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KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Lafcadio Hearn) online
THE STORY OF AOYAGI
The tears of the fair one, falling, have moistened all her robes.
But the august lord, having one become enamored of her -- the depth of his longing is like the depth of the sea.
Therefore it is only I that am left forlorn, -- only I that am left to wander along.]
On the evening of the day after this poem had been sent, Tomotada was summoned to appear before the Lord Hosokawa. The youth at once suspected that his confidence had been betrayed; and he could not hope, if his letter had been seen by the daimyo, to escape the severest penalty. "Now he will order my death," thought Tomotada;-- "but I do not care to live unless Aoyagi be restored to me. Besides, if the death-sentence be passed, I can at least try to kill Hosokawa." He slipped his swords into his girdle, and hastened to the palace.
On entering the presence-room he saw the Lord Hosokawa seated upon the dais, surrounded by samurai of high rank, in caps and robes of ceremony. All were silent as statues; and while Tomotada advanced to make obeisance, the hush seemed to his sinister and heavy, like the stillness before a storm. But Hosokawa suddenly descended from the dais, and, while taking the youth by the arm, began to repeat the words of the poem:-- "Koshi o-son gojin wo ou."... And Tomotada, looking up, saw kindly tears in the prince's eyes.
Then said Hosokawa:--
"Because you love each other so much, I have taken it upon myself to authorize your marriage, in lieu of my kinsman, the Lord of Noto; and your wedding shall now be celebrated before me. The guests are assembled;-- the gifts are ready."
At a signal from the lord, the sliding-screens concealing a further apartment were pushed open; and Tomotada saw there many dignitaries of the court, assembled for the ceremony, and Aoyagi awaiting him in brides' apparel... Thus was she given back to him;-- and the wedding was joyous and splendid;-- and precious gifts were made to the young couple by the prince, and by the members of his household.
* * * For five happy years, after that wedding, Tomotada and Aoyagi dwelt together. But one morning Aoyagi, while talking with her husband about some household matter, suddenly uttered a great cry of pain, and then became very white and still. After a few moments she said, in a feeble voice: "Pardon me for thus rudely crying out -- but the paid was so sudden!... My dear husband, our union must have been brought about through some Karma-relation in a former state of existence; and that happy relation, I think, will bring us again together in more than one life to come. But for this present existence of ours, the relation is now ended;-- we are about to be separated. Repeat for me, I beseech you, the Nembutsu-prayer,-- because I am dying."
"Oh! what strange wild fancies!" cried the startled husband,-- "you are only a little unwell, my dear one!... lie down for a while, and rest; and the sickness will pass."...
"No, no!" she responded -- "I am dying! -- I do not imagine it;-- I know!... And it were needless now, my dear husband, to hide the truth from you any longer:-- I am not a human being. The soul of a tree is my soul;-- the heart of a tree is my heart;-- the sap of the willow is my life. And some one, at this cruel moment, is cutting down my tree;-- that is why I must die!... Even to weep were now beyond my strength!-- quickly, quickly repeat the Nembutsu for me... quickly!... Ah!...
With another cry of pain she turned aside her beautiful head, and tried to hide her face behind her sleeve. But almost in the same moment her whole form appeared to collapse in the strangest way, and to sank down, down, down -- level with the floor. Tomotada had spring to support her;-- but there was nothing to support! There lay on the matting only the empty robes of the fair creature and the ornaments that she had worn in her hair: the body had ceased to exist...
Tomotada shaved his head, took the Buddhist vows, and became an itinerant priest. He traveled through all the provinces of the empire; and, at holy places which he visited, he offered up prayers for the soul of Aoyagi. Reaching Echizen, in the course of his pilgrimage, he sought the home of the parents of his beloved. But when he arrived at the lonely place among the hills, where their dwelling had been, he found that the cottage had disappeared. There was nothing to mark even the spot where it had stood, except the stumps of three willows -- two old trees and one young tree -- that had been cut down long before his arrival.
Beside the stumps of those willow-trees he erected a memorial tomb, inscribed with divers holy texts; and he there performed many Buddhist services on behalf of the spirits of Aoyagi and of her parents.