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   Chapter 4 YET—A LIE LOOSENS FEALTY

The Way of the Gods By John Luther Long Characters: 5233

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The little boy slept no more. He got forth from his small room and made the offerings, and lighted the incense which he had forgotten that tired, joyous day, and then he took down his father's ihai, and touching to it his forehead, pledged all his lives to make true that which had been made false. For, yes, their names were the same, his father's and his, and the gods are easily deceived-Shijiro Arisuga should be upon the brass of those who had died for the emperor! The gods would attend to the forgetting which must follow.

But this was not enough. The filial sin they had let him commit vexed his little soul.

Where he had made a dim wisp of fibre to burn in oil before the tablet of his father, he rubbed a prayer from between his small pink palms.

"Father and all the augustnesses, I did not know," he said childishly, "that your spirit waited in the dark Meido for me to set it free. There were lies!"

Then he stopped and waited, for the tears ran down his face and choked his voice.

"It would have been better to teach me truth than lies. For they have not made me wish to fight and die for the emperor-lies. But this, this that you wait, wait always in the cold dark Meido for me to set you on your way to the sleep in Buddha's bosom, this it is which makes me promise, here, now, by all the eight hundred thousand, by my own soul's reincarnations, all of them, that you shall be free; that your name shall yet stand among those on the brass who are not forgotten."

"I did not know," he sobbed again. "And so I sang songs and made poems while you wandered there. I did not know. I was only a little boy. But now I am at once a man. It is true, august father, I must not lie to you, that I would rather be at Shiba with Yoné; I would rather walk on the hills with her hand in mine; I would rather sing as she plays the samisen; but I will be a soldier."

And then a strange thing happened-and you must not fail to remember that stranger things happen in Japan than here-there came a crackling, ripping noise at the last word of that prayer, and the upper panel of the false picture loosed itself from the brocade to which it was attached and, falling, covered completely the lower panel and blotted out the whole. And that night yet, the little boy got his father's seal, and, where it fell, there he sealed it fast.

So that when his uncles again saw it they grew troubled, kowtowed and made a prayer. For suddenly, also, Arisuga, from a child, at ten had become man. All he said to them when they diffidently undertook a question was:-

"I know the samurai commandment: 'Thou sha

lt not live under the same heavens nor upon the same earth with the enemy of thy lord!'"

"The commandments are not for children," said the uncle from Osaka, gently.

"That I know well," answered Arisuga. "For I am not a child."

Said the terrified one from Kobé, "It does not mean that you must quit the earths and the heavens-"

"But, rather," supplemented the one from Osaka, "that they shall-"

"That you shall kill many enemies of your lord and live yourself-my child-"

"Cease! I am not a child," said Arisuga again, haughtily, "and I know the commandments!"

"Nevertheless that," said the one, "is a manifestation from the gods!"

He pointed to the picture.

"There have been many such," said the other. "It means something."

"Yes," said the little boy, significantly, "it means something!"

"But were you present when the gods obscured the picture?" ventured Kiomidzu.

"I was present," said Arisuga.

"And is it that which has changed you?" further ventured Namishima.

"No," declared Arisuga, looking upon them both sternly, and without an honorific for either.

"I trust," whined Kiomidzu, "that all is well between us?"

"All is as well as it ever will be," said the boy.

Then, after a silence, he added:-

"And the sun is setting!"

Which meant, indeed, that they were driven from the door of their brother's house by his son!

When they were in their going the boy said:-

"If I have sinned against the honorable hospitality, remember that a lie loosens fealty!"

And when they were in the way, one said to the other:-

"He knows!"

After some thought he who was addressed answered:-

"I think it very well. I have no regret. Our brother will now be released from the Meido. He will die for the emperor."

"However, we shall be unwelcome in his presence, so that I shall come less often."

To this his brother agreed with melancholy.

"Our work is now done."

Thus, Shijiro was much more alone than before, and had many more thoughts. But all were of war and the great red death, and none of Yoné.

And then, presently, he came to join the haughty Imperial Guards, who had never dreamed of being a soldier, but only of poetry, and cherry-blossoms, and his samisen, and the soft satin hand of the little Yoné. For it was true, as Nijin said, and as they all agreed, Arisuga among them, that he was not the stuff out of which the empire made its Imperial Guards-quite.

It was in this time, in the presence of the obscured picture, that he wrote his song of "The Great Death."

And his years grew faster than his inches.

YAMATO DAMASHII

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