The Sparrow With The Slit Tongue

: The Pink Fairy Book

From the Japanische Marchen und Sagen.

A long long time ago, an old couple dwelt in the very heart of a high

mountain. They lived together in peace and harmony, although they were

very different in character, the man being good-natured and honest, and

the wife being greedy and quarrelsome when anyone came her way that she

could possibly quarrel with.

One day the old man was sit
ing in front of his cottage, as he was very

fond of doing, when he saw flying towards him a little sparrow, followed

by a big black raven. The poor little thing was very much frightened and

cried out as it flew, and the great bird came behind it terribly fast,

flapping its wings and craning its beak, for it was hungry and wanted

some dinner. But as they drew near the old man, he jumped up, and beat

back the raven, which mounted, with hoarse screams of disappointment,

into the sky, and the little bird, freed from its enemy, nestled into

the old man's hand, and he carried it into the house. He stroked its

feathers, and told it not to be afraid, for it was quite safe; but as

he still felt its heart beating, he put it into a cage, where it soon

plucked up courage to twitter and hop about. The old man was fond of

all creatures, and every morning he used to open the cage door, and the

sparrow flew happily about until it caught sight of a cat or a rat or

some other fierce beast, when it would instantly return to the cage,

knowing that there no harm could come to it.

The woman, who was always on the look-out for something to grumble at,

grew very jealous of her husband's affection for the bird, and would

gladly have done it some harm had she dared. At last, one morning her

opportunity came. Her husband had gone to the town some miles away down

the mountain, and would not be back for several hours, but before he

left he did not forget to open the door of the cage. The sparrow hopped

about as usual, twittering happily, and thinking no evil, and all the

while the woman's brow became blacker and blacker, and at length her

fury broke out. She threw her broom at the bird, who was perched on a

bracket high up on the wall. The broom missed the bird, but knocked down

and broke the vase on the bracket, which did not soothe the angry woman.

Then she chased it from place to place, and at last had it safe between

her fingers, almost as frightened as on the day that it had made its

first entrance into the hut.

By this time the woman was more furious than ever. If she had dared,

she would have killed the sparrow then and there, but as it was she only

ventured to slit its tongue. The bird struggled and piped, but there was

no one to hear it, and then, crying out loud with the pain, it flew from

the house and was lost in the depths of the forest.

By-and-bye the old man came back, and at once began to ask for his pet.

His wife, who was still in a very bad temper, told him the whole story,

and scolded him roundly for being so silly as to make such a fuss over

a bird. But the old man, who was much troubled, declared she was a bad,

hard-hearted woman, to have behaved so to a poor harmless bird; then he

left the house, and went into the forest to seek for his pet. He walked

many hours, whistling and calling for it, but it never came, and he went

sadly home, resolved to be out with the dawn and never to rest till he

had brought the wanderer back. Day after day he searched and called; and

evening after evening he returned in despair. At length he gave up hope,

and made up his mind that he should see his little friend no more.

One hot summer morning, the old man was walking slowly under the cool

shadows of the big trees, and without thinking where he was going,

he entered a bamboo thicket. As the bamboos became thinner, he found

himself opposite to a beautiful garden, in the centre of which stood

a tiny spick-and-span little house, and out of the house came a lovely

maiden, who unlatched the gate and invited him in the most hospitable

way to enter and rest. 'Oh, my dear old friend,' she exclaimed, 'how

glad I am you have found me at last! I am your little sparrow, whose

life you saved, and whom you took such care of.'

The old man seized her hands eagerly, but no time was given him to ask

any questions, for the maiden drew him into the house, and set food

before him, and waited on him herself.

While he was eating, the damsel and her maids took their lutes, and sang

and danced to him, and altogether the hours passed so swiftly that the

old man never saw that darkness had come, or remembered the scolding he

would get from his wife for returning home so late.

Thus, in dancing and singing, and talking over the days when the maiden

was a sparrow hopping in and out of her cage, the night passed away, and

when the first rays of sun broke through the hedge of bamboo, the

old man started up, thanked his hostess for her friendly welcome, and

prepared to say farewell. 'I am not going to let you depart like that,'

said she; 'I have a present for you, which you must take as a sign of my

gratitude.' And as she spoke, her servants brought in two chests, one

of them very small, the other large and heavy. 'Now choose which of them

you will carry with you.' So the old man chose the small chest, and hid

it under his cloak, and set out on his homeward way.

But as he drew near the house his heart sank a little, for he knew

what a fury his wife would be in, and how she would abuse him for

his absence. And it was even worse than he expected. However, long

experience had taught him to let her storm and say nothing, so he lit

his pipe and waited till she was tired out. The woman was still raging,

and did not seem likely to stop, when her husband, who by this time had

forgotten all about her, drew out the chest from under his cloak, and

opened it. Oh, what a blaze met his eyes! gold and precious stones were

heaped up to the very lid, and lay dancing in he sunlight. At the

sight of these wonders even the scolding tongue ceased, and the woman

approached, and took the stones in her hand, setting greedily aside

those that were the largest and most costly. Then her voice softened,

and she begged him quite politely to tell her where he had spent his

evening, and how he had come by these wonderful riches. So he told her

the whole story, and she listened with amazement, till he came to the

choice which had been given him between the two chests. At this her

tongue broke loose again, as she abused him for his folly in taking

the little one, and she never rested till her husband had described the

exact way which led to the sparrow-princess's house. When she had got it

into her head, she put on her best clothes and set out at once. But in

her blind haste she often missed the path, and she wandered for several

hours before she at length reached the little house. She walked boldly

up to the door and entered the room as if the whole place belonged to

her, and quite frightened the poor girl, who was startled at the sight

of her old enemy. However, she concealed her feelings as well as she

could, and bade the intruder welcome, placing before her food and wine,

hoping that when she had eaten and drunk she might take her leave. But

nothing of the sort.

'You will not let me go without a little present?' said the greedy wife,

as she saw no signs of one being offered her. 'Of course not,' replied

the girl, and at her orders two chests were brought in, as they had been

before. The old woman instantly seized the bigger, and staggering under

the weight of it, disappeared into the forest, hardly waiting even to

say good-bye.

It was a long way to her own house, and the chest seemed to grow heavier

at every step. Sometimes she felt as if it would be impossible for

her to get on at all, but her greed gave her strength, and at last she

arrived at her own door. She sank down on the threshold, overcome with

weariness, but in a moment was on her feet again, fumbling with the lock

of the chest. But by this time night had come, and there was no light in

the house, and the woman was in too much hurry to get to her treasures,

to go and look for one. At length, however, the lock gave way, and

the lid flew open, when, O horror! instead of gold and jewels, she saw

before her serpents with glittering eyes and forky tongues. And they

twined themselves about her and darted poison into her veins, and she

died, and no man regretted her.