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Japanese fairy tales


A Ruined temple stood in a lonely wood. All about it was a trackless forest. The huge trees waved above it, the leaves in the thicket whispered about it, the sun goddess seldom shone upon it with her light.
Uguisu,1 poet of the woods, sang in the plum tree near by. He sang the poet's song to the plum tree which he loved:
"Send forth your fragrance upon the eastern winds, Oh flower of the plum tree,
Forget not the spring because of the absence of the sun."
Ruined though the temple was, it still held a shrine and hither came Wakiki Mononofu, a young samurai.2 He was a brave young soldier who was seeking his fortune in the wide, wide world. He had lost his way and wandered in the forest seeking the path, until at length he came to the little clear space where was the temple. A storm was coming up, and a palace could not have seemed more welcome to the young warrior.
"Here is all I want," he said to himself. "Here I shall have a shelter from the storm god's wrath, and a place to sleep and dream of glory and adventure. What more could be desired?"
Then he wrapped himself in his mantle, curled up in a corner of the sacred room, and soon fell asleep. But his slumber did not last long. His pleasant dreams were disturbed by horrid sounds, and waking, he sprang to his feet and looked out of the temple door.
There he saw a troop of monstrous cats which seemed in the weird moonlight like phantoms, marching across the clear space in front of the temple, and dancing a wild dance. As they danced they uttered horrid sounds, yells, and wicked laughs; and through these he could hear the words of a strange chant:
"Whisper not to Shippeitaro
 That the Phantom Cats are near,
 Whisper not to Shippeitaro
 Lest he soon appear."

Wakiki crouched low behind the door; for, brave as he was, there was something so dreadful in the appearance of the creatures that he did not want them to see him. Soon, however, with a chorus of wild yells, they disappeared as quickly as they had come. Then Wakiki lay down and slept again, nor did he waken until the sun goddess peered into the temple and whispered to him that it was morning.
By the morning light it was easy to find the path which the night's shadows had hidden from him, and being very hungry he started out to seek some dwelling. The path led away from the temple, in an opposite direction to that from which he had come the night before. Soon, however, he came out of the forest and saw a little hamlet surrounded by green fields.
"How fortunate I am," he cried joyfully. "Here are houses, and so there must be people, and people must have something to eat. If they are kind they will share with me, and I am starving for a bowl of rice."
He hurried to the nearest cottage, but as he approached he heard sounds of bitter weeping. He went up to the door, and was met by a sweet young girl whose eyes were red with crying. She greeted him kindly, and he asked her for food.
"Enter and welcome," said she. "My parents are about to be served with breakfast. You shall join them, for no one must pass our door hungry."
Thanking her the young warrior went in and seated himself upon the floor. The parents of the young girl greeted him courteously. A small table was set before him, and on it was placed rice and tea. He ate heartily, and, when he had finished eating, rose to go.
"Thank you very many times for such a good meal, kind friends," he said.
"You have been welcome. Go in peace," said the master of the house.
"And may happiness be yours," returned the young Samurai.
"Happiness can never again be ours," said the old man, with a sad face, as his daughter left the room. Her mother followed her and from behind the paper partitions of the breakfast room, Wakiki could hear sounds as if she were trying to comfort the young girl.
"You are then in trouble?" he asked, not liking to be inquisitive, and yet wishing to show sympathy.
"Terrible trouble," said the father. "There is no help! Know, gentle Samurai, that there is within the forest a ruined temple. This shrine, once the home of sacred things, is now the abode of horrors too terrible for words. Each year a mountain spirit, a demon whom no one has ever seen, demands from us a victim, upon pain of destroying the whole village. The victim is placed in a cage and carried to the temple just at sunset. There she is left and no one knows what is her fate, for in the morning not a trace of her remains. It must always be the fairest maiden of the village who is offered up and this year, alas, it is my daughter's turn;" and the old man buried his face in his hands and groaned.
"I should think this strange thing would make the young girls of your village far from vain and each would wish to be the ugliest," said the young warrior. "It is terrible indeed, but do not despair. I am sure I shall find a way to help you." He paused to think. "Tell me, who is Shippeitaro?" he asked suddenly, as he remembered the scene of the night before.
"Shippeitaro is a beautiful dog owned by our lord the prince," said the old man, wondering at the question.
"That will be just the thing," cried the Samurai. "Keep your, daughter closely at home. Do not allow her out of your sight. Trust me and she shall be saved."
He hurried away, and having found the castle of the prince, he begged that just for one night Shippeitaro be lent to him.
"Upon condition that you bring him back to me safe and sound," said the prince.
"To-morrow he shall return in safety," the young warrior promised.
Taking Shippeitaro with him he returned to the village; and when evening came, he placed the dog in the cage which was to have carried the maiden.
"Take him to the ruined temple," he said to the bearers, and they obeyed.
When they reached the little shrine they placed the cage on the ground and ran away to the village as fast as their legs could carry them. The young warrior laughed softly, saying to himself, "For once fear is greater than curiosity."
He hid himself in the little temple as before, and so quiet was the spot that he could scarcely keep awake. Soon he was aroused, however, by the same weird chant he had heard the evening before. Through the darkness came the same troop of fearful phantom cats led by a fierce Tom cat, the largest he had ever seen. As they came, they chanted with unearthly screeches,
"Whisper not to Shippeitaro,
 That the phantom cats are near,
 Whisper not to Shippeitaro
 Lest he soon appear."

The song was scarcely ended, when the great Tom cat caught sight of the cage and sprang upon it with a fierce yowl. With one sweep of his paw he tore open the lid, when instead of the dainty morsel he had expected, out leaped Shippeitaro! The noble dog sprang upon the beast and shook him as a cat shakes a rat, while the other beasts stood still in amazement. Draw
Japanese Stories—3
ing his sword the young warrior dashed to Shippeitaro's aid and to such good purpose that in a few moments the phantom cats were no more.
"Brave dog!" cried Wakiki. "You have delivered a whole village by your courage! Let us return and tell the people what has happened, that all men may do you honor."
Patting the dog on the head he led him back to the village. There in terror the maiden awaited his return, but great was her joy when she heard of her deliverance.
"Oh, sir," she cried. "I can never thank you! I am the only child of my parents, and no one would have been left to care for them had I gone to be the monster's victim!"
"Do not thank me," said the young warrior. "I have done little. All the thanks of the village are due to the brave Shippeitaro. It was he who destroyed the phantom cats."