Many centuries ago, in the Ching Dynasty of China, there was one emperor who fancied animals and their wonders; but of all the animals he enjoyed the cricket the most?he was always fascinated by their chirps.
Of course, the emperor had his own crickets?and it was said that his dearest pet cricket, one named Mei, had the most beautiful chirp of all, but nobody had actually been allowed to hear it, except for the emperor, of course. Every night the emperor would hear Mei?s lovely chirps and be lulled to sleep by them.
One night, as the emperor was about to sleep, he realized that Mei had disappeared from her case?wait, the case was gone as well! The emperor searched frantically through his bedroom, rummaging through his possessions, but Mei was nowhere to be seen! The emperor burst from his bedroom, calling for all of the court?s officials and ministers.
?Your Majesty, what could be so urgent that you would have to personally awaken us all at this time?? one official asked, the words partly muffled by the other advisor?s yawns.
?I?m sure there?s a good explanation,? replied another minister. ?So, Your Majesty, what is the emergency anyway??
The emperor was stuttering, and suddenly totally broke down. ?It- it?s? Mei?she?s gone!?
?So all this fuss over a worthless cricket?what kind of meeting is this! I thought it was an emergency!? complained the first official.
?How dare you speak like that to the emperor?? snapped the minister strictly. ?Mei is very valuable to His Majesty, he cannot sleep without her?and it is said that Mei has the most beautiful chirp of all! I mean, she could fetch a worthy price at one of the local markets?a price to even die for!?
?Hmm? Your Majesty, I can catch your thief and return Mei to you? just lend me a search party, and I?ll find her,? offered the emperor?s high minister.
?Alright, if you say so? I?ll give anything to get my Mei back!? answered the emperor.
So the next morning, the high minister set off with a search party and returned in the late afternoon with Mei, and three filthy, poorly-dressed men.
?Your Majesty, one of these three stole Mei from your bedroom last night. I found them all at a market stall with Mei in the middle of them; one of them was probably trying to sell her. I have already tried questioning these three, but they all said they were auctioning for her,? reported the high minister. ?What do you suppose we do with them, Your Majesty??
?Execute them all?if we can?t find the real thief, he will still die!? the emperor replied angrily.
?Wait?I think I have a plan,? the high minister objected. ?Just trust me, Your Majesty.?
The emperor nodded. The high minister turned around and faced the three suspects, raising a bag of seeds. ?These seeds are magic?they can tell fortunes. I want you each to plant one seed, and return in two weeks. In that time, the thief?s plant will be one foot higher than the others. So, take them.?
The men planted their seeds, and after two weeks, returned to the high minister. Together, they walked toward where the seeds had been planted.
But, why, two of the plants were one foot longer than the other! So which one was the thief?
?Maybe there was a group theft?? the emperor thought aloud. ?What do you think, High Minister??
The high minister chuckled. ?Arrest the one with the shorter plant?he was afraid of my magic and cut his plant one foot shorter than the other two, because he was the real thief of Mei!?
(A famous Chinese folk-tale.)