The Wonderful Mallet, An Oriental Tale

Once upon a time there were two brothers. The elder was an honest and good man, but he was very poor, while the younger, who was dishonest and stingy, had managed to pile up a large fortune. The name of the elder was Kané, and that of the younger was Chô.

Now, one day Kané went to Chô’s house, and begged for the loan of some seed-rice and some silkworms’ eggs, for last season had been unfortunate, and he was in want of both.

Chô had plenty of good rice and excellent silkworms’ eggs, but he was such a miser that he did not want to lend them. At the same time, he felt ashamed to refuse his brother’s request, so he gave him some worm-eaten musty rice and some dead eggs, which he felt sure would never hatch.

Kané, never suspecting that his brother would play him such a shabby trick, put plenty of mulberry leaves with the eggs, to be food for the silkworms when they should appear. Appear they did, and throve and grew wonderfully, much better than those of the stingy brother, who was angry and jealous when he heard of it.

Going to Kané’s house one day, and finding his brother was out, Chô took a knife and killed all the silkworms, cutting each poor little creature in two; then he went home without having been seen by anybody.

When Kané came home he was dismayed to find his silkworms in this state, but he did not suspect who had done him this bad trick, and tried to feed them with mulberry leaves as before. The silkworms came to life again, and doubled the number, for now each half was a living worm. They grew and throve, and the silk they spun was twice as much as Kané had expected. So now he began to prosper.

The envious Chô, seeing this, cut all his own silkworms in half, but, alas! they did not come to life again, so he lost a great deal of money, and became more jealous than ever.

Kané also planted the rice-seed which he had borrowed from his brother, and it sprang up, and grew and flourished far better than Chô’s had done.

The rice ripened well, and he was just intending to cut and harvest it when a flight of thousands upon thousands of swallows came and began to devour it. Kané was much astonished, and shouted and made as much noise as he could in order to drive them away. They flew away, indeed, but came back immediately, so that he kept driving them away, and they kept flying back again.

At last he pursued them into a distant field, where he lost sight of them. He was by this time so hot and tired that he sat down to rest.  By little and little his eyes closed, his head dropped upon a mossy bank, and he fell fast asleep.

Then he dreamed that a merry band of children came into the field, laughing and shouting. They sat down upon the ground in a ring, and one who seemed the eldest, a boy of fourteen or fifteen, came close to the bank on which he lay asleep, and, raising a big stone near his head, drew from under it a small wooden Mallet.

Then in his dream Kané saw this big boy stand in the middle of the ring with the Mallet in his hand, and ask the children each in turn, “What would you like the Mallet to bring you?” The first child answered, “A kite.” The big boy shook the Mallet, upon which appeared immediately a fine kite with tail and string all complete. The next cried, “A battledore.” Out sprang a splendid battledore and a shower of shuttlecocks. Then a little girl shyly whispered, “A doll.” The Mallet was shaken, and there stood a beautifully dressed doll. “I should like all the fairy-tale books that have ever been written in the whole world,” said a bright-eyed intelligent maiden, and no sooner had she spoken than piles upon piles of beautiful books appeared. And so at last the wishes of all the children were granted, and they stayed a long time in the field with the things the Mallet had given them. At last they got tired, and prepared to go home; the big boy first carefully hiding the Mallet under the stone from whence he had taken it. Then all the children went away.

Presently Kané awoke, and gradually remembered his dream. In preparing to rise he turned round, and there, close to where his head had lain, was the big stone he had seen in his dream. “How strange!” he thought, expecting he hardly knew what; he raised the stone, and there lay the Mallet!

He took it home with him, and, following the example of the children he had seen in his dream, shook it, at the same time calling out, “Gold” or “Rice,” “Silk” or “Saké.” Whatever he called for flew immediately out of the Mallet, so that he could have everything he wanted, and as much of it as he liked.

Kané being now a rich and prosperous man, Chô was of course jealous of him, and determined to find a magic mallet which would do as much for him. He came, therefore, to Kané and borrowed seed-rice, which he planted and tended with care, being impatient for it to grow and ripen soon.

It grew well and ripened soon, and now Chô watched daily for the swallows to appear. And, to be sure, one day a flight of swallows came and began to eat up the rice.

Chô was delighted at this, and drove them away, pursuing them to the distant field where Kané had followed them before. There he lay down, intending to go to sleep as his brother had done, but the more he tried to go to sleep the wider awake he seemed.

Presently the band of children came skipping and jumping, so he shut his eyes and pretended to be asleep, but all the time watched anxiously what the children would do. They sat down in a ring, as before, and the big boy came close to Chô’s head and lifted the stone. He put down his hand to lift the Mallet, but no mallet was there.

One of the children said, “Perhaps that lazy old farmer has taken our Mallet.” So the big boy laid hold of Chô’s nose, which was rather long, and gave it a good pinch, and all the other children ran up and pinched and pulled his nose, and the nose itself got longer and longer; first it hung down to his chin, then over his chest, next down to his knees, and at last to his very feet.

It was in vain that Chô protested his innocence; the children pinched and pummeled him to their hearts’ content, then capered round him, shouting and laughing, and making game of him, and so at last went away.

Now Chô was left alone, a sad and angry man. Holding his long nose painfully in both hands, he slowly took his way toward his brother Kané’s house. Here he related all that had happened to him from the very day when he had behaved so badly about the seed-rice and silkworms’ eggs. He humbly begged his brother to pardon him, and, if possible, do something to restore his unfortunate nose to its proper size.

The kind-hearted Kané pitied him, and said: “You have been dishonest and mean, and selfish and envious, and that is why you have got this punishment. If you promise to behave better for the future, I will try what can be done.”

So saying, he took the Mallet and rubbed Chô’s nose with it gently, and the nose gradually became shorter and shorter until at last it came back to its proper shape and size. But ever after, if at any time Chô felt inclined to be selfish and dishonest, as he did now and then, his nose began to smart and burn, and he fancied he felt it beginning to grow. So great was his terror of having a long nose again that these symptoms never failed to bring him back to his good behavior.