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Schippeitaro

from The Violet Fairy Book





It was the custom in old times that as soon as a Japanese boy
reached manhood he should leave his home and roam through the
land in search of adventures. Sometimes he would meet with a
young man bent on the same business as himself, and then they
would fight in a friendly manner, merely to prove which was the
stronger, but on other occasions the enemy would turn out to be a
robber, who had become the terror of the neighbourhood, and then
the battle was in deadly earnest.

One day a youth started off from his native village, resolved
never to come back till he had done some great deed that would
make his name famous. But adventures did not seem very plentiful
just then, and he wandered about for a long time without meeting
either with fierce giants or distressed damsels. At last he saw
in the distance a wild mountain, half covered with a dense
forest, and thinking that this promised well at once took the
road that led to it. The difficulties he met with--huge rocks to
be climbed, deep rivers to be crossed, and thorny tracts to be
avoided--only served to make his heart beat quicker, for he was
really brave all through, and not merely when he could not help
himself, like a great many people. But in spite of all his
efforts he could not find his way out of the forest, and he began
to think he should have to pass the night there. Once more he
strained his eyes to see if there was no place in which he could
take shelter, and this time he caught sight of a small chapel in
a little clearing. He hastened quickly towards it, and curling
himself up in a warm corner soon fell asleep.

Not a sound was heard through the whole forest for some hours,
but at midnight there suddenly arose such a clamour that the
young man, tired as he was, started broad awake in an instant.
Peeping cautiously between the wooden pillars of the chapel, he
saw a troop of hideous cats, dancing furiously, making the night
horrible with their yells. The full moon lighted up the weird
scene, and the young warrior gazed with astonishment, taking
great care to keep still, lest he should be discovered. After
some time he thought that in the midst of all their shrieks he
could make out the words, 'Do not tell Schippeitaro! Keep it
hidden and secret! Do not tell Schippeitaro!' Then, the midnight
hour having passed, they all vanished, and the youth was left
alone. Exhausted by all that had been going on round him, he
flung himself on the ground and slept till the sun rose.

The moment he woke he felt very hungry, and began to think how he
could get something to eat. So he got up and walked on, and
before he had gone very far was lucky enough to find a little
side-path, where he could trace men's footsteps. He followed the
track, and by-and-by came on some scattered huts, beyond which
lay a village. Delighted at this discovery, he was about to
hasten to the village when he heard a woman's voice weeping and
lamenting, and calling on the men to take pity on her and help
her. The sound of her distress made him forget he was hungry,
and he strode into the hut to find out for himself what was
wrong. But the men whom he asked only shook their heads and told
him it was not a matter in which he could give any help, for all
this sorrow was caused by the Spirit of the Mountain, to whom
every year they were bound to furnish a maiden for him to eat.

'To-morrow night,' said they, 'the horrible creature will come
for his dinner, and the cries you have heard were uttered by the
girl before you, upon whom the lot has fallen.'

And when the young man asked if the girl was carried off straight
from her home, they answered no, but that a large cask was set in
the forest chapel, and into this she was fastened.

As he listened to this story, the young man was filled with a
great longing to rescue the maiden from her dreadful fate. The
mention of the chapel set him thinking of the scene of the
previous night, and he went over all the details again in his
mind. 'Who is Schippeitaro?' he suddenly asked; 'can any of you
tell me?'

'Schippeitaro is the great dog that belongs to the overseer of
our prince,' said they; 'and he lives not far away.' And they
began to laugh at the question, which seemed to them so odd and
useless.

The young man did not laugh with them, but instead left the hut
and went straight to the owner of the dog, whom he begged to lend
him the animal just for one night. Schippeitaro's master was not
at all willing to give him in charge to a man of whom he knew
nothing, but in the end he consented, and the youth led the dog
away, promising faithfully to return him next day to his master.
He next hurried to the hut where the maiden lived, and entreated
her parents to shut her up safely in a closet, after which he
took Schippeitaro to the cask, and fastened him into it. In the
evening he knew that the cask would be placed in the chapel, so
he hid himself there and waited.

At midnight, when the full moon appeared above the top of the
mountain, the cats again filled the chapel and shrieked and
yelled and danced as before. But this time they had in their
midst a huge black cat who seemed to be their king, and whom the
young man guessed to be the Spirit of the Mountain. The monster
looked eagerly about him, and his eyes sparkled with joy when he
saw the cask. He bounded high into the air with delight and
uttered cries of pleasure; then he drew near and undid the bolts.

But instead of fastening his teeth in the neck of a beautiful
maiden, Schippeitaro's teeth were fastened in HIM, and the youth
ran up and cut off his head with his sword. The other cats were
so astonished at the turn things had taken that they forgot to
run away, and the young man and Schippeitaro between them killed
several more before they thought of escaping.

At sunrise the brave dog was taken back to his master, and from
that time the mountain girls were safe, and every year a feast
was held in memory of the young warrior and the dog Schippeitaro.

[Japanische Marchen.]





Next: The Three Princes And Their Beasts

Previous: The Story Of Three Wonderful Beggars



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