It would have been well for Kai Lung had he also forced his reluctant feet to raise the dust, but his body clung to the moist umbrage of his couch, and his mind made reassurance that perchance the maiden would return. Thus it fell that when two others, who looked from side to side as they hastened on the road, turned as at a venture to the wood they found him still there.
“Restrain your greetings,” said the leader of the two harshly, in the midst of Kai Lung’s courteous obeisance; “and do not presume to disparage yourself as if in equality with the one who stands before you. Have two of the inner chamber, attired thus and thus, passed this way? Speak, and that to a narrow edge.”
“The road lies beyond the perception of my incapable vision, chiefest,” replied Kai lung submissively. “Furthermore, I have slept.”
“Unless you would sleep more deeply, shape your stubborn tongue to a specific point,” commanded the other, touching a meaning sword. “Who are you who loiter here, and for what purpose do you lurk? Speak fully, and be assured that your word will be put to a corroding test.”
Thus encouraged, Kai Lung freely disclosed his name and ancestry, the means whereby he earned a frugal sustenance and the nature of his journey. In addition, he professed a willingness to relate his most recently-acquired story, that entitled “Wu-yong: or The Politely Inquiring Stranger”, but the offer was thrust ungracefully aside.
“Everything you say deepens the suspicion which your criminal-looking face naturally provokes,” said the questioner, putting away his tablets on which he had recorded the replies. “At Yu-ping the matter will be probed with a very definite result. You, Li-loe, remain about this spot in case she whom we seek should pass. I return to speak of our unceasing effort.”
“I obey,” replied the dog-like Li-loe. “What men can do we have done. We are no demons to see through solid matter.”
When they were alone, Li-loe drew nearer to Kai Lung and, allowing his face to assume a more pacific bend, he cast himself down by the story-teller’s side.
“The account which you gave of yourself was ill contrived,” he said. “Being put to the test, its falsity cannot fail to be discovered.”
“Yet,” protested Kai Lung earnestly, “in no single detail did it deviate from the iron line of truth.”
“Then your case is even more desperate than before,” exclaimed Li-loe. “Know now that the repulsive-featured despot who has just left us is Ming-shu, he who takes down the Mandarin Shan Tien’s spoken word. By admitting that you are from Loo-chow, where disaffection reigns, you have noosed a rope about your neck, and by proclaiming yourself as one whose habit it is to call together a company to listen to your word, you have drawn it tight.”
“Every rope has two ends,” remarked Kai Lung philosophically, “and to-morrow is yet to come. Tell me rather, since that is our present errand, who is she whom you pursue and to what intent?”