The Nurse

: Japanese Fairy Tales

Ide the samurai was wedded to a fair wife and had an only child, a boy

called Fugiwaka. Ide was a mighty man of war, and as often as not he was

away from home upon the business of his liege lord. So the child

Fugiwaka was reared by his mother and by the faithful woman, his nurse.

Matsu was her name, which is, in the speech of the country, the Pine

Tree. And even as the pine tree, strong and evergreen, was she,

g and enduring.

In the house of Ide there was a very precious sword. Aforetime a hero of

Ide's clan slew eight-and-forty of his enemies with this sword in one

battle. The sword was Ide's most sacred treasure. He kept it laid away

in a safe place with his household gods.

Morning and evening the child Fugiwaka came to make salutations before

the household gods, and to reverence the glorious memory of his

ancestors. And Matsu, the nurse, knelt by his side.

Morning and evening, "Show me the sword, O Matsu, my nurse," said


And O Matsu made answer, "Of a surety, my lord, I will show it to you."

Then she brought the sword from its place, wrapped in a covering of red

and gold brocade. And she drew off the covering and she took the sword

from its golden sheath and displayed the bright steel to Fugiwaka. And

the child made obeisance till his forehead touched the mats.

At bedtime O Matsu sang songs and lullabies. She sang this song:

"Sleep, my little child, sweetly sleep--

Would you know the secret,

The secret of the hare o Nennin Yama?

Sleep, my little child, sweetly sleep--

You shall know the secret.

Oh, the august hare of Nennin Yama,

How augustly long are his ears!

Why should this be, oh, best beloved?

You shall know the secret.

His mother ate the bamboo seed.

Hush! Hush!

His mother ate the loquat seed.

Hush! Hush!

Sleep, my little child, sweetly sleep--

Now you know the secret."

Then O Matsu said, "Will you sleep now, my lord Fugiwaka?"

And the child answered, "I will sleep now, O Matsu."

"Listen, my lord," she said, "and, sleeping or waking, remember. The

sword is your treasure. The sword is your trust. The sword is your

fortune. Cherish it, guard it, keep it."

"Sleeping or waking, I will remember," said Fugiwaka.

Now in an evil day the mother of Fugiwaka fell sick and died. And there

was mourning in the house of Ide. Howbeit, when years were past, the

samurai took another bride, and he had a son by her and called him

Goro. And after this Ide himself was slain in an ambush, and his

retainers brought his body home and laid him with his fathers.

Fugiwaka was chief of the House of Ide. But the Lady Sadako, his

stepmother, was ill-pleased. Black mischief stirred in her heart; she

bent her brows and she brooded as she went her ways, bearing her babe in

her arms. At night she tossed upon her bed.

"My child is a beggar," she said. "Fugiwaka is chief of the House of

Ide. Evil fortune betide him! It is too much," said the proud lady. "I

will not brook it; my child a beggar! I would rather strangle him with

my hands...." Thus she spoke and tossed upon her bed, thinking of a


When Fugiwaka was fifteen years old she turned him out of the house with

a poor garment upon his back, barefooted, with never a bite nor a sup

nor a gold piece to see him on his way.

"Ah, lady mother," he said, "you use me ill. Why do you take my


"I know nought of birthrights," she said. "Go, make your own fortune if

you can. Your brother Goro is chief of the House of Ide."

With that she bade them shut the door in his face.

Fugiwaka departed sorrowfully, and at the cross-roads O Matsu, his

nurse, met him. She had made herself ready for a journey: her robe was

kilted, she had a staff in her hand and sandals on her feet.

"My lord," she said, "I am come to follow you to the world's end."

Then Fugiwaka wept and laid his head upon the woman's breast.

"Ah," he said, "my nurse, my nurse! And," he said, "what of my father's

sword? I have lost the precious sword of Ide. The sword is my treasure,

the sword is my trust, the sword is my fortune. I am bound to cherish

it, to guard it, to keep it. But now I have lost it. Woe is me! I am

undone, and so is all the House of Ide!"

"Oh, say not so, my lord," said O Matsu. "Here is gold; go you your way

and I will return and guard the sword of Ide."

So Fugiwaka went his way with the gold that his nurse gave him.

As for O Matsu, she went straightway and took the sword from its place

where it lay with the household gods, and she buried it deep in the

ground until such time as she might bear it in safety to her young


But soon the Lady Sadako became aware that the sacred sword was gone.

"It is the nurse!" she cried. "The nurse has stolen it.... Some of you

bring her to me."

Then the Lady Sadako's people laid their hands roughly upon O Matsu and

brought her before their mistress. But for all they could do O Matsu's

lips were sealed. She spoke never a word, neither could the Lady Sadako

find out where the sword was. She pressed her thin lips together.

"The woman is obstinate," she said. "No matter; for such a fault I know

the sovereign cure."

So she locked O Matsu in a dark dungeon and gave her neither food nor

drink. Every day the Lady Sadako went to the door of the dark dungeon.

"Well," she said, "where is the sword of Ide? Will you say?"

But O Matsu answered not a word.

Howbeit she wept and sighed to herself in the darkness--"Alas! Alas!

never alive may I come to my young lord. Yet he must have the sword of

Ide, and I shall find a way."

Now after seven days the Lady Sadako sat in the garden-house to cool

herself, for it was summer. The time was evening. Presently she saw a

woman that came towards her through the garden flowers and trees. Frail

and slender was the woman; as she came her body swayed and her slow

steps faltered.

"Why, this is strange!" said the Lady Sadako. "Here is O Matsu, that was

locked in the dark dungeon." And she sat still, watching.

But O Matsu went to the place where she had buried the sword and

scratched at the ground with her fingers. There she was, weeping and

moaning and dragging at the earth. The stones cut her hands and they

bled. Still she tore away the earth and found the sword at last. It was

in its wrapping of gold and scarlet, and she clasped it to her bosom

with a loud cry.

"Woman, I have you now," shrieked the Lady Sadako, "and the sword of Ide

as well!" And she leaped from the garden-house and ran at full speed.

She stretched forth her hand to catch O Matsu by the sleeve, but did not

have her or the sword either, for both of them were gone in a flash, and

the lady beat the empty air. Swiftly she sped to the dark dungeon, and

as she went she called her people to bring torches. There lay the body

of poor O Matsu, cold and dead upon the dungeon floor.

"Send me the Wise Woman," said the Lady Sadako.

So they sent for the Wise Woman. And the Lady Sadako asked, "How long

has she been dead?"

The Wise Woman said, "She was starved to death; she has been dead two

days. It were well you gave her fit burial; she was a good soul."

As for the sword of Ide, it was not found.

Fugiwaka tossed to and fro upon his lowly bed in a wayside tavern. And

it seemed to him that his nurse came to him and knelt by his side. Then

he was soothed.

O Matsu said, "Will you sleep now, my lord Fugiwaka?"

And he answered, "I will sleep now, O Matsu."

"Listen, my lord," she said, "and, sleeping or waking, remember. The

sword is your treasure. The sword is your trust. The sword is your

fortune. Cherish it, guard it, keep it."

The sword was in its wrapping of gold and scarlet, and she laid it by

Fugiwaka's side. The boy turned over to sleep, and his hand clasped the

sword of Ide.

"Waking or sleeping," he said, "I will remember."