The Soul Of O Sana San by Alice Hegan Rice

O Sana San stood in the heart of a joyous world, as much a part of the radiant, throbbing, irresponsible spring as the golden butterfly which fluttered in her hand. Through the close-stemmed bamboos she could see the sparkling river racing away to the Inland Sea, while slow-moving junks, with their sixfold sails, glided with almost imperceptible motion toward a far-distant port. From below, across the rice-fields, came the shouts and laughter of naked bronze babies who played at the water's edge, and from above, high up on the ferny cliff, a mellow-throated temple bell answered the call of each vagrant breeze. Far away, shutting out the strange, big world, the luminous mountains hung in the purple mists of May.

And every note of color in the varied landscape, from the purple irises whose royal reflection stained the water below, to the rosy-tipped clover at the foot of the hill, was repeated in the kimono and obi of the child who flitted about in the grasses, catching butterflies in her long-handled net.

It was in the days of the Japanese-Russian War, but the constant echo of the great conflict that sounded around her disturbed her no more than it did the birds overhead. All day long the bugles sounded from the parade-grounds, and always and always the soldiers went marching away to the front. Around the bend in the river were miniature fortifications where recruits learned to make forts and trenches, and to shoot through tiny holes in a wall at imaginary Russian troopers. Down in the town below were long white hospitals where twenty thousand sick and wounded soldiers lay. No thought of the horror of it came to trouble O Sana San. The cherry-trees gladly and freely gave up their blossoms to the wind, and so much the country give up its men for the Emperor. Her father had marched away, then one brother, then another, and she had held up her hands and shouted, "Banzai!" and smiled because her mother smiled. Everything was vague and uncertain, and no imagined catastrophe troubled her serenity. It was all the will of the Emperor, and it was well.

Life was a very simple matter to O Sana San. She rose when the sun climbed over the mountain, bathed her face and hands in the shallow copper basin in the garden, ate her breakfast of bean-curd and pickled fish and warm yellow tea. Then she hung the quilts over poles to sun, dusted the screens, and placed an offering of rice on the steps of the tiny shrine to Inari, where the little foxes kept guard. These simple duties being accomplished, she tied a bit of bean-cake in her gaily colored handkerchief, and stepping into her geta, went pattering off to school.

It was an English school, where she sat with hands folded through the long mornings, passively permitting the lessons to filter through her brain, and listening in smiling patience while the kind foreign ladies spoke incomprehensible things. Sometimes she helped pass the hours by watching the shadows of the dancing leaves outside; sometimes she told herself stories about "The Old Man Who Made Withered Trees to Blossom," or about "Momotaro, the Little Peach Boy." Again she would repeat the strange English words and phrases that she heard, and would puzzle out their meaning.

But the sum of her lore consisted in being happy; and when the shadow of the mountains began to slip across the valley, she would dance back along the homeward way, singing with the birds, laughing with the rippling water, and adding her share of brightness to the sunshine of the world.

As she stood on this particular morning with her net poised over a butterfly, she heard the tramping of many feet. A slow cavalcade was coming around the road,—a long line of coolies bearing bamboo stretchers,—and in the rear, in a jinrikisha, was a foreign man with a red cross on his sleeve.

O Sana San scrambled up the bank and watched with smiling curiosity as the men halted to rest. On the stretcher nearest her lay a young Russian prisoner with the fair skin and blond hair that are so unfamiliar to Japanese eyes. His blanket was drawn tight around his shoulders, and he lay very still, with lips set, gazing straight up through the bamboo leaves to the blue beyond.

Then it was that O Sana San, gazing in frank inquisitiveness at the soldier, saw a strange thing happen. A tear formed on his lashes and trickled slowly across his temple; then another and another, until they formed a tiny rivulet. More and more curious, she drew yet nearer, and watched the tears creep unheeded down the man's face. She was sure he was not crying, because soldiers never cry; it could not be the pain, because his face was very smooth and calm. What made the tears drop, drop on the hard pillow, and why did he not brush them away?

A vague trouble dawned in the breast of O Sana San. Running back to the field, she gathered a handful of wild flowers and returned to the soldier. The tears no longer fell, but his lips quivered and his face was distorted with pain. She looked about her in dismay. The coolies were down by the river, drinking from their hands and calling to one another; the only person to whom she could appeal was the foreigner with the red cross on his arm who was adjusting a bandage for a patient at the end of the line.

With halting steps and many misgivings, she timidly made her way to his side; then placing her hands on her knees, she bowed low before him. The embarrassment of speaking to a stranger and a foreigner almost overwhelmed her, but she mustered her bravest array of English, and pointing to the stretcher, faltered out her message:

"Soldier not happy very much is. I sink soldier heart sorry."

The Red Cross orderly looked up from his work, and his eyes followed her gesture.

"He is hurt bad," he said shortly; "no legs, no arms."

"So—deska?" she said politely, then repeated his words in puzzled incomprehension: "Nowarms? Nowarms?"

When she returned to the soldier she gathered up the flowers which she had dropped by the wayside, and timidly offered them to him. For a long moment she waited, then her smile faded mid her hand dropped. With a child's quick sensitiveness to rebuff, she was turning away when an exclamation recalled her.

The prisoner was looking at her in a strange, distressed way; his deep-set gray eyes glanced down first at one bandaged shoulder, then at the other, then he shook his head.

As O Sana San followed his glance, a startled look of comprehension sprang into her face. "Nowarms!" she repeated softly as the meaning dawned upon her, then with a little cry of sympathy she ran forward and gently laid her flowers on his breast.

The cavalcade moved on, under the warm spring sun, over the smooth white road, under the arching cryptomerias; but little O Sana Sun stood with her butterfly net over her shoulder and watched it with troubled eyes. A dreadful something was stirring in her breast, something clutched at her throat, and she no longer saw the sunshine and the flowers. Kneeling by the roadside, she loosened the little basket which was tied to her obi and gently lifted the lid. Slowly at first, and then with eager wings, a dozen captive butterflies fluttered back to freedom.


Along the banks of the Upper Flowing River, in a rudely improvised hospital, lay the wounded Russian prisoners. To one of the small rooms at the end of the ward reserved for fatally wounded patients a self-appointed nurse came daily, and rendered her tiny service in the only way she knew.

O Sana San's heart had been so wrought upon by the sad plight of her soldier friend that she had begged to be taken to see him and to be allowed to carry him flowers with her own hand. Her mother, in whom smoldered the fires of dead samurai, was quick to be gracious to a fallen foe, and it was with her consent that O Sana San went day after day to the hospital.

The nurses humored her childish whim, thinking each day would be the last; but as the days grew into weeks and the weeks into months, her visits became a matter of course.

And the young Russian, lying on his rack of pain, learned to watch for her coming as the one hour of brightness in an interminable night of gloom. He made a sort of sun-dial of the cracks in the floor, and when the shadows reached a certain spot his tired eyes grew eager, and he turned his head to listen for the patter of the little tabi that was sure to sound along the hall.

Sometimes she would bring her picture-books and read him wonderful stories in words he did not understand, and show him the pictures of Momotaro, who was born out of a peach and who grew up to be so strong and brave that he went to the Ogres' Island and carried off all their treasures,—caps and coats that made their wearers invisible, jewels which made the tide come or go, coral and amber and tortoise-shell,—and all these things the little Peach Boy took back to his kind old foster mother and father, and they all lived happily forever after. And in the telling O Sana Man's voice would thrill, and her almond eyes grow bright, while her slender brown finger pointed out the figures on the gaily colored pages.

Sometimes she would sing to him, in soft minor strains, of the beauty of the snow on the pine-trees, or the wonders of Fuji-San.

And he would pucker his white lips and try to whistle the accompaniment, to her great amusement and delight.

Many were the treasures she brought forth from the depths of her long sleeves, and many were the devices she contrived to amuse him. The most ambitious achievement was a miniature garden in a wooden box—a wonderful garden where grasses stood for tall bamboo, and a saucer of water, surrounded by moss and pebbles, made a shining lake across which a bridge led through a torii to a diminutive shrine above.

He would watch her deft fingers fashioning the minute objects, and listen to her endless prattle in her soft, unknown tongue, and for a little space the pain-racked body would relax and the cruel furrows vanish from between his brows.

But there were days in which the story and the song and the play had no part. At such times O Sana San slipped in on tiptoe and took her place at the head of the cot where he could not see her. Sitting on her heels, with hand folded in hand, she watched patiently for hours, alert to adjust the covers or smooth the pillow, but turning her eyes away when the spasms of pain contorted his face. All the latent maternity in the child rose to succor his helplessness. The same instinct that had prompted her to strap her doll upon her back when yet a mere baby herself, made her accept the burden of his suffering, and mother him with a very passion of tenderness.

Longer and sultrier grew the days; the wistaria, hanging in feathery festoons from many a trellis, gave way to the flaming azalea, and the azalea in turn vanished with the coming of the lotus that floated sleepily in the old castle moat.

Still the soul of the young Russian was held a prisoner in his shattered body, and the spirit in him grew restive at the delay. Months passed before the doctor told him his release was at hand. It was early in the morning, and the sun fell in long, level rays across his cot. He turned his head and looked wistfully at the distance it would have to travel before it would be afternoon.

The nurse brought the screen and placed it about the bed—the last service she could render. For hours the end was expected, but moment by moment he held death at bay, refusing to accept the freedom that he so earnestly longed for. At noon the sky became overcast and the slow falling of rain was heard on the low wooden roof. But still his fervent eyes watched the sun-dial.

At last the sound of geta was heard without, and in a moment O Sana San slipped past the screen and dropped on her knees beside him. Under one arm was tightly held a small white kitten, her final offering at the shrine of love.

When he saw her quaint little figure, a look of peace came over his face and he closed his eyes. An interpreter, knowing that a prisoner was about to die, came to the bedside and asked if he wanted to leave any message. He stirred slightly then, in a scarcely audible voice, asked in Russian what the Japanese word was for "good-by." A long pause followed, during which the spirit seemed to hover irresolute upon the brink of eternity.

O Sana San sat motionless, her lips parted, her face full of the awe and mystery of death. Presently he stirred and turned his head slowly until his eyes were on a level with her own.

"Sayonara," he whispered faintly, and tried to smile; and O Sana San, summoning all her courage to restrain the tears, smiled bravely back and whispered, "Sayonara."

It was scarcely said before the spirit of the prisoner started forth upon his final journey, but he went not alone. The soul of a child went with him, leaving in its place the tender, newborn soul of a woman.