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THE JUNIOR CLASSICS

 

THE RAT'S WEDDING

By Flora Annie Steel

ONCE upon a time a fat, sleek Rat was caught in a shower of rain, and
being far from shelter he set to work and soon dug a nice hole in the
ground, in which he sat as dry as a bone while the raindrops splashed
outside, making little puddles on the road.

Now in the course of digging, he came upon a fine bit of root, quite
dry and fit for fuel, which he set aside carefully-for the Rat is an
economical creature--in order to take it home with him. So when the
shower was over, he set off with the dry root in his mouth. As he went
along, daintily picking his way through the puddles, he Saw a Poor Man
vainly trying to light a fire, while a little circle of children stood
by, and cried piteously.

"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed the Rat, who was both soft-hearted and
curious, "What a dreadful noise to make! What is the matter?"

"The children are hungry," answered the Man; "they are crying for their
breakfast, but the sticks are damp, the fire won't burn, and so I can't
bake the cakes."

"If that is all your trouble, perhaps I can help you," said the good-
natured Rat, "you are welcome to this dry root and I'll warrant it will
soon make a fine blaze."

The Poor Man, with a thousand thanks, took the dry root, and in his
turn presented the Rat with a morsel of dough, as a reward for his
kindness and generosity.

"What a remarkably lucky fellow I am!" thought the Rat, as he trotted
off gayly with his prize, "and clever, too! Fancy making a bargain
like that-food enough to last me five days in return for a rotten old
stick! Wah! Wah! Wah! What it is to have brains!"

Going along, hugging his good fortune in this way, he came presently to
a Potter's yard, where the Potter, leaving his wheel to spin round by
itself, was trying to pacify his three little children, who were
screaming arid crying as if they would burst.

"My gracious!" cried the Rat, stopping his ears, "what a noise! do
tell me what it is all about."

"I suppose they are hungry," replied the Potter ruefully; "their mother
has gone to get flour in the bazaar, for there is none in the house.
In the meantime I can neither work nor rest because of them."

"Is that all?" answered the officious Rat; then I can help you. Take
this dough, cook it quickly, and stop their mouths with food."

The Potter overwhelmed the Rat with thanks for his obliging kindness,
and choosing out a nice well-burned pipkin, insisted on his accepting
it as a remembrance.

The Rat was delighted at the exchange, and though the pipkin was just a
trifle awkward for him to manage, he succeeded, after infinite trouble,
in balancing it on his head and went away gingerly, tink-a-tink, tin k-
a-tink, down the road, with his tail over his arm for fear he should
trip on it. And all the time he kept saying to himself, "What a lucky
fellow I am! and clever, too! Such a hand at a bargain!"

By and by he came to where some cowherds were herding their cattle.
One of them was milking a buffalo, and having no pail, he used his
shoes instead.

"Oh fie! oh fie!" cried the cleanly Rat, quite shocked at the sight.
"What a nasty, dirty trick! Why don't you use a pail?"

"For the best of all reasons-we haven't got one!" growled the Cowherd,
who did not see why the Rat should put his finger in the pie.

"If that is all," replied the dainty Rat, "oblige me by using this
pipkin, for I cannot bear dirt!"

The Cowherd, nothing loath, took the pipkin and milked away until it
was brimming over; then turning to the Rat, who stood looking on, said,
"Here, little fellow, You may have a drink, in payment."

But if the Rat was good-natured he was also shrewd. "No, no, my
friend," said he, "that will not do! As if I could drink the worth of
any pipkin at a draft! My dear sir, I couldn't hold it! Besides, I
never make a bad bargain, so I expect you, at least to give me the
buffalo that gave the milk."

"Nonsense!" cried the Cowherd; "a buffalo for a pipkin! Whoever heard
of such a price? And what on earth could you do with a buffalo when
you got it? Why, the pipkin was about as much as you could manage."

At this the Rat drew himself up with dignity, for he did not like
allusions to his size. "That is my affair, not yours," he retorted;
"your business is to hand over the buffalo."

So just for the fun of the thing, and to amuse themselves at the Rat's
expense, the cowherds loosened the buffalo's halter and began to tie it
to the little animal's tail.

"No! no!' he called, in a great hurry. "If the beast pulled, the skin
of my tail would come off, and then where should I be? Tie it around
my neck, if you please."

So with much laughter the cowherds tied the halter round the Rat's
neck, and he, after a polite leave-taking, set off gayly toward home
with his prize; that is to say, he set off with the rope, for no sooner
did he come to the end of the tether than be was brought up with a
round turn; the buffalo, nose down, grazing away, would not budge until
it had finished its tuft of grass, and then seeing another in a
different direction marched off toward it, while the Rat, to avoid
being dragged, had to trot humbly behind, willy-nilly. He was too
proud to confess the truth, of course, and, nodding his head knowingly
to the cowherds, said: "Ta-ta, good people! I am going home this way.
It may be a little longer, but it's much shadier."

And when the cowherds roared with laughter he took no notice, but
trotted on, looking as dignified as possible. "After all," he reasoned
to himself, "when one keeps a buffalo one has to look after its
grazing. A beast must get a good bellyful of grass if it is to give
any milk, and I have plenty of time at my disposal." So all day long
he trotted about after the buffalo, making believe; but by evening he
was dead tired, and felt truly thankful when the great big beast,
having eaten enough, lay down under a tree to chew the cud.

Just then a bridal party came by. The Bridegroom and his friends had
evidently gone on to the next village, leaving the Bride's palanquin to
follow; so the palanquin bearers, being lazy fellows and seeing a nice
shady tree, put down their burden, and began to cook some food.

"What detestable meanness!" grumbled one; "a grand wedding, and nothing
but plain rice to eat! Not a scrap of meat in it, neither sweet nor
salt! It would serve the skinflints right if we upset the Bride into a
ditch!"

"Dear me!" cried the Rat at once, seeing a way out of his difficulty,
"that is a shame! I sympathize with your feelings so entirely that if
you will allow me, I'll give you my buffalo. You can kill it, and cook
it."

"Your buffalo!" returned the discontented bearers. "What rubbish!
Whoever heard of a rat owning a buffalo?"

"Not often, I admit," replied the Rat with conscious pride; "but look
for yourselves. Can you not see that I am leading the beast by a
string?"

"Oh, never mind the string!" cried a great big hungry bearer; master or
no master, I mean to have meat for my dinner!" Whereupon they killed
the buffalo, and cooking its flesh, ate their dinner with a relish;
then, offering the remains to the Rat, said carelessly, "Here, little
Rat-skin, that is for you!"

"Now look here!" cried the Rat hotly; "I'll have none of your pottage,
or your sauce, either. You don't suppose I am going to give my best
buffalo, that gave quarts and quarts of milk-the buffalo I have been
feeding all day-for a wee bit of rice? No! I got a loaf for a bit of
stick; I got a pipkin for a little loaf; I got a buffalo for a pipkin;
and now I'll have the Bride for my buffalo-the Bride, and nothing
else!"

By this time the servants, having satisfied their hunger, began to
reflect on what they had done, and becoming alarmed at the
consequences, arrived at the conclusion it would be wisest to make
their escape while they could. So, leaving the Bride in her palanquin,
they took to their heels in various directions.

The Rat, being as it were left in possession, advanced to the
palanquin, and drawing aside the curtain, with the sweetest of voices
and best of bows begged the Bride to descend. She hardly knew whether
to laugh or to cry, but as any company, even a Rat's, was better than
being quite alone in the wilderness, she did what she was bidden, and
followed the lead of her guide, who set off as fast as be could for his
hole.

As he trotted along beside the lovely young Bride, who, by her rich
dress and glittering jewels, seemed to be some king's daughter, he kept
saying to himself, "How clever I am! What bargains I do make, to be
sure!"

When they arrived at his hole, the Rat stepped forward with the
greatest politeness, and said, "Welcome, madam, to my humble abode!
Pray step in, or if you will allow me, and as the passage is somewhat
dark, I will show you the way."

Whereupon he ran in first, but after a time, finding the Bride did not
follow, he put his nose out again, saying testily, "Well, madam, why
don't you follow? Don't you know it's rude to keep your husband
waiting?"

"My good sir," laughed the handsome young Bride, "I can't squeeze into
that little hole!"

The Rat coughed; then after a moment's thought he replied, "There is
some truth in your remark- you are overgrown, and I suppose I shall
have to build you a thatch somewhere, For to-night you can rest under
that wild plum tree."

"But I am so hungry!" said the Bride ruefully.

"Dear, dear! everybody seems hungry to-day!" returned the Rat
pettishly; "however, that's easily settled-I'll fetch you Some supper
in a trice."

So he ran into his hole, returning immediately with an ear of millet
and a dry pea. "There!" said he, triumphantly, "isn't that a fine
meal?"

"I can't eat that!" whimpered the Bride; "it isn't a mouthful; and I
want rice pottage, and cakes, and sweet eggs, and sugar drops. I shall
die if I don't get them!"

"Oh, dear me!" cried the Rat in a rage, "what a nuisance a bride is, to
be sure! Why don't you eat the wild plums?"

"I can't live on wild plums!" retorted the weeping Bride; "nobody
could; besides, they are only half ripe, and I can't reach them."

"Rubbish!" cried the Rat; "ripe or unripe, they must do you for to-
night, and to-morrow you can gather a basketful, sell them in the city,
and buy sugar drops and sweet eggs to your heart's content!"

So the next morning the Rat climbed up into the plum tree, and nibbled
away at the stalks till the fruit fell down into the Bride's veil.
Then, unripe as they were, she carried them into the city, calling out
through the streets-

"Green plums I sell! green plums I sell!

Princess am I, Rat's bride as well!"

As she passed by the palace, her mother, the Queen, heard her voice,
and running out, recognized her daughter. Great were the rejoicings,
for everyone thought the poor Bride had been eaten by wild beasts.

In the midst of the feasting and merriment, the Rat, who had followed
the Princess at a distance, and had become alarmed at her long absence,
arrived at the door, against which he beat with a big knobby stick,
calling out fiercely, "Give me my wife! Give me my wife! She is mine
by a fair bargain. I gave a stick and I got a loaf; I gave a loaf and
I got a pipkin; I gave a pipkin and I got a buffalo; I gave a buffalo
and I got a bride. Give me my wife! Give me my wife!"

"La! son-in-law! What a fuss you do make," said the wily old Queen
through the door, "and all about nothing! Who wants to run away with
your wife? On the contrary, we are proud to see you, and I only keep
you waiting at the door till we can spread the carpets, and receive you
in style."

Hearing this, the Rat was mollified, and waited patiently outside while
the cunning old Queen prepared for his reception, which she did by
cutting a hole in the very middle of a stool, putting a red hot stone
underneath, covering it over with a stew-pan lid, and then spreading a
beautiful embroidered cloth over all. Then she went to the door, and
receiving the Rat with the greatest respect, led him to the stool,
praying him to be seated.

"Dear! dear! how clever I am! What bargains I do make, to be sure!"
said he to himself as he climbed on to the stool. "Here I am, son-in-
law to a real live Queen! What will the neighbors say?"

At first he sat down on the edge of the stool, but even there it was
warm, and after a while he began to fidget, saying, "Dear me, mother-
in-law, how hot your house is! Everything I touch seems burning!"

"You are out of the wind there, my son," replied the cunning old Queen;
"sit more in the middle of the stool, and then you will feel the breeze
and get cooler."

But he didn't! for the stewpan lid by this time had become so hot that
the Rat fairly frizzled when he sat down on it; and it was not until he
had left all his tail, half his hair, and a large piece of his skin
behind him, that he managed to escape, howling with pain, and vowing
that never, never, never again would he make a bargain!



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