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assume, to a most distended amount, the expression which I had long recognised as a synonym that some detail had been regarded at a different angle from that anticipated.

“May I ask,” he began in a somewhat heavily-laden voice, after he had assured himself that the person who was speaking was himself, and his external attributes unchanged, “May I ask, sir” (and at this title, which is untranslatable in its many-sided significance when technically employed, I recognised that all complimentary intercourse might be regarded as having closed), “whether you accept the responsibility of these proceedings?”

“Touching the appearance which has so essentially contributed to the success of the occasion, it is undeniably due to this one’s foresight,” I replied modestly.

“Then let me tell you, sir, that I consider it an outrage–a dastardly outrage.”

“Yet,” protested this person with retiring assertiveness, “the expressed object of the ceremony, as it stood before my intelligence, was for the set purpose of invoking spirits and raising certain visions.”

“Spirits!” exclaimed the one before me with an accent of concentrated aversion; “yes, spirits; impalpable, civilised, genuine spirits, who manifest themselves through recognised media, and are conformable to the usages of the best drawing-room society–yes. But not demons, sir; not Chinese devils in the Camden Road–no. Truth and Light at any cost, not paganism. It’s perfectly scandalous. Look at the mahogany table–ruined; look at the wall-paper–conventional mackerels with a fishing-net background, new this spring–soused; look at the Brussels carpet, seventeen six by twenty-five–saturated!”

“I quite agree with you, Mr. Glidder,” here interposed the individual Pash. “I was watching you, sir, closely the whole time, and I have my suspicions about how it was done. I don’t know whether Mr. Glidder has any legal redress, but I should certainly advise him to see his solicitors to-morrow, and in the meantime–“

“He is my guest,” exclaimed the one whose hospitality I was enjoying, “and while he is beneath my roof he is sacred.”

“But I do not think that it would be kind to detain him any longer in his wet things,” said another of the household, with pointed malignity, and accepting this as an omen of departure, I withdrew myself, bowing repeatedly, but offering no closer cordiality.

“Through a torn sleeve one drops a purse of gold,” it is well said; and as if to prove to a deeper end that misfortune is ever double-handed, this incapable being, involved in thoughts of funereal density, bent his footsteps to an inaccurate turning, and after much wandering was compelled to pass the night upon a desolate heath–but that would be the matter of another narrative.

With an insidious doubt whether, after all, the far-seeing Kwan Kiang-ti’s first impulse would not have been the most satisfactory conclusion to the enterprise.

KONG HO.

LETTER VII

Concerning warfare, both as waged by ourselves and by a nation devoid of true civilisation. The aged man and the meeting and the parting of our ways. The instance of the one who expressed emotion by leaping.

VENERATED SIRE,–You are omniscient, but I cannot regard the fear which you express in your beautifully-written letter, bearing the sign of the eleventh day of the seventh moon, as anything more than the imaginings prompted by a too-lavish supper of your favourite shark’s fin and peanut oil. Unless the dexterously-elusive attributes of the genial-spoken persons high in office at Pekin have deteriorated contemptibly since this one’s departure, it is quite impossible for our great and enlightened Empire to be drawn into a conflict with the northern barbarians whom you indicate, against our will. When the matter becomes urgent, doubtless a prince of the Imperial line will loyally suffer himself to Pass Above, and during the period of ceremonial mourning for so pure and exalted an official it would indeed be an unseemly desecration to engage in any public business. If this failed, and an ultimatum were pressed with truly savage contempt for all that is sacred and refined, it might be well next to consider the health even of the sublime Emperor himself (or, perhaps better, that of the select and ever-present Dowager Empress); but should the barbarians still advance, and, setting the usages of civilised warfare at defiance, threaten an engagement in the midst of this unparalleled calamity, there will be no alternative but to have a formidable rebellion in the Capital. All the barbarian powers will then assemble as usual, and in the general involvement none dare move alone, and everything will have to be regarded as being put back to where it was before. It is well said, “The broken vessel can never be made whole, but it may be delicately arranged so that another shall displace it.”

These barbarians, less resourceful in device, have only recently emerged from a conflict into which they do not hesitate to admit they were drawn despite their protests. Such incompetence is characteristic of their methods throughout. Not in any way disguising their purpose, they at once sent out an army of those whom could be the readiest seized, certainly furnishing them with weapons, charms to use in case of emergency, and three-coloured standards (their adversaries adopting a white banner to symbolise the conciliation of their attitude, and displaying both freely in every extremity), but utterly neglecting to teach them the arts of painting their bodies with awe-inspiring forms, of imitating the cries of wild animals as they attacked, of clashing their weapons together with menacing vigour, or any of the recognised artifices by which terror may be struck into the ranks of an awaiting foeman. The result was that which the prudent must have foreseen. The more accomplished enemy, without exposing themselves to any unnecessary inconvenience, gained many advantages by their intrepid power of dissimulation–arranging their garments and positions in such a way that they had the appearance of attacking when in reality they were effecting a prudent retreat; rapidly concealing themselves among the earth on the approach of an overwhelming force; becoming openly possessed with the prophetic vision of an assured final victory whenever it could be no longer concealed that matters were becoming very desperate indeed; and gaining an effective respite when all other ways of extrication were barred against them by the stratagem of feigning that they were other than those whom they had at first appeared to be.

In the meantime the adventure was not progressing pleasantly for those chiefly concerned at home. With the earliest tidings of repulse it was discovered that in the haste of embarkation the wrong persons had been sent, all those who were really the fittest to command remaining behind, and many of these did not hesitate to write to the printed papers, resolutely admitting that they themselves were in every way better qualified to bring the expedition to a successful end, at the same time skilfully pointing out how the disasters which those in the field had incurred could easily have been avoided by acting in a precisely contrary manner.

In the emergency the most far-seeing recommended a more unbending policy of extermination. Among these, one in particular, a statesman bearing an illustrious name of two-edged import, distinguished himself by the liberal broad-mindedness of his opinions, and for the time he even did not flinch from making himself excessively unpopular by the wide and sweeping variety of his censure. “We are confessedly a barbarian nation,” fearlessly declared this unprejudiced person (who, although entitled by hereditary right to carry a banner on the field of battle, with patriotic self-effacement preferred to remain at home and encourage those who were fighting by pointing out their inadequacy to the task and the extreme unlikelihood of their ever accomplishing it), “and in order to achieve our purpose speedily it is necessary to resort to the methods of barbarism.” The most effective measure, as he proceeded to explain with well-thought-out detail, would be to capture all those least capable of resistance, concentrate them into a given camp, and then at an agreed signal reduce the entire assembly to what he termed, in a passage of high-minded eloquence, “a smoking hecatomb of women and children.”

His advice was pointed with a crafty insight, for not only would such a course have brought the stubborn enemy to a realisation of the weakness of their position and thus paved the way to a dignified peace, but by the act itself few would have been left to hand down the tradition of a relentless antagonism. Yet with incredible obtuseness his advice was ignored and he himself was referred to at the time by those who regarded the matter from a different angle, with a scarcely-veiled dislike, which towards many of his followers took the form of building materials and other dissentient messages whenever they attempted to raise their voices publicly. As an inevitable result the conquest of the country took years, where it would have been moons had the more truly humane policy been adopted, commerce and the arts languished, and in the end so little spoil was taken that it was more common to meet six mendicants wearing the honourable embellishment of the campaign than to see one captured slave maiden offered for sale in the market places–indeed, even to this day the deficiency is clearly admitted and openly referred to as The Great “Domestic” Problem. *

At various times during my residence here I have been filled with a most acute gratification when the words of those around have seemed to indicate that they recognised the undoubted superiority of the laws and institutions of our enlightened country. Sometimes, it is true, upon a more detailed investigation of the incident, it has presently appeared that either I had misunderstood the exact nature of their sentiments or they had slow-wittedly failed to grasp the precise operation of the enactment I had described; but these exceptions are clearly the outcome of their superficial training, and do not affect the fact my feeble and frequently even eccentric arguments are at length certainly moving the more intelligent into an admission of what constitutes true justice and refinement. It is not to be denied that here and there exists a prejudice against our customs even in the minds of the studious; but as this is invariably the shadow of misconception, it has frequently been my sympathetic privilege to promote harmony by means of the inexorable logic of fact and reason. “But are not your officials uncompromisingly opposed to the freedom of the Press?” said one who conversed with me on the varying phases of the two countries, and knowing that in his eyes this would constitute an unendurable offence, I at once appeased his mind. “By no means,” I replied; “if anything, the exact contrary is the case. As a matter of reality, of course, there is no Press now, the all-seeing Board of Censors having wisely determined that it was not stimulating to the public welfare; but if such an institution was permitted to exist you may rest genially assured that nothing could exceed the lenient toleration which all in office would extend towards it.” A similar instance of malicious inaccuracy is widely spoken of regarding our lesser ones. “Is it really a fact, Mr. Kong,” exclaimed a maiden of magnanimous condescension, to this person recently, “that we poor women are despised in your country, and that among the working-classes female children are even systematically abandoned as soon as they are born?” Suffering my features to express amusement at this unending calumny, I indicated my violent contempt towards the one who had first uttered it. “So far from despising them,” I continued, with ingratiating gallantry, “we recognise that they are quite necessary for the purposes of preparing our food, carrying weighty burdens, and the like; and how grotesque an action would it be for poor but affectionate parents to abandon one who in a few years’ time could be sold at a really remunerative profit, this, indeed, being the principal means of sustenance in many frugal families.”

On another occasion I had seated myself upon a wooden couch in one of the open spaces about the outskirts of the city, when an aged man chanced to pass by. Him I saluted with ceremonious politeness, on account of his years and the venerable dignity of his beard. Thereupon he approached near, and remarking affably that the afternoon was good (though, to use no subtle evasion, it was very evil), he congenially sat by my side and entered into familiar discourse.

“They say that in your part of the world we old grandfathers are worshipped,” he said, after recounting to my ears all the most intimate details of his existence from his youth upwards; “now, might that be right?”

“Truly,” I replied. “It is the unchanging foundation of our system of morality.”

“Ay, ay,” he admitted pleasantly. “We are a long way behind them foreigners in everything. At the rate we’re going there won’t be any trade nor work nor religion left in this country in another twenty years. I often wish I had gone abroad when I was younger. And if I had chanced upon your parts I should be worshipped, eh?” and at the agreeable thought the aged man laughed in his throat with simple humour.

“Assuredly,” I replied; “–after you were dead.”

“Eh?” exclaimed the venerable person, checking the fountain of his mirth abruptly at the word. “Dead! not before? Doesn’t–doesn’t that seem a bit of a waste?”

“Such has been the observance from the time of unrecorded antiquity,” I replied. “‘Obey parents, respect the old, loyally uphold the sovereign, and worship ancestors.'”

“Well, well,” remarked the one beside me, “obedience and respect–that’s something nowadays. And you make them do it?”

“Our laws are unflinching in their application,” I said. “No crime is held to be more detestable than disrespect of those to whom we owe our existence.”

“Quite right,” he agreed, “it’s a pleasure to hear it. It must be a great country, yours; a country with a future, I should say. Now, about that youngest lad of my son Henry’s–the one that drops pet lizards down my neck, and threatened to put rat poison into his mother’s tea when she wouldn’t take him to the Military Turneyment; what would they do to him by your laws?”

“If the assertion were well sustained by competent witnesses,” I replied, “it would probably be judged so execrable an offence, that a new punishment would have to be contrived. Failing that, he would certainly be wrapped round from head to foot in red-hot chains, and thus exposed to public derision.”

“Ah, red-hot chains!” said the aged person, as though the words formed a pleasurable taste upon his palate. “The young beggar! Well, he’d deserve it.”

“Furthermore,” I continued, gratified at having found one who so intelligently appreciated the deficiencies of his own country and the unblemished perfection of ours, “his parents and immediate descendants, if any should exist, would be submitted to a fate as inevitable but slightly less contemptuous–slow compression, perchance; his parents once removed (thus enclosing your venerable personality), and remoter offsprings would be merely put to the sword without further ignominy, and those of less kinship to about the fourth degree would doubtless escape with branding and a reprimand.”

“Lordelpus!” exclaimed the patriarchal one, hastily leaping to the extreme limit of the wooden couch, and grasping his staff into a significant attitude of defence; “what’s that for?”

“Our system of justice is all-embracing,” I explained. “It is reasonably held that in such a case either that there is an inherent strain of criminality which must be eradicated at all hazard, or else that those who are responsible for the virtuous instruction of the young have been grossly neglectful of their duty. Whichever is the true cause, by this unfailing method we reach the desired end, for, as our proverb aptly says, ‘Do the wise pluck the weed and leave the roots to spread?'”

“It’s butchery, nothing short of Smithfield,” said the ancient person definitely, rising and moving to a more remote distance as he spoke the words, yet never for a moment relaxing the aggressive angle at which he thrust out his staff before him. “You’re a bloodthirsty race in my opinion, and when they get this door open in China that there’s so much talk about, out you go through it, my lad, or old England will know why.” With this narrow-minded imprecation on his lips he left me, not even permitting me to continue expounding what would be the most likely sentences meted out to the witnesses in the case, the dwellers of the same street, and the members of the household with whom the youth in question had contemplated forming an alliance.

Among the many contradictions which really almost seem purposely arranged to entrap the unwary in this strangely under-side-up country, is the fact that while the ennobled and those of high official rank are courteous in their attitude and urbane–frequently even to the extent of refusing money from those whom they have obliged, no matter how privately pressed upon them–the low-caste and slavish are not only deficient in obsequiousness, but are permitted to retort openly to those who address them with fitting dignity. Here such a state of things is too general to excite remark, but as instances are well called the flowers of the tree of assertion, this person will set forth the manner in which he was contumaciously opposed by an oblique-eyed outcast who attended within the stall of one selling wrought gold, jewels, and merchandise of the finer sort.

Being desirous of procuring a gift wherewith to propitiate a certain maiden’s esteem, and seeing above a shop of varied attraction a suspended sign emblematic of three times repeated gild abundance I drew near, not doubting to find beneath so auspicious a token the fulfilment of an honourable accommodation. Inside the window was displayed one of the implements by which the various details of a garment are joined together upon turning a wheel, hung about with an inscription setting forth that it was esteemed at the price of two units of gold, nineteen pieces of silver, and eleven and three-quarters of the brass cash of the land, and judging that no more suitable object could be procured for the purpose, I entered the shop, and desired the attending slave to submit it to my closer scrutiny.

“Behold,” I exclaimed, when I had made a feint of setting the device into motion (for it need not be concealed from you, O discreet one, that I was really inadequate to the attempt, and, indeed, narrowly escaped impaling myself upon its sudden and unexpected protrusions), “the highly-burnished surface of your dexterously arranged window gave to this engine a rich attractiveness which is altogether lacking at a closer examination. Nevertheless, this person will not recede from a perhaps too impulsive offer of one unit of gold, three pieces of silver, and four and a half brass cash,” my object, of course, being that after the mutual recrimination of disparagement and over-praise we should in the length of an hour or two reach a becoming compromise in the middle distance.

“Well,” responded the menial one, regarding me with an expression in which he did not even attempt to subdue the baser emotions, “you HAVE come a long way for nothing”; and he made a pretence of wishing to replace the object.

“Yet,” I continued, “observe with calm impartiality how insidiously the rust has assailed the outer polish of the lacquer; perceive here upon the beneath part of wood the ineffaceable depression of a deeply-pointed blow; note well the–“

“It was good enough for you to want me to muck up out of the window, wasn’t it?” demanded the obstinate barbarian, becoming passionate in his bearing rather than reluctantly, but with courteous grace, lessening the price to a trifling degree, as we regard the proper way of carrying on the enterprise.

“It is well said,” I admitted, hoping that he might yet learn wisdom from my attitude of unruffled urbanity, though I feared that his angle of negotiating was unconquerably opposed to mine, “but now its many imperfections are revealed. The inelegance of its outline, the grossness of the applied colours, the unlucky combination of numbers engraved upon this plate, the–“

“Damme!” cried the utterly perverse rebel standing opposite, “why don’t you keep on your Compound, you Yellow Peril? Who asked you to come into my shop to blackguard the things? Come now, who did?”

“Assuredly it is your place of commerce,” I replied cheerfully, preparing to bring forward an argument, which in our country never fails to shake the most stubborn, “yet bend your eyes to the fact that at no great distance away there stands another and a more alluring stall of merchandise where–“

“Go to it then!” screamed the abandoned outcast, leaping over his counter and shouting aloud in a frenzy of uncontrollable rage. “Clear out, or I’ll bend my feet–” but concluding at this point that some private calumny from which he was doubtless suffering was disturbing his mind to so great an extent that there was little likelihood of our bringing the transaction to a profitable end, I left the shop immediately but with befitting dignity.

With a fell-founded assurance that you will now be acquiring a really precise and bird’s-eye-like insight into practically all phases of this country.

KONG HO.

LETTER VIII

Concerning the wisdom of the sublime Wei Chung and its application to the ordinary problems of existence. The meeting of three, hitherto unknown to each other, about a wayside inn, and their various manners of conducting the enterprise.

VENERATED SIRE,–You will doubtless remember the behaviour of the aged philosopher Wei Chung, when commanded by the broad-minded emperor of his time to reveal the hidden sources of his illimitable knowledge, so that all might freely acquire, and the race thereby become raised to a position of unparalleled excellence. Taking the well-disposed sovereign familiarly by the arm, Wei Chung led him to the mouth of his cave in the forest, and, standing by his side, bade him reflect with open eyes for a short space of time, and then express aloud what he had seen. “Nothing of grave import,” declared the emperor when the period was accomplished; “only the trees shaken by the breeze.” “It is enough,” replied Wei Chung. “What, to the adroitly-balanced mind, does such a sight reveal?” “That it is certainly a windy day,” exclaimed the omnipotent triumphantly, for although admittedly divine, he yet lacked the philosopher’s discrimination. “On the contrary,” replied the sage coldly, “that is the natural pronouncement of the rankly superficial. To the highly-trained intellect it conveys the more subtle truth that the wind affects the trees, and not the trees affect the wind. For upwards of seventy years this one has daily stood at the door of his cave for a brief period, and regularly garnering a single detail of like brilliance, has made it the well-spring for a day’s reflection. As the result he now has by heart upwards of twenty-five thousand useful facts, all serviceable for original proverbs, and an encyclopaedic mind which would enable him to take a high place in a popular competition unassisted by a single work of reference.” Much impressed by the adventure the charitably-inclined emperor presented Wei Chung with an onyx crown (which the philosopher at once threw into an adjacent well), and returning to his capital published a decree that each day at sunrise every person should stand at the door of his dwelling, and after observing for a period, compare among themselves the details of their thoughts. By this means he hoped to achieve his imperial purpose, but although the literal part of the enactment is scrupulously maintained, especially by the slothful and defamatory, who may be seen standing at their doors and conversing together even to this day, from some unforeseen imperfection the intellectual capacity of the race has remained exactly as it was before.

Nevertheless it is not to be questioned that the system of the versatile Wei Chung was, in itself, grounded upon a far-seeing accuracy, and as the need of such a rational observation is deepened among the inconsistencies and fantastic customs of a barbarian race, I have made it a useful habit to accept as a guide for the day’s behaviour the reflections engendered by the first noteworthy incident of the morning.

Upon the day with which this letter concerns itself I had set forth, in accordance with an ever-present desire, to explore some of the hidden places of the city. At the time a tempest of great ferocity was raging, and bending my head before it I had the distinction of coming into contact with a person of ill-endowed exterior at an angle where two reads met. This amiable wayfarer exchanged civilities with me after the politeness characteristic of the labouring classes towards those who differ from them in speech, dress, or colour: that is to say, he filled his pipe from my proffered store, and after lighting it threw the match into my face, and passed on with an appropriate remark.

Doubtless this insignificant occurrence would have faded without internal comment if the penetrating Wei Chung had never existed, but now, guided by his sublime precedent, I arranged the incident for the day’s conduct under three reflective heads.

It was while I was meditating on the second of these that an exclamation caused me to turn, when I observed a prosperously-outlined person in the act of picking up a scrip which had the appearance of being lavishly distended with pieces of gold.

“If I had not seen you pass it, I should have opined that this hyer wallet belonged to you,” remarked the justice-loving stranger (for the incident had irresistibly retarded my own footsteps), speaking the language of this land, but with an accent of penetrating harmony hitherto unknown to my ears. With these auspicious words he turned over the object upon his hand doubtfully.

“So entrancing a possibility is, as you gracefully suggest, of unavoidable denial,” I replied. “Nevertheless, this person will not hesitate to join his acclamation with yours; for, as the Book of Verses wisely says, ‘Even the blind, if truly polite, will extol the prospect from your house-top.'”

“That’s so,” admitted the one by my side. “But I don’t know that there is any call for a special thanksgiving. As I happen to have more money of my own than I can reasonably spend I shall drop this in at a convenient police station. I dare say some poor critter is pining away for it now.”

Pleasantly impressed by the resolute benevolence of the one who had a greater store of wealth than he could, by his own unaided efforts, dispose of, I arranged myself unobtrusively at his side, and maintaining an exhibition of my most polished and genial conversation, I sought to penetrate deeply into his esteem.

“Gaze in this direction, Kong,” he said at length, calling me by name with auspicious familiarity; “I am a benighted stranger in this hyer city, and so are you, I rek’n. Suppose we liquor up, and then take a few of the side shows together.”

“The suggestion is one against which I will erect no ill-disposed barrier,” I at once replied, so inflexibly determined not to lose sight of a person possessing such engaging attributes as to be cheerfully prepared even to consume my rice spirit in the inverted position which his words implied if the display was persisted in. “Nevertheless,” I added, with a resourceful prudence, “although by no means undistinguished among the highest literary and competitive circles of his native Yuen-ping, the one before you is incapable of walking in the footsteps of a person whose accumulations are greater than he himself can appreciably diminish.”

“That’s all right, Kong,” exclaimed the one whom my last words fittingly described, striking the recess of his lower garment with a gesture of graceful significance. “When I take a fancy to any one it isn’t a matter of dollars. I usually carry a trifle of five hundred or a thousand pounds in my pocket-book, and if we can get through that–why, there’s plenty more waiting at the bank. Say, though, I hope you don’t keep much about you; it isn’t really safe.”

“The temptation to do so is one which this person has hitherto successfully evaded,” I replied. “The contents of this reptile-skin case”–and not to be outshone in mutual confidence I here displayed it openly–“do not exceed nine or ten pieces of gold and a like number of printed obligations promising to pay five pieces each.”

“Put it away, Kong,” he said resolutely. “You won’t need that so long as you’re with me. Well, now, what sort of a saloon have we here?”

As far as the opinion might be superficially expressed it had every indication of being one of noteworthy antiquity, and to the innately modest mind its unassuming diffidence might have lent an added charm. Nevertheless, on most occasions this person would have maintained an unshaken dexterity in avoiding its open door, but as the choice admittedly lay in the hands of one who carried five hundred or a thousand pieces of gold we went in together and passed through to a compartment of retiring seclusion.

In our own land, O my orthodox-minded father, where the unfailing resources of innumerable bands of dragons, spirits, vampires, ghouls, shadows, omens, and thunderstorms are daily enlisted to carry into effect the pronouncements of an appointed destiny, we have many historical examples of the inexorably converging legs of coincidence, but none, I think, more impressively arranged than the one now descending this person’s brush.

We had scarcely reposed ourselves, and taken from the hands of an awaiting slave the vessels of thrice-potent liquid which in this Island is regarded as the indispensable accompaniment to every movement of existence, when a third person entered the room, and seating himself at a table some slightly removed distance away, lowered his head and abandoned himself to a display of most lavish dejection.

“That poor cuss doesn’t appear to be holiday-making,” remarked the sincerely-compassionate person at my side, after closely observing the other for a period; and then, moved by the overpowering munificence of his inward nature, he called aloud, “Say, stranger, you seem to have got it thickly in the neck. Is it family affliction or the whisky of the establishment?”

At these affably-intentioned words the stranger raised his eyes quickly, with an indication of not having up to that time been aware of our presence.

“Sir,” he exclaimed, approaching to a spot where he could converse with a more enhanced facility, “when I loosened the restraint of an overpowering if unmanly grief, I imagined that I was alone, for I would have shunned even the most flattering sympathy, but your charitably-modulated voice invites confidence. The one before you is the most contemptible, left-handed, and disqualified outcast in creation, and he is now making his way towards the river, while his widow will be left to take in washing, his infant son to vend evening printed leaves, and his graceful and hitherto highly secluded daughters to go upon the stage.”

“Say, stranger,” interposed this person, by no means unwilling to engrave upon his memory this newly-acquired form of greeting, “the emotion is doubtless all-pressing, but in my ornate and flower-laden tongue we have a salutation, ‘Slowly, slowly; walk slowly,’ which seems to be of far-seeing application.”

“That’s so,” remarked the one by my side. “Separate it with the teeth, inch by inch.”

“I will be calm, then,” continued the other (who, to avoid the complication of the intermingling circumstances, may be described as the more stranger of the two), and he took of his neckcloth. “I am a merchant in tea, yellow fat, and mixed spices, in a small but hitherto satisfactory way.” Thus revealing himself, he continued to set forth how at an earlier hour he had started on a journey to deposit his wealth (doubtless as a propitiation of outraged deities) upon a certain bank, and how, upon reaching the specified point, he discovered that what he carried had eluded his vigilance. “All gone: notes, gold, and pocket-book–the savings of a lifetime,” concluded the ill-omened one, and at the recollection a sudden and even more highly-sustained frenzy of self-unpopularity involving him, without a pause he addressed himself by seven and twenty insulting expressions, many of which were quite new to my understanding.

At the earliest mention of the details affecting the loss, the elbow of the person who had made himself responsible for the financial obligation of the day propelled itself against my middle part, and unseen by the other he indicated to me by means of his features that the entertainment was becoming one of agreeable prepossession.

“Now, touching this hyer wallet,” he said presently. “How might you describe it?”

“In colour it was red, and within were two compartments, the one containing three score notes each of ten pounds, the other fifty pounds of gold. But what’s the use of describing it? Some lucky demon will pick it up and pocket the lot, and I shall never see a cent of it again.”

“Then you’d better consult one who reburnishes the eyes,” declared the magnanimous one with a laugh, and drawing forth the article referred to he cast it towards the merchant in a small way.

At this point of the narrative my thoroughly incompetent brush confesses the proportions of the requirement to be beyond its most extended limit, and many very honourable details are necessarily left without expression.

“I’ve known men of all sorts, good, bad, and bothwise,” exclaimed the one who had recovered his possessions; “but I never thought to meet a gent as would hand over six hundred and fifty pounds as if it was a toothpick. Sir, it overbalances me; it does, indeed.”

“Say no more about it,” urged the first person, and to suggest gracefully that the incident had reached its furthest extremity, he began to set out the melody of an unspoken verse.

“I will say no more, then,” he replied; “but you cannot reasonably prevent my doing something to express my gratitude. If you are not too proud you will come and partake of food and wine with me beneath the sign of the Funereal Male Cow, and to show my confidence in you I shall insist upon you carrying my pocket-book.”

The person whom I had first encountered suffered his face to become excessively amused. “Say, stranger, do you take me for a pack-mule?” he replied good-naturedly. “I already have about as much as I want to handle. Never mind; we’ll come along with you, and Mr. Kong shall carry your bullion.”

At this delicate and high-minded proposal a rapid change, in no way complimentary to my explicit habit of adequately conducting any venture upon which I may be engaged, came over the face of the second person.

“Sir,” he exclaimed, “I have nothing to say against this gentleman, but I am under no obligation to him, and I don’t see why I should trust him with everything I possess.”

“Stranger,” exclaimed the other rising to his feet (and from this point it must be understood that the various details succeeded one another with a really agile dexterity), “let me tell you that Mr. Kong is my friend, and that ought to be enough.”

“It is. If you say this gentleman is your friend, and that you have known him long and intimately enough to be able to answer for him, that’s good enough for me.”

“Well,” admitted the first person, and I could not conceal from myself that his tone was inauspiciously reluctant, “I can’t exactly say that I’ve known him long; in fact I only met him half an hour ago. But I have the fullest confidence in his integrity.”

“It’s just as I expected. Well, sir, you’re good-natured enough for anything, but if you’ll excuse me, I must say that you’re a small piece of an earthenware vessel after all”–the veiled allusion doubtlessly being that the vessel of necessity being broken, the contents inevitably escape–“and I hope you’re not being had.”

“I’m not, and I’ll prove it before we go out together,” retorted the engaging one, who had in the meantime become so actively impetuous on my account, that he did not remain content with the spoken words, but threw the various belongings about as he mentioned them in a really profuse display of inimitable vehemence. “Here, Kong, take this hyer pocket-book whatever he says. Now on the top of that take everything I’ve got, and you know what THAT figures up to. Now give this gentleman your little lot to keep him quiet; I don’t ask for anything. Now, stranger, I’m ready. You and I will take a stroll round the block and back again, and if Mr. Kong isn’t waiting here for us when we return with everything intact and O.K., I’ll double your deposit and never trust a durned soul again.”

Nodding genially over his shoulder with a harmonious understanding, expressive of the fact that we were embarking upon an undeniably diverting episode, the benevolent-souled person who had accumulated more riches than he was competent to melt away himself, passed out, urging the doubtful and still protesting one before him.

Thus abandoned to my own reflections, I pondered for a short time profitably on the third head of the day’s meditation (Touching the match and this person’s unattractively-lined face. The revealed truth: the inexperienced sheep cannot pass through the hedge without leaving portions of his wool), and then finding the philosophy of Wei Chung very good, I determined to remove the superfluous apprehensions of the vender of food-stuffs with less delay by setting out and meeting them on their return.

A few paces distant from the door, one of the ever-present watchers of the street was standing, watching the street with unremitting vigilance, while from the well-guarded expression of his face it might nevertheless be gathered that he stood as though in expectation.

“Prosperity,” I said, with seasonable greeting. (For no excess of consideration is too great to be lavished upon these, who unite within themselves the courage of a high warrior, the expertness of a three-handed magician, and the courtesy of a genial mandarin.) “I seek two, apparelled thus and thus. Did you, by any chance, mark the direction of their footsteps?”

“Oh,” he said, regarding this person with a most flattering application, “YOU seek them, do you? Well, they’ve just gone off in a hansom, and they’ll want a lot of seeking for the next week or two. You let them carry your purse, perhaps?”

“Assuredly,” I replied. “As a mark of confidence; this person, for his part, receiving a like token at their hands.”

“That’s it,” said the official watcher, conveying into his voice a subtle indication that he had become excessively fatigued. “It’s like a nursery tale–never too old to take with the kids. Well, come along, poor lamb, the station isn’t far.”

So great had become the reliance which by this time I habitually reposed in these men, that I never sought to oppose their pronouncements (such a course being not only useless but undignified), and we therefore together reached the place which the one by my side had described as a station.

From the outside the building was in no way imposing, but upon reaching an inner dungeon it at once became plain that no matter with what crime a person might be charged, even the most stubborn resistance would be unavailing. Before a fiercely-burning fire were arranged metal pincers, massive skewers, ornamental branding irons, and the usual accessories of the grill, one tool being already thrust into the heart of the flame to indicate the nature of its use, and its immediate readiness for the purpose. Pegs from which the accused could be hung by the thumbs with weights attached to the feet, covered an entire wall; chains, shackling-irons, fetters, steel rings for compressing the throat, and belts for tightening the chest, all had their appointed places, while the Chair, the Boot, the Heavy Hat, and many other appliances quite unknown to our system of administering justice were scattered about.

Without pausing to select any of these, the one who led me approached a raised desk at which was seated a less warlike official, whose sympathetic appearance inspired confidence. “Kong Ho,” exclaimed to himself the person who is inscribing these words, “here is an individual into whose discriminating ear it would be well to pour the exact happening without evasion. Then even if the accusation against you be that of resembling another or trafficking with unlawful Forces, he will doubtless arrange the matter so that the expiation shall be as light and inexpensive as possible.”

By this time certain other officials had drawn near. “What is it?” I heard one demand, and another replied, “Brooklyn Ben and Jimmie the Butterman again. Ah, they aren’t artful, are they!” but at this moment the two into whose power I had chiefly fallen having conversed together, I was commanded to advance towards them and reveal my name.

“Kong,” I replied freely; and I had formed a design to explain somewhat of the many illustrious ancestors of the House, when the one at the desk, pausing to inscribe my answer in a book, spoke out.

“Kong?” he said. “Is that the christian or surname?”

“Sir-name?” replied this person between two thoughts. “Undoubtedly the one before you is entitled by public examination to the degree ‘Recognised Talent,’ which may, as a meritorious distinction, be held equal to your title of a warrior clad in armour. Yet, if it is so held, that would rightly be this person’s official name of Paik.”

“Oh, it would, would it?” said the one seated upon the high chair. “That’s quite clear. Are there any other names as well?”

“Assuredly,” I explained, pained inwardly that one of official rank should so slightly esteem my appearance as to judge that I was so meagrely endowed. “The milk name of Ho; Tsin upon entering the Classes; as a Great Name Cheng; another style in Quank; the official title already expressed, and T’chun, Li, Yuen and Nung as the various emergencies of life arise.”

“Thank you,” said the high-chair official courteously. “Now, just the name in full, please, without any velvet trimmings.”

“Kong,” began this person, desirous above all things of putting the matter competently, yet secretly perturbed as to what might be considered superfluous and what deemed a perfidious suppression, “Ho Tsin Cheng Quank–“

“Hold hard,” cried this same one, restraining me with an uplifted pen. “Did you say ‘Quack’?”

“Quack?” repeated this person, beginning to become involved within himself, and not grasping the detail in the right position. “In a manner of setting the expression forth–“

“Put him down, ‘Quack Duck,’ sir,” exclaimed one of dog-like dejection who stood by. “Most of these Lascars haven’t got any real names–they just go by what any one happens to call them at the time, like ‘Burmese Ike’ down at the Mint,” and this person unfortunately chancing to smile and bow acquiescently at that moment (not with any set intention, but as a general principle of courteous urbanity), in place of his really distinguished titles he will henceforth appear among the historical records of this dynasty under what he cannot disguise from his inner misgivings to be the low-caste appellation of Quack Duck.

“Now the address, please,” continued the high one, again preparing to inscribe the word, and being determined that by no mischance should this particular be offensively reported, I unhesitatingly replied, “Beneath the Sign of the Lead Tortoise, on the northern course from the Lotus Pools outside the walls of Yuen-ping.”

This answer the one with the book did not immediately record. “I don’t say it isn’t all right when you know the parts,” he remarked broad-mindedly, “but it does sound a trifle irregular. Can’t you give it a number and a street?”

“I fancy it must be a pub, sir,” observed another. “He said that it had a sign–the Red Tortoise.”

“Well, haven’t you got a London address?” said the high one, and this person being able to supply a street and a number as desired, this part of the undertaking was disposed of, to his cordial satisfaction.

“Now let me see the articles which these men left with you,” commanded the chieftain of the band, and without any misleading discrepancies I at once drew forth from an inner sleeve the two scrips, of which adequate mention has already been made, another hitherto undescribed, two instruments for measuring the passing hours of the day, together with a chain of fine gold ingeniously wrought into the semblance of a cable, an ornament for the breast, set about with a jewel, two neck-cloths of a kind usually carried in the pocket, a book for recording happenings of any moment, pieces of money to the value of about eleven taels, a silver flagon, a sheathed weapon and a few lesser objects of insignificant value. These various details I laid obsequiously before the one who had commanded it, while the others stood around either in explicit silence or speaking softly beneath their breath.

“Do I understand that the two persons left all these things with you, while they took your purse in exchange?” said the high official, after examining certain obscure signs upon the metals, the contents of the third scrip, and the like.

“It cannot reasonably be denied,” I replied; “inasmuch as they departed without them.”

“Spontaneously?” he demanded, and in spite of the unevadible severity of his voice the expression of his nearer eye deviated somewhat.

“The spoken and conclusive word of the first was that it was his intention to commit to this one’s keeping everything which he had; the assertion of the second being that with this scrip I received all that he possessed.”

“While of yours, what did they get, Mr. Quack?” and the tone of the one who spoke had a much more gratifying modulation than before, while the attitudes of those who stood around had favourably changed, until they now conveyed a message of deliberate esteem.

“A serpent-skin case of two enclosures,” I replied. “On the one side was a handcount of the small copper-pieces of this Island, which I had caused to be burnished and gilt for the purpose of taking back to amuse those of Yuen-ping. On the other side were two or three pages from a gravity-removing printed leaf entitled ‘Bits of Tits,’ with which this person weekly instructs himself in the simpler rudiments of the language. For the rest the case was controlled by a hidden spring, and inscribed about with a charm against loss, consumption by fire, or being secretly acquired by the unworthy.”

“I don’t think you stand in much need of that charm, Mr. Quack,” remarked another of more than ordinary rank, who was also present. “Then they really got practically no money from you?”

“By no means,” I admitted. “It was never literally stipulated, and whatever of wealth he possesses this person carries in a concealed spot beneath his waistbelt.” (For even to these, virtuous sire, I did not deem it expedient to reveal the fact that in reality it is hidden within the sole of my left sandal.)

“I congratulate you,” he said with lavish refinement. “Ben and the Butterman can be very bland and persuasive. Could you tell me, as a matter of professional curiosity, what first put you on your guard?”

“In this person’s country,” I replied, “there is an apt saying, ‘The sagacious bird does not build his nest twice in the empty soup-toureen,’ and by observing closely what has gone before one may accurately conjecture much that will follow after.” It may be, that out of my insufferable shortcomings of style and expression, this answer did not convey to his mind the logical sequence of the warning; yet it would have been more difficult to show him how everything arose from the faultlessly-balanced system of the heroic Wei Chung, or the exact parallel lying between the ill-clad outcast who demanded a portion of tobacco and the cheerfully unassuming stranger who had in his possession a larger accumulation of money than he could conveniently disperse.

In such a manner I took leave of the station and those connected with it, after directing that the share of the spoil which fell by the law of this Island to my lot should be sold and the money of exchange faithfully divided among the virtuous and necessitous of both sexes. The higher officials each waved me pleasantly by the hand, according to the striking and picturesque custom of the land, while the lesser ones stood around and spoke flattering words as I departed, as “honourable,” “a small piece of all-right,” “astute ancient male fowl,” “ah!” and the like.

With repeated assurances that however ineptly the adventure may at the time appear to be tending, as regards the essentials of true dignity and an undeviating grasp upon articles of negotiable value, nothing of a regrettable incident need be feared.

KONG HO.

LETTER IX

Concerning the proverb of the highly-accomplished horse. The various perils to be encountered in the Beneath Parts. The inexplicable journey performed by this one, and concerning the obscurity of the witchcraft employed.

VENERATED SIRE,–Among these islanders there is a proverb, “Do not place the carte” (or card, the two words having an identical purport, and both signifying the inscribed tablet of viands prepared for a banquet,) before the horse.” Doubtless the saying first arose as a timely rebuke to a certain barbarian emperor who announced his contempt for the intelligence of his subjects by conferring high mandarin rank upon a favourite steed and ceremoniously appointing it to be his chancellor; but from the narrower moral that an unreasoning animal is out of place, and even unseemly, in the entertaining hall or council chamber, the expression has in the course of time taken a wider application and is now freely used as an insidious thrust at one who may be suspected of contrariness of character, of confusing issues, or of acting in a vain or illogical manner. I had already preserved the saying among other instances of foreign thought and expression which I am collecting for your dignified amusement, as it is very characteristic of the wisdom and humour of these Outer Lands. The imagination is essentially barbaric. A horse–doubtless well-groomed, richly-caparisoned, and as intellectual as the circumstances will permit, but inevitably an animal of degraded attributes and untraceable ancestry–a horse reclining before a lavishly set-out table and considering well of what dish it shall next partake! Could anything, it appears, be more diverting! Truly to our more refined outlook the analogy is lacking both in delicacy of wit and in exactitude of balance, but to the grosser barbarian conception of what is gravity-removing it is irresistible.

I am, however, reminded of the saying by perceiving that I was on the point of recording certain details of recent occurrence without first unrolling to your mind the incidents from which it has arisen that the person who is now communicating with you is no longer reposing in the Capital, but spending a period profitably in observing the habits of those who dwell in the more secluded recesses on the outskirts of the Island. This reversal of the proper sequence of affairs would doubtless strike those around as an instance of setting the banquet before the horse. Without delay, then, to pursue the allusion to its appropriate end, I will return, as it may be said, to my nosebag.

At various points about the streets of the Capital there are certain caverns artificially let into the bowels of the earth, to which any person may betake himself upon purchasing a printed sign which he must display to the guardian of the gate. Once within the underneathmost parts he is free to be carried from place to place by means of the trains of carriages which I have already described to you, until he would return to the outer surface, when he must again display his talisman before he is permitted to pass forth. Nor is this an empty form, for upon an occasion this person himself witnessed a very bitter contention between a keeper of the barrier and one whose token had through some cause lost its potency.

In the company of the experienced I had previously gone through the trial without mischance, so that recently when I expressed a wish to visit a certain Palace, and was informed that the most convenient manner would be to descend into the nearest cavern, I had no reasonable device for avoiding the encounter. Nevertheless, enlightened sire, I will not attempt to conceal from your omniscience that I was by no means impetuous towards the adventure. Owing to the pugnacious and unworthy suspicions of those who direct their destinies, I have not yet been able to penetrate the exact connection between the movements of these hot-smoke chariots and the Unseen Forces. To a person whose chief object in life is to avoid giving offence to any of the innumerable demons which are ever on the watch to revenge themselves upon our slightest indiscretion, this uncertainty opens an unending vista of intolerable possibilities. As if to emphasise the perils of this overhanging doubt the surroundings are ingeniously arranged so as to represent as nearly as practicable the terrors of the Beneath World. Both by day and night a funereal gloom envelops the caverns, the pathways and resting-places are meagre and so constructed as to be devoid of attraction or repose, and by a skilful contrivance the natural atmosphere is secretly withdrawn and a very acrimonious sulphurous haze driven in to replace it. In sudden and unforeseen places eyes of fire open and close with disconcerting rapidity, and even change colour in vindictive significance; wooden hands are outstretched as in unrelenting rigidity against supplication, or, divining the unexpressed thoughts, inexorably point, as one gazes, still deeper into the recesses of the earth; while the air is never free from the sounds of groans, shrieks, the rattling of chains, dull, hopeless noises beneath one’s feet or overhead, and the hoarse wordless cries of despair with which the attending slaves of the caverns greet the distant clamour of every approaching fire-chariot. Admittedly the intention of the device is benevolently conceived, and it is strenuously asserted that many persons of corrupt habits and ill-balanced lives, upon waking unexpectedly while passing through these Beneath Parts, have abandoned the remainder of their journey, and, escaping hastily to the outer air, have from that time onwards led a pure and consistent existence; but, on the other foot, those who are compelled to use the caverns daily, freely confess that the surroundings to not in any material degree purify their lives of tranquillise the nature of their inner thoughts.

In this emergency I did not neglect to write out a diversity of charms against every possible variety of evil influence, and concealing them lavishly about my head and body, I presented myself with the outer confidence of a person who is inured to the exploit. Doubtless thereby being mistaken for one of themselves in the obscurity, I received the inscribed safeguard without opposition, and even an added sum in copper pieces, which I discreetly returned to the one behind the shutter, with the request that he would honourably burn a few joss sticks or sacrifice to a trivial amount, to the success of my journey. In such a manner I reached an awaiting train, and, taking up within it a position of retiring modesty, I definitely committed myself to the undertaking.

At the next tarrying place there entered a barbarian of high-class appearance, and being by this time less assured of my competence in the matter unaided, both on account of the multiplicity of evil omens on every side, and the perverse impulses of the guiding demon, whereby at sudden angles certain of my organs had the emotion of being left irrevocably behind and others of being snatched relentlessly forward, I approached him courteously.

“Behold,” I said, “many thousand li of water, both fresh and bitter, flow between the one who is addressing you and his native town of Yuen-ping, where the tablets at the street corners are as familiar to him as the lines of his own unshapely hands; for, as it is truly said, ‘Does the starling know the lotus roots, or the pomfret read its way by the signs among the upper branches of the pines?’ Out of the necessities of his ignorance and your own overwhelming condescension enlighten him, therefore, whether the destination of this fire-chariot by any chance corresponds with the inscribed name upon his talisman?”

Thus adjured, the stranger benevolently turned himself to the detail, and upon consulting a book of symbols he expressed himself to this wise: that after a sufficient interval I should come into a certain station, called in part after the title of the enlightened ruler of this Island, and there abandoning the train which was carrying us, I should enter another which would bring me out of the Beneath Parts and presently into the midst of that Palace which I sought. This advice seemed good, for a reasonable connection might be supposed to exist between a station so auspiciously called and a Palace bearing the harmonious name of the gracious and universally-revered sovereign-consort. Accordingly I thanked him ceremoniously, not only on my own part, but also on behalf of eleven generations of immediate ancestors, and in the name of seven generations who should come after, and he on his side agreeably replied that he was sure his grandmother would have done as much for mine, and he sincerely hoped that none of his great-great-grandchildren would prove less obliging. In this intellectual manner, varied with the entertainment of profuse bows, the time passed cordially between us until the barbarian reached his own alighting stage, when he again repeated the various details of the strategy for my observance.

At this point let it be set forth deliberately that there existed no treachery in the advice, still less that this person is incapable of competently achieving the destined end of any hazard upon which he may embark when once the guiding signs have been made clear to his understanding. Whatever entanglement arose was due merely to the conflicting manners of expression used by two widely-varying races, even as our own proverb says, “What is only sauce for the cod is serious for the oyster.”

At the station indicated as bearing the sign of the ruler of the country (which even a person of little discernment could have recognised by the highly-illuminated representation bearing the elusively-worded inscription, “In packets only”), I left this fire-chariot, and at once perceiving another in an attitude of departure, I entered it, as the casual barbarian had definitely instructed, and began to assure myself that I had already become expertly proficient in the art of journeying among these Beneath Regions and to foresee the time, not far distant, when others would confidently address themselves to me in their extremities. So entrancing did this contemplation grow, that this outrageous person began to compose the actual words with which he would instruct them as the occasion arose, as thus, “Undoubtedly, O virtuous and not unattractive maiden, this fire-engine will ultimately lead your refined footsteps into the street called Those who Bake Food. Do not hesitate, therefore, to occupy the vacant place by this insignificant one’s side”; or, “By no means, honourable sir; the Cross of Charing is in the precisely opposite direction to that selected by this self-opinionated machine for its inopportune destination. Do not rebuke this person for his immoderate loss of mental gravity, for your mistake, though pardonable in a stranger, is really excessively diverting. Your most prudent course now will assuredly be to cast yourself from the carriage without delay and rely upon the benevolent intervention of a fire-chariot proceeding backwards.”

Alas, it is truly said, “None but sword-swallowers should endeavour to swallow swords,” thereby signifying the vast chasm that lies between those who are really adroit in an undertaking and those who only think that they may easily become so. Presently it began to become deeply impressed upon my discrimination that the journey was taking a more lengthy duration than I had been given to understand would be the case, while at the same time a permanent deliverance from the terrors of the Beneath Parts seemed to be insidiously lengthening out into a funereal unattainableness. The point of this person’s destination, he had been assured on all hands, was a spot beyond which even the most aggressively assertive engine could not proceed, so that he had no fears of being incapably drawn into more remote places, yet when hour after hour passed and the ill-destined machine never failed in its malicious endeavours to leave each successive tarrying station, it is not to be denied that my imagination dwelt regretfully upon the true civilisation of our own enlightened country, where, by the considerate intervention of an all-wise government, the possibilities of so distressing an experience are sympathetically removed from one’s path. Thus the greater part of the day had faded, and I was conjecturing that by this time we must inevitably be approaching the barren and inhospitable country which forms the northern limit of the Island, when the door suddenly opened and the barbarian stranger whom I had left many hundred li behind entered the carriage.

At this manifestation all uncertainty departed, and I now understood that to some obscure end witchcraft of a very powerful and high-caste kind was being employed around me; for in no other way was it credible to one’s intelligence that a person could propel himself through the air with a speed greater than that of one of these fire-chariots, and overtake it. Doubtless it was a part of this same scheme which made it seem expedient to the stranger that he should feign a part, for he at once greeted me as though the occasion were a matter of everyday happening, exclaiming genially–

“Well, Mr. Kong, returning? And what do you think of the Palace?”

“It is fitly observed, ‘To the earthworm the rice stalk is as high as the pagoda,'” I replied with adroit evasion, clearly understanding from his manner that for some reason, not yet revealed to me, a course of dissimulation was expedient in order to mislead the surrounding demons concerning my movements, and by a subtle indication of the face conveying to the stranger an assurance that I had tactfully grasped the requirement, and would endeavour to walk well upon his heels, “and therefore it would be unseemly for a person of my insignificant attainments to engage in the doubtful flattery of comparing it with the many other residences of the pure and exalted which embellish your Capital.”

“Oh,” said the one whom I may now suitably describe by the name of Sir Philip, “that’s rather a useful proverb sometimes. Many people there?”

At this inquiry I could not disguise from myself an emotion that the person seated opposite was not diplomatically inspired in so persistently clinging to the one subject upon which he must assuredly know that I experienced an all-pervading deficiency. Nevertheless, being by this more fully convinced that the disguise was one of critical necessity, and not deeming that the essential ceremonies of one Palace would differ from those of another, no matter in what land they stood (while through all I read a clear design on Sir Philip’s part that the opportunity was craftily arranged so that I might impress upon any vindictively-intentioned spirits within hearing an assumption of high protection), I replied that the gathering had been one of unparalleled splendour, both by reason of the multitude of exalted nobles present and also owing to the jewelled magnificence lavished on every detail. Furthermore, I continued, now definitely abandoning all the promptings of a wise reserve, and reflecting, as we say, that one may as well be drowned in the ocean as in a wooden bucket, not only did the sublime and unapproachable sovereign graciously permit me to kow-tow respectfully before him, but subsequently calling me to his side beneath a canopy of golden radiance, he conversed genially with me and benevolently assured me of his sympathetic favour on all occasions (this, I conjectured, would certainly overawe any Evil Force not among the very highest circles), while the no less magnanimous Prince of the Imperial Line questioned me with flattering assiduousness concerning a method of communicating with persons at a distance by means of blows or stamps upon a post (as far as the outer meaning conveyed itself to me), the houses which we build, and whether they contained an adequate provision of enclosed spaces in the walls.

Doubtless I could have continued in this praiseworthy spirit of delicate cordiality to an indefinite amount had I not chanced to observe at this point that the expression of Sir Philip’s urbanity had become entangled in a variety of other emotions, not all propitious to the scheme, so that in order to retire imperceptibly within myself I smiled broad-mindedly, remarking that it was well said that the moon was only bright while the sun was hid, and that I had lately been dazzled with the sight of so much brilliance and virtuous condescension that there were occasions when I questioned inwardly how much I had really witnessed, and how much had been conveyed to me in the nature of an introspective vision.

It will already have been made plain to you, O my courtly-mannered father, that these barbarians are totally deficient in the polite art whereby two persons may carry on a flattering and highly-attuned conversation, mutually advantageous to the esteem of each, without it being necessary in any way that their statements should have more than an ornamental actuality. So wanting in this, the most concentrated form of truly well-bred entertainment, are even their high officials, that after a few more remarks, to which I made answer in a spirit of skilfully-sustained elusiveness, the utterly obtuse Sir Philip said at length, “Excuse my asking, Mr. Kong, but have you really been to the Alexandra Palace at all?”

Admittedly there are few occasions in life on which it is not possible to fail to see the inopportune or low-class by a dignified impassiveness of features, an adroitly-directed jest, or a remark of baffling inconsequence, but in the face of so distressingly straightforward a demand what can be advanced by a person of susceptible refinement when opposed to one of incomparably larger dimensions, imprisoned by his side in the recess of a fire-chariot which is leaping forward with uncurbed velocity, and surrounded by demons with whose habits and partialities he is unfamiliar?

“In a manner of expressing the circumstance,” I replied, “it is not to be denied that this person’s actual footsteps may have imperceptibly been drawn somewhat aside from the path of his former design. Yet inasmuch as it is truly said that the body is in all things subservient to the mind, and is led withersoever it is willed, and as your engaging directions were scrupulously observed with undeviating fidelity, it would be impertinently self-opinionated on this person’s part to imply that they failed to guide him to his destination. Thus, for all ceremonial purposes, it is permissible conscientiously to assume that he HAS been there.”

“I am afraid that I must not have been sufficiently clear,” said Sir Philip. “Did you miss the train at King’s Cross?”

“By no means,” I replied firmly, pained inwardly that he should cast the shadow of such narrow incompetence upon me. “Seeing this machine on the point of setting forth on a journey, even as your overwhelming sagacity had enabled you to predict would be the case, I embarked with self-reliant confidence.”

“Good lord!” murmured the person opposite, beginning to manifest an excess of emotion for which I was quite unable to account. “Then you have been in this train–your actual footsteps I mean, Mr. Kong; not your ceremonial abstract subliminal ego–ever since?”

To this I replied that his words shone like the moon at midnight with scintillating points of truth; adding, however, as the courtesies of the occasion required, that I had been so impressed with the many-sided brilliance of his conversation earlier in the day as to render the flight of time practically unnoticed by me.

“But did it never occur to you to ask at one of the stations?” he demanded, still continuing to wave his hands incapably from side to side. “Any of the porters would have told you.”

“Kong Li Heng, the founder of our line, who was really great, has been dead eleven centuries, and no single fact or incident connected with his life has been preserved to influence mankind,” I replied. “How much less will it matter, then, even in so limited a space of time as a hundred years, in what fashion so insignificant a person as the one before you acted on any occasion, and why, therefore, should he distress himself unnecessarily to any precise end?” In this manner I sought to place before him the dignified example of an imperturbability which can be maintained in every emergency, and at the same time to administer a plain yet scrupulously-sheathed rebuke; for the inauspicious manner in which he had first drawn me on to speak confidently of the ceremonies of the Royal Palace and then held up my inadequacy to undeserved contempt had not rejoiced my imagination, and I was still uncertain how much to claim, and whether, perchance, even yet a more subtle craft lay under all.

“Well, in any case, when you go back you can claim the distinction of having been taken seven times round London, although you can’t really have seen much of it,” said Sir Philip. “This is a Circle train.”

At this assertion I looked up. Though admittedly curved a little about the roof the chariot was in every essential degree what we should pronounce to be a square one; whereupon, feeling at length that the involvement had definitely passed to a point beyond my contemptible discernment, I spread out my hands acquiescently and affably remarked that the days were lengthening out pleasantly.

In such a manner I became acquainted with the one Sir Philip, and thereby, in a somewhat circuitous line, the original purpose which possessed my brush when I began this inept and commonplace letter is reached; for the person in question not only lay upon himself the obligation of leading me “by the strings of his apron-garment”–in the characteristic and fanciful turn of the barbarian language–to that same Palace on the following day, but thenceforth gracefully affecting to discern certain agreeable virtues in my conversation and custom of habit he frequently sought me out. More recently, on the double plea that they of his household had a desire to meet me, and that if I spent all my time within the Capital my impressions of the Island would necessarily be ill-balanced and deformed, he advanced a project that I should accompany him to a spot where, as far as I was competent to grasp the idiom, he was in the habit of sitting (doubtless in an abstruse reverie), in the country; and having assured myself by means of discreet innuendo that the seat referred to would be adequate for this person also, and that the occasion did not in any way involve a payment of money, I at once expressed my willingness towards the adventure.

With numerous expressions of unfeigned regret (from a filial point of view) that the voice of one of the maidens of the household, lifted in the nature of a defiance against this one to engage with her in a two-handed conflict of hong pong, obliges him to bring this immature composition to a hasty close.

KONG HO.

LETTER X

Concerning the authority of this high official, Sir Philip. The side-slipperyness of barbarian etiquette. The hurl- headlong sportiveness and that achieving its end by means of curved mallets.

VENERATED SIRE,–If this person’s memory is accurately poised on the detail, he was compelled to abandon his former letter (when on the point of describing the customs of these outer places), in order to take part in a philosophical discussion with some of the venerable sages of the neighbourhood.

Resuming the narration where it had reached this remote province of the Empire, it is a suitable opportunity to explain that this same Sir Philip is here greeted on every side with marks of deferential submission, and is undoubtedly an official of high button, for whenever the inclination seizes him he causes prisoners to be sought out, and then proceeds to administer justice impartially upon them. In the case of the wealthy and those who have face to lose, the matter is generally arranged, to his profit and to the satisfaction of all, by the payment of an adequate sum of money, after the invariable custom of our own mandarincy. When this incentive to leniency is absent it is usual to condemn the captive to imprisonment in a cell (it is denied officially, but there is no reason to doubt that a large earthenware vessel is occasionally used for this purpose,) for varying periods, though it is notorious that in the case of the very necessitous they are sometimes set freely at liberty, and those who took them publicly reprimanded for accusing persons from whose condition on possible profit could arise. This confinement is seldom inflicted for a longer period than seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days (these being lucky numbers,) except in the case of those who have been held guilty of ensnaring certain birds and beasts which appear to be regarded as sacred, for they have their duly appointed attendants who wear a garb and are trained in the dexterous use of arms, lurking with loaded weapons in secret places to catch the unwary, both by night and day. Upheld by the high nature of their office these persons shrink from no encounter and even suffer themselves to be killed with resolute unconcern; but when successful they are not denied an efficient triumph, for it is admitted that those whom they capture are marked men from that time (doubtless being branded upon the body with the name of their captor), and no future defence is availing. The third punishment, that of torture, is reserved for a class of solitary mendicants who travel from place to place, doubtless spreading the germs of an inflammatory doctrine of rebellion, for, owing to my own degraded obtuseness, the actual nature of their crimes could never be made clear to me. Of the tortures employed that known in their language as the “bath” (for which we have no real equivalent,) is the most dreaded, and this person has himself beheld men of gigantic proportions, whose bodies bore the stain of a voluntary endurance to every privation, abandon themselves to a most ignoble despair upon hearing the ill-destined word. Unquestionably the infliction is closely connected with our own ordeal of boiling water, but from other indications it is only reasonable to admit that there is an added ingredient, of which we probably have no knowledge, whereby the effect is enhanced in every degree, and the outer surface of the victim rendered more vulnerable. There is also another and milder form of torture, known as the “task”, consisting either of sharp-edged stones being broken upon the body, or else the body broken upon sharp-edged stones, but precisely which is the official etiquette of the case this person’s insatiable passion for accuracy and his short-sighted limitations among the more technical outlines of the language, prevent him from stating definitely.

Let it here be openly confessed that the intricately-arranged titles used among these islanders, and the widely-varying dignities which they convey, have never ceased to embarrass my greetings on all occasions, and even yet, when a more crystal insight into their strangely illogical manners enables me not only to understand them clearly myself, but also to expound their significance to others, a necessary reticence is blended with my most profuse cordiality, and my salutations to one whom I am for the first time encountering are now so irreproachably balanced, that I can imperceptibly develop them into an engaging effusion, or, without actual offence, draw back into a condition of unapproachable exclusiveness as the necessity may arise. With us, O my immaculate sire, a yellow silk umbrella has for three thousand years denoted a fixed and recognisable title. A mandarin of the sixth degree need not hesitate to mingle on terms of assured equality with other mandarins of the sixth degree, and without any guide beyond a seemly instinct he perceives the reasonableness of assuming a deferential obsequiousness before a mandarin of the fifth rank, and a counterbalancing arrogance when in the society of an official who has only risen to the seventh degree, thus conforming to that essential principle of harmonious intercourse, “Remember that Chang Chow’s ceiling is Tong Wi’s floor”; but who shall walk with even footsteps in a land where the most degraded may legally bear the same distinguished name as that of the enlightened sovereign himself, where the admittedly difficult but even more purposeless achievement of causing a gold mine to float is held to be more praiseworthy than to pass a competitive examination or to compose a poem of inimitable brilliance, and where one wearing gilt buttons and an emblem in his hat proves upon ingratiating approach not to be a powerful official but a covetous and illiterate slave of inferior rank? Thus, through their own narrow-minded inconsistencies, even the most ceremoniously-proficient may at times present an ill-balanced attitude. This, without reproach to himself, concerns the inward cause whereby the one who is placed to you in the relation of an affectionate and ever-resourceful son found unexpectedly that he had lost the benignant full face of a lady of exalted title.

At that time I had formed the acquaintance, in an obscure quarter of the city, of one who wore a uniform, and was addressed on all sides as the commander of a band, while the gold letters upon the neck part of his outer garment inevitably suggested that he had borne an honourable share in the recent campaign in a distant land. As I had frequently met many of similar rank drinking tea at the house of the engaging countess to whom I have alluded, I did not hesitate to prevail upon this Captain Miggs to accompany me there upon an occasion also, assuring him of equality and a sympathetic reception; but from the moment of our arrival the attitudes of those around pointed to the existence of some unpropitious barrier invisible to me, and when the one with whom I was associated took up an unassailable position upon the central table, and began to speak authoritatively upon the subject of The Virtues, the unenviable condition of the proud and affluent, and the myriads of fire-demons certainly laying in wait for those who partook of spiced tea and rich foods in the afternoon, and did not wear a uniform similar to his own, I began to recognise that the selection had been inauspiciously arranged. Upon taxing some around with the discrepancy (as there seemed to be no more dignified way of evading the responsibility), they were unable to contend against me that there were, indeed, two, if not more, distinct varieties of those bearing the rank of captain, and that they themselves belonged to an entirely different camp, wearing another dress, and possessing no authority to display the symbol of the letters S.A. upon their necks. With this admission I was content to leave the matter, in no way accusing them of actual duplicity, yet so withdrawing that any of unprejudiced standing could not fail to carry away the impression that I had been the victim of an unworthy artifice, and had been lured into their society by the pretext that they were other than what they really were.

With the bitter-flavoured memory of this, and other in no way dissimilar episodes, lingering in my throat, it need not be a matter of conjecture that for a time I greeted warily all who bore a title, a mark of rank, or any similar appendage; who wore a uniform, weapon, brass helmet, jewelled crown, coat of distinctive colour, or any excessive superfluity of pearl or metal buttons; who went forth surrounded by a retinue, sat publicly in a chair or allegorical chariot, spoke loudly in the highways and places in a tone of official pronouncement, displayed any feather, emblem, inscribed badge, or printed announcement upon a pole, or in any way conducted themselves in what we should esteem to be fitting to a position of high dignity. From this arose the absence of outward enthusiasm with which I at first received Sir Philip’s extended favour; for although I had come to distrust all the reasonable signs of established power, I distrusted, to a much more enhanced degree, their complete absence; and when I observed that the one in question was never accompanied by a band of musicians or flower-strewers, that he mingled as though on terms of familiar intercourse with the ordinary passers-by in the streets, and never struck aside those who chanced to impede his progress, and that he actually preferred those of low condition to approach him on their feet, rather than in the more becoming attitude of unconditional prostration, I reasoned with myself whether indeed he could consistently be a person of well-established authority, or whether I was not being again led away from my self-satisfaction by another obliquity of barbarian logic. It was for this reason that I now welcomed the admitted power which he has of incriminating persons in a variety of punishable offences, and I perceived with an added satisfaction that here, where this privilege is more fully understood, few meet him without raising their hands to the upper part of their heads in token of unquestioning submission; or, as one would interpret the symbolism into actual words, meaning, “Thus, from this point to the underneath part of our sandals, all between lies in the hollow of your comprehensive hand.”
*

There is a written jest among another barbarian nation that these among whom I am tarrying, being by nature a people who take their pleasures tragically, when they rise in the morning say, one to another, “Come, behold; it is raining again as usual; let us go out and kill somebody.” Undoubtedly the pointed end of this adroit-witted saying may be found in the circumstance that it is, indeed, as the proverb aptly claims, raining on practically every occasion in life; while, to complete the comparison, for many dynasties past this nation has been successfully engaged in killing people (in order to promote their ultimate benefit through a momentary inconvenience,) in every part of the world. Thus the lines of parallel thought maintain a harmonious balance beyond the general analogy of their sayings; but beneath this may be found an even subtler edge, for in order to inure themselves to the requirement of a high destiny their various games and manners of disportment are, with a set purpose, so rigorously contested that in their progress most of the weak and inefficient are opportunely exterminated.

There is a favourite and well-attended display wherein two opposing bands, each clad in robes of a distinctive colour, stand in extended lines of mutual defiance, and at a signal impetuously engage. The design of each is by force or guile to draw their opponents into an unfavourable position before an arch of upright posts, and then surging irresistibly forward, to carry them beyond the limit and hurl them to the ground. Those who successfully inflict this humiliation upon their adversaries until they are incapable of further resistance are hailed victorious, and sinking into a graceful attitude receive each a golden cup from the magnanimous hands of a maiden chose to the service, either on account of her peerless outline, the dignified position of her House, or (should these incentives be obviously wanting,) because the chief ones of her family are in the habit of contributing unstintingly to the equipment of the triumphal band. There is also another kind of strife, differing in its essentials only so far that all who engage therein are provided with a curved staff, with which they may dexterously draw their antagonists beyond the limits, or, should they fail to defend themselves adequately, break the smaller bones of their ankles. But this form of encounter, despite the use of these weapons, is really less fatal than the other, for it is not a permissible act to club an antagonist resentfully about the head with the staff, nor yet even to thrust it rigidly against his middle body. From this moderation the public countenance extended to the curved-pole game is contemptibly meagre when viewed by the side of the overwhelming multitudes which pour along every channel in order to witness a more than usually desperate trial of the hurl-headlong variety (the sight, indeed, being as attractive to these pale, blood-thirsty foreigners as an unusually large execution is with us), and as a consequence the former is little reputed save among maidens, the feeble, and those of timorous instincts.

Thus positioned, regarding a knowledge of their outside amusements, it has always been one of the most prominent ambitions of this person’s strategy to avoid being drawn into any encounter. At the same time, the thought that the maidens of the household here (of whom there are several, all so attractively proportioned that to compare them in a spirit of definite preference would be distastefully presumptuous to this person,) should regard me as one lacking in a sufficient display of violence was not fragrant to my sense of refinement; so that when Sir Philip, a little time after our arrival, related to me that on the following day he and a chosen band were to be engaged in the match of a cricket game against adversaries from the village, and asked whether I cared to bear a part in the strife, I grasped the muscles of the upper part of my left arm with my right hand–as I had frequently seen the hardy and virile do when the subject of their powers had been raised questioningly–and replied that I had long concealed an insatiable wish to take such a part at a point where the conflict would be the most revengefully contested.

Being thus inflexibly committed it became very necessary to arrange a well-timed intervention (whether in the nature of bodily disorder, fire, or demoniacal upheaval, a warning omen, or the death of some of our chief antagonists), but before doing so I was desirous of understanding how this contest, which had hitherto remained outside my experience, was waged.

There is here one of benevolent rotundity in whose authority lie the cavernous stores beneath the house and the vessels of gold and silver; of menial rank admittedly, yet exacting a seemly deference from all by the rich urbanity of his voice and the dignity of his massive proportions. In the affable condescension of his tone, and the discriminating encouragement of his attitude towards me on all occasions, I have read a sympathetic concern over my welfare. Him I now approached, and taking him aside, I first questioned him flatteringly about his age and the extent of his yearly recompense, and then casually inquired what in his language he would describe the nature of a cricket to be.

“A cricket?” repeated the obliging person readily; “a cricket, sir, is a hinsect. Something, I take it, after the manner of a grass-‘opper.”

“Truly,” I agreed. “It is aptly likened. And, to continue the simile, a game cricket–?”

“A game cricket?” he replied; “well, sir, naturally a game one would be more gamier than the others, wouldn’t it?”

“The inference is unflinching,” I admitted, and after successfully luring away his mind from any significance in the inquiry by asking him whether the gift of a lacquered coffin or an embroidered shroud would be the more regarded on parting, I left him.

His words, esteemed, for a definite reason were as the jade-clappered melody of a silver bell. This trial of sportiveness, it became clear,–less of a massacre than most of their amusements–is really a rivalry of leapings and dexterity of the feet: a conflict of game crickets or grass-hoppers, in the somewhat wide-angled obscurity of their language, or, as we would more appropriately call it doubtless, a festive competition in the similitude of high-spirited locusts. To whatever degree the surrounding conditions might vary, there could no longer be a doubt that the power of leaping high into the air was the essential constituent of success in this barbarian match of crickets–and in such an accomplishment this person excelled from the time of his youth with a truly incredible proficiency. Can it be a reproach, then, that when I considered this, and saw in a vision the contempt of inferiority which I should certainly be able to inflict upon these native crickets before the eyes of their maidens, even the accumulated impassiveness of thirty-seven generations of Kong fore-fathers broke down for the moment, and unable to restrain every vestige of emotion I crept unperceived to the ancestral hall of Sir Philip and there shook hands affectionately with myself before each of the nine ironclad warriors about its walls before I could revert to a becoming state of trustworthy unconcern. That night in my own upper chamber I spent many hours in testing my powers and studying more remarkable attitudes of locust flight, and I even found to be within myself some new attainments of life-like agility, such as feigning the continuous note of defiance with which the insect meets his adversary, as remaining poised in the air for an appreciable moment at the summit of each leap, and of conveying to the body a sudden and disconcerting sideway movement in the course of its ascent. So immersed did I become in the achievement of a high perfection that, to my never-ending self-reproach, I failed to notice a supernatural visitation of undoubted authenticity; for the next morning it was widely admitted that a certain familiar demon of the house, which only manifests its presence on occasions of tragic omen, had been heard throughout the night in warning, not only beating its head and body against the walls and doors in despair, but raising from time to time a wailing cry of soul-benumbing bitterness.

With every assurance that the next letter, though equally distorted in style and immature in expression, will contain the record of a deteriorated but ever upward-striving son’s ultimate triumph.

KONG HO.

LETTER XI

Concerning the game which we should call “Locusts,” and the deeper significance of its acts. The solicitous warning of one passing inwards and the complication occasioned by his ill- chosen words. Concerning that victory already dimly foreshadowed.

VENERATED SIRE,–This barbarian game of agile grass-hoppers is not conducted in the best spirit of a really well-balanced display, and although the one now inscribing his emotions certainly achieved a wide popularity, and wore his fig leaves with becoming modesty, he has never since been quite free from an overhanging doubt that the compliments and genial remarks with which he was assailed owed their modulation to an unsubstantial atmosphere of two-edged significance which for a period enveloped all whom he approached; as in the faces of maidens concealed behind fans when he passed, the down-drawn lips and up-raised eyes of those of fuller maturity, the practice in most of his own kind of turning aside, pressing their hands about their middle parts, and bending forward into a swollen attitude devoid of grace, on the spur of a sudden remembrance, and in the auspicious but undeniably embarrassing manner in which all the unfledged ones of the village clustered about his retiring footsteps, saluting him continually as one “James,” upon whom had been conferred the gratifying title of “Sunny.” Thus may the outline of the combat be recounted.

From each opposing group eleven were chosen as a band, and we of our company putting on a robe of distinctive green (while they elected to be regarded as an assemblage of brown crickets), we presently came to a suitable spot where the trial was to be decided. So far this person had reasonably assumed that at a preconcerted signal the contest would begin, all rising into the air together, uttering cries of menace, bounding unceasingly and in every way displaying the dexterity of our proportions. Indeed, in the reasonableness of this expectation it cannot be a matter for reproach to one of the green grass-hoppers–who need not be further indicated–that he had already begun a well-simulated note of challenge to those around clad in brown, and to leap upwards in a preparatory essay, when the ever-alert Sir Philip took him affectionately by the arm, on the plea that the seclusion of a neighbouring pavilion afforded a desirable shade.

Beyond that point it is difficult to convey an accurately grouped and fully spread-out design of the encounter. In itself the scheme and intention of counterfeiting the domestic life and rivalries of two opposing bands of insects was pleasantly conceived, and might have been carried out with harmonious precision, but, after the manner of these remote tribes, the original project had been overshadowed and the purity of the imagination lost beneath a mass of inconsistent detail. To this imperfection must it be laid that when at length this person was recalled from the obscurity of the pagoda and the alluring society of a maiden of the village, to whom he was endeavouring to expound the strategy of the game, and called upon to engage actively in it, he courteously admitted to those who led him forth that he had not the most shadowy-outlined idea of what was required of him.

Nevertheless they bound about his legs a frilled armour, ingeniously fashioned to represent the ribbed leanness of the insect’s shank, encased his hands and feet in covers to a like purpose, and pressing upon him a wooden club indicated that the time had come for him to prove his merit by venturing alone into the midst of the eleven brown adversaries who stood at a distance in poised and expectant attitudes.

Assuredly, benignant one, this sport of contending locusts began, as one approached nearer to it, to wear no more pacific a face than if it had been a carnage of the hurl-headlong or the curved-hook varieties. In such a competition, it occurred to him, how little deference would be paid to this one’s title of “Established Genius,” or how inadequately would he be protected by his undoubted capacity of leaping upwards, and even in a sideway direction, for no matter how vigorously he might propel himself, or how successfully he might endeavour to remain self-sustained in the air, the ill-destined moment could not be long deferred when he must come down again into the midst of the eleven–all doubtless concealing weapons as massive and fatally-destructive as his own. This prospect, to a person of quiescent taste, whose chief delight lay in contemplating the philosophical subtleties of the higher Classics, was in itself devoid of glamour, but with what funereal pigments shall he describe his sinking emotions when one of his own band, approaching him as he went, whispered in his ear, “Look out at this end; they kick up like the very devil. And their man behind the wicket is really smart; if you give him half a chance he’ll have your stumps down before you can say ‘knife.'” Shorn of its uncouth familiarity, this was a charitable warning that they into whose stronghold I was turning my footsteps–perhaps first deceiving my alertness with a proffered friendship–would kick with the ferocity of untamed demons, and that one in particular, whose description, to my added despair, I was unable to retain, was known to possess a formidable knife, with which it was his intention to cut off this person’s legs at the first opportunity, before he could be accused of the act. Truly, “To one whom he would utterly destroy Buddha sends a lucky dream.”

Behind lay the pagoda (though the fact that this one did admittedly turn round for a period need not be too critically dwelt upon), with three tiers of maidens, some already waving their hands as an encouraging token; on each side a barrier of prickly growth inopportunely presented itself, while in front the eleven kicking crickets stood waiting, and among them lurked the one grasping a doubly-edged blade of a highly proficient keenness.

There are occasional moments in the life of a person when he as the inward perception of retiring for a few paces and looking back in order to consider his general appearance and to judge how he is situated with regard to himself, to review his past life in a spirit of judicial severity, to arrange definitely upon a future composed entirely of acts of benevolence, and to examine the working of destiny at large. In such a scrutiny I now began to understand that it would perhaps have been more harmonious to my love of contemplative repose if I had considered the disadvantages closer before venturing into this barbarian region, or, at least, if I had used the occasion profitably to advance an argument tending towards a somewhat fuller allowance of taels from your benevolent sleeve. Our own virtuous and flower-strewn land, it is true, does not possess an immunity from every trifling drawback. The Hoang Ho–to concede specifically the existence of some of these–frequently bursts through its restraining barriers and indiscriminately sweeps away all those who are so ill-advised as to dwell within reach of its malignant influence. From time to time wars and insurrections are found to be necessary, and no matter how morally-intentioned and humanely conducted, they necessarily result in the violation, dismemberment or extirpation of many thousand polite and dispassionate persons who have no concern with either side. Towns are repeatedly consumed by fire, districts scourged by leprosy, and provinces swept by famine. The storms are admittedly more fatal than elsewhere, the thunderbolts larger, more numerous, and all unerringly directed, while the extremities of heat and cold render life really uncongenial for the greater part of each year. The poor, having no money to secure justice, are evilly used, whereas the wealthy, having too much, are assailed legally by the gross and powerful for the purpose of extorting their riches. Robbers and assassins lurk in every cave; vast hoards of pirates blacken the surface of every river; and mandarins of the nine degrees must make a livelihood by some means or other. By day, therefore, it is inadvisable to go forth and encounter human beings, while none but the shallow-headed would risk a meeting with the countless demons and vampires which move by night. To one who has spent many moons among these foreign apparitions the absence of drains, roads, illustrated message-parchments, maidens whose voices may be heard protesting upon ringing a wire, loaves of conflicting dimensions, persons who strive to put their faces upon every advertisement, pens which emit fountains when carried in the pocket, a profusion of make-strong foods, and an Encyclopaedia Mongolia, may undoubtedly be mentioned as constituting a material deficiency. Affairs are not being altogether reputably conducted during the crisis; it can never be quite definitely asserted what the next action of the versatile and high-spirited Dowager Empress will be; and here it is freely contended that the Pure and Immortal Empire is incapable of remaining in one piece for much longer. These, and other inconveniences of a like nature, which the fastidious might distort into actual hardships, have never been denied, yet at no period of the nine thousand years of our civilisation has it been the custom to lure out the unwary, on the plea of an agreeable entertainment, and then to abandon him into the society of eleven club-bearing adversaries, one of whom may be depicted as in the act of imparting an unnecessary polish to the edge of his already preternaturally acute weapon, while those of his own band offer no protection, and three tiers of very richly-dressed maidens encourage him to his fate by refined gestures of approval.

Doubtless this person had unconsciously allowed his inner meditations to carry him away, as it may be expressed, for when he emerged from this strain of reverie it was to discover himself in the chariot-road and–so incongruously may be the actions when the controlling intelligence is withdrawn–even proceeding at a somewhat undignified pace in a direction immediately opposed to an encounter with the brown locusts. From this mortifying position he was happily saved by emerging from these thought-dreams before it was too late to return, and, also, if the detail is not too insignificant to be related, by the fact that certain chosen runners from his own company had reached a point in the road before him, and now stood joining their outstretched arms across the passage and raising gravity-dispelling cries. Smiling acquiescently, therefore, this person returned in their midst, and receiving a new weapon, his own club having been absent-mindedly mislaid, he again set forth warily to the encounter.

Yet in this he did not altogether neglect a discreet prudence. The sympathetic person to whom he was indebted for the pointed allusion had specifically declared that they who used their feet with the desperate savagery of baffled spectres guarded the nearer limits of their position, the intention of his timely hint assuredly being that I should seek to approach from the opposite end, where, doubtless, the more humane and conciliatory grass-hoppers were assembled. Thus guided I now set forth in a widely-circuitous direction, having the point where I meant to open an attack clearly before my eyes, yet seeking to deliver a more effective onslaught by reaching it to some extent unperceived and to this end creeping forward in the protecting shadow of the long grass and untrimmed herbage.

Whether the one already referred to had incapably failed to express his real meaning, or whether he was tremulous by nature and inordinately self-deficient, concerns the narration less than the fact that he had admittedly produced a state of things largely in excess of the actual. There is no longer any serviceable pretext for maintaining that those guarding any point of their position were other than mild and benevolent, while the only edged weapon displayed was one courteously produced to aid this person’s ineffectual struggles to extricate himself when, by some obscure movement, he had most ignobly entangled his pigtail about the claws of his sandal.

Ignorant of this, the true state of things, I was still advancing subtly when one wearing the emblems of our band appeared from among the brown insects and came towards me. “Courage!” I exclaimed in a guarded tone, raising my head cautiously and rejoiced to find that I should not be alone. “Here is one clad in green bearing succour, who will, moreover, obstinately defend his stumps to the last extremity.”

“That’s right,” replied the opportune person agreeably; “we need a few like that. But do get up on your hind legs and come along, there’s a good fellow. You can play at bears in the nursery when we get back, if you want.”

Certainly one can simulate the movements of wild animals in a market-garden if the impersonation is thought to be desirable, yet the reasonable analogy of the saying is elusive in the extreme, and I followed the ally who had thus betrayed my presence with a deep-set misgiving although in the absence of a more trustworthy guide, and in the suspicion that some point of my every ordinary strategy had been inept, I was compelled to mould myself identically into his advice.

Scarcely had he left me, and I was endeavouring to dispel any idea of treachery towards those about by actions of graceful courtesy, when one–unworthy of burial–standing a score of paces distant, (to whom, indeed, this person was at the moment bowing with almost passionate vehemence, inspired by the conviction that he, for his part, was engaged in a like attention,) suddenly cast a missile–which, somewhat double-facedly, he had hitherto held concealed in his closed hand–with undeviating force and accuracy. So unexpected was the movement, so painfully-impressed the vindictive contact, that I should have instinctively seized the offensively-directed object and contemptuously hurled it back again, if the consequence of the blow had not deprived my mind of all retaliatory ambitions. In this emergency was manifested a magnanimous act worthy of the incense of a poem, for a person standing immediately by, seeing how this one was balanced in his emotions, picked up the missile, and although one of the foremost of the opposing band, very obligingly flung it back at the assailant. Even an outcast would not have passed this without a suitable tribute, and turning to him, I was remarking appreciatively that men were not divided by seas and wooden barriers, but by the unchecked and conflicting lusts of the mind, when the unclean and weed-nurtured traitor twenty paces distant, taking a degraded advantage from this person’s attitude, again propelled his weapon with an even more concentrated perfidy than before. At this new outrage every brown cricket shrank from the attitude of alert vigour which hitherto he had maintained, and as though to disassociate themselves from the stain of complicity all crossed over and took up new positions.

Up to this point, majestic head, in order to represent the adventure in its proper sequence, it has been advisable to present the details as they arose before the eyes of a reliable and dispassionate gazer. Now, however, it is no less seemly to declare that this barbarian sport of leaping insects is not so discreditably shallow as it had at first appeared, while in every action there may be found an apt but hidden symbol. Thus the presence of the two green locusts in the midst of others of a dissimilar nature represents the unending strife by which even the most pacific are ever surrounded. The fragile erection of sticks (behind which this person at first sought to defend himself until led into a more exposed position by one garbed in white,) may be regarded as the home and altar, and adequately depicts the hollowness of the protection it affords and the necessity of reliantly emerging to defy an invader rather than lurking discreditably among its recesses. The missile is the equivalent of a precise and immediate danger, the wooden club the natural instinct for defence with which all living creatures are endowed, so that when the peril is for the time driven away the opportunity is at hand for the display of virtuous amusements, the exchanging of hospitality, and the beating of professional drums as we would say. Thus, at the next attack the one sharing the enterprise with me struck the missile so proficiently that its recovery engaged the attention of all our adversaries, and then began to exhibit his powers by running and leaping towards me. Recognising that the actual moment of the display had arrived, this person at once emitted a penetrating cry of concentrated challenge, and also began to leap upwards and about, and with so much energy that the highly achieved limits of his flight surprised even himself.

As for the bystanders, esteemed, those who opposed us, and the members of our own band, although this leaping sportiveness is a competition more regarded and practised among all orders than the pursuit of commercial eminence, or even than the allurements of the sublimest Classics, it may be truly imagined that never before had they witnessed so remarkable a game cricket. From the pagoda a loud cry of wonder acclaimed the dexterity of this person’s efforts; the three tiers of maidens climbed one upon another in their anxiety to lose no detail of the adventure, and outstanders from distant points began to assemble. The brown enemy at once abandoned themselves to a panic, and for the most part cast themselves incapably to the ground, rolling from side to side in an access of emotion; the two arbiters clad in white conferred together, doubtless on the uselessness of further contest, while the ally who had summoned me to take a part instead of being encouraged to display his agility in a like manner continued to run slavishly from point to point, while I overcame the distances in a series of inspired bounds.

In the meanwhile the sounds of encouragement from the ever-increasing multitude grew like the falling of a sudden coast storm among the ripe leaves of a tea-plantation, and with them the voices of many calling upon my name and inciting me to further and even higher achievements reached my ears. Not to grow small in the eyes of these estimable persons I continued in my flight, and abandoning all set movements and limits, I began to traverse the field in every direction, becoming more proficient with each effort, imparting to myself a sideway and even backward motion while yet in the upper spaces, remaining poised for an appreciable period, and lightly, yet with graceful ease, avoiding the embraces of those who would have detained me. Undoubtedly I could have maintained this supremacy until our band might justly have claimed the reward, had not the flattering cries of approval caused an indiscreet mistake, for the alarm being spread in the village that a conflagration of imposing ferocity was raging, an ornamental chariot conveying a band of warriors clad in brass armour presently entered into the strife, and discovering no fire to occupy their charitable energies they misguidedly honoured this offensive person by propelling a solid column of the purest and most refreshing water against his ignoble body when at the point of his highest flight. This introduction of a thunderbolt into the everyday life of an insect must be of questionable authenticity, yet not feeling sufficiently instructed in the lesser details of the sportiveness to challenge the device, I suffered myself to be led towards the pavilion with no more struggling than enough to remove the ignominy of an unresisting surrender, pleasantly remarking to those who bore me along that to a person of philosophical poise the written destiny was as apparent in the falling leaf as in the rising sun, pointing the saying thus: “Although the Desert of Shan-tz is boundless, and mankind number a million million, yet in it Li-hing encountered his mother-in-law.” Changing to meet another of our company setting forth with a club to make the venture, I was permitted for a moment to engage him; whereupon thrusting into his hand a leather charm against ill-directed efforts, and instructing him to bind it about his head, I encouraged him with the imperishable watch-word of the Emperor Tsin Su, “The stars are indeed small, but their light carries as far as that of the full moon.”

At the steps of the pagoda so great was the throng of those who would have overwhelmed me with their gracious attention, that had not this person’s neck become practically automatic by ceaseless use of late, he would have been utterly unequal to the emergency. As it was, he could only bestow a superficial hand-wave upon a company of gold-embroidered musicians who greeted his return with appropriate melody, and a glance of well-indicated regret that he had no fuller means of conveying his complicated emotions, in the direction of the uppermost tier of maidens. Then the awaiting Sir Philip took him firmly towards the inner part of the pavilion, and announced, so adroitly and with such high-spirited vigour had this one maintained the conflict, that it had been resolutely agreed on all sides not to make a test of his competence any further.

Thereupon a band of very sumptuously arrayed nymphs drew near with offerings of liquid fat and a variety of crimson fruit, which it is customary to grind together on the platter–unapproachable in the result, certainly, yet incredibly elusive to the unwary in the manner of bruising, and practically ineradicable upon the more delicate shades of silk garment. In such a situation the one who is now relating the various incidents of the day may be imagined by a broad-minded and affectionate sire: partaking of this native fruit and oil, and from time to time expressing his insatiable anguish that he continually fails to become more proficient in controlling the oblique movements of the viands, while the less successful crickets are constrained to persevere in the combat, and the ever-present note of evasive purport is raised by a voice from behind a screen exclaiming, “Out afore? That he may have been, but do ee think we was a-going to give he out afore? No, maaster, us doant a-have a circus every day hereabouts.”

Thus may this imagination of competitive locusts be set forth to the end. If a fuller proof of what an unostentatious self-effacement hesitates to enlarge upon were required, it might be found in the barbarian printed leaf, for the next day this person saw a public