At last, wondering greatly, he came to his old home. How changed it was! And, when he turned the handle of the door and walked in, crying out, 'Ho, mother! ho, father! I have come back at last!' he was met by a strange man barring the doorway.

'What do you want?'

'What do you mean? I live here. Where are my father and mother? They are expecting me.'

'I do not understand. What is your name?'

'Urashima Taro.'

'Urashima Taro!' cried the man in surprise.

'Yes, that is my name: Urashima Taro!'

The man laughed, as if he saw the joke.

'You don't mean the original Urashima Taro?' he said. 'But still, you may be some descendant of his - what?'

'I do not understand you. My name is Urashima Taro. There is no other bears that name. I am the fisherman: surely you know me.'

The man looked at Urashima very closely to see if he were joking or not.

'There was a Urashima Taro, a famous fisherman of three hundred years ago, but you - you are joking.'

'Nay, nay, I am not joking. It is you that are joking with your three hundred years. I left here three or four days ago, and now I have returned. Where have my father and mother gone?'

The man stared at him aghast.

'Are you mad?' he cried. 'I have lived in this house for thirty years at least, and, as for your father and mother - why, if you are really Urashima Taro, they have been dead three hundred years; and that is absurd. Do you want me to believe you are a ghost?'

'Not so; look at my feet.' And Urashima put out one foot and then the other, in full accordance with the Japanese belief that ghosts have no feet.

'Well, well,' said the man, 'you can't be Urashima Taro, whatever you say, for he lived three hundred years ago, and you are not yet thirty.'

With this the man banged the door in Urashima's face.

What could it all mean? Urashima Taro dead. Lived three hundred years ago. What nonsense! He must be dreaming. He pinched his ear and assured himself that he was not only alive, but wide awake. And yet - and yet - everything about him seemed very much changed since he saw it last. He stood stock still on his way to the gate, and looked this way and that, trying to find something that had suffered only three days' change. But everything was unfamiliar.

Then an idea struck him. On the morning of the day that he had rescued the tortoise from the boys, he had planted a little willow slip down by the pond in the field. He would go and look at it, and that would settle the matter.

So he took his way to the pond. Half-way he was baulked by a hedge, high and thick, which was new to him, but he found a way through a gap. Well he remembered the exact spot where he had planted the willow slip on the edge of the pond, but, when he arrived there, he could see no sign of it. In its place was a gigantic trunk bearing vast branches which towered overhead. And there the birds were singing the same songs as they sang - three days ago! Alas! could it indeed be three centuries ago?

Perplexed beyond measure, Urashima resolved to go to the fountain-head and settle the matter once and for all. Turning away, he made all haste to the village - was this the village he had known? - and inquired of a countryman he had never seen before, where the village chronicles were kept.

'Yonder,' said the man, pointing to a building which had certainly taken more than three days to erect.

Urashima thanked him and then hastened to the building and went in. He was not long in finding what he wanted. It was an ancient entry, and it ran:

'Urashima Taro - a famous fisherman who lived in the early part of the fourteenth century - the traditional patron demi-god of fishermen. There are many stories concerning this half-mythical character, chief of which is that he hooked a whale far from shore, and, as he would not relinquish the prize, his boat was dragged for ever and ever over the surface of the sea. Mariners of the present day solemnly aver that they have seen Urashima Taro sitting in his boat skimming the waves as he held the line by which he had caught the whale. Whatever the real history of Urashima Taro, it is certain that he lived in the village, and the legend concerning him is the subject of great interest to visitors from the great land of America.'

Urashima shut the book with a slam and went away, down to the seashore. As he went, he realised that those three days he had spent in perfect happiness with the Princess were not three days at all, but three hundred years. His parents were long since dead, and all was changed. What else could he do but go back to the Dragon kingdom under the sea?

But when he reached the shore, he found no tortoise ready to take him back, and, after waiting a long time, he began to think his case was hopeless. Then, suddenly, he bethought himself of the little box which the Princess had given him. He drew it forth and looked at it. He had promised her not to open it, but what did it matter now? As he did not care what happened to him, the deadly secret of the box was just as well out as in. Besides, he might learn something from it, some secret way of finding his beloved Princess - and that would be happiness; but if, on the other hand, some terrible thing happened to him, what did it signify?

So he sat down on the seashore, untied the fastenings of the little box and then lifted the lid. He was surprised to find that the box was empty; but, slowly, out of the emptiness came a little thin, purple cloud which curled up and circled about his head. It was fragrant, and reminded him of the sweet perfume of the Princess's robes. Now it floated away towards the open sea and Urashima's soul seemed to go with it.

Suddenly he stood up, thinking he heard her sweet voice calling him. For a moment he stood there, a splendid figure of early youth. Then a change came over him. His eyes grew dim, his hair turned silvery white, lines came upon his face, and his form seemed to shrivel with extreme old age.

Then Urashima Taro reeled and staggered to and fro. The burden of three hundred years was too heavy for him. He threw up his arms and fell dead upon the sand.

Urashima Taro A Japanese Fairy Tale Part 4 28