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KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Lafcadio Hearn) online
THE STORY OF O-TEI
Nevertheless, as Nagao was an only son, it was necessary that he should marry. He soon found himself obliged to yield to the wishes of his family, and to accept a wife of his father's choosing. After his marriage he continued to set offerings before the tablet of O-Tei; and he never failed to remember her with affection. But by degrees her image became dim in his memory,-- like a dream that is hard to recall. And the years went by.
During those years many misfortunes came upon him. He lost his parents by death,-- then his wife and his only child. So that he found himself alone in the world. He abandoned his desolate home, and set out upon a long journey in the hope of forgetting his sorrows.
One day, in the course of his travels, he arrived at Ikao,-- a mountain-village still famed for its thermal springs, and for the beautiful scenery of its neighborhood. In the village-inn at which he stopped, a young girl came to wait upon him; and, at the first sight of her face, he felt his heart leap as it had never leaped before. So strangely did she resemble O-Tei that he pinched himself to make sure that he was not dreaming. As she went and came,-- bringing fire and food, or arranging the chamber of the guest,-- her every attitude and motion revived in him some gracious memory of the girl to whom he had been pledged in his youth. He spoke to her; and she responded in a soft, clear voice of which the sweetness saddened him with a sadness of other days.
Then, in great wonder, he questioned her, saying:--
"Elder Sister (3), so much do you look like a person whom I knew long ago, that I was startled when you first entered this room. Pardon me, therefore, for asking what is your native place, and what is your name?"
Immediately,-- and in the unforgotten voice of the dead,-- she thus made answer:--
"My name is O-Tei; and you are Nagao Chosei of Echigo, my promised husband. Seventeen years ago, I died in Niigata: then you made in writing a promise to marry me if ever I could come back to this world in the body of a woman; -- and you sealed that written promise with your seal, and put it in the butsudan, beside the tablet inscribed with my name. And therefore I came back."...
As she uttered these last words, she fell unconscious.
Nagao married her; and the marriage was a happy one. But at no time afterwards could she remember what she had told him in answer to his question at Ikao: neither could she remember anything of her previous existence. The recollection of the former birth,-- mysteriously kindled in the moment of that meeting,-- had again become obscured, and so thereafter remained.