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Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain Chapter 4.2 Tryst

Chapter 4.2 Tryst 

Master Tian, thereby arousing animosity between them.'

"Before midday, the woman was groaning and moaning in her labour pains. Beads of perspiration appeared on her forehead. The aggressive fellow grew also more anxious and wanted to fetch the midwife himself, but was restrained by his wife. She held him by the hand, entreating him not to leave. The time moved to a little after noon; the baby was due at any moment and could not wait any longer. The bandit wanted me to deliver the baby. I was certainly not in favour of this. Could you imagine me as midwife to a pregnant woman? It would be a shame and a disgrace, as well as endless ill luck. Once one gets involved in matters like this, one is sure to be down on one's luck for the rest of one's life.

"Presently, the vicious devil addressed me in a commanding tone, 'If you do the job, here is your reward: two hundred taels of silver. If you do not, I will not be offended.' Thereupon he brought his fist down on the square table, breaking off a corner. I told myself, 'Rule number one is to stay alive. After all, many, many years of practising osteopathic arts would never gain me as much as two hundred taels of silver, like the job I'm being asked to do. Who would mind just dabbling in an inauspicious matter like this?' So, I started to help his wife bring a fair-skinned, chubby infant boy into the

world.

"The baby cried violently. His face was hairy all over and he stared at us with round eyes. He looked fierce, very much like his father. He would

certainly grow up to be an evil-doer.

"The wicked devil of a father was completely overjoyed with his baby boy. He immediately handed me ten shoes of silver, each worth twenty taels. The new mother also gave me a gold ingot, worth at least eighty to ninety taels of silver. The bandit then took out a case of silver and gave ten taels to everyone present, from the innkeeper down to the handyman who handled firewood for the stove. This munificient gesture pleased everyone. The war-like fellow then plied everybody with wine, including servants-of- all-work and the janitors who did the sweeping. All his guests set to filling themselves with wine and started to address him as Lord Hu with loud belches of delight. But the host told the company, 'My family name is Hu. However, as I always dispatch evil doers with a single blow of my blade, right through their bodies, I came to acquire the title Gully. Stop all this

"Lord Hu" and "Master Hu". I have also known poverty. How can I be a lord with the scant amount I made from those bullies? Just call me Big Brother Gully.'

"I knew from the outset that he was not a decent fellow; this fact was

soon borne out by his words. The company present could not initially bring themselves to address him as 'Big Brother', but he insisted that they do so. Some time later, the group, after drinking many a bowl of wine, grew bold enough to enter into animated talks with their host, and were soon

addressing him as Big Brother Gully. That same evening, Gully would not hear of my leaving, pressing me to stay on, to drink to his company. We gulped down bowlful after bowlful of wine. By the second watch of the

same evening, after drinking copiously, those failing to keep their heads had all fallen to the floor. I was the only one with a steady head for drinking so I continued to pour down bowlful after bowlful with Gully. The more liquor he consumed, the more cheerful he grew. Presently he went into the room

and returned to the hall with the baby in his arms. He dipped his finger into the wine and let the infant lick it from his finger. His babe was no more than a day old, and yet he did not cry when imbibing strong liquor. He seemed to enjoy it. He was a born drinker!

"Suddenly the sound of horses' hooves came to the ears of the company galloping from the south. In no time, a caravan of twenty to thirty horses was drawing closer, galloping and halting right in front of the inn. Soon a loud banging on the door was heard. The innkeeper, having drunk himself into a cheerful state of inebriation, groped and waddled his way to the

doorway. The moment the door was flung open, some twenty fierce fighters rushed into the room, all armed with edged weapons. They stood abreast, barring the entrance to the inn, maintaining silence. At length, one man

stepped forward. He seated himself on a stool beside a table. He divested himself of the yellow cotton knapsack slung across his back and laid it down on the table. There was sufficient light from the candles, and I was able to make out the inscription 'Invincible Under the Sky' embroidered in black silk on the bundle."

At this, the Company present lifted their eyes and fixed them on the inscription in the main hall. Some of the characters read 'Invincible Under the Sky' and 'Phoenix Miao'.

Tree continued his story: "I still hold that Phoenix the Knight-errant was too vain and arrogant to have deserved that sobriquet of his. But on that particular evening, I was frightened by his appearance. He was long of bone but short of muscle, like a bamboo oar. His waxen complexion made him look rather unhealthy. When he spread his hands out on the bench, they

were large, but wasted: they looked like a bundle of old twigs or a torn rush-leaf fan. At that time I did not know who he was. I found out that he was the Gilt-faced Buddha, Phoenix Miao, the Knight-errant only much later on.

"Gully was, at that time, fully absorbed in playing with his new-born and seemed not to have noticed those who had entered the room. Phoenix the

Knight-errant likewise did not utter a word. He was enjoying the wine

served by his own attendants. The ten or so fellows stared at Gully, but he remained fully preoccupied, dipping his fingers into the wine and letting his baby lick them. Every time he dipped his fingers into the wine, he tossed his head back and drained one bowlful himself. The father and the son

seemed to be plying each other with liquor.

"Gripped by fear, I felt my heart throb in my chest. I wanted to extricate myself from the arena of action at the earliest possible moment. But how

could I dare to attempt any move? If I moved an inch, all the ten or so keen blades would instantly shower blows and strokes on me. Even if they

avoided dealing me direct strokes, the mere glancing of a blade would surely bite deep into my skin, wounding me fatally.

"Both Gully and Phoenix kept to themselves. Each gulped down some ten bowlfuls of wine. No words were exchanged. Neither cared even to look once at the other. Suddenly, the woman inside the room woke up and called from within, 'Big Brother!' The infant started to cry loudly on hearing his mother's voice, causing Gully's hand to tremble suddenly; his wine-bowl dropped to the ground with a crash, shattering in pieces. The colour drained from his face. Gully immediately picked up his new-born and rose to his feet. Phoenix snorted loudly three times before spinning around to take his leave. His retinue of followers went after him to the door. Instantly, the

sound of horses' hooves was heard fading into the distance. I had believed that a furious battle would inevitably ensue, and was surprised that Phoenix the Knight-errant had taken his leave so suddenly when the baby had begun to cry. The innkeeper, the attendants, and I all stared at each other, bewildered.

"Presently Gully picked up the child and stepped inside his room. Its

wooden partition was extremely thin and I could hear the question posed by Gully's wife, 'Big Brother, who was here?'

"'Just a few scoundrels,' answered Gully. 'Get some rest and don't worry. I will see to everything.' "The woman let out a sigh and continued in a whisper, 'You do not have to lie to me; it was the Gilt-faced Buddha.'

"To this Gully gave an answer, 'No, you are entirely wrong. Now, do not be silly and forget such ideas.'

"But the woman responded sternly, 'Why is it then that your voice trembled? You have never behaved like that before.'

"Gully was unable to answer. After pausing a while, he continued, 'So be it, as you have come so close to the truth. But I shall not be overawed by him.'

"Thereupon, his wife pleaded, 'Big Brother, you should never allow yourself to feel worried, neither on my account nor on the child's. You know you cannot hope to defeat him when you feel intimidated.'

"Gully heaved a sigh, responding, 'I have always been unafraid; nothing can unnerve or worry me. But it was strange how this very evening, with the baby in my arms, I suddenly broke into a cold sweat. It happened the minute the Gilt-faced Buddha barged into the inn. He laid his bundle on the table before casting the child a look from the corners of his eyes. You are right: I have a great fear only of the Gilt-faced Buddha.'

"'You are not scared of the man himself,' answered his wife, 'but fearful of his doing harm to me and to our child.'

"Gully hesitated before replying, 'I have heard that the Gilt-faced Buddha is a true acolyte of chivalry. He never hesitates to offer help to those in distress, in the cause both of honour and of justice. His code of conduct and sense of chivalry must be remarkably high for him to merit the title Phoenix the Knight-errant among outlaws of the Martial Brotherhood. I don't think he would harm women and children.' Gully's voice trembled even more in these last few sentences. Evidently, he was still fearful at heart. All of a

sudden, I was filled with pity for the man. I told myself, 'This man may be ferocious looking, but he harbours a tremendous fear inside.'

"His wife then spoke in a soft voice, 'Big Brother, you take the child home first and I shall come and look for you in the land beyond the Pass the minute I am strong enough to travel.'

"To her suggestion Gully only replied with a sigh, 'How can this work? If anything should happen to either of us, death will claim us together.'

"On hearing this, his wife answered also with a sigh, 'If that is the case, I wish I had not stood in your way then. Only then could you have travelled south and challenged the Gilt-faced Buddha to a duel. Without a care in the world, you certainly could have defeated him.'

"Gully let out a laugh and answered, 'It still does not necessarily mean that I would be beaten by him if we were to take up a duel now. I am afraid his knapsack with the emblem "Invincible Under the Sky" may have to

change hands.' Though I was on the other side of the partition, I could still hear that Gully's voice was trembling despite the cheerful act he put on.

"Suddenly his wife came forward with a suggestion, 'Big Brother, just grant me one thing.' Gully asked, 'What is it?' She replied, 'Why not sort

everything out honestly with the Gilt-faced Buddha and see what he has to say about this. As he is the paragon of all chivalric deeds, he cannot be that unreasonable.'

"Gully then shared his thoughts with his wife, 'I have carefully

considered each of the ten or so possible channels open to us while imbibing my wine outside. Your labour is too recent to allow you to leave the room. If I am to go to him alone, I shall end up tying a death knot in the matter. Your suggestion is good only if we can find someone to act as a go- between.'

"The lady then considered for a while before offering another idea, 'The physician is shrewd and is also glib and suave. Why do we not ask him to act as our go-between?'

"Gully considered the suggestion for a moment, then said in a tone of

confidence, 'He is a greedy fellow, and may not be that dependable.' To this the woman responded, 'All we need to do is to give him a handsome reward; that should take care of the matter then.'"

"Ha!" bawled out Tree. "I must admit that when this old monk was younger, he was indeed greedy for both wine and money. I am not ashamed to confess this to you now. The minute I heard 'handsome reward' mentioned, I made up my mind that I would render him the service even if it meant jumping into fire or plunging into water.

"The couple then whispered some details to each other. A few moments later, Gully asked me to enter the room, instructing me thus, 'Someone will bring a letter here early tomorrow morning. Please go with the man and take my reply to the Gilt-faced Buddha, Phoenix the Knight-errant; the fellow with the waxen complexion who just stopped in for a drink.' I immediately promised Gully that I would do as instructed. To me this seemed an easy task.

"Early the next morning, a courier on horseback arrived at the inn with a letter for Gully, as he had predicted the previous night. Gully's wife read the letter aloud. The message was that Phoenix challenged Gully to a duel, leaving him to determine the time and place of their encounter. Gully at once wrote his reply. I then borrowed a horse from the innkeeper and set off with the messenger, carrying Gully's note with me. After galloping for

about ten miles, we halted in front of a large mansion. The messenger led me inside. Phoenix the Knight-errant, Fan the Ringleader and Tian the Young Master were all there. Also present were some forty or fifty other men and women, as well as Buddhist monks and Taoist priests.

"After reading the letter, Tian gave me the reply, 'We shall spare ourselves the trouble of making an appointment. We shall be there tomorrow.' Before taking my leave, I asked, 'Is there any other message the Young Master would like me to take back to Master Gully?' To this Tian replied, 'Advise Gully to prepare three coffins, two large ones and one

smaller one, to save us Masters here the trouble of paying for them later on.' "I returned to the staging post and relayed the message to Gully and to

his wife, expecting to receive a stream of coarse invective. To my surprise, they accepted all this calmly, only looking each other in the eyes, staying quiet all the while. The couple then took turns at holding the child in their arms, hugging and fondling him as if knowing already their days were numbered.

"That evening I had a terrible nightmare. At one moment I dreamed that Gully had put the sword to Phoenix, but the next moment I dreamed that Phoenix had put an end to Gully's life. Then a moment later, I dreamed that I was dispatched by both of them. I was suddenly woken in the middle of the night by a strange sound. To my surprise it was Gully crying next door.

"Filled with astonishment, I told myself, 'Look at the way he conducts himself; he is, after all, a very brawny and brazen fellow. What does it matter if death comes to a man like him? If he is destined for it, why bother crying now? What a coward!' Then he could be heard talking to his infant

child, sobbing, 'My child, you are barely three days old, and yet will soon become an orphaned boy. Who is going to love you? Who is going to arrange your food and clothing? Who is going to help you when you get trampled by others?'

"At first I condemned him as a coward. But towards the end, my heart was swollen with grief. I told myself in silence, 'A fellow as aggressive, rough, boisterous and brazen as he is still capable of lavishing so tender an

affection on his child.' Gully continued weeping for a while. Before long his wife addressed him, 'My lord, do not feel grieved. Should you have the misfortune to die at the hands of the Gilt-faced Buddha, I shall still be here to bring up the child. I have decided to live on at all costs.' This cheered

Gully. He said, 'My dear, this is what weighs the heaviest on my mind: if I have the misfortune to be killed, do you think you still have a chance to

survive? Now that you have shown your determination to bear this great responsibility of rearing our child alone, you have certainly freed me of all my cares and worries in the world. Ha, ha! Can anyone, since time immemorial, hope to escape the fate of death? The duel will indeed be a miraculously timed event which cannot be much more highly desired. I must make good the opportunity of fighting, man to man, with the

champion fighter under the sky, in order to content my heart.'

"After listening to his words, I concluded that Gully must be a rather

strange creature. I then heard him laughing for a few minutes before sighing to his wife, 'My love, a blow from a knife or a slash in the throat will end it all. Everything will be over in a second. But it will be hard on you to have to try to live on. All my senses will be gone the minute I pass away, and yet you will be grief-stricken day and night. The thought of leaving you rives my heart, and I cannot set my mind at rest.' His wife then assured him, 'To

see the child is to see his father. When he grows older, I shall tell him to model himself on your life, to deal a single blow against corrupt officials, local ruffians and oppressive bullies!' Gully then posed her another question, 'Do you believe that all the deeds performed by me have been truly good ones? Do you still want the child to shape his life after mine?' His wife answered him firmly, 'Every single deed that you have performed has been truly good. I want the child to model his life exactly on yours.'

Gully finally said, 'Good, I have not committed a single wrong in my entire life and I will always go with a clean conscience, whether in this life or in the next. Please pass this iron casket to the child when he reaches his

sixteenth birthday.' "All this time I was peeping quietly through a crack in the door. The lady was holding the child in her arms and Gully was retrieving an iron box from the bosom of his garment. It was the same casket that you have here. But at that time the Dashing King's poniard was not inside the case; it was in the

safekeeping of the Tian Family of the Dragon Lodge.

"I am sure you would like to find out what was inside the casket then. It was as great a puzzle to me then as it is now to you. I never found out as Gully never opened the box.

"Having eased himself of all his worries, Gully was immediately able to fall fast asleep. Instantly, his snoring came like thunder to the ears.

Knowing that I would not be able to find out any more from eavesdropping, I tried to close my eyes and go to sleep, too. But the snoring next door was so heavy that I was kept awake all night. I already found it strange that a young lady with airs and grace befitting a stunning beauty should have become wife to a rough and ugly fellow like Gully. But what baffled me the most was that she would take such pains to show him her boundless

affection and admiration.

"Early next morning, before it was yet dawn, the woman came out of her room and gave instructions to the inn hands to have one pig, one lamb, and several chickens and ducks killed. She then went to the kitchen and prepared some meat and vegetable dishes and entremets. Thereupon, I offered her my advice, 'It is not yet three days since you gave birth to a

child. You must abstain from heavy chores, or you will get pains in the

waist and the back later on, which will be very troublesome.' She answered, wearing a smile, 'We already have enough worries for today; why bother ourselves with troubles to come?' Gully also took my side, imploring her not to wear herself out as she was already exhausted. His wife responded by simply looking at him, and smiling, and she went on with her cooking.

Finally Gully said, 'Very well, then. I shall leave this world with no regrets after eating the wonderful dishes prepared by you.' Only then did it dawn on me that Gully's wife, knowing well that they were soon to leave each other had insisted on preparing a meal for her husband.

"Finally, the day broke. The wife had by then finished preparing twenty to thirty meat and vegetable courses and entremets, which covered the

whole table. Gully ordered the attendants to procure for him several catties of wine and drank it all down without restraint. All this while his wife sat beaming beside him holding the baby in her arms, replenishing the wine bowls and refilling the dishes.

"Gully gulped down seven or eight bowlfuls of white wine at one go. He grabbed several chunks of mutton and thrust the meat into his mouth.

Suddenly, to the ears of those present came the pounding of horses' hooves. The beasts approached the hostelry at a gallop. Thereupon, the couple cast a loving glance at each other, smiling, and yet both were gnawed by a haunting pain. Gully then instructed his wife, 'Please retire to the room now. When the child grows up, remember to tell him that his father wanted him to be ruthlessly cruel. That's all he ever needs to know.' His wife nodded her head, saying, 'I would like to know what the Gilt-faced Buddha looks like.'

"In a short while, the riders reined in their horses in front of the staging post. Instantly, the Gilt-faced Buddha, Fan the Ringleader, Tian the Young Master, and their immediate entourage entered. Gully hailed them, without bothering to lift his head, 'Help yourselves!' 'I surely will,' responded the Gilt-faced Buddha, seating himself opposite Gully. Just as the Gilt-faced

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