- Author: Ernest Bramah
Book online «The Mirror of Kong Ho by Ernest Bramah (black authors fiction .txt) 📖». Author Ernest Bramah
A lively and amusing collection of letters on western living written by Kong Ho, a Chinese gentleman. These addressed to his homeland, refer to the Westerners in London as barbarians and many of the aids to life in our society give Kong Ho endless food for thought. These are things such as the motor car and the piano; unknown in China at this time.
LETTER I LETTER II LETTER III LETTER IV LETTER V LETTER VI LETTER VII LETTER VIII LETTER IX LETTER X LETTER XI LETTER XII THE THREE GIFTS LETTER XIII LETTER XIV
Estimable barbarian,—Your opportune suggestion that I should permit the letters, wherein I have described with undeviating fidelity the customs and manner of behaving of your accomplished race, to be set forth in the form of printed leaves for all to behold, is doubtless gracefully-intentioned, and this person will raise no barrier of dissent against it.
In this he is inspired by the benevolent hope that his immature compositions may to one extent become a model and a by-word to those who in turn visit his own land of Fragrant Purity; for with exacting care he has set down no detail that has not come under his direct observation (although it is not to be denied that here or there he may, perchance, have misunderstood an involved allusion or failed to grasp the inner significance of an act), so that Impartiality necessarily sways his brush, and Truth lurks within his inkpot.
In an entirely contrary manner some, who of recent years have gratified us with their magnanimous presence, have returned to their own countries not only with the internal fittings of many of our palaces (which, being for the most part of a replaceable nature, need be only trivially referred to, the incident, indeed, being generally regarded as a most cordial and pressing variety of foreign politeness), but also—in the lack of highly-spiced actuality—with subtly-imagined and truly objectionable instances. These calumnies they have not hesitated to commit to the form of printed books, which, falling into the hands of the ignorant and undiscriminating, may even suggest to their ill-balanced minds a doubt whether we of the Celestial Empire really are the wisest, bravest, purest, and most enlightened people in existence.
As a parting, it only remains to be said that, in order to maintain unimpaired the quaint-sounding brevity and archaic construction of your prepossessing language, I have engraved most of the remarks upon the receptive tablets of my mind as they were uttered. To one who can repeat the Five Classics without stumbling this is a contemptible achievement. Let it be an imposed obligation, therefore, that you retain these portions unchanged as a test and a proof to all who may read. Of my own deficient words, I can only in truest courtesy maintain that any alteration must of necessity make them less offensively commonplace than at present they are.
The Sign and immutable Thumb-mark of,
By a sure hand to the House of one Ernest Bramah.
Concerning the journey. The unlawful demons invoked by certain of the barbarians; their power and the manner of their suppression. Suppression. The incredible obtuseness of those who attend within tea-houses. The harmonious attitude of a person of commerce.
Venerated Sire (at whose virtuous and well-established feet an unworthy son now prostrates himself in spirit repeatedly),—
Having at length reached the summit of my journey, that London of which the merchants from Canton spoke so many strange and incredible things, I now send you filial salutations three times increased, and in accordance with your explicit command I shall write all things to you with an unvarnished brush, well assured that your versatile object in committing me to so questionable an enterprise was, above all, to learn the truth of these matters in an undeviating and yet open-headed spirit of accuracy and toleration.
Of the perils incurred while travelling in the awe-inspiring devices by which I was transferred from shore to shore and yet further inland, of the utter absence of all leisurely dignity on the part of those controlling their movements, and of the almost unnatural self-opinionatedness which led them to persist in starting at a stated and prearranged time, even when this person had courteously pointed out to them by irrefutable omens that neither the day nor the hour was suitable for the venture, I have already written. It is enough to assert that a similar want of prudence was maintained on every occasion, and, as a result, when actually within sight of the walls of this city, we were involved for upwards of an hour in a very evilly-arranged yellow darkness, which, had we but delayed for a day, as I strenuously advised those in authority after consulting the Sacred Flat and Round Sticks, we should certainly have avoided.
Concerning the real nature of the devices by which the ships are propelled at sea and the carriages on land, I must still unroll a blank mind until I can secretly, and without undue hazard, examine them more closely. If, as you maintain, it is the work of captive demons hidden away among their most inside parts, it must be admitted that these usually intractable beings are admirably trained and controlled, and I am wide-headed enough to think that in this respect we might—not-withstanding our nine thousand years of civilised refinement—learn something of the methods of these barbarians. The secret, however, is jealously guarded, and they deny the existence of any supernatural forces; but their protests may be ignored, for there is undoubtedly a powerful demon used in a similar way by some of the boldest of them, although its employment is unlawful. A certain kind of chariot is used for the occupation of this demon, and those who wish to invoke it conceal their faces within masks of terrifying design, and cover their hands and bodies with specially prepared garments, without which it would be fatal to encounter these very powerful spirits. While yet among the habitations of men, and in crowded places, they are constrained to use less powerful demons, which are lawful, but when they reach the unfrequented paths they throw aside all restraint, and, calling to their aid the forbidden spirit (which they do by secret movements of the hands), they are carried forward by its agency at a speed unattainable by merely human means. By day the demon looks forth from three white eyes, which at night have a penetrating brilliance equal to the fiercest glances of the Sacred Dragon in anger. If any person incautiously stands in its way it utters a warning cry of intolerable rage, and should the presumptuous one neglect to escape to the roadside and there prostrate himself reverentially before it, it seizes him by the body part and contemptuously hurls him bruised and unrecognisable into the boundless space of the around. Frequently the demon causes the chariot to rise into the air, and it is credibly asserted by discriminating witnesses (although this person only sets down as incapable of denial that which he has actually beheld) that some have maintained an unceasing flight through the middle air for a distance of many li. Occasionally the captive demon escapes from the bondage of those who have invoked it, through some incautious gesture or heretical remark on their part, and then it never fails to use them grievously, casting them to the ground wounded, consuming the chariot with fire, and passing away in the midst of an exceedingly debased odour, by which it is always accompanied after the manner of our own earth spirits.
This being, as this person has already set forth, an unlawful demon on account of its power when once called up, and the admitted uncertainty of its movements, those in authority maintain a stern and inexorable face towards the practice. To entrap the unwary certain persons (chosen on account of their massive outlines, and further protected from evil influences by their pure and consistent habits) keep an unceasing watch. When one of them, himself lying concealed, detects the approach of such a being, he closely observes the position of the sun, and signals to the other a message of warning. Then the second one, shielded by the sanctity of his life and rendered inviolable by the nature of his garments—his sandals alone being capable of overturning any demon from his path should it encounter them—boldly steps forth into the road and holds out before him certain sacred emblems. So powerful are these that at the sight the unlawful demon confesses itself vanquished, and although its whole body trembles with ill-contained rage, and the air around is poisoned by its discreditable exhalation, it is devoid of further resistance. Those in the chariot are thereupon commanded to dismiss it, and being bound in chains they are led into the presence of certain lesser mandarins who administer justice from a raised dais.
“Behold!” exclaims the chief of the captors, when the prisoners have been placed in obsequious attitudes before the lesser mandarins, “thus the matter chanced: The honourable Wang, although disguised under the semblance of an applewoman, had discreetly concealed himself by the roadside, all but his head being underneath a stream of stagnant water, when, at the eighth hour of the morning, he beheld these repulsive outcasts approaching in their chariot, carried forward by the diabolical vigour of the unlawful demon. Although I had stationed myself several li distant from the accomplished Wang, the chariot reached me in less than a breathing space of time, those inside assuming their fiercest and most aggressive attitudes, and as they came repeatedly urging the demon to increased exertions. Their speed exceeded that of the swallow in his hymeneal flight, all shrubs and flowers by the wayside withered incapably at the demon’s contaminating glance, running water ceased to flow, and the road itself was scorched at their passage, the earth emitting a dull bluish flame. These facts, and the times and the distances, this person has further inscribed in a book which thus disposes of all possible defence. Therefore, O lesser mandarins, let justice be accomplished heavily and without delay; for, as the proverb truly says, ‘The fiercer the flame the more useless the struggles of the victim.’”
At this point the prisoners frequently endeavour to make themselves heard, protesting that in the distance between the concealed Wang and the one who stands accusing them they had thrice stopped to repair their innermost details, had leisurely partaken of food and wine, and had also been overtaken, struck, and delayed by a funeral procession. But so great is the execration in which these persons are held, that although murderers by stealth, outlaws, snatchers from the body, and companies of men who by strategy make a smaller sum of money appear to be larger, can all freely testify their innocence, raisers of this unlawful demon must not do so, and they are beaten on the head with chains until they desist.
Then the lesser mandarins, raising their voices in unison, exclaim, “The amiable Tsay-hi has reported the matter in a discreet and impartial spirit. Hear our pronouncement: These raisers of illegal spirits shall each contribute ten taels of gold, which shall be expended in joss-sticks, in purifying the road which they have scorched, and in alleviating the distress of the poor and virtuous of both sexes. The praiseworthy Tsay-hi, moreover, shall embroider upon his sleeve an honourable sign in remembrance of the event. Let drums now be beat, and our verdict loudly proclaimed throughout the province.”
These things, O my illustrious father (although on account of my contemptible deficiencies of style much may seem improbable to your all-knowing mind), these things I write with an unbending brush; for I set down only that which I have myself seen, or read in their own printed records. Doubtless it will occur to one of your preternatural intelligence that our own system of administering justice, whereby the person who can hire the greater number of witnesses is reasonably held to be in the right, although perhaps not absolutely infallible, is in every way more convenient; but, as it is well said, “To the blind, night is as acceptable as day.”
Henceforth you will have no hesitation in letting it be known throughout Yuen-ping that these foreign barbarians do possess secret demons, in spite of their denials. Doubtless I shall presently discover others no less powerful.
With honourable distinction this person has at length grasped the essential details of the spoken language here—not sufficiently well, indeed, to make himself understood on most