The white heron seems to be the especial friend of man. Many are the tales told of the assistance it has rendered individuals. In one case the generous-hearted creature is said to have pecked off its bill in its frantic attempts to ring a temple bell for the salvation of a man. One of the early stories relates how a hunter, having shot an arrow through the head of a snake that was about to devour some newly hatched herons, was in turn saved by the mother bird, who pecked to death a snake that had gotten into the man's stomach while he was drinking at a spring. The pecking, further, was so expertly done as not to injure the man.
The swallows are everywhere welcome, while the thievish sparrows are killed as often as possible; the former live in the roofs of the houses, and usually awaken the inmates by their delighted chattering at each recurrence of dawn. A charming story is told of a swallow's rewarding a kind man who had rescued it from a snake and bound up its broken leg. The anecdote is too long to be related in this connection further than to say that the bird gave the man a seed which, being planted, brought him a vast fortune, while a seed given to his wicked brother, who was cruel to the swallows, worked his ruin. The bird held in the highest favor, however, is the stork. It is engraved in jade and gold and embroidered in silk, as the insignia of rank for the nobility. It is the bird that soars above the battle, and calls down success upon the Korean arms. In its majestic flight it is supposed to mount to heaven; hence its wisdom, for it is reputed to be a very wise bird. A man was once said to have ridden to heaven on the back of a huge stork, and judging from the great strength of a pair the writer once had as pets, the people are warranted in believing that, in the marvellous days of the ancients, these birds were used for purposes of transportation.
The animals, too, have their stories, and in Korea, as in some other parts of the world, the rabbit seems to come off best, as a rule. One very good story is told concerning a scrape the rabbit got himself into because of his curiosity, but out of which he extricated himself at the expense of the whole fraternity of water animals.
It seems that on one occasion the king of fishes was a little indiscreet, and while snapping greedily at a worm, got a hook through his nose. He succeeded in breaking the line, and escaped having his royal bones picked by some hungry mortal, but he was still in a great dilemma, for he could in no way remove the cruel hook.
His finny majesty grew very ill; all the officials of his kingdom were summoned and met in solemn council. From the turtle to the whale, each one wore an anxious expression, and did his best at thinking. At last the turtle was asked for his opinion, and announced his firm belief that a poultice made from the fresh eye of a rabbit would remove the disorder of their sovereign at once. He was listened to attentively, but his plan was conceded to be impracticable, since they had no fresh rabbit eyes or any means of obtaining them. Then the turtle again came to the rescue, and said that he had a passing acquaintance with the rabbit, whom he had occasionally seen when walking along the beach, and that he would endeavor to bring him to the palace, if the doctors would then take charge of the work, for the sight of blood disagreed with him, and he would ask to absent himself from the further conduct of the case. He was royally thanked for his offer, and sent off in haste, realizing full well that his career was made in case he succeeded, while he would be very much unmade if he failed, 'T was a very hot day as the fat turtle dragged himself up the hill-side, where he fortunately espied the rabbit. The latter, having jumped away a short distance, cocked his ears, and looked over his back to see who was approaching. Perceiving the turtle, he went over and accosted him with, "What are you doing away up here, sir?"
"I simply came up for a view. I have always heard that the view over the water from your hills was excellent, but I can't say it pays one for the trouble of coming up," and the turtle wiped off his long neck and stretched himself out to cool off in the air.
"You are not high enough; just come with me if you want to see a view," and the rabbit straightened up as if to start, "No, indeed ! I have had enough for once. I prefer the water. Why, you should see the magnificent sights down there. There are beautiful green forests of waving trees, mountains of cool stones, valleys and caves, great open plains made beautiful by companies of brightly robed fishes, royal processions from our palaces, and, best of all, the water bears you up, and yon go everywhere without exertion. No, let me return, you have nothing on this dry, hot earth worth seeing." The turtle turned to go, but the rabbit musingly followed. At length he said:
"Don't you have any difficulty in the water? Does n't it get into your eyes and mouth?" For he really longed in his heart to see the strange sights.
"Oh, no! it bothers us no more than air, after we have once become accustomed to it," said the turtle.
"I should very much like to see the place," said the rabbit, rather to himself, "but it is no Use, I could n't live in the water like a fish,"
"Why, certainly not," and the turtle concealed his excitement under an air of indifference ; "you could n't get along by yourself, but if you really wish to see something that will surprise you, you may get on my back, give me your fore-paws, and I will take you down all right."
After some further assurance, the rabbit accepted the apparently generous offer, and on arriving at the beach, he allowed himself to be firmly fixed on the turtle's back, and down they went into the water, to the great discomfort of the rabbit, who, however, eventually became so accustomed to the water that he did not much mind it.
He was charmed and bewildered by the magnificence of every thing he saw, and especially by the gorgeous palace, through which he was escorted, by attendant fishes, to the sick chamber of the king, where he found a great council of learned doctors, who welcomed him very warmly. While sitting in an elegant chair and gazing about at the surrounding magnificence, he chanced to hear a discussion concerning the best way of securing his eyes before he should die. He was filled with honor, and, questioning an attendant, the whole plot was explained to him. The poor fellow scratched his head and wondered if he would ever get out of the place alive. At last a happy thought struck him. He explained to them that he always carried about two pair's of eyes, his real ones and a pair made of mountain crystals, to be used in very dusty weather.
Fearing that the water would injure his real eyes, he had buried them in the sand before getting upon the turtle's back, and was now using his crystal ones. He further expressed himself as most willing to let them have one of his real eyes, with which to cure his majesty's disorder, and assured them that he believed one eye would answer the purpose. He gave them to understand that he felt highly honored in being allowed to assist in so important a work, and declared that if they would give the necessary order he would hasten on the turtle's back to the spot where he had buried the eyes and return speedily with one.
Marvelling much at the rabbit's courtesy, the fishes slunk away into the corners for very shame at their own rude conduct in forcibly kidnapping him, when a simple request would have accomplished their purpose. The turtle was rather roughly commanded to carry the guest to the place designated, which he did.
Once released by the turtle to dig for the eyes in the sand, the rabbit shook the water from his coat, and winking at his clumsy betrayer told him to dig for the eyes himself, that he had only one pair, and those he intended to keep. With that he tore away up the mountain side, and has ever after been careful to give the turtle a wide berth.