FOX in the
It's Christmas at Animal Ark, but for a pair of foxes it's far from the season of goodwill. Mrs. Ponsonby is convinced they're a danger to her dogs and wants them driven out of the area. But the local farmers are thinking of a more drastic solution.
Can Mandy and James save the foxes from being injured...or worse?
"Mom says the vixen is probably safe," Mandy told her grandfather the next morning. He'd called to persuade her to come out of the house and help him put the finishing touches on the lights in the village square. It was Thursday, and Joe Wortley was due to switch them on at seven-thirty the next evening.
"We can't have you moping around the house when there's so much to do," he insisted.
"I don't feel much like it, Grandpa." Mandy had hardly slept. She felt washed out and unhappy, unable to get the picture of the dead fox out of her mind.
"Come on, the fresh air will do you good. I've had strict orders from your grandma not to let you get away with saying no!"
So, to please her grandparents, she'd wrapped up in her jacket, scarf, and hat and come to help. The tall Christmas tree stood outside the door of the Fox and the Goose, opposite the church. It rose almost as high as the roof of the pub, with colored lights strung through its branches.
"Well then, at least one of the foxes lives to fight another day," her grandpa said now, standing back to judge the effect of the lights in the tree. "Adam tells me he knew something was badly wrong the moment he saw you and James hurtling up the hill on your bikes. He decided he'd better follow and see what was up."
"I'm glad he did." She sighed. "If Dad hadn't come, I'd have always wondered if there was anything we could have done to save the fox." Her lip quivered as she remembered the wounded fox's amber eyes staring up at her.
Just then, a Range Rover cruised down the main street into the pub parking lot. Mandy saw Joe Wortley and Sophie Dixon get out. The television star went into the Fox and Goose, leaving Sophie to cross the road and head for home by herself. When she saw Mandy, she ducked her head and rushed on.
"Watch out!" Mandy yelled, as another car sped by. Sophie had been so busy ignoring her that she hadn't seen it. The driver braked hard and skidded as Sophie stepped back. An accident had been narrowly avoided.
"Are you okay?" Many ran across.
"Fine, thanks." The girl's pale face had turned bright red. "I just wasn't looking where I was going."
An alarmed driver glared out of his window at her before he straightened his car and drove off. Mandy's grandpa watched from a distance to see that everything was all right.
"Have you found Nipper yet?" The questions popped out before Mandy had time to think. Since Sophie had been doing her best to avoid her, it was obvious that she didn't want to talk about the lost puppy.
She shook her head and the curtain of black, shiny hair swung across her face. "I've looked everywhere."
"I'm sorry about his eyesight," Mandy said quietly.
This time Sophie nodded once. "Thanks." She bit her lip. "Would this disease hurt? I mean, would he be in pain with it?"
Many answered as best she could. "I don't think so. It just makes his vision go blurred. Why?"
"Nothing. I was just wondering, that's all." Sophie changed the subject. "We found a home for Olivia this morning. That's the last of the puppies. She went with her new owners after breakfast." She put on a cheerful smile. "Well, I'd better go now."
"No, listen!" Mandy walked with her across the road. "About Nipper; have your parents really made up their minds about him?" She still clung to a shred of hope that the puppy might be found.
"Mommy has. She said it would be much too much trouble to look after a handicapped dog. She called someone who breeds collies at the place where we bough Henrietta. The man there said that pups with collie eye should definitely not be allowed to breed."
"But that's not the same as having him put to sleep!" Mandy insisted. "Anyway, Henrietta is the one who passed it on to Nipper. According to this man, he should have never sold Henrietta to you in the first place!"
"Try telling Mommy that." Sophie shrugged and walked on down the path. "Anyway, it's beside the point now. Nipper ran away and that's all there is to it."
"It was below freezing last night." Mandy had checked the thermometer as usual. "If he was out in the open, you realize what could have happened to him?"
Sophie twirled around. "I know! You don't need to tell me!"
"Sorry." Mandy stepped back.
"Look, he ran away, okay? I let him off the leash to play, and the next thing I knew he'd vanished! I looked everywhere for him but I couldn't find him!" Sophie glared angrily at Mandy.
"Where were you when it happened?" In her own mind, she began to plan another search. She would call for James. Together they would try again.
"Out of the village somewhere, by a big house. Oh, I don't know!"
"Which house? Was it up in the field or down by the river?" Mandy put her hand on Sophie's arm.
"Like I said, just outside the village. I don't know the name of it, do I? I've only just moved here!" She turned away to shake Mandy off.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you," she murmured. Sophie obviously cared about Nipper, but she seemed edgy and secretive.
"Look, leave me alone, will you! It's bad enough without having to answer all these questions." Her gray eyes flashed out a warning. "The way you're all going on about it, anyone would think I'd lost Nipper on purpose!"
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