Monday, December 29, 2014

Lafcadio Hearn’s A Dead Secret, Part ll

Lafcadio Hearn
Lafcadio Hearn wrote one of his most popular books, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, just before he died in 1904.

This book is better known today by the title, Kwaidan, which means “Ghost Story” in Japanese.

Hearn in his introduction to the first edition of this book explains that most of the 17 ghost stories he includes. he translated from old Japanese texts.

One story included in Kwaidan is entitled, A Dead Secret. This story uses the classic premise that ghosts sometimes return to take care of “unfinished business.”

 A Dead Secret

A long time ago a merchant who lived in the rural province of Tamba had a daughter called O-Sono.

O-Sono’s father observing she was both pretty and clever decided to send her to Kyoto where she could be trained in the polite accomplishments taught to young ladies in the capital.

After O-Sono finished her education, she married a merchant named Nagaraya who she lived with happily. The couple had one child--a son.

Sadly, O-Sono in her fourth year of marriage fell ill, and died.

On the night of his mother’s funeral her son announced to the rest of the family, that he had seen his mamma upstairs. She had smiled at him but had not said a word.

Becoming afraid he had run away.

Members of the family then went upstairs, to O-Sono’s room. By the light of a small lamp, they were startled to see the figure of the dead mother.

She was standing in front of a tansu, a chest of drawers, which still contained her clothes and ornaments.

Her head and shoulders were seen clearly, but from the waist down her figure faded into invisibility.

Afraid now too, the family members left the room. They consulted together downstairs. O-Sono’s mother-in-law stated that maybe she was so fond of her things she could not bare to part with them.

She suggested they give O-Sono’s belongings to the parish-temple so that she could rest in peace.

The family agreed and the drawers of the chest were emptied quickly and the items were taken to the temple.

But O-Sono’s ghost came back the next night, like before she stood before the tansu. She also came back the night following and the night after that, in fact, she returned every night-- leaving the household in fear.

The mother-in-law then went to the chief priest at the Zen temple and asked what could be done.

This priest a very old wise man felt that there must be something O-Sono was anxious about either in or near her tansu.

The mother-in-law insisted the chest was empty. The priest promised to come to the house that night and keep watch in the room.

When he arrived he announced it would be best if he kept vigil alone. When O-Sono appeared he noted she had a wistful look and her eyes were fixated upon the chest.

He announced to her that he was there to help. “Perhaps in the tansu there is something that you feel anxious about. Shall I try and find it for you?”

The shadowy figure appeared to give her consent with a slight nod of her head. The priest then went through each of the four drawers but found nothing.

He noted the figure continued to gaze wistfully at the chest. It suddenly occurred to him that there might be something hidden under the paper which lined each drawer.

He searched the chest from top to bottom. In the last drawer he found--a letter. “Is this the thing that troubles you?” O-Sono’s gaze fixed upon the letter.

“Shall I burn it for you?” O-Sono then bowed before him.

He promised her that he would burn it that very morning. “No one shall read it, except myself.”

The figure then smiled and vanished.

The priest reassured the family as he descended the stairs that they need no longer worry. “She will not appear again.”

And she never did.

The letter was a love note O-Sono had written during the time she studied at Kyoto. The priest burned it and her secret died with him.

In Part l of Lafcadio Hearn’s A Dead Secret I share more information about him and his writing.

No comments: