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By Frank Binder
SHOKUJO, daughter of the Sun, dwelt with her father on the banks of the Silver River of Heaven, which we call the Milky Way. She was a lovely maiden, graceful and winsome, and her eyes were tender as the eyes of a dove. Her loving father, the Sun, was much troubled because Shokujo did not share in the youthful pleasures of the daughters of the air. A soft melancholy seemed to brood over her, but she never wearied of working for the good of others, and especially did she busy herself at her loom; indeed she came to be called the Weaving Princess.
The Sun bethought him that if he could give his daughter in marriage, all would be well; her dormant love would be kindled into a flame that would illumine her whole being and drive out the pensive spirit which oppressed her. Now there lived, hard by, one Kingen, a right honest herdsman, who tended his cows on the borders of the Heavenly Stream. The Sun-King proposed to bestow his daughter on Kingen, thinking in this way to provide for her happiness and at the same time keep her near him. Every star beamed approval, and there was joy in the heavens.
The love that bound Shokujo and Kingen to one another was a great love. With its awakening, Shokujo forsook her former occupations, nor did she any longer labor industriously at the loom, but laughed, and danced, and sang, and made merry from morn till night. The Sun-King was sorely grieved, for he had not foreseen so great a change. Anger was in his eyes, and he said, "Kingen is surely the cause of this, therefore I will banish him to the other side of the River of Stars."
When Shokujo and Kingen heard that they were to be parted, and could thenceforth, in accordance with the King's decree, meet but once a year, and that upon the seventh night of the seventh month, their hearts were heavy. The leave-taking between them was a sad one, and great tears stood in Shokujo's eyes as she bade farewell to her lover-husband. In answer to the behest of the Sun-King, myriads of magpies flocked together, and, outspreading their wings, formed a bridge on which Kingen crossed the River of Heaven. The moment that his foot touched the opposite bank, the birds dispersed with noisy chatter, leaving poor Kingen a solitary exile. He looked wistfully towards the weeping figure of Shokujo, who stood on the threshold of her now desolate home.
Long and weary were the succeeding days, spent as they were by Kingen in guiding his oxen and by Shokujo in plying her shuttle. The Sun-King was gladdened by his daughter's industry. When night fell and the heavens were bright with countless lights, the lovers were wont, standing on the banks of the celestial stream, to waft across it sweet and tender messages, while each uttered a prayer for the speedy coming of the wondrous night.
The long-hoped-for month and day drew nigh, and the hearts of the lovers were troubled lest rain should fall; for the Silver River, full at all times, is at that season often in flood, and the bird-bridge might be swept away.
The day broke cloudlessly bright. It waxed and waned, and one by one the lamps of heaven were lighted. At nightfall the magpies assembled, and Shokujo, quivering with delight, crossed the slender bridge and fell into the arms of her lover. Their transport of joy was as the joy of the parched flower, when the raindrop falls upon it; but the moment of parting soon came, and Shokujo sorrowfully retraced her steps.
Year follows year, and the lovers still meet in that far-off starry land on the seventh night of the seventh month, save when rain has swelled the Silver River and rendered the crossing impossible. The hope of a permanent reunion still fills the hearts of the Star-Lovers, and is to them as a sweet fragrance and a beautiful vision.