Mr. Fox lived with his wife in the old city. He insisted Mrs. Fox do all that was required of a good wife, but he was a lousy husband. He spent his time drinking, gambling, and trolling the streets of the city with his friend Mr. Wolf. The two thought of one another as friends, but they generally didn’t trust one another for a second.
One day, Mr. Fox decided to play a trick on his wife. He suspected her of cheating, and he was determined to catch her in the act. Coming home from a night of carousing with Mr. Wolf, Mr. Fox lay as though dead on the couch in the front room. And he waited.
Mrs. Fox came down at her usual time to make the coffee and set the bread to rise for the second time. She spotted her husband lying as though dead on the couch—tongue lulling and eyes half closed. What is he up to, she thought.
She stepped up to the couch and looked down. “Oh mercy,” she cried. “My poor husband is dead! What will become of me?”
She cried and wailed and wailed and cried until the ruckus brought Mrs. Mole scurrying from next door. “What is it, Mrs. Fox,” asked the alarmed neighbour.
“Oh mercy,” cried Mrs. Fox. “My husband is dead! And he has left me without a penny in the world. I suppose now all I can do is throw myself on the mercy of Mr. Toad.”
Ha! thought Mr. Fox to himself. She is seeing that villainous old Mr. Toad, it seems. Mr. Fox occasionally worked for Mr. Toad, one of the crime bosses in the old city. He didn’t have the backbone to take revenge upon Mr. Toad, but he could certainly teach his wife a lesson.
“All we can do is get the body ready for burial,” said Mrs. Fox. “You can help me, Mrs. Mole.” And she fetched a sheet with which to cover the supine Mr. Fox.
Burial, thought Mr. Fox. We’ll see about that.
Word spread quickly in the old city, and soon a line was forming outside Mrs. Fox’s front door. They weren’t creditors—those would come later. They were suitors. A number of seedy characters knew that Mr. Fox had a tidy bit hidden away, and they thought if they could marry his widow, they might get their hands on his gold.
“Someone here to see you Mrs. Fox,” called Mrs. Mole up the stairs.
“Invite them into the kitchen,” called back Mrs. Fox. “I’ll be down directly.”
Soon the kitchen was full of suitors, and Mrs. Mole poured out coffee and handed round fresh biscuits. One by one, the suitors crept into the living room to have a peak at the deceased Mr. Fox. He looked very dead. But the crafty fox wasn’t dead, of course; he was just asleep. His night of carousing had left him more tired than he thought.
Mrs. Mole went up the stairs to check on her friend, and she found the clever Mrs. Fox packed and ready to leave. Tucked into her purse and about her person was Mr. Fox’s gold, which he thought he had kept well hidden.
“I’m off to a new life in the new city,” Mrs. Fox said to her friend and neighbour. “Take this gold piece and buy yourself and your children something nice.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Fox. And bless you.” Then Mrs. Mole hurried out of the front door, telling the impatient suitors to wait just another five minutes for Mrs. Fox.
They waited, and they waited. But Mrs. Fox was long gone. She was in a cab on her way to a new life in the new city.
When Mr. Fox suddenly gave a grunting snore, the suitors came piling into the living room and tore away the sheet.
“Why the scoundrel is alive!” they cried. And they gave Mr. Fox the beating of his life—mostly out of disappointment. It was many days before Mr. Fox was able to be up and about. He had lost his wife, his gold, and whatever pride he had left, and he spent his days and nights complaining about his misfortunes to anyone who would listen. Most didn’t.
As for Mrs. Fox, she had enough to set herself up in the new city. Eventually, she opened an orphanage that made its mission the rescue of parentless children from the old city. Mrs. Fox taught her children how to read and write and how to behave, and she sent them out into the wide world to do some good. “For the world,” she was often heard to say, “doesn’t need any more like my old reprobate of a husband.”