“It is difficult to conjecture what more could be done in that direction,” confessed Kai Lung gratefully.
“Yet as regards a more material effort—?” suggested the maiden, amid a cloud of involving doubt.
“If there is a subject in which the imagination of the Mandarin Shan Tien can be again enmeshed it might be yet accomplished,” replied Kai Lung. “Have you a knowledge of any such deep concern?”
“Truly there is a matter that disturbs his peace of late. He has dreamed a dream three times, and its meaning is beyond the skill of any man to solve. Yet how shall this avail you who are no geomancer?”
“What is the nature of the dream?” inquired Kai Lung. “For remember, ‘Though Shen-fi has but one gate, many roads lead to it.’”
“The substance of the dream is this: that herein he who sleeps walks freely in the ways of men wearing no robe or covering of any kind, yet suffering no concern or indignity therefrom; that the secret and hidden things of the earth are revealed to his seeing eyes; and that he can float in space and project himself upon the air at will. These three things are alien to his nature, and being three times repeated, the uncertainty assails his ease.”
“Let it, under your persistent care, assail him more and that unceasingly,” exclaimed Kai Lung, with renewed lightness in his voice. “Breathe on the surface of his self-repose as a summer breeze moves the smooth water of a mountain lake—not deeply, but never quite at rest. Be assured: it is no longer possible to doubt that powerful Beings are interested in our cause.”
“I go, oppressed one,” replied Hwa-mei. “May this period of your ignoble trial be brought to a distinguished close.”
On the following day at the appointed hour Cho-kow was led before the Mandarin Shan Tien, and the nature of his crimes having been explained to him by the contemptible Ming-shu, he was bidden to implicate Kai Lung and thus come to an earlier and less painful end.
“All-powerful,” he replied, addressing himself to the Mandarin, “the words that have been spoken are bent to a deceptive end. They of our community are a simple race and doubtless in the past their ways were thus and thus. But, as it is truly said, ’Tian went bare, his eyes could pierce the earth and his body float in space, but they of his seed do but dream the dream.’ We, being but the puny descendants—”
“You have spoken of one Tian whose attributes were such, and of those who dream thereof,” interrupted the Mandarin, as one who performs a reluctant duty. “That which you adduce to uphold your cause must bear the full light of day.”
“Alas, omnipotence,” replied Cho-kow, “this concerns the doing of the gods and those who share their line. Now I am but an ill-conditioned outcast from the obscure land of Khim, and possess no lore beyond what happens there. Haply the gods that rule in Khim have a different manner of behaving from those in the Upper Air above Yu-ping, and this person’s narration would avoid the semblance of the things that are and he himself would thereby be brought to disrepute.”