At the door he paused again, but not in an arising doubt. “I will leave a token for Tiao to wear as a jest,” was the image that had sprung from his new abasement, and taking a sheet of parchment he quickly wrote thereon: “A wave has beat from that distant shore to this, and now sinks in the unknown depths.”
Again he stepped noiselessly to the couch, drew the curtain and dropped the paper lightly on the form. As he did so his breath stopped; his fingers stiffened. Cautiously, on one knee, he listened intently, lightly touched the face; then recklessly taking a hand he raised the arm and suffered it to fall again. No power restrained it; no alertness of awakening life came into the dull face. Wu Chi had already Passed Beyond.
Not Concerned with any
Particular Attribute of
Those who are Involved
Unendurable was the intermingling of hopes and fears with which Kai Lung sought the shutter on the next occasion after the avowal of Hwa-mei’s devoted strategy. While repeatedly assuring himself that it would have been better to submit to piecemeal slicing without a protesting word rather than that she should incur so formidable a risk, he was compelled as often to admit that when once her mind had formed its image no effort on his part would have held her back. Doubtless Hwa-mei readily grasped the emotion that would possess the one whose welfare was now her chief concern, for without waiting to gum her hair or to gild her lips she hastened to the spot beneath the wall at the earliest moment that Kai Lung could be there.
“Seven marble tombstones are lifted from off my chest!” exclaimed the story-teller when he could greet her. “How did your subterfuge proceed, and with what satisfaction was the history of Weng Cho received?”
“That,” replied Hwa-mei modestly, “will provide the matter for an autumn tale, when seated around a pine-cone fire. In the meanwhile this protracted ordeal takes an ambiguous bend.”
“To what further end does the malignity of the ill-made Ming-shu now shape itself? Should it entail a second peril to your head—”
“The one whom you so justly name fades for a moment out of our concern. Burdened with a secret mission he journeys to Hing-poo, nor does the Mandarin Shan Tien hold another court until the day of his return.”
“That gives a breathing space of time to our ambitions?”
“So much is assured. Yet even in that a subtle danger lurks. Certain contingencies have become involved in the recital of your admittedly ingenious stories which the future unfolding of events may not always justify. For instance, the very speculative Shan Tien, casting his usual moderate limit to the skies, has accepted the Luminous Insect as a beckoning omen, and immersed himself deeply in the chances of every candidate bearing the name of Lao, Ting, Li, Tzu, Sung, Chu, Wang or Chin. Should all these fail incapably at the trials a very undignified period in the Mandarin’s general manner of expressing himself may intervene.”