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The Man in a Shell

A woman was anxious to have descendants. Therefore she went time after time to all the shrines in her neighbourhood to make offerings and pray:

"O, let the wife of my only son have a child!"

She prayed again and again to all the gods within travelling distance from her house, but her son got no child for all that. Then she came to think of the Sea Dragon King. Though she had never heard of anyone appealing to him for help in such cases, she would try just about anything to get a descendant. Therefore, one day she carried with her some offerings she hoped might be suitable, and went to the shore. There she entreated the god who lived deep in the sea or wherever he might be.

A water snake carried word to the Dragon King that a woman was offering him gifts on the beach. The king sent a fish to hear why she did that. The fish overheard her prayers and brought back report that she wanted a grandson.

The Sea Dragon laughed and said: "We have no human infants here; only shellfish and polyps. She will have to go elsewhere for what she desires."

But the woman came to the shore again and again, until the Dragon King grew tired of her entreaties and said: "If she is so determined to have a grandchild from me, she must take a young conch; that is the best I can give her."

Time passed, and the old woman had her ardent desire fulfilled. A child was born to her son and his wife, but the child was encased in a spiral shell; only the child's head reached outside of it. The family was wealthy, and the queer babe was taken good care of and reared. When he grew older, he would come out of his shell, as does a snail, but would withdraw quickly into it again when he got tired or frightened.

When he grew up to be as big as a man he would often come out of his shell and sit on it, but would never wholly leave it.

The family made no secret of how he had been given them and raised in a shell that had grown with him, for he was well favoured, highly educated, and very polite. When he was old enough to take a wife, the wealth of the family soon secured for him a pretty young girl for a wife.

Soon after the marriage, the grandmother asked the bride whether her husband left his shell at night or lay in it as before by the side of his couch.

The young wife replied that he left his shell on the floor and lay by her side on nights. The grandmother then told her:

"One suitable night, just pretend you are sleeping. When you are sure your husband is sleeping, jump without a sound from the bed, seize the shell and carry it to my room."

The plan was carried out successfully, and as the bridegroom could neither find his shell nor say how it had disappeared, he lived without it and appeared like other people.

Some happy years passed, the young wife bore sons, and all was harmonious in the house.

But the grandmother put the mouldy shell out to air it one day her grandson was away, However, the grandson returned unexpectedly, saw, recognized, and entered his shell. At once he crawled off in it to the sea and never returned. His sons remained, so there were still descendants left in the family.

The Lost Mare

One day, an old man living on the frontier lost one of his mares. All his neighbours felt sorry for him and came to console him. But the old man was not in the least disheartened. "Well," he said lightly. "I don't care much about it. Who can say that it is not for good also?"

A few days later, the mare came back itself, accompanied by a fine wild horse. The neighbours were surprised and came to congratulate, full of praise of the horse. But the old man showed no sign of happiness. "Joy often begets sorrow," he said, "So who cannot tell if this won't turn out to be a bad thing."

Now the old man's son was very fond of riding, and the new horse, vigorous and wild, was a great temptation to him. Every day he took particular interest in fighting with it on its back, risking his neck. At length he was thrown off the horse and got one of his legs broken.

The neighbours again came to lament the young man's misfortunes. But the old man shook his head and said philosophically "Well, don't mind it too much. We know good and bad fortune often lurk within each other. So can you determine if it isn't a blessing in disguise?"

Not long after the country was attacked by invaders, and to resist the violent attack, all the young people on the frontier were summoned up to join the army. The fight was extremely fierce, and most of the young men laid down their lives on the battle fields. But because of his injured leg, the old man's son was allowed to stay at home, and thus saved his life.

[Other versions of the tale]

Silver Troubles

Zhang San had managed to save up three hundred ounces of silver. It gave him both happiness and anxiety. It was a large amount of money, but if it were stolen, the pleasure of owning it would be gone. He racked his brains, trying to find a place that was safe enough for his treasure. At last a fine idea came to mind: "Why don't I put my silver into a solid box and lock it with two giant locks? But what if the thief simply takes away the whole box with the locks and the silver in it?"

The more he pictured his riches being taken away, the more uneasy he felt, till nightmares made him shout in despair. He looked around, but could see no safe place in his house at all. But several days' hard thinking a good idea came. When night fell, he dug a hole at the base of the wall in his back room. There he buried the silver in secret. To make it safer, he put a note on the wall.

"My silver is not buried here."

Now Zhang San set his heart at ease and fell to sleeping soundly. But his neighbour Wang Er had seen what happened. He waited till midnight and then went to dig out the silver. Wand Er also thought up a plan not to be suspected. Side by side with Zhang San's note, he put another, which read.

"Your neighbour Wang Er did not steal it."

The Miser and the Tiger

In ancient times there was an old woodcutter who went to the mountain almost every day to cut wood. It was said that this old man was a miser who hoarded his silver until it changed to gold, and that he cared more for gold than anything else in all the world.

One day a wilderness tiger sprang at him and though he ran he could not escape, and the tiger carried him off in its mouth. The woodcutter's son saw his father's danger, and ran to save him if possible. He carried a long knife, and as he could run faster than the tiger, who had a man to carry, he soon overtook them.

His father was not much hurt, for the tiger held him by his clothes. When the old woodcutter saw his son about to stab the tiger he called out in great alarm,

"Don't spoil the tiger's skin! Don't spoil the tiger's skin! If you can kill him without cutting holes in his skin we can get many pieces of silver for it. Kill him, but do not cut his body."

While the son was listening to his father's instructions the tiger suddenly dashed off into the forest, carrying the old man where the son could not reach him, and he was killed.

Suicidal Hares

A farmer was once ploughing in the fields, when suddenly a hare rushed across in a great hurry, dashed against a stump and broke its neck. It died right there.

"What good luck!" the farmer said, picking up the dead hare, "If I can harvest hares that come like this one, I can make a much easier living. Why shouldn't I just wait here instead of toiling all day long, sweating blood, tiring my body out, like a great fool?"

Getting this idea into his head, the farmer no longer worked. He sat at the stump, his hands supporting his cheeks, and waited patiently for more hares. Unfortunately no more long-eared-and-short-tailed food came. Day in and day out the farmer starved, only to become a laughing-stock in the neighbourhood.


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