“Yet out of your millenaries of experience you must already—”
“It is well said that after passing a commonplace object a hundred times a day, at nightfall its size and colour are unknown to one,” replied Pe-lung. “In this matter, from motives which cannot have been otherwise than delicate, I took too much for granted it would seem. . . . Then you—all—Shen Yi, Melodious Vision, the military governor of this province, even the sublime Emperor—all—?”
“All tailless,” admitted Chang Tao, with conscious humility. “Nevertheless there is a tradition that in distant aeons—”
“Doubtless on some issue you roused the High Ones past forgiveness and were thus deprived as the most signal mark of their displeasure.”
“Doubtless,” assented Chang Tao, with unquenchable politeness.
“Coming to the correct attitude that you have maintained throughout, it would appear that during the silent gong-strokes of the night, by some obscure and indirect guidance it was revealed to you that Fuh—that any Being of my superior race was, on the contrary—” The menace of Pe-lung’s challenging eye, though less direct and assured than formerly, had the manner of being uncertainly restrained by a single much-frayed thread, but Chang Tao continued to meet it with respectful self-possession.
“The inference is unflinching,” he replied acquiescently. “I prostrate myself expectantly.”
“You have competently performed your part,” admitted Pe-lung, although an occasional jet of purple vapour clouded his upper person and the passage of his breath among his teeth would have been distasteful to one of sensitive refinement. “Nothing remains but the fulfilling of my iron word.”
Thereupon he pronounced a mystic sign and revealing the opening to a cave he presently brought forth six sets of armoured skin. Binding these upon Chang Tao’s back, he dismissed him, yet the manner of his parting was as of one who is doubtful even to the end.
But who having made a distant journey into Outer Land speaks lengthily of the level path of his return, or of the evening glow upon the gilded roof of his awaiting home? Thus, this limit being reached in the essential story of Chang Tao, Melodious Vision and the Dragon, he who relates their commonplace happenings bows submissively.
Nevertheless it is true that once again in a later time Chang Tao encountered in the throng one whom he recognized. Encouraged by the presence of so many of his kind, he approached the other and saluted him.
“Greeting, O Pe-lung,” he said, with outward confidence. “What bends your footsteps to this busy place of men?”
“I come to buy an imitation pig-tail to pass for one,” replied Pe-lung, with quiet composure. “Greeting, valorous champion! How fares Melodious Vision?”
“Agreeably so,” admitted Chang Tao, and then, fearing that so far his reply had been inadequate, he added: “Yet, despite the facts, there are moments when this person almost doubts if he did not make a wrong decision in the matter after all.”