"Lord," said the brave young man, "there are three ways left, the sword, the strong girdle, and the river. These are the short roads to Yomi. Farewell."
But Hasunuma held the young man by the arm. "Nay, then, thou son of Saito," he said, "but hear the fourth way, which is far better. The road to Yomi is short, but it is very dark; moreover, from the confines of that country few return. Therefore stay with me, Konojo, and comfort me in my old age, for I have no sons."
So Konojo entered the household of Hasunuma the samurai, and dwelt in the garden house by the gate.
Now in the third month Hasunuma and his wife and the daughter that was left them arose early and dressed them in garments of ceremony, and presently were borne away in kago, for to the temple they were bound, and to their ancestral tombs, where they offered prayers and incense the live-long day.
It was bright starlight when they returned, and cold the night was, still and frosty. Konojo stood and waited at the garden gate. He waited for their home-coming, as was meet. He drew his cloak about him and gave ear to the noises of the evening. He heard the sound of the blind man's whistle, and the blind man's staff upon the stones. Far off he heard a child laugh twice; then he heard men singing in chorus, as men who sing to cheer themselves in their labour, and in the pauses of song he heard the creak, creak of swinging kago that the men bore upon their shoulders, and he said, "They come."
"I go to the house of the Beloved, Her plum tree stands by the eaves; It is full of blossom.
The dew lies in the heart of the flowers, So they are the drinking-cups of the sparrows. How do you go to your love's house? Even upon the wings of the night wind. Which road leads to your love's house? All the roads in the world."
This was the song of the kago men. First the kago of Hasunuma the samurai turned in at the garden gate, then followed his lady; last came Aiyame of the South Wind. Upon the roof of her kago there lay a blossoming bough.
"Rest well, lady," said Konojo, as she passed, and had no answer back. Howbeit it seemed that some light thing dropped from the kago, and fell with a little noise to the ground. He stooped and picked up a woman's comb. It was of gold lacquer, very fine work, adorned with golden dragon-flies. Smooth and warm it lay in the hand of Konojo. And he went his way to the garden house. At the hour of the rat the young samurai threw down his book of verse, laid himself upon his bed, and blew out his light. And the selfsame moment he heard a wandering step without.
"And who may it be that visits the garden house by night?" said Konojo, and he wondered. About and about went the wandering feet till at length they stayed, and the door was touched with an uncertain hand.
"What is it?" said the samurai.
"Open, open; I am afraid."
"Who are you, and why are you afraid?"
"I am afraid of the night. I am the daughter of Hasunuma the samurai. . . . Open to me for the love of the gods."
Konojo undid the latch and slid back the door of the garden house to find a slender and drooping lady upon the threshold. He could not see her face, for she held her long sleeve so as to hide it from him; but she swayed and trembled, and her frail shoulders shook with sobbing.
"Let me in," she moaned, and forthwith entered the garden house.
Half smiling and much perplexed, Konojo asked her :
"Are you Aiyame, whom they call the Lady of the South Wind?"
"I am she."
" Lady, you do me much honour."
" The comb! " she said, "the golden comb!"
As she said this, she threw the veil from her face, and taking the robe of Konojo in both her little hands, she looked into his eyes as though she would draw forth his very soul. The lady was brown and quick and light. Her eyes and her lips were made for laughing, and passing strange she looked in the guise that she wore then.
"The comb !" she said, "the golden comb!"
"I have it here," said Konojo; " only let go my robe, and I will fetch it you."
At this the lady cast herself down upon the white mats in a passion of bitter tears, and Konojo, poor unfortunate, pressed his hands together, quite beside himself.
"What to do?" he said; "what to do?"
At last he raised the lady in his arms, and stroked her little hand to comfort her.
"Lord," she said, as simply as a child, "lord, do you love me? "
And he answered her in a moment, "I love you more than many lives, O Lady of the South Wind."
"Lord," she said, "will you come with me then?"
He answered her, "Even to the land of Yomi," and took her hand.
Forth they went into the night, and they took the road together. By river-side they went, and over plains of flowers; they went by rocky ways, or through the whispering pines, and when they had wandered far enough, of the green bamboos they built them a little house to dwell in. And they were there for a year of happy days and nights.
Now upon a morning of the third month Konojo beheld men with kago come swinging through the bamboo grove. And he said :
"What have they to do with us, these men and their kago?"
"Lord," said Aiyame, "they come to bear us to my father's house."
He cried, "What is this foolishness? We will not go."
"Indeed, and we must go," said the lady.
"Go you, then," said Konojo; "as for me, I stay here where I am happy."
"Ah, lord," she said, "ah, my dear, do you then love me less, who vowed to go with me, even to the Land of Yomi?"
Then he did all that she would. And he broke a blossoming bough from a tree that grew near by and laid it upon the roof of her kago.
Swiftly, swiftly they were borne, and the kago men sang as they went, a song to make labour light.
"I go to the house of the Beloved, Her plum tree stands by the eaves; It is full of blossom. The dew lies in the heart of the flowers, So they are the drinking-cups of the sparrows. How do you go to your love's house? Even upon the wings of the night wind. Which road leads to your love's house? All the roads in the world."
This was the song of the kago men.
About nightfall they came to the house of Hasunuma the samurai.
"Go you in, my dear lord," said the Lady of the South Wind. "I will wait without; if my father is very wroth with you, only show him the golden comb." And with that she took it from her hair and gave it him. Smooth and warm it lay in his hand. Then Konojo went into the house.
"Welcome, welcome home, Konojo, son of Saito!" cried Hasunuma. "How has it fared with your knightly adventure?"
"Knightly adventure!" said Konojo, and blushed.
"It is a year since your sudden departure, and we supposed that you had gone upon a quest, or in the expiation of some vow laid upon your soul."
"Alas, my good lord," said Konojo, "I have sinned against you and against your house." And he told Hasunuma what he had done.
When he had made an end of his tale :
"Boy," said the samurai, "you jest, but your merry jest is ill-timed. Know that my child lies even as one dead. For a year she has neither risen nor spoken nor smiled. She is visited by a heavy sickness and none can heal her.
"Sir," said Konojo, "your child, the Lady of the South Wind, waits in a kago without your garden wall. I will fetch her in presently."
Forth they went together, the young man and the samurai, but they found no kago without the garden wall, no iago-bearers and no lady. Only a broken bough of withered blossom lay upon the ground.
"Indeed, indeed, she was here but now!" cried Konojo. "She gave me her comb - her golden comb. See, my lord, here it is."
"What comb is this, Konojo? Where got you this comb that was set in a dead maid's hair, and buried with her beneath the green grass? Where got you the comb of Aiko, the Lady of the Moon, that died for love? Speak, Konojo, son of Saito. This is a strange thing."
Now whilst Konojo stood amazed, and leaned silent and bewildered against the garden wall, a lady came lightly through the trees. She moved as a wave of the sea, or a cloud of the sky, or the wild bamboo grass in the wind.
"Aiyame," cried the samurai, "how are you able to leave your bed?"
The young man said nothing, but fell on his knees beside the garden wall. There the lady came to him and bent so that her hair and her garments overshadowed him, and her eyes held his.
"Lord," she said, "I am the spirit of Aiko your love. I went with a broken heart to dwell with the shades of Yomi. The very dead took pity on my tears. I was permitted to return, and for one short year to inhabit the sweet body of my sister. And now my time is come. I go my ways to the grey country. I shall be the happiest soul in Yomi - I have known you, beloved. Now take me in your arms, for I grow very faint."
With that she sank to the ground, and Konojo put his arms about her and laid her head against his heart. His tears fell upon her forehead.
"Promise me," she said, "that you will take to wife Aiyame, my sister, the Lady of the South Wind."
"Ah," he cried, "my lady and my love!"
"Promise, promise," she said.
Then he promised.
After a little she stirred in his arms.
"What is it? " he said.
So soft her voice that it did not break the silence but floated upon it.
"The comb," she murmured, "the golden comb."
And Konojo set it in her hair.
A burden, pale but breathing, Konojo carried into the house of Hasunuma and laid upon the white mats and silken cushions. And after three hours a young maid sat up and rubbed her sleepy eyes. She was brown and quick and light and laughing. Her hair was tumbled about her rosy cheeks, unconfined by any braid or comb. She stared first at her father, and then at the young man that was in her bower. She smiled, then flushed, and put her little hands before her face.
"Greeting, O Lady of the South Wind," said Konojo.