| Momotaro, Or The Story Of The Son Of A Peach |
HE OLD MAN was much surprised at hearing all this from a mere boy of fifteen. He thought it best to let the boy go. He was strong and fearless, and besides all this, the old man knew he was no common child, for he had been sent to them as a gift from Heaven, and he felt quite sure that the devils would be powerless to harm him.
"All you say is very interesting, Momotaro," said the old man. "I will not hinder you in your determination. You may go if you wish. Go to the island as soon as ever you like and destroy the demons and bring peace to the land."
"Thank you, for all your kindness," said Momotaro, who began to get ready to go that very day. He was full of courage and did not know what fear was.
The old man and woman at once set to work to pound rice in the kitchen mortar to make cakes for Momotaro to take with him on his journey.
At last the cakes were made and Momotaro was ready to start on his long journey.
Parting is always sad. So it was now. The eyes of the two old people were filled with tears and their voices trembled as they said:
"Go with all care and speed. We expect you back victorious!"
Momotaro was very sorry to leave his old parents (though he knew he was coming back as soon as he could), for he thought of how lonely they would be while he was away. But he said "Good-by!" quite bravely.
"I am going now. Take good care of yourselves while I am away. Good- by!" And he stepped quickly out of the house. In silence the eyes of Momotaro and his parents met in farewell.
Momotaro now hurried on his way till it was midday. He began to feel hungry, so he opened his bag and took out one of the rice-cakes and sat down under a tree by the side of the road to eat it. While he was thus having his lunch a dog almost as large as a colt came running out from the high grass. He made straight for Momotaro, and showing his teeth, said in a fierce way:
"You are a rude man to pass my field without asking permission first. If you leave me all the cakes you have in your bag you may go; otherwise I will bite you till I kill you!"
Momotaro only laughed scornfully:
"What is that you are saying? Do you know who I am? I am Momotaro, and I am on my way to subdue the devils in their island stronghold in the northeast of Japan. If you try to stop me on my way there I will cut you in two from the head downwards!"
The dog's manner at once changed. His tail dropped between his legs, and coming near he bowed so low that his forehead touched the ground.
"What do I hear? The name of Momotaro? Are you indeed Momotaro? I have often heard of your great strength. Not knowing who you were I have behaved in a very stupid way. Will you please pardon my rudeness? Are you indeed on your way to invade the Island of Devils? If you will take such a rude fellow with you as one of your followers, I shall be very grateful to you."
"I think I can take you with me if you wish to go," said Momotaro.
"Thank you!" said the dog. "By the way, I am very very hungry. Will you give me one of the cakes you are carrying?"
"This is the best kind of cake there is in Japan," said Momotaro. "I cannot spare you a whole one; I will give you half of one."
"Thank you very much," said the dog, taking the piece thrown to him.
Then Momotaro got up and the dog followed. For a long time they walked over the hills and through the valleys. As they were going along an animal came down from a tree a little ahead of them. The creature soon came up to Momotaro and said:
"Good morning, Momotaro! You are welcome in this part of the country. Will you allow me to go with you?"
The dog answered jealously:
"Momotaro already has a dog to accompany him. Of what use is a monkey like you in battle? We are on our way to fight the devils! Get away!"
The dog and the monkey began to quarrel and bite, for these two animals always hate each other.
"Now, don't quarrel!" said Momotaro, putting himself between them. "Wait a moment, dog!"
"It is not at all dignified for you to have such a creature as that following you!" said the dog.
"What do you know about it?" asked Momotaro; and pushing aside the dog, he spoke to the monkey:
"Who are you?"
"I am a monkey living in these hills," replied the monkey." I heard of your expedition to the Island of Devils, and I have come to go with you. Nothing will please me more than to follow you!"
"Do you really wish to go to the Island of Devils and fight with me?"
"Yes, sir," replied the monkey.
"I admire your courage," said Momotaro. "Here is a piece of one of my fine rice-cakes. Come along!"
So the monkey joined Momotaro. The dog and the monkey did not get on well together. They were always snapping at each other as they went along, and always wanting to have a fight. This made Momotaro very cross, and at last he sent the dog on ahead with a flag and put the monkey behind with a sword, and he placed himself between them with a war-fan, which is made of iron.
By and by they came to a large field. Here a bird flew down and alighted on the ground just in front of the little party. It was the most beautiful bird Momotaro had ever seen. On its body were five different robes of feathers and its head was covered with a scarlet cap.
The dog at once ran at the bird and tried to seize and kill it. But the bird struck out its spurs and flew at the dog's tail, and the fight went hard with both.
Momotaro, as he looked on, could not help admiring the bird; it showed so much spirit in the fight. It would certainly make a good fighter.
Momotaro went up to the two combatants, and holding the dog back, said to the bird:
"You rascal! you are hindering my journey. Surrender at once, and I will take you with me. If you don't I will set this dog to bite your head off!"
Then the bird surrendered at once, and begged to be taken into Momotaro's company.
"I do not know what excuse to offer for quarreling with the dog, your servant, but I did not see you. I am a miserable bird called a pheasant. It is very generous of you to pardon my rudeness and to take me with you. Please allow me to follow you behind the dog and the monkey!"
"I congratulate you on surrendering so soon," said Momotaro, smiling. "Come and join us in our raid on the devils."
"Are you going to take this bird with you also?" asked the dog, interrupting.
"Why do you ask such an unnecessary question? Didn't you hear what I said? I take the bird with me because I wish to!"
"Humph!" said the dog.
Then Momotaro stood and gave this order:
"Now all of you must listen to me. The first thing necessary in an army is harmony. It is a wise saying which says that 'Advantage on earth is better than advantage in Heaven!' Union amongst ourselves is better than any earthly gain. When we are not at peace amongst ourselves it is no easy thing to subdue an enemy. From now, you three, the dog, the monkey and the pheasant, must be friends with one mind. The one who first begins a quarrel will be discharged on the spot!"