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The Mandarin Duck

 

There was a falconer and hunter named Sonjo. One day at Akanuma he saw a pair of mandarin ducks swimming together in a river that he was about to cross. To kill a mandarin duck is not considered good luck at all, but Sonjo happened to very hungry, and he shot at the pair. His arrow pierced the male; the female escaped into the rushes of the further shore, and disappeared. Sonjo took the dead bird home, and cooked it.

That night he dreamed that a beautiful woman came into his room, stood by his pillow, and began to weep. So bitterly did she weep that Sonjo felt as if his heart were being torn out. The woman cried to him: “Oh! Why did you kill him? What harm did he ever do you? Of what wrong was he guilty? We were so happy together, and you killed him! Me too you have killed, for I will not live without my husband!”

Then again she wept so bitterly that her crying pierced into the marrow of the listener’s bones, and she sobbed out a poem: “At the coming of twilight I invited him to return with me. Now to sleep alone in the shadow of the rushes – Oh, what misery unspeakable!”

After reciting these verses, she exclaimed: “You do not know, you cannot know what you have done! But tomorrow, when you go to Akanuma, you will see, you will see . . . .” And weeping very piteously, she went away.

When Sonjo awoke in the morning, this dream remained so vivid in his mind that he was greatly troubled. And he resolved to go to Akanuma at once, that he might learn whether his dream was anything more than a dream.

So he went to Akanuma; and there at the riverbank he saw the female mandarin duck swimming alone. The bird looked up and saw Sonjo; but instead of trying to escape, she swam straight towards him, looking at him all the while in a strange fixed way. Then, with her beak, she suddenly tore open her own body, and died before the hunter’s eyes.

Sonjo shaved his head and became a priest.

 

On the Akasaka Road

On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat with high green banks rising up to gardens; on the other, long walls of an imperial palace. Before the era of street-lamps, this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and many pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than climb the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone after sunset.

One night long ago, an old merchant was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he saw a woman crouching by the moat, all alone and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her assistance or consolation. She appeared slight and graceful, handsomely dressed; and her hair was like that of a young girl of good family.

“Young lady,” he exclaimed, approaching her. “Do not cry like that. Tell me what the trouble is. I would be glad to help you.” (He really meant what he said, for he was a very kind man.) But she continued to weep, hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves. “Young lady,” he began again, as gently as he could, “please, please listen to me! This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you! Only tell me how I may be of some help to you!” Slowly she rose, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve. He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded: “Young lady, listen to me, just for one little moment!”

The young woman slowly turned around, and dropped her sleeve. She stroked her face with her hand . . . and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth. He screamed and ran away. Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran, and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it.

It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant noodle-seller, who had set down his stand by the roadside; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the noodle-seller, crying out, “Ah! – aa!! – aaa!!!”

“Hey now!” exclaimed the soba-man roughly. “What is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”

“Nobody hurt me,” panted the merchant, only . . . Ah! – aa!”

“Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”

“Not robbers – not robbers,” gasped the terrified man. “I saw – I saw a woman – by the moat – and she showed me . . . . Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”

“Well! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the noodle-man stroking his own face – which was also smooth and featureless, like an egg. And, simultaneously, the light went out.

 

Death, Where is Thy Bite?

An execution was about to take place in the garden of an important samurai. The condemned man was made to kneel down in a wide sanded space with arms bound behind him. Retainers and servants packed rice-bags around the kneeling man, wedging him in that he could not move. The master came, and observed the arrangements. He found them satisfactory, and made no remarks.

Suddenly the condemned man cried out to him. “Honored sir, the fault for which I have been doomed I did not wittingly commit. It was only my very great stupidity that caused the fault. Having been born stupid, by reason of my Karma, I could not always help making mistakes. But to kill a man for being stupid is wrong – and that wrong will be repaid. So surely as you kill me, so surely shall I be avenged. Out of the resentment that you provoke will come the vengeance, and evil will be rendered for evil.”

It’s believed that if any person is killed while feeling strong resentment, his ghost will be able to take vengeance upon the killer. The samurai knew this, and he replied very gently, almost caressingly: “We shall allow you to frighten us as much as you please – after you are dead. But it is difficult to believe that you mean what you say. Will you try to give us some sign of your great resentment – after your head has been cut off?”

“Assuredly I will,” answered the man.

“Very well,” said the samurai, drawing his long sword. “I am now going to cut off your head. Directly in front of you there is a stepping-stone. After your head has been cut off, try to bite the stepping-stone. If your angry ghost can help you to do that, some of us may be frightened. Swill you try to bite the stone?

“I will bite it!” cried the man angrily. “I will bite it! I will –“

There was a flash, a swish, a crunching thud: the bound body bowed over the rice sacks – two long blood-jets pumping from the shorn neck – and the head rolled upon the sand. Heavily, toward the stepping-stone it rolled: then, suddenly bounding, it caught the upper edge of the stone between its teeth and clung desperately for a moment. Then it dropped off and stood still.

None spoke; but the retainers stared in horror at their master. He seemed quite unconcerned. He merely held out his sword to the nearest attendant, who, with a wooden dipper, poured water over the blade from haft to point, and then carefully wiped the steel with soft paper. And thus ended the ceremonial part of the incident.

For months thereafter, the retainers and the domestics lived in ceaseless fear of ghostly visitation. None of them doubted that the promised vengeance would come; and their constant terror caused them to hear and to see much that did not exist. They became afraid of the sound of the wind in the bamboos, afraid even of the shadows in the garden. At last, after taking counsel together, they decided to petition their master to have an exorcism service performed on behalf of the vengeful spirit.

“Quite unnecessary,” the samurai said, when his chief retainer uttered the general wish. “I understand that the desire of dying man for revenge may be a cause for fear. But in this case there is nothing to fear.”

The retainer looked at his master beseechingly, but hesitated to ask the reason of the alarming confidence.

“Oh, the reason is simple enough,” declared the samurai, divining the unspoken doubt. “Only the very last intention of the fellow could have been dangerous; and when I challenged him to give me a sign, I diverted his mind from the desire of revenge. He died with the set purpose of biting the stepping-stone; and that purpose he was able to accomplish, but nothing else. All the rest he must have forgotten. So you need not feel any further anxiety about the matter.”

And indeed the dead man gave no more trouble. Nothing at all happened.

 

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