Bamboo and the Turtle - Read free bedtime stories for kids online
This is a vintage fairy tale, and may contain violence. We would encourage parents to read beforehand if your child is sensitive to such themes.
A party of visitors had been seeing the sights at Hsi Ling. They had just passed down the Holy Way between the huge stone animals when Bamboo, a little boy of twelve, son of a keeper, rushed out from his father’s house to see the mandarins go by. Such a parade of great men he had never seen before, even on the feast days. There were ten sedan chairs, with bearers dressed in flaming colours, ten long-handled, red umbrellas, each carried far in front of its proud owner, and a long line of horsemen.
When this gay procession had filed past, Bamboo was almost ready to cry because he could not run after the sightseers as they went from temple to temple and from tomb to tomb. But, alas! his father had ordered him never to follow tourists.
“If you do, they will take you for a beggar, Bamboo,” he had said shrewdly, “and if you’re a beggar, then your daddy’s one too. Now they don’t want any beggars around the royal tombs.”
So Bamboo had never known the pleasure of pursuing the rich. Many times he had turned back to the little mud house, almost broken-hearted at seeing his playmates running, full of glee, after the great men’s chairs.
On the day when this story opens, just as the last horseman had passed out of sight among the cedars, Bamboo chanced to look up toward one of the smaller temple buildings of which his father was the keeper. It was the house through which the visitors had just been shown. Could his eyes be deceiving him? No, the great iron doors had been forgotten in the hurry of the moment, and there they stood wide open, as if inviting him to enter.
In great excitement he scurried toward the temple. How often he had pressed his head against the bars and looked into the dark room, wishing and hoping that some day he might go in. And yet, not once had he been granted this favour. Almost every day since babyhood he had gazed at the high stone shaft, or tablet, covered with Chinese writing, that stood in the centre of the lofty room, reaching almost to the roof. But with still greater surprise his eyes had feasted on the giant turtle underneath, on whose back the column rested. There are many such tablets to be seen in China, many such turtles patiently bearing their loads of stone, but this was the only sight of the kind that Bamboo had seen. He had never been outside the Hsi Ling forest, and, of course, knew very little of the great world beyond.
It is no wonder then that the turtle and the tablet had always astonished him. He had asked his father to explain the mystery. “Why do they have a turtle? Why not a lion or an elephant?” For he had seen stone figures of these animals in the park and had thought them much better able than his friend, the turtle, to carry loads on their backs. “Why it’s just the custom,” his father had replied—the answer always given when Bamboo asked a question, “just the custom.” The boy had tried to imagine it all for himself, but had never been quite sure that he was right, and now, joy of all joys, he was about to enter the very turtle-room itself. Surely, once inside, he could find some answer to this puzzle of his childhood.
Breathless, he dashed through the doorway, fearing every minute that some one would notice the open gates and close them before he could enter. Just in front of the giant turtle he fell in a little heap on the floor, which was covered inch-deep with dust. His face was streaked, his clothes were a sight to behold; but Bamboo cared nothing for such trifles. He lay there for a few moments, not daring to move. Then, hearing a noise outside, he crawled under the ugly stone beast and crouched in his narrow hiding-place, as still as a mouse.
“There, there!” said a deep voice. “See what you are doing, stirring up such a dust! Why, you will strangle me if you are not careful.”
It was the turtle speaking, and yet Bamboo’s father had often told him that it was not alive. The boy lay trembling for a minute, too much frightened to get up and run.
“No use in shaking so, my lad,” the voice continued, a little more kindly. “I suppose all boys are alike—good for nothing but kicking up a dust.” He finished this sentence with a hoarse chuckle, and the boy, seeing that he was laughing, looked up with wonder at the strange creature.
“I meant no harm in coming,” said the child finally. “I only wanted to look at you more closely.”
“Oh, that was it, hey? Well, that is strange. All the others come and stare at the tablet on my back. Sometimes they read aloud the nonsense written there about dead emperors and their titles, but they never so much as look at me, at me whose father was one of the great four who made the world.”
Bamboo’s eyes shone with wonder. “What! your father helped make the world?” he gasped.
“Well, not my father exactly, but one of my grandfathers, and it amounts to the same thing, doesn’t it. But, hark! I hear a voice. The keeper is coming back. Run up and close those doors, so he won’t notice that they have not been locked. Then you may hide in the corner there until he has passed. I have something more to tell you.”
Bamboo did as he was told. It took all his strength to swing the heavy doors into place. He felt very important to think that he was doing something for the grandson of a maker of the world, and it would have broken his heart if this visit had been ended just as it was beginning.
Sure enough, his father and the other keepers passed on, never dreaming that the heavy locks were not fastened as usual. They were talking about the great men who had just gone. They seemed very happy and were jingling some coins in their hands.
“Now, my boy,” said the stone turtle when the sound of voices had died away and Bamboo had come out from his corner, “maybe you think I’m proud of my job. Here I’ve been holding up this chunk for a hundred years, I who am fond of travel. During all this time night and day, I have been trying to think of some way to give up my position. Perhaps it’s honourable, but, you may well imagine, it’s not very pleasant.”
“I should think you would have the backache,” ventured Bamboo timidly.
“Backache! well, I think so; back, neck, legs, eyes, everything I have is aching, aching for freedom. But, you see, even if I had kicked up my heels and overthrown this monument, I had no way of getting through those iron bars,” and he nodded toward the gate.
“Yes, I understand,” agreed Bamboo, beginning to feel sorry for his old friend.
“But, now that you are here, I have a plan, and a good one it is, too, I think. The watchmen have forgotten to lock the gate. What is to prevent my getting my freedom this very night? You open the gate, I walk out, and no one the wiser.”
“But my father will lose his head if they find that he has failed to do his duty and you have escaped.”
“Oh, no; not at all. You can slip his keys to-night, lock the gates after I am gone, and no one will know just what has happened. Why it will make this building famous. It won’t hurt your father, but will do him good. So many travellers will be anxious to see the spot from which I vanished. I am too heavy for a thief to carry off, and they will be sure that it is another miracle of the gods. Oh, I shall have a good time out in the big world.”
Just here Bamboo began to cry.
boy blubbering about?” sneered the
for wanting to see me weighed down here all the rest of my life with a mountain on my
and I have no playmates.
that’s your reason, that’s another story altogether. What do you say to going with me then? I, too,
the tablet off your back?”
is too tall to go through. It will slide off
obey the other’s commands. After supper, when all were asleep in the little house of the keeper,
did you?” asked the turtle
would not break
head through the doorway. “Oh, how good it looks outside,” he said. “How pleasant the fresh air feels! Is that the moon rising over yonder? It’s the first time I’ve
glee at escaping. “Be careful,” he cried, “not
the monument struck against the wall, toppled off, and fell with a great crash to
one will come at this hour
its peg. He took a long look at his sleeping parents, and then returned to
road, very slowly, for the tortoise is not
at last, after he had begun to
prison? Why, back to the first home of my father, back to the very
the boy, beginning to feel
way at this snail’s pace, I hope. Jump on my back, and I’ll show you how
of the world?” asked
in the mountains just beyond we shall reach the
the ground. At first he thought he would slip
friend. “Only sit quietly,
the buildings where oxen and sheep were prepared for sacrifice, the lofty towers, and the high tree-covered hills under which the emperors were buried. Until that night Bamboo had not known the size of this royal graveyard. Could it
must keep his head and not fall, for it must have been almost a mile to the ground below him. At last they had passed over the mountain and were flying above a great plain. Far below Bamboo could see sleeping villages and little
almost two hundred miles from here to your father’s house, and we have taken less than half
and feet were cold and stiff. The turtle, as if knowing how chilly he was, flew nearer to the ground where it was warmer. How
in a wild, rocky region. Not far away burned a great wood fire,
think he can fly faster, I beat him, didn’t I? Why, even the phoenix laughs at me and says I am slow, but the phoenix has not come
for any one? And to-day is the yearly feast-day in honour of the making of the world. It was very fortunate for me that the gates were left open yesterday. I am afraid my old friends, the dragon and the phoenix, have almost forgotten what
up, saw a huge dragon just in front of him. He knew it was
unlike any that Bamboo had ever seen, but which he knew was the phœnix. This phœnix looked somewhat like a wild swan, but it had
a few minutes, the turtle told them how
the dragon, patting Bamboo
clever boy indeed,”
fear he will never come to this meeting-place. No doubt he is off in some distant spot, cutting
if one of us could die!
the places where they had lived so happily when P’anku had been cutting out the world.
they paint you on the flags,” said Bamboo in a
sort of fellow, even if he
scarlet tail-feather for a keepsake, and the dragon gave him a large scale
turtle’s back, and they rose once more above the clouds. Back they flew even faster than they had come. Bamboo had so many things to talk about that he did not
save himself. Down, down from that dizzy height he tumbled, turning, twisting, thinking of the awful death that was surely coming. Swish! he shot through
you doing inside the temple in the dirt? Don’t
only half awake, he knew
as his father pulled him out by
you don’t hurry out of this and come to your supper. Really I believe you are
his father locked the iron doors. Short story for children adapted by H.
Stock) Let’s Chat About The Stories ~
the turtle. But he believed he had such a great adventure! Do
even though it might have gotten his father into trouble. Do
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