LONG, long ago there was a funny old woman, who liked to laugh and to make dumplings of rice-flour.
One day, while she was preparing some dumplings for dinner, she let one fall; and it rolled into a hole in the earthen floor of her little kitchen and disappeared. The old woman tried to reach it by putting her hand down the hole, and all at once the earth gave way, and the old woman fell in.
She fell quite a distance, but was not a bit hurt; and when she got up on her feet again, she saw that she was standing on a road, just like the road before her house. It was quite light down there; and she could see plenty of rice-fields, but no one in them. How all this happened, I cannot tell you. But it seems that the old woman had fallen into another country.
The road she had fallen upon sloped very much: so, after having looked for her dumpling in vain, she thought that it must have rolled farther away down the slope. She ran down the road to look, crying:
"My dumpling, my dumpling! Where is that dumpling of mine?"
After a little while she saw a stone Jizo standing by the roadside, and she said:
"O Lord Jizo, did you see my dumpling?" Jizo answered:
"Yes, I saw your dumpling rolling by me down the road. But you had better not go any farther, because there is a wicked Oni living down there, who eats people."
But the old woman only laughed, and ran on further down the road, crying: "My dumpling, my dumpling! Where is that dumpling of mine?" And she came to another statue of Jizo, and asked it:
"O kind Lord Jizo, did you see my dumpling?"
And Jizo said:
"Yes, I saw your dumpling go by a little while ago. But you must not run any further, because there is a wicked Oni down there, who eats people."
But she only laughed, and ran on, still crying out: "My dumpling, my dumpling! Where is that dumpling of mine?" And she came to a third Jizo, and asked it:
"O dear Lord Jizo, did you see my dumpling?"
But Jizo said:
"Don't talk about your dumpling now. Here is the Oni coming. Squat down here behind my sleeve, and don't make any noise."
Presently the Oni came very close, and stopped and bowed to Jizo, and said:
"Good-day, Jizo San!"
Jizo said good-day, too, very politely.
Then the Oni suddenly snuffed the air two or three times in a suspicious way, and cried out: "Jizo San, Jizo San! I smell a smell of mankind somewhere--don't you?"
"Oh!" said Jizo, "perhaps you are mistaken."
"No, no!" said the Oni after snuffing the air again, "I smell a smell of mankind."
Then the old woman could not help laughing--"Te--he--he!"--and the Oni immediately reached down his big hairy hand behind Jizo's sleeve, and pulled her out, still laughing, "Te--he--he!"
"Ah! ha!" cried the Oni.
Then Jizo said:
"What are you going to do with that good old woman? You must not hurt her."
"I won't," said the Oni. "But I will take her home with me to cook for us."
"Te--he--he!" laughed the old woman.
"Very well," said Jizo; "but you must really be kind to her. If you are not, I shall be very angry."
"I won't hurt her at all," promised the Oni; "and she will only have to do a little work for us every day. Good by, Jizo San."
Then the Oni took the old woman far down the road, till they came to a wide deep river, where there was a boat. He put her into the boat, and took her across the river to his house. It was a very large house. He led her at once into the kitchen, and told her to cook some dinner for himself and the other Oni who lived with him. And he gave her a small wooden rice-paddle, and said:
"You must always put only one grain of rice into the pot, and when you stir that one grain of rice in the water with this paddle, the grain will multiply until the pot is full."
So the old woman put just one rice-grain into the pot, as the Oni told her, and began to stir it with the paddle; and, as she stirred, the one grain became two,--then four,--then eight,--then sixteen, thirty--two, sixty--four, and so on. Every time she moved the paddle the rice increased in quantity; and in a few minutes the great pot was full.
After that, the funny old woman stayed a long time in the house of the Oni, and every day cooked food for him and for all his friends. The Oni never hurt or frightened her, and her work was made quite easy by the magic paddle--although she had to cook a very, very great quantity of rice, because an Oni eats much more than any human being eats.
But she felt lonely, and always wished very much to go back to her own little house, and make her dumplings. And one day, when the Oni were all out somewhere, she thought she would try to run away.
She first took the magic paddle, and slipped it under her girdle; and then she went down to the river. No one saw her; and the boat was there. She got into it, and pushed off; and as she could row very well, she was soon far away from the shore.
But the river was very wide; and she had not rowed more than one-fourth of the way across, when the Oni, all of them, came back to the house.
They found that their cook was gone, and the magic paddle, too. They ran down to the river at once, and saw the old woman rowing away very fast.
Perhaps they could not swim: at all events they had no boat; and they thought the only way they could catch the funny old woman would be to drink up all the water of the river before she got to the other bank. So they knelt down, and began to drink so fast that before the old woman had got half way over, the water had become quite low.
But the old woman kept on rowing until the water had got so shallow that the Oni stopped drinking, and began to wade across. Then she dropped her oar, took the magic paddle from her girdle, and shook it at the Oni, and made such funny faces that the Oni all burst out laughing.
But the moment they laughed, they could not help throwing up all the water they had drunk, and so the river became full again. The Oni could not cross; and the funny old woman got safely over to the other side, and ran away up the road as fast as she could.
She never stopped running until she found herself at home again.
After that she was very happy; for she could make dumplings whenever she pleased. Besides, she had the magic paddle to make rice for her. She sold her dumplings to her neighbors and passengers, and in quite a short time she became rich.