MA JOONG AND CHAIO TAI GO OUT ON A BOAT TRIP; A LOVERS' TRYST HAS UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES
MA JOONG and Chiao Tai went back t the Nine Flowers Orchard in high spirits. When they were entering the restaurant the latter said contentedly, "Now we'll have a real good drinking bout!"
But when they walked over to the table of their friends, Kim Sang gave them an unhappy look. He pointed at Po Kai, who was lying with his head on the table. A row of empty wine jugs was standing in front of him.
"Mr. Po Kai drank too much in too great a hurry," Kim Sang said ruefully. "I tried to make him stop but he wouldn't listen, and now he is in a foul temper; there's nothing I can do with him. If you two will kindly look after him, I'd better be off. It's a pity because that Korean girl is waiting for us."
"What Korean girl?" Chiao Tai asked.
"Y"u-soo, of the second boat," Kim Sang replied. "Today she has her night off, and she said she would show us some interesting places in the Korean quarter, places which even I don't know yet. I had already hired a barge to take us out there and to have a drink on the river. I'll go now and tell them it's all off." He rose.
"Well," Ma Joong remarked judiciously, "we can always try to wake him up for you and make him see reason."
"I tried," Kim Sang said, "but I warn you he is in a vile temper." Ma Joong poked Po Kai in his ribs, then dragged him up from the table by his collar.
"Wake up, brother!" he bellowed in his ear. "Off to the winc and the wenches!"
Po Kai looked at them with bleary eyes.
"I reiterate," he spoke carefully with a thick tongue, "I re-iterate that I despise you. Your company is degrading, you are nothing but a bunch of dissolute drunkards. I will have no truck with you, with none of you!"
He laid his head on the table again. Ma Joong and Chiao Tai guffawed.
"Well," Ma Joong said to Kim Sang, "if that's the way he feels, you'd better leave him alone!" To Chiao Tai he added, "Let us have a quiet drink here. I estimate that Po Kai'll have sobered up by the time we leave."
"It seems a pity to call off the trip just because of Po Kai," Chiao Tai said. "We have never been to the Korean quarter. Why not take us along instead, Kim Sang?"
Kim pursed his lips.
"That won't be easy," he replied. "You'll have heard that there's an understanding that the Korean quarter has more or less its own jurisdiction. The personnel of the tribunal is not supposed to go there unless the warden asks for their assistance."
"Nonsensel" Chiao Tai explained. "We can go there incognito. My friend and me will take off our caps and bind up our hair, and nobody'll be the wiser."
Kim Sang seemed to hesitate, but Ma Joong shouted, "Good idea, let's go!"
As they were rising, Po Kai suddenly looked up.
Kim Sang patted him on the shoulder and said soothingly, "You'll have a nice rest here and sleep off the effects of the amber liquid."
Po Kai sprang up, overturning his chair. Pointing a wavering finger at Kim Sang, he shouted, "You promised to take me, you treacherous lecher! I may seem drunk to you, but I am not a man to be trifled with!" He resolutely picked up a wine jug by the neck and waved it threateningly at Kim Sang.
The other guests started to look at them. Ma Joong cursed roundly, quickly took the wine jug from Po Kai's hand and growled, "Can't be helped. We'll have to drag him along with us."
Ma Joong and Chiao Tai took Po Kai between them, and Kim Sang paid the bill.
Outside Po Kai began to lament tearfully, "I am very ill, I don't want to walk. I want to lie down, in a boat." He sat down in the middle of the street.
"You can't!" Ma Joong said cheerfully, dragging him to his feet again. "This morning we blocked your cozy mousehole in the watergate. You'll have to stretch your lazy legs; that'll do you good!" Po Kai burst out crying.
"Rent a litter for him!" Chiao Tai said impatiently to Kim Sang. "Wait for us at the east gate; we'll tell the guards to let you pass!"
"I am glad you came along," Kim Sang said. "I didn't know that gap in the trellis had been repaired. I'll see you at the gate."
The two friends went east at a brisk pace. Ma Joong looked askance at his companion, who walked along silently.
"Almighty heaven!" he suddenly burst out, "don't tell me you have got it again! I must say you don't get it often, but when you get it you get it bad! How many times have I told you to stagger it, brother. A little love here, a little love there, that's the way to enjoy yourself and to stay away from trouble."
"I can't help it, I like the wench," Chiao Tai muttered.
"Well, have it your own way," Ma Joong said resignedly. "But don't say later that I didn't warn you."
They found Kim Sang at the east gate, in an acrimonious argument with the guards. Po Kai was sitting up in the litter, singing a bawdy song at the top of his voice, to the undisguised delight of the chair bearers.
Chaio Tai explaianed to theguards that they had orders to confront Po Kai with a man on the other side of the creek. The Guards looked skeptical, but they let them pass.
They paid off the litter bearers, crossed the Rainbow Bride and hired a boat on the opposite bank. In the boat Ma Joong and Chiao Tai stuffed their black caps in their sleeves, and bound up their hair with a few pieces of tar rope.
A fairly large Korean barge was moored alongside the second boat. Garlands of colored lamps hung between the two low masts
Kim Sang climbed on board, followed by Ma Joong and Chiao Tai, who hoisted Po Kai up.
Y"u-soo was standing against the railing. She was clad in her native dress, a long straight robe of flowered white silk, bound uh tightly under her breasts with a silk scarf tied in a beautiful large bow, and flaring out toward her feet. Her hair was done up in a high chignon, and she had stuck a white flower behind her ear. Chiao Tar looked at her, his eyes wide with admiration.
She greeted them with a smile.
"I didn't know you two would be along too," she said. "But why do you have those queer things round your heads?"
"Hush!" Ma Joong said. "Don't tell anybody! We are disguised." Then he shouted to the fat woman on the second boat, "Hey, grandma, send my plump girl friend over! She must hold my head when I get seasick!"
"You'll find plenty of girls in the Korean quarter!" Kim Sang said impatiently. He barked an order in Korean to the three boatmen. They pushed the barge off, and started rowing.
Kim Sang, Po Kai and Ma Joong sat down cross-legged on the silk cushions that were lying on the deck -round a low, lacquered table. Chiao Tai was going to join them but Y"u-soo beckoned him to the door of the deck cabin.
"Don't you want to see what a Korean ship looks like?" she asked, pouting.
Chaio Tai gave the others a quick look. Po Kai was filling the wine cups, Kim Sang and Ma Joong were deep in conversation. Hestepped over to her and said gruffly, "I don't think they'll miss me, for a while."
She looked at him with a mischievous glitter in her eyes. He thought he had never seen so beautiful a woman. She went inside and he followed her down the stairs to the main cabin.
The diffuse light of two lamps of colored silk shone on a very low, broad couch of carved ebony, lavishly decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl, and covered with a thick, closely woven reed mat. Embroidered silk hangings decorated the walls. A thin cloud of a slightly pungent incense curled up lazily from a quaintly-shaped bronze burner on the red-lacquered dressing table.
Y"u-soo went over to the dressing table and readjusted the flower behind her ear. Turning round she asked smiling, "Don't you like it here?"
Looking at her fondly, Chiao Tai felt a queer pang of sadness. "I know now," he said hoarsely, "that one should see you always in your own surroundings and in your own native dress. But how strange that in your country women always wear white. With us white is the color of mourning."
She quickly stepped up to him and laid her finger on his lips. "Don't say such things!" she whispered.
Chiao Tai clasped her in his arms and gave her a long kiss. Then he drew her to the couch and sat there, pulling her down by his side.
"When we are back on your boat," he whispered in her ear, "I'll stay the whole night with you!"
He wanted to kiss her again but she pushed his head away and rose. "You are not a very ardent lover, are you?" she said in a low voice.
She untied the elaborate bow below her bosom. Suddenly she moved her shoulders and the robe fell to the floor. She stood naked before him.
Chiao T'ai sprang up. He took her up in his arms and laid her on the couch.
When they had been together before she had been rather passive but now she was as eager as he. He thought he had never loved a woman so much.
Their passion spent, they remained lying next to each other. Chiao Tai noticed that the barge seemed to be slowing down, they must be nearing the quay of the Korean quarter. He heard some commotion on deck. He wanted to sit up and reach for his clothes that lay in a heap on the floor in front of the couch. But Y"u-soo put her soft arms round his neck from behind.
"Don't leave me yet!" she whispered.
A loud crash resounded from above, followed by angry shouts and curses. Kim Sang burst into the room, a long knife in his hand. Y"u-soo's arms suddenly tightened round Chiao Tai's throat, locking his neck as if in a vice.
"Finish him off quick!" she called out to Kim Sang.
Chiao Tai gripped her arms. Trying to free his throat he succeeded in getting up in a sitting position, but the weight of the girl was dragging him down again. Kim Sang sprang to the couch, his knife poised for the thrust in Chiao Tai's breast. With a supreme effort Chiao Tai turned his torso to shake the girl off. Kim Sang struck just as the girl's body twisted across Chiao Tai's. The knife plunged into Y"u-soo's exposed side. Kim Sang pulled the knife out and staggered back, staring incredulously at the blood that began to stain the girl's white skin. Chiao Tai shook his neck free of the girl's limp arms, jumped from the couch and grabbed Kim's hand with the knife. Kim came to life again. He hit a vicious blow in Chiao Tai's face that closed his right eye. But Chiao Tai now had Kim's right in both hands; he twisted it round, aiming the point of the knife at Kim's breast. Kim hit out again with his left, but at the same time Chiao Tai gave the knife a powerful thrust upward. It penetrated deeply into Kim's breast.
He threw him with his back against the wall and turned to Y"u-soo. She lay half over the couch, her hand pressed on her side. A steady flow of blood was trickling through her fingers.
She raised her head and looked at Chiao with a queer, fixed stare. Her lips moved.
"I had to do it!" she faltered. "My country needs those arms; we must rise again! Forgive me-" Her mouth twitched. "Long live Korea!" she gasped. A shiver shook her body, then her head fell back.
Chiao Tai heard Ma Joong curse violently on the deck above. I le rushed up, naked as he was. Ma Joong was wrestling desperately with a tall boatman. Chiao Tai locked his arms round the man's head and gave a sharp twist. As the man went limp Chiao Tai didn't loosen his hold. With a quick hip throw he heaved the body overboard.
"I took care of the other fellow," Ma Joong panted. "The third must have jumped into the water." Ma Joong's left arm was bleeding profusely.
"Come down," Chiao Tai growled. "I'll bandage that!"
Kim Sang was sitting on the floor where Chiao Tai had thrown him down, his back leaning against the wall. His handsome face was contorted; his glassy eyes were fixed on the dead girl.
Seeing Kim's lips moving, Chiao Tai bent over him and hissed, "Where are those arms?"
"Arms?" Kim Sang muttered. "That was all a hoax! Just to fool her; she believed it." He groaned, his hands twitched convulsively over the hilt of the knife protruding from his breast. Tears and sweat running down his face, he moaned, "She… she. The swine we are!" He pressed his bloodless lips together.
"If it isn't arms, what are you smuggling?" Chiao Tai asked intently.
Kim Sang opened his mouth. A stream of blood gushed out. Coughing, he brought out, "Gold!"
Then his body sagged. He slumped sideways to the floor.
Ma Joong had been looking curiously from Kim Sang to the naked body of the dead girl. He asked, "She was going to warn you, and he killed her, hey?"
Chiao Tai nodded.
He quickly put on his robe. Then he tenderly put the girl's body straight on the couch, and covered it with her white robe. The color of mourning, he thought. Looking down on her still face he said softly to his friend, "Loyalty… That's the finest thing I know of, Ma Joong!"
"A beautiful sentiment," a voice remarked dryly behind them. Chiao Tai and Ma Joong swung round.
Po Kai was looking from outside through the porthole, his elbows on the sill.
"Holy heaven!" Ma Joong exclaimed. "I had forgotten all about you.
"Unkind!" Po Kai commented. "I used the weapon of the weak, I fled. I let myself down on the narrow gangway that runs round this vessel."
"Come round inside here!" Ma Joong grunted. "You can help us fix my arm."
"You are bleeding like a pig," Chiao Tai said ruefully. He quickly picked up the girl's white sash and started bandaging Ma Joong's arm. "What happened?" he asked.
"Suddenly," Ma Joong replied, "one of those dogs grabbed me from behind. I wanted to duck to throw him over my head, but then the second kicked me in my stomach and drew his knife. I thought T was done for, but then the fellow who held me from behind suddenly let go. I could twist my body aside at the last moment and the knife aimed at my heart landed in my left arm. I put my knee in the fellow's groin, and placed a right under his jaw that made him crash backward through the railing. The man behind me must by that time have thought better of it and jumped overboard, I heard a splash. Then the third one was on me. It was a hefty fellow, and I couldn't use my left arm. You came just in time!"
"That'll stop the bleeding," Chiao Tai said as he knotted the ends of the sash round Ma Joong's neck. "Keep your arm in this sling."
Ma Joong winced as Chiao Tai pulled the bandage tight. Then he asked, "Where's that blasted poet?"
"Let's go up on deck," Chiao Tai said. "He's probably emptying all the wine jugs!"
But when they came up, the deck was deserted. They called Po Kai's name. The only sound that broke the stillness was the splashing of oars from afar through the mist.
With an awful curse Ma Joong ran to the stern. The dinghy was gone.
"The treacherous son of a dog!" he shouted at Chiao Tai. "He was in it too!"
Chiao Tai bit his lips. He hissed, "When we get that lying bastard I'll wring that scraggy neck of his with my own hands." Ma Joong tried to peer through the mist that surrounded the barge.
"If we get him, brother," he said slowly. "I think we are somewhere down river. He has a good start, for it'll take us a long time to bring this barge back to port."