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Foxy's Hollow

Fantasy Fiction – August 1953

(1953)*

Leah Bodine Drake

illustrated by SMITH

 

 

 

 

 

Bennett wasn't the best fox-hunter in that section; but it turned out that he was good at finding other things—shelter, a charming companion, an amusing tale—and a few facts that he wasn't looking for.

 

-

 

              Burke Bennett was out with the Peddingham one wet day in autumn when his mare took a fence in the worst possible manner and threw her rider seven feet away.

 

              When Burke tried to rise he found he had a sprained ankle and that the mare was nowhere to be seen.

 

              Now isn't this dandy? thought Burke. Isn't this just dandy?

 

              He didn't know where he was or how to get to Bewley Hall where he was staying, from here or how he'd walk there if he knew. Why couldn't he have stayed with the field instead of streaking off by himself in strange country?

 

              Burke Bennett was a large young American with a red face and bad manners who wrote fiction of a sort about tanned young men who met beautiful young women on beaches. He was much beloved by bookies and loan-sharks and was a great hand with the girls, none of whom he intended to marry. Lord Bewley, who collected Americans, Irishmen and Toby jugs, had asked him down for the hunting in a part of England that Burke didn't know very well, and here he was in the middle of Hawkshire with a sprained ankle. He was sitting in the mud, cursing splendidly, when he saw a little wooded hollow nearby from which smoke was curling lazily. Now to Burke, who was no Boy Scout, smoke in the woods meant just one thing—a house. He hoisted himself painfully to his feet and limped off towards the trees.

 

              When he got closer he saw he'd guessed right. There was a house there—big, half-timbered job, all sloping eaves, dormer windows and little leaded panes. It was set in a formal garden of rose arbors, dark yews, and privet trimmed in the shapes of ships and peacocks. For a minute Burke had the idea that there was something odd about it. Then he realized what it was: the day had been misty, but now the sun was shining brightly on the golden beeches and glossy holly-trees. Must have cleared up in a hurry, he thought briefly. The house had a great many little twisty chimneys, two of which stood up on each side of the main building like the ears of some animal. Quaint as hell.

 

              Thud! Thud! ... Burke at the door-knocker, which was a fox's head in brass, and grinning. Nobody answered. Burke hadn't known he could swear so colorfully. He gave the door a kick and it swung open, so he walked in. There was a low-ceilinged hall with the usual things found in English country houses—good, heavy, old-fashioned furniture, crossed hunting-crops on the walls under foxes' masks, a stuffed otter (very dusty) on a side-board, and a fire, blazing away on the hearth. Burke yelled, "Hey! Anybody home?"

 

              Nobody. So he made himself cozy before the fire, pulled off his boot and decided to wait it out. Someone was bound to show up sometime.

 

              The day waned. Dusk fell. Burke was nearly asleep when there was a noise at the front door, it was flung open and slammed shut, and a loud feminine voice said, "Beat 'em again, by gad!"

 

              Burke took one look at the owner of the voice and forgot about his ankle. She was a slim, red-headed girl as beautiful as any of his own heroines. Instead of a bathing-suit, she wore russet tweeds, and she was breathing hard, which did interesting things to her chest. She didn't seem surprised to see Burke, and as she came over to the fire observed pleasantly, "What a run! Jolly good, though that last bullfinch is all that saved me! Please don't get up—I know you've hurt your foot." She added, "I'm Clarinda Foxer."

 

              Burke, wondering how she knew about his ankle, explained who he was, and so on, and so forth, and said, "I'll have to ask your hospitality, Miss Foxer, until word can be gotten to Bewley Hall for somebody to drive over here and pick me up."

 

              He really had no intention of leaving yet, and he turned on the charm that had devastated blonde Hungarian countesses. He was pleased to see that it worked here, as the young woman said, "Oh, not so fast! I haven't enjoyed a good-looking man's company for ages and I'm not giving you up so soon! Old Bewley can wait a bit. I like you—even if you were out with the Peddingham, blast 'em."

 

              "Oh, you've been watching the hunt?" asked Burke.

 

              The girl gave a sharp laugh. "Watching, hell! I'm the fox."

 

-

 

              Ha ha to you, too, thought Burke, think you're funny, don't you? Aloud he said, "Well, that's a new way of seeing hounds work, I guess," which his hostess seemed to find unaccountably funny, for she gave a series of short, sharp laughs. Burke joined in, and soon they were chummy as all get out, with Miss Foxer bringing in a bottle of champagne and some cold chicken. Burke outdid himself in charm and whatnot, and it wasn't long before the two of them were making love together, and Clarinda told him (they'd gotten to "Clarinda" and "Burke" by this time, as well they might) that he was at Foxy's Hollow. The estate had originally been called Faux Air, the same as her own name, the family having come over from France a long while back.

 

              "Faux Air ... that means a kind of make-believe, doesn't It?" said Burke, and Clarinda told him not to get personal, and bit him playfully on the neck.

 

              The morning came, and Burke said he didn't feel up to moving about on that ankle, and Clarinda said she should think not, and for him to lie up at Foxy's Hollow until it improved. Burke wondered aloud feebly what his host would think of his absence and Clarinda replied that he'd probably suspect the worst, and Burke was too sleepy to try to figure that one out. In mid-morning Miss Foxer told him she was going out for a while, and that there was a cold rabbit pie in the boot-cupboard if he got hungry. Burke lolled about the big empty house all day, wondering where the servants were, if any. He examined the portraits of former red-haired Foxers, peering at the signatures to see if they'd been painted by anybody worthwhile; poked around the dining hall and calculated how much, at a pinch, could be raised on the plate, and finally resigned himself to reading some poems of his hostess's which she'd dug out of an old hat box and left for his perusal, after learning he was a writer. They were terrible.

 

              About three o'clock Clarinda came in, very sweaty and with twigs in her hair. She threw herself in a chair before the fire, and said briskly, "Saw some of your friends today. I'll bet they're wondering where you've got to! This is Saturday country for the Peddingham, you know."

 

              "Good Lord, I almost forgot about Bewley! What did you tell 'em, baby?"

 

              "Tell them! I can't talk to anyone when I'm out! I've told you, Burke—I'm a fox."

 

              "Oh, sure," nodded the American. "O. K., you're a fox. How could I have forgotten?" (Could this babe be a looney? But a gorgeous job, at that!) "I am, too, a fox," insisted his hostess, facing him suddenly and looking so alert that Burke almost expected her ears to prick up. "Quite likely you find that hard to believe, but I've been a fox, confound it, since 1789! I've been running before Peddingham hounds and old Bewley and his ancestors for two hundred years, almost. And though it's been devilish close at times I've never been caught yet—and won't be, as long as I can get back to this house. Not that it looks like a house now to 'em," she added oddly.

 

              "Why don't they ever chase a real fox?" (This was crazy talk, but kind of cute.)

 

              "Why, they do! Been a good many tods around here that haven't gotten clean away like myself. Friends of mine, too." She sighed. "Poor little devils."

 

              "Well, why do you let 'em run you? Should think you'd just hole up here." (If she wanted to keep up this screwy conversation Burke was her boy.)

 

              Clarinda carefully pulled a thorn from her right thumb. "Can't—against Rules. You see, sweetheart, it's my Doom. Have to let 'em chase me. And I get a kind of kick out of it." She giggled. "And I do rob their hen roosts."

 

              She grew solemn. "You see, Burke, I used to dabble in witchcraft when I was a girl. Runs in my family. And I got mixed up with a wizard. Big, black-eyed fellow from Sligo. We got into a bit of a hum one night at a Sabbat. He claimed I kicked him while we were dancing—maybe I did—God knows I was stinking drunk. Anyway, he was, furious! Black Irish temper. He turned me into a fox. On account of my red hair and my name, naturally." She stared dreamily into the fire. "He was a romantic old beggar."

 

              When she found out she was a' fox (she continued) she hid out in the woods. She was ashamed of letting the servants and her father see her. She had hung around the house at night and old Mr. Foxer used to put out dead pheasants and small animals for her until she got accustomed to foxy ways. But he died soon afterwards—"I'd ruined his huntin', you see. He never knew if he were chasing his own daughter. Deuced awkward."

 

              Then it seemed that the servants-started leaving, Faux Air was empty, so she moved in. But the country people claimed it was haunted and one night they burned it down ...

 

-

 

              "What?" shouted Burke at this point. For a minute he'd gotten quite a shock, she sounded so serious!

 

              "Oh, yes! They said it was a very mischancey place," she went on cheerfully. "So I just moved what had been the house into another dimension, bag and baggage. I can always move it back—temporarily—for various reasons." She leaned over to Burke, smiled and patted his knee. "And it hasn't been at all bad, being a fox. I get exercise with the Peddingham, and I've kept up with current styles and all that sort of thing, by sneaking around Bewley Hall during weekends. Bewley always has had a very tonish crowd. And of course that wizard permits me to keep my own shape while I'm in here. Has to—in the Rules, you know. He even keeps an eye on me to see I don't really come to any harm. Always was a bit of a cake about me."

 

              "After two hundred years that guy still gets about? Some wizard!"

 

              "Oh, yes! Dashed good one. Sociable fellow, too. Likes hunt-in' and all that."

 

              "You're nuts, baby, but I love you," said Burke. (She was a screwball, all right! Might be able to use some of this in a story, though.)

 

              Crazy or not (Burke forebore to say "crazy like a fox") Clarinda was a gorgeous job and he stayed on at Foxy's Hollow. The days passed, all pretty much alike. When Clarinda wasn't out in the hunting-field they'd doze together in front of the fire. At dusk his companion would rouse herself and get lively as anything. They'd drink champagne and snap wishbones, or play piquet, or argue about breeds of foxhounds, or make love, and then Clarinda would slip out of the house and stay for all hours. The next day they'd have chicken for dinner.

 

              It was after Burke had been at Foxy's Hollow for about a week (as he reckoned it) that he began to notice things. Although he seemed to be as drowsy as Clarinda in the daytime now, he still spent less time in bed than she did, and in his prowls about the silent house he noticed quite a lot. Item: the little leaded windows with their painted panes of purple, red and amber cast a peculiar light in the room that was exactly like that in an autumn wood when the sun is shining. Item: although nobody came to the house and neither his hostess or himself lifted a hand to clean the place, the beds were made up daily and the dishes washed. Item: one of the Foxer portraits, a young woman to lilac lutestring and patches, bore a remarkable resemblance to Clarinda and the date on it was 1786. Item: however freely he could walk in the house, he couldn't seem to open any doors to go out of it, although its owner popped in and out at will. Item: its owner's nose was really very pointed and her teeth very white and sharp, and she cracked goose-bones with them. She also had a damned foxy laugh. Could it be possible ...? Was she really a ...? Burke began to wonder.

 

              One night he had a disturbing experience. He'd gotten up for a perfectly natural reason and happened to glance out of the bedroom window. Instead of the formal garden with its well-trimmed shrubbery and autumn-brown lawns, he saw something quite different. There were no lawns, only wet leaves, and brambles and docks growing all over. The privet peacocks were indistinguishable, and there certainly were a lot more hollies and yew-trees about than he'd thought. And what was that heap of rocks doing over there where the stables should be?

 

              Burke was thoughtful as he went back to bed.

 

              The next morning he looked at Clarinda, who'd come in about dawn, lying curled up in a ball amid a tangle of red hair, and uncommonly foxy she looked, too. I'm getting out of here, he said to himself.

 

              But he didn't. He wouldn't admit it, but the poor fellow was spellbound. Doors wouldn't open to let him out. Those curious little windows seemed to be glued fast. Of course there was no telephone. It looked as if he really was stuck in the fourth dimension or whatever it was, ha, ha, ha, ha, with this awful doll, this witch, this ... this ... fox! Burke now spent all his time, while his companion was asleep or outside, in roaming the house looking for a way out.

 

              The Peddingham was due around again one day and Clarinda left about noon—"to have another go at the little bastards," she told him—and Burke roved about in desperation. First, however, he locked the front door against her sudden return, muttering bitterly as he did so, "I can shut myself in, all right, but I can't get out."

 

              All at once he heard a terrible baying and barking and yapping coming nearer and nearer, and then a wild scrabbling at the door. He knew what that was—it was Clarinda. There was a frenzied squalling and vixenish squawking. He knew what that was, too. It was Clarinda saying, "Let me in, Burke, and be devilish quick about it!"

 

              Burke stood a moment pulling at his jaw and listening to the noises. Then he walked to the door and drew down the big old fashioned bolt. Now the door was locked and bolted.

 

              "Just try to get in now, Miss Foxy Foxer," he gritted.

 

              There was more scrabbling and fumbling, then a regular pandemonium of sounds—doggy noises, hooves, and the high, hoarse note of a horn. Then some more hubbub, a cheer, and the sounds moved away. All was quiet.

 

              Very quiet. Burke felt cold and a little dizzy. He thought he heard a small voice, high above him and growing fainter, say, "All right for you, Burke Bennett!" Then the walls of the house gave a shake, and then they weren't there. He was standing in a wooded hollow, full of wet leaves and brambles. There was no house. There was some' crumbled masonry, a great many hollies and beeches and overgrown privet, but no house.

 

              At his back was a hole in the stones of what had probably once been a cellar, almost hidden by nettles and vines. In front of it were some bones and reddish fur, or hair, with blood on them. The hole had been neatly stopped up with stones—from the inside.

 

              Burke shuddered. Man, what a dream he'd had! Must have knocked himself out when he took that spill in the morning! And still in the middle of Hawkshire with this damned ankle.. ... He heard hooves and looked up. A man on a big hunter was looking down at him. With a sigh of relief, Burke recognized him as one of Lord Bewley's house guests.

 

              "Gillegan! Am I glad to see you!" Burke lifted a hand in greeting. He felt an unpleasant shock go through him. He looked at his hand.

 

              Hand! It was a paw. He looked down at himself. He was a large red fox.

 

              He heard Gillegan give a whistle, and then a whole pack of hounds could be heard coming towards them, giving tongue happily....

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