Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - To Serve The Public is the Aim by A.J. Hall

The little inn in the central uplands had been recently redecorated, but Peng Mingjun’s tactful enquiries of the innkeeper established that this was not for the usual reason hostelries in the jianghu found themselves in sudden need of refurbishment. No indeed; there was a great deal less of that sort of thing in these parts than there used to be, the innkeeper assured him, smiling. A new pugilist sect had appeared in the district, and seemed determined to make life a great deal better for honest tradespeople. Peng Mingjun murmured satisfaction that this should be so and ventured to suggest, now the inn-keeper’s stock seemed more likely to end up going down his customers’ throats than being smashed over their heads, that he might perhaps be interested in purchasing a few cases of wine from the more select end of his catalogue? The inn-keeper nodded, and they proceeded to transact some very satisfactory business.

Two days later, Peng Mingjun found himself entering the courtyard of a very different hostelry. He looked around and drew in his breath. The building possessed good proportions and had been built of excellent materials, but signs of neglect were everywhere, piles of refuse scattered about the courtyard. How could Wu Chengfu have described this place in such glowing terms?

At the thought of Wu Chengfu, his brows drew down, and his normally cheerful face grew grave.

For the benefit of Wu Chengfu’s wife, and their three solemn, wide-eyed children, all below the age of five, Peng Mingjun had accepted Wu Chengfu’s claim to have been brought down by a (sudden, unexpected) chill on the lungs, due to adverse weather and carelessness with regard to changing wet socks.

For the benefit of their mutual employer, the Li Brothers of Jinling, Peng Mingjun had confirmed he would be covering Wu Chengfu’s circuit as well as his own for the no-doubt short period until Wu Chengfu’s restoration to full health.

But none of the aforementioned had been present seven years ago at a field hospital in Yunnan, when Peng Mingjun had sat beside Wu Chengfu’s pallet, watching the rise and fall of the broken arrow shaft in his friend’s chest, seeing bubbling pink foam on his lips.

In Peng Mingjun’s honest opinion, unless Wu Chengfu were confined to light duties in a warm climate with regular meals and proper opportunities for rest, the lingering damage caused by that arrow would see him in his grave before his thirty-fifth birthday.

But job opportunities for wounded war veterans without rank or connections were limited, and opportunities meeting the above criteria were, apparently, nil. For the last five years Wu Chengfu had ridden a circuit through the jianghu in all weathers, promoting the wines sold by their mutual employers, and been very grateful for the chance.

Until he had collapsed half a day’s ride out from Jinling, and had to be brought home in a carriage which, Peng Mingjun unblushingly told his friend, had been charged without question to the Li Brothers’ account, and the cost of which should accordingly not be allowed to worry a sick man further.

In riding Wu Chengfu’s circuit, he had found himself deeply indebted to his friend’s detailed notes: loving pen-pictures of locations and characters, delineated with precision and infused with a warm and generous humour.

The contrast between this inn as described by Wu Chengfu and the inn as it now appeared to Peng Mingjun was so sharp the only explanation could be a change of ownership, whether by sale or inheritance. But the order book showed the most recent consugnment had been duly delivered to innkeeper Kang Guangzhi a little over two months earlier, and those same order books and delivery notes showed that same Kang Guangzhi to have been innkeeper here since before Peng Mingjun and Wu Chengfu had left Yunnan.

For Peng Mingjun, Li Brothers’ order books and delivery notes were akin to sacred texts: he accepted as a theoretical possibility that they might have suffered forgeries or interpolations, but his soul revolted against the notion.

But what else could explain how this place had declined so badly in the short time since Wu Chengfu’s last visit?

An emaciated stable-boy popped up to take his horse. Peng Mingjun caressed her ears, fed her an apple and surrendered her into the stable-boy’s care. His stomach churning, he pushed open the door to the main public room of the inn; a room empty save for a surly individual with, Peng Mingjun was distressed to note, a solid black line of grime beneath his fingernails, who was negligently leaning against the far side of the bar.

Perhaps, if the weather had not turned, a rainstorm blowing up out of nowhere, he might have backed away, not identified himself as the representative of Li Brothers, headed off to find someone to whom he might confide his suspicions. From what he’d heard of this new pugilist sect, it would have views about the sort of thing he suspected might be going on here, and no qualms about making those views known.

As it was, he had no plausible excuse for leaving. He consoled himself that commercial travellers notoriously rode routes planned in advance. Failure to arrive at his next appointment would be noted; messages would be sent to his employer; the point where he had vanished would be pin-pointed and unwelcome suspicion directed to this inn. Whatever might be going on, it would be foolish in the extreme to kill him.

Accordingly, he presented his credentials, the surly individual duly confirmed he was Kang Guangzhi, and they got down to business.

That, if anything, served only to reinforce his suspicions. Although the weather outside made the thought absurd, spring was already well advanced. By the time this order could be despatched and fulfilled, they would be approaching the hottest time of the year.

Any innkeeper of Kang Guangzhi’s experience would be ordering light wines to accompany the delicate foods needed to tempt the jaded appetites of high summer. This man hesitated, and then, incredibly, proposed they simply repeat his last order. That, of course, had been placed in autumn and loaded with strong, heavy wines intended to complement winter hotpots and spiced offal platters.

Peng Mingjun, taken aback, ventured to suggest lighter alternatives. The so-called innkeeper fell upon these as if they had been pearls of wisdom handed down by a Taoist master. Fascinated, Peng Mingjun made rather more idiosyncratic suggestions: the other man accepted them without demur. Emboldened by his success, he recommended Fortunate Snake: an aromatic, sweetish wine from Yequin, a substantial consignment of which had been acquired five years ago by an arrogant young purchasing manager (who had not lasted long with Li Brothers) and languished in their cellars ever since.

“I wouldn’t suggest you buy more than a case or so at first,” Peng Mingjun said, his fingers loosely clasped together for fear they might betray him. “It’s becoming the fashionable drink in Jinling, but it will take time for that fashion to spread upcountry. Still, this inn has a long-standing reputation for offering rare wines. It would be unfortunate if you did not happen to have some on hand, should you be asked.”

In a quarter of the time Peng Mingjun had expected, he booked an order so large and peculiar he expected he would to have to explain it personally to his superiors on his return to Jinling. That done, he removed himself to a table near the bar and, with considerable trepidation given what he surmised about the state of the kitchen, ventured to order his midday meal.

A serving man, even grubbier and surlier than his master, slapped various bowls down in front of him. Reluctantly, Peng Mingjun picked up his chopsticks.

At which precise moment, the inn door opened and two young men blew in. Literally, given that the storm at their backs seemed, if anything, to have increased.

Peng Mingjun summed them up in one glance. The younger and more adventurous scions of Da Liang’s great manors not infrequently took a few months away from the polo-grounds and entertainment houses of the capital to wander the jianghu in the hope of “seeing life.” In general Peng Mingjun approved of such wanderers. Apart from anything else, they were very good for trade. It was far easier to convince innkeepers in remote locations to stock a wider (and more expensive) selection of wines if they thought some aristocratic young masters might drop by to drink them.

These two were clearly of that breed. The taller had elongated, sensitive features (Peng Mingjun pictured him reciting classical poetry to the strains of a guqin against a background of cherry-blossom) and the other was a round-faced, cheerful person who looked as if he would be happier on the hunting field or race track than in a salon. They were both in their early twenties, and their practical riding gear was adorned with little flourishes and adornments which marked them as men of fashion.

“Hi! Anybody? What wines have you got? We’re soaked to the skin; we might as well get our insides properly wet too!”

The innkeeper appeared, and, bowing obsequiously, reeled off a list of the more expensive contents of his cellar. His recital was littered with blunders which had Peng Mingjun wincing, and the two young lords exchanging amused, sidelong glances. Still, out of the muddle, one name emerged clearly.

Fifteen Dragons? Why didn’t you say so at the start? A flask of Fifteen Dragons and two cups, please.”

Peng Minghun permitted himself a small, satisfied nod. He had indeed placed the young men correctly. Fifteen Dragons was by no means the most famous of Da Liang’s fine wines, but over the last few years it had become the wine of choice for those chosen by fortune.

Between the cultivated palate of the third Li Brother, and the commercial acumen of the eldest, Peng Mingjun’s employers had been early on the scene, taking very advantageous forward positions. Three-quarters of the bottles of Fifteen Dragons traded in Da Liang bore the Li Brothers’ stamp, and, as Peng Minjun knew, his friend had convinced the innkeeper of this unprepossessing hostelry to order two cases on his last visit.

The innkeeper turned away from the young lords, bellowing the order to the servitor. For a moment Peng Mingjun saw his face, open and unguarded. Naked greed shone in his eyes.

He raised his teacup to his lips to disguise his expression.

Any innkeeper would be gratified to have guests who instantly ordered the most expensive wine in the house purely on the basis that they were cold and wet and wanted something to cheer them up.

Perhaps there was nothing sinister in that.

But —

His eyes narrowed.

The serving man carrying the tray with the young lords’ order was passing close by his table, and while the celadon flask bore the authentic Li Brothers’ mark, not in any conceivable world could that wax seal have ever, ever, ever been applied by anyone in their employ.

Peng Mingjun was a loyal servant of his employer. If these two young lords went missing, a bottle of Fifteen Dragons wine bearing the Li Brothers stamp might be associated with their disappearance. That thought shocked him to the marrow.

More than that, though, it revolted him on a fundamental level that two carefree young lives might be snuffed out simply because they’d taken refuge from a rainstorm at the wrong inn.

He rose to his feet with the air of a man answering an urgent call of nature and, as he passed the young lords’ table contrived to stumble and almost sprawled full-length.

From table height, he hissed, “Don’t drink the wine.

Without waiting to see how this injunction had been received, he scrambled to his feet, all apologies and rapid bows, and beat a retreat towards the rudimentary facilities, which were located in a noisome hut on the far side of the rainswept rear yard.

When he emerged, the round-faced young lord was sheltering under the eaves of the stable-block, as if contemplating whether it was worth making a dash through the rain to the inn-door, or hope the downpour eased off over the next few moments. On spotting Peng Mingjun, he beckoned him over.

“So, Mr Whoever-you-are, what’s going on?”

“The innkeeper isn’t an innkeeper, and the wine’s in the right bottle but with the wrong seal,” Peng Mingjun replied succinctly.

The young lord’s eyebrows rose: it heightened his resemblance to a cheerful owl.

“And you know that because —?”

Peng Mingjun bowed. “You see before you Peng Mingjun, the humble representative of Li Brothers, purveyors of fine wines throughout the length and breadth of Da Liang. And that was certainly a Li Brothers’ bottle.”

Owlish he might look, but the young lord had not, it seemed, been behind the door while brains were being handed out.

“But you’re not prepared to commit yourself as to the contents, eh? Well, in that case, perhaps you’d be interested in this.”

From his sleeve he extracted a sodden square of silk from which a strong alcoholic odour was rising. He waved his other hand in an explanatory sort of way.

“My friend accidentally knocked my wine cup over while he was demonstrating a swordfighting technique with chopsticks and used this to mop it up.”

Gingerly, Peng Mingjun took the square, wrung it out over the young lord’s helpfully extended palm, tipped the tip of his forefinger in the resulting puddle of unappealing liquid, raised the fingertip to his lips and licked it. Then he turned, shielded his face with his arm, and with the utmost delicacy spat into the stableyard, before producing his own handkerchief and scrubbing his tongue-tip vigorously.

“That bad?”

“Twilight sleep.”

The young lord’s expression was horror-struck. “Twilight sleep? Adulterating Fifteen Dragons wine with twilight sleep? What kind of barbarian does that?”

As a wine merchant, Peng Mingjun approved the sentiment; as a man in imminent peril of death, he felt it ill-timed.

“Had you drunk that —”

“The flow of qi in our bodies would have been suppressed, and we would rapidly have become incapable of defending ourselves against any attack, making it easy to rob and murder us,” the young lord rattled off, with the air of one reciting something learned by rote. “It may be my first time in the jianghu but I’m not quite as stupid as I look. Honestly.”

“This one dare not comment,” Peng Mingjun said, and for the first time in his life actually meant it.

The round-faced lord smiled. “So, we’re going to have to fight our way out of here, then. That’s one in the eye for Brother Jingrui. He insisted on telling me those all-in tavern brawls don’t happen in real life nearly as often as they do in the stories, and, well, here we are. Can you fight, by the way?”

“Um. Well. Probably.” He reddened. “That is, I haven’t had occasion to for a while, but I did spend two years in the Yunnan Army, when I was about your age, sir.”

“Yunnan? Splendid. If Nihuang-jiě-jie trained you, you should do all right in a scrap.”

In a somewhat stifled voice, Peng Mingjun observed that the Princess-Marshal of Yunnan had rather more elevated duties than training her soldiers individually, especially as she possessed a very great many of them.

The young lord grinned. “Well, in any case, she’ll have selected the people who trained you, so it’s just as good. So. We’d better go back in and prepare for battle, then.”

If Peng Mingjun had wondered how the young lord was going to explain his sudden acquaintance with someone so obviously of a much humbler station in life, he need not have worried.

As they entered through the back door, the young lord called out to his companion, “Brother Jingrui, can you imagine a job so frustrating? This Peng Mingjun, he travels for Li Brothers. Selling fine wines in all weathers, and yet with barely a chance to taste his own wares. It’s an outrage. Another cup over here, please. And, of course, he’s perfectly placed to tell us all we need to know about this district. Now, sit down with us, and tell us which other inns stock the best wines, and where all the prettiest girls are, yes?”

The conversation waxed lively, and the flask went round again. They toasted one another, laughed and leant convivially close across the table, handily concealing the fact the wine itself was going everywhere but down their throats.

Another round of toasts. This time, the round-faced lord let his head droop and his mouth go slack.

“Lightweight, Brother Ya —” The other threw back his head in an expansive yawn.

The round-faced lord moved his lips just enough to slur, “Stronger than it looks —”

“Why they call it Fifteen Dragons, you see —” Peng Mingjun made an expansive, sweeping gesture, sending cups, food and everything else crashing to the floor, before collapsing in an artistic face-plant across the newly bare boards of the table.

Silence reigned in the inn.

The next few minutes were the longest of his life.

The soft crunch of a porcelain shard beneath a booted foot alerted him that the attackers, confident their victims had succumbed to twilight sleep, were about to finish the matter.

He had taken care to collapse with his hands below the table. He gripped, hard, on the lower edge of the table top, his hands a shoulder’s breadth apart. Then, with all the force of his lungs:

“Now!”

The two young lords sprang away; he tipped the table onto its side, dropped to a crouch, balanced it on one shoulder and, using it as a combination of shield and battering ram, powered into the attack.

“Ooof.” The inn-keeper collapsed under his onslaught, his blade skittering away across the floor. The taller lord trapped it beneath his boot, snatched it up, slashed the inn-keeper’s throat and, in the same swirling movement, decapitated the serving man.

Another member of the gang burst from a side door. Peng Mingjun drove an accurate and heavy boot into his knee. As he collapsed, he grabbed the man’s blade and, recalling his sergeant’s maxim that leaving a live enemy on the floor behind one was how soft-hearted idiots ended up as blood-drained corpses, stabbed down, hard, into his chest.

The man emitted a wet cough, and went limp. Hating himself, Peng Mingjun tugged the blade free and spun to see two hefty attackers bearing down from different angles.

The taller young lord back-flipped the full length of the room. He came upright an arm’s length away; his sword slashed the throat of the left-hand attacker and took out other man on the backstroke. He nodded to Peng Mingjun and danced away to deal with another threat.

A flicker of movement from above caught Peng Mingjun’s attention.

“Archer!” he shouted, pointing to the gallery. The round-faced lord vaulted the bar, grabbed the handiest flask and hurled it into the archer’s face just as he loosed. The arrow flew wide of its intended target and buried itself in a wooden pillar. The archer toppled in a slow arc from his perch, landing sprawled and broken-necked on the flagged floor.

A second archer sprang to take his place, but a dagger whirled across the room to bury itself in his throat before he had time even to nock his arrow.

The stable-boy erupted out of nowhere. Peng Mingjun backed before his whirling fists. He backed further. One incautious foot landed on a pottery shard; he slipped, the room whirled, and he landed on his backside with a thump. With a whoop of triumph, the stable boy dived for the kill —

And gurgled his last, as the round-faced lord severed his jugular vein.

Nothing moved. Silence reigned.

From his position on the floor, Peng Mingjun surveyed the wreckage of the inn.

“We won, I take it?”

The taller young lord bowed. “Thanks to Brother Peng’s admirable and accurate assessment of the situation, it seems we did. But I don’t think we should stay here. The gang may have reinforcements in the district, and in any event, we’re already late meeting our scholar friend. He may be worrying.”

He glanced at the great gaping hole in the door frame, which looked rather as if someone had been thrown bodily through it.

“Weather’s improving, anyway. We should make it before dusk, if we hurry.”

On the matter of hurrying, though, Peng Mingjun found one formidable difficulty. On his attempting to rise, red-hot needles shot up his leg. He let out a couple of words he had not allowed to pass his lips since his army days and collapsed back on the floor.

The two young lords inspected it, and proclaimed it to be a sprain. Their first-aid might be said to be rudimentary at best, but somehow they boosted him aboard his horse, one of them captured his reins, and both assured him they were acting in his own best interests.

The three of them rode out from the inn.


Some hours unpleasant riding later, they entered a small walled town.

Xiao Jingrui led the way. (When they had finally got round to introductions, Ping Mingjun had almost fainted on hearing the Emperor’s family name attached to the taller of the young lords. The round-faced lord, who answered to YanYujin, seemed used to this reaction: he’d hissed at him that no, his friend was not an Imperial prince; yes, there was a long and unfortunate history behind it and, last, please could he just roll with it, without asking questions?)

After some time winding through the town’s narrow streets, they entered the courtyard of an inn which, even through the waves of pain washing over him, Peng Mingjun recognised from Wu Chengfu’s description as the best for 200 li in all directions.

They had not even had time to dismount before a blue and grey-clad scholar emerged from the inn’s interior, and shouted across the courtyard, “Xiao Jingrui!”

The man addressed swung his booted leg over his horse’s head and dropped to the ground. Very slowly, he walked forwards, until he was within arm’s length of the scholar.

“Sir Su. Is there a problem?”

“I expected you and Yan Yujin —” The scholar paused. Then — “What under heaven were you two playing at? You were supposed to be here two days ago! Have you any idea how many travellers have gone missing in this district recently? Someone’s running an inn-ambush trap round here; the local pugilist sect have all their people out looking for clues —”

Startled, Peng Mingjun recognised the tone of someone who had been very scared indeed, and whose fear had now transmuted to anger under the influence of relief.

Xiao Jingrui’s fists clenched, his knuckles white.

“Well. If they consider eight corpses and a lot of smashed furniture clues, then I expect they’ll find what they’re looking for any moment now.”

He stalked away, his back to the little group. His face was hidden, but his shoulders worked.

“Xiao Jingrui —” There was palpable distress in the scholar’s voice.

“Sir Su.” Yan Yujin dismounted in turn. “We’ll tell you the whole story as soon as we can. But — do you have your personal physician to hand? Our friend — Peng Mingjun here — was injured in the fight with those — lowlifes — and he could do with attention.”

Immediately, the scholar was all dispassionate concern. “Injured? Not badly, I trust?”

Dark grey spots dancing across his vision, Peng Mingjun shook his head. “Sprained ankle, only. My fault. Tripped — Long time since I saw action. Out of practice — Your friends did all the heavy lifting —”

Yan Yujin snorted. “Don’t listen to a word of his nonsense, Sir Su. He saw through the whole plot from the beginning. Saved all our lives. But suppose we get him indoors and we all take the chance to cool down, and all that? The story can wait.”

Some time later, his foot tightly bound, elevated and with cold compresses on it, a cup of excellent wine at his elbow (not Fifteen Dragons, but a more than passable Forgotten Phoenix), he was invited to share with the scholar and the two young lords how he had first come to suspect all was not well at the inn.

The two young lords exclaimed and gasped as he unwound the chain of his reasoning. The scholar asked if he might, as a very great favour, borrow Wu Chengfu’s notes during Peng Mingjun’s stay. It had not occurred to him, previously, to consider how much valuable intelligence those like Wu Chengfu and Peng Mingjun, who wandered the length and breadth of Da Liang for commercial purposes, might gather in the course of their travels. It was something to think about, indeed. Of great value to a student of affairs.

On the whole, Peng Mingjun reflected once he reached his bed, though his ankle pained him extremely and he foresaw a white night of pain ahead, it had been a very congenial evening.


It could have proved tedious, spending a few days waiting on his ankle’s recovery before he could resume his circuit. Fortunately the town was a lively one; his accommodation comfortable; the opportunities (especially in the light of his recent and wholly unsought celebrity) to make valuable connections in the interests of his employers unparalleled.

Best of all, from Peng Mingjun’s point of view, Sir Su had also elected to stay on when his young friends departed, arranging to catch up with them at some later point on their travels. Furthermore, on the first night after their departure, Sir Su invited Peng Mingjun to be his guest at dinner, and once he arrived lost no time in expressing his profound and personal thanks.

Your thanks, sir?”

The corner of Sir Su’s mouth twisted up in a small, one-sided smile. Peng Mingjun was not an introspective man, but he had rarely seen an expression more heart-wrenching.

“A frail scholar finds himself at a disadvantage in a world which values strength and martial arts skills above everything else. Nor is it easy to make the case for study and introspection. This affair provides an excellent object lesson to those who need to hear it.”

He leant across the table, one beautiful hand raised in a compelling gesture.

“That fight would have been over before it began without your colleague’s meticulous notes and your own ability to observe discrepancies and draw appropriate conclusions. Without those, my young friends would have been even now rotting at the bottom of a disused well, along with the remains of the real Kang Guangzhi. Perhaps, when your friend returns to his duties, you should encourage him to work his observations up into a travelogue. Those venturing into the jianghu would find such a work invaluable.”

Moved, Peng Mingjun tried in a few short, choked, inadequate words to express how much he owed to Wu Chengfu. He feared, however, that his expression might have betrayed confidences that were not his to share, on the question of when — or if — Wu Chengfu might be well enough to travel again.

Mercifully, Sir Su changed the subject.

“One of my correspondents is a military historian. He has — to put it kindly — somewhat entrenched opinions on the last decade of campaigns between Yunnan and Da Chu. Since you served there, could you perhaps do me the courtesy of telling me about your own experiences?”


He got back to Jinling some weeks later. Once he had finished his report to Li Brothers, and regretfully disappointed the cellarman’s hopes that he had at last discovered a customer onto whom they could offload Fortunate Snake, his next stop was Wu Chengfu’s house.

Greatly to his surprise, he found the whole place in an uproar, with boxes and crates in every corner and in every stage from empty to packed and tied. In the middle of this chaos Wu Chengfu sat on a sofa, looking happier and healthier than Peng Mingjun had seen him in years.

“What —?”

“Mingjun! Where’ve you been, you bastard? No, I know where you’ve been, but what kept you? Thought we’d have all been gone before you got back, so I did.”

Gone? Where?”

“Did they not tell you at the office? No, I suppose they hadn’t the brains, or, do them justice, I suppose they thought it was my news to share. Anyway, three weeks ago, they told me off to attend them. You can imagine what I thought —”

He fell silent. Peng Mingjun nodded. He could.

“But. When I arrived, it was quite the reverse, wasn’t it? They told me, I’d been recommended to a big customer for an important post. They said, that while they’d be sad to lose me, if the customer chose to hire me, then the customer was always right. Anyway, long story short, they showed me into a room where someone I’d never seen before in my life grilled me about my experience (seemed to have quite a thing about my time in the army, can’t think why) but anyway, whatever, at the end of it he handed me five flasks of wine, no seals no brands no stamps: nothing, and I was told to identify them and rank them in order. Oh, and say what foods I’d serve them with.”

“And?”

“Piece of cake, wasn’t it? One was Fifteen Dragons, another was Fortunate Snake. What were they expecting? So, I did all that and —”

He drew a deep breath.

“You see before you the assistant manciple to the Prince of Mu. We set off for Yunnan in a week.”

Yunnan. The province of their birth. A place of dry heat, moderated (for the aristocracy and their households) with elaborate water gardens and ingenious shuttering and screens. And, as the assistant to the official in charge of the ordering and care of Mu Manor’s cellars and pantries, Wu Chengfu would have plenty of staff at his command for the strenuous work.

Peng Mingjun said all that needed to be said, and walked to his own home with a distinct spring in his step. Still, he could not help thinking that there was more than coincidence at work. After all, of the two young lords who had cause to be grateful to both him and Wu Chengfu, one referred to the Princess-Marshal of Yunnan as “Nihuang-jiě-jie” and the other shared a family name with the Son of Heaven himself. Either of them could have pulled strings to find Wu Chengfu an opening for which he was so exquisitely suited. And both of them would, he knew, be far too gentlemanly ever to breathe a word of it in the exceedingly unlikely event he ever came across them again.

Which was quite as it should be. It was, he felt, something worth adding to the collection of poetical maxims which had been issued to him on commencing his duties with Li Brothers, and which was intended to encapsulate in a readily memorable form the principles of ethical and effective salesmanship.

After much thought, and effort, he managed, “The water dripping from the eaves of a up-country inn/Nourishes a flower in Yunnan./It is not given to man to see the outcomes of his choices/Ensure only that justice informs them.

It was not very good, Peng Mingjun reflected, but at least it captured the heart of the matter.