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The Vampire Cat: A Play in One Act from the Japanese Legend of Nabeshima Cat

Gerard Van Etten

Cast of Characters

Prince Hizen, Lord of Nabeshima
Buzen, his chief councillor
Ruiten, a priest
Ito Soda, a common soldier
Kashiku, a maid
O Toyo, wife of the prince

    TIME: Medieval Japan.

    SCENE: The room of O Toyo in the palace.

    TIME OF ACTION: Between 10 and 12 p.m.

Note—According to the old Japanese legend, the soul of a cat can enter a human being.

Scene. At R. is a dressing table, upon it a steel mirror, toilet articles, and two lighted candles with ornate shades. R. U. a section of shoji leads to another room, this section is now closed. At R. C. a large section of shoji is open, giving a view of the garden. To the R. of this entrance is a small shrine and Buddha. At L. of the room is a sleeping mat and head rest. By the head rest a lantern, now unlighted. Down L. is an open section of shoji leading to the Prince's apartments. Just above it stands a screen. As the curtain rises the Prince is standing R. C. looking out into the garden. Ruiten is down R. and Buzen slightly above him. Buzen crosses L.

Prince.   [Comes down between Ruiten and Buzen.] Settle for me tonight My sicknesses and my fears— [To Buzen.]   Settle them for me, Sir Buzen, councillor crafty. [To Ruiten.]   Settle them for me, Priest Ruiten, the prayerful.

Ruiten.   So are we trying in all ways Thy pain to relieve Yet nought seems availing.

Prince.   Wracked is my body With tortures unending Born of the dreams That are surging forever Backward and forward Thru my brain, weary.

Buzen.   [Indicating door L.]   Around thy bed each night Have I placed thy samurai In number one hundred To guard thy sleep—

Ruiten.   Zealously have I prayed in the temple called "Miyo In," And during the night hours Have knelt at thy house shrine Praying to Buddha, the lord of the world.

Prince.   Yet have I not slept Entirely untortured. Slow are thy prayers In fruit bearing.

Ruiten.   Slow because contending with evil— [Approaches Prince.] With evil in form strange and subtle. Over this house hangs a spirit Ne'er resting and ready always for dire deeds.

Prince.   Such a spirit there must be—but what?

Ruiten.   Evil takes many forms but the form of a cat Is favored by many devils.

Prince.   [Startled, the others watch him closely.]   A cat—aye, truly And if a cat stalked here That evil thing must we kill.

Ruiten.   Yet such is their power malignant That they take other forms than the forms of cats— Even human forms.

Prince.   Ha!—And the spirit that visits me? Mayhap that— Only twice hath it failed of its visit.

Buzen.   And those lost visits, when?

Prince.   The last two nights.

Buzen.   [Swelling with pride.]   Then, oh Prince, the cure may be found. Better than prayers is the cure   [Eyeing Ruiten.] For prayers have not ears—have not eyes— Have not weapons—better than prayers is it.

Prince.   Tell me this cure. It is grudged, Sir Priest?

Ruiten.   [Bowing.]   A cure for my lord could not be grudged.

Prince.   Well spoken. Say on, Sir Buzen.

Buzen.   First I must beg clemency For thy hundred samurai For faithful they are to the bone, yet—

Prince.   Yet? Why clemency? For what?

Buzen.   On guard, they slept.

Prince.   Slept?

Buzen.   Aye. Soundly as though deep in saki.

Prince.   And none roused?

Buzen.   They were as dead From shortly after the hour of ten Until dawning. Awakening they knew they had slept Yet knew not when the poppy was thrown in their eyes. Even as one man none knew And were deep amazed and full of shame. Each night it was the same.

Prince.   [Angrily.]   So, they slept. While I, on my couch, Through the hours writhed— Writhed and twisted— Weakening ever— Not sleep, yet dreaming— Oh, horrible dreams.

Ruiten.   Of what were these horrible dreams? What was their substance?

Prince.   [Mystified at the memory.]   There would come a soft stealing— As of draperies hushed and lifted For silence in walking; Like soft, silken draperies Wrapped about stealthy limbs. Then a shape clothed for sleep As women are clothed— Sinuous and vague in movement, Then taking form slowly— The form—a lie!—a lie!   [Covers his face and goes upstage.]

Ruiten.   The form?

Prince.   [Turns.]   O Toyo!

Ruiten.   Buzen.   [Rubbing their hands.]   Ah!

Prince.   [Comes down R., Ruiten and Buzen are together a little L.] [6]Came she to me— Leaned o'er me— Caressed me Yet soothed not. Her lips to mine— Her lips but not sweet. Then here on my throat Would she place them And all my life seemed to smother— Out of me flowed the life-blood In a deep stream Like a tide Forced by the gods, Against its will, To flow far away and yet farther.

Buzen.   So does a vampire Sucking her victim Draw from him His blood and his marrow.

Prince.   Guard thy words!— As my strength ebbed She drew back Red-lipped and smiling, Smiling and laughing Though her laughter was silent. Then with a final shimmer Of silent silks she vanished— So was it done.

Ruiten.   So always the dream? If dream it were.

Prince.   The dream—I think yet it was a dream— So was it always.

Buzen.   But the last two nights?

Prince.   Came she as usual Flowing over the floor Like a spectre enrobed And beautified. But as she bent o'er me She paused as if startled And, slowly gazing about, Turned and was gone. Last night she paused As if speaking to someone Though I could see no one.

Buzen.   But the cause of her turning?

Ruiten.   Turned she startled— Turned she slowly— Turned she wonderingly?

Prince.   Slowly, as if she felt A strange presence.

Ruiten.   Feared she?

Prince.   She left me.

Buzen.   But trembling or calm?

Prince.   Calmly, as from a thing hated And more powerful than she Whom she would not rouse to action.

Buzen.   [Rubbing his hands.]   Good.

Prince.   What is good?

Buzen.   That which thou speakest of.

Prince.   How so?

Buzen.   [Comes forward towards the Prince.]   It proves that I have humbly succeeded— [Grudgingly.]   Through the help of another, 'tis true— But yet succeeded in bringing my lord honorable help.

Ruiten.   Indeed it is so.

Prince.   Say on, very wise councillor.

Buzen.   [Puffing up.]   Without more words than are fit This then is the way of the cure. When long had thine illness ravaged and worn thee And many nights had you tossed by weird visions enthralled, No cures affecting, no prayers availing thee   [Glances at Ruiten.] Then councilled I with thy wise ones— And, too, with Priest Ruiten—

Ruiten.   I, you should name first, For without my prayers your wisdom was nought.

Buzen.   To continue briefly. All our heads together brought no solution—

Prince.   True, true.

Buzen.   [Bowing.]   Humbly I acknowledge my head Empty and brainless. Yet even from idiots lips Wisdom oft falls unexpected And therefore more wonderful. Now it is told in old tales Of how Iyaiyasu met—

Ruiten.   Short, abrupt is thy tale.

Prince.   The cure, Sir Buzen, The hour passes.

Buzen.   [Bowing.]   I crave honorable leniency. To be brief—

Prince.   Aye, brief.

Buzen.   Discouraged and sick at heart At the sufferings of my great lord, I was retiring to my room By way of the garden And the hour was the Hour of the Fox. I heard a splashing in the pool And drawing near Saw a young soldier washing. I spoke to him asking, "Who art thou?" "Retainer to my Lord Nabeshima, Prince of Hizen," he answered. Then talked I with him. Of thy sickness We talked. And he was ashamed of thy samurai's sleeping. He begged to be allowed to guard thy sleep Also for, being a common soldier, it was not permitted. So earnestly talked he that I promised to consult With the other councillors and see what could be done. "So tell me your name, young sir," I said. "Ito Soda is my name, honorable sir, And for your kind words I thank you." So I consulted and the result was We granted his request.

Prince.   And he, too, has watched the two nights past?

Ruiten.   Aye, and he slept not Though the samurai were heavy with sleep-fumes. [9]

Buzen.   I will tell.

Ruiten.   [Elbows Buzen out of the way and comes forward.]   You are honorably hoarse. He slept not, as I say—

Prince.   How kept he awake? Since many slept spell-bound How broke he the spell?

Ruiten.   With him he brought Oiled paper and laid it Down on the matting Sitting upon it. When o'er his eyes sleep stole And wearily weighted them He drew out his sharp dirk And in his thigh thrust it By pain driving the poppy fumes off. Ever and again he twisted The dirk in the raw wound And the thick blood-drops Soiled not the matting Because of the oiled paper.

Prince.   Indeed this is no common soldier, This Ito Soda.

Buzen.   Indeed not—

Ruiten.   To continue—[Retires upstage, disgruntled.]

Buzen.   [Pushing forward.]   As I was saying, oh Prince, His eyes never closed. During the Reign of the Rat He heard, in this room, O Toyo Tossing and moaning As if in great fear of something She could not escape from. Even at the same moment As the beginnings of her moanings Came a cat-call from the garden— Then nearer—then ghostly paddings As of padded claws on matting, And an evil presence seemed hovering And lurking near in the darkness. O Toyo gave a low scream—than all was silence. Soon she came stealthily Through the shoji—cat-like her step— Glassy her eyes— Claw-like her hands— Bent she over you with curled lips— Then she turned, even as you have said, And, seeing a waking watcher, Left as she came.

Ruiten.   [Comes down.]   The second night of Ito Soda's watching She threatened him in low words But he made as to stab her And she melted before him Laughing a little. And he heard the rustle of her garments As she regained this room Though he saw not her passage hither.

Prince.   Thicker with each word the horror about me. [Turns away to R.]   Doubts to beliefs—beliefs to actions— Love unto hate.   [Turns to them almost pleadingly.] Tell me it is not O Toyo.

Buzen.   I questioned her maid, Kashiku, And found that O Toyo's couch Was empty even at the time Of the weird visit to thee.

Prince.   [Overwhelmed.]   So, it was O Toyo! In the soul of a flower, a demon— On the sweet lips, poison.

Buzen.   There is only one course—

Ruiten.   The one road—

Prince.   And I take it!

Buzen.   [Moves toward door L.]   The samurai are gathered.

Prince.   Summon Ito Soda.   [Buzen exits L.]

Ruiten.   Hard is the fate of man Here on this dark earth. Many the shapes and the shadows Stalking abroad. Yet ever the gentle Buddha From the Lotus Fields watches And guards every life that lives.

Prince.   [Puts one hand on Ruiten's shoulder.]   Priest, have not many Vampires bleeding them And dream it is another thing?

Ruiten.   The soul is often a vampire to the body.

Prince.   And that evil thing must we kill.

Ito Soda.   [Enters L., kneels before the Prince. Ruiten takes up R. a little and Buzen re-entering after Ito Soda goes up C.] Honorable Prince, humbly I answer thy summons.

Prince.   Rise, Ito Soda. Faithful beyond words art thou, This know I as all hath been told me. No longer call thyself a common soldier But a samurai of the Prince of Hizen. And the two swords will I give thee on the morrow.

Ito Soda.   On my knees I humbly thank thee.   [Rises.]

Prince.   Now time presses. O Toyo will be coming In from the garden. As usual shall the hundred sleepy samurai Guard my couch. Let Ito Soda Remain here hidden and watchful. When O Toyo rises to enter my chamber— Your dirk is sharp, Ito Soda?

Ito Soda.   [Draws dirk.]   As a moonbeam on a cold night.

Prince.   And you know how to use it.

Ito Soda.   I will place this screen, thus.   [Goes to screen L. and opens it so as to form a hiding place between the sleeping mat and the door L.] So will I wait the moment.

Prince. So be it. It is a good plan And on the one road. Let us about it.   [Exits L. followed by Buzen and Ruiten. Ito Soda goes behind the screen. O Toyo is heard singing in the garden.]

O Toyo.   [Outside.]   Moonlit convulvus Through the night hours Wan are their faces Ghostly sweet.

Richer by daylight Drinking of sunshine As thirsty souls drink At a shrine.

Fair are the faces Glassed in the quiet pools Maidens low-bending Vain ones.

[The singing stops abruptly.]   Kashiku, is not that a cat Stealing stealthily there? She snarls—quick—[O Toyo enters B. C. quickly and very frightened, turns and looks back, hurries Kashiku in. Kashiku follows much less disturbed at any fear of a cat than over her mistress' fright.]

Kashiku.   [Shuts the shoji R. C. and comes to O Toyo.]   You are all atremble.

O Toyo.   Quick, let me be safe in slumber.   [Crosses to dressing table.]

Kashiku.   [Follows her and attends to her hair while O Toyo kneels before the glass.]   Several nights lately have I heard my lady moaning As though even in sleep were she troubled. The worry over your honorable lord hath disturbed thee.

O Toyo.   Your ears are over keen. I am happy when I sleep. How can I moan, being happy? You are dull.

Kashiku.   Perhaps it was the wind or the echo of my lord's moaning.

O Toyo.   Moaning or was it singing? I would it were singing For singing is sweeter On the lips of those dying.

Kashiku.   Dying?

O Toyo.   When those whom we love are passing— Even under our hands are passing— And our love weans them from life And our kisses suck out the blood-life, Then would we touch them no more, Then would we kiss them no more, But a power greater than we And a power that we fear Forces us on in our love-killing.

Kashiku.   There is in your voice a vibration, as even the winds in the pine-tops When, in the autumn, they echo the summer's death-song; There is in your eyes a strange light as if the soul of another Looked out from your curtaining lashes and dimmed the sweet light there abiding. Oh, mistress, surely you are different than what you once were.

O Toyo.   [Crosses C. slowly.]   Even now comes the hour and the struggle And I do the bidding of that which is in me. How I hate the feel of his flesh Quivering under my lips And the loathsome taste of the blood-drops Thick on my lips that would soothe him and cannot.

Kashiku.   Can anything soothe more than thy lips, More than the lips that love him? I cannot understand the words of your saying. You are happy and tearful all in a moment, Your soul seems a sky full of sunshine and clouds. [Coming to her.]   Even now as my hand touches you, you are trembling. Is it the cat that crept upon us Whose shape still affrights you?

O Toyo.   Thou hast said it—My soul is as thou sayest. My dreams are sweet and again bitter. Once came a dream horrible above all dreams.

Kashiku.   What dream, my lady?

O Toyo.   The night when you found me there on the floor. Do you remember?

Kashiku.   Well. You were all distraught and the bosom of your gown Was torn open and you clutched your throat As if you were wounded there. But there was no mark. And you let wild words fall from your lips And none knew their meaning.

O Toyo.   The Prince and I walked in the garden And there at the shoji I left him. As I entered There entered With me a spirit And its breath fell upon me— Dumb my tongue in my mouth And frozen my marrow. Suddenly it leapt upon me And as I fell downward Flashed the spirit into mine eyes— A cat, two-tailed and hairy— And it's teeth sank in my throat here— Can you see a mark?   [Exposes her throat to Kashiku.]

Kashiku.   The skin is as smooth as satin and perfect.

O Toyo.   Then came darkness upon me—and so you found me. So strong is the dream within me I wonder if it be a dream or no.

Kashiku.   You had walked that evening in the garden.

O Toyo.   I had rather dreamed I walked—say I dreamed it.

Kashiku.   The Prince was with—

O Toyo.   Yet it was a dream, question it not. I would go to rest peacefully. He, too, shall rest peacefully— I shall not kiss my lord tonight.   [Crosses L.]

Kashiku.   Not kiss him?

O Toyo.   I think not I shall kiss him. I would not pain his slumbers— He has paled so and his face is so thin. In the night he lies like a strong flower And a strange flower, bled of its life— Like a strong flower weakened. And at its sight my dreams are bitter. But as I gaze a change comes over all things And I hold in my hands a beautiful flower Which I kiss with my lips Holding my lips long to it, Draining its sweetness. And a cloud passes over And on my lips are clots of blood!

Kashiku.   Such dreamings are not good. I find the silken coverlets tossed in the morning, Twisted and thrown about as if you slept ill.

O Toyo.   It is not O Toyo who tosses them— It is the dream O Toyo.

Kashiku.   Two nights lately have I imagined you called to me But entering you were not here—but there with your lord soothing his sufferings.

O Toyo.   Drinking at strange fountains and unknown springs— Drinking of sacred waters sacred to unknown gods. And as I drink another life becomes my life And he is mine—utterly mine, at last!

Kashiku.   You frighten me—

O Toyo.   Be not frightened—you have no need. Now I shall sleep. He, too, is sleeping. Perhaps—perhaps he is suffering. Shall I touch him with my hands? Perhaps he is hungry for my kisses— Shall I kiss him?

Kashiku.   It were a fitting thing to kiss thy lord.

O Toyo.   You know not what you say, Kashiku.

Kashiku.   My lady—

O Toyo.   You have not heard me say strange things, Kashiku.

Kashiku.   I have heard—

O Toyo.   Nothing.

Kashiku.   Nothing, my lady.

O Toyo.   Put out the lamps.   [Kashiku blows out candles on dressing table.] Go now, Kashiku, and do you sleep deeply, Breathing poppies.

Kashiku.   My lady—

O Toyo.   Go.   [Kashiku opens shoji R. and goes out shutting it after her. O Toyo crosses, too, and lies on the sleeping mat. The room is almost in total darkness.]

O Toyo.   I shall kiss him—I shall kiss him!   [The lantern at the head of the sleeping mat glows more and more brightly until a cat's head appears on it. At this moment a cat-call comes from the garden.]


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