English Stories Orient

第17章

If it had not been for the indifference with which she was treated in her home, the favour with which she was regarded abroad would have been most prejudicial to Jasmine; but any conceit which might have been engendered in the school-house was speedily counteracted when she got within the portals of the colonel's domain. Coming into the presence of her father and his wife, with all the incense of kindness, affection, and, it must be confessed, flattery, with which she was surrounded by her school-fellows, fresh about her, was like stepping into a cold bath. Wholesome and invigorating the change may have been, but it was very unpleasant, and Jasmine often longed to be alone to give vent to her feelings in tears.

One deep consolation she had, however: she was a devoted student, and in the society of her books she forgot the callousness of her parents, and, living in imagination in the bygone annals of the empire, she was able to take part, as it were, in the great deeds which mark the past history of the state, and to enjoy the converse and society of the sages and poets of antiquity. When the time came that she had gained all the knowledge which the old schoolmaster could impart to her, she left the school, and formed a reading-party with two youths of her own age. These lads, by name Wei and Tu, had been her school-fellows, and were delighted at obtaining her promise to join them in their studies.

So industriously were these pursued that the three friends succeeded in taking their B.A. degree at the next examination, and, encouraged by this success, determined to venture on a struggle for a still higher distinction.

Though at one in their affection for Jasmine, Tu and Wei were unlike in everything else, which probably accounted for the friendship which existed between them. Wei was the more clever of the two. He wrote poetry with ease and fluency, and his essays were marked by correctness of style and aptness of quotation. But there was a want of strength in his character. He was exceedingly vain, and was always seeking to excite admiration among his companions. This unhappy failing made him very susceptible of adverse criticism, and at the same time extremely jealous of any one who might happen to excel him in any way. Tu, on the other hand, though not so intellectually favoured, had a rough kind of originality, which always secured for his exercises a respectful attention, and made him at all times an agreeable companion. Having no exaggerated ideas of his capabilities, he never strove to appear otherwise than he was, and being quite independent of the opinions of others, he was always natural. Thus he was one who was sought out by his friends, and was best esteemed by those whose esteem was best worth having. In outward appearance the youths were as different as their characters were diverse. Wei was decidedly good-looking, but of a kind of beauty which suggested neither rest nor sincerity; while in Tu's features, though there was less grace, the want was fully compensated for by the strength and honest firmness of his countenance.

For both these young men Jasmine had a liking, but there was no question as to which she preferred. As she herself said, "Wei is pleasant enough as a companion, but if I had to look to one of them for an act of true friendship--or as a lover," she mentally added--"I should turn at once to Tu." It was one of her amusements to compare the young men in her mind, and one day when so occupied Tu suddenly looked up from his book and said to her:

"What a pity it is that the gods have made us both men! If /I/ were a woman, the object of my heart would be to be your wife, and if /you/ were a woman, there is nothing I should like better than to be your husband."

Jasmine blushed up to the roots of her hair at having her own thoughts thus capped, as it were; but before she could answer, Wei broke in with:

"What nonsense you talk! And why, I should like to know, should you be the only one the 'young noble' might choose, supposing he belonged to the other sex?"

"You are both talking nonsense," said Jasmine, who had had time to recover her composure, "and remind me of my two old childless aunts," she added, laughing, "who are always quarrelling about the names they would have given their children if the goddess Kwanyin had granted them any half a century ago. As a matter of act, we are three friends reading for our M.A. degrees, neither more nor less. And I will trouble you, my elder brother," she added, turning to Tu, "to explain to me what the poet means by the expression 'tuneful Tung' in the line:

'The greedy flames devour the tuneful Tung.' "

A learned disquisition by Tu on the celebrated musician who recognised the sonorous qualities of a piece of Tung timber burning in the kitchen fire effectually diverted the conversation from the inconvenient direction it had taken, and shortly afterward Jasmine took her leave.

Haunted by the thought of what had passed, she wandered on to the veranda of her archery pavilion, and while gazing half unconsciously heavenward her eyes were attracted by a hawk which flew past and alighted on a tree beyond the boundary-wall, and in front of the study she had lately left. In a restless and thoughtless mood, she took up her bow and arrow, and with unerring aim compassed the death of her victim. No sooner, however, had the hawk fallen, carrying the arrow with it, than she remembered that her name was inscribed on the shaft, and fearing lest it should be found by either Wei or Tu, she hurried round in the hope of recovering it. But she was too late. On approaching the study, she found Tu in the garden in front, examining the bird and arrow.

"Look," he said, as he saw her coming, "what a good shot some one has made! and whoever it is, he has a due appreciation of his own skill.

Listen to these lines which are scraped on the arrow:

'Do not lightly draw your bow;

But if you must, bring down your foe.' "

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