The Dragon Painter
by Mary McNeil Fenollosa
[Illustration: Cover artwork]
THE DRAGON PAINTER
MARY McNEIL FENOLLOSA
Author of Truth Dexter, The Breath of the Gods,
Out of the Nest: A Flight of Verses,
Illustrated by Gertrude McDaniel
[Frontispiece: Another step, and she was in the room.]
Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1906
Copyright, 1905, By P. F. Collier &Son.
Copyright, 1906, By Little, Brown, and Company. All rights reserved
Published October, 1906
The story of The Dragon Painter, in
a shorter form, was originally published in
Collier's. It has since been practically
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Another step, and she was in the room . . . Frontispiece
With the soft tuft of camel hair he blurred against the
peak pale, luminous vapor of new cloud
He walked up and down, sometimes in the narrow room,
sometimes in the garden
'Come, Dragon Wife,' he said, 'come back to our little home'
Umè-ko leaned over instantly, staring down into the stream
Then a little hand, stealing from a nun's gray sleeve,
slipped into his
THE DRAGON PAINTER
The old folks call it Yeddo. To the young, Tokyo has a pleasant,
modern sound, and comes glibly. But whether young or old, those whose
home it is know that the great flat city, troubled with green hills,
cleft by a shining river, and veined in living canals, is the central
spot of all the world.
Storms visit Tokyo,with fury often, sometimes with destruction.
Earthquakes cow it; snow falls upon its temple roofs, swings in wet,
dazzling masses from the bamboo plumes, or balances in white strata
along green-black pine branches. The summer sun scorches the face of
Yeddo, and summer rain comes down in wide bands of light. With evening
the mist creeps up, thrown over it like a covering, casting a spell of
silence through which the yellow lanterns of the hurrying jinrikishas
dance an elfish dance, and the voices of the singing-girls pierce like
fine blades of sound.
But to know the full charm of the great city, one must wake with it
at some rebirth of dawn. This hour gives to the imaginative in every
land a thrill, a yearning, and a pang of visual regeneration. In no
place is this wonder more deeply touched with mystery than in modern
Far off to the east the Sumida River lies in sleep. Beyond it,
temple roofsblack keels of sunken vesselscut a sky still powdered
thick with stars. Nothing moves, and yet a something changes! The
darkness shivers as to a cold touch. A pallid haze breathes wanly on
the surface of the impassive sky. The gold deepens swiftly and turns to
a faint rose flush. The stars scamper away like mice.
Across the moor of gray house eaves the mist wavers. Day troubles
it. A pink light rises to the zenith, and the mist shifts and slips
away in layers, pink and gold and white. Now far beyond the grayness,
to the west, the cone of Fuji flashes into splendor. It, too, is pink.
Its shape is of a lotos bud, and the long fissures that plough a
mountain side are now but delicate gold veining on a petal. Slowly it
seems to open. It is the chalice of a new day, the signal and the
pledge of consecration. Husky crows awake in the pine trees, and doves
under the temple eaves. The east is red beyond the river, and the
round, red sun, insignia of this land, soars up like a cry of triumph.
On the glittering road of the Sumida, loaded barges, covered for the
night with huge squares of fringed straw mats, begin to nod and preen
themselves like a covey of gigantic river birds. Sounds of prayer and
of silver matin bells come from the temples, where priest and acolyte
greet the Lord Buddha of a new day. From tiny chimneyless kitchens of a
thousand homes thin blue feathers of smoke make slow upward progress,
to be lost in the last echoes of the vanishing mist. Sparrows begin to
chirp, first one, then ten, then thousands. Their voices have the clash
and chime of a myriad small triangles.
The wooden outer panels (amado) of countless dwellings are thrust
noisily aside and stacked into a shallow closet. The noise reverberates
from district to district in a sharp musketry of sound. Maid servants
call cheerily across bamboo fences. Shoji next are opened, disclosing
often the dull green mosquito net hung from corner to corner of the
low-ceiled sleeping rooms. Children, in brilliant night robes, run to
the verandas to see the early sun; cocks strut in pigmy gardens. Now,
from along the streets rise the calls of flower peddlers, of venders of
fish, bean-curd, vegetables, and milk. Thus the day comes to modern
Tokyo, which the old folks still call Yeddo.
On such a midsummer dawn, not many years ago, old Kano Indara,
sleeping in his darkened chamber, felt the summons of an approaching
joy. Beauty tugged at his dreams. Smiling, as a child that is led by
love, he rose, drew aside softly the shoji, then the amado of his room,
and then, with face uplifted, stepped down into his garden. The beauty
of the ebbing night caught at his sleeve, but the dawn held him back.
It was the moment just before the great Sun took place upon his
throne. Kano still felt himself lord of the green space round about
him. On their pretty bamboo trellises the potted morning-glory vines
held out flowers as yet unopened. They were fragile, as if of tissue,
and were beaded at the crinkled tips with dew. Kano's eyelids, too, had
dew of tears upon them. He crouched close to the flowers. Something in
him, too, some new ecstacy was to unfurl. His lean body began to
tremble. He seated himself at the edge of the narrow, railless veranda
along which the growing plants were ranged. One trembling bud reached
out as if it wished to touch him.
The old man shook with the beating of his own heart. He was an
artist. Could he endure another revelation of joy? Yes, his soul,
renewed ever as the gods themselves renew their youth, was to be given
the inner vision. Now, to him, this was the first morning. Creation
bore down upon him.
The flower, too, had begun to tremble. Kano turned directly to it.
The filmy, azure angles at the tip were straining to part, held
together by just one drop of light. Even as Kano stared the drop fell
heavily, plashing on his hand. The flower, with a little sob, opened to
him, and questioned him of life, of art, of immortality. The old man
covered his face, weeping.
The last of his race was Kano Indara; the last of a mighty line of
artists. Even in this material age his fame spread as the mists of his
own land, and his name was known in barbarian countries far across the
sea. Tokyo might fall under the blight of progress, but Kano would hold
to the traditions of his race. To live as a true artist,to die as
one,this was his care. He might have claimed high position in the
great Art Museum recently inaugurated by the new government, and housed
in an abomination of pink stucco with Moorish towers at the four
corners. He might even have been elected president of the new Academy,
and have presided over the Italian sculptors and degenerate French
painters imported to instruct and civilize modern Japan. Stiff
graphite pencils, making lines as hard and sharp as those in the faces
of foreigners themselves, were to take the place of the soft charcoal
flake whose stroke was of satin and young leaves. Horrible brushes,
fashioned of the hair of swine, pinched in by metal bands, and wielded
with a hard tapering stick of varnished wood, were to be thrust into
the hands of artists,yes,artistsmen who, from childhood, had
known the soft pliant Japanese brush almost as a spirit hand;had felt
the joy of the long stroke down fibrous paper where the very thickening
and thinning of the line, the turn of the brush here, the easing of it
there, made visual music,men who had realized the brush as part not
only of the body but of the soul,such men, indeed,such artists,
were to be offered a bunch of hog bristles, set in foreign tin. Why,
even in the annals of Kano's own family more than one faithful brush
had acquired a soul of its own, and after the master's death had gone
on lamenting in his written name. But the foreigners' brushes, and
their little tubes of ill-smelling gum colored with dead hues! Kano
shuddered anew at the thought.
Naturally he hated all new forms of government. He regretted and
deplored the magnanimity of his Emperor in giving to his people, so
soon, a modern constitution. What need had Art of a constitution?
Across the northern end of Yeddo runs the green welt of a
table-land. Midway, at the base of this, tucked away from northern
winds, hidden in green bamboo hedges, Kano lived, a mute protest
against the new. Beside himself, of the household were Umè-ko, his only
child, and an old family servant, Mata.
Kano's garden, always the most important part of a Japanese dwelling
place, ran out in one continuous, shallow terrace to the south. A stone
wall upheld its front edge from the narrow street; and on top of this
wall stiff hedges grew. In one corner, however, a hillock had been
raised, a Moon Viewing Place, such as poets and artists have always
found necessary. From its flat top old Kano had watched through many
years the rising of the moon; had seen, as now, a new dawn possess a
new-created earth,had traced the outlines of the stars. By day he
sometimes loved to watch the little street below, delighting in the
motion and color of passing groups.
For the garden, itself, it was fashioned chiefly of sand, pebbles,
stones, and many varieties of pine, the old artist's favorite plant. A
small rock-bound pond curved about the inner base of the moon-viewing
hill, duplicating in its clear surface the beauties near. A few
splendid carp, the color themselves of dawn, swam lazily about with
noses in the direction of the house whence came, they well knew,
liberal offerings of rice and cake.
Kano had his plum trees, too; the classic umè, loved of all
artists, poets, and decent-minded people generally. One tree, a superb
specimen of the kind called Crouching-Dragon-Plum, writhed and
twisted near the veranda of the chamber of its name-child, Umè-ko,
thrusting one leafy arm almost to the paper shoji of her wall. Kano's
transient flowers were grown, for the most part in pots, and these his
daughter Umè-ko loved to tend. There were morning-glories for the
mid-summer season, peonies and iris for the spring, and chrysanthemums
for autumn. One foreign rose-plant, pink of bloom, in a blue-gray jar,
had been pruned and trained into a beauty that no western rose-bush
Behind the Kano cottage the rise of ground for twenty yards was of a
grade scarcely perceptible to the eye. Here Mata did the family
washing; dried daikon in winter, and sweet-potato slices in the summer
sun. This small space she considered her special domain, and was at no
pains to conceal the fact. Beyond, the hill went upward suddenly with
the curve of a cresting wave. Higher it rose and higher, bearing a
tangled growth of vines and ferns and bamboo grass; higher and higher,
until it broke, in sheer mid-air, with a coarse foam of rock, thick
shrubs, and stony ledges. Almost at the zenith of the cottage garden it
poised, and a great camphor tree, centuries old, soared out into the
blue like a green balloon.
Behind the camphor tree, again, and not visible from the garden
below, stood a temple of the Shingon sect, the most mystic of the old
esoteric Buddhist forms. To the rear of this the broad, low,
rectangular buildings of a nunnery, gray and old as the temple itself
brooded among high hedges of the sacred mochi tree. This retreat had
been famous for centuries throughout Japan. More than once a Lady
Abbess had been yielded from the Imperial family. Formerly the temple
had owned many koku of rich land; had held feudal sway over rice fields
and whole villages, deriving princely revenue. With the restoration of
the Emperor to temporal power, some thirty years before the beginning
of this story, most of the land had been confiscated; and now, shrunken
like the papal power at Rome, the temple claimed, in land, only those
acres bounded by its own hedges and stone temple walls. There were the
main building itself, silent, impressive in towering majesty;
subordinate chapels and dwellings for priests, a huge smoke-stained
refectory, the low nunnery in its spreading gardens and, down the
northern slope of the hill, the cemetery, a lichen-growth, as it were,
of bristling, close-set tombs in gray stone, the splintered regularity
broken in places by the tall rounded column of a priest's grave, set in
a ring of wooden sotoba. At irregular intervals clusters of giant
bamboo trees sprang like green flame from the fissures of gray rock.
Even in humiliation, in comparative poverty, the temple dominated,
for miles around, the imagination of the people, and was the great
central note of the landscape. The immediate neighborhood was jealously
proud of it. Country folk, journeying by the street below, looked up
with lips that whispered invocation. Children climbed the long stone
steps to play in the temple courtyard, and feed the beautiful tame
doves that lived among the carved dragons of the temple eaves.
In that gray cemetery on the further slope Kano's wife, the young
mother who died so long ago that Umè-ko could not remember her at all,
slept beneath a granite shaft which said, A Flower having blossomed in
the Night, the Halls of the Gods are fragrant. This was the Buddhist
kaimyo, or priestly invocation to the spirit of the dead. Of the more
personal part of the young mother, her name, age, and the date of her
divine retirement, these were recorded in the household shrine of the
Kano cottage, where her ihai stood, just behind a little lamp of pure
vegetable oil whose light had never yet been suffered to die. Through
this shrine, and the daily loving offices required by it, she had never
ceased to be a presence in the house. Even in his passionate desire for
a son to inherit the name and traditions of his race, old Kano had not
been able to endure the thought of a second wife who might wish the
Umè-ko and her father were well known at the temple, and worshipped
often before its golden altars. But Mata scorned the ceremony of the
older creed. She was a Shinshu, a Protestant. Her sect discarded
mysticism as useless, believed in the marriage of priests, and in the
abolition of the monastic life, and relied for salvation only on the
love and mercy of Amida, the Buddha of Light.
Sometimes at twilight a group of shadowy human figures, gray as the
doves themselves, crept out from the nunnery gate, crossed the wide,
pebbled courtyard of the temple and stood, for long moments, by the
gnarled roots of the camphor tree, staring out across the beauty of the
plain of Yeddo; its shining bay a great mirror to the south, and off,
on the western horizon, where the last light hung, Fuji, a cone of
porphyry, massive against the gold.
For a full hour, now, Kano had delighted in the morning-glories. At
intervals he strolled about the garden to touch separately, as if in
greeting, each beloved plant. Except for the deepening fervor of the
sun he would have kept no note of time. The last shred of mist had
vanished. Crows and sparrows were busy with breakfast for their
It was, perhaps, the clamor of these feathered parents that, at
last, awoke old Mata in her sleeping closet near the kitchen. She
turned drowsily. The presence of an unusual light under the shoji
brought her to her knees. The amado in the further part of the house
were undoubtedly open. Could robbers have come in the night? And were
her master and Miss Umè weltering in gore?
She was on her feet now, pushing with shaking fingers at the sliding
walls. She peered at first into Umè's room for there, indeed, lay the
core of old Mata's heart. A slender figure on the floor stirred
slightly and a sound of soft breathing filled the silence. All was well
in Umè's room. She knocked then on Kano's fusuma. There was no
response. Cautiously she parted them, and met an incoming flood of
morning light. The walls were opened. Through the small square pillars
of the veranda she could see, as in a frame, old Kano standing in the
garden beside the fish-pond. Even as she gazed, incredulous at her own
stupidity in sleeping so late, the temple bell above boomed out six
slow strokes. Six! Such a thing had never been known. Well, she must be
growing old and worthless. She had better fill her sleeve with pebbles
and cast herself into the nearest stream. She hurried back, a
tempestuous protest in every step.
Miss Umè,Umè-ko! she called. Ma-a-a! What has come to us both?
The Danna San walks about as if he had been awake for hours. And not a
cup of tea for him! The honorable fire does not exist. Surely a demon
of sleep has bewitched us.
She had entered the girl's room, and now, while speaking, crossed
the narrow space to fling wide, first the shoji, and then the outer
Umè moved lazily. Her lacquered pillow, with its bright cushion,
rocked as she stirred. No demon has found me, Mata San, she murmured,
smiling. No demon unless it be you, cruel nurse, who have dragged me
back from a heavenly dream.
Baku devour your dream! cried Mata. I say there is no fire
beneath the pot!
Umè sat up now, and smoothed slowly the loops of her shining hair.
The yellow morning sun danced into the corners of her room, rioted
among the hues of her silken bed coverings, and paused, abashed, as it
were, before the delicate beauty of her face.
As Mata scolded, the girl nestled back among her quilts, smiling
mischievously. She loved to tease the old dame. No, nurse, she
protested, that cannot be. The baku feeds on evil dreams alone, and
this was not evil. Ah, nurse, it was so sweet a dream
I can give no time to your honorable fooling, cried Mata, in
pretended anger. Have I the arms of a Hundred-Handed Kwannon that I
can do all the household work at once? Attire yourself promptly, I
entreat: prepare one of the small trays for your august parent, and get
out two of the pickled plums from the blue jar.
Umè, with an exaggerated sigh of regret, rose to her feet. Quilt and
cushions were pushed into a corner for later airing. Her toilet was
swift and simple. To slip the bright-colored sleeping robe from her and
toss it to the heaped-up coverlids, don an undergarment of thin white
linen and a scant petticoat of blue crepe, draw over them a day robe of
blue and white cotton, and tie all in with a sash of brocaded blue and
gold,that was the sum of it. For washing she had a shallow wooden
basin on the kitchen veranda, where cold water splashed incessantly
from bamboo tubes thrust into the hillside. Hurriedly drying her face
and hands on a small towel that hung from a swinging bamboo hoop, she
ran into the kitchen to assist the still grumbling Mata.
By this time old Kano had again seated himself at the edge of his
veranda. The summer sun grew unpleasantly warm. The morning-glories on
their trellises had begun to droop. A little later they would hang,
wretched and limp, mere faded scraps of dissolution. Overhead the
temple bell struck seven. Kano shuddered at this foreign marking out of
hours. A melancholy, intense as had been his former ecstacy, began to
enfold his spirit. Perhaps he had waited too long for the simple
breakfast; perhaps the recent glory had drained him of vital force. A
hopelessness, alike of life and death, rose about him in a tide.
Umè prostrated herself upon the veranda near him. Good morning,
august father. Will you deign to enter now and partake of food?
Her voice and the morning face she lifted might have won a smile
from a stone image. Kano turned sourly. Why, he thought, in Shaka's
name, could n't she have been a son?
He rose, however, shaking off his wooden clogs so that they remained
upon the path below, and followed Umè to the zashiki, or main room of
the house, with the best view of the garden.
The tea was delicious in its first delicate infusion; the pickled
plums most stimulating to a morning appetite.
Rice and fish will soon honorably eventuate, Umè assured him as
she went back, smiling, into the kitchen.
Kano pensively lifted a plum upon the point of a toothpick and began
nibbling at its wrinkled skin. Yes, why could she not have been a son?
As it was, the girl could paint,paint far better than most women even
the famous ones of old. But, after all, no woman painter could be
supreme. Love comes first with women! They have not the strong heart,
the cruelty, the fierce imagination that go to the making of a great
artist. Even among the men of the day, corrupted and distracted as they
are by foreign innovations, could real strength be found? Alas! Art was
surely doomed, and his own life,the life of the last great Kano,
futile and perishable as the withering flowers on their stems.
He ate of his fish and rice in gloomy silence. Umè's gentle words
failed to bring a reply. When the breakfast dishes were removed the old
man continued listlessly in his place, staring out with unseeing eyes
into his garden.
A loud knock came to the wooden entrance gate near the kitchen. Kano
heard a man's deep tones, Mata's thin voice answering an enquiry, and
then the soft murmur of Umè's words. An instant later, heavy footsteps,
belonging evidently to a wearer of foreign shoes, came around by the
side of the house toward the garden. Kano looked up, frowning with
annoyance. A fine-looking man of middle age appeared. Kano's irritation
Ando Uchida! he cried aloud, springing to his feet, and hurrying
to the edge of the veranda. Ando Uchida, is it indeed you? How stout
and strong and prosperous you seem! Welcome!
A little too stout for warm weather, laughed Ando, as laboriously
he removed his foreign shoes and accepted his host's assistance up the
one stone step to the veranda.
Welcome, Ando Uchida, said Kano again, when they had taken seats.
It is quite five years since my eyes last hung upon your honorable
Is it indeed so long? said the other. Time has the wings of a
Ando had brought with him a roll, apparently of papers, tied up in
yellow cloth. This parcel he put carefully behind him on the matted
floor. He then drew from his kimono sleeve a pink-bordered foreign
pocket-handkerchief, and began to mop his damp forehead. Kano's
politeness could not hide, entirely, a shudder of antipathy. He hurried
into new speech. And where, if it is not rude to ask, has my friend
Ando sojourned during the long absence?
Chiefly among the mountains of Kiu Shiu, answered the other.
Kiu Shiu, murmured the artist. I wandered there in youth and have
thought always to return. The rocks and cliffs are of great beauty. I
remember well one white, thin waterfall that flung itself out like a
laugh, but never reached a thing so dull as earth. Midway it was
splintered upon a sunbeam, and changed into rainbows, pearls, and
I know it excellently well, said Uchida. Indeed I have been
zealous to preserve it, chiefly for your sake.
Preserve it? What can you mean?
I have become a government inspector of mines, explained Uchida,
in some embarrassment. I thought you knew. There is a rich coal
deposit near that waterfall.
Ando! Ando! groaned the old man, you were once an artist! The
foreigners are tainting us all.
I love art still, said Ando, but I make a better engineer. AndI
beseech you to overlook my vulgarityI am getting rich.
Kano groaned again. Oh, this foreign influence! It is the curse of
modern Japan! Love of money is starting a dry rot in the land of the
gods. Success, material power, money,all of them illusions, miasma of
the soul, blinding men to reality! Surely my karma was evil that I
needed to be reborn into this age of death!
Ando looked sympathetic and a little contrite. Since we are indeed
hopelessly of the present, ventured he, may it not be as well to let
the foreigners teach us their methods of success?
Success? cried Kano, almost angrily. What do they succeed in
except the grossest material gains? There is no humanity in them. Love
of beauty dies in the womb. Shall we strive to become as dead things?
The love of beauty will never perish in this land, said Ando more
earnestly than he had yet spoken. A Japanese loves Art as he loves
life. Our rich merchants become the best patrons of the artists.
Patrons of the artists, echoed Kano, wearily. You voice your own
degradation, friend Ando. In the great days, who dared to speak of
patronage to us. Emperors were artists and artists Emperors! It was to
us that all men bowed.
Yes, yes, that is honorably true, Ando hastened to admit. And so
would they in this age bow to you, if you would but allow it.
I am not worthy of homage, said Kano, his head falling forward on
his breast. None knows this better than I,and yet I am the greatest
among them. Show me one of our young artists who can stand like Fudo in
the flame of his own creative thought! There is none!
What you say is unfortunately true of the present Tokyo
painters,perhaps equally of Kioto and other large cities,but
Here Ando paused as if to arouse expectancy. Kano did not look up.
But, insisted the other, may it not be possible that in some place
far from the clamor of modern progress,in some remote mountain
Kano looked up now sharply enough. Apathy and indifference flared up
like straws in a sudden flame of passion. He made a fierce gesture.
Not that, not that! he cried. I cannot bear it! Do not seek to give
false life to a hope already dead. I am an old man. I have hoped and
prayed too long. I must go down to my grave without an heir,even an
adopted heir,for there is no disciple worthy to succeed!
Dear friend, believe that I would not willingly add to a grief like
this. I assure you Ando was beginning, when his words were cut
short by the entrance of Umè-ko. She bore a tray with cups, a tiny
steaming tea-pot, and a dish heaped with cakes in the forms and tints
of morning-glories. This offering she placed near Uchida; and then,
retiring a few steps, bowed to the floor, drawing her breath inaudibly
as a token of welcome and respect. Being merely a woman, old Kano did
not think of presenting her. She left the room noiselessly as she had
come. Ando watched every movement with admiration and a certain
weighing of possibilities in his shrewd face. He nodded as if to
himself, and leaned toward Kano.
Was that not Kano Umè-ko, your daughter?
Yes, said the old man, gruffly; but she is not a son.
Fortunately for the eyes of men she is not, smiled Ando. That is
the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I have seen many. She
welcomed me at the gate.
Kano, engaged in pouring tea, made no reply.
Also, if current speech be true, she has great talent, persisted
the visitor. One can see genius burning like a soft light behind her
face. I hear everywhere of her beauty and her fame.
Oh, she does well,even remarkably well for a woman, admitted
Kano. But, as I said before, she is a woman, and nothing alters that.
I tell you, Ando! he cried, in a small new gust of irritation,
sometimes I have wished that she had been left utterly untouched by
art. She paints well now, because my influence is never lifted. She
knows nothing else. I have allowed no lover to approach. Yet, some day
love will find her, as one finds a blossoming plum tree in the night.
In every rock and tree she paints I can see the hint of that coming
lover; in her flowers, exquisitely drawn, nestle the faces of her
children. She knows it not, but I know,I know! She thinks she cares
only for her father and her art. When I die she will marry, and then
how many pictures will she paint? Bah!
Poor child! murmured Ando, under his breath.
Poor child, mocked the artist, whose quick ears had caught the
whisper. Poor Nippon, rather, and poor old Kano, who has no better
heir than this frail girl. Oh, Ando, I have clamored to the gods! I
have made pilgrimages and given gifts,but there is no one to inherit
my name and the traditions of my race. Nowhere can I find a Dragon
Ando put his hand out quickly behind him, seized the long roll tied
in yellow cloth, and began to unfasten it.
Kano was panting with the vehemence of his own speech. He poured
another little cup of tea and drained it. He began now to watch Ando,
and found himself annoyed by the deliberation of his friend's motions.
Strange, strange Ando was murmuring. An instant later came the
whisper, very, very strange!
Why do you repeat it? cried Kano, irritably. There was nothing
strange in what I said.
The parcel was now untied. Ando held a roll of papers outward.
Examine these, Kano Indara, he said impressively. If I do not
greatly mistake, the gods, at last, have heard your prayer.
Kano went backward as if from fire. No! I cannot,I must not hope!
Too long have I searched. Not a schoolboy who thought he could draw an
outline in the sand with his toe but I have fawned on him. I dare not
look. Ando, to-day I am shaken as if with an ague of the soul.
IIcould not bear another disappointment. He did indeed seem
piteously weak and old. He hid his face in long, lean, twitching
Ando was sincerely affected. This is to be no disappointment, said
he, gently. I pray you, listen patiently to my clumsy speech.
I will strive to listen calmly, said Kano, in a broken voice. But
first honorably secrete the papers once again. They tantalize my
Uchida put them down on the floor beside him and threw the cloth
carelessly above. He was more moved than he cared to show. He strove
now to speak simply, directly, and with convincing earnestness. Kano
had settled into his old attitude of dejection.
One morning, not more than six weeks ago, began Uchida, the
engineering party which I command had climbed some splintered peaks of
the Kiu Shiu range to a spot quite close, indeed, to that thin
waterfall which you remember
One might forget his friends and relatives, but not a waterfall
like that! interrupted Kano.
Suddenly a storm, blown down apparently from a clear sky, caught up
the mountain and our little group of men in a great blackness.
The mountain deities were angered at your presumption, nodded
Kano, well pleased.
It may be, admitted the other. At any rate, the winds now hurried
in from the sea. Round cloud vapors split sidewise on the wedges of the
rocks. Voices screamed in the fissures. We clung to the scrub-pines and
the sa-sa grass for safety.
I can see it all. I can feel it, whispered old Kano.
We wished to descend, but knew no way. I shouted for aid. The
others shouted many times. Then from the very midst of tumult came a
youth,half god, half beast, with wild eyes peering at us, and hair
that tossed like the angry clouds.
Yes, yes, urged Kano, straining forward.
We scrambled toward him, and he shrank back into the mist. We
called, beseeching help. The workmen thought him a young sennin, and
falling on their knees, began to pray. Then the youth approached us
more deliberately, and, when we asked for guidance, led us by a
secluded path down into a mountain village.
And you think,you think that this marvellous youth, began Kano,
eagerly; then broke off with a gesture of despair. I must not believe,
I must not believe, he muttered.
Ando's hand was once more on the roll of papers. He went on
smoothly. We questioned of him in the village. He is a foundling. None
knows his parentage. From childhood he has made pictures upon rocks,
and sand beds, and the inner bark of trees. He wanders for days
together among the peaks, and declares that he is searching for his
mate, a Dragon Princess, withheld from him by enchantment. Naturally
the village people think him mad. But they are kind to him. They give
him food and clothing, and sometimes sheets of paper, like these here.
With affected unconcern he raised the long roll. Yes, they give him
paper, with real ink and brushes. Then he leaps up the mountain side
and paints and paints for hours, like a demon. But as soon as he has
eased his soul of a sketch he lets the first gust of wind blow it
Kano was now shivering in his place. On his wrinkled face a light
dawned. Shall I believe? Oh, Ando, indeed I could not bear it now!
Unroll those drawings before I go mad!
Uchida deliberately spread out the first. It was a scene of mountain
storm, painted as in an elemental fury. Inky pine branches slashed and
hurled upward, downward, and across a tortured gray sky. A cloud-rack
tore the void like a Valkyrie's cry made visible. One huge talon of
lightning clutched at the flying scud.
Kano gave a glance, covered his face, and began to sob. Uchida blew
his nose on the pink-bordered foreign handkerchief. After a long while
the old man whispered, What name shall I use in my prayer?
He is called, said Ando, by the name of 'Tatsu.' 'Tatsu, the
The sounds and sights of the great capital were dear to Ando Uchida.
In five years of busy exile among remote mountains he felt that he had
earned, as it were, indulgence for an interval of leisurely enjoyment.
His initial visit to old Kano had been made not so much to renew an
illustrious acquaintance, as to relieve his own mind of its exciting
news, and his hands of a parcel which, at every stage of the journey,
had been an incubus. Ando knew the paintings to be unusual. He had
hoped for and received from Kano the highest confirmation of this
At that time, now a week ago, he had been pleased, and Kano
irradiated. Already he was cursing himself for his pains, and crying
aloud that, had he dreamed the consequences, never had the name of
Tatsu crossed his lips! Ando's anticipated joys in Yeddo lay, as yet,
before him. Hourly was he tormented by visits from the impatient Kano.
Neither midnight nor dawn were safe from intrusion. Always the same
questions were asked, the same fears spoken, the same glorious future
prophesied; until finally, in despair, one night Ando arose between the
hours of two and three, betaking himself to a small suburban hotel.
Here he lived, for a time, in peace, under the protection of an assumed
A letter had been dispatched that first day, to Tatsu of Kiu Shiu,
with a sum of money for the defraying of travelling expenses, and the
petition that the youth should come as quickly as possible for a visit
to Kano Indara, since the old man could not, of himself, attempt so
long a journey. After what seemed to the impatient writer (and in equal
degree to the harassed Uchida) an endless cycle of existence, an answer
came, not, indeed from Tatsu, but from the Mura osa, or head of the
village, saying that the Mad Painter had started at once upon his
journey, taking not even a change of clothes. By what route he would
travel or on what date arrive, only the gods could tell.
Kano's rapture in these tidings was assailed, at once, by a swarm of
black conjectures. Might the boy not lose himself by the way? If he
attempted to ride upon the hideous foreign trains he was certain to be
injured; if on the other hand, he did not come by train, weeks, even
months, might be consumed in the journey. Again, should he essay to
come by boat! Then there were dangers of wind and storm. Visions of
Tatsu drowned; of Tatsu heaped under a wreck of burning cars; starved
to death in a solitary forest; set upon, robbed, and slain by footpads,
all spunblack silhouettes in a revolving lanternthrough Kano's
frenzied imagination. It was at this point that Uchida had hid himself,
and assumed a false name.
In another week the gentle Umè began to grow pale and silent under
the small tyrannies of her father. Mata openly declared her belief that
it was a demon now on the way to them, since he had power to change the
place into a cave of torment even before arrival. After Uchida's
defection old Kano remained constantly at home. Many hours at a time he
stood upon the moon-viewing hillock of his garden, staring up, then
down the street, up and down, up and down, until it was weariness to
watch him. Within the rooms he was merely one curved ear, bent in the
direction of the entrance gate. His nervousness communicated itself to
the women of the house. They, too, were listening. More than one
innocent visitor had been thrown into panic by the sight of three
strained faces at the gate, and three pairs of shining eyes set
instantly upon them.
One twilight hour, late in August, Tatsu came. After an eager day of
watching, old Kano had just begun to tell himself that hope was over.
Tatsu had certainly been killed. The ihai might as well be set up, and
prayers offered for the dead man's soul. Umè-ko, wearied by the heat,
and the incessant strain, lay prone upon her matted floor, listening to
the chirp of a bell cricket that hung in a tiny bamboo cage near by.
The clear notes of the refrain, struck regularly with the sound of a
fairy bell, had begun to help and soothe her. Mata sat dozing on the
A loud, sudden knock shattered in an instant this precarious calm.
Kano went through the house like a storm. Mata, being nearest, flung
the panel of the gate aside. There stood a creature with tattered blue
robe just to the knees, bare feet, bare head, with wild, tossing locks
of hair, and eyes that gleamed with a panther's light.
Is itis itTatsu? screamed the old man, hurling his voice
It is a madman, declared the servant, and flattened herself
against the hedge.
Umè said nothing at all. After one look into the stranger's face she
had withdrawn, herself unseen, into the shadowy rooms.
I am Tatsu of Kiu Shiu, announced the apparition, in a voice of
strange depth and sweetness. Is this the home of Kano Indara?
Yes, yes, I am Kano Indara, said the artist, almost grovelling on
the stones. Enter, dear sir, I beseech. You must be weary. Accompany
me in this direction, august youth. Mata, bring tea to the guest-room.
Tatsu followed his tempestuous host in silence. As they gained the
room Kano motioned him to a cushion, and prepared to take a seat
opposite. Tatsu suddenly sank to his knees, bowing again and again,
stiffly, in a manner long forgotten in fashionable Yeddo.
Discard the ceremony of bowing, I entreat, said Kano.
Why? Is it not a custom here?
Yes,to a lesser extent. But between us, dear youth, it is
Why should it be unnecessary between us? persisted the unsmiling
Because we are artists, therefore brothers, explained Kano, in an
Tatsu frowned. Who are you, and why have you sent for me?
Do you inquire who I am? said Kano, scarcely believing his ears.
It is what I asked.
I am Kano Indara. The old man folded his arms proudly, waiting for
Tatsu moved impatiently upon his velvet cushion. Of course I knew
that. It was the name on the scrap of paper that guided me here.
Is it possible that you do not yet know the meaning of the name of
Kano? asked the artist, incredulously. A thin red tingled to his
cheek,the hurt of childish vanity.
There is one of that name in my village, said Tatsu. He is a
scavenger, and often gives me fine large sheets of paper.
Old Kano's lip trembled. I am not of his sort. Men call me an
Oh, an artist! Does that mean a painter of dragons, like me?
Among other things of earth and air I have attempted to paint
dragons, said Kano.
I paint nothing else, declared Tatsu, and seemed to lose interest
in the conversation.
Kano looked hard into his face. You say that you paint nothing
else? he challenged. Are not theseall of themyour work, the
creations of your fancy? He reached out for the roll that Uchida had
brought. His hands trembled. In his nervous excitement the papers fell,
scattering broadcast over the floor.
Tatsu's dark face flashed into light. My pictures! My pictures! he
cried aloud, like a child. They always blow off down the mountain!
Kano picked up a study at random. It was of a mountain tarn lying
quiet in the sun. Trees in a windless silence sprang straight upward
from the brink. Beyond and above these a few tall peaks stood thin and
pale, cutting a sky that was empty of all but light.
Where is the dragon here? challenged the old man.
Asleep under the lake.
And where here? he asked quickly, in order to hide his
discomfiture. The second picture was a scene of heavy rain descending
upon a village. Oh, I perceive for myself, he hurried on before Tatsu
could reply. The dragon lies full length, half sleeping, on the
Tatsu's lip curled, but he remained silent.
The old man's hands rattled among the edges of the papers. Ah,
here, Master Painter, are you overthrown! he cried triumphantly,
lifting the painting of a tall girl who swayed against a cloudy
background. The lines of the thin gray robe blew lightly to one side.
The whole figure had the poise and lightness of a vision; yet in the
face an exquisite human tenderness smiled out. Show me a dragon here,
Tatsu looked troubled and, for the first time, studied intently the
countenance of his host. Surely, honored sir, if you are a painter, as
you say you are, its meaning must be plain. Look more closely. Do you
not see on what the maiden stands?
Of course I see, snapped Kano. She stands among rocks and weeds,
and looks marvellously like He broke off, thinking it better not
to mention his daughter's name. But I repeat, no dragon-thought is
Tatsu reached out, took the picture, and tore it into shreds. Then
he rose to his feet. Good-by, he said. I shall now make a quick
returning. You are of the blind among men. My painting was the Dragon
Maid, standing on the peaks of earth. All my life I have sought her.
The people of my village think me mad because of her. By reason that I
cannot find, I paint. Good-by!
Good-by! echoed the other. What do you mean? What are you
saying? The face of a horrible possibility jeered at him. His heart
pounded the lean ribs and stood still. Tatsu was upon his feet. In an
instant more he would be gone forever.
Tatsu, wait! almost screamed the old man. Surely you cannot mean
to return when you have but now arrived! Be seated. I insist! There is
much to talk about.
I have nothing to talk about. When a thing is to be done, then it
is best to do it quickly. Good-by! He wheeled toward the deepening
night, the torn and soiled blue robe clinging to him as to the figure
of a primeval god.
Tatsu! Tatsu! cried the other in an agony of fear. Stop! I
Tatsu turned, scowling. Then he laughed.
No, no, I did not mean the word 'command.' I entreat you, Tatsu,
because you are young and I am old; because I need you. Dear youth, you
must be hungered and very weary. Remain at least until our meal is
I desire no food of yours, said Tatsu. Why did you summon me when
you had nothing to reveal? You are no artist! And I pine, already, for
Then, Tatsu, if I am no artist, stay and teach me how to paint.
Yes, yes, you shall honorably teach me. I shall receive reproof
thankfully. I need you, Tatsu. I have no son. Stay and be my son.
The short, scornful laugh came again. Your son! What could you do
with a son like me? You love to dwell in square cages, and wear smooth
shiny clothes. You eat tasteless foods and sleep like a cocoon that is
rolled. My life is upon the mountains; my food the wild grapes and the
berries that grow upon them. The pheasants and the mountain lions are
my friends. I stifle in these lowlands. I cannot stay. I must breathe
the mountains, and there among the peaks some daysome dayI shall
touch her sleeve, the sleeve of the Dragon Maiden whom I seek. Let me
go, old man! I have no business in this place!
In extremes of desperation one clutches at the semblance of a straw.
A last, wild hope had flashed to Kano's mind. Come nearer, Tatsu San,
he whispered, forcing his face into the distortion of a smile. Lean
nearer. The real motive of my summons has not been spoken.
Compelled by the strange look and manner of his host, Tatsu retraced
a few steps. The old voice wheedled through the dusk. In this very
house, under my mortal control, the Dragon Maiden whom you seek is
Tatsu staggered back, then threw himself to the floor, searching the
speaker's face for truth. Could you lie to me of such a thing as
this? he asked.
No, Tatsu, by the spirits of my ancestors, I have such a maiden
here. Soon I shall show you. Only you must be patient and very quiet,
that she may manifest herself.
I shall be quiet, Kano Indara.
Kano, shivering now with excitement and relief, clapped hands loudly
and called on Mata's name. The old dame entered, skirting warily the
vicinity of the madman.
Mata, fix your eyes on me only while I am speaking, began her
master. Say to the Dragon Maid whom we keep in the chamber by the
great plum tree that I, Kano Indara, command her to appear. The costume
must be worn; and let her enter, singing. These are my instructions.
Assist the maiden to obey them. Go!
His piercing look froze the questions on her tongue. And Mata, he
called again, stopping her at the threshold, bring at once some heated
sakè,the best,and follow it closely with the evening meal.
Kashikomarimashita, murmured the servant, dutifully. But within
the safety of her kitchen she exploded into execrations, muttering
prophecies of evil, with lamentations that a Mad Thing from the
mountains had broken into the serenity of their lives.
Tatsu, who had listened eagerly to the commands, now flung back his
head and drew a long breath. My life being spent among wild
creatures, he murmured as if to himself, little skill have I in
judging the ways of men. How shall I believe that in this desert of
houses a true Dragon Maiden can be found? Again he turned flashing
eyes upon his host. I mistrust you, Kano Indara! Your thin face peers
like a fox from its hole. If you deceive me,yet must I remain,for
should she come
You shall soon perceive for yourself, dear Dragon Youth.
Mata entered with hot sakè. Go! We shall serve ourselves, said
Kano, much to her relief.
I seldom drink, observed Tatsu, as the old man filled his cup.
Once it made of me a fool. But I will take a little now, for I am very
weary with the long day.
Indeed, it must be so; but good wine refreshes the body and the
mind alike, replied the other. It was hard to pour the sakè with such
shaking hands, harder still to keep his eyes from the beautiful sullen
face so near him, and yet he forced the wrinkled eyelids to conceal his
dawning joy. In Tatsu's strange submission, the artist felt that the
new glory of the Kano name was being born.
For a long interval the two men sat in silence. Kano leaned forward
from time to time, filling the small cup which Tatsuhalf in revery it
seemedhad once more drained. The old servant now and again crept in
on soundless feet to replace with a freshly heated bottle of sakè the
one grown cold. So still was the place that the caged cricket hanging
from the eaves of Umè's distant room beat time like an elfin metronome.
Two of the four walls of the guest-room were of shoji, a lattice
covered with translucent rice-paper. These opened directly upon the
garden. The third wall, a solid one of smoke-blue plaster, held the
niche called tokonoma, where pictures are hung and flower vases set.
The remaining wall, opening toward the suite of chambers, was fashioned
of four great sliding doors called fusuma, dull silver of background,
with paintings of shadowy mountain landscape done centuries before by
one of the greatest of the Kanos. It was in front of these doors that
Mata now placed two lighted candles in tall bronze holders.
Outside, the garden became a blur of soft darkness. Within, the
flickering yellow light of the candles danced through the room,
touching now the old face, now the young, each set hard in its own
lines of concentrated thought. Weird shadows played about the mountains
on the silver doors, and hid in far corners of the matted floor.
All at once the two central fusuma were apart. No slightest sound
had been made, yet there, in the narrow rectangle, stood a
figure,surely not of earth,a slim form in misty gray robes, wearing
a crown of intertwisted dragons, with long filigree chains that fell
straight to the shoulders. In one hand was held an opened fan of
Tatsu gave a convulsive start, then checked himself. He could not
believe the vision real. Not even in his despairing dreams had the
Dragon Maid appeared so exquisite. As he gazed, one white-clad foot
slid a few inches toward him on the shining floor. Another step, and
she was in the room. The fusuma behind her closed as noiselessly as
they had opened. Tatsu shivered a little, and stared on. With equal
intensity the old man watched the face of Tatsu.
The figure had begun to sway, slightly, at full length, like long
bands of perpendicular rain across the face of a mountain. A singing
voice began, rich, passionate, and low, matching with varying
intonation the marvellous postures of fan and throat and body. At first
low in sound, almost husky, it flowered to a note long held and
gradually deepening in power. It gathered up shadows from the heart and
turned them into light.
Umè-ko danced (or so she would have told you) only to fulfil her
father's command; yet, before she had reached the room, she knew that
it would be such a dance as neither she nor the old artist had dreamed
of. That first glimpse of Tatsu's face at the gate had registered for
her a notch upon the Revolving Wheel of Life. His first spoken word had
aroused in her strange mystic memories from stranger hiding places.
Karma entered with her into the little guest-room where she was to
dance and charged the very air with revelation. The words of the old
classic poem she had in her ignorance believed familiar, she knew that
she was now for the first time really to sing.
Not for one life but for the blossoming of a thousand lives, shall
I seek my lover, shall I regain his love, she sang. No longer was it
Umè-ko at all, but in actual truth the Dragon Maid, held from her lover
by a jealous god, seeking him through fire and storm and sea, peering
for him into the courts of emperors, the shrines of the astonished
gods, the very portals of the under-world.
And Tatsu listened without sound or motion; only his eyes burned
like beacons in a windless night. Kano wriggled himself backward on the
matting that the triumph of his face might not be seen. Now and again
he leaned forward stealthily and filled Tatsu's cup.
The unaccustomed fluid was already pouring in a fiery torrent
through the boy's vivid brain. His hands, slipped within the tattered
blue sleeves, grasped tightly each the elbow of the other arm. His
ecstacy was a drug, enveloping his senses; again it was a fire that
threatened the very altar of his soul. Through it all he, as Umè-ko,
realized fulfilment. Here in this desert of men's huts he had gained
what all the towering mountains had not been able to bestow. Here was
his bride, made manifest, his mate, the Dragon Maid, found at last
through centuries of barren searching! Surely, if he should spring now
to his feet, catch her to him and call upon his mountain gods for aid,
they would be hurled together to some paradise of love where only he
and she and love would be alive! He trembled and caught in his breath
with a sob. Kano glided a few feet nearer, and struck the matting
sharply with his hand.
Suddenly the dance was over. Umè-ko, quivering now in every limb,
sank to the floor. She bowed first to the guest of honor, then to her
father. Touching her wet eyes with a silken sleeve she moved backward
to the rear of the room where she seated herself upright, motionless as
the wall itself, between the two tall candles. Tatsu's eyes never left
her face. Old Kano, in the background, rocked to and fro, and, after a
short pause of waiting, clapped his hands for Mata.
Hai-ie-ie-ie-ie! came the thin voice, long drawn out, from the
kitchen. She entered with a tray of steaming food, placing it before
Tatsu. A second tray was brought for the master, and a fresh bottle of
wine. Umè-ko sat motionless against the silver fusuma, an ivory image,
crowned and robed in shimmering gray.
The odor of good food attracted Tatsu's senses if not his eyes. He
ate greedily, hastily, not seeing what he ate. His manners were those
of an untutored mountain peasant.
Dragon Maid, purred Kano, weariness has come upon you. Retire, I
pray, and deign to rest.
No! said Tatsu, loudly. She shall not leave this room.
My concern is for the august maiden who has found favor in your
sight, replied Kano, with a deprecating gesture. Here, Tatsu, let me
fill your cup.
Tatsu threw his cup face down to the floor, and put his lean, brown
hand upon it. I drink no more until my cup of troth with the maiden
Umè-ko's startled eyes flew to his. She trembled, and the blood
slowly ebbed from her face, leaving it pale and luminous with a sort of
Go! said Kano again, and, in a daze, the girl rose and vanished
from the room.
Tatsu had hurled himself toward her, but it was too late. He turned
angrily to his host. She is mine! Why did you send her away?
Gently, gently, cooed the other. In this incarnation she is
called my daughter.
I believe it not! cried Tatsu. How came she under bondage to you?
Have I not sought her through a thousand lives? She is mine!
Even so, in this life I am her father, and it is my command that
she will obey.
Tatsu rocked and writhed in his place.
She is a good daughter, pursued the other, amiably. She has never
yet failed in docility and respect. Without my consent you shall not
touch her,not even her sleeve.
I have sought her through a thousand lives. I will slay him who
tries to keep her from me! raved the boy.
To kill her father would scarcely be a fortunate beginning, said
Kano, tranquilly. Your hope lies in safer paths, dear youth. There are
certain social conventions attached even to a Dragon Maid. Now if you
will calm yourself and listen to reason
Tatsu sprang to his feet and struck himself violently upon the brow.
The hot wine was making a whirlpool of his brain. Reason! convention!
safety! I hate them all! Oh, you little men of cities! Farmyard fowls
and swine, running always to one sty, following always one lead,doing
things in the one way that other base creatures have marked out
Kano laughed aloud. His whole life had been a protest against
conventionality, and this impassioned denunciation came from a new
world. The sound maddened Tatsu. He leaped to the veranda, now a mere
ledge thrust out over darkness, threw an arm about the slender
corner-post, and strained far out, gasping, into the night. Kano filled
his pipe with leisurely deliberation. The time was past for fear.
In a few moments the boy returned, his face ugly, black, and sullen.
I will be your son if you give me the maiden, he muttered.
Come now, this is much better, said Kano, with a genial smile. We
shall discuss the matter like rational men.
Tatsu ground his teeth so that the other heard him.
Have a pipe, said Kano.
I want no pipe.
At least make yourself at ease upon the cushion while I speak.
I am more at ease without it, said the boy, flinging the velvet
square angrily across the room. Ugh! It is like sitting on a dead cat.
Kindly speak without further care for me. I am at ease!
Kano glanced at the burning eyes, the quivering face and twitching
muscles with a smile. The intensity of ardor touched him. He drew a
short sigh, the look of complacency left his for an instant, and he
began, deliberately, As you may have gathered from my letter, I am
without a son.
Tatsu nodded shortly.
Worse than this, among all my disciples here in Yeddo there has
appeared none worthy to inherit the name and traditions of my race.
Now, dear youth, when I first saw these paintings of yours, the hope
stirred in me that you might be that one.
Do you mean that I should paint things as paltry as your own?
No, not exactly, though even from my poor work you might gain some
valuable lessons of technique.
I know not that word, said Tatsu. When I must paint, I paint.
What has all this to do with the Dragon Maiden?
Softly, softly; we are coming to that now, said Kano. If, after
trial, I should find you really worthy of adoption, nothing could be
more appropriate than for you to become the husband of my daughter.
Tatsu dug his nails into the matting of the floor.
Suitableappropriatehusband! he groaned aloud. Farmyard
cackle,all of it. Oh, to be joined in the manner of such earthlings
to a Dragon Maid like this! Old man, cannot even you feel the horror of
it? No, your eyes blink like a pig that has eaten. You cannot see. She
should be made mine among storm and wind and mist on some high mountain
peak, where the gods would lean to us, and great straining forests roar
out our marriage hymn!
There is indeed something about it that appeals to me. It would
make a fine subject for a painting.
Oh, oh, gasped Tatsu, and clutched at his throat. When will you
give her to me, Kano Indara? Shall it be to-night?
To-night? Are you raving! cried the astonished Kano. It would be
at the very least a month.
Tatsu rose and staggered to the veranda. A month! he whispered to
the stars. Shall I live at all? Good-night, old man of clay, he
called suddenly, and with a light step was down upon the garden path.
Kano hurried to him. Stop, stop, young sir, he called half
clicked, now, with laughter. Do not go in this rude way. You are my
guest. The women are even now preparing your bed.
I lie not on beds, jeered Tatsu through the darkness. Vile things
they are, like the ooze that smears the bottom of a lake. I climb this
hillside for my couch. To-morrow, with the sun, I shall return!
The voice, trailing away through silence and the night, had a tone
of supernatural sweetness. When it had quite faded Kano stared on, for
a long time, into the fragrant solitude. Stars were out now by
thousands, a gold mosaic set into a high purple dome. Off to the south
a wide blur of artificial light hung above the city, the visible
expression, as it were, of the low, human roar of life, audible even in
this sheltered nook. To the north, almost it seemed within touch of his
hands, the temple cliff rose black, formidable, and impressive, a
gigantic wall of silence. The camphor tree overhead was thrown out
darkly against the stars, like its own shadow. The velvety boom of the
temple bell, striking nine, held in its echoes the color and the
softness of the hour.
Kano, turning at last from the veranda, slowly re-entered the
guest-room, and seated himself upon one of the cushions that had
aroused Tatsu's scorn. A dead cat,forsooth! Well to old bones a dead
cat might be better than no cushion! Mata had come in very softly. I
prayed the gods for him, Kano was muttering aloud, and I thank them
that he is here. To-morrow I shall make offering at the temple. Yet I
have thanks, too, that there is but one of him. Ah, Mata,you? My hot
bath, is it ready? And, friend Mata, do you recall a soothing draught
you once prepared for me at a time of great mental strain,there was,
I think, something I wished to do with a picture, and the picture would
not allow it. I should like a draught like that to-night.
Kashikomarimashita. I recall it, said old Mata, grimly, and I
shall make it strong, for you have something worse than pictures to
deal with now.
Thanks. I was sure you would remember, smiled the old man, and
Mata, disarmed of her cynicism, could say no more.
Umè remained in her chamber. She had not been seen since the dance.
All her fusuma and shoji were closed. Mata, in leaving her master,
looked tentatively toward this room, but after an imperceptible pause
kept on down the central passageway of the house to the bathroom, at
the far end. The place smelled of steam, of charcoal fumes, and cedar
wood. With two long, thin iron fire-sticks, Mata poked, from the top,
the heap of darkening coals in the cylindrical furnace that was built
into one end of the tub. For the protection of the bather this was
surrounded with a wooden lattice which, being always wet when the
furnace was in use, never charred. The tub itself was of sugi-wood.
After years of service it still gave out unfailingly its aromatic
breath, and felt soft to the touch, like young leaves. Sighing heavily,
the old servant bared her arm and leaned over to stir the water, to
draw down by long, elliptical swirls of motion the heated upper layers
into cold strata at the bottom. She then wiped her arm on her apron and
went to the threshold of the guest-room to inform the waiting occupant.
In ten minutes more, without fail, the water will be at right heat for
Now, in the kitchen, a great searching among jars and boxes on high
shelves told of preparation for the occasional brew. Again she thought
of calling Umè. Umè could reach the highest shelf without standing on
an inverted rice-pot, or the even more precarious fish-cleaning bench.
And again, for a reason not quite plain to herself, Mata decided not to
call. She threw a fresh handful of twigs and dried ferns to the
sleeping ashes of the brazier, set a copper skillet deep into the
answering flame, and began dropping dried bits of herbs into the
simmering water. Instantly the air was changed,was tinged and
interpenetrated with hurrying, spicy fumes, with hints of a bitter
bark, of jellied gums, of resin, and a compelling odor which should
have been sweet, but was only nauseating. The steam assumed new colors
as it rose. Each sprite of aromatic perfume when released plunged into
noiseless tumult with opposing fumes. The kitchen was a crucible, and
the old dame a mediaeval alchemist. The flames and smoke striving
upward, as if to reach her bending face, made it glow with the hue of
the copper kettle, a wrinkled copper, etched deep with lines of life,
of merriment, perplexity, of shrewd and practical experience.
As she stirred, testing by nose and eye the rapid completion of her
work, she was determining to put aside for her own use a goodly share
of the beneficent fluid. The coming of the wild man had unnerved her
terribly. In the threatening family change she could perceive nothing
but menace. Apprehension even now weighed down upon her, a
foreshadowing of evil that had, somehow, a present hostage in the deep
silence of Umè's room. Of what was her nursling thinking? How had it
seemed to her, so guarded, and so delicately reared, this being
summoned like a hired geisha to dance before a stranger,a ragged,
unkempt, hungry stranger! Even her father's well-known madness for
things of art could scarcely atone to his child for this indignity.
Kano had gone promptly to his bath. He was now emerging. His bare
feet grazed the wooden corridor. Mata ran to him. Good! Ah, that was
good! he said heartily. Five years of aches have I left in the tub!
Within his chamber the andon was already lighted, and the long, silken
bed-cushions spread. Mata assisted him to slip down carefully between
the mattress and the thin coverlid. She patted and arranged him as she
would a child, and then went to fetch the draught. Mata, thou art a
treasure, he said, as she knelt beside him, the bowl outstretched. He
drained the last drop, and the old friends exchanged smiles of
answering satisfaction. Before leaving him she trimmed and lowered the
andon so that its yellow light would be a mere glimmer in the darkness.
She moved now deliberately to Umè's fusuma, tapping lightly on the
lacquered frame. Miss Umè! O Jo San! she called. Nothing answered.
Mata parted the fusuma an inch. The Japanese matted floor, even in
darkness, gives out a sort of ghostly, phosphorescent glow. Thus, in
the unlit space Mata could perceive that the girl lay at full length,
her Dragon Robe changed to an ordinary house dress, her long hair
unbound, her face turned downward and hidden on an outstretched arm. It
was not a pose of grief, neither did it hint of slumber.
Honorable Young Lady of the House, said Mata, now more severely,
I came to announce your bath. The august father having already entered
and withdrawn, it is your turn.
This time Umè answered her, not, however, changing her position. I
do not care to take the bath to-night. You enter, I pray, without
further waiting. IIshould like to be left alone, nurse. I myself
will unroll the bed and light the andon.
Mata leaned nearer. Her voice was a theatrical whisper. Is it that
you are outraged, my Umè-ko, at your father's strange demand upon you?
I was myself angered. He would scarcely have done so much for a Prince
of the Blood,and to make you appear before so crude and ignorant a
thing as that
Umè sat upright. No, I am angered at nothing. I only wish to be
alone. Ah, nurse, you have always spoiled me,give me my way.
Mata went off grumbling. She wished that Umè had shown a more
natural indignation. The hot bath, however, notwithstanding Kano's five
lost years of pain presumably in solution, brought her ease of body, as
did the soothing potion, ease of mind.
All night long the old folks heavily slept; and all night long
little Umè-ko drifted in a soft, slow rising flood of consciousness
that was neither sleep nor waking, though wrought of the intertwining
strands of each. Again she saw the dark face in the gateway. It was a
mere picture in a frame, set for an artist's joy. Then it seemed a
summons, calling her to unfamiliar paths,a prophecy, a clew. Again
she heard his voice,an echo made of all these things, and more. She
tried to force herself to think of him merely as an artist would think;
how the lines of the shoulders and the throat flowed upward, like dark
flame, to the altar of his face. How the hair grew in flame upon his
brow, how the dark eyes, fearless and innocent with the look of
primeval youth, indeed, held a strange human pain of searching. The
mere remembered pictures of him rose and fell with her as sea-flowers,
or long river grass; but when there came remembered shiver of his
words, I drink no more until my cup of troth with the maiden yonder!
then all drifting ceased; illusion was at an end. With a gasp she felt
herself falling straight down through a swirling vortex of sensation,
to the very sand-bed of the stream. Now she was sitting upright (the
sand-bed had suddenly become the floor of her little room), her hands
pressing a heart that was trying to escape, her young eyes straining
through the darkness to see,ah!she could see nothing at all for the
She listened now with bated breath, thinking that by some
unconscious cry she might have aroused the others. No, Kano breathed on
softly, regularly, in the next room; while from the kitchen wing came
unfaltering the beat of Mata's nasal metronome.
In one such startled interval of waking her caged cricket had given
out its plaintive cry. All at once it seemed to Umè-ko an unbearable
thing for any spark of life to be so prisoned. She longed to set him
free, but even though she opened wide her shoji, the outer night-doors,
the amado stretched, a relentless opaque wall, along the four sides of
She lay quiet now for a long time. I will return with the sun, he
had said. She wished that the cricket were indeed outside, and could
tell her of the first dawn-stirring. It was very close and dark in the
little room. She had not lighted the andon after all. It could not be
so dark outside. With very cautious fingers she began now to separate
the shoji that opened on the garden side. A breath of exquisite night
air rushed in to her from the lattices above the amado. It would be a
difficult matter to push even one of these aside without waking the
house. Yet, there were two things in her favor; the unusually heavy
sleep of her companions and the fact that the amado had a starting
point in their long grooves from a shallow closet very near her room.
So instead of having to remove the whole chain, each clasping by a
metal hand, its neighbor, she had but to unbar the initial panel, coax
it noiselessly apart just far enough to emit a not too bulky form, and
then the night would be hers.
There had been in the girl's life so little need of cunning or of
strategy that her innocent adventure now brought a disturbing sense of
crime. She had unlatched the first amado in safety, and had her white
arms braced to push it to one side, when, suddenly she thought, I am
acting like a thief! Perhaps I am feeling like a thief! This is a
terrible thing and must displease the gods. Her hands dropped limply,
she must not continue with this deed. Somewhere near her feet the
cricket gave out an importunate chirp. She stooped to him, feeling
about for the little residence with tender, groping hands. She must
give him freedom, though she dared not take it for herself. Yet it
would be sweet to breathe the world for its own sake once more before
heand the sunreturned.
The amado went back as if of itself. In an instant Umè's face was
among the dew-wet leaves of the plum tree. Oh, it was sweet! The night
smelled of silence and the stars. She threw back her head to drink it
like a liquid. She lifted the insect in its cage. By holding it high,
against a star of special brightness, she could see the tiny bit of
life gazing at her through its bars. She opened the door of the cage,
and set it among the twigs of the plum. Then barefooted, ungirdled,
with hair unbound, she stepped down upon the stone beneath the tree,
and then to the garden path.
The pebbles of the garden were slippery and cold under the feet that
pressed them. Also they hurt a little. Umè longed to return for her
straw sandals, but this freedom of the night was already far too
precious for jeopardy. She caught her robe about her throat and was
glad of the silken shawl of her long hair. How thickly shone the stars!
It must be close upon the hour of their waning, yet how big and soft;
and how companionable! She stretched her arms up to them, moving as if
they drew her down the path. They were more real, indeed, than the dim
and preternatural space in which she walked.
She looked slowly about upon that which should have been commonplace
and found the outlines alone to be unaltered. There were the hillock,
the house, the thick hedge-lines square at the corners with black bars
hard as wood against the purple night; there were the winding paths and
little courts of open gravel. She could have put her hand out, saying,
Here, on this point, should be the tall stone lantern; here, in this
sheltered curve, a fern. Both lantern and fern would have been in
place; and yet, despite these evidences of the usual, all that once
made the sunlit garden space an individual spot, was, in this dim,
ghostly air, transformed. The spirit of the whole had taken on weird
meaning. It was as if Mata's face looked suddenly upon her with the old
abbot's eyes. Fantastic possibilities crouched, ready to spring from
every shadow. The low shrubs held themselves in attitudes of flight.
This was a world in which she had no part. She knew herself a paradox,
the violator of a mood; but the enchantment held her.
She had reached now the edge of the pond. It was a surface of
polished lacquer, darker than the night, and powdered thick with the
gold of reflected stars. Leaning over, she marvelled at the silhouette
of her own slim figure. It did not seem to have an actual place among
these frail phantasmagoria. As she stared on she noticed that the end
of the pond farthest from her, to the west, quivered and turned gray.
She looked quickly upward and around. Yes, there to the east was the
answering blur of light. Dawn had begun.
She ran now to the top of the moon-viewing hill. The earth was wider
here; the dawn more at home. Below her where the city used to be was no
city, only a white fog-sea, without an island. The cliff, black at the
base, rising gradually into thinner gray, drove through the air like
the edge of a coming world. A chill breeze swept out from the hollow,
breathing of waking grasses and of dew. The girl shivered, but it was
with ecstacy. I climb this hillside for my couch, to-night! Was he
too waking, watching, feeling himself intruder upon a soundless ritual?
There was a hissing noise as of a fawn hurrying down a tangled slope.
The hedge near the cliff end of the garden dipped and squeaked and
shook indignant plumes after a figure that had desecrated its green
guardianship, and was now striding ruthlessly across the enclosure.
Umè heard and saw; then wrung her hands in terror. It was he, of
course,the Dragon Painter; and he would speak with her. What could
she do? Family honor must be maintained, and so she could not cry for
help. Why had her heart tormented her to go into the night? Why had she
not thought of this possibility? Because of it, life, happiness,
everything might be wrecked, even before they had dared to think of
happiness by name!
Tatsu had reached her. Leaning close he set his eyes to her face as
one who drinks deep and silently.
I must not remain. Oh, sir, let me pass! she whispered.
He did not speak or try to touch her. A second gust of wind came
from the cliff, blowing against his hand a long tress of her hair. It
was warm and perfumed, and had the clinging tenderness of youth. He
shivered now, as she was doing, and stood looking down at his hand. Umè
made a swift motion as if to pass him; but he threw out the barrier of
I have been calling you all the night. Now, at last, you have come.
Why did you never answer me upon the mountains?
Indeed, I could not. I was not permitted. As you must see for
yourself, lord, in this incarnation I am but a mortal maiden.
I do not see it for myself, said Tatsu, with a low, triumphant
laugh. I see something different! Suddenly he reached forward, caught
the long ends of her hair and held them out to left and right, the full
width of his arms. They stood for a moment in intense silence, gazing
each into the face of the other. The rim of the dawn behind them cut,
with its flat, gold disc, straight down to the heart of the world. You
a mortal! said the boy again, exultantly. Why, even now, your face is
the white breast of a great sea-bird, your hair, its shining wings, and
your soul a message that the gods have sent to me! Oh, I know you for
what you are,my Dragon Maid, my bride! Have I not sought you all
these years, tracing your face on rocks and sand-beds of my hills,
hanging my prayers to every blossoming tree? Come, you are mine at
last; here is your master! We will escape together while the stupid old
ones sleep! Come, soul of my soul, to our mountains!
He would have seized her, but a quick, passionate gesture of
repulsion kept him back. I am the child of Kano Indara, she said.
He, too, has power of the gods, and I obey him. Oh, sir, believe that
you, as I, are subject to his will, for if you set yourself against
Kano Indara concerns me not at all, cried Tatsu, half angrily. It
is with you,with you alone, I speak!
Umè poised at the very tip of the hill. Look, sir,the plum tree,
she whispered, pointing. So sudden was the change in voice and manner
that the other tripped and was caught by it. That longest, leafy
branch touches the very wall of my room, she went on, creeping always
a little down the hill. If you again will write such things to me,
trusting your missive to that branch, I shall receive it, andwill
answer. Oh, it is a bold, unheard-of thing for a girl to do, but I
I should like better that you meet me here each morning at this
hour, said Tatsu.
The girl looked about her swiftly, gave a little cry, and clasped
her hands together. See, lord, the day comes fast. Mata, my old nurse,
may already be astir. I saw a flock of sparrows fly down suddenly to
the kitchen door. And there, above us, on the great camphor tree, the
sun has smitten with a fist of gold!
Tatsu gazed up, and when his eyes returned to earth he found himself
companionless. He threw himself down, a miserable heap, clasping his
knees upon the hill. No longer was the rosy dawn for him. He found no
timid beauty in the encroaching day. His sullen look fastened itself
upon the amado beneath the plum tree. The panels were now tightly
closed. The house itself, soundless and gray in the fast brightening
space, mocked him with impassivity.
A little later, when the neighborhood reverberated to the slamming
of amado and the sharp rattle of paper dusters against taut shoji
panes; when fragrant faggot smoke went up from every cottage, and the
street cries of itinerant venders signalled domestic buying for the
day, Mata discovered the wild man in the garden, and roused her
sleeping master with the news. She went, too, to Umè's room, and was
reassured to see the girl apparently in slumber within a neat bed, the
andon burning temperately in its corner, and the whole place eloquent
of innocence and peace, Kano shivered himself into his day clothes (the
process was not long), and hurried out to meet his guest.
O Haiyo gozaimasu! he called. You have found a good spot from
which to view the dawn.
Good morning! said Tatsu, looking about as if to escape.
Come, enter my humble house with me, young sir. Breakfast will soon
Tatsu rose instantly, though the gesture was far from giving an
effect of acquiescence. He shook his cramped limbs with as little
ceremony as if Kano were a shrub, and then turned, with the evident
intention of flight. Suddenly the instinct of hunger claimed him.
Breakfast! That had a pleasant sound. And where else was he to go for
food! He wheeled around to his waiting host. I thank you. I will
enter! he said, and attempted an archaic bow.
Mata brought in to them, immediately, hot tea and a small dish of
pickled plums. Kano drew a sigh of relief as he saw Tatsu take up a
plum, and then accept, from the servant's hands, a cup of steaming tea.
These things promised well for future docility.
It could not be said that the meal was convivial. Umè-ko had
received orders from her father not to appear. Tatsu's eyes, even as he
ate, roamed ever along the corridors of the house, out to the garden,
and pried at the closed edges of the fusuma. This restlessness brought
to the host new apprehension. Such tension could not last. Tatsu must
be enticed from the house.
After some hesitation and a spasmodic clearing of the throat, the
old man asked, Will you accompany me, young sir, upon a short walk to
Why should I go to the city?
Aherdomo! it is, as you know, the centre of the universe, and
has many wonderful sights,great temples, theatres, wide shops for
I care nothing for these things.
There are gardens, too; and a broad, shining river. Shall we not go
to the autumn flowering garden of the Hundred Corners?
To such a place as that I would go alone,or with her, said the
boy, his disconcerting gaze fixed on the other's face. When is the
Dragon Maiden to appear?
Kano looked down upon the matting. He cleared his throat again,
drained a fresh cup of tea, and answered slowly, Since she and I are
of the city,not the mountains,and must abide in some degree by the
city's social laws, you will not see her any more at all, unless it be
arranged that you become her husband.
And then,if I become what you say,how soon? the other panted.
I shall need to speak with the women of my house concerning this,
said Kano in a troubled voice. He too, though Tatsu must not dream it,
chafed at convention. He longed to set the marriage for next
week,next day, indeed,and have the waiting over. Kano hated, of all
things, to wait. Something might befall this untrained citizen at any
hour,then where would the future of the Kano name be found?
He had scarcely noted how the boy crouched and quivered in his
place, as an animal about to spring. This indecision was a goad, a
barb. Yet he was helpless! The memory of Umè's whispered words came
back: He, too, has power of the gods. . . . Believe, sir, that you, as
I, are subject to his will. How could it be permitted of the gods that
two beings like themselves,fledged of divinity, touched with ethereal
fire,were under bondage to this wrinkled fox!
Tatsu flung himself sidewise upon the floor, and made as if to rise;
then, in a dull reaction, settled back into his place. You say she is
not to come before me in this house to-day?
No, nor on other days, until your marriage.
Then I go forth into the city,alone, said the boy. He rose, but
Kano stopped him.
Wait! I shall accompany you, if but a little way. You do not know
the roads. You will be lost!
I could return to this place from the under-rim of the world, said
Tatsu. Bound, crippled, blindfold,I should come straight to it.
Maybe, maybe, said Kano, nevertheless I will go.
Tatsu would have defied him, outright, but Umè's words remained with
him. Nothing mattered, after all, if he was some day to gain her. He
must be patient, put a curb upon his moods! This was a fearful task for
one like him, but he would strive for self-control just as one throws
down a tree to bridge a torrent. After the Dragon Maid was won,well
then,this halting insect man need not trouble them. They left the
house together, Tatsu in scowling silence at the unwelcomed
comradeship, Kano hard put to it to match his steps with the boy's
long, swinging mountain stride.
What am I to do with this wild falcon for a month? thought Kano,
half in despair, yet smiling, also, at the humor. He must be
clothed,but how? I would sooner sheathe a mountain cat in silks! The
one hope of existence during this interval is to get him engrossed in
painting; but where is he to paint? I dare not keep him in the house
with Umè, nor with old Mata, neither, for she might poison him. If only
Ando Uchida had not gone away, leaving no address!
Meantime, in the Kano home, Mata and Umè moved about in different
planes of consciousness. The elder was still irritated by the morning's
event. She considered it a personal indignity, a family outrage, that
her master should walk the streets of Yeddo with a vagabond possessing
neither hat nor shoes, and only half a kimono.
Each tended, as usual, her allotted household tasks. There was no
change in the outer performance of the hours, but Mata remained alert,
disturbed, and the girl tranquilly oblivious. The old face searching
with keen eyes the young noted with troubled frown the frequent smile,
the intervals of listless dreaming, the sudden starts, as by the prick
of memory still new, and dipped in honey. There seemed to be in Umè-ko
a gentle yearning for a human presence, though, to speak truly, Mata
could not be certain that she was either heard or seen for fully one
half of the time. The hour had almost reached the shadowless one of
noon. Umè-ko's work was done. She had taken up her painting, only to
put it listlessly to one side. The pretty embroidery frame met the same
indignity. She sat now on the kitchen ledge, while Mata made the fire
and washed the rice, toying idly with a white pebble chosen for its
beauty from thousands on the garden path. Something in the childlike
attitude, the placid, irresponsible face, brought the old servant's
impatience to a climax. She deliberately hurled a dart.
I suppose you know, Miss Umè, that your father may actually adopt
this goblin from Kiu Shiu!
Ah, do you mean Sir Tatsu? Yes, I know. He, my father, has always
longed to have a son.
A son is desirable when the price is not too great, said the old
dame, nodding sagely. You are old enough to realize also, Miss Kano
Umè-ko, what is the meaning of adoption into a family where there is a
daughter of marriageable age.
Umè's face drooped over until the pebble caught a rosy glow. The old
servant chuckled. Eh, young mistress, you know what I mean? You are
thinking of it?
I am trying very hard not to think of it, said Umè.
Ma-a-a! And I have little wonder for that fact! Your father will
sacrifice you without a tear,he cares but for pictures. And Mata is
helpless,Mata cannot help her babe! Arà! It is a world of dust!
How old was my mother when she came here, Mata?
Just eighteen. Younger than you are now, my treasure.
She was both beautiful and happy, you have said.
Yes, both, both! Ah, how time speeds for the old. It seems but a
short year or more that we two entered here together, she and I. From
childhood I had nursed her. I thought your father old for her, in spite
of his young heart and increasing fame. But he loved her truly, and has
mourned for her. Even now he prays thrice daily before her ihai on the
shrine. And she loved him,almost too deeply for a woman of her class.
She loved him, and was happy!
Only one year! sighed Umè. But it must be a great thing to be
happy even for one year. Some people are not happy ever at all.
One must not think of personal happiness,it is wicked. Does not
even your old mumbling abbot on the hill tell you so much? And now, of
all times, do not start the dreaming. You will be sacrificed to art,
said Mata, gloomily.
Do I look like my mother, Mata San?
The old dame wiped her eyes on her sleeve that she might see more
clearly. Something in the girl's pure, upraised face caught at her
heart, and the tears came afresh. Wait, she whispered; stay where
you are, and you shall see your mother's face. She went into her tiny
chamber, and from her treasures brought out a metal mirror given her by
the young wife, Uta-ko. Look,close, she said, placing it in Umè's
hand. That is the bride of nineteen years ago. Never have you looked
so like her as at this hour!
Kano came back alone,tired, dusty, and discouraged. Tatsu had
escaped him, he said, at the first glimpse of the Sumida River. There
was no telling when he might return,whether he would ever return. To
attempt control of Tatsu was like caging a storm in bamboo bars. Mata's
eyes narrowed at this recital. Yet I fervently thank the gods for
him, said the speaker, sharply, in defiance of her look.
Restored to comparative serenity, Kano, later in the afternoon, sent
for his daughter, and condescended to unfold to her those plans in
which she played a vital part.
Umè-ko, my child, you have always been a good and obedient
daughter. I shall expect no opposition from you now, he began, in the
manner of a patriarch.
Umè bowed respectfully. Thank you, dear father. What has arisen
that you think I may wish to oppose?
I did not say that I expected you to oppose anything. I said, on
the contrary, it was something I expected you not to oppose.
I await respectfully the words which shall tell me what it is I am
not to oppose, said Umè-ko, quite innocently, with another bow. Kano
put on his horn-rimmed spectacles. There was something about his
daughter not altogether reassuring. His prearranged sentences began to
slip away, like sand.
I will speak briefly. I wish you to become the wife of the Dragon
Painter, that we may secure him to the race of Kano. He has no name of
his own. He is the greatest painter since Sesshu! The speaker waved
his hands. All had been said.
In the deep, following silence each knew that old Mata's ear felt,
like a hand, at the crevice of the shoji.
Father, are you sure,have you yet spoken totohim, Umè-ko
faltered at last. Would he augustly condescend?
Condescend! echoed the old man with a laugh. Why, he demanded it
last night, even in the first hour of meeting. He was angered that I
did not give you up at once. He says you are his already. Oh, he is
strange and wild, this youth. There are no reins to hold him, buthe
is a painter!
A grunt of derision came from the kitchen wall. Umè sat motionless,
but her face was growing very pale.
Well, said her father with impatience, do you agree? And what is
the earliest possible date?
I must consult with Mata, whispered the girl.
She listens at the crack. Consult her now, said Kano.
The old dame threw aside the shoji like an armor, and walked in.
Yes, ask me what I think! Ask the old servant who has nursed Miss Umè
from her birth, managed the house, scrubbed, haggled, washed, and
broken her old bones for you! This is my advice,freely given,make
of the youth her jinrikisha man, but not her husband!
Impertinent old witch! cried Kano. You are asked for nothing but
the earliest possible date for the marriage!
Do you give yourself so tamely to a dangerous wild creature from
the hills? Mata demanded of the girl.
Yes, yes, she'll marry him, said Kano, before her words could
come. The date,the earliest possible hour! Will two weeks be too
Two weeks! shrieked the old dame, and staggered backward. Is it
of the scavenger's daughter that you speak?
Four weeks, then,a month. It cannot be more. I tell you, woman,
for a longer time than this I cannot keep the youth at bay. Is a month
decent in convention's eyes?
Mata began to sob loudly in her upraised sleeve.
I see that it is at least permissible, said Kano, grimly. What a
weak set of social idiots we are, after all. Tatsu is right to scorn
us! Well, well, a month from this date, deep in the golden heart of
autumn, will the wedding be.
If the day be propitious and the stars in harmony, supplemented
Mata. She shall not be married in the teeth of evil fortune, if I have
to murder the Dragon Painter with my fish-knife!
Oh, go; have the stars arranged to suit you. Here's money for it!
He fumbled in his belt for a purse of coin, threw it to the mats, and,
over the old dame's stooping back, motioned Umè-ko permission to
withdraw. The girl went swiftly, thankful for the release.
A good child,a daughter to thank the gods for, chuckled Kano, as
Mata looked sharply about, then leaned to her master's ear. You are
blind; you are an earth-rat, Kano Indara. This is not the usual
submission of a silly girl. Umè is thinking things we know nothing of.
Did you not see that her face was as a bean-curd in its whiteness? She
kept so still, only because she was shaking in all directions at once.
There, look at her now! She is fleeing to the garden with the uncertain
step of one drunk with deep foreboding!
Bah! you are an old raven croaking in a fog! Go back to your pots.
I can manage my own child!
You have never yet managed her or yourself either, was the spoiled
old servant's parting shaft.
Kano sat watching the slender, errant figure in the garden. Yes, she
had taken it calmly,more calmly than he could have hoped. How
beautiful was the poise, even at this distance, of the delicate throat,
and the head, with its wide crown of inky hair! Each motion of the
slow-strolling form in its clinging robes was a separate loveliness.
Kano drew a long sigh. He could not blind himself to Tatsu's
savagery. This was not the sort of husband that Umè had a right to
expect from her father's choice,a youth not only penniless, and
without family name, but in himself unusual, strange, with look, voice,
gesture, coloring each a clear contrast to the men that Umè-ko had
seen. He could not bear the thought of her unhappiness, and yet, at any
sacrifice, Tatsu must be kept an inmate of their home.
The girl had stopped beside the sunlit pond, leaning far over. She
did not seem to note the clustering carp at all, but rather dwell upon
her own image, twisted and shot through with the gold of their darting
bodies. Now, with dragging feet she went to the moon-viewing hill,
remaining in the shadow of it, and pausing for long thought. Her eyes
were on the cliff, now raised to the camphor tree. Suddenly she
shivered and hid her face. What was the tumult of that ignorant young
The old man rose and went to an inner room where hung the Butsudan,
the shrine. He stood gazing upon the ihai of his wife. His lips moved,
but the breath so lightly issued that the flame on the altar did not
stir. She, our one child, has come now to the borders of that
woman-land where I cannot go with her, he was saying. Thou art the
soul to guide, and give her happiness, thou, the dear one of my
life,the dead young mother who has never really died! He folded his
hands now, and bowed his head. The small flame leaned to him. Namu
Amida Butsu, Namu Amid a Butsu, murmured the old man.
Out by the hill, a butterfly, snow white, rested a moment on the
young girl's hair. She was again looking at the cliff, and did not
Ando Uchida, from his green seclusion among the bamboo groves of
Meguro, sent, from time to time, a scout into the city. First an
ordinary hotel kotsukai or man-servant was employed. This experiment
proved costly as well as futile. The kotsukai demanded large payment;
and then the creature's questions to Mata were of a nature so crude and
undiplomatic that they aroused instant suspicion, causing, indeed, the
threat of a dipper of scalding water.
The next messenger was an insect peddler, Katsuo Takanaka by name.
It was the part of this youth to search daily among the bamboo stems
and hillside grasses of Meguro for the musical suzu-mushi, the hataori,
and the kirigirisu. These he incarcerated in fairy cages of plaited
straw, threaded the cages into great hornets' nests that dangled from
the two ends of his creaking shoulder-pole, and started toward the city
in a perfect storm of insect music. The noise moved with him like a
cloud. It formed, as it were, a penumbra of fine shrilling, and could
be heard for many streets in advance. This itinerant merchant was
commissioned to haunt the Kano gate until impatience or curiosity
should fling it wide for him. Then, after having coaxed old Mata into
making a purchase, he was to engage her in conversation, and extract
all the domestic information he could. Unfortunately for the
acquisition of paltry news, it was Umè-ko, not Mata, who came out to
purchase. The seller, watching those slim, white fingers as they
fluttered among his cages, the delicate ear bent to mark some special
chime, forgot the words of Ando Uchida, otherwise, Mr. S. Yetan, of
Chikuzen, forgot everything, indeed, but the beauty of the girlish face
He left the house in a dream more dense than the multitudinous
clamor of his burden. Alas! thought Katsuo, as he stumbled along,
unheeding the beckoning hands of mothers, or the arresting cries of
children in many gateways, Had I been born a samurai of old, and she
an humble maiden! Even as an Eta, an outcast, would I have loved and
sought her. Now in this life I am doomed to catch insects and to sell
them. Perhaps in my coming rebirth, if I am honest and do not tell to
the ignorant that a common mimi is a silver-voiced
Ando's third envoy was chosen with more thoughtful care. This time
it was none other than a young priest from the temple of Fudo-Bosatsu
in Meguro. He was an acolyte sent forth with bowl and staff to beg for
aid in certain temple repairs. Ando promised a generous donation in
return for information concerning the Kano family. Being assured that
the motive for this curiosity was benevolent rather than mischievous,
the priest consented to make the attempt. He reached the Kano gate at
noon, within a few days after Tatsu's arrival. Mata opened to his call.
Being herself a Protestant, opposed to the ancient orders and their
methods, she gave him but a chilly welcome. Her interest was aroused,
however, in spite of herself, by the fact that he neither chanted his
refrain of supplication nor extended the round wooden bowl.
I shall not entreat alms of money in this place, he said, as if in
answer to her look of surprise, I am weary, and ask but to rest for a
while in the pleasant shade of your roof.
Without waiting for Mata's rejoinder, Umè-ko, who had heard the
words of the priest, now came swiftly to the veranda. Our home is
honored, holy youth, by your coming, she said to him. Enter now, I
pray, into the main guest-room, where I and my father may serve you.
The priest refused this homage (much to Mata's inward satisfaction),
saying that he desired only the stone ledge of the kitchen entrance and
a cup of cold water.
After his first swift upward look he dared not raise his eyes again.
The sweetness of her young voice thrilled and troubled him. But for his
promise to Uchida he would have fled at once, as from temptation.
Umè-ko, seeing his embarrassment, withdrew, but not until she had made
an imperious gesture to old Mata, commanding her to serve him with rice
After a short struggle with himself the priest decided to accept the
offer of food. Old Mata, he knew, was to be his source of information.
The old dame served him in conscious silence. Her lips were compressed
to wrinkled metal. The visitor, more accustomed to old women than to
young, smiled at the rigid countenance, knowing that a loquacity
requiring so obvious a latch is the more easily freed. He planned his
first question with some care.
Is this not the home of an artist, Kano by name?
Mata tossed her gray hair. Of the only Kano, she replied, and shut
her lips with a snap.
The only Kano, the only Kano, mused the acolyte over his tea.
So I said, young sir. Is it that your hearing is honorably
Then I presume he is without a son, said the priest as if to
himself, and stirred the surmise into his rice with the two long wooden
chopsticks Mata had provided.
The old dame's muscles worked, but she kept silence.
Umè-ko, now in her little chamber across the narrow passage, with a
bit of bright-colored sewing on her knees, could hear each word of the
dialogue. Mata's shrill voice and the priest's deep tones each carried
well. The girl smiled to herself, realizing as she did the conflict
between love of gossip and disapproval of Shingon priests that now made
a paltry battlefield of the old dame's mind. The former was almost sure
to win. The priest must have thought this, too, for he finished his
rice in maddening tranquillity, and then stirred slightly as if to go.
Mata's speech flowed forth in a torrent.
My poor master has no son indeed, no true son of his house; but
lately,within this very week She caught herself back as with a
rein, snatched up the empty tea-pot, hurried to the kitchen and
returned partly self-conquered, if not content. She told herself that
she must not gossip about the master's affairs with a beggarly priest.
Determination hardened the wrinkles of her face.
If the priest perceived these new signs of taciturnity, he ignored
them. Your master being verily the great artist that you say, it is a
thing doubly to be regretted that he is without an heir, persisted the
visitor, with kind, boyish eyes upon old Mata's face. The old woman
blinked nervously and began to examine her fingernails. Alas! sighed
he, I fear it is because this Mr. Kano is no true believer, that he
has not prayed or made offerings to the gods.
Mata had a momentary convulsion upon the kitchen floor, and was
The priest kept gravity upon his mouth, but needed lowered lids to
hide the twinkles in his eyes. True religion is the greatest boon, he
droned sententiously. Would that your poor master had reached
Umè-ko in her room forgot her sewing, and leaned a delicate ear
closer to the shoji.
Old Mata's wall of reserve went down with a crash. He believes as
you believe! she cried out shrilly. All your Shingon chants and
invocations and miracles he has faith in. Is that not what you call
enlightenment? He and Miss Umè worship together almost daily at the
great temple above us on the hill. The two finest stone lanterns there
are given in the name of my master's dead young wife. Her ihai is in
this house, and an altar, and they are well tended, I assure you! My
master is a true believer, poor man, and what has his belief brought
him? Ma-a-a! all this mummery and service and what has come of it?
I perceive with regret that you are not of the Shingon sect,
remarked the priest.
Me? I should say not! snorted Mata. I am a Protestant, a good
Shinshu woman,that's what I am, and I tell you so to your face! When
I pray, I know what I am praying for. I trust to my own good deeds and
the intercession of Amida Butsu. No muttering and mummery for me!
Ah! said the priest, a most alluring note of interest now audible
in his voice, your master has so zealously importuned the gods, and,
you say, with no result?
Ay, a result has come, answered the old dame, sullenly. Within
this week the godsor the demonshave heard my master, for a wild
thing from the hills is with us!
Wild thing? Do you mean a man?
A semblance of a man, though none such will you see in the streets
of a respectable town.
But does your master began the priest, in some perplexity.
Mata cut him short. Because he can smear ink on paper with a brush,
my master dotes on him and says he will adopt him!
The woman's fierce sincerity transmitted vague alarm. Slipping his
hands within his gray sleeves, the acolyte began fingering his short
rosary as he asked, Is thewild man now under this very roof?
Not under a roof when he can escape it, you may be sure! He comes
to us only when driven by hunger of the stomach or the eyes. Doubtless
at this moment he wallows among the ferns and sa-sa grass of the
mountain side, or lies face down in the cemetery near my mistress'
grave. He is mad, my master is mad, and Miss Umè, if she really gives
herself in marriage to the mountain lion, madder than all the rest!
That beautiful maiden whom I saw will be given to such a one?
asked the priest, in a startled way.
Such are the present plans, said the other in deep despair, and
huddled herself together on the floor.
Umè-ko, in her room across the hallway, had half risen. It really
was time to check the old servant's vulgar garrulity. But the silence
that followed the last remark checked her impulse. After all, what did
it matter? No one could understand or needed to understand.
Meanwhile Mata, at first unconscious of anything but her own dark
thoughts, became gradually aware of a strange look in the face of the
priest. He, on his part, was wondering whether, indeed, the beauty of
Umè-ko were not the sole cause of his patron's interest in the Kano
family. After watching him intently for a few moments the old woman
wriggled nearer and whispered in a tone so low that Umè could not catch
the words, Perhaps, after all, Sir Priest, you, being of their belief,
perceive this to be a case where charms and spells are advisable. I am
convinced that this house is bewitched, that the Dragon Painter has a
train of elementals in attendance. Now, if we could only drive him
forever from the place. Have you, by any chance, a powder, or an
amulet, or a magic invocation you could give me?
No, no! I dare not! said the other, in an agitated voice. He
reached out for his bowl and, with a single leap, was down upon the
earth. Mata caught him by his flying skirts. See here, she entreated,
I will make it worth your while, young sir, I will give donations to
I dare not. I have no instructions to meddle with such things. Let
me now give the house a blessing, and withdraw. But I can tell you for
your comfort, he added, seeing the disappointment in her wrinkled
face, if, as you assure me, this is a house of faith, no presence
entirely evil could dwell within it.
He got away before she could repeat her importunities; and the old
dame returned to the kitchen, muttering anathemas against the mystic
powers she had just attempted to invoke.
On the priest's return, Ando questioned him eagerly. He gained,
almost with the first words, certainty of his own freedom. With Tatsu
safely arrived, and the betrothal to Kano Umè-ko an outspoken affair,
then had the time come for himAndo Uchidato reassume the pleasant
role of friend and benefactor.
He moved into Yeddo before nightfall. His first visit was, of
course, to Kano. Elaborately he explained to the sympathetic old man
how he had been summoned by telegram into a distant province to attend
the supposed death-bed of a relative, how that relative had, by a
miracle, recovered. So now, he remarked in conclusion, I am again at
your service, and shall take the part not only of nakodo in the coming
marriage, but of temporary father and social sponsor to our
Certainly nothing could have been more opportune than Uchida's
reappearance, or more welcome than his proposed assistance. Mata,
indeed, hastened to give a whole koku of rice to the poor in
thank-offering that one sensible person besides herself was now
implicated in the wedding preparations.
Uchida justified, many times over, her belief in him. In the
district near the Kano home he rented, in Tatsu's name, a small
cottage, paying for it by the month, in advance. With Mata's
assistance, not to mention a small colony of hirelings, the floors were
fitted with new mats, the woodwork of the walls, the posts, and veranda
floors polished to a mirror-like brightness, and even the tiny garden
set with new turf and flowering plants. Tatsu was lured down from the
mountain side and persuaded to remain at night and part, at least, of
each day, in this little haven of coming joy.
A secluded room was fitted up as a studio, for his sole use. Here
were great rectangles of paper, rolls of thin silk, stretching frames,
water holders, multitudinous brushes, and all the exquisite pigment
that Japanese love of beauty has drawn from water, earth, and air;
delicate infusions of sea-moss, roots, and leaves, saucers of warm
earth ground to a paste, precious vessels of powdered malachite,
porphyry, and lapis lazuli. But the boy looked askance upon the
expensive outlay. His wild nature resented so obvious a lure. It seemed
unworthy of a Dragon Painter to accept this multitude of material
devices. He had painted on flakes of inner bark, still quivering with
the life from which he had rudely torn them. Visions limned on rock and
sand had been the more precious for their impermanence. Here, every
stroke was to be recorded, each passing whim and mood registered, as in
a book of fate.
For days the little workroom remained immaculate. Kano began to
fret. Ando Uchida, the wise, said, Wait. It was Mata who finally
precipitated the crisis. One rainy morning, being already in an ill
humor over some trifling household affair, she was startled and annoyed
by the sudden vision of Tatsu's head thrust noiselessly into her
kitchen. Rudely she had slammed the shoji together, calling out to him
that he had better be off doing the one thing he was fit to do, rather
than to be skulking around her special domain. Tatsu had, as rudely,
reopened the shoji panels, tearing a large hole in the translucent
paper. He had come merely for a glimpse of the Dragon Maid, he told
the angry dame. In a few days more she was to be his wife, and this
maddening convention of keeping him always from her was eating out his
vitals with red fire, so declared Tatsu, and let the consuming passion
blaze in his sunken eyes.
But Mata, undismayed, stood up in scornful silence. She was
gathering herself together like a storm, and in an instant more had
hurled upon him the full terror of her vocabulary. She called him a
barbarian, a mountain goat,a Tengu,better mated to a fox spirit or
a she-demon than to a decent girl like her young mistress. She
denounced her erstwhile beloved master as a blind old dotard, and the
idolized Umè, she declared a weak and yielding idiot. Tatsu's attempts
at retort were swept away with a hiss. For a while he raged like a
flame upon the doorstep, but he was no match for his vigorous opponent.
It was something to realize his own defeat. Gasping, he turned to the
friendly rain and would have darted from the gate when, with a swoop
like a falcon, Mata was bodily upon him. He threw his right arm upward
as if to escape a blow, but the old dame did not belabor him. She was
trying to thrust something hard and strange into his other hand. He
glanced toward it. The last indignity of an umbrella! Open it,
madman! she cried shrilly after him, and hold your robe up; it is one
of your new silk ones!
Tatsu had never used an umbrella in his life. Now he opened it
eagerly. Anything to escape that frightful voice! In the windy street
he clutched at his fluttering skirts as he had seen other men do, and,
with a last terrified backward glance, ran breathlessly toward the
haven of his temporary home.
The little house was empty. Tatsu was thankful for so much. The
rooms were already pre-haunted by dreams of Umè-ko. Tatsu felt the
peace of it sink deep into his soul. Instinctively his wandering feet
led him into the little painting room. As usual, the elaborate display
of artist materials chilled him. After his recent exasperation he
longed to ease his heart of a sketch, but obstinacy held him back. He
sat down in the centre of the space. A bevy of small, squeaking sounds
seemed to enclose him. It took him some moments to recognize them as
the irritating rustling of his silken dress. He sprang to his feet,
tore off the new and expensive girdle of brocade, flung it into one
corner and the offending robe into another, and remained standing in
the centre of the small space clad only in his short white linen
He looked about, now, for a more congenial sheathing. If he could
but find the tattered blue kimono worn during that upward journey from
Kiu Shiu! Stained by berries and green leaves, torn by a thousand
graceful vines,for laundering only a few vigorous swirls in a running
stream with a quick sun-drying on the river stones,yet how
comfortable, how companionable it was! There had been a blue something
folded on the shelf of his closet. He found it, opened it wide in the
air and would have uttered a cry of joy but for the changed look of it.
Even this had not escaped Mata's desecrating hands! It was mended
everywhere. The white darning threads grinned at him like teeth. Also
it was washed and ironed, and smelled of foreign soap. For an instant
he tore at it angrily, and was minded to destroy it, but the sense of
familiarity held him. He wrapped it about him slowly and, with bent
head, again seated himself upon the floor.
The rain now fell in quivering wires of dull light. The world was
strung with them like a harp, and upon them the wind played a
monotonous refrain. Against the wall near Tatsu stood a light framework
of wood with the silk already stretched and dried for painting. At his
other hand a brush slanted sidewise from a bowl of liquid ink. The
boy's pulses leaped toward these things even while his lips curled in
disdain at the shallow decoy. So they expect to trap me, these geese
and jailers who have temporary dominance over my life, thought he, in
scorn. No, even though he now desired it of himself, he would not
paint! Let him but gain his bridethen nothing should have power to
sting or fret him. But, oh, these endless days and hours of waiting!
They corroded his very thought as acid corrodes new metal. He felt the
eating of it now.
A spasm of pain and anger distorted his face. He gave a cry, caught
up suddenly the thick hake brush, and hurled it across the room toward
the upright frame of silk. It struck the surface midway, a little to
the left; pressed and worked against it as though held by a ghost, and
then, falling, dragged lessening echoes of stain.
Tatsu's mirthless laugh rang out against the sound of dripping rain.
The childish outburst had been of some relief. He looked defiantly
toward the white rectangle he had just defaced. Defaced? The boy caught
in his breath. He thrust his head forward, leaning on one hand to
stare. That bold and unpremeditated stroke had become a shadowed peak;
the trailing marks of ink a splendid slope. Had he not seen just such a
one in Kiu Shiu,had he not scaled it, crying aloud upon its summit to
the gods to yield him there his bride?
Trembling now, and weak, he crawled on hands and knees toward the
frame. He had forgotten Kano, Uchida, Mata,forgotten even Umè-ko.
Fingers not his own lifted the fallen brush. The wonderful cold wind of
a dawning frenzy swept clean his soul. He shivered; then a sirocco of
fire followed the void of the wind. The spot where his random blow had
struck still gleamed transparent jet. He dragged the blackened brush
through a vessel of clear water, then brandished it like the madman
Mata thought him. With the soft tuft of camel hair he blurred against
the peak pale, luminous vapor of new cloud. Turning, twisting sidewise,
this way, then that, the yielding implement, he seemed to carve upon
the silk broad silver planes of rock, until there rose up a
self-revealing vision, the granite cliff from which a thin, white
waterfall leaps out.
[Illustration: With the soft tuft of camel hair he blurred against
the peak pale, luminous vapor of new cloud.]
But this one swift achievement only whetted the famished appetite to
more creative ardor. Sketch after sketch he made, some to tear at once
into strips, others to fling carelessly aside to any corner where they
might chance to fall, others, again, to be stored cunningly upon some
remote shelf to which old Kano and Uchida and Mata could not reach, but
whence he, Tatsu, the Dragon Painter, should, in a few days more,
withdraw them and show them to his bride. The purple dusk brimmed his
tiny garden, and yet he could not stop. Art had seized him by the
throat, and shook him, as a prey. Uchida, peering at him from between
the fusuma, perceived the glory and turned away in silence; nor for
that day nor the next would he allow any one to approach the frenzied
boy. The elder man had, himself in youth, fared along the valleys of
art, and knew the signals on the peaks.
Tatsu, unconscious that the house was not still empty, painted on.
Sometimes he sobbed. Again an ague of beauty caught him, and he needed
to hurl himself full length upon the mats until the ecstacy was past.
Just as the daylight went he saw, upon the one great glimmering square
of silk as yet immaculate, a dream of Umè-ko, the Dragon Maiden, who
had danced before him. This was an apparition too holy to be limned in
artificial light. When the sun came, next day, he knew well what there
was for him to do. He placed the frame upright, where the first pink
beam would find it. Brushes, water vessels, and paints were placed in
readiness, with such neatness and precision that old Kano's heart would
have laughed in pleasure. That night the shoji and amado were not
closed. Tatsu did not sleep. It was a night of consecration. He walked
up and down, sometimes in the narrow room, sometimes in the garden.
Often he prayed. Again he sat in the soft darkness, before the ghostly
glimmer of the silk, tracing upon it visions of ethereal light. When,
at last, the dawn came in, Tatsu bowed to the east, with his usual
prayer of thankful piety, then, with the exaltation still upon him,
lifted the silver thread of a brush and drew his first conscious
outline of the woman soon to be his wife.
[Illustration: He walked up and down, sometimes in the narrow room,
sometimes in the garden.]
Through all these busy days Umè-ko moved as one but little
interested. Kano and Uchida noticed nothing unusual. To them she was
merely the conventional nonenity of maidenhood that Japanese etiquette
demanded. It never entered their heads that she would not have agreed
with equal readiness to any other husband of their choosing.
Mata knew her idol and nursling better. Hints of character and of
deep-sea passion had risen now and again to the surface of the girl's
placid life. There were currents underneath that the father did not
suspect. Once, during her childhood, a pet bird had been injured in a
fit of anger by old Kano. Umè-ko, with her ashen face under perfect
control, had killed the suffering creature and carried it, wrapped in
white paper, to her own room. The father, ashamed now, and filled with
genuine remorse, had stormed up and down the garden paths, reviling
himself for an impatient ogre, and promising more restraint in future.
Mata, silent for once, had crept to her child-mistress' close-shut
walls, heard the last sobbing words of a Buddhist prayer for the dead,
and burst through the shoji in scant time to catch back the stroke of a
dagger from the girl's slim, upraised throat. Her terrified screams
summoned Kano and the neighbors as well. A priest hurried down from the
temple on the hill. In time the culprit was reduced to a condition of
tearful penitence, and gave her promise never again to attempt so
cowardly and wicked a thing as self-destruction, unless it were for
some noble and impersonal end.
The good old priest, to comfort her, chanted a sutra over the bier
of her lost playmate, and bestowed upon it a high-sounding Buddhist
kaimyo which Kano carved, in his finest manner, upon a wooden grave
post. In time, the artist forgot the episode. Mata never forgot. Often
in the long hours she thought of it now as she watched the girl's face
bent always so silently above the bridal sewing. No impatience or
regret were visible in her. Yet, thought Mata, surely no maiden in her
senses could really wish to become the wife of an ill-mannered, untamed
mountain sprite! Could Death be the secret of this pale tranquillity?
Was Umè-ko to cheat them all, at the last, by self-destruction?
In such wise did the old servant fret and ponder, but no assurance
came. A true insight into art might have opened many doors to her. Yet,
through a life devoted to the externals of it, Mata had been tolerant
of beauty, rather than at one with it. The impractical view of life
which art seemed to demand of its devotees was enough to arouse
suspicion, if not her actual dislike. Uchida was a hero because he had
been bold enough to shake himself free from lethargic influences, and
achieve a shining and substantial success.
But even had the key of art been thrust into the old dame's groping
hand, and even had her master guided her, there was an inner chamber of
Umè's heart which they could not have found. Umè herself had not known
of it until that first instant when, now three weeks ago, a strange
young face, hung about with shadows, had peered into her father's gate.
With the first sound of his voice, she had entered in, had knelt before
a shrine whereon, wrapped in fire, a Secret lay. Ever since she had
needed to guard that shrine, not, indeed, for fear that the light would
falter, but rather that it might not leap up, and lay waste her being.
As one guards a flame, so Umè-ko, with silence and prayer and
self-enforced tranquillity, guarded the sacred spark from winds of
passion. Each day at dawn, and again at twilight of each day, it flamed
high and was hard to conquer, for with dawn a letter was hersheld in
the night-wet branches of her dragon-plum, and each night when Mata and
her father thought her sleeping, an answer was written, and committed
to the keeping of the tree.
When Tatsu did not paint, or rest from sheer exhaustion, he was
writing. Umè, bending above his words, shivering at times, or weeping,
marvelled that the tissue had not charred beneath the thoughts burned
into it. Tatsu's phrases were like his paintings, unusual, vital,
almost demoniac in force, shot through and through at times with the
bolt of an almost unbearable beauty. Her own words answered his, as the
tree-tops answer storm, with music. Verse alone could ease the girl of
her ecstacy, and each recorded and triumphed in the demolition of yet
another day. Another stone, beloved, thrust down from the dungeon wall
that severs us!
Swiftly the heap of wedding garments grew. There were delicate
kimonos, as thin and gray as mist, with sunset-colored inner robes of
silk; gowns of linen and cotton for indoor wear; bath and sleeping
robes with great designs of flowers, birds, or landscapes; silken
bed-quilts and bright floor cushions; great sashes crusted like bark
with patternings of gold; dainty toilet accessories of hairpins,
girdles, collarettes, shopping-bags, purses, jewel-cases,and new
sandals of various sorts, each with velvet thongs of some delicate hue.
The sewing was, of course, done at home. Mata would have trusted
this sacred rite to no domination but her own. She worked incessantly,
planning, cutting, scolding,hurrying off to the shopping district for
some forgotten item, conferring with Ando Uchida about the details of
Tatsu's outfit, then returning, flushed with success and importance, to
new home triumphs.
Umè sewed steadily all day. Her painting materials had been put
meekly aside, and, as a further precaution at old Mata's hands, hidden
under the kitchen flooring. Toward the last it was found necessary to
employ an assistant, a seamstress, known of old to Mata. Her
companionship, as well as her sewing, proved a boon. Seated upon the
springy matting, with waves of shimmering silk tumultuous about them,
the old dames chatted incessantly of other brides and other wedding
outfits they had known. Marvellous were their tales of married life,
some of them designed to cheer, others to warn the silent little third
figure, that of the bride-to-be. As a matter of fact, Umè never
listened. The noise and buzz of incessant conversation affected her
pleasantly, but remotely, as the chatter of distant sparrows. The girl
had too much within herself to think of.
May Kwannon have mercy upon my young mistress, sighed the nurse,
one day, as Umè left the room.
Does she require mercy? I thoughtshe appears to me
honorablyerundisturbed, ventured the seamstress, with one swift
upward look of interest.
Yes, she appears,many of us appear,but can she be happy? That
is what I wish to know. The creature she is being forced to marry is
more like a mountain-lion than a man!
Ma-a-a! Is he dangerous? Will he bite her? questioned the other,
Amida alone knows what he will do with her, croaked Mata, in a
The subject was one not to be readily relinquished. The facts being
honorably as you relate, began the hired seamstress, her needle held
carefully against the light for threading, how is it that the august
father of the illustrious young lady permits such a marriage?
Mata's eyes gleamed sharp and bright as the needle. Because he is
as mad as the wild man, and all for pictures! They would strip their
own skins off if that made better parchment. Miss Umè has been
influenced by them, and now is to be sacrificed. Alas! the evil day!
and Mata wiped away some genuine tears on the hem of a night-robe she
O kinodoku Sama, my spirit is poisoned by your grief, murmured the
other, sympathetically. Yet, in your place, I should find great
comfort in the outfit of your mistress. Never, even in the sewing halls
of princes, could more beautiful silks be gathered. She looked about
slowly, with the air of a professional who sees something really worthy
Mata's face cleared. Since the gods allow it, I should not
complain, she admitted. Indeed, Mr. Uchida and I are doing well by
the young couple in the matter of silks and house furnishings.
Andwhisper this notno one but he and I dream from what source these
splendid fabrics come!
Mata had thrust a poisoned arrow of curiosity into her listener, and
knew it. Some day, perhaps the very day before the wedding, she might
reveal it. For the present, as she said, no one but herself and Uchida
More than once during sewing hours, Umè-ko herself had wondered how
her father was able to give her silks of such beauty and variety. With
the unthrift of the true artist, Kano was always poor. The old man
would have been as surprised and far angrier than his daughter, had he
known that Tatsu's pictures, stolen craftily by the confederates,
Uchida and Mata, and sold in Yokohama for about a tenth of their true
value, were the source of this sudden affluence. Tatsu remained
ignorant, also. But, provided they took no image of Umè's face, he
would not have cared at all. New garments, new mats, dainty household
furnishings, were showered upon him, too; but they might have been
autumn leaves, for all the interest he showed.
To gain his Dragon Maid,to know that in this life she was
irrevocably his,that was Tatsu's one conscious thought.
The wedding day came at last. Umè-ko had written no letter on the
eve of it, but all night long she felt that he was near her, leaning on
the breast of the plum tree, scaling the steeps above her, wandering, a
restless ghost of joy, about the moon-silvered cemetery, speaking
perhaps, as equal, to his primeval gods. So close, already were these
two, that even in absence, each felt always something of the other's
mood. It was a sleepless night to the girl, also. She cowered close
about the Secret, until its fierce light scorched her. She pressed down
her lids with strong, white fingers, but the glory streamed through.
So, tortured by intolerable bliss, she suffered, until the dawn came
Quite early in the day the bride's trousseau and gifts were sent to
Tatsu's home. They made a train that filled the neighbors' eyes with
wonder and Mata's swelling heart with pride. There were lacquered
chests and cases of drawers, all filled with clothing. Each great
square package was covered with a decorated cloth, and swung from a
gilded staff borne on the shoulders of two stout coolies. There were
boxes of cakes, fruit, and eggs; and jinrikishas piled with a medley of
gifts. Even Kano was impressed. Uchida rubbed his two fat hands
together and laughed at everything. Umè-ko, watching the moving shadows
pass under her father's gate-roof, closed her eyes quickly and caught
her breath. The next gift from the Kano home was to be herself.
By this time autumn was upon the year. A few early chrysanthemums
opened small golden suns in the garden. Dodan bushes and maples hinted
at a crimson splendor soon to follow. The icho trees stood like
pyramids of gold; and suzuki grass upon the hillsides brushed a
cloudless blue sky with silken fingers. In the garden, autumn insects
sang. Umè-ko's kirigirisu which, some weeks before, she had released
from its cage, had, as if in gratitude made a home among the lichens of
the big plum tree. Umè believed that she always knew its voice from
among the rest, no matter how full the chorus of silver chiming.
She had gone back to her room, and sat now, in the centre of it,
staring toward the garden. Noon had crept upon it, devouring all
shadow. Her eyes saw little but the golden blur. A fusuma opened
softly, and two women, Mata and the attendant seamstress, came mincing
and smirking toward her, each with an armful of white silk. Umè rose
like an automaton. They began her toilet, talking the while in low
voices. They robed her in white with a thin lining-edge of crimson, and
threw over her shining hair a veil of tissue. Some one outside called
that the bride's kuruma was at the gate. Old Kano entered the room,
smiling. His steps creaked and rustled with new silk. Umè turned for
one fleeting glimpse of her plum tree. It seemed to stir and wave green
leaves toward her. With head down-bent, the girl followed her father
through the house.
Mata helped them into the two new, shining jinrikishas, a
dragon-crest blazoned on the one for Umè's use. She scolded the kuruma
men in her shrill voice, giving a dozen instructions in one sentence,
and pretending anger at their answering jests. On the doorstep stood
the little seamstress ready to cast a handful of dried peas. When Kano
and Umè-ko were off, Mata scrambled excitedly into her own vehicle. Her
human steed, turning round for an impudent and good-natured stare,
drawled out an unprintable remark. The seamstress shrieked sayonara
and pelted space with the peas. Afterward she ran on foot down the
slope of the hill and joined the smiling crowd of lookers-on. Soon it
was over. The peddler picked up his pack, and the children their toys.
Gates opened or slid aside in panels to receive their owners. The
jangling of small gate-bells made the hillside merry for an instant,
then busy silence again took possession.
No one at all was left in the Kano home. The little cottage of Umè's
birth, of her short, happy life and dawning fame, drew itself together
in the unusual silence. Sunshine fell thick upon the garden, and warmed
even the lazy gold-fish in their pigmy lake. In the plum-tree branch
that touched Umè-ko's abandoned chamber, the cricket chirped softly to
himself. He knew the Secret!
Six days were gone. The marriage was a thing accomplished, yet old
Kano sat, lean, dispirited, drowned apparently in depths of fathomless
despair, in the centre of his corner room. Mata, busy about her
household tasks, sometimes passed across the matting, or flaunted a
dusting-cloth within a partly opened shoji. At such moments her look
and gesture were eloquent of disdain. Her patience, long tried by the
kindly irritable master, was about at an end. Surely a spoiled old
man-child like the crouching figure yonder would exhaust the
forbearance of Jizo Sama himself!
Six days ago he had been happy,indeed, too happy! for he and
Uchida had drunk themselves into a condition of giggling bliss, and had
needed to be taken away bodily from the bridal bower, hoisted into a
double jinrikisha, and driven off ignominiously, still embracing, still
pledging with tears an eternity of brotherhood. Yes, on that day Kano
had hailed the earth as one broad, enamelled sakè-cup, the air, a new
infusion of heavenly brew. But now
Mata! the thin voice came, are you certain that this is but the
sixth day of my son's wedding?
It is but the sixth day, indeed, since your daughter's sacrifice to
a barbarian, if that is what you mean, returned Mata, with a
belligerent flourish of her paper duster.
That is what I meant, said the other, passively. Then the week is
not to be finished until to-morrow at noon. Twenty-four hours of
torture to me! I suppose that the ingrates will count time to the last
shadow! Oh, Mata, Mata, you once were a faithful servant! Why did you
let me make that foolish promise of giving them an entire week? A day
would have been ample, then Tatsu and I could have begun to paint.
Ara! said Mata, uttering a sound more forcible than respectful.
Had it been a decent person thus married to my young mistress, instead
of a mountain sprite, they should have had a month together!
Kano groaned under the suggestion. Then, heartless woman, at the
end of the month you would have been without a master; for surely my
sufferings would, in a month, have shrunk me to an insect gaki chirping
from a tree.
It is to me a matter of honorable amazement that in one week you
are not already a gaki, with your incessant complaints, retorted the
old dame, still unrelenting.
If I could be sure he is painting all this interminable time, said
Kano to himself, wringing the nervous hands together.
You may be augustly sure he is not, chuckled the cruel Mata.
The old man got hastily to his feet. Mata, Mata, your tongue is
that of a viper,a green viper, with stripes. I will go from its reach
into the highway. Of course my son is painting. What else could he be
The old dame's laugh fell like salt upon a wound. Kano caught up a
bamboo cane and, hatless, went into the street. It was odd, how often
during this week he found need of walking; still stranger, how often
his wanderings led him to the dodan hedge enclosing Tatsu's cottage. He
paused at the gate now, tormented by the reflection that he himself had
drawn the bolt. How still it was in there! Not even a sparrow chirped.
Could something be wrong? Suddenly a laugh rang out,the low
spontaneous laugh of a happy girl. Kano clutched the gate-post. It was
not the sort of laugh that one gives at sight of a splendid painting.
It had too intimate, too personal, a ring. But surely Tatsu was
painting! What else did he live for, if not to paint? The old man bore
a heavy homeward heart.
Next day, exactly at the hour of noon, the culprits tapped upon
Kano's wooden gate. During the morning the old man had been in a
condition of feverish excitement, but now that the agony of waiting had
forever ceased, he assumed a pose of indifference.
Tatsu entered first, as a husband should. In mounting the stone
which served as step to the railless veranda, he shook off, carelessly,
his wooden shoes. Umè-ko lifted them, dusted the velvet thongs, and
placed them with mathematical precision side by side upon the flat
stone. She then entered, placing her small lacquered clogs beside those
of her husband.
Kano, from the tail of his eye, marked with approval these tokens of
wifely submission. From a small aperture in the kitchen shoji, however
(a peephole commanding a full view of the house), dour mutterings might
have been heard, and a whispered lament that she should have lived to
see her young mistress wipe a Tengu's shoes!
When the various genuflections and phrases of ceremonial greeting
were at last accomplished, the old artist broke forth, Well, well, son
Tatsu, how many paintings in all this time?
Tatsu looked up startled, first at the questioner, then at his wife.
She gave a little, convulsive giggle, and bent her shining eyes to the
I have not painted, said Tatsu, bluntly.
Not painted? Impossible! What then have you done with all the
golden hours of these interminable days?
A sullen look crept into the boy's face. Again he turned questioning
eyes upon his wife. From the troubled silence her sweet voice reached
like a caress: Dear father, the autumn days, though golden, have held
Heat! What are cold and heat to a true artist? Did he not paint in
August? I am old, yet I have been painting!
Again fell the silence.
I said that I had been painting, repeated the old man, angrily.
Umè-ko recovered herself with a start. I amerwe are truly
overjoyed to hear it. Shall you deign to honor us with a sight of your
No, I shall not deign! snapped the old man. It is his work that
you now are concerned with. Here he pointed to the scowling Tatsu.
Why have you not influenced him as you should? He must paint! It is
what you married him for.
Umè-ko caught her breath. A flush of embarrassment dyed her face,
and she threw a half-frightened look towards Tatsu. Answering her
father's unrelenting frown, she murmured, timidly, To-morrow, if the
gods will, my dear husband shall paint.
Tatsu's steady gaze drew her. Your eyes, Umè-ko. Is it true that
for thisto make me paintyou consented to become my wife?
Umè tried in vain to resist the look he gave her. Close at her other
hand, she knew, her father hung upon her face and listened, trembling,
for her words. To him, art was all. But to her and Tatsu, who had found
each other,ah! She tried to speak but words refused to form
themselves. She tried to turn a docile face toward old Kano; but the
deepening glory of her husband's look drew her as light draws a flower.
Sullenness and anger fell from him like a cloth. His countenance gave
out the fire of an inward passion; his eyesdeep, strange, strong,
magneticmastered and compelled her.
No, no, beloved, she whispered. I cannot say,you alone know the
soul of me.
A fierce triumph flared into his look. He leaned nearer, with a
smile that was almost cruel in its consciousness of power. Under it her
eyes drooped, her head fell forward in a sudden faintness, her whole
lithe body huddled into one gracious, yielding outline. Even while Kano
gasped, doubting his eyes and his hearing, Tatsu sprang to his feet,
went to his wife, caught her up rudely by one arm, and crushed her
against his side, while he blazed defiant scorn upon Kano. Come Dragon
Wife, he said, in a voice that echoed through the space; come back to
our little home. No stupid old ones there, no prattle about painting.
Only you and I and love.
[Illustration: 'Come, Dragon Wife,' he said, 'come back to our
Now in Japan nothing is more indelicate, more unpardonable, or more
insulting to the listener than any reference to the personal love
between man and wife. At Tatsu's terrible speech, Umè-ko, unconscious
of further cause of offense, hid her face against his sleeve, and clung
to him, that her trembling might not cast her to the floor. Kano, at
first, was unable to speak. He grew slowly the hue of death. His brief
words, when at last they came, were in convulsive spasms of sound. Go
to your rooms,both. Are you mad, indeed,this immodesty, this
disrespect to me. Mata was right,a Tengu, a barbarian. Go, go, ere I
rise to slay you both!
The utterance choked him, and died away in a gasping silence. He
clutched at his lean chest. Umè would have sped to him, but Tatsu held
her fast. His young face flamed with an answering rage. Do you use
that tone to meold manto me, and this, my wife, he was beginning,
but Umè put frantic hands upon his lips.
Master, beloved! she sobbed. You shall not speak thus to our
father,you do not understand. For love of me, then, be patient. Even
the crows on the hilltops revere their parents. Come there, to the
hills, with me, now, nowoh, my soul's belovedbefore you speak
again. Wait there, in the inner room, while I kneel a moment before our
father. Oh, Tatsu, if you love me
The agony of her face and voice swept from Tatsu's mind all other
feeling. He stood in the doorway, silent, as she threw herself before
old Kano, praying to him as to an offended god: Father, father, do not
hold hatred against us! Tatsu has been without kindred,he knows not
yet the sacred duties of filial love. We will go from your presence now
until your just anger against us shall have cooled. With the night we
shall return and plead for mercy and forgiveness. No, no, do not speak
again, just yet. We are going, now, now. Oh, my dear father, the agony
and the shame of it! Sayonara, until the twilight. She hurried back to
Tatsu, seized his clenched hand with her small, icy fingers, and almost
dragged him from the room.
Kano sat as she had left him, motionless, now, as the white jade
vase within the tokonoma. His anger, crimson, blinding at the first
possession, had heated by now into a slow, white rage. All at once he
began to tremble. He struck himself violently upon one knee, crying
aloud, So thus love influences him! Ara! My Dragon Painter! Other
methods may be tried. Such words and looks before me, me,Kano Indara!
And Umè's eyes set upon him as in blinding worship. Could I have seen
aright? He caught my child up like a common street wench, a thing of
sale and barter. And she,she did not scorn, but trembled and clung to
him. Is the whole world on its head? I will teach them, I will teach
Have my young mistress and her august spouse already taken leave?
asked Mata at a crack of the door.
Either they or some demon changelings, answered the old man,
rocking to and fro upon the mats.
The old servant had, of course, heard everything. Feigning now, for
her own purposes, a soothing air of ignorance, she glided into the
room, lifted the tiny tea-pot, shook it from side to side, and then
cocked her bright eyes upon her master. The tea-pot. It is honorably
empty. Shall I fill it?
Yes, yes; replenish it at once. I need hot tea. Shameless,
incredible; he has, indeed, the manners of a wild boar.
Ma-a-a! exclaimed the old woman. Now of whom can my master be
You know very well of whom I am speaking, goblin! Do you not always
listen at the shoji? Go, fill the pot!
Mata glided from the room with the quickness of light and in an
instant had returned. Replacing the smoking vessel and maintaining a
face of decorous interest, she asked, hypocritically, And was my poor
Miss Umè mortified?
Mortified? echoed the artist with an angry laugh; she admired
him! She clung to him as a creature tamed by enchantment. My daughter!
Never did I expect to look upon so gross a sight! Why, Mata
Yes, dear master, purred the old dame encouragingly as she seated
herself on the floor near the tea-pot. One moment, while I brew you a
cup of fresh, sweet tea. It is good to quiet the honorable nerves. I
can scarcely believe what you tell me of our Umè-ko, so modest a young
lady, so well brought up!
I tell you what these old eyes saw, repeated Kano. Once more he
described the harrowing sight, adding more details. Mata, well used to
his outbursts of anger, though indeed she had seldom seen him in his
present condition of indignant excitement, drew him on by degrees. She
well knew that an anger put into lucid words soon begins to cool. Some
of her remarks were in the nature of small, kindly goads.
Remember, master, the poor creatures are married but a week
Had I dreamed of such low conduct, they should never have been
married at all!
Of course he is n't worthy of her, sighed the other, one eye on
Nonsense! He is more than worthy of any woman upon earth if he
could but learn to conduct himself like a human being.
That would take a long schooling.
He is the greatest artist since Sesshu! cried the old man,
Mata bowed over to the tea-pot. You recognize artists, master; I
Do you call my son a fool?
If that wild man is still to be considered your son, then have I
called your son a fool, answered Mata, imperturbably.
The new flush left the old man's face as quickly as it had come.
Mata, Mata, he groaned, too spent now for further vehemence, you are
an old cat,an old she-cat. You cannot dream what it is to be an
artist! What one will endure for art; what one will sacrifice, and joy
in the giving! Why, woman, if with one's shed blood, with the barter of
one's soul, a single supreme vision could be realized, no true artist
would hesitate. Yes, if even wife, child, and kindred were to be joined
in a common destruction for art's sake, the artist must not hesitate.
At the thought of one's parents, the ancestors of one's house, it might
be admissible to pause, but at nothing else, nothing else, whatever!
Life is a mere bubble on the stream of art, fame is a bubbleriches,
happiness, Death itself! Would that I could tear these old limbs into a
bleeding frenzy as I paint, if by doing so one little line may swerve
the nearer to perfection! Often have I thought of this and prayed for
the opportunity, but such madness does not benefit. Only the torn
anguish of a soul may sometimes help. And with old souls, like old
trees, they do not bleed, but are snapped to earth, and lie there
rotting. He, Tatsu, the son of my adoption, could with one strong sweep
of his arm make the gods stare, and he spends his hours fondling the
perishable object of a woman, while I, who would give all, all,give
my own child that he loves,I remain impotent! Alas! So topsy-turvy a
world are we born in!
He bowed his head in a misery so abject that Mata forbore to jibe.
She tried to speak again, to comfort him, but he motioned her away, and
sat, scarcely moving in his place, until the night brought Tatsu and
his young wife home again.
Thus under, as it were, a double ban of displeasure, did the new
generation of Kano, Tatsu and Umè-ko, begin life in the little cottage
beneath the hill. They were given Umè's chamber near which the plum
tree grew, an adjoining room having been previously fitted up for
Tatsu's painting. As in the other cottage, inviting rectangles of silk,
already stretched and sized, stood in blank rows against the walls.
Even the fusuma were of new paper, offering, it would seem, to any
inspired young artist, a surface of alluring possibilities. Paints,
brushes, and vessels without number made an array to tempt, if only the
tempting were not so obvious.
Umè-ko, watching closely the expression of her husband's face as he
was first led into this room, drew old Kano aside, and urged that more
tact and delicacy be used in leading Tatsu back to a desire for
creative work. She herself, she hinted with deprecating sweetness,
might do much if only allowed to follow her own loving instincts. But
Kano had lost confidence in his daughter and bluntly told her so. Tatsu
had been adopted and married in order to make him paint, and paint he
should! Also it was Umè-ko's duty to influence him in whatever way and
method her father thought best. Let her succeed,that was her sole
responsibility. So blustered Kano to himself and Mata, and not even the
malicious twinkle of the old servant's eye pointed the way to wisdom.
Naturally Umè-ko did not succeed. Tatsu merely laughed at her
flagrant efforts at duplicity. He felt no need of painting, no desire
to paint. He had won the Dragon Maiden. Life could give him no more!
There was no anger or resentment in his feeling toward Kano, or even
the old scourge Mata. No, he was too happy! To lie dreaming on the
fragrant, matted floor near Umè, where he could listen to her soft
breathing and at times pull her closer by a silken sleeve,this was
enough for Tatsu. Nothing had power to arouse in him a sense of duty,
of obligation to himself, or to his adopted father. He would not argue
about it, and could scarcely be said to listen. He lived and moved and
breathed in love as in a fourth dimension. To the old man's frequent
remonstrances he would turn a gentle, deprecating face. He had promised
Umè-ko never again to speak rudely to their father. Besides, why should
he? The outer world was all so beautiful and sad and unimportant. A
sunset cloud, or a bird swinging from a hagi spray could bring sharp,
swift tears to his eyes. Beauty could move him, but not old Kano's
genuine sufferings. Yet, the old man, bleating from the arid rocks of
age, was doubtless a pathetic spectacle, and must be listened to
Finding the boy thus obdurate, Kano turned the full force of his
discontent on Umè-ko. She endured in silence the incessant railing.
Each new device urged by the distracted Kano she carried out with
scrupulous care, though even with the performance of it she knew
hopelessness to be involved. For hours she remained away from home,
hidden in a neighbor's house or in the temple on the hill, it being
Kano's thought that perhaps, in this temporary loss of his idol, Tatsu
might seek solace in the paint room. But Tatsu, raging against the
conditions which made such tyranny possible, stormed, on such
occasions, through the little house, and up and down the garden,
pelting the terrified gold-fish in their caves, stripping leaves and
tips from Kano's favorite pine-shrubs, or standing, long intervals of
time, on the crest of the moon-viewing hillock, from which he could
command vistas of the street below.
There 's your jewel of a painter, old Mata, indoors, would say.
Look at him, master,a noble figure, indeed, standing on one leg like
a love-sick stork! And Kano, helpless before his own misery and the
old dame's acrid triumph, would keep silence, only muttering
invocations to the gods for self-control.
Often the young wife pretended a sudden desire for her own artistic
work. She would go hurriedly to the little painting chamber, gather
complex paraphernalia, and assume the pose of eager effort. Tatsu
always followed her but, once within the room, bent such laughing eyes
of comprehension that she dared not look into his face. Nevertheless
she would paint; tracing, mechanically, the bird and flower studies in
which she had once taken delight. Just in the midst of some specially
delicate stroke, Tatsu would snatch her hands away, press them against
his lips, his eyes, his throat, hurl the painting things to the four
corners of the room, drag her down to his strong embrace, and triumph
openly in the victory of love. The young wife, longing from the first
to yield, attempted always to repel him, protesting in the words her
father had bade her use, and urging him to rouse himself and paint, as
she was doing. Then the young god would laugh magnificent music,
drowning the last pathetic echo of old Kano's remembered voice.
Catching her anew he would crush her against his breast, fondling her
with that tempestuous gentleness that surely no mere man of earth could
know, would drag up her faint soul to him through eyes and lips until
she felt herself but a shred of ecstacy caught in a whirlwind of
So that we be together,
Even the Hell of the Blood Lake,
Even the Mountain of Swords,
Mean nothing to us at all!
He would sing, in the words of an old Buddhist folk-song. At such
supreme heights of emotion she knew, consciously, that Kano's grief and
disappointment were nothing. She did not really care whether Tatsu ever
touched a brush again,whether, indeed, the whole visible world
fretted itself into dust. She and Tatsu had found each other! The rest
meant nothing at all!
Such moments were, however, the isolated and the exceptional. As the
days went by they became less frequent, and, by a strange law of
contrasts, with diminution exacted a heavier toll. The strain of
antagonisms within the little home became almost unbearable. Neither
Kano nor Tatsu would yield an inch, and between them, like a white
flower between stones, little Umè-ko was crushed. A new and threatening
trouble was that of poverty. Tatsu would not paint; Kano, in his
wretchedness could not.
The young wife went often now to the temple on the hill. Tatsu
generally went with her, remaining outside in the courtyard or at the
edge of the cliff, under the camphor tree, while she was praying
within. Her entreaties were all for divine guidance. She implored of
the gods a deeper insight into the cause of this strange trouble now
upon them, and besought, too, that in her husband, Tatsu, should be
awakened a recognition of his duties, and of the household needs. Kano
visited the temple, also, and spent long hours in conference with his
personal friend, the abbot. Even old Mata, abandoning for the moment
her Protestantism and reverting to the yearning (never entirely
stifled) for mystic practises, went to an old charlatan of a
fortune-teller, and purchased various charms and powders for driving
the demons from the unconscious Tatsu. Umè-ko soon discovered this, and
the fear that Tatsu would be poisoned added to a load of anxiety
By the end of October, Yeddo's most golden and most perfect month,
no hours brought happiness to the little bride but those stolen ones in
which she and her husband were wont to take long walks together,
sometimes into the country, again through the mazes of the great
capital. Even at these times of respite she was only too well aware how
Kano and the old nurse sat together at home, lamenting the gross
selfishness of the young,deciding, perhaps, upon the next loved
painting or household treasure to be sold for buying rice. Tatsu, now
as unreasonable and obstinate as Kano himself, still refused to admit
unhappiness or threatened destitution. He and Umè-ko could go to the
mountains, he said. The mountains were, after all, their true home.
Once there the Sennin and the deities of cloud would see that they did
On an afternoon very near the end of the month the young couple took
such a walk together. Their course lay eastward, crossing at right
angles the main streets of the great city, until they reached the
shores of the Sumida River, winding down like a road of glass. They had
emerged into the famous district of Asakusa, where the great temple of
Kwannon the Merciful attracts daily its thousands of worshippers. Here
the water course is bounded by fashionable tea-houses, many stories
high, and here the great arched bridges are always crowded. Leaving
this busy heart of things, they sauntered northward, finding lonelier
shores, and soon wide fields of green, until they reached a bank
whereon grew a single leaning willow. The body of this tree, bending
outward, sent its long, nerveless leaves in a perpetual green rain to
the surface of the stream, where sudden swarms of minnows, like shivers
in a glass, assailed the deceptive bait. The roots of the treegreat
yellowish, twisted ropes of rootsclutched air, earth, and water in
their convolutions. Among them the current, swifter here than in
mid-stream, uttered at times a guttural, uncanny sound as of spectral
Umè-ko stood, one slender arm about the trunk, looking out, with
mournful eyes, upon the passing river show. On the farther bank grew a
continuous wall of cherry trees in yellowing leaf, and above them
glowed the first hint of the coming sunset. Rising against the sky a
temple roof, tilted like the keel of a sunken vessel, cut sharp lines
into the crimson light.
Tatsu flung himself full length upon the bank. He patted the soil
with its springing grasses, and felt his heart flow out in love to it.
Then he reached up, caught at the drifting gauze of Umè's sleeve, and
made as if to pull her down. Umè clasped the tree more tightly.
Tatsu, she said, I implore you not to think always of me. Look,
beloved, the thin white sails of the rice-boats pass, and, over yonder,
children in scarlet petticoats dance beneath the trees.
I have eyes but for my wife, said wilful Tatsu.
Umè-ko drew the sleeve away. She would not meet his smile. Alas,
shall I forever obscure beauty!
There is no beauty now but in you! You are the sacred mirror which
reflects for me all loveliness.
Dear lord, those words are almost blasphemy, said Umè, in a
frightened whisper. Look, now, beloved, the light of the sun sinks
down. Soon the great moon will come to us.
What care I for a distant moon, oh, Dragon Maid, laughed Tatsu.
Umè's outstretched arm fell heavily to her side. Alas! she said
again. From deepest happiness may come the deepest pain. You dream not
of the hurt you give.
I give no hurt at all that I cannot more than heal, cried Tatsu,
in his masterful way. But Umè's lips still quivered, and she turned her
face from him.
In the silence that followed, the water among the willow roots gave
out a rush and gurgle, a sound of liquid merriment,perhaps the laugh
of a Kappa or river sprite, mocking the perplexities of men. Umè-ko
leaned over instantly, staring down into the stream.
[Illustration: Umè-ko leaned over instantly, staring down into the
How deep it is, and strong, she whispered, as if to her own
thought That which fell in here would be carried very swiftly out to
Tatsu smiled dreamily upon her. In his delight at her beauty, the
delicate poise of body with its long, gray drifting sleeves, he did not
realize the meaning of her words. One little foot in its lacquered shoe
and rose-velvet thong, crushed the grasses at the very edge of the
bank. Suddenly the earth beneath her shivered. It parted in a long
black fissure, and then sank, with sob and splash, into the hurrying
water. Umè tottered and clung to the tree. Tatsu, springing up at a
single bound, caught her back into safety. The very branches above them
shook as if in sentient fear. Umè felt herself pressed,welded against
her husband's side in such an agony of strength that his beating heart
seemed to be in her own body. She heard the breath rasp upward in his
throat and catch there, inarticulate. He began dragging her backward,
foot by foot. At a safe distance he suddenly sankrather fellto
earth bearing her with him, and began moaning over her, caressing and
fondling her as a tiger might a rescued cub.
Never go near that stream again! he said hoarsely, as soon as he
could speak at all. Hear me, Umè-ko, it is my command! Never again
approach that tree. It is a goblin tree. Some dead, unhappy woman,
drowned here in the self-death, must inhabit it and would entice you to
destruction. Oh, Umè, my wife,my wife! I saw the black earth grinning
beneath your feet. I cannot bear it! Come away from this place at
once,at once! The river itself may reach out snares to us.
Yes, lord, I will come, she panted, trying to loosen the rigid
arms, but I am faint. This high bank is safe, now. And, lord, when you
so embrace and crush me my strength does not return.
Tatsu grudgingly relaxed his hold. Rest here then, close beside
me, he said. I shall not trust you, even an inch from me.
The river current in the tree roots laughed aloud.
Across and beyond the road of glass, the sky grew cold now and blue,
like the side of a dead fish. A glow subtle and unmistakable as perfume
tingled up through the dusk.
The Lady Moon, whispered Umè, softly. Freeing her little hands she
joined them, bent her head, and gave the prayer of welcome to O Tsuki
Tatsu watched her gloomily. I pray to no moon, he said. I pray to
nothing in this place.
A huge coal barge on its way to the Yokohama harbor glided close to
them along the dark surface of the tide. At the far end of the barge a
fire was burning, and above it, from a round black cauldron, boiling
rice sent up puffs of white, fragrant steam. The red light fell upon a
ring of faces, evidently a mother and her children; and on the broad,
naked back of the father who leaned far outward on his guiding pole.
Umè turned her eyes away. I think I can walk now, she said.
Tatsu rose instantly, and drew her upward by the hands. A shudder of
remembered horror caught him. He pressed her once more tightly to his
heart. Umè-ko, Umè-ko, my wife,my Dragon Wife! he cried aloud in a
voice of love and anguish. I have sought you through the torments of a
thousand lives. Shall anything have power to separate us now?
Nothing can part us now, butdeath, said Umè-ko, and glanced, for
an instant, backward to the river.
Tatsu winced. Use not the word! It attracts evil.
It is a word that all must some day use, persisted the young wife,
gently. Tell me, beloved, if death indeed should come?
It would be for both. It could not be for one alone.
No, no! she cried aloud, lifting her white face as if in appeal to
heaven. Do not say that, lord! Do not think it! If I, the lesser one,
should be chosen of death, surely you would live for our father,for
the sake of art!
I would kill myself just as quickly as I could! said Tatsu,
doggedly. What comfort would painting be? I painted because I had you
Becauseyouhadmenot, mused little Umè-ko, her eyes fixed
strangely upon the river.
Come, said Tatsu, rudely, did I not forbid you to speak of death?
Too much has been said. Besides, the fate of ordinary mortals should
have no potency for such as we. When our time comes for pause before
rebirth we shall climb together some high mountain peak, lifting our
arms and voices to our true parents, the gods of storm and wind. They
will lean to us, beloved,they will rush downward in a great passion
of joy, catching us and straining us to immortality!
By this they were from sight and hearing of the river, and had begun
to thread the maze of narrow city streets in which now lamps and tiny
electric bulbs and the bobbing lanterns of hurrying jinrikisha men had
begun to twinkle. In the darker alleys the couple walked side by side.
Umè, at times, even rested a small hand on her husband's sleeve. In the
broad, well-lighted thoroughfares he strode on some paces in advance
while Umè followed, in decorous humility, as a good wife should. Few
words passed between them. The incident at the willow tree had left a
gloomy aftermath of thought.
In the Kano home the simple night meal of rice, tea, soup, and
pickled vegetables was already prepared. Mata motioned them to their
places in the main room where old Kano was already seated, and served
them in the gloomy silence which was part of the general strain.
Throughout the whole place reproach hung like a miasma.
This evening, almost for the first time, Tatsu reflected, in full
measure, the despondency of his companions. The elder man, glancing now
and again toward him, evidently restrained with difficulty a flow of
bitter words. Once he spoke to his daughter, fixing sunken eyes upon
her. The crimson lacquered wedding-chest that was your mother's,
to-day has been sold to buy us food. Umè clenched her little hands
together, then bowed far over, in token that she had heard. There were
no words to say. For weeks now they had lived upon such money as
this,namida-kane,tear-money the Japanese call it.
Tatsu, helpless in his place, scowled and muttered for a moment,
then rose and hurried out, leaving the meal unfinished. Umè watched him
sadly, but did not follow. This was so unusual a thing that Tatsu,
alone in their chamber, was at first astonished, then alarmed. For ten
minutes or more he paced up and down the narrow space, pride urging him
to await his wife's dutiful appearance. In a short while more he felt
the tension to be unbearable. A sinister silence flooded the house. He
hurried back to the main room to find that Umè and old Kano were not
there. He began searching the house, all but the kitchen. Instinctively
he avoided old Mata's domain, knowing it to be the lair of an enemy. At
last necessity drove him to it also. Her face leered at him through a
parted shoji. He gave a bound in her direction. Instantly she had
slammed the panels together; and before he could reopen them had armed
herself with a huge, glittering fish-knife. None of your mountain
wild-cat ways for me! she screamed.
In spite of wretchedness and alarm the boy laughed aloud. I wish
not to hurt you, old fool, he said. I desire nothing but to know
where my wife is.
With her father, snapped the other.
Yes, but where,where? And why did she go without telling me?
Where did he take her? Answer quickly. I must follow them.
I have no answers for you, said Mata. And even if I had you would
not get them. Go, go, out of my sight, you Bearer of Discord! she
railed, feeling that at last an opportunity for plain speaking had
arrived. This was a happy house until your evil presence sought it.
Don't glare at me, and take postures. I care neither for your tall
figure nor your flashing eyes. You may bewitch the others, but not old
Mata! Oh, Dragon Painter! Oh, Dragon Painter! The greatest since
Sesshu! she mimicked, show me a few of the wonderful things you were
to paint us when once you were Kano's son! Bah! you were given my
nursling, as a wolf is given a young fawn,that was all you wanted.
You will never paint!
Tell me where she is or I'll began the boy, raving.
No you won't, jeered Mata, now in a transport of fury. Back,
back, out of my kitchen and my presence or this knife will plunge its
way into you as into a devil-fish. Oh, it would be a sight! I have no
love for you!
I care not for your love, old Baba, old fiend, nor for your knife.
Where did my Umè go? You grin like an old she-ape! Never, upon my
mountains did I see so vicious a beast.
Then go back to your mountains! You are useless here. You will not
even paint. Go where you belong!
The mountains,the mountains! sobbed the boy, under his breath.
Yes, I must go to them or my soul will go without me! Perhaps the
kindlier spirits of the air will tell me where she is! With a last
distracted gesture he fled from the house and out into the street. Mata
listened with satisfaction as she heard him racing up the slope toward
the hillside. I wish it were indeed a Kiu Shiu peak he climbed,
instead of a decent Yeddo cliff, she muttered to herself, as she tied
on her apron and began to wash the supper dishes. But, alas, he will
be back all too soon, perhaps before my master and Miss Umè come down
from the temple.
In this surmise the old dame was, for once, at fault. Tatsu did not
return until full daylight of the next morning. He had been wandering,
evidently, all night long among the chill and dew-wet branches of the
mountain shrubs. His silken robe was torn and stained as had been the
blue cotton dress, that first day of his coming. At sight of his sunken
eyes and haggard look Umè-ko's heart cried out to him, and it was with
difficulty that she restrained her tears. But she still had a last
appeal to make, and this was to be the hour.
In response to his angry questions, she would answer nothing but
that she and her father had business at the temple. More than this, she
would not say. As he persisted, pleading for her motives in so leaving
him, and heaping her with the reproaches of tortured love, she suddenly
threw herself on the mat before him, in a passion of grief such as he
had not believed possible to her. She clasped his knees, his feet, and
besought him, with all the strength and pathos of her soul, to make at
least one more attempt to paint. He, now in equal torment, with tears
running along his bronzed face, confessed to her that the power seemed
to have gone from him. Some demon, he said, must have stolen it from
him while he slept, for now the very touch of a brush, the look of
paint, frenzied him.
Umè-ko went again to her father, saying that she again had failed.
The strain was now, indeed, past all human endurance. The little home
became a charged battery of tragic possibilities. Each moment was a
separate menace, and the hours heaped up a structure already tottering.
At dawn of the next day, Tatsu, who after a restless and unhappy
night had fallen into heavy slumber, awoke, with a start, alone. A pink
light glowed upon his paper shoji; the plum tree, now entirely
leafless, threw a splendid shadow-silhouette. At the eaves, sparrows
chattered merrily. It was to be a fair day: yet instantly, even before
he had sprung, cruelly awake, to his knees, he knew that the dreaded
Something was upon him.
On the silken head-rest of Umè's pillow was fastened a long, slender
envelope, such as Japanese women use for letters. Tatsu recoiled from
it as from a venomous reptile. Throwing himself face down upon the
floor he groaned aloud, praying his mountain gods to sweep away from
his soul the black mist of despair that now crawled, cold, toward it.
Why should Umè-ko have left him again, and at such an hour? Why should
she have pinned to her pillow a slip of written paper? He would not
read it! Yes, yes,he must,he must read instantly. Perhaps the
Something was still to be prevented! He caught the letter up, held it
as best he could in quivering hands, and read:
Because of my unworthiness, O master, my heart's beloved, I have
been allowed to come between you and the work you were given of the
gods to do. The fault is all mine, and must come from my evil deeds in
a previous life. By sacrifice of joy and life I now attempt to expiate
it. I go to the leaning willow where the water speaks. One thing only I
shall ask of you,that you admit to your mind no thought of
self-destruction, for this would heavily burden my poor soul, far off
in the Meido-land. Oh, live, my beloved, that I, in spirit, may still
be near you. I will come. You shall know that I am near,only, as the
petals of the plum tree fall in the wind of spring, so must my earthly
joy depart from me. Farewell, O thou who art loved as no mortal was
ever loved before thee.
Your erring wife,
* * * * * *
In his fantastic night-robe with its design of a huge fish,
ungirdled and wild of eyes, Tatsu rushed through the drowsy streets of
Yeddo. The few pedestrians, catching sight of him, withdrew, with cries
of fear, into gateways and alleys.
At the leaning willow he paused, threw an arm about it, and swayed
far over like a drunkard, his eyes blinking down upon the stream.
Umè-ko's words, at the time of their utterance scarcely noted, came now
as an echo, hideously clear. That which fell here would be carried
very swiftly out to sea. His nails broke against the bark. She,his
wife,must have been thinking of it even then, while he,he,blind
brute and dotardsprawled upon the earth feeding his eyes of flesh
upon the sight of her. But, after all, could she have really done it?
Surely the gods, by miracle, must have checked so disproportionate a
sacrifice! Suddenly his wandering gaze was caught and held by a little
shoe among the willow roots. It was of black lacquer, with a thong of
rose-colored velvet. With one cry, that seemed to tear asunder the
physical walls of his body, he loosed his arm and fell.
His body was found some moments later by old Kano and a bridge
keeper. It was caught among the pilings of a boat-landing several
hundred feet farther down the tide. A thin, sluggish stream of blood
followed it like a clue, and, when he was dragged up upon the bank,
gushed out terribly from a wound near his temple. He had seized, in
falling, Umè-ko's lacquered geta, and his fingers could not be
unclasped. In spite of the early hour (across the river the sun still
peered through folds of shimmering mist) quite a crowd of people
It is the newly adopted son of Kano Indara, they whispered, one to
another. He is but a few weeks married to Kano's daughter, and is
called 'The Dragon Painter.'
The efficient river-police summoned an ambulance, and had him taken
to the nearest hospital. Here, during an entire day, every art was
employed to restore him to consciousness, but without success. Life,
indeed, remained. The flow of blood was stopped, and the wound
bandaged, but no sign of intelligence awoke.
It is to be an illness of many weeks, and of great peril, answered
the chief physician that night to Kano's whispered question. The old
man turned sorrowfully away and crept home, wondering whether now, at
this extremity, the gods would utterly desert him.
Mata, prostrated at first by the loss of her nursling, soon rallied
her practical old wits. She went, in secret, to the hospital, demanded
audience of the house physician, and gave to him all details of the
strange situation which had culminated in Umè's desperate act of
self-renunciation, and induced Tatsu's subsequent madness. She did not
ask for a glimpse of the sick man. Indeed she made no pretence of
kindly feeling toward him, for, in conclusion, she said, Now, August
Sir, if, with your great skill in such matters, you succeed in giving
back to this young wild man the small amount of intelligence he was
born with, I caution you, above all things, keep from his reach such
implements of self-destruction as ropes, knives, and poisons. Oh, he is
an untamed beast, Doctor San. His love for my poor young mistress was
that of a lion and a demon in one. He will certainly slay himself when
he has the strength. Not that I care! His death would bring relief to
me, for in our little home he is like the spirit of storm caged in a
flower. Would I had never seen him, or felt the influence of his evil
karma! But my poor old master still dotes on him, and, with Miss Umé
vanished, if this Dragon Painter, too, should die at once, Kano could
not endure the double blow! The old woman began to sob in her upraised
sleeve, apologizing through her tears for the discourtesy. The
physician comforted her with kind words, and thanked her very sincerely
for the visit. Her disclosures did, indeed, throw light upon a
From the hospital the old servant made her way to Uchida's hotel, to
learn that he had gone the day before to Kiu Shiu. With this tower of
strength removed Mata felt, more than ever, that Kano's sole friend was
herself. The loss of Umè was still to her a horror and a shock. The
eating loneliness of long, empty days at home had not yet begun; but
Mata was to know them, also.
Kano, during the first precarious days of his son's illness,
practically deserted the cottage, and lived, day and night, in the
hospital. His pathetic old figure became habitual to the halls and
gardens near his son. The physicians and nurses treated him with
delicate kindness, forcing food and drink upon him, and urging him to
rest himself in one of the untenanted rooms. They believed the
deepening lines of grief to be traced by the loss of an only daughter,
rather than by this illness of a newly adopted son. In truth the old
man seldom thought of Umè-ko. He was watching the life that flickered
in Tatsu's prostrate body as a lost, starving traveller watches a
lantern approaching over the moor. The gods preserve him,the gods
grant his life to the Kano name, to art, and the glory of Nippon, so
prayed the old man's shrivelled lips a hundred times each day.
After a stupor of a week, fever laid hold of Tatsu, bringing
delirium, delusion, and mad raving. At times he believed himself
already dead, and in the heavenly isle of Ho-rai with Umè. His
gestures, his whispered words of tenderness, brought tears to the eyes
of those who listened. Again he lived through that terrible dawn when
first he had read her letter of farewell. Each word was bitten with
acid into his mind. Again and again he repeated the phrases, now dully,
as a wearied beast goes round a treadmill, now with weeping, and in
convulsions of a grief so fierce that the merciful opiate alone could
The fever slowly began to ebb. For him the shores of conscious
thought lay scorched and blackened by memory. More unwillingly than he
had been dragged up from the river's cold embrace was he now held back
from death. His first lucid words were a petition. Do not keep me
alive. In the name of Kwannon the Merciful, to whom my Umè used to
pray, do not bind me again upon the wheel of life! Although he fought
against it with all the will power left to him, strength brightened in
his veins. Stung into new anguish he prayed more fervently, Let me
pass now! I cannot bear more pain. I 'll die in spite of you. Oh, icy
men of science, you but give me the means with which to slay myself! I
warn you, at the first chance I shall escape you all!
Mad youth, it is my duty to give you back your life even though you
are to use it as a coward, said the chief physician.
Once when his suffering had passed beyond the power of all earthly
alleviation, and it seemed as if each moment would fling the shuddering
victim into the dark land of perpetual madness, Kano urged that the
venerable abbot from the Shingon temple on the hill be summoned. He
came in full regalia of office,splendid in crimson and gold. With him
were two acolytes, young and slender figures, also in brocade, but with
hoods of a sort of golden gauze drawn forward so as to conceal the
faces within. They bore incense burners, sets of the mystic vagra, and
other implements of esoteric ceremony. The high priest carried only his
tall staff of polished wood, tipped with brass, and surmounted by a
glittering, symbolic design, the Wheel of the Law, the hub of which
is a lotos flower.
Tatsu, at sight of them, tossed angrily on his bed, railing aloud,
in his thin, querulous voice, and scoffing at any power of theirs to
comfort, until, in spite of himself, a strange calm seemed to move
about him and encircle him. He listened to the chanted words, and the
splendid invocations, spoken in a tongue older than the very gods of
his own land, wondering, the while, at his own acquiescence. Surely
there was a sweet presence in the room that held him as a smile of love
might hold. He was sorry when the ceremony came to an end. The abbot,
whispering to the others, sent all from the room but himself, Tatsu,
and the smaller of the acolytes, who still knelt motionless at the head
of the sick man's couch, holding upward an incense burner in the shape
of a lotos seed-pod. The blue incense smoke breathed upward, sank again
as if heavy with its own delight, encircling, almost as if with
conscious intention, the kneeling figure, and then moved outward to
Tatsu and the enclosing walls.
My son, began the abbot, leaning gently over the bed, I have a
No, no, moaned the boy, his wound opening anew. Do not speak it.
I was beginning to feel a little peace from pain. Do not speak of her.
You can have no message.
I have known Kano Umè-ko her whole life long, persisted the holy
man. She is worthy of a nobler love than this you are giving her.
There may be love more noble, but nonenonemore terrible than
mine, wailed out the sick man. I cannot even die. I am quickened by
the flames that burn me; fed by the viper, Life, that feeds on my
despair. My flesh cankers with a self-renewing sore! Could I but bathe
my wounds in death!
Poor suffering one, this flesh is only the petal fallen from a
perfected bloom! Whether her tender body, or this racked and twitching
frame upon your bed, all flesh is illusion. Think of your soul and its
immortal lives! Think of your wife's pure soul, and for its sake make
effort to defy and vanquish this demon of self-destruction.
Was not her own deed that of self-destruction? challenged Tatsu,
his sunken eyes set in bitter triumph upon the abbot. I shall but go
upon the road she went.
To compare your present motives with your wife's is blasphemy,
cried the other. Her deed held the glory of self-sacrifice, that you
might gain enlightenment; while you, railing impotently here, giving
out affront against the gods, are as the wild beast on the mountain
that cannot bear the arrow in its side.
And it is true, said Tatsu, I cannot bear the arrow,I cannot
endure this pain. Show me the way to death, if you have true pity. Let
me go to her who waits me in the Meido-land.
She does not wait you there, oh, grief deluded boy, then said the
priest. The message that I brought is this: bound still to earth by
her great love for you her soul is near you,in this room,now, as I
speak, seeking an entrance to your heart, and these wild railings hold
her from you.
Tatsu half started from his pillow, and sank back. I believe you
not. You trick me as you would a child, he moaned.
The priest knelt slowly by the bed. In the name of Shaka,whom I
worship,these words of mine are true. Here, in this room, at this
moment, your Umè-ko is waiting.
But I want her too, whispered the piteous lips. Not only her
aerial spirit! I want her smile,her little hands to touch me, the
golden echo of her laughter,I want my wife, I say! Oh, you gods,
demons, preta of a thousand hells! he shrieked, springing to a sitting
posture in his bed, and beating the air about him with distracted
hands. These are the memories that whir down and close about me in a
cloud of stinging wasps! I cannot endure! In the name of Shaka, whom
you worship, strike me dead with the staff you hold,then will I bless
you and believe! In a transport of madness, he leaned out, clutching
at the staff, clawing down the stiff robes from the abbot's throat,
snarling, praying, menacing with a vehemence so terrible, that the
little acolyte, flinging down the still-burning koro, screamed aloud
It was many hours before the nurses and physicians could quiet this
last paroxysm. Exhaustion and a relapse followed. The long, dull
waiting on hope began anew. After this no visitor but Kano was allowed.
He entered the sick chamber only at certain hours, placing himself near
the head of the bed where Tatsu need not see him. He never spoke except
in answer to questions addressed him directly by his son, and these
came infrequently enough. With this second slow return to vitality,
Tatsu's most definite emotion seemed to be hatred of his adopted
father. He writhed at the sound of that timid, approaching step, and
dreaded the first note of the deprecating voice.
Kano was fully aware of this aversion. He realized that, perhaps, it
would be better for Tatsu if he did not come at all; yet in this one
issue the selfishness of love prevailed. Age and despair were to be
kept at bay. He had no weapons but the hours of comparative peace he
spent at Tatsu's bedside. Full twenty years seemed added to the old
man's burden of life. His back was stooped far over; his feet shuffled
along the wooden corridors with the sound of the steps of one too
heavily burdened. He never walked now without the aid of his friendly
bamboo cane. The threat of Tatsu's self-destruction echoed always in
his ears. Away from the actual presence of his idol it gnawed him like
a famished wolf, and his mind tormented itself with fantastic and
dreadful possibilities. Once Tatsu had hidden under his foreign pillow
the china bowl in which broth was served. Kano whispered his discovery
to the nurse, and when she wondered, explained to her with shivering
earnestness that it was undoubtedly the boy's intention to break it
against the iron bedstead the first moment he was left alone, and with
a shard sever one of his veins. Tatsu grinned like a trapped badger
when it was wrested from him, and said that he would find a way in
spite of them all. After this not even a medicine bottle was left in
the room, and the watch over the invalid was strengthened.
But, as old Kano remonstrated, even though we prevent him for a
few weeks more, how will it be when he can stand and walk,when he is
stronger than I? To these questions came no answer. The second
convalescence, so eagerly prayed for, became now a source of increasing
dread. Something must be done,some way to turn his morbid thoughts
away from self-destruction. The old man climbed often, now, to the
temple on the hill.
The hospital room, in an upper story, was small, with matted floors,
and a single square window to the east. The narrow white iron bed was
set close to this window, so that the invalid might gaze out freely.
Tatsu did not ask that it be changed though, indeed, each recurrent
dawn brought martyrdom to him. The sound of sparrows at the eaves, the
smell of dew, the look of the morning mist as it spread great wings
above the city, hovering for an instant before its flight, the glow of
the first pink light upon his coverlid, each was an iron of memory
searing a soul already faint with pain. The attendant often marvelled
why, at this hour, Tatsu buried his face from sight, and, emerging into
clearer day, bore the look of one who had met death in a narrow pass.
At noon, when the window showed a square of turquoise blue, he grew
to watch with some faint pulse of interest the changing hues of light,
and the clouds that shifted lazily aside, or heaped themselves up into
rounded battlements of snow. Quite close to the window a single cherry
branch, sweeping downward, cut space with a thick, diagonal line.
Silvery lichens frilled the upper surface of the bark, and at the tip
of each leafless twig, brown budssmall armored magazines of
beautyhinted already of the spring's rebirth. Life was all about him,
and he hated life. Why should cherry blooms and sparrows dare to come
again,why should that old man near him wheeze and palpitate with
life, whywhyshould he, Tatsu, be held from his one friend, Death,
when she, the essence of all life and beauty,she who should have been
immortal,drifted alone, helpless, a broken white sea-flower, on some
black, awful tide?
In the midst of such dreary imaginings, old Kano, late in the last
month of the year, crept in upon his son. He was an hour earlier than
his custom. Also there was something unusual,a new energy, perhaps a
new fear, noticeable in face and voice. But Tatsu, still bleeding with
his visions of the dawn, saw nothing of this. The premature visit
irritated him. Go, go, he cried, turning his face sharply away. This
is a full hour early. Am I to have no moments to myself?
My son, my son, pleaded the old man, I have come a little before
time, because I have brought
Do not call me son, interrupted the petulant boy. It is
wretchedness to look upon you. She would be here now, but for you. You
killed her! You drove her to it!
No, Tatsu, you wrong me! As I have assured you, and as her own
words say,she made the sacrifice from her own heart. It was that her
presence obscured your genius, my son. She was unselfish and noble
beyond all other women. Shewentfor your sake
For my sake! jeered the other. You mean, for the sake of the
things you want me to paint! Well, I tell you again, I will neither
live nor paint! Yes, that touches you. Human agony is nothing to
your heart of jade. You would catch these tears I shed to mix a new
pigment! You do not regret her. You would think the price cheap, if
only I will paint. I hate all pictures! I curse the things I have done!
Would that, indeed, I had the tongue of a dragon, that I might lick
them from the silk!
Tatsu, my poor son, be less violent. I urge nothing! The gods must
do with you as they will, but here is somethinga letter Fumbling,
with shaking fingers, in his long, black sleeve, he drew out a filmy,
white rectangle. The look of it, so like to one pinned to a certain
pillow in the dawn, sent a new thrill of misery through the boy.
A letter! Who would write me a letter,unless souls in the
Meido-land can write! Back, back,do not touch me, or ere I kill
myself I will find strength to slay you first. I will drag you with me
to the underworld, as I journey in searching for my wife, and fling
your craven soul to devils, as one would fling offal to a dog! Speak
not to me of painting, nor of her!
At the sight of extra attendants hurrying in, Tatsu waved them to
leave him, threw himself back, stark, upon the pillow, and closed his
eyes so tightly that the wrinkles radiated in black lines from the
corners. He panted heavily, as from a long race. His forehead twitched
and throbbed with purple veins.
Flung down cruelly from the exhilaration which a moment before had
been his, old Kano seated himself on a chair directly in sight of
Tatsu's bed. The nurses stole away, leaving the two men together. Each
remained motionless, except for hurried breathing, and the pulsing of
distended veins. A crow, perched on the cherry branch outside the
window, tilted a cold, inquisitive eye into the room.
Tatsu was the first to move. The reaction of excitement was creeping
upon him, drawing the sting from pain. He turned toward his visitor and
began to study, with an impersonal curiosity, the aspect of the
pathetic figure. Kano was sitting, utterly relaxed, at the edge of the
cane-bottomed foreign chair His head hung forward, and his lids were
closed. For the first time Tatsu noted how scanty and how white his
hair had grown; how thin and wrinkled the fine old face. Something akin
to compassion rose warm and human in the looker's throat. He had opened
his lips to speak kindly (it would have been the first gentle word
since Umè's loss) when the sight of his name, in handwriting, on the
letter, froze the very air about him, and held him for an instant a
prisoner of fear. The envelope dangled loosely from Kano's fingers. On
it was traced, in Umè-ko's beautiful, unmistakable hand, For my
beloved husband, Kano Tatsu.
The letter, the letter, he cried hoarsely, pointing downward. It
is mine,give it!
Kano raised his head. The reaction of excitement was on him too, and
it had brought for him a patient hopelessness. It did not seem to
matter a great deal just now what Tatsu did or thought. He would never
paint. That alone was enough blackness to fill a hell of everlasting
Give it to me, insisted the boy, leaning far out over the bed.
Did you bring it only to torture me? Quick, quick,it is mine!
I brought it to give, and you repulsed me. I had found it but this
morning, in your painting room, pinned to a silken frame on which you
had begun her picture! She must have put it there beforebefore
If you have a shred of pity or of love for me, give it and go,
gasped the boy.
Kano rose with slow dignity. Yes, it is for you, and I will give it
and leave, as you ask, if I can have your promise
Yes, yes, I promise everything,anything,I will not strive to
slay myself,at least until after your return
That is enough, said the old man, and with a sigh held the missive
out. Tatsu snatched it through the air. The perfume of plum blossoms
was stealing from it. Once alone he crushed the delicate tissue against
eyes and lips and throat. He rolled upon the bed in agony, only to
press again to his heart this balm of her written words. It seemed to
him, then, that the letter might really have come from the Meido-land.
Could it be true, as the old priest said, that her soul continually
hovered near, waiting only for him to give it recognition? Umè,
Umè,my wife! Come back to me! he cried aloud in an agony so great
that it should drag her backward through that dark shadow-world,not
only the phantom of what she was, but Umè-ko herself, with the
flower-like body, and the smile of light. He opened the missive slowly,
that not a shred should be torn, and spread the thin tissue smoothly on
his foreign pillow.
This, beloved, being the forty-ninth day,the
seven-times-seventh-day after my passing,when souls of those departed
are given special privilege to return to earth, I speak thus, dumbly,
to my lord. Although the fingers tracing now these timid lines are not
permitted to touch you, oh, believe that, as you read, I wait at the
door of your heart. O thou who art so dear, give to me, I pray, a
shelter and a habitation. Then, because of my great love, I shall be
one with you, bringing you comfort and myself great blessedness. O
thou, who art still my husband, I beseech you to realize that any act
on your part of violence and self-destruction will hurl our lives apart
to the full width of the ten existences; so that, through another
thousand years of unfulfilment we shall be groping in the dark, like
children who have lost their way, calling ever, each on the name of the
The birds of the air know, when storms arise, where to find their
nests. Even the fox has shelter in the hill. Shall the soul of Umè-ko
seek and find no shelter? Send me not forth again in lonely travail!
Open your heart to me, O thou who art loved as no man was ever loved
before thee! Umè-ko.
Kano, listening at the door, thought that the boy had fainted. One
nurse, then another, crept near. At last the old man, unable to endure
the strain, peered through a crevice. He fell back instantly, pressing
both hands upon his mouth to stifle the cry of joy. Tatsu alive, awake,
with eyes opened wide, gazed upward smiling, as into the face of
The New Year festival, Shogatsu, had come and gone: white-flower
buds gleamed like pearls on the lichen-covered, twisted limbs of the
old dragon-plum by Umè's chamber ledge, when Tatsu and his adopted
father entered once more together the little Kano home. If the young
husband had realized, all along, what this coming ordeal might mean, he
had given no sign of it. Kano and the physicians feared for him. The
last test, it was to be, of sanity and of endurance. The actual hour of
departure from the hospital fell late in January. More than once before
a day had been decreed, only to be postponed because of a sudden
physical weakeningmysterious and apparently without causeon the
part of the patient.
I will return with you as soon as I may, Tatsu had assured his
father on the day of reading Umè's letter. I will try to live, and
even to paint. Only, I pray you, speak not the name ofher I have
This promise was given willingly enough. Kano's chief difficulty now
was to hide his growing happiness. It was much to his interest that the
subject of Umè be avoided. Even a dragon painter from the mountains
must know something of certain primitive obligations to the dead, and
for Umè not even an ihai had been set up by that of her mother in the
family shrine. When Tatsu learned this he would marvel, and probably be
angry. If by his own condition of silence he were debarred from
attacking Kano, so much the better for Kano.
It was this disgraceful and unheard-of negligencea matter already
of common gossip in the neighborhoodthat added the last measure of
bitterness to old Mata's grief. Was her master demented through sorrow
that he so challenged public censure, and was willing to cast dishonor
upon the name of his only child? Hour after hour in the lonely house
did the old dame seek to piece together the broken edges of her
shattered faith. The master had always been a religious man,
over-zealous, she had thought, in minute observances. Yet now he was
willing to neglect, to ignore, the very fundamental principles of
social decency. Personally he had seemed wretched enough after Umè's
loss. The kindly neighbors had at first marvelled aloud at his
whitening hair and heavily burdened frame. Mata, pleased at the
sympathy, did nothing to distract it; but in her heart she knew that it
was Tatsu's illness, not his daughter's death, that bore upon old Kano
like the winter snow upon his pines.
On that most sacred period of mourning, the seven-times-seventh day
after divine retirement, when the spirit is privileged to enter most
closely into the hearts of those that pray, Mata had believed that,
beyond doubt, the full ceremony would be held. Surely the sweet,
wandering soul was now to be given its kaimyo, was to be soothed by
prayer, and be refreshed by the ghostly essence of tea and rice and
fruit, placed before its ihai upon the shrine! What must the dead
girl's mother have been thinking all this time? Mata woke before the
dawn to pray. Kano, too, was awake early. She hurried to him, her first
words a petition. But, no, he had no thought, even on this day of all
days, for his child. He was off without his breakfast, an hour earlier
than usual, to the hospital, a letter in his hand. Mata literally fell
upon her knees before him, importuning him for the honor of the family
name, if not in love for Umè-ko, to give orders at the temple for the
holding of religious ceremonies. But Kano, himself almost in tears,
eager, excited, though obviously in quite another whirlpool of
emotions, urged her to be patient just a little longer. I think all
will yet be well, he assured her. I have some hope to-day!
All will yet be well! mocked the old dame through clenched teeth,
watching the bent old figure hurrying from her. As if anything could
ever again be well, with my young mistress dead, and not even her body
recovered for burial!
In spite of her dislike for Tatsu, the lonely woman found herself
watching, with some impatience, for the day of his actual return.
Successive postponements had fretted her, and sharpened curiosity. She
had not seen him since his illness. Upon that January noon when his
kuruma rolled slowly in under the gate-roof, followed by anxious Kano
and one of the male nurses from the hospital, she had turned toward him
the old look of resentment: but, instead of the brief and chilling
glance she had thought to use, found herself staring, gaping, in
amazement and incredulity. She did not believe, for the first moment,
that the wreck she saw was Tatsu. This bowed and shrunken ghost of
suffering,this loose, pallid semblance of a man, the beautiful,
defiant, compelling demigod of the mountains that had swept down upon
them! No! sorrow could wreak miracles of the soul, but no such physical
transformation as this!
She continued to watch furtively, in a sort of terror, the tall
figure as it was assisted from the kuruma and led, shambling, through
the house. The three moved on to the wing containing Umè's chamber, and
the painting room. Mata heard the fusuma close gently, the nurse's
voice give admonition to keep his spirit strong for this last stress,
heard old Kano falter, Farewell, my son, no one shall disturb you in
these rooms, and had barely time to regain her presence of mind as the
two men, Kano and the nurse, entered her kitchen. The former spoke:
Mata, your young master is to remain, unmolested, in that part of the
house. Do not offer him rice, or tea, or anything whatever. When he
needs and desires it he will himself emerge and ask for food. Above all
things, do not knock upon his fusuma or call his name. These are the
Exactly! corroborated the nurse, with a professional air.
Kashikomarimashita! muttered the old dame in sullen acquiescence.
You need not have feared that I should intrude upon him!
For three days and nights Tatsu remained to himself. The anxious
listeners heard at times the sound of restless pacing up and down,the
thin, sibilant noise of stockinged feet sliding on padded straw. Again
there would be a thud, as of a body fallen, or sunken heavily to the
floor. Kano, on the second day, pale with apprehension, went early to
the hospital for a revocation, or at least a modification of the
instructions. The doctor's mandate was the same, Do not go near him.
Life, as well as reason, may depend upon this battle with his own
despair. Only the gods can help him. To the gods, then, Kano went as
well; climbing the long, steep road to the temple, where he made
offerings and poured out from his anxious heart the very essence of
On the third day, Kano being thus absent, and old Mata alone in her
kitchen as nervous, she would have told you, as a fish with half its
scales off, she heard the fusuma of the distant room shudder, and then,
with a sound of feeble jerks, begin to separate. She knew that it was
Tatsu, and rallied herself for the approach. Through the shaded
corridor came a figure scarcely animate, moving it would seem in answer
to a soundless call. It entered the kitchen halting, and looking about
as one in an unfamiliar place. On a square stone brasier, fed with
glowing coals, the rice-pot steamed. The delicate vapor, tinged with
aroma of the cooking food, made a fine mist in the air. Suddenly he
thrust an arm out toward the fire. Rice!I am faint with hunger, he
whispered. As if the few words had taken his last store of strength, he
sank to the floor. Mata sprang to him. He had swooned. His face, young
and beautiful in spite of the centuries of pain upon it, lay back,
helpless, on her arm. She stared strangely down upon him, wondering
where the old antipathy had gone, and striving (for she was an
obstinate old soul, was Mata) consciously to recall it,but the core
of her hate was gone. Like a true woman she began to make self-excuses
for the change. It may have been because of this poor boy and his
unhappy karma that my nursling had to die, said she. But, look what
love has done to him! Death is only another name for paradise compared
with the agony sunken deep into this young face!
She placed him gently, at full length, upon the padded floor. She
chafed the flaccid wrists, the temples, the veins about his ears, and
then, leaning over, blew on the heavy lids. Umè-ko, my wife, my wife,
he whispered, and tried to smile.
A wave of pity swept from the old dame's mind the last barrier of
mistrust. Yes, Master, here is Umè's nurse, she said in soothing
tones. Not Umè-ko,she has gone away from us,but the poor old nurse
who loves her. I will serve you for her sake. Here, put your head upon
this pillow,she has often used it,and now lie still until old Mata
brings you rice and tea. She bustled off, her hands clattering busily
among the cups and trays. As she worked, thankful, through her great
agitation, for the familiar offices, she fought down, one by one, those
great, distending sobs that push so hard a way upward through wrinkled
Tatsu was still a little dazed. His eyes followed her about the room
with a plaintive regard, as if not entirely sure that she was real.
Did you say that you wereUmè'snurse, he asked.
Yes. Don't you remember me, Master Tatsu? I am Mata, the old
servant, and your Umè's nurse. IIwas not always kind to you, I
fear. I opposed your marriage, fearing for her some such sorrow as that
which came. But it is past. The gods allowed it. I will now, for her
sake, love and serve you,my true master you shall be from this day,
because I can see that your heart is gnawed forever by that black moth,
grief, as mine is. Old Kano does not grieve,he is a man of stone, of
mud! she cried. But I must not speak of his sins, yet; here is the
good tea, Master, and the rice. She fed him like a child, allowing, at
first, but a single sip of tea, a grain or two of rice. He, in his
weakness, was gentle and obedient, like a good child, eating all she
bade him, and refraining when she told him that he had enough. It was a
new Tatsu that sorrow had given to the Kano home.
But more wonderful than the transformation in him was, in Mata's
thought, the complete reversal of her own emotions. Even in the midst
of service she stopped to wonder how, so soon, it could be sweet to
serve him,to minister thus to the man she had called the evil genius
of the house. In some mysterious way it seemed that through him the
dead young wife was being served. In the smile he bent upon her, the
old nurse fancied that she caught a tenderness as of Umè's smile.
Perhaps, indeed, the homeless soul, denied its usual shelter in the
shrine, made sanctuary of the husband's earthly frame. Perhaps, too,
Kano had hoped for this, and so refused the ihai. However these high
things might be, Mata knew she had gained strange comfort in the very
fact of Tatsu's presence, in the companionship of his suffering.
When, being nourished, Tatsu insisted on sitting upright, and had
recalled the scene about him, his first question was of Umè's shrine,
where the ihai had been set, and what the kaimyo. This loosened Mata's
tongue, and, with a sensation of deep relief, she began to empty her
heart of its pent-up acrimony. Tatsu listened now, attentively; not as
would have been his way three months before with gesticulations and
frequent interruptions, but gravely, with consideration, as one intent
to learn the whole before forming an opinion. Even at the end he would
say nothing but the words, Strange, strange; there must be a reason
that you have not guessed.
But we will get the ihai, will we not, Master? Together, when you
are strong, we will climb the long road to the temple? she questioned
Indeed we shall, said Tatsu, with his heartrending smile; for at
best, the thoughts of Kano Indara cannot be our thoughts. He let her
At this the other burst into such a passion of tears that she could
not speak, but rocked, sobbing, to and fro, on the mats beside him. He
wondered, with a feeling not far from envy, at this open demonstration
I cannot weep at all, he said. Then, a little later, when she had
become more calm, Are your tears for me or for Umè-ko?
For both, for both, was the sobbing answer. For her, that she had
to die,for you, that you must live.
Both are things to weep for, said the boy, and stared out straight
before him, as one seeing a long road.
Kano, returning later and finding the two together, marking as he
did, at once, with the quick eye of love, how health already cast faint
premonitions of a flush upon the boy's thin face, had much ado to keep
from crying aloud his joy and gratitude. By strong effort only did he
succeed in making his greeting calm. He used stilted, old-fashioned
phrases of ceremony to one recently recovered from dangerous illness,
and bowed as to a mere acquaintance. Tatsu, returning the bows and
phrases, escaped in a few moments to his room, and emerged no more that
day. Kano sighed a little, for the young face had been cold and stern.
No love was to be looked for,not yet, not yet.
For a few days Tatsu did nothing but lie on the mats; or wander,
aimlessly, over the house and garden. He came whenever Mata summoned
him to meals, and ate them with old Kano, observing all outer
semblances of respect. But it seemed an automaton who sat there,
eating, drinking, and then, at the last, bowing over to the exact
fraction of an inch, each time, and moving away to its own rooms. The
old artist, mindful of certain professional warnings from the hospital
physicians, never spoke in Tatsu's presence of paintings, or of
anything connected with art. Within a few days it seemed to him that
Tatsu had begun to watch him keenly, as if expecting, every instant,
the broaching of that subject which he knew was always uppermost in the
other's mind. But the old man, for the first time in his whole life,
had begun to use tact. He never followed Tatsu to his rooms, never
intruded into those long conversations now held, many times a day,
between Mata and her young master; never even commented to Mata upon
her change of attitude. About five days after his first appearance in
the kitchen, Tatsu and the old servant left the house together, giving
Kano no hint of their destination. He watched them with a curious
expression on his face. He knew that they were to climb together to the
temple, and that it was a pilgrimage from which he was contemptuously
debarred. They returned, some hours later, and were busied all the
afternoon with the placing and decorations of an exquisite butsu-dan,
or Buddhist shelf, on which the ihai of the dead are placed. At the
abbot's advice (and yet against all precedent) this was put, not beside
the butsu-dan, where Kano's young wife had for so many years been
honored, but in Tatsu's own bed-chamber, thus making of it a
mita-yama, or spirit room.
Kano, visiting it, unperceived, next day, noted with the same
curious, half-quizzical, half-pathetic look that no Buddhist kaimyo or
after-name had been given to his daughter. It was the earth-name, Kano
Umè-ko, which the old abbot had written upon the lacquered tablet of
wood. Added to it, as a sort of title, was the phrase, To her who
loves much. That is true enough, thought old Kano, and touched his
eyes an instant with his sleeve.
During the following week Tatsu, of himself, drew out his painting
materials and tried to work. An instant later he had hurled the things
from him with a cry, had slammed together the walls of his chamber, and
lay in silence and darkness for many hours. At the time of the
night-meal he came forth. Kano, to whom sorrow was teaching many
things, made no comment upon his exclusion; and even old Mata refrained
from searching his face with her keen eyes.
The next day he made the second attempt. His fusuma were opened, and
Mata could see how his face blanched to yellow wax, how the lips
writhed until they were caught back by strong, cruel teeth, and how the
thin hands wavered. Notwithstanding this inward torture, he persisted.
At first the lines of his brush were feeble. His work looked like that
of a child.
Through subsequent days of discouragement and brave effort his power
of painting grew with a slow but normal splendor of achievement. His
fame began to spread. The New Kano and The Dragon Painter of Kiu
Shiu the people of the city called him. Not only his work but his
romantic, miserable story drew sympathy to him, and bade fair to make
of him a popular idol. Older artists wished to paint his portrait.
Print-makers hung about his house striving to catch at least a glimpse
of him, which being elaborated, might serve as his likeness in the
weekly supplement of some up-to-date newspaper. Sentimental maidens
wrote poems to him, tied them with long, shining filaments of hair, and
suspended them to the gate, or upon the bamboo hedges of the Kano home.
But against all these petty, personal annoyances Tatsu had the
double guard of Kano and old Mata San. The pride of the latter in this
Son of our house was unbounded. One would have thought that she
discovered him, had rescued him from death and that it was now through
her sole influence his reputation as an artist grew. Noble patrons came
to the little cottage bearing rolls of white silk, upon which they
entreated humbly, That the illustrious and honorable young painter,
Kano Tatsu, would some day, when he might not be augustly
inconvenienced by so doing, trace a leaf or a cloud,anything, in
fact, that fancy could suggest, so that it was the work of his own
inimitable hand. For the condescension they trusted that he would allow
them to give a present of money,as large a sum as he was willing to
A second Sesshu! A second Sesshu! old Kano would murmur to
himself, in subdued ecstacy. So did they load his ship with silk, four
Of most of these commissions, Tatsu never heard. Kano did not wish
the boy's work to be blown wide over the great city as it had been
blown along the mountain slopes of Kiu Shiu. Nor did he wish the
thought of gain or of personal ambition to creep into Tatsu's heart.
Now he spent most of the day-lit hours secluded in his little study,
painting those scenes and motives suggested by the keynote of his mood.
Of late he had begun to read, with deep interest, the various essays on
art, gathered in Kano's small, choice library. He would sometimes talk
with his father about art, and let the eager old man demonstrate to him
the different brush-strokes of different masters. The widely
diversified schools of painting as they had flourished throughout the
centuries of his country's social and religious life aroused in him an
impersonal curiosity. He began to try experiments, realizing, perhaps,
that to a genius strong and sane as his even fantastic ventures in
technique were little more than bright images flecking, for an instant,
the immutable surface of a mirror.
All methods were essayed,the liquid, flowing line of the Chinese
classics, Tosa's nervous, shattered lightning-strokes of painted
motion, the soft, gray reveries of the great Kano school of three
centuries before, when, to the contemplative mind all forms of nature,
whether of the outer universe or in the soul of man, were but
reflecting mirrors of a single faith; the heaped-up gold and malachite
of Korin's decoration, sweet realistic studies of the Shijo school,
even down to the horrors of abura-yè, oil-painting, as it is
practised in the Yeddo of to-day, each had for him its special interest
and its inspiration. He leaned above the treasure-chests of time,
choosing from one and then another, as a wise old jewel-setter chooses
gems. Because ambition, art, existence had come to be, for him, gray
webs spun thin across the emptiness of his days, because all hope of
earthly joy was gone, he had now the power to trace, with almost
superhuman mimicry and skill, the shadow-pictures of his shadow-world.
Yet gradually it became not merely a dull necessity to paint, the
one barrier that held from him a devastating grief, but also something
of a solace. The room where Umè's ever-lighted shrine was kept came
more and more to seem the expression of herself. This the old priest
had promised; Umè's letter had assured him that thus she would be near.
In the blurred, purple hour of dusk when paints must be laid aside, and
the heart given over to dreaming, the little room became her very
earthly entity, the soft, smoke-tinted walls her breathing, the elastic
matted floor but the remembered echoes of her feet, the sliding sliver
fusuma her sleeves, the butsudan, with its small, clear lamp, its white
wood, and its flowers, her face.
Now always he kept the walls that used to separate their chamber and
his painting room removed; so that a single essence filled both rooms.
And here, as he worked silently day after day, it seemed to him that
she had learned to come. At first shy, undecided, in some far corner of
the space she watched him; then, taking courage, would drift near. She
leaned now by his shoulder, as he worked. Always it was the left
shoulder. He could feel her breathcolder indeed than from a living
womanupon his bared throat. Sometimes a little hand, light as the
dust upon a moth's wing, rested the ghost of a moment on his robe.
Once, he could have sworn her cheek had touched his hair. So strong was
this impression that an ague shivered through him, and his heart
stopped, only to beat again with violent strokes. When the physical
tremor was over he arose, took up her round metal mirror, and went to
the veranda to see by strong light whether any trace of the spirit
touch remained. No, there was only, as usual, the tossed, black locks
of hair through which sorrow had begun to weave her silver strands.
January, with its snows, had passed. The plum-tree buds had opened,
one by one, in the chill, early winds of spring, giving at times
unwilling hospitality to flakes of snow whiter than themselves. In
February, under warmer sunshine, the blossoms showed in constellations,
a myriad on a single branch. Then, all too soon, the falling of wan
petals made a perfumed tragedy of snow upon the garden paths.
Tatsu grew to love the old dragon plum as Umè-ko had loved it. She
was its name-child, Umè, and he felt its sweetness to be one with her.
At night the perfume crept in to him through crannies of the close-shut
amado and shoji, revivifying, to keen agony, his longing for his wife.
There were moonlit nights he could not rest for it, but would rise,
pacing the cold, wet pebbles of the garden, or wandering, like a
distracted spirit that had lost its way, through the thoroughfares of
the sleeping town.
His whole life now, since he had cheated death, was blurred and
vague. To himself he seemed an unreal thing projected, like a phantom
light, upon the wavering umbra of two contrasting worlds. The halves of
him, body and animating thought, fitted each other loosely, and had a
strange desire to drift apart. The quiet, obedient Tatsu, regaining day
by day the strength and beauty that his clean youth owed him, was to
the inner Tatsu but a painted shell. The real self, clouded in eternal
grief, knew clarity and purpose only before a certain flower-set
shrine. He believed now, implicitly, that Umè's soul dwelt near him,
was often with him in this room. A resolve half formed, and but
partially admitted to himself,for things of the other world are not
well to meddle with,grew slowly in him, to compel, by worship and
never-relaxing prayer, the presence of her self,her insubstantiate
body, outlined upon the ether in pale light, or formed in planes of
ghostly mist. Others had thus drawn visions from the under-world, and
why not he?
Even now she was, for him, the one fact of the ten existences. She
knew it and he knew it. Why should not sight be added to the
unchallenged datum of the mind. Living, they had often read each
other's thoughts. They held, he knew, as yet, their separate
intelligences,still they could bridge a blessed duality by love. Even
now it would have surprised him little to hear the very sound of her
voice echo from the inner shrine, to feel a little white hand pass like
a cloud across his upraised brow. At such moments he told himself that
he was satisfied, she was his until death and beyond. No one could
separate them now!
These were, alas, the higher peaks of love. There waited for him, as
he knew too well, steep hillsides set with swords, and valleys terrible
So that we be together,
Even the Hell of the Blood Lake,
Even the Mountain of Swords,
Mean nothing to us at all!
So they had sung. So that we be together! Ah, together,that was
the essence of it, that the key! And this is what I want! groaned the
suffering man. This ghostly resignation is a self-numbing of the
heart. I care not for the ghost, the spirit, however pure. I want the
wife I have lost,her smile, her voice, her little hands to touch me!
Oh, Umè-ko, my wife, my wife! If, as the abbot said, this phase of
grief were bestial, were unworthy of the woman who had died for him,
then why did not the listening soul of her shrink? He knew that it was
not repelled, whatever the frenzy of his grief. Indeed, at such times
of agony she leaned down closer, longing to comfort him. If it were
given her to speak she would have cried, My husband! Wherever she
might drift,in the black ocean, in the Meido-land, yes, even in the
smile of Buddha on his throne,she yearned for her lover as he for
her, with a human love; she stretched out arms of mist to him, and
tinged the pale ether of the spirit world with love's rosy flame.
One such night, during the time of plum-tree falling, when the boy,
tortured by the almost human sweetness of the flowers, had risen from
his bed to flee memory across the wide, cold plains of night, he had
left, in his hurried going, the doors and shutters of his room spread
wide. Mata and old Kano, accustomed to these midnight sounds, merely
turned on their lacquered pillows, murmured Poor tormented Tatsu, and
went to sleep again. It had been a day of power for the young artist,
but not a day of peace. The picture he had worked on he would have
called one of his nightmare fancies. It showed a slender form in gray
with one arm about a willow. She and the tree both leaned above swift,
flowing water, and her eyes were fixed in sombre brooding. On the bank,
in abrupt foreshortening, lay the figure of a man. He looked at her.
From the river, unmarked as yet by either, rose the gray face and long,
red hair of a Kappa, or malicious river sprite. This sketch,
unfinished, for the Kappa was a mere indication of red locks and a
tall, thin form, stood against a pillar of the tokonoma at just the
angle where the soft light of the butsu-dan shed a pale glow across it.
Brushes, paints, and various small saucers littered the floor. Tatsu
had stopped his work abruptly, overcome by the very power of his own
He was absent from the house for several hours. The long walk
through unseen streets and over unnoticed bridges had given the boon,
at least, of physical fatigue. Now, perhaps, he could get to sleep
before the black ants of thought had rediscovered him. Entering the
room quietly he closed the shoji, smoothed the bed-clothes with an
impatient hand, and knelt, for an instant, before the shrine. Perhaps,
after all, rest was not to come. The air was sweet and heavy with
Umè-ko. The faint perfume of sandalwood which, living, always hung
about her garments, flowed in with the odor of the plum. She must be
near,Umè herself, in mortal garments. In the next room, the veranda,
hiding in the closet to spring out merrily upon him! He groaned and
strove to plunge his mind into prayer.
The unfinished picture stood close at hand. Suddenly he noticed it,
and, with a gasp, stooped to it. Something had changed; the whole
vibration of its lines were subtly new. There was the girl's figure,
the leaning willow, the man,content, insensate, sprawling upon the
bank,but the Kappa! Buddha the Merciful, could it be true? Where he
had left a Kappa, waiting until to-morrow to give the triumph, the
leering satisfaction at the human grief it fed on, rose the white form
and pitying face of Kwannon Sama,she to whom his Umè loved to pray.
The eyes, soft, humid with compassion, looked directly out to his. They
were Umè's eyes! He caught up one brush after the other. All had been
used, and Umè's touch was upon them. Her aura permeated them.
He rushed now to the veranda. In leaving the rooms, three hours
before, he had not taken the usual stone step which led into the garden
under the branches of the plum, but had leaped directly from the low
flooring, not caring where he trod. He remembered now that the stone
had been white in the moonlight. It was now swept clean of petals, as
though by the hurried trailing of a woman's dress. Was this the way in
which she was to manifest herself? And would a spirit-robe brush
surfaces so vehemently? And would a ghostly hand use brushes and
pigments of ground-earth?
Unable to endure the room, he went again into the night, no further
this time than the little garden. In the neighborhood dogs were barking
fiercely, as though in the wake of a presence. By sound he followed it,
and it moved up the hill. The very garden now was tinged with
Until the dawn, and after, he walked the pebbled paths, not
thinking, indeed not fearing, hoping, or giving conscious form to
speculation. He was dazed. But the young blood in his veins ran
alternate currents of fire and ice.
With the first sun-ray he perceived a companion in the dewy
solitude. He had noticed the figure before, but always, until this
hour, at twilight. It was the form of a nun standing, high above him on
the temple cliff, with one arm about a tree.
After this nothing mysterious broke the quiet routine of his life.
The presence of Umè in the chamber seemed to fade a little, but, for
some reason inexplicable to himself, this brought now no poignant
grief. He did not tell the wonderful thing to Mata or old Kano, but hid
the still unfinished picture where no one but himself could see it.
So February passed, and March.
With April came the cherry-flowers, wistaria, and peonies; with iris
in the bud, and shy hedge-violets; wonder of yama buki shrubs that
played gold fountains on the hills, and the swift, bright contagion of
young grass. Even from old Kano's moon-viewing hillock one might see,
in looking out across the desert of gray city roofs, round tops of
cherry trees rising like puffs of rosy smoke. From out the face of the
temple cliff long, supple fronds of ferns unrolled, bending uncertain
arms toward the garden. The tangled sasa-grass rustled new sleeves of
silk; and the great camphor tree, air-hung in blue, seemed caught in a
jewelled mesh of chrysoprase and gold.
Down in the lower level of the garden, too, springtime busied itself
with beauty. The potted plants, once Umè-ko's loved charges, had become
now, quite mysteriously to himself, Tatsu's companions and his special
care. Among the more familiar growths a few foreign bushes had been
given place, a rose, a heliotrope, and a small, frightened cyclamen.
Slips of chrysanthemum needed already to be set for the autumn yield.
Tatsu, watering and tending them, thought with wistful sadness upon
these plans for future enjoyment. We are all bound upon the wheel of
life, he said to them. Would that with me, as you, the turning were
but for a single season!
My son, the elder man began abruptly, at a certain noonday meal
about the middle of the month, how is it that you never go with me to
the temple on the hill?
Tatsu looked up from his rice-bowl in some surprise. The relations
between these two, though externally kind, had never approached
intimacy. Kano indeed idolized his adopted son with pathetic and
undisguised fervor; but with Tatsu, though other things might have been
forgiven, the old man's continued disrespect to his daughter's memory,
his refusal to join even in the simplest ceremony of devotion, kept
both him and old Mata chilled and distant. The one possible
explanation,aside from that of wanton cruelty,was a thing so
marvellous, so terrible in implied suggestion, that the boy's faint
soul could make for it no present home; let it drift, a great luminous
nebula of hope, a little longer on the rim of nothingness.
The answer now to Kano's question betrayed a hint of the more
You had never seemed to desire it. And I have my place of worship
Yes, I know. Of course I knew that! the other hurried on in some
agitation. Then he paused, as if uncertain how to word the following
thought. I do wish it! he broke forth, with an effort. I make
request now that you go with me, this very day, at twilight.
If it is your honorable desire, said Tatsu, bowing in indifferent
acquiescence. A moment later he had finished his meal, and rose to go.
Kano moved restlessly on the mats. He drew out the solace of a
little pipe, but his nervous fingers fumbled and shook so, that the
slim rod of bamboo tipped with silver escaped him, and went clattering
down among the empty dishes of the tray. Mata's apprehensive face
showed instantly at a parting of the kitchen fusuma. She sighed aloud,
as she noted a great triangle chipped from the edge of an Imari bowl.
Only two of those bowls had remained; now there was but one.
Tatsu, my son, may I depend upon you? This day, as soon as the
light begins to fail?
Tatsu, in the doorway, paused to look. Evidently the speaker
struggled with a strong excitement. Something in the twitching face,
the eager, shifting eyes, brought back a vision of that meal on the
evening that preceded Umè's death, when she and her father had leaned
together, whispering, ignoring him, and afterward had left the house,
giving him no hint of their errand. He felt with dread a premonition of
I shall be ready at the twilight hour, he said, and went to his
That afternoon Tatsu did little painting. Silent and motionless as
one of the frames against the wall, he sat staring for long intervals
out upon the garden. The sunshine gave no pleasure, only a blurring of
his sight. Beauty was not there for him, this day. He was thinking of
those hours of October sunlight, when the whole earth reeled with joy,
for Umè-ko was of it! Where was she now? And what had there been in
Kano's look and voice to rouse those sleeping demons of despair? Could
any new sorrow await him at the temple? No, his present condition had
at least the negative value of absolute void. From nothing, nothing
could be taken; and to it, nothing be supplied!
In spite of this colorless assurance it was with something of
reluctance, of shrinking, that he prepared to leave the house. Few
words were spoken between the two. Catching up the skirts of narrow,
silken robes a little higher, they tucked the folds into their belts,
and side by side began the long, slow climbing of the road.
The city roofs beneath them hurried off to the edge of the world
like ripples left in the gray sand-bed of a stream. Above the plain the
mist drew in its long, horizontal lines of gray.
About half the distance up the steep the temple bell above them
sounded six slow, deliberate strokes. First came the sonorous impact of
the swinging beam against curved metal, then the boom, the echo,the
echoes of that echo to endless repetition, sifting in layers through
the thinner air upon them, sweeping like vapor low along the hillside
with a presence and reality so intense that it should have had color,
or, at least, perfume; settling in a fine dew of sound on quivering
ferns and grasses, permeating, it would seem, with its melodious
vibration the very wood of the houses and the trunks of living trees.
Reaching at last the temple court, old Kano took the lead, crossed
the wide-pebbled space, and halted with his companion at the edge of
the cliff. A cry of wonder came from Tatsu's lips; that low, inimitable
cry of the true artist at some new stab of beauty. Delicately the old
man withdrew, and hid himself in the shadow of the temple.
Tatsu stared out, alone. He saw the round bay like a mirror,like
Umè's mirror; and to the west the peak of Fuji, a porphyry cone against
the sunset splendor. No wonder that the gray nuns came here at this
hour, or that she, the slender, isolated one, lingered to drain the
last bright drop of beauty! He looked about now to discover her tree.
Yes, there it was, quite close; not a willow as he had sometimes
thought, but a young maple, unusually upright of growth. It had been
leafless, but now the touch of spring had lighted every twig with a
pale flame-point of red. He recalled that in the autumn it had made a
crimson heart against the sky; and later had sent down into the Kano
garden frail alms of ruby films. Umè had loved to catch them in her
hands, wondering at their brightness, and trying to make him wonder,
too. Love-letters of the passing year, she called them; songs dyed with
the autumn's heart's-blood of regret that he must yield the sweet, warm
earth to his gray rival, winter. She had pretended that the small,
crossed veinlets of the leaves were Chinese ideographs which it was
given her to decipher. Holding him off with one outstretched arm she
would have read to him,fantastic, exquisite interpreter of love,but
he, mad brute, had caught the little hands, the autumn leaves, and
crushed them to one hot glow, crying aloud that nature, beauty, love
were all made one in her. Such grief he must have given many times.
He threw his head hack as in sudden hurt, a gesture becoming
habitual to him, and drew a long, impatient, tremulous sigh. As if to
cast aside black thought, he strode over quickly to the maple tree,
flung an arm around it, and leaned over to stare down into his garden
with the gray nun's eyes. There it was, complete, though in
miniature;rocks, pines, the pigmy pool, the hillock squatting in one
corner like an old, gray garden toad, and in another corner, scarcely
of larger size, the cottage.
Kano plucked nervously at his sleeve. You lean too far. Come,
Tatsu, I have aaplace to show you.
Tatsu wheeled with a start. Try as he would he shivered and grew
faint, even yet, at the sound of Kano's voice breaking abruptly in upon
a silence. He gave a nod of acquiescence and, with downbent head,
followed his guide diagonally across the temple court, past the wide
portico where sparrows and pigeons fought for night-quarters in the
carved, open mouths of dragons, along the side of the main building
until, to Tatsu's wonder, they stopped before a little gate in the
I thought it was almost death for a man to enter here! exclaimed
For most men it is, said Kano, producing a key of hammered brass
about nine inches long. But I desired to go the short path to the
cemetery, and it lies this way. As I have told you, the abbot was my
Within the convent yard,a sandy space enclosed in long, low
buildings of unpainted wood,Tatsu saw a few gray figures hurrying to
cover; and noticed that more than one bright pair of eyes peered out at
them through bamboo lattices. Over the whole place brooded the spirit
of unearthly peace and sweetness which had been within the gift of the
holy bishop and his acolytes even at that time of torment in the
hospital cell. The same faint Presence, like a plum tree blossoming in
the dark, stole through the young man's senses, luring and distressing
him with its infinite suggestions of lost peace.
At the farther wall of the court they came to an answering door.
This was already unlocked and partially ajar. It opened directly upon
the highest terrace of the cemetery which led down steeply in great,
curved, irregular steps to a plain. The crimson light in the west had
almost gone. Here to the north, where rice-fields and small huddled
villages stretched out as far as the eye could see, a band of hard,
white light still rested on the horizon, throwing back among the
hillside graves a pale, metallic sheen. Each shaft of granite was thus
divided, one upright half, blue shadow, the other a gray-green gleam.
All looked of equal height. A gray stone Buddha on his lotos pedestal,
or the long graceful lines of a standing Jizo, only served to emphasize
This was a place most dear to Kano, and had been made so to his
child. He even loved the look of the tombs. Gray, splintered
stalagmites of memory, he had called them, and when the child Umé had
learned the meaning of the simile she had put her little finger to a
spot of lichen and asked, Then are these silver spots our tears?
The old man stepped down very softly to the second tier. A
nightingale was calling low its liquid invocation,
Ho-ren-k-y-y-o-o-o! Perhaps old Kano moved so softly that he might
not lose the echoes of this cry. The two men seemed alone in the silent
scene. Once Tatsu thought his eye caught a swift flicker, as of a gray
sleeve, but he was not sure. At any rate he would not think of it, or
speculate, or marvel! He was beginning to tremble before the unknown.
The sense of shrinking, of miracle, of being, perhaps, too small to
contain the thing decreed, bore hard upon him. With it came a keen
impression of the unreality of the material universe,of Buddhist
illusion. Even these adamantine records of death, rising on every side
to challenge him,even these might recombine their particles before
his very eyes,might shiver into mist and float down to the plain to
mingle with the smoke of cooking as it rose from the peasant huts.
Anything might happen, or nothing!
Kano had stopped short before a grave. For once Tatsu was glad to
hear his voice.
Here lie the clean ashes of my young wife, Kano Uta-ko, said the
old man, without preface or explanation.
In former days, beforebefore my illness, I came here often, said
the other. His eyes hung on the written words of the kaimyo. If you
grieved deeply, it must have been great solace that you could come thus
to her grave, he added wistfully. Then, as Kano still remained silent,
he read aloud the beautiful daishi, A flower having blossomed in the
night, the Halls of the Gods are Fragrant.
Kano drew a long sigh. For nineteen years I have mourned her, he
went on slowly. As you know, a son was not given to us. She died at
Umè's birth. I could not bring myself to replace her, even in the dear
longing for a son.
A son! Tatsu knew well what the old man meant. He lifted his eyes
and stared out, mute, into the narrowing band of light. The old man
drew his thin form very straight, moved a few feet that he might look
squarely into the other's face, and said deliberately. So did I mourn
the young wife whom I loved, and so, if I know men, will you mourn,
Kano Tatsu. Of such enduring stuff will be your grief for Umè-ko.
It was said. The old man's promise had been torn like a leaf,not
to be mended or recalled,torn and flung at his listener's feet. Yet
such was the simplicity of utterance, such the nobility of poise, the
beauty of the old face set like a silver wedge into the deepening mist,
that Tatsu could only give him look for look, with no resentment. The
young voice had taken on strangely the timbre of the old as, in equal
soberness, he answered,
Such, Kano Indara, though I be burdened with years as many as your
own,will be the never-ceasing longing for my lost wife, Umè-ko.
A little sob, loosed suddenly upon the night, sped past them. What
was it? Who is there? cried Tatsu, sharply, wheeling round.
Kano began to shake. Perhapsperhaps a night-bird, he stammered
A bird! echoed Tatsu. That sound was human. It is a woman, the
Presence that has hung about me! Put down your arms,you cannot keep
Be still! cried out old Kano in the voice of angry kings. Nothing
will happen,nothing, I say, if you act thus like the untamed creature
that you were! Your fate is still in my hands, Kano Tatsu!
Tatsu fell down upon his knees, pulling at the old man's sleeves.
Father, father, have pity! I will be self-controlled and docile as I
have been these long, long months. But now there is a thing so great
that would possess me, my soul faints and sickens. Father, I ask your
help, your tenderness. I think I have wronged you from the first,my
Suddenly the old man hurled his staff away and sank weeping into the
stronger arms. I fear, I fear! he wailed. It may be still too early.
But she said not,the abbot counselled it! O gods of the Kano home!
Father, asked Tatsu, rising slowly to his feet, his arms still
close about the other, can it be joy that is to find me, even in this
Wait, you shall see, cried the old man, now laughing aloud, now
weeping, like a hysterical girl. You shall see in a moment! My dead
wife takes me by the hand and leads me from you,just a little way,
dear Tatsu, just here among the shadows. No longer are the shadows for
you,joy is for you. Yes, Uta-ko, I 'm coming. The young love springs
like new lilies from the old. Stand still, my son; be hushed, that joy
may find you.
He faltered backward and was lost. Upon the hillside came a
stillness deeper than any previous interval of pause. From it the
nightingale's low note thrust out a wavering clew. The day had gone,
and a few stars dotted the vault of the sky. Tatsu threw back his head.
There was no pain in the gesture now; he was trying to make room in his
soul for an unspeakable visitor. The arch of heaven had grown trivial.
Eternity was his one boundary. The stars twinkled in his blood.
He heard the small human sob again, just at his elbow. All at once
he was frozen in his place; he could not turn or move. His arms hung to
his sides, his throat stiffened in its upward lines. And then a little
hand, stealing from a nun's gray sleeve, slipped into his, and in a
pause, a hush, it was before the full splendor of love's cry, he turned
and saw that it was Umè-ko, his wife.
[Illustration: Then a little hand, stealing from a nun's gray
sleeve, slipped into his.]
* * * * * *
Yeddo and modern Tokyo alike give entertainment to the traditional
nine days' wonder. Sometimes the wonder does not fade at all, and so it
was with the case of Tatsu and his wife. If he had been an idol, he was
now a demigod, Umè-ko sharing the sweet divinity of human tenderness
Had it all happened a century before, the people would have built
for them a yashiro, with altar and a shrine. Here they would have been
worshipped as gods still in the flesh, and lovers would have prayed to
them for aid and written verses and burned sweet incense.
Being of modern Tokyo, most of this adulation went into newspaper
articles. Old men envied Kano his dutiful daughter, young men envied
Tatsu his beautiful and loving wife. The print-makers, indeed,
perpetrated a series of representations that put old Kano's artistic
teeth on edge. First there was Umè at the willow; then Tatsu, in the
same place, taking his mad plunge for death's oblivion; Umè, the hooded
acolyte, kneeling in the sick chamber at the head of her husband's bed;
Umè, the nun, standing each day at twilight on the edge of the temple
cliff to catch a glimpse of him she loved; and, at the last, Tatsu and
Umè rejoined beside the tomb of Kano Uta-ko. Fortunately these pictures
were never seen by the two most concerned.
They went away on a second bridal journey, this time to Tatsu's
native mountains in Kiu Shiu. While there, the good friend Ando Uchida
was to be sought, and made acquainted with the strange history of the
Mata and her old master remained placidly at home. They had no
fears. At the appointed dateonly a week more nowthe two would come
back, as they had promised, to begin the long, tranquil life of art and
happiness. There were to be great pictures! Kano chuckled and rubbed
his lean hands together, as he sat in his lonely room. Then the thought
faded, for a tenderer thought had come. In a year or more, if the gods
willed, another and a keener blessedness might be theirs.
To dream quite delicately enough of this, the old man shut his eyes.
Oh, it was a dream to make the springtime of the world stir at the
roots of being! A tear crept down from the blue-veined lids, making its
way through wrinkles, those dry river-beds of smiles. If the baby
fingers came,those small, fearless fingers that were one's own youth
reborn,they would press out all fretful lines of age, leaving only
tender traceries. He leaned forward, listening. Already he could hear
the tiny feet echo along the rooms, could see small, shaven heads
bowing their first good morning to the O Ji San,revered, beloved
patriarch of the home! How old Mata would idolize and scold and pet
them! A queer old soul was Mata, with faults, as all women have, but in
the main, a treasure! Good times were coming for the old folks in that
house! So sat Kano, dreaming, in his empty chamber; and unless we have
eternity to spare, nodding beside him on the mats, we must bow,