The Maiden With The Wooden Helmet





In a little village in the country of Japan there lived long,

long ago a man and his wife. For many years they were happy and

prosperous, but bad times came, and at last nothing was left them

but their daughter, who was as beautiful as the morning. The

neighbours were very kind, and would have done anything they

could to help their poor friends, but the old couple felt that

since everything had changed they would rather go elsewhere, so

one day they set off to bury themselves in the country, taking

their daughter with them.



Now the mother and daughter had plenty to do in keeping the house

clean and looking after the garden, but the man would sit for

hours together gazing straight in front of him, and thinking of

the riches that once were his. Each day he grew more and more

wretched, till at length he took to his bed and never got up

again.



His wife and daughter wept bitterly for his loss, and it was many

months before they could take pleasure in anything. Then one

morning the mother suddenly looked at the girl, and found that

she had grown still more lovely than before. Once her heart

would have been glad at the sight, but now that they two were

alone in the world she feared some harm might come of it. So,

like a good mother, she tried to teach her daughter all she knew,

and to bring her up to be always busy, so that she would never

have time to think about herself. And the girl was a good girl,

and listened to all her mother's lessons, and so the years passed

away.



At last one wet spring the mother caught cold, and though in the

beginning she did not pay much attention to it, she gradually

grew more and more ill, and knew that she had not long to live.

Then she called her daughter and told her that very soon she

would be alone in the world; that she must take care of herself,

as there would be no one to take care of her. And because it was

more difficult for beautiful women to pass unheeded than for

others, she bade her fetch a wooden helmet out of the next room,

and put it on her head, and pull it low down over her brows, so

that nearly the whole of her face should lie in its shadow. The

girl did as she was bid, and her beauty was so hidden beneath the

wooden cap, which covered up all her hair, that she might have

gone through any crowd, and no one would have looked twice at

her. And when she saw this the heart of the mother was at rest,

and she lay back in her bed and died.



The girl wept for many days, but by-and-by she felt that, being

alone in the world, she must go and get work, for she had only

herself to depend upon. There was none to be got by staying

where she was, so she made her clothes into a bundle, and walked

over the hills till she reached the house of the man who owned

the fields in that part of the country. And she took service

with him and laboured for him early and late, and every night

when she went to bed she was at peace, for she had not forgotten

one thing that she had promised her mother; and, however hot the

sun might be, she always kept the wooden helmet on her head, and

the people gave her the nickname of Hatschihime.



In spite, however, of all her care the fame of her beauty spread

abroad: many of the impudent young men that are always to be

found in the world stole softly up behind her while she was at

work, and tried to lift off the wooden helmet. But the girl

would have nothing to say to them, and only bade them be off;

then they began to talk to her, but she never answered them, and

went on with what she was doing, though her wages were low and

food not very plentiful. Still she could manage to live, and

that was enough.



One day her master happened to pass through the field where she

was working, and was struck by her industry and stopped to watch

her. After a while he put one or two questions to her, and then

led her into his house, and told her that henceforward her only

duty should be to tend his sick wife. From this time the girl

felt as if all her troubles were ended, but the worst of them was

yet to come.



Not very long after Hatschihime had become maid to the sick

woman, the eldest son of the house returned home from Kioto,

where he had been studying all sorts of things. He was tired of

the splendours of the town and its pleasures, and was glad enough

to be back in the green country, among the peach-blossoms and

sweet flowers. Strolling about in the early morning, he caught

sight of the girl with the odd wooden helmet on her head, and

immediately he went to his mother to ask who she was, and where

she came from, and why she wore that strange thing over her face.



His mother answered that it was a whim, and nobody could persuade

her to lay it aside; whereat the young man laughed, but kept his

thoughts to himself.



One hot day, however, he happened to be going towards home when

he caught sight of his mother's waiting maid kneeling by a little

stream that flowed through the garden, splashing some water over

her face. The helmet was pushed on one side, and as the youth

stood watching from behind a tree he had a glimpse of the girl's

great beauty; and he determined that no one else should be his

wife. But when he told his family of his resolve to marry her

they were very angry, and made up all sorts of wicked stories

about her. However, they might have spared themselves the

trouble, as he knew it was only idle talk. 'I have merely to

remain firm,' thought he, 'and they will have to give in.' It

was such a good match for the girl that it never occurred to

anyone that she would refuse the young man, but so it was. It

would not be right, she felt, to make a quarrel in the house, and

though in secret she wept bitterly, for a long while, nothing

would make her change her mind. At length one night her mother

appeared to her in a dream, and bade her marry the young man. So

the next time he asked her--as he did nearly every day--to his

surprise and joy she consented. The parents then saw they had

better make the best of a bad business, and set about making the

grand preparations suitable to the occasion. Of course the

neighbours said a great many ill-natured things about the wooden

helmet, but the bridegroom was too happy to care, and only

laughed at them.



When everything was ready for the feast, and the bride was

dressed in the most beautiful embroidered dress to be found in

Japan, the maids took hold of the helmet to lift it off her head,

so that they might do her hair in the latest fashion. But the

helmet would not come, and the harder they pulled, the faster it

seemed to be, till the poor girl yelled with pain. Hearing her

cries the bridegroom ran in and soothed her, and declared that

she should be married in the helmet, as she could not be married

without. Then the ceremonies began, and the bridal pair sat

together, and the cup of wine was brought them, out of which they

had to drink. And when they had drunk it all, and the cup was

empty, a wonderful thing happened. The helmet suddenly burst

with a loud noise, and fell in pieces on the ground; and as they

all turned to look they found the floor covered with precious

stones which had fallen out of it. But the guests were less

astonished at the brilliancy of the diamonds than at the beauty

of the bride, which was beyond anything they had ever seen or

heard of. The night was passed in singing and dancing, and then

the bride and bridegroom went to their own house, where they

lived till they died, and had many children, who were famous

throughout Japan for their goodness and beauty.



[Japanische Marchen.]





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