The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939



(Begun in the July number.)

[illustration - "Kibun Daizin" (Wealthiest man)]



KINOKUNIVA BUNZAYEMON, who unknowingly had left such a big fire behind him and sought the mountainous districts of the neighboring provinces as his field of action, went over to Sagami Province the same day, and negotiated with the chief owners of forests there and made a contract with them, paying them guaranty money in advance. The next day he crossed over to Awa Province and visited in turn the owners of mountain forests in Kazusa, Shimo-osa, and Musashi, and struck bargains with them to buy all their salable timber. Four or five days only were occupied in these rapid negotiations, at the end of which time, as the rumor of the big fire of Yedo had got abroad to these neighboring provinces, Ki-bun hastened on his way back to Yedo. As he was passing amid the smoldering ruins on the way to his depot at Fukagawa, he continually heard the people talking of himself. Every time he stopped and listened. " Well, Genbei San, Kinokuniya Bunzayemon is a fine fellow, is n't he? One would think he had foreseen the fire and prepared that enormous amount of bento beforehand; otherwise he could not possibly have given it out to the people so readily. I and others had nowhere to find food, so we supported ourselves for three days on that bento."

"Is that so, Hachibei San? I also received it every day. For three days, wherever one went among the ruins one was met with his charity. It is said that within three days no less than two thousand koku* of rice were given away. Had it not been for that charity nearly the whole population of the city would have famished. Moreover, Genbei San, the charity was extended even to the mansions of many dainties, and the nobles and their families ate of his bento."

"To be sure. Even the nobles with their heaps of gold and all their power could n't buy a single grain in the general consternation! Really that Kibun, whoever he may be, is a sagacious fellow!" Thus talked the men who had received his alms.

While Bunzayemon, who listened to this current talk, was inwardly rejoicing that Chobei had managed his affairs so admirably, he passed two women who were talking.

"Oh, Haru San, when I lost sight of my child in the crowd," one of them was saying, "I became almost mad in my search for her; but as I could not find her in the hurry and bustle, I gave her up for being trodden to death or else for being suffocated in the heat. In my grief I lost all care for my own life. But then I heard the people say that some thousands of strayed children had been taken to Kibun's country place at Fukagawa. I ran there at once, and lo! I found my little girl there among the children. My joy, of course, knew no bounds. Let people say what they wish, Kibun must be a merciful man; in such a fire as this naturally there are a lot of strayed children, and therefore he sent out his men to every quarter of the city, ordering them to bring such to his house. In three days a thousand or more people were rescued, they say. Henceforth I shall always have a niche for Kibun Sama in my heart."

"I shall, too. Your case was not so bad as mine. For my part, when I lost sight of my
mother, no words could express my anxiety. If she had been in sound health, I would have felt a little easier, but she has been laid up since last winter on account of her great age. At first we thought we were safe from the conflagration, as the fire had passed by us toward Takanawa; but then by the change of wind the sparks started the fire afresh at the very next door to our own. The men belonging to the house had gone to Takanawa to help a relative of ours there, and I thought it would be a shame to me if by my[illustration - "'I have no words in which to express my thanks to you.'"] indecision the fire should cause the death of my mother; so, holding my mother's hand, I dragged her from the house.

"After two or three chos'run, mother was out of breath and consequently could n't walk a step farther. I put her on my back and ran on, but we were both soon suffocated by the smoke, and then I tumbled down. I could n't get up for some time because other people who were running to escape from the flames trod on me.

"In another minute the sparks set fire to my dress and I was pretty badly burned. However, I took courage and got on my feet, being very anxious about my mother. I looked round, and she was not there. I knew she could n't possibly have run away, owing to her helplessness; so I looked around me, being sure she must be either in a ditch or stupefied by the smoke. The fire, however, was too quick for me. I could n't stay to make further search, so I ran away. I have been weeping since at the thought of my mother's death, when yesterday I heard a report that mother was safe at Fukagawa. I flew to her place and met her. When I asked her how she had got there she told me she had been rescued by the coolies of a certain Kibun, and after being brought there had received the most kind treatment. Henceforth I 'll not sleep with my feet toward Fukagawa."