THE SPARROW WITH THE SLIT TONGUE
Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.
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 the 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.
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Source: Andrew Lang, Pink Fairy Book (1897). Weblink. [Lang notes: From the Japanische Marchen und Sagen, von David Brauns (Leipzig: Wilhelm Friedrich).]
Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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