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affair need cause anxiety, for Wanch'êng is eight hundred li from Loyang and twelve hundred li from here. Should he hear anything, it would take a month to send a memorial and get a reply. My ramparts here are strong and my forces posted in the best positions. Let him come! I am not afraid of the result, so you, O Minister, need feel no anxiety. You have only to wait for the good news of success."
K‘ung-ming read the letter and threw it on the ground, stamping his foot with rage.
“You are a dead man,” said he; "a victim of Ssúma I.” “Why do you say that?” said Ma Su.
“What does the book say? 'Attack before the enemy is prepared; do what he does not expect.' What is the use of reckoning upon a month's delay for sending up a memorial? Ts'ao Jui's commission has already gone and Ssúma may strike whom he will. He will not have to wait to memorialise. Ten days after he hears of Mêng's defection he will be upon him with an army, and Mêng Ta will be helpless."
The others agreed. However, K‘ung-ming sent the messenger back again to say that if the matter had not yet actually started no other person was to be told of it, for if anyone knew it would certainly come to nothing. And the man left for Hsinch'êng.
In his idle retreat in Wan City Ssúma had heard of his master's ill-success against the armies of Shu, and the news made him very sad. He lifted up his eyes and sighed.
He had two sons, Shih the elder and Chao, both clever and ambitious, and both earnest students of military books. One day they were present when their father seemed very cast down, and the elder asked his father the reason.
"You would not understand," said the father.
"I think you are grieving because the lord of Wei does not use you,” replied Ssúma Shih.
“But they will send for you presently," said the younger son.
The prophecy was not long in fulfilment, for even then the bearer of the command stood at the gate, and the servant announced a messenger from the court bearing a commission.
As soon as he heard its terms, Ssúma set about ordering the armies of his own city. Soon came a messenger from the Prefect of Chinch'êng with a secret message for Ssúma I. He was taken into a private chamber, and his message was that Mêng Ta was on the point of rebellion. The authority for this was a confidential fried, Li Fu, and a nephew, Têng Hsien.
Ssúma I smote his forehead.
“This is the Emperor's great good fortune, high as heaven itself. Chuko Liang's army is at Ch'ishan already, and if he had got these places all men's courage would fail. The Emperor must go to Ch‘angan, and if he does not use me soon
Mêng Ta will carry out his plan; his plot will succeed and both capitals will be lost. This fellow is surely in league with the enemy, and if I can seize him before he makes any move, that will damp Chuko's spirits and he will retreat."
His elder son remarked that it would be necessary to memorialise.
"No," replied his father; "that would take a month, and delay would mean failure.'
Ssúma gave orders to prepare to advance by double marches and threatened death to all loiterers. In order to avert suspicion, he sent letters to Mêng Ta in Hsinch'êng to tell him to prepare to join the expedition.
Ssıma I quickly followed this messenger. After two days' march the general Hsü Huang came over the hills and told Ssóma that the Emperor had arrived at Ch'angan to lead an expedition against Shu, and he asked whither the Commanderin-chief was then going.
Ssúma, in a low voice, said to him, “Mêng Ta is on the verge of rebellion, and I am going to seize him.”
“Let me go as your van-leader,” said Hsü.
So Hsü Huang's men were joined to the expedition and marched in the van. The sons of Ssúma I brought up the rear.
Two days farther on some of the scouts captured Mêng Ta's confidential messenger, and with him K‘ung-ming's reply. Ssúma promised the man his life if he would tell all he knew. So he told all about the letters and messages he had taken from one to the other. When Ssúma read the captured letter he remarked that all able people thought the same way.
"Our plan would have been foiled by K'ung-ming's cleverness unless, by the good luck of the Emperor, this man had been captured. Now Mêng Ta will be helpless."
The army pressed on still more rapidly.
Mêng Ta had arranged for his stroke with the Prefects of the other two cities and was awaiting the way he had fixed. But the other two, Shen I and Chên Ch'ên, were only pretending to abet him, although they went on training and drilling their men to keep up appearances till the men of Wei could arrive. To Mêng Ta they pretended delay in their transport as the reason for being unable to start. And he believed them.
Just then Liang Chội came, and when he had been ceremoniously received, he produced the order from Ssúma I and said, “The Commander-in-chief has received the edict of the Emperor to call in all the forces in this district, and he has sent me to direct you to hold your men in readiness to march.”
"On what day does the Commander-in-chief start?" asked Mêng Ta.
“He is just about starting now," replied the messenger.
Mêng smiled inwardly, for, this being so, he saw success before him. He gave a banquet to Liang, and after he had set him on his way he sent to his fellow conspirators to say the first step must be taken next day by exchanging the banners of Wei for those of Han and marching to attack Loyang.
Then the watchmen reported a great cloud of dust in the distance as though an army was coming. Mêng Ta was surprised and went up on the ramparts to see for himself. Soon he made out the banner of Hsü Huang leading. He ran down from the wall and in a state of trepidation ordered the raising of the drawbridge. Hsü Huang still came on and in due time stood on the bank of the moat.
Then he called out, "Let the traitor Mêng Ta yield quickly!"
Mêng Ta, in a rage, opened upon him with arrows, and Hsü Huang was wounded in the forehead. He was helped to a place of safety while the arrows flew down in great numbers. When the men of Wei retired, Meng opened the gates and went in pursuit. But the whole of Ssúma's army soon came up, and the banners stood so thick that they hid the sun. "This is what K'ung-ming foresaw," said Mêng despairingly. The gates were closed and barred.
Meanwhile the wounded captain, Hsü, had been borne to his tent, where the arrow head was extracted and the physician attended to him. But that night he died. He was fifty-nine. His body was sent to Loyang for burial.
Next day, when Mêng went up on the wall, he saw the city was entirely surrounded as with a girdle of iron. He was greatly perturbed and could not decide what to do. Presently he saw two bodies of troops coming up, their banners bearing the names of his fellow conspirators. He could only conclude that they had come to his help, so he opened the gates to them and went out to fight.
"Rebel, stay !” cried they both as they came up.
Realising that they had been false, he turned and galloped toward the city, but a flight of arrows met him, and the two who had betrayed him, Li Fu and Têng Hsien, began to revile him.
“We have already yielded the city," they cried.
Then Mêng Ta fled. But he was pursued, and as he and his horse were both exhausted he was speedily overtaken and slain. They exposed his head, and his soldiers submitted. Ssúma was welcomed at the open gates. The people were pacified, the soldiers were rewarded and, this done, a report of their success was sent to Ts'ao Jui.
Ts'ao Jui ordered the body of Mêng Ta to be exposed in the market place of Loyang, and he promoted the two Shêns and gave them posts in the army of Ssŭma. He gave the two betrayers command of the cities of Hsinch'êng and Shangyung.
Then Ssuma marched to Ch'angan and camped. The leader entered the city to have audience with his master, by whom he was most graciously received.
"Once I doubted you," said Ts'ao Jui; "but then I did not understand, and I listened to mischief-makers. I regret it. You have preserved both capitals by the punishment of this traitor."
Ssúma replied, "Shen I gave the information of the intended revolt and thought to memorialise Your Majesty. But there would have been a long delay, and so I did not await orders, but set forth at once. Delay would have played into Chuko's hands.
Then he handed in Kʻung-ming's letter to Mêng Ta, and when the Emperor had read that he said, “You are wiser than both the great strategists."
He conferred upon the successful leader a pair of golde axes and the privilege of taking action in important matters without first obtaining his master's sanction.
When the order was given to advance against the enemy, Ssuma asked permission to name his leader of the van, and nominated Chang Ho.
"Just the man I wished to send," said Ts'ao Jui, smiling. And Chang Ho was appointed.
By strategy the leader shows his skill;
He needs bold fighting men to work his will. The result of the campaign will appear in the next chapter.
MA SU'S WRANGLING LOSES CHIEHTʻING;
K'UNG-MING'S LUTE REPULSES SSUMA. Beside sending Chang Ho as van-leader, Tsʻao Jui appointed two other captains, Hsin P'i and Sun Li, to assist Ts'ao Chên. Each led five legions. Ssúma's army was twenty legions strong. They marched out through the pass and made a camp.
When encamped, the Commander-in-chief summoned the leader of the van to his tent and admonished him, saying, "A characteristic of Chuko Liang is his most diligent carefulness; he is never hasty. If I were in his place I should advance through the Tzuwu Valley to capture Ch‘angan and so save much time. It is not that he is unskilful, but he fears lest that plan might miscarry, and he will not sport with risk. Therefore he will certainly come through the Hsieh Valley, taking Meich'êng on the way. That place captured, he will divide his force into two, one part to take Chi Valley. I have sent orders to guard Meich'êng strictly and on no account to let its garrison go out to battle. The captains Sun Li and Hsin P'i are to command the Chi Valley entrance, and should the enemy come they are to make a sudden attack.'
"By what road will you advance?" asked Chang. "I know a road west of Ts'inling valley called Chieht'ing, on which stands the city Liehliuch'êng. These two places are the throat of Hanchung. Chuko Liang will take advantage of the unpreparedness of Ts'ao Chên and will certainly come in by this way. I and you will go to Chieht‘ing, whence it is a short distance to Yenpʻing Pass, and when K‘ung-ming hears that the road through Chieht‘ing is blocked and his supplies cut off, he will know that Shênsi is in danger, and will retire without losing a moment into Hanchung. I shall smite him on the march, and I ought to gain a complete victory. If he should not retire, then I shall block all the smaller roads and so stop his supplies. A month's starvation will kill off the men of Shu, and Chuko will be my prisoner.”
Chang Ho took in the scheme and expressed his admiration of the prescience of his chief.
Ssúma continued, “However, it is not to be forgotten that Chuko is quite different from Mêng, and you, as leader of the van, will have to advance with the utmost care. You must impress upon your captains the importance of reconnoitring a long way ahead and only advancing when they are sure there