The Golden Canister
In the days of the Tang dynasty there lived a certain count in the camp at Ludschou. He had a slave who could play the lute admirably, and was also so well versed in reading and writing that the count employed her to indite his confidential letters.
Once there was a great feast held in the camp. Said the slave-girl: “The large kettledrum sounds so sad to-day; some misfortune must surely have happened to the kettledrummer!”
The count sent for the kettledrummer and questioned him.
“My wife has died,” he replied, “yet I did not venture to ask for leave of absence. That is why, in spite of me, my kettledrum sounded so sad.”
The count allowed him to go home.
At that time there was much strife and jealousy among the counts along the Yellow River. The emperor wished to put an end to their dissensions by allying them to each other by marriages. Thus the daughter of the Count of Ludschou had married the son of the old Count of Webo. But this did not much improve matters. The old Count of Webo had lung trouble, and when the hot season came it always grew worse, and he would say: “Yes, if I only had Ludschou! It is cooler and I might feel better there!”
So he gathered three thousand warriors around him, gave them good pay, questioned the oracle with regard to a lucky day, and set out to take Ludschou by force.
The Count of Ludschou heard of it. He worried day and night, but could see no way out of his difficulties. One night, when the water-clock had already been set up, and the gate of the camp had been locked, he walked about the courtyard, leaning on his staff. Only his slave-girl followed him.
“Lord,” said she, “it is now more than a month since sleep and appetite have abandoned you! You live sad and lonely, wrapped up in your grief. Unless I am greatly deceived it is on account of Webo.”
“It is a matter of life and death,” answered the count, “of which you women understand nothing.”
“I am no more than a slave-girl,” said she, “and yet I have been able to guess the cause of your grief.