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The Way of the Gods By John Luther Long Characters: 6418

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

And, slowly, that fantasy of a great death which infects every Japanese crept into the life and thought of Shijiro Arisuga. Though it came to him, in whom it had lain latent, hardly. But, perhaps for that reason, as is the case with certain diseases, it came with greater certainty and severity than if it had been always with him.

Yet the Yamato Damashii outstripped them both: the spirit of war-the ghost of Japan!

He still went with little Yoné to Mukojima sometimes, though less frequently. And the small heart of the small girl wondered and grew hurt at this. So that she asked him one day:-

"Little lord, why is it that we so seldom come here and that you no more sing, no more carry your samisen, and are grown too suddenly for your years a man with a face as serious as the unlaughing barbarians of the West-why is it?"

They were at Shiba. And Shijiro laughed again, as he had used to laugh, while he answered:-

"Sing no more! Listen!"

"Reign on for a thousand years of peace!

Reign on for a myriad years of ease!

Till the pebbles are boulders,

Moss grows to our shoulders,

O heaven-born lord of Nippon!"

"The Kimi Gayo!" said the little girl. "You sing the Imperial Hymn with that light in your face who never sang it before-whose face was never before so lighted? You answer my fear with fears."

"I sing a war-song, little moon-maid, because I am now a soldier," cried Arisuga, with a certain fanatical ecstasy in spite of his gayety. "I am going to die for the emperor the great death! I am going to set my father free to pursue his way to the heavens or another reincarnation! Think! The gods will love me for such a holy thing! Why do not you?"

"Oh, yes," whispered the little girl, "the gods will love you. And I. But who, then, will come with me here? And who will hold my hand?"

"My spirit, I promise you that!"

A little chill crept over the girl.

"Yes," she answered doubtfully, "if I cannot have your body."

Shijiro still laughed.

"After all, a spirit is a safer comrade than a body. The custodians cannot drive it away from the tombs. And will you wait here for my spirit, as you do for my body?"

"Yes," she whispered, in her awe, once more.

But he gayly touched her.

"I will come like that-that-that!"

"I would rather have you so," said the little girl, touching him, as flesh touches flesh, not as spirit touches flesh in the East.

Though she suspected that he was laughing at her, it was in a land where both the spirits which loved one and hated one were believed to be always at one's elbow.

Now that it had all been decided-his career fixed, the way made clear, and he well in it-much of his absorption had passed away, and he was both gayer and gentler with her. But it was not as before.

"There will be others, with bodies," laughed Shijiro.

The small maiden shook her head.

"No, there will not be others. I know. Oh, how differently you speak to me now! You are suddenly grown a man with great thoughts. But you still think of me as a little girl with small thoughts. Well, perhaps I am. Yet I shall wait for you here. I can do that. The gods may not accept your sacrifice for a time. They may not ac

cept it at all. And there may be no war for you to fight and die in. You may have to come back. No one can know the purposes of the gods. And when you do, I, with my small body and small thought, will be here only to make you happy."

"And, suppose," laughed Shijiro, treating her indeed as if he were suddenly become a man and she were still a little girl, "suppose I go away and forget-that often happens-and never come back?"

And Arisuga laughed again.

"I will wait," said the girl.

"What, after I have forgotten?"

"Do not tell me. Let no one tell me. Let me wait. Then your spirit may come. It is cruel to wait, always wait. But it is not so cruel as to be forgotten."

The soldier still laughed.

"The spirit of all the goddesses thrives in you!"

And he touched her gently.

"But the gods may send it to me soon-the great crimson death."

"Then," answered the little girl, "I can die the great death, too, and still be with you-if you should wish!"

"What!" laughed Shijiro, anew, "little you-gentle Yoné-in the wild glory of the conflict, with a plunge into the fires of all the hells, in the madness of carnage, with a yell frozen on your lips? Shall little you experience that arch esctasy: your death-wound spurting your own warm blood into your own face? Then out, out, out into the eternal solitude and silence of souls awaiting other reincarnations? To that place called Meido? Ha ha, my fragile Yoné, the great red death-is not for you-not for perfumed little Yoné's. It is a man's death!"

At this she was reproved, but as he always reproved her, very gently. Yet it was wonderful that his gentleness held here. She understood well her presumption in wishing to die the great death of a man.

"Pardon, small lord," she said humbly. "I spoke when I had not counted three-instead of nine."

He laughed happily.

"Speak whatever comes to your lips. All is good, because it comes from them-which are all good. But when you speak of the things which are a man's, I look at your stature and-laugh! I tell you what is yours-little Yoné-and what is mine!"

She tried to forget that he was not much taller than she.

"No, forgive me; I must die only the small, white death of women and children. But, until it comes, I shall be here where you and I were happy together. And if you die, still caring for me, your spirit will come and touch me, as you said. That much I know. You have said it! But if you have forgotten, then there will be no touches; then I will still wait until I die. It will not be long."

"Little one," said Arisuga, in pity, "we have lived and loved together here. All has been good. But it is as a splendid summer day which one forgets, in the glow, the madness of glory, the moment the call comes! This we did not know, the madness of glory, and I had never thought to learn. But it has come, and it is greater than all love. Should the call sound now, I would leave you where you stand, and go upon the business of our sovereign. As it is," he laughed, "we shall once more go homeward hand in hand!"

And so they did. But still it was not as before. It never could be. As he had said, this madness of glory had obscured all love.


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