THERE once lived in Japan a rat and his wife, folk of noble race, who had one beautiful daughter. They were exceedingly proud of her charms, and dreamed, as parents will, of the grand marriage she was sure to make in time. Proud of his pure rodent blood, the father saw no son-in-law more to be desired than a young rat of ancient lineage, whose attentions to his daughter were very marked. This match, however, brilliant as it was, seemed not to the mother’s taste. Like many people who think themselves made out of special clay, she had a very poor opinion of her own kind, and was ambitious for an alliance with the highest circles. To the stars! was her motto, she always said, and really, when one has a daughter of incomparable beauty, one may well hope for an equally incomparable son-in-law.
“Address yourself to the sun at once, then,” cried the impatient father one day; “there is nothing above him, surely.”
“Quite so; I had already thought of it,” she answered, “and since you, too, are in sympathy with the idea, we will make our call to-morrow.”
So, on the following morning the proud father and the haughty mother-rat went together to present their lovely daughter to the orb of day.
“Lord Sun,” said the mother, “let me present our only daughter, who is so beautiful that there is nothing like her in the whole world. Naturally we desire a son-in-law as wonderful as she, and, as you see, we have come to you first of all.”
“Really,” said the sun, “I am extremely flattered by your proposal, but you do me too much honor; there is some one greater than I; it is the cloud. Look, if you do not believe.” … And at that moment the cloud arrived, and with one waft of his folds extinguished the sun with all his golden rays.
“Very well; let us speak to the cloud, then,” said the mother-rat, not in the least disconcerted.
“Immensely honored, I am sure,” replied the cloud in his turn, “but you are again mistaken; there is some one greater than I; it is the wind. You shall see.”
At the same moment along came the wind, and with one blow swept the cloud out of sight, after which, overturning father, mother, and daughter, he tumbled with them, pell-mell, at the foot of an old wall.
“Quick, quick,” cried the mother-rat, struggling to her feet, “and let us repeat our compliments to the wind.”
“You’d better address yourself to the wall,” growled the wind roughly. “You see very well he is greater than I, for he stops me and makes me draw back.”
No sooner had she heard these words than mother-rat faced about and presented her daughter to the wall. Ah, but now the fair rat-maiden imitated the wind; she drew back also. He whom she really adored in her heart of hearts was the fascinating young rat who had paid his court to her so well. However, to please her mother, she had consented to wed the Sun, in spite of his blinding rays, or the cloud, in spite of his sulky look, even the wind, in spite of his brusque manner; but an old, broken wall! … No! death would be better a thousand times.
Fortunately the wall excused himself, like all the rest. “Certainly,” he said, “I can stop the wind, who can sweep away the cloud, who can cover up the Sun, but there is some one greater than I: it is the rat, who can pass through my body, and can even, if he chooses, reduce me to powder with his teeth. Believe me, you need seek no better son-in-law; greater than the rat, there is nothing in the world.”
“Do you hear that, wife, do you hear it?” cried father-rat in triumph. “Didn’t I always say so?”
“Quite true! you always did,” returned the mother-rat in wonder, and suddenly glowed with pride in her ancient name and lineage.
So they all three went home, very happy and contented, and on the morrow the lovely rat-maiden married her faithful rat-lover.