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The Mirror of Kong Ho
Ernest Bramah



A lively and amusing collection of letters on
western living written by Kong Ho, a Chinese
gentleman. These addressed to his homeland,
refer to the Westerners in London as
barbarians and many of the aids to life in our
society give Kong Ho endless food for thought.
These are things such as the motor car and the
piano; unknown in China at this time.



INTRODUCTION

ESTIMABLE BARBARIAN,--Your opportune suggestion that I should
permit the letters, wherein I have described with undeviating
fidelity the customs and manner of behaving of your
accomplished race, to be set forth in the form of printed
leaves for all to behold, is doubtless gracefully-intentioned,
and this person will raise no barrier of dissent against it.

In this he is inspired by the benevolent hope that his
immature compositions may to one extent become a model and a
by-word to those who in turn visit his own land of Fragrant
Purity; for with exacting care he has set down no detail that
has not come under his direct observation (although it is not
to be denied that here or there he may, perchance, have
misunderstood an involved allusion or failed to grasp the
inner significance of an act), so that Impartiality
necessarily sways his brush, and Truth lurks within his inkpot.

In an entirely contrary manner some, who of recent years have
gratified us with their magnanimous presence, have returned to
their own countries not only with the internal fittings of
many of our palaces (which, being for the most part of a
replaceable nature, need be only trivially referred to, the
incident, indeed, being generally regarded as a most cordial
and pressing variety of foreign politeness), but also--in the
lack of highly-spiced actuality--with subtly-imagined and
truly objectionable instances. These calumnies they have not
hesitated to commit to the form of printed books, which,
falling into the hands of the ignorant and undiscriminating,
may even suggest to their ill-balanced minds a doubt whether
we of the Celestial Empire really are the wisest, bravest,
purest, and most enlightened people in existence.

As a parting, it only remains to be said that, in order to
maintain unimpaired the quaint-sounding brevity and archaic
construction of your prepossessing language, I have engraved
most of the remarks upon the receptive tablets of my mind as
they were uttered. To one who can repeat the Five Classics
without stumbling this is a contemptible achievement. Let it
be an imposed obligation, therefore, that you retain these
portions unchanged as a test and a proof to all who may read.
Of my own deficient words, I can only in truest courtesy
maintain that any alteration must of necessity make them less
offensively commonplace than at present they are.

The Sign and immutable Thumb-mark of,
Kong Ho

By a sure hand to the House of one Ernest Bramah.



THE MIRROR OF KONG HO



LETTER I



Concerning the journey. The unlawful demons invoked by certain
of the barbarians; their power and the manner of their suppression.
suppression. The incredible obtuseness of those who attend within tea-houses.
The harmonious attitude of a person of commerce.


VENERATED SIRE (at whose virtuous and well-established feet an
unworthy son now prostrates himself in spirit repeatedly),--

Having at length reached the summit of my journey, that London of
which the merchants from Canton spoke so many strange and incredible
things, I now send you filial salutations three times increased, and
in accordance with your explicit command I shall write all things to
you with an unvarnished brush, well assured that your versatile object
in committing me to so questionable an enterprise was, above all, to
learn the truth of these matters in an undeviating and yet open-headed
spirit of accuracy and toleration.

Of the perils incurred while travelling in the awe-inspiring devices
by which I was transferred from shore to shore and yet further inland,
of the utter absence of all leisurely dignity on the part of those
controlling their movements, and of the almost unnatural
self-opinionatedness which led them to persist in starting at a stated
and prearranged time, even when this person had courteously pointed
out to them by irrefutable omens that neither the day nor the hour was
suitable for the venture, I have already written. It is enough to
assert that a similar want of prudence was maintained on every
occasion, and, as a result, when actually within sight of the walls of
this city, we were involved for upwards of an hour in a very
evilly-arranged yellow darkness, which, had we but delayed for a day,
as I strenuously advised those in authority after consulting the
Sacred Flat and Round Sticks, we should certainly have avoided.

Concerning the real nature of the devices by which the ships are
propelled at sea and the carriages on land, I must still unroll a
blank mind until I can secretly, and without undue hazard, examine
them more closely. If, as you maintain, it is the work of captive
demons hidden away among their most inside parts, it must be admitted
that these usually intractable beings are admirably trained and
controlled, and I am wide-headed enough to think that in this respect
we might--not-withstanding our nine thousand years of civilised
refinement--learn something of the methods of these barbarians. The
secret, however, is jealously guarded, and they deny the existence of
any supernatural forces; but their protests may be ignored, for there
is undoubtedly a powerful demon used in a similar way by some of the
boldest of them, although its employment is unlawful. A certain kind
of chariot is used for the occupation of this demon, and those who
wish to invoke it conceal their faces within masks of terrifying
design, and cover their hands and bodies with specially prepared
garments, without which it would be fatal to encounter these very
powerful spirits. While yet among the habitations of men, and in
crowded places, they are constrained to use less powerful demons,
which are lawful, but when they reach the unfrequented paths they
throw aside all restraint, and, calling to their aid the forbidden
spirit (which they do by secret movements of the hands), they are
carried forward by its agency at a speed unattainable by merely human
means. By day the demon looks forth from three white eyes, which at
night have a penetrating brilliance equal to the fiercest glances of
the Sacred Dragon in anger. If any person incautiously stands in its
way it utters a warning cry of intolerable rage, and should the
presumptuous one neglect to escape to the roadside and there prostrate
himself reverentially before it, it seizes him by the body part and
contemptuously hurls him bruised and unrecognisable into the boundless
space of the around. Frequently the demon causes the chariot to rise
into the air, and it is credibly asserted by discriminating witnesses
(although this person only sets down as incapable of denial that which
he has actually beheld) that some have maintained an unceasing flight
through the middle air for a distance of many li. Occasionally the
captive demon escapes from the bondage of those who have invoked it,
through some incautious gesture or heretical remark on their part, and
then it never fails to use them grievously, casting them to the ground
wounded, consuming the chariot with fire, and passing away in the
midst of an exceedingly debased odour, by which it is always
accompanied after the manner of our own earth spirits.

This being, as this person has already set forth, an unlawful demon on
account of its power when once called up, and the admitted uncertainty
of its movements, those in authority maintain a stern and inexorable
face towards the practice. To entrap the unwary certain persons
(chosen on account of their massive outlines, and further protected
from evil influences by their pure and consistent habits) keep an
unceasing watch. When one of them, himself lying concealed, detects
the approach of such a being, he closely observes the position of the
sun, and signals to the other a message of warning. Then the second
one, shielded by the sanctity of his life and rendered inviolable by
the nature of his garments--his sandals alone being capable of
overturning any demon from his path should it encounter them--boldly
steps forth into the road and holds out before him certain sacred
emblems. So powerful are these that at the sight the unlawful demon
confesses itself vanquished, and although its whole body trembles with
ill-contained rage, and the air around is poisoned by its
discreditable exhalation, it is devoid of further resistance. Those in
the chariot are thereupon commanded to dismiss it, and being bound in
chains they are led into the presence of certain lesser mandarins who
administer justice from a raised dais.

"Behold!" exclaims the chief of the captors, when the prisoners have
been placed in obsequious attitudes before the lesser mandarins, "thus
the matter chanced: The honourable Wang, although disguised under the
semblance of an applewoman, had discreetly concealed himself by the
roadside, all but his head being underneath a stream of stagnant
water, when, at the eighth hour of the morning, he beheld these
repulsive outcasts approaching in their chariot, carried forward by
the diabolical vigour of the unlawful demon. Although I had stationed
myself several li distant from the accomplished Wang, the chariot
reached me in less than a breathing space of time, those inside
assuming their fiercest and most aggressive attitudes, and as they
came repeatedly urging the demon to increased exertions. Their speed
exceeded that of the swallow in his hymeneal flight, all shrubs and
flowers by the wayside withered incapably at the demon's contaminating
glance, running water ceased to flow, and the road itself was scorched
at their passage, the earth emitting a dull bluish flame. These facts,
and the times and the distances, this person has further inscribed in
a book which thus disposes of all possible defence. Therefore, O
lesser mandarins, let justice be accomplished heavily and without
delay; for, as the proverb truly says, 'The fiercer the flame the more
useless the struggles of the victim.'"

At this point the prisoners frequently endeavour to make themselves
heard, protesting that in the distance between the concealed Wang and
the one who stands accusing them they had thrice stopped to repair
their innermost details, had leisurely partaken of food and wine, and
had also been overtaken, struck, and delayed by a funeral procession.
But so great is the execration in which these persons are held, that
although murderers by stealth, outlaws, snatchers from the body, and
companies of men who by strategy make a smaller sum of money appear to
be larger, can all freely testify their innocence, raisers of this
unlawful demon must not do so, and they are beaten on the head with
chains until they desist.

Then the lesser mandarins, raising their voices in unison, exclaim,
`The amiable Tsay-hi has reported the matter in a discreet and
impartial spirit. Hear our pronouncement: These raisers of illegal
spirits shall each contribute ten taels of gold, which shall be
expended in joss-sticks, in purifying the road which they have
scorched, and in alleviating the distress of the poor and virtuous of
both sexes. The praiseworthy Tsay-hi, moreover, shall embroider upon
his sleeve an honourable sign in remembrance of the event. Let drums
now be beat, and our verdict loudly proclaimed throughout the
province."

These things, O my illustrious father (although on account of my
contemptible deficiencies of style much may seem improbable to your
all-knowing mind), these things I write with an unbending brush; for I
set down only that which I have myself seen, or read in their own
printed records. Doubtless it will occur to one of your preternatural
intelligence that our own system of administering justice, whereby the
person who can hire the greater number of witnesses is reasonably held
to be in the right, although perhaps not absolutely infallible, is in
every way more convenient; but, as it is well said, "To the blind,
night is as acceptable as day."

Henceforth you will have no hesitation in letting it be known
throughout Yuen-ping that these foreign barbarians do possess secret
demons, in spite of their denials. Doubtless I shall presently
discover others no less powerful.

With honourable distinction this person has at length grasped the
essential details of the spoken language here--not sufficiently well,
indeed, to make himself understood on most occasions, or even to
understand others, but enough to perceive clearly when he fails to
become intelligible or when they experience a like difficulty with
him. Upon an earlier occasion, before he had made so much progress,
being one day left to his own resources, and feeling an internal lack,
he entered what appeared to be a tea-shop of reputable demeanour, and,
seating himself at one of the little marble tables, he freely
pronounced the carefully-learned word "rice" to the attending nymph.
To put aside all details of preparation (into which, indeed, this
person could not enter) he waved his hand gracefully, at the same time
smiling with an expression of tolerant acquiescence, as of one who
would say that what was good enough to be cooked and offered by so
entrancing a maiden was good enough to be eaten by him. After
remaining in unruffled tranquillity for the full portion of an hour,
and observing that no other person around had to wait above half that
period, this one began to perceive that the enterprise was not likely
to terminate in a manner satisfactory to himself; so that, leaving
this place with a few well-chosen phrases of intolerable regret in his
own tongue, he entered another, and conducted himself in a like
fashion. . . . Towards evening, with an unperturbed exterior, but
materially afflicted elsewhere, this person seated himself within the
eleventh tea-shop, and, pointing first towards his own constituents of
digestion, then at the fire, and lastly in an upward direction,
thereby signified to any not of stunted intellect that he had reached
such a condition of mind and body that he was ready to consume
whatever the ruling deities were willing to allot, whether boiled,
baked, roast, or suspended from a skewer. In this resolve nothing
would move him, until--after many maidens had approached with
outstretched hands and gestures of despair--there presently entered a
person wearing the helmet of a warrior and the manner of a high
official, who spoke strongly, yet persuasively, of the virtues of
immediate movement and a quiet and reposeful bearing.

Assuredly a people who devote so little attention to the study of
food, and all matters connected with it, must inevitably remain
barbaric, however skilfully they may feign a superficial refinement.
It is said, although I do not commit this matter to my own brush, that
among them are more books composed on subjects which have no actual
existence than on cooking, and, incredible as it may appear, to be
exceptionally round-bodied confers no public honour upon the
individual. Should a favourable occasion present itself, there are
many who do not scruple to jest upon the subject of food, or, what is
incalculably more depraved, upon the scarcity of it.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions of a highly distinguished radiance.
Among these must be accounted one into whose presence this person was
recently led by our polished and harmonious friend Quang-Tsun, the
merchant in tea and spices. This versatile person, whose business-name
is spoken of as Jones Bob-Jones, is worthy of all benignant respect,
and in a really enlightened country would doubtless be raised to a
more exalted position than that of a breaker of outsides (an
occupation difficult to express adequately in the written language of
a country where it is unknown), for his face is like the sun setting
in the time of harvest, his waist garment excessive, and the undoubted
symmetry of his middle portions honourable in the extreme. So welcome
in my eyes, after witnessing an unending stream of concave and
attenuated barbarian ghosts, was the sight of these perfections of
Jones Bob-Jones, that instead of the formal greeting of this
Island--the unmeaning "How do you do it?"--I shook hands cordially
with myself, and exclaimed affectionately in our own language,
"Illimitable felicities! How is your stomach?"

"Well," replied Jones Bob-Jones, after Quang-Tsun had interpreted this
polite salutation to his understanding, "since you mention it, that's
just the trouble; but I'm going on pretty well, thanks. I've tried
most of the advertised things, and now my doctor has put me
practically on a bread-and-water course--clear soup, boiled fish,
plain joint, no sweets, a crumb of cheese, and a bare three glasses of
Hermitage."

During this amiable remark (of which, as it is somewhat of a technical
nature, I was unable to grasp the contained significance until the
agreeable Quang-Tsun had subsequently repeated it several times for
my retention), I maintained a consistent expression of harmonious
agreement and gratified esteem (suitable, I find, for all like
occasions), and then, judging from the sympathetic animation of Jones
Bob-Jones's countenance, that it had not improbably been connected
with food, I discreetly introduced the subject of sea-snails,
preserved in the essence of crushed peaches, by courteously inquiring
whether he had ever partaken of such a delicacy.

"No," replied the liberal-minded person, when--encouraged by the
protruding eagerness of his eyes at the mention of the viand--I had
further spoken of the refined flavour of the dish, and explained the
manner of its preparation. "I can't say that I have, but it sounds
uncommonly good--something like turtle, I should imagine. I'll see if
they can get it for me at Pimm's."

This filial tribute goes by a trusty hand, in the person of one Ki
Nihy, who is shortly committing himself to the protection of his
ancestors and the voracity of the unbounded Bitter Waters; and with
brightness and gold it will doubtless reach you in the course of
twelve or eighteen moons. The superstitious here, this person may
describe, when they wish to send messages from one to another,
inscribe upon the outer cover a written representation of the one
whose habitation they require, and after affixing a small paper
talisman, drop it into a hole in the nearest wall, in the hope that it
may be ultimately conveyed to the appointed spot, either by the
services of the charitably-disposed passer-by, or by the intervention
of the beneficent deities.

With a multiplicity of greetings and many abject expressions of a
conscious inferiority, and attested by an unvarying thumb-mark.

KONG HO.
(Effete branch of a pure and magnanimous trunk.)



To Kong Ah-Paik, reclining beneath the sign of the Lead Tortoise, in a
northerly direction beyond the Lotus Beds outside the city of
Yuen-ping. The Middle Flowery Kingdom.




LETTER II


Concerning the ill-destined manner of existence of the hound
Hercules. The thoughtlessly-expressed desire of the entrancing
maiden and its effect upon a person of susceptible refinement.
The opportune (as it may yet be described) visit of one
Herbert. The behaviour of those around. Reflections.


VENERATED SIRE (whose large right hand is continuously floating in
spirit over the image of this person's dutiful submission),--

Doubtless to your all-consuming prescience, it will at once become
plain that I have abandoned the place of residence from which I
directed my former badly-written and offensively-constructed letter,
the house of the sympathetic and resourceful Maidens Blank, where in
return for an utterly inadequate sum of money, produced at stated
intervals, this very much inferior person was allowed to partake of a
delicately-balanced and somewhat unvarying fare in the company of the
engaging of both sexes, and afterwards to associate on terms of
honourable equality with them in the chief apartment. The reason and
manner of this one's departure are in no degree formidable to his
refined manner of conducting any enterprise, but arose partly from an
insufficient grasp of the more elaborate outlines of a confessedly
involved language, and still more from a too excessive impetuousness
in carrying out what at the time he believed to be the ambition of one
who had come to exercise a melodious influence over his most internal
emotions. Well remarked the Sage, "A piece of gold may be tried
between the teeth; a written promise to pay may be disposed of at a
sacrifice to one more credulous; but what shall be said of the wind,
the Hoang Ho, and the way of a woman?"

To contrive a pitfall for this short-sighted person's immature feet,
certain malicious spirits had so willed it that the chief and more
autumnal of the Maidens Blank (who, nevertheless, wore an excessively
flower-like name), had long lavished herself upon the possession of an
obtuse and self-assertive hound, which was in the habit of gratifying
this inconsiderable person and those who sat around by continually
depositing upon their unworthy garments details of its outer surface,
and when the weather was more than usually cold, by stretching its
graceful and refined body before the fire in such a way as to ensure
that no one should suffer from a too acute exposure to the heat. From
these causes, and because it was by nature a hound which even on the
darkest night could be detected at a more than reasonable distance
away, while at all times it did not hesitate to shake itself freely
into the various prepared viands, this person (and doubtless others
also) regarded it with an emotion very unfavourable towards its
prolonged existence; but observing from the first that those who
permitted themselves to be deposited upon, and their hands and even
their faces to be hound-tongue-defiled with the most externally
cheerful spirit of word suppression, invariably received the most
desirable of the allotted portions of food, he judged it prudent and
conducive to a settled digestion to greet it with favourable terms and
actions, and to refer frequently to its well-displayed proportions,
and to the agile dexterity which it certainly maintained in breathing
into the contents of every dish. Thus the matter may be regarded as
being positioned for a space of time.

One evening I returned at the appointed gong-stroke of dinner, and was
beginning, according to my custom, to greet the hound with
ingratiating politeness, when the one of chief authority held up a
reproving hand, at the same time exclaiming:

"No, Mr. Kong, you must not encourage Hercules with your amiable
condescension, for just now he is in very bad odour with us all."

"Undoubtedly," replied this person, somewhat puzzled, nevertheless,
that the imperfection should thus be referred to openly by one who
hitherto had not hesitated to caress the hound with most intimate
details, "undoubtedly the surrounding has a highly concentrated
acuteness to-night, but the ever-present characteristic of the hound
Hercules is by no means new, for whenever he is in the room--"

At this point it is necessary to explain that the ceremonial etiquette
of these barbarian outcasts is both conflicting and involved. Upon
most of the ordinary occasions of life to obtrude oneself within the
conversation of another is a thing not to be done, yet repeatedly when
this unpretentious person has been relating his experience or
inquiring into the nature and meaning of certain matters which he has
witnessed, he has become aware that his words have been obliterated,
as it were, and his remarks diverted from their original intention by
the sudden and unanticipated desire of those present to express
themselves loudly on some topic of not really engrossing interest. Not
infrequently on such occasions every one present has spoken at once
with concentrated anxiety upon the condition of the weather, the
atmosphere of the room, the hour of the day, or some like detail of
contemptible inferiority. At other times maidens of unquestionable
politeness have sounded instruments of brass or stringed woods with
unceasing vigour, have cast down ornaments of china, or even stood
upon each other's--or this person's--feet with assumed inelegance.
When, therefore, in the midst of my agreeable remark on the asserted
no fragrance of the hound Hercules, a gentleman of habitual refinement
struck me somewhat heavily on the back of the head with a reclining
seat which he was conveying across the room for the acceptance of a
lady, and immediately overwhelmed me with apologies of almost
unnecessary profusion, my mind at once leapt to an inspired
conclusion, and smiling acquiescently I bowed several times to each
person to convey to them an admission of the undoubted fact that to
the wise a timely omen before the storm is as effective as a
thunderbolt afterwards.

It chanced that there was present the exceptionally prepossessing 
maiden to whom this person has already referred. So varied and ornate
were her attractions that it would be incompetent in one of my less
than average ability to attempt an adequate portrayal. She had a
light-coloured name with the letters so harmoniously convoluted as to
be quite beyond my inferior power of pronunciation, so that if I
wished to refer to her in her absence I had to indicate the one I
meant by likening her to a full-blown chrysanthemum, a piece of rare
jade, an ivory pagoda of unapproachable antiquity, or some other
object of admitted grace. Even this description may scarcely convey to
you the real extent of her elegant personality; but in her presence my
internal organs never failed to vibrate with a most entrancing
uncertainty, and even now, at the recollection of her virtuous
demeanour, I am by no means settled within myself.

"Well," exclaimed this melodious vision, with sympathetic tact, "if
every one is going to disown poor Hercules because he has eaten all
our dinners, I shall be quite willing to have him, for he is a dzear
ole loveykins, wasn't ums?" (This, O my immaculate and dignified sire,
which I transcribe with faithful undeviation, appears to be the
dialect of a remote province, spoken only by maidens--both young and
of autumnal solitude--under occasional mental stress; as of a native
of Shan-si relapsing without consciousness into his uncouth tongue
after passing a lifetime in the Capital.) "Don't you think so too,
Mr. Kong?"

"When the sun shines the shadow falls, for truly it is said, 'To the
faithful one even the voice of the corncrake at evening speaks of his
absent love,'" replied this person, so engagingly disconcerted at
being thus openly addressed by the maiden that he retained no delicate
impression of what she said, or even of what he was replying, beyond
an unassuming hope that the nature of his feelings might perchance be
inoffensively revealed to her in the semblance of a discreet allegory.

"Perhaps," interposed a person of neglected refinement, turning
towards the maiden, "you would like to have a corncrake also, to remind
you of Mr. Kong?"

"I do not know what a corncrake is like," replied the maiden with
commendable dignity. "I do not think so, however, for I once had a
pair of canaries, and I found them very unsatisfying, insipid
creatures. But I should love to have a little dog I am sure, only Miss
Blank won't hear of it."

"Kong Ho," thought this person inwardly, "not in vain have you burnt
joss sticks unceasingly, for the enchanting one has said into your
eyes that she would love to partake of a little dog. Assuredly we have
recently consumed the cold portion of sheep on more occasions than a
strict honourableness could require of those who pay a stated sum at
regular intervals, and the change would be a welcome one. As she truly
says, the flavour even of canaries is trivial and insignificant by
comparison." During the period of dinner--which consisted of eggs and
green herbs of the field--this person allowed the contemplation to
grow within him, and inspired by a most pleasant and disinterested
ambition to carry out the expressed wishes of the one who had spoken,
he determined that the matter should be unobtrusively arranged
despite the mercenary opposition of the Maidens Blank.

This person had already learned by experience that dogs are rarely if
ever exposed for sale in the stalls of the meat venders, the reason
doubtless being that they are articles of excessive luxury and
reserved by law for the rich and powerful. Those kept by private
persons are generally closely guarded when they approach a desirable
condition of body, and the hound Hercules would not prove an
attractive dish to those who had known him in life. Nevertheless, it
is well said, "The Great Wall is unsurmountable, but there are many
gaps through," and that same evening I was able to carry the first
part of my well-intentioned surprise into effect.

The matter now involves one named Herbert, who having exchanged gifts
of betrothal with a maiden staying at the house, was in the habit of
presenting himself openly, when he was permitted to see her, after the
manner of these barbarians. (Yet even of them the more discriminating
acknowledge that our customs are immeasurably superior; for when I
explained to the aged father of the Maidens Blank that among us the
marriage rites are irrevocably performed before the bride is seen
unveiled by man, he sighed heavily and exclaimed that the parents of
this country had much to learn.)

The genial-minded Herbert had already acquired for himself the
reputation of being one who ceaselessly removes the gravity of others,
both by word and action, and from the first he selected this obscure
person for his charitable purpose to a most flattering extent. Not
only did he--on the pretext that his memory was rebellious--invariably
greet me as "Mr. Hong Kong," but on more than one occasion he
insisted, with mirth-provoking reference to certain details of my
unbecoming garments, that I must surely have become confused and sent
a Mrs. Hong Kong instead of myself, and frequently he undermined the
gravity of all most successfully by pulling me backwards suddenly by
the pigtail, with the plea that he imagined he was picking up his
riding-whip. This attractive person was always accompanied by a
formidable dog--of convex limbs, shrunken lip, and suspicious
demeanour--which he called Influenza, to the excessive amusement of
those to whom he related its characteristics. For some inexplicable
reason from the first it regarded my lower apparel as being unsuitable
for the ordinary occasions of life, and in spite of the low hissing
call by which its master endeavoured to attract its attention to
himself, it devoted its energies unceasingly to the self-imposed task
of removing them fragment by fragment. Nevertheless it was a dog of
favourable size and condition, and it need not therefore be a matter
for surprise that when the intellectual person Herbert took his
departure on the day in question it had to be assumed that it had
already preceded him. Having accomplished so much, this person found
little difficulty in preparing it tastefully in his own apartment,
and making the substitution on the following day.

Although his mind was confessedly enlarged at the success of his
venture, and his hopes most ornamentally coloured at the thought of
the adorable one's gratified esteem when she discovered how expertly
her wishes had been carried out, this person could not fail to notice
that the Maiden Blank was also materially agitated when she
distributed the contents of the dish before her.

"Will you, of your enlightened courtesy, accept, and overlook the
deficiencies of, a portion of rabbit-pie, O high-souled Mr. Kong?" she
inquired gracefully when this insignificant person was reached, and,
concealing my many-hued emotion beneath an impassive face, I bowed
agreeably as I replied, "To the beggar, black bread is a royal
course."

"WHAT pie did you say, dear?" whispered another autumnal maiden,
when all had partaken somewhat, and at her words a most consistently
acute silence involved the table.

"I--I don't quite know," replied the one of the upper end, becoming
excessively devoid of complexion; and restraining her voice she
forthwith sent down an attending slave to inquire closely.

At this point a person of degraded ancestry endeavoured to remove the
undoubted cloud of depression by feigning the nocturnal cry of the
domestic cat; but in this he was not successful, and a maiden
opposite, after fixedly regarding a bone on her plate, withdrew
suddenly, embracing herself as she went. A moment later the slave
returned, proclaiming aloud that the dish which had been prepared for
the occasion had now been accidentally discovered by the round-bodied
cook beneath the cushions of an arm-chair (a spot by no means
satisfactory to this person's imagination had the opportunities at his
disposal been more diffuse).

"What, then, is this of which we have freely partaken?" cried they
around, and, in the really impressive silence which followed, an
inopportune person discovered a small silver tablet among the
fragments upon his plate, and, taking it up, read aloud the single
word, "Influenza."

During the day, and even far into the uncounted gong-strokes of the
time of darkness, this person had frequently remained in a fascinated
contemplation of the moment when he should reveal himself and stand up
to receive the benevolently-expressed congratulations of all who paid
an agreed sum at fixed intervals, and, particularly, the dazzling
though confessedly unsettling glance-thanks of the celestially-formed
maiden who had explicitly stated that she was desirous of having a
little dog. Now, however, when this part of the enterprise ought to
have taken place, I found myself unable to evade the conclusion that
some important detail of the entire scheme had failed to agree
harmoniously with the rest, and, had it been possible, I would have
retired with unobtrusive tact and permitted another to wear
my honourable acquirements. But, for some reason, as I looked around I
perceived that every eye was fixed upon me with what at another time
would have been a most engaging unanimity, and, although I bowed with
undeterred profusion, and endeavoured to walk out behind an expression
of all-comprehensive urbanity that had never hitherto failed me, a
person of unsympathetic outline placed himself before the door, and
two others, standing one on each side of me, gave me to understand
that a recital of the full happening was required before I left the
room.
                                  *

It is hopeless to expect a display of refined intelligence at the
hands of a people sunk in barbarism and unacquainted with the
requirements of true dignity and the essentials of food preparation.
On the manner of behaving of the male portion of those present this
person has no inducement whatever to linger. Even the maiden for whom
he had accomplished so much, after the nature of the misunderstanding
had been made plain to her, uttered only a single word of approval,
which, on subsequently consulting a book of interpretations, this
person found to indicate: "A person of weak intellect; one without an
adequate sense of the proportion and fitness of things; a buffoon; a
jester; a compound of gooseberries scalded and crushed with cream";
but although each of these definitions may in a way be regarded as
applicable, he is still unable to decide which was the precise one
intended.

With salutations of filial regard, and in a spirit seven times refined
by affliction and purified by vain regrets.

KONG HO.
(Upon whose tablet posterity will perchance inscribe the titles,
"Ill-destined but Misjudged.")




LETTER III


Concerning the virtuous amusements of both old and young. The
sit-round games. The masterpiece of the divine Li Tang, and
its reception by all, including that same Herbert.



VENERATED SIRE (whose breadth of mind is so well developed as to take
for granted boundless filial professions, which, indeed, become vapid
by a too frequent reiteration),--

Your amiable inquiry as to how the barbarians pass their time, when
not employed in affairs of commerce or in worshipping their ancestors,
has inspired me to examine the matter more fully. At the same time
your pleasantly-composed aphorism that the interior nature of persons
does not vary with the colour of their eyes, and that if I searched I
should find the old flying kites and the younger kicking feather
balls or working embroidery, according to their sex, does not appear
to be accurately sustained.

The lesser ones, it is true, engage in a variety of sumptuous
handicrafts, such as the scorching of wooden tablets with the
semblance of a pattern, and gouging others with sharpened implements
into a crude relief; depicting birds and flowers upon the surface of
plates, rending leather into shreds, and entwining beaten iron, brass,
and copper into a diversity of most ingenious complications; but when
I asked a maiden of affectionate and domesticated appearance whether
she had yet worked her age-stricken father's coffin-cloth, she said
that the subject was one upon which she declined to jest, and rapidly
involving herself in a profuse display of emotion, she withdrew,
leaving this one aghast.

To enable my mind to retranquillise, I approached a youth of
highly-gilded appearance, and, with many predictions of
self-inferiority, I suggested that we should engage in the stimulating
rivalry of feather ball. When he learned, however, that the diversion
consisted in propelling upwards a feather-trimmed chip by striking it
against the side of the foot, he candidly replied that he was afraid
he had grown out of shuttle-cock, but did not mind, if I was
vigorously inclined, "taking me on for a set of yang-pong."

Old men here, it is said, do not fly kites, and they affect to despise
catching flies for amusement, although they frequently go fishing.
Struck by this peculiarity, I put it in the form of an inquiry to one
of venerable appearance, why, when at least five score flies were
undeniably before his eyes, he preferred to recline for lengthy
periods by the side of a stream endeavouring to snare creatures of
whose existence he himself had never as yet received any adequate
proof. Doubtless in my contemptible ignorance, however, I used some
word inaccurately, for those who stood around suffered themselves
to become amused, and the one in question replied with no pretence of
amiable condescension that the jest had already been better expressed
a hundred times, and that I would find the behind parts of a printed
leaf called "Punch" in the bookcase. Not being desirous of carrying on
a conversation of which I felt that I had misplaced the most highly
rectified ingredient, I bowed repeatedly, and replied affably that
wisdom ruled his left side and truth his right.

It was upon this same occasion that a young man of unprejudiced
wide-mindedness, taking me aside, asserted that the matter had not been
properly set forth when I was inquiring about kites. Both old and
young men, he continued, frequently endeavoured to fly kites, even in
the involved heart of the city. He had tried once or twice himself,
but never with encouraging success, chiefly, he was told, because his
paper was not good enough. Many people, he added, would not scruple to
mislead me with evasive ambiguity on this one subject owing to an
ill-balanced conception of what constituted true dignity, but he was
unwilling that his countrymen should be thought by mine to be sunk
into a deeper barbarism than actually existed.

His warning was not inopportune. Seated next to this person at a later
period was a maiden from whose agreeably-poised lips had hitherto
proceeded nothing but sincerity and fact. Watching her closely I asked
her, as one who only had a languid interest either one way or the
other, whether her revered father or her talented and
richly-apparelled brothers ever spent their time flying kites about
the city. In spite of a most efficient self-control her colour changed
at my words, and her features trembled for a moment, but quickly
reverting to herself she replied that she thought not; then--as though
to subdue my suspicions more completely--that she was sure they did
not, as the kites would certainly frighten the horses and the
appointed watchmen of the street would not allow it. She confessed,
however, with unassumed candour, that the immediate descendants of her
sister were gracefully proficient in the art.

From this, great and enlightened one, you will readily perceive how
misleading an impression might be carried away by a person
scrupulously-intentioned but not continually looking both ways, when
placed among a people endowed with the uneasy suspicion of the
barbarian and struggling to assert a doubtful refinement. Apart from
this, there has to be taken into consideration their involved process
of reasoning, and the unexpectedly different standards which they
apply to every subject.

At the house of the Maidens Blank, when the evening was not spent in
listening to melodious voices and the harmony of stringed woods, it
was usual to take part in sit-round games of various kinds. (And while
it is on his brush this person would say with commendable pride that a
well-trained musician among us can extort more sound from a hollow
wooden pig, costing only a few cash, than the most skilful here ever
attain on their largest instrument--a highly-lacquered coffin on legs,
filled with bells and hidden springs, and frequently sold for a
thousand taels.)

Upon a certain evening, at the conclusion of one sit-round game which
involved abrupt music, a barrier of chairs, and the exhilarating
possibility of being sat upon by the young and vivacious in their
zeal, a person of the company turned suddenly to the one who is
communicating with you and said enticingly, "Why did Birdcage Walk?"

Not judging from his expression that this was other than a polite
inquiry on a matter which disturbed his repose, I was replying that
the manifestation was undoubtedly the work of a vexatious demon which
had taken up its abode in the article referred to, when another, by my
side, cried aloud, "Because it envied Queen Anne's Gate"; and without
a pause cast back the question, "Who carved The Poultry?"

In spite of the apparent simplicity of the demand it was received by
all in an attitude of complicated doubt, and this person was
considering whether he might not acquire distinction by replying that
such an office fell by custom to the lot of the more austere Maiden
Blank, when the very inadequate reply, "Mark Lane with St. Mary's
Axe," was received with applause and some observations in a half-tone
regarding the identity of the fowl.

By the laws of the sit-round games the one who had last spoken now
proclaimed himself, demanding to know, "Why did Battersea Rise?" but
the involvement was evidently superficial, for the maiden at whose
memory this one's organs still vibrate ignobly at once replied,
"Because it thought Clapham Common," in turn inquiring, "What made the
Marble Arch?"

Although I would have willingly sacrificed to an indefinite extent to
be furnished with the preconcerted watchword, so that I might have
enlarged myself in the eyes of this consecrated being's unapproachable
esteem, I had already decided that the competition was too intangible
for one whose thoughts lay in well-defined parallel lines, and it fell
to another to reply, "To hear Salisbury Court."

This, O my broad-minded ancestor of the first degree--an aimless
challenge coupled with the name of one recognisable spot, replied to
by the haphazard retort of another place, frequently in no way joined
to it, was regarded as an exceptionally fascinating sit-round game by
a company of elderly barbarians!

"What couldn't Walbrook?" it might be, and "Such Cheapside," would be
deemed a praiseworthy solution. "When did King's Bench Walk?" would be
asked, and to reply, "When Gray's Inn Road," covered the one with
overpowering acclamation. "Bevis Marks only an Inner Circle at The
Butts; why?" was a demand of such elaborate complexity that (although
this person was lured out of his self-imposed restraint by the silence
of all round, and submerging his intelligence to an acquired level,
unobtrusively suggested, "Because Aylesbury ducks, perchance") it fell
to the one propounding to announce, "Because St. John's Wood Shoot-up
Hill."

Admittedly it is written, "When the shutter is fastened the girdle is
loosened," but it is as truly said, "Not in the head, nor yet in the
feet, but in the organs of digestion does wisdom reside," and even in
jesting the middle course of neither an excessive pride nor an
absolute weak-mindedness is to be observed. With what concrete pangs
of acute mental distress would this person ever behold his immaculate
progenitor taking part in a similar sit-round game with an assembly of
worthy mandarins, the one asking questions of meaningless import, as
"Why did they Hangkow?" and another replying in an equal strain of no
consecutiveness, "In order to T'in Tung!"

At length a person who is spoken of as having formerly been the
captain of a band of warriors turned to me with an unsuspected absence
of ferocity and said, "Your countrymen are very proficient in the art
of epigram, are they not, Mr. Kong? Will you not, in turn, therefore,
favour us with an example?" Whereupon several maidens exclaimed with
engaging high temper, "Oh yes; do ask us some funny Chinese riddles,
Mr. Kong!"

"Assuredly there are among us many classical instances of the light
sayings which require matching," I replied, gratified that I should
have the opportunity of showing their superiority. "One, harmonious
beyond the blend of challenge and retort, is as follows--'The Phoenix
embroidered upon the side of the shoe: When the shoe advances the
Phoenix leaps forward.'"

"Oh!" cried several of the maidens, and from the nature of their
glances it might reasonably be gathered that already they began to
recognise the inferiority of their own sayings.

"Is that the question, or the answer, or both?" asked a youth of
unfledged maturity, and to hide their conscious humiliation several
persons allowed their faces to melt away.

"That which has been expressed," replied this person with an
ungrudging toleration, "is the first or question portion of the
contrast. The answer is that which will be supplied by your honourable
condescension."

"But," interposed one of the maidens, "it isn't really a question, you
know, Mr. Kong."

"In a way of regarding it, it may be said to be question, inasmuch as
it requires an answer to establish the comparison. The most pleasing
answer is that which shall be dissimilar in idea, and yet at the same
time maintain the most perfect harmony of parallel thought," I
replied. "Now permit your exceptional minds to wander in a forest of
similitudes: 'The Phoenix embroidered upon the side of the shoe: When
the shoe advances the Phoenix leaps forward.'"

"Oh, if that's all you want," said the one Herbert, who by an ill
destiny chanced to be present, "'The red-hot poker held before the
Cat's nose: When the poker advances the Cat leaps backwards.'"

"Oh, very good!" cried several of those around, "of course it
naturally would. Is that right, Mr. Kong?"

"If the high-souled company is satisfied, then it must be, for there
is no conclusive right or wrong--only an unending search for that
which is most gem-set and resourceful," replied this person, with an
ever-deepening conviction of no enthusiasm towards the sit-round game.
"But," he added, resolved to raise for a moment the canopy of a mind
swan-like in its crystal many-sidedness, and then leave them to their
own ineptitude, "for five centuries nothing has been judged equal to
the solution offered by Li Tang. At the time he was presented with a
three-sided banner of silk with the names of his eleven immediate
ancestors embroidered upon it in seven colours, and his own name is
still handed down in imperishable memory."

"Oh, do tell us what it was," cried many. "It must have been clever."

"'The Dragon painted upon the face of the fan: When the fan is shaken
the Dragon flies upwards,'" replied this person.

It cannot be denied that this was received with an attitude of
respectful melancholy strikingly complimentary to the wisdom of the
gifted Li Tang. But whether it may be that the time was too short to
assimilate the more subtle delicacies of the saying, or whether the
barbarian mind is inherently devoid of true balance, this person was
panged most internally to hear one say to another as he went out, "Do
you know, I really think that Herbert's was much the better answer of
the two--more realistic, and what you might expect at the pantomime."
                                  *

A like inability to grasp with a clear and uninvolved vision,
permeates not only the triviality of a sit-round game but even the
most important transactions of existence.

Shortly after his arrival in the Island, this person was initiated by
the widely-esteemed Quang-Tsun into the private life of one whose
occupation was that of a Law-giver, where he frequently drank tea on
terms of mutual cordiality. Upon such an occasion he was one day
present, conversing with the lesser ones of the household--the head
thereof being absent, setting forth the Law in the Temple--when one of
the maidens cried out with amiable vivacity, "Why, Mr. Kong, you say
such consistently graceful things of the ladies you have met over
here, that we shall expect you to take back an English wife with you.
But perhaps you are already married in China?"

"The conclusion is undeviating in its accuracy," replied this person,
unable to evade the allusion. "To Ning, Hia-Fa and T'ain Yen, as the
matter stands."

"Ning Hia-Fa An T'ain Yen!" exclaimed the wife of the Law-giver
pleasantly. "What an important name. Can you pardon our curiosity and
tell us what she is like?"

"Ning, Hia-Fa AND T'ain Yen," repeated this person, not submitting to
be deprived of the consequence of two wives without due protest.
"Three names, three wives. Three very widely separated likes."

At this in no way boastfully uttered statement the agreeably outlined
surface of the faces around variated suddenly, the effect being one
which I have frequently observed in the midst of my politest
expressions of felicity. For a moment, indeed, I could not disguise
from myself that the one who had made the inquiry stretched forth her
lotus-like hand towards the secret spring by which it is customary to
summon the attending slaves from the underneath parts, but restraining
herself with the manner of one who would desire to make less of a
thing that it otherwise might seem, she turned to me again.

"How nice!" she murmured. "What a pity you did not bring them all with
you, Mr. Kong. They would have been a great acquisition."

"Yet it must be well weighed," I replied, not to be out-complimented
touching one another, "that here they would have met so many fine and
superior gentlemen that they might have become dissatisfied with my
less than average prepossessions."

"I wonder if they did not think of that in your case, and refuse to
let you come," said one of the maidens.

"The various persons must not be regarded as being on their all
fours," I replied, anxious that there should be no misunderstanding on
this point. "They, of course, reside within one inner chamber, but
there would be no duplicity in this one adding indefinitely to the
number."

"Of course not; how silly of me!" exclaimed the maiden. "What splendid
musical evenings you can have. But tell me, Mr. Kong (ought it not to
be Messrs. Kong, mamma?), if a girl married you here would she be
legally married to you in China?"

"Oh yes," replied this person positively.

"But could you not, by your own laws, have the marriage set aside
whenever you wished?"

"Assuredly," I admitted. "It is so appointed."

"Then how could she be legally married?" she persisted, with really
unbecoming suspicion.

"Legally married, legally unmarried," replied this person, quite
distressed within himself at not being able to understand the
difficulty besetting her. "All perfectly legal and honourably
observed."

"I think, Gwendoline--" said the one of authority, and although the
matter was no further expressed, by an instinct which he was powerless
to avert, this person at once found himself rising with ceremonious
partings.

Not desiring that the obstacle should remain so inadequately swept
away, I have turned my presumptuous footsteps in the direction of the
Law-giver's house on several later occasions, but each time the word
of the slave guarding the door has been that they of the household,
down even to those of the most insignificant degree of kinship, have
withdrawn to a distant and secluded spot.

With renewed assurances that the enterprise is being gracefully
conducted, however ill-digested and misleading these immature
compositions may appear.

KONG HO.




LETTER IV


Concerning a desire to expatiate upon subjects of
philosophical importance and its no accomplishment. Three
examples of the mental concavity sunk into by these
barbarians. An involved episode which had the outward
appearance of being otherwise than what it was.



VENERATED SIRE (whose genial liberality on all necessary occasions is
well remembered by this person in his sacrifices, with the titles
"Benevolent" and "Open-sleeved"),--

I had it in my head at one time to tell you somewhat of the Classics
most reverenced in this country, of the philosophical opinions which
prevail, and to enlighten you generally upon certain other subjects of
distinguished eminence. As the deities arranged, however, it chanced
that upon my way to a reputable quarter of the city where the
actuality of these matters can be learnt with the least evasion, my
footsteps were drawn aside by an incident which now permeates my
truth-laden brush to the exclusion of all else.

But in the first place, if it be permitted for a thoroughly
untrustworthy son to take so presumptuous a liberty with an
unvaryingly sagacious father, let this one entreat you to regard
everything he writes in a very wide-headed spirit of looking at the
matter from all round. My former letters will have readily convinced
you that much that takes place here, even among those who can afford
long finger-nails, would not be tolerated in Yuen-ping, and in order
to avoid the suspicion that I am suffering from a serious injury to
the head, or have become a prey to a conflicting demon, it will be
necessary to continue an even more highly-sustained tolerant
alertness. This person himself has frequently suffered the ill effects
of rashly assuming that because he is conducting the adventure in a
prepossessing spirit his efforts will be honourably received, as when
he courteously inquired the ages of a company of maidens into whose
presence he was led, and complimented the one whom he was desirous of
especially gratifying by assuring her that she had every appearance of
being at least twice the nine-and-twenty years to which she modestly
laid claim.

Upon another occasion I entered a barber's stall, and finding it
oppressively hot within, I commanded the attendant to carry a
reclining stool into the street and there shave my lower limbs and
anoint my head. As he hesitated to obey--doubtless on account of the
trivial labour involved--I repeated my words in a tone of fuller
authority, holding out the inducement of a just payment when he
complied, and assuring him that he would certainly be dragged before
the nearest mandarin and tortured if he held his joints stiffly. At
this he evidently understood his danger, for obsequiously protesting
that he was only a barber of very mean attainments, and that his
deformed utensils were quite inadequate for the case, he very
courteously directed me in inquire for a public chariot bound for a
quarter called Colney Hatch (the place of commerce, it is reasonable
to infer, of the higher class barbers), and, seating myself in it,
instruct the attendant to put me down at the large gates, where they
possessed every requisite appliance, and also would, if desirable,
shave my head also. Here the incident assumes a more doubtful guise,
for, notwithstanding the admitted politeness of the one who spoke,
each of those to whom I subsequently addressed myself on the subject,
presented to me a face quite devoid of encouragement. While none
actually pointed out the vehicle I sought, many passed on in a state
of inward contemplation without replying, and some--chiefly the
attendants of other chariots of a similar kind--replied in what I
deemed to be a spirit of elusive metaphor, as he who asserted that
such a conveyance must be sought for at a point known intimately as
the Aldgate Pump, whence it started daily at half-past the thirteenth
gong-stroke; and another, who maintained that I had no prospect of
reaching the desired spot until I secured the services of one of a
class of female attendants who wear flowing blue robes in order to
indicate that they are prepared to encounter and vanquish any
emergency in life. To make no elaborate pretence in the matter this
person may definitely admit that he never did reach the place in
question, nor--in spite of a diligent search in which he has
encountered much obloquy--has he yet found any barber sufficiently
well equipped to undertake the detail.

Even more recently I suffered the unmerited rebuke of the superficial
through performing an act of deferential politeness. Learning that the
enlightened and magnanimous sovereign of this country was setting out
on a journey I stationed myself in the forefront of those who stood
before his palace, intending to watch such parts of the procession as
might be fitly witnessed by one of my condition. When these had
passed, and the chariot of the greatest approached, I respectfully
turned my back to the road with a propitiatory gesture, as of one who
did not deem himself worthy even to look upon a being of such majestic
rank and acknowledged excellence. This delicate action, by some
incredible process of mental obliquity, was held by those around to be
a deliberate insult, if not even a preconcerted signal, of open
treachery, and had not a heaven-sent breeze at that moment carried the
hat of a very dignified bystander into the upper branches of an
opportune tree, and successfully turned aside the attention of the
assembly into a most immoderate exhibition of utter loss of gravity, I
should undoubtedly have been publicly tortured, if not actually torn
to pieces.

But the incident first alluded to was of an even more
elaborately-contrived density than these, and some of the details are
still unrolled before the keenest edge of this one's inner perception.
Nevertheless, all is now set down in unbroken exactness for your
impartial judgment.

At the time of this exploit I had only ventured out on a few
occasions, and then, save those recorded, to no considerable extent;
for it had already become obvious that the enterprises in which I
persistently became involved never contributed to my material
prosperity, and the disappointment of finding that even when I could
remember nine words of a sentence in their language none of the
barbarians could understand even so much as a tenth of my own, further
cast down my enthusiasm.

On the day which has been the object of this person's narration from
the first, he set out to become more fully instructed in the subjects
already indicated, and proceeding in a direction of which he had no
actual knowledge, he soon found himself in a populous and degraded
quarter of the city. Presently, to his reasonable astonishment, he saw
before him at a point where two ill-constructed thoroughfares met, a
spacious and important building, many-storied in height, ornamented
with a profusion of gold and crystal, marble and precious stones, and
displaying from a tall pole the three-hued emblem of undeniable
authority. A never-ending stream of people passed in and out by the
numerous doors; the strains of expertly wielded instruments could be
distinctly heard inside, and the warm odour of a most prepossessing
spiced incense permeated the surroundings. "Assuredly," thought the
person who is now recording the incident, "this is one of the Temples
of barbarian worship"; and to set all further doubt at rest he saw in
letters of gilt splendour a variety of praiseworthy and appropriate
inscriptions, among which he read and understood, "Excellent," "Fine
Old," "Well Matured," "Spirits only of the choicest quality within,"
together with many other invocations from which he could not wrest the
hidden significance, as "Old Vatted," "Barclay's Entire," "An Ordinary
at One," and the like.

By this time an impressive gathering had drawn around, and from its
manner of behaving conveyed the suspicion that an entertainment or
manifestation of some kind was confidently awaited. To disperse so
outrageous a misconception this person was on the point of withdrawing
himself when he chanced to see, over the principal door of the Temple,
a solid gold figure of colossal magnitude, represented as crowned with
leaves and tendrils, and holding in his outstretched hands a gigantic,
and doubtless symbolic, bunch of grapes. "This," I said to myself, "is
evidently the tutelary deity of the place, so displayed to receive the
worship of the passer-by." With the discovery a thought of the most
irreproachable benevolence possessed me. "Why should not this person,"
I reflected, "gain the unstinted approbation of those barbarians"
(who by this time completely encircled me in) "by doing obeisance
towards their deity, and by the same act delicately and inoffensively
rebuke them for their own too-frequent intolerable attitude towards
the susceptibilities of others? As an unprejudiced follower, in his
own land, of the systems of Confucius, Lao-tse, and Buddha, this
person already recognises the claims of seventeen thousand nine
hundred and thirty-three deities of various grades, so that the
addition of one more to that number can be a heresy of very trivial
expiation." Inspired by these honourable sentiments, therefore, I at
once prostrated myself on the ground, and, amid a silence of really
illimitable expectation, I began to kow-tow repeatedly with
ceremonious precision.

At this display of charitable broadmindedness an approving shout went
up on all sides. Thus encouraged I proceeded to kow-tow with even more
unceasing assiduousness, and presently words of definite encouragement
mingled with the shout. "Do not flag in your amiable
disinterestedness, Kong Ho," I whispered in my ear, "and out of your
well-sustained endurance may perchance arise a cordial understanding,
and ultimately a remunerative alliance between two distinguished
nations." Filled with this patriotic hope I did not suffer my neck to
stiffen, and doubtless I would have continued the undertaking as long
as the sympathetic persons who hemmed me in signified their refined
approval, when suddenly the cry was raised, "Look out, here comes the
coppers!"

This, O my venerable-headed father, I at once guessed to be the
announcement heralding the collecting-bowl which some over-zealous
bystander was preparing to pass round on my behalf, doubtless under
the impression--so obtuse in grasping the true relationship of events
are many of the barbarians--that I was a wandering monk, displaying my
reverence for the purpose of mendicancy. Not wishing to profit by this
offensive misapprehension, I was preparing to rise, when a hand was
unceremoniously laid upon my shoulder, and turning round I saw behind
me one of the official watch--a class of men so powerful that at a
gesture from their uplifted hands even the fiercest untamed horse will
not infrequently stand upon its hind legs in mute submission.

"Early morning salutations," I said pleasantly, though somewhat
involved in speech by my exertion (for these persons are ever to be
treated with discriminating courtesy). "Prosperity to your house, O
energetic street-watcher, and a thousand grandsons to worship their
illustrious ancestor."

"Thanks," he replied concisely. "I'm a single man. As yet. Now then,
will you make a way there? Can you stand?"

"Stand?" repeated this person, at once recognising one of the
important words of inner meaning concerning which he had been
initiated by the versatile Quang-Tsun. "Certainly this person will not
hesitate to establish his footing if the exaction is thought to be
desirable. Let us, therefore, bend our steps in the direction of a
tea-house of unquestionable propriety."

"You've bent your steps into quite enough tea-houses, as you call
them, for one day," replied the official with evasive meaning, at the
same time assisting me to rise (for it need not be denied that the
restrained position had made me for the moment incapable of a
self-sustaining effort). "Look what you've done."

At the direction of his glance I cast my eyes along the street, east
and west, and for the first time I became aware that what I had last
seen as a reasonable gathering had now taken the proportions of an
innumerable multitude which filled the entire space of the
thoroughfare, while others covered the roofs above and protruded
themselves from every available window. In our own land the
interspersal of umbrellas, musical instruments, and banners, with an
occasional firework, would have given a greater animation to the
scene; but with this exception I have never taken part in a more
impressive and well-extended procession. Even while I looked, the
helmets of other official watchers appeared in the distance, as
immature junks upon the storm-tossed Whang-Hai, apparently striving
fruitlessly to reach us.

As I was by no means sure what attitude was expected of me, I smiled
with an all-embracing approval, and signified to the one at my side,
by way of passing the time pleasurably together, that the likelihood
of his nimble-witted friends reaching us with unruffled garments was
remote in the extreme.

"Don't you let that worry you, Li Hung Chang," he said, in a tone that
had the appearance of being outside itself around a deeper and more
bitter significance; "if we get out again with any garments at all it
won't be your fault. Why, you--well, YOU ought to have been put on the
Black List long ago, by rights."

This, exalted one, although I have not yet been able to learn the
exact dignity of it from any of the books of civil honours, is
undoubtedly a mark of signal attainment, conferred upon the few for
distinguishing themselves by some particular capacity; as our Double
Dragon, for instance. Anxious to learn something of the privileges of
the rank from one who evidently was not without influence in the
bestowal, and not unwilling to show him that I was by no means of
low-caste descent, I said to the official, "In his own country one of
this person's ancestors wore the Decoration of the Yellow Scabbard,
which entitled him to be carried in his chair up to the gate of the
Forbidden Palace before descending to touch the ground. Is this Order
of the Black List of a like purport?"

"You're right," he said, "it is. In this country it entitles you to be
carried right inside the door at Bow Street without ever touching the
ground. Look out! Now we shall not--"

At that moment what this person at first assumed to be a floral
tribute, until he saw that not only the entire plant, but the
earthenware jar also were attached, struck the official upon the
helmet, whereupon, drawing a concealed club, he ceased speaking.

How the entertainment was conducted to such a development this person
is totally inadequate to express; but in an incredibly short space of
time the scene became one of most entrancing variety. From every
visible point around the air became filled with commodities
which--though doubtless without set intention--fittingly represented
the arts, manufactures, and natural history of this resourceful
country, all cast in prolific abundance at the feet of the official
and myself, although the greater part inevitably struck our heads and
bodies before reaching them. Beyond our immediate circle, as it may be
expressed, the crowd never ceased to press forward with resistless
activity, and among it could be seen occasionally the official
watchmen advancing self-reliantly, though frequently without helmets,
and, not less often, the helmets advancing without the official
watchmen. To add to the acknowledged interest, every person present
was proclaiming his views freely on a diversity of subjects, and above
all could be heard the clear notes of the musical instruments by which
the officials sought to encourage one another in their extremity, and
to deaden the cries of those whom they outclubbed.

Despite this person's repeated protests that the distinction was too
excessive, he was plucked from hand to hand irresistibly among those
around, losing a portion of his ill-made attire at each step, so
agreeably anxious were all to detain him. Just when the exploit seemed
likely to have a disagreeable ending, however, he was thrust heavily
against a door which yielded, and at once barring it behind him, he
passed across the open space into which it led, along a passage
between two walls, and thence through an involved labyrinth and
beneath the waters of a canal into a wood of attractive seclusion.
Here this person remained, spending the time in a profitable
meditation, until the light withdrew and the great sky lantern had
ascended. Then he cautiously crept forth, and after some further
trivial episodes which chiefly concern the obstinate-headed slave
guarding the outer door of a tea-house, an unintelligent maiden in the
employment of one vending silk-embroidered raiment, the mercenary
controller of a two-wheeled chariot and the sympathetic and opportune
arrival of a person seated upon a funeral car, he succeeded in
reaching the place of his abode.

With unalterable affection and a material request that an unstinted
adequacy of new garments may be sent by a sure and speedy hand.

KONG HO.




LETTER V


Concerning the neglect of ancestors and its discreditable
consequences. Two who state the matter definitely. Concerning
the otherside way of looking at things and the
self-contradictory bearing of the maiden Florence.



VENERATED SIRE,--A discovery of overwhelming malignity oppresses me.
In spite of much baffling ambiguity and the frequent evasion of
conscious guilt, there can be no longer any reasonable doubt that
these barbarians DO NOT WORSHIP THEIR ANCESTORS!

Hitherto the matter had rested in my mind as an uneasy breath of
suspicion, agitated from time to time by countless indications that
such a possibility might, indeed, exist in a condensed form, but too
inauspiciously profane to be contemplated in the altogether. Thus,
when in the company of the young this person has walked about the
streets of the city, he may at length have said, "Truly, out of your
amiable condescension, you have shown me a variety of entrancing
scenes. Let us now in turn visit the tombs of your ancestors, to the
end that I may transmit fitting gifts to their spirits and discharge a
few propitious fireworks as a greeting." Yet in no case has this
well-intentioned offer been agilely received, one asserting that he
did not know the resting-place of the tombs in question, a second that
he had no ancestors, a third that Kensal Green was not an entrancing
spot for a wet afternoon, a fourth that he would see them removed to a
greater distance first, another that he drew the line at mafficking in
a cemetery, and the like. These things, it may occur to your
omniscience, might in themselves have been conclusive, yet the next
reference to the matter would perhaps be tending to a more alluring
hope.

"To-morrow," a person has remarked in the hearing of this one, "I go
to the Stratford which is upon the Avon, and without a pause I shall
prostrate myself intellectually before the immortal Shakespeare's tomb
and worship his unequalled memory."

"The intention is benevolently conceived," I remarked. "Yet has he no
descendants, this same Shakespeare, that the conciliation of his
spirit must be left to chance?"

When he assured me that this calamity had come about, I would have
added a richly-gilded brick from my store for transmission also, in
the hope that the neglected and capricious shadow would grant me an
immunity from its resentful attention, but the one in question raised
a barrier of dissent. If I wished to adorn a tomb, he added (evading
the deeper significance of the act), there was that of Goldsmith
within its Temple, upon which many impressionable maidens from across
the Bitter Waters of the West make it a custom to deposit chaplets of
verses, in the hope of seeing the offering chronicled in the papers;
and in the Open Space called Trafalgar there were the images of a
great captain who led many junks to victory and the Emperor of a
former dynasty, where doubtless the matter could be arranged; but the
surrounding had by this time become too involved, and this person had
no alternative but to smile symmetrically and reply that his words
were indeed opals falling from a topaz basin.

Later in the day, being desirous of becoming instructed more
definitely, I addressed myself to a venerable person who makes clean
the passage of the way at a point not far distant.

"If you have no sons to extend your industrious line," I said, when he
had revealed this fact to me, "why do you not adopt one to that end?"

With narrow-minded covetousness, he replied that nowadays he had
enough to do to keep himself, and that it would be more reasonable to
get some one to adopt HIM.

"But," I exclaimed, ignoring this ill-timed levity, "who, when you
have Passed Beyond, will worship you and transmit to your spirit the
necessities of life?"

"Governor," he replied, using the term of familiar dignity, "I've made
shift without being worshipped for five and sixty years, and it
worries me a sight more to know who will transmit to my body the
necessities of life until I HAVE Passed Beyond."

"The final consequences of your self-opinionated carelessness," this
person continued, "will be that your neglected and unprovided shadow,
finding itself no longer acceptable to the society of the better class
demons, will wander forth, and allying itself in despair to the
companionship of a band of outcasts like itself, will be driven to
dwell in unclean habitations and to subsist on the uncertain bounty of
the charitable."

"Very likely," replied the irredeemable person before me. "I can't
help its troubles. I have to do all that myself as it is."

Doubtless this fanaticism contains the secret of the ease with which
these barbarians have possessed themselves of the greater part of the
earth, and have even planted their assertive emblems on one or two
spots in our own Flowery Kingdom. What, O my esteemed parent, what can
a brave but devout and demon-fearing nation do when opposed to a people
who are quite prepared to die without first leaving an adequate
posterity to tend their shrines and offer incense? Assuredly, as a
neighbouring philosopher once had occasion to remark, using for his
purpose a metaphor so technically-involved that I must leave the
interpretation until we meet, "It may be war, but it isn't cricket."

The inevitable outcome, naturally, is that the Island must be the
wandering-place of myriads of spirits possessing no recognised
standing, and driven by want--having none to transmit them
offerings--to the most degraded subterfuges. It is freely admitted
that there is scarcely an ancient building not the abode of one or
more of these abandoned demons, doubtless well-disposed in the first
instance, and capable of becoming really beneficent Forces until they
were driven to despair by obstinate neglect. A society of very
honourable persons (to which this one has unobtrusively contributed a
gift), exists for the purpose of searching out the most distressing
and meritorious cases among them, and removing them, where possible,
to a more congenial spot. The remarkable fact, to this person's mind,
is, that with the air and every available space around absolutely
packed with demons (as certainly must be the prevailing state of
things), the manifestations of their malignity and vice are, if
anything, rather less evident here than in our own favoured country,
where we do all in our power to satisfy their wants.

That same evening I found myself seated next to a maiden of
prepossessing vivacity, who was spoken of as being one of a kindred
but not identical race. Filled with the incredible profanity of those
around, and hoping to find among a nation so alluringly high-spirited
a more congenial elevation of mind, I at length turned to her and
said, "Do not regard the question as one of unworthy curiosity, for
this person's inside is white and funereal with his fears; but do you,
of your allied race, worship your ancestors?"

The maiden spent a moment in conscientious thought. "No, Mr. Kong,"
she replied, with a most commendable sigh of unfeigned regret, "I
can't say that we do. I guess it's because we're too new. Mine, now,
only go back two generations, and they were mostly in lard. If they
were old and baronial it might be different, but I can't imagine
myself worshipping an ancestor in lard." (This doubtless refers to
some barbaric method of embalming.)

"And your wide and enlightened countrymen?" I asked, unable to
restrain a passion of pure-bred despair. "Do they also so regard the
obligation?"

"I am afraid so," replied the maiden, with an honourable indication
towards my emotion. "But of course when a girl marries into the
European aristocracy, she and all her folk worship her husband's
ancestors, until every one about is fairly dizzy with the subject."

It is largely owing to the graceful and virtuous conversation of these
lesser ones that this person's knowledge of the exact position which
the ceremonial etiquette of the country demands on various occasions
is becoming so proficiently enlarged. It is true that they of my own
sex do not hesitate to inquire with penetrating assiduousness into
certain of the manners and customs of our land, but these for the most
part do not lead to a conversation in any way profitable to my
discreeter understanding. Those of the inner chamber, on the other
hand, while not scrupling to question me on the details of dress, the
braiding and gumming of the hair, the style and variety of the stalls
of merchants, the wearing of jade, gold, and crystal ornaments and
flowers about the head, smoking, and other matters affecting our
lesser ones, very magnanimously lead my contemplation back to a more
custom-established topic if by any hap in my ambitious ignorance I
outstep it.

In such a manner it chanced on a former occasion that I sat side by
side with a certain maiden awaiting the return of others who had
withdrawn for a period. The season was that of white rains, and the
fire being lavishly extended about the grate we had harmoniously
arranged ourselves before it, while this person, at the repeated and
explicit encouragement of the maiden, spoke openly of such details of
the inner chamber as he has already indicated.

"Is it true, Mr. Ho" (thus the maiden, being unacquainted with the
actual facts, consistently addressed me), "that ladies' feet are
relentlessly compressed until they finally assume the proportions and
appearance of two bulbs?" and as she spoke she absent-mindedly
regarded her own slippers, which were out-thrust somewhat to receive
the action of the fire.

"It is a matter which cannot reasonably be denied," I replied; "and it
is doubtless owing to this effect that they are designated 'Golden
Lilies.' Yet when this observance has been slowly and painfully
accomplished, the extremities in question are not less small but
infinitely less graceful than the select and naturally-formed pair
which this person sees before him." And at the ingeniously-devised
compliment (which, not to become large-headed in self-imagination, it
must be admitted was revealed to me as available for practically all
occassions by the really invaluable Quang-Tsun), I bowed
unremittingly.

"O, Mr. Ho!" exclaimed the maiden, and paused abruptly at the sound of
her words, as though they were inept.

"In many other ways a comparison equally irreproachable to the exalted
being at my side might be sought out," I continued, suddenly forming
the ill-destined judgment that I was no less competent than the more
experienced Quang-Tsun to contrive delicate offerings of speech.
"Their hair is rope like in its lack of spontaneous curve, their eyes
as deficient in lustre as a half-shuttered window; their hands are
exceedingly inferior in colour, and both on the left side, as it may
be expressed; their legs--" but at this point the maiden drew herself
so hastily into herself that I had no alternative but to conclude that
unless I reverted in some way the enterprise was in peril of being
inharmoniously conducted.

"Mr. Ho," said the maiden, after contemplating her inward thoughts for
a moment, "you are a foreigner, and you cannot be expected to know by
instinct what may and what may not be openly expressed in this
country. Therefore, although the obligation is not alluring, I think
it kinder to tell you that the matters which formed the subject of
your last words are never to be referred to."

At this rebuke I again bowed persistently, for it did not appear
reasonable to me that I could in any other way declare myself without
violating the imposed command.

"Not only are they never openly referred to," continued the maiden,
who in spite of the declared no allurement of the subject did not seem
disposed to abandon it at once, "but among the most select they are,
by unspoken agreement, regarded as 'having no actual existence,' as
you yourself would say."

"Yet," protested this person, somewhat puzzled, "to one who has
witnessed the highly-achieved attitudes of those within your Halls of
Harmony, and in an unyielding search for knowledge has addressed
himself even to the advertisement pages of the ladies' papers--"

The maiden waved her hand magnanimously. "In your land, as you have
told me, there are many things, not really existing, which for
politeness you assume to be. In a like but converse manner this is to
be so regarded."

I thanked her voluminously. "The etiquette of this country is as
involved as the spoken tongue," I said, "for both are composed chiefly
of exceptions to a given rule. It was formerly impressed upon this
person, as a guiding principle, that that which is unseen is not to be
discussed; yet it is not held in disrepute to allude to so intimate
and secluded an organ as the heart, for no further removed than
yesterday he heard the deservedly popular sea-lieutenant in the act of
declaring to you, upon his knees, that you were utterly devoid of such
a possession."

At this inoffensively-conveyed suggestion, the fire opposite had all
the appearance of suddenly reflecting itself into the maiden's face
with a most engaging concentration, while at the same time she stamped
her foot in ill-concealed rage.

"You've been listening at the door!" she cried impetuously, "and I
shall never forgive you."

"To no extent," I declared hastily (for although I had indeed been
listening at the door, it appeared, after the weight which she set
upon the incident, more honourable that I should deny it in order to
conciliate her mind). "It so chanced that for the moment this person
had forgotten whether the handle he was grasping was of the push-out
or turn-in variety, and in the involvement a few words of no
particular or enduring significance settled lightly upon his
perception.

"In that case," she replied in high-souled liberality, while her eyes
scintillated towards me with a really all-overpowering radiance, "I
will forgive you."

"We have an old but very appropriate saying, 'To every man the voice
of one maiden carries further than the rolling of thunder,'" I
remarked in a significantly restrained tone; for, although conscious
that the circumstance was becoming more menace-laden than I had any
previous intention, I found myself to be incapable of extrication.
"Florence--"

"Oh," she exclaimed quickly, raising her polished hand with an
undeniable gesture of reproof, "you must not call me by my christian
name, Mr. Ho."

"Yet," replied this person, with a confessedly stubborn inelegance,
"you call me by the name of Ho."

Her eyes became ox-like in an utter absence of almond outline. "Yes,"
she said gazing, "but that--that is not your christian name, is it?"

"In a position of speaking--this one being as a matter of fact a
discreditable follower of the sublime Confucius--it may be so
regarded," I answered, "inasmuch as it is the milk-name of childhood."

"But you always put it last," she urged.

"Assuredly," I replied. "Being irrevocably born with the family name
of Kong, it is thought more reasonable that that should stand first.
After that, others are attached as the various contingencies demand
it, as Ho upon participating in the month-age feast, the book-name of
Tsin at a later period, Paik upon taking a degree, and so forth."

"I am very sorry, Mr. Kong," said the maiden, adding, with what at the
time certainly struck this person as shallow-witted prejudice. "Of
course it is really quite your own fault for being so tospy-turvily
arranged in every way. But, to return to the subject, why should not
one speak of one's heart?"

"Because," replied this person, colouring deeply, and scarcely able to
control his unbearable offence that so irreproachably-moulded a
creature should openly refer to the detail, "because it is a gross and
unrefined particular, much more internal and much less
pleasantly-outlined than those extremities whose spoken equivalent
shall henceforth be an abandoned word from my lips."

"But, in any case, it is not the actual organ that one infers,"
protested the maiden. "As the seat of the affections, passions,
virtues, and will, it is the conventional emblem of every thought and
emotion."

"By no means," I cried, forgetting in the face of so heterodox an
assertion that it would be well to walk warily at every point. "That
is the stomach."

"Ah!" exclaimed the maiden, burying her face in a gracefully-perfumed
remnant of lace, to so overwhelming a degree that for the moment I
feared she might become involved in the dizzy falling. "Never, by any
mischance, use that word again the society of the presentable, Mr.
Kong."

"The ceremonial usage of my own land of the Heavenly Dynasty is
proverbially elaborate," I said, with a gesture of self-abasement,
"but in comparison with yours it may be regarded as an undeviating
walk when opposed to a stately and many-figured dance. Among the
company of the really excessively select (in which must ever be
included the one whom I am now addressing), it becomes difficult for
an outcast of my illimitable obtuseness to move to one side or the
other without putting his foot into that."

"Oh no," exclaimed the maiden, in fragrant encouragement, "I think you
are getting on very nicely, Mr. Kong, and one does not look for
absolute conformance from a foreigner--especially one who is so
extremely foreign. If I can help you with anything--of course I could
not even speak as I have done to an ordinary stranger, but with one of
a distant race it seems different--if I can tell you anything that
will save you--"

"You are all-exalted," I replied, with seemly humility, "and virtue
and wisdom press out your temples on either side. Certainly, since I
have learned that the heart is so poetically regarded, I have been
assailed by a fear lest other organs which I have hitherto despised
might be used in a similar way. Now, as regards liver--"

"It is only used with bacon," replied the maiden, rising abruptly.

"Kidneys?" suggested this person diffidently, really anxious to detain
her footsteps, although from her expression it did not rest assured
that the incident was taking an actually auspicious movement.

"I don't think you need speak of those except at breakfast," she said;
"but I hear the others returning, and I must really go to dress for
dinner."

Among the barbarians many keep books wherein to inscribe their deep
and beautiful thoughts. This person had therefore provided himself
with one also, and, drawing it forth, he now added to a page of many
other interesting compositions: "Maidens of immaculate refinement do
not hesitate to admit before a person of a different sex that they are
on the point of changing their robes. The liver is in some intricate
way an emblem representing bacon, or together with it the two stand
for a widely differing analogy. Among those of the highest
exclusiveness kidneys are never alluded to after the tenth gong-stroke
of the morning."

With a sincerely ingrained trust that the scenes of dignity, opulence,
and wisdom, set forth in these superficial letters, are not unsettling
your intellect and causing you to yearn for a fuller existence.

KONG HO.




LETTER VI


Concerning this person's well-sustained efforts to discover 
further demons. The behaviour of those invoked on two occasions.



VENERATED SIRE,--In an early letter I made some reference to a variety
of demon invoked by certain of the barbarians. As this matter aroused
your congenial interest, I have since privately bent my mind
incessantly to the discovery of others; but this has been by no means
easy, for, touching the more intimate details of the subject, the
barbarians frequently maintain a narrow-minded suspicion. Many whom I
have approached feign to become amused or have evaded a deliberate
answer under the subterfuge of a jest; yet, whenever I would have
lurked by night in their temples or among the enclosed spaces of their
tombs to learn more, at a given signal one in authority has approached
me with anxiety and mistrust engraved upon his features, and,
disregarding my unassuming protest that I would remain alone in a
contemplative reverie, has signified that so devout an exercise is
contrary to their written law.

On one occasion only did this person seem to hold himself poised on
the very edge of a fuller enlightenment. This was when, in the
venerable company of several benevolent persons, he was being taken
from place to place to see the more important buildings, and to
observe the societies of artificers labouring at their crafts. The
greater part of the day had already been spent in visiting temples,
open spaces reserved to children and those whose speech, appearance,
and general manner of behaving make it desirable that they should be
set apart from the contact of the impressionable, halls containing
relics and emblems of the past, places of no particular size or
attraction but described as being of unparalleled historic interest,
and the stalls of the more reputable venders of merchandise.

Doubtless, with observing so many details of a conflicting nature,
this person's discriminating faculties had become obscured, but
towards evening he certainly understood that we sought the company of
an assembly of those who had been selected from all the Empire to
pronounce definitely upon matters of supreme import. The building
before which our chariot stopped had every appearance of being worthy
of so exceptional a gathering, and with a most affluent joy that I
should at last be able to glean a decisive pronouncement, I evaded
those who had accompanied me, and, mingling self-reliantly with the
throng inside, I quickly surrounded myself with many of the
wisest-looking, and begged that they would open their heads freely and
express their innermost opinions upon the subject of demons of all
kinds.

Although I had admittedly hoped that these persons would not conceal
themselves behind the wings of epigram or intangible prevarication, I
was far from being prepared for the candour with which they greeted
me, and although by long usage I am reasonably unconcerned at the
proximity of any of our own recognised genii, it is not to be denied
that my organs of ferocity grew small and unstable at the revelations.

From their words it appeared that the spot on which we stood had long
been the recognised centre and meeting-place for every class of
abandoned and objectionable spirit of the universe. Not only this, but
several of the persons who had gathered around were confidently
pointed out as the earthly embodiment of various diabolical Forces,
while others cheerfully admitted that they themselves were the shadows
of certain illustrious ones who had long Passed Above, and all united
in declaring that those who moved among them wearing the distinction
of a dark blue uniform were Evil Beings of a most ghoulish and
repulsive type. Indeed, as I looked more closely, I could see that not
only those pointed out, but all standing around, had expressions
immeasurably more in keeping with a band of outcast spirits than
suggestive of an assembly representing wisdom and dignified ease. At
that moment, however, a most inelegant movement was caused by one
suddenly declaring that he had recognised this one who is inscribing
his experiences to be the apparition of a certain great reformer who
during the period of his ordinary existence had received the name of
Guy Fawkes, and amid a tumult of overwhelming acclamation a proposal
was raised that I should be carried around in triumph and afterwards
initiated into the observance of a time-honoured custom. Although it
had now become doubtful to what end the adventure was really tending,
this person would have submitted himself agreeably to the
participation had not the blue-apparelled band cleft their way into
the throng just as I was about to be borne off in triumph, and forming
themselves into a ringed barrier around me they presently succeeded in
rearranging the contending elements and in restoring me to the society
of my friends. To these persons they complained with somewhat
unreasoning acrimony that I had been exciting the inmates into a state
of rebellion with wild imaginings, and for the first time I then began
to understand that an important error had been perpetrated by some
one, and that instead of being a meeting-place for those upholding the
wisdom and authority of the country, the building was in reality an
establishment for the mentally defective and those of treacherous
instincts.

For some time after this occurrence I failed to regard the subject of
demons and allied Forces in any but a spirit of complete no
enthusiasm, but more recently my interest and research have been
enlarged by the zeal and supernatural conversation of a liberal-minded
person who sought my prosaic society with indefatigable persistence.
When we had progressed to such a length that the one might speak of
affairs without the other at once interposing that he himself had also
unfortunately come out quite destitute of money, this stranger, who
revealed to me that his name was Glidder, but that in the company of a
certain chosen few he was known intimately as the Keeper of the
Salograma, approached me confidentially, and inquired whether we of
our Central Kingdom were in the habit of receiving manifestations from
the spirits of those who had Passed Beyond.

At the unassumed ingenuousness of this remark I suffered my
impassiveness to relax, as I replied with well-established pride that
although a country which neglected its ancestors might doubtless be
able to produce more of the ordinary or graveyard spectres, we were
unapproachable for the diverse forms and malignant enmity of our
apparitions. Of invisible beings alone, I continued tolerantly, we had
the distinction of being harassed by upwards of seven hundred
clearly-defined varieties, while the commoner inflictions of demons,
shades, visions, warlocks, phantoms, sprites, imps, phenomena, ghosts,
and reflections passed almost without comment; and touching our
admitted national speciality of dragons, the honour of supremacy had
never been questioned.

At this, the agreeable person said that the pleasure he derived
from meeting me was all-excelling, and that I must certainly accompany
him to a meeting-place of this same chosen few the following evening,
when, by the means of sacred expedients, they hoped to invoke the
presence of some departed spirits, and perchance successfully raise a
tangible vision or two. To so fair-minded a proposal I held myself
acquiescently, and then inquired where the meeting-place in question
was destined to be--whether in a ruined and abandoned sanctuary, or
upon some precipitous spot of desolation.

The inquiry was gracefully intended, but a passing cloud of unworthy
annoyance revealed itself upon the upper part of the other's
expression as he replied, "We, the true seekers, despise theatrical
accessories, and, as a matter of act, I couldn't well get away from
the office in time to go anywhere far. To-morrow we meet at my place
in the Camden Road. It's only a three-half-penny tram stage from the
Euston and Tottenham Court corner, so it couldn't be much more
convenient for you." He thereupon gave me an inscribed fragment of
paper and mentioned the appointed hour.

"I'll tell you why I am particularly anxious for you to come
to-morrow," he said as we were each departing from one another.
"Pash--he's the Reader of the Veda among us--and his people have got
hold of a Greek woman (they SAY she is a princess, of course), who can
do a lot of things with flowers and plate glass. They are bringing her
for the first time to-morrow, and it struck me that if I have YOU
there already when they arrive--you'll come in your national costume
by the way?--it will be a considerable set-off. Since his daughter was
presented to the duchess at the opening of a bazaar, there has been no
holding Pash; why he was ever elected Reader of the Books, I don't
know. Er--we have had scoffers sometimes, but I trust I may rely upon
you not to laugh at anything you may not happen to agree with?"

With conscientious dignity I replied that I had only really laughed
seven times in my life, and therefore the entertainment was one which
I was not likely to embark upon hastily or with inadequate cause. He
immediately expressed a seemly regret that the detail had been spoken,
and again assuring him that at the stated hour I would present myself
at the house bearing the symbol engraved upon the card, we definitely
parted.

That, as a matter of fact, I did not so present myself at the exact
hour, chiefly concerns the uncouth and arbitrary-minded charioteer who
controlled the movements of the vehicle to which the one whom I was
seeking had explicitly referred; for at an angle in the road he
suffered the horses to draw us aside into a path which did not
correspond to the engraved signs upon the card, nor by any word of
persuasion could he be prevailed upon to return.

Thus, without any possible reproach upon the manner in which I was
conducting the enterprise, it came about that by the time I reached
the spot indicated, all those persons who had been spoken of as
constituting a chosen band were assembled, and with them the
barbarian princess. Nevertheless, this person was irreproachably
greeted, and the maiden indicated even spoke a few words to him in an
outside tongue. Being necessarily unacquainted with the import of the
remark I spread out my hands with a sign of harmonious sympathy and
smiled agreeably, whereat she appeared to receive an added esteem from
the faces of those around (excluding those directly of the House of
Glidder), and was thereby encouraged to speak similarly at intervals,
this person each time replying in a like fashion.

"Is he then a Guide of the Way, also, princess?" said the one Pash,
who had noted the occurrence; to which the maiden replied, "To a
degree, yet lacking the Innermost Mysteries."

Presently it was announced that all things were fittingly prepared in
another chamber. Here, upon a table of polished wood, stood on the one
side a round stone with certain markings, a group of inscribed books,
and various other emblems; and on the other side a bowl of water, a
sphere of crystal, pieces of unwritten parchment, and behind all, and
at a distance away, a sheet of transparent glass, greater in height
than an ordinary person and as wide. When all were seated--the one who
had enticed me among them placing himself before the stone, the person
Pash guarding the books, the barbarian princess being surrounded by
her symbols and alone in a self-imposed solitude, and the others at
various points--the lights were subdued and the appearances awaited.

It would scarcely be respectful, O my enlightened father, to take up
your well-spent leisure by a too prolific account of the matters which
followed, they being in no way dissimilar from the manifestations by
which the uninitiated little ones of Yuen-ping are wont to amuse
themselves and pass the winter evenings. From time to time harmonious
sounds could be plainly detected, flowers and branches of wood were
scattered sparsely here and there, persons claimed that passing
objects had touched their faces, and misshapen forms of smoke-like
density (which some confidently recognised as the outlines of departed
ones whom they had known), revealed themselves against the glass. When
this had been accomplished, the lights were recalled, and the
barbarian maiden, sinking into a condition of languor, announced and
foretold events and happenings upon which she was consulted, sometimes
replying by spoken words, at others suffering her hand to trace them
lightly upon the parchment sheets. Thus, to an inquirer it was
announced that one, Aunt Mary, in the Upper Air, was well and happy,
though undeniably pained at the action of Cousin William in the matter
of the freehold houses, and more than sceptical how his marriage would
turn out. Another was advised that although the interest on Consols
was admittedly lower than that anticipated by those controlling the
destines of a new venture entitled, The Great Rosy Dawn Gold Mine
Development Syndicate, and the name certainly less poetically
inspiring, the advising spirits were of the opinion that the former
enterprise would prove the more stable of the two, and, in any case,
they recommended the person in question to begin by placing not more
than half of her life's savings into the mine. The family of the House
of Pash was assured that beneficent spirits surrounded them at every
turn, and that their good deeds were not suffered to fall unfruitfully
to the ground; while many bearing the name of Glidder, on the other
hand, were reproved by one who had known them in infancy for the
offences of jealousy, ostentation, vain thoughts, shallowness of
character, and the like.

At length, revered, as there seemed to be no reasonable indication of
any barbarian phantom of weight or authority appearing--nothing,
indeed, beyond what a person in our country, of no admitted skill,
would accomplish in the penetrating light of day with two others
holding his hands, and a third reposing upon his head, I formed the
perhaps immature judgment that the one to whom I was indebted for the
entertainment would be suffering a grievous frustration of his hopes
and a diminution of his outward authority. Therefore, without
sufficient consideration of the restricted surroundings, as it
afterwards appeared, I threw myself into a retrospective vision, and
floating unencumbered through space, I sought for Kwan Kiang-ti, the
Demon of the Waters, upon whom I might fittingly call, as I was given
into his keeping by the ceremony of spirit-adoption at an early age.
Meeting an influence which I recognised to be an indication of his
presence, in the vicinity of the Eighth Region, I obsequiously
entreated that he would reveal himself without delay, and then,
convinced of his sympathetic intervention, I suffered my spirit to
recall itself, and revived into the condition of an ordinary
existence.

"We have among us this evening, my friends," the one Pash was saying,
"a very remarkable lady--if I may use so democratic a term in the
connection--to whom the limits of Time and Space are empty words, and
before whose supreme Will the most portentous Forces of Occult Nature
mutely confess themselves her attending slaves--" But at that moment
the rolling drums of Kiang-ti's thunder drowned his words, although he
subsequently raised his voice above it to entreat that any knives or
other articles of a bright and attractive kind should at once be
removed to a place of safety.

Heralded by these continuous sounds, and accompanied by innumerable
flashes of lightning, the genius presently manifested himself,
leisurely developing out of the air around. He appeared in his
favourite guise of an upright dragon, his scales being arranged in
rows of nine each way, a pearl showing within his throat, and upon his
head the wooden bar. The lights were extinguished incapably by the
rain which fell continually in his presence, but from his body there
proceeded a luminous breath which sufficiently revealed the various
incidents.

"Kong Ho," said this opportune vision, speaking with a voice like the
beating of a brass gong, "the course you have adopted is an unusual
one, but the weight and regularity of your offerings have merit in my
eyes. Nevertheless, if your invocation is only the outcome of a
shallow vanity or a profane love of display, nothing can save you from
a painful death. Speak now, fully and without evasion, and fear
nothing."

"Amiable Being," said this person, kow-towing profoundly, "the matter
was designed to the end only that your incomparable versatility might
be fittingly displayed. These barbarians sought vainly to raise
phantoms capable of any useful purpose, whereupon I, jealous of your
superior omnipotence, judged it would be an unseemly neglect not to
inform you of the opportunity."

"It is well," said the demon affably. "All doubt in the matter shall
now be set at rest. Could any more convincing act be found than that I
should breath upon these barbarians and reduce them instantly to a
scattering of thin white ashes?"

"Assuredly it would be a conclusive testimony," I replied; "yet in
that case consider how inadequate a witness could be borne to your
enlightened condescension, when none would be left but one to whom the
spoken language of this Island is more in the nature of a trap than a
comfortable vehicle."

"Your reasoning is profound, Kong Ho," he replied, "yet abundant proof
shall not be wanting." With these words he raised his hand, and
immediately the air became filled with an overwhelming shower of those
productions with which Kwan Kiang-ti's name is chiefly
associated--shells and pebbles of all kinds, lotus and other roots
from the river banks, weeds from seas of greater depths, fish of
interminable variety from both fresh and bitter waters, all falling in
really embarrassing abundance, and mingled with an incessant rain of
sand and water. In the midst of this the demon suddenly passed away,
striking the table as he went, so that it was scarred with the brand
of a five-clawed hand, shattering all the objects upon it (excepting
the stone and the books, which he doubtless regarded as sacred to some
extent), and leaving the room involved in a profound darkness.

"For the love av the saints--for the love av the saints, save us from
the yellow devils!" exclaimed a voice from the spot where last the
barbarian princess had reclined, and upon this person going to her
assistance with lights it was presently revealed that she alone had
remained seated, the others having all assembled themselves beneath
the table in spite of the incapability of the space at their disposal.
Most of the weightier evidences of Kwan Kiang-ti's majestic presence
had faded away, though the table retained the print of his impressive
hand, many objects remained irretrievably torn apart, and in a distant
corner of the room an insignificant heap of shells and seaweed still
lingered. From the floor covering a sprinkling of the purest Fuh-chow
sand rose at every step, the salt dew of the Tung-Hai still dropped
from the surroundings, and, at a later period, a shore crab was found
endeavouring to make its escape undetected.

Convinced that the success of the manifestation would have enlarged
the one Glidder's esteem towards me to an inexpressible degree, I now
approached him with words of self-deprecation ready on my tongue, but
before he spoke I became aware, from the nature of his glance, that
the provision had been unnecessary, for already his face had begun to
assume, to a most distended amount, the expression which I had long
recognised as a synonym that some detail had been regarded at a
different angle from that anticipated.

"May I ask," he began in a somewhat heavily-laden voice, after he had
assured himself that the person who was speaking was himself, and his
external attributes unchanged, "May I ask, sir" (and at this title,
which is untranslatable in its many-sided significance when
technically employed, I recognised that all complimentary intercourse
might be regarded as having closed), "whether you accept the
responsibility of these proceedings?"

"Touching the appearance which has so essentially contributed to the
success of the occasion, it is undeniably due to this one's
foresight," I replied modestly.

"Then let me tell you, sir, that I consider it an outrage--a dastardly
outrage."

"Yet," protested this person with retiring assertiveness, "the
expressed object of the ceremony, as it stood before my intelligence,
was for the set purpose of invoking spirits and raising certain
visions."

"Spirits!" exclaimed the one before me with an accent of concentrated
aversion; "yes, spirits; impalpable, civilised, genuine spirits, who
manifest themselves through recognised media, and are conformable to
the usages of the best drawing-room society--yes. But not demons, sir;
not Chinese devils in the Camden Road--no. Truth and Light at any
cost, not paganism. It's perfectly scandalous. Look at the mahogany
table--ruined; look at the wall-paper--conventional mackerels with a
fishing-net background, new this spring--soused; look at the Brussels
carpet, seventeen six by twenty-five--saturated!"

"I quite agree with you, Mr. Glidder," here interposed the individual
Pash. "I was watching you, sir, closely the whole time, and I have my
suspicions about how it was done. I don't know whether Mr. Glidder has
any legal redress, but I should certainly advise him to see his
solicitors to-morrow, and in the meantime--"

"He is my guest," exclaimed the one whose hospitality I was enjoying,
"and while he is beneath my roof he is sacred."

"But I do not think that it would be kind to detain him any longer in
his wet things," said another of the household, with pointed
malignity, and accepting this as an omen of departure, I withdrew
myself, bowing repeatedly, but offering no closer cordiality.

"Through a torn sleeve one drops a purse of gold," it is well said;
and as if to prove to a deeper end that misfortune is ever
double-handed, this incapable being, involved in thoughts of funereal
density, bent his footsteps to an inaccurate turning, and after much
wandering was compelled to pass the night upon a desolate heath--but
that would be the matter of another narrative.

With an insidious doubt whether, after all, the far-seeing Kwan
Kiang-ti's first impulse would not have been the most satisfactory
conclusion to the enterprise.

KONG HO.




LETTER VII


Concerning warfare, both as waged by ourselves and by a nation
devoid of true civilisation. The aged man and the meeting and
the parting of our ways. The instance of the one who expressed
emotion by leaping.



VENERATED SIRE,--You are omniscient, but I cannot regard the fear
which you express in your beautifully-written letter, bearing the sign
of the eleventh day of the seventh moon, as anything more than the
imaginings prompted by a too-lavish supper of your favourite shark's
fin and peanut oil. Unless the dexterously-elusive attributes of the
genial-spoken persons high in office at Pekin have deteriorated
contemptibly since this one's departure, it is quite impossible for
our great and enlightened Empire to be drawn into a conflict with the
northern barbarians whom you indicate, against our will. When the
matter becomes urgent, doubtless a prince of the Imperial line will
loyally suffer himself to Pass Above, and during the period of
ceremonial mourning for so pure and exalted an official it would
indeed be an unseemly desecration to engage in any public business. If
this failed, and an ultimatum were pressed with truly savage contempt
for all that is sacred and refined, it might be well next to consider
the health even of the sublime Emperor himself (or, perhaps better,
that of the select and ever-present Dowager Empress); but should the
barbarians still advance, and, setting the usages of civilised warfare
at defiance, threaten an engagement in the midst of this unparalleled
calamity, there will be no alternative but to have a formidable
rebellion in the Capital. All the barbarian powers will then assemble
as usual, and in the general involvement none dare move alone, and
everything will have to be regarded as being put back to where it was
before. It is well said, "The broken vessel can never be made whole,
but it may be delicately arranged so that another shall displace it."

These barbarians, less resourceful in device, have only recently
emerged from a conflict into which they do not hesitate to admit they
were drawn despite their protests. Such incompetence is characteristic
of their methods throughout. Not in any way disguising their purpose,
they at once sent out an army of those whom could be the readiest
seized, certainly furnishing them with weapons, charms to use in case
of emergency, and three-coloured standards (their adversaries adopting
a white banner to symbolise the conciliation of their attitude, and
displaying both freely in every extremity), but utterly neglecting to
teach them the arts of painting their bodies with awe-inspiring forms,
of imitating the cries of wild animals as they attacked, of clashing
their weapons together with menacing vigour, or any of the recognised
artifices by which terror may be struck into the ranks of an awaiting
foeman. The result was that which the prudent must have foreseen. The
more accomplished enemy, without exposing themselves to any
unnecessary inconvenience, gained many advantages by their intrepid
power of dissimulation--arranging their garments and positions in such
a way that they had the appearance of attacking when in reality they
were effecting a prudent retreat; rapidly concealing themselves among
the earth on the approach of an overwhelming force; becoming openly
possessed with the prophetic vision of an assured final victory
whenever it could be no longer concealed that matters were becoming
very desperate indeed; and gaining an effective respite when all other
ways of extrication were barred against them by the stratagem of
feigning that they were other than those whom they had at first
appeared to be.

In the meantime the adventure was not progressing pleasantly for those
chiefly concerned at home. With the earliest tidings of repulse it was
discovered that in the haste of embarkation the wrong persons had been
sent, all those who were really the fittest to command remaining
behind, and many of these did not hesitate to write to the printed
papers, resolutely admitting that they themselves were in every way
better qualified to bring the expedition to a successful end, at the
same time skilfully pointing out how the disasters which those in the
field had incurred could easily have been avoided by acting in a
precisely contrary manner.

In the emergency the most far-seeing recommended a more unbending
policy of extermination. Among these, one in particular, a statesman
bearing an illustrious name of two-edged import, distinguished himself
by the liberal broad-mindedness of his opinions, and for the time he
even did not flinch from making himself excessively unpopular by the
wide and sweeping variety of his censure. "We are confessedly a
barbarian nation," fearlessly declared this unprejudiced person (who,
although entitled by hereditary right to carry a banner on the field
of battle, with patriotic self-effacement preferred to remain at home
and encourage those who were fighting by pointing out their inadequacy
to the task and the extreme unlikelihood of their ever accomplishing
it), "and in order to achieve our purpose speedily it is necessary to
resort to the methods of barbarism." The most effective measure, as he
proceeded to explain with well-thought-out detail, would be to capture
all those least capable of resistance, concentrate them into a given
camp, and then at an agreed signal reduce the entire assembly to what
he termed, in a passage of high-minded eloquence, "a smoking hecatomb
of women and children."

His advice was pointed with a crafty insight, for not only would such
a course have brought the stubborn enemy to a realisation of the
weakness of their position and thus paved the way to a dignified
peace, but by the act itself few would have been left to hand down the
tradition of a relentless antagonism. Yet with incredible obtuseness
his advice was ignored and he himself was referred to at the time by
those who regarded the matter from a different angle, with a
scarcely-veiled dislike, which towards many of his followers took the
form of building materials and other dissentient messages whenever
they attempted to raise their voices publicly. As an inevitable result
the conquest of the country took years, where it would have been moons
had the more truly humane policy been adopted, commerce and the arts
languished, and in the end so little spoil was taken that it was more
common to meet six mendicants wearing the honourable embellishment of
the campaign than to see one captured slave maiden offered for sale in
the market places--indeed, even to this day the deficiency is clearly
admitted and openly referred to as The Great "Domestic" Problem.
                                  *

At various times during my residence here I have been filled with a
most acute gratification when the words of those around have seemed to
indicate that they recognised the undoubted superiority of the laws
and institutions of our enlightened country. Sometimes, it is true,
upon a more detailed investigation of the incident, it has presently
appeared that either I had misunderstood the exact nature of their
sentiments or they had slow-wittedly failed to grasp the precise
operation of the enactment I had described; but these exceptions are
clearly the outcome of their superficial training, and do not affect
the fact my feeble and frequently even eccentric arguments are at
length certainly moving the more intelligent into an admission of what
constitutes true justice and refinement. It is not to be denied that
here and there exists a prejudice against our customs even in the
minds of the studious; but as this is invariably the shadow of
misconception, it has frequently been my sympathetic privilege to
promote harmony by means of the inexorable logic of fact and reason.
"But are not your officials uncompromisingly opposed to the freedom of
the Press?" said one who conversed with me on the varying phases of
the two countries, and knowing that in his eyes this would constitute
an unendurable offence, I at once appeased his mind. "By no means," I
replied; "if anything, the exact contrary is the case. As a matter of
reality, of course, there is no Press now, the all-seeing Board of
Censors having wisely determined that it was not stimulating to the
public welfare; but if such an institution was permitted to exist you
may rest genially assured that nothing could exceed the lenient
toleration which all in office would extend towards it." A similar
instance of malicious inaccuracy is widely spoken of regarding our
lesser ones. "Is it really a fact, Mr. Kong," exclaimed a maiden of
magnanimous condescension, to this person recently, "that we poor
women are despised in your country, and that among the working-classes
female children are even systematically abandoned as soon as they are
born?" Suffering my features to express amusement at this unending
calumny, I indicated my violent contempt towards the one who had first
uttered it. "So far from despising them," I continued, with
ingratiating gallantry, "we recognise that they are quite necessary
for the purposes of preparing our food, carrying weighty burdens, and
the like; and how grotesque an action would it be for poor but
affectionate parents to abandon one who in a few years' time could be
sold at a really remunerative profit, this, indeed, being the
principal means of sustenance in many frugal families."

On another occasion I had seated myself upon a wooden couch in one of
the open spaces about the outskirts of the city, when an aged man
chanced to pass by. Him I saluted with ceremonious politeness, on
account of his years and the venerable dignity of his beard. Thereupon
he approached near, and remarking affably that the afternoon was good
(though, to use no subtle evasion, it was very evil), he congenially
sat by my side and entered into familiar discourse.

"They say that in your part of the world we old grandfathers are
worshipped," he said, after recounting to my ears all the most
intimate details of his existence from his youth upwards; "now, might
that be right?"

"Truly," I replied. "It is the unchanging foundation of our system of
morality."

"Ay, ay," he admitted pleasantly. "We are a long way behind them
foreigners in everything. At the rate we're going there won't be any
trade nor work nor religion left in this country in another twenty
years. I often wish I had gone abroad when I was younger. And if I had
chanced upon your parts I should be worshipped, eh?" and at the
agreeable thought the aged man laughed in his throat with simple
humour.

"Assuredly," I replied; "--after you were dead."

"Eh?" exclaimed the venerable person, checking the fountain of his
mirth abruptly at the word. "Dead! not before? Doesn't--doesn't that
seem a bit of a waste?"

"Such has been the observance from the time of unrecorded antiquity,"
I replied. "'Obey parents, respect the old, loyally uphold the
sovereign, and worship ancestors.'"

"Well, well," remarked the one beside me, "obedience and
respect--that's something nowadays. And you make them do it?"

"Our laws are unflinching in their application," I said. "No crime
is held to be more detestable than disrespect of those to whom we owe
our existence."

"Quite right," he agreed, "it's a pleasure to hear it. It must be a
great country, yours; a country with a future, I should say. Now,
about that youngest lad of my son Henry's--the one that drops pet
lizards down my neck, and threatened to put rat poison into his
mother's tea when she wouldn't take him to the Military Turneyment;
what would they do to him by your laws?"

"If the assertion were well sustained by competent witnesses," I
replied, "it would probably be judged so execrable an offence, that a
new punishment would have to be contrived. Failing that, he would
certainly be wrapped round from head to foot in red-hot chains, and
thus exposed to public derision."

"Ah, red-hot chains!" said the aged person, as though the words formed
a pleasurable taste upon his palate. "The young beggar! Well, he'd
deserve it."

"Furthermore," I continued, gratified at having found one who so
intelligently appreciated the deficiencies of his own country and the
unblemished perfection of ours, "his parents and immediate
descendants, if any should exist, would be submitted to a fate as
inevitable but slightly less contemptuous--slow compression,
perchance; his parents once removed (thus enclosing your venerable
personality), and remoter offsprings would be merely put to the sword
without further ignominy, and those of less kinship to about the
fourth degree would doubtless escape with branding and a reprimand."

"Lordelpus!" exclaimed the patriarchal one, hastily leaping to the
extreme limit of the wooden couch, and grasping his staff into a
significant attitude of defence; "what's that for?"

"Our system of justice is all-embracing," I explained. "It is
reasonably held that in such a case either that there is an inherent
strain of criminality which must be eradicated at all hazard, or else
that those who are responsible for the virtuous instruction of the
young have been grossly neglectful of their duty. Whichever is the
true cause, by this unfailing method we reach the desired end, for, as
our proverb aptly says, 'Do the wise pluck the weed and leave the
roots to spread?'"

"It's butchery, nothing short of Smithfield," said the ancient person
definitely, rising and moving to a more remote distance as he spoke
the words, yet never for a moment relaxing the aggressive angle at
which he thrust out his staff before him. "You're a bloodthirsty race
in my opinion, and when they get this door open in China that there's
so much talk about, out you go through it, my lad, or old England will
know why." With this narrow-minded imprecation on his lips he left me,
not even permitting me to continue expounding what would be the most
likely sentences meted out to the witnesses in the case, the dwellers
of the same street, and the members of the household with whom the
youth in question had contemplated forming an alliance.

Among the many contradictions which really almost seem purposely
arranged to entrap the unwary in this strangely under-side-up country,
is the fact that while the ennobled and those of high official rank
are courteous in their attitude and urbane--frequently even to the
extent of refusing money from those whom they have obliged, no matter
how privately pressed upon them--the low-caste and slavish are not
only deficient in obsequiousness, but are permitted to retort openly
to those who address them with fitting dignity. Here such a state of
things is too general to excite remark, but as instances are well
called the flowers of the tree of assertion, this person will set
forth the manner in which he was contumaciously opposed by an
oblique-eyed outcast who attended within the stall of one selling
wrought gold, jewels, and merchandise of the finer sort.

Being desirous of procuring a gift wherewith to propitiate a certain
maiden's esteem, and seeing above a shop of varied attraction a
suspended sign emblematic of three times repeated gild abundance I
drew near, not doubting to find beneath so auspicious a token the
fulfilment of an honourable accommodation. Inside the window was
displayed one of the implements by which the various details of a
garment are joined together upon turning a wheel, hung about with
an inscription setting forth that it was esteemed at the price of two
units of gold, nineteen pieces of silver, and eleven and
three-quarters of the brass cash of the land, and judging that no more
suitable object could be procured for the purpose, I entered the shop,
and desired the attending slave to submit it to my closer scrutiny.

"Behold," I exclaimed, when I had made a feint of setting the device
into motion (for it need not be concealed from you, O discreet one,
that I was really inadequate to the attempt, and, indeed, narrowly
escaped impaling myself upon its sudden and unexpected protrusions),
"the highly-burnished surface of your dexterously arranged window gave
to this engine a rich attractiveness which is altogether lacking at a
closer examination. Nevertheless, this person will not recede from a
perhaps too impulsive offer of one unit of gold, three pieces of
silver, and four and a half brass cash," my object, of course, being
that after the mutual recrimination of disparagement and over-praise
we should in the length of an hour or two reach a becoming compromise
in the middle distance.

"Well," responded the menial one, regarding me with an expression in
which he did not even attempt to subdue the baser emotions, "you HAVE
come a long way for nothing"; and he made a pretence of wishing to
replace the object.

"Yet," I continued, "observe with calm impartiality how insidiously
the rust has assailed the outer polish of the lacquer; perceive here
upon the beneath part of wood the ineffaceable depression of a
deeply-pointed blow; note well the--"

"It was good enough for you to want me to muck up out of the window,
wasn't it?" demanded the obstinate barbarian, becoming passionate in
his bearing rather than reluctantly, but with courteous grace,
lessening the price to a trifling degree, as we regard the proper way
of carrying on the enterprise.

"It is well said," I admitted, hoping that he might yet learn wisdom
from my attitude of unruffled urbanity, though I feared that his angle
of negotiating was unconquerably opposed to mine, "but now its many
imperfections are revealed. The inelegance of its outline, the
grossness of the applied colours, the unlucky combination of numbers
engraved upon this plate, the--"

"Damme!" cried the utterly perverse rebel standing opposite, "why
don't you keep on your Compound, you Yellow Peril? Who asked you to
come into my shop to blackguard the things? Come now, who did?"  

"Assuredly it is your place of commerce," I replied cheerfully,
preparing to bring forward an argument, which in our country never
fails to shake the most stubborn, "yet bend your eyes to the fact that
at no great distance away there stands another and a more alluring
stall of merchandise where--"

"Go to it then!" screamed the abandoned outcast, leaping over his
counter and shouting aloud in a frenzy of uncontrollable rage. "Clear
out, or I'll bend my feet--" but concluding at this point that some
private calumny from which he was doubtless suffering was disturbing
his mind to so great an extent that there was little likelihood of our
bringing the transaction to a profitable end, I left the shop
immediately but with befitting dignity.

With a fell-founded assurance that you will now be acquiring a really
precise and bird's-eye-like insight into practically all phases of
this country.

KONG HO.




LETTER VIII


Concerning the wisdom of the sublime Wei Chung and its
application to the ordinary problems of existence. The meeting
of three, hitherto unknown to each other, about a wayside inn,
and their various manners of conducting the enterprise.



VENERATED SIRE,--You will doubtless remember the behaviour of the aged
philosopher Wei Chung, when commanded by the broad-minded emperor of
his time to reveal the hidden sources of his illimitable knowledge, so
that all might freely acquire, and the race thereby become raised to a
position of unparalleled excellence. Taking the well-disposed
sovereign familiarly by the arm, Wei Chung led him to the mouth of his
cave in the forest, and, standing by his side, bade him reflect with
open eyes for a short space of time, and then express aloud what he
had seen. "Nothing of grave import," declared the emperor when the
period was accomplished; "only the trees shaken by the breeze." "It is
enough," replied Wei Chung. "What, to the adroitly-balanced mind, does
such a sight reveal?" "That it is certainly a windy day," exclaimed
the omnipotent triumphantly, for although admittedly divine, he yet
lacked the philosopher's discrimination. "On the contrary," replied
the sage coldly, "that is the natural pronouncement of the rankly
superficial. To the highly-trained intellect it conveys the more
subtle truth that the wind affects the trees, and not the trees affect
the wind. For upwards of seventy years this one has daily stood at the
door of his cave for a brief period, and regularly garnering a single
detail of like brilliance, has made it the well-spring for a day's
reflection. As the result he now has by heart upwards of twenty-five
thousand useful facts, all serviceable for original proverbs, and an
encyclopaedic mind which would enable him to take a high place in a
popular competition unassisted by a single work of reference." Much
impressed by the adventure the charitably-inclined emperor presented
Wei Chung with an onyx crown (which the philosopher at once threw into
an adjacent well), and returning to his capital published a decree
that each day at sunrise every person should stand at the door of his
dwelling, and after observing for a period, compare among themselves
the details of their thoughts. By this means he hoped to achieve his
imperial purpose, but although the literal part of the enactment is
scrupulously maintained, especially by the slothful and defamatory,
who may be seen standing at their doors and conversing together even
to this day, from some unforeseen imperfection the intellectual
capacity of the race has remained exactly as it was before.

Nevertheless it is not to be questioned that the system of the
versatile Wei Chung was, in itself, grounded upon a far-seeing
accuracy, and as the need of such a rational observation is deepened
among the inconsistencies and fantastic customs of a barbarian race, I
have made it a useful habit to accept as a guide for the day's
behaviour the reflections engendered by the first noteworthy incident
of the morning.

Upon the day with which this letter concerns itself I had set forth,
in accordance with an ever-present desire, to explore some of the
hidden places of the city. At the time a tempest of great ferocity was
raging, and bending my head before it I had the distinction of coming
into contact with a person of ill-endowed exterior at an angle where
two reads met. This amiable wayfarer exchanged civilities with me
after the politeness characteristic of the labouring classes towards
those who differ from them in speech, dress, or colour: that is to
say, he filled his pipe from my proffered store, and after lighting it
threw the match into my face, and passed on with an appropriate
remark.

Doubtless this insignificant occurrence would have faded without
internal comment if the penetrating Wei Chung had never existed, but
now, guided by his sublime precedent, I arranged the incident for the
day's conduct under three reflective heads.

It was while I was meditating on the second of these that an
exclamation caused me to turn, when I observed a prosperously-outlined
person in the act of picking up a scrip which had the appearance of
being lavishly distended with pieces of gold.

"If I had not seen you pass it, I should have opined that this hyer
wallet belonged to you," remarked the justice-loving stranger (for the
incident had irresistibly retarded my own footsteps), speaking the
language of this land, but with an accent of penetrating harmony
hitherto unknown to my ears. With these auspicious words he turned
over the object upon his hand doubtfully.

"So entrancing a possibility is, as you gracefully suggest, of
unavoidable denial," I replied. "Nevertheless, this person will not
hesitate to join his acclamation with yours; for, as the Book of
Verses wisely says, 'Even the blind, if truly polite, will extol the
prospect from your house-top.'"

"That's so," admitted the one by my side. "But I don't know that there
is any call for a special thanksgiving. As I happen to have more money
of my own than I can reasonably spend I shall drop this in at a
convenient police station. I dare say some poor critter is pining away
for it now."

Pleasantly impressed by the resolute benevolence of the one who had a
greater store of wealth than he could, by his own unaided efforts,
dispose of, I arranged myself unobtrusively at his side, and
maintaining an exhibition of my most polished and genial conversation,
I sought to penetrate deeply into his esteem.

"Gaze in this direction, Kong," he said at length, calling me by name
with auspicious familiarity; "I am a benighted stranger in this hyer
city, and so are you, I rek'n. Suppose we liquor up, and then take a
few of the side shows together."

"The suggestion is one against which I will erect no ill-disposed
barrier," I at once replied, so inflexibly determined not to lose
sight of a person possessing such engaging attributes as to be
cheerfully prepared even to consume my rice spirit in the inverted
position which his words implied if the display was persisted in.
"Nevertheless," I added, with a resourceful prudence, "although by no
means undistinguished among the highest literary and competitive
circles of his native Yuen-ping, the one before you is incapable of
walking in the footsteps of a person whose accumulations are greater
than he himself can appreciably diminish."

"That's all right, Kong," exclaimed the one whom my last words
fittingly described, striking the recess of his lower garment with a
gesture of graceful significance. "When I take a fancy to any one it
isn't a matter of dollars. I usually carry a trifle of five hundred
or a thousand pounds in my pocket-book, and if we can get through
that--why, there's plenty more waiting at the bank. Say, though, I
hope you don't keep much about you; it isn't really safe."

"The temptation to do so is one which this person has hitherto
successfully evaded," I replied. "The contents of this reptile-skin
case"--and not to be outshone in mutual confidence I here displayed it
openly--"do not exceed nine or ten pieces of gold and a like number of
printed obligations promising to pay five pieces each."

"Put it away, Kong," he said resolutely. "You won't need that so long
as you're with me. Well, now, what sort of a saloon have we here?"

As far as the opinion might be superficially expressed it had every
indication of being one of noteworthy antiquity, and to the innately
modest mind its unassuming diffidence might have lent an added charm.
Nevertheless, on most occasions this person would have maintained an
unshaken dexterity in avoiding its open door, but as the choice
admittedly lay in the hands of one who carried five hundred or a
thousand pieces of gold we went in together and passed through to a
compartment of retiring seclusion.

In our own land, O my orthodox-minded father, where the unfailing
resources of innumerable bands of dragons, spirits, vampires, ghouls,
shadows, omens, and thunderstorms are daily enlisted to carry into
effect the pronouncements of an appointed destiny, we have many
historical examples of the inexorably converging legs of coincidence,
but none, I think, more impressively arranged than the one now
descending this person's brush.

We had scarcely reposed ourselves, and taken from the hands of an
awaiting slave the vessels of thrice-potent liquid which in this Island
is regarded as the indispensable accompaniment to every movement of
existence, when a third person entered the room, and seating himself
at a table some slightly removed distance away, lowered his head and
abandoned himself to a display of most lavish dejection.

"That poor cuss doesn't appear to be holiday-making," remarked the
sincerely-compassionate person at my side, after closely observing the
other for a period; and then, moved by the overpowering munificence of
his inward nature, he called aloud, "Say, stranger, you seem to have
got it thickly in the neck. Is it family affliction or the whisky of
the establishment?"

At these affably-intentioned words the stranger raised his eyes
quickly, with an indication of not having up to that time been aware
of our presence.

"Sir," he exclaimed, approaching to a spot where he could converse
with a more enhanced facility, "when I loosened the restraint of an
overpowering if unmanly grief, I imagined that I was alone, for I
would have shunned even the most flattering sympathy, but your
charitably-modulated voice invites confidence. The one before you is
the most contemptible, left-handed, and disqualified outcast in
creation, and he is now making his way towards the river, while his
widow will be left to take in washing, his infant son to vend evening
printed leaves, and his graceful and hitherto highly secluded
daughters to go upon the stage."

"Say, stranger," interposed this person, by no means unwilling to
engrave upon his memory this newly-acquired form of greeting, "the
emotion is doubtless all-pressing, but in my ornate and flower-laden
tongue we have a salutation, 'Slowly, slowly; walk slowly,' which
seems to be of far-seeing application."

"That's so," remarked the one by my side. "Separate it with the teeth,
inch by inch."

"I will be calm, then," continued the other (who, to avoid the
complication of the intermingling circumstances, may be described as
the more stranger of the two), and he took of his neckcloth. "I am a
merchant in tea, yellow fat, and mixed spices, in a small but hitherto
satisfactory way." Thus revealing himself, he continued to set forth
how at an earlier hour he had started on a journey to deposit his
wealth (doubtless as a propitiation of outraged deities) upon a
certain bank, and how, upon reaching the specified point, he
discovered that what he carried had eluded his vigilance. "All gone:
notes, gold, and pocket-book--the savings of a lifetime," concluded
the ill-omened one, and at the recollection a sudden and even more
highly-sustained frenzy of self-unpopularity involving him, without a
pause he addressed himself by seven and twenty insulting expressions,
many of which were quite new to my understanding.

At the earliest mention of the details affecting the loss, the elbow
of the person who had made himself responsible for the financial
obligation of the day propelled itself against my middle part, and
unseen by the other he indicated to me by means of his features that
the entertainment was becoming one of agreeable prepossession.

"Now, touching this hyer wallet," he said presently. "How might you
describe it?"

"In colour it was red, and within were two compartments, the one
containing three score notes each of ten pounds, the other fifty
pounds of gold. But what's the use of describing it? Some lucky demon
will pick it up and pocket the lot, and I shall never see a cent of it
again."

"Then you'd better consult one who reburnishes the eyes," declared
the magnanimous one with a laugh, and drawing forth the article
referred to he cast it towards the merchant in a small way.

At this point of the narrative my thoroughly incompetent brush
confesses the proportions of the requirement to be beyond its most
extended limit, and many very honourable details are necessarily left
without expression.

"I've known men of all sorts, good, bad, and bothwise," exclaimed the
one who had recovered his possessions; "but I never thought to meet a
gent as would hand over six hundred and fifty pounds as if it was a
toothpick. Sir, it overbalances me; it does, indeed."

"Say no more about it," urged the first person, and to suggest
gracefully that the incident had reached its furthest extremity, he
began to set out the melody of an unspoken verse.

"I will say no more, then," he replied; "but you cannot reasonably
prevent my doing something to express my gratitude. If you are not too
proud you will come and partake of food and wine with me beneath the
sign of the Funereal Male Cow, and to show my confidence in you I
shall insist upon you carrying my pocket-book."

The person whom I had first encountered suffered his face to become
excessively amused. "Say, stranger, do you take me for a pack-mule?"
he replied good-naturedly. "I already have about as much as I want to
handle. Never mind; we'll come along with you, and Mr. Kong shall
carry your bullion."

At this delicate and high-minded proposal a rapid change, in no way
complimentary to my explicit habit of adequately conducting any
venture upon which I may be engaged, came over the face of the second
person.

"Sir," he exclaimed, "I have nothing to say against this gentleman,
but I am under no obligation to him, and I don't see why I should
trust him with everything I possess."

"Stranger," exclaimed the other rising to his feet (and from this
point it must be understood that the various details succeeded one
another with a really agile dexterity), "let me tell you that Mr. Kong
is my friend, and that ought to be enough."

"It is. If you say this gentleman is your friend, and that you have
known him long and intimately enough to be able to answer for him,
that's good enough for me."

"Well," admitted the first person, and I could not conceal from myself
that his tone was inauspiciously reluctant, "I can't exactly say that
I've known him long; in fact I only met him half an hour ago. But I
have the fullest confidence in his integrity."

"It's just as I expected. Well, sir, you're good-natured enough for
anything, but if you'll excuse me, I must say that you're a small
piece of an earthenware vessel after all"--the veiled allusion
doubtlessly being that the vessel of necessity being broken, the
contents inevitably escape--"and I hope you're not being had."

"I'm not, and I'll prove it before we go out together," retorted the
engaging one, who had in the meantime become so actively impetuous on
my account, that he did not remain content with the spoken words, but
threw the various belongings about as he mentioned them in a really
profuse display of inimitable vehemence. "Here, Kong, take this hyer
pocket-book whatever he says. Now on the top of that take everything
I've got, and you know what THAT figures up to. Now give this
gentleman your little lot to keep him quiet; I don't ask for anything.
Now, stranger, I'm ready. You and I will take a stroll round the block
and back again, and if Mr. Kong isn't waiting here for us when we
return with everything intact and O.K., I'll double your deposit and
never trust a durned soul again."

Nodding genially over his shoulder with a harmonious understanding,
expressive of the fact that we were embarking upon an undeniably
diverting episode, the benevolent-souled person who had accumulated
more riches than he was competent to melt away himself, passed out,
urging the doubtful and still protesting one before him.

Thus abandoned to my own reflections, I pondered for a short time
profitably on the third head of the day's meditation (Touching the
match and this person's unattractively-lined face. The revealed truth:
the inexperienced sheep cannot pass through the hedge without leaving
portions of his wool), and then finding the philosophy of Wei Chung
very good, I determined to remove the superfluous apprehensions of the
vender of food-stuffs with less delay by setting out and meeting them
on their return.

A few paces distant from the door, one of the ever-present watchers of
the street was standing, watching the street with unremitting
vigilance, while from the well-guarded expression of his face it might
nevertheless be gathered that he stood as though in expectation.

"Prosperity," I said, with seasonable greeting. (For no excess of
consideration is too great to be lavished upon these, who unite within
themselves the courage of a high warrior, the expertness of a
three-handed magician, and the courtesy of a genial mandarin.) "I seek
two, apparelled thus and thus. Did you, by any chance, mark the
direction of their footsteps?"

"Oh," he said, regarding this person with a most flattering
application, "YOU seek them, do you? Well, they've just gone off in
a hansom, and they'll want a lot of seeking for the next week or two.
You let them carry your purse, perhaps?"

"Assuredly," I replied. "As a mark of confidence; this person, for his
part, receiving a like token at their hands."

"That's it," said the official watcher, conveying into his voice a
subtle indication that he had become excessively fatigued. "It's like
a nursery tale--never too old to take with the kids. Well, come along,
poor lamb, the station isn't far."

So great had become the reliance which by this time I habitually
reposed in these men, that I never sought to oppose their
pronouncements (such a course being not only useless but undignified),
and we therefore together reached the place which the one by my side
had described as a station.

From the outside the building was in no way imposing, but upon
reaching an inner dungeon it at once became plain that no matter with
what crime a person might be charged, even the most stubborn
resistance would be unavailing. Before a fiercely-burning fire were
arranged metal pincers, massive skewers, ornamental branding irons,
and the usual accessories of the grill, one tool being already thrust
into the heart of the flame to indicate the nature of its use, and its
immediate readiness for the purpose. Pegs from which the accused could
be hung by the thumbs with weights attached to the feet, covered an
entire wall; chains, shackling-irons, fetters, steel rings for
compressing the throat, and belts for tightening the chest, all had
their appointed places, while the Chair, the Boot, the Heavy Hat, and
many other appliances quite unknown to our system of administering
justice were scattered about.

Without pausing to select any of these, the one who led me approached
a raised desk at which was seated a less warlike official, whose
sympathetic appearance inspired confidence. "Kong Ho," exclaimed to
himself the person who is inscribing these words, "here is an
individual into whose discriminating ear it would be well to pour the
exact happening without evasion. Then even if the accusation against
you be that of resembling another or trafficking with unlawful Forces,
he will doubtless arrange the matter so that the expiation shall be as
light and inexpensive as possible."

By this time certain other officials had drawn near. "What is it?" I
heard one demand, and another replied, "Brooklyn Ben and Jimmie the
Butterman again. Ah, they aren't artful, are they!" but at this moment
the two into whose power I had chiefly fallen having conversed
together, I was commanded to advance towards them and reveal my name.

"Kong," I replied freely; and I had formed a design to explain
somewhat of the many illustrious ancestors of the House, when the one
at the desk, pausing to inscribe my answer in a book, spoke out.

"Kong?" he said. "Is that the christian or surname?"

"Sir-name?" replied this person between two thoughts. "Undoubtedly the
one before you is entitled by public examination to the degree
'Recognised Talent,' which may, as a meritorious distinction, be held
equal to your title of a warrior clad in armour. Yet, if it is so
held, that would rightly be this person's official name of Paik."

"Oh, it would, would it?" said the one seated upon the high chair.
"That's quite clear. Are there any other names as well?"

"Assuredly," I explained, pained inwardly that one of official rank
should so slightly esteem my appearance as to judge that I was so
meagrely endowed. "The milk name of Ho; Tsin upon entering the
Classes; as a Great Name Cheng; another style in Quank; the official
title already expressed, and T'chun, Li, Yuen and Nung as the various
emergencies of life arise."

"Thank you," said the high-chair official courteously. "Now, just the
name in full, please, without any velvet trimmings."

"Kong," began this person, desirous above all things of putting the
matter competently, yet secretly perturbed as to what might be
considered superfluous and what deemed a perfidious suppression, "Ho
Tsin Cheng Quank--"

"Hold hard," cried this same one, restraining me with an uplifted pen.
"Did you say 'Quack'?"

"Quack?" repeated this person, beginning to become involved within
himself, and not grasping the detail in the right position. "In a
manner of setting the expression forth--"

"Put him down, 'Quack Duck,' sir," exclaimed one of dog-like dejection
who stood by. "Most of these Lascars haven't got any real names--they
just go by what any one happens to call them at the time, like
'Burmese Ike' down at the Mint," and this person unfortunately
chancing to smile and bow acquiescently at that moment (not with any
set intention, but as a general principle of courteous urbanity), in
place of his really distinguished titles he will henceforth appear
among the historical records of this dynasty under what he cannot
disguise from his inner misgivings to be the low-caste appellation of
Quack Duck.

"Now the address, please," continued the high one, again preparing to
inscribe the word, and being determined that by no mischance should
this particular be offensively reported, I unhesitatingly replied,
"Beneath the Sign of the Lead Tortoise, on the northern course from
the Lotus Pools outside the walls of Yuen-ping."

This answer the one with the book did not immediately record. "I don't
say it isn't all right when you know the parts," he remarked
broad-mindedly, "but it does sound a trifle irregular. Can't you give
it a number and a street?"

"I fancy it must be a pub, sir," observed another. "He said that it
had a sign--the Red Tortoise."

"Well, haven't you got a London address?" said the high one, and this
person being able to supply a street and a number as desired, this
part of the undertaking was disposed of, to his cordial satisfaction.

"Now let me see the articles which these men left with you," commanded
the chieftain of the band, and without any misleading discrepancies I
at once drew forth from an inner sleeve the two scrips, of which
adequate mention has already been made, another hitherto undescribed,
two instruments for measuring the passing hours of the day, together
with a chain of fine gold ingeniously wrought into the semblance of a
cable, an ornament for the breast, set about with a jewel, two
neck-cloths of a kind usually carried in the pocket, a book for
recording happenings of any moment, pieces of money to the value of
about eleven taels, a silver flagon, a sheathed weapon and a few
lesser objects of insignificant value. These various details I laid
obsequiously before the one who had commanded it, while the others
stood around either in explicit silence or speaking softly beneath
their breath.

"Do I understand that the two persons left all these things with you,
while they took your purse in exchange?" said the high official, after
examining certain obscure signs upon the metals, the contents of the
third scrip, and the like.

"It cannot reasonably be denied," I replied; "inasmuch as they
departed without them."

"Spontaneously?" he demanded, and in spite of the unevadible severity
of his voice the expression of his nearer eye deviated somewhat.

"The spoken and conclusive word of the first was that it was his
intention to commit to this one's keeping everything which he had; the
assertion of the second being that with this scrip I received all that
he possessed."

"While of yours, what did they get, Mr. Quack?" and the tone of the
one who spoke had a much more gratifying modulation than before, while
the attitudes of those who stood around had favourably changed, until
they now conveyed a message of deliberate esteem.

"A serpent-skin case of two enclosures," I replied. "On the one side
was a handcount of the small copper-pieces of this Island, which I had
caused to be burnished and gilt for the purpose of taking back to
amuse those of Yuen-ping. On the other side were two or three pages
from a gravity-removing printed leaf entitled 'Bits of Tits,' with
which this person weekly instructs himself in the simpler rudiments of
the language. For the rest the case was controlled by a hidden spring,
and inscribed about with a charm against loss, consumption by fire, or
being secretly acquired by the unworthy."

"I don't think you stand in much need of that charm, Mr. Quack,"
remarked another of more than ordinary rank, who was also present.
"Then they really got practically no money from you?"

"By no means," I admitted. "It was never literally stipulated, and
whatever of wealth he possesses this person carries in a concealed
spot beneath his waistbelt." (For even to these, virtuous sire, I did
not deem it expedient to reveal the fact that in reality it is hidden
within the sole of my left sandal.)

"I congratulate you," he said with lavish refinement. "Ben and the
Butterman can be very bland and persuasive. Could you tell me, as a
matter of professional curiosity, what first put you on your guard?"

"In this person's country," I replied, "there is an apt saying, 'The
sagacious bird does not build his nest twice in the empty
soup-toureen,' and by observing closely what has gone before one may
accurately conjecture much that will follow after." It may be, that
out of my insufferable shortcomings of style and expression, this
answer did not convey to his mind the logical sequence of the warning;
yet it would have been more difficult to show him how everything arose
from the faultlessly-balanced system of the heroic Wei Chung, or the
exact parallel lying between the ill-clad outcast who demanded a
portion of tobacco and the cheerfully unassuming stranger who had in
his possession a larger accumulation of money than he could
conveniently disperse.

In such a manner I took leave of the station and those connected with
it, after directing that the share of the spoil which fell by the law
of this Island to my lot should be sold and the money of exchange
faithfully divided among the virtuous and necessitous of both sexes.
The higher officials each waved me pleasantly by the hand, according
to the striking and picturesque custom of the land, while the lesser
ones stood around and spoke flattering words as I departed, as
"honourable," "a small piece of all-right," "astute ancient male
fowl," "ah!" and the like.

With repeated assurances that however ineptly the adventure may at the
time appear to be tending, as regards the essentials of true dignity
and an undeviating grasp upon articles of negotiable value, nothing of
a regrettable incident need be feared.

KONG HO.




LETTER IX


Concerning the proverb of the highly-accomplished horse. The
various perils to be encountered in the Beneath Parts. The
inexplicable journey performed by this one, and concerning the
obscurity of the witchcraft employed.



VENERATED SIRE,--Among these islanders there is a proverb, "Do not
place the carte" (or card, the two words having an identical purport,
and both signifying the inscribed tablet of viands prepared for a
banquet,) before the horse." Doubtless the saying first arose as a
timely rebuke to a certain barbarian emperor who announced his
contempt for the intelligence of his subjects by conferring high
mandarin rank upon a favourite steed and ceremoniously appointing it
to be his chancellor; but from the narrower moral that an unreasoning
animal is out of place, and even unseemly, in the entertaining hall or
council chamber, the expression has in the course of time taken a
wider application and is now freely used as an insidious thrust at one
who may be suspected of contrariness of character, of confusing
issues, or of acting in a vain or illogical manner. I had already
preserved the saying among other instances of foreign thought and
expression which I am collecting for your dignified amusement, as it
is very characteristic of the wisdom and humour of these Outer Lands.
The imagination is essentially barbaric. A horse--doubtless
well-groomed, richly-caparisoned, and as intellectual as the
circumstances will permit, but inevitably an animal of degraded
attributes and untraceable ancestry--a horse reclining before a
lavishly set-out table and considering well of what dish it shall next
partake! Could anything, it appears, be more diverting! Truly to our
more refined outlook the analogy is lacking both in delicacy of wit
and in exactitude of balance, but to the grosser barbarian conception
of what is gravity-removing it is irresistible.

I am, however, reminded of the saying by perceiving that I was on the
point of recording certain details of recent occurrence without first
unrolling to your mind the incidents from which it has arisen that the
person who is now communicating with you is no longer reposing in the
Capital, but spending a period profitably in observing the habits of
those who dwell in the more secluded recesses on the outskirts of the
Island. This reversal of the proper sequence of affairs would
doubtless strike those around as an instance of setting the banquet
before the horse. Without delay, then, to pursue the allusion to its
appropriate end, I will return, as it may be said, to my nosebag.

At various points about the streets of the Capital there are certain
caverns artificially let into the bowels of the earth, to which any
person may betake himself upon purchasing a printed sign which he must
display to the guardian of the gate. Once within the underneathmost
parts he is free to be carried from place to place by means of the
trains of carriages which I have already described to you, until he
would return to the outer surface, when he must again display his
talisman before he is permitted to pass forth. Nor is this an empty
form, for upon an occasion this person himself witnessed a very bitter
contention between a keeper of the barrier and one whose token had
through some cause lost its potency.

In the company of the experienced I had previously gone through the
trial without mischance, so that recently when I expressed a wish to
visit a certain Palace, and was informed that the most convenient
manner would be to descend into the nearest cavern, I had no
reasonable device for avoiding the encounter. Nevertheless,
enlightened sire, I will not attempt to conceal from your omniscience
that I was by no means impetuous towards the adventure. Owing to the
pugnacious and unworthy suspicions of those who direct their
destinies, I have not yet been able to penetrate the exact connection
between the movements of these hot-smoke chariots and the Unseen
Forces. To a person whose chief object in life is to avoid giving
offence to any of the innumerable demons which are ever on the watch
to revenge themselves upon our slightest indiscretion, this
uncertainty opens an unending vista of intolerable possibilities. As
if to emphasise the perils of this overhanging doubt the surroundings
are ingeniously arranged so as to represent as nearly as practicable
the terrors of the Beneath World. Both by day and night a funereal
gloom envelops the caverns, the pathways and resting-places are meagre
and so constructed as to be devoid of attraction or repose, and by a
skilful contrivance the natural atmosphere is secretly withdrawn and a
very acrimonious sulphurous haze driven in to replace it. In sudden
and unforeseen places eyes of fire open and close with disconcerting
rapidity, and even change colour in vindictive significance; wooden
hands are outstretched as in unrelenting rigidity against
supplication, or, divining the unexpressed thoughts, inexorably point,
as one gazes, still deeper into the recesses of the earth; while the
air is never free from the sounds of groans, shrieks, the rattling of
chains, dull, hopeless noises beneath one's feet or overhead, and the
hoarse wordless cries of despair with which the attending slaves of
the caverns greet the distant clamour of every approaching
fire-chariot. Admittedly the intention of the device is benevolently
conceived, and it is strenuously asserted that many persons of corrupt
habits and ill-balanced lives, upon waking unexpectedly while passing
through these Beneath Parts, have abandoned the remainder of their
journey, and, escaping hastily to the outer air, have from that time
onwards led a pure and consistent existence; but, on the other foot,
those who are compelled to use the caverns daily, freely confess that
the surroundings to not in any material degree purify their lives of
tranquillise the nature of their inner thoughts.

In this emergency I did not neglect to write out a diversity of charms
against every possible variety of evil influence, and concealing them
lavishly about my head and body, I presented myself with the outer
confidence of a person who is inured to the exploit. Doubtless thereby
being mistaken for one of themselves in the obscurity, I received the
inscribed safeguard without opposition, and even an added sum in
copper pieces, which I discreetly returned to the one behind the
shutter, with the request that he would honourably burn a few joss
sticks or sacrifice to a trivial amount, to the success of my journey.
In such a manner I reached an awaiting train, and, taking up within it
a position of retiring modesty, I definitely committed myself to the
undertaking.

At the next tarrying place there entered a barbarian of high-class
appearance, and being by this time less assured of my competence in
the matter unaided, both on account of the multiplicity of evil omens
on every side, and the perverse impulses of the guiding demon, whereby
at sudden angles certain of my organs had the emotion of being left
irrevocably behind and others of being snatched relentlessly forward,
I approached him courteously.

"Behold," I said, "many thousand li of water, both fresh and bitter,
flow between the one who is addressing you and his native town of
Yuen-ping, where the tablets at the street corners are as familiar to
him as the lines of his own unshapely hands; for, as it is truly said,
'Does the starling know the lotus roots, or the pomfret read its way
by the signs among the upper branches of the pines?' Out of the
necessities of his ignorance and your own overwhelming condescension
enlighten him, therefore, whether the destination of this fire-chariot
by any chance corresponds with the inscribed name upon his talisman?"

Thus adjured, the stranger benevolently turned himself to the detail,
and upon consulting a book of symbols he expressed himself to this
wise: that after a sufficient interval I should come into a certain
station, called in part after the title of the enlightened ruler of
this Island, and there abandoning the train which was carrying us, I
should enter another which would bring me out of the Beneath Parts and
presently into the midst of that Palace which I sought. This advice
seemed good, for a reasonable connection might be supposed to exist
between a station so auspiciously called and a Palace bearing the
harmonious name of the gracious and universally-revered
sovereign-consort. Accordingly I thanked him ceremoniously, not only
on my own part, but also on behalf of eleven generations of immediate
ancestors, and in the name of seven generations who should come after,
and he on his side agreeably replied that he was sure his grandmother
would have done as much for mine, and he sincerely hoped that none of
his great-great-grandchildren would prove less obliging. In this
intellectual manner, varied with the entertainment of profuse bows,
the time passed cordially between us until the barbarian reached his
own alighting stage, when he again repeated the various details of the
strategy for my observance.

At this point let it be set forth deliberately that there existed no
treachery in the advice, still less that this person is incapable of
competently achieving the destined end of any hazard upon which he may
embark when once the guiding signs have been made clear to his
understanding. Whatever entanglement arose was due merely to the
conflicting manners of expression used by two widely-varying races,
even as our own proverb says, "What is only sauce for the cod is
serious for the oyster."

At the station indicated as bearing the sign of the ruler of the
country (which even a person of little discernment could have
recognised by the highly-illuminated representation bearing the
elusively-worded inscription, "In packets only"), I left this
fire-chariot, and at once perceiving another in an attitude of
departure, I entered it, as the casual barbarian had definitely
instructed, and began to assure myself that I had already become
expertly proficient in the art of journeying among these Beneath
Regions and to foresee the time, not far distant, when others would
confidently address themselves to me in their extremities. So
entrancing did this contemplation grow, that this outrageous person
began to compose the actual words with which he would instruct them as
the occasion arose, as thus, "Undoubtedly, O virtuous and not
unattractive maiden, this fire-engine will ultimately lead your
refined footsteps into the street called Those who Bake Food. Do not
hesitate, therefore, to occupy the vacant place by this insignificant
one's side"; or, "By no means, honourable sir; the Cross of Charing is
in the precisely opposite direction to that selected by this
self-opinionated machine for its inopportune destination. Do not
rebuke this person for his immoderate loss of mental gravity, for your
mistake, though pardonable in a stranger, is really excessively
diverting. Your most prudent course now will assuredly be to cast
yourself from the carriage without delay and rely upon the benevolent
intervention of a fire-chariot proceeding backwards."

Alas, it is truly said, "None but sword-swallowers should endeavour to
swallow swords," thereby signifying the vast chasm that lies between
those who are really adroit in an undertaking and those who only think
that they may easily become so. Presently it began to become deeply
impressed upon my discrimination that the journey was taking a more
lengthy duration than I had been given to understand would be the
case, while at the same time a permanent deliverance from the terrors
of the Beneath Parts seemed to be insidiously lengthening out into a
funereal unattainableness. The point of this person's destination, he
had been assured on all hands, was a spot beyond which even the most
aggressively assertive engine could not proceed, so that he had no
fears of being incapably drawn into more remote places, yet when hour
after hour passed and the ill-destined machine never failed in its
malicious endeavours to leave each successive tarrying station, it is
not to be denied that my imagination dwelt regretfully upon the true
civilisation of our own enlightened country, where, by the considerate
intervention of an all-wise government, the possibilities of so
distressing an experience are sympathetically removed from one's path.
Thus the greater part of the day had faded, and I was conjecturing
that by this time we must inevitably be approaching the barren and
inhospitable country which forms the northern limit of the Island,
when the door suddenly opened and the barbarian stranger whom I had
left many hundred li behind entered the carriage.

At this manifestation all uncertainty departed, and I now understood
that to some obscure end witchcraft of a very powerful and high-caste
kind was being employed around me; for in no other way was it credible
to one's intelligence that a person could propel himself through the
air with a speed greater than that of one of these fire-chariots, and
overtake it. Doubtless it was a part of this same scheme which made it
seem expedient to the stranger that he should feign a part, for he at
once greeted me as though the occasion were a matter of everyday
happening, exclaiming genially--

"Well, Mr. Kong, returning? And what do you think of the Palace?"

"It is fitly observed, 'To the earthworm the rice stalk is as high as
the pagoda,'" I replied with adroit evasion, clearly understanding
from his manner that for some reason, not yet revealed to me, a course
of dissimulation was expedient in order to mislead the surrounding
demons concerning my movements, and by a subtle indication of the face
conveying to the stranger an assurance that I had tactfully grasped
the requirement, and would endeavour to walk well upon his heels, "and
therefore it would be unseemly for a person of my insignificant
attainments to engage in the doubtful flattery of comparing it with
the many other residences of the pure and exalted which embellish your
Capital."

"Oh," said the one whom I may now suitably describe by the name of Sir
Philip, "that's rather a useful proverb sometimes. Many people there?"

At this inquiry I could not disguise from myself an emotion that the
person seated opposite was not diplomatically inspired in so
persistently clinging to the one subject upon which he must assuredly
know that I experienced an all-pervading deficiency. Nevertheless,
being by this more fully convinced that the disguise was one of
critical necessity, and not deeming that the essential ceremonies of
one Palace would differ from those of another, no matter in what land
they stood (while through all I read a clear design on Sir Philip's
part that the opportunity was craftily arranged so that I might
impress upon any vindictively-intentioned spirits within hearing an
assumption of high protection), I replied that the gathering had been
one of unparalleled splendour, both by reason of the multitude of
exalted nobles present and also owing to the jewelled magnificence
lavished on every detail. Furthermore, I continued, now definitely
abandoning all the promptings of a wise reserve, and reflecting, as we
say, that one may as well be drowned in the ocean as in a wooden
bucket, not only did the sublime and unapproachable sovereign
graciously permit me to kow-tow respectfully before him, but
subsequently calling me to his side beneath a canopy of golden
radiance, he conversed genially with me and benevolently assured me of
his sympathetic favour on all occasions (this, I conjectured, would
certainly overawe any Evil Force not among the very highest circles),
while the no less magnanimous Prince of the Imperial Line questioned
me with flattering assiduousness concerning a method of communicating
with persons at a distance by means of blows or stamps upon a post (as
far as the outer meaning conveyed itself to me), the houses which we
build, and whether they contained an adequate provision of enclosed
spaces in the walls.

Doubtless I could have continued in this praiseworthy spirit of
delicate cordiality to an indefinite amount had I not chanced to
observe at this point that the expression of Sir Philip's urbanity had
become entangled in a variety of other emotions, not all propitious to
the scheme, so that in order to retire imperceptibly within myself I
smiled broad-mindedly, remarking that it was well said that the moon
was only bright while the sun was hid, and that I had lately been
dazzled with the sight of so much brilliance and virtuous
condescension that there were occasions when I questioned inwardly how
much I had really witnessed, and how much had been conveyed to me in
the nature of an introspective vision.

It will already have been made plain to you, O my courtly-mannered
father, that these barbarians are totally deficient in the polite art
whereby two persons may carry on a flattering and highly-attuned
conversation, mutually advantageous to the esteem of each, without it
being necessary in any way that their statements should have more than
an ornamental actuality. So wanting in this, the most concentrated
form of truly well-bred entertainment, are even their high officials,
that after a few more remarks, to which I made answer in a spirit of
skilfully-sustained elusiveness, the utterly obtuse Sir Philip said at
length, "Excuse my asking, Mr. Kong, but have you really been to the
Alexandra Palace at all?"

Admittedly there are few occasions in life on which it is not possible
to fail to see the inopportune or low-class by a dignified
impassiveness of features, an adroitly-directed jest, or a remark of
baffling inconsequence, but in the face of so distressingly
straightforward a demand what can be advanced by a person of
susceptible refinement when opposed to one of incomparably larger
dimensions, imprisoned by his side in the recess of a fire-chariot
which is leaping forward with uncurbed velocity, and surrounded by
demons with whose habits and partialities he is unfamiliar?

"In a manner of expressing the circumstance," I replied, "it is not to
be denied that this person's actual footsteps may have imperceptibly
been drawn somewhat aside from the path of his former design. Yet
inasmuch as it is truly said that the body is in all things
subservient to the mind, and is led withersoever it is willed, and as
your engaging directions were scrupulously observed with undeviating
fidelity, it would be impertinently self-opinionated on this person's
part to imply that they failed to guide him to his destination. Thus,
for all ceremonial purposes, it is permissible conscientiously to
assume that he HAS been there."

"I am afraid that I must not have been sufficiently clear," said Sir
Philip. "Did you miss the train at King's Cross?"

"By no means," I replied firmly, pained inwardly that he should cast
the shadow of such narrow incompetence upon me. "Seeing this machine
on the point of setting forth on a journey, even as your overwhelming
sagacity had enabled you to predict would be the case, I embarked with
self-reliant confidence."

"Good lord!" murmured the person opposite, beginning to manifest an
excess of emotion for which I was quite unable to account. "Then you
have been in this train--your actual footsteps I mean, Mr. Kong; not
your ceremonial abstract subliminal ego--ever since?"

To this I replied that his words shone like the moon at midnight with
scintillating points of truth; adding, however, as the courtesies of
the occasion required, that I had been so impressed with the
many-sided brilliance of his conversation earlier in the day as to
render the flight of time practically unnoticed by me.

"But did it never occur to you to ask at one of the stations?" he
demanded, still continuing to wave his hands incapably from side to
side. "Any of the porters would have told you."

"Kong Li Heng, the founder of our line, who was really great, has been
dead eleven centuries, and no single fact or incident connected with
his life has been preserved to influence mankind," I replied. "How
much less will it matter, then, even in so limited a space of time as
a hundred years, in what fashion so insignificant a person as the one
before you acted on any occasion, and why, therefore, should he
distress himself unnecessarily to any precise end?" In this manner I
sought to place before him the dignified example of an
imperturbability which can be maintained in every emergency, and at
the same time to administer a plain yet scrupulously-sheathed rebuke;
for the inauspicious manner in which he had first drawn me on to speak
confidently of the ceremonies of the Royal Palace and then held up my
inadequacy to undeserved contempt had not rejoiced my imagination, and
I was still uncertain how much to claim, and whether, perchance, even
yet a more subtle craft lay under all.

"Well, in any case, when you go back you can claim the distinction of
having been taken seven times round London, although you can't really
have seen much of it," said Sir Philip. "This is a Circle train."

At this assertion I looked up. Though admittedly curved a little about
the roof the chariot was in every essential degree what we should
pronounce to be a square one; whereupon, feeling at length that the
involvement had definitely passed to a point beyond my contemptible
discernment, I spread out my hands acquiescently and affably remarked
that the days were lengthening out pleasantly.

In such a manner I became acquainted with the one Sir Philip, and
thereby, in a somewhat circuitous line, the original purpose which
possessed my brush when I began this inept and commonplace letter is
reached; for the person in question not only lay upon himself the
obligation of leading me "by the strings of his apron-garment"--in the
characteristic and fanciful turn of the barbarian language--to that
same Palace on the following day, but thenceforth gracefully affecting
to discern certain agreeable virtues in my conversation and custom of
habit he frequently sought me out. More recently, on the double plea
that they of his household had a desire to meet me, and that if I
spent all my time within the Capital my impressions of the Island
would necessarily be ill-balanced and deformed, he advanced a project
that I should accompany him to a spot where, as far as I was competent
to grasp the idiom, he was in the habit of sitting (doubtless in an
abstruse reverie), in the country; and having assured myself by means
of discreet innuendo that the seat referred to would be adequate for
this person also, and that the occasion did not in any way involve a
payment of money, I at once expressed my willingness towards the
adventure.

With numerous expressions of unfeigned regret (from a filial point of
view) that the voice of one of the maidens of the household, lifted in
the nature of a defiance against this one to engage with her in a
two-handed conflict of hong pong, obliges him to bring this immature
composition to a hasty close.

KONG HO.




LETTER X


Concerning the authority of this high official, Sir Philip.
The side-slipperyness of barbarian etiquette. The hurl-
headlong sportiveness and that achieving its end by means of
curved mallets.



VENERATED SIRE,--If this person's memory is accurately poised on the
detail, he was compelled to abandon his former letter (when on the
point of describing the customs of these outer places), in order to
take part in a philosophical discussion with some of the venerable
sages of the neighbourhood.

Resuming the narration where it had reached this remote province of
the Empire, it is a suitable opportunity to explain that this same Sir
Philip is here greeted on every side with marks of deferential
submission, and is undoubtedly an official of high button, for
whenever the inclination seizes him he causes prisoners to be sought
out, and then proceeds to administer justice impartially upon them. In
the case of the wealthy and those who have face to lose, the matter is
generally arranged, to his profit and to the satisfaction of all, by
the payment of an adequate sum of money, after the invariable custom
of our own mandarincy. When this incentive to leniency is absent it is
usual to condemn the captive to imprisonment in a cell (it is denied
officially, but there is no reason to doubt that a large earthenware
vessel is occasionally used for this purpose,) for varying periods,
though it is notorious that in the case of the very necessitous they
are sometimes set freely at liberty, and those who took them publicly
reprimanded for accusing persons from whose condition on possible
profit could arise. This confinement is seldom inflicted for a longer
period than seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days (these being lucky
numbers,) except in the case of those who have been held guilty of
ensnaring certain birds and beasts which appear to be regarded as
sacred, for they have their duly appointed attendants who wear a garb
and are trained in the dexterous use of arms, lurking with loaded
weapons in secret places to catch the unwary, both by night and day.
Upheld by the high nature of their office these persons shrink from no
encounter and even suffer themselves to be killed with resolute
unconcern; but when successful they are not denied an efficient
triumph, for it is admitted that those whom they capture are marked
men from that time (doubtless being branded upon the body with the
name of their captor), and no future defence is availing. The third
punishment, that of torture, is reserved for a class of solitary
mendicants who travel from place to place, doubtless spreading the
germs of an inflammatory doctrine of rebellion, for, owing to my own
degraded obtuseness, the actual nature of their crimes could never be
made clear to me. Of the tortures employed that known in their
language as the "bath" (for which we have no real equivalent,) is the
most dreaded, and this person has himself beheld men of gigantic
proportions, whose bodies bore the stain of a voluntary endurance to
every privation, abandon themselves to a most ignoble despair upon
hearing the ill-destined word. Unquestionably the infliction is
closely connected with our own ordeal of boiling water, but from other
indications it is only reasonable to admit that there is an added
ingredient, of which we probably have no knowledge, whereby the effect
is enhanced in every degree, and the outer surface of the victim
rendered more vulnerable. There is also another and milder form of
torture, known as the "task", consisting either of sharp-edged stones
being broken upon the body, or else the body broken upon sharp-edged
stones, but precisely which is the official etiquette of the case this
person's insatiable passion for accuracy and his short-sighted
limitations among the more technical outlines of the language, prevent
him from stating definitely.

Let it here be openly confessed that the intricately-arranged titles
used among these islanders, and the widely-varying dignities which
they convey, have never ceased to embarrass my greetings on all
occasions, and even yet, when a more crystal insight into their
strangely illogical manners enables me not only to understand them
clearly myself, but also to expound their significance to others, a
necessary reticence is blended with my most profuse cordiality, and my
salutations to one whom I am for the first time encountering are now
so irreproachably balanced, that I can imperceptibly develop them into
an engaging effusion, or, without actual offence, draw back into a
condition of unapproachable exclusiveness as the necessity may arise.
With us, O my immaculate sire, a yellow silk umbrella has for three
thousand years denoted a fixed and recognisable title. A mandarin of
the sixth degree need not hesitate to mingle on terms of assured
equality with other mandarins of the sixth degree, and without any
guide beyond a seemly instinct he perceives the reasonableness of
assuming a deferential obsequiousness before a mandarin of the fifth
rank, and a counterbalancing arrogance when in the society of an
official who has only risen to the seventh degree, thus conforming to
that essential principle of harmonious intercourse, "Remember that
Chang Chow's ceiling is Tong Wi's floor"; but who shall walk with even
footsteps in a land where the most degraded may legally bear the same
distinguished name as that of the enlightened sovereign himself, where
the admittedly difficult but even more purposeless achievement of
causing a gold mine to float is held to be more praiseworthy than to
pass a competitive examination or to compose a poem of inimitable
brilliance, and where one wearing gilt buttons and an emblem in his
hat proves upon ingratiating approach not to be a powerful official
but a covetous and illiterate slave of inferior rank? Thus, through
their own narrow-minded inconsistencies, even the most
ceremoniously-proficient may at times present an ill-balanced
attitude. This, without reproach to himself, concerns the inward cause
whereby the one who is placed to you in the relation of an
affectionate and ever-resourceful son found unexpectedly that he
had lost the benignant full face of a lady of exalted title.

At that time I had formed the acquaintance, in an obscure quarter of
the city, of one who wore a uniform, and was addressed on all sides as
the commander of a band, while the gold letters upon the neck part of
his outer garment inevitably suggested that he had borne an honourable
share in the recent campaign in a distant land. As I had frequently
met many of similar rank drinking tea at the house of the engaging
countess to whom I have alluded, I did not hesitate to prevail upon
this Captain Miggs to accompany me there upon an occasion also,
assuring him of equality and a sympathetic reception; but from the
moment of our arrival the attitudes of those around pointed to the
existence of some unpropitious barrier invisible to me, and when the
one with whom I was associated took up an unassailable position upon
the central table, and began to speak authoritatively upon the subject
of The Virtues, the unenviable condition of the proud and affluent,
and the myriads of fire-demons certainly laying in wait for those who
partook of spiced tea and rich foods in the afternoon, and did not
wear a uniform similar to his own, I began to recognise that the
selection had been inauspiciously arranged. Upon taxing some around
with the discrepancy (as there seemed to be no more dignified way of
evading the responsibility), they were unable to contend against me
that there were, indeed, two, if not more, distinct varieties of those
bearing the rank of captain, and that they themselves belonged to an
entirely different camp, wearing another dress, and possessing no
authority to display the symbol of the letters S.A. upon their necks.
With this admission I was content to leave the matter, in no way
accusing them of actual duplicity, yet so withdrawing that any of
unprejudiced standing could not fail to carry away the impression that
I had been the victim of an unworthy artifice, and had been lured into
their society by the pretext that they were other than what they
really were.

With the bitter-flavoured memory of this, and other in no way
dissimilar episodes, lingering in my throat, it need not be a matter
of conjecture that for a time I greeted warily all who bore a title, a
mark of rank, or any similar appendage; who wore a uniform, weapon,
brass helmet, jewelled crown, coat of distinctive colour, or any
excessive superfluity of pearl or metal buttons; who went forth
surrounded by a retinue, sat publicly in a chair or allegorical
chariot, spoke loudly in the highways and places in a tone of official
pronouncement, displayed any feather, emblem, inscribed badge, or
printed announcement upon a pole, or in any way conducted themselves
in what we should esteem to be fitting to a position of high dignity.
From this arose the absence of outward enthusiasm with which I at
first received Sir Philip's extended favour; for although I had come
to distrust all the reasonable signs of established power, I
distrusted, to a much more enhanced degree, their complete absence;
and when I observed that the one in question was never accompanied by
a band of musicians or flower-strewers, that he mingled as though on
terms of familiar intercourse with the ordinary passers-by in the
streets, and never struck aside those who chanced to impede his
progress, and that he actually preferred those of low condition to
approach him on their feet, rather than in the more becoming attitude
of unconditional prostration, I reasoned with myself whether indeed he
could consistently be a person of well-established authority, or
whether I was not being again led away from my self-satisfaction by
another obliquity of barbarian logic. It was for this reason that I
now welcomed the admitted power which he has of incriminating persons
in a variety of punishable offences, and I perceived with an added
satisfaction that here, where this privilege is more fully understood,
few meet him without raising their hands to the upper part of their
heads in token of unquestioning submission; or, as one would interpret
the symbolism into actual words, meaning, "Thus, from this point to
the underneath part of our sandals, all between lies in the hollow of
your comprehensive hand."
                                  *

There is a written jest among another barbarian nation that these
among whom I am tarrying, being by nature a people who take their
pleasures tragically, when they rise in the morning say, one to
another, "Come, behold; it is raining again as usual; let us go out
and kill somebody." Undoubtedly the pointed end of this adroit-witted
saying may be found in the circumstance that it is, indeed, as the
proverb aptly claims, raining on practically every occasion in life;
while, to complete the comparison, for many dynasties past this nation
has been successfully engaged in killing people (in order to promote
their ultimate benefit through a momentary inconvenience,) in every
part of the world. Thus the lines of parallel thought maintain a
harmonious balance beyond the general analogy of their sayings; but
beneath this may be found an even subtler edge, for in order to inure
themselves to the requirement of a high destiny their various games
and manners of disportment are, with a set purpose, so rigorously
contested that in their progress most of the weak and inefficient are
opportunely exterminated.

There is a favourite and well-attended display wherein two opposing
bands, each clad in robes of a distinctive colour, stand in extended
lines of mutual defiance, and at a signal impetuously engage. The
design of each is by force or guile to draw their opponents into an
unfavourable position before an arch of upright posts, and then
surging irresistibly forward, to carry them beyond the limit and hurl
them to the ground. Those who successfully inflict this humiliation
upon their adversaries until they are incapable of further resistance
are hailed victorious, and sinking into a graceful attitude receive
each a golden cup from the magnanimous hands of a maiden chose to the
service, either on account of her peerless outline, the dignified
position of her House, or (should these incentives be obviously
wanting,) because the chief ones of her family are in the habit of
contributing unstintingly to the equipment of the triumphal band.
There is also another kind of strife, differing in its essentials only
so far that all who engage therein are provided with a curved staff,
with which they may dexterously draw their antagonists beyond the
limits, or, should they fail to defend themselves adequately, break
the smaller bones of their ankles. But this form of encounter, despite
the use of these weapons, is really less fatal than the other, for it
is not a permissible act to club an antagonist resentfully about the
head with the staff, nor yet even to thrust it rigidly against his
middle body. From this moderation the public countenance extended to
the curved-pole game is contemptibly meagre when viewed by the side of
the overwhelming multitudes which pour along every channel in order to
witness a more than usually desperate trial of the hurl-headlong
variety (the sight, indeed, being as attractive to these pale,
blood-thirsty foreigners as an unusually large execution is with us),
and as a consequence the former is little reputed save among maidens,
the feeble, and those of timorous instincts.

Thus positioned, regarding a knowledge of their outside amusements, it
has always been one of the most prominent ambitions of this person's
strategy to avoid being drawn into any encounter. At the same time,
the thought that the maidens of the household here (of whom there are
several, all so attractively proportioned that to compare them in a
spirit of definite preference would be distastefully presumptuous to
this person,) should regard me as one lacking in a sufficient display
of violence was not fragrant to my sense of refinement; so that when
Sir Philip, a little time after our arrival, related to me that on the
following day he and a chosen band were to be engaged in the match of
a cricket game against adversaries from the village, and asked whether
I cared to bear a part in the strife, I grasped the muscles of the
upper part of my left arm with my right hand--as I had frequently seen
the hardy and virile do when the subject of their powers had been
raised questioningly--and replied that I had long concealed an
insatiable wish to take such a part at a point where the conflict
would be the most revengefully contested.

Being thus inflexibly committed it became very necessary to arrange a
well-timed intervention (whether in the nature of bodily disorder,
fire, or demoniacal upheaval, a warning omen, or the death of some of
our chief antagonists), but before doing so I was desirous of
understanding how this contest, which had hitherto remained outside my
experience, was waged.

There is here one of benevolent rotundity in whose authority lie the
cavernous stores beneath the house and the vessels of gold and silver;
of menial rank admittedly, yet exacting a seemly deference from all by
the rich urbanity of his voice and the dignity of his massive
proportions. In the affable condescension of his tone, and the
discriminating encouragement of his attitude towards me on all
occasions, I have read a sympathetic concern over my welfare. Him I
now approached, and taking him aside, I first questioned him
flatteringly about his age and the extent of his yearly recompense,
and then casually inquired what in his language he would describe the
nature of a cricket to be.

"A cricket?" repeated the obliging person readily; "a cricket, sir, is
a hinsect. Something, I take it, after the manner of a grass-'opper."

"Truly," I agreed. "It is aptly likened. And, to continue the simile,
a game cricket--?"

"A game cricket?" he replied; "well, sir, naturally a game one would
be more gamier than the others, wouldn't it?"

"The inference is unflinching," I admitted, and after successfully
luring away his mind from any significance in the inquiry by asking
him whether the gift of a lacquered coffin or an embroidered shroud
would be the more regarded on parting, I left him.

His words, esteemed, for a definite reason were as the jade-clappered
melody of a silver bell. This trial of sportiveness, it became
clear,--less of a massacre than most of their amusements--is really a
rivalry of leapings and dexterity of the feet: a conflict of game
crickets or grass-hoppers, in the somewhat wide-angled obscurity of
their language, or, as we would more appropriately call it doubtless,
a festive competition in the similitude of high-spirited locusts. To
whatever degree the surrounding conditions might vary, there could no
longer be a doubt that the power of leaping high into the air was the
essential constituent of success in this barbarian match of
crickets--and in such an accomplishment this person excelled from the
time of his youth with a truly incredible proficiency. Can it be a
reproach, then, that when I considered this, and saw in a vision the
contempt of inferiority which I should certainly be able to inflict
upon these native crickets before the eyes of their maidens, even the
accumulated impassiveness of thirty-seven generations of Kong
fore-fathers broke down for the moment, and unable to restrain every
vestige of emotion I crept unperceived to the ancestral hall of Sir
Philip and there shook hands affectionately with myself before each of
the nine ironclad warriors about its walls before I could revert to a
becoming state of trustworthy unconcern. That night in my own upper
chamber I spent many hours in testing my powers and studying more
remarkable attitudes of locust flight, and I even found to be within
myself some new attainments of life-like agility, such as feigning the
continuous note of defiance with which the insect meets his adversary,
as remaining poised in the air for an appreciable moment at the summit
of each leap, and of conveying to the body a sudden and disconcerting
sideway movement in the course of its ascent. So immersed did I become
in the achievement of a high perfection that, to my never-ending
self-reproach, I failed to notice a supernatural visitation of
undoubted authenticity; for the next morning it was widely admitted
that a certain familiar demon of the house, which only manifests its
presence on occasions of tragic omen, had been heard throughout the
night in warning, not only beating its head and body against the walls
and doors in despair, but raising from time to time a wailing cry of
soul-benumbing bitterness.

With every assurance that the next letter, though equally distorted in
style and immature in expression, will contain the record of a
deteriorated but ever upward-striving son's ultimate triumph.

KONG HO.




LETTER XI


Concerning the game which we should call "Locusts," and the
deeper significance of its acts. The solicitous warning of one
passing inwards and the complication occasioned by his ill-
chosen words. Concerning that victory already dimly foreshadowed.



VENERATED SIRE,--This barbarian game of agile grass-hoppers is not
conducted in the best spirit of a really well-balanced display, and
although the one now inscribing his emotions certainly achieved a wide
popularity, and wore his fig leaves with becoming modesty, he has
never since been quite free from an overhanging doubt that the
compliments and genial remarks with which he was assailed owed their
modulation to an unsubstantial atmosphere of two-edged significance
which for a period enveloped all whom he approached; as in the faces
of maidens concealed behind fans when he passed, the down-drawn lips
and up-raised eyes of those of fuller maturity, the practice in most
of his own kind of turning aside, pressing their hands about their
middle parts, and bending forward into a swollen attitude devoid of
grace, on the spur of a sudden remembrance, and in the auspicious but
undeniably embarrassing manner in which all the unfledged ones of the
village clustered about his retiring footsteps, saluting him
continually as one "James," upon whom had been conferred the
gratifying title of "Sunny." Thus may the outline of the combat be
recounted.

From each opposing group eleven were chosen as a band, and we of our
company putting on a robe of distinctive green (while they elected to
be regarded as an assemblage of brown crickets), we presently came to
a suitable spot where the trial was to be decided. So far this person
had reasonably assumed that at a preconcerted signal the contest would
begin, all rising into the air together, uttering cries of menace,
bounding unceasingly and in every way displaying the dexterity of our
proportions. Indeed, in the reasonableness of this expectation it
cannot be a matter for reproach to one of the green grass-hoppers--who
need not be further indicated--that he had already begun a
well-simulated note of challenge to those around clad in brown, and to
leap upwards in a preparatory essay, when the ever-alert Sir Philip
took him affectionately by the arm, on the plea that the seclusion of
a neighbouring pavilion afforded a desirable shade.

Beyond that point it is difficult to convey an accurately grouped and
fully spread-out design of the encounter. In itself the scheme and
intention of counterfeiting the domestic life and rivalries of two
opposing bands of insects was pleasantly conceived, and might have
been carried out with harmonious precision, but, after the manner of
these remote tribes, the original project had been overshadowed and
the purity of the imagination lost beneath a mass of inconsistent
detail. To this imperfection must it be laid that when at length this
person was recalled from the obscurity of the pagoda and the alluring
society of a maiden of the village, to whom he was endeavouring to
expound the strategy of the game, and called upon to engage actively
in it, he courteously admitted to those who led him forth that he had
not the most shadowy-outlined idea of what was required of him.

Nevertheless they bound about his legs a frilled armour, ingeniously
fashioned to represent the ribbed leanness of the insect's shank,
encased his hands and feet in covers to a like purpose, and pressing
upon him a wooden club indicated that the time had come for him to
prove his merit by venturing alone into the midst of the eleven brown
adversaries who stood at a distance in poised and expectant attitudes.

Assuredly, benignant one, this sport of contending locusts began, as
one approached nearer to it, to wear no more pacific a face than if it
had been a carnage of the hurl-headlong or the curved-hook varieties.
In such a competition, it occurred to him, how little deference would
be paid to this one's title of "Established Genius," or how
inadequately would he be protected by his undoubted capacity of
leaping upwards, and even in a sideway direction, for no matter how
vigorously he might propel himself, or how successfully he might
endeavour to remain self-sustained in the air, the ill-destined moment
could not be long deferred when he must come down again into the midst
of the eleven--all doubtless concealing weapons as massive and
fatally-destructive as his own. This prospect, to a person of
quiescent taste, whose chief delight lay in contemplating the
philosophical subtleties of the higher Classics, was in itself devoid
of glamour, but with what funereal pigments shall he describe his
sinking emotions when one of his own band, approaching him as he went,
whispered in his ear, "Look out at this end; they kick up like the
very devil. And their man behind the wicket is really smart; if you
give him half a chance he'll have your stumps down before you can say
'knife.'" Shorn of its uncouth familiarity, this was a charitable
warning that they into whose stronghold I was turning my
footsteps--perhaps first deceiving my alertness with a proffered
friendship--would kick with the ferocity of untamed demons, and that
one in particular, whose description, to my added despair, I was
unable to retain, was known to possess a formidable knife, with which
it was his intention to cut off this person's legs at the first
opportunity, before he could be accused of the act. Truly, "To one
whom he would utterly destroy Buddha sends a lucky dream."

Behind lay the pagoda (though the fact that this one did admittedly
turn round for a period need not be too critically dwelt upon), with
three tiers of maidens, some already waving their hands as an
encouraging token; on each side a barrier of prickly growth
inopportunely presented itself, while in front the eleven kicking
crickets stood waiting, and among them lurked the one grasping a
doubly-edged blade of a highly proficient keenness.

There are occasional moments in the life of a person when he as the
inward perception of retiring for a few paces and looking back in
order to consider his general appearance and to judge how he is
situated with regard to himself, to review his past life in a spirit
of judicial severity, to arrange definitely upon a future composed
entirely of acts of benevolence, and to examine the working of destiny
at large. In such a scrutiny I now began to understand that it would
perhaps have been more harmonious to my love of contemplative repose
if I had considered the disadvantages closer before venturing into
this barbarian region, or, at least, if I had used the occasion
profitably to advance an argument tending towards a somewhat fuller
allowance of taels from your benevolent sleeve. Our own virtuous and
flower-strewn land, it is true, does not possess an immunity from
every trifling drawback. The Hoang Ho--to concede specifically the
existence of some of these--frequently bursts through its restraining
barriers and indiscriminately sweeps away all those who are so
ill-advised as to dwell within reach of its malignant influence. From
time to time wars and insurrections are found to be necessary, and no
matter how morally-intentioned and humanely conducted, they
necessarily result in the violation, dismemberment or extirpation of
many thousand polite and dispassionate persons who have no concern
with either side. Towns are repeatedly consumed by fire, districts
scourged by leprosy, and provinces swept by famine. The storms are
admittedly more fatal than elsewhere, the thunderbolts larger, more
numerous, and all unerringly directed, while the extremities of heat
and cold render life really uncongenial for the greater part of each
year. The poor, having no money to secure justice, are evilly used,
whereas the wealthy, having too much, are assailed legally by the
gross and powerful for the purpose of extorting their riches. Robbers
and assassins lurk in every cave; vast hoards of pirates blacken the
surface of every river; and mandarins of the nine degrees must make a
livelihood by some means or other. By day, therefore, it is
inadvisable to go forth and encounter human beings, while none but the
shallow-headed would risk a meeting with the countless demons and
vampires which move by night. To one who has spent many moons among
these foreign apparitions the absence of drains, roads, illustrated
message-parchments, maidens whose voices may be heard protesting upon
ringing a wire, loaves of conflicting dimensions, persons who strive
to put their faces upon every advertisement, pens which emit fountains
when carried in the pocket, a profusion of make-strong foods, and an
Encyclopaedia Mongolia, may undoubtedly be mentioned as constituting a
material deficiency. Affairs are not being altogether reputably
conducted during the crisis; it can never be quite definitely asserted
what the next action of the versatile and high-spirited Dowager
Empress will be; and here it is freely contended that the Pure and
Immortal Empire is incapable of remaining in one piece for much
longer. These, and other inconveniences of a like nature, which the
fastidious might distort into actual hardships, have never been
denied, yet at no period of the nine thousand years of our
civilisation has it been the custom to lure out the unwary, on the
plea of an agreeable entertainment, and then to abandon him into the
society of eleven club-bearing adversaries, one of whom may be
depicted as in the act of imparting an unnecessary polish to the edge
of his already preternaturally acute weapon, while those of his own
band offer no protection, and three tiers of very richly-dressed
maidens encourage him to his fate by refined gestures of approval.

Doubtless this person had unconsciously allowed his inner meditations
to carry him away, as it may be expressed, for when he emerged from
this strain of reverie it was to discover himself in the chariot-road
and--so incongruously may be the actions when the controlling
intelligence is withdrawn--even proceeding at a somewhat undignified
pace in a direction immediately opposed to an encounter with the brown
locusts. From this mortifying position he was happily saved by
emerging from these thought-dreams before it was too late to return,
and, also, if the detail is not too insignificant to be related, by
the fact that certain chosen runners from his own company had reached
a point in the road before him, and now stood joining their
outstretched arms across the passage and raising gravity-dispelling
cries. Smiling acquiescently, therefore, this person returned in their
midst, and receiving a new weapon, his own club having been
absent-mindedly mislaid, he again set forth warily to the encounter.

Yet in this he did not altogether neglect a discreet prudence. The
sympathetic person to whom he was indebted for the pointed allusion
had specifically declared that they who used their feet with the
desperate savagery of baffled spectres guarded the nearer limits of
their position, the intention of his timely hint assuredly being that
I should seek to approach from the opposite end, where, doubtless, the
more humane and conciliatory grass-hoppers were assembled. Thus guided
I now set forth in a widely-circuitous direction, having the point
where I meant to open an attack clearly before my eyes, yet seeking to
deliver a more effective onslaught by reaching it to some extent
unperceived and to this end creeping forward in the protecting shadow
of the long grass and untrimmed herbage.

Whether the one already referred to had incapably failed to express
his real meaning, or whether he was tremulous by nature and
inordinately self-deficient, concerns the narration less than the fact
that he had admittedly produced a state of things largely in excess of
the actual. There is no longer any serviceable pretext for maintaining
that those guarding any point of their position were other than mild
and benevolent, while the only edged weapon displayed was one
courteously produced to aid this person's ineffectual struggles to
extricate himself when, by some obscure movement, he had most ignobly
entangled his pigtail about the claws of his sandal.

Ignorant of this, the true state of things, I was still advancing
subtly when one wearing the emblems of our band appeared from among
the brown insects and came towards me. "Courage!" I exclaimed in a
guarded tone, raising my head cautiously and rejoiced to find that I
should not be alone. "Here is one clad in green bearing succour, who
will, moreover, obstinately defend his stumps to the last extremity."

"That's right," replied the opportune person agreeably; "we need a few
like that. But do get up on your hind legs and come along, there's a
good fellow. You can play at bears in the nursery when we get back, if
you want."

Certainly one can simulate the movements of wild animals in a
market-garden if the impersonation is thought to be desirable, yet the
reasonable analogy of the saying is elusive in the extreme, and I
followed the ally who had thus betrayed my presence with a deep-set
misgiving although in the absence of a more trustworthy guide, and in
the suspicion that some point of my every ordinary strategy had been
inept, I was compelled to mould myself identically into his advice.

Scarcely had he left me, and I was endeavouring to dispel any idea of
treachery towards those about by actions of graceful courtesy, when
one--unworthy of burial--standing a score of paces distant, (to whom,
indeed, this person was at the moment bowing with almost passionate
vehemence, inspired by the conviction that he, for his part, was
engaged in a like attention,) suddenly cast a missile--which, somewhat
double-facedly, he had hitherto held concealed in his closed
hand--with undeviating force and accuracy. So unexpected was the
movement, so painfully-impressed the vindictive contact, that I should
have instinctively seized the offensively-directed object and
contemptuously hurled it back again, if the consequence of the blow
had not deprived my mind of all retaliatory ambitions. In this
emergency was manifested a magnanimous act worthy of the incense of a
poem, for a person standing immediately by, seeing how this one was
balanced in his emotions, picked up the missile, and although one of
the foremost of the opposing band, very obligingly flung it back at
the assailant. Even an outcast would not have passed this without a
suitable tribute, and turning to him, I was remarking appreciatively
that men were not divided by seas and wooden barriers, but by the
unchecked and conflicting lusts of the mind, when the unclean and
weed-nurtured traitor twenty paces distant, taking a degraded
advantage from this person's attitude, again propelled his weapon with
an even more concentrated perfidy than before. At this new outrage
every brown cricket shrank from the attitude of alert vigour which
hitherto he had maintained, and as though to disassociate themselves
from the stain of complicity all crossed over and took up new
positions.

Up to this point, majestic head, in order to represent the adventure
in its proper sequence, it has been advisable to present the details
as they arose before the eyes of a reliable and dispassionate gazer.
Now, however, it is no less seemly to declare that this barbarian
sport of leaping insects is not so discreditably shallow as it had at
first appeared, while in every action there may be found an apt but
hidden symbol. Thus the presence of the two green locusts in the midst
of others of a dissimilar nature represents the unending strife by
which even the most pacific are ever surrounded. The fragile erection
of sticks (behind which this person at first sought to defend himself
until led into a more exposed position by one garbed in white,) may be
regarded as the home and altar, and adequately depicts the hollowness
of the protection it affords and the necessity of reliantly emerging
to defy an invader rather than lurking discreditably among its
recesses. The missile is the equivalent of a precise and immediate
danger, the wooden club the natural instinct for defence with which
all living creatures are endowed, so that when the peril is for the
time driven away the opportunity is at hand for the display of
virtuous amusements, the exchanging of hospitality, and the beating of
professional drums as we would say. Thus, at the next attack the one
sharing the enterprise with me struck the missile so proficiently that
its recovery engaged the attention of all our adversaries, and then
began to exhibit his powers by running and leaping towards me.
Recognising that the actual moment of the display had arrived, this
person at once emitted a penetrating cry of concentrated challenge,
and also began to leap upwards and about, and with so much energy that
the highly achieved limits of his flight surprised even himself.

As for the bystanders, esteemed, those who opposed us, and the members
of our own band, although this leaping sportiveness is a competition
more regarded and practised among all orders than the pursuit of
commercial eminence, or even than the allurements of the sublimest
Classics, it may be truly imagined that never before had they
witnessed so remarkable a game cricket. From the pagoda a loud cry of
wonder acclaimed the dexterity of this person's efforts; the three
tiers of maidens climbed one upon another in their anxiety to lose no
detail of the adventure, and outstanders from distant points began to
assemble. The brown enemy at once abandoned themselves to a panic, and
for the most part cast themselves incapably to the ground, rolling
from side to side in an access of emotion; the two arbiters clad in
white conferred together, doubtless on the uselessness of further
contest, while the ally who had summoned me to take a part instead of
being encouraged to display his agility in a like manner continued to
run slavishly from point to point, while I overcame the distances in a
series of inspired bounds.

In the meanwhile the sounds of encouragement from the ever-increasing
multitude grew like the falling of a sudden coast storm among the ripe
leaves of a tea-plantation, and with them the voices of many calling
upon my name and inciting me to further and even higher achievements
reached my ears. Not to grow small in the eyes of these estimable
persons I continued in my flight, and abandoning all set movements and
limits, I began to traverse the field in every direction, becoming
more proficient with each effort, imparting to myself a sideway and
even backward motion while yet in the upper spaces, remaining poised
for an appreciable period, and lightly, yet with graceful ease,
avoiding the embraces of those who would have detained me. Undoubtedly
I could have maintained this supremacy until our band might justly
have claimed the reward, had not the flattering cries of approval
caused an indiscreet mistake, for the alarm being spread in the
village that a conflagration of imposing ferocity was raging, an
ornamental chariot conveying a band of warriors clad in brass armour
presently entered into the strife, and discovering no fire to occupy
their charitable energies they misguidedly honoured this offensive
person by propelling a solid column of the purest and most refreshing
water against his ignoble body when at the point of his highest
flight. This introduction of a thunderbolt into the everyday life of
an insect must be of questionable authenticity, yet not feeling
sufficiently instructed in the lesser details of the sportiveness to
challenge the device, I suffered myself to be led towards the pavilion
with no more struggling than enough to remove the ignominy of an
unresisting surrender, pleasantly remarking to those who bore me along
that to a person of philosophical poise the written destiny was as
apparent in the falling leaf as in the rising sun, pointing the saying
thus: "Although the Desert of Shan-tz is boundless, and mankind number
a million million, yet in it Li-hing encountered his mother-in-law."
Changing to meet another of our company setting forth with a club to
make the venture, I was permitted for a moment to engage him;
whereupon thrusting into his hand a leather charm against ill-directed
efforts, and instructing him to bind it about his head, I encouraged
him with the imperishable watch-word of the Emperor Tsin Su, "The
stars are indeed small, but their light carries as far as that of the
full moon."

At the steps of the pagoda so great was the throng of those who would
have overwhelmed me with their gracious attention, that had not this
person's neck become practically automatic by ceaseless use of late,
he would have been utterly unequal to the emergency. As it was, he
could only bestow a superficial hand-wave upon a company of
gold-embroidered musicians who greeted his return with appropriate
melody, and a glance of well-indicated regret that he had no fuller
means of conveying his complicated emotions, in the direction of the
uppermost tier of maidens. Then the awaiting Sir Philip took him
firmly towards the inner part of the pavilion, and announced, so
adroitly and with such high-spirited vigour had this one maintained
the conflict, that it had been resolutely agreed on all sides not to
make a test of his competence any further.

Thereupon a band of very sumptuously arrayed nymphs drew near with
offerings of liquid fat and a variety of crimson fruit, which it is
customary to grind together on the platter--unapproachable in the
result, certainly, yet incredibly elusive to the unwary in the manner
of bruising, and practically ineradicable upon the more delicate
shades of silk garment. In such a situation the one who is now
relating the various incidents of the day may be imagined by a
broad-minded and affectionate sire: partaking of this native fruit and
oil, and from time to time expressing his insatiable anguish that he
continually fails to become more proficient in controlling the oblique
movements of the viands, while the less successful crickets are
constrained to persevere in the combat, and the ever-present note of
evasive purport is raised by a voice from behind a screen exclaiming,
"Out afore? That he may have been, but do ee think we was a-going to
give he out afore? No, maaster, us doant a-have a circus every day
hereabouts."

Thus may this imagination of competitive locusts be set forth to the
end. If a fuller proof of what an unostentatious self-effacement
hesitates to enlarge upon were required, it might be found in the
barbarian printed leaf, for the next day this person saw a public
record of the strife, in which his own name was followed by a
numerical emblem signifying that he had not stumbled or proved
incompetent in any one particular. Sir Philip, I beheld with pained
surprise, had obtusely suffered himself to be caught out in the
committal of fifty-nine set offences.

With a not unnatural anticipation that, as a result of this
painstaking description, this person will find two well-equipped camps
of contending locusts in Yuen-ping on his return.

KONG HO.




LETTER XII


Concerning the obvious misunderstanding which has entwined
itself about a revered parent's faculties of passionless
discrimination. The all-water disportment and the two, of
different sexes, who after regarding me conflictingly from the
beginning, ended in a like but inverted manner.



VENERATED SIRE,--Your gem-adorned letter containing a thousand
burnished words of profuse reproach has entered my diminished soul in
the form of an equal number of rusty barbs. Can it be that the
incapable person whom, as you truly say, you sent, "to observe the
philosophical subtleties of the barbarians, to study their dynastical
records and to associate liberally with the venerable and dignified,"
has, in your own unapproachable felicity of ceremonial expression,
"according to a discreet whisper from many sources, chiefly affected
the society of tea-house maidens, the immature of both sexes, doubtful
characters of all classes, and criminals awaiting trial; has evinced
an unswerving affinity towards light amusement and entertainments of a
no-class kind; and in place of a wise aloofness, befitting a wearer of
the third Gold Button and the Horn Belt-clasp, in situations of
critical perplexity, seems by his own ingenuous showing to have
maintained an unparalleled aptitude for behaving either with the
crystalline simplicity of a Kan-su earth-tiller, or the misplaced
buffoonery of a seventh-grade body-writher taking the least
significant part in an ill-equipped Swatow one-cash Hall of Varied
Melodies." Assuredly, if your striking and well-chosen metaphors were
not more unbalanced than the ungainly attitude of a one-legged
hunchback crossing a raging torrent by means of a slippery plank on a
stormy night, they would cause the very acutest bitterness to the
throat of a dutiful and always high-stepping son. There is an apt
saying, however, "A quarrel between two soldiers in the market-place
becomes a rebellion in the outskirts," and when this person remembers
that many thousand li of mixed elements flow between him and his
usually correct and dispassionate sire, he is impelled to take a mild
and tolerant attitude towards the momentary injustice brought about by
the weakness of approaching old age, the vile-intentioned mendacity of
outcasts envious of the House of Kong, and, perchance, the irritation
brought on by a too lavish indulgence in your favourite dish of stewed
mouse.

Having thus re-established himself in the clear-sighted affection of
an ever mild and perfect father, and cleansed the ground of all
possible misunderstandings in the future, this person will concede the
fact that, not to stand beneath the faintest shadow of an implied
blemish in your sympathetic eyes, he had no sooner understood the
attitude in which he had been presented than he at once plunged into
the virtuous society of a band of the sombre and benevolent.

These, so far as his intelligence enables him to grasp the position,
may be reasonably accepted as the barbarian equivalent of those very
high-minded persons who in our land devote their whole lives secretly
to killing others whom they consider the chief deities do not really
approve of; for although they are not permitted here, either by
written law or by accepted custom, to perform these meritorious
actions, they are so intimately initiated into the minds and councils
of the Upper Ones that they are able to pronounce very severe
judgments of torture--a much heavier penalty than merely being
assassinated--upon all who remain outside their league. As some of the
most objurgatory of these alliances do not number more than a score of
persons, it is inevitable that the ultimate condition of the whole
barbarian people must be hazardous in the extreme.

Having associated myself with this class sufficiently to escape their
vindictive pronouncements, and freely professed an unswerving
adherence to their rites, I next sought out the priests of other
altars, intending by a seemly avowal to each in turn to safeguard my
future existence effectually. This I soon discovered to be beyond the
capacity of an ordinary lifetime, for whereas we, with four hundred
million subjects find three religions to be sufficient to meet every
emergency, these irresolute island children, although numbering us
only as one to ten, vacillate among three hundred; and even amid this
profusion it is asserted that most of the barbarians are unable to
find any temple exactly conforming to their requirements, and after
writing to the paper to announce the fact, abandon the search in
despair.

It was while I was becoming proficient in the inner subtleties of one
of these orders--they who drink water on all occasions and wear a
badge--that a maiden of some authority among them besought my aid for
the purpose of amusing a band which she was desirous of propitiating
into the adoption of this badge. It is possible that in the immature
confidence of former letters this person may already have alluded to
certain maidens with words of courteous esteem, but it is now
necessary to admit finally that in the presence of this same Helena
they would all appear as an uninviting growth of stunted and deformed
poppies surrounding a luxuriant chrysanthemum. At the presumptuous
thought of describing her illimitable excellences my fingers become
claw-like in their confessed inadequacy to hold a sufficiently upright
brush; yet without undue confidence it may be set down that her hands
resembled the two wings of a mandarin drake in their symmetrical and
changing motion, her hair as light and radiant-pointed as the
translucent incense cloud floating before the golden Buddha of
Shan-Si, thin white satin stretched tightly upon polished agate only
faintly comparable to her jade cheeks, while her eyes were more
unfathomable than the crystal waters of the Keng-kiang, and within
their depths her pure and magnanimous thoughts could be dimly seen to
glide like the gold and silver carp beneath the sacred river.

When this insurpassable being approached me with the flattering
petition already alluded to, my gratified emotions clashed together
uncontrollably with the internal feeling of many volcanoes in
movement, and my organs of expression became so entangled at the
condescension of her melodious voice being directly addressed to one
so degraded, that for several minutes I was incapable of further
acquiescence than that conveyed by an adoring silence and an
unchanging smile. No formality appeared worthy to greet her by, no
expression of self-contempt sufficiently offensive to convey to her
enlightenment my own sense of a manifold inferiority, and doubtless I
should have remained in a transfixed attitude until she had at length
turned aside, had not your seasonable reference to a Swatow
limb-contorter struck me heavily and abruptly turned off the source of
my agreement. Might not this all-water entertainment, it occurred to
this one, consist in enticing him to drink a potion made unsuspectedly
hot, in projecting him backwards into a vat of the same liquid, or
some similar device for the pleasurable amusement of those around,
which would come within the boundaries of your refined disapproval? As
one by himself there was no indignity that this person would not
cheerfully have submitted to, but the inexorable cords of an ingrained
filial regard suddenly pulled him sideways and into another direction.

"But, Mr. Kong," exclaimed the bee-lipped maiden, when I had explained
(as being less involved to her imagination,) that I was under a vow,
"we have been relying upon you. Could you not"--and here she dropped
her eyes and picked them up again with a fluttering motion which our
lesser ones are, to an all-wise end, quite unacquainted with--"could
you not unvow yourself for one night, just to please ME?"

At these words, the illuminated proficiency of her glance, and her
honourable resolution to implicate me in the display by head or feet,
the ever-revered image of a just and obedience-loving father ceased to
have any further tangible influence. Let it be remembered that there
is a deep saying, "A virtuous woman will cause more evil than ten
river pirates." As for the person who is recording his incompetence,
the room and all those about began to engulf him in an ever-increasing
circular motion, his knees vibrated together with unrestrained
pliancy, and concentrating his voice to indicate by the allegory some
faint measure of his emotion, he replied passionately, "Let the
amusement referred to take the form of sitting in a boiling cauldron
exposed to the derision of all beholders, this one will now enter it
wearing yellow silk trousers."
                                  *

It is characteristic of these illogical out-countries that the
all-water diversion did not, as a matter to record, concern itself
with that liquid in any detail, beyond the contents of a glass vessel
from which a venerable person, who occupied a raised chair,
continually partook. This discriminating individual spoke so
confidently of the beneficial action of the fluid, and so unswervingly
described my own feelings at the moment--as of head giddiness, an
inexactitude of speech, and no clear definition of where the next step
would be arrived at--as the common lot of all who did not consume
regularly, that when that same Helena had passed on to speak to
another, I left the hall unobserved and drank successive portions, in
each case, as the night was cold, prudently adding a measure of the
native rice spirit. His advice had been well-directed, for with the
fourth portion I suddenly found all doubtful and oppressive visions
withdrawn, and a new and exhilarating self-confidence raised in their
place. In this agreeable temper I returned to the place of meeting to
find a priest of one of the lesser orders relating a circumstance
whereby he had encountered a wild maiden in the woods, who had
steadfastly persisted that she was one of a band of seven (this being
the luckiest protective number among the superstitious). Though unable
to cause their appearance, she had gone through a most precise
examination at his hands without deviating in the slightest
particular, whereupon distrusting the outcome of the strife, the
person who was relating the adventure had withdrawn breathless.

When this versatile lesser priest had finished the narration, and the
applause, which clearly showed that those present approved of the
solitary maiden's discreet stratagem, had ceased, the one who occupied
the central platform, rising, exclaimed loudly, "Mr. Kong will next
favour us with a contribution, which will consist, I am informed, of a
Chinese tale."

Now there chanced to be present a certain one who had already become
offensive to me by the systematic dexterity with which he had planted
his inopportune shadow between the sublime-souled Helena and any other
who made a movement to approach her heaven-dowered outline. When this
presumptuous and ill-nurtured outcast, who was, indeed, then seated
by the side of the enchanting maiden last referred to, heard the
announcement he said in a voice feigned to reach her peach-skin ear
alone, yet intentionally so modulated as to penetrate the furthest
limit of the room, "A Chinese tale! Why, assuredly, that must be a
pig-tail." At this unseemly shaft many of those present allowed
themselves to become immoderately amused, and even the goat-like sage
who had called upon my name concealed his face behind an open hand,
but the amiably-disposed Helena, after looking at the undiscriminating
youth coldly for a moment, deliberately rose and moved to a vacant
spot at a distance. Encouraged by this fragrant act of sympathy I
replied with a polite bow to indicate the position, "On the contrary,
the story which it is now my presumptuous intention to relate will
contain no reference whatever to the carefully-got-up one occupying
two empty seats in the front row," and without further introduction
began the history of Kao and his three brothers, to which I had added
the title, "The Three Gifts."

At the conclusion of this classical example of the snares ever lying
around the footsteps of the impious, I perceived that the jocular
stripling, whom I had so delicately reproved, was no longer present.
Doubtless he had been unable to remain in the same room with the
commanding Helena's high-spirited indignation, and anticipating that
in consequence there would now be no obstacle to her full-faced
benignity, I drew near with an appropriate smile.

It is somewhere officially recorded, "There is only one man who knew
with accurate certainty what a maiden's next attitude would be, and he
died young of surprise." As I approached I had the sensation of
passing into so severe an atmosphere of rigid disfavour, that the
ingratiating lines upon my face became frozen in its intensity,
despite the ineptness of their expression. Unable to penetrate the
cause of my offence, I made a variety of agreeable remarks, until
finding that nothing tended towards a becoming reconciliation, I
gradually withdrew in despair, and again turned my face in the
direction of that same accommodation which I had already found beneath
the sign of an Encompassed Goat. Here, by the sarcasm of destiny, I
encountered the person who had drawn the slighting analogy between
this one's pig-tail and his ability as a story-teller. For a brief
space of time the ultimate development of the venture was doubtfully
poised, but recognising in each other's features the overhanging cloud
of an allied pang, the one before me expressed a becoming contrition
for the jest, together with a proffered cup. Not to appear out-classed
I replied in a suitable vein, involving the supply of more vessels;
whereupon there succeeded many more vessels, called for both singly
and in harmonious unison, and the reappearance of numerous bright
images, accompanied by a universal scintillation of meteor-like
iridescence. In this genial and greatly-enlarged spirit we returned
affably together to the hall, and entered unperceived at the moment
when the one who made the announcements was crying aloud, "According
to the programme the next item should have been a Chinese poem, but as
Mr. Kong Ho appears to have left the building, we shall pass him
over--"

"What Ho?" exclaimed the somewhat impetuous one by my side, stepping
forward indignantly and mounting the platform in his affectionate
zeal. "No one shall pass over my old and valued friend--this Ho--while
I have a paw to raise. Step forward, Mandarin, and let them behold the
inventor and sole user of the justly far-famed G. R. Ko-Ho hair
restorer--sent in five guinea bottles to any address on receipt of four
penny stamps--as he appeared in his celebrated impersonation of the
human-faced Swan at Doll and Edgar's. Come on, oh, Ho!"

"Assuredly," I replied, striving to follow him, "yet with the wary
greeting, 'Slowly, slowly; walk slowly,' engraved upon my mind, for
the barrier of these convoluted stairs--" but at this word a band of
maidens passed out hastily, and in the tumult I reached the dais and
began Weng Chi's immortal verses, entitled "The Meandering Flight,"
which had occupied me three complete days and nights in the detail of
rendering the allusions into well-balanced similitudes and at the same
time preserving the skilful evasion of all conventional rules which
raises the original to so sublime a height.

    The voice of one singing at the dawn;
    The seven harmonious colours in the sky;
    The meeting by the fountain;
    The exchange of gifts, and the sound of the processional drum;
    The emotion of satisfaction in each created being;
    This is the all-prominent indication of the Spring.

    The general disinclination to engage in laborious tasks;
    The general readiness to consume voluminous potions on any
        pretext.
    The deserted appearance of the city and the absence of the
        come-in motion at every door;
    The sportiveness of maidens, and even those of maturer age,
        ethereally clad, upon the shore.
    The avowed willingness of merchants to dispose of their wares
        for half the original sum.
    This undoubtedly is the Summer.

    The yellow tea leaf circling as it falls;
    The futile wheeling of the storm-tossed swan;
    The note of the marble lute at evening by the pool;
    The immobile cypress seen against the sun.
    The unnecessarily difficult examination paper.
    All these things are suggestive of the Autumn.

    The growing attraction of a well-lined couch.
    The obsequious demeanour of message-bearers, charioteers, and
        the club-armed keepers of peace.
    The explosion of innumerable fire-crackers round the convivial
        shines,
    The gathering together of relations who at all other times
        shun each other markedly.
    The obtrusive recollection of a great many things contrary to
        a spoken vow, and the inflexible purpose to be more
        resolute in future.
    These in turn invariably attend each Winter.

It certainly had not presented itself to me before that the words
"invariably attend" are ill-chosen, but as I would have uttered them
their inelegance became plain, and this person made eight
conscientious attempts to soften down their harsh modulation by
various interchanges. He was still persevering hopefully when he of
chief authority approached and requested that the one who was thus
employed and that same other would leave the hall tranquilly, as the
all-water entertainment was at an end, and an attending slave was in
readiness to extinguish the lanterns.

"Yet," I protested unassumingly, "that which has so far been expressed
is only in the semblance of an introductory ode. There follow--"

"You must not argue with the Chair," exclaimed another interposing his
voice. "Whatever the Chair rules must be accepted."

"The innuendo is flat-witted," I replied with imperturbable dignity,
but still retaining my hold upon the rail. "When this person so far
loses his sense of proportion as to contend with an irrational object,
devoid of faculties, let the barb be cast. After that introduction
dealing with the four seasons, the twelve gong-strokes of the day are
reviewed in a like fashion. These in turn give place to the days of
the month, then the moons of the year, and finally the years of the
cycle."

"That's fair," exclaimed the perverse though well-meaning youth, whom
I was beginning to recognise as the cause of some misunderstanding
among us. "If you don't want any more of his poem--and I don't blame
you--my pal Ho, who is one of the popular Flip-Flap Troupe, offers to
do some trick cycle-riding on his ears. What more can you expect?"

"We expect a policeman very soon," replied another severely. "He has
already been sent for."

"In that case," said the one who had so persistently claimed me as an
ally, "perhaps I can do you a service by directing him here"; and
leaving this person to extricate himself by means of a reassuring
silence and some of the larger silver pieces of the Island, he
vanished hastily.

With some doubt whether or not this deviation into the society of the
professedly virtuous, ending as it admittedly does in an involvement,
may not be deemed ill-starred; yet hopeful.
                                            KONG HO.



                           THE THREE GIFTS

    Related by Kong Ho on the occasion of the all-water
    disportment, under the circumstances previously set forth.

BEYOND the limits of the township of Yang-chow there dwelt a rich
astrologer named Wei. Reading by his skilful interpretation of the
planets that he would shortly Pass Above, he called his sons Chu,
Shan, and Hing to his side and distributed his wealth impartially
among them. To Chu he gave his house containing a gold couch; to Shan
a river with a boat; to Hing a field in which grew a prolific
orange-tree. "Thus provided for," he continued, "you will be able to
live together in comfort, the resources of each supplying the wants of
the others in addition to his own requirements. Therefore when I have
departed let it be your first care to sacrifice everything else I
leave, so that I also, in the Upper Air, may not be left destitute."

Now in addition to these three sons Wei also had another, the
youngest, but one of so docile, respectful, and self-effacing a
disposition that he was frequently overlooked to the advantage of his
subtle, ambitious, and ingratiating brothers. This youth, Kao,
thinking that the occasion certainly called for a momentary relaxation
of his usual diffidence, now approached his father modestly, and
begged that he also might be included to some trivial degree in his
bounty.

This reasonable petition involved Wei in an embarrassing perplexity.
Although he had forgotten Kao completely in the division, he had now
definitely concluded the arrangement; nor, to his failing powers, did
it appear possible to make a just allotment on any other lines. "How
can a person profitably cut up an orange-tree, a boat, an inlaid
couch, or a house?" he demanded. "Who can divide a flowing river, or
what but unending strife can arise from regarding an open field in
anything but its entirety? Assuredly six cohesive objects cannot be
apportioned between four persons." Yet he could not evade the justice
of Kao's implied rebuke, so drawing to his side a jade cabinet he
opened it, and from among the contents he selected an ebony staff, a
paper umbrella, and a fan inscribed with a mystical sentence. These
three objects he placed in Kao's hands, and with his last breath
signified that he should use them discreetly as the necessity arose.

When the funeral ceremonies were over, Chu, Shan, and Hing came
together, and soon moulded their covetous thoughts into an agreed
conspiracy. "Of what avail would be a boat or a river if this person
sacrificed the nets and appliances by which the fish are ensnared?"
asked Shan. "How little profit would lie in an orange-tree and a field
without cattle and the implements of husbandry!" cried Hing. "One
cannot occupy a gold couch in an empty house both by day and night,"
remarked Chu stubbornly. "How inadequate, therefore, would such a
provision be for three."

When Kao understood that his three brothers had resolved to act in
this outrageous manner he did not hesitate to reproach them; but not
being able to contend against him honourably, they met him with
ridicule. "Do not attempt to rule us with your wooden staff," they
cried contemptuously. "Sacrifice IT if your inside is really sincere.
And, in the meanwhile, go and sit under your paper umbrella and wield
your inscribed fan, while we attend to our couch, our boat, and our
orange-tree."

"Truly," thought Kao to himself when they had departed, "their words
were irrationally offensive, but among them there may stand out a
pointed edge. Our magnanimous father is now bereft of both comforts
and necessities, and although an ebony rod is certainly not much in
the circumstances, if this person is really humanely-intentioned he
will not withhold it." With this charitable design Kao build a fire
before the couch (being desirous, out of his forgiving nature, to
associate his eldest brother in the offering), and without hesitation
sacrificed the most substantial of his three possessions.

It here becomes necessary to explain that in addition to being an
expert astrologer, Wei was a far-seeing magician. The rod of
unimpressionable solidity was in reality a charm against decay, and
its hidden virtues being thus destroyed, a contrary state of things
naturally arose, so that the next morning it was found that during the
night the gold couch had crumbled away into a worthless dust.

Even this manifestation did not move the three brothers, although the
geniality of Shan and Hing's countenances froze somewhat towards Chu.
Nevertheless Chu still possessed a house, and by pointing out that
they could live as luxuriantly as before on the resources of the river
and the field and the tree, he succeeded in maintaining his position
among them.

After seven days Kao reflected again. "This avaricious person still
has two objects, both of which he owes to his revered father's
imperishable influence," he admitted conscience-stricken, "while the
being in question has only one." Without delay he took the paper
umbrella and ceremoniously burned it, scattering the ashes this time
upon Shan's river. Like the rod the umbrella also possessed secret
virtues, its particular excellence being a curse against clouds, wind
demons, thunderbolts and the like, so that during the night a great
storm raged, and by the morning Shan's boat had been washed away.

This new calamity found the three brothers more obstinately perverse
than ever. It cannot be denied that Hing would have withdrawn from the
guilty confederacy, but they were as two to one, and prevailed,
pointing out that the house still afforded shelter, the river yielded
some of the simpler and inferior fish which could be captured from the
banks, and the fruitfulness of the orange-tree was undiminished.

At the end of seven more days Kao became afflicted with doubt. "There
is no such thing as a fixed proportion or a set reckoning between a
dutiful son and an embarrassed sire," he confessed penitently. "How
incredibly profane has been this person's behaviour in not seeing the
obligation in its unswerving necessity before." With this scrupulous
resolve Kao took his last possession, and carrying it into the field
he consumed it with fire beneath Hing's orange-tree. The fan, in turn,
also had hidden properties, its written sentence being a spell against
drought, hot winds, and the demons which suck the nourishment from all
crops. In consequence of the act these forces were called into action,
and before another day Hing's tree had withered away.

It is said with reason, "During the earthquake men speak the truth."
At this last disaster the impious fortitude of the three brothers
suddenly gave way, and cheerfully admitting their mistake, each
committed suicide, Chu disembowelling himself among the ashes of his
couch, Shan sinking beneath the waters of his river, and Hing hanging
by a rope among the branches of his own effete orange-tree.

When they had thus fittingly atoned for their faults the imprecation
was lifted from off their possessions. The couch was restored by magic
art to its former condition, the boat was returned by a justice-loving
person into whose hands it had fallen lower down the river, and the
orange-tree put out new branches. Kao therefore passed into an
undiminished inheritance. He married three wives, to commemorate the
number of his brothers, and had three sons, whom he called Chu, Shan,
and Hing, for a like purpose. These three all attained to high office
in the State, and by their enlightened morals succeeded in wiping all
the discreditable references to others bearing the same names from off
the domestic tablets.

From this story it will be seen that by acting virtuously, yet with an
observing discretion, on all occasions, it is generally possible not
only to rise to an assured position, but at the same time
unsuspectedly to involve those who stand in our way in a just
destruction.




LETTER XIII


Concerning a state of necessity; the arisings engendered
thereby, and the turned-away face of those ruling the literary
quarter of the city towards one possessing a style. This
foreign manner of feigning representations, and concerning my
dignified portrayal of two.



VENERATED SIRE,--It is now more than three thousand years ago that the
sublime moralist Tcheng How, on being condemned by a resentful
official to a lengthy imprisonment in a very inadequate oil jar,
imperturbably replied, "As the snail fits his impliant shell, so can
the wise adapt themselves to any necessity," and at once coiled
himself up in the restricted space with unsuspected agility. In times
of adversity this incomparable reply has often shone as a steadfast
lantern before my feet, but recently it struck my senses with a
heavier force, for upon presenting myself on the last occasion at the
place of exchange frequented by those who hitherto have carried out
your spoken promise with obliging exactitude, and at certain stated
intervals freely granted to this person a sufficiency of pieces of
gold, merely requiring in return an inscribed and signet-bearing
record of the fact, I was received with no diminution of sympathetic
urbanity, indeed, but with hands quite devoid of outstretched fulness.

In a small inner chamber, to which I was led upon uttering courteous
protests, one of solitary authority explained how the deficiency had
arisen, but owing to the skill with which he entwined the most
intricate terms in unbroken fluency, the only impression left upon my
superficial mind was, that the person before me was imputing the
scheme for my despoilment less to any mercenary instinct on the part
of his confederates, than to a want of timely precision maintained by
one who seemed to bear an agreeable-sounding name somewhat similar to
your own, and who, from the difficulty of reaching his immediate ear,
might be regarded as dwelling in a distant land. Encouraged by this
conciliatory profession (and seeing no likelihood of gaining my end
otherwise), I thereupon declared my willingness that the difference
lying between us should be submitted to the pronouncement of
dispassionate omens, either passing birds, flat and round sticks, the
seeds of two oranges, wood and fire, water poured out upon the ground
or any equally reliable sign as he himself might decide. However, in
spite of his honourable assurances, he was doubtless more deeply
implicated in the adventure than he would admit, for at this
scrupulous proposal the benignant mask of his expression receded
abruptly, and, striking a hidden bell, he waved his hands and stood up
to signify that further justice was denied me.

In this manner a state of destitution calling for the fullest
acceptance of Tcheng How's impassive philosophy was created, nor had
many hours faded before the first insidious temptation to depart from
his uncompromising acquiescence presented itself.

At that time there was no one in whom I reposed a larger-sized piece
of confidence (in no way involving sums of money,) than one officially
styled William Beveledge Greyson, although, profiting by our own
custom, it is unusual for those really intimate with his society to
address him fully, unless the occasion should be one of marked
ceremony. Forming a resolution, I now approached this obliging
person, and revealing to him the cause of the emergency, I prayed that
he would advise me, as one abandoned on a strange Island, by what
handicraft or exercise of skill I might the readiest secure for the
time a frugal competence.

"Why, look here, aged man," at once replied the lavish William
Greyson, "don't worry yourself about that. I can easily let you have a
few pounds to tide you over. You will probably hear from the bank in
the course of a few days or weeks, and it's hardly worth while doing
anything eccentric in the meantime."

At this delicately-worded proposal I was about to shake hands with
myself in agreement, when the memory of Tcheng How's resolute
submission again possessed me, and seeing that this would be an
unworthy betrayal of destiny I turned aside the action, and replying
evasively that the world was too small to hold himself and another
equally magnanimous, I again sought his advice.

"Now what silly upside-down idea is it that you've got into that
Chinese puzzle you call your head, Kong?" he replied; for this same
William was one who habitually gilded unpalatable truths into the
semblance of a flattering jest. "Whenever you turn off what you are
saying into a willow-pattern compliment and bow seventeen times like
an animated mandarin, I know that you are keeping something back. Be a
man and a brother, and out with it," and he struck me heavily upon the
left shoulder, which among the barbarians is a proof of cordiality to
be esteemed much above the mere wagging of each other's hands.

"In the matter of guidance," I replied, "this person is ready to sit
unreservedly on your well-polished feet. But touching the borrowing of
money, obligations to restore with an added sum after a certain
period, initial-bearing papers of doubtful import, and the like, I
have read too deeply the pointed records of your own printed sheets
not to prefer an existence devoted to the scraping together of dust at
the street corners, rather than a momentary affluence which in the end
would betray me into the tiger-like voracity of a native
money-lender."

"Well, you do me proud, Kong," said William Beveledge, after regarding
me fixedly for a moment. "If I didn't remember that you are a
flat-faced, slant-eyed, top-side-under, pig-tailed old heathen, I
should be really annoyed at your unwarrantable personalities. Do you
take ME for what you call a 'native money-lender'?"

The pronouncements of destiny are written in iron," I replied
inoffensively, "and it is as truly said that one fated to end his life
in a cave cannot live for ever on the top of a pagoda. Undoubtedly as
one born and residing here you are native, and as inexorably it
succeeds that if you lend me pieces of gold you become a money-lender.
Therefore, though honourably inspired at the first, you would equally
be drawn into the entanglement of circumstance, and the unevadible end
must inevitably be that against which your printed papers consistently
warn one."

"And what is that?" asked Beveledge Greyson, still regarding me
closely, as though I were a creature of another part.

"At first," I replied, "there would be an alluring snare of graceful
words, tea, and the consuming of paper-rolled herbs, and the matter
would be lightly spoken of as capable of an easy adjustment; which,
indeed, it cannot be denied, is how the detail stands at present. The
next position would be that this person, finding himself unable to
gather together the equivalent of return within the stated time, would
greet you with a very supple neck and pray for a further extension,
which would be permitted on the understanding that in the event of
failure his garments and personal charms should be held in bondage. To
escape so humiliating a necessity, as the time drew near I would
address myself to another, one calling himself William, perchance, and
dwelling in a northern province, to whom I would be compelled to
assign my peach-orchard at Yuen-ping. Then by varying degrees of
infamy I would in turn be driven to visit a certain Bevel of the
Middle Lands, a person Edge carrying on his insatiable traffic on the
southern coast, one Grey elsewhere, and a Mr. Son, of the west, who
might make an honourable profession of lending money without any
security whatever, but who in the end would possess himself of my
ancestral tablets, wives, and inlaid coffin, and probably also obtain
a lien upon my services and prosperity in the Upper Air. Then, when I
had parted from all comfort in this life, and every hope of affluence
in the Beyond, it would presently be disclosed that all these were in
reality as one person who had unceasingly plotted to my destruction,
and William Beveledge Greyson would stand revealed in the guise of a
malevolent vampire. Truly that development has at this moment an
appearance of unreality, and worthy even of pooh-pooh, but thus is the
warning spread by your own printed papers and the records of your
Halls of Justice, and it would be an unseemly presumption for one of
my immature experience to ignore the outstretched and warning finger
of authority."

"Well, Kong," he said at length, after considering my words
attentively, "I always thought that your mental outlook was a hash of
Black Art, paper lanterns, blank verse, twilight, and delirium
tremens, but hang me if you aren't sound on finance, and I only wish
that you'd get some of my friends to look at the matter of borrowing
in your own reasonable, broad-minded light. The question is, what
next?"

I replied that I leaned heavily against his sagacious insight, adding,
however, that even among a nation of barbarians one who could repeat
the three hundred and eleven poems comprising the Book of Odes from
beginning to end, and claim the degree "Assured Genius" would ever be
certain of a place.

"Yes," replied William Greyson,--"in the workhouse. Put your degree in
your inside pocket, Kong, and don't mention it. You'll have far more
chance as a distressed mariner. The casual wards are full of B.A.'s,
but the navy can't get enough A.B.'s at any price. What do you say to
an organ, by the way? Mysterious musicians generally go down well, and
I dare say there's room for a change from veiled ladies, persecuted
captains and indigent earls. You ought to make a sensation."

"Is it in the nature of melodious sounds upon winding a handle?" I
asked, not at the moment grasping with certainty to what organ he
referred.

"Well, some call them that," he admitted, "others don't. I suppose,
now, you wouldn't care to walk to Brighton with your feet tied
together, or your hair in curl papers, and then get on at a music
hall? Or would there be any chance of your Legation kidnapping you if
it was properly worked? 'Kong Ho, the great Chinese Reformer, tells
the Story of his Life,'--there ought to be money in it. Are you a
reformer or the leader of a secret society, Kong?"

"On the contrary," I replied, "we of our Line have ever been
unflinching in our loyalty to the dynasty of Tsing."

"You ought to have known better, then. It's a poor business being that
in your country nowadays. Pity there are no bye-elections on the
African Labour Question, or you'd be snapped up for a procession."

To this I replied that although the idea of moving in a processional
triumph would readily ensnare the minds of the light and fantastic, I
should prefer some more literary occupation, submissively adding that
in such a case I would not stiffen my joints against the most menial
lot, even that of blending my voice in a laudatory chorus, or of
carrying official pronouncements about the walls of the city, for it
is said with justice, "The starving man does not peel his melon, nor
do the parched first wipe round the edges of the proffered cup."

"If you've set your mind on something literary," said Beveledge
confidently, "you have every chance of finishing up in a chorus or
carrying printed placards about the streets, certainly. When it comes
to that, look me up in Eastcheap." With this encouraging assurance of
my ultimate success he left me, and rejoicing that I had not fallen
into the snare of opposing a written destiny, I sought the literary
quarters of the city.
                                  *

When this person has been able to write of any custom or facet of
existence here in a strain of conscientious esteem, he has not
hesitated to dip his brush deeply into the inkpot. Reverting
backwards, this barbarian enactment of not permitting those who from
any cause have decided upon spending the night in a philosophical
abstraction to repose upon the public seats about the swards and open
spaces is not conceived in a mood of affable toleration. Nevertheless
there are deserted places beyond the furthest limits of the city where
a more amiable full-face is shown. On the eleventh day of this one's
determination to sustain himself by the exercise of his literary
style, he was journeying about sunset towards one of these spots,
subduing the grosser instincts of mankind by reviewing the wisdom of
the sublime Lao Ch'un, who decided that heat and cold, pain and
fatigue, and mental distress, have no real existence, and are
therefore amenable to logical disproof, while the cravings of hunger
and thirst are merely the superfluous attributes of a former and lower
state of existence, when a passer-by, who for some distance had been
alternately advancing before and remaining behind, matched his
footsteps into mine.

"Whichee way walk-go, John, eh?" said this unfortunate being, who
appeared to be suffering from a laborious deformity of speech. "Allee
samee load me. Chin-chin."

Filled with compassion for one who evidently found himself alone in a
strange land, in the absence of his more highly-accomplished
companion, unable to indicate his wants and requirements to those
about him, I regretfully admitted that I had not chanced to encounter
that John whose wandering footsteps he sought; and to indicate, by not
leaving him abruptly, that I maintained a sympathetic concern over his
welfare, I pointed out to him the exceptional brilliance of the
approaching night, adding that I myself was then directing a course
towards a certain spacious Heath, a few li distant in the north.

"Sing-dance tomollow, then?" he said, with a condensed air of general
disappointment. "Chop-chop in a pay look-see show on Ham--Hamstl--oh
damme! on 'Ampstead 'Eath? Booked up, eh, John?"

Gradually convinced that it was becoming necessary to readjust the
significance of the incident, I replied that I had no intention of
partaking of chops or food of any variety in an erected tent, but
merely of passing the night in an intellectual seclusion.

"Oh," said the one who was walking by my side, regarding my garments
with engaging attention, and at the same time appearing to regain an
unruffled speech as though the other had been an assumed device, "I
understand--the Blue Sky Hotel. Well, I've stayed there once or twice
myself. A bit down on your uppers, eh?"

"Assuredly this person may perchance lay his upper parts down for a
short space of time," I admitted, when I had traced out the symbolism
of the words. "As it is humanely written in The Books, 'Sleep and
suicide are the free refuges equally of the innocent and the guilty.'"

"Oh, come now, don't," exclaimed the energetic person, striking
himself together by means of his two hands. "It's sinful to talk about
suicide the day before bank holiday. Why, my only Somali warrior has
vamoosed with his full make-up, and the Magnetic Girl too, and I never
thought of suicide--only whether to turn my old woman into a Veiled
Beauty of the Harem or a Hairy Lama from Tibet."

Not absolutely grasping the emergency, yet in a spirit of inoffensive
cordiality I remarked that the alternative was insufferably
perplexing, while he continued.

"Then I spotted you, and in a flash I got an idea that ought to take
and turn out really great if you'll come in. Now follow this:
Missionary's tent in the wilds of Pekin. Domestic interior by
lamp-light. Missionary (me) reading evening paper; missionary's wife
(the missus) making tea, and between times singing to keep the small
pet goat quiet (small goat, a pillow, horsecloth, and
pocket-handkerchief). Breaks down singing, sobs, and says she feels a
strange all-over presentiment. Missionary admits being a bit fluffed
himself, and lets out about a notice signed in blood that he's seen in
the city."

"Carried upon a pole?" this person demanded, feeling that something of
a literary nature might yet be wrested into the incident.

"On a flagstaff if you like," conceded the other one magnanimously. "A
notice to the effect that it is the duty of every jack mother's son of
them to douse the foreign devils, man, woman, and child, and
especially the talk-book pass-hat-round men. Also that he has had
several brick-ends heaved at him on his way back. Then stops suddenly,
hits his upper crust, and says that it's like his blamed
fat-headedness to frighten her; while she clutches at herself three
times and faints away."

"Amid the voluminous burning of blue lights?" suggested this person
resourcefully.

"By rights there should be," admitted the one who was devising the
representation; "but it will hardly run to it. Anyway, it costs
nothing to turn the lamp down--saves a bit in fact, and gives an
effect. Then outside, in the distance at first you understand, you
begin to work up the sound of the advancing mob--rattles, shouts,
tum-tums, groans, tin plates and all that one mortal man can do with
hands, feet and mouth."

"With the interspersal of an occasional cracker and the stirring notes
produced by striking a hollow wooden fish repeatedly?" I cried; for
let it be confessed that amid the portrayal of the scene my
imagination had taken an allotted part.

"If you like to provide them, and don't set the bally show on fire,"
he replied. "Anyhow, these two aren't supposed to notice anything even
when the row gets louder. Then it drops and you are heard outside
talking in whispers to the others--words of command and telling them
to keep back half-a-mo, and so on. See?"

"Doubtless introducing a spoken charm and repeating the words of an
incantation against omens, treachery, and other matters."

"Next a flap of the tent down on the floor is raised, and you
reconnoitre, looking your very worst and holding a knife between your
teeth and another in each hand. Wave a hand to your followers to keep
back--or come on: it makes no difference. Then you crawl in on your
stomach, give a terrific howl, and stab me in the back. That rolls me
under the curtain, and so lets me out. The missus ups with the
wood-chopper and stands before the cradle, while you yell and dance
round with the knives. That ought to be made 'the moment' of the whole
piece. The great thing is to make enough noise. If you can yell louder
than the talking-machine outfit on the next pitch we ought to turn
money away. While you are at it I start a fresh row outside--shouts,
cheers, groans, words of command and a paper bag or two. Seeing that
the game is up you make a rush at the old woman; she downs you with
the chopper, turns the lamp up full, shakes out a Union Jack over the
sleeping infant, and finally stands in her finest attitude with one
hand pointing impressively upwards and the other contemptuously
downwards just as Rule Britannia is played on the cornet outside and I
appear at the door in a general's full uniform and let down the
curtain."

For acting in the manner designated--as touching the noises both
inside and out, the set dance with upraised knives, the casting to
earth of himself, and being myself in turn vanquished by the aged
female, with an added compact that from time to time I should be led
by a chain and shown to the people from a raised platform--we agreed
upon a daily reward of two pieces of silver, an adequacy of food, and
a certain ambiguously-referred-to share of the gain. It need not be
denied that with so favourable an opportunity of introducing passages
from the Classics a much less sum would have been accepted, but having
obtained this without a struggle, the one now recounting the facts
raised the opportune suggestion of an inscribed placard, in order to
fulfil the portent foreshadowed by William Greyson. 

"Oh, we'll star you, never fear," assented the accommodating
personage, and having by this time reached that spot upon the Heath
where his Domestic Altar had been raised, we entered.

"All the most distinguished actors in this country take another name,"
he said reflectively, when he had drawn forth a parchment of
praiseworthy dimensions and ink of three colours, "and though I have
nothing to say against Kong Ho Tsin Cheng Quank Paik T'chun Li Yuen
Nung for quiet unostentatious dignity, it doesn't have just the grip
and shudder that we want. Now how does 'Fang' strike you?" and upon my
courteous acquiescence that this indeed united within it those
qualities which he required, he traced its characters in red ink upon
a lavish scale.

"'Fang Hung Sin' about fits the idea of snap and bloodthirstiness, I
should say," he continued, and using the brush and all the colours
with an expert proficiency which would infallibly gain him an early
recognition at any of our competitive examinations, he presently laid
before me the following gracefully-composed notice, which was
suspended from a conspicuous pole about the door of the tent on the
following day.

                            FANG HUNG SIN
                    The Captured Boxer Chieftain.

    Under a strong guard, and by arrangement with the British and
    Chinese authorities concerned,

                            Fang Hung Sin

    Will positively re-enact the GORY SCENES of CARNAGE in which
    he took a LEADING and SANGUINARY PART during the LATE RISING.

                            ALONE IN PEKIN
                       Or, What a Woman can do.

    PANEL   I. PEACE: The Missionary's Tent by Night--All's Well--
               The Dread Warning--"I am by your side, Beloved."

    PANEL  II. ALARM: The Signal--The Spy--The Mob Outside--
               Treachery--"Save Yourself, my Darling"--"And Leave
               You? Never!"

    PANEL III. REVENGE: The Attack--The Blow Falls--Who Can Save
               Her Now?--"Back, Renegade Viper!"--The English Guns
               --"Rule Britannia!"

                    FANG HUNG SIN, The Desperado.
             There is only one FANG, and he must be seen.
                    FANG!      FANG!!      FANG!!!

I will not upon this occasion, esteemed one, delay myself with an
account of this barbarian Festival of Lanterns; or, as their language
would convey it, Feast of Cocoa-nuts, beyond admitting that with the
possible exception of an important provincial capital during the
triennial examinations I doubt whether our own unapproachable Empire
could show a more impressively-extended gathering, either in the
diverse and ornamental efflorescence of head garb, in the affectionate
display openly lavished by persons of one sex towards those of the
other, or even one more successful in our own pre-eminent art of
producing the multitudinous harmony of conflicting sounds.

At the appointed hour this person submitted himself to be heavily
shackled, and being led out before the assembled crowd, endeavoured by
a smiling benignity of manner and by reassuring signs of welcome, to
produce a favourable impression upon their sympathies and to allure
them within. This pacific face was undoubtedly successful, however
offensively the ill-conditioned one who stood by was inspired to
express himself behind his teeth, for the space of the tent was very
quickly occupied and the actions of simulation were to begin.

Without doubt it might have been better if this person had first made
himself more fully acquainted with the barbarian manner of acting. The
fact that this imagined play, which even in one of our inferior
theatres would have filled the time pleasantly for two or three
months, was to be compressed into the narrow limits of seven minutes
and a half, should reasonably have warned him that amid the ensuing
rapidity of word and action, most of the leisurely courtesies and all
the subtle range of concealed emotion which embellish our own wood
pavement must be ignored. But it is well and suggestively written,
"The person who deliberates sufficiently before taking every step will
spend his life standing upon one leg." In the past this one had not
found himself to be grossly inadequate on any arising emergency, and
he now drew aside the hanging drapery and prepared to carry out a
preconcerted part with intrepid self-reliance.

It has already been expressed, that the reason and incentive urging me
to a ready agreement lay in the opportunities by which suitable
passages from the high Classics could be discreetly woven into the
fabric of the plot, and the occupation thereby permeated with an
honourable literary flavour. In accordance with this resolve I
blended together many imperishable sayings of the wisest philosophers
to present the cries and turmoil of the approaching mob, but it was
not until I protruded my head beneath the hanging canopy in the guise
of one observing that an opportunity arose of a really well-sustained
effort. In this position I recited Yung Ki's stimulating address to
his troops when in sight of an overwhelming foe, and, in spite of the
continually back-thrust foot of the undiscriminating one before me, I
successfully accomplished the seventy-five lines of the poem without a
stumble. Then entering fully, with many deprecatory bows and
expressions of self-abasement at taking part in so seemingly
detestable an action, I treacherously, yet with inoffensive tact,
struck the one wearing an all-round collar delicately upon the back.
Not recognising the movement, or being in some other way obtuse, the
person in question instead of sinking to the ground turned hastily to
me in the form of an inquiry, leaving me no other reasonable course
than to display the knife openly to him, and to assure him that the
fatal blow had already been inflicted. Undoubtedly his immoderate
retorts were inept at such a moment, nor was his ensuing strategy of
turning completely round three times, striking himself about the head
and body, and uttering ceremonious curses before he fell devoid of
life--as though the earlier remarks had been part of the ordained
scheme--to any degree convincing, and the cries of disapproval from
the onlookers proved that they also regarded this one as the victim of
an unworthy rebuke.

"Not if the benches were filled at half a guinea a head would I take
on another performance like that," exclaimed the one with whom I was
associated, when it was over. "Besides the dead loss of lasting three
quarters of an hour it's tempting providence when the seats are
movable. I suppose it isn't your fault, Kong, you poor creature, but
you haven't got no glare and glitter. There's only one thing for it:
you must be the Rev. Mr. Walker and I'll take Fang." He then robed
himself in my attire, guided me among the intricacies of the all-round
collar and outer garments in exchange, hung a slender rope about his
back, and after completing the artifice by a skilful device of massing
coloured inks upon our faces, he commanded me to lead him out by a
chain and observe intelligently how a captive Boxer chief should
disport himself.

No sooner had we reached the platform than the one whom I controlled
leapt high into the air, dragged me to the edge of the erection,
showed his teeth towards the assembly and waved his arms menacingly at
them; then turning upon this person, he inflamed his face with
passion, rattled his chain furiously, and uttered such vengeance-laden
cries that, unable to subdue the emotion of fear, I abandoned all
pretence, and dropping the chain, fled to the furthest recess of the
tent, followed by the still threatening Fang.

There is an expression among us, "Cheng-hu was too considerate: he
tried to drive nails with a cucumber." Cheng-hu would certainly have
quickly found the necessity of a weapon of three-times hardened steel
if he had lived among these barbarians, who are insensible to the
higher forms of politeness, in addition to acting in a contrary and
illogical manner on all occasions. Instead of being repelled and
discouraged by Fang's outrageous behaviour, they clamoured to be
admitted into the tent more vehemently than before, and so
successfully established the venture that the one to whom I must now
allude throughout as Fang signified to me his covetous intention of
reducing the performance by a further two and a half minutes in order
to reap an added profit and to garner all his rice before the Hoang Ho
rose.

As for myself, revered, it would be immature to hold the gauze screen
of prevarication between your all-discerning mind and my own
trepidation. From the moment when I first saw the expression of
utterly depraved malignity and deep-seared hate which he had cunningly
engraved upon his face by means of the coloured inks, I was far from
being comfortably settled within myself. Even the society of the not
inelegant being of the inner chamber, whom it was now my part to
console with alluring words and movements, could not for some time
retain my face from a back-way instinct at every sound; but when the
detail was reached that she sank into my grasp bereft of all energy,
and for the first time I was just succeeding in forgetting the
unpropitious surroundings, the one Fang, who had entered with unseemly
stealth, suddenly hurled his soul-freezing battle-cry upon my ear and
leapt forward with uplifted knife. Perceiving the action from an angle
of my eye even as he propelled himself through the air, I could not
restrain an ignoble wail of despair, and not scrupling to forsake the
maiden, I would have taken refuge beneath a couch had he not seized my
outer robe and hurled me to the ground. From this point to the close
of the entertainment the vigorous person in question did not cease
from raising cries and challenges in an unfaltering and many-fathomed
stream, while at the same time he continued to spring from one
extremity of the stage to the other surrounded by every external
attribute of an insatiable tiger-like rage. It is circumstantially
related that the one near at hand, who has been referred to as
possessing a voiced machine, became demented, and bearing the
contrivance to a certain tent erected by the charitable, entreated
them to remove the impediment from its speech so that it might be
heard again and his livelihood restored. When the action of
brandishing a profusion of knives before the lesser one's eyes was
reached, so nerve-shattering was the impression which Fang created
that the back of the tent had to be removed in order to let out those
who no longer had possession of themselves, and to let in those--to a
ten-fold degree--who strove for admission on the rumour spreading that
something exceptionally repellent was progressing within.

With what attenuated organs of repose this person would have reached
the end of so strenuous an occupation had he been compelled to twelve
enactments each hour throughout the gong-strokes of the day without
any literary relief, it is not enticing to dwell upon. This evil was
averted by a timely intervention, for upon proceeding to the outer air
for the third time I at once perceived among the foremost throng the
engaging full-face of William Beveledge Greyson. This really
painstaking individual had learned, as he afterwards explained, that
the chiefs of exchange (those who in the first case had opposed me
resolutely,) had received a written omen, and now in contrition were
expressing their willingness to hold out a full restitution. With this
assurance he had set forth in an unremitting search, and guided by
street-watchers, removers of superfluous earth, families propelling
themselves forward upon one foot, astrologers, two-wheeled
charioteers, and others who move early and secretly by night, he had
traced my description to this same Heath. Here he had been attracted
by the displayed placard (remembering my honourable boast), and
approaching nearer, he had plainly recognised my voice within. But in
spite of this the successful disentanglement was by no means yet
accomplished.

Not expecting so involved a reversal of things, and being short-eyed
by nature, William Greyson did not wait for a fuller assurance than to
be satisfied that the one before him wore my robes and conformed in a
general outline, before he addressed him.

"Kong Ho," he said pleasantly, "what the Chief Evil Spirit are you
doing up there?" adding persuasively, "Come down, there's a good
fellow. I have something important to tell you."

Thus appealed to, the one Fang hesitated in doubt, seeing on the one
hand a certain loss of face if he declined the conversation, and on
the other hand having no clear perception of what was required from
him. Therefore he entered upon a course of evasion and somewhat
incapably replied, "Chow Chop Wei Hai Wei Lung Tung Togo Kuroki Jim
Jam Beri Beri."

"Don't act the horned sheep," said Beveledge, who was both resolute
and one easily set into violent motion by an opposing stream. "Come
down, or I'll come up and fetch you." And not being satisfied with
Fang's ill-advised attempt to express himself equivocally, those
around took up the apt similitude of a self-opinionated animal, and
began to suggest a comparison to other creatures no less degraded.

"Rats yourselves!" exclaimed the easily-inflamed person at my side,
losing the inefficient cords of his prudence beneath the sting. "Who's
a rabbit? For two guinea-pigs I'd mow all the grass between here and
the Spaniards with your own left ears," and not permitting me
sufficient preparation to withhold the chain more firmly, he abruptly
cast himself down among them, amid a scene of the most untamed
confusion.

"Oh, affectionately-disposed brethren," I exclaimed, moving forward
and raising my hand in refined disapproval, "the sublime Confucius, in
the twenty-third chapter of the book called 'The Great Learning,'
warns us against--" but before I could formulate the allusion
Beveledge Greyson, who at the sound of my conciliatory words had gazed
first in astonishment and then in a self-convulsed position, drew
himself up to my side, and taking a firm grasp upon the all-round
collar, projected me without a pause through the tent, and only
halting for a moment to point significantly back to the varied and
animated scene behind, where, amid a very profuse display of
contending passions, the erected stage was already being dragged to
the ground, and a band of the official watch was in the act of
converging from every side, he led me through more deserted paths to
the scene of a final extrication.

With a well-gratified sense of having held an unswerving course along
the convoluted outline of Destiny's decree, to whatever tending.

KONG HO.




LETTER XIV


Concerning a pressing invitation from an ever benevolently-
disposed father to a prosaic but dutifully-inclined son. The
recording of certain matters of no particular moment. 
Concerning that ultimate end which is symbolic of the
inexorable wheels of a larger Destiny.



VENERATED SIRE,--It is not for the earthworm to say when and in what
exact position the iron-shod boot shall descend, and this person,
being an even inferior creature for the purpose of the comparison,
bows an acquiescent neck to your very explicit command that he shall
return to Yuen-ping without delay. He cannot put away from his mind a
clinging suspicion that this arising is the result of some
imperfection in his deplorable style of correspondence, whereby you
have formed an impression quite opposed to that which it had been the
intention to convey, and that, perchance, you even have a secret doubt
whether upon some specified occasion he may not have conducted the
enterprise to an ignoble, or at least not markedly successful, end.
However, the saying runs, "The stone-cutter always has the last word,"
and you equally, by intimating with your usual unanswerable and
clear-sighted gift of logic that no further allowance of taels will be
sent for this one's dispersal, diplomatically impose upon an
ever-yearning son the most feverish anxiety once more to behold your
large and open-handed face.

Standing thus poised, as it may be said, for a returning flight across
the elements of separation, it is not inopportune for this person to
let himself dwell gracefully upon those lighter points of recollection
which have engraved themselves from time to time upon his mind without
leading to any more substantial adventure worthy to record. Many of
the things which seemed strange and incomprehensible when he first
came among this powerful though admittedly barbarian people, are now
revealed at a proper angle; others, to which he formerly imagined he
had found the disclosing key, are, on the other hand, plunged into a
distorting haze; while between these lie a multitude of details in
every possible stage of disentanglement and doubt. As a final and
painstaking pronouncement, this person has no hesitation in declaring
that this country is not--as practically all our former travellers
have declared--completely down-side-up as compared with our own
manners and customs, but at the same time it is very materially
sideways.

Thus, instead of white, black robes are the indication of mourning;
but as, for the generality, the same colour is also used for occasions
of commerce, ceremony, religion, and the ordinary affairs of life, the
matter remains exactly as it was before. Yet with obtuse inconsistency
the garments usually white--in which a change would be really
noticeable--remain white throughout the most poignant grief. How much
more markedly expressed would be the symbolism if during such a period
they wore white outer robes and black body garments. Nevertheless it
cannot be said that they are unmindful of the emblematic influence of
colour, for, unlike the reasonable conviction that red is red and blue
is blue, which has satisfied our great nation from the days of the
legendary Shun, these pale-eyed foreigners have diverged into
countless trifling imaginings, so that when the one who is now
expressing his contempt for the development required a robe of a
certain hue, he had to bend his mouth, before he could be exactly
understood, to the degrading necessity of asking for "Drowned-rat
brown," "Sunstroke magenta," "Billingsgate purple," "London milk
azure," "Settling-day green," or the like. In the other signs of
mourning they do not come within measurable distance of our pure and
uncomfortable standard. "If you are really sincere in your regret for
the one who has Passed Beyond, why do you not sit upon the floor for
seven days and nights, take up all food with your fingers, and allow
your nails to grow untrimmed for three years?" was a question which I
at first instinctively put to lesser ones in their affliction. In
every case save one I received answers of evasive purport, and even
the one stated reason, "Because although I am a poor widder I ain't a
pig," I deemed shallow.

I have already dipped a revealing brush into the subject of names.
Were the practice of applying names in a wrong and illogical sequence
maintained throughout it might indeed raise a dignified smile, but it
would not appear contemptible; but what can be urged when upon an
occasion one name appears first, upon another occasion last? A dignity
is conferred in old age, and it is placed before the family
designation borne by an honoured father and a direct line of seventeen
revered ancestors. Another title is bestowed, and eats up the former
like a revengeful dragon. New distinctions follow, some at one end,
others at another, until a very successful person may be suitably
compared to the ringed oleander snake, which has the power of growing
equally from either the head or the tail. To express the matter by a
definite allusion, how much more graceful and orchideous, even in a
condensed fashion, would appear the designation of this selected one,
if instead of the usual form of the country it was habitually set
forth in the following logical and thoroughly Chinese style:-
Chamberlain Joseph, Master, Mr., Thrice Wearer of the Robes and Golden
Collar, One of the Just Peacemakers, Esquire, Member of the House of
Law-givers, Leader in the Council of Commerce, Presider over the
Tables of Provincial Government, Uprightly Honourable Secretary of the
Outlying Parts.

Among the notes which at various times I have inscribed in a book for
future guidance I find it written on an early page, "They do not
hesitate to express their fathers' names openly," but to this
assertion there stands a warning sign which was added after the
following incident. "Is it true, Mr. Kong," asked a lesser one, who is
spoken of as vastly rich but discontented with her previous lot, of
this person upon an occasion, "is it really true that your countrymen
to not consider it right to speak of their fathers' names, even in
this enlightened age?" To this I replied that the matter was as she
had eloquently expressed it, and, encouraged by her amiable
condescension, I asked after the memory of her paternal grandsire,
whose name I had frequently heard whispered in connection with her
own. To my inelegant confusion she regarded me for a period as though
I had the virtue of having become transparent, and then passed on in a
most overwhelming excess of disconcertingly-arranged silence.

"You've done it now, Kong," said one who stood by (or, as we would
express the same thought, "You have succeeded in accomplishing the
undesirable"); "don't you know that the old man was in the tripe and
trotter line?"

"To no degree," I replied truly. "Yet," I continued, matching his
idiom with another equally facile, "wherein was this person's screw
loose? Are they not openly referred to--those of the Line of Tripe and
Trotter--by their descendants?"

"Not in most cases," he said, with a concentration that indicated a
lurking sting among his words. "Generally speaking, they aren't
mentioned or taken into any account whatever. While they are alive
they are kept in the background and invited to treat themselves to the
Tower when nice people are expected; when dead they are fastened up in
the family back cupboard by a score of ten-inch nails and three-trick
Yale locks, so to speak. And in the meantime all the splash is being
made on their muddy oof. See?"

I nodded agreeably, though, had the opportunity been more favourable,
I would have made the feint to learn somewhat more of this secret
practice of burying in the enclosed space beneath the stairs. Thus is
it set forth why, after the statement, "They do not hesitate to
express their fathers' names openly," it is further written, "Walk
slowly! Engrave well upon your discreet remembrance the unmentionable
Line of Tripe and Trotter."

Another point of comparison which the superficial have failed to
record is to be found in the frequent encouragements to regard The
Virtues which are to be seen, like our own Confucian extracts, freely
inscribed on every wall and suitable place about the city. These for
the most part counsel moderation in taking false oaths, in stepping
heedlessly upon the unknown ground, in following paths which lead to
doubtful ends, and other timely warnings. "Beware a smoke-breathing
demon," is frequently cast across one's path upon a barrier, and this
person has never failed to accept the omen and to retrace his steps
hastily without looking to the right or the left. Even our own
national caution is not forgotten, although to conform to barbarian
indolence it is written, "Slowly, slowly; drive slowly." "Keep to the
Right" (or, "Abandon that which is evil," as the analogy holds,) is
perhaps the most frequently displayed of all, and doubtless many
charitable persons obtain an ever-accruing merit by hanging the sign
bearing these words upon every available post. Others are of a stern
and threatening nature, designed to make the most hardened ill-doer
pause, as--in their own tongue--"Rubbish may be shot here"; which we
should render, "At any moment, and in such a place as this, a just
doom and extinction may overtake the worthless." This inscription is
never to be seen except in waste expanses, where it points its
significance with a multiplied force. There is another definite threat
which is lavishly set out, and so thoroughly that it may be
encountered in the least frequented and almost inaccessible spots.
This, as it may be translated, reads, "Trespass not the forbidden. The
profligate may flourish like the gourd for a season, but in the end
assuredly they will be detected, and justice meted out with the
relentless fury of the written law."

In a converse position, the wide difference in the ceremonial forms of
retaliatory invective has practically disarmed this usually eloquent
person, and he long since abandoned every hope of expressing himself
with any satisfaction in encounters of however acrimonious a trend. At
first, with an urbane smile and gestures of dignified contempt, he
impugned the authenticity of the Ancestral Tablets of those with whom
he strove, in an unbroken stream of most bitter contumely. Finding
them silent under this reproach, he next lightly traced their origin
back through generations of afflicted lepers, deformed ape-beings, and
Nameless Things, to a race of primitive ghouls, and then went on in
relentless fluency to predict an early return in their descendants to
the condition of a similar state. For some time he had a
well-gratified assurance that those whom he assailed were so
overwhelmed as to be incapable of retort, and in this belief he never
failed to call upon passers-by to witness his triumph; but on the
fourth occasion a young man whom I had thus publicly denounced for a
sufficient though forgotten reason, after listening courteously to my
venomous accusations, bestowed a two-cash piece upon me and passed on,
remarking that it was hard, and those around, also, would have added
from their stores had it been permitted. From this time onward I did
not attempt to make myself disagreeable either in public or to those
whom I esteemed privately. On the other hand, the barbarian manner of
retort did not find me endowed by nature to parry it successfully.
Quite lacking in measured periods, it aims, by an extreme rapidity of
thrust and an insincerity of sequence, to entangle the one who is
assailed in a complication of arising doubts and emotions. "Who are
you,--no one but yourself," exclaimed a hireling of hung-dog
expression who claimed to have exchanged pledging gifts with a certain
maiden who stood, as it were, between us, and falling into the snare,
I protested warmly against the insult, and strove to disprove the
inference before the paralogism lay revealed. Throughout the whole
range of the Odes, the Histories, the Analects, and the Rites what
recognised formula of rejoinder is there to the taunt, "Oh, go and put
your feet in mustard and cress"; or how can one, however skilled in
the highest Classics, parry the subtle inconsistencies of the
reproach, "You're a nice bit of orl right, aren't you? Not arf, I
don't think."

Among the arts of this country that of painting upon canvas is held in
repute, but to a person associated with the masterpieces of the Ma
epoch these native attempts would be gravity-dispelling if they were
not too reminiscent of the torture chamber. It is rarely, indeed, that
even the most highly-esteemed picture-makers succeed in depicting
every portion of a human body submitted to their brush, and not
infrequently half of the face is left out. Once, when asked by a
paint-applier who was entitled to append two signs of exceptional
distinction behind his name, to express an opinion upon a finished
work, I diffidently called his attention to the fact that he had
forgotten to introduce a certain exalted one's left ear. "Not at all,
Mr. Kong," he replied, with an expression of ill-merited
self-satisfaction, "but it is hidden by the face." "Yet it exists," I
contended; "why not, therefore, press it to the front at all hazard,
rather than send so great a statesman down into the annals of
posterity as deformed to that extent?" "It certainly exists," he
admitted, "and one takes that for granted; but in my picture it cannot
be seen." I bowed complaisantly, content to let so damaging an
admission point its own despair. A moment later I continued, "In the
great Circular Hall of the Palace of Envoys there is a picture of two
camels, foot-tethered, as it fortunately chanced, to iron rings.
Formerly there were a drove of eight--the others being free--so
exquisitely outlined in all their parts that one night, when the door
had been left incautiously open, they stepped down from the wall and
escaped to the woods. How deplorable would have been the plight of
these unfortunate beings, if upon passing into the state of a living
existence they had found that as a result of the limited vision of
their creator they only possessed twelve legs and three whole bodies
among them."

Perchance this tactfully-related story, so applicable to his own
deficiencies, may sink into the imagination of the one for whom it was
inoffensively unfolded. Yet doubt remains. Our own picture-judgers
take up a position at the side of work when they with to examine its
qualities, retiring to an ever-diminishing angle in order to bring out
the more delicate effects, until a very expert and conscientious
critic will not infrequently stand really behind the picture he is
considering before he delivers a final pronouncement. Not until these
native artists are able to regard their crude attempts from the other
side of the canvas can they hope to become equally proficient. To this
fatal shortcoming must be added that of insatiable ambition, which
prompts the young to the portrayal of widely differing subjects. Into
the picture-room of one who might thus be described this person was
recently conducted, to pass an opinion upon a scene in which were
depicted seven men of varying nationalities and appropriately garbed,
one of the opposing sex carrying a lighted torch, an elephant
reclining beneath a fruitful vine, and the President of a Republic.
For a period this person resisted the efforts of those who would have
questioned him, withdrawing their attention to the harmonious lights
upon the river mist floating far below, but presently, being
definitely called upon, he replied as follows: "Mih Ying, who was
perhaps the greatest of his time, spent his whole life in painting
green and yellow beetles in the act of concealing themselves beneath
dead maple leaves upon the approach of day. At the age of seventy-five
he burst into tears, and upon being approached for a cause he
exclaimed, 'Alas, if only this person had resisted the temptation to
be diffuse, and had confined himself to green beetles alone, he might
now, instead of contemplating a misspent career, have been really
great.' How much less," I continued, "can a person of immature
moustaches hope to depict two such conflicting objects as a recumbent
elephant and the President of a Republic standing beneath a banner?"

Upon the temptation to deal critically with the religious instincts of
the islanders this person draws an obliterating brush. As practically
every traveller who has honoured our unattractive land with his
effusive presence has subsequently left it in a printed record that
our ceremonies are grotesque, our priesthood ignorant and depraved,
our monasteries and sacred places spots of plague upon an otherwise
flower-adorned landscape, and our beliefs and sacrifices only worthy
to exist for the purpose of being made into jest-origins by more
refined communities, the omission on this one's part may appear
uncivil and perhaps even intentionally discourteous. To this, as a
burner of joss-sticks and an irregular person, he can only reply by a
deprecatory waving of both hands and a reassuring smile.

With the two-sided memories of many other details hanging thickly
around his brush, it would not be an achievement to continue to a
practically inexhaustible amount. As of the set days when certain
things are observed, among which fall the first of the fourth month
(but that would disclose another involvement), another when flat cakes
are partaken of without due caution, another when rounder cakes are
even more incautiously consumed, and that most brightly-illuminated of
all when it is permissible to embrace maidens openly, and if
discreetly accomplished with no overhanging fear of ensuing forms of
law, beneath the emblem of a suspended branch, in memory of the wisdom
of certain venerable sages who were doubtless expert in the practice.
As of the inconvenient custom when two persons are walking together
that they should arrange themselves side by side, to the obvious
discomfort of others, the sweeping away of all opportunities for
agreeable politeness, and the utter disregard of the time-honoured
example of the sagacious water-fowl. As of the inconsistency of
refusing, even with contempt, to receive our most intimate form of
regard and use this person's lip-cloth after a feast, yet the mulish
eagerness in that same youth to drink from a cup previously used by a
lesser one. As of the precision (which still remains a cloud of
doubt,) with which creatures so intractable as the bull are
successfully trained to roar aloud at certain gong-strokes of the day
as an agreed signal. As of the streets in movement, the lights at
evening, and the voices of those unseen. As of these and as of other
matters, so multitudinous that they crowd about this person's mind
like the assembling swallows, circling above the deserted millet
fields before they turn their beaks to the sea, and dropping his brush
(perchance with an acquiescent sigh), he, also, kow-tows submissively
to a blind but appointed destiny, and prepares to seek a passage from
an alien land of sojourning.

With the impetuous craving of an affectionate son to behold a revered
sire, intensified by the fact that he has reached the innermost lining
of his sleeve; with affectionate greetings towards Ning, Hia-Fa, and
T'ian Yen, and an assurance that they have never been really absent
from his thoughts.

KONG HO.



THE END



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 1942.




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