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At this point he fell back on the couch, panting, and Li took his leave. He told his patron what he had seen, and Ts'ao Shuang rejoiced, thinking his rival could not last long.
"If the old man died, I should not be the one to grieve,” said he.
But no sooner had Li gone than Ssúma rose from his couch and said to his sons, "Li Shêng will take a full account of this to his patron, who will not fear me any more. But wait till he goes on his next hunting trip, and we will see what can be done."
Soon after this, Ts'ao Shuang proposed to the king to visit the tomb of his father and perform the filial sacrifices in person. So they went, a goodly company in the train of the imperial chariot, and Tsʻao Shuang with all his brothers and his friends went with the guards. Ts'ao's friend Huan entreated him to remain in the city for fear of plots and risings, but Ts'ao asked angrily and rudely who would dare make trouble, and bade him hold his tongue. And he went with the king.
His departure rejoiced the heart of Ssúma, who at once began quietly to muster his trusty friends and henchmen and put the finishing touches to the plot for the overthrow of his rival.
Now terminates his forced inaction,
He must destroy the hostile faction.
SSÚMA I RECOVERS POLITICAL POWER;
CHIANG WEI IS DEFEATED AT NIUT'OU HILLS. The Ssúmas were very pleased to hear that their rival and his party were to follow the king on a visit to the tombs combined with a hunt, for it meant that the whole enemy faction left the city. As soon as they left, Ssúma entered, gave the minister Kao Jou provisional command of the army and sent him to seize the camp of Ts'ao Shuang. His brother's camp was also occupied. Having secured his position thus, he and his supporters went to the palace of the Empress Dowager and said to her, "Ts'ao Shuang has betrayed the trust placed in him by the late Emperor and has ruined the government. His fault must be expiated."
She replied, “What can be done in the absence of His Majesty ?"
"I have prepared plans for the destruction of these base ministers and will see to it that no trouble happens to yourself."
The Empress was much alarmed, but could only act as she was directed and agree. So two of Ssúma's supporters copied out the memorial he had prepared and it was sent to the king by the hand of an eunuch. Then the arsenals were seized.
Soon the news of the rising came to the knowledge of the family of Ts'ao Shuang, and his wife came out from the inner apartments and summoned the captain of the guard to enquire into the truth of the rumours. He told her that she need feel no alarm and he would go and see. Thereupon the captain P'an Chü, at the head of a few bowmen, went up on the wall and looked around. At that moment Ssúma was crossing the court, and P‘an bade his men shoot. But one of his officers reminded him that the T'ai-fu was one of the highest officers of state.
“You must not shoot at the T'ai-fu; he is on public service.”
Thrice he urged his chief not to let the men shoot, and so P'an desisted. Ssúma went across guarded by his son Shao. Then he went out of the city and camped on the Lo River at the floating bridge.
When the revolution began, one of Tsʻao Shuang's officers, Ssūma Lu-chih by name, took counsel with his subordinate Hsin Ch'ang.
"Now that this revolt has begun, what should we do?”
“Let us go to the king with what troops we have," replied Hsin.
"Perhaps the best course," replied Lu-chih, and he went to his own house to get ready to start. There he met his sister, Hsien-ying, who asked the meaning of all this haste.
"His Majesty is out on a hunt and the T'ai-fu has closed the gates of the city. This is rebellion."
“I do not think so. He only means to slay Ts'ao Shuang, his rival,” replied she.
"Why should he desire to do that?" asked her brother, sharply.
"Ts'ao Shuang is no match for the T'ai-fu,” replied she. “If Ssúma asks us to join him, should we?” asked Hsin. Hsien-ying replied, “You know what a true man should do. When a man is in danger there is the greater need for sympathy. To be of his men and desert in an emergency is the greatest of evils."
This speech decided Hsin, who went with Ssúma Lu-chih. At the head of a few horsemen they forced the gate and got out of the city. When their escape was reported to Ssúma I he thought that Huan Fan would surely try to follow their example, so he sent to call him. However, on the advice of his son, Huan did not answer the summons, but decided to flee. He got into his carriage and drove hastily to the P'ingch‘ang Gate.
But the gate was barred. The warden was an old dependant of Huan's. Huan pulled out from his sleeve a slip of bamboo and said, “The Empress's command; open the gate for me.”
"Let me look," said the warden.
“What! How dare you, an old servant of mine, behave thus?"
The warden let him pass. As soon as he had got outside he shouted to the warden, “Ssůma I has raised a revolt, and you had better follow me.'
The warden realised that he had made a mistake, and ran after Huan, but failed to come up with him.
“So Bag o' Wisdom has got away too; that is a pity, but what can we do?" said Ssūma, when they reported the escape.
“The old horse always hankers after the old stable and manger, and he would have been useless to us,” replied Chiang Chi.
Then Ssūma called to him Hsü Yün and Ch'ên Tai and said, “Go ye to Ts'ao Shuang and say that I have no other intention than to take away the military power from him and his brother."
As soon as they had left, he called Yin Ta-mu and ordered Chiang Chi prepare a letter to be taken to Ts'ao Shuang.
Said Ssúma, “You are on good terms with the man and are the fittest person for this mission. Tell him that Chiang Chi and I are concerned solely with the military powers in the
hands of himself and his brother, as we have sworn pointing to the Lo River."
So Yin Ta-mu went his way.
Out in the country Ts'ao Shuang was enjoying the hunting, flying his falcons and coursing his hounds. Suddenly came the news of the rising in the city and the memorial against him. He almost fell out of the saddle when they told him. The eunuch handed in the memorial to the king in the presence of Ts'ao, who took it and opened it. A minister in attendance was ordered to read it. It said:
“On my return from the expedition into Liaotung His late Majesty summoned Your Majesty with Prince Ts'in, myself and certain others to his bedside, took me by the arm and impressed upon us all our duty in the years to be. Now Ts'ao Shuang has betrayed the trust placed in him, has disordered the kingdom, usurped power at court and seized upon power in the provinces. He has appointed the eunuch Chang Tang Commandant of the City to control the court and spy upon Your Majesty. He is surely lying in wait to seize the empire. He has sown dissension in the royal family and injured his own flesh and blood. The whole land is in confusion, and men's hearts are full of fear. All this is opposed to the injunctions of His late Majesty and his commands to me. Stupid and worthless as I am, yet I dare not forget his words. My colleagues, T'ai-yu Chiang Chi and Shang-shu Ssúma Fu agree that Ts'ao Shuang is disloyal at heart. Great military powers should not be entrusted to brothers.
"I have memorialised Her Majesty and obtained her authority to act.
"All military powers have been wrested from the hands of the Tsʻao family, leaving them only the simple title of Marquis, so that hereafter they may be unable to hinder or control Your Majesty's actions. If there be any obstruction, the matter shall be summarily dealt with.
“Although in ill health, as a precautionary measure I have camped at the Floating Bridge, whence I write this."
When they had made an end of reading, the king turned to Ts'ao Shuang and said, “In the face of such words what mean you to do?”
Shuang was at a loss and turned to his younger brother, saying, "What now?"
Ts'ao Hsi replied, “I remonstrated with you, but you were obstinate and listened not. So it has come to this. Ssúma I is false and cunning beyond measure. If K'ung-ming could not get the better of him, could we hope to do so? I see nothing but to yield that haply we may live.”
Just at this moment arrived Hsin Ch‘ang and Ssúma Luchih. Ts'ao Shuang asked what tidings they brought.
They replied, “The city is completely and closely surrounded, the T'ai-fu is camped on the river at the Floating Bridge, and you cannot return. You must decide how to act at once.
Then galloped up Huan Fan, who said, “This is really rebellion; why not request His Majesty to proceed to Hsütu till provincial troops can arrive and deal with Ssúma ?”
Ts'ao Shuang replied, “How can we go to another place when all our families are in the city ?”
“Fool! Even in this crisis you think only of life. You have the Son of Heaven with you here and command all the forces of the empire. None would dare disobey you, and yet you march quietly to death.”
The unhappy man could not decide to strike a blow for safety; he did nothing but snivel.
Huan continued, “The stay in Hsütu would be but brief, and there are ample supplies for years. You have forces at your call at Nankuan. You hold the seal of Minister of War, and I have brought it with me. Everything is in your favour. Act! Act at once! Delay is death."
“Do not hurry me," said Ts'ao. “Let me think it over carefully."
Then came the two messengers of Ssúma I, to say that he desired only to strip the Ts'aos of their military power. If they yielded they might return peacefully to the city.
Still the Ts'aos hesitated. Next arrived Yin Ta-mu with Ssúma's second message that he had sworn by the Lo River to the singleness of his aim. He tendered the letter of Chiang Chi to the effect that if the conditions were complied with the Ts'aos might return to their palace in peace.
When Ts'ao Shuang seemed disposed to accept the assurance of Ssắma, Huan inveighed against it, saying, “You are a dead man if you listen to the voice of these men.
Night found Ts'ao Shuang still vacillating. As twilight faded into darkness he stood, sword in hand, sad, sighing and weeping. And morning found him still trying to make up his mind.
Huan again urged him to decide upon some course. “You have had a whole day and a whole night for reflection and must decide," said he.
“I will not fight; I will yield all and save my house," said Ts'ao, throwing down his sword.
Huan left the tent wailing. "Tsʻao Chên might boast of his abilities, but his brothers are mere cattle,” said he. He wept copiously.
The two messengers bade Tsʻao offer his seal of office to Ssúma, and it was brought. Its custodian clung to it and would not give it up, saying, “Alas! that you, my lord, should resign your powers and make such a pitiful surrender. For surely you will not escape death in the eastern market-place.”