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Title: For the Sake of Enlightenment
Author: Robert Coutts Armour
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1600781h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  July 2016
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For the Sake of Enlightenment

by

Robert Coutts Armour
(writing as Coutts Brisbane)


Published in The English review, July 1929


At the corner where the street named Redolent-of-Virtue gave upon the market-place of Sao-Ping, Dr. Hi Ho halted. Here was the strategic point most favourable to his campaign. Though it was but a little after daybreak, people from the surrounding country were already trickling through the gate at the farther end, and soon street and market would be crowded. It was a first-class pitch.

Dr. Hi Ho laid down his heavy pack and turned to the owner of the shop by him, an obese person engaged in setting out to the best advantage a varied store of wares, mostly damaged or of poor quality, ranging from old clothes to packets of spices and musical instruments.

"Honourable sir, this despicable person is a practitioner of the estimable and venerable art of healing, come from very far to benefit the people of Sao-Ping with his wisdom. Deign, therefore, to allow him to display his sign and chart upon this shutter. Besides acquiring merit by a benevolent action, you will assuredly benefit by much custom from the crowd that will infallibly assemble to witness the cures he shall perform."

The shopkeeper, by name Chow Ming, assumed a disdainful countenance.

"Ten cash," he growled.

"A stick has two ends. This street has two corners. Four cash—or I go over the way," replied Dr. Hi. "Also I will give you a dose to relieve the constriction of your honourable head. And see, already I attract attention."

Two peasants, loaded with garden produce, had halted at gaze. Chow Ming yielded reluctantly.

"Four, then. Money down," he growled.

"The gods witness your disinterested benevolence," murmured Dr. Hi sarcastically, and paid from a flaccid purse.

At once he became busy, and unrolling a wide scroll of tough paper, hung it upon the shutter. It displayed a life-size outline of a human figure, divided by thin red lines into a hundred spaces of about equal area, each bearing a number. An inscription in red and gold proclaimed:—

"Dr. Hi Ho, Healer of all pains. Stomachs relieved, Blindness, Deafness, Epilepsy, Oppression after Meals, and all other diseases cured. The Fee is small, the Relief immediate and lasting. Dr. Hi Ho, Healer of Mandarins."

Dr. Hi next opened his pharmacy, a large box divided into one hundred compartments, each numbered to correspond with a division of the chart. He brought from one wide sleeve a little brazier of bronze and revived the charcoal in it by blowing. Beside this he set an assortment of knives and cautery irons, a small but horrid-looking demon of brass, a silver spoon, graduated for measuring doses, a silver tube, a large bundle of fire-crackers and a gong. Then he squatted, ready for action.

Chow Ming, having completed his window dressing, came out grunting dismally.

"My head still aches," he remarked pointedly. "A cure was promised."

"It will not ache for long. Mine are potent and far-reaching drugs," quoth Dr. Hi, and rose briskly. "Condescend to indicate the exact seat of the pain."

Chow Ming rubbed his forehead. Dr. Hi glanced at the chart. That region was numbered Four, therefore the doctor opened compartment Four of the pharmacy, dug out a generous spoonful of grey powder and grinned at his patient.

"Give yourself the trouble of opening wide your capacious and magnificent mouth. So!" With the dexterity of long practice he tossed the powder into the patient's gullet. "Go, take a cup of hot tea," he added as Chow Ming spluttered and choked. "You will quickly recover your accustomed serenity."

Ming departed, too full for words. One of the peasants, having consulted with his friends and the four others who had joined them, now stepped forward.

"I have two pains. What is the fee?" he asked.

"Where are the pains?" countered Dr. Hi.

"Here and here." The man indicated stomach and eyes. "I am dizzy and there are strange spots that fly before me like soot from a dirty chimney."

"Two cash," said Dr. Hi and thrust the largest of his cautery irons into the heart of the glowing brazier. "For two cash only I will relieve you. You shall skip like a young goat in the spring."

"Will you not take a couple of water melons? I am a poor man."

"Two cash!" insisted Dr. Hi with great firmness. "Mine are mandarin medicines of great potency."

"What is that for?" The man pointed to the cautery heating in the brazier. He seemed to distrust it.

"Am I to explain the secrets of my art to one void of understanding?" grunted Dr. Hi testily. "If you do not want relief, pass on. Others wait. But in a little while the earth will rock beneath your feet, your head will whirl—"

"It is so already, great father!" moaned the man. "Cure me. Here are the cash."

Dr. Hi smiled, glanced at his chart, identified the storm centres, swiftly spooned a portion of powder from Number Six—the eyes—another of Number Fifty—the midriff—mixed them with the long index finger nail which he used for writing, and bade the patient swallow. "Now, shut your eyes!" he commanded as the man convulsively got the mixture down, and as he obeyed drew the glowing iron from the brazier. "So!"

A wild howl of pain, a mad leap into the air. Swiftly and dexterously Dr. Hi had applied the cautery to Number Fifty.

"Like a young goat, even as I said," murmured Dr. Hi blandly. "Go, my son. In a little the demon that has oppressed you will depart."

And he lit a fire-cracker and, as it banged, smote the gong, while the sufferer was led off by his friends. The crowd thickened. Many folks passed into the market, sold their wares and set about shopping. With voice, gong, and crackers Dr. Hi advertised his presence, praising himself and his medicines without stint. Patients came in a steady stream and departed—mostly writhing.

The lean purse grew heavy, some of the compartments of the drug box had to be refilled from bags taken from the inexhaustible pack; the big cautery iron, the doctor's favourite weapon, began to show signs of wear.

But at last the rush slackened. The market was over, the folks going home, and Dr. Hi had leisure to refresh himself with a bowl of chop and a pot of tea brought from a neighbouring cook-shop. He lit his pipe and leisurely began to pack up with a contented mind. He had had an excellent day. He proposed to fare sumptuously at a restaurant he knew of, the Abundant-Bestower-of-Succulence; then he would hire a coolie and wheelbarrow and be trundled comfortably to the neighbouring town of Sao-Hang in the cool of the evening.

He had completed his packing and was preparing to move when a man, who for the past two hours had been observing his activities from the garden porch of a house of some pretensions on the farther side of the street, crossed to his side.

"Is this lowly and ill-nurtured person permitted to speak with the highly estimable Dr. Hi, on a matter concerning the health of a trebly revered male parent?" he asked softly, after looking round to make certain that none could overhear.

"Filial piety is the chief jewel in the necklet of the superior virtues. Speak!" With one swift glance Dr. Hi had appraised his man. He was clad in fine silks, his body was of a beautiful rotundity, his cheeks were pendulous. A crimson birthmark upon his forehead was the sole blemish of a moonlike countenance. Dr. Hi judged him good for a fat fee. "I have other and finer medicines for such as your revered and venerable progenitor," he added. "Calcined tiger's claws, gall of serpents, musk from—"

"No! Those I have watched at work with soul-bestirring effects will suffice," said the filial one. "I have noted that for those who suffer in various parts of the body, you mix powders of various sorts."

"Such, my son, is what I have learned by close application and long study. But, as I have said, for cases such as—"

"My revered parent suffers all over. There is no part of him that does not ache, from the crown of his head, filled with wisdom and the maxims of the sages, to the tips of his melodious toes. Therefore, I have considered. Other healers have treated but one part of him at a time. My revered parent remains as before. Yet perhaps if you were to administer to him all the medicaments in your box, he would recover?"

"I think he would be more likely to become an ancestor, at once and with noises as of not distant thunder," replied Dr. Hi dryly. "Yet that is an experiment I have often wished to try for the sake of my own enlightenment. It is for you, filial one, to decide. The risk that you will be involved in the expense of a fitting funeral is great. The expense of the experiment will also be great. One thousand taels will defray it, and I must also enjoy the hospitality of your honourable progenitor's palatial roof that I may observe his progress, either towards the ancestral tomb or the enjoyment of a ripe and long enduring old age."

"By what I have noted of the wondrous effects of three of your dragon-subduing drugs administered together, I can have but little doubt of what will follow the addition of the remaining ninety-seven," murmured the dutiful son. "But since my revered father is already at the very stirrup of the heaven-aspiring steed, the experiment is worth trying. Follow me. You shall have your fee. Then you shall exercise your unsurpassable skill and remain under my roof while all the necessary ceremonies are performed."

Dr. Hi Ho lifted his pack and followed the filial one through the portal and a well-tiled garden to an airy pavilion attached to the rear of the house. Here, upon a bed of carved rosewood, propped about by silken cushions and covered with quilts stuffed with the superior down of wild geese, lay a man advanced beyond the middle years of life and of a figure that assuredly exceeded the bounds of the canon of Feng Tien, for his girth was greater by four hand-spans than his height. He regarded his son and the doctor with blinking eyes, but gave no other sign of animation.

"Behold, most honourable father, I have brought a physician whose merit is written in letters of pure gold upon the scroll of fame. He will undoubtedly cure you," said the dutiful son.

"If it is so ordained," murmured Dr. Hi, who had his doubts. "I require more charcoal for my brazier," he whispered. "Also there was a fee promised."

"All shall be brought. Speak soothingly to my father while I procure it. His name is Wu Lung. Mine is Tin Lung. I go—yet is the hot iron needful? Surely a hundred drugs should suffice?"

"I shall proceed according to the rules of science!" replied Dr. Hi magisterially, and turned towards the patient. "You are sure that pains afflict you in every part of your magnificent body, O revered Wu Lung?" he asked.

The patient blinked rapidly and apparently affirmatively, but though his lips moved no sound came forth. Dr. Hi shook his head and busied himself with his preparations. He took a large bowl from his pack and with meticulous care measured equal portions from each compartment of his drug box. Though each was small, the aggregate made a goodly pile. He added water, stirred the mess, and once more blew up his brazier.

The excellent Tin Lung returned with a basket of charcoal and a heavy bag, and having made certain that the sum of taels was correct and the pieces of good silver and fair weight, Dr. Hi at once began his work.

With the aid of the filial Tin and an old woman servant of sinister countenance but strong arms, he transferred the contents of the bowl to the interior of Wu Lung, then settled down to await results.

Shortly after, the results began to occur. They continued to occur throughout the remainder of the day and far into the night, while the patient heaved and howled and performed the most extraordinary contortions, stimulated whenever he showed signs of slackening in endeavour by well-directed touches of the cautery. It was observable that his bulk was lessened by midnight, at which time Dr. Hi Ho judged it well to allow him to subside into the sleep of exhaustion.

All the next day the patient slept, which time Tin Lung, a prey to filial grief, spent in bargaining with a well-deserving undertaker; also he continued to sleep through the ensuing night. On the following morning he awoke, greatly diminished. Dr. Hi Ho at once ordered fitting nourishment, swallows' nest soup, rhubarb stewed in butter, and a duck simmered in wine. These delicacies he administered to the patient with excellent effect.

From that moment the recovery of the excellent Wu was rapid, and ere the evening he was able to proclaim to several old friends who had come to witness his last moments at the instance of Tin, that the heaven-aspiring steed had for that time been returned to his celestial stall with an empty saddle.

Three days later he was sufficiently restored to bestow upon Dr. Hi Ho yet another thousand taels and the assurance of his eternal gratitude, with which Dr. Hi took his departure.

Tin Lung, who, at his recovered parent's express desire, accompanied the physician to the street gate, presented to him a moonlike countenance wreathed in deep gloom, despite the successful outcome of the experiment which he himself had inaugurated.

"May you shortly cease to have an existence!" he said with much bitterness. "But for your ill-timed meddling with the decree of the gods, my revered father would ere now have been relieved of the burden of prolonged sojourn amongst us, while an excellent if avaricious undertaker would have been providing Sao-Ping with the spectacle of a superb and mind-elevating funeral of unsurpassed magnificence."

"Refrain from these unfilial and evil-deserving observations!" quoth Dr. Hi in stern rebuke. "Rejoice rather that you have been the cause of enlarging the knowledge of this humble but earnest student of the science of healing. Farewell. May your honourable shadow cover a continually increasing area."

Whereupon Dr. Hi, wearing a benevolent smile, made haste to the town gate where he joined himself to a well-armed company of merchants, fearing that otherwise an overwhelming parsimony should impel the filial Tin Lung to cause him to be intercepted and relieved of his gains.

A full year of profitable endeavour had passed before Dr. Hi Ho again visited the town of Sao-Ping. Once more he established himself in the shadow of the benevolent Chow Ming. But scarce had he banged his gong thrice ere he observed on the opposite side of the street a beggar who glared at him with incredible malignity. With some difficulty, for the fellow was of a meagre habit, Dr. Hi recognized by the fiery birthmark upon his forehead the erstwhile sleek and well-conditioned Tin Lung.

"How is this?" he inquired of the benevolent Chow Ming. "Is the honourable and well-venerated Wu Lung again on the point of joining his ancestors, and does Tin Lung adopt this dress and deprive himself of sustenance to placate some demon who afflicts his revered parent?"

"You yourself are the cause, honourable and gifted healer," replied Chow Ming. "Know that Tin Lung was but a late adopted son. After that your skill removed Wu Lung from the very saddle of the heaven-mounting steed, he grew strong and lusty. He wedded a sprightly maiden. Now twin sons of a superior beauty and unexampled strength of lungs adorn the hearth of Wu, and Tin Lung, having given way to reviling the decree of the gods, has been cast forth to earn his own bread."

Dr. Hi arose, repacked in haste, and sent a boy for his barrow man. Then he beckoned to Tin Lung, who approached with a lowering and evil-bespeaking countenance.

"A year past, O virtuous and filial one, your honeyed tongue persuaded me to a certain experiment. It was successful, but of its full fruition I have learned but now. The head mandarin of Ning-Po, a very wealthy person, lacks a son to make the offerings. He has proclaimed a reward of ten thousand taels to anyone who can procure him that supreme felicity. I go in haste to earn it, yet it is but fitting that you, through whom my feet were put upon the path of enlightenment, should be rewarded according to your surpassing merit."

Thereupon Dr. Hi mounted his barrow, dropped something into the outstretched hand, and was trundled swiftly away, urging his man to speed.

Tin Lung remained motionless and speechless. In his palm lay the reward of merit—a single brass cash.


THE END

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