Once upon a time the king of the fishes fell ill, and no one knew what was the matter with him. All the doctors in the sea were called in, one after another, and not one of them could cure him.
Once when the fishes were talking about it, a turtle stuck its head out of a crack in a rock. “It is a pity,” said the turtle, “that no one has ever thought of asking my advice. I could cure the king in a twinkling. All he has to do is to swallow the eye of a live rabbit, and he will become perfectly well again.”
This the turtle said, not because he knew anything at all about the matter, but because he wished to appear wise before the fishes.
Now it so chanced that one of the fishes that heard him was the son of the king’s councillor, and he swam straight home and told his father what he had heard the turtle say. The councillor told the king, and the king, who was feeling very ill that day, bade them bring the turtle to him immediately.
When the messengers told the turtle that the king wished to speak to him, the turtle was very much frightened. He drew his head and his tail into his shell and pretended that he was asleep, but in the end he was obliged to go with the messengers.
They soon reached the palace, and the turtle was taken immediately to where the king was. He was lying on a bed of seaweed and looking very ill indeed, and all his doctors were gathered round him.
The king turned his eyes toward the turtle, and spoke in a weak voice. “Tell me, friend, is it true that you said you could cure me?”
Yes, it was true.
“And that all I have to do is to swallow the eye of a live rabbit, and I will be well again?”
Yes, that was true too.
“Then go get a live rabbit and bring it here immediately, that I may be well.”
When the turtle heard these words he was in despair. It did not seem at all likely that he could catch a rabbit and bring it down into the sea, but he was so much afraid of the king that he did not dare to explain this to him. He said nothing, but crawled away as soon as he could, wishing he could find some crack where he could hide himself and never be found again.
Suddenly he remembered he had once seen a rabbit frisking about on a hill not far from the seashore, and he determined to set out to find it.
He crawled out of the sea and started up the hill. He climbed and he climbed, and after a while he came to the top, and there he sat down to rest.
Presently along came the rabbit, and it stopped to speak to him.
“Good day,” said the rabbit.
“Good day,” said the turtle.
“And what are you doing so far away from the sea?” asked the rabbit.
“Oh, I only came up here to look about and see what the green world was like,” answered the turtle.
“And what do you think of it, now you are here?”
“Oh, it’s not so bad; but you ought to see the beautiful palaces and gardens we have down under the sea.” The turtle began telling the rabbit about them, and he talked so long and said so many fine things about them, that the rabbit began to wish to see them for himself.
“Would it be very hard for me to live down under the water?” he asked.
“Oh, no,” said the turtle. “It might be a little inconvenient at first, but that would not last long. If you like, I will take you on my back and carry you down to the bottom of the sea, and then you can see whether it is not all just as grand and beautiful as I have been telling you.”
Well, the rabbit could not resist his curiosity, and he agreed to go with the turtle.
They went to the edge of the sea, and then the rabbit got on the turtle’s back, and down they went through the water to the very bottom of the sea. The rabbit did not like it at first, but he soon grew used to it, and when he saw all the fine palaces and gardens that were there, he was filled with wonder.
The turtle took him directly to the palace of the king. There he bade the rabbit get down and wait awhile, and he promised that presently he would show him the king of all this magnificence.
The rabbit was delighted and willingly agreed to wait there while the turtle went to announce him.
But while the turtle was away the rabbit heard two fishes talking in the room next to where he was. He was very inquisitive, so he cocked his ears forward and listened to what they were saying. What was his horror to find that they were talking about taking out his eyes and giving them to the king. The rabbit did not know what to do, nor how he was to escape from the dangerous position he was in.
Presently the turtle came back, and the chief councillor came with him, and immediately the rabbit began to talk. “Well,” said he, “it all seems very fine here, and I am glad I came, but I wish now I had brought my own eyes with me so that I could see it better. You see, the eyes I have in my head now are only glass eyes. I am so afraid of getting my own eyes hurt or dusty that I generally keep them in a safe place, and wear these glass eyes instead. But if I had only known how much there would be to look at, I would certainly have brought my own eyes.”
When the turtle and the councillor heard this, they were very much disappointed, for they believed the rabbit was speaking the truth, and that the eyes he had in his head at the time were only glass eyes.
“I will take you back to the shore,” said the turtle, “and then you can go and get your real eyes and come back again, for there are many more things for you to see here — things more wonderful and beautiful than anything I have yet shown you.”
Well, the rabbit was willing to do that, so he got upon the turtle’s back, and the turtle swam up and up with him through the sea.
As soon as they reached the shore the rabbit leaped from the turtle’s back, and away he went up the hill as fast as he could scamper, and he was glad enough to be out of that scrape, I can tell you. But the turtle waited, and he waited, and he waited, but the rabbit never did come back, and at last the turtle was obliged to go home without him.
As for the king of the fishes, if he ever got well, it was not the eye of a live rabbit that cured him; of that you may be sure.