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Silent Honor

By´╝ÜDanielle Steel

Chapter 1

MASAO TAKASHIMAYA'S family had searched for five years for a suitable bride for him, ever since his twenty-first birthday. But in spite of all their efforts to find a young woman who suited him, he rejected each of the girls as soon as he met them. He wanted a very special girl, a young woman who would not only serve and respect him, as the go-between promised each would, but he also wanted a woman he could talk to. Someone who would not only listen to him, and obey, but a girl he could share his ideas with. And none of the girls he had seen in the past five years had even come close to fulfilling his wishes. Until Hidemi. She was only nineteen when they met, and she lived in a buraku, a tiny farming village, near Ayabe. She was a pretty girl, delicate, and small, and exquisitely gentle. Her face looked as though it were carved of the finest ivory, her dark eyes were like shining onyx. And she scarcely spoke to Masao the first time she met him.

At first, Masao thought she was too shy, too afraid of him, she was just like the others that had been pressed on him before her. They were all too old-fashioned, he complained, he didn't want a wife to follow him like a dog, and look at him in terror. Yet, the women he met at the university didn't appeal to him either. There were certainly very few of them. In 1920, when he began teaching there, the women he met were either the other professors' daughters or wives, or foreigners. But most of them lacked the total purity and sweetness of a girl like Hidemi. Masao wanted everything in a wife, ancient traditions mixed with dreams of the future. He didn't expect her to know many things, but he wanted her to have the same hunger for learning that he did. And at twenty-six, after having taught at the university in Kyoto for two years, he had found her. She was perfect. She was delicate and shy, and yet she was fascinated by the things he said, and several times, through the go-between, she had asked him interesting questions, about his work, his family, and even about Kyoto. She rarely raised her eyes to look at him. And yet once, he had seen her glance at him, with excruciating shyness, and he thought her incredibly lovely.

She stood beside him now, six months after the day they met, with her eyes cast down, wearing the heavy white kimono her grandmother had worn, with the same elaborate gold brocade obi. A tiny dagger hung from it, so she could take her own life, should Masao decide that he did not want her. And on her carefully groomed hair, she wore the tsunokakushi,which covered her head but not her face, and made her seem even tinier as he watched her. And hanging just below the tsunokakushi were the kan zashi, the delicate hair ornaments that had been her mother's. Her mother had also given her a huge princess ball, made of silk threads, and heavily embroidered over the course of Hidemi's lifetime. Her mother had started it when Hidemi was born and added to it through the years, always praying that Hidemi would be gracious, noble, and wise. The princess ball was the most treasured gift her mother could give her, an exquisite symbol of her love and prayers, and hopes for her future.

Masao wore the traditional black kimono with a coat over it, bearing his family's crest, as he stood proudly beside her. Carefully, they each took three sips of sake from three cups, and the Shinto ceremony continued. They had been to the Shinto shrine earlier that day for a private ceremony, and this one was the formal public marriage that would join them forever, in front of all their family and friends, as the master of the ceremony told stories about both families, their history and importance. Both of their families were present, and several of the professors Masao taught with in Kyoto. Only his cousin Takeo was not there. He was five years older than Masao, and was his closest friend, and he would have wanted to be there. But Takeo had gone to the United States the year before, to teach at Stanford University, in California. It was a great opportunity for him, and Masao wished he could have joined him.

The ceremony was extremely solemn and very long, and never once did Hidemi raise her eyes to look at him, or even smile, as they became man and wife, according to the most venerable Shinto traditions. And after the ceremony, at last she hesitantly looked up at him, and the smallest of smiles lit her eyes and then her face, as she bowed low to her new husband. Masao bowed to her as well, and then she was led away by her mother and her sisters to exchange her white kimono for a red one for the reception. In wealthy city families, the bride changed her kimono six or seven times in the course of her wedding, but in their buraku, two kimonos had seemed enough for Hidemi.

It was a perfect day for them. It was a beautiful summer day, and the fields of Ayabe were the color of emeralds. They spent the entire afternoon greeting their friends, and accepting the many gifts offered them, and the gifts of money carefully wrapped, and handed to Masao.

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