It’s October! My favorite month of the year! And as cliched as it might be, Samhain is my favorite sabbat. So let’s talk ghosts!
Or, more specifically, Lafcadio Hearn.
Born in Greece, he moved first to Ireland as a young child and then to America where he settled in Cincinnati (my old home town, Yay!). His journalism career, where he became known for writing about sordid murders, took off in Cincinnati. He eventually moved to New Orleans (my current home town, Yay!) and started writing articles for a variety of New Orleans papers. He lived in New Orleans for nearly 10 years. While there he became known for writing about local culture. Some even claim that he “invented” New Orleans as an exotic place to visit.
He also wrote Marie Laveau’s obituary for The New York Times.
(I searched through my library’s databases and believe I found it. For the full thing, click marie-laveau-obit.pdf.)
Hearn moved to Japan in 1890 as a newspaper correspondent. Hearn became most well known for writing about the folklore and ghost stories of Japan. His most famous book was Kwaidan (which you can get an ebook version of for free on Amazon here). Kwaidan has been made into a movie and is still widely read.
I personally love Kwaidan and generally find the stories to be pretty chilling. Here are a few of my favorites:
(All of these are from Sacred Texts)
It had been ordered that the execution should take place in the garden of the yashiki. So the man was taken there, and made to kneel down in a wide sanded space crossed by a line of tobi-ishi, or stepping-stones, such as you may still see in Japanese landscape-gardens. His arms were bound behind him. Retainers brought water in buckets, and rice-bags filled with pebbles; and they packed the rice-bags round the kneeling man,–so 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 which 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.”…
If any person be killed while feeling strong resentment, the ghost of that person will be able to take vengeance upon the killer. This the samurai knew. 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… Will you try to bite the stone?”
“I will bite it!” cried the man, in great anger,–“I will bite it!–I will bite”–
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, clung desperately for a moment, and dropped inert.
None spoke; but the retainers stared in horror at their master. He seemed to be 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 several times with sheets of 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 stirring of shadows in the garden. At last, after taking counsel together, they decided to petition their master to have a Segaki-service performed on behalf of the vengeful spirit.
“Quite unnecessary,” the samurai said, when his chief retainer had uttered the general wish… “I understand that the desire of a 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 the 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.
Once, when Muso Kokushi, a priest of the Zen sect, was journeying alone through the province of Mino (1), he lost his way in a mountain-district where there was nobody to direct him. For a long time he wandered about helplessly; and he was beginning to despair of finding shelter for the night, when he perceived, on the top of a hill lighted by the last rays of the sun, one of those little hermitages, called anjitsu, which are built for solitary priests. It seemed to be in ruinous condition; but he hastened to it eagerly, and found that it was inhabited by an aged priest, from whom he begged the favor of a night’s lodging. This the old man harshly refused; but he directed Muso to a certain hamlet, in the valley adjoining where lodging and food could be obtained.
Muso found his way to the hamlet, which consisted of less than a dozen farm-cottages; and he was kindly received at the dwelling of the headman. Forty or fifty persons were assembled in the principal apartment, at the moment of Muso’s arrival; but he was shown into a small separate room, where he was promptly supplied with food and bedding. Being very tired, he lay down to rest at an early hour; but a little before midnight he was roused from sleep by a sound of loud weeping in the next apartment. Presently the sliding-screens were gently pushed apart; and a young man, carrying a lighted lantern, entered the room, respectfully saluted him, and said:–
“Reverend Sir, it is my painful duty to tell you that I am now the responsible head of this house. Yesterday I was only the eldest son. But when you came here, tired as you were, we did not wish that you should feel embarrassed in any way: therefore we did not tell you that father had died only a few hours before. The people whom you saw in the next room are the inhabitants of this village: they all assembled here to pay their last respects to the dead; and now they are going to another village, about three miles off,–for by our custom, no one of us may remain in this village during the night after a death has taken place. We make the proper offerings and prayers;–then we go away, leaving the corpse alone. Strange things always happen in the house where a corpse has thus been left: so we think that it will be better for you to come away with us. We can find you good lodging in the other village. But perhaps, as you are a priest, you have no fear of demons or evil spirits; and, if you are not afraid of being left alone with the body, you will be very welcome to the use of this poor house. However, I must tell you that nobody, except a priest, would dare to remain here tonight.”
Muso made answer:–
“For your kind intention and your generous hospitality and am deeply grateful. But I am sorry that you did not tell me of your father’s death when I came;–for, though I was a little tired, I certainly was not so tired that I should have found difficulty in doing my duty as a priest. Had you told me, I could have performed the service before your departure. As it is, I shall perform the service after you have gone away; and I shall stay by the body until morning. I do not know what you mean by your words about the danger of staying here alone; but I am not afraid of ghosts or demons: therefore please to feel no anxiety on my account.”
The young man appeared to be rejoiced by these assurances, and expressed his gratitude in fitting words. Then the other members of the family, and the folk assembled in the adjoining room, having been told of the priest’s kind promises, came to thank him,–after which the master of the house said:–
“Now, reverend Sir, much as we regret to leave you alone, we must bid you farewell. By the rule of our village, none of us can stay here after midnight. We beg, kind Sir, that you will take every care of your honorable body, while we are unable to attend upon you. And if you happen to hear or see anything strange during our absence, please tell us of the matter when we return in the morning.”
All then left the house, except the priest, who went to the room where the dead body was lying. The usual offerings had been set before the corpse; and a small Buddhist lamp–tomyo–was burning. The priest recited the service, and performed the funeral ceremonies,–after which he entered into meditation. So meditating he remained through several silent hours; and there was no sound in the deserted village. But, when the hush of the night was at its deepest, there noiselessly entered a Shape, vague and vast; and in the same moment Muso found himself without power to move or speak. He saw that Shape lift the corpse, as with hands, devour it, more quickly than a cat devours a rat,–beginning at the head, and eating everything: the hair and the bones and even the shroud. And the monstrous Thing, having thus consumed the body, turned to the offerings, and ate them also. Then it went away, as mysteriously as it had come.
When the villagers returned next morning, they found the priest awaiting them at the door of the headman’s dwelling. All in turn saluted him; and when they had entered, and looked about the room, no one expressed any surprise at the disappearance of the dead body and the offerings. But the master of the house said to Muso:–
“Reverent Sir, you have probably seen unpleasant things during the night: all of us were anxious about you. But now we are very happy to find you alive and unharmed. Gladly we would have stayed with you, if it had been possible. But the law of our village, as I told you last evening, obliges us to quit our houses after a death has taken place, and to leave the corpse alone. Whenever this law has been broken, heretofore, some great misfortune has followed. Whenever it is obeyed, we find that the corpse and the offerings disappear during our absence. Perhaps you have seen the cause.”
Then Muso told of the dim and awful Shape that had entered the death-chamber to devour the body and the offerings. No person seemed to be surprised by his narration; and the master of the house observed:–
“What you have told us, reverend Sir, agrees with what has been said about this matter from ancient time.”
Muso then inquired:–
“Does not the priest on the hill sometimes perform the funeral service for your dead?”
“What priest?” the young man asked.
“The priest who yesterday evening directed me to this village,” answered Muso. “I called at his anjitsu on the hill yonder. He refused me lodging, but told me the way here.”
The listeners looked at each other, as in astonishment; and, after a moment of silence, the master of the house said:–
“Reverend Sir, there is no priest and there is no anjitsu on the hill. For the time of many generations there has not been any resident-priest in this neighborhood.”
Muso said nothing more on the subject; for it was evident that his kind hosts supposed him to have been deluded by some goblin. But after having bidden them farewell, and obtained all necessary information as to his road, he determined to look again for the hermitage on the hill, and so to ascertain whether he had really been deceived. He found the anjitsu without any difficulty; and, this time, its aged occupant invited him to enter. When he had done so, the hermit humbly bowed down before him, exclaiming:–“Ah! I am ashamed !–I am very much ashamed!–I am exceedingly ashamed!”
“You need not be ashamed for having refused me shelter,” said Muso. “you directed me to the village yonder, where I was very kindly treated; and I thank you for that favor.
“I can give no man shelter,” the recluse made answer;–and it is not for the refusal that I am ashamed. I am ashamed only that you should have seen me in my real shape,–for it was I who devoured the corpse and the offerings last night before your eyes… Know, reverend Sir, that I am a jikininki, –an eater of human flesh. Have pity upon me, and suffer me to confess the secret fault by which I became reduced to this condition.
“A long, long time ago, I was a priest in this desolate region. There was no other priest for many leagues around. So, in that time, the bodies of the mountain-folk who died used to be brought here,–sometimes from great distances,–in order that I might repeat over them the holy service. But I repeated the service and performed the rites only as a matter of business;–I thought only of the food and the clothes that my sacred profession enabled me to gain. And because of this selfish impiety I was reborn, immediately after my death, into the state of a jikininki. Since then I have been obliged to feed upon the corpses of the people who die in this district: every one of them I must devour in the way that you saw last night… Now, reverend Sir, let me beseech you to perform a Segaki-service for me: help me by your prayers, I entreat you, so that I may be soon able to escape from this horrible state of existence”…
No sooner had the hermit uttered this petition than he disappeared; and the hermitage also disappeared at the same instant. And Muso Kokushi found himself kneeling alone in the high grass, beside an ancient and moss-grown tomb of the form called go-rin-ishi, which seemed to be the tomb of a priest.
The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi –
More than seven hundred years ago, at Dan-no-ura, in the Straits of Shimonoseki, was fought the last battle of the long contest between the Heike, or Taira clan, and the Genji, or Minamoto clan. There the Heike perished utterly, with their women and children, and their infant emperor likewise–now remembered as Antoku Tenno. And that sea and shore have been haunted for seven hundred years… Elsewhere I told you about the strange crabs found there, called Heike crabs, which have human faces on their backs, and are said to be the spirits of the Heike warriors . But there are many strange things to be seen and heard along that coast. On dark nights thousands of ghostly fires hover about the beach, or flit above the waves,–pale lights which the fishermen call Oni-bi, or demon-fires; and, whenever the winds are up, a sound of great shouting comes from that sea, like a clamor of battle.
In former years the Heike were much more restless than they now are. They would rise about ships passing in the night, and try to sink them; and at all times they would watch for swimmers, to pull them down. It was in order to appease those dead that the Buddhist temple, Amidaji, was built at Akamagaseki. A cemetery also was made close by, near the beach; and within it were set up monuments inscribed with the names of the drowned emperor and of his great vassals; and Buddhist services were regularly performed there, on behalf of the spirits of them. After the temple had been built, and the tombs erected, the Heike gave less trouble than before; but they continued to do queer things at intervals,–proving that they had not found the perfect peace.
Some centuries ago there lived at Akamagaseki a blind man named Hoichi, who was famed for his skill in recitation and in playing upon the biwa . From childhood he had been trained to recite and to play; and while yet a lad he had surpassed his teachers. As a professional biwa-hoshi he became famous chiefly by his recitations of the history of the Heike and the Genji; and it is said that when he sang the song of the battle of Dan-no-ura “even the goblins [kijin] could not refrain from tears.”
At the outset of his career, Hoichi was very poor; but he found a good friend to help him. The priest of the Amidaji was fond of poetry and music; and he often invited Hoichi to the temple, to play and recite. Afterwards, being much impressed by the wonderful skill of the lad, the priest proposed that Hoichi should make the temple his home; and this offer was gratefully accepted. Hoichi was given a room in the temple-building; and, in return for food and lodging, he was required only to gratify the priest with a musical performance on certain evenings, when otherwise disengaged.
One summer night the priest was called away, to perform a Buddhist service at the house of a dead parishioner; and he went there with his acolyte, leaving Hoichi alone in the temple. It was a hot night; and the blind man sought to cool himself on the verandah before his sleeping-room. The verandah overlooked a small garden in the rear of the Amidaji. There Hoichi waited for the priest’s return, and tried to relieve his solitude by practicing upon his biwa. Midnight passed; and the priest did not appear. But the atmosphere was still too warm for comfort within doors; and Hoichi remained outside. At last he heard steps approaching from the back gate. Somebody crossed the garden, advanced to the verandah, and halted directly in front of him–but it was not the priest. A deep voice called the blind man’s name–abruptly and unceremoniously, in the manner of a samurai summoning an inferior:–
“Hai!” answered the blind man, frightened by the menace in the voice,–“I am blind!–I cannot know who calls!”
“There is nothing to fear,” the stranger exclaimed, speaking more gently. “I am stopping near this temple, and have been sent to you with a message. My present lord, a person of exceedingly high rank, is now staying in Akamagaseki, with many noble attendants. He wished to view the scene of the battle of Dan-no-ura; and to-day he visited that place. Having heard of your skill in reciting the story of the battle, he now desires to hear your performance: so you will take your biwa and come with me at once to the house where the august assembly is waiting.”
In those times, the order of a samurai was not to be lightly disobeyed. Hoichi donned his sandals, took his biwa, and went away with the stranger, who guided him deftly, but obliged him to walk very fast. The hand that guided was iron; and the clank of the warrior’s stride proved him fully armed,–probably some palace-guard on duty. Hoichi’s first alarm was over: he began to imagine himself in good luck;–for, remembering the retainer’s assurance about a “person of exceedingly high rank,” he thought that the lord who wished to hear the recitation could not be less than a daimyo of the first class. Presently the samurai halted; and Hoichi became aware that they had arrived at a large gateway;–and he wondered, for he could not remember any large gate in that part of the town, except the main gate of the Amidaji. “Kaimon!”  the samurai called,–and there was a sound of unbarring; and the twain passed on. They traversed a space of garden, and halted again before some entrance; and the retainer cried in a loud voice, “Within there! I have brought Hoichi.” Then came sounds of feet hurrying, and screens sliding, and rain-doors opening, and voices of womeni n converse. By the language of the women Hoichi knew them to be domestics in some noble household; but he could not imagine to what place he had been conducted. Little time was allowed him for conjecture. After he had been helped to mount several stone steps, upon the last of which he was told to leave his sandals, a woman’s hand guided him along interminable reaches of polished planking, and round pillared angles too many to remember, and over widths amazing of matted floor,–into the middle of some vast apartment. There he thought that many great people were assembled: the sound of the rustling of silk was like the sound of leaves in a forest. He heard also a great humming of voices,–talking in undertones; and the speech was the speech of courts.
Hoichi was told to put himself at ease, and he found a kneeling-cushion ready for him. After having taken his place upon it, and tuned his instrument, the voice of a woman–whom he divined to be the Rojo, or matron in charge of the female service–addressed him, saying,–
“It is now required that the history of the Heike be recited, to the accompaniment of the biwa.”
Now the entire recital would have required a time of many nights: therefore Hoichi ventured a question:–
“As the whole of the story is not soon told, what portion is it augustly desired that I now recite?”
The woman’s voice made answer:–
“Recite the story of the battle at Dan-no-ura,–for the pity of it is the most deep.”
Then Hoichi lifted up his voice, and chanted the chant of the fight on the bitter sea,–wonderfully making his biwa to sound like the straining of oars and the rushing of ships, the whirr and the hissing of arrows, the shouting and trampling of men, the crashing of steel upon helmets, the plunging of slain in the flood. And to left and right of him, in the pauses of his playing, he could hear voices murmuring praise: “How marvelous an artist!”–“Never in our own province was playing heard like this!”–“Not in all the empire is there another singer like Hoichi!” Then fresh courage came to him, and he played and sang yet better than before; and a hush of wonder deepened about him. But when at last he came to tell the fate of the fair and helpless,–the piteous perishing of the women and children,–and the death-leap of Nii-no-Ama, with the imperial infant in her arms,–then all the listeners uttered together one long, long shuddering cry of anguish; and thereafter they wept and wailed so loudly and so wildly that the blind man was frightened by the violence and grief that he had made. For much time the sobbing and the wailing continued. But gradually the sounds of lamentation died away; and again, in the great stillness that followed, Hoichi heard the voice of the woman whom he supposed to be the Rojo.
“Although we had been assured that you were a very skillful player upon the biwa, and without an equal in recitative, we did not know that any one could be so skillful as you have proved yourself to-night. Our lord has been pleased to say that he intends to bestow upon you a fitting reward. But he desires that you shall perform before him once every night for the next six nights–after which time he will probably make his august return-journey. To-morrow night, therefore, you are to come here at the same hour. The retainer who to-night conducted you will be sent for you… There is another matter about which I have been ordered to inform you. It is required that you shall speak to no one of your visits here, during the time of our lord’s august sojourn at Akamagaseki. As he is traveling incognito,  he commands that no mention of these things be made… You are now free to go back to your temple.”
After Hoichi had duly expressed his thanks, a woman’s hand conducted him to the entrance of the house, where the same retainer, who had before guided him, was waiting to take him home. The retainer led him to the verandah at the rear of the temple, and there bade him farewell.
It was almost dawn when Hoichi returned; but his absence from the temple had not been observed,–as the priest, coming back at a very late hour, had supposed him asleep. During the day Hoichi was able to take some rest; and he said nothing about his strange adventure. In the middle of the following night the samurai again came for him, and led him to the august assembly, where he gave another recitation with the same success that had attended his previous performance. But during this second visit his absence from the temple was accidentally discovered; and after his return in the morning he was summoned to the presence of the priest, who said to him, in a tone of kindly reproach:–
“We have been very anxious about you, friend Hoichi. To go out, blind and alone, at so late an hour, is dangerous. Why did you go without telling us? I could have ordered a servant to accompany you. And where have you been?”
Hoichi answered, evasively,–
“Pardon me kind friend! I had to attend to some private business; and I could not arrange the matter at any other hour.”
The priest was surprised, rather than pained, by Hoichi’s reticence: he felt it to be unnatural, and suspected something wrong. He feared that the blind lad had been bewitched or deluded by some evil spirits. He did not ask any more questions; but he privately instructed the men-servants of the temple to keep watch upon Hoichi’s movements, and to follow him in case that he should again leave the temple after dark. On the very next night, Hoichi was seen to leave the temple; and the servants immediately lighted their lanterns, and followed after him. But it was a rainy night, and very dark; and before the temple-folks could get to the roadway, Hoichi had disappeared. Evidently he had walked very fast,–a strange thing, considering his blindness; for the road was in a bad condition. The men hurried through the streets, making inquiries at every house which Hoichi was accustomed to visit; but nobody could give them any news of him. At last, as they were returning to the temple by way of the shore, they were startled by the sound of a biwa, furiously played, in the cemetery of the Amidaji. Except for some ghostly fires–such as usually flitted there on dark nights–all was blackness in that direction. But the men at once hastened to the cemetery; and there, by the help of their lanterns, they discovered Hoichi,–sitting alone in the rain before the memorial tomb of Antoku Tenno, making his biwa resound, and loudly chanting the chant of the battle of Dan-no-ura. And behind him, and about him, and everywhere above the tombs, the fires of the dead were burning, like candles. Never before had so great a host of Oni-bi appeared in the sight of mortal man…
“Hoichi San!–Hoichi San!” the servants cried,–“you are bewitched!… Hoichi San!”
But the blind man did not seem to hear. Strenuously he made his biwa to rattle and ring and clang;–more and more wildly he chanted the chant of the battle of Dan-no-ura. They caught hold of him;–they shouted into his ear,–
“Hoichi San!–Hoichi San!–come home with us at once!”
Reprovingly he spoke to them:–
“To interrupt me in such a manner, before this august assembly, will not be tolerated.”
Whereat, in spite of the weirdness of the thing, the servants could not help laughing. Sure that he had been bewitched, they now seized him, and pulled him up on his feet, and by main force hurried him back to the temple,–where he was immediately relieved of his wet clothes, by order of the priest. Then the priest insisted upon a full explanation of his friend’s astonishing behavior.
Hoichi long hesitated to speak. But at last, finding that his conduct had really alarmed and angered the good priest, he decided to abandon his reserve; and he related everything that had happened from the time of first visit of the samurai.
The priest said:–
“Hoichi, my poor friend, you are now in great danger! How unfortunate that you did not tell me all this before! Your wonderful skill in music has indeed brought you into strange trouble. By this time you must be aware that you have not been visiting any house whatever, but have been passing your nights in the cemetery, among the tombs of the Heike;–and it was before the memorial-tomb of Antoku Tenno that our people to-night found you, sitting in the rain. All that you have been imagining was illusion–except the calling of the dead. By once obeying them, you have put yourself in their power. If you obey them again, after what has already occurred, they will tear you in pieces. But they would have destroyed you, sooner or later, in any event… Now I shall not be able to remain with you to-night: I am called away to perform another service. But, before I go, it will be necessary to protect your body by writing holy texts upon it.”
Before sundown the priest and his acolyte stripped Hoichi: then, with their writing-brushes, they traced upon his breast and back, head and face and neck, limbs and hands and feet,–even upon the soles of his feet, and upon all parts of his body,–the text of the holy sutra called Hannya-Shin-Kyo. When this had been done, the priest instructed Hoichi, saying:–
“To-night, as soon as I go away, you must seat yourself on the verandah, and wait. You will be called. But, whatever may happen, do not answer, and do not move. Say nothing and sit still–as if meditating. If you stir, or make any noise, you will be torn asunder. Do not get frightened; and do not think of calling for help–because no help could save you. If you do exactly as I tell you, the danger will pass, and you will have nothing more to fear.”
After dark the priest and the acolyte went away; and Hoichi seated himself on the verandah, according to the instructions given him. He laid his biwa on the planking beside him, and, assuming the attitude of meditation, remained quite still,–taking care not to cough, or to breathe audibly. For hours he stayed thus.
Then, from the roadway, he heard the steps coming. They passed the gate, crossed the garden, approached the verandah, stopped–directly in front of him.
“Hoichi!” the deep voice called. But the blind man held his breath, and sat motionless.
“Hoichi!” grimly called the voice a second time. Then a third time–savagely:–
Hoichi remained as still as a stone,–and the voice grumbled:–
“No answer!–that won’t do!… Must see where the fellow is.”…
There was a noise of heavy feet mounting upon the verandah. The feet approached deliberately,–halted beside him. Then, for long minutes,–during which Hoichi felt his whole body shake to the beating of his heart,–there was dead silence.
At last the gruff voice muttered close to him:–
“Here is the biwa; but of the biwa-player I see–only two ears!… So that explains why he did not answer: he had no mouth to answer with–there is nothing left of him but his ears… Now to my lord those ears I will take–in proof that the august commands have been obeyed, so far as was possible”…
At that instant Hoichi felt his ears gripped by fingers of iron, and torn off! Great as the pain was, he gave no cry. The heavy footfalls receded along the verandah,–descended into the garden,–passed out to the roadway,–ceased. From either side of his head, the blind man felt a thick warm trickling; but he dared not lift his hands…
Before sunrise the priest came back. He hastened at once to the verandah in the rear, stepped and slipped upon something clammy, and uttered a cry of horror;–for he say, by the light of his lantern, that the clamminess was blood. But he perceived Hoichi sitting there, in the attitude of meditation–with the blood still oozing from his wounds.
“My poor Hoichi!” cried the startled priest,–“what is this?… You have been hurt?
At the sound of his friend’s voice, the blind man felt safe. He burst out sobbing, and tearfully told his adventure of the night.
“Poor, poor Hoichi!” the priest exclaimed,–“all my fault!–my very grievous fault!… Everywhere upon your body the holy texts had been written–except upon your ears! I trusted my acolyte to do that part of the work; and it was very, very wrong of me not to have made sure that he had done it!… Well, the matter cannot now be helped;–we can only try to heal your hurts as soon as possible… Cheer up, friend!–the danger is now well over. You will never again be troubled by those visitors.”
With the aid of a good doctor, Hoichi soon recovered from his injuries. The story of his strange adventure spread far and wide, and soon made him famous. Many noble persons went to Akamagaseki to hear him recite; and large presents of money were given to him,–so that he became a wealthy man… But from the time of his adventure, he was known only by the appellation of Mimi-nashi-Hoichi: “Hoichi-the-Earless.”
On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka,–which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens;–and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace. Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas, this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset.
All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.
The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:–
One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family. “O-jochu,” he exclaimed, approaching her,–“O-jochu, do not cry like that!… Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall 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. “O-jochu,” he said 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 up, 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:–“O-jochu!–O-jochu!–O-jochu!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochu!–O-jochu!”… Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand;–and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,–and he screamed and ran away. (2)
Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and 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 soba-seller, who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, “Ah!–aa!!–aa!!!”…
“Kore! kore!” (3) roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”
“No–nobody hurt me,” panted the other,–“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!”…
“He! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face–which therewith became like unto an Egg… And, simultaneously, the light went out.