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on the street, a cloudy, gurgling trickle of obscene abuse, presently fading into the memory of sounds.
The men sighed heavily. Coolies they were, the sweepings of the Canton gutters and river-banks, cooks, waiters, grocers, petty traders; yet men of an ancient race, behind whom stretched forty centuries of civilization and culture and philosophy, in solemn, graven rows. Thus they were patient, slightly hard, not easily embarrassed, sublimely unselfconscious, tolerant, permitting each man to look after his own fate, be it good or evil. Anti-social, an American would have called them, and he would have been wrong.
weal of Pell Street, it had been the latter's custom, when he foregathered with his countrymen, to gain face for himself and his sacerdotal caste by talking with nagging, pontifical unction about things religious and sectarian. But, being a hedge-priest, self-appointed, who had received only scanty training in the wisdom of the "three precious ones," the Buddha past, the Buddha present, and the Buddha future, he had found it hard to uphold his end when tackled by Li Ping-Yeng, the banker, the literatus, anent the contents of such abstruse books of theological learning as the "Park of Narratives," "Ku-liang's Commentaries," or the "Diamond Sutra."
Now, with the other baring his bleeding soul, he had seen a chance of settling the score, of causing him to lose a great deal of face.
"Little brother," he had purred, "I am a man of religion, a humble seeker after truth, whose knowledge is not to be compared with yours; yet have I thought much. I have thought left and thought right. Often in the past have we differed, you and I, on minor matters of philosophy and ceremonial. May I,
the very useless one, address words of advice to you, the great literatus?"
"Ah! Then let me reply with the words of Confucius, that he who puts too much worth on worthless things, such as the love of woman, the love of the flesh, is like the wolf and the hare, leaving the direction of his steps to low passions. To lead such a man into the august ways of tao is as futile as tethering an elephant with the fiber of the young lotus, as futile as the attempt to cut a diamond with a piece of wood, as futile as trying to sweeten the salt sea with a drop of honey, or to squeeze oil from sand. Ah, ahee!" He had spread out his fingers like the sticks of a fan and had looked about him with brutal triumph.
The other's features, as yellow as old parchment, indifferent, dull, almost sleepy, had curled in a queer, slow smile. He was smoking his fourth pipe, a pipe of carved silver, with a green-amber mouthpiece and black tassels. The room had gradually filled with scented fog. The objects scattered about had lost their outlines, and the embroidered stuffs on the walls had gleamed less brilliantly. Only the big, violetshaded lanterns on the ceiling had continued to give some light, since poppy vapors are slow to rise and float nearer the ground.
"You are wrong, wise priest," he had replied.
"Yes. For there is one who can tether the elephant with the fiber of the young lotus, who can cut a diamond with a piece of soft wood, sweeten the salt sea with a drop of honey, and squeeze oil from sand."
"Who?". Yu Ch'ang had asked, smiling crookedly at the grave assembly of Chinese who sat there, sucking in their breath through thin lips, their faces like carved ivory masks.
Li Ping-Yeng had made a great gesture.
"The Excellent Buddha," he had replied, in low, even, passionless, monotonous accents that were in curious, almost inhuman, contrast to the sublime, sweeping faith in his choice of words. "The Omniscient Gautama! The All-Seeing Tathagata! The Jewel The Jewel
in the Lotus! The most perfectly awakened Blessed One who meditates in heaven on His seven-stepped throne!"
And again the grave assembly of Chinese had sat very still, sucking in their breath, staring at their neat, slippered feet from underneath heavy, hooded eyelids, intent, by the token of their austere racial simplicity, on effacing their personalities from the focus of alien conflict; and then, like many a priest of many a creed before him, Yu Ch'ang, sensing the silent indifference of his countrymen and interpreting it as a reproach to his hierarchical caste, had let his rage get the better of his professional, sacerdotal hypocrisy.
"The Buddha? Here? In Pell Street?" he had exclaimed. He had laughed hoarsely, meanly. "Find Him, the Excellent One, the Perfect One, in Pell Street? Look for the shining glory of His face here in the soot and grease and slippery slime of Pell Street? Search, belike, for fish on top of the mountain, and for horns on the head of the cat! Bah!" He had spat out the word, had risen, crossed over to the window, thrown it wide, and pointed to the west, where a great, slow wind was stalking through the sky, picking up fluttering rags of cloud. "Go! Find Him, the Buddha, in the stinking, rotten heaven of Pell Street! Go, go by all means! And, perhaps, when you have found Him, you will also have found your tao, fool!"
"I shall try," had come Li PingYeng's reply. "Yes; most decidedly shall I try." He had walked to the door. There he had turned. "Little brother," he had said to the priest over his shoulder, without malice or hurt or bitterness, "and why should I not find Him even in the Pell Street gutters? Why should I not find my tao even in the stinking, rotten heaven that vaults above Pell Street? Tell me. Is not my soul still my soul? Is not the diamond still a diamond, even after it has fallen into the dung-heap?"
And he had stepped out into the night, staring up at the purple-black sky, his coat flung wide apart, his lean, yellow hands raised high, indifferent to the rain that had begun to come down in flickering sheets.
"Say, John, wot 's the matter? Been hittin' the old pipe too much? Look out! One o' these fine days I'll raid that joint o' yours," had come detective Bill Devoy's genial brogue from a doorway where he had taken refuge against the elements.
Li Ping-Yeng had not heard, had not replied; except to talk to himself, perhaps to the heaven, perhaps to the Buddha, in staccato, Mongo. monosyllables, which, had Bill Devoy been able to understand, would have convinced him more than ever that that there Chink was a sure-enough hop-head:
"Permit me to cross the torrent of grief, O Buddha, as, even now, I am crossing the stream of passion! Give me a stout raft to gain the other side of blessedness! Show me the way, O King!"
Back in the Honorable Pavilion of Tranquil Longevity, slant eye had looked meaningly into slant eye.
"Ah, perhaps indeed he will find his tao," Yung Long, the wholesale grocer, had breathed gently; and then to Yu Ch'ang, who had again broken into harsh, mean cackling, said:
"Your mouth is like a running tap, O very great and very uncouth cockroach!"
"Aye, a tap spouting filthy water." This was from Nag Sen Yat, the opium merchant.
"A tap which, presently, I shall stop with my fist," said Nag Hop Fat, the soothsayer, winding up the pleasant round of Oriental metaphor.
Thus was displayed, then, the serene, if negative, sympathy of the Pell Street confraternity, further demonstrated by its denizens leaving Li Ping-Yeng hereafter severely alone and by replying to all questions and remarks of outsiders with the usual formula of the Mongol when he does not wish to commit himself.
"I feel so terribly sorry for him," this from Miss Edith Rutter,-"Is there really nothing I can do to "
"Looka here," from Bill Devoy,"you tell that brother-Chink o' yourn, that there Li Ping-Yeng, to stop hittin' the black smoke, or I'll pinch him on spec, see?"
"Listen!"-from the old Spanish woman who kept the second-hand store around the corner, on the Bowery,"What do you think he 's going to do with all the truck he bought for his wife? I'd like to buy the lot. Now, if you want to earn a commission—' "No savvy."
"Is he goin' t' try holy matrimony again, or near-matrimony?"—from Mr. Brian Neill, the saloon-keeper, who occasionally added to his income by unsavory deals between the yellow and the white,-"For, if he wants another goil, there's a peacherino of a redheaded good-looker that blows into my back parlor once in a while and that don't mind Chinks as long 's they got the kale " "No savvy."
And even to the emissary of a very great Wall Street bank that in the past had handled certain flourishing Manila and Canton and Hankow accounts for the Pell Street banker, and who, unable to locate him personally and being slightly familiar with Chinese customs, had sought out the head of the latter's masonic lodge and had asked him why Li Ping-Yeng had retired from business, and if, at all events, he would n't help them with the unraveling of a knotty financial tangle in far Shen-si. Even there was the same singsong
"No savvy," exasperatingly, stonily repeated.
"No savvy, no savvy."
For two days after his wife's tragic death Li Ping-Yeng, to quote his own words, had given up vigorously threshing mere straw, by which term he meant all the every-day, negligible realities of life.
He had begun by selling his various business interests; nor, since he was a prosy Mongol whose brain functioned with the automatic precision of a photographic shutter and was nowise affected by whatever was going on in his soul, had he made a bad deal. On the contrary. he had bargained shrewdly down to the last fraction of a cent.
Then, prudently, deliberately, the patient and materialistic Oriental even in matters of the spirit, he had swept
his mind clear of everything except the search for his tao, the search for his salvation. This tao was to him a concrete thing, to be concretely achieved, since it was to link him, intimately and strongly, not with, as would have been the case had he been a Christian, an esoteric principle, a more or less recondite theological dogma, but with a precious and beneficent influence that, although invisible, was not in the least supernatural. For he was of the East, Eastern; he did not admit the existence of the very word "supernatural." To him everything was natural, since everything, even the incredible, the impossible, the never-to-be-understood, - had its secret, hidden roots in some evolution of nature, of the Buddha, the blessed Fo, the. active and eternal principle of life and creation.
Perhaps at the very first his search had not been quite as concise, had rather shaped itself to his perplexed, groping mind in the terms of a conflict, a distant and mysterious encounter with the forces of fate, of which his wife's death had been but a visible, outward fragment.
Then, gradually and by this time it had become spring, wakening to the white-and-pink fragrance of the southern breezes spring that, occasionally, even in Pell Street, painted a sapphire sky as pure as the laughter of little children he had stilled the poignant questionings of his unfulfilled desires, his fleshly love, and had turned the search for his tao into more practical channels.
Practical, though of the soul! For, again, to him, a Chinese, the soul was a tangible thing. Maucer it was, to be constructively influenced and molded and clouted and fashioned. It had seemed to him to hold the life of tomorrow, beside which his life of to-day and yesterday had faded into the drabness of a wretched dream. He had wanted this to-morrow, had craved it, sensing in it a freedom magnificently remote from the smaller personal existence he had known heretofore, feeling that, presently, when he would have achieved merit, it would stab out of the heavens with a giant rush of splendor and, blessedly, blessedly, overwhelm
him and destroy his clogging, individual entity.
But how was this to be attained? Had he been a Hindu ascetic, or even a member of certain Christian sects, he would have flagellated his body, would have gone through the ordeal of physical pain. But, a Mongol, thus stolidly unromantic and rational, almost torpidly sane, he had done nothing of the sort. On the contrary, he had continued to take good care of himself. True, he had begun to eat less, but not purposely; simply because his appetite had decreased. And his real reason for keeping his wife's Pekinese spaniel tucked in his sleeve was because "Reverential and Sedate" reminded him when it was time for luncheon or dinner, hours he might otherwise have forgotten.
The idea of suicide had never entered his reckoning, since he held the belief of half Asia, that suicide destroys the body and not the soul; that it is only a crude and slightly amateurish interruption of the present life, leaving the thread of it still more raveled and tangled and knotted for the next life, and yet the next.
He had passed over the obvious solution of devoting himself to charity, to the weal of others, as it had seemed to him but another instance of weak and selfish vanity, fully as weak and selfish as the love of woman; and the solace of religion he had dismissed with the same ready, smiling ease. Religion, to him, was not an idea, but a stout, rectangular entity, a great force and principle, that did its appointed duty not because people believed in it, but because it was. The Buddha would help him, if it be so incumbent by fate upon the Buddha, regardless, if he prayed to him or not, if he memorized the sacred scriptures, if he burned sweet-scented Hunshuh incense-sticks before the gilt altar or not. For the Buddha, too, was tied firmly to the Wheel of Things. The Buddha, too, had to do his appointed task. Thus, Li Ping-Yeng had decided, prayers would be a waste of time, since they could not influence the Excellent One one way or the other.
How, then, could he acquire sufficient