A very long time ago there lived in Japan a young fisherman named Urashima Taro. His father before him had been a very expert fisherman, but Urashima's skill in the art so far exceeded that of his father, that his name as a fisher was known far and wide beyond his own little village. It was a common saying that he could catch more fish in a day than a dozen others could in a whole week.

But it was not only as a fisher that Urashima excelled. Wherever he was known, he was loved for his kindly heart. Never had he hurt even the meanest creature. Indeed, had it not been necessary to catch fish for his living, he would always have fished with a straight hook, so as to catch only such fish as wished to be caught. And as for teasing and tormenting animals, when he was a boy, his tenderness towards all the dumb creation was a matter for laughter with his companions; but nothing would ever induce him to join in the cruel sport in which some boys delight.

One evening, as Urashima was returning from a hard day's fishing, he met a number of boys all shouting and laughing over something they were worrying in the middle of the road. It was a tortoise they had caught and were ill-treating. Between them all, what with sticks and stones and other kinds of torture, the poor creature was hard beset and seemed almost frightened to death.

Urashima could not bear to see a helpless thing treated in that way, so he interfered.

'Boys!' he said, 'that's no way to treat a harmless dumb creature. You '11 kill the poor thing!'

But the boys merely laughed, and, taking no further notice, continued their cruel sport.

'What's a tortoise?' cried one. 'Besides, it's great fun. Come on, lads!' And they went on with their heartless game.

Urashima thought the matter over for a little, wondering how he could persuade the boys to give the tortoise up to him. At last he said with a smile, 'Come, boys I I know you 're good-hearted young fellows: I'll make a bargain with you. What I really wanted was to buy the tortoise, - that is, if it is your own.'

'Of course it's our own. We caught it.' They had begun to gather round him at the prospect of a sale, for they relished the money to buy sweetmeats even more than the cruel sport of tormenting an innocent creature.

'Very well,' replied Urashima, bringing a string of coins out of his pocket and holding them up. 'Seel you can buy a lot of nice things with this. What do you say?'

He smiled at them so sweetly and spoke so gently that, with the cash dangling before their eyes, they were soon won over. The biggest boy then grabbed the tortoise, and held it out to him with one hand, while he reached for the string of coins with the other. 'All right, uncle,' he said, 'you can have the tortoise.'

Urashima handed over the money in exchange for the poor, frightened creature, and the boys were soon making their way to the nearest sweetmeat shop.

Meanwhile Urashima looked at the tortoise, which looked back at him with wistful eyes full of meaning; and, though it could not speak, the young fisherman understood it perfectly, and his tender heart went out to it.

'Poor little tortoise!' he said, holding it up and stroking it gently to soothe its fears, 'you are all right with me. But remember, sweet little one, you 've had a narrow squeak of losing a very long life. How long is it? Ten thousand years, they say; - that's ten times as long as a stork can boast of. Now I 'm going to take you right back to the sea, so that you can swim away to your home and to your own people. But promise me you will never let yourself be caught again.'

The tortoise promised with its eyes. So wistful and grateful were they, that Urashima felt he could never forget them.

By this time he was down on the seashore, and there he placed the tortoise in the sea and watched it swim away. Then he went home feeling very happy about the whole thing.

Morning was breaking when Urashima pushed off his boat for his day's fishing. The sea was calm, and the air was full of the soft, sweet warmth of summer. Soon he was out skimming over the blue depths, and when the tide began to ebb, he drifted far beyond the other fishermen's boats, until his own was lost to their sight.

It was such a lovely morning when the sun rose and slanted across the waters, that, when he thought of the short span of human life, he wished that he had thousands of years to live, like the tortoise he had rescued from the boys the day before.

As he was dreaming these thoughts, he was suddenly startled by a sweet voice calling his name. It fell on his ears like the note of a silver bell dropping from the skies. Again it came, nearer than before:

'Urashima! Urashima!'

He looked all around on the surface of the sea, thinking that some one had hailed him from a boat, but there was no one there, as far as the eye could reach.

And now he heard the voice again close at hand, and, looking over the side of the boat, he saw a tortoise looking up at him, and he knew by its eyes that it was the same tortoise he had restored to the sea the previous day.

'So we meet again,' he said pleasantly. 'Fancy you finding me in the middle of the ocean! What is it, you funny little tortoise? Do you want to be caught again, eh?'

'I have looked for you,' replied the tortoise, 'ever since dawn, and when I saw you in the boat I swam after you to thank you for saving my life.'

'Well, that's very nice of you to say that. I haven't much to offer you, but if you would like to come up into the boat and dry your back in the sun we can have a chat.'

The tortoise was pleased to accept the invitation, and Urashima helped it up over the side. Then, after talking of many things, the tortoise remarked, 'I suppose you have never seen Rin Gin, the Dragon Sea-King's palace, have you?'

Urashima shook his head.

'No,' he replied. 'They tell me it is a beautiful sight, but in all the years that I have spent upon the sea I have never been invited to the Dragon King's palace. It's some distance from here, isn't it?'