Presently a movement in the trees without betrayed a presence, and the story-teller was on the point of disclosing himself at the shutter when the approaching one displayed an unfamiliar outline. Instead of a maiden of exceptional symmetry and peach-like charm an elderly and deformed hag drew near. As she might be hostile to his cause, Kai Lung deemed it prudent to remain concealed; but in case she should prove to be an emissary from Hwa-mei seeking him, his purpose was to stand revealed. To combine these two attitudes until she should declare herself was by no means an easy task, but she looked neither near nor far in scrutiny until she stood, mumbling and infirm, beneath the shutter.
“It is well, minstrel,” she called aloud. “She whom you await bid me greet you with a sign.” At Kai Lung’s feet there fell a crimson flower, growing on a thorny stem. “What word shall I in turn bear back? Speak freely, for her mind is as my open hand.”
“Tell me rather,” said Kai Lung, looking out, “how she fares and what averts her footsteps?”
“That will appear in due time,” replied the aged one. “In the meanwhile I have her message to declare. Three times foiled in his malignant scheme the now obscene Ming-shu sets all the Axioms at naught. Distrusting you and those about your path, it is his sinister intention to call up for judgment Kai-moo, who lies within the women’s cell beyond the Water Way.”
“What is her crime and how will this avail him?”
“Charged with the murder of her man by means of the supple splinter her condemnation is assured. The penalty is piecemeal slicing, and in it are involved those of her direct line, in the humane effort to eradicate so treacherous a strain.”
“That is but just,” agreed Kai Lung.
“Truly. But on the slender ligament of a kindred name you will be joined with her in that end. Ming-shu will see to it that records of your kinship are not lacking. Being accused of no crime on your own behalf there will be nothing for you to appear against.”
“It is written: ’Even leprosy may be cured, but the enmity of an official underling can never be dispelled,’ and the malice of the persistent Ming-shu certainly points to the wisdom of the verse. Is the person of Kai-moo known to you, and where is the prison-house you speak of?”
To this the venerable creature replied that the cell in question was in a distant quarter of the city. Kai-moo, she continued, might be regarded as fashioned like herself, being deformed in shape and repellent in appearance. Furthermore, she was of deficient understanding, these things aiding Ming-shu’s plan, as she would be difficult to reach and impossible to instruct when reached.
“The extremity is almost hopeless enough to be left to the ever-protecting spirits of one’s all-powerful Ancestors,” declared Kai Lung at length. “Did she from whom you come forecast any confidence?”