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"This insignificant person has decided," began her Augustness, looking round and unscrewing the amber top of her snuff-bottle, "to take an unintelligent part in these proceedings. An example should be set. Attendant, write!"
She then dictated as follows: "The Ideal Man is he who now decorates the Imperial Throne, or he who in all humility ventures to resemble the incomparable Emperor. Though he may not hope to attain, his endeavor is his merit. No further description it needed."
With complacence she inhaled the perfumed snuff, as the writer appended the elegant characters of her Imperial name.
If it is permissible to say that the faces of the beauties lengthened visibly, it should now be said. For it had been the intention of every lady to make an illusion to the Celestial Emperor and depict him as the Ideal Man. Nor had they expected that the August Aunt would take any part in the matter.
"Oh, but it was the intention of this commonplace and undignified person to say this very thing!" cried the Lustrous Lady, with tears in the jewels of her eyes. "I thought no other high-minded and distinguished lady would for a moment think of it"
"And it was my intention also!" fluttered the little Lady Tortoise, wringing her hands! "What now shall this most unlucky and unendurable person do? For three nights has sleep forsaken my unattractive eyelids, and, tossing and turning on a couch deprived of all comfort, I could only repeat, `The Ideal Man is the Divine Dragon Emperor!'"
"May one of entirely contemptible attainments make a suggestion in this assemblage of scintillating wit and beauty?" inquired the Celestial Sister. "My superficial opinion is that it would be well to prepare a single paper to which all names should be appended, stating that His Majesty in his Dragon Divinity comprises all ideals in his sacred Person."
"Let those words be recorded," said the August Aunt. "What else should any lady of discretion and propriety say? In this Palace of Virtuous Peace, where all is consecrated to the Son of Heaven, though he deigns not to enter it, what other thought dare be breathed? Has any lady ventured to step outside such a limit? If so, let her declare herself!"
All shook their heads, and the August Aunt proceeded: "Let the writer record this as the opinion of every lady of the Imperial Household, and let each name be separately appended."
Had any desired to object, none dared to confront the August Aunt; but apparently no beauty so desired, for after three nights' sleepless meditation, no other thought than this had occurred to any.
Accordingly, the writer moved from lady to lady and, under the supervision of the August Aunt, transcribed the following: "The Ideal Man is the earthly likeness of the Divine Emperor. How should it be otherwise?" And under this sentence wrote the name of each lovely one in succession. The papers were then placed in the hanging sleeves of the August Aunt for safety.
By the decree of Fate, the father of the Round-Faced Beauty had, before he became an ancestral spirit, been a scholar of distinction, having graduated at the age of seventy-two with a composition commended by the Grand Examiner. Having no gold and silver to give his daughter, he had formed her mind, and had presented her with the sole jewel of his family-a pearl as large as a bean. Such was her sole dower, but the accomplished Aunt may excel the indolent Prince.
Yet, before the thought in her mind, she hesitated and trembled, recalling the lesson of the gold-fish; and it was with anxiety that paled her roseate lips that, on a certain day, she had sought the Willow Bridge Pavilion. There had awaited her a palace attendant skilled with the brush, and there in secrecy and dire affright, hearing the footsteps of the August Aunt in every rustle of leafage, and her voice in the call of every crow, did the Round-Faced Beauty dictate the following composition:-
"Though the sky rain pearls, it cannot equal the beneficence of the Son of Heaven. Though the sky rain jade it cannot equal his magnificence. He has commanded his slave to describe the qualities of the Ideal Man. How should I, a mere woman, do this? I, who have not seen the Divine Emperor, how should I know what is virtue? I, who have not seen the glory of his countenance, how should I know what is beauty? Report speaks of his excellencies, but I who live in the dark know not. But to the Ideal Woman, the very vices of her husband are virtues. Should he exalt another, this is a mark of his superior taste. Should he dismiss his slave, this is justice. To the Ideal Woman there is but one Ideal Man - and that is her lord. From the day she crosses his threshold, to the day when they clothe her in the garments of Immortality, this is her sole opinion. Yet would that she might receive instruction of what only are beauty and virtue in his adorable presence."
This being written, she presented her one pearl to the attendant and fled, not looking behind her, as quickly as her delicate feet would permit.
On the seventh day the compositions, engraved on ivory and bound with red silk and tassels, were presented to the Emperor, and for seven days more he forgot their existence. On the eighth the High Chamberlain ventured to recall them to the Imperial memory, and the Emperor glancing slightly at one after another, threw them aside, yawning as he did so. Finally, one arrested his eyes, and reading it more than once he laid it before him and meditated. An hour passed in this way while the forgotten Lord Chamberlain continued to kneel. The Son of Heaven, then raising his head, pronounced these words: "In the society of the Ideal Woman, she to whom jealousy is unknown, tranquillity might possibly be obtained. Let prayer be made before the Ancestors with the customary offerings, for this is a matter deserving attention."
A few days passed, and an Imperial attendant, escorted by two mandarins of the peacock- feather and crystal-button rank, desired an audience of the August Aunt, and, speaking before the curtain, informed her that his Imperial Majesty would pay a visit that evening to the Hall of Tranquil Longevity. Such was her agitation at this honour that she immediately swooned; but, reviving, summoned all the attendants and gave orders for a banquet and musicians.
Lanterns painted with pheasants and exquisite landscapes were hung on all the pavilions. Tap- estries of rose, decorated with the Five-Clawed Dragons, adorned the chambers; and upon the High Seat was placed a robe of yellow satin embroidered with pearls. All was hurry and excitement. The Blossoms of the Palace were so exquisitely decked that one grain more of powder would have made them too lily-like, and one touch more of rouge, too rosecheeked. It was indeed perfection, and, like lotuses upon a lake, or Asian birds, gorgeous of plumage, they stood ranged in the outer chamber while the Celestial Emperor took his seat.
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The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck