A POOR Old Woman, who lived with her one little granddaughter in a wood, was out gathering sticks for fuel and found a green stalk of sugar-cane which she added to her bundle. She presently met an elf in the form of a Wild Boar, that asked her for the cane. She declined giving it to him, saying that at her age to stoop and to rise again was to earn what she picked up, and she was going to take the cane home and let her little granddaughter suck its sap.
The Boar, angry at her refusal, said that during the coming night he would come and eat her granddaughter instead of the cane, and went off into the wood.
When the Old Woman reached her cabin she sat down by the door and wailed, for she knew that she had no means of defending herself against the Boar. While she sat crying a vender of needles came along and asked her what was the matter. She told him, but all that he could do for her was to give her a box of needles. The Old Woman stuck the needles thickly over the lower half of the door, on its outer side, and then went on crying.
Just then a Man came along with a basket of crabs, heard her lamentations, and stopped to inquire what was the matter. She told him, but he said he knew no help for her, but he would do the best he could for her by giving her half his crabs. The woman put the crabs in her water jar, behind her door, and again sat down and cried.
A Farmer, who was coming along from the fields, leading his ox, also asked the cause of her distress and heard her story. He said he was sorry he could not think of any way of preventing the evil she expected, but that he would leave his ox to stay all night with her, as it might be a sort of company for her in her loneliness. She led the ox into her cabin, tied it to the head of her bedstead, gave it some straw, and then sat down to cry again.
A courier returning on horseback from a neighboring town was the next to pass her door, and he dismounted to inquire what troubled her.
Having heard her tale, he said he would leave his horse to stay with her, and make the ox more contented. So she tied the horse to the foot of the bed, and, thinking how surely evil was coming upon her, she burst out crying anew.
A boy just then came along with a snapping turtle that he had caught and stopped to ask what had happened to her. On learning the cause of her weeping he said it was no use to contend against sprites, but that he would give her his snapping turtle as a proof of his sympathy. She took the turtle, tied it in front of her bedstead, and continued to cry.
Some men who were carrying millstones then came along, inquired into her trouble, and expressed their compassion by giving her a millstone, which they rolled into her back yard. While they were doing this a Man went by carrying hoes and a pickaxe, and he stopped and asked her why she was crying so hard. She told him her grief, and he said he would gladly help her if he could, but he was only a well digger and could do nothing for her except to dig a well. She pointed out a place in the backyard, and he went to work and quickly dug a well.
On his departure the old woman cried again, until a Paper Seller came and inquired what was the matter. When she told him he gave her a large sheet of white paper, as a token of pity, and she laid it smoothly over the mouth of the well.
Nightfall came. The old woman shut and barred her door, put her granddaughter snugly on the wall side of the bed, and then lay down beside her to await the foe.
At midnight the Boar came and threw himself against the door to break it in. The needles wounded him sorely, so that when he had gained an entrance he was heated and thirsty, and went to the water jar to drink.
When he thrust in his snout the crabs attacked him, clung to his bristles, and pinched his ears, till he rolled over and over to free himself.
Then in a rage he approached the front of the bed; but the snapping turtle nipped his tail and made him retreat under the feet of the horse, who kicked him over to the ox, and the ox tossed him back to the horse. Thus beset, he was glad to escape to the back yard to take a rest and to consider the situation.
Seeing a clean paper spread on the ground, he went to lie upon it, and fell into the well. The Old Woman, hearing the fall, rushed out and rolled the millstone down on him and crushed him.
THE FIVE QUEER BROTHERS
By Adele M. Fielde
AN old woman had five grown-up sons that looked just alike. The eldest could gulp up the ocean at a mouthful; the second was hard enough to nick steel; the third had extensible legs; the fourth was unaffected by fire; the fifth lived without breathing. They all concealed their peculiar traits, and their neighbors did not know they were queer.
The eldest supported the family by fishing, going alone to the sea, and bringing back loads of spoil. The neighbors often besought him to teach their sons how to fish, and he at last let all their boys go with him, one day, to learn his art. On reaching the shore he sucked the sea into his mouth, and sent the boys to the dry bottom to collect the fish. When he was tired of holding the water, he beckoned to the boys to return, but they were playing among strange objects and paid no heed to him. When he could contain the sea no longer, he had to let it flow back into its former basin, and all the boys were drowned.
As he went homeward, he passed the doom of the parents, who inquired how many fish their sons had caught and how long they would be in coming back. He told them the facts, but they would not excuse him.
They dragged him before the magistrate to account for the loss of their children. He defended himself by saying he had not invited the boys to go with him, and had consented to their going only when the parents had repeatedly urged him; that after the boys were on the ocean bed, he had done his utmost to induce them to come ashore; that he had held the water as long as he could, and had then put it in the sea basin solely because nothing else would contain it.
Notwithstanding this defense the judges decided that since he took the boys away and did not bring them back, he was guilty of murder and sentenced him to be beheaded.
He entreated leave to pay, before his execution, one visit to his aged mother, and this was granted.
He went alone and told his brothers of his doom, and the second brother returned in his stead to the judge, thanked him for having given him permission to perform a duty required by filial piety, and said he was then ready to die.
He knelt with bowed head and the headsman brought the knife down across the back of his neck, but the knife was nicked and the neck was left unharmed.
A second knife and a third of finer steel were brought and tried by headsmen who were accustomed to sever heads clean off at one stroke.
Having spoiled their best blades without so much as scratching his neck, they took him back to prison and informed the judge that the sentence could not be executed.
The judge accordingly decreed that he should be dropped into the sea which covered his victims.
When the old woman's son heard this decision he said that he took leave of his mother supposing that his head was to be cut off, and that if he was to be drowned he must go to her and make known his fate and get her blessing anew.
Permission being given, he went and told his brothers what had happened. The third brother took the place of the second and presented himself before the judge as the criminal that was to be sunk in the sea. He was carried far from shore and thrown overboard, but he stretched his legs till his feet touched bottom, and he stood with his head in the air. They hauled him aboard and took him farther from land, but still his extensible legs supported him above the waters.
Then they sailed to mid-ocean and cast him into its greatest depths, but his legs still lengthened so that he was not drowned. They brought him back to the judge, reported what had been done, and said that some other method of destroying him must be followed.
On hearing this the judge condemned him to death by being boiled in oil. While the caldron was being heated he begged and obtained permission to go and tell his mother of the way he had survived from the attempt to drown him, and of the manner in which he was soon to be taken off.
His brothers having heard the latest judgment, the fourth one went to bear the penalty of the law and was lowered into the kettle of boiling oil. In this he disported himself as if in a tepid bath, and he even asked his executioners to stir up the fire a little to increase the warmth. Finding that he could not be fried, he was remanded to prison.
At this the populace, the bereaved parents, and the magistrate joined in an effort to invent a sure method of putting him to death. Water, fire, and sword all having failed, they finally fixed upon smothering him in a vast cream cake.
The whole country round made contributions of flour for the pastry, of sugar for the filling, and of bricks for a huge oven; and it was made and baked on a plain outside the city walls.
Meanwhile the prisoner was allowed to go and bid his mother farewell, and the fifth brother secretly became his substitute.
When the cake was done, a multitude of people with oxen, horses, and ropes dragged it to the execution ground, and within it the culprit was interred.
As he was able to exist without air he rested peacefully till the next midnight, and then safely crawled forth, returned to his home, and dwelt there happily for many years with his remarkable brothers.
THE ACCOMPLISHED AND LUCKY TEAKETTLE
By A. B. Mitford
A LONG time ago, at a temple called Morinji, there was an old teakettle. One day, when the priest of the temple was about to hang it over the hearth to boil the water for his tea, to his amazement the kettle all of a sudden put forth the head and tail of a badger. What a wonderful kettle, to come out all over fur!
The priest, thunderstruck, called in the novices or assistants of the temple to see the sight; and while they were stupidly staring, one suggesting one thing and another another, the kettle, jumping up into the air, began flying about the room. More astonished than ever, the priest and his pupils tried to pursue it; but no thief or cat was ever half so sharp as the wonderful badger kettle. At last, however, they managed to knock it down and secure it; and, holding it in with their united efforts, they forced it into a box, intending to carry it off and throw it away in some distant place, so that they might no more be plagued with the goblin.
For this day their troubles were over, but as luck would have it, the tinker who was in the habit of working for the temple called in, and the priest suddenly bethought him that it was a pity to throw the kettle away for nothing, and that he might as well get a trifle for it, no matter how small. So he brought out the kettle, which had resumed its former shape and had got rid of its head and tail, and showed it to the tinker. When the tinker saw the kettle, he offered twenty copper coins for it, and the priest was only too glad to close the bargain and be rid of his troublesome piece of furniture. And the tinker trudged off home with his pack and his new purchase.
That night, as he lay asleep, he heard a strange noise near his pillow; so he peeped out from under the bedclothes and there he saw the kettle that he had bought in the temple covered with fur and walking about on four legs. The tinker started up in a fright to see what it could all mean, when all of a sudden the kettle resumed its former shape. This happened over and over again, until at last the tinker showed the teakettle to a friend of his, who said, "This is certainly an accomplished and lucky teakettle-you should take it about as a show, with songs and accompaniments of musical instruments, and make it dance and walk on the tight rope."
The tinker, thinking this good advice, made arrangements with a showman, and set up an exhibition. The noise of the kettle's performances soon spread abroad, until even the princes of the land sent to order the tinker to come to them; and he grew rich beyond all expectations. Even the princesses, too, and the great ladies of the court, took great delight in the dancing kettle, so that no sooner had it shown its tricks in one place than it was time for them to keep some other engagement.
At last the tinker grew so rich that he took the kettle back to the temple, where it was laid up as a precious treasure and worshiped as a saint.
THE ADVENTURES OF LITTLE PEACHLING
By A. B. Mitford
MANY hundred years ago there lived an honest old woodcutter and his wife. One fine morning the old man went off to the hills with his bill hook to gather a faggot of sticks, while his wife went down to the river to wash the dirty clothes. When she came to the river, she saw a peach floating down the stream; so she picked it up and carried it homeward with her, thinking to give it to her husband to eat when he should come in. The old man soon came down from the hills, and the good wife set the peach before him, when, just as she was inviting him to eat it, the fruit split in two and a little baby was born into the world. So the old couple took the babe and brought it up as their own; and because it had been born in a peach, they called it Momotaro, or Little Peachhing!
By degrees Little Peachling grew up to be strong and brave, and at last one day he said to his old foster parents-
"I am going to the ogres' island, to carry off the riches they have stored up there. Pray, then, make me some millet dumplings for my journey."
So the old folks ground the millet and made the dumplings for him; and Little Peachling, after taking an affectionate leave of them, cheerfully set out on his travels.