Tajima by Miss Mitford
Once upon a time, a certain ronin, Tajima Shume by name, an able and
well-read man, being on his travels to see the world, went up to Kiyoto by
the Tokaido. [The road of the Eastern Sea, the famous highroad leading
from Kiyoto to Yedo. The name is also used to indicate the provinces
through which it runs.] One day, in the neighbourhood of Nagoya, in the
province of Owari, he fell in with a wandering priest, with whom he
entered into conversation. Finding that they were bound for the same
place, they agreed to travel together, beguiling their weary way by
pleasant talk on divers matters; and so by degrees, as they became more
intimate, they began to speak without restraint about their private
affairs; and the priest, trusting thoroughly in the honour of his
companion, told him the object of his journey.
"For some time past," said he, "I have nourished a wish that has engrossed
all my thoughts; for I am bent on setting up a molten image in honour of
Buddha; with this object I have wandered through various provinces
collecting alms, and (who knows by what weary toil?) we have succeeded in
amassing two hundred ounces of silver—enough, I trust, to erect a
handsome bronze figure."
What says the proverb? "He who bears a jewel in his bosom bears poison."
Hardly had the ronin heard these words of the priest than an evil heart
arose within him, and he thought to himself, "Man's life, from the womb to
the grave, is made up of good and of ill luck. Here am I, nearly forty
years old, a wanderer, without a calling, or even a hope of advancement in
the world. To be sure, it seems a shame; yet if I could steal the money
this priest is boasting about, I could live at ease for the rest of my
days;" and so he began casting about how best he might compass his
purpose. But the priest, far from guessing the drift of his comrade's
thoughts, journeyed cheerfully on till they reached the town of Kuana.
Here there is an arm of the sea, which is crossed in ferry-boats, that
start as soon as some twenty or thirty passengers are gathered together;
and in one of these boats the two travellers embarked. About half-way
across, the priest was taken with a sudden necessity to go to the side of
the boat; and the ronin, following him, tripped him up while no one was
looking, and flung him into the sea. When the boatmen and passengers heard
the splash, and saw the priest struggling in the water, they were afraid,
and made every effort to save him; but the wind was fair, and the boat
running swiftly under the bellying sails; so they were soon a few hundred
yards off from the drowning man, who sank before the boat could be turned
to rescue him.
When he saw this, the ronin feigned the utmost grief and dismay, and said
to his fellow-passengers, "This priest, whom we have just lost, was my
cousin; he was going to Kiyoto, to visit the shrine of his patron; and as
I happened to have business there as well, we settled to travel together.
Now, alas! by this misfortune, my cousin is dead, and I am left alone."
He spoke so feelingly, and wept so freely, that the passengers believed
his story, and pitied and tried to comfort him. Then the ronin said to the
"We ought, by rights, to report this matter to the authorities; but as I
am pressed for time, and the business might bring trouble on yourselves as
well, perhaps we had better hush it up for the present; I will at once go
on to Kiyoto and tell my cousin's patron, besides writing home about it.
What think you, gentlemen?" added he, turning to the other travellers.
They, of course, were only too glad to avoid any hindrance to their onward
journey, and all with one voice agreed to what the ronin had proposed; and
so the matter was settled. When, at length, they reached the shore, they
left the boat, and every man went his way; but the ronin, overjoyed in his
heart, took the wandering priest's luggage, and, putting it with his own,
pursued his journey to Kiyoto.
On reaching the capital, the ronin changed his name from Shume to Tokubei,
and, giving up his position as a samurai, turned merchant, and traded with
the dead man's money. Fortune favouring his speculations, he began to
amass great wealth, and lived at his ease, denying himself nothing; and in
course of time he married a wife, who bore him a child.
Thus the days and months wore on, till one fine summer's night, some three
years after the priest's death, Tokubei stepped out on the veranda of his
house to enjoy the cool air and the beauty of the moonlight. Feeling dull
and lonely, he began musing over all kinds of things, when on a sudden the
deed of murder and theft, done so long ago, vividly recurred to his
memory, and he thought to himself, "Here am I, grown rich and fat on the
money I wantonly stole. Since then, all has gone well with me; yet, had I
not been poor, I had never turned assassin nor thief. Woe betide me! what
a pity it was!" and as he was revolving the matter in his mind, a feeling
of remorse came over him, in spite of all he could do. While his
conscience thus smote him, he suddenly, to his utter amazement, beheld the
faint outline of a man standing near a fir-tree in the garden; on looking
more attentively, he perceived that the man's whole body was thin and
worn, and the eyes sunken and dim; and in that poor ghost that was before
him he recognised the very priest whom he had thrown into the sea at
Kuana. Chilled with horror, he looked again, and saw that the priest was
smiling in scorn. He would have fled into the house, but the ghost
stretched forth its withered arm, and, clutching the back of his neck,
scowled at him with a vindictive glare and a hideous ghastliness of mien
so unspeakably awful that any ordinary man would have swooned with fear.
But Tokubei, tradesman though he was, had once been a soldier, and was not
easily matched for daring; so he shook off the ghost, and, leaping into
the room for his dirk, laid about him boldly enough; but, strike as he
would, the spirit, fading into the air, eluded his blows, and suddenly
reappeared only to vanish again; and from that time forth Tokubei knew no
rest, and was haunted night and day.
At length, undone by such ceaseless vexation, Tokubei fell ill, and kept
muttering, "Oh, misery! misery! the wandering priest is coming to torture
me!" Hearing his moans and the disturbance he made, the people in the
house fancied he was mad, and called in a physician, who prescribed for
him. But neither pill nor potion could cure Tokubei, whose strange frenzy
soon became the talk of the whole neighbourhood.
Now it chanced that the story reached the ears of a certain wandering
priest who lodged in the next street. When he heard the particulars, this
priest gravely shook his head as though he knew all about it, and sent a
friend to Tokubei's house to say that a wandering priest, dwelling hard
by, had heard of his illness, and, were it never so grievous, would
undertake to heal it by means of his prayers; and Tokubei's wife, driven
half wild by her husband's sickness, lost not a moment in sending for the
priest and taking him into the sick man's room.
But no sooner did Tokubei see the priest than he yelled out, "Help! help!
Here is the wandering priest come to torment me again. Forgive! forgive!"
and hiding his head under the coverlet, he lay quivering all over. Then
the priest turned all present out of the room, put his mouth to the
affrighted man's ear, and whispered:
"Three years ago, at the Kuana ferry, you flung me into the water; and
well you remember it."
But Tokubei was speechless, and could only quake with fear.
"Happily," continued the priest, "I had learned to swim and to dive as a
boy; so I reached the shore, and, after wandering through many provinces,
succeeded in setting up a bronze figure to Buddha, thus fulfilling the
wish of my heart. On my journey homeward, I took a lodging in the next
street, and there heard of your marvellous ailment. Thinking I could
divine its cause, I came to see you, and am glad to find I was not
mistaken. You have done a hateful deed; but am I not a priest, and have I
not forsaken the things of this world, and would it not ill become me to
bear malice? Repent, therefore, and abandon your evil ways. To see you do
so I should esteem the height of happiness. Be of good cheer, now, and
look me in the face, and you will see that I am really a living man, and
no vengeful goblin come to torment you."
Seeing he had no ghost to deal with, and overwhelmed by the priest's
kindness, Tokubei burst into tears, and answered, "Indeed, indeed, I don't
know what to say. In a fit of madness I was tempted to kill and rob you.
Fortune befriended me ever after; but the richer I grew, the more keenly I
felt how wicked I had been, and the more I foresaw that my victim's
vengeance would some day overtake me. Haunted by this thought, I lost my
nerve, till one night I beheld your spirit, and from that time fell ill.
But how you managed to escape, and are still alive, is more than I can
"A guilty man," said the priest, with a smile, "shudders at the rustling
of the wind or the chattering of a stork's beak; a murderer's conscience
preys upon his mind till he sees what is not. Poverty drives a man to
crimes which he repents of in his wealth. How true is the doctrine of
Moshi [Mencius], that the heart of man, pure by nature, is corrupted by
Thus he held forth; and Tokubei, who had long since repented of his crime,
implored forgiveness, and gave him a large sum of money, saying, "Half of
this is the amount I stole from you three years since; the other half I
entreat you to accept as interest, or as a gift."
The priest at first refused the money; but Tokubei insisted on his
accepting it, and did all he could to detain him, but in vain; for the
priest went on his way, and bestowed the money on the poor and needy. As
for Tokubei himself, he soon shook off his disorder, and thenceforward
lived at peace with all men, revered both at home and abroad, and ever
intent on good and charitable deeds.