Namu my[=o]h[=o] renge ky[=o].
Slowly the procession jolted up the steep stairway, and came to rest with their heavy burdens in front of the temple of Nichiren.
“It is very silly,” said cousin Sadako, “to be so superstitious, I think.”
“Then why are we here?” asked Asako.
“My grandfather is very superstitious; and my father is afraid to say ‘No’ to him. My father does not believe in any gods or Buddhas; but he says it does no harm, and it may do good. All our family is gohei-katsugi (brandishers of sacred symbols). We think that with all this prayer we can turn away the trouble of Takeshi.”
“Why, what is the matter with Mr. Takeshi? Why is he not here? and Matsuko San and the children?”
“It is a great secret,” said the Fujinami cousin, “you will tell no one. You will pretend also even with me that you do not know. Takeshi San is very sick. The doctor says that he is a leper.”
Asako stared, uncomprehending. Sadako went on,—
“You saw this morning those ugly beggars. They were all so terrible to see, and their bodies were so rotten. My brother is becoming like that. It is a sickness. It cannot be cured. It will kill him very slowly. Perhaps his wife Matsu and his children also have the sickness. Perhaps we too are sick. No one can tell, not for many years.”
Ugly wings seemed to cover the night. The world beneath the hill had become the Pit of Hell, and the points of light were devils’ spears. Asako trembled.
“What does it mean?” she asked. “How did Takeshi San become sick?”
“It was a tenbatsu (judgment of heaven),” answered her cousin. “Takeshi San was a bad man. He was rude to his father, and he was cruel to his wife. He thought only of geisha and bad women. No doubt, he became sick from touching a woman who was sick. Besides, it is the bad inge of the Fujinami family. Did not the old woman of Akabo say so? It is the curse of the Yoshiwara women. It will be our turn next, yours and mine.”
No wonder that poor Asako could not sleep that night in the cramped promiscuity of the family dead.
Fujinami Takeshi had been sickly for some time; but then his course of life could hardly be called a healthy one. On his return from his summer holiday, red patches had appeared on the palms of his hands, and afterwards on his forehead. He had complained of the irritation caused by this “rash.” Professor Kashio had been called in to prescribe. A blood test was taken. The doctor then pronounced that the son and heir was suffering from leprosy, and for that there was no cure.
The disease is accompanied by irritation, but by little actual pain. Constant application of compresses can allay the itching, and can often save the patient from the more ghastly ravages of disfigurement. But, slowly, the limbs lose their force, the fingers and toes drop away, the hair falls, and merciful blindness comes to hide from the sufferer the living corpse to which his spirit is bound. More merciful yet, the slow decay attacks the organs of the body. Often consumption intervenes. Often just a simple cold suffices to snuff out the flickering life.