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The Reconciliation

Lafcadio Hearn

There was a young samurai of Kyoto who had been reduced to poverty by the ruin of his lord, and found himself obliged to leave his home, and to take service with the Governor of a distant province.

Before quitting the capital, this samurai divorced his wife, a good and beautiful woman, under the belief that he could better obtain promotion by another alliance. He then married the daughter of a family of some distinction, and took her with him to the district whither he had been called. But it was in the time of the thoughtlessness of youth, and the sharp experience of want, that the samurai could not understand the worth of the affection so lightly cast away.

His second marriage did not prove a happy one; the character of his new wife was hard and selfish; and he soon found every cause to think with regret of Kyoto days.

Then he discovered that he still loved his first wife, loved her more than he could ever love the second; and he began to feel how unjust and how thankless he had been. Gradually his repentance deepened into a remorse that left him no peace of mind. Memories of the woman he had wronged (her gentle speech, her smiles, her dainty, pretty ways, her faultless patience) continually haunted him.

Sometimes in dreams he saw her at her loom, weaving as when she toiled night and day to help him during the years of their distress: more often he saw her kneeling alone in the desolate little room where he had left her, veiling her tears with her poor worn sleeve. Even in the hours of official duty, his thoughts would wander back to her: then he would ask himself how she was living, what she was doing...

Something in his heart assured him that she could not accept another husband, and that she never would refuse to pardon him. And he secretly resolved to seek her out as soon as he could return to Kyoto, then to beg her forgiveness, to take her back, to do everything that a man could do to make atonement.

But the years went by.

At last the Governor's official term expired, and the samurai was free. "Now I will go back to my dear one," he vowed to himself. "Ah, what a cruelty, what a folly to have divorced her!" He sent his second wife to her own people (she had given him no children); and hurrying to Kyoto, he went at once to seek his former companion, not allowing himself even the time to change his traveling-garb.

When he reached the street where she used to live, it was late in the night -- the night of the tenth day of the ninth month -- and the city was silent as a cemetery. But a bright moon made everything visible; and he found the house without difficulty. It had a deserted look: tall weeds were growing on the roof.

He knocked at the sliding-doors, and no one answered. Then, finding that the doors had not been fastened from within, he pushed them open, and entered. The front room was matless and empty: a chilly wind was blowing through crevices in the planking; and the moon shone through a ragged break in the wall of the alcove. Other rooms presented a like forlorn condition. The house, to all seeming, was unoccupied.

Nevertheless, the samurai determined to visit one other apartment at the farther end of the dwelling; a very small room that had been his wife's favorite resting-place. Approaching the sliding-screen that closed it, he was startled to perceive a glow within. He pushed the screen aside, and uttered a cry of joy; for he saw her there, sewing by the light of a paper-lamp!

Her eyes at the same instant met his own; and with a happy smile she greeted him, asking only: "When did you come back to Kyoto? How did you find your way here to me, through all those black rooms?"

The years had not changed her. Still she seemed as fair and young as in his fondest memory of her... But sweeter than any memory there came to him the music of her voice, with its trembling of pleased wonder. Then joyfully he took his place beside her, and told her all: how deeply he repented his selfishness, how wretched he had been without her, how constantly he had regretted her, how long he had hoped and planned to make amends; caressing her the while, and asking her forgiveness over and over again.

She answered him, with loving gentleness, according to his heart's desire, entreating him to cease all self-reproach. It was wrong, she said, that he should have allowed himself to suffer on her account: she had always felt that she was not worthy to be his wife. She knew that he had separated from her, notwithstanding, only because of poverty; and while he lived with her, he had always been kind; and she had never ceased to pray for his happiness. But even if there had been a reason for speaking of amends, this honorable visit would be ample amends: what greater happiness than thus to see him again, though it were only for a moment?

"Only for a moment?" he replied, with a glad laugh... "say, rather, for the time of seven existences! My loved one, unless you forbid, I am coming back to live with you always, always, always! Nothing shall ever separate us again. Now I have means and friends: we need not fear poverty. To-morrow my goods will be brought here, and my servants will come to wait upon you, and we shall make this house beautiful... To-night," he added, apologetically, "I came thus late, without even changing my dress, only because of the longing I had to see you, and to tell you this."

She seemed greatly pleased by these words; and in her turn she told him about all that had happened in Kyoto since the time of his departure... excepting her own sorrows, of which she sweetly refused to speak.

They chatted far into the night... Then she conducted him to a warmer room, facing south, a room that had been their bridal chamber in former time. "Have you no one in the house to help you?" he asked, as she began to prepare the couch for him. "No," she answered, laughing cheerfully: "I could not afford a servant, so I have been living all alone." "You will have plenty of servants to-morrow," he said, "good servants, and everything else that you need!" They lay down to rest, not to sleep: they had too much to tell each other...; and they talked of the past and the present and the future, until the dawn was gray. Then, involuntarily, the samurai closed his eyes, and slept.

When he awoke, the daylight was streaming through the chinks of the sliding-shutters; and he found himself, to his utter amazement, lying upon the naked boards of a mouldening floor... Had he only dreamed a dream? No: she was there: she slept... He bent above her, and looked, and shrieked! for the sleeper had no face! Before him, wrapped in its grave-sheet only, lay the corpse of a woman, a corpse so wasted that little remained save the bones, and the long black tangled hair...

Slowly, as he stood shuddering and sickening in the sun, the icy horror yielded to despair so intolerable, a pain so atrocious, that he clutched at the mocking shadow of a doubt. Feigning ignorance of the neighborhood, he ventured to ask his way to the house in which his wife had lived. "There is no one in that house," said the person questioned. "It used to belong to the wife of a samurai who left the city several years ago. He divorced her in order to marry another woman before he went away; and she fretted a great deal, and so became sick. She had no relatives in Kyoto, and nobody to care for her, and she died in the autumn of the same year; on the tenth day of the ninth month..."

Konséki Manogatari

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