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THE BOY IN A PEACH
IT was the beginning of summer. On the bank of a river in Japan an old woman kneeled washing clothes. She took the clothes from a basket beside her and washed them in the water, which was so clear that you could plainly see the stones at the bottom and the dartings of the little minnows. Presently there came floating down the stream a big round delicious-looking peach. “Well,” the woman said, “I am sixty years old, and never before have I seen so large and handsome a peach. It must be fine to eat.”
She looked about for a stick with which to reach the peach, but saw none. For a moment she was perplexed. Then she clapped her hands, and nodded her head while she sang these words:
She sang the words three times, whereupon, strange to say, the peach rolled over and over in the water till it came to the shore in front of her.
“How delighted my old man will be!” she thought as she picked it up.
Then she packed the clothes she had been washing into the basket and hurried home. Soon she saw her husband returning from the mountain where he had been cutting grass. She ran to meet him and showed him the peach.
“Dear me!” the old man said, “it is wonderful. Where did you buy it?”
“Buy it? I did not buy it,” she replied.
Then she told him how she got it from the river.
“I feel hungry,” the old man affirmed. “Let us eat the peach at once.”
They went to the house and got a knife. But just as the old man was about to cut the peach he heard a child’s clear voice say, “Good sir, wait!”
Instantly the peach split in two halves, and out danced a little boy less than six inches high. This was so unexpected that the man and woman nearly fainted with astonishment and fright.
“Do not be afraid,” the boy said. “You have often lamented that you have no child, and I have been sent to be your son.”
The old couple were very much pleased, and they did all they could to show how welcome he was to their home. Peach-boy was the name they gave him. The years passed, and he grew to be a man remarkable for his beauty, his courage, and, above all, for his great strength.
One day he came to the old man and old woman and said: “Father, your kindness has been higher than the mountain on which you cut grass; and Mother, yours has been deeper than the river in which you wash clothes. How can I thank you?”
“Do not thank us,” the old man replied. “The time will come when we cannot work, and then we shall be dependent on you.”
“But as things are,” Peach-boy said, “I am so greatly indebted to you that I hesitate to make a request that is in my mind.”
“What is it?” they questioned.
“It is that you allow me to go away a short time,” he answered.
“Go away? Where to?” they asked.
“I would have you know,” he said, “that north of the mainland of Japan is an island Inhabited by demons, who kill our people and steal our treasure. I want to destroy them and bring back all their stolen riches. For this purpose I wish to leave you.”
The old man was at first speechless with astonishment, but as he considered the matter he was convinced that Peach-boy was not mortal in his origin and therefore was probably safe from injury.
So he said: “You wish to go, and I will not stop you. Indeed, as those demons are the enemies of Japan, the sooner you destroy them and save your country from their depredations the better.”
Preparations for Peach-boy’s journey began at once. The old woman made him some dumplings and got his clothes ready. When the time came for him to start, the old couple saw him off with tears in their eyes.
“Take care of yourself. May you return victorious,” they said.