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About a fortnight after the fair, on a fine windy afternoon, there was a holiday, and Taro, with his father and his younger brother Ito, turned out to fly kites. Some of their neighbours were already at work flying kites from the roofs of the houses or from windows, but our friends wanted more room than that, and went up to a piece of higher ground behind their street. Here they joined a crowd of kite-flyers. Every one was out to-day with his kite, old and young, men of sixty, with yellow, wrinkled faces, down to toddlers of three, who clutched their strings and flew their little kites with as much gravity and staidness as their grandfathers. Before long O Hara San came up with the baby on her back, and he had a bit of string in his tiny fist and a scrap of a kite not much bigger than a man's hand floating a few yards above his head.
But Taro was a proud boy this afternoon. He was about to fly his first big fighting kite. It was made of tough, strong paper, stretched on a bamboo frame five feet square, a kite taller than his own father. The day before Taro had pounded a piece of glass up fine and mixed it with glue. The mixture had been rubbed on the string of his kite for about thirty feet near the kite-end and left to dry. Now, if he could only get this string to cut sharply across the string of another kite, the latter cord would be severed, and he could proudly claim the vanquished kite as his own.
Kites of every colour and shape hovered in the air above the wide open space. There were square kites of red, yellow, green, blue, every colour of the rainbow; many were decorated with gaily-painted figures of gods, heroes, warriors, and dragons. There were kites in the shape of fish, hawks, eagles, and butterflies. Some had hummers, made of whalebone, which hummed musically in the wind as they rose; and as for fighting kites, they were abroad in squads and battalions. In one place the fight was between single kites; in another a score of men with blue kites met a score with red kites and the kites fluttered, darted, swooped, dived this way, that way, and every way, as they were skilfully moved by the strings pulled from below. Now and again one of them was seen to fall helplessly away and drift down the wind; its string had been cut by some victorious rival, and it had been put out of the battle.
Taro had his kite high up in the air very soon; it flew splendidly, and for some time he was very busy in trying it and learning its ways, for every kite has its own tricks of moving in the air. Then suddenly he saw a great brown eagle sailing towards it. He looked up and saw that a boy named Kanaya was directing the eagle kite towards his own, and that it was a challenge to a fight. Taro accepted at once, and the combat was joined.
Kanaya brought his eagle swiftly over Taro's big square kite, brightly painted in bars of many colours, but Taro let out string and escaped. Then he swung his kite up into the wind and made it swoop on the eagle. But Kanaya was already winding his string swiftly in and had raised his kite out of reach of the swoop. And so they went on for more than an hour, pursuing, escaping, feinting, dodging, until at last the eagle caught a favourable slant of wind and darted down so swiftly that Taro could not escape. The strings crossed, and the upper began to chafe the lower savagely.
Taro tried to work his kite away, but in vain. The eagle string was strong and sharp. At the next moment Taro felt a horrid slackness of his string; no more could he feel the strong, splendid pull of his big kite. There it was, going, falling headlong to the ground. Kanaya had won. Nothing now remained to Taro but to take his beating like a Japanese and a gentleman. With a cheerful smile he made three low bows to his conqueror. Kanaya, with the utmost gravity, returned the bows before he ran away to secure the kite he had won.
Now, there had been a very interested and attentive observer of this battle in Ito, Taro's younger brother. Ito never said a word or moved a muscle of his little brown face when he saw his brother defeated and the big kite seized in triumph by Kanaya. But his black eyes gleamed a little more brightly in their narrow slits as he let out more string and waited for Kanaya to begin to fly again.
Ito had succeeded to the possession of Taro's old kite. It was less than two feet square, but it flew well, and Ito had also anointed his string with the mixture of pounded glass and glue, and was ready for combat Within ten minutes Kanaya was flying once more, and now he had Taro's kite high in the air. He had put away his own big brown eagle, and was flying the kite he had just won. He had scarcely got it well up when a smaller square kite came darting down upon it from a great height. Ito had entered the lists, and a fresh battle began.
It was even longer and stubborner than the first, for Ito's kite, being much smaller, had much less power in the air; but Ito made up for this by showing the greatest skill in the handling of his kite, and quite a crowd gathered to see the struggle, watching every movement in perfect silence and with the deepest gravity. Suddenly Ito pounced. He caught a favourable gust of wind, and swung his line across Kanaya's with the greatest dexterity. Saw-saw went the line, and at the next moment the great kite went tumbling down the wind, and Kanaya and Ito exchanged the regulation bows. Then the latter looked at his brother without a word, and Taro ran to seize his beloved kite again.
"It is yours now, Ito," said the elder brother, when he came back.
"Oh no," said Ito; "we will each keep our own. I am glad I got it back from Kanaya."