“He measures with a golden rule,” agreed Kai Lung. “Left to himself, Shan Tien is a just, if superficial, judge.”
The knowledge of this boast, Hwa-mei continued to relate, had spread to the inner chambers of the yamen, where the lesser ones vied with each other in proclaiming the merit of the captive minstrel. Amid this eulogy Hwa-mei moved craftily and played an insidious part, until she who was their appointed head was committed to the claim. Then the maiden raised a contentious voice.
“Our lord’s trout were ever salmon,” she declared, “and lo! here is another great and weighty fish! Assuredly no living man is thus and thus; or are the T’ang epicists returned to earth? Truly our noble one is easily pleased—in many ways!” With these well-fitted words she fixed her eyes upon the countenance of Shan Tien’s chief wife and waited.
“The sun shines through his words and the moon adorns his utterances,” replied the chief wife, with unswerving loyalty, though she added, no less suitably: “That one should please him easily and another therein fail, despite her ceaseless efforts, is as the Destinies provide.”
“You are all-seeing,” admitted Hwa-mei generously; “nor is a locked door any obstacle to your discovering eye. Let this arisement be submitted to a facile test. Dependent from my ill-formed ears are rings of priceless jade that have ever tinged your thoughts, while about your shapely neck is a crystal charm, to which an unclouded background would doubtless give some lustre. I will set aside the rings and thou shalt set aside the charm. Then, at a chosen time, this vaunted one shall attend before us here, and I having disclosed the substance of a theme, he shall make good the claim. If he so does, capably and without delay, thou shalt possess the jewels. But if, in the judgment of these around, he shall fail therein, then are both jewels mine. Is it so agreed?”
“It is agreed!” cried those who were the least concerned, seeing some entertainment to themselves. “Shall the trial take place at once?”
“Not so,” replied Hwa-mei. “A sufficient space must be allowed for this one wherein to select the matter of the test. To-morrow let it be, before the hour of evening rice. And thou?”
“Inasmuch as it will enlarge the prescience of our lord in minds that are light and vaporous, I also do consent,” replied the chief wife. “Yet must he too be of our company, to be witness of the upholding of his word and, if need be, to cast a decisive voice.”
“Thus,” continued Hwa-mei, as she narrated these events, “Shan Tien is committed to the trial and thereby he must preserve you until that hour. Tell me now the answer to the test, that I may frame the question to agree.”
Kai Lung thought a while, then said:
“There is the story of Chang Tao. It concerns one who, bidden to do an impossible task, succeeded though he failed, and shows how two identically similar beings may be essentially diverse. To this should be subjoined the apophthegm that that which we are eager to obtain may be that which we have striven to avoid.”