Long enough ago there dwelt within a day’s journey of the city of Kioto a gentleman of simple mind and manners, but good estate. His wife, rest her soul, had been dead these many years, and the good man lived in great peace and quiet with his only son. They kept clear of women-kind, and knew nothing at all either of their winning or their bothering ways. They had good steady men-servants in their house, and never set eyes on a pair of long sleeves or a scarlet obi from morning till night.
The truth is that they were as happy as the day is long. Sometimes they laboured in the rice-fields. Other days they went a-fishing. In the spring, forth they went to admire the cherry flower or the plum, and later they set out to view the iris or the peony or the lotus, as the case might be. At these times they would drink a little saké, and twist their blue and white tenegui about their heads and be as jolly as you please, for there was no one to say them nay. Often enough they came home by lantern light. They wore their oldest clothes, and were mighty irregular at their meals.
But the pleasures of life are fleeting—more’s the pity!—and presently the father felt old age creeping upon him.
One night, as he sat smoking and warming his hands over the charcoal, “Boy,” says he, “it’s high time you got married.”
“Now the gods forbid!” cries the young man. “Father, what makes you say such terrible things? Or are you joking? You must be joking,” he says.
“I’m not joking at all,” says the father; “I never spoke a truer word, and that you’ll know soon enough.”
“But, father, I am mortally afraid of women.”
“And am I not the same?” says the father. “I’m sorry for you, my boy.”
“Then what for must I marry?” says the son.
“In the way of nature I shall die before long, and you’ll need a wife to take care of you.”
Now the tears stood in the young man’s eyes when he heard this, for he was tender-hearted; but all he said was, “I can take care of myself very well.”
“That’s the very thing you cannot,” says his father.
The long and short of it was that they found the young man a wife. She was young, and as pretty as a picture. Her name was Tassel, just that, or Fusa, as they say in her language.
After they had drunk down the “Three Times Three” together and so became man and wife, they stood alone, the young man looking hard at the girl. For the life of him he did not know what to say to her. He took a bit of her sleeve and stroked it with his hand. Still he said nothing and looked mighty foolish. The girl turned red, turned pale, turned red again, and burst into tears.
“Honourable Tassel, don’t do that, for the dear gods’ sake,” says the young man.
“I suppose you don’t like me,” sobs the girl. “I suppose you don’t think I’m pretty.”
“My dear,” he says, “you’re prettier than the bean-flower in the field; you’re prettier than the little bantam hen in the farm-yard; you’re prettier than the rose carp in the pond. I hope you’ll be happy with my father and me.”
At this she laughed a little and dried her eyes. “Get on another pair of hakama,” she says, “and give me those you’ve got on you; there’s a great hole in them—I was noticing it all the time of the wedding!”
Well, this was not a bad beginning, and taking one thing with another they got on pretty well, though of course things were not as they had been in that blessed time when the young man and his father did not set eyes upon a pair of long sleeves or an obi from morning till night.
By and by, in the way of nature, the old man died. It is said he made a very good end, and left that in his strong-box which made his son the richest man in the country-side. But this was no comfort at all to the poor young man, who mourned his father with all his heart. Day and night he paid reverence to the tomb. Little sleep or rest he got, and little heed he gave to his wife, Mistress Tassel, and her whimsies, or even to the delicate dishes she set before him. He grew thin and pale, and she, poor maid, was at her wits’ end to know what to do with him. At last she said, “My dear, and how would it be if you were to go to Kioto for a little?”
“And what for should I do that?” he says.
It was on the tip of her tongue to answer, “To enjoy yourself,” but she saw it would never do to say that.
“Oh,” she says, “as a kind of a duty. They say every man that loves his country should see Kioto; and besides, you might give an eye to the fashions, so as to tell me what like they are when you get home. My things,” she says, “are sadly behind the times! I’d like well enough to know what people are wearing!”
“I’ve no heart to go to Kioto,” says the young man, “and if I had, it’s the planting-out time of the rice, and the thing’s not to be done, so there’s an end of it.”
All the same, after two days he bids his wife get out his best hakama and haouri, and to make up his bento for a journey. “I’m thinking of going to Kioto,” he tells her.
“Well, I am surprised,” says Mistress Tassel. “And what put such an idea into your head, if I may ask?”
“I’ve been thinking it’s a kind of duty,” says the young man.
“Oh, indeed,” says Mistress Tassel to this, and nothing more, for she had some grains of sense. And the next morning as ever was she packs her husband off bright and early for Kioto, and betakes herself to some little matter of house cleaning she has on hand.
The young man stepped out along the road, feeling a little better in his spirits, and before long he reached Kioto. It is likely he saw many things to wonder at. Amongst temples and palaces he went. He saw castles and gardens, and marched up and down fine streets of shops, gazing about him with his eyes wide open, and his mouth too, very like, for he was a simple soul.
At length, one fine day he came upon a shop full of metal mirrors that glittered in the sunshine.
“Oh, the pretty silver moons!” says the simple soul to himself. And he dared to come near and take up a mirror in his hand.
The next minute he turned as white as rice and sat him down on the seat in the shop door, still holding the mirror in his hand and looking into it.
“Why, father,” he said, “how did you come here? You are not dead, then? Now the dear gods be praised for that! Yet I could have sworn—— But no matter, since you are here alive and well. You are something pale still, but how young you look. You move your lips, father, and seem to speak, but I do not hear you. You’ll come home with me, dear, and live with us just as you used to do? You smile, you smile, that is well.”
“Fine mirrors, my young gentleman,” said the shopman, “the best that can be made, and that’s one of the best of the lot you have there. I see you are a judge.”
The young man clutched his mirror tight and sat staring stupidly enough no doubt. He trembled. “How much?” he whispered. “Is it for sale?” He was in a taking lest his father should be snatched from him.
“For sale it is, indeed, most noble sir,” said the shopman, “and the price is a trifle, only two bu. It’s almost giving it away I am, as you’ll understand.”
“Two bu—only two bu! Now the gods be praised for this their mercy!” cried the happy young man. He smiled from ear to ear, and he had the purse out of his girdle, and the money out of his purse, in a twinkling.
Now it was the shopman who wished he had asked three bu or even five. All the same he put a good face upon it, and packed the mirror in a fine white box and tied it up with green cords.
“Father,” said the young man, when he had got away with it, “before we set out for home we must buy some gauds for the young woman there, my wife, you know.”
Now, for the life of him, he could not have told why, but when he came to his home the young man never said a word to Mistress Tassel about buying his old father for two bu in the Kioto shop. That was where he made his mistake, as things turned out.
She was as pleased as you like with her coral hair-pins, and her fine new obi from Kioto. “And I’m glad to see him so well and so happy,” she said to herself; “but I must say he’s been mighty quick to get over his sorrow after all. But men are just like children.” As for her husband, unbeknown to her he took a bit of green silk from her treasure-box and spread it in the cupboard of the toko no ma. There he placed the mirror in its box of white wood.
Every morning early and every evening late, he went to the cupboard of the toko no ma and spoke with his father. Many a jolly talk they had and many a hearty laugh together, and the son was the happiest young man of all that country-side, for he was a simple soul.
But Mistress Tassel had a quick eye and a sharp ear, and it was not long before she marked her husband’s new ways.
“What for does he go so often to the toko no ma,” she asked herself, “and what has he got there? I should be glad enough to know.” Not being one to suffer much in silence, she very soon asked her husband these same things.
He told her the truth, the good young man. “And now I have my dear old father home again, I’m as happy as the day is long,” he says.
“H’m,” she says.
“And wasn’t two bu cheap,” he says, “and wasn’t it a strange thing altogether?”
“Cheap, indeed,” says she, “and passing strange; and why, if I may ask,” she says, “did you say nought of all this at the first?”
The young man grew red.
“Indeed, then, I cannot tell you, my dear,” he says. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know,” and with that he went out to his work.
Up jumped Mistress Tassel the minute his back was turned, and to the toko no ma she flew on the wings of the wind and flung open the doors with a clang.
“My green silk for sleeve-linings!” she cried at once; “but I don’t see any old father here, only a white wooden box. What can he keep in it?”
She opened the box quickly enough.
“What an odd flat shining thing!” she said, and, taking up the mirror, looked into it.
For a moment she said nothing at all, but the great tears of anger and jealousy stood in her pretty eyes, and her face flushed from forehead to chin.
“A woman!” she cried, “a woman! So that is his secret! He keeps a woman in this cupboard. A woman, very young and very pretty—no, not pretty at all, but she thinks herself so. A dancing-girl from Kioto, I’ll be bound; ill-tempered too—her face is scarlet; and oh, how she frowns, nasty little spitfire. Ah, who could have thought it of him? Ah, it’s a miserable girl I am—and I’ve cooked his daikon and mended his hakama a hundred times. Oh! oh! oh!”
With that, she threw the mirror into its case, and slammed-to the cupboard door upon it. Herself she flung upon the mats, and cried and sobbed as if her heart would break.
In comes her husband.
“I’ve broken the thong of my sandal,” says he, “and I’ve come to—— But what in the world?” and in an instant he was down on his knees beside Mistress Tassel doing what he could to comfort her, and to get her face up from the floor where she kept it.
“Why, what is it, my own darling?” says he.
“Your own darling!” she answers very fierce through her sobs; and “I want to go home,” she cries.
“But, my sweet, you are at home, and with your own husband.”
“Pretty husband!” she says, “and pretty goings-on, with a woman in the cupboard! A hateful, ugly woman that thinks herself beautiful; and she has my green sleeve-linings there with her to boot.”
“Now, what’s all this about women and sleeve-linings? Sure you wouldn’t grudge poor old father that little green rag for his bed? Come, my dear, I’ll buy you twenty sleeve-linings.”
At that she jumped to her feet and fairly danced with rage.
“Old father! old father! old father!” she screamed; “am I a fool or a child? I saw the woman with my own eyes.”
The poor young man didn’t know whether he was on his head or his heels. “Is it possible that my father is gone?” he said, and he took the mirror from the toko no ma.
“That’s well; still the same old father that I bought for two bu. You seem worried, father; nay, then, smile as I do. There, that’s well.”
Mistress Tassel came like a little fury and snatched the mirror from his hand. She gave but one look into it and hurled it to the other end of the room. It made such a clang against the woodwork, that servants and neighbours came rushing in to see what was the matter.
“It is my father,” said the young man. “I bought him in Kioto for two bu.”
“He keeps a woman in the cupboard who has stolen my green sleeve-linings,” sobbed the wife.
After this there was a great to-do. Some of the neighbours took the man’s part and some the woman’s, with such a clatter and chatter and noise as never was; but settle the thing they could not, and none of them would look into the mirror, because they said it was bewitched.
They might have gone on the way they were till doomsday, but that one of them said, “Let us ask the Lady Abbess, for she is a wise woman.” And off they all went to do what they might have done sooner.
The Lady Abbess was a pious woman, the head of a convent of holy nuns. She was the great one at prayers and meditations and at mortifyings of the flesh, and she was the clever one, none the less, at human affairs. They took her the mirror, and she held it in her hands and looked into it for a long time. At last she spoke:
“This poor woman,” she said, touching the mirror, “for it’s as plain as daylight that it is a woman—this poor woman was so troubled in her mind at the disturbance that she caused in a quiet house, that she has taken vows, shaved her head, and become a holy nun. Thus she is in her right place here. I will keep her, and instruct her in prayers and meditations. Go you home, my children; forgive and forget, be friends.”
Then all the people said, “The Lady Abbess is the wise woman.”
And she kept the mirror in her treasure.
Mistress Tassel and her husband went home hand in hand.
“So I was right, you see, after all,” she said.
“Yes, yes, my dear,” said the simple young man, “of course. But I was wondering how my old father would get on at the holy convent. He was never much of a one for religion.”
From Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James, used under Public Domain.
Notes: A similar story, The Mirror of Matsuyama, can be found here.