V. THE NUN OF THE TEMPLE OF AMIDA
When O-Toyo's husband - a distant cousin, adopted into her family for love's sake - had been summoned by his lord to the capital, she did not feel anxious about the future. She felt sad only. It was the firs time since their bridal that they had ever been separated. But she had her father and mother to keep her company, and, dearer than either, - though she would never have confessed it even to herself, - her little son. Besides, she always had plenty to do. There were many household duties to perform, and there was much clothing to be woven - both silk and cotton.
Once daily at a fixed hour, she would set for the absent husband, in his favorite room, little repasts faultlessly served on dainty lacquered trays,-miniature meals such as are offered to the ghosts of the ancestors, and to the gods(1). These repasts were served at the east side of the room, and his kneeling-cushion placed before them. The reason they were served at the east side, was because he had gone east. Before removing the food, she always lifted the cover of the little soup-bowl to see if there was vapor upon its lacquered inside surface. For it is said that if there be vapor on the inside of the lid covering food so offered, the absent beloved is well. But if there be none, he is dead, - because that is a sign that his soul has returned by itself to seek nourishment. O-Toyo found the lacquer thickly beaded with vapor day by day.
The child was her constant delight. He was three years old, and fond of asking questions to which none but the gods know the real answers. When he wanted to play, she laid aside her work to play with him. When he wanted to rest, she told him wonderful stories, or gave pretty pious answers to his questions about those things which no man can ever understand. At evening, when the little lamps had been lighted before the holy tablets and the images, she taught his lips to shape the words of filial prayer. When he had been laid to sleep, she brought her work near him, and watched the still sweetness of his face. Sometimes he would smile in his dreams; and she knew that Kwannon the divine was playing shadowy play with him, and she would murmur the Buddhist invocation to that Maid "who looketh forever down above the sound of prayer."
Sometimes, in the season of very clear days, she would climb the mountain of Dakeyama, carrying her little boy on her back. Such a trip delighted him much, not only because of what his mother taught him to see, but also of what she taught him to hear. The sloping way was through groves and woods, and over grassed slopes, and around queer rocks; and there were flowers with stories in their hearts, and trees holding tree-spirits. Pigeons cried korup-korup; and doves sobbed owao, owao and cicada wheezed and fluted and tinkled.
All those who wait for absent dear ones make, if they can, a pilgrimage to the peak called Dakeyama. It is visible from any part of the city; and from its summit several provinces can be seen. At the very top is a stone of almost human height and shape, perpendicularly set up; and little pebbles are heaped before it and upon it. And near by there is a small Shinto shrine erected to the spirit of a princess of other days. For she mourned the absence of one she loved, and used to watch from this mountain for his coming until she pined away and was changed into a stone. The people therefore built the shrine; and lovers of the absent still pray there for the return of those dear to them; and each, after so praying, takes home one of the little pebbles heaped there. And when the beloved one returns, the pebble must be taken back to the pebble-pile upon the mountain-top, and other pebbles with it, for a thank-offering and commemoration.
Always ere O-Toyo and her son could reach their home after such a day, the dusk would fall softly about them; for the way was long, and they had to both go and return by boat through the wilderness of rice-fields round the town, - which is a slow manner of journeying. Sometimes stars and fireflies lighted them; sometimes also the moon, - and O-Toyo would softly sing to her boy the Izumo child-song to the moon: -
Nono-San, Little Lady Moon, How old are you? "Thirteen days, - Thirteen and nine." That is still young, And the reason must be For that bright red obi, So nicely tied(2), And that nice white girdle About your hips. Will you give it to the horse? "Oh, no, no!" Will you give it to the cow? "Oh, no, no!(3)"
And up to the blue night would rise from all those wet leagues of labored field that great soft bubbling chorus which seems the very voice of the soil itself, - the chant of the frogs. And O-Toyo would interpret its syllables to the child: Me kayui! me kayui! "Mine eyes tickle; I want to sleep."
All those were happy hours.
(1) Such a repast, offered to the spirit of the absent one loved, is called a Kage-zen; lit., "Shadow-tray." The word zen is also use to signify the meal served on the lacquered tray, - which has feet, like miniature table. So that time term "Shadow-feast" would be a better translation of Kage-zen.
(2) Because an obi or girdle of very bright color can be worn only by children.
(3) Nono-San, or O-Tsuki-san Ikutsu? "Jiu-san, - Kokonotsu."
Sore wa mada Wakai yo, Wakai ye mo Dori Akai iro no Obi to, Shire iro no Obi to Koshi ni shanto Musun de. Uma ni yaru? "Iyaiya!" Ushi ni yaru? "Iyaiya!"