SCIMITAR, n. A curved sword of exceeding keenness, in the conduct of which certain Orientals attain a surprising proficiency, as the incident here related will serve to show. The account is translated from the Japanese by Shusi Itama, a famous writer of the thirteenth century.
When the great Gichi-Kuktai was Mikado he condemned to decapitation Jijiji Ri, a high officer of the Court. Soon after the hour appointed for performance of the rite what was his Majesty’s surprise to see calmly approaching the throne the man who should have been at that time ten minutes dead!
“Seventeen hundred impossible dragons!” shouted the enraged monarch. “Did I not sentence you to stand in the market-place and have your head struck off by the public executioner at three o’clock? And is it not now 3:10?”
“Son of a thousand illustrious deities,” answered the condemned minister, “all that you say is so true that the truth is a lie in comparison. But your heavenly Majesty’s sunny and vitalizing wishes have been pestilently disregarded. With joy I ran and placed my unworthy body in the market-place. The executioner appeared with his bare scimitar, ostentatiously whirled it in air, and then, tapping me lightly upon the neck, strode away, pelted by the populace, with whom I was ever a favorite. I am come to pray for justice upon his own dishonorable and treasonous head.”
“To what regiment of executioners does the black-boweled caitiff belong?” asked the Mikado.
“To the gallant Ninety-eight Hundred and Thirty-seventh — I know the man. His name is Sakko-Samshi.”
“Let him be brought before me,” said the Mikado to an attendant, and a half-hour later the culprit stood in the Presence.
“Thou bastard son of a three-legged hunchback without thumbs!” roared the sovereign — “why didst thou but lightly tap the neck that it should have been thy pleasure to sever?”
“Lord of Cranes and Cherry Blooms,” replied the executioner, unmoved, “command him to blow his nose with his fingers.”
Being commanded, Jijiji Ri laid hold of his nose and trumpeted like an elephant, all expecting to see the severed head flung violently from him. Nothing occurred: the performance prospered peacefully to the close, without incident.
All eyes were now turned on the executioner, who had grown as white as the snows on the summit of Fujiama. His legs trembled and his breath came in gasps of terror.
“Several kinds of spike-tailed brass lions!” he cried; “I am a ruined and disgraced swordsman! I struck the villain feebly because in flourishing the scimitar I had accidentally passed it through my own neck! Father of the Moon, I resign my office.”
So saying, he grasped his top-knot, lifted off his head and advancing to the throne laid it humbly at the Mikado’s feet.