On a protected eminence stood N’ang Wei. Near him was Wong Pao, confidently awaiting the moment when the Emperor should declare himself. When, therefore, the all-wisest graciously made a gesture of command, Wong Pao hastened to his side, an unbecoming elation gilding the fullness of his countenance.
“Wong Pao,” said the Illimitable, “the people are here in gratifying profusion. The moment has thus arrived for you to consummate your triumph over Kiau Sun.”
“Omnipotence?” queried Wong Pao.
“The silver that you were to distribute freely to all who came. Doubtless you have a retinue of slaves in attendance with weighty sacks of money for the purpose?”
“But that was only in the nature of an imagined condition, Sublime Being, designed to test the trend of their preference,” said Wong Pao, with an incapable feeling of no-confidence in the innermost seat of his self-esteem. “This abject person did not for a single breathing-space contemplate or provide for so formidable an outlay.”
A shadow of inquiry appeared above the eyebrows of the Sublimest, although his refined imperturbability did not permit him to display any acute emotion.
“It is not entirely a matter of what you contemplated, merchant, but what this multitudinous and, as we now perceive, generally well-armed concourse imagined. Greatly do we fear that when the position has been explained to them, the breathing-space remaining, O Wong Pao, will not be in your body. What,” continued the liberal-minded sovereign, turning to one of his attending nobles, “what was it that happened to Ning-lo who failed to satisfy the lottery ticket holders in somewhat similar circumstances?”
“The scorpion vat, Serenest,” replied the vassal.
“Ah,” commented the Enlightened One, “for the moment we thought it was the burning sulphur plaster.”
“That was Ching Yan, who lost approval in the inlaid coffin raffle, Benign Head,” prompted the noble.
“True—there is a certain oneness in these cases. Well, Wong Pao, we are entirely surrounded by an expectant mob and their attitude, after much patient waiting, is tending towards a clearly-defined tragedy. By what means is it your intention to extricate us all from the position into which your insatiable vanity has thrust us?”
“Alas, Imperishable Majesty, I only appear to have three pieces of silver and a string of brass cash in my sleeve,” confessed Wong Pao tremblingly.
“And that would not go very far—even if flung into the limits of the press,” commented the Emperor. “We must look elsewhere for deliverance, then. Kiau Sun, stand forth and try your means.”
Upon this invitation Sun appeared from the tent in which he had awaited the summons and advanced to the edge of the multitude. With no appearance of fear or concern, he stood before them, and bending his energies to the great task imposed upon him, he struck the hollow duck so melodiously that the note of expectancy vibrated into the farthest confines of the crowd. Then modulating his voice in unison Kiau Sun began to chant.