This is based on a true story.
The girl peered out of the kitchen window, and her gaze followed the lengthening shadows across the lawn. The sun was beginning to set. Soon it would be nightfall, and the last of the robins and blackbirds would be flying down to the copse to roost, just as the creatures of the night stirred from their daytime slumbers, ready to start their own rituals during the hours of darkness.
It was just getting dusk when the girl suddenly spotted a lone dark figure, sitting as still as a statue in the centre of the small paddock where she kept Spartacus, her pony. At first she thought that perhaps it was her dog, Scruffs, but then she was sure he was already indoors, because he rarely went out until after his supper, and when she went to check the lounge, there he was, large as life, curled up in his favourite position on the mat by the warm fire. He was fast asleep, and dreaming wondrous dreams, punctuated by short little “wuff wuff” noises, and one of his front paws twitching spasmodically.
Scruffs was a rescued Border Collie, who would have been put down, because his owner claimed that he couldn't afford to keep a worthless dog who was no good at working with sheep. The girl heard about the farmer wanting to get rid of his young dog, and fearing that he might even shoot him instead of having him put to sleep, she took herself along to the farm to plead with the farmer to let her take the dog away, and he gladly handed him over to her: and now he'd been with the family for the past five years. He certainly proved that he was no good as a rounding-up dog, because he wasn't interested in chasing rabbits, squirrels, or even foxes, let alone sheep! His favourite pastimes were going for walkies, food, then sleep - in that order!
The girl went back into the kitchen to see if the stranger was still there, but she could only see an empty space.
The following evening, and at about the same time, the creature was back again, only this time it was sitting in the middle of the lawn, much closer to the house, and the girl could now see that her mysterious visitor was a fox. She thought that it was probably a vixen, because it was small and slight, and she was struck by its pretty face, with its sharp pointed muzzle, and rich amber eyes which sparkled brightly.
She started to put a few slices of bread on the lawn, and was delighted when the little vixen darted out from under a hedge to collect it, then with a quick glance over her shoulder, trot back through the fence and across the paddock, to disappear behind the stable at the bottom of the paddock, and into darkness of the copse, and the safety of her den.
The girl noticed that the fox was spending more and more time in and around the garden, so she was quite certain that most of her time was spent there foraging for food, which mean she was keeping well out of the way of local farms, where she wouldn't have been at all popular, because many of the farmers kept chickens as well as sheep and cattle, so she could even be shot at, or even more frightening, poisoned!
As winter approached, the girl decided her little vixen - now named 'Fay', because she was so dainty, like a fairy - could do with extra supplements to help her through the bitter cold nights. Hunting up an old unused aluminium pie dish, she heaped in, three large tablespoonfuls of cheap dog food, bought at the local supermarket. She sometimes added a few other scraps, like chicken pieces, left-overs off her dinner plate, and sometimes even a small portion of curry, or spaghetti bolognese!
Fay must have appreciated her extra tasty meal, and the dish too, because after the first night of use, the dish suddenly vanished without trace, so another, heavier dish had to be found, which seemed to do the trick, and stayed intact.
Fay became very trusting, and when the girl opened the door to place the dish in its usual position, whilst calling softly to her, she was delighted to see the little sharp pointed ears suddenly appear over the top of one of the shrubs, eyeing her expectantly: and when she carefully and quietly stepped back, she was equally amazed when Fay took a few cautious steps towards the dish. The girl stood still, hardly daring to breathe, in case she frightened the little fox off, but she needn't have worried, as the trusting creature was quite happy to continue her meal in her presence. And so a mutual friendship was bonded between the fox and girl.
On one clear, cold autumn night, as the silvered moon glided its orbital course, and pierced its way above the tree-tops, throwing an eerie light across the open countryside, the girl heard the sharp yelps of courting foxes, echoing from the stillness of the copse, shattering the sacred quietness of the night. As she pulled the bed covers up around her for extra warmth, conscious of the night-time shadows cast by moonlight, she wondered if it was Fay out there, being seduced by an amorous dog fox.
Fay continued to visit the garden regularly for her food, and sometimes she arrived a little too early. She would sit on the top step which led up from the lower lawn, and stare at the girl through the kitchen window, as though she was willing her to bring out the dish of food.
One night, a dog fox accompanied Fay into the garden to share the food with her. He was a large fox, with a deep, rich-red thick coat. A grizzled stripe of coarse fur grew along the full length of his back, and he had a thick bushy brush, with a white tip at the end.
Fay had chosen her soul-mate well, as he was a handsome beast, and he looked healthy and strong. The happy pair were inseparable, and he soon became Fay's shadow.
It wasn't long before the two foxes became five.
The first sighting of the little family of cubs took place on one particular evening, when the girl placed the dish out as usual, then stood back, calling softly to let Fay know that the food was there ready for her.
She was often aware of Fay's whereabouts by the soft rustle of leaves as the little animal made her way along the bottom lawn, treading cautiously, and then the characteristic foxy face would peer at her through a bush, or around a shrub, with amber eyes glinting expectantly as she waited for the girl to leave the dish in its place for her.
As time passed, Fay became more confident in the girl's company, and she was quite relaxed enough to start her meal even when the girl was still standing just a short distance away.
On this particular occasion, Fay sat down by the side of the dish, but not attempting to touch the food: then every now and then she would glance over her shoulder as though she was waiting for something. Then, all of a sudden, and to the girl's great delight, three fluffy little red heads appeared from behind Fay. The gangly young cubs, probably only a few weeks old, pushed their way past mother, rubbing themselves against her chest for reassurance and protection. Then Fay stood up and sniffed the dish as though she was trying to show them the food, but only picking out a few pieces for herself. The little cubs were quick to get the message, and it wasn't long before they gingerly started to poke their sharp little noses into the soft juicy morsels, sniffing at first, then greedily scoffing as much as they were able, jostling and giving little chuntering noises at one another, as they competed for the tastiest pieces, whilst their mother stood back and waited for them to finish. When she was satisfied that her little ones had eaten their fill, she then finished off anything they might have left.
The weeks and months passed by, and still the foxes came regularly to the garden for their feast. The cubs had grown fast and looked well, and often appeared without the vixen. She was a very good mother, and still kept a wary eye on them. Their father, the dog fox, rarely put in an appearance, but occasionally the girl caught a glimpse of him with his children, as though he was still trying to keep them in order, and showing them the ways of the world. He preferred to hunt alone, and left his family to fend for themselves, leaving them in the charge of their mother, whilst he wandered further afield.
Then, one day, the girl was alarmed to see the little vixen limping badly. She was holding her hind-leg off the ground, and when the girl looked more closely, she could see a nasty gaping wound, and blood was trickling down. It looked as though somebody had taken a shot at her, and one pellet had lodged just above the hock, and another slightly higher up, on the soft part of her back leg.
She sat on the lawn, and licked her wounds. She looked very miserable, and the girl's heart went out to her. Why were people so cruel? Her little foxes came to her garden for their food, and she felt sure that they didn't even bother to go off hunting on the neighbouring farms, because she gave them plenty of food in their dish so that they shouldn't need to go and find their food elsewhere. Just because a fox was seen trotting across a field, didn't mean they were out after chickens or lambs, so why take a gun out to shoot at anything and everything in sight? After all, every living creature has a right to live! Besides, she'd even seen them eating their food whilst blackbirds and robins hopped nearby quite unperturbed, without even a glance from the foxes in their direction!
The girl felt so angry, but all she could do was to keep an eye on the little vixen, and hope and pray that her wounds would heal. She put out extra pieces of chicken and liver for her, and was glad to see that the fox was still able to eat her food, even though she could only stand on three legs.
Although her wounds gradually healed over after she'd managed to extract the pellets through constant licking, the fox still limped along, and so beyond all the girl's greatest expectations, the little vixen survived her horrific injuries.
One day, when the girl was in the garden hanging the washing out on the line, she heard the dreaded baying sound of foxhounds.
At first she wasn't concerned, as they seemed a long way off. The hunt never came to this area, at least not since she'd moved to her little cottage in the country seven years ago, in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of town life.
Before she'd finished pegging up the last of the clothes, she was acutely aware that the hounds were getting closer, and as she glanced towards the distant hills, she gave a gasp of dismay. She could clearly see the red coats of the mounted huntsmen, and hard on their heals came other followers on horseback, galloping at great speed down the hill. She watched in horror as the pack of hounds splashed their way across the river at the foot of the hills, then unhesitatingly made their way across the fields adjoining her paddock, where Spartacus the pony galloped around, bucking and snorting with excitement at the sound of hounds and the huntsman's cry, followed by sharp notes from the hunting horn.
Her heart nearly stopped when she saw a familiar form - it was little Fay!
The girl could see that the little fox was exhausted, and as she loped her way across the lower field, then crawled her way through the hedge and into the paddock, the girl had to act quickly.
Fetching Fay's feed bowl, she raced across the paddock and down to the stable in the corner of the field, and flinging the doors back, she placed the dish just inside, then standing back, she called softly to Fay. To her amazement, the little fox crawled towards her, tongue lolling, and fear in her beautiful amber eyes, but she had faith in the girl. With her last effort, she crawled her way into the stable, where she lay cowering in the corner, pushing her body deeper into the hay. The girl trembled as she stepped forward, hoping that Fay wouldn't suddenly take fright and shoot out of the stable, then without hesitation, she slammed the the two doors shut, then pushed the bolts into place. She tore back up the field to watch from the safety of the garden, and making sure that Scruffs was still safely indoors.
Then something quite extraordinary happened.
Ahead of the hounds was another fox - it was Fay's mate!
The big dog fox was making sure that the hounds were following his scent, then as he raced across the paddock, he stopped outside the stable, and sniffed under the door. He knew his mate was in there, and he sensed that she was safe.
He was a clever and calculating fox, who knew all the smart moves to outwit the hunt, and above all, he was a survivor! He got down and rolled, rubbing himself along the ground, then standing up once more, he urinated against the stable door to mask the vixen's scent. Then making sure the hounds had seen him, he trotted diagonally across the paddock, making sure that he led a trail well away from the stable. To survive, he knew he had to stay above ground. A fox who ran to ground, was a dead fox!
The last the girl saw of him, was his thick bushy brush slowly disappear through the hedge as he made his way into the copse.
His ruse worked, and after a few mad dashes backwards and forwards, noses sniffing low to the ground around the stable, the hounds picked up the scent of the dog fox, and baying with excitement, they careered off into the copse, where the cunning fox led them a merry dance, taking them through the woods, then finally he swam across the river, where they lost trace of him as he trotted triumphantly over the distant hills, and to where his cubs were waiting for his return.
When he first heard the huntsman's rallying call on the hunting horn, the dog fox went into immediate action to lead his cubs to safety. Earlier that morning, he'd taken them out to show them the best hunting grounds, and how to forage for food, and he taught them patience, which they would need when stalking their prey, but right now he had to act swiftly and take his cubs away from danger. He led them up into the hills, then down the other side to lower ground, then straight to the peat-bog area, where the horses and hounds couldn't follow them. He knew where the safe areas were, and his cubs obediently followed him, sensing that danger was about, and this was the biggest survival lesson they were ever to learn. Finally, after a zigzag course, the dog fox took them then into a deep pot-hole, where they would be safe for a while.
The girl opened the door to the stable, then stood back and waited. It wasn't long before the familiar face of Fay appeared, cautiously sniffing the air, then she took her first furtive steps outside the stable. She stood still for a few moments, then turning her head, she gazed straight into the face of the girl, but there was no longer fear in her eyes.
The two looked at one another, and there seemed to be an understanding which bonded their friendship. As long as the girl was there, to help protect her, and to feed her and the cubs, the little fox felt safe.
And so lasted a very special relationship for a few seasons thereafter, between the fox and the girl.
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|Reviewed by Jean Sheldon
|This is wonderful Louisa. I'm still immersed in Maggie, but I've met another wonderful character in Fay. Very nice job, Jean|