Tales of the Argonauts HTML version
Wan Lee, The Pagan
As I opened Hop Sing's letter, there fluttered to the ground a square strip of
yellow paper covered with hieroglyphics, which, at first glance, I innocently took
to be the label from a pack of Chinese fire-crackers. But the same envelope also
contained a smaller strip of rice-paper, with two Chinese characters traced in
India ink, that I at once knew to be Hop Sing's visiting-card. The whole, as
afterwards literally translated, ran as follows:--
"To the stranger the gates of my house are not closed: the rice-jar is on the left,
and the sweetmeats on the right, as you enter.
Two sayings of the Master:--
Hospitality is the virtue of the son and the wisdom of the ancestor.
The Superior man is light hearted after the crop-gathering: he makes a festival.
When the stranger is in your melon-patch, observe him not too closely:
inattention is often the highest form of civility.
Happiness, Peace, and Prosperity.
Admirable, certainly, as was this morality and proverbial wisdom, and although
this last axiom was very characteristic of my friend Hop Sing, who was that most
sombre of all humorists, a Chinese philosopher, I must confess, that, even after a
very free translation, I was at a loss to make any immediate application of the
message. Luckily I discovered a third enclosure in the shape of a little note in
English, and Hop Sing's own commercial hand. It ran thus:--
"The pleasure of your company is requested at No. -- Sacramento Street, on
Friday evening at eight o'clock. A cup of tea at nine,-- sharp.
This explained all. It meant a visit to Hop Sing's warehouse, the opening and
exhibition of some rare Chinese novelties and curios, a chat in the back office, a
cup of tea of a perfection unknown beyond these sacred precincts, cigars, and a
visit to the Chinese theatre or temple. This was, in fact, the favorite programme
of Hop Sing when he exercised his functions of hospitality as the chief factor or
superintendent of the Ning Foo Company.