A folklore from Fuji
Beneath the gleaming snows of Fuji lay a great forest.
There many giant trees grew, the fir, the pine, the graceful bamboo, and the camellia trees.
The balmy azaleas and the crinkled iris bloomed in the shade.
The blue heavens were fleecy with snowy clouds, and gentle zephyrs caressed the blossoms and made them bow like worshipers before a shrine.
Side by side there grew two bamboo trees.
One of these was tall, strong, and stately; and he reared his haughty head to heaven and bowed not to the North Wind as he passed.
The other was a slender bamboo, so slight and delicate that it swayed with every breeze, and moaned with fright when a storm swept down the wrath of the mountain.
The children loved the graceful bamboo, and named her Silver Mist; but the big bamboo looked down upon her with scorn.
“You bend and bow to every breeze. Have you no pride? It is not fitting that a bamboo should show fear. I stand straight and strong and bow to no one,” he said.
“You are going to be of some great use in the world, I am sure,” said the humble bamboo. I am only fit to trim the houses for the New Year’s feast. But you will become a beam in some great house or, maybe, even in a palace.”
“Do not think I shall be only that,” cried the boastful bamboo with a scornful laugh. “I am indeed intended for something great. I think I shall be chosen for the mast of a mighty ship. Then will the wings of the ship swell with the breeze, and it will fly over the ocean and I shall see strange lands and new peoples.
All men will behold me and will say, ‘See the stately bamboo which graces yonder junk!’ As for you, poor timorous one, you are not even brave enough to deck the New Year’s feast. You will be used to make mats for people to tread under foot.
The slim little bamboo did not answer back.
She only bent her head and cried bitterly. The flowers felt sorry for her and breathed their soft perfume about her to comfort her.
As the days went by the slim bamboo grew prettier, and the children loved her more and more. They played beneath her waving branches, they made flower chains and garlands and hung them from her boughs.
“See,” they cried in childish glee. “This is the Lady Silver Mist. Let us tie a flower around her slender waist;” and they bound a girdle of flowers about her.
One day there came woodmen to the forest, and they chopped down many of the trees, trampling the grass and the flowers under foot.
When they saw the big bamboo they said,
“Here is a tall, straight tree. It will do for a mast. We will cut it first.”
“Good-by,” said the boastful bamboo to the slender one.
“I am going to see the world and do great things. Good-by, child, I hope you will not be used to make rain coats.
When I am on the bright and beautiful sea I shall remember and pity you!”
“Good-by,” sighed his little comrade. “Good fortune go with you.”
The big bamboo was cut down, and the hillside saw him no more.
When, however, the woodmen came to the little tree, they smiled to see it so beautifully garlanded with flowers and they said,
“This little tree has friends.”
Then the children took courage and ran to the woodcutters and cried,
“Pray do not cut down our tree! In all the forest we love it best. It is the Lady Silver Mist and it has been our playmate for many moons.”
“You must dig it up and bear it away if you wish to save its life,” said the chief woodman. “We are sent to this forest to clear it, so that a grand palace may be built upon the hillside where all is so fair and beautiful.”
“Gladly will we root her up and take her to our home,” answered the eldest child; and very carefully they dug her up, not destroying even a single root, for the woodman helped them, so kind was he and of a good heart.
They placed the slim bamboo in a lovely garden beside the sea, and she grew fair and stately and was happy. All around was calm and beautiful.
The sea waves lapped the coral strand. By day, the sun shone on the tawny sands and turned them to gold; the sky was blue as a turquoise, and pearly clouds floated across it like shadowy angel’s wings.
By night the moon goddess rose in silvery beauty and bathed the garden in light; it kissed the leaves of the bamboo, until the dew sparkled upon them like diamonds in a setting of silver.
Fragrant flowers bloomed at the bamboo’s feet: irises from their meadow home, azaleas, rare lotus lilies, and a fringe of purple wistaria wafting its breath in friendship upon her.
Here she grew in strength and grace. All things were her friends, for she gave to all of her sweetness; and to the winds she bowed her head.
“Great North Wind,” she said gently, “how thou art strong!” And to the South Wind she said, “How sweet and kind thou art!” To the flowers she gave shade and to the children, who still loved her, companionship.
One night she shivered and bowed her head very, very low, for there came a storm from the sea, a storm so fierce and wild as to frighten her very soul.
The waves of the sea tossed the white foam heavenward; they rose up in giant walls of fury until ships sunk in the troughs between and were dashed to pieces.
The beach was strewn with wrecks, and when daylight came, Lady Silver Mist gazed upon the scene.
She recognized her old friend, the great bamboo, prostrate upon the ground, while all around him lay bits of the junk over which he had reared his haughty head.
“Alas! my poor friend!” she cried. “What a sad fate is yours! Would that I could aid you.”
“No one can help me,” he replied with a moan. “Would that I had been made into a common coolie pole with which to push a country junk!
Then might I have been useful for many years! No, my heart is broken, Silver Mist. Farewell.”
He gave a long shuddering sigh and spoke no more. Soon some men who came to clear up the wreckage, chopped the mast up for firewood; and that was the end of the boastful bamboo.