“So long as there is no chance of you exploring it any farther than your neck, it does not matter,” said Li-loe. “Outside lies a barren region of the yamen garden where no one ever comes. I will now leave you, having to meet one with whom I would traffic for a goat. When I return be prepared to retrace your steps to the prison cell.”
“The shadow moves as the sun directs,” replied Kai Lung, and with courteous afterthought he added the wonted parting: “Slowly, slowly; walk slowly.”
In such a manner the story-teller found himself in a highly-walled enclosure, lying between the prison-house and the yamen garden, a few days after his arrival in Yu-ping. Ming-shu had not eaten his word.
The yard itself possessed no attraction for Kai Lung. Almost before Li-loe had disappeared he was at the shutter in the wall, had forced it open and was looking out. Thus long he waited, motionless, but observing every leaf that stirred among the trees and shrubs and neglected growth beyond. At last a figure passed across a distant glade and at the sight Kai Lung lifted up a restrained voice in song:
“At the foot of a bleak
and inhospitable mountain
An insignificant stream winds its uncared way;
Although inferior to the Yangtze-kiang in every detail
Yet fish glide to and fro among its crannies
Nor would they change their home for the depths of the widest
The palace of the sublime
Emperor is made rich with hanging
While here rough stone walls forbid repose.
Yet there is one who unhesitatingly prefers the latter;
For from an open shutter here he can look forth,
And perchance catch a glimpse of one who may pass by.
The occupation of the Imperial
viceroy is both lucrative and
While that of a relater of imagined tales is by no means
But he who thus expressed himself would not exchange with the
For around the identity of each heroine he can entwine the
personality of one whom he has encountered.
And thus she is ever by his side.”
“Your uplifted voice comes from an unexpected quarter, minstrel,” said a melodious voice, and the maiden whom he had encountered in the wood stood before him. “What crime have you now committed?”
“An ancient one. I presumed to raise my unworthy eyes—”
“Alas, story-teller,” interposed the maiden hastily, “it would seem that the star to which you chained your wrist has not carried you into the assembly of the gods.”
“Yet already it has borne me half-way—into a company of malefactors. Doubtless on the morrow the obliging Mandarin Shan Tien will arrange for the journey to be complete.”
“Yet have you then no further wish to continue in an ordinary existence?” asked the maiden.