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The Story of Japan by  R. Van Bergen


 

 

THE FORTY-SEVEN RÔNIN (CONCLUDED)

[163] ON a narrow strip of land extending into the bay, with yashiki residences of other nobles on both sides, was the house of the court noble for whose murder such deep plans had been laid. A dark night had been set apart for the attack, which was to be made according to the directions of the man who had furnished the plan of the grounds.

The appointed time arrived; it was dark and the ground was white with snow. The son, in command of half the band, was to scale the wall near the front gate, while the secretary, with the other half, would enter by the water gate. The party at the front gate were in position and listened impatiently for the signal that the water gate had been forced. After waiting for a long time, two of them cautiously scaled the wall and dropped down on the other side. They heard the watchman's rattle, as he was making his rounds, and when he passed near the spot where they lay concealed, they sprang upon him, gagged and secured him. They forced him to continue his rounds, and to rattle at stated intervals, that nothing unusual might arouse suspicion. At last the signal was heard. Dark forms rushed to the front gate, opened it, and admitted the son with his [164] men, shouting the battle cry agreed upon. The guards and servants, running hither and thither without order or supervision, were cut down by the sharp swords of the avengers. Now they approached the house. In a few minutes the tightly closed shutters were unfastened, and the victorious samurai searched the rooms for their intended victim.

Seated on a stool in the garden, the secretary directed the movements of his men. But the noise had aroused the inmates of the adjacent residences, and men bearing lanterns and torches appeared upon the neighboring roofs, their bearers inquiring into the cause of this disturbance. The secretary with all politeness informed them of the feud against the court noble, adding that there was no danger of fire, so that their residences would not be damaged. His object was vengeance only; but if they were inclined to make their neighbor's cause their own, he was ready to receive them. Satisfied with this explanation, and fully sympathizing with the cause of the disturbers, the uninvited spectators withdrew.

The avenging party was now in possession of the place, but its owner, the object of their vengeance, was not to be found. It looked, indeed, as if he had effected his escape, and the secretary, after detailing men to guard the gates, commenced a systematic search. The residence was ransacked in every nook and corner; but neither there nor in the grounds could be found any trace of the fugitive. In searching the shed used for storing charcoal, a person was found hiding, and being dragged out, was recognized as the [165] missing noble. He was led to the secretary, who, bowing in recognition of the captive's rank, briefly reminded him of the misfortunes he had caused the clan and its lord, and requested him to commit hara-kiri that the soul of the dead daimio might be appeased by having the noble's head placed upon his tomb.

"So be it," was the reply; "my head shall be at your disposal." Then he drew his dagger as if to use it upon himself. But, suddenly rising to his feet, he struck furiously at the secretary. The latter, however, was on his guard and caught his now desperate foe by the wrist. After a brief struggle, the noble lay writhing on the ground. "Do with him as you please!" exclaimed the secretary; and the next instant the swords of the samurai were buried in the body of their enemy.

"O happy hour!" one cried, as he withdrew his sword "O blessed event! For this we have left parents, wives, and children, and lived as homeless outcasts. For this we have refused to take honorable service, that we might be free to wreak vengeance upon our destroyer. Could we live three thousand years, never again might we hope to meet with such good fortune!"

Then the head was cut off, washed, and reverently set upon a temporary altar where the dead daimio's emblem had been placed by the secretary. The samurai then burned incense, and called upon the soul of their lord to approve of the act to which they had devoted their lives. It was now broad daylight, and the [166] city was ringing with their deed. They formed in procession, and, passing before the residence of a high noble, they were invited to enter, and partake of some refreshments. They did so, and were highly applauded for their loyalty. Then proceeding to their lord's tomb, they placed their enemy's head upon it, and committed hara-kiri to escape punishment by the regent.


[Illustration]

JAPANESE WRESTLERS

[167] There is no story told in Japanese books that can give a better idea of the spirit animating a samurai. It is founded upon facts, and explains many circumstances that are almost inconceivable to us. The rule that without progress, persons as well as nations must decay and perish, was defied by Japan. For more than two hundred and fifty years that country was kept stationary. Such a condition would have produced retrogression anywhere else, but it was this spirit of the samurai that saved the country. This sturdy, proud, self-reliant spirit, suffering no superiority, acknowledging no master, impatient of restraint, was stirred to the utmost when, notwithstanding undeniable valor, the samurai suffered defeat from strangers,—inferiors in their opinion, since they were not samurai, nor even Japanese.

Dissembling their real feelings as did the secretary in the story, they set about learning the secret of these strangers' strength. They began to study our arts and methods, with that set purpose which commands success. They introduced our habits first indiscriminately, to discard after closer acquaintance such as might prove harmful to Japan. Self-interest was never considered. When wealth was requisite for their purpose, they would have such wealth, not as an aim in itself, but as an incident to promote their schemes. They have transferred their loyalty from clan to country, and from hollyhock or gentian to the imperial chrysanthemum. What must be the future of a country, guided by such a spirit?


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