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The Robe Of Feathers

from Japanese Fairy Tales





Mio Strand is in the Province of Suruga. Its sand is yellow and fine,
strewn with rose shells at the ebb tide. Its pine trees are ancient and
they lean all one way, which is the way that the wild wind wills. Before
Mio rolls the deep sea, and behind Mio rises Fugi, the most sacred, the
mountain of mountains. Small marvel that the Strange People should come
to Mio.

Of the Strange People not much is known, even at Mio, though it is sure
they come there. It seems they are shy indeed, more's the pity. They
come through the blue air, or across the mysterious paths of the sea.
Their footprints are never, never seen upon the wet beach, for they
tread too lightly. But sometimes in their dancing they sweep their robes
upon the sand and leave it ribbed and ruffled; so, often enough, it may
be seen at Mio.

This is not all. Once a fisherman of Mio set eyes upon a maiden of the
Strange People, and talked with her and made her do his bidding. This is
a true thing, and thus it came about.

The fisherman was out in his boat all night. He cast his net here and he
cast his net there, but he caught nothing at all for his pains. It may
be believed that he grew weary enough before the morning. In the cold of
the dawn he brought his boat to shore and set foot on Mio Strand,
shivering.

Then, so he says, a warm wind met him and blew through his garments and
his hair, so that he flushed and glowed. The very sand was full of
comfort to his chilly feet. Upon the warm wind a fragrance was borne,
cedar and vervain, and the scent of a hundred flowers.

Flowers dropped softly through the air like bright rain. The fisherman
stretched out his hands and caught them, lotus and jessamine and
pomegranate. And all the while sweet music sounded.

"This is never Mio Strand," cried the fisherman, bewildered, "where I
have pulled my boat ashore a thousand times or flown kites upon a
holiday. Alack, I fear me I have sailed to the Fortunate Isles unawares,
or come unwilling to the Sea King's garden; or very like I am dead and
never knew it, and this is Yomi. O Yomi, Land of Yomi, how like thou art
to Mio Strand, my dear home!"

After he had said this, the fisherman looked up the beach and down the
beach, and he turned and saw Fuji, the mountain of mountains, and then
he turned and saw the deep rolling sea and knew he was at Mio and no
other place, and gave a long sigh.

"Thanks be," he said, and lifting his eyes he saw a robe of feathers
hanging upon the branch of a pine tree. In the robe were feathers of
all the birds that fly, every one; the kingfisher and the golden
pheasant, the love bird, the swan, the crow, the cormorant, the dove,
the bullfinch, the falcon, the plover, and the heron.

"Ah, the pretty fluttering thing!" said the fisherman, and he took it
from the pine tree where it hung.

"Ah, the warm, sweet, fairy thing!" said the fisherman; "I'll take it
home for a treasure, sure no money could buy it, and I'll show it to all
the folk of the village." And off he set for home with the fairy
feathers over his arm.

Now the maiden of the Strange People had been playing all this time with
the White Children of the Foam that live in the salt sea. She looked up
through the cold clear water and marked that her robe hung no longer on
the pine-tree branch.

"Alas, alas!" she cried, "my robe, my feather robe!" Swifter than any
arrow she sprang from the water, and sped, fleet of foot, along the wet
sand. The White Children of the Foam followed at her flashing heels.
Clad in the cloak of her long hair, she came up with the fisherman.

"Give me my feather robe," she said, and held out her hand for it.

"Why?" said the fisherman.

"'Tis mine. I want it. I must have it."

"Oho," said the fisherman, "finding's keeping," and he didn't give her
the feather robe.

"I am a Fairy," she said.

"Farewell, Fairy," said the fisherman.

"A Moon Fairy," she said.

"Farewell, Moon Fairy," said the fisherman, and he made to take his way
along Mio Strand. At that she snatched at the feather robe, but the
fisherman held fast. The feathers fluttered out and dropped upon the
sand.

"I wouldn't do that," said the fisherman. "You'll have it all to
pieces."

"I am a Moon Fairy, and at dawn I came to play upon fair Mio Strand;
without my feathers I cannot go back to my place, my home in High
Heaven. Therefore give me my feathers."

"No," said the fisherman.

"Oh, fisherman, fisherman, give me my robe."

"I couldn't think of it," said the fisherman.

At this the maiden fell upon her knees and drooped like a lily in the
heat of the day. With her arms she held the fisherman about the knees,
and as she clung to him beseeching him, he felt her tears upon his bare
feet.

She wept and said:

"I am a bird, a frail bird,
A wounded bird with broken wings,
I must die far from home,
For the Five Woes are come upon me.
The red flowers in my hair are faded;
My robe is made unclean;
Faintness comes upon me;
I cannot see--farewell, dear sight of my eyes;
I have lost joy.
Oh, blessed flying clouds, and happy birds,
And golden dust in the wind,
And flying thoughts and flying prayers!
I have lost all joy."

"Oh, stop," said the fisherman, "you may have your robe."

"Give," she cried.

"Softly, softly," said the fisherman. "Not so fast. I will give you your
robe if you will dance for me here on Mio Strand."

"What must I dance?" she asked.

"You must dance the mystic dance that makes the Palace of the Moon turn
round."

She said, "Give me my feathers and I will dance it. I cannot dance
without my feathers."

"What if you cheat me, what if you break your promise and fly
immediately to the moon and no dancing at all?"

"Ah, fisherman," she said, "the faith of a Fairy!"

Then he gave her the robe.

Now, when she had arrayed herself and flung back her hair, the Fairy
began to dance upon the yellow sand. In and out of the feather robe
crept her fairy feet. Slowly, softly, she went with folded wings and
sang:

"Oh, the gold and silver mountains of the Moon,
And the sweet Singing Birds of Heaven!
They sing in the branches of the cinnamon tree,
To entertain the thirty kings that are there.
Fifteen kings in white garments,
To reign for fifteen days.
Fifteen kings in black garments,
To reign for fifteen days.
I hear the music of Heaven;
Away, away, I fly to Fairy Places."

At this the Fairy spread her rainbow-coloured wings, and the wind that
they made fluttered the red flowers in her hair. Out streamed the robe
of feathers bright and gay.

The Fairy laughed. Her feet touched the waves of the sea; her feet
touched the grass and the flowers inshore. They touched the high
branches of the pines and then the white clouds.

"Farewell, fisherman!" the Fairy cried, and he saw her no more.

Long, long he stood gazing up into the sky. At length he stooped and
picked up a little feather from the shore, a grey dove's feather. He
smoothed it out with his finger and hid it in his girdle.

Then he went to his home.





Next: The Singing Bird Of Heaven

Previous: The Maiden Of Unai



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