“That is a very common complaint,” said Pe-lung, becoming most offensively amused.
The Propitious Dissension
between Two whose General
Attributes have already been sufficiently Described
When Kai Lung had related the story of Chang Tao and had made an end of speaking, those who were seated there agreed with an undivided voice that he had competently fulfilled his task. Nor did Shan Tien omit an approving word, adding:
“On one point the historical balance of a certain detail seemed open to contention. Accompany me, therefore, to my own severe retreat, where this necessarily flat and unentertaining topic can be looked at from all round.”
When they were alone together the Mandarin unsealed a jar of wine, apportioned melon seeds, and indicated to Kai Lung that he should sit upon the floor at a suitable distance from himself.
“So long as we do not lose sight of the necessity whereby my official position will presently involve me in condemning you to a painful death, and your loyal subjection will necessitate your whole-hearted co-operation in the act, there is no reason why the flower of literary excellence should wither for lack of mutual husbandry,” remarked the broad-minded official tolerantly.
“Your enlightened patronage is a continual nourishment to the soil of my imagination,” replied the story teller.
“As regards the doings of Chang Tao and of the various other personages who unite with him to form the fabric of the narrative, would not a strict adherence to the fable in its classical simplicity require the filling in of certain details which under your elusive tongue seemed, as you proceeded, to melt imperceptibly into a discreet background?”
“Your voice is just,” confessed Kai Lung, “and your harmonious ear corrects the deficiencies of my afflicted style. Admittedly in the story of Chang Tao there are here and there analogies which may be fittingly left to the imagination as the occasion should demand. Is it not rightly said: ‘Discretion is the handmaiden of Truth’? and in that spacious and well-appointed palace there is every kind of vessel, but the meaner are not to be seen in the more ceremonial halls. Thus he who tells a story prudently suits his furnishing to the condition of his hearers.”
“Wisdom directs your course,” replied Shan Tien, “and propriety sits beneath your supple tongue. As the necessity for this very seemly expurgation is now over, I would myself listen to your recital of the fullest and most detailed version—purely, let it be freely stated, in order to judge whether its literary qualities transcend those of the other.”
“I comply, benevolence,” replied Kai Lung. “This rendering shall be to the one that has gone before as a spreading banyan-tree overshadowing an immature shrub.”
“Forbear!” exclaimed a discordant voice, and the sour-eyed Ming-shu revealed his inopportune presence from behind a hanging veil. “Is it meet, O eminence, that in this person’s absence you should thus consort on terms of fraternity with tomb-riflers and grain-thieves?”