26 May 2011

It must have been the Fox

It must have been the Fox

The fox, elegant and handsome in her bright chestnut coat, was a lone vixen, her mate shot by a neighbouring farmer and no cubs in her earth. Having no babies to feed she hunted modestly but knew that this would not spare her from either the gun or the marauding terriers.  Killing rabbits and birds,  stealing autumn fruit,  taking the occasional straying chicken, she was widely feared across Martyr’s Marsh

A pair of Indian Runner Ducks, the darlings of the sprawling marshland farm, had mislaid their eight ducklings. The parent ducks ran wildly about the poultry field their long necks and  Roman noses stretched up to the sky,  their fawn and white feathers ruffled by the freshening breeze, the duck quacking loudly and the drake crying hoarsely for his children.  The little ducklings, no longer tiny bundles of pale brown thistledown floating on the  shallow farmyard pool, had gone into the sea fret of an early May morning,  and had disappeared.

“Well, we all know what has happened.  It’s the fox again. Couldn’t be anyone else. ” The big Romney ewe sneezed, bleated and  looked down her long nose .  “You can never, ever trust a fox.  Kills anything that moves.”  She turned sorrowful eyes across the marsh to where the little brick church rose modest on its grassy island and the great copper beaches on the ridge beyond stood like burnished clouds against the bright morning sky.

Lying in her basket in the loosebox next to the paddock where the Romneys were grazing, Meg the collie watched the farmer searching the barn for the  ducklings,  round the back of feed bins, under the old rusty tractor and deep inside an abandoned wooden horse trough.  All he found was a pair of disgruntled mice plundering a sack of barley and a dozy hedge pig who snuffled cantankerously at the intruder.

Early next morning Meg was awakened by a brief high pitched bark.  There, barely ten yards away, was the fox, a dark silhouette on the coral canvas of the newly rising sun.  She stared at Meg, cocked her head as if to say ‘Are you coming then?’  and turned away.  The fox ran, Meg ran and, allerted by the sound of their barking, the farmer ran too. Down the drive, along the lane, over and under the field gate and across the wide grass towards the little church they all went, the fox glancing over her shoulder at them as she flew.  She leaped the small stream which ran close to the church and there finally she stopped. 

'Well, I'll be ... ' the farmer whispered.  Trapped between the retaining board and the bank, feebly cheeping their distress, were eight little long necked bedraggled ducklings. He knelt down and gently taking them from the water he put them still protesting into the deep pockets of his milking coat. The fox stood, looked for a long moment at Meg, and lolloped away towards Elmchurch Wood leaving farmer and dog to take the intrepid explorers home.

“Well that has to be a small miracle of unexpected kindness.” Meg thought as she returned to the farm.  “Not at all.  There is some kindness in every creature.” the big ewe pronounced sententiously.  “I knew all along that the brave intelligent rescuer would be my dear friend the fox.” Meg sighed,  shook her head and wondered yet again why when God made sheep he omitted to include their brains.

Out of Darkness into Light

Out of Darkness into Light

… a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path       Psalm 119

“… and so, my dearest Aunt, to the last epic term of my course for which you have so generously provided.  For my final Assignment I was given an old manuscript, E Tenebris in Lucem, and told to study it from board to board. Never have I found a task so hard. Getting into the book was no problem, quartered oak is my cover of choice and a pleasure to devour, but the elegant hand of the text and the miniatures illuminated with malachite and lapis lazuli, hammered gold and cinnabar, told a story so shocking that I felt I was making a diabolical journey through a land of macabre fantasy.

I walk in a dark forest, where the dense foliage overwhelms the light and the stony path has no visible ending. I peer out between the massive trunks and I can see a landscape of savage beauty and wretched tragedy. A great wall of water, Leviathan risen from the ocean, pounds inexorably across the land, casually destroying everything in its path - whole villages smashed, animals trees and men tossed together into the air like feathers in the wind.  There are small children working long cruel days in factories, young boys with rifles across their shoulders forced marching into war. In the backstreets  of the sex trade there are prisoners in the brothels, while lone servants are bullied and abused in the despotic mansions of Mayfair and Belgravia.

Behind me in a war that has no end I hear a nation mourn its dead, the flowers of many forests cut down and trampled beneath the mine and the gun, enemy united with enemy in an unseemly dance of sinew, blood and bone. The little Forest Owlet cries for its home disappeared under the blade of an illicit axe, the Amoy Tiger roars in vain for its dead mate while a single humped back whale sings its erie threnody to an empty sea.  It is as if all the oppressed and dispossessed beings of the earth are gathered at my back and raise their voices in a great anthem of mourning which first envelopes and then overwhelms me. Numb, I shrink into my orange shell, fold my six legs and await my fate.

The dark canopy opens and there ahead on a wide sunlit plain, tall figures clothed in light open their arms to sorrow, to despair and to a world full of fear. The landscape changes again: a tigress and her cubs come out of the forest; flowers paint the ground where blood was spilled, and new saplings spring from the craters of urban devastation. Slaves are set free; the starving and the dispossessed are sheltered and fed; old enemies embrace. It is a new song this shining world sings now, an anthem of love and hope.

I make my way along the path through the soft grass into the golden light of a new day, the final leaf of my book. As I approach the old oak board, the gateway back to my home, I pass by the figures of light. One, with eyes deep and dark as the waters of Bethesda, gives me a blessing, and I see that  his hands are marked with scars where perhaps iron nails had once been driven through…

Your affectionate Nephew,    A. Bostrychus Capucinus “
 “In real life, the tortoise loses.”
                                         Helen  Alexander, President of the CBI 


The tortoise was depressed. His bony carapace, embossed tawny and black was dust dull, his snake head hung limp between the stumpy squamous legs and his lipless mouth drooped in a thin arc of unhappiness. Sadly he told his troubles to the black-capped Capuchin monkeys. “There’s this clever lady,” he said, “who claims that in the real world the proud opinionated hare always wins the race. All my long life I have taken comfort and confidence from Aesop’s wonderful story, but now my silly little ambition one day to achieve the same is quite destroyed.” He sniffed and a great bronze tear ran down his wrinkled cheek. “And the hare has challenged me to a race and I don’t know what to do, except to creep away and hide my shame until Death releases me from my vale of tears.”

The Capuchins, who had moved away into a chattering huddle, whooped excitedly and turned back to the tortoise. “We have a plan.” they said. “The race track slopes down the forest path towards the wild flower meadow. We shall make you a velocipede and launch you into an honourable triumph.” The tortoise frowned. “Would that not be cheating?” he asked. “No, of course not.” the capuchins replied. “The challenge is to be first across the line. There’s nothing about the method of propulsion.” The tortoise sighed. “Alright then, I shall accept the hare’s invitation to make a fool of myself.”

For days the capuchins ran here and there gathering together bits of string, old elastic bands, a pair of discarded roller skates,and the oval top of an abandoned coffee table. A cohort of mice found a purple leather harness tossed out of a passing pram and with whiskers quivering and tails lashing dragged it to the Capuchins’ bosky workshop. From dawn to dusk there was a hammering of smooth stone on rock anda sawing of beaver teeth on old table top. The whole population of the Safari Park seemed to be in attendance - even the two toed sloth made a day’s expedition from his branch to the foot of his tree to admire the ingenuity of the engineers. Only the hare and his sycophantic band of rabbits kept themselves apart, smirking and lazing in the morning sun.

Race Day came and the hare sprawled under a tree beside the track, his eyelids drooping against the dappled light. “Competitors! One minute please.” The fussy meerkat sniffed the air and peered back up the path where he thought he heard a growing commotion. The hare strolled to the line, leaned against a boulder and closed his eyes again. The distant noise grew louder and, as the meerkat fired his starting pistol, down the hill came the tortoise. Strapped by the purple harness onto the tray mounted on the roller skate wheels and propelled by a dozen Capuchins, he shot across the line past the incredulous hare and shed his zoological combustion engine in a shower of small pebbles. Enveloped now in a great cloud of dust, he disappeared towards the finishing post. The shocked hare gave up the unequal struggle and lolloped off into the meadow - and oblivion. 

“In real life,” said a wise Capuchin, “with intelligent combination and fraternal cooperation, the tortoise may always win.”