The Story of Princess Hase (cont.)
(see previous page for audio)It was the Festival of the Cherry Flowers, and there were great festivities at the Court. The Emperor threw himself into the enjoyment of the season, and commanded that Princess Hase should perform before him on the koto, and that her mother Princess Terute should accompany her on the flute.
The Emperor sat on a raised dais, before which was hung a curtain of finely-sliced bamboo and purple tassels so that His Majesty might see all and not be seen, for no ordinary subject was allowed to looked upon his sacred face.
Hase-Hime was a skilled musician, though so young, and often astonished her masters by her wonderful memory and talent. On this momentous occasion she played well. But Princess Terute, her stepmother, who was a lazy woman and never took the trouble to practice daily, broke down in her accompaniment and had to request one of the Court ladies to take her place. This was a great disgrace, and she was furiously jealous to think that she had failed where her stepdaughter succeeded, and to make matters worse, the Emperor sent many beautiful gifts to the little Princess to reward her for playing so well at the Palace.
There was also now another reason why Princess Terute hated her stepdaughter, for she had had the good fortune to have a son born to her, and in her inmost heart she kept saying: "If only Hase-Hime were not here, my son would have all the love of his father."
And never having learned to control herself, she allowed this wicked thought to grow into the awful desire of taking her stepdaughter's life.
So one day, she secretly ordered some poison and poisoned some sweet wine. This poisoned wine she put into a bottle. Into another similar bottle she poured some good wine. It was the occasion of the Boys' Festival on the fifth of May, and Hase-Hime was playing with her little brother. All his toys of warriors and heroes were spread out, and she was telling him wonderful stories about each of them. They were both enjoying themselves and laughing merrily with their attendants when his mother entered with the two bottles of wine and some delicious cakes.
"You are both so good and happy," said the wicked Princess Terute with a smile, "that I have brought you some sweet wine as a reward — and here are some nice cakes for my good children." And she filled two cups from the different bottles.
Hase-Hime, never dreaming of the dreadful part her stepmother was acting, took one of the cups of wine and gave to her little stepbrother, the cup that had been poured out for him.
The wicked woman had carefully marked the poisoned bottle, but on coming into the room, she had grown nervous and, pouring out the wine hurriedly, had unconsciously given the poisoned cup to her own child. All this time she was anxiously watching the little Princess, but to her amazement no change whatever took place in the young girl's face. Suddenly the little boy screamed and threw himself on the floor, doubled up with pain. His mother flew to him, taking the precaution to upset the two tiny jars of wine which she had brought into the room, and lifted him up. The attendants rushed for the doctor, but nothing could save the child — he died within the hour in his mother's arms. Doctors did not know much in those ancient times, and it was thought that the wine had disagreed with the boy, causing convulsions of which he died.
Thus was the wicked woman punished in losing her own child when she had tried to do away with her stepdaughter, but instead of blaming herself, she began to hate Hase-Hime more than ever in the bitterness and wretchedness of her own heart, and she eagerly watched for an opportunity to do her harm, which was, however, long in coming.
When Hase-Hime was thirteen years of age, she had already become mentioned as a poetess of some merit. This was an accomplishment very much cultivated by the women of old Japan and one held in high esteem.
It was the rainy season at Nara, and floods were reported every day as doing damage in the neighborhood. The river Tatsuta, which flowed through the Imperial Palace grounds, was swollen to the top of its banks, and the roaring of the torrents of water rushing along a narrow bed so disturbed the Emperor's rest day and night that a serious nervous disorder was the result. An Imperial Edict was sent forth to all the Buddhist temples commanding the priests to offer up continuous prayers to Heaven to stop the noise of the flood. But this was of no avail.