The Timely Disputation
among Those of an
Inner Chamber of Yu-ping
For the space of three days Ming-shu remained absent from Yu-ping, and the affections of Kai Lung and Hwa-mei prospered. On the evening of the third day the maiden stood beneath the shutter with a more definite look, and Kai Lung understood that a further period of unworthy trial was now at hand.
“Behold!” she explained, “at dawn the corrupt Ming-shu will pass within our gates again, nor is it prudent to assume that his enmity has lessened.”
“On the contrary,” replied Kai Lung, “like that unnatural reptile that lives on air, his malice will have grown upon the voidness of its cause. As the wise Ling-kwang remarks: ’He who plants a vineyard with one hand—’”
“Assuredly, beloved,” interposed Hwa-mei dexterously. “But our immediate need is less to describe Ming-shu’s hate in terms of classical analogy than to find a potent means of baffling its venom.”
“You are all-wise as usual,” confessed Kai Lung, with due humility. “I will restrain my much too verbose tongue.”
“The invading Banners from the north have for the moment failed and those who drew swords in their cause are flying to the hills. In Yu-ping, therefore, loyalty wears a fully round face and about the yamen of Shan Tien men speak almost in set terms. While these conditions prevail, justice will continue to be administered precisely as before. We have thus nothing to hope in that direction.”
“Yet in the ideal state of purity aimed at by the illustrious founders of our race—” began Kai Lung, and ceased abruptly, remembering.
“As it is, we are in the state of Tsin in the fourteenth of the heaven-sent Ching,” retorted Hwa-mei capably. “The insatiable Ming-shu will continue to seek your life, calling to his aid every degraded subterfuge. When the nature of these can be learned somewhat in advance, as the means within my power have hitherto enabled us to do, a trusty shield is raised in your defence.”
Kai Lung would have spoken of the length and the breadth of his indebtedness, but she who stood below did not encourage this.
“Ming-shu’s absence makes this plan fruitless here to-day, and as a consequence he may suddenly disclose a subtle snare to which your feet must bend. In this emergency my strategy has been towards safeguarding your irreplaceable life to-morrow at all hazard. Should this avail, Ming-shu’s later schemes will present no baffling veil.”
“Your virtuous little finger is as strong as Ming-shu’s offensive thumb,” remarked Kai Lung. “This person has no fear.”
“Doubtless,” acquiesced Hwa-mei. “But she who has spun the thread knows the weakness of the net. Heed well to the end that no ineptness may arise. Shan Tien of late extols your art, claiming that in every circumstance you have a story fitted to the need.”