Mr. Nedzumi, the Rat, was an important personage in the hamlet where he lived - at least he was so in his own and his wife's estimation. This was in part, of course, due to the long line of ancestors from whom he was descended, and to their intimate association with the gods of Good Fortune. For, be it remembered, his ancestry went back into a remote past, in fact as far as time itself; for had not one of his race been selected as the first animal in the cycle of the hours, precedence being even given him over the dragon, the tiger, and the horse? As to his intimacy with the gods, had not one of his forebears been the chosen companion of the great Daikoku, the most revered and the most beneficent of the gods of Good Fortune?
The Espousal of the Rat's Daughter. - p. 171.
Mr. Rat was well-to-do in life. His home had for generations been established in a snug, warm and cosy bank, hard by one of the most fertile rice-fields on the country-side, where crops never failed, and where in spring he could nibble his fill of the young green shoots, and in autumn gather into his storerooms supplies of the ripened grain sufficient for all his wants during the coming winter.
For his needs were not great. Entertainment cost him but little, and, unlike his fellows, he had the smallest of families, in fact a family of one only.
But, as regards that one, quality more than compensated for quantity, for it consisted of a daughter, of a beauty unsurpassed in the whole province. He himself had been the object of envy in his married life, for he had had the good fortune to marry into a family of a very select piebald breed, which seldom condescended to mix its blood with the ordinary self-coloured tribe, and now his daughter had been born a peerless white, and had received the name of Yuki, owing to her resemblance to pure snow.
It is little wonder, then, that as she grew up beautiful in form and feature, her father's ambitions were fired, and that he aspired to marry her to the highest in the land.
As it happened, the hamlet where he lived was not very far removed from a celebrated temple, and Mr. Rat, having been brought up in the odour of sanctity, had all his life long been accustomed to make pilgrimages to the great shrine. There he had formed the acquaintance of an old priest, who was good enough to provide for him out of the temple offerings in return for gossip as to the doings of his village, which happened to be that in which the priest had been born and bred. To him the rat had often unburdened his mind, and the old priest had come to see his friend's self-importance and his little weaknesses, and had in vain impressed upon him the virtues of humility.
Now Mr. Rat could find no one amongst his village companions to inform him where to attain what had now become an insatiable desire, namely, a fine marriage for his daughter. So he turned to the temple custodian for advice, and one summer morn found him hammering on the gong which summoned his friend the priest.
"Welcome, Mr. Rat; to what am I indebted for your visit?" said the old priest, for experience had shown him that his friend seldom came so far afield unless he had some request to make.
Thereupon Mr. Rat unburdened himself of all that was in his mind, of his aspiration, and of the difficulty he had in ascertaining in what manner he could obtain it.
Nor did the priest immediately satisfy him, for he said the matter was a difficult one, and would require much consideration. However, on the third day the oracle gave answer as follows: "There is no doubt that apart from the gods there is no one so powerful, or who exercises so beneficent a rule over us, as His Majesty the Sun. Had I a daughter, and did I aspire to such heights for her as you do, I should make my suit to him, and I should take the opportunity of so doing when he comes down to our earth at sundown, for then it is that he decks himself in his most gorgeous apparel; moreover, he is more readily approached when his day's work is done, and he is about to take his well-earned rest. Were I you I would lose no time, but present myself in company with your honourable wife and daughter to him this very evening at the end of the great Cryptomeria Avenue at the hour when he especially honours it by flooding it with his beams."
"A thousand thanks," said Mr. Rat. "No time is to be lost if I am to get my folk together at the time and place you mention."
"Good fortune to you," said the priest; "may I hail you the next time I see you as father-in-law to His Majesty the Sun."
At the appointed hour parents and daughter were to be seen in the avenue, robed in their finest clothes; and as the sun came earthwards and his rays illumined the gloom under the great pines, Mr. Rat, noway abashed, addressed His Majesty and at once informed him of his desire.
His Majesty, evidently considering that one business personage addressing another should not waste time in beating about the bush, replied as follows: "I am extremely beholden to you for your kind intention of allowing me to wed your honourable and beautiful daughter, O Yuki San, but may I ask your reason for selecting me to be your honourable son-in-law?"
To this Mr. Rat replied, "We have determined to marry our daughter to whoever is the most powerful personage in the world, and that is why we desire to offer her to you in marriage."
"Yes," said His Majesty, "you are certainly not without reason in imagining me to be the most august and powerful person in the world; but, unfortunately, it has been my misfortune to discover that there is one other even more powerful than myself, against whose plottings I have no power. It is to him that you should very certainly marry your daughter."
"And may we honourably ask you who that potentate may be?" said Mr. Rat.