Two nights ago I went off to see Hamlet at the Globe on my own (my first time there, such a thrill!). Scarlett, who works frenetically, was having a quiet night in front of the telly. Or so I thought.
When I arrived back at her house around 11:00 and asked how her evening had been, she said, “Well there’s been a problem with a mouse.”
“A mouse?” She is not particularly squeamish and mice did not seem a major problem to me.
“A very large one. I had David (her neighbor) over twice.”
“Like maybe a rat?” I asked. That would be discombobulating, if not downright creepy.
“Well I don’t know, but it made a lot of noise,” she said.
“The other end.” She pointed to the far end of her sitting room. I glanced that way, a tad nervous now. “David couldn’t find anything. He got a bit cross with me and suggested he could set a trap. I wondered if it might be a kitten or a baby fox. He said that was ridiculous.”
I had to agree with David, it seemed highly unlikely – although, fair enough, foxes are rampant in London. I’ve seen what seem enormous ones passing blithely through her small back garden. Still, a fox – or a kitten – in one’s sitting room. Surely not.
We went to bed.
In the morning Scarlett left early to work in Norwich for the day. When I got down to the kitchen, I saw something on the floor, which on closer inspection proved to be a small turd. Hmmm. Not mouse or rat pellets (I assume rats drop pellets as well?) but a genuine turd.
I went into the sitting room and heard scrabbling behind the piano. Okay, she had not been hysterical, there was definitely an animal hiding in her sitting room. I left the room, closing the door firmly behind me to avoid unexpected encounters of the wrong kind. A few minutes later I heard the animal hurling itself against the door. Most un-rodent-like. I texted Scarlett to confirm her suspicions.
She responded that I should go over to David’s and get him to take a proper look. Once I was dressed, I did so, but there was no response to my ring.
I went for a long walk on Hampstead Heath. On my return I picked up another text suggesting I go for a walk leaving both the sitting room door and kitchen door to the garden open, and hope the animal escaped. What a good idea, pity I didn’t get the message before my walk.
By now it was 2:30 in the afternoon. I began plotting… I set up a barrier in the front hall so that if the sitting room door was open the animal could not get up the stairs into the rest of the house. I established a position on the stairs from which I could potentially take a photo of the animal if it emerged. I was highly curious, and the hurling itself against the door (which was not repeated) really suggested a canine-like creature…i.e. a fox. A kitten would mew, I reckoned. This animal made no sound except rather vigorous scrabbling.
All set, I opened the sitting room door. No sound. I settled down to wait in complete silence, cell phone poised for the photo. Time passed. And passed. Not so much fun.
I got up quietly and peered into the sitting room. Silence. I started to make little chirping sounds (imitating a tasty bird, I thought.) A small scrabble encouraged me. I scratched on the barrier, mouselike, right? Time passed. I repeated my small probably not-so-natural noises.
Then I climbed over the barrier and went into the room. The scrabbling I’d heard definitely came from behind the piano where there was a small fireplace. I peered into the crevice. Tried unsuccessfully to move the piano. Put on my flashlight and peered again. Aha! A creature!
At first I thought maybe it was a fairly large kitten , the ears looked right. Then it raised its pointed nose. Although it looked grey, not orange, it was more fox-like than cat-like. But I thought maybe some larger rodent. I began taking very bad photos.
The creature did not move until I resorted (very brave now, due to its utter stillness) to poking gently at it with a broom. Then it scrabbled out from behind the piano into another small dark corner. Definitely a baby fox, and a very frightened one.
As it turns out, Scarlett’s living room has more small dark corners, between boxes and shelves and behind couches, than I’d realized. (Her son had just dropped off some of his belongings, a temporary storage while he moves.)
For the next hour, I sort of chased the little fox around the room from one corner to another. Never, alas getting a clear photo of him in flight. He crouched behind an immovable couch, he crammed himself into a pile of wrapping paper rolls by the bookshelf, etc. etc. The only place he did not go was out the door, through the kitchen to freedom.
At 4:00, I began to worry I would not get him out before we had to leave for the theatre that night. I called Scarlett, who was now about to board her train back to London and would arrive barely in time for us to head out. She said Max, a young man who does some gardening for her, would come over – and if that didn’t work she’d call the RSPCA.
I had become quite fond of the little fellow, who sometimes looked at me rather like a timorous dog. I was concerned that he obviously hadn’t eaten in 24 hours and was so frightened. We figured he’d got in sometime the previous day when the door to the garden was left open.
Max came. We attempted to block every cranny in the room and nudged the fox out of the wrapping paper. Once again he eluded us, scrabbling into an unanticipated crevice. By now I could prod him with the broom and he wouldn’t budge. I didn’t want to hurt him, just wanted him to find his way out. We moved all the furniture around, creating barriers, stuffing cushions into every space we could find. I poked at him and poked again. We decided we would have to call the RSPCA.
Then we made one last effort, pulling out the box he was crouched behind. Eureka! With no corners left available he streaked out the door down into the kitchen and out. Whew! I firmly closed the garden door and thanked Max profusely. He left and I started to putter about making supper.
I glanced out into the garden, and there was the poor little fox trying to jump over the back garden wall, and failing. It was pathetic. He’d run and leap, hit the stone wall and fall. I don’t know why he wanted to get over the back wall, which is a couple of feet higher than the side ones. Maybe he thought his mother was back there? Where was she anyway?
But now I had such a good photo op, with him in full light. I went out into the garden. He flattened himself before the broom-wielding monster. I got a decent shot. Then he raced down the garden to the side of the kitchen under the sitting room window. I decided not to follow and terrorize him any further.
But back in the kitchen I had a horrible thought. What if he had not entered through the garden door originally. What if there was some hole in the house wall and he’d headed straight back to the sitting room?
Fortunately I have not seen him since, nor have there been any unusual noises, though Scarlett and I both crept into the sitting room and listened when we got home later that night.
I know I said I wouldn’t post again until I next travelled, but how could I not share The Curious Incident of the Fox in the Sitting Room?