The Flute

: 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,

ight 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


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


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


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

his breast.