“How then fares it that due warning of the change was not set forth?”
“The matter is as long as The Wall and as deep as seven wells,” grumbled Sheng-yin, “and the Hoang Ho in flood is limpid by its side. Proclamations were sent forth, yet none appeared, and they entrusted with their wide disposal have a dragon-story of a shining lordly youth who ever followed in their steps. . . . Thus in a manner of expressing it, the spirit—”
“Sheng-yin,” said Lao Ting, with courteous firmness, yet so moving the door so that while he passed in the former person remained outside, “you have sought, at the expenditure of thirty-seven taels five hundred cash, to deflect Destiny from her appointed line. The result has been lamentable to all—or nearly all—concerned. The lawless effort must not be repeated, for when heaven itself goes out of its way to set a correcting omen in the sky, who dare disobey?”
When the list and order of the competition was proclaimed, the name of Wang-san stood at the very head and that of Yin Ho was next. Lao Ting was the very last of those who were successful; Sheng-yin was the next, and was thus the first of those who were unsuccessful. It was as much as the youth had secretly dared to hope, and much better than he had generally feared. In Sheng-yin’s case, however, it was infinitely worse than he had ever contemplated. Regarding Lao Ting as the cause of his disgrace he planned a sordid revenge. Waiting until night had fallen he sought the student’s door-step and there took a potent drug, laying upon his ghost a strict injunction to devote itself to haunting and thwarting the ambitions of the one who dwelt within. But even in this he was inept, for the poison was less speedy than he thought, and Lao Ting returned in time to convey him to another door.
On the strength of his degree Lao Ting found no difficulty in earning a meagre competence by instructing others who wished to follow in his footsteps. He was also now free to compete for the next degree, where success would bring him higher honour and a slightly less meagre competence. In the meanwhile he married Hoa-mi, being able to display thirty-seven taels and nearly five hundred cash towards that end. Ultimately he rose to a position of remunerative ease, but it is understood that he attained this more by a habit of acting as the necessities of the moment required than by his literary achievements.
Over the door of his country residence in the days of his profusion he caused the image of a luminous insect to be depicted, and he engraved its semblance on his seal. He would also have added the presentment of a water-buffalo, but Hoa-mi deemed this inexpedient.
The High-minded Strategy of the Amiable Hwa-mei
Warned by the mischance attending his previous meeting with Hwa-mei, Kai Lung sought the walled enclosure at the earliest moment of his permitted freedom, and secreting himself among the interlacing growth he anxiously awaited the maiden’s coming.