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The Monkey And The Jelly-fish

from The Violet Fairy Book





Children must often have wondered why jelly-fishes have no
shells, like so many of the creatures that are washed up every
day on the beach. In old times this was not so; the jelly-fish
had as hard a shell as any of them, but he lost it through his
own fault, as may be seen in this story.

The sea-queen Otohime, whom you read of in the story of
Uraschimatoro, grew suddenly very ill. The swiftest messengers
were sent hurrying to fetch the best doctors from every country
under the sea, but it was all of no use; the queen grew rapidly
worse instead of better. Everyone had almost given up hope, when
one day a doctor arrived who was cleverer than the rest, and said
that the only thing that would cure her was the liver of an ape.
Now apes do not dwell under the sea, so a council of the wisest
heads in the nation was called to consider the question how a
liver could be obtained. At length it was decided that the
turtle, whose prudence was well known, should swim to land and
contrive to catch a living ape and bring him safely to the ocean
kingdom.

It was easy enough for the council to entrust this mission to the
turtle, but not at all so easy for him to fulfil it. However he
swam to a part of the coast that was covered with tall trees,
where he thought the apes were likely to be; for he was old, and
had seen many things. It was some time before he caught sight of
any monkeys, and he often grew tired with watching for them, so
that one hot day he fell fast asleep, in spite of all his efforts
to keep awake. By-and-by some apes, who had been peeping at him
from the tops of the trees, where they had been carefully hidden
from the turtle's eyes, stole noiselessly down, and stood round
staring at him, for they had never seen a turtle before, and did
not know what to make of it. At last one young monkey, bolder
than the rest, stooped down and stroked the shining shell that
the strange new creature wore on its back. The movement, gentle
though it was, woke the turtle. With one sweep he seized the
monkey's hand in his mouth, and held it tight, in spite of every
effort to pull it away. The other apes, seeing that the turtle
was not to be trifled with, ran off, leaving their young brother
to his fate.

Then the turtle said to the monkey, 'If you will be quiet, and do
what I tell you, I won't hurt you. But you must get on my back
and come with me.'

The monkey, seeing there was no help for it, did as he was bid;
indeed he could not have resisted, as his hand was still in the
turtle's mouth.

Delighted at having secured his prize, the turtle hastened back
to the shore and plunged quickly into the water. He swam faster
than he had ever done before, and soon reached the royal palace.
Shouts of joy broke forth from the attendants when he was seen
approaching, and some of them ran to tell the queen that the
monkey was there, and that before long she would be as well as
ever she was. In fact, so great was their relief that they gave
the monkey such a kind welcome, and were so anxious to make him
happy and comfortable, that he soon forgot all the fears that had
beset him as to his fate, and was generally quite at his ease,
though every now and then a fit of home-sickness would come over
him, and he would hide himself in some dark corner till it had
passed away.

It was during one of these attacks of sadness that a jelly-fish
happened to swim by. At that time jelly-fishes had shells. At
the sight of the gay and lively monkey crouching under a tall
rock, with his eyes closed and his head bent, the jelly-fish was
filled with pity, and stopped, saying, 'Ah, poor fellow, no
wonder you weep; a few days more, and they will come and kill you
and give your liver to the queen to eat.'

The monkey shrank back horrified at these words and asked the
jelly-fish what crime he had committed that deserved death.

'Oh, none at all,' replied the jelly-fish, 'but your liver is the
only thing that will cure our queen, and how can we get at it
without killing you? You had better submit to your fate, and
make no noise about it, for though I pity you from my heart there
is no way of helping you.' Then he went away, leaving the ape
cold with horror.

At first he felt as if his liver was already being taken from his
body, but soon he began to wonder if there was no means of
escaping this terrible death, and at length he invented a plan
which he thought would do. For a few days he pretended to be gay
and happy as before, but when the sun went in, and rain fell in
torrents, he wept and howled from dawn to dark, till the turtle,
who was his head keeper, heard him, and came to see what was the
matter. Then the monkey told him that before he left home he had
hung his liver out on a bush to dry, and if it was always going
to rain like this it would become quite useless. And the rogue
made such a fuss and moaning that he would have melted a heart of
stone, and nothing would content him but that somebody should
carry him back to land and let him fetch his liver again.

The queen's councillors were not the wisest of people, and they
decided between them that the turtle should take the monkey back
to his native land and allow him to get his liver off the bush,
but desired the turtle not to lose sight of his charge for a
single moment. The monkey knew this, but trusted to his power of
beguiling the turtle when the time came, and mounted on his back
with feelings of joy, which he was, however, careful to conceal.
They set out, and in a few hours were wandering about the forest
where the ape had first been caught, and when the monkey saw his
family peering out from the tree tops, he swung himself up by the
nearest branch, just managing to save his hind leg from being
seized by the turtle. He told them all the dreadful things that
had happened to him, and gave a war cry which brought the rest of
the tribe from the neighbouring hills. At a word from him they
rushed in a body to the unfortunate turtle, threw him on his
back, and tore off the shield that covered his body. Then with
mocking words they hunted him to the shore, and into the sea,
which he was only too thankful to reach alive. Faint and
exhausted he entered the queen's palace for the cold of the water
struck upon his naked body, and made him feel ill and miserable.
But wretched though he was, he had to appear before the queen's
advisers and tell them all that had befallen him, and how he had
suffered the monkey to escape. But, as sometimes happens, the
turtle was allowed to go scot-free, and had his shell given back
to him, and all the punishment fell on the poor jelly-fish, who
was condemned by the queen to go shieldless for ever after.

[Japanische Marchen.]





Next: The Headless Dwarfs

Previous: The Maiden With The Wooden Helmet



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