|Japanese fairy tales
THE PAINTER OF CATS
Once upon a time a long, long time ago there was a boy who was clever
and polite and kind, and it would seem as if he was a very fine boy
indeed. But he had one fault. He would draw pictures of cats.
Now that does not appear to be a very bad fault, but the trouble was
that Kihachi would not do anything else. He drew cats at school when he
should have been studying his lessons. He drew them when all the other
children were at play and when it would have been far better for him to
have been running and jumping.
When his brothers and sisters were sleeping peacefully at night upon
their wooden pillows, Kihachi would arise from his sleeping mat and,
stealing to the paper partitions of the little room into which streamed
the moonlight, he would draw cats. In the early morning when the sun
gleamed over the tiny garden and the dew lay like jewels upon the rice
fields, still Kihachi could be found drawing cats.
He drew large cats and small cats, mother cats and kittens. He drew
them even upon his clothes, and this caused his mother much annoyance,
though she was very patient. When, however, it came to pass that she
found a whole family of kittens playing their pranks, in pencil, upon
her own best obi,1 she felt that something must be done.
"My lord," she said to her husband, "this boy and his cats make me too
much trouble. I have done everything to cause him to stop, but to no
avail. I have even burned him with the moxa 2 but still he does not
cease. He says he can not. Our other sons are able to help you in the
field and our daughter is a great assistance to me in the household.
But Kihachi does not work, and his schoolmaster says he will not study.
He will do nothing but draw cats. What shall we do with him?"
"It may be that so strange a boy will grow up to be something quite
different from us," said his father. "He is always agreeable. Every
morning he says most politely, 'O hayo, O tat' San, O hayo, O oka San.'
3 It seems to me Bot chan 4 is not bad. Perhaps he would make a good
priest. Let us take him to the temple and see if he will not there
forget his cats."
So they took him to the temple and the priest received them with
courtesy. "Enter, honorably enter!" he said, and they entered saying,
"We have brought to you our youngest boy in the hope that you will
graciously permit him to become your acolyte."
The priest asked Kihachi many questions, very difficult ones, and these
he answered so cleverly that the old man said to the parents, "This
child is destined to be great. He is very clever. Leave him with me and
I will teach him all he needs to become a priest."
So Kihachi stayed in the temple and he studied very hard. He liked to
get up early as the mists were breaking over Fuji San and the temple
bells were ringing in the dawn. He loved to sit in the twilight when
the flowers of the yamabuki are mirrored in the still marsh waters. He
loved to pluck the primrose, flower of happiness, and to twine it with
the nanten 1 into wreaths for the shrine of Buddha. He liked to read
and to study the sacred books and he learned many prayers, but still he
liked to draw, and still he drew cats.
He drew them on the margins of the books, on the prayer rolls, on the
very kakemonos 2 of the temple, and this much displeased the good old
At last he could not stand it any longer and he called the boy to him.
Kihachi bowed very low, his hands and forehead touching the floor.
"Bot chan," said the priest, "you will never make a good priest. You
may some day become a great artist, but you will never be anything
else. You had better go away from the temple and seek your fortune in
the world. Here is a bag of rice for you. Put it in a bundle of your
clothes, and go, and may good fortune go with you. I will give you one
last bit of advice, When darkness gathers, fear great places, seek
Kihachi thanked the priest and went mournfully away from the temple. It
seemed to him as if he was always to be unhappy because of his cats,
but he could not help drawing them. He was afraid to go home, for he
knew his father would punish him for disobeying the priest. He did not
know what to do. At last he thought of a large temple in the next
village, and wondered if some of the priests there would not take him
for an acolyte.
"At least I can try," he said, and hurried on, hoping to reach the temple before night.
It was a long way, and his feet grew very sore and he was tired. So it
was a great disappointment when he reached the temple to find it
deserted. Not a priest was there to offer incense, not an acolyte to
ring the temple bells.
"How strange it is that everything is covered with dust! There are
cobwebs spun over the altars!" he said. "It seems to me an acolyte is
needed. I shall stay at least for the night and perhaps to-morrow the
priests may return. They will commend me if I make things very clean."
He laid down his bundle and began to clean the temple with a will, and
soon it was quite free from dirt and dust. Then he sat down and rested,
but noticing a large screen with quite a blank space upon it, he drew
out his writing box and began to draw cats as hard as he could draw.
He thought nothing of how time was passing until suddenly he noticed it
was growing quite dark, and he began to be a little afraid. He looked
about him. How huge and deserted seemed the temple hall! How small a
boy he was! Then he remembered the old priest's parting words, "When
darkness hovers, fear great places, seek small shelters." Surely this
was a great place! He hunted about hoping to find a small place which
might be safer, and, surely enough, there was a tiny recess in the wall
with a door which could be slid into place. He entered and found there
was just room enough for him to curl up and go to sleep, which he did,
for he was so tired that sleep came to him quickly.
He slept soundly, but at last was awakened by a loud noise. It seemed
as if a thousand ogres were fighting, and with the noise of the
fighting came horrid screams. Kihachi was afraid to make a peephole in
the paper partition, and so he lay very still until at last there was a
more awful scream than before and the sound of a heavy fall. Then all
Kihachi lay quite still until the morning light began to creep into his
cabinet, and then he thought, "I must get up and ring the dawn bell;
for when the priests return they will be pleased to find that I have
attended to everything."
So he jumped up and hastened to ring the bell. Pure and clear its tones
rang out over the cool morning air, and Kihachi noticed figures in the
valley below moving rapidly, and he said, "Here come the priests. I
hope they will be pleased with what I have done."
Then he went to look at the cats he had drawn in the great temple hall
the night before. But what a sight met his eyes! Upon the floor of the
temple was a pool of blood and beside it the body of a fierce and
terrible rat, the largest he had ever seen. It was as large as a cow,
indeed it was a monster rat goblin.
"What killed you?" he cried, "there must have been a battle royal here
in the night, for I heard sounds as if an army of cats was let loose."
Then his heart stood still, for he saw that the mouths of all the cats he had drawn were covered with blood!
"My cats killed the rat goblin!" he cried joyfully; and at that moment
he heard steps and turning, saw the headman of the village with several
other men entering the temple.
"What does this mean?" asked the headman. "Do you not know that this
temple is haunted by a terrible rat goblin? Surely you did not spend
the night here?"
"I spent it quite comfortably," said Kihachi, "and I think the goblin
is dead." Then he showed the headman the rat and his cats, and told him
what had happened in the night. The headman said, "It is well that you
obeyed the old priest's instructions to 'seek small shelters.' This
goblin has haunted the temple for many months and no one who has come
here has ever returned. Your cats are very lifelike; I believe that
some day you will be a great artist. In the city yonder you will find
my brother. Go to him and tell him your story. He will help you. You
have done my village a good turn with your cats, so here is a present
to help you along;" and he gave him twenty yen.
Then was Kihachi very glad in his heart, and he made his thanks to the headman and went his way.
And thereafter, when he became a great artist and taught many boys to
draw, he laughed as he told his pupils, "My first great picture was a
drawing of cats, and for it I received twenty yen." And his pupils were
much astonished and called him always "The Painter of Cats."