A hungry Fox, A cowardly rooster, a flock of hens, a hole in the wall, an angry farmer, a gun; see where this is going?
Mr Todd lived down by the railway in a den under the footbridge with his wife and cubs. At night he liked to check the bins for something to eat. He would knock them over and make a dreadful mess. The children would come out shouting and then Mr Todd would look up quite unafraid and slip out the back gate onto the hill behind the house to catch rabbits.
No one really minded Mr Todd. Until one day, the children noticed one of the chickens was missing. They thought it might be ill, so they went to tell Mr Roberts, but the missing hen was not in the chicken coop. Near a hole in the wall that led out on to the hill, they found feathers and bones. Mr Roberts growled; Mr Todd had come in and helped himself to a chicken for his wife and cubs. Mr Roberts got some wood and nailed it across the hole in the wall and on it, he wrote, “NO FOXES IN THIS GARDEN BY ORDER!”
The children had read in a book that foxes don’t like black pepper, so they went home and fetched a packet and dusted it around the hole in the wall. Later, when Mr Todd came sniffing along, he would sniff up the pepper, then sneeze and run away. According to the book, it was a sure-fire way of keeping foxes out. It seemed to do the trick keeping Mr Todd away from the chickens for a while at least.
A few days later the children noticed another hen was missing. They went and told Mr Roberts and checked to see if the hen was sick, but they knew what to expect. This time, the chicken feathers were right at the orchard gate. There was a hole in the corner of the gate where Mr Todd must have gnawed at it until there was a hole was big enough for him to squeeze through.
The children helped Mr Roberts to nail some wire across the bottom of the gate, and Mr Roberts said that he would like to see a fox chew through that, then he wrote “FOXES KEEP OUT OR ELSE.”
They had used up all the black pepper on the hole in the wall leading out onto the hill, so they tried mustard powder instead. The book hadn’t said anything about mustard powder. Mustard powder is very nippy if you get some on your tongue, but it doesn’t make you sneeze. Still it was all they had, so the children took a packet and scattered it across the bottom of the gate to the orchard.
Mustard powder was no use because the next day they could only count three hens and a rooster. The rooster was now strutting about and crowing and was acting so brave, but had done nothing to protect the poor hens when Mr Todd had come. He was all very brave and showy up until it came right down to it and then he’d be flying up to the rafters of the chicken shed to escape from Mr Todd and letting the poor hens fend for themselves. The Children went round to tell Mr Roberts. He blamed the rooster, saying that he should have been doing his job and that at the very least he could have crowed out and raised the alarm when Mr Todd was in the chicken house. The children all nodded in agreement and thought of the poor hens, picked off one by one without any help from the cowardly rooster.
There were more feathers at the gate and Mr Todd had gnawed the wood around the nails in the wire. Mr Todd must have been very determined to get through the gate and worked very hard. Mr Roberts nailed a big piece of wood down across the hole and wrote: “LAST WARNING MR TODD IF YOU COME IN HERE AGAIN I WILL GET YOU.”
But the very next day the children noticed there was a chicken missing, not one of the hens, this time, but the rooster. They felt very bad about calling him a coward. In the end, the rooster had died bravely in Mr Todd’s jaws fighting to save the chickens that he loved. It was very sad and very romantic.
They went to tell Mr Roberts. They opened the gate and walked along to Mr Robert’s orchard and there they saw a sad and gruesome sight. They stopped and gasped with horror. It was so hard to believe.
Hanging from the gate by a string was Mr Todd, stone dead. Mr Roberts had been as good as his word, and when he had heard the rooster crowing for all his worth and fighting with Mr Todd, he had rushed out and had shot Mr Todd dead. He had strung Mr Todd up by his tail as a warning to other foxes to stay well clear of his chickens.
The children began to cry, and hold their noses. The smell of a dead fox is very bad. They stood there looking at our poor dead Mr Todd. He was still a magnificent animal; his fur was the same colour as the fur on a teddy bear, his brush was thick and long, and his teeth were white and sharp looking, and, even although he was dead none of the children would put their hand in his mouth when dared to. For one thing, Mr Todd’s long red tongue was hanging out and there looked like there was blood on his teeth. There was certainly blood on his coat.
Above, Mr Roberts had written in white chalk; “THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO FOXES THAT STEAL MY CHICKENS.” That was the end of Mr Todd, it was such a shame they all agreed, that foxes can’t read.
First published in THE MACHINERY march 2017