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The Black Fox of Beckham

By David Heaney

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Worth reading 😎

"The Black Fox of Beckham" is a magical book about being different and finding your own place among other different people.

Synopsis

A black fox, a gypsy widow, and a fourteen-year-old girl on the autism spectrum are brought together in a most unusual fashion in the fox hunting community of Beckham, England. Marginalized by most, the three discover their friendship (and a little magic) empowers them to take a bold stand seeking a ban on the cruel sport of fox hunting.
THE BLACK FOX OF BECKHAM is a tale for young adult readers about winning at any cost, superstition, prejudice and a touch of magic. But, ultimately it is a story of redemption and strength as three improbable friends who refer to themselves as ‘The Peculiars’ take on ‘Big Fox Hunting”

"The Black Fox of Beckham" is a short book which tells the story of three outsiders, a black fox, a Roma woman and a girl on the Autism spectrum. Each of them understands that they don't fit in and tries to find their own place in the world. The book wonderfully conveys the message that different does not mean bad and that no one is alone, no matter what they might feel at times.


With a lot of humaneness and a dash of magic, the characters find each other and make a small community of outcasts, where they are safe from prejudice and lack of understanding.


The message of the book is truly great and for that I'm glad I read it.


What I had more of a problem with was the writing style of the book. I couldn't quite figure out if it was aimed at children or adults, as it went back and forth between sometimes too mature topics and themes, and a style aimed more at children than at adults. Heavy repetition threw a shadow at certain profound moments between characters - for example, in the scene where Fi's father meets our gang of misfit heroes and is trying, for the first time, to see life from their perspective (as people from society don't tend to accept them), we had to read for the 67th time about Silviana's description of what Gypsy, or Roma, means and how it makes her feel.


As I mentioned, I support the ideas that "The Black Fox of Beckham" tries to promote, but I did find it unnecessary to have the same thing repeated over and over again, underestimating the reader's ability to comprehend the character's troubles.


Had I read this book as a child, I would have probably not paid as much attention to the repetitive writing style, which might have influenced my appreciation of it. Nevertheless, I still think that children's books can be equally engaging for grown ups. I do think that this book could serve as good educational material for children, because it teaches understanding and compassion, not only to other adults, but also to animals, as well as promoting positivism toward people from different backgrounds and people with developmental disorders.

Reviewed by

I'm a passionate reader who devours all kinds of books and as many of them as possible. I like discovering new and different things, and also, reading books from authors from around the world.

Synopsis

A black fox, a gypsy widow, and a fourteen-year-old girl on the autism spectrum are brought together in a most unusual fashion in the fox hunting community of Beckham, England. Marginalized by most, the three discover their friendship (and a little magic) empowers them to take a bold stand seeking a ban on the cruel sport of fox hunting.
THE BLACK FOX OF BECKHAM is a tale for young adult readers about winning at any cost, superstition, prejudice and a touch of magic. But, ultimately it is a story of redemption and strength as three improbable friends who refer to themselves as ‘The Peculiars’ take on ‘Big Fox Hunting”

Prologue

The distant rumble of thunder woke Arabella from her mid-morning nap. She yawned and stretched lazily, gradually becoming conscious the sound that awakened her wasn't thunder at all, but something altogether unfamiliar. Indeed, the sound grew louder and more menacing, even as she struggled to interpret its meaning.

"Concentrate. Concentrate," she told herself, squeezing shut her eyes, trying to gauge whether the growing cacophony signaled danger. She dared not peek outside since her father demanded that she remain hidden inside where he assured her she would be safe. But this didn't feel safe at all. The thunderous noise grew louder still, causing the ground itself to tremble, shaking loose clods of dirt that dropped on her from the roof of her hiding place.

"What is it?" she screamed in the darkened den as still another strange and terrifying sound like that of a crying animal rose above the chaos engulfing her.

Now howling, yelping, barking. Her mind raced. Dogs? No. Hounds. Hunting hounds! Too many to imagine. She lifted her head toward the sound. Clearly they are getting closer. Listening very carefully, she heard the furless ones shouting to one another outside the den. Hunters! she thought. But she had only heard stories about hunters and was uncertain exactly what to believe. Was it true they really used their hounds to kill foxes? She didn't know, but this was not safe, she told herself. Her breathing quickened, and she rapidly surveyed the den from one end to the other, looking for a safer place to retreat. The barking and howling grew more frenzied, the deafening noise roared in her ears and again shook the ground as if the entire forest were collapsing all around her. Inching deeper into the darkened den than she had ever ventured before, she remembered talk of an escape tunnel, but had never been permitted to explore it.

"Arabella!" Her name! Someone, something had called her name.

"Who is it?" she cried out, scanning the dimly lit tunnel but seeing no one. With the sounds from outside growing still closer, she had no choice but to move further into the darkness ahead of her. Once again, the urgent voice from somewhere deep in the tunnel called her name.

"Arabella!" Now louder, "Arabella! Follow me!" From the darkness of the tunnel, there emerged the figure of a pear-shaped badger hurrying toward her.

"Arabella. There you are!" Out of breath, the badger spoke haltingly. "I'm sorry, Arabella, my name is Benton," the badger yelled above the noise. "I am...eh...a friend of your parents.... Now, please.... Eh...just do as I say and...eh, yes, I know it is all very confusing but please...just...eh...yes...just follow me!" Arabella remembered her parents speaking of the reclusive and portly badger called Benton, although she had never seen him before. Her parents told her he lived nearby, and they enjoyed a symbiotic, if guarded, relationship with him. He cleaned up the scraps left in the den after the family ate. "No time to waste, Arabella. So please! You must follow me NOW!" Benton raised his voice impatiently.

"I can't!" She could barely hear her own voice above the roaring clamor. "I told my father I would stay and wait for them to return."

"Your father..." he yelled. Hesitating, he leaned in close to her, his mouth twisted into a painful grimace. "Your parents are not coming home. They are not returning!" Benton looked at her sympathetically, unsure she grasped the meaning of what he just told her. "Arabella, they are not returning home!"

"I don't understand." She knew his look signaled something was very wrong. Still, she didn't understand nor could she make sense of it with the distraction of the noise outside the den.

"Arabella, I am doing for your father what he asked me to do. Now please, please, PLEASE! Follow me!"

Benton turned and waded still further into the tunnel. Again, the haunting sound of an animal's cry and the barking and yelping and thunderous noise of a thousand hooves pounding the earth above the den began to recede as they ran. Huffing and puffing, she kept her eyes on Benton's ample bum heaving one way, then the other as he lumbered forward. "Are you with me, Arabella?" Benton hollered over his shoulder as he ran.

"I'm here, right behind you! What is that terrible noise?"

"It's the fox hunt, I'm afraid," he shouted. "The horn calls the hounds to attention. They are onto a fox. I can't be certain if it's you they're after. But I'll explain it all. Just stay with me." When he came to a sudden halt, Benton rose up on his hind legs and seemed to be strategically placing then pushing the top of his head against various places along the roof of the den. "I think it's right about here," he mumbled, as Arabella watched.

Suddenly the hounds sounded like they were right above them. They must have discovered the entrance to the den; they wildly barked and yowled, filling the interior of the tunnel with their horrific sounds and sowing panic in Arabella. Then the horn sounded once again.

"Here we go!" Benton announced, punching his head through the roof, dropping tufts of grass and soil into the den onto Arabella. A shaft of daylight shone inside the tunnel where Arabella waited.

"Oh! What is this?" Arabella looked up into the daylight. "I never knew this was here."

"I know. I live at this end of the den. We...your parents and I...well, we had an arrangement. I helped keep your place clean, and we shared the den. It worked. This," he extended his paw toward the newly opened hole, "is an escape exit for exactly this sort of thing."

"You live here?" she asked incredulously.

"Um...well, yes, I did. I mean I do," he said somewhat defensively. "But that is neither here nor there at this point. Now out we go." They climbed from the den out onto a grassy patch that sat much farther inside the tree line. In the distance Arabella saw the horses and their riders milling about close to the entrance to the den, but their sense of urgency seemed diminished. Several of the red jackets yelled something to the dogs, and they all turned and began chasing after the horses and red jackets.

"They're leaving?" Arabella asked Benton.

“Yes,” he answered. "They’re much less interested in hunting down a badger. Likely my scent mixed with yours confused them." From where they stood, they saw two of the red jackets dismount at the entrance to the den and stomp around the edges of the entrance, causing it to collapse. "Ugh! They always do that!” he said, exasperated. “They collapse the entrance to make sure no fox can hide here." He sighed. "They have done it countless times, and now I can see I'll be spending the next day opening it back up." Arabella looked beyond the trees at the familiar rolling hills and pastures.

"What's happening, Benton? I don't understand what's going on." Arabella looked at him, pleading. "Please, Benton, tell me."

Benton took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He's an odd-looking creature, Arabella thought as she appraised him in the light. Quite portly indeed, as her parents had claimed, his fur consisted of a mix of tans, browns and various shades of black with solid black stockings on all four legs. His face was quite unique and unlike the rest of his body, which was mostly white with a longish snout capped by a black nose. Two very striking black stripes ran on each side of his muzzle, from its tip right across his eyes and up to his ears which stood like tiny half-moons on top of his head. The stripes along his head were so very odd but in an odd way quite distinguished, she thought

"Sit down, Arabella. What I have to tell you will be difficult for you to hear. Your father and, I believe, your mother too, are both...eh...well...gone...victims of the fox hunt. The hounds, you know...you heard them barking and making such a fuss...and the furless ones called humans in their red jackets and black hats on horses...giant beasts they are...and just like the hounds will chase a fox until they can run no more and find no place to hide. It's merciless, Arabella. Oh dear! I'm so...I'm so very sorry." He agonized over how he might offer greater comfort but didn't know what to do or what he could possibly say that would help.

Arabella said nothing. She hung her head, overwhelmed by sadness. Benton watched for a moment and opened his mouth to speak when Arabella interrupted.

"My brothers left days ago, and my father wanted me to remain because he wanted to speak to me about something he said is extremely important. That's why he told me to wait for their return. I waited for them just as he asked me to. Now you say he is not coming back?" She closed her eyes and wept, a cry of grief that sounded like some poor creature caught in a hunter's trap.

"There, there, my dear." Benton awkwardly patted Arabella's head. Sputtering, he added, "But…but wait, now please wait. There is more! I do know that your father wanted me to convey a special message to you. Before the start of the hunt season he asked that I share with you anything that might happen to him or your mother." She sniffed and looked up at Benton, her eyes welled with tears.

Benton thought he was not very good at this sort of thing and wished Arabella did not look so distraught and hurt by it all. He felt so utterly helpless. So, steeling himself, he had to get on with the business of transmitting to Arabella her father's message.

"Arabella, please listen to what I am going to tell you. I know how difficult this is but you must hear what I am going to say." Arabella sniffed again and took a deep breath and stood tall before Benton, looking him directly in the eyes. Benton studied Arabella a moment, admiring her beauty. A black fox! Her brothers and mother were red foxes and her father gray, but Arabella's lush fur was a shimmering solid black except for some sparsely scattered gleaming silver lines in her coat directly above her piercing yellow cat-like eyes. At the very tip of her jet-black tail was a dab of white, as if it had been dipped in a bucket of paint.

"You are different, Arabella. Unlike your brothers and mother, you are a black fox. Your father's mother—your grandmother—was a black fox. A black fox is rare, possessing far more than beauty but gifts of a unique quality which will become known to you over time. You will grow into them, so to speak. And for this reason, as odd as it may seem, you will be both treasured and despised." Benton appeared to consider what he just said, then added, "It is odd, indeed, that often what makes us different becomes the reason we are disliked."

Uneasy with Benton's words, she shook her head distressed, "Wait! Why are you saying these things to me?"

"Hush and listen to me," Benton directed. "Your father wanted me to tell you this. What makes you different as a black fox is a gift that will also make you powerful, Arabella."

"I don't understand, Benton. Powerful? Can you explain to me what he meant?" she asked, confused.

"I...well..." Benton laughed nervously. "I don't know. I...I...I...eh...I just don't know. But he told me to be sure I told you. And those are eh...his eh...his exact words. ‘In your difference is where you will discover the gift that is yours as the black fox.’ That's it. That's exactly what he asked me to tell you."

"But that's different from what you first told me, Benton!" Arabella said impatiently.

"It is? Hmm. Let's see now. Eh...You have power...or is it you have a gift as a black fox when you embrace your difference." He spoke very slowly, avoiding eye contact with Arabella. Then he looked up as if he might find the right words there and started mumbling, "Black foxes are gifted when they are...no, no, no, that isn't it." Finally, he shrugged and brought his eyes to meet Arabella's, looking embarrassed and suitably apologetic. "I'm not sure," he confessed, dropping his gaze.

"I can see that. It's all right, Benton. You used the words difference, power, gift, and black fox, so it’s a starting point and I will remember them. What else did my parents tell you?" Arabella asked, anticipating more.

"Well, let me think about that for a moment.” He frowned as he searched his memory. Then, looking up, he wore a warm smile suggesting he found what he had misplaced. “Ah, yes! They told me they loved you very much and that you would go and find your way."

Arabella returned Benton’s smile, then spoke softly but resolutely. "Yes. I guess I will. There is nothing for me here…nothing except sorrow, and so, yes, I’ll go. That’s what foxes do at a certain age. We go. But, I don’t know where to go, Benton. Where should I go?” she asked, confused.

“Just go. The places we are supposed to be often tell us.”

“Really?” Again, she looked bewildered and wondered if he made that up. 

Benton nodded. "Please be safe, Arabella. The fox hunt is very popular with the furless ones called humans. You know the sounds of the hunt, and all you need to know is to get away as fast as you can. If you see them, they are certain to have your scent. Then it may well be too late." Benton reached out and patted her paw with his own. "Goodbye, Arabella."

"Goodbye, Benton." Arabella walked into the woods disoriented and adrift, repeating the words “difference, power, gift, black fox” wondering what her father wanted her to know. All she really knew was her parents were gone and she had no one and no idea what laid ahead. She didn’t know which direction to follow so she just walked and trusted Benton’s counsel that when she arrived where she was supposed to be, she would know. 


CHAPTER I

Beckham and Kennilwood Manor

The charming, small village of Beckham in the north of England lay just beyond a sharp left turn in the road at the bottom of a small hill. The village main street, Salisbury Road, ran parallel to, but down a hill from, the main highway that skirted the village. The village of Beckham appeared comprised of a small number of old, similarly quaint stone structures, creating a homogenous and tidy ambiance. For the first-time visitor, a quick survey of Salisbury Road revealed a pub called the Whale's Eye. A carved and colorful wooden sign hung above the front door, depicting a small dory manned by several fishermen poised to heave a harpoon at the colossal whale they were pursuing. The whale had its eye fixed anxiously on the fisherman. One might consider it an odd name for a pub located in a village with no association to the sea and not even close to any significant body of water. Nevertheless, the name had remained unchanged since the pub opened well over one hundred years earlier.

Next door to the pub, the more aptly named Horse and Hound Inn catered to tourists and hunt enthusiasts during their respective seasons. The Village Store offered a bit of everything, including groceries and hardware. The Butcher of Beckham, The Beckham Book Collector, and a smattering of other small shops served the needs of the surrounding residents, who described themselves as “country people.” At the north end of the village, St. Andrew's Anglican Church, an attractive stone church, was set back away from the road and surrounded by tall, craggy old oak trees that had just begun shedding their leaves. The churchyard was covered by several dozen weathered gravestone markers, and just beyond stood the vicarage constructed from the same old stone used for the church. Across the road from the pub was a busy garage/workshop where the farrier, who also happened to be the village's blacksmith, and his apprentice noisily hammered metal into some useful product.

Several doors down from the blacksmith, the high-end shop called The Complete Equestrian sold all things related to the world of horses. The display windows on one side of the store's entrance featured three mannequins, presumably a family, all decked out in neatly-tailored riding outfits; the father wore red, the mother black, and the daughter a tweed riding coat. They wore black helmets, white or tan breeches, and knee-high fine leather boots. In the other window, two shiny leather English saddles sat astride abstract wire mesh contraptions designed to suggest the lines of a horse. A flyer placed at the bottom of each display window announced the beginning of the hunting season, and invited readers to join in the festivities scheduled for 25 November, ten weeks from Saturday, at the Beckhamshire County Hunt Club.

Several miles to the north of Beckham, Fiona Carrol rode her horse—a silver-gray Andalusian with black stockings she called Franny—in the indoor arena at the Kennilwood Manor Estate.

"Time for breakfast," Fiona's mum called to her daughter from the viewing area where she watched Fi practice. She slowed from a gallop to a cantor and finally to a cool-down walk before dismounting and handing the reins to Evan Lockerby, the manor's groomsman. A pretty girl, Fiona, or Fi as she preferred, possessed a magnificent mane of red hair, fair skin and a smattering of small freckles that ran from the bridge of her nose across the tops of her cheeks.

She looked briefly at Evan then quickly looked down, generally finding it difficult to look directly at others. If she did, she did so quickly, which often was enough. She was learning to gauge how another person happened to be feeling if she had only a moment to study their expression. Without actually seeing someone's expression she found it very difficult to interpret their feelings.

"Hey, Fi, your father tells me you'll be participating in the hunt this year?" Evan said with a big smile.

Fi turned to face Evan and answered, "Yes, I hope so," nodding her head self-consciously but enthusiastically. Her hands at her side, Evan saw her tap each finger with her thumb, a habit she usually indulged when nervous.

Fi 's parents described her as a “special child.” Evan knew as a young girl she failed to keep pace developmentally with others her age. He knew they fretted when she had not spoken a single word by the time she was two. They were troubled by the little tics she exhibited. Exasperated, they finally sought a referral to a specialist who suggested Fi may be “on the spectrum.”

"What in God's name does that mean?" Mr. Carroll asked the specialist.

"The word autism frightens many parents,” the specialist explained, “so I want you to understand that autism varies widely and exists along a broad spectrum. Your daughter may have symptoms which suggest autism, but I don't want you to be overly alarmed by the term. What we have come to know is that, often, early interventions can make a stunning impact on facilitating, in many cases, near-normal development."

Even with the doctor’s encouragement, Mr. and Mrs. Carroll embraced the worst-case scenarios they encountered in their research presenting autistic children as trapped in their internal worlds without any hope of leading a normal life. They branded it a family tragedy and hunkered down to slog their way through a life of shattered dreams.

By age three they enrolled Fi in a unique program recommended by a Manchester-based specialist that focused on what they called “early intervention strategies”. Mr. and Mrs. Carrol learned from the early intervention team techniques for more effective interactions with their daughter. It challenged their conventional ideas about parenting, but over time they adapted to Fi's unique peculiarities. They learned to be careful about unusual noises or sounds that overstimulated her, often causing her to panic. Fi did not like to be touched without being prepared. They came to recognize specific behaviors that signaled anxiety, and learned to assist with identifying the aggravating source and ways to address it. Working together with Fi's therapist and teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Carroll gradually felt more able to manage potential panic events, reducing the pervasive tension that existed in the house. Then, almost as if she had been hoarding her words, she began to speak quite suddenly with a surprisingly sophisticated vocabulary. She continued to have challenging moments when she retreated into herself and remained utterly unresponsive to anyone's efforts to help, but the number of episodes became fewer and her parents learned strategies to help her recover more quickly.

At some point—and that point was hard to pin down—what they initially thought of as abnormal and tragic evolved into normal for the Carroll family. They knew Fi was different, to be sure, but they came to believe that this was primarily due to how she learned. She struggled to interpret other people’s feelings when communicated in nuanced ways. But in time, she learned to read certain cues in facial expressions or observe specific behaviors that helped her better manage interpersonal interactions.

When too much came at her too fast, Fi often became anxious. She showed this through nervous tics like finger tapping, and in rare instances flapping her hands, or rocking back and forth. At other times, she seemed quite relaxed and at ease.   Nowhere did this seem more obvious than when she was with her horse, Franny.

“You’re a natural, you are” Evan told Fi. “Aye. It’s like you and Franny actually understand each other.”

Fi looked directly at Evan and said matter-of-factly, “We do!”

As she circled around the arena, Evan marveled at how she exuded confidence—no anxious tics and always in command, offering gentle direction and encouragement to Franny. Absolutely fearless, she moved with ease around Franny, rubbing her velvet nose or cleaving the mud from her hooves. While avoiding eye contact with most people and even other animals, she showed no reluctance to make eye contact with Franny. The bond between Fi and Franny seemed to Evan, who had known Fi for over ten years, was more than remarkable

"You better be getting on to breakfast, Fi," Evan said.

Fi dismounted, handing Evan the reins. She unbuckled her riding helmet, giving it to Evan, and pulled the net from her red hair which tumbled over her shoulders reaching fully to the center of her back. "I wish I could ride all day instead of going to school," Fi pouted, anticipating Evan's agreement.

"Well, Franny will be waiting to see you when you return home this afternoon, right?" Evan sometimes went to great lengths to find the silver lining in Fi's dark clouds. Fi attended The Byram School, a private school in nearby Northam, where she was a ninth-year student. The bus picked her up at the entrance to Kennilwood where she waited each morning with her mother.

“I don’t especially care for school,” Fi said frequently. She typically avoided saying much more than that, leaving Evan and her parents to speculate about this.

“I believe it’s the unpredictability of each day that causes her some measure of stress,” Mr. Carroll offered.

“Some of the other children ignore her, I’m afraid,” Mrs. Carroll explained. “You know how cruel children can be when someone is different .”

But Fi insisted such snubs were of no concern claiming, "I'm glad I'm different. I don't want to be normal. Different makes me who I am." Even so, Fi observed there were no other children with similar challenges to her own, and at times secretly felt very low when excluded by her classmates.

"Oh, say!" Evan said, holding his hand up as if recalling something he just now remembered he needed to tell her. "Have you heard about the black fox that was spotted out by Ock Brook—you know, where it feeds the lower pond?"

Fi looked confused. "Foxes are red, Evan!"

"Really, a black fox! No kidding. Cross my heart!" Evan made the signature crossing of his heart to swear he was telling the truth. "Maybe I can find a picture of a black fox to show you later today."

"Foxes are red, Evan," Fi insisted, tapping her thumbs and forefingers together.

"Ahh, you're right. They are. Probably just a bunch of nonsense from the boys at the Whale's Eye." Evan knew to back away from the conversation or risk upsetting Fi.

"Off to breakfast with you!" Evan cheerfully changed the subject.

Fi walked toward the main house but turned around part way up the path.

"Foxes are red, Evan."

"That's right, Fi!" Evan agreed.

Evan walked Franny back to her stall, silently chastising himself for bringing up the black fox. He should have known better. An overly conscientious Irishman and prone to feeling needlessly bad about minor mistakes, Evan castigated himself for even the smallest things. Short and wiry with sandy brown hair and an expansive collection of freckles that betrayed his Irish roots, he could easily have persuaded anyone that he was a jockey as he certainly looked the part. He had worked for the Carroll family since leaving home to escape an abusive alcoholic father at seventeen, and loved his life at Kennilwood Manor. He treated Fi as if she were his sister, and each day committed himself to retaining her trust and confidence.

Again he scolded himself out loud. “Be careful what you say, man! You know better than that, now don’t you?”

Still, he thought, stopping before Franny’s stall, there are definitely rumors of a black fox burning their way through the village. And this is fox hunting country. So stories of a black fox are going to excite people's interest. And while he didn't see himself as a superstitious person, he knew that a black fox had long been associated with bad luck and was generally considered a bad omen. He didn’t want to upset Fi, so further discussion of the black fox was off limits.

Kennilwood Manor, a seventy-five-acre horse farm, had been in the Carroll family for many generations. Andrew James Carroll, who bought Kennilwood Manor as a country home to escape the noise and crowds of London, made a great deal of money as the owner of several high-end shops on Savile Row that catered to wealthy gentlemen who enjoyed finely tailored bespoke apparel. His great-grandson, Fi's father, Andrew James Carrol IV, had little interest in London and loved country life at Kennilwood. Rather than continuing with the family's Savile Row shops, he sold them and opened The Complete Equestrian in the village of Beckham. The Carroll family loved all things horses, and so The Complete Equestrian turned out to be the perfect complement to Kennilwood Manor. Mr. Carroll catered to the well-heeled and made a point of selling only luxury riding clothes along with saddles and other tack. He advertised The Complete Equestrian as the premier shop for distinguished equestrians and hunters throughout the region. And although Andrew described the shop as little more than a hobby, he did a brisk business, receiving orders from places as far away as America and Australia. Even as the shop enjoyed success, Andrew only tinkered with the shop and left managing it to young Jenny Fitzpatrick, a legendary equestrian in Beckhamshire County.

Fi learned to ride when she was big enough to sit on a pony and now loved nothing more than galloping throughout the countryside with her horse, Franny, together with Evan and his horse, Trollope. These were her happiest moments—bounding over the crumbling old stone walls that had marked property lines for centuries, splashing through the streams that covered the landscape, and negotiating the steep hillside paths that crisscrossed the countryside. An excellent horseman and teacher, Evan generally accompanied her except when she went with her parents. She preferred riding with Evan because of his unending patience and the delight he showed in her accomplishments. Her parents, more interested in her horsemanship than having fun, often criticized her technique which made her anxious and unhappy.

The hunt, Fi hoped, might be different. Few events allowed a rider to go all out, racing along the leaf-covered paths through the woods, leaping over obstacles most riders  would avoid, forging across streams, and riding down dangerously steep hillsides. That's why the real test of a rider's skills was participating in the fox hunt. Her father would determine when she was ready to ride in the hunt, and up until now was reluctant to agree.

Andrew Carroll had long served as a board member of the Beckhamshire County Hunting Club. But also, as the owner of The Complete Equestrian and owner of the Kennilwood Manor, he was assured of some sort of leadership role in the annual hunts from season to season. This year, as an honorary secretary of the hunt, he reviewed the list of prospective fox hunters wanting to participate in the hunt. Mr. Carroll had always been apprehensive about allowing Fi to participate, preferring to have Evan accompany her to the pre-hunt festivities on horseback and reuniting at the Whale's Eye after the chase.

However, this year he invited her to join the hunt as a junior since she was under the age of sixteen. While not yet old enough to wear colors herself, Fi believed she possessed just as much talent as those who were selected for this honor. Wearing colors may seem a small thing to those outside the hunting world, but for hunters it meant official recognition of their talents, and those who were awarded colors displayed them proudly.

Her father teased with her a bit before telling her she could participate in the hunt. Mr. Carroll settled into the library after dinner where he read the newspaper. Fi came by to say she was going to her room to study her vast collection of books on horses. He looked over the top of the paper, reading glasses perched low on his nose so his eyes met hers.

"Fi, I have been talking to the members of the hunt club about your participation in the opening hunt for the new season." His tone, quite serious, was misinterpreted, so Fi began tapping her thumbs and forefingers together which her father immediately noted, prompting him to adjust his remarks. "I have spoken with the honorary secretary, and it seems he is agreeable to your participation this year." He said, raising his eyebrows, studying her reaction.

Once again, Fi seemed confused tapping, tapping, tapping. Then, just a hint of a grin and a touch of pride for having uncovered her father’s teasing, she complained, "Oh, Daddy! You are the honorary secretary!"

"So, I am." He grinned back at her. “I know you can ride with the best of them. Now, you'll be expected to contribute to the cap. If you are going to ride, you should contribute just like everyone else." The cap was a fund created from hunter’s contributions, so that the treasurer could pay the various professionals employed by the hunt club.

"Um, OK," Fi responded hesitantly.

"You have the money, Fi," her father assured her. Fi's allowance, which she rarely spent, was more than enough to cover the cap. "We'll have to get you a proper outfit," her father said, not looking up from the paper he had already returned to reading. “A nice tweed will be splendid,” he said conclusively.

"I don’t want to wear tweed. I want to wear a black jacket like the women do. And it’s silly that I cannot wear colors since I’m every bit as good as anyone else who hunts."

"Hmm, you’re too young to wear colors," he said, not looking up from the newspaper.

About the author

David is the author of A YORKIE’S TALE: LESSONS FROM A LIFE WELL-LIVED published in 2016. He has spent his professional life as an Episcopal priest, psychotherapist, and business executive working internationally with government social assistance programs. view profile

Published on January 06, 2019

50000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Magical Realism

Reviewed by

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