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Of Ghosts And Goblins Post by :azdon Category :Essays Author :Lafcadio Hearn Date :September 2011 Read :1162

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Of Ghosts And Goblins

THERE was a Buddha, according to the Hokkekyo who 'even assumed the shape of a goblin to preach to such as were to be converted by a goblin.' And in the same Sutra may be found this promise of the Teacher: 'While he is dwelling lonely in the wilderness, I will send thither goblins in great number to keep him company.' The appalling character of this promise is indeed somewhat modified by the assurance that gods also are to be sent. But if ever I become a holy man, I shall take heed not to dwell in the wilderness, because I have seen Japanese goblins, and I do not like them.

Kinjuro showed them to me last night. They had come to town for the matsuri of our own ujigami, or parish-temple; and, as there were many curious things to be seen at the night festival, we started for the temple after dark, Kinjuro carrying a paper lantern painted with my crest.

It had snowed heavily in the morning; but now the sky and the sharp still air were clear as diamond; and the crisp snow made a pleasant crunching sound under our feet as we walked; and it occurred to me to say: 'O Kinjuro, is there a God of Snow?'

'I cannot tell,' replied Kinjuro. 'There be many gods I do not know; and there is not any man who knows the names of all the gods. But there is the Yuki-Onna, the Woman of the Snow.'

'And what is the Yuki-Onna?'

'She is the White One that makes the Faces in the snow. She does not any harm, only makes afraid. By day she lifts only her head, and frightens those who journey alone. But at night she rises up sometimes, taller than the trees, and looks about a little while, and then falls back in a shower of snow.' (1)

'What is her face like?'

'It is all white, white. It is an enormous face. And it is a lonesome face.'

(The word Kinjuro used was samushii. Its common meaning is 'lonesome'; but he used it, I think, in the sense of 'weird.')

'Did you ever see her, Kinjuro?'

'Master, I never saw her. But my father told me that once when he was a child, he wanted to go to a neighbour's house through the snow to play with another little boy; and that on the way he saw a great white Face rise up from the snow and look lonesomely about, so that he cried for fear and ran back. Then his people all went out and looked; but there was only snow; and then they knew that he had seen the Yuki-Onna.'

'And in these days, Kinjuro, do people ever see her?'

'Yes. Those who make the pilgrimage to Yabumura, in the period called Dai-Kan, which is the Time of the Greatest Cold, (2) they sometimes see her.'

'What is there at Yabumura, Kinjuro?'

'There is the Yabu-jinja, which is an ancient and famous temple of Yabu- no-Tenno-San--the God of Colds, Kaze-no-Kami. It is high upon a hill, nearly nine ri from Matsue. And the great matsuri of that temple is held upon the tenth and eleventh days of the Second Month. And on those days strange things may be seen. For one who gets a very bad cold prays to the deity of Yabu-jinja to cure it, and takes a vow to make a pilgrimage naked to the temple at the time of the matsuri.'

'Naked?'

'Yes: the pilgrims wear only waraji, and a little cloth round their loins. And a great many men and women go naked through the snow to the temple, though the snow is deep at that time. And each man carries a bunch of gohei and a naked sword as gifts to the temple; and each woman carries a metal mirror. And at the temple, the priests receive them, performing curious rites. For the priests then, according to ancient custom, attire themselves like sick men, and lie down and groan, and drink, potions made of herbs, prepared after the Chinese manner.'

'But do not some of the pilgrims die of cold, Kinjuro?'

'No: our Izumo peasants are hardy. Besides, they run swiftly, so that they reach the temple all warm. And before returning they put on thick warm robes. But sometimes, upon the way, they see the Yuki-Onna.'

Each side of the street leading to the miya was illuminated with a line of paper lanterns bearing holy symbols; and the immense court of the temple had been transformed into a town of booths, and shops, and temporary theatres. In spite of the cold, the crowd was prodigious. There seemed to be all the usual attractions of a matsuri, and a number of unusual ones. Among the familiar lures, I missed at this festival only the maiden wearing an obi of living snakes; probably it had become too cold for the snakes. There were several fortune-tellers and jugglers; there were acrobats and dancers; there was a man making pictures out of sand; and there was a menagerie containing an emu from Australia, and a couple of enormous bats from the Loo Choo Islands--bats trained to do several things. I did reverence to the gods, and bought some extraordinary toys; and then we went to look for the goblins. They were domiciled in a large permanent structure, rented to showmen on special occasions.

Gigantic characters signifying 'IKI-NINGYO,' painted upon the signboard at the entrance, partly hinted the nature of the exhibition. Iki-ningyo ('living images') somewhat correspond to our Occidental 'wax figures'; but the equally realistic Japanese creations are made of much cheaper material. Having bought two wooden tickets for one sen each, we entered, and passed behind a curtain to find ourselves in a long corridor lined with booths, or rather matted compartments, about the size of small rooms. Each space, decorated with scenery appropriate to the subject, was occupied by a group of life-size figures. The group nearest the entrance, representing two men playing samisen and two geisha dancing, seemed to me without excuse for being, until Kinjuro had translated a little placard before it, announcing that one of the figures was a living person. We watched in vain for a wink or palpitation. Suddenly one of the musicians laughed aloud, shook his head, and began to play and sing. The deception was perfect.

The remaining groups, twenty-four in number, were powerfully impressive in their peculiar way, representing mostly famous popular traditions or sacred myths. Feudal heroisms, the memory of which stirs every Japanese heart; legends of filial piety; Buddhist miracles, and stories of emperors were among the subjects. Sometimes, however, the realism was brutal, as in one scene representing the body of a woman lying in a pool of blood, with brains scattered by a sword stroke. Nor was this unpleasantness altogether atoned for by her miraculous resuscitation in the adjoining compartment, where she reappeared returning thanks in a Nichiren temple, and converting her slaughterer, who happened, by some extraordinary accident, to go there at the same time.

At the termination of the corridor there hung a black curtain behind which screams could be heard. And above the black curtain was a placard inscribed with the promise of a gift to anybody able to traverse the mysteries beyond without being frightened.

'Master,' said Kinjuro, 'the goblins are inside.'

We lifted the veil, and found ourselves in a sort of lane between hedges, and behind the hedges we saw tombs; we were in a graveyard. There were real weeds and trees, and sotoba and haka, and the effect was quite natural. Moreover, as the roof was very lofty, and kept invisible by a clever arrangement of lights, all seemed darkness only; and this gave one a sense of being out under the night, a feeling accentuated by the chill of the air. And here and there we could discern sinister shapes, mostly of superhuman stature, some seeming to wait in dim places, others floating above the graves. Quite near us, towering above the hedge on our right, was a Buddhist priest, with his back turned to us.

'A yamabushi, an exorciser?' I queried of Kinjuro.

'No,' said Kinjuro; 'see how tall he is. I think that must be a Tanuki- Bozu.'

The Tanuki-Bozu is the priestly form assumed by the goblin-badger (tanuki) for the purpose of decoying belated travellers to destruction. We went on, and looked up into his face. It was a nightmare--his face.

'In truth a Tanuki-Bozu,' said Kinjuro. 'What does the Master honourably think concerning it?'

Instead of replying, I jumped back; for the monstrous thing had suddenly reached over the hedge and clutched at me, with a moan. Then it fell back, swaying and creaking. It was moved by invisible strings.

'I think, Kinjuro, that it is a nasty, horrid thing. . . . But I shall not claim the present.'

We laughed, and proceeded to consider a Three-Eyed Friar (Mitsu-me- Nyudo). The Three-Eyed Friar also watches for the unwary at night. His face is soft and smiling as the face of a Buddha, but he has a hideous eye in the summit of his shaven pate, which can only be seen when seeing it does no good. The Mitsu-me-Nyudo made a grab at Kinjuro, and startled him almost as much as the Tanuki-Bozu had startled me.

Then we looked at the Yama-Uba--the 'Mountain Nurse.' She catches little children and nurses them for a while, and then devours them. In her face she has no mouth; but she has a mouth in the top of her head, under her hair. The YamaUba did not clutch at us, because her hands were occupied with a nice little boy, whom she was just going to eat. The child had been made wonderfully pretty to heighten the effect.

Then I saw the spectre of a woman hovering in the air above a tomb at some distance, so that I felt safer in observing it. It had no eyes; its long hair hung loose; its white robe floated light as smoke. I thought of a statement in a composition by one of my pupils about ghosts: 'Their greatest Peculiarity is that They have no feet.' Then I jumped again, for the thing, quite soundlessly but very swiftly, made through the air at me.

And the rest of our journey among the graves was little more than a succession of like experiences; but it was made amusing by the screams of women, and bursts of laughter from people who lingered only to watch the effect upon others of what had scared themselves.

Forsaking the goblins, we visited a little open-air theatre to see two girls dance. After they had danced awhile, one girl produced a sword and cut off the other girl's head, and put it upon a table, where it opened its mouth and began to sing. All this was very prettily done; but my mind was still haunted by the goblins. So I questioned Kinjuro:

'Kinjuro, those goblins of which we the ningyo have seen--do folk believe in the reality, thereof?'

'Not any more,' answered Kinjuro--'not at least among the people of the city. Perhaps in the country it may not be so. We believe in the Lord Buddha; we believe in the ancient gods; and there be many who believe the dead sometimes return to avenge a cruelty or to compel an act of justice. But we do not now believe all that was believed in ancient time. . . .Master,' he added, as we reached another queer exhibition, 'it is only one sen to go to hell, if the Master would like to go--'Very good, Kinjuro,' I made reply. 'Pay two sen that we may both go to hell.'

And we passed behind a curtain into a big room full of curious clicking and squeaking noises. These noises were made by unseen wheels and pulleys moving a multitude of ningyo upon a broad shelf about breast- high, which surrounded the apartment upon three sides. These ningyo were not ikiningyo, but very small images--puppets. They represented all things in the Under-World.

The first I saw was Sozu-Baba, the Old Woman of the River of Ghosts, who takes away the garments of Souls. The garments were hanging upon a tree behind her. She was tall; she rolled her green eyes and gnashed her long teeth, while the shivering of the little white souls before her was as a trembling of butterflies. Farther on appeared Emma Dai-O, great King of Hell, nodding grimly. At his right hand, upon their tripod, the heads of Kaguhana and Mirume, the Witnesses, whirled as upon a wheel. At his left, a devil was busy sawing a Soul in two; and I noticed that he used his saw like a Japanese carpenter--pulling it towards him instead of pushing it. And then various exhibitions of the tortures of the damned. A liar bound to a post was having his tongue pulled out by a devil-- slowly, with artistic jerks; it was already longer than the owner's body. Another devil was pounding another Soul in a mortar so vigorously that the sound of the braying could be heard above all the din of the machinery. A little farther on was a man being eaten alive by two serpents having women's faces; one serpent was white, the other blue. The white had been his wife, the blue his concubine. All the tortures known to medieval Japan were being elsewhere deftly practised by swarms of devils. After reviewing them, we visited the Sai-no-Kawara, and saw Jizo with a child in his arms, and a circle of other children running swiftly around him, to escape from demons who brandished their clubs and ground their teeth.

Hell proved, however, to be extremely cold; and while meditating on the partial inappropriateness of the atmosphere, it occurred to me that in the common Buddhist picture-books of the Jigoku I had never noticed any illustrations of torment by cold. Indian Buddhism, indeed, teaches the existence of cold hells. There is one, for instance, where people's lips are frozen so that they can say only 'Ah-ta-ta!'--wherefore that hell is called Atata. And there is the hell where tongues are frozen, and where people say only 'Ah-baba!' for which reason it is called Ababa. And there is the Pundarika, or Great White-Lotus hell, where the spectacle of the bones laid bare by the cold is 'like a blossoming of white lotus- flowers.' Kinjuro thinks there are cold hells according to Japanese Buddhism; but he is not sure. And I am not sure that the idea of cold could be made very terrible to the Japanese. They confess a general liking for cold, and compose Chinese poems about the loveliness of ice and snow.

Out of hell, we found our way to a magic-lantern show being given in a larger and even much colder structure. A Japanese magic-lantern show is nearly always interesting in more particulars than one, but perhaps especially as evidencing the native genius for adapting Western inventions to Eastern tastes. A Japanese magic-lantern show is essentially dramatic. It is a play of which the dialogue is uttered by invisible personages, the actors and the scenery being only luminous shadows. 'Wherefore it is peculiarly well suited to goblinries and weirdnesses of all kinds; and plays in which ghosts figure are the favourite subjects. As the hall was bitterly cold, I waited only long enough to see one performance--of which the following is an epitome:

SCENE 1.--A beautiful peasant girl and her aged mother, squatting together at home. Mother weeps violently, gesticulates agonisingly. From her frantic speech, broken by wild sobs, we learn that the girl must be sent as a victim to the Kami-Sama of some lonesome temple in the mountains. That god is a bad god. Once a year he shoots an arrow into the thatch of some farmer's house as a sign that he wants a girl--to eat! Unless the girl be sent to him at once, he destroys the crops and the cows. Exit mother, weeping and shrieking, and pulling out her grey hair. Exit girl, with downcast head, and air of sweet resignation.

SCENE II.--Before a wayside inn; cherry-trees in blossom. Enter coolies carrying, like a palanquin, a large box, in which the girl is supposed to be. Deposit box; enter to eat; tell story to loquacious landlord. Enter noble samurai, with two swords. Asks about box. Hears the story of the coolies repeated by loquacious landlord. Exhibits fierce indignation; vows that the Kami-Sama are good--do not eat girls. Declares that so-called Kami-Sama to be a devil. Observes that devils must be killed. Orders box opened. Sends girl home. Gets into box himself, and commands coolies under pain of death to bear him right quickly to that temple.

SCENE III.--Enter coolies, approaching temple through forest at night. Coolies afraid. Drop box and run. Exeunt coolies. Box alone in the dark. Enter veiled figure, all white. Figure moans unpleasantly; utters horrid cries. Box remains impassive. Figure removes veil, showing Its face--a skull with phosphoric eyes. (Audience unanimously utter the sound 'Aaaaaa!') Figure displays Its hands--monstrous and apish, with claws. (Audience utter a second 'Aaaaaa!') Figure approaches the box, touches the box, opens the box! Up leaps noble samurai. A wrestle; drums sound the roll of battle. Noble samurai practises successfully noble art of ju-jutsu. Casts demon down, tramples upon him triumphantly, cuts off his head. Head suddenly enlarges, grows to the size of a house, tries to bite off head of samurai. Samurai slashes it with his sword. Head rolls backward, spitting fire, and vanishes. Finis. Exeunt omnes.

The vision of the samurai and the goblin reminded Kinjuro of a queer tale, which he began to tell me as soon as the shadow-play was over. Ghastly stories are apt to fall flat after such an exhibition; but Kinjuro's stories are always peculiar enough to justify the telling under almost any circumstances. Wherefore I listened eagerly, in spite of the cold:

'A long time ago, in the days when Fox-women and goblins haunted this land, there came to the capital with her parents a samurai girl, so beautiful that all men who saw her fell enamoured of her. And hundreds of young samurai desired and hoped to marry her, and made their desire known to her parents. For it has ever been the custom in Japan that marriages should be arranged by parents. But there are exceptions to all customs, and the case of this maiden was such an exception. Her parents declared that they intended to allow their daughter to choose her own husband, and that all who wished to win her would be free to woo her.

'Many men of high rank and of great wealth were admitted to the house as suitors; and each one courted her as he best knew how--with gifts, and with fair words, and with poems written in her honour, and with promises of eternal love. And to each one she spoke sweetly and hopefully; but she made strange conditions. For every suitor she obliged to bind himself by his word of honour as a samurai to submit to a test of his love for her, and never to divulge to living person what that test might be. And to this all agreed.

'But even the most confident suitors suddenly ceased their importunities after having been put to the test; and all of them appeared to have been greatly terrified by something. Indeed, not a few even fled away from the city, and could not be persuaded by their friends to return. But no one ever so much as hinted why. Therefore it was whispered by those who knew nothing of the mystery, that the beautiful girl must be either a Fox-woman or a goblin.

'Now, when all the wooers of high rank had abandoned their suit, there came a samurai who had no wealth but his sword. He was a good man and true, and of pleasing presence; and the girl seemed to like him. But she made him take the same pledge which the others had taken; and after he had taken it, she told him to return upon a certain evening.

'When that evening came, he was received at the house by none but the girl herself. With her own hands she set before him the repast of hospitality, and waited upon him, after which she told him that she wished him to go out with her at a late hour. To this he consented gladly, and inquired to what place she desired to go. But she replied nothing to his question, and all at once became very silent, and strange in her manner. And after a while she retired from the apartment, leaving him alone.

'Only long after midnight she returned, robed all in white--like a Soul --and, without uttering a word, signed to him to follow her. Out of the house they hastened while all the city slept. It was what is called an oborozuki-yo--'moon-clouded night.' Always upon such a night, 'tis said, do ghosts wander. She swiftly led the way; and the dogs howled as she flitted by; and she passed beyond the confines of the city to a place of knolls shadowed by enormous trees, where an ancient cemetery was. Into it she glided--a white shadow into blackness. He followed, wondering, his hand upon his sword. Then his eyes became accustomed to the gloom; and he saw.

'By a new-made grave she paused and signed to him to wait. The tools of the grave-maker were still lying there. Seizing one, she began to dig furiously, with strange haste and strength. At last her spade smote a coffin-lid and made it boom: another moment and the fresh white wood of the kwan was bare. She tore off the lid, revealing a corpse within--the corpse of a child. With goblin gestures she wrung an arm from the body, wrenched it in twain, and, squatting down, began to devour the upper half. Then, flinging to her lover the other half, she cried to him, "Eat, if thou lovest mel this is what I eat!" 'Not even for a single instant did he hesitate. He squatted down upon the other side of the grave, and ate the half of the arm, and said, "Kekko degozarimasu! mo sukoshi chodai." (3) For that arm was made of the best kwashi (4) that Saikyo could produce.

'Then the girl sprang to her feet with a burst of laughter, and cried: "You only, of all my brave suitors, did not run away! And I wanted a husband: who could not fear. I will marry you; I can love you: you are a man!"'

'O Kinjuro,' I said, as we took our way home, 'I have heard and I have read many Japanese stories of the returning of the dead. Likewise you yourself have told me it is still believed the dead return, and why. But according both to that which I have read and that which you have told me, the coming back of the dead is never a thing to be desired. They return because of hate, or because of envy, or because they cannot rest for sorrow. But of any who return for that which is not evil--where is it written? Surely the common history of them is like that which we have this night seen: much that is horrible and much that is wicked and nothing of that which is beautiful or true.'

Now this I said that I might tempt him. And he made even the answer I desired, by uttering the story which is hereafter set down:

'Long ago, in the days of a daimyo whose name has been forgotten, there lived in this old city a young man and a maid who loved each other very much. Their names are not remembered, but their story remains. From infancy they had been betrothed; and as children they played together, for their parents were neighbours. And as they grew up, they became always fonder of each other.

'Before the youth had become a man, his parents died. But he was able to enter the service of a rich samurai, an officer of high rank, who had been a friend of his people. And his protector soon took him into great favour, seeing him to be courteous, intelligent, and apt at arms. So the young man hoped to find himself shortly in a position that would make it possible for him to marry his betrothed. But war broke out in the north and east; and he was summoned suddenly to follow his master to the field. Before departing, however, he was able to see the girl; and they exchanged pledges in the presence of her parents; and he promised, should he remain alive, to return within a year from that day to marry his betrothed.

'After his going much time passed without news of him, for there was no post in that time as now; and the girl grieved so much for thinking of the chances of war that she became all white and thin and weak. Then at last she heard of him through a messenger sent from the army to bear news to the daimyo and once again a letter was brought to her by another messenger. And thereafter there came no word. Long is a year to one who waits. And the year passed, and he did not return.

'Other seasons passed, and still he did not come; and she thought him dead; and she sickened and lay down, and died, and was buried. Then her old parents, who had no other child, grieved unspeakably, and came to hate their home for the lonesomeness of it. After a time they resolved to sell all they had, and to set out upon a sengaji--the great pilgrimage to the Thousand Temples of the Nichiren-Shu, which requires many years to perform. So they sold their small house with all that it contained, excepting the ancestral tablets, and the holy things which must never be sold, and the ihai of their buried daughter, which were placed, according to the custom of those about to leave their native place, in the family temple. Now the family was of the Nichiren-Shu; and their temple was Myokoji.

'They had been gone only four days when the young man who had been betrothed to their daughter returned to the city. He had attempted, with the permission of his master, to fulfil his promise. But the provinces upon his way were full of war, and the roads and passes were guarded by troops, and he had been long delayed by many difficulties. And when he heard of his misfortune he sickened for grief, and many days remained without knowledge of anything, like one about to die.

'But when he began to recover his strength, all the pain of memory came back again; and he regretted that he had not died. Then he resolved to kill himself upon the grave of his betrothed; and, as soon as he was able to go out unobserved, he took his sword and went to the cemetery where the girl was buried: it is a lonesome place--the cemetery of Myokoji. There he found her tomb, and knelt before it, and prayed and wept, and whispered to her that which he was about to do. And suddenly he heard her voice cry to him: "Anata!" and felt her hand upon his hand; and he turned, and saw her kneeling beside him, smiling, and beautiful as he remembered her, only a little pale. Then his heart leaped so that he could not speak for the wonder and the doubt and the joy of that moment. But she said: "Do not doubt: it is really I. I am not dead. It was all a mistake. I was buried, because my people thought me dead-- buried too soon. And my own parents thought me dead, and went upon a pilgrimage. Yet you see, I am not dead--not a ghost. It is I: do not doubt it! And I have seen your heart, and that was worth all the waiting, and the pain.. . But now let us go away at once to another city, so that people may not know this thing and trouble us; for all still believe me dead."

'And they went away, no one observing them. And they went even to the village of Minobu, which is in the province of Kai. For there is a famous temple of the Nichiren-Shu in that place; and the girl had said: "I know that in the course of their pilgrimage my parents will surely visit Minobu: so that if we dwell there, they will find us, and we shall be all again together." And when they came to Minobu, she said: "Let us open a little shop." And they opened a little food-shop, on the wide way leading to the holy place; and there they sold cakes for children, and toys, and food for pilgrims. For two years they so lived and prospered; and there was a son born to them.

'Now when the child was a year and two months old, the parents of the wife came in the course of their pilgrimage to Minobu; and they stopped at the little shop to buy food. And seeing their daughter's betrothed, they cried out and wept and asked questions. Then he made them enter, and bowed down before them, and astonished them, saying: "Truly as I speak it, your daughter is not dead; and she is my wife; and we have a son. And she is even now within the farther room, lying down with the child. I pray you go in at once and gladden her, for her heart longs for the moment of seeing you again."

'So while he busied himself in making all things ready for their comfort, they entered the inner, room very softly--the mother first.

'They found the child asleep; but the mother they did not find. She seemed to have gone out for a little while only: her pillow was still warm. They waited long for her: then they began to seek her. But never was she seen again.

'And they understood only when they found beneath the coverings which had covered the mother and child, something which they remembered having left years before in the temple of Myokoji--a little mortuary tablet, the ihai of their buried daughter.'

I suppose I must have looked thoughtful after this tale; for the old man said:

'Perhaps the Master honourably thinks concerning the story that it is foolish?'

'Nay, Kinjuro, the story is in my heart.'


FOOTNOTES:

(1) In other parts of Japan I have heard the Yuki-Onna described as a very beautiful phantom who lures young men to lonesome places for the purpose of sucking their blood.

(2) In Izumo the Dai-Kan, or Period of Greatest Cold, falls in February.

(3) 'It is excellent: I pray you give me a little more.'

(4) Kwashi: Japanese confectionery


(The end)
Lafcadio Hearn's essay: Of Ghosts And Goblins

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