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THE SON OF THE
By Frank Binder
AT the foot of the snowy mountain of Haku-san, in the province of Echizen, lived a peasant and his wife. They were very poor, for their little strip of barren mountain land yielded but one scanty crop a year, while their neighbors in the valley gathered two rich harvests. With unceasing patience Bimbo worked from cock-crow until the barking of the foxes warned him that night had fallen. He laid out his plot of ground in terraces, surrounding them with dams, and diverted the course of the mountain stream that it might flood his fields. But when no rain came to swell the brook, Bimbo's harvest failed. Often as he sat in his hut with his wife, after a long day of hard work, he would speak of their troubles. The peasants were filled with grief that a child had not been given to them. They longed to adopt a son, but, as they had barely enough for their own simple wants, the dream could not be realized.
An evil day came when the land of Echizen was parched. No rain fell. The brook was dried up. The young rice-sprouts withered. Bimbo sighed heavily over his work. He looked up to the sky and entreated the gods to take pity on him.
After many weeks of sunshine, the sky was overcast. Single clouds came up rapidly from the west, and gathered in angry masses. A strange silence filled the air. Even the voice of the cicadas, who had chirped in the trees during the heat of the day, was stilled. Only the cry of the mountain hawk was audible. A murmur passed over valley and hill, a faint rustling of leaves, a whispering sigh in the needles of the fir. Fu-ten, the Storm-Spirit, and Rai-den, the Thunder-God, were abroad. Deeper and deeper sank the clouds under the weight of the thunder dragon. The rain came at first in large cool drops, then in torrents..
Bimbo rejoiced, and worked steadily to strengthen the dams and open the conduits of his farm.
A vivid flash of lightning, a mighty roar of thunder! Terrified, almost blinded, Bimbo fell on his knees. He thought that the claws of the thunder-dragon were about him. But he was unharmed, and he offered thanks to Kwan-non, the Goddess of Pity, who protects mortals from the wrath of the Thunder-God. On the spot where the lightning struck the ground, lay a little rosy boy full of life, who held out his arms and lisped. Bimbo was greatly amazed, and his heart was glad, for he knew that the gods had heard and answered his never-uttered prayer. The happy peasant took the child up, and carried him under his rice-straw coat to the hut. He called to his wife, "Rejoice, our wish is fulfilled. The gods have sent us a child. We will call him Rai-taro, the Son of the Thunder-God, and bring him up as our own."
The good woman fondly tended the boy. Rai-taro loved his foster-parents, and grew up dutiful and obedient. He did not care to play with other children, but was always happy to work in the fields with Bimbo, where he would watch the flight of the birds, and listen to the sound of the wind. Long before Bimbo could discern any sign of an approaching storm, Rai-taro knew that it was at hand. When it drew near, he fixed his eyes intently on the gathering clouds, he listened eagerly to the roll of the thunder, the rush of the rain, and he greeted each flash of lightning with a shout of joy.
Rai-taro had come as a ray of sunshine into the lives of the poor peasants. Good fortune followed the farmer from the day that he carried the little boy home in his rain-coat. The mountain stream was never dry. The land was fertile, and he gathered rich harvests of rice and abundant crops of millet. Year by year, his prosperity increased, until from Bimbo, "the poor," he became Kanemochi, "the prosperous."
About eighteen summers passed, and Rai-taro still lived with his foster-parents. Suddenly, they knew not why, he became thoughtful and sad. Nothing would rouse him. The peasants determined to hold a feast in honor of his birthday. They called together the neighbors, and there was much rejoicing. Bimbo told many tales of other days, and, finally, of how Rai-taro came to him out of the storm. As he ceased, a strange far-off look was in the eyes of the Son of the Thunder-God. He stood before his foster-parents, and said: "You have loved me well. You have been faithful and kind. But the time has come for me to leave you. Farewell."
In a moment Rai-taro was gone. A white cloud floated upward towards the heights of Haku-san. As it neared the summit of the mountain, it took the form of a white dragon. Higher still the dragon soared, until, at last, it vanished into a castle of clouds.
The peasants looked wistfully up to the sky. They hoped that Rai-taro might return, but he had joined his father, Rai-den, the Thunder-God, and was seen no more.