VII

Meanwhile Pang Noo had reached home, and was weary both in body and mind. The King offered him service at court, but he asked to be excused, and seemed to wish to hide himself and avoid meeting people. His father marvelled much at this, and again urged the young man to marry; but this seemed only to aggravate his complaint. His uncle happened to come to his father's gubernatorial seat on a business errand, and in pity for the young man, explained the cause of the trouble to the father. He saw it all, and recalled the strange beauty of the lad who had risked his life for the possession of the fan, and as the uncle told the story of her excellent parentage, and the trouble and death that resulted from the refusal to marry, he saw through the whole strange train of circumstances, and marvelled that heaven should have selected such an exemplary maiden for his son. And then, as he realized how nearly he had come to punishing her severely, for her persistent refusal to surrender the fan, and that, whereas, he might have retained her and united her to his son, he had sent her away unattended to wander alone; he heaped blame upon the son in no stinted manner for his lack of confidence in not telling his father his troubles. The attendants were carefully questioned concerning the conduct of the strange couple while in custody at the governor's ya-men, and as to the probable direction they took in departure. The steward alone could give information. He was well rewarded for having shown them kindness, but his information cast a gloom upon the trio, for he said they had started for the district where civil war was in progress.

"You unnatural son," groaned the father.

"What have you done? You secretly pledge yourself to this noble girl, and then, by your foolish silence, twice allow her to escape, while you came near being the cause of her death at the very hands of your father; and even now by your foolishness she is journeying to certain death. Oh, my son! we have not seen the last of this rash conduct; this noble woman's blood will be upon our hands, and you will bring your poor father to ruin and shame. Up! Stop your lovesick idling, and do something. Ask His Majesty, with my consent, for military duty; go to the seat of war, and there find your wife or your honor."

The father's advice was just what was needed; the son could not, of necessity, disobey, nor did he wish to; but arming himself with the courage of a desperate resolve to save his sweetheart, whom he fancied already in danger from the rebels, he hurried to Seoul, and surprising his sovereign by his strange and ardent desire for military service, easily secured the favor, for the general in command was the same who had wished to marry his son to Uhn Hah; he was also an enemy to Pang Noo's father, and would like to see the only son of his enemy killed.

With apparently strange haste the expedition was started off, and no time was lost on the long, hard march. Arriving near the seat of war, the road led by a mountain, where the black weather-worn atone was as bare as a wall, sloping down to the road. Fearing lest he was going to his death, the young commander had some characters cut high on the face of the rock, which read:

"Standing at the gate of war, I, You Pang Noo, humbly bow to Heaven's decree. Is it victory, or is it death? Heaven alone knows the issue. My only remaining desire is to behold the face of my lady Cho Gah." He put this inscription in this conspicuous place, with the hope that if she were in the district she would see it, and not only know he was true to her, but also that she might be able to ascertain his whereabouts and come to him. He met the rebels, and fought with a will, bringing victory to the royal arms. But soon their provisions gave out, and, though daily despatches arrived, no rations were sent in answer to their constant demands. The soldiers sickened and died. Many more, driven mad by hardship and starvation, buried their troubles deep in the silent river, which their loyal spears had stained crimson with their enemies blood.

You Pang Noo was about to retire against orders, when the rebels, emboldened by the weak condition of their adversaries, came in force, conquered and slew the remnant, and would have slain the commander but for the counsel of two of their number, who urged that he be imprisoned and held for ransom.