to be saved by him--Sampei. Buddha
himself had deigned to settle it. He must bide his time, and wait and
watch, and when occasion offered he must, with his father's dirk, slay
the baleful sorceress. With his own hand must the deed be done--not be
trusted to a hireling, even to a samurai. It might be some time before
the fitting opportunity presented itself, for the braves, whom she
still debauched, would defend her doubtless with their lives. There
must not be too long delay, lest my lord No-Kami should come home. The
avenging hand must be sure and steady; the result not a mere wound,
but--death."

Nodding, Sampei placed the weapon in his obi, and, embracing his
mother, departed with proud step. It was to be his privilege--by
Buddha's own decree--to save the honour of the house,--to rescue his
infatuated brother,--to bestow upon the dear O'Tei a measure of future
happiness.

Masago, calm now, returned to the temple, and spent the night in
vigil. Blessed be Buddha; for his mercy thrice-blessed! He had spoken
through the silent lips. The course and conscience of his handmaid
were clear as crystal now.



                             CHAPTER XVI.

                       MASAGO TAKES THE REINS.


Now it came to pass that after the mental torture she had endured, the
soul-racking perplexities, the days of prayer and nights of vigil, the
strong frame of the Abbess gave way under her burthen. She was deeply
thankful for the god's decision,--that her prayers had been heard and
answered. But her body was worn out--the lamp was burning low, and she
was compelled to remain in her chamber, wrapped in many quilts, with
Miné, hapless victim of unrequited love, in anxious attendance on her.
That unfortunate maiden had never recovered the effect of the dreadful
day,--the massacre of her dear ones,--her parents' departure,
unforgiving. She moved about her sacred duties like a phantom, with
remorse gnawing at her vitals. No need now to keep watch over her lest
she should again fling herself into the reluctant arms of the too
fascinating young General. He was no more to her seared heart than any
other man, for it had lost all sense of feeling. It was scorched out
of life on the day of the massacre, and she bore only its ashes in her
breast.

Masago had sunk into that deep sleep which is the greatest boon to
unhappy mortality, and Miné, bending over the hibachi, was stirring
the charcoal with a rod, immersed in sad reflection, when there
entered a certain bonze who enjoyed reputation as a doctor. He was a
learned and a holy man, who dwelt in a monastery on the mountain,--was
wise of counsel, and learned in the use of simples.

Hearing by chance that the venerated Abbess of Tsu was lying sick, he
took his bundle, his lacquered medicine-box, and his staff; put on his
tall clogs, and great mushroom priestly hat, and hied towards the
convent. Sleep, he observed, after a brief survey, was a better
anodyne than simples, and he would therefore await the waking. Warming
his fingers: over the glow he chatted with Miné in undertones,
exchanged the gossip of Tsu for the last reports from Ki[^y]oto,
inquired of what new atrocity my lord the Daimio had been guilty. Oh,
yes; he was aware that my lord was away,--summoned to the capital; and
added, with mysterious head-shakings, that a surprise was preparing
for his return. "_You_ should be pleased to hear of it," went on the
good garrulous old gentleman, "after all that your family have
suffered at his hands--'tis only fitting retribution;" and then,
chattering in whispers, he proceeded to tell of soldiers' shadowy
cohorts, who by night had marched past the monastery. "They are
massing troops in all the defiles," he whispered. "Your father's
anathema has taken effect. The race of the Hojos is run."

The bonze was so intent upon his tale, and so long-winded in the
telling of it, that he, as well as his listener, forgot all about the
patient. Though deep wrapt in slumber, she moved now and again
uneasily, tossing from off a surcharged bosom the multitude of futons
that covered it. Then gradually the sleep-goddess relaxed her embrace,
folded her arms less closely, and she of dreams spread forth the
shadow of her pinions. The Abbess dreamed a dreadful dream, offspring
of trouble and of fever. She thought that her own lord was alive
again,--that, covered with crimson stains streaming from many a wound,
he stood over dead Tomoyé. Why was Tomoyé dead? In sober truth of
history past and gone, it was she who had stood over him. There he
stood, however, reeling from loss of blood, his favourite katana
hacked and notched from the battle. Then there appeared the boy
No-Kami, also gashed and wounded. To her, the sleeper, turned her
revered lord, stretching forth imploring hands. "Save _him_," he
hoarsely gasped. "My time and hers is come, and it is well; but he is
on the threshold of his life!" She, the dreamer, could not save him,
for she was bound herself with cords, the which perceiving, her lord
looked down reproachfully, and died; and then from out a crystal brook
there rose a silver form that clasped the boy, and his wounds
closed,--a slim shimmering form, daughter of the moon, which, shaping
itself out of argent vapour, became O'Tei the chatelaine.

Bedewed with sweat the old woman awoke, and for a space lay panting.
What awful vision was this? All good Buddhists know that when we are
asleep the soul goes forth upon its errands. If we waken a person too
suddenly he will die, because the wanderer cannot return with needful
quickness to his tenement. When the soul is merely out at play the
dream is of no importance, and its pictures are rapidly effaced; but
when the truant is on serious duty bent, the vision remains distinct,
and it behoves us to accept its lesson. Waking, the portrayal of O'Tei
closing No-Kami's wounds was as distinct as if the two were standing
there before her; also the reproachful gaze of her dear lord ere he
gave up his spirit. The gods were indeed good to speak so plainly to
their handmaid. It was the honour of her dear lord's name that she
desired saved at any cost, wishing for his son no ill. The geisha was
to die, No-Kami to repent, and O'Tei was somehow to dissect the
tangle. Masago found herself to-day more weak than usual, and much
unhinged. Perchance her time was near. It behoved her to see the
chatelaine, to reason with her while yet her voice was strong, her
brain still clear. Then there rose upon her dimmed senses a sound of
whispering, and she distinctly heard some one say, "The race of the
Hojos is run."

The long moan which burst from her breast recalled the attention of
the watchers. The bonze was full of solicitude,--grieved to perceive
how fluttering was the patient's pulse,--vastly busy in the
preparation of remedies. He could have bitten his tongue through for
his imprudence. How could he have been such a fool as to forget that
the patient was herself a Hojo, and that fevered sleep is treacherous?
He chattered and chirruped to and fro, shot forth his most brilliant
sallies, showed his teeth as he twanged bolts of merry satire at
that unreceptive target Miné. The eyes of the old woman--smileless
now--knit in intense inquiry, never left his face, while with feeble
persistence she repeated the question,--"How are the Hojos doomed?"

Having committed one egregious error, he was not going to be guilty of
another. Regardless of the severe course of penance which followed
lying, he boldly averred that he had never mentioned Hojo at all, or
the race,--that he was talking about the Daimio of Osaka, who was
hovering on the verge of the grave,--that under no circumstances
whatever would he have breathed a syllable about the Hojos in the
presence of the late lord's wife. And twittering thus, he at length
retired, with good wishes for the patient's recovery, glad that by
wonderful presence of mind he had lulled the Abbess's suspicions.

But Masago knew better than to be hoodwinked by the plausible gabble
of a blundering bonze. Out of delicacy she would refrain from
cross-questioning Miné. Well, the warning was twofold. The Hojo was in
imminent peril of some kind, from which apparently he was to be
rescued by his wife.

For many hours she lay staring upwards in deep thought. The wintry
light was quickly waning. Who might tell how near the peril was? Her
own strength was ebbing rapidly. She must see the chatelaine at once.

The brief twilight of Japan was darkening over the bleak landscape
like a sable veil, when a breathless messenger arrived at the
drawbridge of the fortress, demanding an interview with the lady.

"With the lady!" jeered the soldier, who had been so long upon his
watch as to be glad to chat with any one. "She has other things to do
just now, our lady, than listen to beggars from the town. Was
ever such a lady--so restless, so domineering, so devoted to
pleasure--always seeking new excitement in the dreary absence of my
lord? The moon rises late, and will be full to-night, and what must
she do, dost think, heedless of her delicate situation, but go to the
tea-house by the river, to gaze at the light upon the snow? 'Tis a
lovely sight, no doubt, dear to the eyes of our people, be they high
or low,--the green glimmer on the water, the black banks of reeds, and
white expanse beyond; but plaguey cold. Of course there will be supper
when she returns, and singing and wassail and jollity, warming to the
cockles of the heart. Ah, well! if such as I were admitted to the
junketings, I'd not mind this weary watch."

"'Tis with the lady O'Tei that I must speak, and quickly," said the
messenger.

The sentinel, leaning over the parapet, discerned by the conical shape
of the speaker's hat that he was a priest.

"Oh!" he grumbled, "some wretched coolie sick? Such vermin as these
don't come after the lady O'Kikú. You may come in and seek her, an you
will. She's likely in her bower--we've not seen her this many a day."

As the priest sped with clattering clogs across the paved courtyards,
he perceived that there was feasting toward. The interior of the great
hall, brilliantly illumined, threw gay streaks of yellow out across
the white. Servants moved to and fro, bearers of viands; the saké cup
was already passing freely. By the principal entrance loomed the
unwieldy mass of my lady's kago, gay with banners and streamers, and
looped curtains and lacquered poles--the same gaudy equipage belonging
to O'Tei which, on her arrival, the geisha in her insolence had
appropriated to herself. Hard by, in groups, stamping and clapping
hands for warmth, were the two sets of bearers--sturdy coolies
selected for speed and staying power--each with his head muffled in
blue cotton under his hat, his grass rain-coat bound round his waist,
the handle of his sword carefully protected by oiled paper, strong
sandals of straw upon his feet. Some were bringing wraps and cushions;
some trimming paper lanterns; all shouting with the shrill distractive
hubbub so dear to low-class Japan. The geisha he could see as he went
by, was surrounded by her maidens and an outer circle of braves, armed
ready to attend her. Muffled to the eyes in a thick mantle of deep
maroon, she stood waiting till all was ready, a saké-cup in hand. Past
this noisy assemblage to the remote corner of the tower which faced
the river trotted the messenger. In vivid contrast to the hall, with
its warm reek of heated wine, dark and silent was the bower of the
chatelaine. Was she asleep already, the sad recluse?

Not so. There was a twinkling tiny light above, and like the hum of an
insect there reached his ear the tinkle of a distant samisen. He
knocked, and the sound ceased; a paper window was pushed aside; a
maiden's head peeped forth.

"Who dares at this hour," she inquired angrily, "to intrude upon my
lady's privacy? A pretty pass! Was not the castle large enough for its
debauched inmates that this retired eyrie might not be treated with
respect?"

"I come from Masago," the messenger said. "She is very sick, and has
somewhat of grave import to say to the chatelaine."

Admitted, the priest followed the maiden to the upper floor,
where, surrounded by books and embroidery, and choice blossoms
and graceful nicknacks, sat, in a soft mellow light, she for whom
the peasants sorrowed. Since last we looked on her, she was much
changed--improved--for there was something celestial now---refined and
dreamy, as if reflected from some other world--about her loveliness.
Her manner had that still, self-contained, dignity which is only to be
acquired through much trouble. With grieved concern in her dark eyes,
she hearkened to the messenger. Masago on the verge of death! Was she,
O'Tei, to be left friendless? Of course she would go to her at once.
Ah, if she might change places with the holy Abbess, and depart out of
a sphere where no one wanted her! But it is always those who have no
wish to stay who are kept loitering here. Was Masago so ill, and she
not told of it? This was wrong, for at any hour of the day or night
she would have gladly sought her friend. Not a moment was to be lost.
Quick, quick! Her litter. Her bearers, where were they? Wandering in
the town, possibly, chattering in some tea-house, their daily duty
over.

"There is a litter below," suggested the priest timidly. "The one that
in old times my lady used to use. Its bearers are standing ready with
lanterns lit. Perhaps my lady O'Kikú--"

A look of unusual sternness passed over the features of O'Tei, and a
shadow veiled her eyes.

"O'Kikú!" she muttered, "O'Kikú! My state litter is ready, you say?
Then I will use it; come!"

And to the amazement of the maidens, the chatelaine took from a screen
a mantle of costly furs, and bidding her attendants follow with a
candle, moved rapidly away down a dark corridor which led to the
centre of the castle.

The geisha was so astonished at the apparition which suddenly
presented itself before her that the saké-cup dropped from her
fingers. She turned red and white, and tried, with but poor success,
to laugh off her confusion. With heaving breast and dark brows knit,
O'Tei looked down on her with disdain ineffable.

"You have ordered my kago. Thank you," she said shortly, "for I want
it. Tell the bearers I am ready; and you, priest, proceed before. I go
but to the temple, so shall not want the soldiers."

With that she moved with stately step to where, in a stream of light,
the kago stood.

The braves were breathless, for they beheld the heiress of proud Nara
now, no longer the recluse; and there was an easy air about her of
natural command, which they knew how to admire and appreciate. Not one
had a word to say against the firmly-expressed resolution of their
liege-lady, but stood by sheepishly. O'Tei was the real chatelaine,
and, in absence of her lord, supreme mistress of castle and of
warriors. The bewitching O'Kikú, as if by magic, shrank down into her
natural insignificance. No doubt about it; she was the concubine, low
of birth and common of breeding--the crow by the side of the falcon.
The geisha tingled with exasperated shame, for her quick instinct
could read at a glance the open faces of the braves. Had she toiled
and schemed and wormed and man[oe]uvred for this?--to be swept with a
hand-wave like a beetle from the path by the rival she had so
undervalued! Oh, when my lord returned, an effort must be made to save
the situation! Clearing her husky throat, she said sourly,--

"I was about to view the snows by moonlight, but if yours is an urgent
errand, I will gladly give up my litter. The weather is clear, but for
a few sailing clouds; the moon will serve to-morrow."

Her foot upon the step, the chatelaine turned.

"I take my own, and crave of you no favour," she remarked haughtily.
"To the temple, by way of the river bank. I myself will see the
snows."

The scene had passed so swiftly that 'twas over as soon as begun.
There was naught to tell the tale of the geisha's discomfiture but the
shattered saké-cup. Yes, there was the absent kago, the marks of many
feet where it had stood; the sheepish faces of the warriors. There was
the group, too, of O'Tei's maidens huddled behind, where they
chattered in high glee. The ambitious and presumptuous geisha had been
put down into her place at last, firmly and quietly by her superior.
That was the plain truth which there was no denying. It was written on
the visages of the maidens as well as on those of the samurai.
Accustomed to reign unchallenged, the blow was hard to bear. Bursting
into a torrent of tears, brackish with impotent mortification, O'Kikú
sank upon a cushion, and was as racked by sobs as if she had possessed
a heart.



                            CHAPTER XVII.

                           UNDER THE MOON.


The road by way of the stream was a longer one than that by the
street, for the river wound with many a turn and twist, as if loth to
reach the sea. It was no more than a path, stony in some places and
muddy in others--rough throughout; and there were spots where the
unwieldy vehicle was in danger of overturning. The Japanese are so
innately poetic that even the least educated find pleasure in gazing
upon nature in its sweetest moods. On Lake Biwa, not far from
Ki[^y]oto, there is, while I write, a tea-house on a hill, which, at
certain seasons, does a thriving trade, because from that particular
spot an entrancing view may be obtained of moon and foliage and water.
And it is not the cultured class alone that enjoys this refined
amusement. The common horny-handed field coolie may be seen smoking
his pipe, beaming with satisfaction, upon the mat, surrounded by wife
and children, all equally enchanted by the spectacle.

On the river-bank, built out over the stream, not far from Tsu, there
was just such another tea-house, from which a view was obtained of
land-locked bay and rocks and feathery bamboo--the self-same picture
which O'Tei used to enjoy from her own garden near the temple, seen
from another point. It was to this tea-house that O'Kikú had proposed
to conduct the rollicking samurai, to sit there a while with quip and
jest, and thence return to supper. Preparations had been made on a
grand scale; coolies had been sent to repair the path in rotten places
with bundles of rushes, to clear away stones; and therefore the
expedition was a matter of talk for several days before among those
who dwelt in the castle. It was in obedience to a whim--in order more
completely to crush her rival--that O'Tei had elected to choose this
route. A vision of her favourite landscape had appeared before her. It
was so long since she had seen it that she yearned to look on it
again. As the procession moved swiftly and silently over the snow, she
became lost in reverie. She had been happy once in her garden in a
negative sort of way. How long ago it seemed! And since those early
days (sure a century since) what a catalogue of suffering and crime!
Yes, it must be a century, not a few years only. She was an old, old
woman, seared and world-worn, longing for the mysterious change. Her
ordeal on this planet would soon be over. How gladly would she move
elsewhere.

The cold was intense. She drew over her head a purple kerchief, for
the beauty of the scene must not be blocked out by curtains. The
well-skilled bearers marched with a steady, gentle sway, picking their
steps with cat-like caution. Their straw shoes made no sound on the
soft snow. The regular rhythm of their breathing lulled to repose.
Leaning back her weary head upon the cushions, O'Tei fell fast asleep.

At the last turn of the river, before reaching the spot whereon stood
the tea-house, it sweeps in a wide bend, leaving a large flat space--a
dangerous pitfall; for, firm though it appears to the unwary, between
the pools it is a quagmire, a bog of thick ooze which forms a kind of
quicksand. The bearers knew this right well, for skirting the water
close they hugged a narrow causeway of masonry, the group that bore
the pole walking one before the other, keeping time with monotonous
chant, the rest of the party falling back, following in single file.
It was necessary to move slowly now, for a false step would
precipitate the top-heavy vehicle into the water. Two bettos pioneered
in front, stepping deftly backwards, holding their lanterns aloft
above their heads. "Steady, lads, steady!" one of them exhorted
cheerily. Forty yards farther on the path would widen again, and the
rest of the journey was plain-sailing.

Whirr! The bettos turned round startled. What was that? nothing; a
stream of awakened wild-fowl scudding across the flat. The night was
so solemnly silent that their wings rent the stillness with a loud
sharp tearing as of linen.


                          *   *   *   *   *


For hours past, from out a brake of sedge and reeds two bright eyes
had been intently watching. Heedless of cold and wet a man had been
lying concealed with face turned towards the castle. From this point
the fortress loomed out of the river in a dense mass against the sky,
in full sombre majesty of battlement and ponderous roof and storied
tower, with fish of gold upon its summit; for it was on this side that
the stream laved its foundation wall of Cyclopean stones as it brawled
towards the sea.

From where he lay, wrapped in a coolie's rain-coat, the man could mark
the procession from afar, a line of swart insects on the white,
glow-worms with twinkling lights. As they approached, winding with the
river's windings, he counted the number of men who bore the litter,
and observed with surprised exultation that the guards had been left
behind. There was no panoply of spear and streaming banner and
glancing lance-head, no clatter of armed horsemen such as usually
attends the progress of a noble's kago.

"My task will be the easier," he muttered, unfastening the thongs of
his rain-coat, and taking in the corners of his mouth the ends of the
cloth about his head. The man's attire was strange and incongruous,
for though his garb was that of a peasant, the cloth from out of which
his sharp eyes peered was of silk broidered with silver. He rose
stealthily upon his knees, felt for a dirk in his obi, drew forth the
blade and ran a finger along the edge, then laid the scabbard in the
water.

"How slow they are," he murmured.

Nearer--nearer still. The bearers were intent upon their task, for
there had been a frost last night, and the stones were slippery.
Clouds had been rising in banks, masses of cumuli that passed fitfully
across the moon. Snowflakes began to fall.

Hist! what was that, another batch of waterfowl? No; a cry as of
frighted animals. A commotion--a rush--a panic. Robbers! a gang--a
multitude.

Stabbed in the back, the two bettos dropped without a struggle. For an
instant the attendants strove to free themselves from cumbrous
grass-coats, to disengage their swords from oiled paper coverings, in
vain; for it must be at least a dozen nimble blades, wielded by unseen
hands, that were swirling through the air with such deadly purpose.
Who could have foreseen that on this quiet track assassins were in
ambush? With a howl and a cry of treachery the cohort of poltroons
abandoned the litter, which fell heavily on its side, and fled over
the quicksand, where they buffeted, to lie engulfed. The man, for
there was but one--or was it not the god of thunder?--dashed at the
fallen kago, tore back with one hand its half-closed curtains, from
whose folds there emerged a woman. A sway of two tussling figures, as
the clouds swept over the moon, and the snow fell thickly. A tossing
of white arms and clutching fingers clasped in a grip of death. A
gurgle, a long wild shriek--so terrible a cry of anguish, as a soul
was forcibly rent from out its tenement, that boors within their huts
crept close together and prayed for protection against goblins. Even
the austere figure of the avenger remained for a second spellbound,
as, standing erect to wipe his dirk, his ear followed that last
piteous wail of agony that faded in the music of the stream.

His task was successfully accomplished: to the gods all gratitude. He
peered anxiously around, while he bound up something in a purple
kerchief, then, drawing the pick from his katana's sheath, thrust it
through the silk for easier carrying. He was alone with slumbering
nature, and with it. The relay had fled to give alarm. There was
nought to be seen of the others save distant circles on the watery
quagmire, with here and there a hand whose groping soon was stilled.
At his feet lay the two dead bettos and a heap of sumptuous furs, from
out of which there trickled a thick stream that meandered slow over
the stones.

Looking upward at the moon, which now unveiled again, the man, smiling
softly, pressed to his lips the dirk. "Old friend," he murmured,
"beloved of my father, thou hast saved his honour and ours, an evil
life the ransom. With speed to my mother now, that she may know the
atonement is complete."

He sought for a moment leisurely among the reeds, and seeing the
scabbard gleam, replaced it with the dirk within his belt. Then
swinging his burthen in his hand, he strode quickly away towards the
temple.

His mind was relieved of a great anxiety, and he felt happier than for
many a day. All had gone well. In the scurry not one had seen his
face, swathed as it was by a cloth. There was nothing to betray whose
arm had been that which had struck the ghastly blow. There would be
turmoil and uproar among the samurai, a hot pursuit of the assassins;
then, search proving vain, silence, and oblivion. The family honour
was safe. The concubine would be speedily forgotten, and it would be
as if the shadow of the wicked geisha had never crossed their path.

Under the torii, up the long straight flight of stairs, through the
temple where Miné and the nuns were praying audibly, to the corridor
beyond, off which was the chamber of the Abbess.

A light was flickering. She was awake, anxious for the arrival of the
chatelaine. Her ascetic visage was wrapped in holy calm, as with
closed eyes she told her beads. The sound of her son's dear footfall,
as he strode across the floor, aroused her, and she looked on him with
fond inquiry.

"My mother, it is done," he whispered, out of breath. "Here have I
brought the proof that your instructions have been obeyed."

Masago, raising herself with difficulty, stretched forth eager hands
to claim the bundle, and, her fingers trembling with exultation,
hasted to untie its knots. Then from her breast was wrung a wail,
racked with the ring of unavailing grief, echo of that shriek along
the water.

Out of her grasp, upon the mat, there rolled a woman's head, bloody
and waxen. Its delicate features were warped, convulsed in the life
battle. Stretched wide in terror were its glassy eyes, its parted lips
distorted.

Stunned and dazed, crowned with the brain-ache of a hopeless sorrow,
the icy grip about his heart of a despair that might never be
assuaged, Sampei sank slowly on his knees.

For the eyes that stared upon him now in mute imploring were those he
loved best on earth.

The face was the face of O'Tei, the fair, and gentle, and unfortunate.



                            CHAPTER XVIII.

                            FACE TO FACE.


When the panic-stricken servants rushed into the castle with their
appalling tale, there was general consternation. They had been
attacked, they swore, by a band of at least fifty ronins. By the last
act of the doomed chatelaine she had won back the respect of the
warriors, for they perceived, too late, that her gentleness had naught
akin with cowardice. Resuming her fit position by force of princely
dignity, she had become a liege lady of whom they could be proud. They
felt pangs of remorse, too, in having allowed her to sally forth by
night unprotected by soldiers. Yet, if they had not cared for her, it
was well known that the peasants did, who vowed she was a saint. And
sure none could ever have supposed that there were any, even in this
bad world, who could be so wicked as to do her to death thus cruelly.
The country far and near was scoured, but no trace of a gang was
found. The thickly-falling snow had obliterated footmarks. On the
fatal spot, seek as they would, nothing was to be found but the
overturned litter and mutilated remains of their mistress--hats and
garments scattered here and there--and the bodies of the drowned
bearers. At dawn, the sad _cortége_ returned home with its freight,
having learned nothing; and then a feeling of uneasiness came over the
samurai as to what my lord would say. He neglected and disliked his
wife, but would surely retaliate swiftly and fearfully upon those
whose carelessness had led to so gruesome a catastrophe.

As for O'Kikú, whom all avoided now as if she were plague-stricken,
she remained secluded in her chamber, transfixed with growing wonder.
The blows of the assassins were aimed at herself--of that she had no
doubt--and she had been saved by a miracle. Yet who could there be who
wished to kill her, unless it were O'Tei or Masago? Of course, it was
not O'Tei, or she would never have marched thus deliberately to her
own undoing; and as she was on her way to the temple, summoned
thither, it could not be a plot of Masago's, for Masago loved her
dearly. The more she thought it out, the more incomprehensible grew
the whole affair, and at last she was fain to put it from her as a
mystery which time might some day decipher. One thing, however, was
plain. By a wondrous stroke of luck, the position of herself, O'Kikú,
had vastly improved. A stumbling-block that threatened to become
troublesome was swept out of her path. So soon as my lord should learn
her secret, he would, if skilfully wheedled, take to his arms, as his
first wife, the mother of his child. She would be consort of the Hojo,
chatelaine of Tsu, and as she thought of it, her bosom glowed with
gratified ambition, and she there and then determined that in the
smiling future the castle should contain no concubine.

At early dawn the good-natured bonze hied him down from the mountain
to visit his revered patient, and greatly was he shocked by the
spectacle that met his view. On the threshold of the Abbess's chamber
stood Miné, with finger on lip, and a far-off vacant look of dread
that betokened incipient madness. Her father's curse was falling with
leaden weight upon the members of the devoted family, and as she
beheld the swoop of stroke after stroke her soul was withered within
her. She too--she whom he had repulsed unpardoning--she too was doomed
with them. What would her end be? Entering the room of Masago with
accustomed listless step to attend to duties, she had stood riveted as
she read the full horror of the scene. On the floor was Masago,
delirious; close by crouched her shuddering son, clasping
something--something terrible--in his arms.

From that moment till the arrival of the friendly bonze, Miné had
stood a faithful sentinel, lest peradventure prying nuns might learn
and spread the truth. Should it become known that Sampei--the once
dear Sampei--had been guilty of this awful crime, the town would arise
as one man to tear him limb from limb. The young priestess was not
capable of deciding what was to be done, but the friendly bonze would
think for her, and propound the words of wisdom. Little by little the
first distracting throes of misery passed. The Abbess grew calm, and
with the death-sweat came resignation.

The gods, ungenerous and mocking, had fooled their handmaid. Instead
of being turned from their purpose by her puny supplications, as she
had arrogantly dared to hope, they had singled her out, with a
consummate refinement of cruelty as their chief implement of
vengeance. By her hand--the hand of the mother and the friend--were
stricken down the apple of her eye--her son, and the sweet lady who
had loved and trusted her. And in them was she not herself
smitten--ay, so crushed and beaten that naught could hurt her more?
Alas! alas! that she should have been so blinded as not to take
warning by the fateful year--the last of yaka doshi, and have kept
herself from dangerous meddling. What should chance henceforth she
cared not. Since all were condemned, the sooner fell the last and
fatal stroke the better,--on the dear head of the son she loved so
fondly--on all. As for Sampei, he appeared as if changed to stone.
In the presence of so intense a depth of black despair, Miné
trembled--the kindly bonze was awed; for sure there is no sight so
pitiful in nature as the whirl and flood of human anguish whose
torrent we may not stem.

It was essential that some plan of action should be decided on
forthwith; and the bonze was of opinion that the secret of who it was
that had done the deed for the present must be kept. Gently raising
Sampei from his attitude of utter abandonment, and taking his treasure
from him, he led him into the temple, and placed it within a bronze
coffer of exceeding sanctity which stood beside the altar.

"He alone who can act," he said, "in such a crisis, is my lord of
Nara. To him will I go forthwith."

On foot, with staff and scrip, he made the pilgrimage to Ki[^y]oto,
wrapped as he journeyed in holy ecstasy, thanking the gods for their
goodness. Were not the wicked who are set in high places sometimes to
receive their meed, the faith of man in truth and God and justice
would wane and crumble. As the dragon that browses on the white flesh
of innocent young maids is slain at last, so was it to be with the
Hojos. Their cup was full. For some good and occult purpose beyond
purblind human ken, the scourge for generations had afflicted the
earth, but now was the limit placed. Awakening Buddha had said, "So
far shalt thou go and no farther, for the punishing of the
transgressions of the people." The limit was reached, and now Buddha,
merciful, would hold his hand. But how subtle was the means of
retribution--so subtle, that as he contemplated it, the bonze was
overcome with wonder. Not only was each member of the family to perish
miserably, but the nearest and dearest the agent! A woman was to be
butchered by him who to save a hair of her dear head would gladly have
sacrificed his life. A man was to be brought to a condition worse far
than the most lingering of deaths, by the mother who, to save him from
a pang, would have bartered her hope of Nirvana.

The bonze, travel-stained and weary, sought my lord of Nara at the
Mikado's palace, and found him without difficulty; for it was the
policy of that crafty daimio to be of easy access to the people. He
was buried to the lips in papers and despatches, for the die was cast
now; it was to be a hand-to-hand tussle for existence. Either the Hojo
must fall, or they would all be sacrificed. Answers had been received
from country magnates. Despite peremptory orders from the Hojo, they
were advancing by forced marches. They had gone too far for retreat.
To obey the tyrant without a struggle for freedom was to condemn
themselves to life-long bondage. What of the Corean army once
commanded by Sampei? the magnates inquired. What of the thousands of
disbanded ronins? Would they side with the despot, or unite for the
saving of their Emperor? "Tush!" Nara muttered, as he wrote replies.
"Have not I, the shrewd and the astute, considered these matters? The
mountains about Tsu are teeming with faithful men in ambush. When
these marching daimios reach their appointed posts, the Holy City will
be surrounded by a protecting girdle; and then--and then--we may act!"

But Destiny amused herself as usual by thwarting the intricate plans
so carefully conceived by mortal ingenuity. Is it not always so? If we
arrange a sequence of events for ourselves, does not something always
intervene to mar and derange the scheme? Perhaps in the next life, or
the next after, we may be permitted to settle things for ourselves.
Clearly in this one it is forbidden. First it had been arranged that
the Hojo was to be caught in a trap in his own castle. Since then the
aspect of affairs was altered; for after a few days passed in the
Golden House among his vassals, their master had again mysteriously
gone into retirement. Spies informed Nara that he was heard to groan
at night,--that he saw visions, and dreamed dreams of strange and
mystic import. He had relapsed into the previous state, as before he
came up from Tsu. Had not wise Nara said that his energy was the
expiring of the lamp. This being so, difficulties were delightfully
smoothed, and Nara was able to improve the occasion for his master's
benefit, by pointing out how admirably sage he had been in the keeping
of his temper. Is not time the healer of all wounds? A scandal in the
palace had been averted. The claws of the bear were rotting piecemeal.
So soon as the circle of iron was complete it should close in and
crush the tyrant, while a simultaneous movement would be made on Tsu
for the capture of his brother and retainers.

And a few hurried sentences from the lips of a simple bonze upset all
these elaborate calculations. He hearkened to the dolorous tale, with
a choler that might not be suppressed. This was too much! Old Nara had
allowed himself to be bearded. Under great provocation, he had curbed
his wrath,--had swallowed his pride, and waited. But now he might wait
no more. What, his heiress, his only child, the only bearer of his
august and honoured name, was to be openly and cruelly slain, because
her lord was weary of her, and wished to please a wanton! As with
hands behind his back, and distended nostrils, the stately veteran
strode hither and thither in the chamber, his old eyes flashed fire as
of yore. In truth, under the snows, the volcano had slept, and,
stirred to its centre, now blazed forth. Come what might, with his own
shrivelled arm, since he had no son, would he wipe out this stain, or
be dishonoured for aye in the noble annals of Japan. Narrowly he
questioned the priest. Then the bonze had no idea, he said, who had
been the butcher? It mattered not. There was no one but the Hojo and
his wanton who desired the poor lady's death. It was at their bidding
that the crime had been committed. First the Hojo and then his harlot.
The fortress should be demolished stone by stone, the geisha executed
on its ruins.

As he hearkened to the wrathful diatribes of the now furious lord, the
bonze mused in ever-increasing admiration. Verily the working of the
divine decrees is worthy of humble worship. The priest had promised
Miné that Sampei should not be betrayed, 'Twas probable that when he
rallied, as human nature will rally, to some small extent, however
severe the shock, the rest of his days would be spent in the holy
garb, and that comfort would come to him at last. For public
edification and example, the soldier's remaining years were to be
passed in prayer. The Hojo himself was to fall by the hand of Nara;
that much was evident now, and it was fitting as well as just.

He who was wont to be over-prudent, even under stress of extreme and
unendurable provocation, now threw prudence to the winds. Without
delay he girded on his swords and dirk, mounted his horse, and
galloped to the Golden House. Consequences were as rice straw in the
wind. To fight and kill another daimio within the sacred city--within
a given distance of the palace, meant death by harakiri. Himself to be
slain meant confiscation of all his goods. His goods! a fig for them!
He was childless now, and honour is worth more than goods.
Peradventure when the stain had been wiped out, the Holy Mikado would
forgive, in consideration for past service. No doubt he would be
grateful for the removal of the incubus. If not, what mattered it? The
childless old man would die, having saved at least his honour, and to
the paltry dross of this world his sovereign lord was welcome.

Hearing the clatter of a single horseman's hoofs, the watchful samurai
at the gate of the Golden House came forth and shaded their eyes with
their palms to reconnoitre the visitor. Among themselves they were
somewhat disturbed, for rumours of approaching troops were rife; the
warriors of other magnates were unfriendly to the dominating one; and
their lord was curiously inactive. Indeed, for the last day or two, he
had not stepped abroad. That he was at home, and sick, was evident,
for they could hear his muffled ejaculations; and now and then his
distempered visage peered from an upper window with disordered mien,
gazing on the wood and lake. The Daimio of Nara, with care upon his
brow--in haste--unattended--alone? Strange! But events were moving
strangely. The father-in-law of my lord; his parent's chosen guide and
counsellor. With respectful salutes and genuflections the Daimio was
allowed to pass. For of a certainty my lord required helpful counsel,
and Nara, all agreed, was the very prince to give it.

The new-comer dashed past without deigning notice, nor drew rein till
he reached the entrance of the villa. The heavy foliage of the
surrounding pines was bowed down with a glittering burden; the
picturesque lake, with its rocks and tiny islets, was frozen over, and
on its surface wandered painfully and slow the myriad of black
tortoises that usually slept beneath. A haven of peace and rest, an
oasis of silence in a sea of turmoil. Even the sentries, who slowly
marched before the doors, seemed under the spell of winter, their
senses blunted by the nipping air.

The whirling mind of Nara was too much engrossed to heed such trivial
matters. Flinging his bridle to a sentinel, he inquired where was his
master. The man pointed upward with his lance, but added in troubled
accents, that my lord was sick,--had given special orders that he was
on no account to be disturbed.

"I have come to cure his sickness," the old man said, with a grim
smile of peculiar meaning. "I have brought him medicine. See that we
are left alone."

The Golden House, as we saw when we were here some time since, is a
dwelling of small proportions on the lake bank, built of wood, with a
huge towering roof bedizened with much gold. The upper chambers are
reached by a ladder-stair of extreme exiguity, so frail and narrow
that one person only can mount at a time, and only then by bowing his
head.

Nara's tall and bulky form had much ado to reach the landing; but,
arrived there, he loosed his katana in its sheath, and, with a
strength, for which none would have credited him, seized the ladder,
and, wrenching it from its iron fastening, hurled it clattering down.

The paper windows were closed; the light was dim; a voice, tuned low
by world-worn weariness, demanded who was there.

Nara strode into the inner room where, wrapped in quilts, the Hojo
lay, a hibachi close at hand, his swords in their rack beside him.

"_You!_" he said, rising to a sitting posture.

"I," was the rejoinder. "I, _murderer!_ The father of O'Tei, the wife
whom you have slaughtered."

No-Kami looked dreamily at the figure that stood over him, then felt
his garb with a vague, uncertain movement of twitching fingers.

"Murderer?" he muttered, with a cynic's laugh.

The wrath of the old man flared up. Grinding his teeth, he spurned the
prostrate figure.

"Yes, murderer!" he hissed, "and I, the father of your victim. No one
can interrupt us. O'Tei is dead--you know it--and by your decree. Only
one, if one, will leave this room alive. Have you any manhood left,
degenerate spawn of tyrants? Take up your sword, and quickly, or I'll
slay you like a dog, as you deserve."

Had not the old man been so distraught he would have seen by No-Kami's
face that the intelligence was bewildering news to him. He sat gazing
at his persecutor open-mouthed, till he, goaded beyond control, smote
him with flat blade across the face.

It left a livid mark, the rest of the visage purple, the veins swollen
and congested. With a hoarse growl like an animal at bay, No-Kami
sprang to his feet, seized his katana, and attacked the aggressor with
set teeth. Glaring one at the other, with starting eyeballs and
foaming lips, the two--the old man and the young--fought on in the
small space and the dim light. Both were too furious for caution, and
hacked each at each, smearing walls and floor, without a sound but
labouring breath and clashing steel. The old man, taller, with longer
arm, was getting the mastery. He had step by step driven No-Kami to
the corner, where stood an idol of bronze, against which he leaned.
Uncovering himself to deliver the final blow, he slipped in the blood
upon the floor, and received the point of the Hojo right through his
breast, below the nipple. Dropping his weapon, and flinging up his
arms, he fell with a sob upon his back.

No-Kami withdrew his sword and wiped it carefully, then sat him down
to think.

O'Tei murdered! By whom? what for? It must be true, or the crafty old
lord would never have been driven to such frenzy. It was quieted now,
that same frenzy, however. He lay still enough, his skin as grey as
was his hair. "Not my fault," No-Kami murmured, with compunction; for,
debauched though he was, the Hojo had respect for bravery. "He has
brought his end upon himself. Now, what of me? Who will believe me if
I say that one who was the soul of caution came and smote me like a
rat? Within the prohibited distance, the Mikado's favourite
counsellor, and I so ill, so spectre-ridden." Clasping his burning
forehead in his hands, No-Kami looked hungrily at the dirk which
seemed to invite him from its rack, and thought, as he had once done
before, that it would be well to make an end on't. Not yet. He was
taken by an uncontrollable desire to know more of the tragedy at home.
O'Tei murdered! The words seemed burnt into his brain; and as he
contemplated them, with her father dead at his feet, an ineffable
sadness--a cold sense of extreme loneliness--crept over his soul. The
past rose up before his vision. For a little while they had been
happy, he and the fair O'Tei. She had been cold and haughty and
repellent, despising him always, and that had maddened him. And was
she not right to do so--fully justified? She was better than he,--far
above his level, and it was this that had made him hate her. But did
he hate her? No! Now that she was gone, he became aware of a singular
sensation. Down in the deeps of his being there was a profound pity
for her fate. Why did he feel so lonely? Why did he shudder at the
shadows whose chills encompassed him about?

Who had planned her murder? Like a green ray of lightning it flashed
on him--O'Kikú! His curse and hers. Oh, wretched, infatuated
man--O'Kikú! Poor O'Tei, murdered by her rival! The punishment of the
concubine was the only reparation possible. She should be punished. If
he was to leave Ki[^y]oto unmolested, there was not a minute to be
lost. The ladder was gone, the distance to the ground but small.
No-Kami, his nerves strung again by a distinct purpose, moved to the
verandah, and swung himself down its column. With steady tread he
appeared before the sleepy sentinel, and with stern, sharp accents
issued his instructions.

"My horse Typhoon, quick. I need no followers. The Daimio of Nara has
gone the other way. Close up the house--nay, I will myself fasten it.
Double the sentries. Keep watch and ward. Let none, on whatever
pretext, set foot within the boundaries."

As he clattered away on his favourite charger at full speed, the
samurai looked after him.

"Ticklish times," muttered he who was in command, "each moment fraught
with peril. My lord of Nara, no doubt, has given the best advice. My
lord is gone to act on it. Well, well, the gods be praised, our chief
is himself again!"



                             CHAPTER XIX.

                          THE WEB IS WOVEN.


Typhoon was the best charger in the Daimio's stable, and worthy of his
name; but this was his last journey. He was so hard pressed by his
frantic master, that at the castle gate he sank and died.

The sudden arrival of my lord, a fugitive, without a single follower,
created within the fortress a commotion which was no little aggravated
by the news of which he was the bearer. How swift was the cumulation
of events. My lord of Nara and his heiress murdered. A siege in
immediate prospect, and after that--what? A long course of excess and
idleness had sapped the discipline of the braves, and instead of
hailing the coming fray with the joy that becomes heroes, they showed
signs of sullen discontent. No-Kami had slain in a secret manner,
without witnesses, the venerable Nara, the esteemed friend of the Holy
Mikado.

This was going too far, even for so overbearing a despot. Even the
samurai of Tsu were aware that Japan at bay would arise and shake off
its incubus. The castle would be invested by the foes of Hojo, who
were legion. Look where he would, there was no single ally who could
be counted on for succour. There was but one consummation possible. An
iron wall would hem the fortress, and all within would perish. Under
these circumstances, the warriors (privately discussing the situation)
were divided in opinion. Would it be well to accept the inevitable and
bow the neck at once, suing for mercy; or would it perchance be
better to baulk the foe, to act as the celebrated forty-seven ronins
did--revered for ever by the Japanese--namely, to perform harakiri in
concert? Thus it will be seen that the glamour of evil fortune had
wrapped the castle like a mist. Even the bold retainers of the
crumbling family lost heart, and if they prepared to show any
resistance at all, it was owing to the presence of Sampei, the heroic
subduer of Corea.

Even Sampei, whilom bravest of the brave, showed no enthusiasm. He had
stumbled along the stony road of the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
and seemed to look down from afar upon the petty frettings of
humanity, as you might idly watch the proceedings in an opened
anthill.

The first acute bitterness waned insensibly, and he grew resigned to
life-long pain. Had it not been so, reason would have fallen from her
throne. He could think of O'Tei not as corruption but as
_transformed_. The sap of a tree, the glow of a gem, the plumage of a
bird, contained her outward part. Nature had taken back and set to
other purpose that which she had lent. As to the other, who might tell
where it wandered? Where was her pure soul hovering?

Was the gulf that yawned in front as dark as the path already trodden?
If the gods were really good, they could not but be mild to one who
was so gentle. After all, for himself it mattered not. What, to a
mortal so maimed as he, was a little more or less of suffering, after
that wound from which the life-drops of his heart were slowly
dripping?

He would not desert his brother, Sampei declared with quiet gravity.
So long as the gods willed that he should fight, he would fight; but
the sooner suspense was over, the greater the relief for all.

The bewitching O'Kikú when, rosy and wreathed with smiles, she flew
from her bower in the most becoming of costumes to embrace her love,
was considerably disconcerted by her reception. She had carefully gone
over details, and planned within her mind exactly how it was all to
be. He would be a little upset, possibly, on his arrival, to hear of
the sudden and mysterious end of his icicle. He would pretend concern,
and probably show anger, relieved all the while by her flitting. She,
O'Kikú, would condole, clasp her husband--all her own now--in white
arms, and, breast to breast, divulge the delicious secret. He would be
enchanted, of course. She would make herself so agreeable bringing
forth the entire armoury of her blandishments for his behoof, that
memory of O'Tei would speedily be relegated to the limbo prepared for
the ghosts of marplots. This point reached, she would summon all her
skill and tact, wheedle and cajole and flatter, so as to achieve the
desired prize.

By making herself absolutely necessary to No-Kami, then turning on the
tap of tears, the living wife would advance a step, be lifted to the
dead one's place. And he should never have cause to regret the signal
favour. His interests would then be hers completely. No prospect in
the future, then, of being put away,--compelled, like Masago, to
assume the crape. She would take her lord in hand,--be a long-headed
little counsellor, chide his faults with gentleness, teach him to curb
his passions, help him to replace on the neck of struggling Japan the
yoke that was ominously-loose. And lo! how quickly did her toy palace
tumble! No-Kami looked twenty years older than when he went away.
There was a haggard wildness in his face--an expression, as he glanced
at the enchantress, curiously akin, if it were possible, to aversion.
His hands twitched; foam gathered on his lips. When, cooing, she laid
her head upon his bosom, her hair new dressed with fresh camellia oil,
he pushed her so rudely from him, that, reeling, with bruised arms,
she tottered against the wall.

Could it, oh could it be, that he could have ever loved that woman?
Could it be that his fiery nature was consuming, torn by the pincers
of remorse? Surely he could feel naught at most for an icicle but a
cold regret that would soon pass. Was it possible that in a revulsion
of feeling he had actually come to detest the enchanting siren who so
easily had won him? Verily it seemed like it. With eyes lowered in
antipathy, he seemed to avoid her gaze with loathing. And what was
that he muttered as he so roughly threw her off. Was it _murderess?_
And what a look accompanied the word. Her tongue clove to the roof of
her mouth, and though she ardently wished to repel the accusation, her
lips refused their office. Did he really believe her guilty of such a
foolish prank, of such a stupid blunder? She had no doubt arranged to
oust the rival, to procure her expulsion from the castle; but to shed
her blood and create a scandal, that would have been too foolish.
Before she had time to recover from shocked surprise, my lord was
gone. He gave a few brief husky orders, then groped his way, as if in
darkness, to the retired eyrie where had dwelt the vanished
chatelaine. Thither she felt that she dared not follow him. With
forebodings gathering within her breast, O'Kikú withdrew to her
apartments, fearing she knew not what.

There, on the mat, where she had laid it down, was O'Tei's samisen,
encrusted with gold and ivory; yonder her broidery-frame, a book of
poems open, a hundred pathetic evidences, eloquent of her who was
gone. Far removed from the hum of preparation, No-Kami sat, dumbly
gazing from the casement across the river towards the sea.

And then, for the first time, there passed across the mental ken of
Hojo the phantoms of a gloomy retrospect. He seemed, as they swept by,
to hear a forlorn chant, with the saddest of refrains--"Too late!"

He had been given a life full of brilliant opportunities and had cast
them all away. His name was a byword in the land. There was not one
living thing that loved him, while thousands clamoured for his death.
The chill of a desolation, novel and surprising, crept over his heart,
as, glancing around the bower, small objects recalled the past. Why
had they tied him to O'Tei? With one more congenial the asperities of
his character might have softened. O'Tei, the soft and clinging, had
never loved him; no--never--not for a single moment. Something
whispered now that, had he been more kind, she might have come
to like him. Then, as if stung by an adder, he sprang upon his feet,
with beads of perspiration on his forehead. Fool! what spell was
this?--what disgraceful, infatuated weakness? Had he been more kind!
_Had she not loved his brother?_ The poison instilled by the geisha,
dormant through the rapid passage of stirring events, throbbed through
his veins, and he gasped and grew faint under the pain of it. Both
false--his wife and brother. _She_ was dead; no wonder _he_ looked so
glum! Perturbed though his own mind was, No-Kami could not but notice
the change which had come over the face of Sampei. The sharp iron
share of an ineffable sorrow had passed over his features, ploughing
deep lines of grief.

On second thoughts, it was well that she was dead. She had sinned, and
was justly punished. Thus far was his honour satisfied. The murderess
must suffer also. By-and-by, when there should be breathing time. And
the paramour as well. With staggering steps the Daimio roamed like a
caged animal about the chamber, revolving direful designs. Then
suddenly stopping, he laughed aloud and clapped his palms together.
By-and-by, in the future! Was there any future except a yawning,
bottomless gulf down which he and his were sliding? Honour, forsooth!
He and his had as little to do with honour as with a future, or with
life.

From far away across the sunlit waters a voice whispered mockingly,
"Accursed and doomed! betrayed and friendless! Oh, desolate, solitary
soul, the gods have set their brand on thee! In worlds to come an
outcast!"

Trembling, the Daimio peered around. Some one had spoken. Who? No one
in the corridor without. No one beneath the window. That unearthly
jibing merriment! Two bloodshot eyes glaring from the cloudless sky.
Cursed and doomed! Predestined to endless travail! Moaning, the Daimio
cowered down and rocked himself in terror.

It was soon understood that, my lord being unhinged, and grievously
sick in body and mind, Sampei would assume command. So long as the
gods willed it, there should be defence, the General had determined,
and to that end he moved hither and thither with forced calm,
arranging details by the light of a shrewd experience; steady as some
strong machine that does its work unconsciously.

The contents of the armoury were overhauled and furbished. Seasoned
wood was sought throughout the town, for the making of countless
arrows; thick porous paper for dressing wounds, according to the
standard rules of rough field surgery. The ground within the inner
moat was covered over with boards and canvas, to conceal what was done
inside; for an investing army is ever full of stratagems for learning
the weak points of the besieged. Lofty trees, or high peaks of rock,
were sure to be occupied at once, tall towers to be erected on points
of vantage. It was even a common thing to fly huge kites, large enough
to support a man, and so obtain a bird's-eye view of the interior of
an enemy's castle. Sampei organised a band of scouts, and sent them
forth to crawl by night along the narrow causeways that intersected
the oozy rice fields, bidding them return with earliest information
with regard to the coming of the foe. Parties of braves were
despatched in all directions to annex the scanty stores which
oppression had left to the peasantry. All possible precautions taken,
he divided his men into watches, taught each his post and duty, then
waited for the future to unroll.

Nor had he long to wait. As though rising by magic through the ground,
an army of combatants appeared, who surrounded the fortress with their
engines. From the top of the central tower, crowned with its copper
roof and golden fish, could be descried a host so numerous and
well-equipped that Sampei stood marvelling how they could be here so
quickly. It soon became manifest that they had no intention of
endeavouring to storm the place, at least not yet, for they
methodically set about the forming of a line of pallisades, consisting
of heavy planks propped by hinged supports, behind which they could
safely repose, and starve the foe to extremity.

There is nothing so soul-depressing to those hemmed in as a siege thus
coldly carried out. The sense of being an animal shut in a trap, the
lack of incident and excitement, the feeling of being without the pale
of busy humanity, damp the courage, and chill the spirits. There is
something so prosaic about a war waged against the stomach. The
samurai of Tsu, disorganised already, their native prowess undermined,
soon felt the pinch, and began to brawl and murmur. Their lord they
saw no more, for, reason rocking on its pedestal, he remained shut
up, refusing consolation, within the apartments of the deceased. But
for the prestige that clung like a halo round his brother, and
enforced a surly and half mutinous obedience, the braves would have
thrown open the gates, have attempted to fraternise with the host of
invading warriors. But the stoutest among them stood in dread of
Sampei,---quailed before the bluff, uncompromising severity which,
without the wink of an eyelid, would have made an example of traitors.
The vassals of the Hojo fought, discharging arrows and javelins,
occasionally making a feeble show of a sortie: but all knew that the
end was imminent, that suspense would soon be over.

O'Kikú, grasping, sly, and unheroic, fretted, as may be imagined,
bitterly. How different was the present state of things from her
cherished rainbow-dream. That sharp repulse, followed by utter
neglect, upset her calculations. She appeared of a sudden to have lost
influence over all her willing slaves. My lord, absorbed in his own
troubles, ignored the fact of her existence. The braves, with whom she
was once so popular--many of whom, it must be confessed, were vain at
one time of being numbered among her lovers--now gnashed their teeth
in her face, and poured on her head twofold the obloquy that had been
the portion of O'Tei.

And why was this? Doubtless the truculent and unlettered samurai
could scarcely be expected to be logical. Yet having witnessed the
passage-of-arms between the ladies, they must know as well as she that
the concubine was innocent of the catastrophe. And yet somehow or
other it had become plain to their obtuse intelligence that the siren
was at the bottom of the trouble. There was no arguing the point,
since none could deny that it was from her advent that the run of
disaster must be dated. Accustomed to be pampered and petted, she was
devoured with smouldering rage, and unreasoning hate of Tsu and Hojo,
and all connected with the race, in finding herself treated like a
leper. What a pity it was that, lured by a sham glitter, she should
have turned aside from the pilgrimage to Isé, for the gathering of
mundane baubles. What had she gained by it? Troubles and
disappointments, and illusions roughly shattered. And perhaps in the
background something even worse was lurking; for she realised with
apprehension that she was hedged round with a phalanx of enemies, who
persisted in connecting her, in spite of evidence, with the untimely
death of the chatelaine. Was there ever anything so unreasonable, and
yet fraught with graver peril? My lord was a madman, beset by absurd
hallucinations; a furious tiger, accustomed to batten upon blood, as
devoid of conscience as of scruple. He had called her murderess, and
in the crooked recesses of his muddy brain was concocting some
frightful retribution; There was no escape for her by flight, for she
was in the position of a kid locked in a den of lions.

In case of personal peril, to whom might O'Kikú turn for succour?
Sampei was honest and upright, but on his worn face, when turned to
her, was a horrible expression of icy vindictiveness. That he had
idolised O'Tei none knew better than she, and she was in some
manner connected in his mind with that most unfortunate murder. He
also was evidently brooding over some unpleasant form of reprisal.
Enemies--nothing but enemies--inside and out; she their future target.
At all events Sampei could be counted upon as straight and above mean
treason. Gulping down the lees of offended vanity, O'Kikú resolved
to clear herself in his eyes from any complicity in the tragedy. He
would believe her--for once in her life she would really speak the
truth--and he would stand by her if assaulted by the madman. But when,
waylaying him one day, with a poor ghostly show of the old coquetry,
she entered on the subject, such a wave of blank despair seemed to
sweep over him that the words froze on her lips, and he was gone
before she had recovered.

Condemned to inaction, deprived of amusement and male companionship,
relegated to the uninteresting society of tire-women, the unhappy
geisha pined as well as fretted. If they would only let her out,--set
the caged bird free! Dreams of ambition faded, she now desired no more
than liberty. Several times each day she climbed to the top of the
central tower, just under the fish of gold, and gazed--oh, with what
longing--at the cohorts of the invading host. The strictest guard was
kept at the openings in the palisading, but soldiers off duty were
free to amuse themselves. She could see bands of them engaged in
military sports. Some went a-hunting, and returned laden. Oh, if she
were only with them, outside these horrid walls, beyond which lay
tantalising freedom! And what was to be the end? There was only one
end possible. All could see that now. Scanty stores, hastily
collected, were waning. What then? Gaunt famine stalked already. Would
those without linger inactive till the besieged were dead to a man,
then march in over the corpses? or would they in a more martial spirit
wait only till the braves were weak, and then take the place by
escalade? It was too revolting to die thus by inches. The idea
suddenly flashed upon the wretched woman, whose moral sense, never
acute, was blunting hourly, that the key of the situation was in her
own little hand. Why should she not open the postern, let in the foe,
who in gratitude would spare her life--maybe applaud and treat her
with homage as a heroine? What to her were the Hojos; their
illustrious name which was hers--that name about which the silly
Masago had preached so loftily--now that they were on the brink of
ruin? She had good cause to hate the Hojos. Many a lady in the annals
of Japan has bared her breast to her husband's dirk in just such an
emergency as this. When the famed Shibata knew all was lost, he gave a
final banquet, at the conclusion of which he said to his wife, "You
women must go, for it is time for us men to die." And what answer made
she? With tears she thanked her lord, she, the sister of Nobunago the
Great, composed a farewell verse of poetry, and received his sword
into her bosom.

But then O'Kikú was not of noble birth, and such flights did not suit
her fancy. She knew herself to be still young and lovely, and full of
life, and burning for fresh fields to conquer. If all had gone well,
and she had stepped into the dead one's place, she would, outwardly at
least, have been henceforth as demure as prudery could desire. Rank
and honour and power and appetites pampered, form one condition of
things. Untimely death, trapped within four walls, is quite another.
It would be merciful,--a deed worthy of commendation, to let the enemy
in, and put these doomed ones out of misery. My lord, a prey to
goblins, was become quite too contemptible. What a delight to be
present at the slaying of the hateful Sampei! Doubtless in yonder host
there were many as noble as he who would, when opportunity offered,
vie with one another for her favours. Her mind was made up. A fig for
the race of Hojo. She would start upon her scheme forthwith.

Changing her tactics, the geisha, braving the scowls of the samurai,
became interested in military operations, and despite their new-born
dislike of one whom they had come to esteem as a bad angel, it was
cheering to be commended by the lips of a pretty woman. She organised
her maidens into a band of mercy for the relief of those who were
wounded; helped with her own hands to prepare and carry food; filled
and passed the saké-cup, declaring that wine gives strength. Sampei
observed these proceedings with displeasure, but did not interfere.
One morning when the commander was busy, and she knew herself
unwatched, O'Kikú crept to the top of the tower with her dainty bow,
and discharged into the air an arrow, round which was wrapped a paper.
As she marked its flight, and perceived that it fell beyond the
palisade, "So far well," she murmured. "This suspense will conclude
to-night."

The weather was exceeding cold, the blood of the soldiers thin, by
reason of under-feeding. Both food and drink were scrupulously
measured now in gradually shrinking rations. But the wily damsel had a
private supply of _saké_, remnant of that with which she used to ply
my lord before his late visit to Ki[^y]oto. She prepared and warmed a
pot of it, in which she distilled some seeds, and waited with
philosophic patience for the night. Then, robed in a dark soft kimono,
she stole through the first gate, and round under shadow of the fatal
belt of trees, regardless of their wooing and their sighing (she was
not one to be tricked to suicide), and thus reached unseen the corner
of the outer gate. The muffled sentinel was leaning upon his lance
against the parapet, and started from doleful reverie as she appeared
before him.

"Hush," she murmured rapidly, "it is I, O'Kikú. You used to love me
once--false that you are--or told me so. See how I love you still.
Risking my good name for you, I have brought you this, lest haply you
be frozen by the morning."

The man looked at her with feelings of self-reproach. Yes, he had
fancied her once, more fickle apparently than she; and as she stood
before him now, so small and dark, with eyes of mouse-like brightness,
and ravishing dimples playing at hide-and-seek, he liked her yet
again. But she fluttered like a bird in his embrace.

"No, no," she whispered, as she passed over his rough face caressing
fingers. "Remember duty, and the plight we are in. Folly is over, and
stern reality is here. You wronged me in your thoughts, deeming I had
forgotten you. Admit you did. Fie, fie--for shame! There, you are
forgiven! Drink!"

She held forth the saké pot, kept warm with a woollen covering. He
took a long draught, his gaze on her the while, and she shook her
shapely head in arch reproach. And then, with set teeth and no dimples
showing now, she caught the saké-pot as it escaped from his hand, and
he fell insensible upon his back.

"Idiot!" she said, with a curl of her full lip, "lie there undisturbed
until your foolish throat is cut," and peering cautiously around,
descended quickly to the postern.

It will be remembered that the outer gate stood at right angles to the
road, for the better purpose of defence, but that there was a small
postern in the angle facing it. In her outgoings and incomings she had
always, as a matter of convenience, used this postern, and had kept
the key of it. How provoking were these plaguy clouds over the moon.
At one moment it was dark--at another as light as day--dazzling,
puzzling. She stood in the open doorway peeping forth, when a mailed
man in ambush seized her by the arm, and pinched it so suddenly that
she had much ado to suppress a scream.

"I have you!" he said; "you are our hostage. We got your billet, and
are ready."

"You hurt me, sir," she answered, struggling. "Brute! let me go. The
door is open as I promised. Here is the key of the inner gate."

She endeavoured to shake off the iron grip and flee in the direction
of liberty, but the man held her as in a vice.

"Softly, softly!" he chuckled, "or this tender flesh will suffer. She
who can wantonly betray her people may not be trusted. You shall go
before and lead us to the inner gate. When once we are within the
citadel you shall receive reward, I promise."

A cry of vexation and abortive spite rose in the geisha's throat, and
choked her. What hardened brutal wretches soldiers are! She who
expected effusive gratitude for a signal favour was to be treated like
a common spy. The biter was bit. The man--an officer of rank, as was
evident by the glittering badge upon his casque--took no pains to
conceal his lack of consideration for the agent whom he stooped to
employ. He looked on her, it was but too evident, as on some
reptile--of service for the moment, which was to be used, then crushed
under the heel. Careless of her pain, he held her soft arm as tightly
in his armoured hand as if he meant to snap the bone.

"Lead on," he threatened, "or--"

There was no help for it. With the sharpest twinge of self-upbraiding
that she had ever felt, O'Kikú turned and led the officer under shadow
of the wall, under the belt of devilish trees that swayed now, and
wheezed and croaked in ghastly merriment, till they reached the inner
moat. She could tell by the dull thud behind that the cohorts were
silently following. One, tripping over the snoring sentinel, gave him
his _coup de grâce_. The outer space within the range of huts was
black with the ranks of the invader. Sampei, going his rounds, and
hearing a strange sound, glanced over the parapet, and pressed his two
hands upon his heart to still the commotion there.

It was all over then! So much the better--oh, so much the
better--since the gods were ruthless. By treachery from within all was
lost. The moment he had so yearned for was come at last, when he would
be freed from the bondage that was rotting him.

"My love!" he murmured, spreading wide his arms towards the stars,
while tears poured down his cheeks. "Wait for me, O'Tei, upon the
other bank. Be patient for a few moments more. Stretch forth thy hand
to me, my own; surely such love as mine should win its guerdon. In the
next life we shall be re-united."

The clouds were rent like a curtain, and the light streamed forth. The
whole outer space was covered now by a moving army as of locusts.
Sampei could detect on fluttering banners the butterfly of the Lord of
Bizen, the badges of Shioshiu, and of Satsuma. The moment had arrived
for which his soul had pined, and he was glad. But for his vigilance,
mutiny would have broken out long since; and now that treachery had
unlocked the gates, resistance would be small. He knew full well that
his men would not stand for a moment against panic. There would be a
stampede, a massacre, unless the braves were permitted to make terms.
Befall what might as to the rest, he and his must not be taken alive,
for who might tell what ignominy was prepared for the fallen Hojos?
Hastily summoning his captains, he pointed over the parapet, and laid
a hand upon his dirk with a motion understood by all.

"Act for yourselves," he said; "and the gods, who have deserted us, be
with you, old comrades."

As he rapidly strode away towards the distant corner by the river,
where dwelt No-Kami, there were tears in the eyes of the veterans. Was
this their final parting from the bravest of the brave? Ought they not
to follow, and claim participation in the rites?

"No," a white-haired warrior said. "Let his last wishes be obeyed by
us who love him. Be our last task to keep the gate, in order that they
may not be interrupted. If we do not fall in the assault, and our
lives are given us, it will be time then to follow our chiefs along
the road which they have chosen."

With quick and steady foot Sampei ascended the stair, which to him was
sanctified by the abiding presence of O'Tei. Pushing back the screen,
he entered, and, looking on his brother, there was upon his face a
newborn tenderness.

"The moment has come," he announced abruptly. "The foe is within the
gate."

A great shout went up into the stillness--a double cry--a scream of
fear, a yell of victory. How strangely close the air was--despite the
cold, heavy and sulphurous. Now that the banks of inky cloud had
completely rolled away, the sky was unnaturally clear, the stars like
specks of steel, while low along the bases of the hills was a dense
white vapour rising. Sampei clasped his throat and gasped for air, for
he was suffocating. Shaking back his locks, which, untied, had drifted
about his clammy brow, he took a candle and set fire to the dry
woodwork of the room, which crackled and flared, while No-Kami, in a
daze, looked on.

"You will be my kaishaku?" demanded the Hojo shortly.

"Not I!" returned his brother, with strange emotion. "Each one for
himself now. You take your dirk; I mine. We will have no seconds.
Quick! Each moment's golden."

"I am your feudal chief, as well as brother," No-Kami said, with
supreme haughtiness, shaking off lethargy like an ill-fitting garment,
"and as such I claim obedience. Shall it be said that the last Hojo
passed away without befitting rites? Would you dare to refuse the last
service to your departing lord?"

There was a tumult in the elder's breast. No, he dared not refuse the
last offices which were claimed thus solemnly. The final tribute of
respect due from the nearest kinsman to the head of a great house was
to act as his kaishaku or executioner. And yet, how hard! O'Tei was
waiting on the other bank. No-Kami would be there before him. Not far
ahead, though, for Sampei disdained a kaishaku. His brother gone, he
would not linger.

"Be it so," he said; and No-Kami nodded gratefully.

The heat of the curling flames was stifling. The air was thick with
smoke,--dense with an overpowering and scorching weight, like the
fumes belched out by a volcano.

Gently the lord of Tsu took from its rack his dirk, while his brother
removed the sleeve from his own right arm and drew his sword, and,
left foot forward, narrowly watched his movements. No-Kami, with
dreamy deliberation, kneeled, supporting his weight upon his heels,
and allowing his upper garment to drop down, tucked the sleeves under
his knees, to save himself from falling backwards. Then, balancing the
dirk, he looked on it with affectionate wistfulness, and, collecting
his thoughts, hearkened musingly to the increasing turmoil. A clash of
arms hard by; a hubbub of approaching voices; a volley of wild shouts
and guttural curses, ever nearer--nearer.

"Despatch!" cried the elder, with impatience, as he tightened the grip
upon his hilt.

No-Kami glanced round at him with a slow, proud smile, in which there
was more of human softness than his features had ever worn. Then,
stabbing himself below the waist on the left side, he drew the dirk
with firm and unswerving hand across, and, twisting it in the wound,
gave it a slight turn upwards.

The eager eyes of his brother sparkled. A flash in the air; a heavy
thud; a crash. No-Kami was gone; his sin-stained soul had flown. His
blood welled out over the floor from his headless trunk.

Sampei reeled, sick and giddy. Strange that the crisp air of a winter
night should be so oppressive!

What sinister new noise was that? A low, rumbling sound, like a great
tremulous sigh--a heaving as though the panting soil were labouring
for breath.

For an instant of awful silence the human storm was stilled, then in a
combined shriek rose heavenward. With swimming eyes Sampei gazed
forth, clinging to the casement for support. A boom, a roar, a rush of
boiling waters. A sweeping blast, a whirlwind--like a conflict of
spirits for a soul. With a groan as of a giant in pain, the hillside
opposite yawned. He beheld the wood of ancient cryptomerias, from
childhood so familiar, slowly descend, leaving in its place a scar. He
saw it slide down with majestic movement into the plain, turning from
its bed the river. As though propelled by hurricane force, trees and
rocks fell thundering, piled in heaps upon the flat, while through
opening gaps and fissures new-born streams gushed out.

Another shock, a long shuddering spasm, a wail of strong men for
mercy. Then with deafening din the central tower rocked and swayed and
split from top to bottom. The huge timbers cracked like wands, and
parted. The ponderous copper roofs and sculptured eaves were torn and
rent, and, toppling upon the crouching multitude, rolled over into the
abyss. Forked tongues of flame shot up with a wild whirl of sparks,
and died; and then from a common grave there curled a dense column of
black smoke. Of all who were within the walls of Tsu not one escaped.
At the gods' behest, nature had arisen in her strength. When the hail
of destruction ceased, nothing remained of the impregnable fortress
but a heap of shapeless ruin. The pride of Hojo was abased; its
cherished home was become a charnel-house; its stronghold a sepulchre;
a wreck its monument.


                          *   *   *   *   *


Thus was the prophecy fulfilled,--the death-cry of the martyr
answered. Buddha was awake, the while he seemed to sleep. By grim
decree of outraged Heaven the race of tyrants was extinguished,
leaving no rack behind save a loathed and dishonoured name.



                               THE END.



                          *   *   *   *   *
              COLSTON AND COMPANY, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.





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software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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