The Black Bowl
Long ago, in a part of the country not very remote from Kioto, the great gay city, there dwelt an honest couple. In a lonely place was their cottage, upon the outskirts of a deep wood of pine trees. Folks had it that the wood was haunted. They said it was full of deceiving foxes; they said that beneath the mossy ground the elves built their kitchens; they said that long-nosed Tengu had tea-parties in the forest thrice a month, and that the fairies’ children played at hide-and-seek there every morning before seven. Over and above all this they didn’t mind saying that the honest couple were queer in their ways, that the woman was a wise woman, and that the man was a warlock—which was as may be. But sure it was that they did no harm to living soul, that they lived as poor as poor, and that they had one fair daughter. She was as neat and pretty as a princess, and her manners were very fine; but for all that she worked as hard as a boy in the rice-fields, and within doors she was the housewife indeed, for she washed and cooked and drew water. She went barefoot in a grey homespun gown, and tied her back hair with a tough wistaria tendril. Brown she was and thin, but the sweetest beggar-maid that ever made shift with a bed of dry moss and no supper.
By-and-by the good man her father dies, and the wise woman her mother sickens within the year, and soon she lies in a corner of the cottage waiting for her end, with the maid near her crying bitter tears.
“Child,” says the mother, “do you know you are as pretty as a princess?”
“Am I that?” says the maid, and goes on with her crying.
“Do you know that your manners are fine?” says the mother.
“Are they, then?” says the maid, and goes on with her crying.
“My own baby,” says the mother, “could you stop your crying a minute and listen to me?”
So the maid stopped crying and put her head close by her mother’s on the poor pillow.
“Now listen,” says the mother, “and afterwards remember. It is a bad thing for a poor girl to be pretty.