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Presently there came to Yuen Yan's waiting ear a long-drawn cry and the sounds of many shutters being flung open and the tread of hurrying feet. The moments hung about him like the wings of a dragon-dream, but a prudent restraint chained him to the inner chamber. It was fully light when Tsae-che returned, accompanied by one whom she dismissed before she entered.

"And, of a surety, this one also?" claimed Tsae-che, with an internal emotion that something was insidiously changed in which she had no adequate part. "The language may be fully expressed in six styles of writing, but who shall read the mind of a woman?" replied Yan evasively. "Nevertheless, in explicit words, the overhanging shadow has departed and the future is assured."

This twofold danger thoroughly stupefied Chou-hu and made him incapable of taking any action beyond consuming further and more unstinted portions of rice-spirit and rending article after article of his apparel until his wife Tsae-che modestly dismissed such persons as loitered, and barred the outer door.

"It is a creditable solution of the matter," said Tsae-che, speaking between the ivory pins which she held in her mouth. "Henceforth, then, you will take up your accustomed stand as in the past?" "Undoubtedly," replied Chou-hu.

"It is not an alluring alternative," confessed Tsae-che, crossing the room to where Yan was seated in order to survey her hair to greater advantage in a hanging mirror of three sides composed of burnished copper; "but there seems nothing else to be done in the difficult circumstances."

"It is well," said Tsae-che. "Yet how altered is your voice, and for what reason do you hold a cloth before your mouth?" "The staff broke and a splinter flying upwards pierced my lips," said Yan, lowering the cloth. "You speak truly, for the pain attending each word is by no means slight, and scarcely can this person recognize his own voice."

In trembling wonder Tsae-che laid her hand upon the ebony table which stood between them and slowly advanced it until Yan seized it and held it firmly in his own.

"O thrice-versatile Chou-hu!" exclaimed Tsae-che, whose eyes had reflected an ever-increasing sparkle of admiration as Yan unfolded the details of his scheme, "how insignificant are the minds of others compared with yours! Assuredly you have been drinking at some magic well in this one's absence, for never before was your intellect so keen and lustreful.

"Ah-ah!" cried Tsae-che aloud, pressing her symmetrical fingers against her gracefully-proportioned ears; "do not, thou dragon-headed one, lead the conversation to such an extremity of detail, still less carry the resolution into effect before the very eyes of this delicately-susceptible person.

With this assurance Chou-hu seized one of his most formidable business weapons and caused it to revolve around his head with great rapidity, but at the same time with extreme carefulness. "There is a ready saying: 'The new-born lamb does not fear a tiger, but before he becomes a sheep he will flee from a wolf," said Tsae-che without in any way deeming it necessary to arrest Chou-hu's hand.