The Bride of Yonejiro

603

The Bride of Yonejiro

The Sun-goddess had spread wide her arms and had taken the whole land into her embrace. So dazzling and joyous was her smile that Yonejiro Nishimura found the courage at last to defy the august will of his honorable parents and to secretly wed the maiden Matsuba.
A little, garrulous Nakoda had rushed pellmell to the Nishimura castle, and between his catchings for breath and his perpetual kow-towings and bobbings he had told the haughty lord and his haughtier lady of the mésalliance of their only son. An hour later Yonejiro with his girl bride was turned away at the gates of the castle.
The young husband patted the little, tremulous hand that clung to his arm.
“This love of ours,” said he, “will atone for the displeasure of a million ancestors.”
“Yes,” said the girl hopefully, “and, if we are deserving, perhaps 604 the great Goddess of Mercy will bless us in a year with a man-child!”
A shadow passed over the boy’s face.
“Psh! That is an honorably ancient ambition, Matsuba-san. I want no child to take thee from me,” he said.
“But,” protested Matsuba, “if the gods blessed me with a man-child—-a son—-why then the august parents would surely forgive us.”
“I desire not their forgiveness,” returned the boy proudly. “Listen, Matsuba-san. Last night the little yellow moon dropped down right to my window and crept in close to my heart. I could feel its warm, loving embrace against me. But gradually it began to drift from me further and further and further away, until it was nothing but a pale beam that I could only stretch out my hands toward and yearn to reach and hold, but could not. And I thought that thou wert the honorable moon, that had come to my heart to abide but a moment and then to leave me.”
“Beloved,” she said softly, “I, too, had a strange dream. I thought that this dread Spirit of Death crept upon me with stealing step. But I dreamed also that the divine Goddess of Mercy had pity on us both, and while thou stretched out thy hands to hold me, a flower, strong and beautiful and shapely, grew up between us and joined our hearts once more in a union that no death could sever.”
“Let us go to the old priest at the 1,” said the boy fearfully; “perhaps he can tell us the meaning of our honorable dreams.”
In the dazzling light and warmth of the sun-smile these two children, hand in hand, sought the temple.
“Wear this honorable amulet, which contains a sacred seed, about thy neck,” said the priest; “the gods will bless you.”
“Promise me,” said the girl later, laying his hands to her heart, “that if the Spirit of Death shall touch me, then thou wilt take this frail body of mine, cremate it to ashes, and in my ashes thou wilt plant the seed within this sacred amulet which the good priest has blessed. When a flower shall come to life out of my ashes, then will I return to thee. Promise, Yonejiro-sama.”
“I swear!” said the youth solemnly.
The months sped by on airy wing.
“Such months of joy!” sighed the girl, leaning back against his arm. Suddenly she straightened up, and, putting her hands on his shoulders, she looked bravely into his eyes.
“But this is the day,” she said, “when thou must go to the honorable parents and tell the great news that will win their honorable forgiveness and that of all thy august ancestors.”
Up in the great castle the honorable parents received the news stoically.
The Lady Nishimura spoke in a stately whisper to her lord:
“An’ it be a son?”
“She will have earned a place in our noble household,” returned her husband, with an inward hope.
“A daughter?”
“They have marked their own destiny,” he returned coldly.
With deep and graceful obeisances the boy made his farewells and travelled back to his humble abode.
On the road his parents overtook him.
On the threshold of his house a wailing servant flung herself at his feet, and, doubling over, beat her head there. He pushed her aside and strode within.
They had dressed her in all vestal white, pure but ghastly. The Spirit of Death had kissed her gently, tenderly.
606
Said the honorable mother to her lord:
“The gods are very good.”
His lordship raised high his brows.
“They have taken her, this peasant girl, from our noble household,” went on the lady.
She evidently was pleased.
“Ah,” said Lord Nishimura, smacking his lips with satisfaction, “and left a man-child to uphold our noble ancestry and to save our mighty race from extinction!”
A sobbing moon, behind a veil of clouds, peered out upon a winding highway. A desolate pilgrim, carrying under his hakama a small lacquer box, tightly sealed.
Years passed away. The great Lord Nishimura and his lady wife joined their countless noble ancestors.
Yonejiro, the heir to the title and estates, came back to his ancestral home an old man. With the immense sum of money obtained from the disposal of the estates he purchased all the land within three hundred acres surrounding the little cottage wherein the gentle spirit of his girl bride had lived and died. On this site and adjoining the cottage he built a noble shrine to her memory, surpassing in grandeur the tombs of his feudal ancestors. He then shaved clean his head, changed his garments to robes of flowing white, and became a priest of the most rigid and retired order.
His shrine was of a peculiar order and unlike that of any other known in Japan. One stately image alone sat upon a golden pedestal—-Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy, with the halo of the moon about her head, clothed only in the veil of her midnight hair, and with an expression of divine pity on her face as she bent over and blessed a little lacquer pot within which reposed the ashes of the bride of Yonejiro and the sacred seed blessed by the priest of the Zuiganji Temple.
Years ago Yonejiro discovered that the dust in the box had moved; the following day his sharpened eye noted a little mound in the centre. In seven days’ time one small green speck peeped out of the mound. With the passing of the days the speck enlarged, deepened its hue of green, spread out into thin but tangible leaves, grew in stature and in shape. One day when Yonejiro came into the darkened temple to softly spray the plant with subtly-perfumed water drawn from a well of sweetest water, he found a strange and shapely blossom had spring into life out of the plant.
Softly and reverently he knelt before it. And while he knelt a strange thing happened. The doors of the temple were frantically thrown open and one entered with a little cry of fear and rushed headlong across the temple toward him, caught his robe affrightedly and crouched trembling at his feet.
The priest laid his hand reassuringly on her head.
“Thou art safe here in this sacred temple,” he said gently. “Pray speak thy trouble to me. I am a priest of the divine Goddess of Mercy. How can I serve thee?”
With her face still hidden in the folds of his gown, the girl began to speak in a strangled whisper.
“I am called Haru, the dancer. My master is Omi of the Sanzaeyemon Gardens in Yeddo. At a fête to the moon I did please the fancy of the wicked Marquis Takahashi, to whom my master Omi has sold me for five hundred yen. I have fled from the city, and know not what paths I have followed or whither I have journeyed. They have followed my trail as the eagle its prey. Listen! Dost hear the sound of their shouting beyond thy lands? Oh, I pray thee, hide me and save in thy sacred temple!”
The priest hesitated. The girl crept nearer to him on her knees, until her head came close on a level 607 with the strange flower in the lacquer box, over which a lighted censer swung back and forth. The light from the censer broadened and spread and gathered into its halo with the flower the girl’s upturned face.
A great upheaval shook the soul of Yonejiro, the priest.
“Anata!2
The girl’s eyes had become transfixed on the flower. Slowly he turned back the bosom of her silken kimono. Just below her long, slim throat Yonejiro saw the same strange flower, as it were stamped indelibly upon her breast.
“Ah!” said the priest softly, “thou hast come back to me at last!”

Notes

1
Temple Zuiganji: One of Matsushima region’s most famous Zen temples
2
anata: you; dear

Contribute

If you'd like to write a headnote for this text (that would be peer-reviewed before publication), please contact the Project Director Mary Chapman to discuss.

Technical Feedback

If you have noticed a bug, typo, or errors on the site or if you have any other feedback, please contact us.

People Mentioned

Jean Lee Cole

Jean Lee Cole is Senior Consultant on The Winnifred Eaton Archive, author of The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity (2002), co-editor of A Japanese Nightingale and Madame Butterfly: Two Orientalist Texts (2002, with Maureen Honey), and editor of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive (2004). She is Professor of English at Loyola University Maryland.

Greg Murray

Greg Murray is the Director of Digital Initiatives at Princeton Theological and has a MA in Literature and Religion from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Ethan Gruber

Ethan Gruber is the Director of Data Science at the American Numismatic Society and has an M.A. in Art and Architectural History from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

John Ivor Carlson

John Ivor Carlson is the Digital Production Editor at Yale University Press and has a PhD in Medieval Literature from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Jolie Sheffer

Jolie Sheffer is Associate Professor in English and American Culture Studies and the Director of the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at Bowling Green State University. She was a research assistant on the original Winnfired Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonym used in this text

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and a Developer at Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL). He is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia where he specialized in Indigenous and diasporic literature, science and technology studies, and the digital humanities.

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/.

Organizations Mentioned

Metropolitan (New York)

In publication from 1895 until 1925 in New York; focused on literature, politics, and theatre, among other interests.
Written by Samantha Bowen

Published