The Child Of The Thunder





In among the hills of Echizen, within sight of the snowy mountain called

Hakuzan, lived a farmer named Bimbo. He was very poor, but frugal and

industrious. He was very fond of children though he had none himself. He

longed to adopt a son to bear his name, and often talked the matter over

with his old dame. But being so dreadfully poor both thought it best not

to adopt, until they had bettered their condition and increased the area

of their land. For all the property Bimbo owned was the earth in a little

gully, which he himself was reclaiming. A tiny rivulet, flowing from a

spring in the crevice of the rocks above, after trickling over the

boulders, rolled down the gully to join a brook in the larger valley

below. Bimbo had with great labor, after many years, made dams or

terraces of stone, inside which he had thrown soil, partly got from the

mountain sides, but mainly carried in baskets on the backs of himself and

his wife, from the valley below. By such weary toil, continued year in

and year out, small beds of soil were formed, in which rice could be

planted and grown. The little rivulet supplied the needful water; for

rice, the daily food of laborer and farmer, must be planted and

cultivated in soft mud under water. So the little rivulet, which once

leaped over the rock and cut its way singing to the valley, now spread

itself quietly over each terrace, making more than a dozen descents

before it reached the fields below.



Yet after all his toil for a score of years, working every day from the

first croak of the raven, until the stars came out, Bimbo and his wife

owned only three tan (3/4 acre) of terrace land. Sometimes a summer

would pass, and little or no rain fall. Then the rivulet dried up and

crops failed. It seemed all in vain that their backs were bent and their

foreheads seamed and wrinkled with care. Many a time did Bimbo have hard

work of it even to pay his taxes, which sometimes amounted to half his

crop. Many a time did he shake his head, muttering the discouraged

farmer's proverb "A new field gives a scant crop," the words of which

mean also, "Human life is but fifty years."



One summer day after a long drought, when the young rice sprouts, just

transplanted were turning yellow at the tips, the clouds began to gather

and roll, and soon a smart shower fell, the lightning glittered, and the

hills echoed with claps of thunder. But Bimbo, hoe in hand, was so glad

to see the rain fall, and the pattering drops felt so cool and

refreshing, that he worked on, strengthening the terrace to resist the

little flood about to come.



* * * * *



Pretty soon the storm rattled very near him, and he thought he had better

seek shelter, lest the thunder should strike and kill him. For Bimbo,

like all his neighbors, had often heard stories of Kaijin, the god of the

thunder-drums, who lives in the skies and rides on the storm, and

sometimes kills people by throwing out of the clouds at them a terrible

creature like a cat, with iron-like claws and a hairy body.



Just as Bimbo threw his hoe over his shoulder and started to move, a

terrible blinding flash of lightning dazzled his eyes. It was immediately

followed by a deafening crash, and the thunder fell just in front of him.

He covered his eyes with his hands, but finding himself unhurt, uttered a

prayer of thanks to Buddha for safety. Then he uncovered his eyes and

looked down at his feet.



There lay a little boy, rosy and warm, and crowing in the most lively

manner, and never minding the rain in the least. The farmer's eyes opened

very wide, but happy and nearly surprised out of his senses, he picked up

the child tenderly in his arms, and took him home to his old wife.



"Here's a gift from Raijin," said Bimbo. "We'll adopt him as our own son

and call him Rai-taro," (the first-born darling of the thunder).



So the boy grew up and became a very dutiful and loving child. He was as

kind and obedient to his foster-parents as though he had been born in

their house. He never liked to play with other children, but kept all day

in the fields with his father, sporting with the rivulet and looking at

the clouds and sky. Even when the strolling players of the Dai Kagura

(the comedy which makes the gods laugh) and the "Lion of Corea" came into

the village, and every boy and girl and nurse and woman was sure to be

out in great glee, the child of the thunder stayed up in the field, or

climbed on the high rocks to watch the sailing of the birds and the

flowing of the water and the river far away.



Great prosperity seemed to come to the farmer, and he laid it all to the

sweet child that fell to him from the clouds. It was very curious that

rain often fell on Bimbo's field when none fell elsewhere; so that Bimbo

grew rich and changed his name to Kanemochi. He believed that the boy

Raitaro beckoned to the clouds, and they shed their rain for him.



A good many summers passed by, and Raitaro had grown to be a tall and

handsome lad, almost a man and eighteen years old. On his birthday the

old farmer and the good wife made a little feast for their foster-child.

They ate and drank and talked of the thunder-storm, out of which Raitaro

was born.



Finally the young man said solemnly:



"My dear parents, I thank you very much for your kindness to me, but I

must now say farewell. I hope you will always be happy."



Then, in a moment, all trace of a human form disappeared, and floating

in the air, they saw a tiny white dragon, which hovered for a moment

above them, and then flew away. The old couple went out of doors to watch

it, when it grew bigger and bigger, taking its course to the hills above,

where the piled-up white clouds, which form on a summer's afternoon,

seemed built up like towers and castles of silver. Towards one of these

the dragon moved, until, as they watched his form, now grown to a mighty

size, it disappeared from view.



After this Kanemochi and his wife, who were now old and white-headed,

ceased from their toil and lived in comfort all their days. When they

died and their bodies were reduced to a heap of white cinders in the

stone furnace of the village cremation-house, their ashes were mixed, and

being put into one urn, were laid away in the cemetery of the temple

yard. Their tomb was carved in the form of a white dragon, which to this

day, in spite of mosses and lichens, may still be seen among the ancient

monuments of the little hamlet.





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