Wedding of the Fox's Daughter
In the past it was believed that foxes or fox spirits would haunt abandoned buildings, assuming attractive human form and possessing certain magical powers.
Chief Minister Yin of Licheng, though poor when young, was brave and resourceful. In that county there was the residence of an old family, with several acres of grounds and a line of buildings. The strange and monstrous were often seen there, so it had long been abandoned and uninhabited. Over time, thick weeds had gradually filled it and even in broad daylight nobody dared enter. Yin happened to be drinking with various scholars when some of them said for a joke, “If there’s anyone who can stay there for a night, we’ll all pool our money for a banquet.”
Yin leapt up and said, “What’s hard about that?” And he went, taking a sleeping mat.
They all saw him to the gate, and joked, “We’ll wait for a while – if you see anything then shout at once.”
Yin said with a laugh, “If there are any ghosts or foxes, then I’ll catch them as proof.” So he went in.
He saw long grass covering the path, teeming with mugwort and wormwood. The moon happened to be in the first quarter, but fortunately in the faint moonbeams he could make out the passageway. Feeling his way carefully in, he eventually came to the rear tower. He climbed to the belvedere, where it was beautifully clear and bright, so he stopped there. Gazing west, the moonlight was merely a sliver linking the hills. He sat there for quite some time without seeing anything at all strange and secretly laughed at the mistaken rumours. He laid his mat on the ground, rested his head on a stone, lay down and watched the stars.
Near the end of the first watch, as he was dimly sinking into sleep, from downstairs came the sound of footsteps, noisily ascending. Peeking while pretending to sleep, he saw a servant dressed in black carrying a lotus lantern. At the unexpected sight of his lordship, the servant promptly retreated in shock and said to someone behind, “There’s a stranger here.”
The other asked, “Who is it?”
The answer was, “I don’t know.”
Soon an old man came up, who scrutinized his lordship and said, “This is Minister Yin. He’s already fast asleep. We’ll just get on with our business. The young master is easy-going – perhaps he won’t blame us.”
So, one after the other, they entered the building, throwing the doors wide open. After a short while, the people coming and going became a throng. The light from the lanterns in the building was like day. Yin shifted his body slightly and snuffled. The old man heard his lordship was awake and came out. Kneeling, he said, “Your humble servant has a chit of a daughter who today happens to be getting married. Unexpectedly we have disturbed your Excellency. I hope you will not take serious offence.”
Yin rose, tugged at him and said, “I didn’t know there was a celebration tonight. I’m sorry I have nothing for congratulation.”
The old man said, “Your Excellency honours us with your presence and keeps away evil spirits, which is so fortunate. Now may I trouble you to sit in our company and double the honour granted?” Delighted, Yin agreed.
He entered and looked around the building at the beautiful decorations. Then a woman about forty years or so old came out to pay her respects. The old man said, “This is my ball and chain.” Yin bowed to her.
Presently he heard a clamour of reed pipes and someone came hurrying up, saying, “He’s here!” The old man hastened to the welcome, while Yin stood waiting. After a few moments, with a cluster of palace lanterns, the bridegroom was led in. He was about seventeen or eighteen years old, with an elegant bearing and pretty features. The old man ordered him first to pay respects to the distinguished guest. The young man looked at Yin, and Yin, as if he were the bride’s attendant, performed the due courtesies. Next the bride’s father and his son-in-law exchanged bows, and when that was done then at once they took their seats. Within a few moments, there was a cloud of attendants in powder and make-up, with wine and steaks showering down in jade plates and golden bowls, the light illuminating the tables.
After several rounds of drinks, the old man called a servant-girl to ask his daughter to come. The servant-girl said yes and went inside, but after a long time she still hadn’t come out. The old man himself got up and raised the bed-curtain to press her. Soon the bride came out, supported by a retinue of servant-girls and old women; rings and pendants clinking, sending out a fragrance of musk and orchid. The old man ordered her to bow to the guest. Rising, she then sat at her mother’s side. A quick glance at her phoenix coronet and pearl earrings revealed an outstanding beauty.
Subsequently they drank from golden goblets, each big enough to contain several cupfuls. Thinking he could keep this object for his colleagues to examine, Yin hid one up his sleeve. Pretending to be drunk, he slumped on the table and sank into sleep. Everyone said, “Oh, the young master’s drunk.”
Before long, the bridegroom took his leave, and with a sudden loud sound of reed pipes, one after another the guests went downstairs and left. Following that, the hosts collected in the drinking set, but a thorough search failed to produce the one missing wine vessel. Some secretly discussed the sleeping guest. The old man hastily forbade them to speak for fear that Yin would hear.
A short while later, inside and outside were totally silent and only then did Yin get up. It was dark, with no lamplight and only a smell of perfume and wine filling the whole room. He saw the east was already light, so he calmly left. Fishing in his sleeve, he found the golden goblet was still there. When he reached the gate, all the scholars were already waiting, but suspected he had come out during the night and gone back in early. Yin took out the goblet to show them. Astonished, they all questioned him and he described what had happened. Together they concluded this object was not a poor scholar’s possession, so they believed him.
Later Yin succeeded in the highest imperial exams and took up a post at Fei Qiu. An aristocratic family named Zhu held a banquet for him and ordered some huge wine vessels to be brought out, though after a long time they had still not come. A certain young maid covered her mouth to speak with the host and the host looked angry. Soon they presented a golden goblet and urged the guest to drink.
Examining it closely, the style, design and engraving were identical to the ones of the foxes. Greatly puzzled, Yin asked where it was made. The reply was, “In all there are eight vessels. When my late father became a minister in the capital, he looked for a skilled craftsman to supervise their manufacture. They have been passed down through the family and wrapped away carefully for a long time. Because your Excellency has been kind enough to visit us, it is proper to bring them out from the trunk, but only seven remain. I suspect one has been stolen by the servants. However, they were covered with ten years of dust as before, so I really can’t explain it.”
Yin smiled and said, “The golden cup has sprouted wings! But a family heirloom can’t be lost. I have one rather similar to it – I ought to present it to you.”
At the end of the banquet, he returned to his office, picked out the vessel and had it delivered. The host examined it closely and was absolutely astonished. Going in person to thank Yin, he closely questioned him where it came from. Yin explained all that had happened from start to finish. Only then did they know that foxes can take and return objects from a thousand miles away, but after all don’t dare to keep them.