The Haunted Gong

Clark Ashton Smith

Among the many queer shops in San Francisco's Chinatown is that of a Japanese dealer in antiques—Takamoto Satsuma. Satsuma himself is a puzzle, but his place of business is, above all others, one of the strangest collections of the odd, the weird, and the unexpected that I have ever run across. Satsuma is brown and wrinkled—an epitome of his native land—of all that is mysterious, incomprehensible and exclusively Japanese, and his shop is likewise. There you may see all the gods of the East, deities of Buddhist and Shinto theology, squat images that look at you with the accumulated wisdom of long years and of a land and people essentially foreign. There, too, are swords and weapons of which I do not know the names, painted fans, lacquer work, Japanese armor, and a thousand and one other articles all resplendent of Japan.

Satsuma, who is invariably smiling and polite, as condescending if you leave without making a purchase as if you had bought twenty dollars worth, showed me about, exhibiting his treasures and extolling them in English which appeared peculiarly his own.

"You buy Matsuma sword?" he said, "I assure you most exceedingly ancient, and razor-blade keen. Matsuma mighty sword maker—forge devilblades." The dealer was about to enlarge on the diabolical qualities of Matsuma when I espied a Japanese gong, decorated with figures of gods, halfhuman, half-animal, which lay on a counter between a miniature Kurannon and the "getting up little god" Daruma. "How much?" I inquired. I was informed that the price was two dollars, which, considering

the age of the gong, made out by Matsuma to be three hundred years, was not exorbitant. The money being produced, I soon departed, much delighted with my purchase, and followed by many thanks from the dealer in antiques.

The gong was hung near my writing desk, and added, I thought, greatly to ornamentation of the room. I am by nature a collector of the odd, the picturesque, and particularly the Oriental, and my apartments show unmistakable traces of this predilection. Few have fairer Turkish rugs than mine or a more extensive collection of miscellaneous Oriental articles

I was seated at my desk several weeks later, engaged, if I recollect rightly, in an article [on] the Chinese Immigration Question. Anyway, it was of a practical every-day nature. Just as I had got well-started, I was suddenly interrupted by the sound of the gong striking. The sound, I may remark, was strangely deep and mellow, and different in tone from the ordinary gong. Five strokes followed each other in rapid succession, and when, much startled, I turned about, the instrument was still vibrating. My first thought was that some friend, wishing to play a joke, had stolen into the room and struck the gong. Great was my surprise to find myself absolutely alone. To my knowledge, no one was in the house. The sound having ceased, it was followed by unbroken silence. broken only by the beating of my heart

Much puzzled and perturbed, I examined the instrument closely, wondering if there was any internal arrangement mechanism which could have been responsible. This being without result, I looked about for some external agency, such as the proximity of some other articl My search was fruitless; I could find no agency which could have produced the sound.

The affair was so mysterious and perplexing that had it happened other than in broad daylight in the very heart of bustling, matter-of-fact San Francisco, I should surely have put it down to supernatural agency. But that was impossible. However, the more I thought of it, the greater more inexplicable the mystery grew. But everything has its solution. Determined to solve the mystery it, I went to Satsuma and told him the story. The dealer thereupon told a tale, which in plain English, runs thus:

Several centuries ago the feudal Lord Takamura Jiro ruled over a great portion of Kyoto. Jiro, had raised himself to that position beginning life as a common soldier under a former ruler, had, by a combination of circumstances, and his genuine abilities, raised himself to this high position, and displaced his displacing supplanting his master. Juster and more humane than his predecessor, whose cruelty had been instrumental in displacing dethroning him, he was beloved of his people, and ruled over them ruled in peace and prosperity.

Over another and larger portion of Kyoto, the Prince Umetsu Hakone held sway. Between Jiro and Hakone there had been smothered enmity originating many years before in the sheltering by Jiro of certain fugitives of justice from his neighbor. Though not resenting it at the time, Hakone had long nursed this grudge against Jiro, patiently awaiting the time when some excuse should arise for paying it off.

Seven years passed, and during these years the prosperity wealth prosperity abode in all Kyoto, the crops seasons being propitious and the crops abundant. Then, when least expected, there came a drouth, and after it a famine. Seven years had nature lavished her gifts over-generously, and now, as if in the balance of things, she withheld those gifts them.

The famine fell heaviest in that part ruled by Jiro, visiting but lightly the realm of Hakone. And Hakone, more far sighted than his neighbor, foreseeing perceiving that these this time must arrive, had stored up an abundance of food grain in preparation. During the famine he sold this to his people at an enormous profit, being both humanitarian and financier!

Seven years passed before his opportunity came. Jiro, then becoming engaged in a war with a neighboring prince, Hakone took advantage of the absence of his army to advance at the head of his troops into Jiro's territory. Jiro, having been wounded, was at that time abiding in his castle surrounded by a few soldiers, while his army was perhaps fifty miles away engaged in carrying on the war.

Hakone, advancing by forced marches found himself at nightfall near Jiro's castle. So swiftly and stealthily had he come that Jiro was not unaware of his presence in the neighborhood.

Knowing this, and also that the castle was practically ungarrisoned, Hakone, in the dead of night, attacked, carrying the outer gates and meeting with little resistance. Jiro's men, astonished and confused, were driven into the castle.

Jiro made preparations for a determined resistance. At first he thought that the prince whom he was fighting had stolen a march on him, but he soon became apprised aware that it was his old foe, Hakone.

With but twenty men he held the castle until dawn. Hakone's force, numbering many hundreds, strove vainly to effect an entrance. Each attack resulted in their retreating with great loss, only to advance once more. Jiro's soldiers, all samurai, fought with the courage of trapped rats, and when morning broke the men of Hakone advanced on an incline formed of dead bodies.

In spite of his wound, Jiro stood foremost to resist the enemy. He was a noble swordsman, and his blades, which rose and fell as regularly as triphammers, wrought terrific carnage.

But twenty men against many hundred could not hope for victory. At dawn but half that number remained to Jiro, and they were driven back, very slowly, into the castle. Every step, however, lost Hakone several lives.

In the great hall of the castle, Jiro, with two soldiers left, refused to retreat further. Here he would die gloriously, as befitted a samurai and the son of a samurai, and so, shouting the war-cry of his clan, he faced his enemies.

Close at hand was a gong. When Jiro fell, several minutes later, covered with wounds, and surrounded by a ring of dead, his sword struck it, and the sound, echoing strangely, seemed to those who heard it to toll the death of Jiro.

Hakone, having conquered his ancient enemy, now ruled over his realm. A year later, on the anniversary of Jiro's death, while standing near the spot where he fell, Hakone heard the gong strike five times though no agency was visible. And each year on that day, and at the hour when Jiro died, the phenomenon has occurred. Men say that it is the sword of Jiro striking the hour of his death.

Such was Satsuma's tale. Is it true, or is it a legend of old Japan, that land of many fictions and multitudinous folk-lore? But a year later, on the sam anniversary of that day, the gong was struck, tho no one stood near, and no agency was visible. It is very strange and most incomprehensible. Was it the sword of Jiro striking the hour of his death? Who knows? Who knows?

Editor's Note:
In this transcription, I have chosen to leave the crossed-out portions as an example of Clark's reworking of the story. The hills of Auburn, where Clark grew up, were filled with ghostly mining lore. As recently as my own childhood, I heard stories of ghost miners, and strange sounds around jumped claims, and so on. Who knows?

Bibliographic Citation

Top of Page