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KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Lafcadio Hearn) online
THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKE
But in the twenty-fourth year of his governorship, a great misfortune came upon him; for his wife, who had borne him seven children,-- five boys and two girls,-- fell sick and died. She was buried, with high pomp, on the summit of a beautiful hill in the district of Hanryoko; and a monument, exceedingly splendid, was placed upon her grave. But Akinosuke felt such grief at her death that he no longer cared to live.
Now when the legal period of mourning was over, there came to Raishu, from the Tokoyo palace, a shisha, or royal messenger. The shisha delivered to Akinosuke a message of condolence, and then said to him:--
"These are the words which our august master, the King of Tokoyo, commands that I repeat to you: 'We will now send you back to your own people and country. As for the seven children, they are the grandsons and granddaughters of the King, and shall be fitly cared for. Do not, therefore, allow you mind to be troubled concerning them.'"
On receiving this mandate, Akinosuke submissively prepared for his departure. When all his affairs had been settled, and the ceremony of bidding farewell to his counselors and trusted officials had been concluded, he was escorted with much honor to the port. There he embarked upon the ship sent for him; and the ship sailed out into the blue sea, under the blue sky; and the shape of the island of Raishu itself turned blue, and then turned grey, and then vanished forever... And Akinosuke suddenly awoke -- under the cedar-tree in his own garden!
For a moment he was stupefied and dazed. But he perceived his two friends still seated near him,-- drinking and chatting merrily. He stared at them in a bewildered way, and cried aloud,--
"Akinosuke must have been dreaming," one of them exclaimed, with a laugh. "What did you see, Akinosuke, that was strange?"
Then Akinosuke told his dream,-- that dream of three-and-twenty years' sojourn in the realm of Tokoyo, in the island of Raishu;-- and they were astonished, because he had really slept for no more than a few minutes.
One goshi said:--
"Indeed, you saw strange things. We also saw something strange while you were napping. A little yellow butterfly was fluttering over your face for a moment or two; and we watched it. Then it alighted on the ground beside you, close to the tree; and almost as soon as it alighted there, a big, big ant came out of a hole and seized it and pulling it down into the hole. Just before you woke up, we saw that very butterfly come out of the hole again, and flutter over your face as before. And then it suddenly disappeared: we do not know where it went."
"Perhaps it was Akinosuke's soul," the other goshi said;-- "certainly I thought I saw it fly into his mouth... But, even if that butterfly was Akinosuke's soul, the fact would not explain his dream."
"The ants might explain it," returned the first speaker. "Ants are queer beings -- possibly goblins... Anyhow, there is a big ant's nest under that cedar-tree."...
"Let us look!" cried Akinosuke, greatly moved by this suggestion. And he went for a spade.
The ground about and beneath the cedar-tree proved to have been excavated, in a most surprising way, by a prodigious colony of ants. The ants had furthermore built inside their excavations; and their tiny constructions of straw, clay, and stems bore an odd resemblance to miniature towns. In the middle of a structure considerably larger than the rest there was a marvelous swarming of small ants around the body of one very big ant, which had yellowish wings and a long black head.
"Why, there is the King of my dream!" cried Akinosuke; "and there is the palace of Tokoyo!... How extraordinary!... Raishu ought to lie somewhere southwest of it -- to the left of that big root... Yes! -- here it is!... How very strange! Now I am sure that I can find the mountain of Hanryoko, and the grave of the princess."...
In the wreck of the nest he searched and searched, and at last discovered a tiny mound, on the top of which was fixed a water-worn pebble, in shape resembling a Buddhist monument. Underneath it he found -- embedded in clay -- the dead body of a female ant.