A long time ago, in a little Japanese village, there lived a poorfarmer, with his wife and family. The oldest son was strong andhealthy and helped the farmer in the fields every day plantingand harvesting the rice. The two daughters worked with theirmother in the house and the garden. They had been able towork hard from the time they were very little . But the youngestson, although he was extremely clever, was also quite smalland frail. He could not work in the rice fields with his father andbrother.
One day the boys parents began to discuss his future, since he wasnot suited to being a farmer. His mother said, "our younger son is veryclever. Perhaps we should apprentice him to the priest in the villagetemple. The priest is getting old and it may be that our son will make agood priest and will make a suitable helper for the old one." The fatheragreed that their sons cleverness might make him a suitablecandidate for the temple. So the boys parents went to the villagetemple to ask the priest to take their son as an acolyte.
When the boy and his parents arrived at the temple, the priest asked the boyseveral intricate questions. The priest was astonished at the boys keenunderstanding and the imaginative answers which he gave. Then the old priestagreed to take the boy as an acolyte, with the understanding that the boy wouldobey him in everything. The boy tried very hard to obey and he learned manythings, but he had one failing. When he should have been studying his lessons onhis own, the boy drew cats instead. He could not help himself, for he was an artistat heart. He drew big cats and small cats, fat cats and thin cats, tall cats and shortcats, sweet cats and ferocious cats. He drew cats on his lessons, he drew cats onthe floor, he drew cats on the walls and, worst of all, he drew cats on thebig, white, rice paper screens in the temple itself.
The old priest was angry at first, and told the boy that drawing cats when heshould be studying was wrong. But then the priest became sadder and sadder,because the boy continued to draw cats when he should have been workingon his lessons. Soon the priest told the boy that he must pack his belongingsand go home, for an acolyte must obey the priest in all things. The priest saidhis good-byes and gave the boy one piece of advice. He said, "Avoid largeplaces at night, keep to small." Then the priest went into his room and closedthe door. The boy did not understand what the priest meant, but he was afraidto knock on the door to ask for an explanation. He packed his few belongingsinto a bundle and walked down to the main road.
When the little boy reached the road, he thought, "If I go home, myparents will be angry and will punish me. Maybe I should go to the bigcity and see if the priests in the temple there could use a newapprentice." He turned away from his home and headed for the city. Noone had told the boy that the grand temple in the city had been closed.The boy took his time and enjoyed the walk to the city, looking at thefields and birds and butterflies.
It was dark when the boy arrived at the city gates, and everyonewas in bed asleep. There was no one to tell him that an evil goblinhad taken over the temple and chased all the priests and acolytesaway. There was no one to tell him that many soldiers had tried torid the temple of the goblin rat, but had failed. Boldly, he walked upto the temple door and knocked on it. Because there was noanswer, he knocked several more times. When there still was noanswer, he turned the handle and pushed on the door. It swungwide open, and the boy walked in calling, "is anyone here?" Noone answered him, but he thought that a priest would come byeventually. The boy saw that there was a little room near the door,so he went in and sat down to wait.
Now the goblin always left a light burning in the temple in order to lurestrangers in at night. But the little boy had never heard this, so he justwaited and inspected the room he was in. It was very dusty and dirty, andhe thought that the priests really needed an acolyte to keep it neat andclean. While he was looking around, he opened the drawer in a table andfound some rice paper, pens and ink. Soon he was filling the paper withdrawings of cats. When he ran out of paper, he drew cats on the floor. Andthen he just couldnt help himself. He had to draw cats on the white, paperscreens in the temple. He drew and drew until they were covered withcats.
When he had filled the screens with pictures of every kind of cat he couldimagine, the little boy was very tired. He started to lie down next to one ofthe screens. But just then the words of the old priest ran through his mind."Avoid large places, keep to small." The temple was enormous, so the boylooked around for a small place. He found a tiny cupboard in the little roomnear the door and climbed into it with his parcel of clothes. He shut thecabinet door and was soon fast asleep on a shelf, with his bundle for apillow. In the middle of the night, the boy heard a loud noise like fighting. Itsounded like yowling and running and thumping and bumping and growling.He peeked out of his cubbyhole, but it was too dark. He couldnt seeanything and he was so frightened that he just closed the cabinet door andstayed inside.
In the morning the boy opened the cupboard and crawled out. Hetiptoed out of the little room and peeked into the temple. What asurprise! The immense, evil goblin was dead, lying on the temple floor.Who could have killed him? Then the little boy looked at the templescreens. Each cat that he had drawn had a little circle of red around itsmouth. Then the boy knew that his cats had attacked and killed thegoblin. And he now understood what the priest meant when hesaid, "Avoid large places, keep to small."
When the people of the city discovered that the goblin had beendefeated, they proclaimed the boy a hero. The soldiers went into the templeto drag the dead goblin away. The priests of that temple would have beenhappy to take him as an acolyte, but the little boy had changed his mind. Hedid not become an acolyte or a priest. He became an artist instead, and hispaintings of cats were famous in all of Japan. Perhaps the next time you gothere, you will see one of his beautiful cats.
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