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