Mr. Rabbit was hard to please in love affairs. Those upon whom his eyes fell were either too ugly or too poor, and in some cases both. At last he concluded that the greatest failure in the world is courting that does not end in a wedding.
He arose early one morning and sat down by the roadside to think over the different flowers along the path of love that had proven thorns to his soul. As he sat there, taking them up and dismissing one by one, with a frown on his face and a bachelor-like sourness in his soul, he chanced to see a beautiful maiden tripping over the meadows. As soon as he saw that she was pretty, he believed he loved her, as soon as he learned that her father was rich, he knew it.
"O soul, my poor wounded soul! a smile from yon creature of grace and beauty would cure you. Let us haste and secure the remedy. I can well afford to exchange a task like this for the smiles of so pretty a wife and her father's pocket-book."
Mr. Rabbit knew his only stock in trade was wit, so he sharpened this and visited the girl's father. He walked up to the old gentleman and said:
"Good morning, sir. My name is Mr. Rabbit. I have come to be your son-in-law, and your daughter has my letter of introduction."
The old gentleman was so surprised at Mr. Rabbit's words he did not call his daughter to test their truthfulness. He admired his visitor's boldness and readiness of speech and, after talking awhile, invited him out to breakfast. Having learned the girl's name during the conversation, Rabbit spoke to her on coming out, and also took her by the hand. Now, he carried in his hand a stamp bearing the words "I propose."
After breakfast the old gentleman asked his daughter if she had Mr. Rabbit's letter of introduction, and she answered by holding up her hand. Then he asked her if she had ever met him before, and she said she had not. Without further ado he seized Rabbit by the throat and said:
"My dear child, this whole thing has been forced upon you. Now, how shall I punish the impudent young whelp?"
"Why, father," said she in her sweetest tones, "let both of us punish him by making him your son-in-law."
Seeing that he could not withstand the combined forces of Cupid, his only daughter, and a wily lover, the old gentleman said: "Well, Mr. Rabbit, you may have the girl on the condition that you go down to the great frog settlement and prove that you are master of all the frogs there. This must be done by to-morrow at twelve o'clock."
"It shall be done," said Mr. Rabbit.
He dressed himself as strangely as possible, and, taking a looking-glass in his hand, went down to the frog settlement. He stood by the branch and waved the glass until the frogs gathered around him.
"This is not the place," said he. "This is not the place."
"Yes, it is," said an old frog. "It is the very place that has been here all the time."
Mr. Rabbit looked again and said: "It is the place, sure enough."
"Didn't I tell you so?" said the old frog. "If this place had moved, we would have known it."
This served to open the conversation. While talking, Rabbit held the glass so the frogs could see themselves. He told them it was a soul-drawing machine, and that by looking into it the soul would come out of the body and go behind the glass.
"Do you know," said Rabbit, "why Mr. Snake swallows so many of you? It is simply to get your souls. As the soul is in the body, he must swallow the body, also. Let him see that the soul is out of the body, and he will no longer bother the body, but go after the soul. If the soul is behind the glass, he can't get it. So you see, gentlemen, every frog should have a glass. All he has to do is to carry the glass with him, and, when Mr. Snake comes, just hold it up so as to see himself. Mr. Snake, seeing the soul out of his reach, will scamper off."
All agreed with Rabbit, but wanted to know where glasses sufficient for all could be had.
"Ah," said Rabbit, "that is my business here. I have come to build a factory for making them. All you have to do is to turn the wheel I will make. This wheel will turn the mill and out will come the glasses. There will be no charges."
The frogs agreed to turn the wheel as long as needed. Then Rabbit built a watermill for grinding wheat and corn, and put the wheel above the water. The frogs knew no better.
"In order to turn the wheel," said Mr. Rabbit, "you frogs must be divided into as many bands as there are paddles to the wheel. The first band must jump upon a paddle and force it down, then jump into the water and swim to shore ready for the next turn. Each band must do so in turn, and the wheel will go round. There are several things you must do. You must not be seen until I give the signal. Then you must come, start the wheel, and keep it going until I tell you to stop. At the second signal you must bellow as loudly as you can, or your souls will be so long in getting behind the glass that Mr. Snake will catch them. On the third signal you must dance as you come around, or the glass will be easily broken."
All agreed, and said there should not be a single hitch in the programme.
Then Rabbit sent for his father-in-law to come, and bring his wheat with him. He did so; but laughed at Rabbit's mill-wheel.
"The wheat will be ground," said Rabbit, approaching the water and giving the signal agreed upon with the frogs.
At the first signal the frogs came by hundreds and sent the wheel over and over again in great haste. At the second signal they began to bellow; and, at the third, to dance. This procedure was continued, and in a short time the wheat was all ground.
"Now," said Mr. Rabbit, "I am not a member of the family as yet, but see what a means of income I am. How will it be further on? By the way, my father-in-law-to-be, how do you like the wedding-march my slaves are playing for me?"
"Very well, my son Rabbit, very well," said the old gentleman. "Come, let us have the ceremony." They then proceeded to the magistrate, when Mr. Rabbit and the young lady were duly wedded.
What became of the mill? Mr. Rabbit cared nothing for a cheap affair like that when he had succeeded in securing a pretty wife and rich father-in-law.
What about the frogs?
There is no telling how long they turned the wheel, bellowed, and danced; or how they got the glasses from between the millstones.
from NEGRO TALES
By JOSEPH S. COTTER