“It is related,” said a dispassionate voice behind them, “that a person of limited intelligence, on being assured that he would certainly one day enjoy an adequate competence if he closely followed the industrious habits of the thrifty bee, spent the greater part of his life in anointing his thighs with the yellow powder which he laboriously collected from the flowers of the field. It is not so recorded; but doubtless the nameless one in question was by profession a maker of opium pipes, for this person has observed from time to time how that occupation, above all others, tends to degrade the mental faculties, and to debase its followers to a lower position than that of the beasts of labour. Learn therefrom, O superficial Wang Yu, that wisdom lies in an intelligent perception of great principles, and not in a slavish imitation of details which are, for the most part, beyond your simple and insufficient understanding.”
“Such may, indeed, be the case, Kai Lung,” replied Wang Yu sullenly— for it was the story-teller in question who had approached unperceived, and who now stood before them—“but it is none the less a fact that, on the last occasion when this misguided person joined the attending circle at your uplifted voice, a Mandarin of the third degree chanced to pass through Wu-whei, and halted at the door-step of ‘The Fountain of Beauty,’ fully intending to entrust this one with the designing and fashioning of a pipe of exceptional elaborateness. This matter, by his absence, has now passed from him, and to-day, through listening to the narrative of how the accomplished Yuin-Pel doubled his fortune, he is the poorer by many taels.”
“Yet to-morrow, when the name of the Mandarin of the third degree appears in the list of persons who have transferred their entire property to those who are nearly related to them in order to avoid it being seized to satisfy the just claims made against them,” replied Kai Lung, “you will be able to regard yourself the richer by so many taels.”
At these words, which recalled to the minds of all who were present the not uncommon manner of behaving observed by those of exalted rank, who freely engaged persons to supply them with costly articles without in any way regarding the price to be paid, Wang Yu was silent.
“Nevertheless,” exclaimed a thin voice from the edge of the group which surrounded Kai Lung, “it in nowise follows that the stories are in themselves excellent, or of such a nature that the hearing of their recital will profit a person. Wang Yu may be satisfied with empty words, but there are others present who were studying deep matters when Wang Yu was learning the art of walking. If Kai Lung’s stories are of such remunerative benefit as the person in question claims, how does it chance that Kai Lung himself who is assuredly the best acquainted with them, stands before us in mean apparel, and on all occasions confessing an unassuming poverty?”