HOW AN OLD MAN LOST HIS WEN (Tales of Old Japan) by YEI THEODORA OZAKI
Many, many years ago there lived a good old man who had a wen like a tennis-ball growing out of his right cheek. This lump was a great disfigurement to the old man, and so annoyed him that for many years he spent all his time and money in trying to get rid of it. He tried everything he could think of. He consulted many doctors far and near, and took all kinds of medicines both internally and externally. But it was all of no use. The lump only grew bigger and bigger till it was nearly as big as his face, and in despair he gave up all hopes of ever losing it, and resigned himself to the thought of having to carry the lump on his face all his life.
One day the firewood gave out in his kitchen, so, as his wife wanted some at once, the old man took his ax and set out for the woods up among the hills not very far from his home. It was a fine day in the early autumn, and the old man enjoyed the fresh air and was in no hurry to get home. So the whole afternoon passed quickly while he was chopping wood, and he had collected a goodly pile to take back to his wife. When the day began to draw to a close, he turned his face homewards.
The old man had not gone far on his way down the mountain pass when the sky clouded and rain began to fall heavily. He looked about for some shelter, but there was not even a charcoal-burner’s hut near. At last he espied a large hole in the hollow trunk of a tree. The hole was near the ground, so he crept in easily, and sat down in hopes that he had only been overtaken by a mountain shower, and that the weather would soon clear.
But much to the old man’s disappointment, instead of clearing the rain fell more and more heavily, and finally a heavy thunderstorm broke over the mountain. The thunder roared so terrifically, and the heavens seemed to be so ablaze with lightning, that the old man could hardly believe himself to be alive. He thought that he must die of fright. At last, however, the sky cleared, and the whole country was aglow in the rays of the setting sun. The old man’s spirits revived when he looked out at the beautiful twilight, and he was about to step out from his strange hiding-place in the hollow tree when the sound of what seemed like the approaching steps of several people caught his ear. He at once thought that his friends had come to look for him, and he was delighted at the idea of having some jolly companions with whom to walk home. But on looking out from the tree, what was his amazement to see, not his friends, but hundreds of demons coming towards the spot. The more he looked, the greater was his astonishment. Some of these demons were as large as giants, others had great big eyes out of all proportion to the rest of their bodies, others again had absurdly long noses, and some had such big mouths that they seemed to open from ear to ear. All had horns growing on their foreheads. The old man was so surprised at what he saw that he lost his balance and fell out of the hollow tree. Fortunately for him the demons did not see him, as the tree was in the background. So he picked himself up and crept back into the tree.
While he was sitting there and wondering impatiently when he would be able to get home, he heard the sounds of gay music, and then some of the demons began to sing.
“What are these creatures doing?” said the old man to himself. “I will look out, it sounds very amusing.”
On peeping out, the old man saw that the demon chief himself was actually sitting with his back against the tree in which he had taken refuge, and all the other demons were sitting round, some drinking and some dancing. Food and wine was spread before them on the ground, and the demons were evidently having a great entertainment and enjoying themselves immensely.
It made the old man laugh to see their strange antics.
“How amusing this is!” laughed the old man to himself “I am now quite old, but I have never seen anything so strange in all my life.”
He was so interested and excited in watching all that the demons were doing, that he forgot himself and stepped out of the tree and stood looking on.
The demon chief was just taking a big cup of SAKE and watching one of the demons dancing. In a little while he said with a bored air:
“Your dance is rather monotonous. I am tired of watching it. Isn’t there any one amongst you all who can dance better than this fellow?”
Now the old man had been fond of dancing all his life, and was quite an expert in the art, and he knew that he could do much better than the demon.
“Shall I go and dance before these demons and let them see what a human being can do? It may be dangerous, for if I don’t please them they may kill me!” said the old fellow to himself.
His fears, however, were soon overcome by his love of dancing. In a few minutes he could restrain himself no longer, and came out before the whole party of demons and began to dance at once. The old man, realizing that his life probably depended on whether he pleased these strange creatures or not, exerted his skill and wit to the utmost.
The demons were at first very surprised to see a man so fearlessly taking part in their entertainment, and then their surprise soon gave place to admiration.
“How strange!” exclaimed the horned chief. “I never saw such a skillful dancer before! He dances admirably!”
When the old man had finished his dance, the big demon said:
“Thank you very much for your amusing dance. Now give us the pleasure of drinking a cup of wine with us,” and with these words he handed him his largest wine-cup.
The old man thanked him very humbly:
“I did not expect such kindness from your lordship. I fear I have only disturbed your pleasant party by my unskillful dancing.”
“No, no,” answered the big demon. “You must come often and dance for us. Your skill has given us much pleasure.”
The old man thanked him again and promised to do so.
“Then will you come again to-morrow, old man?” asked the demon.
“Certainly, I will,” answered the old man.
“Then you must leave some pledge of your word with us,” said the demon.
“Whatever you like,” said the old man.
“Now what is the best thing he can leave with us as a pledge?” asked the demon, looking round.
Then said one of the demon’s attendants kneeling behind the chief:
“The token he leaves with us must be the most important thing to him in his possession. I see the old man has a wen on his right cheek. Now mortal men consider such a wen very fortunate. Let my lord take the lump from the old man’s right cheek, and he will surely come to-morrow, if only to get that back.”
“You are very clever,” said the demon chief, giving his horns an approving nod. Then he stretched out a hairy arm and claw-like hand, and took the great lump from the old man’s right cheek. Strange to say, it came off as easily as a ripe plum from the tree at the demon’s touch, and then the merry troop of demons suddenly vanished.
The old man was lost in bewilderment by all that had happened. He hardly knew for some time where he was. When he came to understand what had happened to him, he was delighted to find that the lump on his face, which had for so many years disfigured him, had really been taken away without any pain to himself. He put up his hand to feel if any scar remained, but found that his right cheek was as smooth as his left.
The sun had long set, and the young moon had risen like a silver crescent in the sky. The old man suddenly realized how late it was and began to hurry home. He patted his right cheek all the time, as if to make sure of his good fortune in having lost the wen. He was so happy that he found it impossible to walk quietly—he ran and danced the whole way home.
He found his wife very anxious, wondering what had happened to make him so late. He soon told her all that had passed since he left home that afternoon. She was quite as happy as her husband when he showed her that the ugly lump had disappeared from his face, for in her youth she had prided herself on his good looks, and it had been a daily grief to her to see the horrid growth.
Now next door to this good old couple there lived a wicked and disagreeable old man. He, too, had for many years been troubled with the growth of a wen on his left cheek, and he, too, had tried all manner of things to get rid of it, but in vain.
He heard at once, through the servant, of his neighbor’s good luck in losing the lump on his face, so he called that very evening and asked his friend to tell him everything that concerned the loss of it. The good old man told his disagreeable neighbor all that had happened to him. He described the place where he would find the hollow tree in which to hide, and advised him to be on the spot in the late afternoon towards the time of sunset.
The old neighbor started out the very next afternoon, and after hunting about for some time, came to the hollow tree just as his friend had described. Here he hid himself and waited for the twilight.
Just as he had been told, the band of demons came at that hour and held a feast with dance and song. When this had gone on for some time the chief of the demons looked around and said:
“It is now time for the old man to come as he promised us. Why doesn’t he come?”
When the second old man heard these words he ran out of his hiding-place in the tree and, kneeling down before the Oni, said:
“I have been waiting for a long time for you to speak!”
“Ah, you are the old man of yesterday,” said the demon chief. “Thank you for coming, you must dance for us soon.”
The old man now stood up and opened his fan and began to dance. But he had never learned to dance, and knew nothing about the necessary gestures and different positions. He thought that anything would please the demons, so he just hopped about, waving his arms and stamping his feet, imitating as well as he could any dancing he had ever seen.
The Oni were very dissatisfied at this exhibition, and said amongst themselves:
“How badly he dances to-day!”
Then to the old man the demon chief said:
“Your performance to-day is quite different from the dance of yesterday. We don’t wish to see any more of such dancing. We will give you back the pledge you left with us. You must go away at once.”
With these words he took out from a fold of his dress the lump which he had taken from the face of the old man who had danced so well the day before, and threw it at the right cheek of the old man who stood before him. The lump immediately attached itself to his cheek as firmly as if it had grown there always, and all attempts to pull it off were useless. The wicked old man, instead of losing the lump on his left cheek as he had hoped, found to his dismay that he had but added another to his right cheek in his attempt to get rid of the first.
He put up first one hand and then the other to each side of his face to make sure if he were not dreaming a horrible nightmare. No, sure enough there was now a great wen on the right side of his face as on the left. The demons had all disappeared, and there was nothing for him to do but to return home. He was a pitiful sight, for his face, with the two large lumps, one on each side, looked just like a Japanese gourd.