THE PIGTAIL OF LI-FANG-FU
Sax Rohmer (1919)
Sax Rohmer was the pen-name of Birmingham-born writer Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (1883-1959), a prolific novelist most remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu. Rohmer wrote both text and music for this ‘Musical Monologue’ in 1919 with the piano part transcribed by the composer T.W. Thurban. Greatrex Newman, who wrote the parody version, was one of the co-librettists of the 1928 Vivian Ellis musical Mr Cinders.
THE PIGTAIL OF LI-FANG-FU
They speak of a dead man’s vengeance; they whisper a deed of hell
‘Neath the Mosque of Mohammed Ali. And this is the thing they tell.
In a deep and a midnight gully, by the street where the goldsmiths are,
‘Neath the Mosque of Mohammed Ali, at the back of the Scent Bazaar,
Was the House of a Hundred Raptures, the tomb of a thousand sighs;
Where the sleepers lay in that living death which the opium-smoker dies.
At the House of a Hundred Raptures, where the reek of the joss-stick rose
From the knees of the golden idol to the tip of his gilded nose,
Through the billowing oily vapour, the smoke of the black chandu,
There a lantern green cast a serpent sheen on the pigtail of Li-Fang-Fu.
There was Ramsa Lal of Bhiwâni, who could smoke more than any three,
A pair of Kashmiri dancing girls and Ameer Khan Motee;
And there was a grey-haired soldier too, the wreck of a splendid man;
When the place was still I’ve heard mounted drill being muttered by “Captain Dan”.
Then, one night as I lay a-dreaming, there were shuddering, frenzied screams;
But the smoke had a spell upon me; I was chained to that couch of dreams.
All my strength, all my will had left me, because of the black chandu,
And upon the floor, by the close-barred door, lay the daughter of Li-Fang-Fu.
‘Twas the first time I ever saw her, but often I dream of her now;
For she was as sweet as a lotus, with the grace of a willow bough.
The daintiest ivory maiden that ever a man called fair,
And I saw blood drip where Li-Fang-Fu’s whip had tattered her shoulders bare!
I fought for the power to curse him – aAnd never a word would come! –
To reach him – to kill him! – but opium had stricken me helpless – dumb.
He lashed her again and again, until she uttered a moaning prayer,
And as he whipped so the red blood dripped from those ivory shoulders bare.
When crash! went the window behind me, and in leapt a grey-haired man,
As he tore the whip from that devil’s grip, I knew him: ’twas “Captain Dan”!
Ne’er a word spoke he, but remorseless, grim, his brow with anger black,
He lashed and lashed till the shirt was slashed from the Chinaman’s writhing back.
And when in his grasp the whip broke short, he cut with a long keen knife
The pigtail, for which a Chinaman would barter his gold, his life.
He cut the pig-tail from Li-Fang-Fu. And this is the thing they tell.
By the Mosque of Mohammed Ali – for it led to a deed of hell.
In his terrible icy passion, Captain Dan that pig-tail plied,
And with it he thrashed the Chinaman, until any but he had died –
Until Li-Fang-Fu dropped limply down too feeble, it seemed, to stand.
But swift to arise, with death in his eyes – and the long keen knife in his hand!
Like fiends of an opium vision they closed in a fight for life,
And nearer the breast of the Captain crept the blade of the gleaming knife.
Then a shot! a groan – and a wisp of smoke. I swooned and knew no more –
Save that Li-Fang-Fu lay silent and still in a red pool near the door.
But ever shall I remember how that curtain of sleep was drawn
And I woke, ‘mid a deathly silence, in the darkness before the dawn.
There was blood on the golden idol! My God! that dream was true!
For there, like a slumbering serpent, lay the pigtail of Li-Fang-Fu.
From the House of a Hundred Raptures I crept ere the news should spread
That the Devil’s due had claimed Li- Fang-Fu, and that Li-Fang-Fu was dead.
‘Twas the end of that Indian summer, when Fate – or the ancient ties –
Drew my steps again to the gully, to the Tomb of a Thousand Sighs;
And the door of the house was open! All the blood in my heart grew cold.
For within sat the golden idol, and he leered as he leered of old!
And I thought that his eyes were moving in a sinister vile grimace
When suddenly, there at his feet I saw a staring and well-known face!
With the shriek of a soul in torment, I turned like a frenzied man,
Falling back from the spot where the moonlight poured down upon “Captain Dan”!
He was dead, and in death was fearful; with features of ghastly hue –
And snakelike around his throat was wound the pigtail of Li-Fang-Fu!
The Big Tale of Hoo Flung Mud
Greatorex Newman (1981)
‘Tis a tale they tell at Shanghai, at the Sign of the Scented Skunk;
‘Tis a tale they tell of a deed of hell in the wilds of Clapham Junc.
At the House of a Hundred Hiccoughs, by the Gate of the Gilded Ghouls;
In a robe of blue sat Wun Lung Too at work on his Football Pools.
He’d a daughter named Chili Bom Bom of pedigree Chinese blood;
And Wun Lung said the girl must wed The Mandarin Hoo Flung Mud.
But the laughing Chili Bom Bom had a secret boyfriend, Ben;
And affair discreet (told around the Fleet) with Midshipman Brown, R.N.
They’d planned to elope together, for they made an ideal match;
They’d hoped to bunk on a Chinese junk, or hijack a yachtsman’s yatch.
‘Tis a tale they tell in Hong Kong at the Sign of the Unwashed Neck;
‘Tis a yarn they spin with a fiendish grin in the Tea-House of Tooting Bec.
This night was the Feast of the Fowl-Pest, at the Banquest of Bluest Blood;
And Wun Lung brought his Bom Bom daught., and with her came Hoo Flung Mud.
They sat the Tip-Top table according to pride of place;
And chopstick Chinks stood Wun Lung drinks and Hoo Flung Mud said grace.
Then crash went a window behind them, and showing remarkable nerve
Young sailor Brown from the roof jumped down right into a dish of hors d’oeuvre.
His strong arms seized his Bom Bom and carried her out, alone;
He was, by gad, some hefty lad, for she weighed nearly sixteen stone.
‘Tis a tale they tell in Foochow at the Sign of the Whispered Hush;
While the Shepherds bright watch flocks by night in the silence of Shepherds Bush.
With Bom Bom in his arms he ran down the Street of the Swiping Sword;
But in pursuit Ben heard the ‘toot’ of a second-hand Chinese Ford.
They knew ‘twas the car of Hoo Flung Mud and he drove like a fiend of hell;
‘Twas a race for life for he’d brought his knife – and his fork and spoon as well.
The car was nearly upon them now, but Ben had a sailor’s wits –
With one mad whirl he flung the girl – and her weight crushed the car to bits.
Then he picked his Bom Bom from the wreck (she seemed just a shade concussed)
With a dark red mark from the plugs that spark and a number-plate on her bust.
‘Tis a tale they tell in Peckham at the Sign of the Pye Hi-Fi;
With a whispered word of what occurred when Comin’ thro’ the Rye.
Then Chinese wedding bells ting-ling for Bom Bom – Queen of Vamps.
Her Dad gave Ben ten thousand yen and twenty-five Greenshield Stamps.
For dangerous driving, Hoo Flung Mud got fifteen years in clink
And Ben – outside with fist – black-eyed the Green Eye of the Little Yellow Chink.