“Yet wherein is the essence of the test maintained,” he asked, “seeing that the one whom you call Hien obtained all that which he desired and he who chiefly opposed his aims was himself involved in ridicule and delivered to a sudden end?”
“Beneficence,” replied Kai Lung, with courteous ease, despite the pinions that restrained him, “herein it is one thing to demand and another to comply, for among the Platitudes is the admission made: ’No needle has two sharp points.’ The conditions which the subtlety of Ming-shu imposed ceased to bind, for their corollary was inexact. In no romance composed by poet or sage are the unassuming hopes of virtuous love brought to a barren end or the one who holds them delivered to an ignominious doom. That which was called for does not therefore exist, but the story of Hien may be taken as indicating the actual course of events should the case arise in an ordinary state of life.”
This reply was not deemed inept by most of those who heard, and they even pressed upon the one who spoke slight gifts of snuff and wine. The Mandarin Shan Tien, however, held himself apart.
“It is doubtful if your lips will be able thus to frame so confident a boast when to-morrow fades,” was his dark forecast.
“Doubtless their tenor will be changed, revered, in accordance with your far-seeing word,” replied Kai Lung submissively as he was led away.
Which it is Written: “In Shallow Water Dragons
become the Laughing-stock of Shrimps”
At an early gong-stroke of the following day Kai Lung was finally brought up for judgment in accordance with the venomous scheme of the reptilian Ming-shu. In order to obscure their guilty plans all justice-loving persons were excluded from the court, so that when the story-teller was led in by a single guard he saw before him only the two whose enmity he faced, and one who stood at a distance prepared to serve their purpose.
“Committer of every infamy and inceptor of nameless crimes,” began Ming-shu, moistening his brush, “in the past, by the variety of discreditable subterfuges, you have parried the stroke of a just retribution. On this occasion, however, your admitted powers of evasion will avail you nothing. By a special form of administration, designed to meet such cases, your guilt will be taken as proved. The technicalities of passing sentence and seeing it carried out will follow automatically.”
“In spite of the urgency of the case,” remarked the Mandarin, with an assumption of the evenly-balanced expression that at one time threatened to obtain for him the title of “The Just”, “there is one detail which must not be ignored—especially as our ruling will doubtless become a lantern to the feet of later ones. You appear, malefactor, to have committed crimes—and of all these you have been proved guilty by the ingenious arrangement