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The Slaying Of The Tanuki

from The Pink Fairy Book





From the Japanische Murchen und Sagen.


Near a big river, and between two high mountains, a man and his wife
lived in a cottage a long, long time ago. A dense forest lay all round
the cottage, and there was hardly a path or a tree in the whole wood
that was not familiar to the peasant from his boyhood. In one of his
wanderings he had made friends with a hare, and many an hour the two
passed together, when the man was resting by the roadside, eating his
dinner.

Now this strange friendship was observed by the Tanuki, a wicked,
quarrelsome beast, who hated the peasant, and was never tired of doing
him an ill turn. Again and again he had crept to the hut, and finding
some choice morsel put away for the little hare, had either eaten it if
he thought it nice, or trampled it to pieces so that no one else should
get it, and at last the peasant lost patience, and made up his mind he
would have the Tanuki's blood.

So for many days the man lay hidden, waiting for the Tanuki to come by,
and when one morning he marched up the road thinking of nothing but the
dinner he was going to steal, the peasant threw himself upon him and
bound his four legs tightly, so that he could not move. Then he dragged
his enemy joyfully to the house, feeling that at length he had got the
better of the mischievous beast which had done him so many ill turns.
'He shall pay for them with his skin,' he said to his wife. 'We will
first kill him, and then cook him.' So saying, he hanged the Tanuki,
head downwards, to a beam, and went out to gather wood for a fire.

Meanwhile the old woman was standing at the mortar pounding the rise
that was to serve them for the week with a pestle that made her arms
ache with its weight. Suddenly she heard something whining and weeping
in the corner, and, stopping her work, she looked round to see what it
was. That was all that the rascal wanted, and he put on directly his
most humble air, and begged the woman in his softest voice to loosen his
bonds, which her hurting him sorely. She was filled with pity for him,
but did not dare to set him free, as she knew that her husband would be
very angry. The Tanuki, however, did not despair, and seeing that her
heart was softened, began his prayers anew. 'He only asked to have his
bonds taken from him,' he said. 'He would give his word not to attempt

to escape, and if he was once set free he could soon pound her rice for
her.' 'Then you can have a little rest,' he went on, 'for rice pounding
is very tiring work, and not at all fit for weak women.' These last
words melted the good woman completely, and she unfastened the bonds
that held him. Poor foolish creature! In one moment the Tanuki had
seized her, stripped off all her clothes, and popped her in the mortar.
In a few minutes more she was pounded as fine as the rice; and not
content with that, the Tanuki placed a pot on the hearth and made ready
to cook the peasant a dinner from the flesh of his own wife!

When everything was complete he looked out of the door, and saw the old
man coming from the forest carrying a large bundle of wood. Quick as
lightning the Tanuki not only put on the woman's clothes, but, as he was
a magician, assumed her form as well. Then he took the wood, kindled the
fire, and very soon set a large dinner before the old man, who was very
hungry, and had forgotten for the moment all about his enemy. But when
the Tanuki saw that he had eaten his fill and would be thinking about
his prisoner, he hastily shook off the clothes behind a door and took
his own shape. Then he said to the peasant, 'You are a nice sort of
person to seize animals and to talk of killing them! You are caught in
your own net. It is your own wife that you have eaten, and if you want
to find her bones you have only to look under the floor.' With these
words he turned and made for the forest.

The old peasant grew cold with horror as he listened, and seemed frozen
to the place where he stood. When he had recovered himself a little,
he collected the bones of his dead wife, buried them in the garden, and
swore over the grave to be avenged on the Tanuki. After everything was
done he sat himself down in his lonely cottage and wept bitterly, and
the bitterest thought of all was that he would never be able to forget
that he had eaten his own wife.

While he was thus weeping and wailing his friend the hare passed by,
and, hearing the noise, pricked up his ears and soon recognised the old
man's voice. He wondered what had happened, and put his head in at the
door and asked if anything was the matter. With tears and groans the
peasant told him the whole dreadful story, and the hare, filled with
anger and compassion, comforted him as best he could, and promised to
help him in his revenge. 'The false knave shall not go unpunished,' said
he.

So the first thing he did was to search the house for materials to make
an ointment, which he sprinkled plentifully with pepper and then put in
his pocket. Next he took a hatchet, bade farewell to the old man, and
departed to the forest. He bent his steps to the dwelling of the Tanuki
and knocked at the door. The Tanuki, who had no cause to suspect the
hare, was greatly pleased to see him, for he noticed the hatchet at
once, and began to lay plots how to get hold of it.

To do this he thought he had better offer to accompany the hare, which
was exactly what the hare wished and expected, for he knew all the
Tanuki's cunning, and understood his little ways. So he accepted the
rascal's company with joy, and made himself very pleasant as they
strolled along. When they were wandering in this manner through the
forest the hare carelessly raised his hatchet in passing, and cut down
some thick boughs that were hanging over the path, but at length,
after cutting down a good big tree, which cost him many hard blows, he
declared that it was too heavy for him to carry home, and he must just
leave it where it was. This delighted the greedy Tanuki, who said that
they would be no weight for him, so they collected the large branches,
which the hare bound tightly on his back. Then he trotted gaily to the
house, the hare following after with his lighter bundle.

By this time the hare had decided what he would do, and as soon as they
arrived, he quietly set on fire the wood on the back of the Tanuki. The
Tanuki, who was busy with something else, observed nothing, and only
called out to ask what was the meaning of the crackling that he heard.
'It is just the rattle of the stones which are rolling down the side of
the mountain,' the hare said; and the Tanuki was content, and made no
further remarks, never noticing that the noise really sprang from the
burning boughs on his back, until his fur was in flames, and it was
almost too late to put it out. Shrieking with pain, he let fall the
burning wood from his back, and stamped and howled with agony. But the
hare comforted him, and told him that he always carried with him an
excellent plaster in case of need, which would bring him instant relief,
and taking out his ointment he spread it on a leaf of bamboo, and
laid it on the wound. No sooner did it touch him than the Tanuki leapt
yelling into the air, and the hare laughed, and ran to tell his friend
the peasant what a trick he had played on their enemy. But the old man
shook his head sadly, for he knew that the villain was only crushed for
the moment, and that he would shortly be revenging himself upon them.
No, the only way every to get any peace and quiet was to render the
Tanuki harmless for ever. Long did the old man and the hare puzzle
together how this was to be done, and at last they decided that they
would make two boats, a small one of wood and a large one of clay. Then
they fell to work at once, and when the boats were ready and properly
painted, the hare went to the Tanuki, who was still very ill, and
invited him to a great fish-catching. The Tanuki was still feeling angry
with the hare about the trick he had played him, but he was weak and
very hungry, so he gladly accepted the proposal, and accompanied the
hare to the bank of the river, where the two boats were moored, rocked
by the waves. They both looked exactly alike, and the Tanuki only saw
that one was bigger than the other, and would hold more fish, so he
sprang into the large one, while the hare climbed into the one which was
made of wood. They loosened their moorings, and made for the middle of
the stream, and when they were at some distance from the bank, the hare
took his oar, and struck such a heavy blow at the other boat, that it
broke in two. The Tanuki fell straight into the water, and was held
there by the hare till he was quite dead. Then he put the body in his
boat and rowed to land, and told the old man that his enemy was dead at
last. And the old man rejoiced that his wife was avenged, and he took
the hare into his house, and they lived together all their days in peace
and quietness upon the mountain.





Next: The Flying Trunk

Previous: Uraschimataro And The Turtle



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