At this Tomodata turned sharply round. Just behind him, in the dim light, stood a very young girl with the horse’s rein thrown over her arm. Her garments were blown about and her long loose hair streamed out upon the wind. The samurai wondered how she had come there. Then the old woman drew him into the cottage and shut the door. Before the fire sat the good man of the house, and the two old people did the very best they could for Tomodata. They gave him dry garments, comforted him with hot rice wine, and quickly prepared a good supper for him.
Presently the daughter of the house came in, and retired behind a screen to comb her hair and to dress afresh. Then she came forth to wait upon him. She wore a blue robe of homespun cotton. Her feet were bare. Her hair was not tied nor confined in any way, but lay along her smooth cheeks, and hung, straight and long and black, to her very knees. She was slender and graceful. Tomodata judged her to be about fifteen years old, and knew well that she was the fairest maiden he had ever seen.
At length she knelt at his side to pour wine into his cup. She held the wine-bottle in two hands and bent her head. Tomodata turned to look at her. When she had made an end of pouring the wine and had set down the bottle, their glances met, and Tomodata looked at her full between the eyes, for he forgot altogether the warning of his daimyo, the Lord of Noto.
“Maiden,” he said, “what is your name?”
She answered: “They call me the Green Willow.”
“The dearest name on earth,” he said, and again he looked her between the eyes. And because he looked so long her face grew rosy red, from chin to forehead, and though she smiled her eyes filled with tears.
Ah me, for the Lord of Noto’s quest!
Then Tomodata made this little song:
“Long-haired maiden, do you know
That with the red dawn I must go?
Do you wish me far away?
Cruel long-haired maiden, say—
Long-haired maiden, if you know
That with the red dawn I must go,
Why, oh why, do you blush so?”
And the maiden, the Green Willow, answered:
“The dawn comes if I will or no;
Never leave me, never go.
My sleeve shall hide the blush away.
The dawn comes if I will or no;
Never leave me, never go.
Lord, I lift my long sleeve so…”
“Oh, Green Willow, Green Willow…” sighed Tomodata.
That night he lay before the fire still, but with wide eyes, for no sleep came to him though he was weary. He was sick for love of the Green Willow. Yet by the rules of his service he was bound in honour to think of no such thing. Moreover, he had the quest of the Lord of Noto that lay heavy on his heart, and he longed to keep truth and loyalty.
At the first peep of day he rose up. He looked upon the kind old man who had been his host, and left a purse of gold at his side as he slept. The maiden and her mother lay behind the screen.
Tomodata saddled and bridled his horse, and mounting, rode slowly away through the mist of the early morning. The storm was quite over and it was as still as Paradise. The green grass and the leaves shone with the wet. The sky was clear, and the path very bright with autumn flowers; but Tomodata was sad.
When the sunlight streamed across his saddle-bow, “Ah, Green Willow, Green Willow,” he sighed; and at noontide it was “Green Willow, Green Willow”; and “Green Willow, Green Willow,” when the twilight fell. That night he lay in a deserted shrine, and the place was so holy that in spite of all he slept from midnight till the dawn. Then he rose, having it in his mind to wash himself in a cold stream that flowed near by, so as to go refreshed upon his journey; but he was stopped upon the shrine’s threshold. There lay the Green Willow, prone upon the ground. A slender thing she lay, face downwards, with her black hair flung about her. She lifted a hand and held Tomodata by the sleeve. “My lord, my lord,” she said, and fell to sobbing piteously.
From Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James.London: Macmillan and Co., 1910.