“Let it be your continual aim that nothing bars their progress. Where does that just official dwell of whom you lately spoke?”
“The Censor K’o-yih, he who rebuked Shan Tien’s ambitions and made him mend his questionable life? His yamen is about the Three-eyed Gate of Tai, a half-day’s journey to the south.”
“The lines converge and the issues of Shan Tien, Ming-shu and we who linger here will presently be brought to a very decisive point where each must play a clear-cut part. To that end is your purpose firm?”
“Lay your commands,” replied Hwa-mei steadfastly, “and measure not the burden of their weight.”
“It is well,” agreed Kai Lung. “Let Shan Tien give the feast and the time of acquiescence will have passed. . . . The foothold of to-morrow looms insecure, yet a very pressing message must meanwhile reach your hands.”
“At the feast?”
“Thus: about the door of the inner hall are two great jars of shining brass, one on either side, and at their approach a step. Being led, at that step I shall stumble. . . . the message you will thereafter find in the jar from which I seek support.”
“It shall be to me as your spoken word. Alas! the moment of recall is already here.”
“Doubt not; we stand on the edge of an era that is immeasurable. For that emergency I now go to consult the spirits who have so far guided us.”
On the following day at an evening hour Kai Lung received an imperious summons to accompany one who led him to the inner courts. Yet neither the cords about his arms nor the pillory around his neck could contain the gladness of his heart. From within came the sounds of instruments of wood and string with the measured beating of a drum; nothing had fallen short, for on that forbidden day, incredibly blind to the depths of his impiety, the ill-starred Mandarin Shan Tien was having music!
“Gall of a misprocured she-mule!” exclaimed the unsympathetic voice of the one who had charge of him, and the rope was jerked to quicken his loitering feet. In an effort to comply Kai Lung missed the step that crossed his path and stumbling blindly forward would have fallen had he not struck heavily against a massive jar of lacquered brass, one of two that flanked the door.
“Thy province is to tell a tale rather than to dance a grotesque, as I understand the matter,” said the attendant, mollified by the amusement. “In any case, restrain thy admitted ardour for a while; the call is not yet for us.”
From a group that stood apart some distance from the door one moved forth and leisurely crossed the hall. Kai Lung’s wounded head ceased to pain him.
“What slave is this,” she demanded of the other in a slow and level tone, “and wherefore do the two of you intrude on this occasion?”
“The exalted lord commands that this one of the prisoners should attend here thus, to divert them with his fancies, he having a certain wit of the more foolish kind. Kai Lung, the dog’s name is.”