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The Way of the Gods By John Luther Long Characters: 4701

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

There was a time, of course, when Shijiro was too young to think of being a soldier-save of the tin-sworded and cocked-hatted kind. And it must be confessed, nay, it was confessed, by his uncles with profound sorrow, that he cared little enough for even that. It is quite true that lighted paper lanterns gleaming in the night, and morning glories with first sun on them, and his small samisen, pleased him more. All this was quite heinous to his samurai uncles and they did what they could to correct it and instil into the little mind of the boy that love for the glory of combat which they had. But, as often happens, their care and their prayers availed them nothing, while their carelessness and their repinings availed much. Of that I shall stop and tell: the picture-the flying of the carp-how all the life of the little boy was changed in one night,-so that he thought no more of Yoné, the lanterns and the flowers, but only of being a soldier.

It was that day when he was ten. All his relatives were present and they flew a tremendous number of paper carp. For you are to know that this is the way the gods have of telling one on one's birthday in Japan, whether one is to be as strong and virile as the open-mouthed carp in a swift wind, or as flaccid as they when there is no wind. The gods were kind and sent a propitious day. The carp stood out, straining upon their poles so that some of them broke loose and whirled cloud-ward-whereat the multitude of Arisuga's relatives shouted with joy. For this was an august omen of great good. Arisuga cared nothing for the omen. But the carp eddying upward, and those straining on their poles, were very fine.

The tired, happy little boy had been put early to bed, while his uncles remained to smoke and gossip. For one was from Kobé and the other was from Osaka, and they did not meet as often as they could have wished.

For a long time there was no sound save the tapping of their pipes against the metal rim of the hibachi as they were emptied of their ashes to be filled again. This is still much the way of ceremonious old men in Japan. They have learned the comradeship of silence.

Presently this sound of the tapping pipes woke the little boy from his dreaming; and hearing whisperings in the room beyond he crept from his futons to the fusuma, which he silently parted to loo

k and listen.

His small eyes grew greater as he saw that his two uncles were still there, and greater yet as he observed that they gesticulated in the direction of the picture of "The Great Death" while they whispered.

Now this was a thing which had always troubled him: that they whispered together about that picture, and that, somehow, he was included in the mystery. It had hung there at the tokonoma since he could remember. He had been taught to reverence it; for nowhere have pictures more influence than in Japan.

It was divided in the horizontal middle into two panels. In that below was carnage amazing. On the one side were the hosts of the emperor under the brocade banner (the most ancient Japanese flag of war), yet armed with guns and using cannon. On the other side were the rebel hosts of Saigo with ancient halberds and spears and in bamboo armor, depending upon the gods alone. Dying upon one of the cannon, with a shout upon his lips and ecstasy upon every feature, was a soldier in the uniform of the ancient Imperial Guards. The panel above showed one of the heavens far toward nirvana. There this same soldier appeared glorified and on the way to his reward in Shaka's bosom. Of course! He had died for the emperor! The artist had not spared the glory when he came to write the picture. And yet he had preserved a certain family likeness, so that little Arisuga presently came to know, by the subtle presence and teaching of his uncles, that this was Jokoji, the graveyard-battlefield in Satsuma, and that the figure informed with the ecstasy of the great red death for the emperor, was his father!

That no part of the lesson might be lost, the artist had also shown, in that lower panel, the obverse of the reward of fealty. Those who had fought against the emperor were being tossed like dogs into a trench. Their heads were off. And the little boy had been taught to have no pity upon them. Of course! He had none. They had impiously rebelled against that god whose other name is Mutsuhito, Mikado!

Moreover, in the lower corner of this panel, in an amazing opening among clouds with blazing edges, was that part of the hells reserved for the souls of traitors; and there the enemies of the emperor, who had died at Jokoji, were being variously tortured, in the intervals of their reincarnations.


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