The Peony Lantern
It was windless and dark. A cicala hidden in the heart of a pomegranate flower sang shrilly now and again. Now and again a carp leaped in the round pond. For the rest it was still, and never a leaf stirred.
About the hour of the Ox, Hagiwara heard the sound of footsteps in the lane that lay beyond his garden hedge. Nearer and nearer they came.
“Women’s geta,” said the samurai. He knew them by the hollow echoing noise. Looking over his rose hedge, he saw two slender women come out of the dimness hand in hand. One of them carried a lantern with a bunch of peony flowers tied to the handle. It was such a lantern as is used at the time of the Bon in the service of the dead. It swung as the two women walked, casting an uncertain light. As they came abreast of the samurai upon the other side of the hedge, they turned their faces to him. He knew them at once, and gave one great cry.
The girl with the peony lantern held it up so that the light fell upon him.
“Hagiwara Sama,” she cried, “by all that is most wonderful! Why, lord, we were told that you were dead. We have daily recited the Nembutsu for your soul these many moons!”
“Come in, come in, O’Yoné,” he said; “and is it indeed your mistress that you hold by the hand? Can it be my lady?... Oh, my love!”
O’Yoné answered, “Who else should it be?” and the two came in at the garden gate.
But the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve to hide her face.
“How was it I lost you?” said the samurai; “how was it I lost you, O’Yoné?”
“Lord,” she said, “we have moved to a little house, a very little house, in the quarter of the city which is called the Green Hill. We were suffered to take nothing with us there, and we are grown very poor. With grief and want my mistress is become pale.”
Then Hagiwara took his lady’s sleeve to draw it gently from her face.
“Lord,” she sobbed, “you will not love me, I am not fair.”
But when he looked upon her his love flamed up within him like a consuming fire, and shook him from head to foot.