תמונות בעמוד



LIU PEI TAKES THE GOVERNORSHIP OF ICHOU. It was Yen Pu who thus opposed sending help to Liu Chang. Then Ma Ch'ao rose and said, “I have been the recipient of much kindness from my lord, which I feel I can never repay adequately. Now let me lead an army to take Chiaming Pass and capture Liu Pei. Then, my lord, Liu Chang will surely lose his twenty districts, and they shall be yours.

This offer rejoiced Chang Lu, who sent away Huang Ch'uan without an answer and told off two legions for Ma Ch'ao to lead. As P'ang Tê was too ill to take part in the expedition, Yang Po was sent in his place. The day to march was chosen.

Meanwhile, the messenger sent by Fa Chêng had returned to Fouch'êng to say Chêng Tu had advised his master to set fire to all the plains and valleys between the capital and the invaders, as well as the granaries, to move away the people and to stand solely on the defensive. This news caused Liu Pei and K‘ung-ming great anxiety, for it would be a grave danger to them. However, Fa Chêng was more sanguine.

“Do not be anxious,” said he, “the plan would be extremely harmful, but it will not be carried out. Liu Chang will not do that."

Surely enough, very soon they heard that Liu Chang had not adopted the suggestion; he would not remove the people. It was a great relief to Yüan-tê.

Then said K‘ung-ming, “Now let us capture Mienchu quickly, for, that done, Ch'êngtu is as good as ours.

He therefore told off Huang Chung and Wei Yen to advance first. When Fei Kuan heard of their advance he ordered Li Yen to go out to stop them, and Li led out his three companies. The two sides being arrayed, Huang Chung rode out and fought some half hundred bouts with Li Yen. Neither was able to claim a victory, and so K‘ung-ming from the midst of the host ordered them to beat the gongs to cease from battle. When Huang Chung had got back to his side again he said, O Commander, why did you sound the retirement just as Í was getting the better of my opponent ?"

“Because I saw that he was not to be overcome by mere force. To-morrow you shall fight again, and then you shall lead him into the hills by the ruse of pretended defeat. There will be a surprise awaiting him."

Huang Chung agreed to try this ruse, and so on the morrow accepted Li Yen's challenge when it was offered. After about the tenth bout he and his men pretended to be worsted and ran. Li pursued and was quickly lured into the mountains. Suddenly his danger flashed into his mind, and he turned to go back. But he found Wei Yen's men drawn up across his path, while K'ung-ming from a hill top near by cried, "You had better yield; if not, there are bows and crossbows on both sides of you all ready to avenge the death of our P'ang T'ung.”

Li dropped off his horse, threw aside his armour and offered submission. Not a man of his had been hurt. The prisoner was conducted to Yüan-tê, who was very affable and so won his heart that he offered to try to seduce Fei Kuan from his allegiance.

“Though he is related to Liu Chang, yet Fei and I are very close friends. Let me go and persuade him.”

Wherefore Li was sent back to the city to induce his chief to come over to Liu Pei's side. He talked to such effect of the kindness and virtues of Liu Pei that Fei was won over, opened the city gates and admitted the invaders.

As soon as Yuan-tê had entered Mienchu he set out his men to take the capital. While thus engaged, a hasty messenger came to tell of the doings at Chiaming Pass, whereat had suddenly appeared an army from the east under Ma Ch'ao and his captains. They had attacked, and the Pass would certainly be lost if help was not sent quickly.

"We need both Chang Fei and Chao Yün for this,” remarked K‘ung-ming. “Then we could oppose successfully."

“But Tzŭ-lung is away," said Yüan-tê. "However, I-tê is here. Let us send him quickly.”

“Do not say anything, my lord,” said Kʻung-ming. “Let me stir him to fight his noblest.

But as soon as Chang Fei heard of the danger he came rushing in, shouting, "I must say farewell, brother. I am off to fight Ma Ch'ao."

However, Kʻung-ming made as if he heard not and said to Yüan-tê, "That Ma Ch'ao has invaded the Pass and we have no one to drive him back. Nobody can stand up to him, unless we can get Kuan Yü from Chingchou. He could do it.”

“Why do you despise me, O Commander ?" cried Chang Fei. “Did I not once drive back a whole army? Think you that I mind a stupid fool like Ma Ch'ao."

K‘ung-ming said, “Yes, I-tê; but when you forced back the waters and broke the bridge you succeeded because your enemies were doubtful. If they had known, General, you would not have come off so easily. All the world knows this Ma Ch'ao and has heard about his six battles at the Wei Bridge; and how he made Ts'ao Ts'ao cut off his beard and

throw away his robe. He very nearly slew him too. This is no lightsome task like that, and even your brother might fail."

"All I care for is to go, and if I do not overcome this fellow, I will take the consequences."

“Well, if you will put that in writing, you may lead the attack. And I will ask our lord to lead another army to back you up this time. He can leave the defence of this town to me till Chao Yün returns."

“I also want to go," said Wei Yen.

Wei Yen was allowed to go with a half company of light horse in advance of Chang Fei. Yüan-tê marched third. Wei Yen and his scouts soon arrived at the Pass and there fell in with Yang Po. They engaged; but after a few bouts Yang fled.

At this success Wei Yen was seized with ambition to rival it and try to snatch the credit that would fall to Chang Fei. So he pursued. But he presently came across a line of battle all drawn up, the commander being Ma Tai. Wei Yen, thinking it was the redoubtable Ma Ch'ao, rode toward him whirling his sword. Soon Ma Tai turned and ran away, and Wei Yen followed him. However, Ma Tai presently turned back and shot an arrow, which wounded his pursuer in the left arm, so that he left the pursuit and turned his face the other way. Then Ma Tai came after him and chased Wei Yen nearly up to the Pass.

Here Ma Tai was suddenly confronted by a fierce thunderroaring leader who dashed down from the Pass as on a flying steed.

It was Chang Fei, who had just arrived. Hearing the noise of battle below the Pass he had come to learn what it meant and saw the arrow wound Wei Yen. Soon he was in the saddle and off to the rescue, but before he engaged he would ascertain if the foeman was worthy of his steel.

"Who are you? Tell your name," cried Chang Fei, "then I may fight with you."

"I am Ma Tai of Hsiliang."

"As you are not Ma Ch'ao go away quickly, for you are no match for me. You may bid Ma Ch'ao himself come, and tell him that Chang I-tê of the north is here.

“How dare you treat me with contempt?” cried Ma Tai in hot anger, and he came galloping up with his spear set ready to thrust. But after a half score bouts he fled. Chang Fei was about to pursue when a rider came up to him hastily, crying, "Do not pursue, my brother."

The rider was Yüan-tê, and Chang Fei stopped. The two returned together to the Pass.

“I knew your impulsive temper, and so I followed you. Since you have got the better of him you may well rest and recuperate for the fight to-morrow with Ma Ch'ao."

The rolling of drums at dawn next day declared the arrival of Ma Ch'ao. Yüan-tê looked at the array from a point of vantage and saw Ma Ch'ao emerge from the shadow of his great standard. He wore a lion helmet and his belt was clasped with the shaggy head of a wild beast. His breastplate was silver and his robe of white. As his dress and bearing were not as other men's so were his abilities superior. And Yüan-tê looked at him admiringly.

"He justifies what people say," said Liu Pei. "Handsome Ma Ch'ao."

Chang Fei was for going down at once, but his brother once more checked him, saying, “No; not yet. Avoid the first keenness of his fighting ardour."

Thus below was Ma Ch‘ao challenging Chang Fei, while, above, Chang Fei was fretting at being unable to settle Ma Ch'ao. Time after time Fei was setting out, but each time his brother checked him. And so it continued till past midday, when Yüan-tê, noticing signs of fatigue and weariness among Ma Ch'ao's men, decided that it was time to let Chang Fei try his fortune. Whereupon he chose out a half company of horsemen to accompany his brother and let the party go.

Ma Ch'ao seeing Chang Fei coming with so small a force, signalled with his spear to his array to retire a bowshot, and Chang Fei's men halted. When all his men had taken their places, Fei set his spear and rode out.

“Do you know who I am ?" shouted Fei, “I am Chang Fei of Yen.'

Ma Ch‘ao replied, "My family having been noble for many generations I am not likely to know any rustic dolts.”

This reply upset Chang Fei, and in a moment the two steeds were rushing toward each other, both men with poised spears. The fight began and continued for a hundred bouts. Neither had the advantage.

"A veritable tiger of a leader,” sighed Yüan-tê.

But he felt that Chang Fei was running a risk, wherefore he sounded the gong as a signal to cease the fight. And each drew off to his own side. Chang Fei rested his steed for a time, then, leaving his helmet, he wound a turban about his head, mounted and rode out to renew the fight. Ma Ch'ao also came out, and the duel continued.

Presently Yüan-tê thought his brother in danger. So he girded on his armour and went down into the plain. He watched till they had fought another hundred bouts, and then as both seemed to wax fiercer than ever he gave the signal again to cease the battle.

Both drew off and returned each to his own side. It was then getting late, and Yüan-tê said to his brother, “You had better retire for to-day; he is a terrible opponent. Try him again to-morrow."

But Chang Fei's spirit was roused, and was it likely that such advice would be palatable?

"No," shouted he, “I will die and not come back.” “But it is late; you cannot go on fighting,” said Yüan-tê.

"Let them bring torches, and we will have a night battle," said Fei.

Ma Ch'ao having mounted a fresh steed, now rode out and shouted, “Dare you try a night battle, Chang Fei?”

Chang Fei's excitement rose higher. He hastily changed horses with his brother and rode forth.

"If I do not capture you, I will not go back to the Pass," said Fei.

"And if I do not overcome you I will not return to the camp," said Ma.

Both sides cheered. They lit many torches till it seemed as light as day, and the two great captains went to the front to fight. At the twentieth bout Ma Ch'ao turned his steed and fled.

"Whither are you going?” called out Fei.

The fact was that Ma Ch'ao had begun to see he could not win in direct and simple combat, so he thought to try a ruse. By a false flight, as though he knew he had lost, he would inveigle Chang Fei into pursuit. He picked up a copper hammer secretly and kept a careful watch on his opponent for the most favourable moment to strike. But his enemy's flight only put Chang Fei upon his guard, and when the moment came for the blow with the hammer he dodged, so that the weapon flew harmlessly past his ear. Then Fei turned his horse. Whereupon Ma Ch‘ao began to pursue. Then Fei pulled up, took his bow, fitted an arrow to the string and let fly at Ma. But Ma also dodged, and the arrow flew by. Then each returned to his own side.

Then Yüan-tê came out to the front of his battle line and called out, “Note well, O Ma Ch'ao, that I, who have never treated men other than with kindness and justice and truth and sincerity, swear that I will not take advantage of your period of repose to pursue or attack. Wherefore you may rest awhile in peace.

Ma Ch'ao, hearing these words, withdrew to the rear, and the other captains one by one returned, while Yüan-tê drew off his army toward the Pass.

Early next day Chang Fei was once more going down out of the Pass to fight, when they told him that the Commanderin-chief, Chuko Liang, had arrived. Yüan-tê went to receive him, and K‘ung-ming at once began to speak of Ma Ch'ao.

"He is the most terrible leader of the age; if he fights a desperate battle with Chang Fei loss will ensue. So I have come as quickly as I could. I left Mienchu in safe hands. I think I have a little ruse left that will bring Ma over to our side.”

« הקודםהמשך »