|Yashimune was Looking at the Gift Curiously|
Sunday, 10 June 2012
The Bamboo Messenger
It's raining again, a great time to create indexes for these 100 year old magazines. Stumbling upon a story with an oriental theme, it is written by a Canadian!
The Bamboo Messenger
A Story of Old Japan
From The American Boy magazine, July, 1911. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, June 2012.
"NO, my son," the old gardener shook his head in despair. "I do not see how I can send you to school at Enoshima. Here in Owashi the trade is dull; were my gardens but north in Yedo, it would be different. But I hear that Yashimune, the mighty Tycoon, will visit our humble city next week; perhaps my flowers will then command better prices."
Kogoro, bending over a dwarfed pine, sighed at his father's words. Ever since lie had been a little fellow his greatest ambition had been to go to the great college of gardeners, where he might learn the secrets of the art, which were revealed only to the most skillful pupils. But his father was poor, and needed his services at home; so he gave up the hope for a time.
Three days hence the great Tycoon, Yashimune, the real Lord of all Great Nippon, would be in Owashi, the little city on the sea coast. Two hundred years ago Japan was a land of plot and intrigue; Tycoon and Shogun and Mikado were great but unstable titles, and Yashimune had for a time brought peace, for he was feared by the unruly nobles. But Kogoro thought nothing of this, as he worked that day in the garden; he was busy with his own great ambition, to go to college and become one of the great gardeners of Japan.
However, that evening orders began coming in, and both Kogoro and his father were kept so busy, day and night, that they did not even see the great entry of the Tycoon. On the fifth evening business slacked enough for Kogoro to go down to the city, for his father's garden lay just outside, on the mountain slopes.
As the boy passed through the suburbs, walking noiselessly along in his bare feet, he passed an old and deserted house belonging to the lord Mitsukima, one of the high court nobles. Kogoro glanced casually at the grounds as he went by, and stopped short; there was a light in the ancient house!
This startled him, because robberies were very few in Japan, still Owashi was situated near the mountains, and was sometimes visited by depredators. Then Kogoro knew that Mitsukima had come to town with the Tycoon, and had occupied his large palace farther in the city; could this be some thief who was taking advantage of the festivities?
Kogoro's suspicion was heightened by the fact that the light was only visible at one point, from beneath a huge displaced stone which had partly fallen over the lintel. Without an instant's hesitation, the boy vaulted over the low hedge and entered the garden.
He approached the house noiselessly. It was an old stone building, long since abandoned for the better paper houses, and Kogoro stole up to the displaced stone and looked into the crevice. What he saw made him gasp with amazement and draw back.
For there, surrounded with a number of other nobles, stood the lord Mitsukima himself! A lamp burned on the table, and in the brief glance Kogoro saw that the other men also wore crests, among them some of the greatest in the land. With that one glance he turned, intending to leave as he had entered; but a voice from within halted him.
"We will seize Yashimune; that is agreed on. But how—"
The boy stood still, a dreadful suspicion flashing on him. Were these nobles plotting against their lord? Was that why they had gathered in this old deserted house? Perhaps—
Kogoro returned to the crevice, trembling with fear, for he knew that guards must be stationed in the gardens, somewhere. The next words confirmed his suspicions. Mitsukima was speaking.
"Yes, and this will be the plan. I have stationed soldiers on the mountain roads and along the plain, on the great highway. No matter which way Yashimune returns to Yedo, we will have him, for as you know he has none of the regular soldiers on this trip. Everything is in peace, and he expects no danger; it is the greatest chance we will ever have to seine him and the power at one blow!"
"But" asked one of the others, “suppose he is warned? Suppose someone brings news of the ambush? We ought to guard against everything."
"So we will," replied Mitsukima. "Here is a list of our names; we are twelve, and there are only two faithful nobles with the court. This list is divided into three of four men each, and my plan is that one of these three sections will be with Yashimune day and night. We will guard the audience chamber from any suspicious arrivals; we will police the palace with our own men; and should any come with this warning, we should thus be able to prevent him reaching the ear of the Tycoon."
Kogoro heard a twig snap, and whirling around, saw a dark shape in the distance, looming against a white plum-tree. The boy had heard enough; so he turned and stole carefully to the hedge, reaching the street unobserved. But he did not enter the city that night.
He was sick at heart as he wandered home. Here the greatest nobles of Dai Nippon were plotting against their own ruler and lord, their oaths and duty forgotten! But suddenly he stopped in the shadow of a temple-porch. How was he to warn the Tycoon?
Kogoro went over the details of Mitsukima's plan, but he could find no way to avoid detection by the traitors. The unsuspecting Tycoon would be guarded always; even could he find out their names, the two faithful nobles could do nothing. It was the gardener's son and the Tycoon against all; the odds were great.
As Kogoro threw himself down on his mat on his little room, he set his teeth and determined that there was a way, there must be a way! But how? The city was surrounded by the troops of the traitors—no! They had forgotten the sea! Yashimune could take a ship and sail up the coast to Yedo, the capital!
Then Kogoro's heart fell again. There was no way to warn the Tycoon of his danger, absolutely none. A letter would be intercepted, of course; if he dared speak in audience, he would be silenced by the swords of the watchers before he could say two words, even if he could gain admission. How—how?
As he knitted his brows, Kogoro's gaze fell upon a three-section vase of bamboo, which he had placed beside his pillow that morning. Suddenly the boy leaped to his feet, quivering with eagerness. He had found it!
For the secrets of gardening would of course be unknown to the soldier-nobles, while the Tycoon, by virtue of his rank, would have been initiated long ago. To these nobles, a flower would mean nothing; to their master it would mean much, especially if arranged in some curious way. Without pausing a moment, Kogoro seized his lamp and went to the workshop.
Here he found a three-section vase, with three holes for flowers, one above the other. Now, in Japan every flower means some one thing, and a common form of arrangement is to take such a bamboo vase and make a landscape picture, by placing in the top a mountain shrub, in the bottom hole a sea-plant, or river flower, and in the center a fruit blossom, to represent mountain, river and plain when correctly arranged.
Kogoro knew the garden by heart, so taking a knife he went out and presently returned with an armful of flowers and plants. Carefully tying them in place with invisible threads, he put in the top compartment a long slender streamer of the princely mountain pine, and around it he wreathed a spray of smilax to signify death.
In the central compartment he placed a sprig of sakura, the king of flowers or cherry; on each side of it two bright red poppies, another emblem of death. Thus he conveyed the warning, that by mountain and plain the two ways of access to Owashi, death and danger would surround the royal ruler. But how to convey the way of escape?
By means of a single curved sea-weed or twining plant, the Japanese gardeners give the impression of a ship sinking, heavily-laden, inward or outward bound, and in other situations; so Kogoro trusting that Yashimune would recognize this, took a single yellow kiku, or chrysanthemum, the symbol of the royal power, and at its side twined a bit of sea-weed, which he got from the pond to represent an outward-bound ship. Here was the message complete; now to get it to the Tycoon!
There was to be a public audience the next morning, and at the proper time the gardener's son boldly sought admission, stating that he bore a gift for the Tycoon. He was examined closely by the guards, and, his identity proven, they admitted him; why should not Yashimune have gifts of flowers, if he cared for such things?
So Kogoro passed the first, second and third line of heavily-armed men, and finally entered the audience chamber. Bowing to the ground, with all the prostrations demanded by the ceremony, he laid at the foot of the ruler his vase; and then lifted his eyes for the first time. But the surrounding nobles only regarded him indifferently.
Yashimune was looking at the gift curiously. Every rule of flower-blending was fractured in the arrangement, and Kogoro had done this purposely to attract the attention of the ruler. Would he recognize it? The boy lowered his head to the floor again and waited.
The Tycoon suddenly looked closer, and said in a careless tone:
"My unworthy thanks are due you, son of Oshita, for your all too magnificent gift. It shall be placed on the toko no ma the place of honor, in my own apartments, lest still more unworthy eyes should spoil its beauty. I see that you know the arts, and have followed the rules of blending flowers as only a master could."
Kogoro's heart almost stifled him with its beating. He had succeeded! But the Tycoon continued, "Lord Sukushi, present this boy with a purse of humble gold, that he may be rewarded for his trouble and time." And the audience was over.
Kogoro thrust the purse into his belt as he left the palace, and ran home at top speed. Finding his father alone, he told him the whole story, and in confirmation pulled out the purse.
"My son, you have done well and ill. Well in acting as a son of Japan, ill in neglecting to confide in me. But this gold, although it will send you to college, perhaps is not your greatest reward; be proud, my son, that you have served your country and its honor, as I am proud of you!
Then they waited anxiously for news, and it came the next day. The Tycoon had disappeared! Owashi was in an uproar; the city was searched thoroughly; soldiers poured in from the hills and raked every hiding place for miles around. But it was all useless, and the mystified nobles marched away with their men two days later, taking refuge on their own estates, for they knew that they had been outwitted.
Three weeks later Yashimune returned to Owashi, but this time with the imperial fleet and a great army. The traitors had been overcome; and before the Tycoon went back to the capital his messengers brought to the humble cottage of the gardener a large wooden box, directed to Kogoro.
Opening it together, the boy and his father found a letter of thanks, and another box, lacquered and gilded. Within this lay two magnificent swords, and beneath them, bearing the sixteen-petaled chrysanthemum of the Emperor himself, the documents which created Kogoro, the gardener's son, a samurai,—a noble of the Empire!
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.