May 3, 2013

The Curious Tale of Mr. Fox, By Lissa Sloan

Editor's note: Just read this one. You'll love it!

I am going to tell you the story of my sister Lady Mary and Mr. Fox. But I am not sure quite how to begin.  My brothers and I could never understand what she saw in the fellow.  She was hardly alone in her admiration of him.  Indeed, many of the ladies of the village of L_____ thought Mr. Fox the most agreeable gentleman of their acquaintance.  Perhaps it was his charming, almost lazy smile, his bright mischievous eyes, or his fine red coat, which I daresay many of the gentlemen envied.
 
But perhaps it was rather the fact that my sister had an especial fondness for animals.  And whatever his more attractive points, Mr. Fox remained a scavenging, sheep-chasing, chicken-stealing fox.  My brothers and I would have sent him packing the first time he trotted through our gates and scratched at our door, but Mary insisted he be allowed the pleasure of waiting upon us.

 
She was always soft hearted, you see, and far too trusting.  When we were children she was just the same.  Take hunting, for example.  Tom, Dick, and I traipsed home from each of our first fox hunts with our cheeks smeared with blood, as any initiate should.  But on the day of Mary’s first hunt, when the hounds closed in on their quarry, Mary leapt from her pony and took the terrified fox in her arms, snarling at the hounds and the rest of us to keep away.  The master threw up his hands and called in his hounds.  The only marks on Mary’s face that day were the claw marks of the ungrateful wretch whose life she had saved.
 
I must own we all indulged my sister, as she was the only girl, and the youngest.  The entire household allowed her to have her way in everything.  Of course we tried to persuade her to be sensible.  When Mr. Fox came courting her, we told her again and again that he was no better than a common poacher.  No one ever caught him at it, and he always protested that he was a gentleman, and never ate anyone’s pheasants but his own.  But my brothers and I continued to doubt him.  Mary, however, was satisfied.  So satisfied, in fact, that she allowed him to make her an offer of his hand, or, I should say, his paw.  As her oldest relation, Tom of course refused his consent, but that was nothing to Mary.  She was a singularly headstrong creature, and was determined to accept Mr. Fox.
 
We should have known how it would be.  Mary used every weapon at her disposal.  She used her wit, vivacity, charm, and sheer stubbornness.  She vexed Tom, (Dick and I too, I might add) day and night, until at last, as always, we gave in.  The wedding breakfast was ordered; the wedding clothes bought and paid for.  Mary was to have Mr. Fox, a gentleman of considerable property.  So it was rumored, at least.  And Mr. Fox was to have Lady Mary and her fortune of forty thousand pounds.  Our acquaintances in  _____shire were all astonishment.
 
No bans were read, for Mr. Fox declared he would have a special license.  On the day he was to ride to town to procure the license, he called on Mary before he left.  I heard them talking together in the shrubbery.  “In the morning,” he was saying to her, “could we have some bread and perhaps a cup of chocolate before we go to church?”
 
Mary laughed.  “What about the wedding breakfast?  You’ll spoil your appetite,” she chided him.
 
“Not a bit of it,” he told her.  “You know what a ravenous fellow I am.”  I took this opportunity to appear on the path.
 
Mary rose from the bench where they sat.  “Very well,” she said.  “You know I could never refuse you.”
 
Mr. Fox gave me his jaunty smile.  “Congratulate me, Harry,” he cried.  “Tomorrow will make me the happiest of gentlemen.”  Without waiting for my response, he leapt from the bench and bounded away through the park.
 
I took Mary's hand.  “Are you certain about all this?  We know nothing about him.  We’ve never even seen his estate, if he even has one.”
 
Mary smiled and kissed my cheek.  “I know my own mind, Harry,” she said.  Then, almost to herself, she added, “Of course he has an estate.”  With that, she headed off towards the stables.
 
I did not see her again until the next morning, the morning of the wedding.  She was looking rather low-spirited, sitting alone at the table in the breakfast room.  I thought brides were supposed to wear light colors, not black.  But I daresay I am a stupid fellow and know nothing about ladies’ fashions.  Mr. Fox noticed her changed appearance also.  As soon as he leapt into his chair, he put a paw on her hand and said, “You are pale, my love.  Are you not well?”
 
Mary gave him a small smile.  “It is only a headache,” she said.  “I had a terrible dream last night.”
 
“Indeed?” cried Mr. Fox, “Well, you must tell me all about it.  Our nightmares often seem foolish by the light of day, and it will while away this tedious time before we are to go to church.”
 
Mary smiled, a bit of her usual liveliness returning.  “You know I could never refuse you,” she told him archly.  The matter was settled, and Mr. Fox began to do justice to his bread rolls at once, without benefit of butter or jam.
 
“I dreamt I was overcome with curiosity to see your house, as I had never been there,” she began.  “So I set out.  You had told me I was always welcome, you know.”
 
Mr. Fox paused in devouring his bread to assure her he had told her many times that she might visit whenever she liked.
 
“I arrived at your house,” she went on, “to find an arched gateway, upon which was carved what I guessed to be your family motto.  ‘Be bold, be bold,’ it said, ‘but not too bold.’” 
 
Mr. Fox’s nose came out of his chocolate cup, and he licked his chops.  “It is not so, madam,” he said with his lazy smile.  “An extraordinary motto, but I assure you, it is not mine.”
 
Mary inclined her head.  “It was only a dream, sir,” she said, and went on.  “Perhaps the message was for me.  For bold I was.  I went through your gates and approached your door.  Above your door was carved another message, ‘Be bold, be bold, but not too bold, lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.”
 
“It is not so, my love,” replied the bridegroom.  He stopped eating for a moment and scratched his ear with his back foot.  “I should never have such peculiar words written above my door.”  He shook his head, and returned to his food, all affability.
 
“I was bolder still,” continued Mary, “and I went through your door to find your house empty.  I was not surprised, because I knew you to be from home, just as you were yesterday.  I began to look about me, but, to my alarm, I heard footsteps outside the door.  I blushed then to think how I had intruded on your privacy, and I opened the first door I came to, so as not to be discovered.  What do you think I saw there?”
 
Mr. Fox winked at her roguishly.  “Perhaps you saw all the jewels I have set aside to give you when you are my wife and spoilt your own surprise.  Was that what you saw, you impertinent creature?”
 
Mary shook her head.  “I saw a room full of skeletons and the bodies of young ladies with their throats ripped out.”
 
Mr. Fox coughed, and chocolate went everywhere.  “It is not so, my love.  What an unnatural dream to have.  Why you dreamt it I cannot imagine.”
 
“I ran from the room at once,” Mary went on, her hands in her lap.  She had not touched her food.  “There was not time to try another door, so I hid behind a tapestry.  In you came, sir, with a richly dressed young woman.  You had the end of her skirt between your teeth and were dragging her across the floor.  Once inside, you took a fancy to a ring around the lady’s finger.  It was stuck there, and she could not get it off, try as she might.  You grew impatient, and seizing her finger in your teeth, bit it off.  You worried the poor girl’s finger in your mouth to shake off the ring.  But you were too hasty, sir, for both ring and finger flew across the room and landed at my feet.  You dragged the unfortunate creature into the bloody chamber to revenge yourself upon her, and I made my escape.” 
 
 
Mr. Fox was not eating now.   “It is not so,” he said in a strained voice.  “God forbid it should be so.”  With some effort, he summoned up his habitual smile and said teasingly, “You had no business to have such a dream.”
 
Mary withdrew one hand from her lap.  “It is so,” she said, opening her hand, which contained a delicate finger, the ring still on it.  “It was no dream.”
 
Tom, Dick, and I leapt to our feet, demanding satisfaction from Mr. Fox, as the gentleman in question jumped from his chair.  “Sit!” commanded a low voice from the end of the table. It was Mary’s.  She was standing too, straight and tall.  My brothers and I reclaimed our chairs, while Mr. Fox cowered on the floor, his tail curled tightly about him.  I thought I heard him growling.  But I was mistaken, for he too was looking for the source of the sound.
 
Mary came around the table, a handful of leashes in one pale fist.  At the end of the leashes were her foxhounds, bristling and straining to be set free.  At last I understood Mary’s black dress.  She was not dressed for the wedding.  She was dressed for the hunt.  She gathered the hound’s leashes near their collars and knelt next to Mr. Fox, who was now shaking from whiskers to tail.  His ears drooped as her free hand reached out towards him.  A whine escaped his lips as Mary’s fingers stroked his fine red coat.  “I do pity you,” she said.  “So I will be generous.”
 
I could not fathom it.  How could she show compassion, even now?  Mr. Fox’s ears tipped forward.  “Yes, my dear,” he almost whimpered.  “Show some mercy.” 
 
“You know I could never refuse you,” she said.  Then she called to the butler.  “Have Hobson saddle my horse.  I will be down in five minutes.”  She leaned close to Mr. Fox and spoke low in his ear.  “I’ll give you a head start.”


Lissa has contributed stories, poems, and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at lissasloan.com.

5 comments

  1. What a wonderful adventure! I love this story, well-done.

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  2. I love this story, and this is a great take on it :) I especially love the ending!

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  3. What a wonderful ending! Ha--good for Lady Mary. Nicely written, too, and I think the old-fashioned voice works very well here.

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  4. This story reminded me of LRRH, and the caution to women about men thought of as wolves, but in this story it's a fox to beware of. I liked this story's face value, but I enjoyed the underlying messages given. The use of the common names of Tom, Dick, Harry, and Mary allows the reader to know that this can happen to anyone. There were blanks where the reader may put in city/town name and make it easier to relate to. Mr. Fox didn't need a name, because all foxes will be the same. Mr. Fox reminds me of a psychopath. He's charming, doesn't take others' feelings into account, and he's a murderer. I can identify with Mary being the youngest with older brothers, because I'm the youngest with two brothers. They try to tell her what they believe is right, and brothers can usually tell if a guy is up to no good without being overly protective. They told her how they felt, but she still got her way. It seemed that she couldn't see him for who he really was because she was blinded by his charm and what she thought was love, until she witnessed who he really was.

    ****Angella M.****

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