THE BALLAD OF O-SHICHI, THE DAUGHTER OF THE YAOYA
In autumn the deer are lured within reach of the hunters by the sounds of the flute, which resemble the sounds of the voices of their mates, and so are killed.
Almost in like manner, one of the five most beautiful girls in Yedo, whose comely faces charmed all the capital even as the spring-blossoming of cherry-trees, cast away her life in the moment of blindness caused by love.
When, having done a foolish thing, she was brought before the mayor of the city of Yedo, that high official questioned the young criminal, asking: "Are you not O-Shichi, the daughter of the yaoya? And being so young, how came you to commit such a dreadful crime as incendiarism?"
Then O-Shichi, weeping and wringing her hands, made this answer: "Indeed, that is the only crime I ever committed; and I had no extraordinary reason for it but this: -
"Once before, when there had been a great fire, - so great a fire that nearly all Yedo was consumed, - our house also was burned down. And we three, - my parents and I, - knowing no otherwhere to go, took shelter in a Buddhist temple, to remain there until our house could be rebuilt.
"Surely the destiny that draws two young persons to each other is hard to understand!... In that temple there was a young acolyte, and love grew up between us.
"In secret we met together, and promised never to forsake each other; and we pledged ourselves to each other by sucking blood from small cuts we made in our little fingers, and by exchanging written vows that we should love each other forever.
"Before our pillows had yet become fixed(2), our new house in Hongo was built and made ready for us.
"But from that day when I bade a sad farewell to Kichiza-Sama, to whom I had pledged myself for the time of two existences, never was my heart consoled by even one letter from the acolyte.
"Alone in my bed at night, I used to think and think, and at last in a dream there came to me the dreadful idea of setting fire to the house, as the only means of again being able to meet my beautiful lover.
"Then, one evening, I got a bundle of dry rushes, and placed inside it some pieces of live charcoal, and I secretly put the bundle into a shed at the back of the house.
"A fire broke out, and there was a great tumult, and I was arrested and brought here - oh! how dreadful it was!
"I will never, never commit such a fault again. But whatever happen, oh, pray save me, my Bugyo(3)! Oh, pray take pity on me!"
Ah! the simple apology!... But what was her age? Not twelve? not thirteen? not fourteen? Fifteen comes after fourteen. Alas! she was fifteen, and could not be saved!
Therefore O-Shichi was sentenced according to the law. But first she was bound with strong cords, and was for seven days exposed to public view on the bridge called Nihonbashi. Ah! what a piteous sight it was!
Her aunts and cousins, even Bekurai and Kakusuke, the house servants, had often to wring their sleeves, so wet were their sleeves with tears.
But, because the crime could not be forgiven, O-Shichi was bound to four posts, and fuel was kindled, and the fire rose up!... And poor O-Shichi in the midst of that fire!
Even so the insects of summer fly to the flame.
(1) Yaoya, a seller of vegetables.
(2) This curious expression has its origin in the Japanese saying that lovers "exchange pillows." In the dark, the little Japanese wooden pillows might easily be exchanged by mistake. "While the pillows, were yet not definite or fixed" would mean, therefore, while the two lovers were still in the habit of seeking each other secretly at night.
(3) Governor or local chief. The Bugyo of old days often acted as judge.