One summer night Hoichi's friend was request to go through the forms of religion for the death of a man who went to his church ; and he went to this man's house with his young servant ; so that Hoichi was the only person in the church that night. I twas a very warm night ; and Hoichi went on the verandah2 in front of his sleeping-room because the heat was not so great there. The verandah was at the back of the Amidaji, facing a small garden. Hoichi was waiting there for the man of religion t come back and he was comforting himself by playing on his biwa. It was past twelve ; and the man of religion had not come back. But it was still very warm inside ; and Hoichi kept on the verandah. At last there came to his ears the sound of steps coming in his direction from the back door. Somebody came up to the verandah from across the garden, stopping right in front of him -- but it was not the man of religion. A deep voice said his name loudly -- suddenly and roughly, like a samurai giving an order to a servant :--
"Hoichi was so much surprised that for a minute, he was unable to give any answer ; and the voice said again, as if roughly giving an order, --
"Hai ! he made answer, fearing this note in the voice, -- "I am unable to see ! -- I have not idea who your are!"
"There is no cause for feat." the strange man said, talking more softly. "I am stopping near the church, and have been sent to you with a request. My present chief, a person of very high position, is now in Akamagaseki, with a great number of men of good birth. He had a desire to see where it was that the fight of Dan-no-ura took place ; and today he went there. It has come to his ears that you give the story of the fight very well ; he now has a desire for you to give your song before him ; so you will take your biwa and come with me quickly to the house where these great persons are waiting."
In those times, the order of a samurai had to be taken very seriously. Hoichi put on his flat shoes, took his biwa, and went away with the strange man, who seemed to have a good knowledge of the way, but made Hoichi go very quickly. The hand guiding him was iron ; and the sound of metal made it clear that the man was fully armed, -- probably he had been keeping watch at some great house. Hoichi's first fears were over ;and it now seemed to him that this was a happy chance:-- because, keeping in mind the samurai's talk of "persons of very high position," he was certain that the chief who had sent for him to give his song would not be less than a daimyo3 of the first order. After a time the samurai came to a stop ; and Hoichi became conscious that they had got to a great doorway ;-- and he was surprised, because he had no memory of any great door in that part of the town other than the chief door of the Aminaji. ""Kwimon !4 the samurai said loudly,-- and there was a sound of unlocking ; and the two went through. They went across a space of garden and came to a stop again before some doorway ; and the samurai said in a loud voice, "You who are inside ! I have come with Hoichi !" Then came sounds of quick feet, and paper walls slipping back, and rain-doors opening, and voices of women talking to one another. By the language of the women it became clear to Hoichi that they were servants in some great house, but he had no idea to what place he had been taken. Little time was given him for thought. After he had been helped to go up some stone steps, on the last of which he was ordered to take off his shoes, he was guided by a woman's hand across long stretches of polished boards, and round a number of angles with tall supports, and over a wide space of covered floor,-- into the middle of some great room. There it seemed to him that a great number of persons of high position were waiting : the sound of the silk dresses was like the sound of leaves in a wood. And, in addition, there came to his ears a general noise of low voices,-- talking very softly ; and the language that of persons living among the great.
They said to Hoichi that he was not to be troubled, and there was a cushion ready for him. After having taken his place on it, and got ready his instruments, the voice of a woman -- who seemed to him to be the Rojo, or chief of the female servants -- said to him :--
"Now will you please give the song of the history of the Heike with the biwa ?"
The complete story would have taken a great number of nights ; so Hoichi put a question :--
"It would take a long time to give the full story, so what part is it you desire to have played to you now ?"
The woman's voice made answer :--
"Give the story of the fight at Dan-no-ura,-- because it is sadder than any other part."
Then, lifting up his voice, Hoichi gave the song of the fight on the bitter sea,-- making a strange sound with the biwa like the pulling of boat-blades and the noise of ships in the water, the hiss of the archers, the crying and stamping of men, the smashing of steel on head-coverings, the fall of dead bodies in the water. And to left and right of him, whenever his playing came to a stop, low voices of approval came to his ears.
2 . verandah - A long covered walk at the side of a house.
3 . Ruler of a division of old Japan.
4 . Get the door open !