Tiger Tales #60 - Urashima and the Princess of the Sea

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"Urashima and the Princess of the Sea"
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of The Royal Book of Oz, "The Wizard of Pumperdink", "King, King! Double King!", etc.

Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 31, 1918.

What would you say if I told you the story of a fisherlad who caught a - but pshaw - I must begin it right and at the proper place. Once - once upon a time in the little Japanese village of Midzunoe live Urashima, a poor fisherman, but for all that as bright and happy a boy as many who wore silken coats and sipped tea in the Mikado's palace. He loved to watch the boats billowing out to sea, and longed to sail away with them and seek adventures. But he had no money, and besides, his old parents were dependent upon him, so he put such desires aside and worked industriously in order to support them.

One day Urashima, yielding to the tug of his line, drew it in and found he had caught a tortoise. As tortoises live for many thousand years it seemed cruel to Urashima to deprive it of such a life. He therefore put it gently back in the sea, rebaited his hook and waited for another bite.

The air was so drowsy and the sun so warm that first thing you know Urashima had fallen asleep. He dreamed that his own little boat was speeding off toward the islands of the sun, and so pleasant were his adventures that there's no knowing when he would have awakened had not a sweet voice called him by name. Over and over, with soft persistence, it called, "Urashima! Urashima!"

He jumped to his feet, almost upsetting his boat, and looked all around. At first there seemed no one in sight, but following the sound of the voice, he saw, at last, the very tortoise he had restored to the sea. And stranger still it was speaking to him! It thanked him graciously for his kindness and invited him to climb upon its back and visit the palace of the Sea Dragon. Without a moment's hesitation and thinking only of the wonderful adventure it might prove Urashima accepted, and was soon dropping down, down through the green waters past all manner of curious and beautiful sea creatures.

When they arrived at the palace set in the center of the gardens of the sea they were met by a whole company of fish, who led the way into an inner apartment. Seated among her ladies was Otohime, the Princess of the Sea, and so beautiful was she that Urashima was struck dumb, and could do nothing but half mumble his respects. And imagine his embarrassment and his amazement when she explained that she had been the tortoise he had so thoughtfully thrown back into the water. She said that it was a test, and that she was now satisfied that he was kind and generous and worthy in every way to be the husband of her honorable self! She begged him to remain forever in her beautiful country where one never grew old and where it was always summer.

Feeling in no wise deserving of such honor, Urashima, nevertheless, accepted and the ceremony was performed at once and with all manner of festivals and rejoicings. Gold and silver fishes, clad in jeweled robes, sang and danced to amuse them and strange and wonderful viands were brought upon coral trays for their refreshment. It seemed to Urashima that he was living in a glorious golden dream and he trembled lest he awaken and find it untrue.

But nothing of the kind happened. All that day, and the next, and the next he was bewitched by his increasingly lovely surroundings and the sweet and gentle Sea Princess, his wife. On the third day Urashima suddenly remembered his parents and was overcome at the manner in which he had deserted them. I will return and explain to them my great good fortune, he thought to himself, and lost no time in telling the Princes of his desires.

The poor little Princess wept bitterly and begged Urashima not to leave her, or to delay but another day. He comforted her as best he could, but would not allow himself to be dissuaded from what he considered to be his duty. When the Princess saw that nothing would deter him she gave him a tiny jeweled box, bidding him on no account to open it till his return. Promising to be back in a day and kissing her with deep affection, Urashima set forth on a large tortoise and was soon back in his own country.

But everything was strange. The trees that he remembered were nowhere to be seen, the cottage of his parents had vanished and in dismay Urashima accosted a passer-by and begged to know what had happened to them. The man thought for a long time, then told him that a family of that name had lived there three hundred years ago. Their son, Urashima, had fallen into the sea and perished and that now all of the family were dead many, many years.

Bewildered and scarcely knowing where to turn, Urashima sank down on the beach and lost himself in gloomy reflections. Too late he recalled that a day in the Sea Kingdom was not an earthly day, but a hundred years. With great sorrow, he realized that he had not a friend or relation on earth. The sea lapping gently at his feet seemed teasing him back, and thinking of his beautiful sea-wife, Urashima resolved to return. He called her name loudly, but no tortoise came to bear him back to her and in despair he bethought himself of the little jeweled box. Breathlessly he untied the silken thread, and in that minute a white cloud escaped from it and rolled far away over the sea, while Urashima - Urashima, young and handsome, shriveled into a yellow old man, falling dead upon the sands. I wish that he had not broken his promise. Perhaps, if he had waited--

By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, January 13, 1918.

Some Bookish Riddles

"I hear that the Forgetful Poet has resigned from the riddle department," said Mr. Bookmarker, hopping up on my desk the other day. I explained that the Forgetful Poet had to have more time for serious verses. The bookmarker closed one eye and tapped his forehead in a very significant manner, then drew a paper from his pocket. "Here are a few riddles to help you out." Before I could say thank you or Happy New Year or anything at all he had disappeared.

I know you will be interested in his riddles and here they are:

What day of the week will give you a character in a favorite book of adventures?

What bird, plus a covering for the head, will give you another well-known English book hero?

What we breathe will give the last name of a well-known book girl.

A bird and an organ of the body will give a hero we all know well and whose travels we have all read with interest.

Last week's answers were: Scales, runner, current - shells are found at the shore. A road is like a clock because it winds up and runs down, and a fisherman is like a jailer because they both live by catches.

[Answers next time.]

Copyright © 2006 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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