The Fox Woman by Abraham Merritt
First published by New Collectors Group, New York, 1946
together with "The Blue Pagoda" by Hannes Bok
Also published in "The Fox Woman & Other Stories," Avon, NY,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The ancient steps wound up the side of the mountain through
the tall pines, patience trodden deep into them by the feet of twenty
centuries. Some soul of silence, ancient and patient as the steps, brooded
over them. They were wide, twenty men could have marched abreast upon them;
lichens brown and orange traced strange symbols on their grey stones, and
emerald mosses cushioned them. At times the steps climbed steep as stairs,
and at times they swept leisurely around bastions of the mountain, but always
on each side the tall pines stood close, green shoulder to shoulder,
At the feet of the pines crouched laurels and dwarfed rhododendrons of a
singular regularity of shape and of one height, that of a kneeling man. Their
stiff and glossy leaves were like links on coats-of-mail... like the jade-
lacquered scale-armor of the Green Archers of Kwanyin who guard the goddess
when she goes forth in the Spring to awaken the trees. The pines were like
watchful sentinels, and oddly like crouching archers were the laurels and the
dwarfed rhododendrons, and they said as plainly as though with tongues: Up
these steps you may go, and down them—but never try to pass through
A woman came round one of the bastions. She walked stubbornly, head down,
as one who fights against a strong wind—or as one whose will rides,
lashing the reluctant body on. One white shoulder and breast were bare, and
on the shoulder was a bruise and blood, four scarlet streaks above the
purpled patch as though a long-nailed hand had struck viciously, clawing. And
as she walked she wept.
The steps began to lift. The woman raised her head and saw how steeply
here they climbed. She stopped, her hands making little fluttering helpless
She turned, listening. She seemed to listen not with ears alone but with
every tensed muscle, her entire body one rapt chord of listening through
which swept swift arpeggios of terror. The brittle twilight of the Yunnan
highlands, like clearest crystal made impalpable, fell upon brown hair shot
with gleams of dull copper, upon a face lovely even in its dazed horror. Her
grey eyes stared down the steps, and it was as though they, too, were
listening rather than seeing...
She was heavy with child...
She heard voices beyond the bend of the bastion, voices guttural and sing-
song, angry and arguing, protesting and urging. She heard the shuffle of many
feet, hesitating, halting, but coming inexorably on. Voices and feet of the
hung-hutzes, the outlaws who had slaughtered her husband and Kenwood and
their bearers a scant hour ago, and who but for Kenwood would now have her.
They had found her trail.
She wanted to die; desperately Jean Meredith wanted to die; her faith
taught her that then she would rejoin that scholarly, gentle lover-husband of
hers whom she had loved so dearly although his years had been twice her own.
It would not matter did they kill her quickly, but she knew they would not do
that. And she could not endure even the thought of what must befall her
through them before death came. Nor had she weapon to kill herself. And there
was that other life budding beneath her heart.
But stronger than desire for death, stronger than fear of torment,
stronger than the claim of the unborn was something deep within her that
cried for vengeance. Not vengeance against the hung-hutzes—they were
only a pack of wild beasts doing what was their nature to do. This cry was
for vengeance against those who had loosed them, directed them. For this she
knew had been done, although how she knew it she could not yet tell. It was
not accident, no chance encounter that swift slaughter. She was sure of
It was like a pulse, that cry for vengeance; a pulse whose rhythm grew,
deadening grief and terror, beating strength back into her. It was like a
bitter spring welling up around her soul. When its dark waters had risen far
enough they would touch her lips and she would drink of them... and then
knowledge would come to her... she would know who had planned this evil
thing, and why. But she must have time—time to drink of the waters
—time to learn and avenge. She must live... for vengeance...
Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord!
It was as though a voice had whispered the old text in her ear. She struck
her breast with clenched hands; she looked with eyes grown hard and tearless
up to the tranquil sky; she answered the voice:
"A lie! Like all the lies I have been taught of—You! I am through
with—You! Vengeance! Whoever gives me vengeance shall be my God!"
The voices and the feet were nearer. Strange, how slowly, how reluctantly
they advanced. It was as though they were afraid. She studied the woods
beyond the pines. Impenetrable; or if not, then impossible for her. They
would soon find her if she tried to hide there. She must go on—up the
steps. At their end might be some hiding place... perhaps sanctuary...
Yes, she was sure the hung-hutzes feared the steps... they came so slowly,
so haltingly... arguing, protesting...
She had seen another turn at the top of this steep. If she could reach it
before they saw her, it might be that they would follow her no further. She
turned to climb...
A fox stood upon the steps a dozen feet above her, watching her, barring
her way. It was a female fox, a vixen. Its coat was all silken russet-red. It
had a curiously broad head and slanted green eyes. On its head was a mark,
silver white and shaped like the flame of a candle wavering in the wind.
The fox was lithe and graceful, Jean Meredith thought, as a dainty woman.
A mad idea came, born of her despair and her denial of that God whom she had
been taught from childhood to worship as all-good, all-wise, all-powerful.
She thrust her hands out to the fox. She cried to it:
"Sister—you are a woman! Lead me to safety that I may have
Remember, she had just seen her husband die under the knives of the hung-
hutzes and she was with child... and who can know upon what fantastic paths
of unreality a mind so beset may stray.
As though it had understood the fox paced slowly down the steps. And again
she thought how like a graceful woman it was. It paused a little beyond reach
of her hand, studying her with those slanted green eyes—eyes clear and
brilliant as jewels, sea-green, and like no eyes she had ever seen in any
animal. There seemed faint mockery in their gaze, a delicate malice, but as
they rested upon her bruised shoulder and dropped to her swollen girdle, she
could have sworn that there was human comprehension in them, and pity. She
There was a sudden outburst of the guttural singsong. They were close now,
her pursuers, close to the bend of the steps round which she had come. Soon
they must turn it and see her. She stood staring at the fox expectantly...
hoping she knew not what.
The fox slipped by her, seemed to melt in the crouching bushes. It
Black despair, the despair of a child who finds itself abandoned to wild
beasts by one it has trusted, closed in on Jean Meredith. What she had hoped
for, what she had expected of help, was vague, unformulated. A miracle by
alien gods, now she had renounced her own? Or had her appeal to the vixen
deeper impulse? Atavistic awakenings, anthropomorphic, going back to that
immemorial past when men first thought of animals and birds as creatures with
souls like theirs, but closer to Nature's spirit; given by that spirit a
wisdom greater than human, and more than human powers—servants and
messengers of potent deities and little less than gods themselves.
Nor has it been so long ago that St. Francis of Assisi spoke to the beasts
and birds as he did to men and women, naming them Brother Wolf and Brother
Eagle. And did not St. Conan baptize the seals of the Orkneys as he did the
pagan men? The past and all that men have thought in the past is born anew
within us all. And sometimes strange doors open within our minds—and
out of them or into them strange spirits come or go. And whether real or
unreal, who can say?
The fox seemed to understand—had seemed to promise— something.
And it had abandoned her, fled away! Sobbing, she turned to climb the
Too late! The hung-hutzes had rounded the bend.
There was a howling chorus. With obscene gestures, yapping threats, they
ran toward her. Ahead of the pack was the pock-faced, half-breed Tibetan
leader whose knife had been the first to cut her husband down. She watched
them come, helpless to move, unable even to close her eyes. The pock-face saw
and understood, gave quick command, and the pack slowed to a walk, gloating
upon her agony, prolonging it.
They halted! Something like a flicker of russet flame had shot across the
steps between her and them. It was the fox. It stood there, quietly regarding
them. And hope flashed up through Jean Meredith, melting the cold terror that
had frozen her. Power of motion returned. But she did not try to run. She did
not want to run. The cry for vengeance was welling up again. She felt that
cry reach out to the fox.
As though it had heard her, the fox turned its head and looked at her. She
saw its green eyes sparkle, its white teeth bared as though it smiled.
Its eyes withdrawn, the spell upon the hung-hutzes broke. The leader drew
pistol, fired upon the fox.
Jean Meredith saw, or thought she saw, the incredible.
Where fox had been, stood now a woman! She was tall, and lithe as a young
willow. Jean Meredith could not see her face, but she could see hair of
russet-red coifed upon a small and shapely head. A silken gown of russet-red,
sleeveless, dropped to the woman's feet. She raised an arm and pointed at the
pock-faced leader. Behind him his men were silent, motionless, even as Jean
Meredith had been—and it came to her that it was the same ice of terror
that held them. Their eyes were fixed upon the woman.
The woman's hand dropped—slowly. And as it dropped, the pock-faced
Tibetan dropped with it. He sank to his knees and then upon his hands. He
stared into her face, lips drawn back from his teeth like a snarling dog, and
there was foam upon his lips. Then he hurled himself upon his men, like a
wolf. He sprang upon them howling; he leaped up at their throats, tearing at
them with teeth and talons. They milled, squalling rage and bewildered
terror. They tried to beat him off—they could not.
There was a flashing of knives. The pock-face lay writhing on the steps,
like a dog dying. Still squalling, never looking behind them, his men poured
down the steps and away.
Jean Meredith's hands went up, covering her eyes. She dropped them—
a fox, all silken russet-red, stood where the woman had been. It was watching
her. She saw its green eyes sparkle, its white teeth bared as though it
smiled—it began to walk daintily up the steps toward her.
Weakness swept over her; she bent her head, crumpled to her knees, covered
again her eyes with shaking hands. She was aware of an unfamiliar fragrance
—disturbing, evocative of strange, fleeting images. She heard low,
sweet laughter. She heard a soft voice whisper:
She looked up. A woman's face was bending over her. An exquisite face...
with sea-green, slanted eyes under a broad white brow... with hair of russet-
red that came to a small peak in the center of that brow... a lock of silvery
white shaped like the flame of a candle wavering in the wind... a nose long
but delicate, the nostrils slightly flaring, daintily... a mouth small and
red as the royal coral, heart-shaped, lips full, archaic.
Over that exquisite face, like a veil, was faint mockery, a delicate
malice that had in them little of the human. Her hands were white and long
They touched Jean Meredith's heart... soothing her, strengthening her,
drowning fear and sorrow.
She heard again the sweet voice, lilting, faintly amused—with the
alien, half-malicious amusement of one who understands human emotion yet has
never felt it, but knows how little it matters:
"You shall have your vengeance—Sister!" The white hands touched her
eyes... she forgot... and forgot... and now there was nothing to remember...
not even herself...
It seemed to Jean Meredith that she lay cushioned within soft, blind
darkness—illimitable, impenetrable. She had no memories; all that she
knew was that she was. She thought: I am I. The darkness that cradled her was
gentle, kindly. She thought: I am a spirit still unborn in the womb of night.
But what was night... and what was spirit? She thought: I am content— I
do not want to be born again. Again? That meant that she had been born
before... a word came to her—Jean. She thought: I am Jean... but who
She heard two voices speaking. One a woman's, soft and sweet with
throbbing undertones like plucked harp strings. She had heard that voice
before... before, when she had been Jean. The man's voice was low, filled
with tranquillity, human... that was it, the voice held within it a humanness
the sweet voice of the woman lacked. She thought: I, Jean, am human...
The man said: "Soon she must awaken. The tide of sleep is high on the
shore of life. It must not cover it."
The woman answered: "I command that tide. And it has begun to ebb. Soon
she will awaken."
He asked: "Will she remember?"
The woman said: "She will remember. But she will not suffer. It will be as
though what she remembers had happened to another self of hers. She will pity
that self, but it will be to her as though it died when died her husband. As
indeed it did. That self bears the sorrow, the pain, the agony. It leaves no
legacy of them to her—save memory."
And now it seemed to her that for a time there was a silence... although
she knew that time could not exist within the blackness that cradled her...
and what was—time?
The man's voice broke that silence, musingly: "With memory there can be no
happiness for her, long as she lives."
The woman laughed, a tingling-sweet mocking chime: "Happiness? I thought
you wiser than to cling to that illusion, priest. I give her serenity, which
is far better than happiness. Nor did she ask for happiness. She asked for
vengeance. And vengeance she shall have."
The man said: "But she does not know who—"
The woman interrupted: "She does know. And I know. And so shall you when
you have told her what was wrung from the Tibetan before he died. And if you
still do not believe, you will believe when he who is guilty comes here, as
come he will—to kill the child."
The man whispered: "To kill the child!"
The woman's voice became cold, losing none of its sweetness but edged with
menace: "You must not let him have it, priest. Not then. Later, when the word
is given you "
Again the voice grew mocking... "I contemplate a journey... I would see
other lands, who so long have dwelt among these hills... and I would not have
my plans spoiled by precipitancy..."
Once more Jean Meredith heard the tingling laughter. "Have no fear,
priest. They will help you—my sisters."
He said, steadily: "I have no fear."
The woman's voice became gentle, all mockery fled. She said:
"I know that, you who have had wisdom and courage to open forbidden doors.
But I am bound by a threefold cord—a promise, a vow, and a desire. When
a certain time comes, I must surrender much—must lie helpless, bound by
that cord. It is then that I shall need you, priest, for this man who will
The voices faded. Slowly the blackness within which she lay began to
lighten. Slowly, slowly, a luminous grayness replaced it. She thought,
desperately: I am going to be born! I don't want to be born! Implacably, the
light increased. Now within the grayness was a nimbus of watery emerald. The
nimbus became brighter, brighter...
She was lying upon a low bed, in a nest of silken cushions. Close to her
was an immense and ancient bronze vessel, like a baptismal font. The hands of
thousands of years had caressed it, leaving behind them an ever deepening
patina like a soft green twilight. A ray of the sun shone upon it, and where
the ray rested, the patina gleamed like a tiny green sun. Upon the sides of
the great bowl were strange geometric patterns, archaic, the spirals and
meanders of the Lei-wen—the thunder patterns. It stood upon three legs,
tripodal... why, it was the ancient ceremonial vessel, the Tang font which
Martin had brought home from Yunnan years ago... and she was back home... she
had dreamed that she had been in China and that Martin... that Martin...
She sat up abruptly and looked through wide, opened doors into a garden.
Broad steps dropped shallowly to an oval pool around whose sides were lithe
willows trailing green tendrils in the blue water, wisterias with drooping
ropes of blossoms, white and pale azure, and azaleas like flower flames. Rosy
lilies lay upon the pool's breast. And at its far end was a small pagoda,
fairy-like, built all of tiles of iridescent peacock blue and on each side a
stately cypress, as though they were its ministers... why, this was their
garden, the garden of the blue pagoda which Martin had copied from that place
in Yunnan where lived his friend, the wise old priest...
But there was something wrong. These mountains were not like those of the
ranch. They were conical, their smooth bare slopes of rose-red stone circled
with trees. They were like huge stone hats with green brims...
She turned again and looked about the room. It was a wide room and a deep
one, but how deep she could not see, because the sun streaming in from a high
window struck the ancient vessel and made a curtain, veiling it beyond. She
could see that there were beams across its ceiling, mellow with age, carved
with strange symbols. She caught glimpses of ivory and of gleaming lacquer.
There was a low altar of what seemed green jade, curiously carved and upon
which were ceremonial objects of unfamiliar shape, a huge ewer of bronze
whose lid was the head of a fox...
A man came toward her, walking out of the shadows beyond the ancient Tang
vessel. He was clothed from neck to feet in a silken robe of silvery-blue
upon which were embroidered, delicately as though by spiders, Taoist symbols
and under them, ghostly in silver threads, a fox's head. He was bald, his
face heavy, expressionless, skin smooth and faded yellow as some antique
parchment. So far as age went he might have been sixty—or three
hundred. But it was his eyes that held Jean Meredith. They were large and
black and, liquid, and prodigiously alive. They were young eyes, belying the
agelessness of the heavy face; and it was as though the face was but a mask
from which the eyes had drawn all life into themselves. They poured into her
strength and calmness and reassurance, and from her mind vanished all
vagueness, all doubts, all fears. Her mind for the first time since the
ambush was clear, crystal clear, her thoughts her own.
She remembered—remembered everything. But it was as though all had
happened to another self. She felt pity for that self, but it had left no
heritage of sorrow. She was tranquil. The black, youthful eyes poured
tranquillity into her.
She said: "I know you. You are Yu Ch'ien, the wise priest my husband
loved. This is the Temple of the Foxes."
"I am Yu Ch'ien, my daughter." His voice was the man's voice
which she had heard when cradled in the darkness.
She tried to rise, then swayed back upon the bed, weakness overcoming
He said: "A night and a day, and still another night and half this day you
have slept, and now you must eat." He spoke the English words slowly, as one
whose tongue had long been stranger to them.
He clapped his hands and a woman slipped by the great vase through the
bars of the sunlight. She was ageless as he, with broad shrewd face and
tilted sloe-black eyes that were kindly yet very wise. A smock covered her
from full breasts to knees, and she was sturdy and strong and brown as though
she had been carved from seasoned wood. In her hands was a tray upon which
was a bowl of steaming broth and oaten cakes.
The woman sat beside Jean Meredith, lifting her head, resting it against
her deep bosom and feeding her like a child, and now Jean saw that herself
was naked except for a thin robe of soft blue silk and that upon it was the
moon-silver symbol of the fox.
The priest nodded, his eyes smiled upon her. "Fien-wi will attend you.
Soon you will be stronger. Soon I shall return. Then we shall talk."
He passed out of the wide doors. The woman fed her the last of the broth,
the last of the little cakes. She left her, and returned with bowls of bronze
in which was water hot and cold; undressed her; ministered to her, bathed her
and rubbed her; dressed her in fresh silken robes of blue; strapped sandals
to her feet, and smiling, left her. Thrice Jean essayed to speak to her, but
the woman only shook her head, answering in a lisping dialect, no sound of
which she recognized.
The sun had moved from the great Tang font. She lay back, lazily. Her mind
was limpidly clear; upon it was reflected all through which she had passed,
yet it was tranquil, untroubled, like a woodland pool that reflects the storm
clouds but whose placid surface lies undisturbed. The things that had
happened were only images reflected upon her mind. But under that placid
surface was something implacable, adamant-hard, something that would have
been bitter did it not know that it was to be satisfied.
She thought over what Martin had told her of Yu Ch'ien. A Chinese whose
forefathers had been enlightened rulers ten centuries before the Man of
Galilee had been raised upon the cross, who had studied Occidental thought
both in England and France, and had found little in it to satisfy his thirst
for wisdom; who had gone back to the land of his fathers, embraced at last
the philosophy of Lao-Tse, and had withdrawn from the world to an ancient
fane in Yunnan known as the Temple of the Foxes, a temple reverenced and
feared and around which strange legends clustered; there to spend his life in
meditation and study.
What was it Martin had called him? Ah, yes, a master of secret and
forgotten knowledge, a master of illusion. She knew that of all men, Martin
had held Yu Ch'ien in profoundest respect, deepest affection... she wondered
if the woman she had seen upon the steps had been one of his illusions... if
the peace she felt came from him... if he had made sorrow and pain of soul
illusions for her... and was she thinking the thoughts he had placed in her
mind—or her own... she wondered dreamily, not much caring...
He came through the doors to her, and again it was as though his eyes were
springs of tranquillity from which her soul drank deep. She tried to rise, to
greet him; her mind was strong but through all her body was languor. He
touched her forehead, and the languor fled. He said:
"All is well with you, my daughter. But now we must talk. We will go into
He clapped his hands. The brown woman, Fien-wi, came at the summons, and
with her two blue-smocked men bearing a chair. The woman lifted her, placed
her in the chair. The men carried her out of the wide doors, down the shallow
steps to the blue pool. She looked behind her as she went.
The temple was built into the brow of the mountain. It was of brown stone
and brown wood. Slender pillars hard bitten by the teeth of the ages held up
a curved roof of the peacock blue tiles. From the wide doors through which
she had come a double row of sculptured foxes ran, like Thebes' Road of the
Sphinxes, half way down to the pool. Over the crest of the mountain crept the
ancient steps up which she had stumbled. Where the steps joined the temple,
stood a tree covered all with white blossoms. It wavered in the wind like the
flame of a candle.
Strangely was the temple like the head of a fox, its muzzle between the
paws of the rows of sculptured foxes, the crest of the mountain its forehead
and the white blossoming tree, like the lock of white upon the forehead of
the fox of the steps... and the white lock upon the forehead of the
They were at the pool. There was a seat cut at the end, facing the blue
pagoda. The woman Fien-wi piled the stone with cushions and, as she waited,
Jean Meredith saw that there were arms to this seat and that at the end of
each was the head of a fox, and that over its back was a tracery of dancing
foxes; and she saw, too, that on each side of the seat tiny paths had been
cut in stone leading to the water, as though for some small-footed creatures
to trot upon and drink.
She was lifted to the stone chair, and sank into the cushions. Except for
the seat and the little runways, it was as though she sat beside the pool
Martin had built at their California ranch. There, as here, the willows
dipped green tendrils into the water; there, as here, drooped ropes of
wisteria, pale amethyst and white. And here as there was peace.
Yu Ch'ien spoke: "A stone is thrown into a pool. The ripples spread and
break against the shore. At last they cease and the pool is as before. Yet
when the stone strikes, as it sinks and while the ripples live, microscopic
lives within the pool are changed. But not for long. The stone touches
bottom, the pool again becomes calm. It is over, and life for the tiny things
is as before."
She said quietly, out of the immense clarity of her mind: "You mean, Yu
Ch'ien, that my husband's murder was such a stone."
He went on, as though she had not spoken: "But there is life within life,
and over life, and under life—as we know life. And that which happens
to the tiny things within the pool may be felt by those beneath and above
them. Life is a bubble in which are lesser bubbles which we cannot see, and
the bubble we call life is only part of a greater bubble which also we may
not see. But sometimes we perceive those bubbles, sometimes glimpse the
beauty of the greater, sense the kinship of the lesser... and sometimes a
lesser life touches ours and then we speak of demons... and when the greater
ones touch us we name it inspiration from Heaven, an angel speaking through
She interrupted, thought crystal clear: "I understand you, Martin's murder
was the stone. It would pass with its ripples—but it has disturbed some
pool within which it was a lesser pool. Very well, what then?"
He said: "There are places in this world where the veil between it and the
other worlds is thin. They can enter. Why it is so, I do not know—but I
know it is so. The ancients recognized such places. They named those who
dwelt unseen there the genii locorum—literally, the spirits of the
places. This mountain, this temple, is such a place. It is why I came to
She said: "You mean the fox I saw upon the steps. You mean the woman I
thought I saw take the place of that fox, and who drove the Tibetan mad. The
fox I asked to help me and to give me revenge, and whom I called sister. The
woman I thought I saw who whispered to me that I should have revenge and who
called me sister. Very well, what then?"
He answered: "It is true. The murder of your husband was the stone. Better
to have let the ripples die. But there was this place... there was a
moment... and now the ripples cannot die until—"
Again she interrupted the true thought—or what she believed the true
thought—flashing up through her mind like sun-glints from jewels at a
clear pool's bottom. "I had denied my God. Whether he exists or does not, I
had stripped myself of my armor against those other lives. I did it where and
when such other lives, if they exist, could strike. I accept that. And again,
He said: "You have a strong soul, my daughter."
She answered, with a touch of irony: "While I was within the blackness,
before I awakened, I seemed to hear two persons talking, Yu Ch'ien. One had
your voice, and the other the voice of the fox woman who called me sister.
She promised me serenity. Well, I have that. And having it, I am as unhuman
as was her voice. Tell me, Yu Ch'ien, whom my husband called master of
illusions, was that woman upon the steps one of your illusions, and was her
voice another? Does my serenity come from her or from you? I am no child,
and, I know how easily you could accomplish this, by drugs or by your will
while I lay helpless."
He said: "My daughter, if they were illusions—they were not mine.
And if they were illusions, then I, like you, am victim to them."
She asked: "You mean you have seen—her?"
He answered: "And her sisters. Many times."
She said shrewdly: "Yet that does not prove her real—she might have
passed from your mind to mine."
He did not answer. She asked abruptly: "Shall I live?"
He replied without hesitation. "No."
She considered that for a little, looking at the willow tendrils, the
ropes of wisteria. She mused: "I did not ask for happiness, but she gives me
serenity. I did not ask for life, so she gives me—vengeance. But I no
longer care for vengeance."
He said gravely: "It does not matter. You struck into that other life. You
asked, and you were promised. The ripples upon the greater pool cannot cease
until that promise is fulfilled."
She considered that, looking at the conical hills. She laughed. "They are
like great stone hats with brims of green. What are their faces like, I
wonder." He asked: "Who killed your husband?" She answered, still smiling at
the hatted hills: "Why, his brother, of course."
He asked: "How do you know that?"
She lifted her arms and twined her hands behind her neck. She said, as
impersonally as though she read from a book: "I was little more than twenty
when I met Martin, Just out of college. He was fifty. But inside—he was
a dreaming boy. Oh, I knew he had lots and lots of money. It didn't matter. I
loved him—for the boy inside him. He asked me to marry him. I married
"Charles hated me from the beginning. Charles is his brother, fifteen
years younger. Charles' wife hated me. You see, there was no other besides
Charles until I came. If Martin died—well, all his money would go to
Charles. They never thought he would marry. For the last ten years Charles
had looked after his business—his mines, his investments. I really
don't blame Charles for hating me—but he shouldn't have killed
"We spent our honeymoon out on Martin's ranch. He has a pool and garden
just like this, you know. It's just as beautiful, but the mountains around it
have snowy caps instead of the stony, green-rimmed ones. And he had a great
bronze vessel like that of yours. He told me that he had copied the garden
from Yu Ch'ien's even to the blue pagoda. And that the vessel had a mate in
Yu Ch'ien's Temple of the Foxes. And he told me... of you...
"Then the thought came to him to return to you and your temple. Martin was
a boy—the desire gripped him. I did not care, if it made him happy. So
we came. Charles with us as far as Nanking. Hating me, I knew, every mile of
the journey. At Nanking—I told Martin I was going to have a baby. I had
known it for months but I hadn't told him because I was afraid he would put
off this trip on which he had set his heart. Now I knew I couldn't keep it
secret much longer. Martin was so happy! He told Charles, who hated me then
more than ever. And Martin made a will. If Martin should die, Charles was to
act as trustee for me and the child, carry on the estate as before, with his
share of the income increased. All the balance, and there are millions, was
left to me and the coming baby. There was also a direct bequest of half a
million to Charles.
"Martin read the will to him. I was present. So was Kenwood, Martin's
secretary. I saw Charles turn white, but outwardly he was pleasantly
acquiescent, concerned only lest something really might happen to his
brother. But I guessed what was in his heart.
"Kenwood liked me, and he did not like Charles. He came to me one night in
Nanking, a few days before we were to start for Yunnan. He tried to dissuade
me from the journey. He was a bit vague about reasons, talked of my
condition, hard traveling and so on, but that was ridiculous. At last I asked
him point-blank—why? Then he said that Charles was secretly meeting a
Chinese captain, by name—Li-kong. I asked what of it, he had a right to
pick his friends. Kenwood said Li-kong was suspected of being in touch with
certain outlaws operating in Szechwan and Yunnan, and of receiving and
disposing of the best of their booty. Kenwood said: 'If both you and Martin
die before the baby is born, Charles will inherit everything. He's next of
kin and the only one, for you have nobody. You're going up into Yunnan. How
easy to send word to one of these bands to look out for you. And then brother
Charles would have it all. Of course, there's no use saying anything to your
husband. He trusts everybody, and Charles most of all. All that would happen
would be my dismissal.'
"And of course that was true. But I couldn't believe Charles, for all he
hated me so, would do this to Martin. There were two of us, and Kenwood and a
nice Scotch woman I found at Nanking, a Miss Mackenzie, who agreed to come
along to look after me in event of my needing it. There were twenty of us in
all—the others Chinese boys, thoroughly good, thoroughly dependable. We
came North slowly, unhurriedly. I said that Martin was a boy inside. No need
to tell you again of his affection for you. And he loved China— the old
China. He said it lived now only in a few places, and Yunnan was first. And
he had it in his mind that our baby should be born— here—"
She sat silent, then laughed. "And so it will be. But not as Martin
dreamed... " She was silent again. She said, as though faintly puzzled: "It
was not—human—to laugh at that!" She went on serenely: "We came
on and on slowly. Sampans on the rivers, and I by litter mostly. Always
easily, easily... because of the baby. Then two weeks ago Kenwood told me
that he had word we were to be attacked at a certain place. He had been years
in China, knew how to get information and I knew he had watched and cajoled
and threatened and bribed ever since we had entered the hills. He said he,
had arranged a counterattack that would catch the trappers in their own trap.
He cursed Charles dreadfully, saying he was behind it. He said that if we
could only get to Yu Ch'ien we would be safe. Afterwards he told me that he
must have been sold wrong information. The counterattack had drawn blank. I
told him he was letting his imagination run away with him.
"We went on. Then came the ambush. It wasn't a matter of ransom. It was a
matter of wiping us out.
"They gave us no chance. So it must have been that we were worth more to
them dead than alive. That realization came to me as I stood at the door of
my tent and saw Martin cut down, poor Mackenzie fall. Kenwood could have
escaped as I did—but he died to give me time to get away..."
"Yu Ch'ien, what have you done to me?" asked Jean Meredith, dreamily. "I
have seen my husband butchered... I have seen a man give up his life for
me... and still I feel no more emotion than as though they had been reeds
under the sickle... what have you done to me, Yu Ch'ien?"
He answered: "Daughter—when you are dead, and all those now living
are dead—will it matter?"
She answered, shaking her head: "But—I am not dead! Nor are those
now living dead. And I should rather be human, Yu Ch'ien. And suffer."
He said: "It may not be, my daughter."
"I wish I could feel," she said. "Good God, but I wish I could feel "
She said: "That is all. Kenwood threw himself in front of me. I ran. I
came to wide steps. I climbed them—up and up. I saw a fox—I saw a
woman where I had seen the fox—"
He said: "You saw a Tibetan, a half-caste, who threw himself upon those
who followed you, howling like a mad dog. You saw that Tibetan cut down by
the knives of his men. I came with my men before he died. We brought him
here. I searched his dying mind. He told me that they had been hired to wipe
out your party by a Shensi leader of hung-hutzes. And that he had been
promised not only the loot of your party if all were slain, but a thousand
taels besides. And that when he asked who guaranteed this sum, this leader,
in his cups, had told him the Captain Li-kong."
She cupped her chin in hand, looked out over the blue pool to the pagoda.
She said at last: "So Kenwood was right! And I am right. It was
She said: "I feel a little, Yu Ch'ien. But what I feel is not pleasant. It
is hate, Yu Ch'ien "
She said: "I am only twenty-four. It is rather young to die, Yu Ch'ien,
isn't it? But then—what was it your woman's voice said while I was in
the darkness? That the self of mine whom I would pity died when Martin did?
She was right, Yu Ch'ien—or you were. And I think I will not be sorry
to join that other self."
The sun was sinking. An amethyst veil dropped over the conical mountains.
Suddenly they seemed to flatten, to become transparent. The whole valley
between the peaks grew luminously crystalline. The blue pagoda shone as
though made of dark sapphires behind which little suns burned. She sighed:
"It is very beautiful, Yu Ch'ien. I am glad to be here—until I
There was a patter of feet beside her. A fox came trotting down one of the
carven runways. It looked up at her fearlessly with glowing green eyes.
Another slipped from the cover of the pool and another and another. They
lapped the blue water fearlessly, eyes glinting swift side-glances at her,
The days slipped by her, the weeks—a month. Each day she sat in the
seat of the foxes beside the pool, watching the willows trail their tendrils,
the lilies like great rosy pearls open and close and die and be reborn on the
pool's blue breast; watching the crystalline green dusks ensorcell the
conical peaks, and watching the foxes that came when these dusks fell.
They were friendly now, the foxes—knew her, sat beside her, studying
her; but never did she see the lithe fox with the lock of white between its
slanting green eyes. She grew to know the brown woman Fien-wi and the sturdy
servitors. And from the scattered villages pilgrims came to the shrine; they
looked at her fearfully, shyly; as she sat on the seat of the foxes,
prostrating themselves before her as though she were some spirit to be
placated by worship.
And each day was as the day before, and she thought: Without sorrow,
without fear, without gladness, without hope there is no difference between
the days, and therefore what difference does it make if I die tomorrow or a
Whatever the anodyne that steeped her soul—whether from vague woman
of the steps or from Yu Ch'ien—it had left her with no emotion. Except
that she knew she must bear it, she had no feeling even toward her unborn
baby. Once, indeed, she had felt a faint curiosity. That this wise priest of
the Foxes' Temple had his own means of learning what he desired of the outer
world, she was well aware.
She said: "Does Charles know as yet of the ambush—know that I am
He answered: "Not yet. The messengers who were sent to Li-kong did not
reach him. It will be weeks before he knows."
She said: "And then he will come here. Will the baby be born when he
comes, Yu Ch'ien?"
He answered: "Yes."
"And shall I be alive, Yu Ch'ien?"
He did not answer. She laughed.
It was one twilight, in the middle of the Hour of the Dog, that she turned
to him, sitting in the garden beside the pool.
"My time has come, Yu Ch'ien. The child stirs."
They carried her into the temple. She lay upon the bed, while the brown
woman stooped over her, ministering to her, helping her. The only light in
the temple chamber came from five ancient lanterns of milky jade through
whose thin sides the candles gleamed, turning them into five small moons. She
felt little pain. She thought: I owe that to Yu Ch'ien, I suppose. And the
minutes fled by until it was the Hour of the Boar.
She heard a scratching at the temple door. The priest opened it. He spoke
softly, one word, a word often on his lips, and she knew it meant "patience."
She could see through the opened door into the garden. There were small
globular green lights all about, dozens of them, like gnome lanterns.
She said drowsily: "My little foxes wait. Let them enter, Yu Ch'ien."
"Not yet, my daughter."
The Hour of the Boar passed. Midnight passed. There was a great silence in
the temple. It seemed to her that all the temple was waiting, that even the
unfaltering light of the five small moons on the altar was waiting. She
thought: Even the child is waiting... and for what?
And suddenly a swift agony shook her and she cried out. The brown woman
held tight her hands that tried to beat the air. The priest called, and into
the room came four of the sturdy servants of the temple. They carried large
vessels in which was water steaming hot and water which did not steam and so,
she reasoned idly, must be cold. They kept their backs to her, eyes
The priest touched her eyes, stroked her flanks, and the agony was gone as
swiftly as it had come. She watched the servants pour the waters into the
ancient Tang font and slip away, backs still turned to her, faces
She had not seen the door open, but there was a fox in the room. It was
ghostly in the dim light of the jade lamps, yet she could see it stepping
daintily toward her... a vixen, lithe and graceful as a woman... with slanted
eyes, sea-green, brilliant as jewels... the fox of the steps whom she had
And now she was looking up into a woman's face. An exquisite face with
sea-green, slanted eyes under a broad white brow, whose hair of russet-red
came to a small peak in the center of that brow, and above the peak a lock of
silvery white... the eyes gazed into hers, and although they caressed her,
there was in them a faint mockery, a delicate malice.
The woman was naked. Although Jean Meredith could not wrest her own eyes
from the slanting green ones, she could see the curve of delicate shoulders,
the rounded breasts, the slender hips. It was as though the woman stood
poised upon her own breasts, without weight, upon airy feet. There was a
curious tingling coolness in her breasts... more pleasant than warmth... and
it was as though the woman were sinking into her, becoming a part of her. The
face came nearer... nearer... the eyes were now close to hers, and mockery
and malice gone from them... in them was only gentleness and promise... she
felt cool lips touch hers...
The face was gone. She was sinking, sinking, unresistingly...
gratefully... through a luminous grayness... then into a soft blind
darkness... she was being cradled by it, sinking ever deeper and deeper. She
cried out once, as though frightened: Martin! Then she cried again, voice
vibrant with joy: Martin!
One of the five moon lamps upon the jade altar darkened. Went out.
The brown woman was prostrate upon her face beside the bed. The priest
touched her with his foot. He said: "Prepare. Be swift." She bent over the
There was a movement beside the altar. Four foxes stepped daintily from
its shadows toward the Tang front. They were vixens, and they came like
graceful women, and the coat of each was silken russet-red, their eyes
brilliant, sea-green and slanting, and upon each forehead was a lock of
silvery white. They drew near the brown woman, watching her.
The priest walked to the doors and threw them open. Into the temple
slipped fox after fox... a score, two score... the temple filled with them.
They ringed the ancient font, squatting, red tongues lolling, eyes upon the
The priest walked to the bed. In his hand was a curiously shaped, slender
knife of bronze, double-edged, sharp as a surgeon's knife. The brown woman
threw herself again upon the floor. The priest leaned over the bed, began
with a surgeon's deftness and delicacy to cut. The four vixens drew close,
watching every movement—
Suddenly there wailed through the temple the querulous crying of a new-
The priest walked from the bed toward the font He held the child in his
hands, and hands and child were red with blood. The vixens walked beside him.
The foxes made way for them, closing their circles as they passed. The four
vixens halted, one at each of the font's four sides. They did not sit. They
stood with gaze fastened upon the priest.
The priest ringed the font, bending before each of the four vixens,
holding out the child until each had touched it with her tongue. He lifted
the child by the feet, held it dangling head down, high above his head,
turning so that all the other foxes could see it.
He plunged it five times into the water of the font.
As abruptly as the first moon lantern had gone out, so darkened the other
There was a rustling, the soft patter of many pads. Then silence.
Yu Ch'ien called. There was the gleam of lanterns borne by the servants.
The brown woman raised herself from the floor. He placed the child in her
hands. He said: "It is finished—and it is begun. Care for her."
Thus was born the daughter of Jean and Martin Meredith in the ancient
Temple of the Foxes. Born in the heart of the Hour of the Fox, so called in
those parts of China where the ancient beliefs still live because it is at
the opposite pole of the Hour of the Horse, which animal at certain times and
at certain places, has a magic against which the magic of the Fox may not
The Home of Heavenly Anticipations honored with its presence
Peking, not yet at that time renamed Peiping. It was hidden in the heart of
the Old City. The anticipations discussed there were usually the reverse of
heavenly —or, if not, then dealing with highly unorthodox realms of
But except for its patrons none ever knew what went on within its walls.
There was never any leakage of secrets through those walls. Peculiarly,
ultimate information could be obtained at the Home of Heavenly Anticipations
—so long as it did not pertain to its patrons.
It was, in fact, a clearing house for enterprises looked upon with a
certain amount of disfavor even by many uncivilized countries: enterprises
such as blackmail, larceny on the grand scale, smuggling, escapes, piracies,
removal of obstacles by assassination and so on. Its abbots collected rich
tithes from each successful operation in return for absolute protection from
interruption, eavesdropping and spies, and for the expert and thoroughly
trustworthy advices upon any point of any enterprise which needed to be
cleared up before action.
Prospective members of the most exclusive of London's clubs were never
scanned with such completeness as were applicants for the right to enter the
Home of Heavenly Anticipations—and one had to be a rather complete
scoundrel to win that right. But to those who sought such benefits as it
offered, they were worth all the difficulty in securing them.
Charles Meredith sat in one of its rooms, three weeks to a night from the
birth of Jean Meredith's baby. He was not a member, but it was the privilege
of accredited patrons to entertain guests to whom secrecy was as desirable as
to themselves—or who might prove refractory.
It was a doubtful privilege for these guests, although they were not aware
of it, because it was always quite possible that they might never appear
again in their usual haunts. In such event it was almost impossible to trace
them back to the Home of Heavenly Anticipations. Always, on their way to it,
they had been directed to leave their vehicle, coolie-carriage or what not at
a certain point and to wait until another picked them up. Beyond that point
they were never traced. Or if their bodies were later found, it was always
under such circumstances that no one could point a finger at the Home of
Heavenly Anticipations, which was as expert on alibis for corpses as for
Although he knew nothing of this, Charles Meredith was uneasy. For one
thing, he had a considerable sum of money in his pocket—a very
considerable sum. To be explicit, fifty thousand dollars. For another thing,
he had not the slightest idea of where he was.
He had dismissed his hotel coolie at a designated point, had been
approached by another who gave the proper word of recognition, had been
whisked through street after street, then through a narrow alley, then
through a door opening into a winding passage, thence into a plain reception
hall where a bowing Chinese had met him and led him to the room. He had seen
no one, and he heard no sound. Under the circumstances, he appreciated
privacy—but damn it, there was a limit! And where was Li-kong?
He got up and walked about nervously. It gave him some satisfaction to
feel the automatic holstered under his left arm-pit. He was tall, rather
rangy and his shoulders stooped a little. He had clear eyes whose grey stood
out a bit startlingly from his dark face; a good forehead, a somewhat
predatory beaked nose; his worst feature, his mouth, which hinted
self-indulgence and cruelty. Seemingly an alert, capable American man of
affairs, not at all one who would connive at the murder of his own
He turned at the opening of the door. Li-kong came in. Li-kong was a
graduate of an American college. His father had cherished hopes of a high
diplomatic career, with his American training as part of its foundation. He
had repaid it by learning in exhaustive detail the worst of American life.
This, grafted to his natural qualifications, had given him high place in the
Home of Heavenly Anticipations and among its patrons.
He was in the most formal of English evening dress, looked completely the
person his father had hoped he would be instead of what he actually was
—without principles, morals, mercy or compunction whatever.
Meredith's nervousness found vent in an irritable, "You've been a hell of
a long time getting here, Li-kong!"
The eyes of the Chinese flickered, but he answered urbanely: "Bad news
flies fast. Good news is slow. I am neither early nor late."
Meredith asked suspiciously: "What the hell do you mean by that?"
Li-kong said, eyes watchful: "Your honorable elder brother has ascended
Meredith's grey eyes glittered. The cruelty stood out on his mouth,
unmasked. Li-kong said before he could speak: "All with him, even his
unworthy servants, ascended at the same time. All except—" He
Meredith's body tightened, his head thrust forward. He asked in a thin
The eyes of the Chinese never left him. He said:
"When you rebuked me a moment ago for slowness, I answered that I was
neither early nor late. I must therefore bear good news and bad—"
The American interrupted: "Damn you, Li-kong, who got away?"
The Chinese answered: "Your brother's wife."
Meredith's face whitened, then blackened with fury. He whispered:
He roared: "So you bungled it!" His hand twitched up to the gun under his
arm-pit, then dropped. He asked: "Where is she?"
The Chinese must have seen that betraying movement, but he gave no sign.
He answered: "She fled to the Temple of the Foxes—to your brother's old
friend, the priest Yu Ch'ien."
The other snarled: "What were your bunglers about, to let her go? Why
didn't they go after her?"
"They did go after her! Of what happened thereafter, you shall hear
—when you have paid me my money, my friend."
"Paid you!" Meredith's fury mastered him at this. "With the bitch alive?
I'll see you in hell before you get a cent from me."
The Chinese said calmly: "But since then she has also ascended the dragon
in the footsteps of her lord. She died in childbirth."
"They both are dead—" Meredith sank into the chair, trembling like
one from whom tremendous strain has lifted. "Both dead—"
The Chinese watched him, malicious anticipation in his eyes. "But the
child—lived!" he said.
For a long minute the American sat motionless, looking at him. And now he
did not lose control. He said coldly: "So you have been playing with me, have
you? Well, now listen to me—you get nothing until the child has
followed its father and mother. Nothing! And if it is in your mind to
blackmail me, remember you can bring no charge against me without sending
yourself to the executioner. Think over that, you leering yellow ape!"
The Chinese lighted a cigarette. He said mildly:
"Your brother is dead, according to plan. His wife is dead through that
same plan, even though she did not die when the others did. There was nothing
in the bargain concerning the child. And I do not think you could reach the
child without me." He smiled. "Is it not said, of two brothers, he who thinks
himself the invulnerable one—that is the fool?"
Meredith said nothing, eyes bleak on him. Li-kong went on: "Also, I have
information to impart, advice to give—necessary to you if you determine
to go for the child. As you must—if you want her. And finally—is
it not written in the I-Ging, the Book of Changes, that a man's mind should
have many entrances but only one exit! In this house the saying is reversed.
It has only one entrance but many exits—and the door-keeper of each one
of them is death."
Again he paused, then said: "Think over that, you welching white brother-
The American quivered. He sprang up, reaching for his gun. Strong hands
grasped his elbows, held him helpless. Li-kong sauntered to him, drew out the
automatic, thrust it into his own pocket. The hands released Meredith. He
looked behind him. Two Chinese stood there. One held a crimson bow-string,
the other a double-edged short-sword.
"Two of the deaths that guard the exits." Li-kong's voice was courtesy
itself. "You may have your choice. I recommend the sword—it is
Ruthless Meredith was, and no coward, but he recognized here a
ruthlessness complete as his own. "You win," he said. "I'll pay."
"And now," smiled Li-kong.
Meredith drew out the bundle of notes and passed them to him. The Chinese
counted them and nodded. He spoke to the two executioners and they withdrew.
He said very seriously: "My friend, it is well for you I recognize that
insults by a younger people have not the same force that they would have if
spoken by one of my own race, so much older than yours. In the I-Ging it is
written that we must not be confused by similitude, that the superior man
places not the same value upon the words of a child as he does upon those of
a grown man, although the words be identical. It is well also for you that I
feel a certain obligation. Not personally, but because an unconsidered factor
has caused a seed sown in this house to bring forth a deformed blossom. It
is," continued Li-kong, still very seriously, "a reflection upon its
He smiled at that, and said, "Or rather, its efficiency. I suggest,
therefore, that we discuss the matter without heat or further recrimination
of any kind."
Meredith said: "I am sorry I said what I did, Li-kong. It was childish
temper. I apologize."
The Chinese bowed, but he did not take the hand the other extended. Nor
did he recall his own words.
He said: "The child is at the Temple of the Foxes. In Kansu, it is an
extremely sacred shrine. She is in charge of Yu Ch'ien, who is not only wise
but powerful, and in addition was your honorable late brother's devoted
friend. If Yu Ch'ien suspects, then you will have great difficulty in adding
to your brother's and your sister-in-law's happiness in Heaven by restoring
to them their daughter. You may assume that Yu Ch'ien does suspect— and
Meredith asked incredulously: "Why should he suspect? How could he
Li-kong tapped his cigarette thoughtfully before he answered: "The priest
is very wise. Also, like myself, he has had the advantage of contact with
your admirable civilization. The woman was with him for weeks, and so he must
know who would benefit by the—ah, expungement of your revered
relatives. He might think it highly suspicious that those responsible for the
regrettable affair did not pursue the custom of holding the principals for
ransom instead of—ah, expunging them on the spot. Naturally, he would
ask himself why. Finally, Yu Ch'ien is locally reported to have sources of
information not open to other men—I mean living men. The dead,"
observed Li-kong sardonically, "of course know everything."
Meredith said contemptuously: "What do you mean? Spiritism, divination
Li-kong considered pensively, answered at last: "No—not exactly
that. Something closer, rather to the classical idea of communion with
elemental intelligences, nature spirits, creatures surviving from an older
world than man's—but still of earth. Something like the spirits that
answered from the oaks of Dodona, or that spoke to the Sibyl in the grotto of
Cumae, or in more modern times appeared in, and instructed Joan of Arc from,
the branches of the arbre-fée, the fairy tree of Domremy."
Meredith laughed. "Good God! And this—from you!"
Li-kong said imperturbably: "This from me! I am—what I am. I believe
in nothing. Yet I tell you that I would not go up those steps to the Temple
of the Foxes for all the gold you could give me. Not—now!"
Meredith thought: He is trying to frighten me. The yellow dog is trying to
keep me from the temple. Why? He spoke only the last word of the thought:
The Chinese answered: "China is old. The ancient beliefs are still strong.
There are, for example, the legends of the fox women. The fox women are
nature spirits. Intelligences earthy but not human—akin to those in
Dodona's oaks, Cumae's grotto, Joan of Arc's fairy tree. Believed in—
especially in Kansu. These—let us say spirits—have certain powers
far exceeding the human. Bear with me while I tell you of a few of these
powers. They can assume two earthly shapes only—that of a fox and that
of a beautiful woman. There are fox men, too, but the weight of the legends
are upon the women. Since for them time does not exist, they are mistresses
of time. To those who come under their power, they can cause a day to seem
like a thousand years, or a thousand years like a day. They can open the
doors to other worlds—worlds of terror, worlds of delight. If such
worlds are illusions, they do not seem so to those for whom they are opened.
The fox women can make or mar journeys."
Meredith thought: Come, now we're getting down to it.
The Chinese went quietly on: "They can create other illusions. Phantoms,
perhaps—but if so, phantoms whose blows maim or kill. They are
capricious, bestowing good fortune or ill regardless of the virtue or the
lack of it of the recipient. They are peculiarly favorable to women with
child. They can, by invitation, enter a woman, passing through her breasts or
beneath her finger nails. They can enter an unborn child, or rather a child
about to be born. In such cases, the mother dies—nor is the manner of
birth the normal one. They cannot oust the soul of the child, but they can
dwell beside it, influencing it. Quaint fancies, my friend, in none of which
I have belief. Yet because of them nothing could induce me to climb the steps
to the Temple of the foxes."
Meredith thought: He's trying to frighten me away! What the hell does he
think I am—to be frightened by such superstitious drivel? He said, in
that thin voice with which he spoke when temper was mastering him:
"What's your game, Li-kong? Another double-cross? You're trying to tell me
that if I were you, I wouldn't go to the temple for the brat. Why?"
The Chinese said: "My friend, I have played the game with you. I do not
say that if I were you, I would not go. I say that if you were I, you would
not. A quite different thing."
The other swung clenched fist down upon the table. "Don't tell me you
expect me to take seriously that farrago of nonsense! You don't expect me to
give up now because of a yellow—" He checked himself abruptly.
The Chinese completed the sentence politely: "Because of a yellow man's
superstition! No, but let me point out a few rather disquieting things. The
Temple of the Foxes is believed to be the home of five of these fox women.
Five—spirits—who are sisters. Three messengers were sent me with
the news of the ambush. The first should have reached me within three weeks
after it happened. He has vanished. The second was despatched with other news
a week later. He too vanished. But the third, bearing the news of the death
of your brother's wife, the birth of the child, came as on the wings of the
wind. Why the failure of the first two? Because someone desired to keep you
in ignorance until after that birth? Who?
"Again, no word has come from Kansu, except by this messenger, of the
attack on your brother's party. This, my friend, places you in a dilemma. You
cannot betray your knowledge of his death without subjecting yourself to
questioning as to how that knowledge came to you. You cannot, therefore, send
for the child. You must yourself go—upon some pretext. I think that
whoever sped the third messenger on his way intends that you shall go—
Meredith struck the table again. "I'll go!"
"Third," continued Li-kong, "my messenger said that the woman who fled ran
up the steps of the Temple of the Foxes. And that when they were almost upon
her—a fox stood between her and them. And that fox changed into a woman
who changed their leader into a mad dog. At which—they ran. So I
think," said Li-kong meditatively, "would I have run!"
Meredith said nothing, but his hand beat steadily on the table and the
grey eyes were furious.
"You are thinking," said the Chinese, "'The yellow dogs! Of course they
would run! Filled with rum or opium! Of course!'"
It was precisely what he had been thinking, but Meredith made no
"And finally," said Li-kong, "your brother's wife died when the child was
"Because, I suppose, the fox bitch crawled into her!" jeered Meredith, and
leaning back, whined thin, high-pitched laughter.
The Chinese lost for a moment his calm, half arose, then dropped back. He
said patiently: "If you go up the steps—ride a horse. Preferably an
English horse that has hunted foxes."
He lighted another cigarette. "But that is superstition. Nevertheless, if
you go, take two men with you as free from taint—as you are. I know two
such men. One is a German, the other French. Bold men and hard men. Travel
alone, the three of you, as far as you can. At all times keep as few Chinese
with you as possible. When you go to the temple, go up the steps alone. Take
no Chinese with you there." He said gravely: "I vouch for these two men.
Better still, the Home of Heavenly Anticipations vouches for them. They will
want money, of course."
Meredith asked: "How much?"
"I don't know. They're not cheap. Probably five thousand dollars at
Meredith thought: Here's what he's been leading up to. It's a trap!
Again it was as though Li-kong had read his thoughts. He said very
deliberately: "Meredith, listen to me! I want nothing more from you nor
through you. I have not spoken to these men. They do not know, nor will they
know from me, anything of that transaction for which you have just paid. I am
through with it. I am through with you! I do not like you. I hope never to
see you again. Is that plain American talk?"
Meredith said, as deliberately: "I like it. Go on."
"All that they need know is that you are anxious about your brother. When
in due time during your journey you discover that he and his wife are dead,
and that there is a child, you will naturally want to bring that child back
with you. If you are denied the child, and killing is necessary, they will
kill. That is all. I will put you in touch with these two men. And I will see
to it that none with whom I have relations embarrass you on your way to
Kansu, nor on your way back—if you come back. Except for that
obligation of which I have spoken, I would not do even this. I would not lift
a finger to help you. After you leave this house, you shall be to me as
though you never had been. I want nothing to do with Yu Ch'ien and those who
go to the Temple of the Foxes. If we should meet again—never speak to
me! Do not show you have known me! Never speak to me, never write to me, do
not think of me. I am through with you! Is that clear?"
Meredith nodded, smiling. He thought: I was wrong about him wanting to
keep me from the place. The yellow rat is frightened... he believes in his
own bogies! America and everything else couldn't knock the superstition out
The thought amused him. It gave him a contemptuous tolerance of Li-kong, a
pleasant knowledge of superiority. He said, not bothering to keep the
contempt from his voice: "Clearer than you know, Li-kong. Where do I meet
"They can be at your hotel at one, if it suits you."
"It suits me. Their names?"
"They will tell you. They will bear credentials from me."
Li-kong arose. He stood beside the door, bowing courteously. Meredith
passed through. They went along another passage and through a winding alley
out into a street. It was not the same street from which he had entered. Nor
did he recognize it. A coolie-car waited. Li-kong bowed him into it.
"May our shadows never touch again," said Li-kong ceremoniously. He added,
for the first time menacingly: "For your health."
He turned and passed into the alley. The coolie broke into a swift trot,
It was mid-afternoon a month later that he rode out of the
green glen and looked up the first steep flight of the ancient steps to the
Temple of the Foxes. Riding beside him were von Brenner and Lascelles, the
two bold and hard men Li-kong had recommended. They were all of that, but
they were also discreet men. They had accepted without comment his
explanation of seeking news of his brother, had been properly sympathetic and
had asked him no embarrassing questions. Both could speak the Mandarin as
well as several of the dialects. Lascelles knew Kansu, was even familiar with
the locality in which was the Temple of the Foxes.
Meredith had thought it wise to make inquiries at various places through
which he knew Martin had passed, and here the German and the Frenchman acted
as his interpreters. When they reported that at these points his brother's
party had been in excellent health, they did so with every outward evidence
of belief that such tidings were welcome to him.
Either they were excellent actors or Li-kong had kept faith with him and
told them nothing beyond what had been agreed. Confidence in the second
possibility however had been somewhat disturbed shortly after entering Kansu.
The Frenchman had said he thought, somewhat too casually, that if it was
desirable to get to the temple without passing through any village within a
day's march, he knew a way. He added that while undoubtedly the temple's
priest would know they were coming, he would expect them to follow the usual
route. Therefore, he could possibly be taken by surprise.
Meredith smelled a trap. To accept the suggestion was to admit that the
temple had been the real object of his journey, the reason he had given a
subterfuge, and the anxious inquiries he had made along the line of march a
blind. He answered sharply that there was no reason for any surprise visit,
that the priest Yu Ch'ien, a venerable scholar, was an old friend of his
brother, and that if the party had reached him there was no further cause for
anxiety. Why did Lascelles think he desired any secrecy in his search? The
Frenchman replied politely that if he had known of such friendship the
thought would not have occurred to him, of course.
As a matter of fact, Meredith felt no more fear of Yu Ch'ien than he did
of Li-kong's fox woman. Whenever he thought of how the Chinese had tried to
impress him with that yellow Mother Goose yarn, he felt a contemptuous
amusement that more than compensated him for the humiliation of having been
forced to pay the blood money. He had often listened to Martin extol Yu
Ch'ien's wisdom and virtues, but that only proved what a complete impractical
ass Martin had been... gone senile prematurely, in brain at least... that was
plain enough when he married that gold-digger young enough to be his
daughter... no longer the brother he had known... who could tell what he
might have done next... some senility which would have brought ruin to them
all... a senile crazy brain in Martin's still sound body, that was all... if
Martin had been suffering from some agonizing and incurable disease and had
asked him to put him out of his misery, he would certainly have done so...
well, what was the difference between that and what he had done? That the
girl and her brat should also have to suffer was too bad... but it had been
made necessary by Martin's own senility.
Thus he justified himself. At the same time there was no reason why he
should take these two men into his confidence.
What he should do with the brat when he had it was not quite clear. It was
only two months old—and it was a long journey back to Peking. There
must be some woman taking care of it at the temple. He would arrange that she
go with them to Peking. If some accident happened, or if the child caught
something or other on the way back—that would not be his fault. Her
proper place, obviously, was with her father's family. Not in a heathen
temple back of nowhere in China. Nobody could blame him for wanting to bring
her back... even if anything did happen to her.
But on second thought, not so good. He would have to take back proof that
this child was theirs. Proof of birth. It would be better to bring her alive
to Peking... even better, it might be, if it lived until he had taken it back
to the States and the whole matter of trusteeship and guardianship had been
legally adjusted. There was plenty of time. And he would have his
half-million, and the increased percentage from the estate to tide him over
the gap between now and until—something happened, and the whole estate
would be his. He thought callously: Well, the brat is insured as far as
Peking at any rate.
They had passed through a village that morning. The headman had met them,
and in answer to the usual questioning, had given a complete account of the
massacre, of Jean's escape, of her death later at the temple and of the
child's birth. It was so complete, even to the dates, that he felt a stirring
of faint suspicion. It was a little as though the story had been drilled into
this man. And now and then he would call this one or that among the villagers
for corroboration. But Charles had shown the proper shades of grief, and
desire to punish the killers. And Brenner and Lascelles had exerted
themselves to comfort him in orthodox fashion.
He had said at last: "The first thing to do is get the baby safely back to
Peking. I can get capable white nurses there. I'll have to find a woman here
to look after it until we reach Peking. I want to get the child to the States
and in my wife's care as soon as I can. And I want to start the machinery
going to punish my brother's murderers—although I realize that's a
They had agreed with him that it was most desirable to get the child to
his wife in quickest possible time, and that hope of punishing the killers
was indeed a forlorn one.
And now he stood looking up the ancient steps at whose end was the child.
He said: "You couldn't ride a horse up that, unless it was a circus horse.
And these are not."
Lascelles smiled. "It is impossible to ride to the temple. There are
steeper flights than this. And there is no trail or other road. We must
Meredith said suspiciously: "You seem to know a lot about this place,
Lascelles. Ever been to the temple?"
The Frenchman answered: "No, but I have talked to those who have."
Meredith grinned. "Li-kong told me to take a horse. He said the fox women
were afraid of it."
Brenner laughed. "Die Fuchsdamen! I haf always wanted to see one. Joost as
I always wanted to see one of those bowmen of Mons they haf spoken so highly
of in the War. Ja! I would like to try a bullet on the bowmen, but I would
haf other treatment for the fox women. Yah!"
Lascelles said noncommittally: "It's hard to get some things out of the
mind of a Chinese."
Brenner said to Meredith: "There is one question I haf to ask. How far iss
it that we go in getting this child? Suppose this priest thinks it better you
do not haf it? How far iss it that we go to persuade him, hein?" He added
meditatively: "The headman said that there are with the priest three women
and four men." He said even more meditatively: "The headsman he was very full
of detail. Yah—he knew a lot. I do not like that—quite."
Lascelles nodded, saying nothing, looking at Meredith interrogatively.
Meredith said: "I do not see for what reason or upon what grounds Yu
Ch'ien can deny me the child. I am its uncle, its natural guardian. Its
father, my brother so designated me in the event of his death. Well, he is
dead. If the priest refuses to give it up peaceably I would certainly be
justified in using force to secure it. If the priest were hurt—we would
not be to blame. If his men attacked us and were hurt—we would be
blameless. One way or another—I take the child."
Lascelles said somewhat grimly: "If it comes to fighting, we ride back
along that way I told you of. We will go through no village within a day's
journey from here. It will not be healthy for us in Kansu—the speed at
which we must go will not be healthy for the child."
Meredith said: "I am sure we'll have no trouble with Yu Ch'ien."
They had brought a fourth horse with them, a sturdy beast with wide
Chinese saddle such as a woman rides. They tethered the four horses and began
to mount the steps. At first they talked, then their voices seemed to be
absorbed in the silence, to grow thin. They stopped talking.
The tall pines watched them as they passed—the crouching shrubs
watched them. They saw no one, heard nothing—but gradually they became
as watchful as the pines and bushes, alert, hands gripping the butts of their
pistols as though the touch gave them confidence. They came over the brow of
the hill and the sweat was streaming from them as it streams from horses
frightened by something they sense but can neither see nor hear.
It was as though they had passed out of some peril-haunted jungle into
safety. They still said nothing to each other, but they straightened, drew
deep breaths, and their hands fell from their pistols. They looked down upon
the peacock-tiled roof of the Temple of the Foxes and upon its blue pool of
peace. A man sat beside it on a stone seat. As they watched him, he arose and
walked toward the temple. At each side of him went a pair of what seemed
russet-red dogs. Suddenly they saw that these were not dogs, but foxes.
They came down over the brow of the hill to the rear of the temple. In its
brown stone there was no door, only six high windows that seemed to watch
them come. They saw no one. They skirted the temple and reached its front.
The man they had seen at the pool stood there, as though awaiting them. The
foxes were gone.
The three halted as one, involuntarily. Meredith had expected to see an
old, old man—gentle, a little feeble, perhaps. The face he saw was old,
no doubt of that—but the eyes were young and prodigiously alive. Large
and black and liquid, they held his. He was clothed in a symboled robe of
silvery blue on whose breast in silver was a fox's head.
Meredith thought: What if he isn't what I expected! He shook his head
impatiently, as though to get rid of some numbness. He stepped forward, hand
outstretched. He said: "I am Charles Meredith. You are Yu Ch'ien—my
The priest said: "I have been expecting you, Charles Meredith. You already
know what happened. The village headman mercifully took from me the burden of
delivering to you the first blossom of sorrowful knowledge."
Meredith thought: How the devil did he know that?
The village is half a day away. We came swiftly, and no runner could have
reached here before us.
The priest had taken his outstretched hand. He did not clasp it palm to
palm, but held it across the top, thumb pressed to wrist. Meredith felt a
curious tingling coolness dart from wrist to shoulder. The black eyes were
looking deep into his, and he felt the same tingling coolness in his brain.
His hand was released, the gaze withdrawn. He felt as though something had
been withdrawn from his mind with it.
"And your friends—" Yu Ch'ien grasped von Brenner's hand in the same
way, black eyes searching the German's. He turned to Lascelles. The French
thrust his hands behind him, avoided the eyes. He bowed and said: "For me, it
is too great honor, venerable father of wisdom."
For an instant Yu Ch'ien's gaze rested on him thoughtfully. He spoke to
Meredith: "Of your brother and your brother's wife there is nothing more to
be said. They have passed. You shall see the child."
Meredith answered bluntly: "I came to take her with me, Yu Ch'ien."
The priest said as though he had not heard: "Come into the temple and you
shall see her."
He walked through the time-bitten pillars into the room where Jean
Meredith had died. They followed him. It was oddly dark within the temple
chamber. Meredith supposed that it was the transition from the sunny
brightness. It was as though the chamber was filled with silent, watchful
brown shadows. There was an altar of green stone on which were five ancient
lamps of milky jade. They were circular, and in four of them candles burned,
turning them into four small moons. The priest led them toward this altar.
Not far from the altar was an immense vessel of bronze, like a baptismal
font. Between altar and vessel was an old Chinese cradle, and nestled in its
cushions was a baby. It was a girl child, fast asleep, one little dimpled
fist doubled up to its mouth. The priest walked to the opposite side of the
He said softly: "Your brother's daughter, Charles Meredith. Bend over. I
desire to show you something. Let your friends look too."
The three bent over the cradle. The priest gently opened the child's
swathings. Upon its breast, over its heart, was a small scarlet birthmark
shaped like a candle flame wavering in the wind. Lascelles lifted his hand,
finger pointing, but before he could speak, the priest had caught his wrist.
He looked into the Frenchman's eyes. He said sternly: "Do not waken her."
The Frenchman stared at him for a moment, then said through stiff lips:
The priest dropped his wrist. He said to Meredith, tranquilly: "I show you
the birthmark so you may know the child when you see her again. It will be
long, Charles Meredith, before you do see her again."
A quick rage swept Meredith but before he succumbed to it he found time to
wonder at its fury. He whispered: "Cover him, von Brenner! Throttle him,
He bent down to lift the baby from the cradle. He stiffened, hands
clutching at empty air. The baby and cradle were gone. He looked up. The
priest was gone.
Where Yu Ch'ien had stood was a row of archers, a dozen of them. The light
from the four lanterns shone shadedly upon them. They were in archaic mail,
black lacquered helmets on their heads; under their visors yellow slanted
eyes gleamed from impassive faces. Their bows were stretched, strings ready
to loose, the triangular arrow heads at point like snakes poised to spring.
He looked at them stupidly. Where had they come from? At the head of the line
was a giant all of seven feet tall, old, with a face as though made of
gnarled pear-wood. It was his arrow that pointed to Meredith's heart. The
He sprang back—back between von Brenner and Lascelles. They stood,
glaring unbelievingly as he had at that line of bowmen. He saw the German
lift his pistol, heard him say thickly: "The bowmen of Mons—" heard
Lascelles cry: "Drop it, you fool!" Heard the twang of a bow, the hiss of an
arrow and saw an arrow pierce the German's wrist and saw the pistol fall to
the temple floor.
Lascelles cried: "Don't move, Meredith!" The Frenchman's automatic rang
upon the temple floor.
He heard a command—in the voice of Yu Ch'ien. The archers moved
forward, not touching the three, but menacing them with their arrows. The
three moved back.
Abruptly, beneath the altar, in the light of the four lanterns, he saw the
cradle and the child within it, still asleep.
And beside the cradle, Yu Ch'ien.
The priest beckoned him. The line of archers opened as he walked forward.
Yu Ch'ien looked at him with unfathomable eyes. He said in the same tranquil
tones, utterly without anger or reproach:
"I know the truth. You think I could not prove that truth? You are right.
I could not—in an earthly court. And you fear no other. But listen
well—you have good reason to fear me! Some day your brother's child
will be sent to you. Until she comes, look after her interests well and try
in no manner directly or indirectly to injure her. You will have the money
your brother left you. You will have your interest in her estate. You will
have at least seven years before she comes. Use those years well, Charles
Meredith—it is not impossible that you may build up much merit which
will mitigate, even if it cannot cancel, your debt of wickedness. But this I
tell you—do not try to regain this child before she is sent to you, nor
attempt to molest her. After she comes to you—the matter is in other
hands than mine. Do you understand me, Charles Meredith?"
He heard himself say: "I understand you. It shall be as you say."
Yu Ch'ien thrust his hand into his robe, drew out a package. He said:
"Here are written the circumstances of your brother's death, his wife's death
and the birth of the child. They are attested by me, and by witnesses of
mine. I am well known far beyond the limits of this, my temple. My signature
will be sufficient to prove the authenticity of the statements. I have given
my reasons why I think it useless to attempt to bring the actual murderers of
your brother and his party to justice. I have said that their leader was
caught and executed. He was! My real reason for acting as I am may not be
known by you. Now pick up those useless weapons of yours—useless at
least here—take these papers and go!"
Meredith took the documents. He picked up the guns. He turned and walked
stiffly through the bowmen to where von Brenner and Lascelles stood close to
the temple doors, under the arrows of the bowmen. They mounted the hill and
set their feet upon the ancient road.
Silent, like men half-awake, they passed through the lines of the watchful
pines and at last into the glen where their horses stood tethered—
There was an oath from the German. He was moving the wrist gingerly. And
suddenly all three were like men who had just awakened. Von Brenner cried:
"The arrow! I felt it—I saw it! But there iss no arrow and no mark. And
my hand iss good as ever."
Lascelles said very quietly: "There was no arrow, von Brenner. There were
no bowmen. Nevertheless, let us move from here quickly."
Meredith said: "But I saw the arrow strike. I saw the archers."
"When Yu Ch'ien gripped our wrists he gripped our minds," answered
Lascelles. "If we had not believed in the reality of the bowmen—we
would not have seen them. The arrow could not have hurt you, von Brenner. But
the priest had trapped us. We had to believe in their reality." He untied his
horse. He turned to Meredith, foot on stirrup: "Did Yu Ch'ien threaten
Meredith answered with a touch of grim humor:
"Yes—but he gave me seven years for the threats to take effect."
Lascelles said: "Good. Then you and I, von Brenner, get back to Peking.
We'll spend the night at that village of the too well informed headman
—go back by the open road. But ride fast."
He gave the horse his knee and raced away. The other two followed. The
horse with the wide Chinese saddle placidly watched them go.
Two hours after dusk they came to the village. The headman was courteous,
provided them with food and shelter, but no longer was communicative.
Meredith was quiet. Before they rolled into their blankets he said to
Lascelles: "When the priest grasped your hand you were about to say something
—something about that birthmark on the child's breast. What was
Lascelles said: "I was about to say that it was the Symbol of the fox
Meredith said: "Don't tell me you believe in that damned nonsense!"
Lascelles answered: "I'm not telling you anything, except that the mark
was the symbol of the fox women."
Von Brenner said: "I'fe seen some strange things in this damned China and
elsewhere, Pierre. But neffer an arrow that pierced a man's wrist and hung
there quivering—and then was gone. But the wrist dead—as mine
Lascelles said: "Listen, Franz. This priest is a great man. What he did to
us I have seen sorcerers, so-called, do to others in Tibet and in India. But
never with such completeness, such clarity. The archers came from the mind of
the priest into our minds—yes, that I know. But I tell you, Franz, that
if you had believed that arrow had pierced your heart—your heart would
not be alive as your wrist is! I tell you again—he is a great man, that
Meredith said: "But—"
Lascelles said: "For Christ's sake, man, is it impossible for you to
learn!" He rolled himself in his blankets. Went to sleep.
Meredith lay awake, thinking, for long. He thought;
Yu Ch'ien doesn't know a damned thing. If he did—why would he
promise me the child? He knows he can't prove a thing. He thought: He thinks
he can frighten me so that when the child comes of age she'll get what's
coming to her... And he thought: Lascelles is as crazy as Li-kong. Those
archers were hidden there all the time. They were real, all right. Or, if it
was a matter of hypnotism, I'd like to see myself believe in them in New
York! He laughed.
It was a damned good arrangement, he concluded. Probably the priest
wouldn't send the brat back to him for ten years. But in the meantime—
well, he'd like to see that file of archers in one of the Bronx night clubs!
It was a good arrangement—for him. The priest was as senile as