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Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

The Tongue-Cut Sparrow

O NCE upon a time, in the Land of the Lotus, there lived two children—little Taro and little O-Kaku. Now, little Taro was a good boy. He never caught butterflies, he never teased the lady-bugs, and he never followed Kami-Kudzu, the rag man, or called him names. But little O-Kaku, who was as pretty as the pink chrysanthemums for which she was named, was a naughty little girl. She would not beat millet, she would not watch the melon patch, she would not carry father his saké. Her mother often said to her:

"We keep a dog to guard the house,

A cow is useful, too;

We keep a cat to spy a mouse,

But what can mother do

With a naughty girl like you?"

One day there came hopping along to the house a poor, stray sparrow. Mother opened the screen, and let hm in; Taro took him to the fire to dry off his feathers. They gave him rice to eat, and the sparrow decided to live in that house. He grew to be a useful sparrow, for he sang all day long and helped the housework along. Each morning he watched for the pink light on the mountain, and called:

"The day has come,

I hear the cock.

Now rise and dress,

'Tis six o'clock."

But O-Kaku did not love the sparrow in the least. Perhaps it was because he was so good and industrious a little bird. One day, when mother had made her starch the cotton clothes, the sparrow came and perched himself on the ironing-board. He began to sing a sweet little song; but, all in a minute, O-Kaku seized him by the wings; she cut his poor little tongue. Oh, it was a cruel thing to do, for the little sparrow could never sing again. So out of the window flew the poor little tongue-cut sparrow, and down the street, and over the meadows—far, far away.

Taro was very angry with O-Kaku when he found what she had done. He cried, too, for he felt so sorry for the poor little bird, out in the world, and not able to sing a note. One morning when no one was looking he tied some red bean cakes in a bit of his mother's obi, and away he started in search of the tongue-cut sparrow.

He traveled far and wide, over the rice fields, and up the hill sides. When it came night he slept under a pine tree, and when the morning dawned he ate one of his cakes and started on again. Wherever he went and whatever creature he met—the wild hare, the badger, or the field mouse—he asked: "Have you seen a tongue-cut sparrow, a poor little tongue-cut sparrow?"

At last one day he came upon a large black cricket who sat at the top of a hemp stalk sunning herself.

"Oh, cricket," cried Taro, "have you seen a tongue-cut sparrow?"

The black cricket said not a word, but stretched her legs a little. Taro was about to go on again, when the cricket came slowly down the stalk and started up the mountain in the path just ahead of Taro.

"I may as well follow her," thought Taro to himself. Up and up, and still higher went the cricket, until she came to the tip-top of the mountain. Then she stopped and began dining off a bit of millet by the side of the road; but, what do you suppose Taro saw?

On the top of the mountain lay a beautiful garden, with a pond in the center full of lotus blossoms, and all about the pond were trees—peach trees, cherry trees, plum trees—all in blossom and the air fragrant with perfume. In a nice little thatched house in the pinkest of the peach trees was the little tongue-cut sparrow and all his family.

He was not sorrowful, but very happy and overjoyed to see little Taro again. He invited Taro up into his nest, and they all dined off sugar cakes and saké. When the feast was over, the sparrow brought out two baskets—one quite large, and the other small.

"I want to make you a present, Taro," said the sparrow. "Which of these baskets should you like?"

Taro was a polite little boy, so he chose the smaller of the two baskets, and, thanking the sparrow for his pleasant call, started home down the mountain side again. The basket grew heavier and heavier all the way. When at last Taro reached home and peeped under the cover, it was like the feast of lanterns to see what was inside. There were toys, red kites, and singing tops, and gay balls, and rice monkeys; there were rolls of bright silk and bags of gold. Was there ever so marvelous a basket? and all for Taro!

Little O-Kaku grew very curious.

"Where does the sparrow live, Taro?" she asked. "I am sorry I cut his tongue."

So Taro told her the way to go; and she, too, started up the mountain; nor did she stop until she came to the garden and the house of the tongue-cut sparrow. The sparrow invited O-Kaku to dine, also, and when she had finished he offered her two baskets, as well. Of course little O-Kaku chose the heavy one, and forgetting to say "thank you" even, she started home again.

But, oh, when she came to the house and opened her basket!—it was not full of toys. Ah, no; but out jumped a swarm of little black elves, and they pulled O-Kaku's hair, and scratched her, and screamed in her ears, and at last they picked her up and flew off with her through the window.

No one knew where the little back elves took O-Kaku. After a while they brought her home to her mother and Taro again, but that was after she had learned to be good and kind to every one—even a little sparrow.

— Adapted from the Japanese
by Caroline Sherwin Bailey