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War with the Normans part 4

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Thereupon he began reciting the Canons about ” superfluous Church vessels ” and after saying a good deal about them, he concluded with the words, ” I am compelled to compel those whom I do not wish to compel.” And by putting forward various bold arguments he seemed likely to win over the majority. But Metaxas opposed him, advanced some very specious counter-arguments and even jeered at Isaac himself. But in spite of him, Isaac’s proposal was carried. This decision became the subject of a very grave scandal to the Emperors (for I do not hesitate to call Isaac ” emperor ” even though he did not wear the purple), which lasted not only for the moment but for a considerable time.

The head of the church of Chalcedon at this time was a certain Leo, not one of the especially wise or intellectual, but of very virtuous life, though his manners were rough and disagreeable. This man tore off the silver and gold ornaments on the doors of the church in Chalcoprateia, and rushed into the assembly and spoke his mind freely without so much as a reference to the financial condition or the extant laws regarding Church property. Moreover he behaved very insolently, and in a most disorderly manner, to the Regent, and each time he visited the capital he abused the latter’s forbearance and kindness.

Successful encounters with the Franks

And indeed when Alexius left the city the first time to march against Robert, and the Sebastocrator Isaac, his own true brother, was collecting money from every possible source, but always with the consent of the people and in accordance with the laws and justice, Leo aroused Isaac’s wrath by his shameless behaviour. At last after many defeats and then after countless successful encounters with the Franks, the Emperor, by the sanction of Heaven, returned a crowned victor, and then he learnt that a fresh swarm of enemies, I mean the Scythians, were ready to descend upon him.

Consequently the raising of funds was hurried on for similar reasons as before, even while the Emperor was residing in the capital, and at that time Bishop Leo attacked the Emperor most impudently. About this time a great controversy arose about the holy images, and Leo laid down the principle that we should adore the sacred images, and not only give them relative honour. On some points he argued reasonably and in a manner befitting his station, but on others he laid down the law wrongly, whether this was to be attributed to the heat of contest and his hatred of the Emperor, or to ignorance, I cannot say. He was incapable of making a precise statement with conviction as he was absolutely untrained in the science of reasoning.

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War with the Normans part 3

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As he did not wish to do anything unworthy of, or inconsistent with, his own military knowledge and bravery, he focussed his attention on these two points – the first was to collect allies from all sides, who would easily be allured by the promise of heavy largess, and the second, to request his mother and brother to procure money somehow from somewhere, and send it to him.

II These two could not discover any other means of procuring money, so to begin with they collected whatever silver and gold articles they possessed and sent them to the imperial mint ; but first of all the Empress, my mother, deposited the sum that remained to her of her parents’ patrimony, hoping thereby to instigate others to do the same ; for she was extremely anxious for the Emperor, seeing the straits into which his affairs had fallen. Secondly, they took from the persons who were well-affected towards the imperial family, and had voluntarily offered to advance money, as much gold and silver as each was ready to give, and sent it to be used partly for allies and partly for the Emperor himself.

But these monies were far from sufficient even for the immediate need (for some of the soldiers asked for rewards on the plea that they had fought on the Emperor’s side, and others who were mercenaries kept clamouring for higher pay); the Emperor urgently pressed for more, and thought that the goodwill of the Romans had vanished. His relatives were quite at a loss, and after discussing many schemes in public and in private, when they heard that Robert was again preparing for war, they turned in their despair to an examination of the ancient laws and canons dealing with the sale of Church property.

And amongst them they found that it was lawful to sell the sacred properties of the churches for the ransoming of prisoners of war (for it was well known that the Christians who remained under the domination of the barbarians in Asia, and had escaped massacre, became defiled by their intercourse with the infidels).

Excuse for sacrilege and impiety

Therefore to furnish pay for the allies and the soldiers, they considered turning into coin a few church properties which served no purpose and were amongst those which had long been lying idle and neglected, and only afforded the populace an excuse for sacrilege and impiety. When they had come to this conclusion, the Sebastocrator Isaac went up to the great House of God where he had convoked an assembly of all the clergy. The members of the Holy Synod who were f ellow-councillors with the Patriarch were astounded at seeing him and asked him what brought him there. He replied, ” I have come to speak to you of a matter which will be of service in this terrible crisis, and will be the means of maintaining the army.”

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War with the Normans part 2

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Both these men were clever at foreseeing everything, and in grasping the essentials’ and there was no strategic trick unknown to them; they were conversant with every kind of siege, ambuscade and regular battles in the open field, swift and brave in actual fighting, and of all the leaders in the world they were the adversaries most alike in intellect and courage.

The Emperor Alexius had, however, a slight advantage over Robert in that while younger he was no whit inferior to the other who was already in his prime, and used to boast that he could almost make the earth quake and throw a whole army into a panic by one single shout!

But these details can be left for a different kind of writing, and are sure to be mentioned by encomiasts. The Emperor Alexius allowed himself a short rest in Achrida, and after regaining his physical strength, went to Diabolis. Here he sought as far as possible to reinvigorate the survivors from their sufferings in the battle, and he sent for his remaining followers from all parts and told them to assemble at Thessalonica.

Great negligence and cowardice

Now that he had made experience of Robert and the boldness of his large army, he condemned his own leaders for great negligence and cowardice (I will not add the soldiers for the majority of those who had been in the battle had had neither training nor military experience), and therefore he needed allies. But how was he to get them without money?

For there was none in the Imperial Treasury which had been depleted so thoroughly and for no useful purpose by his predecessor, Nicephorus Botaniates, that the gates of the treasure-house were not even locked now, but carelessly left open for anyone who liked to walk through them; for all its contents had been squandered. Hence the present embarrassment of the Roman state, which was oppressed simultaneously by weakness and poverty.

At such a moment then what was the young ruler to do who had only lately put his hand to the helm? He must either in sheer desperation throw everything overboard and resign his command, so that, being blameless, he might not be blamed for being an inexperienced and unskilful general, or else in this extremity he must gain as many allies as possible and collect from some quarter or other sufficient money to pay them; he must also recall the scattered remnants of his army by offering bribes which would raise their hopes and cause those who were with him to stand firmly by him, and those away to become more eager to return, and then they would be able to put up a braver resistance to the Frankish hordes.

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War with the Normans part 1

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War with the Normans (1082-83) (i-vii) : Alexius’ First Battle with Heretics – John Italus (viii-ix)

I And meanwhile Robert, entirely freed from anxiety, collected all the booty and the Imperial tent, and, with these trophies and with much exultation, settled down again in the plain which he had occupied before when besieging Dyrrachium. After a short rest he began to consider whether he ought to make another attempt on that city’s walls, or postpone the siege to the following spring and for the present invest Glabinitza and Joanina, and winter there, while lodging all his troops in the sequestered vales that lie above the plain of Dyrrachium.

But the inhabitants of Dyrrachium (the majority of whom were colonists from Amalfi and Venice, as already stated), on hearing of the Emperor’s misfortune, and the terrible carnage, and the death of so many valiant men and the departure of the fleet and Robert’s intention of renewing the siege in the coming spring-on hearing all this they began individually to deliberate what action they had better take to ensure their safety and not incur such risks again. Consequently they called an assembly where they openly stated their private opinions and after discussing the vital points they thought they had found the only path, as it were, out of a pathless wood, which was to decide to listen to Robert and surrender the city to him.

One of the colonists from Amalfi still further incited them to this course, so they allowed themselves to be persuaded by his arguments, and threw open the gates and gave Robert entrance. After taking possession, he sent for the troops and dividing them according to race, enquired of each soldier individually whether he had been seriously wounded or had perhaps received a slight scratch from a sword; at the same time he found out how many and what class of men had fallen in the preceding battles. And, during the winter which was then close at hand, he intended to collect a second army of mercenaries and recruit foreign troops, and at the coming of spring to march against the Emperor with his whole army.

However, Robert was not alone in formulating such plans, although he congratulated himself on being the victor and winning the trophies, for the Emperor, worsted and badly wounded, was scared, so to say, and much depressed by this intolerable defeat and the loss of so many brave soldiers-but in spite of this as he never underestimated his own powers and had not slackened in his reasoning, his whole mind was intent on the problem of retrieving this defeat in the following spring.

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The Vampire part 4

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Finally after several hours, when the distance was becoming over-spread with a darker violet, so magically beautiful in the south, the mother reminded us it was time to depart. We arose and walked down towards the hotel with the easy, elastic steps that characterize carefree children. We sat down in the hotel under the handsome veranda.

Hardly had we been seated when we heard below the sounds of quarreling and oaths. Our Greek was wrangling with the hotel- keeper, and for the entertainment of it we listened.

The amusement did not last long. “If I didn`t have other guests,” growled the hotel-keeper and ascended the steps towards us.

“I beg you to tell me, sir,” asked the young Pole of the approaching hotel-keeper, “who is that gentleman? What`s his name?”

“Eh—who knows what the fellow`s name is?” grumbled the hotel- keeper, and he gazed venomously downwards. “We call him the Vam-pire.”

“An artist?”

Neighborhood dies

“Fine trade! He sketches only corpses. Just as soon as someone in Constantinople or here in the neighborhood dies, that very day he has a picture of the dead one completed. That fellow paints them before-hand—and he never makes a mistake—just like a vulture!”

The old Polish woman shrieked affrightedly. In her arms lay her daughter pale as chalk. She had fainted.

In one bound the lover had leaped down the steps. With one hand he seized the Greek and with the other reached for the portfolio.

We ran down after him. Both men were rolling in the sand. The contents of the portfolio were scattered all about. On one sheet, sketched with a crayon, was the head of the young Polish girl, her eyes closed and a wreath of myrtle on her brow.

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The Vampire part 3

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The Sea of Marmora was but slightly ruffled and played in all colors like a sparkling opal. In the distance the sea was as white as milk, then rosy, between the two islands a glowing orange and below us it was beautifully greenish blue, like a transparent sapphire. It was resplend-ent in its own beauty. Nowhere were there any large ships—only two small craft flying the English flag sped along the shore.

One was a steamboat as big as a watchman`s booth, the second had about twelve oarsmen, and when their oars rose simultaneously molten silver dripped from them. Trustful dolphins darted in and out among them and drove with long, arching flights above the surface of the water. Through the blue heavens now and then calm eagles winged their way, measuring the space between two continents.

The entire slope below us was covered with blossoming roses whose fragrance filled the air. From the coffee-house near the sea music was carried up to us through the clear air, hushed somewhat by the distance.

Kiss tear after tear

The effect was enchanting. We all sat silent and steeped our souls completely in the picture of paradise. The young Polish girl lay on the grass with her head supported on the bosom of her lover. The pale oval of her delicate face was slightly tinged with soft color, and from her blue eyes tears suddenly gushed forth. The lover understood, bent down and kissed tear after tear. Her mother also was moved to tears, and I—even I—felt a strange twinge.

“Here mind and body both must get well,” whispered the girl. “How happy a land this is!”

“God knows I haven`t any enemies, but if I had I would forgive them here!” said the father in a trembling voice.

And again we became silent. We were all in such a wonderful mood —so unspeakably sweet it all was! Each felt for himself a whole world of happiness and each one would have shared his happiness with the whole world. All felt the same—and so no one disturbed another. We had scarcely even noticed that the Greek, after an hour or so, had arisen, folded his portfolio and with a slight nod had taken his departure. We remained.

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The Vampire part 2

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All the more agreeable was the Polish family. The father and mother were good-natured, fine people, the lover a handsome young fellow, of direct and refined manners. They had come to Prinkipo to spend the summer months for the sake of the daughter, who was slightly ailing. The beautiful pale girl was either just recovering from a severe illness or else a serious disease was just fastening its hold upon her.

She leaned upon her lover when she walked and very often sat down to rest, while a frequent dry little cough interrupted her whispers. Whenever she coughed, her escort would considerately pause in their walk. He al-ways cast upon her a glance of sympathetic suffering and she would look back at him as if she would say: “It is nothing. I am happy!” They believed in health and happiness.

On the recommendation of the Greek, who departed from us im-mediately at the pier, the family secured quarters in the hotel on the hill. The hotel-keeper was a Frenchman and his entire building was equipped comfortably and artistically, according to the French style.

Refresh ourselves

We breakfasted together and when the noon heat had abated some-what we all betook ourselves to the heights, where in the grove of Siberian stone-pines we could refresh ourselves with the view. Hardly had we found a suitable spot and settled ourselves when the Greek appeared again. He greeted us lightly, looked about and seated himself only a few steps from us. He opened his portfolio and began to sketch.

“I think he purposely sits with his back to the rocks so that we can`t look at his sketch,” I said.

“We don`t have to,” said the young Pole. “We have enough before us to look at.” After a while he added, “It seems to me he`s sketching us in as a sort of background. Well—let him!”

We truly did have enough to gaze at. There is not a more beautiful or more happy corner in the world than that very Prinkipo! The political martyr, Irene, contemporary of Charles the Great, lived there for a month as an exile. If I could live a month of my life there I would be happy for the memory of it for the rest of my days! I shall never forget even that one day spent at Prinkipo.

The air was as clear as a diamond, so soft, so caressing, that one`s whole soul swung out upon it into the distance. At the right beyond the sea projected the brown Asiatic summits; to the left in the distance purpled the steep coasts of Europe. The neighboring Chalki, one of the nine islands of the “Prince`s Archipelago,” rose with its cypress forests into the peaceful heights like a sorrowful dream, crowned by a great structure—an asylum for those whose minds are sick.

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The Vampire part 1

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Czechoslovakia

Introduction

Czech literature is usually considered as beginning with the writings of the great reformer, John Huss, who was born in the 1360`s. He was a man of wide interests. For a time he was rector of the University of Prague, and in 1415 was burned at the stake in Constance for his heretical preachings.

There are few other great names in early Czech literature, for men like Comenius are pre-eminent not so much for literary writings as for ideas. In the 16th century Bohemia fell under Austrian influence, and the use of the Czech language was either forbidden or discouraged; but with the beginning of the Nineteenth Century there came a period of great literary activity. It was during the second half of the century that writers of fiction came to the fore. Cech, Neruda, Vrchlicky, Jirasek and a dozen others were serious literary artists.

The Czech short story has been considerably influenced by the literature of the Russians, although there is perceptible in the best work of the Czechs a genuine folk element and a deep patriotic feeling.

Jan Neruda (1834-1891)

Neruda was one of the most prominent Czech authors of the Nine-teenth Century. As poet, dramatist, editor, critic, novelist, and story writer, he contributed much that was original and beautiful to the growing literature of his country. Born in Prague in 1834, he spent the greater part of his life engaged in editorial and literary work. The Vampire is a highly finished technical achievement.

The present version, translated by Sarka B. Hrbkovi, is reprinted by permission of the translator and publisher, from Hrbkova`s Czechoslovak Stories. Copyright, 1920, by Duffield & Co., New York.

The Vampire

One of the island of Prinkipo and we disembarked. The number of passengers was not large. There was one Polish family, a father, a mother, a daughter and her bridegroom, and then we two. Oh, yes, I must not forget that when we were already on the wooden bridge which crosses the Golden Horn to Constantinople, a Greek, a rather youthful man, joined us.

He was probably an artist, judging by the portfolio he carried under his arm. Long black locks floated to his shoulders, his face was pale, and his black eyes were deeply set in their sockets. In the first moment he interested me, especially for his obligingness and for his knowledge of local conditions. But he talked too much, and I then turned away from him.

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 13

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And when they came to their lord`s grave they took the head of Kot- suk£ no Suke, and, having washed it clean in a well hard by, laid it as an offering before the tomb.

When they had done this, they engaged the priests of the temple to come and read prayers while they burnt incense; first Oishi Kuranosuke burnt incense, and then his son Oishi Chikara, and after them the other forty-five men performed the same ceremony. Then Kuranosuke, having given all the money that he had by him to the abbot, said:

“When we forty-seven men shall have performed hara kiri, I beg you to bury us decently. I rely upon your kindness. This is but a trifle that I have to offer; such as it is, let it be spent in masses for our souls.”

And the abbot, marveling at the faithful courage of the men, with tears in his eyes pledged himself to fulfil their wishes. So the forty-seven Ronins, with their minds at rest, waited patiently until they should receive the orders of the Government.

At last they were summoned to the Supreme Court, where the governors ofYedo and the public censors had assembled; and the sentence passed upon them was as follows: “Whereas, neither respecting the dignity of the city nor fearing the Government, having leagued yourselves together to slay your enemy, you violently broke into the house of Kira Kotsukd no Suke by night and murdered him, the sentence of the Court is, that, for this audacious conduct, you perform hara kiri.”

When the sentence had been read, the forty-seven Ronins were divided into four parties, and handed over to the safe keeping of four different daimios; and sheriffs were sent to the palaces of those daimios in whose presence the Ronins were made to perform hara kiri.

But, as from the very beginning they had all made up their minds that to this end they must come, they met their death nobly; and their corpses were carried to Sengakuji, and buried in front of the tomb of their master, Asano Takumi no Kami. And when the fame of this became noised abroad, the people flocked to pray at the graves of these faithful men.

Roadside at Yamashina

Among those who came to pray was a Satsuma man, who, prostrating himself before the grave of Oishi Kuranosuke, said: “When I saw you lying drunk by the roadside at Yamashina, in Kioto, I knew not that you were plotting to avenge your lord; and, thinking you to be a faithless man, I trampled on you and spat in your face as I passed.

And now I have come to ask pardon and offer atonement for the insult of last year.” With these words he prostrated himself again before theave, and, drawing a dirk from his girdle, performed hara kiri and died.

The chief priest of the temple, taking pity upon him, buried him by the side of the Ronins; and his tomb still remains to be seen with those of the forty-seven comrades.

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 12

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As they were on their way to Takanawa, the suburb in which the temple called Sengakuji stands, the day broke; and the people flocked out to see the forty-seven men, who, with their clothes and arms all’ blood-stained, presented a terrible appearance; and everyone praised them, wondering at their valor and faithfulness. But they expected every moment that Kotsuke no Suk6`s father-in-law would attack them and carry off the head, so they determined to die nobly sword in hand.

However, they reached Takanawa in safety, for Matsudaira Aki no Kami, one of the eighteen chief daimios of Japan, of whose house Asano Takumi no Kami had been a cadet, had been highly pleased when he heard of the last night`s work, and he had made ready to assist the Ronins in case they were attacked. So Kotsuke no Sukd`s father-in-law dared not pursue them.

At about seven in the morning they came opposite to the palace of Matsudaira Mutsu no Kami, the Prince of Sendai, and the prince hearing of it, sent for one of his councilors and said: “The retainers of Takumi no Kami have slain their lord`s enemy, and are passing this way: I am filled with admiration at their devotion, so, as they must be tired and hungry after their night`s work, do you go and invite them to come in here, and set some gruel and a cup of wine before them.”

Oishi Kuranosuke

So the councilor went out and said to Oishi Kuranosuke, “Sir, I am a councilor of the Prince of Sendai, and my master bids me beg you, as you must be worn out after all you have undergone, to come in and partake of such poor refreshment as we can offer you. This is my message to you from my lord.”

“I thank you, sir,” replied Kuranosuke. “It is very good of his lord- ship to trouble himself to think of us. We shall accept his kindness gratefully.”

So the forty-seven Ronins went into the palace, and were feasted with gruel and wine, and all the retainers of the Prince of Sendai came and praised them.

Then Kuranosuke turned to the councilor and said, “Sir, we are truly indebted to you for this kind hospitality; but as we have still to hurry to Sengakuji, we must needs humbly take our leave.”

And, after returning many thanks to their hosts, they left the palace of the Prince of Sendai and hastened to Sengakuji, where they were met by the abbot of the monastery, who went to the front gate to receive them, and led them to the tomb of Takumi no Kami.

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 11

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But Jiutaro wrested the dirk from him, and clutching him by the collar, dragged him out of the outhouse. Then the other Ronin came up, and they examined the prisoner attentively, and saw that he was a noble-looking man, some sixty years of age, dressed in a white satin sleeping-robe, which was stained by the blood from the thigh-wound which Jiutaro had inflicted.

The two men felt convinced that this was no other than Kotsuke no Suke, and they asked him his name, but he gave no answer, so they gave the signal whistle, and all their comrades collected together at the call; then Oishi Kuranosuke, bringing a lantern, scanned the old man`s features, and it was indeed Kotsuke no Suk6; and if further proof were wanting, he still bore a scar on his forehead where their master, Asano Takumi no Kami, had wounded him during the affray in the castle. There being no possibility of mistake, therefore Oishi Kuranosuke went down on his knees, and addressing the old man very respectfully, said:

“My lord, we are the retainers of Asano Takumi no Kami. Last year your lordship and our master quarreled in the palace, and our master was sentenced to hara kiri, and his family was ruined. We have come tonight to avenge him, as is the duty of faithful and loyal men.

To perform hara kiri

I pray your lordship to acknowledge the justice of our purpose. And now, my lord, we beseech you to perform hara kiri. I myself shall have the honor to act as your second, and when, with all humility, I shall have received your lordship`s head, it is my intention to lay it as an offering upon the grave of Asano Takumi no Kami.”

Thus, in consideration of the high rank of Kotsuke no Suke, the R6nins treated him with the greatest courtesy, and over and over again entreated him to perform hara kiri. But he crouched speechless and trembling. At last Kuranosuke, seeing that it was vain to urge him to dir the death of a nobleman, forced him down, and cut off his head with the same dirk with which Asano Takumi no Kami had killed himself.

Then the forty-seven comrades, elated at having accomplished their design, placed the head in a bucket, and prepared to depart; but before leaving the house they carefully extinguished all the lights and fires in the place, lest by any accident a fire should break out and the neighbors suffer.

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 10

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Spurred by these words, Chikara seized a spear and gave battle to Waku Handaiyu, but could not hold his ground, and backing by degrees, was driven out into the garden, where he missed his footing and slipped into a pond; but as Handaiyu, thinking to kill him, looked down into the pond, Chikara cut his enemy in the leg and caused him to fall, and then crawling out of the water despatched him. In the meanwhile, Kobayashi Hehachi and Shimidzu Ikkaku had been killed by the other Ronins, and of all Kotsukd no Suke`s retainers not one fighting man remained.

Chikara, seeing this, went with his bloody sword in his hand into a back room to search for Kotsuke no Suke, but he only found the son of the latter, a young lord named Kira Sahioye, who, carrying a halberd, attacked him, but was soon wounded and fled. Thus the whole of Kotsuke no Suke`s men having been killed, there was an end of the fighting; but as yet there was no trace of Kotsuke no Suke to be found.

Then Kuranosuke divided his men into several parties and searched the whole house, but all in vain; women and children weeping were alone to be seen. At this the forty-seven men began to lose heart in regret, that after all their toil they had allowed their enemy to escape them, and there was a moment when in their despair they agreed to commit suicide together upon the spot; but they determined to make one more effort.

So Kuranosuke went into Kotsuke no Suke`s sleeping-room, and touching the quilt, with his hands, exlaimed, “I have just felt the bed-clothes and they are yet warm, and so methinks that our enemy is not far off. He must certainly be hidden somewhere in the house.” Greatly excited by this, the Ronins renewed their search.

Thrusting a spear

Now in the raised part of the room, near the place of honor, there was a picture hanging; taking down this picture, they saw that there was a large hole in the plastered wall, and on thrusting a spear in they could feel nothing beyond it. So one of the Ronins, called Yazama Jiutaro, got into the hole, and found that on the other side there was a little courtyard, in which there stood an outhouse for holding charcoal and firewood.

Looking into the outhouse, he spied something white at the further end, at which he struck with his spear, when two armed men sprang out upon him and tried to cut him down, but he kept them back until one of his comrades came up and killed one of the two men and engaged the other, while Jiutaro entered the outhouse and felt about with his spear.

Again seeing something white, he struck it with his lance, when a cry of pain betrayed that it was a man; so he rushed up, and the man in white clothes, who had been wounded in the thigh, drew a dirk and aimed a blow at him.

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 9

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Ten of Kotsuke no Suke`s retainers, hearing the noise, woke up; and, drawing their swords, rushed into the front room to defend their master. At this moment the Ronins, who had burst open the door of the front hall, entered the same room.

Then arose a furious fight between the two parties, in the midst of which Chikara, leading his men through the garden, broke into the back of the house; and Kot- suk6 no Suke, in terror of his life, took refuge, with his wife and female servants, in a closet in the veranda; while the rest of his retainers, who slept in the barrack outside the house, made ready to go to the rescue.

Joined by Chikara

But the Ronins who had come in by the front door, and were fighting with the ten retainers, ended by overpowering and slaying the latter without losing one of their own number; after which, forcing their way bravely towards the back rooms, they were joined by Chikara and his men, and the two bands were united in one.

By this time the remainder of Kotsuke no Sukl`s men had come in, and the fight became general; and Kuranosuke, sitting on a camp- stool, gave his orders and directed the Ronins.

Soon the inmates of the house perceived that they were no match for their enemy, so they tried to send out intelligence of their plight to UyeSugi Sama, their lord`s father-in-law, begging him to come to the rescue with all the force at his command.

But the messengers were shot down by the archers whom Kuranosuke had posted on the roof. So no help coming, they fought on in despair. Then Kuranosuk6 cried out with a loud voice: “Kotusk£ no Suke alone is our enemy; let someone go inside and bring him forth dead or alive!”

Now in front of Kotsuke no Suk6`s private room stood three brave retainers with drawn swords. The first was Kobayashi Hehachi, the second was Waku Handaiyu, and the third was Shimidzu Ikkaku, all good men and true, and expert swordsmen. So stoutly did these men lay about them that for awhile they kept the whole of the Ronins at bay, and at one moment even forced them back.

When Oishi Kuranosuke saw this, he ground his teeth with rage, and shouted to his men: “What! did not every man of you swear to laydown his life in avenging his lord, and now are you beaten back by three men? Cowards, not fit to be spoken to! To die fighting in a master`s cause should be the noblest apibition of a retainer!” Then turning to his own son Chikara, he said, “Here, boy! engage those men, and if they are too strong for you, die!”

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 8

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When the appointed hour came, the Ronins set forth. The wind howled furiously, and the driving snow beat in their faces; but little cared they for wind or snow as they hurried on their road. At last they reached Kotsukd no Suk£`s house, and divided themselves into two bands; and Chikara, with twenty-three men, went round to the back gate.

Then four men, by means of a ladder of ropes which they hung on to the roof of the porch, effected an entry into the courtyard; and, as they saw signs that all the inmates of the house were asleep, they went into the porter`s lodge where the guard slept, and, before the latter had time to recover from their astonishment, bound them.

Guard prayed hard for mercy

The terrified guard prayed hard for mercy, that their lives might he spared; and to this the Ronins agreed on condition that the keys of the gate should be given up; but the others tremblingly said that the keys were kept in the house of one of their officers, and that they had no means of obtaining them. Then the Ronins lost patience, and with a hammer smashed to shivers the big wooden bolt which secured the gate, and the doors flew open to the right and to the left. At the same time Chikara and his party broke in by the back gate.

Then Oishi Kuranosuke sent a messenger to the neighboring houses, bearing the following message: “We, the Ronins who were formerly in the service of Asano Takumi no Kami, are this night about to break into the palace of Kotsuke no Suke, to avenge our lord.

As we are neither night robbers nor ruffians, no hurt will be done to the neighboring houses. We pray you to set your minds at rest.” And as Kotsuke no Suke was hated by his neighbors for his covetousness, they did not unite their forces to assist him. Another precaution was yet taken.

Lest any of the people inside should run out to call the relations of the family to the rescue, and these coming in force should interfere with the plans of the Ronins, Kuranosuke stationed ten of his men armed with bows on the roof of the four sides of the courtyard, with orders to shoot any retainers who might attempt to leave the place. Having thus laid all his plans and posted his men, Kuranosuke with his own hand beat the drum and gave the signal for attack.

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 7

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And when at last it became evident from the letters which arrived from Yedo that Kotsuke no Suke was thoroughly off his guard, Kuranosuke rejoiced that the day of vengeance was at hand; and, having appointed a trysting-place at Yedo, he fled secretly from Kioto, eluding the vigilance of his enemy`s spies. Then the forty-seven men, having laid all their plans, bided their time patiently.

It was now midwinter, the twelfth month of the year, and the cold was bitter. One night, during a heavy fall of snow, when the whole world was hushed, and peaceful men were stretched in sleep upon the mats, the Ronins determined that no more favorable opportunity could occur for carrying out their purpose.

So they took counsel together, and having divided their band into two parties, assigned to each man his post. One band, led by Oishi Kuranosuke, was to attack the front gate, and the other, under his son Oishi Chikara, was to attack the rear of Kotsuke no Suke`s house; but as Chikara was only sixteen years of age, Yoshida Chiuzayemon was appointed to act as his guardian.

Further it was arranged that a drum, beaten at the order of Kuranosuke, should be the signal for the simultaneous attack; and that if any one slew Kotsuke no Suk6 and cut off his head he should blow a shrill whistle, as a signal to his comrades, who would hurry to the spot, and, having identified the head, carry it off to the temple called Sengakuji, and lay it as an offering before the tomb of their dead lord.

Report their deed to the Government

Then they must report their deed to the Government, and await their sentence. To this the Ronins one and all pledged themselves. Midnight was fixed upon as the hour, and the forty-seven comrades, having made all ready for the attack, partook of a last farewell feast together, for on the morrow they must die. Then Oishi Kuranosuke addressed the band, and said:

“To-night we shall attack our enemy in his palace; his retainers will certainly resist us, and we shall be obliged to kill them. But to slay old men and women and children is a pitiful thing; therefore, I pray you each one to take great heed-lest you kill a single helpless person.” His comrades all applauded this speech, and so they remained, waiting for the hour of midnight to arrive.

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 6

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“Trouble me not,” replied Kuranosuke, “for I will not listen to your whining. Since my way of life is displeasing to you, I will divorce you, and you may go about your business; and I will buy some pretty young girl from one of the public-houses, and marry her for my pleasure. I am sick of the sight of an old woman like you about the house, so get you gone—the sooner the better.”

So saying, he flew into a violent rage, and his wife, terror-stricken, pleaded piteously for mercy.

“Oh, my lord! unsay those terrible words! I have been your faithful wife for twenty years, and have borne you three children; in sickness and in sorrow I have been with you; you cannot be so cruel as to turn me out of doors now. Have pity! have pity!”

“Cease this useless wailing. My mind is made up, and you must go; and as the children are in my way also, you are welcome to take them with you.”

When she heard her husband speak thus, in her grief she sought her eldest son, Oishi Chikara, and begged him to plead for her, and pray that she might be pardoned. But nothing would turn Kuranosuke from his purpose; so his wife was sent away, with the two younger children, and went back to her native place. But Oishi Chikara remained with his father.

The spies communicated all this without fail to Kotsuke no Suke, and he, when he heard how Kuranosuke, having turned his wife and children out of doors and bought a concubine, was groveling in a life of drunkenness and lust, began to think that he had no longer anything to fear from the retainers of Takumi no Kami, who must be cowards, without the courage to avenge their lord.

Uyesugi Sama

So by degrees he began to keep a less strict watch, and sent back half of the guard which had been lent to him by his father-in-law, Uyesugi Sama. Little did he think how he was falling into the trap laid for him by Kuranosuke, who, in his zeal to slay his lord`s enemy, thought nothing of divorcing his wife and sending away his children! Admirable and faithful man!

In this way Kuranosuke continued to throw dust in the eyes of his foe, by persisting in his apparently shameless conduct; but his associates all went to Yedo, and, having in their several capacities as workmen and peddlers contrived to gain access to Kotsuke no Suke`s house, made themselves familiar with the plan of the building and the arrangement of the different rooms, and ascertained the character of the inmates, who were brave and loyal men, and who were cowards; upon all of which matters they sent regular reports to Kuranosuke.

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 5

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Now amongst these retainers was his principal councilor, a man called Oishi Kuranosuke, who with forty-six other faithful dependents formed a league to avenge their master`s death by killing Kotsukd no Suke.

This Oishi Kuranosuke was absent at the castle of Ako at the time of the affray, which, had he been with his prince, would never have occurred; for, being a wise man, he would not have failed to propitiate Kotsuke no Suke by sending him suitable presents; while the councilor who was in attendance on the prince at Yedo was a dullard, who neglected this precaution, and so caused the death of his master and the ruin of his house.

So Oishi Kuranosuke and his forty-six companions began to lay their plans of vengeance against Kotsuke no Suke; but the latter was so well guarded by a body of men lent to him by a daimio called Uyesugi Sama, whose daughter he had married, that they saw that the only way of attaining their end would be to throw their enemy off his guard.

With this object they separated, and disguised themselves, some as carpenters or craftsmen, others as merchants; and their chief, Kuranosuke, went to Kioto, and built a house in the quarter called Yama- shina, where he took to frequenting houses of the worst repute, and gave himself up to drunkenness and debauchery, as if nothing were further from his mind than revenge.

Kotsuke no Suke, in the meanwhile, suspecting that Takumi no Kami`s former retainers would be scheming against his life, secretly sent spies to Kioto, and caused a faithful account to be kept of all that Kuranosuke did. The latter, however, determined thoroughly to delude the enemy into a false security, went on leading a dissolute life with harlots and winebibbers.

Oishi Kuranosuke

One day, as he was returning home drunk from some low haunt, he fell down in the street and went to sleep, and all the passers-by laughed him to scorn. It happened that a Satsuma man saw this, and said: “Is not this Oishi Kuranosuke, who was a councilor of Asano Takumi no Kami, and who, not having the heart to avenge his lord, gives himself up to women and wine? See how he lies drunk in the public street! Faithless beast! Fool and craven! Unworthy the name of a Samurai!”

And he trod on Kuranosuke`s face as he slept, and spat upon him; but when Kotsuke no Suke`s spies reported all this at Yedo he was greatly relieved at the news, and felt secure from danger.

One day Kuranosuke`s wife, who was bitterly grieved to see her husband lead this abandoned life, went to him and said: “My lord, you told me at first that your debauchery was but a trick to make your enemy relax in watchfulness. But indeed, indeed, this has gone too far. I pray and beseech you to put some restraint upon yourself.”

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The Forty-Seven Ronins part 4

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Shortly after this Takumi no Kami, who had sent no present, arrived at the castle, and Kotsuke no Suke turned him into ridicule even more than before, provoking him with sneers and covered insults; but Takumi no Kami affected to ignore all this, and submitted himself patiently to Kotsuke no Suk£`s orders.

This conduct, so far from producing a good effect, only made Kotsuke no Suke despise him the more, until at last he said haughtily: “Here, my Lord of Takumi, the ribbon of my sock has come untied; be so good as to tie it up for me.”

Takumi no Kami, although burning with rage at the affront, still thought that as he was on duty he was bound to obey, and tied up the ribbon of the sock. Then Kotsuke no Suke, turning from him, petulantly exclaimed: “Why, how clumsy you are! You cannot so much as tie up the ribbon of a sock properly! Anyone can see that you are a boor from the country, and know nothing of the manners of Yedo.” And with a Scornful laugh he moved towards an inner room.

But the patience of Takumi no Kami was exhausted; this last insult was more than he could bear.

“Stop a moment, my lord,” cried he.

Takumi no Kami

“Well, what is it?” replied the other. And, as he turned round, Takumi no Kami drew his dirk, and aimed a blow at his head; but Kotsuk6 no Suke, being protected by the Court cap which he wore, the wound was but a scratch, so he ran away; and Takumi no Kami, pursuing him, tried a second time to cut him down, but missing his aim, struck his dirk into a pillar. At this moment an officer, named Kaji- kawa Yosobei, seeing the affray, rushed up, and holding back the infuriated noble, gave Kotsuke no Suke time to make good his escape.

Then there arose a great uproar and confusion, and Takumi no Kami was arrested and disarmed, and confined in one of the apartments of the palace under the care of the censors. A council was held, and the prisoner was given over to the safeguard of a daimio, called Tamura Ukiyo no Daibu, who kept him in close custody in his own house, to the great grief of his wife and of his retainers; and when the deliberations of the council were Completed, it was decided that, as he had commited an outrage and attacked another man within the precincts of the palace, he must perform hara kiri, that is, commit suicide by disemboweling; his goods must be confiscated, and his family ruined.

Such was the law. So Takumi no Kami performed hara kiri, his castle of Ako was confiscated, and his retainers, having become Ronins, some of them took service with other daimios, and others became merchants.

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