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Japanese fairy tales


A Beautiful princess lived in Inaba. She was called the Princess of Yakami, and was the loveliest princess in all the land. Her skin was like velvet, her hair was dark as night, and her eyes were as bright and soft as the stars. She was sweet as well as fair, but willful, and when they said, "Fair Princess, you must marry," she replied, "The time has not yet come. I see nowhere in Inaba the man who may be my lord."
At this the court was in despair. The Princess would not marry until she was quite ready,—that the counselors knew. They had not counseled the little, pretty, willful princess for nothing. Had the king, her father, lived it might have been different; but he was long since gone, and the queen mother could do no more with the princess than could the wise men of the kingdom. Early in her life the princess had learned that there was just one thing she could say which no one could answer. She had only to look very sweetly at whoever was trying to persuade her to do something, and then, with a dainty little smile, say simply, "But I don't want to!"
That was all. No one, not even the wisest of the counselors, had ever found an answer to that. It was a strange state of affairs; for all the little princesses before had been gentle and sweet, and had done just what they were told.
The counselors at length proclaimed that all young men of proper age and rank should present themselves for the princess to look at and see if she liked any of them well enough to marry.
The news of this quickly spread everywhere. It was no time at all before the road to Yakima was seen crowded with youths. There were youths tall and short, fat and thin, handsome and ugly, and each hoped he would be the favored suitor.
Among others there came eighty-one brothers, each of whom had seen the picture of the princess and wished to win her. These brothers were of noble family, but the youngest was the only one who was really noble. He was as brave as Yositume! Eighty of the brothers were ugly and jealous of one another. It seemed as if they could agree upon nothing in all the world except treating the youngest meanly. They despised him because he was so good and gentle, and never rude or quarrelsome.
The eighty-first brother never complained. He tried to please his brothers; and when he found that he could not, he stayed away from them as far as possible.
When, therefore, they went to wait on the princess, he lingered at the back of the train; for his brothers scoffed at him and made him carry their burdens, as if he had been a servant.
The eighty brothers went proudly ahead. As they toiled up a mountain-side they came upon a poor little hare stretched out upon the grass. All his fur had been pulled out and he was ill and wretched.
"Let me tell you what will cure you," said one of the brothers, with a wicked laugh to his companions. "Go down to the sea; bathe yourself in the salt water, and then run to the top of the hill. The Wind God of the hilltop will cure you, and your fur will grow again."
"Thank you, noble prince," said the hare; and as the eighty brothers turned away laughing, he hurried to the sea shore.
Alas! the salt water hurt his tender skin, and the sun and wind burned him so that he cried out with pain.
The eighty-first brother, trudging along with his brothers' bundles, heard the cry and hurried to see if some one was hurt.
"Poor little fellow!" he said, pityingly. "What is the matter?"
"Your voice is kind, your face is kind, and I feel that you have a kind heart," said the hare. "Perhaps you can help me if I tell you my story."
"I will gladly do so if I can," said the eighty-first brother.
"I was born in the Isle of Oki," said the hare. "When I grew up I longed to see the world, but I knew not how to reach the mainland. After a long time, however, I thought of a way. Great numbers of crocodiles were in the habit of coming to the beach to sun themselves. One day I said to them boastfully, 'There are more hares in Oki than crocodiles in the sea.'
"'Not so,' said one of the crocodiles, 'there are a great many more crocodiles.'
"'Let us count,' I answered, 'and then both will be satisfied. I can count all of you crocodiles very easily. You have only to form a line from here to Cape Kita, and let the nose of one be at the tail of another, and I will run lightly across on your backs and count as I go. Then we shall know how many crocodiles there are.''
"'But how shall we know about the hares?' asked a crocodile.
"'Oh, that we can decide later,' I answered.
"So they did as I had said. They formed in a line, and I ran across. Their broad backs made a good bridge, but, alas, why did I not know enough to hold my tongue? As I jumped from the last crocodile to the bank, I cried, 'I have fooled you well! I don't care how many crocodiles there are. I only used you as a bridge to reach the mainland.' But just as I said this, the last monster grabbed me with his teeth and tore off all my fur.
"'You deserve to be killed,'he said. 'But I will let you go. In future do not try to deceive creatures bigger than yourself.'"
"Indeed, he was quite right," said the eighty-first brother. "You were well paid for being deceitful; but I am very sorry for you."
"Let me finish my story," said the hare, hanging his head at this rebuke. "As I lay here, smarting with pain, a train of princes passed by. One of them told me to bathe in the sea and run in the wind. I did so, and that is what put me in this painful state. Now what can I do, for I can hardly bear my suffering?"
"It must have been my eighty brothers whom you met," said the prince. "I must try to help you, since they have been so cruel. Go and bathe in the fresh water of the river. Then take pollen from the reeds and rub yourself with it. Your skin will heal, and your fur will grow again."
"Thank you, most noble prince," cried the hare. "You are as good as your eighty brothers are evil. You will find that I am not ungrateful," and he hastened to the river.
Soon he felt quite well; and he hurried away, scarcely waiting to bid the prince good-by.
The eighty-first brother smiled to himself as he thought, "He is not so grateful as he pretended." Then he went on to the court.
The hare, however, was already there. He had heard the talk about the wedding of the princess, and he saw how he could serve the one who had been kind to him.
One of the hare's brothers was a handsome little fellow who had been given to the princess and who was a great favorite at the court. So the hare of Inaba hurried to this brother and told him his story.
"Now, to help my prince to wed your princess," he said. "Two such kind souls should dwell together and make the world happier."
"Trust me," said his brother, who had grown wise since he came to the palace and had learned court ways.
So when the eighty brothers presented themselves before the princess, dressed all in their finest array, she received them scornfully and sent them all away.
"Your faces smile," she said, "but your hearts are cruel, and I will have none of you."
But when the eighty-first brother presented himself before her golden throne, she stretched forth her hand and said, "Good heart and true, I will share my throne with you and you alone!"
Then was the eighty-first brother glad; and all the people rejoiced and the little hare danced merrily on two legs and said, "You see now, dear Prince, that I am not ungrateful; for it is due to me that you are the Choice of the Princess."