Kai Lung's Golden Hours
Part 5 out of 5
O story-teller, you were so overcome by the burden of your guilt that
until this moment you have hidden the knowledge of it deep within your
"Magnificence, the commanding quality of your enduring voice would
draw the inner matter from a marrow-bone," frankly replied Kai Lung.
"Fearful lest this crime might go unconfessed and my weak and
trembling ghost therefrom be held to bear its weight unto the end of
time, I set out the full happening in a written scroll and sent it at
daybreak by a sure and secret hand to a scrupulous official to deal
with as he sees fit."
"Your worthy confidant would assuredly be a person of incorruptible
"The repute of the upright Censor K'o-yih had reached even these
"Inevitably: the Censor K'o-yih!" Shan Tien's hasty glance took in the
angle of the sun and for a moment rested on the door leading to the
part where his swiftest horses lay. "By this time the message will
have reached him?"
"Omnipotence," replied Kai Lung, spreading out his hands to indicate
the full extent of his submission, "not even a piece of the finest
Ping-hi silk could be inserted between the deepest secret of this
person's heart and your all-extracting gaze. Should you, in your
meritorious sense of justice, impose upon me a punishment that would
seem to be adequate, it would be superfluous to trouble the obliging
Censor in the matter. To this end the one who bears the message lurks
in a hidden corner of Tai until a certain hour. If I am in a position
to intercept him there he will return the message to my hand; if not,
he will straightway bear it to the integritous K'o-yih."
"May the President of Hades reward you--I am no longer in a position
to do so!" murmured Shan Tien with concentrated feeling. "Draw near,
Kai Lung," he continued sympathetically, "and indicate--with as little
delay as possible--what in your opinion would constitute a sufficient
Thus invited and with his cords unbound, Kai Lung advanced and took
his station near the table, Ming-shu noticeably making room for him.
"To be driven from your lofty presence and never again permitted to
listen to the wisdom of your inspired lips would undoubtedly be the
first essential of my penance, High Excellence."
"It is gran--inflicted," agreed Shan Tien, with swift decision.
"The necessary edict may conveniently be drafted in the form of a
safe-conduct for this person and all others of his band to a point
beyond the confines of your jurisdiction--when the usually
agile-witted Ming-shu can sufficiently shake off the benumbing torpor
now assailing him so as to use his brush."
"It is already begun, O virtuous harbinger of joy," protested the
dazed Ming-shu, overturning all the four precious implements in his
passion to comply. "A mere breath of time--"
"Let it be signed, sealed and thumb-pressed at every available point
of ambiguity," enjoined Shan Tien.
"Having thus oppressed the vainglory of my self-willed mind, the
presumption of this unworthy body must be subdued likewise. The burden
of five hundred taels of silver should suffice. If not--"
"In the form of paper obligations, estimable Kai Lung, the same amount
would go more conveniently within your scrip," suggested the Mandarin
"Not convenience, O Mandarin, but bodily exhaustion is the essence of
my task," reproved the story-teller.
"Yet consider the anguish of my internal pang, if thus encumbered, you
sank spent by the wayside, and being thereby unable to withhold the
message, you were called upon to endure a further ill."
"That, indeed, is worthy of our thought," confessed Kai Lung. "To this
end I will further mortify myself by adventuring upon the uncertain
apex of a trustworthy steed (a mode of progress new to my experience)
until I enter Tai."
"The swiftest and most reputable awaits your guiding hand," replied
"Let it be enticed forth into a quiet and discreet spot. In the
interval, while the obliging Ming-shu plies an unfaltering brush, the
task of weighing out my humiliating burden shall be ours."
In an incredibly short space of time, being continually urged on by
the flattering anxiety of Shan Tien (whose precipitancy at one point
became so acute that he mistook fourscore taels for five), all things
were prepared. With the inscribed parchment well within his sleeve and
the bags of silver ranged about his body, Kai Lung approached the
platform that had been raised to enable him to subdue the expectant
"Once in the desired position, weighted down as you are, there is
little danger of your becoming displaced," remarked the Mandarin
"Your words are, as usual, many-sided in their wise application,
benignity," replied Kai Lung. "One thing only yet remains. It is apart
from the expression of this one's will, but as an act of justice to
yourself and in order to complete the analogy--" And he indicated the
direction of Ming-shu.
"Nevertheless you are agreeably understood," declared Shan Tien,
moving apart. "Farewell."
As those who controlled the front part of the horse at this moment
relaxed their tenacity, Kai Lung did not deem it prudent to reply, nor
was he specifically observant of the things about. But a little later,
while in the act of permitting the creature whose power he ruled to
turn round for a last look at its former home, he saw that the
unworthy no longer flourished. Ming-shu, with his own discarded cang
around his vindictive neck, was being led off in the direction of the
The Out-passing into a State of Assured Felicity of the Much-Enduring
Two With Whom These Printed Leaves Have Chiefly Been Concerned
ALTHOUGH it was towards sunset, the heat of the day still hung above
the dusty earth-road, and two who tarried within the shadow of an
ancient arch were loath to resume their way. They had walked far, for
the uncertain steed, having revealed a too contentious nature, had
been disposed of in distant Tai to an honest stranger who freely
explained the imperfection of its ignoble outline.
"Let us remain another space of time," pleaded Hwa-mei reposefully,
"and as without your all-embracing art the course of events would
undoubtedly have terminated very differently from what it has, will
you not, out of an emotion of gratitude, relate a story for my ear
alone, weaving into it the substance of this ancient arch whose shade
proves our rest?"
"Your wish is the crown of my attainment, unearthly one," replied Kai
Lung, preparing to obey. "This concerns the story of Ten-teh, whose
name adorns the keystone of the fabric."
The Story of the Loyalty of Ten-teh, the Fisherman
"Devotion to the Emperor--"
The Five Great Principles
The reign of the enlightened Emperor Tung Kwei had closed amid scenes
of treachery and lust, and in his perfidiously-spilled blood was
extinguished the last pale hope of those faithful to his line. His
only son was a nameless fugitive--by ceaseless report already Passed
Beyond--his party scattered and crushed out like the sparks from his
blackened Capital, while nothing that men thought dare pass their
lips. The usurper Fuh-chi sat upon the dragon throne and spake with
the voice of brass cymbals and echoing drums, his right hand shedding
blood and his left hand spreading fire. To raise an eye before him was
to ape with death, and a whisper in the outer ways foreran swift
torture. With harrows he uprooted the land until no household could
gather round its ancestral tablets, and with marble rollers he
flattened it until none dare lift his head. For the body of each one
who had opposed his ambition there was offered an equal weight of fine
silver, and upon the head of the child-prince was set the reward of
ten times his weight in pure gold. Yet in noisome swamps and forests,
hidden in caves, lying on desolate islands, and concealing themselves
in every kind of solitary place were those who daily prostrated
themselves to the memory of Tung Kwei and by a sign acknowledged the
authority of his infant son Kwo Kam. In the Crystal City there was a
great roar of violence and drunken song, and men and women lapped from
deep lakes filled up with wine; but the ricesacks of the poor had long
been turned out and shaken for a little dust; their eyes were closing
and in their hearts they were as powder between the mill-stones. On
the north and the west the barbarians had begun to press forward in
resistless waves, and from The Island to The Beak pirates laid waste
i. UNDER THE DRAGON'S WING
Among the lagoons of the Upper Seng river a cormorant fisher, Ten-teh
by name, daily followed his occupation. In seasons of good harvest,
when they of the villages had grain in abundance and money with which
to procure a more varied diet, Ten-teh was able to regard the
ever-changeful success of his venture without anxiety, and even to add
perchance somewhat to his store; but when affliction lay upon the land
the carefully gathered hoard melted away and he did not cease to
upbraid himself for adopting so uncertain a means of livelihood. At
these times the earth-tillers, having neither money to spend nor crops
to harvest, caught such fish as they could for themselves. Others in
their extremity did not scruple to drown themselves and their
dependents in Ten-teh's waters, so that while none contributed to his
prosperity the latter ones even greatly added to the embarrassment of
his craft. When, therefore, his own harvest failed him in addition, or
tempests drove him back to a dwelling which was destitute of food
either for himself, his household, or his cormorants, his
self-reproach did not appear to be ill-reasoned. Yet in spite of all
Ten-teh was of a genial disposition, benevolent, respectful and
incapable of guile. He sacrificed adequately at all festivals, and his
only regret was that he had no son of his own and very scanty chances
of ever becoming rich enough to procure one by adoption.
The sun was setting one day when Ten-teh reluctantly took up his
propelling staff and began to urge his raft towards the shore. It was
a season of parched crops and destitution in the villages, when
disease could fondle the bones of even the most rotund and leprosy was
the insidious condiment in every dish; yet never had the Imperial dues
been higher, and each succeeding official had larger hands and a more
inexorable face than the one before him. Ten-teh's hoarded resources
had already followed the snows of the previous winter, his shelf was
like the heart of a despot to whom the oppressed cry for pity, and the
contents of the creel at his feet were too insignificant to tempt the
curiosity even of his hungry cormorants. But the mists of the evening
were by this time lapping the surface of the waters and he had no
alternative but to abandon his fishing for the day.
"Truly they who go forth to fish, even in shallow waters, experience
strange things when none are by to credit them," suddenly exclaimed
his assistant--a mentally deficient youth of the villages whom Ten-teh
charitably employed because all others rejected him. "Behold, master,
a spectre bird approaches."
"Peace, witless," replied Ten-teh, not turning from his occupation,
for it was no uncommon incident for the deficient youth to mistake
widely-differing objects for one another or to claim a demoniacal
insight into the most trivial happenings. "Visions do not materialize
for such as thou and I."
"Nevertheless," continued the weakling, "if you will but slacken your
agile proficiency with the pole, chieftain, our supper to-night may
yet consist of something more substantial than the fish which it is
our intention to catch to-morrow.
When the defective youth had continued for some time in this
meaningless strain Ten-teh turned to rebuke him, when to his
astonishment he perceived that a strange cormorant was endeavouring to
reach them, its progress being impeded by an object which it carried
in its mouth. Satisfying himself that his own birds were still on the
raft, Ten-teh looked round in expectation for the boat of another
fisherman, although none but he had ever within his memory sought
those waters, but as far as he could see the wide-stretching lagoon
was deserted by all but themselves. He accordingly waited, drawing in
his pole, and inciting the bird on by cries of encouragement.
"A nobly-born cormorant without doubt," exclaimed the youth
approvingly. "He is lacking the throat-strap, yet he holds his prey
dexterously and makes no movement to consume it. But the fish itself
is outlined strangely."
As the bird drew near Ten-teh also saw that it was devoid of the usual
strap which in the exercise of his craft was necessary as a barrier
against the gluttonous instincts of the race. It was unnaturally
large, and even at a distance Ten-teh could see that its plumage was
smoothed to a polished lustre, its eye alert, and the movement of its
flight untamed. But, as the youth had said, the fish it carried loomed
"The Wise One and the Crafty Image--behold they prostrate themselves!"
cried the youth in a tone of awe-inspired surprise, and without a
pause he stepped off the raft and submerged himself beneath the
It was even as he asserted; Ten-teh turned his eyes and lo, his two
cormorants, instead of rising in anger, as their contentious nature
prompted, had sunk to the ground and were doing obeisance. Much
perturbed as to his own most prudent action, for the bird was nearing
the craft, Ten-teh judged it safest to accept this token and falling
down he thrice knocked his forehead submissively. When he looked up
again the majestic bird had vanished as utterly as the flame that is
quenched, and lying at his feet was a naked man-child.
"O master," said the voice of the assistant, as he cautiously
protruded his head above the surface of the raft, "has the vision
faded, or do creatures of the air before whom even their own kind
kowtow still haunt the spot?"
"The manifestation has withdrawn," replied Ten-teh reassuringly, "but
like the touch of the omnipotent Buddha it has left behind it that
which proves its reality," and he pointed to the man-child.
"Beware, alas!" exclaimed the youth, preparing to immerse himself a
second time if the least cause arose; "and on no account permit
yourself to be drawn into the snare. Inevitably the affair tends to
evil from the beginning and presently that which now appears as a
man-child will assume the form of a devouring vampire and consume us
all. Such occurrences are by no means uncommon when the great
sky-lantern is at its full distension."
"To maintain otherwise would be impious," admitted his master, "but at
the same time there is nothing to indicate that the beneficial deities
are not the ones responsible for this apparition." With these humane
words the kindly-disposed Ten-teh wrapped his outer robe about the
man-child and turned to lay him in the empty creel, when to his
profound astonishment he saw that it was now filled with fish of the
rarest and most unapproachable kinds.
"Footsteps of the dragon!" exclaimed the youth, scrambling back on to
the raft hastily; "undoubtedly your acuter angle of looking at the
visitation was the inspired one. Let us abandon the man-child in an
unfrequented spot and then proceed to divide the result of the
adventure equally among us."
"An agreed portion shall be allotted," replied Ten-teh, "but to
abandon so miraculously-endowed a being would cover even an outcast
"'Shame fades in the morning; debts remain from day to day,'" replied
the youth, the allusion of the proverb being to the difficulty of
sustaining life in times so exacting, when men pledged their household
goods, their wives, even their ancestral records for a little flour or
a jar of oil. "To the starving the taste of a grain of corn is more
satisfying than the thought of a roasted ox, but as many years must
pass as this creel now holds fish before the little one can disengage
a catch or handle the pole."
"It is as the Many-Eyed One sees," replied Ten-teh, with unmoved
determination. "This person has long desired a son, and those who walk
into an earthquake while imploring heaven for a sign are unworthy of
consideration. Take this fish and depart until the morrow. Also,
unless you would have the villagers regard you as not only deficient
but profane, reveal nothing of this happening to those whom you
encounter." With these words Ten-teh dismissed him, not greatly
disturbed at the thought of whatever he might do; for in no case would
any believe a word he spoke, while the greater likelihood tended
towards his forgetting everything before he had reached his home.
As Ten-teh approached his own door his wife came forth to meet him.
"Much gladness!" she cried aloud before she saw his burden; "tempered
only by a regret that you did not abandon your chase at an earlier
hour. Fear not for the present that the wolf-tusk of famine shall gnaw
our repose or that the dreaded wings of the white and scaly one shall
hover about our house-top. Your wealthy cousin, journeying back to the
Capital from the land of the spice forests, has been here in your
absence, leaving you gifts of fur, silk, carved ivory, oil, wine, nuts
and rice and rich foods of many kinds. He would have stayed to embrace
you were it not that his company of bearers awaited him at an arranged
spot and he had already been long delayed."
Then said Ten-teh, well knowing that he had no such desirable
relative, but drawn to secrecy by the unnatural course of events: "The
years pass unperceived and all changes but the heart of man; how
appeared my cousin, and has he greatly altered under the enervating
sun of a barbarian land?"
"He is now a little man, with a loose skin the colour of a
finely-lacquered apricot," replied the woman. "His teeth are large and
jagged, his expression open and sincere, and the sound of his
breathing is like the continuous beating of waves upon a stony beach.
Furthermore, he has ten fingers upon his left hand and a girdle of
rubies about his waist."
"The description is unmistakable," said Ten-teh evasively. "Did he
chance to leave a parting message of any moment?"
"He twice remarked: 'When the sun sets the moon rises, but to-morrow
the drawn will break again,'" replied his wife. "Also, upon leaving he
asked for ink, brushes and a fan, and upon it he inscribed certain
words." She thereupon handed the fan to Ten-teh, who read, written in
characters of surpassing beauty and exactness, the proverb:
"Well-guarded lips, patient alertness and a heart conscientiously
discharging its accepted duty: these three things have a sure reward."
At that moment Ten-teh's wife saw that he carried something beyond his
creel and discovering the man-child she cried out with delight,
pouring forth a torrent of inquiries and striving to possess it. "A
tale half told is the father of many lies," exclaimed Ten-teh at
length, "and of the greater part of what you ask this person knows
neither the beginning nor the end. Let what is written on the fan
suffice." With this he explained to her the meaning of the characters
and made their significance clear. Then without another word he placed
the man-child in her arms and led her back into the house.
From that time Hoang, as he was thenceforward called, was received
into the household of Ten-teh, and from that time Ten-teh prospered.
Without ever approaching a condition of affluence or dignified ease,
he was never exposed to the penury and vicissitudes which he had been
wont to experience; so that none had need to go hungry or ill-clad. If
famine ravaged the villages Ten-teh's store of grain was miraculously
maintained; his success on the lagoons was unvaried, fish even leaping
on to the structure of the raft. Frequently in dark and undisturbed
parts of the house he found sums of money and other valuable articles
of which he had no remembrance, while it was no uncommon thing for
passing merchants to leave bales of goods at his door in mistake and
to meet with some accident which prevented them from ever again
visiting that part of the country. In the meanwhile Hoang grew from
infancy into childhood, taking part with Ten-teh in all his pursuits,
yet even in the most menial occupation never wholly shaking off the
air of command and nobility of bearing which lay upon him. In strength
and endurance he outpaced all the youths around, while in the
manipulation of the raft and the dexterous handling of the cormorants
he covered Ten-teh with gratified shame. So excessive was the devotion
which he aroused in those who knew him that the deficient youth wept
openly if Hoang chanced to cough or sneeze; and it is even asserted
that on more than one occasion high officials, struck by the authority
of his presence, though he might be in the act of carrying fish along
the road, hastily descended from their chairs and prostrated
themselves before him.
In the fourteenth year of the reign of the usurper Fuh-chi a little
breeze rising in the Province of Sz-chuen began to spread through all
the land and men's minds were again agitated by the memory of a hope
which had long seemed dead. At that period the tyrannical Fuh-chi
finally abandoned the last remaining vestige of restraint and by his
crimes and excesses alienated even the protection of the evil spirits
and the fidelity of his chosen guard; so that he conspired with
himself to bring about his own destruction. One discriminating adviser
alone had stood at the foot of the throne, and being no less resolute
than far-seeing, he did not hesitate to warn Fuh-chi and to hold the
prophetic threat of rebellion before his eyes. Such sincerity met with
the reward not difficult to conjecture.
"Who are our enemies?" exclaimed Fuh-chi, turning to a notorious
flatterer at his side, "and where are they who are displeased with our
too lenient rule?"
"Your enemies, O Brother of the Sun and Prototype of the Red-legged
Crane, are dead and unmourned. The living do naught but speak of your
clemency and bask in the radiance of your eye-light," protested the
"It is well said," replied Fuh-chi. "How is it, then, that any can eat
of our rice and receive our bounty and yet repay us with ingratitude
and taunts, holding their joints stiffly in our presence? Lo, even
lambs have the grace to suck kneeling."
"Omnipotence," replied the just minister, "if this person is deficient
in the more supple graces of your illustrious Court it is because the
greater part of his life has been spent in waging your wars in
uncivilized regions. Nevertheless, the alarm can be as competently
sounded upon a brass drum as by a silver trumpet, and his words came
forth from a sincere throat."
"Then the opportunity is by no means to be lost," exclaimed Fuh-chi,
who was by this time standing some distance from himself in the
effects of distilled pear juice; "for we have long desired to see the
difference which must undoubtedly exist between a sincere throat and
one bent to the continual use of evasive flattery."
Without further consideration he ordered that both persons should be
beheaded and that their bodies should be brought for his inspection.
From that time there was none to stay his hand or to guide his policy,
so that he mixed blood and wine in foolishness and lust until the land
was sick and heaved.
The whisper starting from Sz-chuen passed from house to house and from
town to town until it had cast a network over every province, yet no
man could say whence it came or by whom the word was passed. It might
be in the manner of a greeting or the pledging of a cup of tea, by the
offer of a coin to a blind beggar at the gate, in the fold of a
carelessly-worn garment, or even by the passing of a leper through a
town. Oppression still lay heavily upon the people; but it was without
aim and carried no restraint; famine and pestilence still went hand in
hand, but the message rode on their backs and was hospitably received.
Soon, growing bolder, men stood face to face and spoke of settled
plans, gave signs, and openly declared themselves. On all sides
proclamations began to be affixed; next weapons were distributed,
hands were made proficient in their uses, until nothing remained but
definite instruction and a swift summons for the appointed day. At
intervals omens had appeared in the sky and prophecies had been put
into the mouths of sooth-sayers, so that of the success of the
undertaking and of its justice none doubted. On the north and the west
entire districts had reverted to barbarism, and on the coasts the
pirates anchored by the water-gates of walled cities and tossed jests
to the watchmen on the towers.
Throughout this period Ten-teh had surrounded Hoang with an added
care, never permitting him to wander beyond his sight, and distrusting
all men in spite of his confiding nature. One night, when a fierce
storm beyond the memory of man was raging, there came at the middle
hour a knocking upon the outer wall, loud and insistent; nevertheless
Ten-teh did not at once throw open the door in courteous invitation,
but drawing aside a shutter he looked forth. Before the house stood one
of commanding stature, clad from head to foot in robes composed of
plaited grasses, dyed in many colours. Around him ran a stream of
water, while the lightning issuing in never-ceasing flashes from his
eyes revealed that his features were rugged and his ears pierced with
many holes from which the wind whistled until the sound resembled the
shrieks of ten thousand tortured ones under the branding-iron. From
him the tempest proceeded in every direction, but he stood unmoved
among it, without so much as a petal of the flowers he wore
In spite of these indications, and of the undoubted fact that the
Being could destroy the house with a single glance, Ten-teh still
"The night is dark and stormy, and robbers and evil spirits are
certainly about in large numbers, striving to enter unperceived by any
open door," he protested, but with becoming deference. "With what does
your welcome and opportune visit concern itself, honourable stranger?"
"The one before you is not accustomed to be questioned in his doings,
or even to be spoken to by ordinary persons," replied the Being.
"Nevertheless, Ten-teh, there is that in your history for the past
fourteen years which saves you from the usual fatal consequences of so
gross an indiscretion. Let it suffice that it is concerned with the
flight of the cormorant."
Upon this assurance Ten-teh no longer sought evasion. He hastened to
throw open the outer door and the stranger entered, whereupon the
tempest ceased, although the thunder and lightning still lingered
among the higher mountains. In passing through the doorway the robe of
plaited grasses caught for a moment on the staple and pulling aside
revealed that the Being wore upon his left foot a golden sandal and
upon his right foot one of iron, while embedded in his throat was a
great pearl. Convinced by this that he was indeed one of the Immortal
Eight, Ten-teh prostrated himself fittingly, and explained that the
apparent disrespect of his reception arose from a conscientious
interest in the safety of the one committed to his care.
"It is well," replied the Being affably; "and your unvarying fidelity
shall not go unrewarded when the proper time arrives. Now bring
forward the one whom hitherto you have wisely called Hoang."
In secret during the past years Ten-teh had prepared for such an
emergency a yellow silk robe bearing embroidered on it the Imperial
Dragon with Five Claws. He had also provided suitable ornaments, fur
coverings for the hands and face, and a sword and shield. Waking
Hoang, he quickly dressed him, sprinkled a costly perfume about his
head and face, and taking him for the last time by the hand he led him
into the presence of the stranger.
"Kwo Kam, chosen representative of the sacred line of Tang," began the
Being, when he and Hoang had exchanged signs and greetings of equality
in an obscure tongue, "the grafted peach-tree on the Crystal Wall is
stricken and the fruit is ripe and rotten to the touch. The flies that
have fed upon its juice are drunk with it and lie helpless on the
ground; the skin is empty and blown out with air, the leaves withered,
and about the root is coiled a great worm which has secretly worked to
this end. From the Five Points of the kingdom and beyond the Outer
Willow Circle the Sheaf-binders have made a full report and it has
been judged that the time is come for the tree to be roughly shaken.
To this destiny the Old Ones of your race now call you; but beware of
setting out unless your face should be unchangingly fixed and your
heart pure from all earthly desires and base considerations."
"The decision is too ever-present in my mind to need reflection,"
replied Hoan resolutely. "To grind to powder that presumptuous tyrant
utterly, to restore the integrity of the violated boundaries of the
land, and to set up again the venerable Tablets of the true Tang
line--these desires have long since worn away the softer portion of
this person's heart by constant thought."
"The choice has been made and the words have been duly set down," said
the Being. "If you maintain your high purpose to a prosperous end
nothing can exceed your honour in the Upper Air; if you fail culpably,
or even through incapacity, the lot of Fuh-chi himself will be
enviable compared with yours."
Understanding that the time had now come for his departure, Hoang
approached Ten-teh as though he would have embraced him, but the Being
made a gesture of restraint.
"Yet, O instructor, for the space of fourteen years--" protested
"It has been well and discreetly accomplished," replied the Being in a
firm but not unsympathetic voice, "and Ten-teh's reward, which shall
be neither slight nor grudging, is awaiting him in the Upper Air,
where already his immediate ancestors are very honourably regarded in
consequence. For many years, O Ten-teh, there has dwelt beneath your
roof one who from this moment must be regarded as having passed away
without leaving even a breath of memory behind. Before you stands your
sovereign, to whom it is seemly that you should prostrate yourself in
unquestioning obeisance. Do not look for any recompense or distinction
here below in return for that which you have done towards a nameless
one; for in the State there are many things which for high reasons
cannot be openly proclaimed for the ill-disposed to use as feathers in
their darts. Yet take this ring; the ears of the Illimitable Emperor
are never closed to the supplicating petition of his children and
should such a contingency arise you may freely lay your cause before
him with the full assurance of an unswerving justice."
A moment later the storm broke out again with redoubled vigour, and
raising his face from the ground Ten-teh perceived that he was again
ii. THE MESSAGE FROM THE OUTER LAND
After the departure of Hoang the affairs of Ten-teh ceased to prosper.
The fish which for so many years had leaped to meet his hand now
maintained an unparalleled dexterity in avoiding it; continual storms
drove him day after day back to the shore, and the fostering
beneficence of the deities seemed to be withdrawn, so that he no
longer found forgotten stores of wealth nor did merchants ever again
mistake his door for that of another to whom they were indebted.
In the year that followed there passed from time to time through the
secluded villages lying in the Upper Seng valley persons who spoke of
the tumultuous events progressing everywhere. In such a manner those
who had remained behind learned that the great rising had been
honourably received by the justice-loving in every province, but that
many of official rank, inspired by no friendship towards Fuh-chi, but
terror-stricken at the alternatives before them, had closed certain
strong cities against the Army of the Avenging Pure. It was at this
crisis, when the balance of the nation's destiny hung poised, that Kwo
Kam, the only son of the Emperor Tung Kwei, and rightful heir of the
dynasty of the glorious Tang, miraculously appeared at the head of the
Avenging Pure and being acclaimed their leader with a unanimous shout
led them on through a series of overwhelming and irresistible
victories. At a later period it was told how Kwo Kam had been crowned
and installed upon his father's throne, after receiving a mark of
celestial approbation in the Temple of Heaven, how Fuh-chi had escaped
and fled and how his misleading records had been publicly burned and
his detestable name utterly blotted out.
At this period an even greater misfortune than his consistent ill
success met Ten-teh. A neighbouring mandarin, on a false pretext,
caused him to be brought before him, and speaking very sternly of
certain matters in the past, which, he said, out of a well-intentioned
regard for the memory of Ten-teh's father he would not cast abroad, he
fined him a much larger sum than all he possessed, and then at once
caused the raft and the cormorants to be seized in satisfaction of the
claim. This he did because his heart was bad, and the sight of Ten-teh
bearing a cheerful countenance under continual privation had become
offensive to him.
The story of this act of rapine Ten-teh at once carried to the
appointed head of the village communities, assuring him that he was
ignorant of the cause, but that no crime or wrong-doing had been
committed to call for so overwhelming an affliction in return, and
entreating him to compel a just restitution and liberty to pursue his
inoffensive calling peaceably in the future.
"Listen well, O unassuming Ten-teh, for you are a person of
discernment and one with a mature knowledge of the habits of all
swimming creatures," said the headman after attending patiently to
Ten-teh's words. "If two lean and insignificant carp encountered a
voracious pike and one at length fell into his jaws, by what means
would the other compel the assailant to release his prey?"
"So courageous an emotion would serve no useful purpose," replied
Ten-teh. "Being ill-equipped for such a conflict, it would inevitably
result in the second fish also falling a prey to the voracious pike,
and recognizing this, the more fortunate of the two would endeavour to
escape by lying unperceived among the reeds about."
"The answer is inspired and at the same time sufficiently concise to
lie within the hollow bowl of an opium pipe," replied the headman, and
turning to his bench he continued in his occupation of beating flax
with a wooden mallet.
"Yet," protested Ten-teh, when at length the other paused, "surely the
matter could be placed before those in authority in so convincing a
light by one possessing your admitted eloquence that Justice would
stumble over herself in her haste to liberate the oppressed and to
degrade the guilty."
"The phenomenon has occasionally been witnessed, but latterly it would
appear that the conscientious deity in question must have lost all
power of movement, or perhaps even fatally injured herself, as the
result of some such act of rash impulsiveness in the past," replied
the headman sympathetically.
"Alas, then," exclaimed Ten-teh, "is there, under the most enlightened
form of government in the world, no prescribed method of obtaining
"Assuredly," replied the headman; "the prescribed method is the part
of the system that has received the most attention. As the one of whom
you complain is a mandarin of the fifth degree, you may fittingly
address yourself to his superiors of the fourth, third, second and
first degrees. Then there are the city governors, the district
prefects, the provincial rulers, the Imperial Assessors, the Board of
Censors, the Guider of the Vermilion Pencil, and, finally, the supreme
Emperor himself. To each of these, if you are wealthy enough to reach
his actual presence, you may prostrate yourself in turn, and each one,
with many courteous expressions of intolerable regret that the matter
does not come within his office, will refer you to another. The more
prudent course, therefore, would seem to be that of beginning with the
Emperor rather than reaching him as the last resort, and as you are
now without means of livelihood if you remain here there is no reason
why you should not journey to the Capital and make the attempt."
"The Highest!" exclaimed Ten-teh, with a pang of unfathomable emotion.
"Is there, then, no middle way? Who is Ten-teh, the obscure and
illiterate fisherman, that he should thrust himself into the presence
of the Son of Heaven? If the mother of the dutiful Chou Yii could
destroy herself and her family at one blow to the end that her son
might serve his sovereign with a single heart, how degraded an outcast
must he be who would obtrude his own trivial misfortunes at so
critical a time."
"'A thorn in one's own little finger is more difficult to endure than
a sword piercing the sublime Emperor's arm,'" replied the headman,
resuming his occupation. "But if your angle of regarding the various
obligations is as you have stated it, then there is obviously nothing
more to be said. In any case it is more than doubtful whether the
Fountain of Justice would raise an eyelash if you, by every
combination of fortunate circumstance, succeeded in reaching his
"The headman has spoken, and his word is ten times more weighty than
that of an ill-educated fisherman," replied Ten-teh submissively, and
From that time Ten-teh sought to sustain life upon roots and wild
herbs which he collected laboriously and not always in sufficient
quantities from the woods and rank wastes around. Soon even this
resource failed him in a great measure, for a famine of unprecedented
harshness swept over that part of the province. All supplies of
adequate food ceased, and those who survived were driven by the pangs
of hunger to consume weeds and the bark of trees, fallen leaves,
insects of the lowest orders and the bones of wild animals which had
died in the forest. To carry a little rice openly was a rash challenge
to those who still valued life, and a loaf of chaff and black mould
was guarded as a precious jewel. No wife or daughter could weigh in
the balance against a measure of corn, and men sold themselves into
captivity to secure the coarse nourishment which the rich allotted to
their slaves. Those who remained in the villages followed in Ten-teh's
footsteps, so that the meagre harvest that hitherto had failed to
supply one household now constituted the whole provision for many. At
length these persons, seeing a lingering but inevitable death before
them all, came together and spoke of how this might perchance be
"Let us consider well," said one of their number, "for it may be that
succour would not be withheld did we but know the precise manner in
which to invoke it."
"Your words are light, O Tan-yung, and your eyes too bright in looking
at things which present no encouragement whatever," replied another.
"We who remain are old, infirm, or in some way deficient, or we would
ere this have sold ourselves into slavery or left this accursed desert
in search of a more prolific land. Therefore our existence is of no
value to the State, so that they will not take any pains to preserve
it. Furthermore, now being beyond the grasp of the most covetous
extortion, the district officials have no reason for maintaining an
interest in our lives. Assuredly there is no escape except by the
White Door of which each one himself holds the key."
"Yet," objected a third, "the aged Ning has often recounted how in the
latter years of the reign of the charitable Emperor Kwong, when a
similar infliction lay upon the land, a bullock-load of rice was sent
daily into the villages of the valley and freely distributed by the
headman. Now that same munificent Kwong was a direct ancestor to the
third degree of our own Kwo Kam."
"Alas!" remarked a person who had lost many of his features during a
raid of brigands, "since the days of the commendable Kwong, while the
feet of our lesser ones have been growing smaller the hands of our
greater ones have been growing larger. Yet even nowadays, by the
protection of the deities, the bullock might reach us."
"The wheel-grease of the cart would alone make the day memorable,"
"O brothers," interposed one who had not yet spoken, "do not cause our
throats to twitch convulsively; nor is it in any way useful to leave
the date of solid reflection in pursuit of the stone of light and
versatile fancy. Is it thought to be expedient that we should send an
emissary to those in authority, pleading our straits?"
"Have not two already journeyed to Kuing-yi in our cause, and to what
end?" replied the second one who had raised his voice.
"They did but seek the city mandarin and failed to reach his ear,
being empty-handed," urged Tan-yung. "The distance to the Capital is
admittedly great, yet it is no more than a persevering and
resolute-minded man could certainly achieve. There prostrating himself
before the Sublime One and invoking the memory of the imperishable
Kwong he could so outline our necessity and despair that the one
wagon-load referred to would be increased by nine and the unwieldy
oxen give place to relays of swift horses."
"The Emperor!" exclaimed the one who had last spoken, in tones of
undisguised contempt towards Tan-yung. "Is the eye of the
Unapproachable Sovereign less than that of a city mandarin, that
having failed to come near the one we should now strive to reach the
other; or are we, peradventure, to fill the sleeves of our messenger
with gold and his inner scrip with sapphires!" Nevertheless the
greater part of those who stood around zealously supported Tan-yung,
crying aloud: "The Emperor! The suggestion is inspired! Undoubtedly
the beneficent Kwo Kam will uphold our cause and our troubles may now
be considered as almost at an end."
"Yet," interposed a faltering voice, "who among us is to go?"
At the mention of this necessary detail of the plan the cries which
were the loudest raised in exultation suddenly leapt back upon
themselves as each person looked in turn at all the others and then at
himself. The one who had urged the opportune but disconcerting point
was lacking in the power of movement in his lower limbs and progressed
at a pace little advanced to that of a shell-cow upon two slabs of
wood. Tan-yung was subject to a disorder which without any warning
cast him to the ground almost daily in a condition of writhing frenzy;
the one who had opposed him was paralysed in all but his head and
feet, while those who stood about were either blind, lame,
camel-backed, leprous, armless, misshapen, or in some way mentally or
bodily deficient in an insuperable degree. "Alas!" exclaimed one, as
the true understanding of their deformities possessed him, "not only
would they of the Court receive it as a most detestable insult if we
sent such as ourselves, but the probability of anyone so harassed
overcoming the difficulties of river, desert and mountain barrier is
so remote that this person is more than willing to stake his entire
share of the anticipated bounty against a span-length of succulent
lotus root or an embossed coffin handle."
"Let unworthy despair fade!" suddenly exclaimed Tan-yung, who
nevertheless had been more downcast than any other a moment before;
"for among us has been retained one who has probably been especially
destined for this very service. There is yet Ten-teh. Let us seek him
With this design they sought for Ten-teh and finding him in his hut
they confidently invoked his assistance, pointing out how he would
save all their lives and receive great honour. To their dismay Ten-teh
received them with solemn curses and drove them from his door with
blows, calling them traitors, ungrateful ones, and rebellious subjects
whose minds were so far removed from submissive loyalty that rather
than perish harmlessly they would inopportunely thrust themselves in
upon the attention of the divine Emperor when his mind was full of
great matters and his thoughts tenaciously fixed upon the scheme for
reclaiming the abandoned outer lands of his forefathers. "Behold," he
cried, "when a hand is raised to sweep into oblivion a thousand
earthworms they lift no voice in protest, and in this matter ye are
less than earthworms. The dogs are content to starve dumbly while
their masters feast, and ye are less than dogs. The dutiful son
cheerfully submits himself to torture on the chance that his father's
sufferings may be lessened, and the Emperor, as the supreme head, is
more to be venerated than any father; but your hearts are sheathed in
avarice and greed." Thus he drove them away, and their last hope being
gone they wandered back to the forest, wailing and filling the air
with their despairing moans; for the brief light that had inspired
them was extinguished and the thought that by a patient endurance they
might spare the Emperor an unnecessary pang was not a sufficient
recompense in their eyes.
The time of warmth and green life passed. With winter came floods and
snow-storms, great tempests from the north and bitter winds that cut
men down as though they had been smitten by the sword. The rivers and
lagoons were frozen over; the meagre sustenance of the earth lay
hidden beneath an impenetrable crust of snow and ice, until those who
had hitherto found it a desperate chance to live from day to day now
abandoned the unequal struggle for the more attractive certainty of a
swift and painless death. One by one the fires went out in the houses
of the dead; the ever-increasing snow broke down the walls. Wild
beasts from the mountains walked openly about the deserted streets,
thrust themselves through such doors as were closed against them and
lurked by night in the most sacred recesses of the ruined temples. The
strong and the wealthy had long since fled, and presently out of all
the eleven villages of the valley but one man remained alive and
Ten-teh lay upon the floor of his inner chamber, dying.
"There was a sign--there was a sign in the past that more was yet to
be accomplished," ran the one thought of his mind as he lay there
helpless, his last grain consumed and the ashes on his hearthstone
black. "Can it be that so solemn an omen has fallen unfulfilled to the
ground; or has this person long walked hand in hand with shadows in
the Middle Air?"
"Dwellers of Yin; dwellers of Chung-yo; of Wei, Shan-ta, Feng, the
Rock of the Bleak Pagoda and all the eleven villages of the valley!"
cried a voice from without. "Ho, inhospitable sleeping ones, I have
reached the last dwelling of the plain and no one has as yet bidden me
enter, no voice invited me to unlace my sandals and partake of tea. Do
they fear that this person is a robber in disguise, or is this the
courtesy of the Upper Seng valley?"
"They sleep more deeply," said Ten-teh, speaking back to the full
extent of his failing power; "perchance your voice was not raised high
enough, O estimable wayfarer. Nevertheless, whether you come in peace
or armed with violence, enter here, for the one who lies within is
past help and beyond injury."
Upon this invitation the stranger entered and stood before Ten-teh. He
was of a fierce and martial aspect, carrying a sword at his belt and a
bow and arrows slung across his back, but privation had set a deep
mark upon his features and his body bore unmistakable traces of a long
and arduous march. His garments were ragged, his limbs torn by rocks
and thorny undergrowth, while his ears had fallen away before the
rigour of the ice-laden blasts. In his right hand he carried a staff
upon which he leaned at every step, and glancing to the ground Ten-teh
perceived that the lower part of his sandals were worn away so that he
trod painfully upon his bruised and naked feet.
"Greeting," said Ten-teh, when they had regarded each other for a
moment; "yet, alas, no more substantial than of the lips, for the
hospitality of the eleven villages is shrunk to what you see before
you," and he waved his arm feebly towards the empty bowl and the
blackened hearth. "Whence come you?"
"From the outer land of Im-kau," replied the other. "Over the
"It is a moon-to-moon journey," said Ten-teh. "Few travellers have
ever reached the valley by that inaccessible track."
"More may come before the snow has melted," replied the stranger, with
a stress of significance. "Less than seven days ago this person stood
upon the northern plains."
Ten-teh raised himself upon his arm. "There existed, many cycles ago,
a path--of a single foot's width, it is said--along the edge of the
Pass called the Ram's Horn, but it has been lost beyond the memory of
"It has been found again," said the stranger, "and Kha-hia and his
horde of Kins, joined by the vengeance-breathing Fuh-chi, lie encamped
less than a short march beyond the Pass."
"It can matter little," said Ten-teh, trembling but speaking to
reassure himself. "The people are at peace among themselves, the
Capital adequately defended, and an army sufficiently large to meet
any invasion can march out and engage the enemy at a spot most
convenient to ourselves."
"A few days hence, when all preparation is made," continued the
stranger, "a cloud of armed men will suddenly appear openly, menacing
the western boundaries. The Capital and the fortified places will be
denuded, and all who are available will march out to meet them. They
will be but as an empty shell designed to serve a crafty purpose, for
in the meanwhile Kha-hia will creep unsuspected through the Kang-lings
by the Ram's Horn and before the army can be recalled he will swiftly
fall upon the defenceless Capital and possess it."
"Alas!" exclaimed Ten-teh, "why has the end tarried thus long if it be
but for this person's ears to carry to the grave so tormenting a
message! Yet how comes it, O stranger, that having been admitted to
Kha-hia's innermost council you now betray his trust, or how can
reliance be placed upon the word of one so treacherous?"
"Touching the reason," replied the stranger, with no appearance of
resentment, "that is a matter which must one day lie between Kha-hia,
this person, and one long since Passed Beyond, and to this end have I
uncomplainingly striven for the greater part of a lifetime. For the
rest, men do not cross the King-langs in midwinter, wearing away their
lives upon those stormy heights, to make a jest of empty words.
Already sinking into the Under World, even as I am now powerless to
raise myself above the ground, I, Nau-Kaou, swear and attest what I
"Yet, alas!" exclaimed Ten-teh, striking his breast bitterly in his
dejection, "to what end is it that you have journeyed? Know that out
of all the eleven villages by famine and pestilence not another man
remains. Beyond the valley stretch the uninhabited sand plains, so
that between here and the Capital not a solitary dweller could be
found to bear the message."
"The Silent One laughs!" replied Nau-Kaou dispassionately; and drawing
his cloak more closely about him he would have composed himself into a
reverent attitude to Pass Beyond.
"Not so!" cried Ten-teh, rising in his inspired purpose and standing
upright despite the fever that possessed him; "the jewel is precious
beyond comparison and the casket mean and falling to pieces, but there
is none other. This person will bear the warning."
The stranger looked up from the ground in an increasing wonder. "You
do but dream, old man," he said in a compassionate voice. "Before me
stands one of trembling limbs and infirm appearance. His face is the
colour of potter's clay; his eyes sunken and yellow. His bones
protrude everywhere like the points of armour, while his garment is
scarcely fitted to afford protection against a summer breeze."
"Such dreams do not fade with the light," replied Ten-teh resolutely.
"His feet are whole and untired; his mind clear. His heart is as
inflexibly fixed as the decrees of destiny, and, above all, his
purpose is one which may reasonably demand divine encouragement."
"Yet there are the Han-sing mountains, flung as an insurmountable
barrier across the way," said Nau-Kaou.
"The wind passes over them," replied Ten-teh, binding on his sandals.
"The Girdle," continued the other, thereby indicating the formidable
obstacle presented by the tempestuous river, swollen by the mountain
"The fish, moved by no great purpose, swim from bank to bank," again
replied Ten-teh. "Tell me rather, for the time presses when such
issues hang on the lips of dying men, to what extent Kha-hia's legions
"In number," replied Nau-Kaou, closing his eyes, "they are as the
stars on a very clear night, when the thousands in front do but serve
to conceal the innumerable throng behind. Yet even a small and
resolute army taking up its stand secretly in this valley and falling
upon them unexpectedly when half were crossed could throw them into
disorder and rout, and utterly destroy the power of Kha-hia for all
"So shall it be," said Ten-Teh from the door. "Pass Upward with a
tranquil mind, O stranger from the outer land. The torch which you
have borne so far will not fail until his pyre is lit."
"Stay but a moment," cried Nau-Kaou. "This person, full of vigour and
resource, needed the spur of a most poignant hate to urge his trailing
footsteps. Have you, O decrepit one, any such incentive to your
"A mightier one," came back the voice of Ten-teh, across the snow from
afar. "Fear not."
"It is well; they are the great twin brothers," exclaimed Nau-Kaou.
"Kha-hia is doomed!" Then twice beating the ground with his open hand
he loosened his spirit and passed contentedly into the Upper Air.
iii. THE LAST SERVICE
The wise and accomplished Emperor Kwo Kam (to whom later historians
have justly given the title "Profound") sat upon his agate throne in
the Hall of Audience. Around him were gathered the most illustrious
from every province of the Empire, while emissaries from the courts of
other rulers throughout the world passed in procession before him,
prostrating themselves in token of the dependence which their
sovereigns confessed, and imploring his tolerant acceptance of the
priceless gifts they brought. Along the walls stood musicians and
singers who filled the air with melodious visions, while fan-bearing
slaves dexterously wafted perfumed breezes into every group. So
unparalleled was the splendour of the scene that rare embroidered
silks were trodden under foot and a great fountain was composed of
diamonds dropping into a jade basin full of pearls, but Kwo Kam
outshone all else by the dignity of his air and the magnificence of
Suddenly, and without any of the heralding strains of drums and
cymbals by which persons of distinction had been announced, the arras
before the chief door was plucked aside and a figure, blinded by so
much jewelled brilliance, stumbled into the chamber, still holding
thrust out before him the engraved ring bearing the Imperial emblem
which alone had enabled him to pass the keepers of the outer gates
alive. He had the appearance of being a very aged man, for his hair
was white and scanty, his face deep with shadows and lined like a
river bank when the waters have receded, and as he advanced, bent down
with infirmity, he mumbled certain words in ceaseless repetition. From
his feet and garment there fell a sprinkling of sand as he moved, and
blood dropped to the floor from many an unhealed wound, but his eyes
were very bright, and though sword-handles were grasped on all sides
at the sight of so presumptuous an intrusion, yet none opposed him.
Rather, they fell back, leaving an open passage to the foot of the
throne; so that when the Emperor lifted his eyes he saw the aged man
moving slowly forward to do obeisance.
"Ten-teh, revered father!" exclaimed Kwo Kam, and without pausing a
moment he leapt down from off his throne, thrust aside those who stood
about him and casting his own outer robe of state about Ten-teh's
shoulders embraced him affectionately.
"Supreme ruler," murmured Ten-teh, speaking for the Emperor's ear
alone, and in such a tone of voice as of one who has taught himself a
lesson which remains after all other consciousness has passed away,
"an army swiftly to the north! Let them dispose themselves about the
eleven villages and, overlooking the invaders as they assemble, strike
when they are sufficiently numerous for the victory to be lasting and
decisive. The passage of the Ram's Horn has been found and the
malignant Fuh-chi, banded in an unnatural alliance with the barbarian
Kins, lies with itching feet beyond the Kang-lings. The invasion
threatening on the west is but a snare; let a single camp, feigning to
be a multitudinous legion, be thrown against it. Suffer delay from no
cause. Weigh no alternative. He who speaks is Ten-teh, at whose
assuring word the youth Hoang was wont to cast himself into the
deepest waters fearlessly. His eyes are no less clear to-day, but his
heart is made small with overwhelming deference or in unshrinking
loyalty he would cry: 'Hear and obey! All, all--Flags, Ironcaps,
Tigers, Braves--all to the Seng valley, leaving behind them the
swallow in their march and moving with the guile and secrecy of the
ringed tree-snake.'" With these words Ten-teh's endurance passed its
drawn-out limit and again repeating in a clear and decisive voice,
"All, all to the north!" he released his joints and would have fallen
to the ground had it not been for the Emperor's restraining arms.
When Ten-teh again returned to a knowledge of the lower world he was
seated upon the throne to which the Emperor had borne him. His rest
had been made easy by the luxurious cloaks of the courtiers and
emissaries which had been lavishly heaped about him, while during his
trance the truly high-minded Kwo Kam had not disdained to wash his
feet in a golden basin of perfumed water, to shave his limbs, and to
anoint his head. The greater part of the assembly had been dismissed,
but some of the most trusted among the ministers and officials still
waited in attendance about the door.
"Great and enlightened one," said Ten-teh, as soon as his stupor was
lifted, "has this person delivered his message competently, for his
mind was still a seared vision of snow and sand and perchance his
tongue has stumbled?"
"Bend your ears to the wall, O my father," replied the Emperor, "and
A radiance of the fullest satisfaction lifted the settling shadows for
a moment from Ten-teh's countenance as from the outer court came at
intervals the low and guarded words of command, the orderly clashing
of weapons as they fell into their appointed places, and the regular
and unceasing tread of armed men marching forth. "To the Seng
valley--by no chance to the west?" he demanded, trembling between
anxiety and hope, and drinking in the sound of the rhythmic tramp
which to his ears possessed a more alluring charm than if it were the
melody of blind singing girls.
"Even to the eleven villages," replied the Emperor. "At your
unquestioned word, though my kingdom should hang upon the outcome."
"It is sufficient to have lived so long," said Ten-teh. Then
perceiving that it was evening, for the jade and crystal lamps were
lighted, he cried out: "The time has leapt unnoted. How many are by
this hour upon the march?"
"Sixscore companies of a hundred spearmen each," said Kwo Kam. "By
dawn four times that number will be on their way. In less than three
days a like force will be disposed about the passes of the Han-sing
mountains and the river fords, while at the same time the guards from
less important towns will have been withdrawn to take their place upon
the city walls."
"Such words are more melodious than the sound of many marble lutes,"
said Ten-teh, sinking back as though in repose. "Now is mine that
peace spoken of by the philosopher Chi-chey as the greatest: 'The eye
closing upon its accomplished work.'"
"Assuredly do you stand in need of the healing sleep of nature," said
the Emperor, not grasping the inner significance of the words. "Now
that you are somewhat rested, esteemed sire, suffer this one to show
you the various apartments of the palace so that you may select for
your own such as most pleasingly attract your notice."
"Yet a little longer," entreated Ten-teh. "A little longer by your
side and listening to your voice alone, if it may be permitted, O
"It is for my father to command," replied Kwo Kam. "Perchance they of
the eleven villages sent some special message of gratifying loyalty
which you would relate without delay?"
"They slept, omnipotence, or without doubt it would be so," replied
"Truly," agreed the Emperor. "It was night when you set forth, my
"The shadows had fallen deeply upon the Upper Seng Valley," said
"The Keeper of the Imperial Stores has frequently conveyed to us their
expressions of unfeigned gratitude for the bounty by which we have
sought to keep alive the memory of their hospitality and our own
indebtedness," said the Emperor.
"The sympathetic person cannot have overstated their words," replied
Ten-teh falteringly. "Never, as their own utterances bear testimony,
never was food more welcome, fuel more eagerly sought for, and
clothing more necessary than in the years of the most recent past."
"The assurance is as dew upon the drooping lotus," said Kwo Kam, with
a lightening countenance. "To maintain the people in an unshaken
prosperity, to frown heavily upon extortion and to establish justice
throughout the land--these have been the achievements of the years of
peace. Yet often, O my father, this one's mind has turned yearningly
to the happier absence of strife and the simple abundance which you
and they of the valley know."
"The deities ordain and the balance weighs; your reward will be the
greater," replied Ten-teh. Already he spoke with difficulty, and his
eyes were fast closing, but he held himself rigidly, well knowing that
his spirit must still obey his will.
"Do you not crave now to partake of food and wine?" inquired the
Emperor, with tender solicitude. "A feast has long been prepared of
the choicest dishes in your honour. Consider well the fatigue through
which you have passed."
"It has faded," replied Ten-teh, in a voice scarcely above a whisper,
"the earthly body has ceased to sway the mind. A little longer,
restored one; a very brief span of time."
"Your words are my breath, my father," said the Emperor,
deferentially. "Yet there is one matter which we had reserved for
affectionate censure. It would have spared the feet of one who is
foremost in our concern if you had been content to send the warning by
one of the slaves whose acceptance we craved last year, while you
followed more leisurely by the chariot and the eight white horses
which we deemed suited to your use."
Ten-teh was no longer able to express himself in words, but at this
indication of the Emperor's unceasing thought a great happiness shone
on his face. "What remains?" must reasonably have been his reflection;
"or who shall leave the shade of the fruitful palm-tree to search for
raisins?" Therefore having reached so supreme an eminence that there
was nothing human above, he relaxed the effort by which he had so long
sustained himself, and suffering his spirit to pass unchecked, he at
once fell back lifeless among the cushions of the throne.
That all who should come after might learn by his example, the history
of Ten-teh was inscribed upon eighteen tablets of jade, carved
patiently and with graceful skill by the most expert stone-cutters of
the age. A triumphal arch of seven heights was also erected outside
the city and called by his name, but the efforts of story-tellers and
poets will keep alive the memory of Ten-teh even when these
imperishable monuments shall have long fallen from their destined use.
When Kai Lung had completed the story of the loyalty of Ten-teh and
had pointed out the forgotten splendour of the crumbling arch, the
coolness of the evening tempted them to resume their way. Moving
without discomfort to themselves before nightfall they reached a small
but seemly cottage conveniently placed upon the mountain-side. At the
gate stood an aged person whose dignified appearance was greatly added
to by his long white moustaches. These possessions he pointed out to
Hwa-mei with inoffensive pride as he welcomed the two who stood before
"Venerated father," explained Kai Lung dutifully, "this is she who has
been destined from the beginning of time to raise up a hundred sons to
keep your line extant."
"In that case," remarked the patriarch, "your troubles are only just
beginning. As for me, since all that is now arranged, I can see about
my own departure--'Whatever height the tree, its leaves return to the
earth at last.'"
"It is thus at evening-time--to-morrow the light will again shine
forth," whispered Kai Lung. "Alas, radiance, that you who have dwelt
about a palace should be brought to so mean a hut!"
"If it is small, your presence will pervade it; in a palace there are
many empty rooms," replied Hwa-mei, with a reassuring glance. "I enter
to prepare our evening rice."
Ernest Bramah, of whom in his lifetime Who's
Who had so little to say, was born in
Manchester. At seventeen he chose farming as a
profession, but after three years of losing
money gave it up to go into journalism. He
started as correspondent on a typical
provincial paper, then went to London as
secretary to Jerome K. Jerome, and worked
himself into the editorial side of Jerome's
magazine, To-day, where he got the opportunity
of meeting the most important literary figures
of the day. But he soon left To-day to join a
new publishing firm, as editor of a
publication called The Minister; finally,
after two years of this, he turned to writing
as his full-time occupation. He was intensely
interested in coins and published a book on
the English regal copper coinage. He is,
however, best known as the creator of the
charming character Kai Lung who appears in Kai
Lung Unrolls His Mat, Kai Lung's Golden Hours,
The Wallet of Kai Lung, Kai Lung Beneath the
Mulberry Tree, The Mirror of Kong Ho, and The
Moon of Much Gladness; he also wrote two one-
act plays which are often performed at London
variety theatres, and many stories and
articles in leading periodicals. He died in
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