“It would be more seemly if this ill-conditioned person who is now addressing such a distinguished assembly were to reward his fine and noble-looking hearers for their trouble,” apologized the story-teller. “But, as the Book of Verses says, ’The meaner the slave, the greater the lord’; and it is, therefore, not unlikely that this majestic concourse will reward the despicable efforts of their servant by handfuls of coins till the air appears as though filled with swarms of locusts in the season of much heat. In particular, there is among this august crowd of Mandarins one Wang Yu, who has departed on three previous occasions without bestowing the reward of a single cash. If the feeble and covetous-minded Wang Yu will place within this very ordinary bowl the price of one of his exceedingly ill-made pipes, this unworthy person will proceed.”
“Vast chasms can be filled, but the heart of man never,” quoted the pipe-maker in retort. “Oh, most incapable of story-tellers, have you not on two separate occasions slept beneath my utterly inadequate roof without payment?”
But he, nevertheless, deposited three cash in the bowl, and drew nearer among the front row of the listeners.
“It was during the reign of the enlightened Emperor Tsing Nung,” began Kai Lung, without further introduction, “that there lived at a village near Honan a wealthy and avaricious maker of idols, named Ti Hung. So skilful had he become in the making of clay idols that his fame had spread for many li round, and idol-sellers from all the neighbouring villages, and even from the towns, came to him for their stock. No other idol-maker between Honan and Nanking employed so many clay-gatherers or so many modellers; yet, with all his riches, his avarice increased till at length he employed men whom he called ‘agents’ and ‘travellers,’ who went from house to house selling his idols and extolling his virtues in verses composed by the most illustrious poets of the day. He did this in order that he might turn into his own pocket the full price of the idols, grudging those who would otherwise have sold them the few cash which they would make. Owing to this he had many enemies, and his army of travellers made him still more; for they were more rapacious than the scorpion, and more obstinate than the ox. Indeed, there is still the proverb, ’With honey it is possible to soften the heart of the he-goat; but a blow from an iron cleaver is taken as a mark of welcome by an agent of Ti Hung.’ So that people barred the doors at their approach, and even hung out signs of death and mourning.