“Had the time at the disposal of this person been sufficiently enlarged he would not have omitted the various maxims arising from the tale,” admitted Kai Lung, with a shadow of remorse. “That suited to the need of a credulous and ill-balanced mind would doubtless be the proverb: ‘He who believes in gambling will live to sell his sandals.’ It is regrettable if the well-intending Mandarin took the wrong one. Fortunately another moon will fade before the results are known—”
“In the meantime,” continued the maiden, indicating by a glance that what she had to relate was more essential to the requirements of the moment than anything he was saying: “Shan Tien is by no means indisposed towards your cause. Your unassuming attitude and deep research have enlarged your wisdom in his eyes. To-morrow he will send for you to lean upon your well-stored mind.”
“Is the emergency one for which any special preparation is required?” questioned Kai Lung.
“That is the message of my warning. Of late a company of grateful friends has given the Mandarin an inlaid coffin to mark the sense of their indebtedness, the critical nature of the times rendering the gift peculiarly appropriate. Thus provided, Shan Tien has cast his eyes around to secure a burial robe worthy of the casket. The merchants proffer many, each endowed with all the qualities, but meanwhile doubts arise, and now Shan Tien would turn to you to learn what is the true and ancient essential of the garment, and wherein its virtue should reside.”
“The call will not find me inept,” replied Kai Lung. “The story of Wang Ho—”
“It is enough,” exclaimed the maiden warningly. “The time for wandering together in the garden of the imagination has not yet arrived. Ming-shu’s feet are on a journey, it is true, but his eyes are doubtless left behind. Until a like hour to-morrow gladdens our expectant gaze, farewell!”
On the following day, at about the stroke of the usual court, Li-loe approached Kai Lung with a grievous look.
“Alas, manlet,” he exclaimed, “here is one direct from the presence of our high commander, requiring you against his thumb-signed bond. Go you must, and that alone, whether it be for elevation on a tree or on a couch. Out of an insatiable friendship this one would accompany you, were it possible, equally to hold your hand if you are to die or hold your cup if you are to feast. Yet touching that same cask of hidden wine there is still time—”
“Cease, mooncalf,” replied Kai Lung reprovingly. “This is but an eddy on the surface of a moving stream. It comes, it goes; and the waters press on as before.”
Then Kai Lung, neither bound nor wearing the wooden block, was led into the presence of Shan Tien, and allowed to seat himself upon the floor as though he plied his daily trade.
“Sooner or later it will certainly devolve upon this person to condemn you to a violent end,” remarked the far-seeing Mandarin reassuringly. “In the ensuing interval, however, there is no need for either of us to dwell upon what must be regarded as an unpleasant necessity.”