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The Flute

from Japanese Fairy Tales





Long since, there lived in Yedo a gentleman of good lineage and very
honest conversation. His wife was a gentle and loving lady. To his
secret grief, she bore him no sons. But a daughter she did give him,
whom they called O'Yone, which, being interpreted, is "Rice in the ear."
Each of them loved this child more than life, and guarded her as the
apple of their eye. And the child grew up red and white, and long-eyed,
straight and slender as the green bamboo.

When O'Yone was twelve years old, her mother drooped with the fall of
the year, sickened, and pined, and ere the red had faded from the leaves
of the maples she was dead and shrouded and laid in the earth. The
husband was wild in his grief. He cried aloud, he beat his breast, he
lay upon the ground and refused comfort, and for days he neither broke
his fast nor slept. The child was quite silent.



Time passed by. The man perforce went about his business. The snows of
winter fell and covered his wife's grave. The beaten pathway from his
house to the dwelling of the dead was snow also, undisturbed save for
the faint prints of a child's sandalled feet. In the spring-time he
girded up his robe and went forth to see the cherry blossom, making
merry enough, and writing a poem upon gilded paper, which he hung to a
cherry-tree branch to flutter in the wind. The poem was in praise of the
spring and of sake. Later, he planted the orange lily of
forgetfulness, and thought of his wife no more. But the child
remembered.

Before the year was out he brought a new bride home, a woman with a fair
face and a black heart. But the man, poor fool, was happy, and commended
his child to her, and believed that all was well.

Now because her father loved O'Yone, her stepmother hated her with a
jealous and deadly hatred, and every day she dealt cruelly by the child,
whose gentle ways and patience only angered her the more. But because of
her father's presence she did not dare to do O'Yone any great ill;
therefore she waited, biding her time. The poor child passed her days
and her nights in torment and horrible fear. But of these things she
said not a word to her father. Such is the manner of children.

Now, after some time, it chanced that the man was called away by his
business to a distant city. Kioto was the name of the city, and from
Yedo it is many days' journey on foot or on horseback. Howbeit, go the
man needs must, and stay there three moons or more. Therefore he made
ready, and equipped himself, and his servants that were to go with him,
with all things needful; and so came to the last night before his
departure, which was to be very early in the morning.

He called O'Yone to him and said: "Come here, then, my dear little
daughter." So O'Yone went and knelt before him.

"What gift shall I bring you home from Kioto?" he said.

But she hung her head and did not answer.

"Answer, then, rude little one," he bade her. "Shall it be a golden fan,
or a roll of silk, or a new obi of red brocade, or a great battledore
with images upon it and many light-feathered shuttlecocks?"

Then she burst into bitter weeping, and he took her upon his knees to
soothe her. But she hid her face with her sleeves and cried as if her
heart would break. And, "O father, father, father," she said, "do not go
away--do not go away!"

"But, my sweet, I needs must," he answered, "and soon I shall be
back--so soon, scarcely it will seem that I am gone, when I shall be
here again with fair gifts in my hand."

"Father, take me with you," she said.

"Alas, what a great way for a little girl! Will you walk on your feet,
my little pilgrim, or mount a pack-horse? And how would you fare in the
inns of Kioto? Nay, my dear, stay; it is but for a little time, and your
kind mother will be with you."

She shuddered in his arms.

"Father, if you go, you will never see me more."

Then the father felt a sudden chill about his heart, that gave him
pause. But he would not heed it. What! Must he, a strong man grown, be
swayed by a child's fancies? He put O'Yone gently from him, and she
slipped away as silently as a shadow.

But in the morning she came to him before sunrise with a little flute in
her hand, fashioned of bamboo and smoothly polished. "I made it myself,"
she said, "from a bamboo in the grove that is behind our garden. I made
it for you. As you cannot take me with you, take the little flute,
honourable father. Play on it sometimes, if you will, and think of me."
Then she wrapped it in a handkerchief of white silk, lined with scarlet,
and wound a scarlet cord about it, and gave it to her father, who put it
in his sleeve. After this he departed and went his way, taking the road
to Kioto. As he went he looked back thrice, and beheld his child,
standing at the gate, looking after him. Then the road turned and he saw
her no more.

The city of Kioto was passing great and beautiful, and so the father of
O'Yone found it. And what with his business during the day, which sped
very well, and his pleasure in the evening, and his sound sleep at
night, the time passed merrily, and small thought he gave to Yedo, to
his home, or to his child. Two moons passed, and three, and he made no
plans for return.

One evening he was making ready to go forth to a great supper of his
friends, and as he searched in his chest for certain brave silken
hakama which he intended to wear as an honour to the feast, he came
upon the little flute, which had lain hidden all this time in the sleeve
of his travelling dress. He drew it forth from its red and white
handkerchief, and as he did so, felt strangely cold with an icy chill
that crept about his heart. He hung over the live charcoal of the
hibachi as one in a dream. He put the flute to his lips, when there
came from it a long-drawn wail.

He dropped it hastily upon the mats and clapped his hands for his
servant, and told him he would not go forth that night. He was not well,
he would be alone. After a long time he reached out his hand for the
flute. Again that long, melancholy cry. He shook from head to foot, but
he blew into the flute. "Come back to Yedo ... come back to Yedo....
Father! Father!" The quavering childish voice rose to a shriek and then
broke.

A horrible foreboding now took possession of the man, and he was as one
beside himself. He flung himself from the house and from the city, and
journeyed day and night, denying himself sleep and food. So pale was he
and wild that the people deemed him a madman and fled from him, or
pitied him as the afflicted of the gods. At last he came to his
journey's end, travel-stained from head to heel, with bleeding feet and
half-dead of weariness.

His wife met him in the gate.

He said: "Where is the child?"

"The child...?" she answered.

"Ay, the child--my child ... where is she?" he cried in an agony.

The woman laughed: "Nay, my lord, how should I know? She is within at
her books, or she is in the garden, or she is asleep, or mayhap she has
gone forth with her playmates, or ..."

He said: "Enough; no more of this. Come, where is my child?"

Then she was afraid. And, "In the Bamboo Grove," she said, looking at
him with wide eyes.

There the man ran, and sought O'Yone among the green stems of the
bamboos. But he did not find her. He called, "Yone! Yone!" and again,
"Yone! Yone!" But he had no answer; only the wind sighed in the dry
bamboo leaves. Then he felt in his sleeve and brought forth the little
flute, and very tenderly put it to his lips. There was a faint sighing
sound. Then a voice spoke, thin and pitiful:

"Father, dear father, my wicked stepmother killed me. Three moons since
she killed me. She buried me in the clearing of the Bamboo Grove. You
may find my bones. As for me, you will never see me any more--you will
never see me more...."

* * * * *

With his own two-handed sword the man did justice, and slew his wicked
wife, avenging the death of his innocent child. Then he dressed himself
in coarse white raiment, with a great rice-straw hat that shadowed his
face. And he took a staff and a straw rain-coat and bound sandals on
his feet, and thus he set forth upon a pilgrimage to the holy places of
Japan.

And he carried the little flute with him, in a fold of his garment, upon
his breast.





Next: The Tea-kettle

Previous: Green Willow



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