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Good Stories for Great Holidays by  Frances Jenkins Olcott

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SHIPPEITARO

A JAPANESE FOLK-TALE
BY MARY F. NIXON-ROULET (ADAPTED)

ONCE upon a time there was a brave soldier lad who was seeking his fortune in the wide, wide world. One day he lost his way in a pathless forest, and wandered about until he came at length to a small clearing in the midst of which stood a ruined temple. The huge trees waved above its walls, and the leaves in the thicket whispered [235] around them. No sun ever shone there, and no human being lived there.

A storm was coming up, and the soldier lad took refuge among the ruins.

"Here is all I want," said he. "Here I shall have shelter from the storm-god's wrath, and a comfortable place to sleep in."

So he wrapped himself in his cloak, and, lying down, was soon fast asleep. But his slumbers did not last long. At midnight he was wakened by fearful shrieks, and springing to his feet, he looked out at the temple door.

The storm was over. Moonlight shone on the clearing. And there he saw what seemed to be a troop of monstrous cats, who like huge phantoms marched across the open space in front of the temple. They broke into a wild dance, uttering shrieks, howls, and wicked laughs. Then they all sang together:—

"Whisper not to Shippeitaro

That the Phantom Cats are near;

Whisper not to Shippeitaro,

Lest he soon appear!"

The soldier lad crouched low behind the door, for brave as he was he did not wish these fearful creatures to see him. But soon, with a chorus of wild yells, the Phantom Cats disappeared as quickly as they had come, and all was quiet as before.

Then the soldier lad lay down and went to sleep again, nor did he waken till the sun peered into the temple and told him that it was morning. He quickly found his way out of the forest and walked on until he came to the cottage of a peasant.

As he approached he heard sounds of bitter weeping. A beautiful young maiden met him at the door, and her eyes were red with crying. She greeted him kindly.

"May I have some food?" said he.

"Enter and welcome," she replied. "My parents are just having breakfast. You may join them, for no one passes our door hungry."

Thanking her the lad entered, and her parents greeted him courteously but sadly, and shared their breakfast with him. He ate heartily, and, when he was finished, rose to go.

"Thank you many times for this good meal, kind friends," said he, "and may happiness be yours."

"Happiness can never again be ours!" answered the old man, weeping.

"You are in trouble, then," said the lad. "Tell me about it; perhaps I can help you in some way."

"Alas!" replied the old man, "There is within yonder forest a ruined temple. It is the abode of horrors too terrible for words. Each year a demon, whom no one has ever seen, demands that the people of this land give him a beautiful maiden [237] to devour. She is placed in a cage and carried to the temple just at sunset. This year it is my daughter's turn to be offered to the fiend!" And the old man buried his face in his hands and groaned.

The soldier lad paused to think for a moment, then he said:—

"It is terrible, indeed! But do not despair. I think I know a way to help you. Who is Shippeitaro?"

"Shippeitaro is a beautiful dog, owned by our lord, the prince," answered the old man.

"That is just the thing!" cried the lad. "Only keep your daughter closely at home. Do not let her out of your sight. Trust me and she shall be saved."

Then the soldier lad hurried away, and found the castle of the prince. He begged that he might borrow Shippeitaro just for one night.

"You may take him upon the condition that you bring him back safely," said the prince.

"To-morrow he shall return in safety," answered the lad.

Taking Shippeitaro with him, he hurried to the peasant's cottage, and, when evening was come, he placed the dog in the cage which was to have carried the maiden. The bearers then took the cage to the ruined temple, and, placing it on the ground, ran away as fast as their legs would carry them.

The lad, laughing softly to himself, hid inside the temple as before, and so quiet was the spot that he fell asleep. At midnight he was aroused by the same wild shrieks he had heard the night before. He rose and looked out at the temple door.

Through the darkness, into the moonlight, came the troop of Phantom Cats. This time they were led by a fierce, black Tomcat. As they came nearer they chanted with unearthly screeches:—

"Whisper not to Shippeitaro

That the Phantom Cats are near;

Whisper not to Shippeitaro,

Lest he soon appear!"

With that the great Tomcat caught sight of the cage and, uttering a fearful yowl, sprang upon it, With one blow of his claws he tore open the lid, when, instead of the dainty morsel he expected, out jumped Shippeitaro!

The dog sprang upon the Tomcat, and caught him by the throat; while the Phantom Cats stood still in amazement. Drawing his sword the lad hurried to Shippeitaro's side, and what with Shippeitaro's teeth and the lad's hard blows, in an instant the great Tomcat was torn and cut into pieces. When the Phantom Cats saw this, they uttered one wild shriek and fled away, never to return again.

Then the soldier lad, leading Shippeitaro, returned in triumph to the peasant's cottage. There [239] in terror the maiden awaited his arrival, but great was the joy of herself and her parents when they knew that the Tomcat was no more.

"Oh, sir," cried the maiden, "I can never thank you! I am the only child of my parents, and no one would have been left to care for them if I had been the monster's victim."

"Do not thank me," answered the lad. "Thank the brave Shippeitaro. It was he who sprang upon the great Tomcat and chased away the Phantom Creatures."


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