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VII. THE LEGS OF A SOLDIER
UT the great day came a bit suddenly. Without the least warning, Colonel Toya strode into the temple. Fortunately, the student was alone; Akimo was pushing Hasu about the garden, for it was the beginning of the cherry-blossoms. However, it was only a moment until they were together.
"Now," cried Colonel Toya, if you please, quite overlooking Hasu, "where is the man whose legs I have?"
The hand of Hasu reached up and pinched that of Akimo.
"Man?" compromised the priest with his conscience. "I know not." "You must find him for me," said Toya in a soldier's way.
"Surely, Lord," said the priest, suavely. "And, Hasu-San, who is very wise, though a girl, will help, will you not?"
"Surely," said the girl.
"Though the secrets of the temple are sacred," said the priest, precisely as he had said it before, "yet Hasu-San and I and Chugori-all will help you to find this-" Shall you be offended if you are told that the old priest stopped to laugh? "Man!" he said then, and a certain occult salute of the eyes passed between the three of the temple.
And Colonel Toya, having his attention called to Hasu both by the words of the priest and her own musical voice, turned up her face and then, that he
might see it the better, dropped on his knee before her chair.
And you are gl-glitteringlike the war-god, Lord." While she reached out a timorous hand, and, like a child attracted by toys, touched the medals on his breast. "You are gl-glorious as Hachiman, Ojin Tenno, Izaniga-all together."
"No secret of the temple shall
But truly the glory of war meant
stand between me and honor," cried the nothing to the young officer here, in the soldier. temple garden, with a face as beautiful as Usume's before him.
And then and there I fear the wonderful business of love, as we call it on the Western Hemisphere, was accomplished.
"Child," said the officer, "thy face is like Usume's.".
And observe that he used the ancient and honorable mode of address, used by princes to their ladies, and that he thought her as beautiful as the celestial dancer, she who had lured the sun goddess from her cave when the world was dark!
And all little Hasu could an
For to understand how beautiful that was, you are to be reminded that Usume was fair enough to make even the sun goddess jealous.
"And what is thy illness, child?" the officer went on.
It was the priest who answered:
He shook his head hopelessly.
"They shall be healed, they shall be made entirely well," cried the soldier. "Silence!" To Akimo's mute protest.
"Do I not know? Was I not more ill than she is? Did not Jodin heal me?"
"Ah," said the priest, "but who will take her illness? In all the world there was none for you until-" Almost it came out-but for the sharp nails of Hasu in his palm-"until he came who took yours, Lord Toya. He! Who will take her illness? A woman!"
"I," said the soldier. "I owe it to some one. And since you will not find me the man- A soldier pays his debts, and those of honor damn one to the hells if not paid."
At which no fewer than three pairs of hands flew into the air, and three pairs of eyes lifted themselves to where the myriads of the gods were. Such madness!
"I have said it," cried the young soldier. "Yes, I have said it. Now, either you will find this man who gave his legs for mine, or I will heal this woman!" "Thou hast truly said it, Lord Toya," bowed the priest and the acolyte, with humble haste. And the old priest added benignly: "That is an unheard of thing, for a great soldier to bother about healing a mere-ahem! woman. But -thou hast said it, and a soldier keeps his word. So, if the man who healed thee cannot be found, thou wilt heal this woman."
"I have said it," repeated the soldier.
And Hasu-San's heart
was fairly bursting. Who had ever heard of a soldier bothering about a woman!
"Yet," the priest went on, "what know we of this girl who comes to be healed? Pooh! She may be a beggar. She may be an eta. What know we of her?" "And what know I of him who took my illness? Was he a prince? Was he a beggar? And if a beggar, is my debt to him less than if he be a prince? Did he give me less, if a beggar, than he would have given me if a prince? As for this maiden-"
He turned and looked long at her. Something very good came into his eyes; something very gentle spoke in his voice.
"As for this maiden, whether she be beggar or princess, the gods have made. her face, and the goddesses her heart. And they have sent her to me, even as the moon-maid was sent, all neatly packed in a bamboo-joint. So. Do we ask the lineage of the gods' gifts to us?"
And then Prince Toya, if prince he was, did the strangest thing he had yet done. He placed the two soft hands of the girl on his cheeks.
OWEVER, out of all this grew a beautiful camaraderie, for the soldier came to the temple every day, and the four were happier than the three had been. He told them of his battles, and the glory and honor of it all. But sometimes they were alone, he and Hasu-San. Then he never spoke of battle. It was of the gentle things. For all soldiers are poets in Japan.
"I wish you were healed," cried the young man one day.
"Why, Lord?" asked the girl. "Then I would marry you," answered the soldier.
And suddenly, deep in her soul, the lit
"Gods!" cried the priest, "a woman for a soldier!"
But when he and the acolyte were alone, he placed his hands upon the shoulders of the boy and said:
"Boy, Shaka is good, Shaka is very good!"
tle lady Hasu wished that she were well; but then just as suddenly she blotted out that wish, and meant to pray all night for forgiveness. If she were well, what would he be? For so far as she understood the workings of the god Jodin, precisely the process which had secured Lord Toya a pair of good legs would be reversed if she were to have her good ones restored.
Sometimes he would take her hands while he talked and pass his rough ones over the satin of them. Then Hasu would close her eyes and go straight to Buddha's bosom. One day it was so exquisite that a tear stole from under one lid. He put his handkerchief over the tear, and then
his cheek to hers. He drew her small hand up as if to make it seem that she held him there. And then he knew that he had made her very happy.
"Then why do you weep?" he asked. For joy," she smiled-"for joy. Women weep for sorrow, too. But I weep only for joy."
"But you are not a woman," he smiled, "only a child."
"No, I am a woman. I was tall when girl. I could stand."
"Then,' ," said the soldier, "you were once quite well?"
"Yes," said Hasu.
"And what caused your illness?" demanded the soldier.
"I?" said the girl. "Who knows? Shaka sends illness and sends health.”
"Then you shall be tall again," cried the soldier. "What, do I not know! What was I? Me? I myself would take your illness. But then I should be ill myself, and you would not wish me. Women wish whole men. But there are other ways. Do I not know? Listen. When I left here with the legs that man had given me, I was yet far from healed. He must have been but young. Truly they were but women's legs."
"Oh," cried the girl, "and so quite useless! What a pity!"
"Not at all. Women's legs are better than none. And the marching, the getting forth at dawn with the sun on one, made a man's legs of them.”
"Shaka be thanked," breathed the girl, humbly. "So that you owed him, the man, nothing-nothing at all!"
"Everything. For without his woman's legs there would have been no beginning." "Ah, Shaka is good!"
"So shall it be with you."
"That my legs shall be a man's! Yes, Lord," agreed Hasu, though she may have doubted the desirability of it.
"Lord," came a little voice from the neighborhood of his ear, "honorably forgive me. It was my heart-"
"I am glad of that," said the soldier. This she could not understand, why he should laugh at her sick heart.
"It beats one to two just now." "Naughty heart!" said the soldier. "Why is that?”
"When I am-as now," breathed the "However," she went on, "there are times when it beats two to one."
"First I will carry you, then you shall put your feet down, then you shall walk, run, dance. Is it not already done?"
"Yes," whispered the girl, with her eyes closed, the ecstasy upon her face. And then I will marry you." The girl's eyes flew open, her heart stopped, she toppled over upon the young man. But the soldier had seen enough of coma not to be frightened. When she woke she was, indeed, in his arms.
"And when is that?" asked the soldier. "When I am happy, very happy,' sighed the small voice near his ear.
She tried to withdraw her arms, but he laughed, and held them there.
"Why do you do that, Lord?" she said. "To make the heart I feel against me beat two to one."
"Alas! Lord, that is useless."
'Let us see. Have I kept my promise?" "Why, yes, Lord," though she really did n't know; that is what a Japanese would answer.
"You are walking-"
And he held her as if she had been a straw, and dragged the pitiful little feet along the ground.
"Therefore, when will you condescend to marry me?"
Again the choking and faintness. But, "When you wish, Lord of all my souls!" Hasu answered with the utmost obedience.
"Then to-morrow," said the soldier. "Yes, Lord of my souls," sighed Hasu. Obedience is the first law of woman.
'And now," said Toya, "I have every desire fulfilled but one- -to find that man I owe it all to and pin these medals on his breast. But you are very wise, my little moon-maid. The priest has said so, and so I have found you. And you will help to find the man, and your own small hands shall pin the medals on his breast."
"I will help to find him, Lord."
But that night she locked the cabinet which held the letters and the crested ring, and threw its key into the well. And she gave the cabinet to the keeping of the priest, not telling what it held, only saying it was to be buried with her, unopened.
And perhaps they did not suspect what the cabinet held; yet perhaps they did.