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The Lo-Cha country and the sea-market (2)

So they went to his house, where they were received in a very friendly way. He seemed to be about eighty or ninety years of age; his eyeballs protruded, and his beard curled up like a hedgehog. He said, "In my youth I was sent by the king among many nations, but I never went to China. I am now one hundred and twenty years of age, and that I should be permitted to see a native of your country is a fact which it will be my duty to report to the Throne. For ten years and more I have not been to Court, but have remained here in seclusion; yet I will now make an effort on your behalf." Then followed a banquet, and when the wine had already circulated pretty freely, some dozen singing girls came in and sang and danced before them. The girls all wore white embroidered turbans, and long scarlet robes which trailed on the ground. The words they uttered were unintelligible, and the tunes they played perfectly hideous. The host, however, seemed to enjoy it very much, and said to Ma, "Have you music in China ?" He replied that they had, and the old man asked for a specimen. Ma hummed him a tune, beating time on the table, with which he was very much pleased, declaring that his guest had the voice of a phoenix and the notes of a dragon, such as he had never heard before.

The next day he presented a memorial to the Throne, and the king at once commanded Ma to appear before him. Several of the ministers, however, represented that his appearance was so hideous it might frighten His Majesty, and the king accordingly desisted from his intention. The old man returned and told Ma, being quite upset about it. They remained together some time until they had drunk themselves tipsy. Then Ma, seizing a sword, began to attitudinise, smearing his face all over with coal-dust. He acted the part of Chang Fei, at which his host was so delighted that he begged him to appear before the Prime Minister in the character of Chang Fei. Ma replied, "I don't mind a little amateur acting, but how can I play the hypocrite for my own personal advantage?" On being pressed he consented, and the old man prepared a great feast, and asked some of the high officials to be present, telling Ma to paint himself as before.

When the guests had arrived, Ma was brought out to see them; whereupon they all exclaimed, "Ai-yah! how is it he was so ugly before and is now so beautiful?" By-and-by, when they were all taking wine together, Ma began to sing them a most bewitching song, and they got so excited over it that next day they recommended him to the king. The king sent a special summons for him to appear, and asked him many questions about the government of China, to all of which Ma replied in detail, eliciting sighs of admiration from His Majesty.

He was honored with a banquet in the royal guest-pavilion, and when the king had made himself tipsy he said to him, "I hear you are a very skilful musician. Will you be good enough to let me hear you?" Ma then got up and began to attitudinise, singing a plaintive air like the girls with the turbans. The king was charmed, and at once made him a privy councilor, giving him a private banquet, and bestowing other marks of royal favor.

As time went on his fellow officials found out the secret of his painted face, and whenever he was among them they were always whispering together, besides which they avoided being near him as much as possible. Thus Ma was left to himself, and found his position anything but pleasant in consequence. So he memorialised the Throne, asking to be allowed to retire from office, but his request was refused. He then said his health was bad, and got three month's sick leave, during which he packed up his valuables and went back to the village.

The villagers on his arrival went down on their knees to him, and he distributed gold and jewels amongst his old friends. They were very glad to see him, and said, "Your kindness shall be repaid when we go to the sea-market; we will bring you some pearls and things." Ma asked them where that was. They said it was at the bottom of the sea, where the mermaids' kept their treasures, and that as many as twelve nations were accustomed to go thither to trade. Also that it was frequented by spirits, and that to get there it was necessary to pass through red vapors and great waves. "Dear Sir," they said, "do not yourself risk this great danger, but let us take your money and purchase these rare pearls for you. The season is now at hand." Ma asked them how they knew this. They said, "Whenever we see red birds flying backwards and forwards over the sea, we know that within seven days the market will open." He asked when they were going to start, that he might accompany them; but they begged him not to think of doing so. He replied, "I am a sailor: how can I be afraid of wind and waves ?" Very soon after this people came with merchandise to forward, and so Ma packed up and went on board the vessel that was going.

This vessel held some tens of people, was flat-bottomed, with a railing all round, and, rowed by ten men, it cut through the water like an arrow. After a voyage of three days they saw afar off faint outlines of towers and minarets, and crowds of trading vessels. They soon arrived at the city, the walls of which were made of bricks as long as a man's body, the tops of its buildings being lost in the Milky Way.

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The fisherman and his friend (2)

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The flower nymphs (2)

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The Lo-Cha country and the sea-market (1)

The Lo-Cha country and the sea-market (2)

The Lo-Cha country and the sea-market (3)

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