Shiragiku, or White Chrysanthemum

On the outskirts of a remote village at the foot of Mount Aso, in Kiushiu, a bell was slowly pealing from a Buddhist temple. It was the season of autumn and the twilight was falling fast. Over the lonely place and the gloom of the deepening dusk of night the solemn music, reverberating across the hills, seemed to toll the transientness of all things earthly.

Not far from the temple was a small cottage. At the door stood a young girl anxiously waiting for her father to come home. From time to time she wiped away the tears which fell from her eyes, and her face and attitude expressed great sorrow. She was but fifteen years of age, and as she stood there, a young and slender figure, she looked like a cherry-blossom of spring in the falling rain.

She was alone, for her father had gone out to hunt some days before and had never returned, and she had had no tidings whatever of him since. She and her father were all in all to each other; her mother was dead and her elder brother was only a name to her; she could not remember him; he had run away from home when she was a small child, and no one knew what had become of him since.

As White Chrysanthemum, her heart full of sorrow and foreboding, watched and waited for her father’s return, she started at everything,—at the leaves falling from the trees, at the sighing of the wind in their branches, at the dropping of the water from the bamboo pipe which brought the hill-stream to the house; as these different sounds from time to time caught her ear expectation made her hope that they might be the footsteps of her father coming home. But the hours passed by and still he did not return.

As the mists rose and the clouds began to close over the mountain, the loneliness of the scene was deepened by the plaint of insects chirruping in the grass, and by the slow pattering on the broad banana palm leaves of the rain just beginning to fall.

At last the dreariness and stillness of approaching night oppressed the girl so much that she could bear it no longer, and she made up her mind to go in search of her father.

It was a sad sight to see her as she ran out from the bamboo gate and turned to give a last look at the little home nestling in the shelter of the pine trees. Then resolutely she turned away and set her face towards the mountain path. On her head she wore a large mushroom-shaped rainhat, and with a stick in her hand she began to climb up the rough thorny pass into the depths of the mountains, as they towered range upon range one above the other and were lost in the distance and blackness of night.

The rain fell more and more heavily, and as the girl stumbled up the steep pass she had often to wring her sleeves, which were now wet with rain as well as with tears. So absorbed was White Chrysanthemum in the thought of finding her father, whom she had watched climb this very road three mornings before, that she hardly noticed that the storm gave signs of lifting. Suddenly the rain ceased, the clouds cleared, and the moon shone brightly. The change in the weather at last roused the girl to look about her, and she saw that the path now led her downward to the valley. With a sigh of relief she quickened her pace.

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She had walked for about two hours when she saw at some distance in front of her a single yellow ray of light shining through the gloom. Had she come to a house where she might possibly hear tidings of her father? As this hope dawned upon her, she eagerly hastened towards the light.

She soon reached an old Buddhist temple standing in the shadow of a group of pines and cryptomerias. From within came a voice chanting the Buddhist scriptures. Who could it be studying in so remote a place at that hour of the night? Shiragiku entered the gate and in the moonlight which made everything visible saw that the whole place was in a dilapidated condition; the fence was falling in many places, weeds grew all over the garden and between the flagstones, as if no one ever trod the path; even the posts which supported the gate shook in the wind.

White Chrysanthemum walked up to the porch and knocked on the heavy wooden door. Not until she had knocked and called several times did she hear any stir within; then some one answered in a subdued voice, the storm-shutters were pushed aside, and a young bonze appeared. He started when his eyes fell upon the girl, and he stared at her silently as if wondering who she could be or what had brought her there at that hour.

Shiragiku, seeing his scrutiny, drew near and said in a low sweet voice: “I am looking for my father. He went out hunting some days ago and has never come back. I am indeed sorry to trouble you, but will you be so kind as to tell me if any one has come to this temple either for rest or food within the last two or three days?”

The girl spoke so quietly and looked at him so gently that the young bonze was reassured in a moment. Her evident distress appealed to him, and when he looked at her again he saw that she was as beautiful as a flower; her skin was white as snow, her jet-black hair, disordered by the storm through which she had passed, fell like the graceful branches of a willow tree over her shoulders; her large almond eyes were sad and full of tears, and as he gazed upon her it seemed to him that she could not belong to the earth, that she must be a tennin—an angel from the Buddhist Heaven. He asked her to enter the temple and said: “Tell me who you are and whence you come, and what brings you out this stormy night. I will listen to your story if you will tell it to me.”

The wind had risen again and was blowing in gusts round the temple and whistling through the chinks and crannies of the old building, while from the garden came the mournful cries of an owl. The desolation and strangeness of the place touched the girl’s sorrow to the quick, and she burst into tears. As soon as she was able to speak, she wiped her eyes and said between her sobs: “I am the daughter of a certain samurai of Kumamoto City. Our house was once rich and prosperous, and our hearts were full of joy; we lived happily, knowing nothing whatever of care or sorrow. When the war[1] broke out all was changed; the grass round our house was stained with blood, and even the wind smelt of blood; families were scattered far and wide from the homes where they were born, and the air was rent with the cries of parents seeking their lost children and of children calling for their parents who could no longer hear them. Pity is no word to express the feeling which filled the heart at these sights. My father likewise went to the war, and my mother then escaped with me as far as Mount Aso. There she found a tiny cottage in the shadow of the temple, and with the money she had managed to bring with her we lived as best we could. As we were afterward told, my father fought with the rebels. When we heard that, we were greatly astonished, and our sleeves were never dry with wiping away our tears. Day by day, morning, noon, and night, we waited, hoping that my father would return—thus the summer passed. Autumn came and the wild geese flew across the sky in flocks toward the south, but there came no news of my father.

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My mother pined away with grief and anxiety, till at last she died. Thus before we knew whether my father was alive or dead, I was left alone in life. I felt as if I were dreaming in a dream. Whenever I think of that time my heart is pierced with sorrow. My days were passed in weeping at my misfortunes and in bemoaning my unhappy fate. Had it not been for the kindness of neighbours in the village, I should not have been able to live.

“Last spring my father came back and found me out. I told him of my mother’s death. Since then he has never ceased to grieve. I tried to cheer him by telling him that it was the fate of all mortals to die, but my words brought him little comfort, and in this sad way we passed our time. The other day he went out hunting, and since then has never returned. Again, I was left alone with no one to look to for help. Unable to bear the loneliness any longer, I started out this evening to look for him and have come thus far. Our family name is Honda, my name is Shiragiku, my father’s name is Akitoshi, my mother’s name was Take, and my elder brother’s Akihide. I can hardly remember Akihide, for when I was a small child he ran away, fearing my father’s anger because of his bad conduct. But though he left us, my mother and I never forgot him. In the morning when it rained and in the winter evenings when the wind blew chill we longed for him to come again to the shelter of his home, but from that day to this we have heard nothing of him and know not what has become of him. My mother gave me many messages for him, firmly believing that one day we should meet again, and that he would yet fulfil his duty as a son and restore our house to its former prosperity and happiness. In this hope she died.”

As Shiragiku proceeded with her story the young bonze listened with eager attention. At these words his face changed with sudden emotion, and the tears fell from his eyes. After some moments he said to her: “Poor, poor girl! Your story is a very sad one, and I feel for you in your many troubles. You can go no further to-night; rest here in peace until the dawn!”

As he spoke it seemed to Shiragiku that his voice was familiar to her, and though she could not remember having seen him before, yet for some unaccountable reason she felt that he was no stranger. His manner was so kind and gentle and sympathetic as he went and came bringing food for her supper and quilts for her to sleep upon, that memories of her early home and childhood stirred her heart. Her thoughts went out to the runaway brother; if he would only return he would be about the same age as the young bonze, and surely as good as he to any one in distress. Glad was she to have found a place of rest for the night. With many humble prostrations she thanked her host for his hospitality, and apologized for all the trouble she had given him.

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When he withdrew, bidding her “good-night,” she knelt in supplication before the shrine at the end of the room, where Amida Buddha and Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy, reigned in peace above the lotus and the burning of incense. Only through the mercy of the gods could she hope to find her father, only through their help would her long-lost brother ever come back to those who waited for him year after year. For many minutes she knelt on, praying earnestly, then, worn out with grief and fatigue, she rose from her knees and lay down to fall fast asleep.

At the hour when the hush of night is deepest, Shiragiku saw her father enter the room and draw near her pillow. The tears stood in his eyes and in a sad voice he said: “Shiragiku, I have fallen over a precipice, and now I am at the bottom of a chasm many hundred feet deep. Here the brambles and bamboo grass grow so thick that I am unable to find my way out of the jungle. I may not live till the morrow, so I came to see you for the last time in this world.” As soon as he had finished speaking, White Chrysanthemum stretched out her hands and tried to catch hold of his sleeves to detain him, crying: “Father! father!” But with the sound of her own voice she awoke.

She sprang up expecting to see her father, but there was nothing in the room except the night-lantern glimmering faintly. While she was wondering whether the vision were a dream or a reality, the dawn began to break and the beating of a drum throbbed through the temple. White Chrysanthemum rose soon after sunrise, ate the simple breakfast of rice and bean-soup she found slipped into her room, and quickly left the temple. She did not wait to see the kind priest, though he had asked her to do so, saying that he would do what he could to help her; for she had remembered his diffidence the night before, and thought that very likely he belonged to a sect which forbade its priests to converse with the world, and she felt sorry that she had disturbed him.

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Her dream was so vividly real to her that it seemed as if she heard her father calling to her for help; so making all possible speed she set but once more with the faith and simplicity of childhood to find him. Far off in the woods the bark of a fox could be heard, while along the path the cloudy tufts of the obana[2] rustled as she passed. Shiragiku shivered as the cold morning wind pierced through her body. As she pursued her way along the rough mountain pass wild creatures scuttled away, frightened, from before her into the woods, and overhead the birds sang to each other in the trees.

At last she reached the top of the pass, to find it covered with clouds, and it seemed to White Chrysanthemum as if they must carry her away with them in their onward sweep. She sat down on a stone to recover her breath, for the climb had been steep. In a few minutes the mists began to clear away. She stood up and looked about her, hoping that she might find some trace of her father, but as far as eye could reach nothing but mountains, range after range, could be seen riding one above the other in the blue sky.

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Suddenly a noise in the bushes behind her made White Chrysanthemum start, and before she could flee a band of robbers rushed out upon her. They seized and bound her tightly. She cried out for help, but only the echoes answered her. Down the mountain they led her till they reached the valley; for a whole day they hurried her along till they came to a strange-looking house.

This was in such a neglected condition that moss covered the walls, and it was so closely shut up that the sunbeams never entered the rooms.

As they approached the place, a man who seemed to be the chief of the band came out, and as he caught sight of the maiden, said with an evil smile: “You’ve brought a good prize this time!”

The robbers now untied Shiragiku’s hands and led her into the house and then into a room where dinner was prepared, with rice and fish and wine in great quantities. Then they all sat down, and as they began to eat, it seemed to her that they were a lot of demons. The chief passed some food to her and pressed her to eat. The long walk in the bracing air of the autumn day had made Shiragiku so hungry that in spite of her fear and distress she was glad of the food. At last, when she had finished her meal, he turned to her and said: “That you We been caught by my men and brought here must be the work of fate. So now you must look upon me as your husband and serve me all your life. I have a good koto [the Japanese harp] which I keep with great care, and to show your gratitude for this marriage you will have to play before me often and to cheer me with your songs, for I am fond of music. If you refuse to obey me, I will make your life as hard as climbing a mountain of swords or walking through a forest of needles.”

Shiragiku felt that she would rather die than marry this man, but she could not refuse to play the koto for him. The koto was brought by one of the men at a word of command from the chief and placed before the girl, who began to strike the chords, her tears falling fast the while. She played so well that even those hard-hearted robbers were touched by her music, and one or two of them whispered together that hers was a hard fate and they wished that they could find some means of saving her.

Outside the house in the shadow of a large tree stood a young man, watching all that went on and listening to the music. By the voice of the singer as she sang, he knew that the player was she whom he sought. No sooner did the music stop than he rushed into the house and attacked the robbers with great fury. Anger gave strength to his onslaught, and the bandits were so taken by surprise that they were paralyzed with fear and offered no resistance. In a few minutes the chief was killed, while two others lay senseless on the mats, and the rest ran away.

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Then the young man, who was dressed in the black vestments of a priest, took the trembling girl by the hand and led her to a window, through which the moonlight streamed. As Shiragiku gazed up in gratitude and wonder at her deliverer, she saw that he was none other than the young priest of the temple, who had been so kind to her the night before.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said quietly and soothingly; “don’t be afraid! I am no stranger, I am your brother Akihide. Now I will tell you my story, so listen to me. You cannot remember me, for you were only a little child of three when my bad conduct roused my father’s anger and I ran away from home and started for the capital. I embarked on a small vessel and after sailing along for several days I reached Waka-no-ura, passing the island of Awaji on the way. From Waka-no-ura I proceeded on foot. It was the close of spring and the cherry-blossoms were falling, and the ground was covered with the pink snow of their petals; but there was nothing of the joy of spring in my heart, which was heavy at the thought of my parents’ displeasure and the fearful step I had just taken. As soon as I reached the capital, I put myself under the charge of a priest and went through a severe course of study, for I had already repented of my idle ways and longed to do better. Under my good master’s guidance I learned the way of virtue. My heart was softened by knowledge, and when I remembered the love of my parents, I regretted my evil past and never did the sun go down but I wept in secret over it. So the years went by. At last the pain of homesickness became so great that I determined to return home and beg my parents’ forgiveness. I hoped and planned to devote myself to them in their old age and to make amends in the future for the shortcomings of the past. But insurmountable difficulties beset me in my new-formed purpose. War had broken out, and the face of the country was entirely changed. Cities were turned into wildernesses, weeds grew tall and thick all over the roads, and when I reached our province it was impossible to find either the old home or any one who could give me the slightest clue as to the whereabouts of you all. Life became a burden to me. You may imagine something of what I felt, but my tongue fails to describe my misery. I was desolate with no one belonging to me, so I resolved to forsake the world and become a priest, and after wandering about I took up my abode in that old temple where you found me. But even the religious life could not still my remorse. I was haunted by the fear of what had become of my father and mother and sister.

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Were they alive or were they dead? Should I ever see them again? These were the questions which tormented me ceaselessly. Morning and evening I prayed before the shrine in the room where you slept last night—prayed that I might have news of you all. Great is the mercy of Buddha! Imagine the mingled joy and sorrow I felt when you came yesterday and told me of all that had happened since I left home. I was about to make myself known to you, but I was too ashamed to do so. It was, however, harder for me to conceal my secret than it would have been to tell it, for I longed to do so with my whole heart and soul. In the morning when I came to the room and found you gone, I followed after you in fear lest you should fall into the hands of the bandits who haunt these hills and thus it was that I saved you. You can never know how glad I am to have done this for you, but alas! I am ashamed to meet my father because of the remembrance of the past! Had I done my duty as a son, had I never run away wickedly from home, how much suffering I might have saved my mother and you, poor Shiragiku! Terrible indeed is my sin!” And with these words the young man drew out a short sword and was about to take his own life.

When Shiragiku saw what he was going to do, she gave a loud cry, and springing to his side seized his hands with all her strength, and stopped him from doing the dread deed. With tender sisterly words she tried to comfort him, telling him that she knew his father had forgiven him, and was living in the daily hope of his return—that the happiness and solace he could now give him in his old age would more than atone for the past; she begged him to remember his mother’s dying prayer that he would establish their house and keep up the ancestral rites before the family shrine when his parents were dead. As she spoke, he desisted from his desperate purpose. The peace of night and the stillness of the moonlit world around them brought balm to both their troubled hearts, and as they bade each other good-night the silence was unbroken save for the cry of the wild geese as they flew across the sky.

In the early morning the brother and sister left the house, hand in hand. They had not gone far when they heard pursuing footsteps, and looking back they saw two or three of the men who had escaped the night before coming after them. Akihide bade his sister run for her life, while he stayed behind and engaged the robbers in a fight and so gave her time to escape.

Shiragiku did as she was told and fled through the woods under cover of the trees. On and on she went, till at last she reached a place of safety out of sight. But her heart, beating wildly with fear, was behind with her brother, wondering what had happened to him, whether he had vanquished the bandits or had been killed by them. Who can describe her anxiety? She had found her brother only to lose him in this sad and uncertain way. Afraid to retrace her steps, yet anxious to know what had become of him, she climbed to the nearest hill-top to try if she could see anything of him, but around her there was nothing but hills and pine woods.

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As she looked about her, she saw near by a little shrine, and, overcome with the terror of all that had befallen her within the last two days, she made her way towards it with trembling steps, and kneeling down offered up a fervent prayer for help and for her brother’s and father’s safety.

An old man who was cutting down trees in the forest saw her weeping there, and his heart filled with pity for the young girl. He drew near and asked her to tell him what was the matter. On hearing her sad story he led her to his home, saying that he would take care of her.

It was a quiet mountain place in the woods. The ground was covered with pine needles, the chrysanthemums round the humble cottage were fading, and the bell-insects were feebly tinkling in the grass, for the last days of autumn were passing.

Here in this retired spot Shiragiku lived in peace. The old wood-cutter and his wife, having no children of their own, loved her as a daughter, for such she seemed to them, so amiable, patient, and helpful in all her ways was she, and they told her that they hoped she would remain with them to the end of their days. Shiragiku did her utmost to show her gratitude to the old couple for their kindness to her, but she never ceased to think of her father and brother and to look forward to the time when they would once more be a united family. In spite of all discouragements she cherished this hope. Now and again she implored the old man to let her go and look for them; but he would not permit this, saying that it was not safe for an unprotected girl to roam the hills, that if she did so she would be sure to fall into the hands of robbers again, and that it was far wiser for her to wait till her father and brother found her than for her to seek them, not knowing where they were. Her reverence for old age made her obey him, and she waited in patience, hoping each day she rose that her father and brother would find her before the evening came.

During these quiet years she grew in beauty day by day and passed from girlhood into the bloom of early womanhood. The poor cotton robe—all that the wood-cutter could give her-in no wise hid her loveliness. She was like a fine chrysanthemum shining among the wild flowers of the plain.

She was soon the acknowledged beauty of the place, and one spring the village chief sought her in marriage. The wood-cutter, out of respect to the suitor’s position, at once gave his consent.

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When, however, the old man told Shiragiku of what he planned for her, her dismay was great. She begged him with tears to make excuses for her; she told him that she could not think of marriage till she had found her father. But he would not listen, saying that it was the best thing for her now to be settled in life.

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That night the girl covered her face with her sleeves and wept long and bitterly when she lay down to rest.

“How can I obey the old man?” she sobbed to herself. “No, never-never! I remember now more vividly than ever what my mother told me when she was dying. ‘You are not my own child, Shiragiku,’ she said; ‘one day many years ago I was returning from a visit to a temple. When passing through a field, I found a little baby crying in the midst of some white chrysanthemums. Who can have been so wicked as to forsake such a lovely child? I said to myself; there must be some reason for this! I carried the little one home and brought her up as my own child. You are that child. Praying for blessings on you, I named you Shira-Giku, because I found you in a bed of white chrysanthemums. There is also something else I must tell you before I die. There is some one in the world to whom you must look as your brother and husband; he is none other than our son, who ran away rather than meet the anger of his father. We have never heard of him since he left, but if he is still living I am sure he will come back to his family. Your father and I—your adopted parents—have always destined you for him; it is my last behest that you should refuse all other men and wait to marry our son, for come back I am sure he will one day; then live a happy life together in the old home, praying for our souls when we have left this world.’ My mother’s words are still in my ears. I hear them more clearly than ever,” she sobbed to herself. “I owe her my life; how can I disobey her bidding? And yet how can I refuse to do as the old wood-cutter asks, for he has been as a parent to me these last three years? What shall I do? Oh! what shall I do?”

Day by day the old man pressed her to accept the suitor and day by day in great perplexity she put him off. At last, seeing no way of escape from being unfilial to the memory of her mother and from fulfilling the old man’s wish, she made up her mind to die and put an end to the struggle.

At this time the nakodo (go-between) of the marriage came and presented her with a roll of brocade for the obi (wide sash) and of damask silk for the kimono, the betrothal gift of the bridegroom. The old man and his wife rejoiced at what they considered her good fortune and regarded the matter as settled, and the neighbours came to congratulate them and to catch a glimpse of the chosen bride of their chief.

Shiragiku, however, had made up her mind. That night during a rainstorm she stole out from the wood-cutter’s cottage. She looked back wistfully many times at the place which had fed and sheltered her for so long; but she told herself that there was no other way than this, for she must hold as sacred law her mother’s last behest. In the despair of the last few weeks, when this unexpected marriage was being forced upon her, she had lost the hope of finding her father and brother again; but she would die rather than marry a stranger against her foster mother’s dying wish. The night was dark, for the sky was clouded. Down the empty street of the village Shiragiku hurried with the tightly closed thatch-roofed cottages on either side. Out across the silent stretches of rice-fields she ran till she reached the blackness of a pine wood, seeking for some spot where she could die.

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The roar of water at last reached her ears, and she knew that she had come to a river. The moaning of the wind in the pine trees sounded to her like the voices of pursuers. She stopped to look around, but there was no one to be seen. The path leading down to the river grew rougher and darker as she entered the shadow of the trees, but Shiragiku never faltered in her determination to reach its bank. At last the water glimmered like a wide white ribbon in the gloom of night.

“I will now die,” said Shiragiku, weeping; “but alas! how sad my father and brother will be when they hear of my death. Forgive me,” she cried aloud, “oh, my father, oh, elder brother, that I die first. I will await your coming beside my mother in Heaven.”

Shiragiku now reached the edge of the bank and was about to dash down into the river with a prayer to Buddha on her lips when she found herself caught from behind and a familiar voice said to her: “Wait a moment! Tell me who you are and why you seek to take your life.”

It was her brother Akihide. She gazed up at him in the dim light of the moon just coming forth from the clouds. They both clasped each other by the arms and burst into tears.

“Little sister!” “Elder brother!” cried the sister and brother both together in that shock of simultaneous recognition. In the speechless moments which followed they heard the sound of a flute from the village near by break the silence of the night—they watched the rain cease and the stars shine out one by one. Akihide led Shiragiku to a large stone; here they sat down and told each other all that had happened since they last parted.


While they were talking the day broke; together they watched the sun rise in splendour and glisten and glow in thousands of rain-drops on the trees and grass around them.

“Let us go and tell the kind old wood-cutter and his wife all that has happened,” said White Chrysanthemum, smiling through her tears; “I must bid him farewell and we must thank him, for indeed I owe him my life.”

They walked to the village and went at once to the old man and told him their story. Shiragiku begged him to forgive her for not doing as he wished. Then Akihide told him that it had been his mother’s dying wish that he should marry White Chrysanthemum and keep up the family name. With tears the brother and sister thanked the old couple for their ever-to-be-remembered kindness to White Chrysanthemum in her distress. They promised to come and see them whenever they could and to let them know all that happened to them in the future, a promise which they faithfully kept. They at last took leave with many gentle words on both sides.

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Then Akihide and Shiragiku began a happy journey homewards, walking over the hills by day, and passing the night at some farmhouse or cottage they came to on their way.

When the brother and foster sister reached the little house in the valley at the foot of Mount Aso, it was early in the month of May; the cuckoos were singing, and the air was fragrant with the scent of orange-blossoms. In spite of the years of desertion and neglect, the tiny home still stood safe and firm as when Shiragiku had left it, though the grass had grown tall and thick in the garden and moss covered the roof. The sun was shining brightly over all, and the balm and gladness of the spring morning rested on their young souls.

For a moment White Chrysanthemum paused at the bamboo gate and said: “This is our home, elder brother!” Then quickly they ran down the garden, quickly they pushed back the paper screen of the entrance and entered. Were they waking or were they dreaming? Who should they see coming forward to meet them but their father, whom they had almost given up as dead. For a moment they were all silent. It seemed as if their hearts must burst with inexpressible joy.

“Father! Father!” cried Akihide and Shiragiku together, “is it really you? Are you safe and well?”

“Children, my children!” cried the astonished father, “have I found you at last?”

Then Akihide knelt before his father, and with his face bowed to the ground, confessed everything, and begged his father’s forgiveness for the past. He told him all—how bitterly he had repented his behaviour, how hard he had tried to make a new life for himself, how long he had searched for his parents in vain, his one wish being to make amends, how wonderfully he had met Shiragiku when he had at last despaired of ever finding any one of his family again, of all that had happened since her coming to the temple.

The father listened gravely to the long sad story; then with gentle words he forgave his son; he bade him to cease all self-reproach, and as he spoke the kind words his eyes grew dark with unshed tears. When Shiragiku told her story he commended her filial piety, her courage, and her patience. Now that they had as by a miracle of the gods found each other again, nothing should ever separate them.

Thus the little family found again the vanished happiness of other years.

Shiragiku now busied herself preparing the evening meal, and as she filled her father’s and her brother’s wine-cup the father told them all that had happened to him.

“When I went out hunting three years ago, I fell over a precipice, and found myself at the bottom of a chasm a hundred or more feet deep. I was quite unable to get out, so I lived on wild fruits and stream water for many days. “One morning I chanced to see a band of monkeys climbing the chasm by means of a large wistaria-vine which formed a bridge from side to side. I followed their example and soon found myself free on the hillside once more. I returned here with all haste, only to find that Shiragiku had disappeared. Imagine my distress. I inquired of every one in the village, but no one had seen her go away, and there was no one who could tell me anything about her. There was but one thing left for me to do and that was to try and find her. So I set out walking through province after province, looking for her, but all in vain. At last I gave up my quest as hopeless and returned here only yesterday.”

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The joy of the little family was great beyond all words. This unexpected meeting—the utmost desire of their souls—was a happiness which took away their breath and left them silent with wonder and thankfulness. Only one thing saddened them—that the good mother, who had died of grief and anxiety, could not be present to share in this joyous reunion, and to know that her prayer was answered and that the long-lost son had returned to his family. But she was not forgotten—they spoke of her and missed her. Shiragiku rose and opened the little shrine standing in a closed recess at the end of the room, and taking some sticks of incense set them burning before the name-tablet set up in memory of her mother; for though Shiragiku now knew that she was not really her own mother, yet she always thought of her as such, for she had known no other. Father and son and adopted daughter then knelt and with hands clasped and bowed heads prayed before the little altar.

Shiragiku now fetched and tuned her koto (harp) and sang the songs she knew her father liked to hear. This done, she accompanied her brother, while he paced through some stately measures of the classic dance. The father, calling Akihide and Shiragiku to his side, told them that he wished them to marry, as his wife had always planned.

He was now an old man, he said, and could not expect to live much longer, and before his death it was his ardent wish to see his house established.

He then named an early date for the wedding. Akihide, having only entered upon a religious novitiate, was able to obey his father without breaking any vows. He bowed his willingness and Shiragiku blushed happily. She was content in fulfilling her good foster mother’s last behest.

Now the sun set, a crane cried on the hill at the back of the house, and the stars came out one by one in the soft and darkening turquoise of a May twilight, and peace and joy reigned in the home and the hearts of the three wanderers.

[1] The war of the Restoration.

[2] An autumn grass (Miscanthus sinensis).

Shiragiku, or White Chrysanthemum – Warriors of Old Japan and Other Stories

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