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12 December 2005

Let's Doe It [Lets Fall In Love]
Willow Fawnsworthy created by M. Mitchell Marmel
Reggie Buckhorn created by EOCostello

"The Bells Are Ringing, For Me and My Doe"
by E. O. Costello & M. Mitchell Marmel

"The Bells Are Ringing, For Me and My Doe"
by E.O. Costello &  M. Mitchell Marmel

Reggie Buckhorn, Lodge, Baron and Baronin von Kojote, Andre d'Arbres
    Inspector Stagg, Sergeant Brush, Inocenta de Ciervos (c) E.O. Costello
Willow Fawnsworthy, Rosie Baumgartner, Leslie duCleds (c) M. Mitchell Marmel

Part 1

December 23rd, 1936

     I tossed and turned the evening of the 22nd.  Couldn't sleep.

     Six weeks.

     Six WEEKS.

     SIX WEEKS...

     Finally, I fell into a light doze.

     A scritching sound from the trellis.  Figuring something like this would happen, I had left the French doors leading to the balcony unlocked.  Grinning, I snugggled up under the covers as the doors opened gently, letting a cool breeze in.  The dawn silhouetted my favorite kosher kittycat in a tan trenchcoat, a bag slung over one shoulder...

     "Rise and shine, dearie."

     "Sandy Claws!  Is that you?  Ever heard of an elevator?"

     A raised eyebrow.  "Wrong gender, wrong religion, and where's the fun in that, luv?"  She examined one sandal-shod foot critically.  "Though I mighta picked up some grit in the ol' claws, maybe..."

     I turned my head to face her.  "So, what brings you here this fine morning?"  (As if I didn't know!)

     Rosie grinned.  "Your Christmas present, of course."

     I cocked an eyebrow.  "I thought you were Jewish."

     "Okay, then," Rosie said, rolling her eyes,  "Happy Hanukkah!"  With that, she kicked off her sandals and let the trenchcoat drop to the floor, revealing that under the trenchcoat was Rosie, ready for fun in bed.  A quick dash under the covers. "All unwrapped and ready to go, too!"

     Not much more was said for awhile.  After all, it's not polite to talk with your mouth full.

     I know, I know, but it had been six weeks, after all...

     Eventually, utterly sated and content, we curled up side by side.  "We gotta stop meeting like this," I murmured in Rosie's ear.  "People will talk."

     "Let 'em..." Rosie murmured back as we dozed off...

      St. Anthony's, a bit later:

     "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."

     "Yes, my child?"

     "Er...remember my lady friend?"

     A pause.  "...Yes?"

     "Well, she, er, came to visit this morning..."

     A nearly audible wince through the screen.  "Go on."

     "And I sinned."

     "Did you, now?"


     A sigh.  "Enthusiastically?"

     "And noisily. Sloppily.  With great smackings of the lips."  I grinned.  "The sheets were a mess."

     A deep sigh.  "So are you confessing or bragging?"

     I grinned a bit, blushing.  "Little of both, I guess.  It was the biggest Bavarian cream cake that the bakery had."


     "Yes," I said.  "I'm sorry, Father, but I couldn't resist getting some rich food a little early.  We got goo all over our flannel nighties."  Another pause.  "Er, what were YOU thinking?"

     "Harumph.  Never mind,"  Father Merino snorted. He sighed again.  "I'd give you another six weeks penance, but the Heavenly Father alone knows what would happen with your pent-up energy."

     "Yes, Father.  I'm sorry, Father."

     "Somehow," the prelate said dryly, "I rather doubt that."   Another sigh.  Absolution was granted, and some prayers were assigned.  "Oh, and Miss Fawnsworthy...?"

     "Yes, Father?"

     "Make sure that young buck of yours does right by you...and settle down.  I seriously think, with all you've been through, that'll do you a world of good."

      "...You're probably right, Father.  You're probably right."


     Been a long time since I marked off the days until Christmas.

     When I was a fawn, of course, I could pass the days by helping Mummy bake cookies, or decorating the house, or just playing in the snow.  Christmas Day meant  eggnog and oranges and the hoped-for wrapped pile of books, to be started in on underneath a blanket near the fireplace.

     Now?  Well, in the last four months, I'd managed to kill a Soviet agent threatening my father, meet a charming and nice buck, have a good-old-fashioned war with the buck's father (I won, thanks to the buck's sympathetic mother), come damned close to a total nervous breakdown, have a duel fought over me by two of the people I loved best in the world and, last but not least, endure six weeks of separation from my beloved buck Reggie as penance for what I did to the agent.  Weird kind of circle, if you think about it too hard.

     Well, at least the six weeks weren't dull.  Especially after Reggie (bless his heart) took it into his brain that I was being held against my will (which was true, after a fashion) and wound up duelling Rosie (a better cheetah doesn't exist) over the matter.  This kept Reggie busy and all ended well enough (although Rosie has some fractured tailbones from the motor bicycle race).

     Another advantage was that I had placed some pretty good bets on each leg of the duel, with the final results leaving me ahead by three months' salary and change. Even with plain food as part of the penance, there was nothing keeping me from having my hooves shone, my hair and tailfur done, and picking up a few nice dresses (and even nicer things for underneath)...

     "Eh.  Too good for him."

     Rosie frowned at me from the chaise lounge, one paw on her tail in its cast. She wanted to participate in the act of dressing (and undressing), but reluctantly kept to a critic-only role.

     I was torn between smiling and frowning.  Rosie didn't entirely approve of Reggie.

     "Hrmph.  You're just jealous, is what you are."

     "Damn tootin'," Rosie nodded, leaning back against the pillows.  "Still, I get to see you in your naughties.  More than Lover Boy will."

     I raised an eyebrow.  "Ohhhhh, REALLY?"

     Rosie smirked.  "Listen to Tante Rosie, who knows from wealthy boychiks.  Most of his type wouldn't think twice about spoiling those pretty clothes after champagne and caviar."  At a vegetarian grimace from me, she amended, "Okay, champagne and artichoke hearts."

     "Much better," I nodded, admiring the ivory-colored lace in the full-length mirror. "You don't think Reggie's going to get frisky?"

     "Remember," Rosie sighed, "he had Cupcake de Ciervos in the palm of his paw.  Coulda made whoopee with no-one the wiser.  What did he do? Try to bolt.  What's that tell you?"

     I snorted.  "He's got good taste?"

     "Besides that," Rosie grinned.  "I daresay he's got the sense to keep his paws to himself.  You know how the Brits can be sometimes."

     I nodded, conflicted.  On the one paw, I am trying to be a good little doe like Mummy would have wanted, rest her soul.  On the other paw...well, I wouldn't be a doe if I didn't have some naughty thoughts about bucks.

     I slipped into a dress and paraded before the mirror.    Rosie applauded, giggling.  "Hey, if that don't make Lover Boy naughty, there's always me."

     I grinned at Rosie.  "Hanukkah present to yourself?"

     Rosie shrugged.  "Hey, you stuff a stocking real good, kiddo."

     I blushed a bit and looked back at the mirror. "I hope Reggie is as eager for Christmas Day as I am..."

     Rosie snickered.  "24 hours after he downed 17 snifters of brandy?  Only thing that buck's gonna be eager for is the Grim Reaper..."




       "This mattress is infernally hard, for some dashed peculiar reason."

       "There is a perfectly rational explanation for that, sir."

       "Which is?"

       "You are not reclining on your mattress, but on the floor of the bathtub."

       "I am?"

        "Yes, sir.  I think if you open your eyes, you will confirm the veracity of my statements."

        "I'd rather not open an eye, Lodge.  Something may fall out."

        "As you wish, sir.   Would you like some lunch, sir?"

        "Ye Gods, Lodge.  I would prefer if you laid off that subject, for the nonce.  My stomachs seem to be engaged in some cross between a square dance and a gopak at the moment, and the notion of filling them would seem unwise."

        This might seem very chatty for a chap who's got a morning (afternoon?) head to beat the band, but the relatively cool surface of the bathtub floor, acting on the bean, felt oddly soothing.  It would have to be, after what I think I had drunk the night before.  My mouth felt like someone had shoved a pineapple, spines up, into it and had left it there to ferment.  I tried to open an eye.  The dazzling white of the bathtub was rather painful, indeed, and I chose to close said ocularity, instanter.  A quick survey of the form indicated that the Buckhorn wardrobe, at the moment, was somewhat minimalist.


        "Sir?"  The worthy was still there, evidently fascinated by the majestic sight of a thoroughly hung-over buck.

        "Please tell me I didn't leave my clothes in a location known but to God and/or the constabulary."

        "Your wardrobe from last night, sir, is hanging in your closet, along with your other clean clothes.  The laundry made a delivery just before you awoke."

        This was something of a relief.  Miss Willow Fawnsworthy, the inamorata that I've mentioned numerous times in these memoirs, was due to be released from the pain and durance vile that some gang or other had imposed on her for six weeks, I know not why, on Christmas Day.  As said Miss Fawnsworthy was a very attractive and very lady-like doe, I didn't want to incite any scandals.  Well, no more than normal, anyway.  The natural state of a whitetail buck may be a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but it can trigger awkward questions when it is displayed for an audience greater than one's self (or a valet).

      "If I may suggest, sir?  You should endeavour to sit up, with your tail against the back of the tub.  I will aim the shower at your rack, and I am certain you will find the cold water to be invigorating."

      It actually felt like 5,000 imps had decided to use my body as some sort of corpeal trap-drum set, with my rack supplying the down-beat.  After about the tenth or fifteenth minute, it settled down to a mere fact of 5,000 imps poking me with their forefingers, while two danced mazurkas behind my eyeballs.  A judicious use of soap and loofah at least made the buck-self clean and presentable, on the outside at any event.  Inside was a different matter.  I resolved to give the local pineapple brandy the widest possible berth for the foreseeable future.

      Lodge thoughtfully laid out a set of clothes that did not involve anything complicated,
especially a necktie.  I was dressed well, if somewhat casually, with the handy assistance of an ascot.  A pair of sunglasses proved to be a godsend.  A look in the mirror showed that I
would have been ready, both on the inside and out, for Hollywood.

      Lodge helped me into my jacket.  "If you make some haste, sir, you will be able to make the last sitting at L'Etoile d'Argent.  I am told they have a buffet this afternoon."

      Dealing with André, the maitre d'hotel of Shepherd's restaurant (otherwise known as the aforesaid L'Etoile d'Argent), was probably the last thing I needed to endure in my current condition, but I decided that André, too, would pass.  It was also possible that he was on holiday.  A brief picture of him in a Christmas-cracker hat at least brought a smile to the phiz, and bucked me up for the long journey down to the restaurant.


      Walking across the lobby presented two problems.  Problem #1: click of hooves against hard floor.  Bearable, just.  Problem #2: desk clerk giving the view holloa in a voice fit to raise the dead.

       "Hark!  Yonder walks our esteemed patron, resident e-ven, Mr. Buckhorn..."

       This would be A. Nittany Lion, a chap with Pepto-Bismol coloured fur (source mercifully
unknown to me), and a seemingly boundless supply of dramatics.  The hotel's concierge had once opined that he would have preferred the hotel replace this chap with a Columbia graduate, but apparently the owners felt amused by his manner of speaking.  I didn't share that amusement at the moment, but I swallowed it as best I could.  This was necessary by virtue of the fact that the desk clerk was waving two envelopes that bore the logo of the Pacific Postal Telegraph Co., Ltd.  Having to read things on top of dealing with both André and a brutal hangover was more than any whitetail buck should bear of a morning...er, afternoon, but I bore it with fortitude, and collected my messages with a smile that took more effort than anyone knew.

       André himself is a keen student of the animal condition, and knows a badly hungover buck when he sees one.  No doubt word of my exploits the previous evening, which had taken place in the nearby bar, had reached his pink and shell-likes.  With an oily smirk, he seated me rather close to the busfur's station, and then casually knocked over a pile of soiled silverware.

       He waited until I stopped clenching my teeth and gripping my ears before giving me the menu.  He began to recite a series of dishes, heavy on the sauces and the like.  I told him that if I didn't have a bowl of applesauce and some peace and quiet in the next five minutes, there would be bloodshed.  André feigned concern, and whisked away the menu, not omitting to give the busfur a shove and knock over the silverware again.

     I did a little thinking, something that can be done in silence with the eyes closed, even if it's not the best thing for a chap with an afternoon head.  The duel fought against La Baumgartner had had one major problem, in that preparations took up nearly all of my time, leaving little for something dashed important, viz., shopping for Willow.  It was incumbent upon me, no doubt, to get her something flattering for her first Christmas present from me.  The question of her sizes was a major issue.  I resolved to take the matter up with Lodge after lunch, since he seemed to be a font of all sorts of useful information in this regard.

       The bowl of applesauce was delivered, lightly seasoned with cinnamon.  It proved to be soothing, cool and gentle on the stomachs, which was all to the good.  It at least prepared me for a closer look at the cables.

        I decided to go eenie-meenie on the envelopes, and the selected one was duly unfurled for my inspection.  It turned out to be from Mummy.


      This was news indeed.  For those who aren't Brits, the above is no doubt a source of puzzlement.  I should explain.  A few times a year, our Gracious Sovereign gets it into his or her head to dispense with all sorts of goodies. Some furs get various orders of knighthood, for example.  Other furs, for various services (some of which are better left unsaid), get raised to the peerage, allowing them to dress up in robes and coronet.  These peers also get one of the most luxurious sleeping-chambers known, namely, the debating chamber of the House of Lords.

      The Sire (alias Sir Josslyn Buckhorn), as I may have mentioned before, is the sole stockholder and dynamic force behind the family firm, F.R. Buckhorn & Sons.  This outfit sells all manner of munchies to the herbivores of six continents, which has the advantage of keeping yours truly in funds.   The Sire has wanted a peerage for some time, in the way some little boys want electric trains.  Personally, I think someone of his smallish stature and tubby waistline shouldn't be so eager to wear a coronet and robes, but I suppose there's no accounting for ambition.  All three political parties have received substantial cheques from the Sire, and much has been done in the way of Good Works, to placate the Gods of Goodies.  The flaw in the plan, of course, is that the Sire has a temper that is only slightly less volatile than a jar of nitro poured into a cocktail shaker.  His penchant for speaking home truths has probably kept him off the Honours Lists for some time.

      The fact that he had a lively young buck-fawn fond of a little refreshment and fun of an evening only made matters worse for both his ambitions and his temper.  Hence the placement of yours truly out of harm's way in the wilds of the Pacific Ocean, far away from Fleet Street and clicking cameras.

      Evidently, somefur or other had bitten the ear of the King of England, Emperor of India, Defender of the Faith, &c.,  and had put the pater on the shortlist for a new handle and a spot in Deerbret's Peerage of the United Kingdom.  I wondered what this new handle was going to be.  Lord Saveus crossed the mind, until I realized, with a start, that as the only buck-fawn and heir to said ennobled buck, I was going to inherit the aforementioned handle.  I said a silent prayer that Mummy would intervene with some common-sense suggestions regarding the title.

       I knew this sort of thing was usually kept secret.  Recipients are usually offered the goodies, and given a chance to turn them down (which rarely happens), but mum's the word until the actual list comes out in the Times.  Hence, Mummy's somewhat oblique language.  Well, mostly oblique.  The reference to Willow was slightly surprising, though I was given to believe by Lodge that at least one-half of my parentage was wholly pro-Willow.

       At this point, I opened the second cable. This one turned out to be from the Sire.  A sense of foreboding crept over me, which proved prescient.


      My first reaction was that the pater had lost none of his talent for the vigorous and pithy phrase.  The second reaction was that his opinion of me had not shifted one iota.  He still, evidently, considered me something of a blot upon the species, let alone the family.

      The third reaction was of full-fledged alarm, as I reread the cable.  I was expected on a flight leaving the Islands today.  In a little over one hour.  I was not prepared.  I was not packed.  I was not organized.  And most of all, I was not at all sure how on Earth I was going to get a hold of Willow to tell her that the programme had taken a violent and unexpected change.

      Speaking of violence, the self let out a shrill whistling whinny, and got up from the table at a speed sufficient to knock it, the vase, the glasses, the silverware, and the remains of a bowl of applesauce (lightly seasoned) to the floor.  A fiver was tossed somewhere in the general direction of the debris, and I bolted upstairs for an immediate conference with Lodge.  I desperately hoped he was in mid-season form, brains-wise.


      It took no great effort at deduction on my part to discern the fact that Mr. Buckhorn was in a highly agitated state.  For one thing, as befit his species, he was flagging his tail quite rapidly.  For another, I noticed that he was frantically dashing about the suite and attempting to pack a light suitcase.  I use the word "attempting" largely because Mr. Buckhorn for some reason was trying to fit a large racquet-press into this suitcase.  Thirdly, when I attempted to question Mr. Buckhorn as to the reason for his condition, I was informed as follows:

      "Ying tong yiddle I po."

      Mr. Buckhorn is prone to these episodes of highly flustered behaviour.  The last time I had seen him in this state, however, was just prior to our hasty departure from Samoa, approximately one and one-half steps ahead of some largish Polynesian gentlefurs with shark spears who wished to question him closely.  Or so it was alleged.

      I telephoned the Grand Hotel and was rung through to the valet for Senor de Ciervos.  The gentlefur's gentlefur proved to be most accomodating, and informed me that while things were in something of an uproar casa de Ciervos, this was not owing to Mr. Buckhorn but another gentlefur.  A description followed, and it became apparent that Mr. duCleds had been introduced to Senorita de Ciervos in a rather dramatic fashion. Another telephone call to Eastern Island disclosed that Mr. duCleds' aeroplane had departed the Islands hastily at first light.  This fact was filed away for future reference.

      I returned to Mr. Buckhorn's bedroom, and surveyed his attempts at packing.


      Lodge shimmered in, in the way he usually does, and coughed gently.  This startled me out of my reverie.  I discovered that I was attempting to stuff a rather large desk lamp into a rather small and overstuffed suitcase.  I desisted at once.

      "Lodge," the self cried, "disaster has struck!  The Sire is being elevated to the House of Lords!"

      Lodge demurred.  "The British Constitution, sir, has seen much worse over the centuries.  I knew the valet for the seventh Duke of Westmorland, who allegedly was fond of rolling about in daffodil petals in the nude."

      I blinked.  "The valet?"

      "No, sir.  His Lordship.  I apologize for not making myself clear."

      "What's all this about the Duke of Westmorland?!  I don't have any need for Dukes of Westmorland, Lodge.  To blazes with the Duke of Westmorland, whether he is with us or among the choir invisible."

      "Very good, sir."

      "And I...Ye Gods, is that the time?!"


      I observed from the clock on the mantlepiece that it was 4.17.  By the time I had turned around, Mr. Buckhorn had vanished, leaving behind only the sound of a door being crashed shut.  I set to work at once in unpacking Mr. Buckhorn's bag, and packing it rather more intelligently.  Though I must say, Mr. Buckhorn showed true ingenuity (and perhaps some foresight) in packing a large chamber-pot into his bag.


      Jolly good thing the Grand Hotel is only a few hundred yards down the road.  Equally jolly good thing that the traffic on the road was fairly light.  I had only two close calls with passing vehicles by the time I dashed into the lobby of the Grand.  On duty was a chap who looked like he had swallowed a fireplace poker.  He was also the owner of a mustache with which you could have toasted bread in that same fireplace.

       After catching my breath, I managed to burble out a greeting.  He snapped to attention.


       In my present state of mind, this kind of volume and vigour was not exactly what the doctor ordered.  If he had spoken just a few decibels louder, one imagines that one's rack would have been impaled in the ceiling.

       "Errrr...is Miss Fawnsworthy in?"


       This was horrible news.  "Did she say where she was going?"


        I was not exactly thrilled with the fact that my enquiries were being broadcast with more power and penetrating value than the Light Programme on Radio LONO, but beggars can't be choosers.  "Did she say when she was coming back?"


        I blinked, and thought frantically.   "I say, is there a writing-room I can use?"

        "ABOUT FACE!"

        Without knowing what I was doing, I instantly snapped to attention and turned a 180
on the hooves.


        The self dashed off to the writing room. I figured that if I was going to get court-martialed for going double-time, it could wait until later.   The room itself was easily found, though it took some doing to get a pen that wouldn't go blunt from the force I was using on the paper.  No time for poetry or high literature.  I got straight to the point, and dashed off about two pages.  I sealed them up in an envelope.  As I did so, I looked at my watch. 4.38.   The self gave a shrill, whistling snort, and dashed out again, flinging the envelope at the nearest employee of the hotel.

        I was half-way to the water-taxi stand, when I realized that I had neither passport nor baggage, which would no doubt prove awkward at the other end of the journey.  The self did a 180 (again) on the hooves, and dashed back at high speed toward Shepherd's.


     One thing you can say about Christmas shopping in the Spontoons: Nothing like Gnu York.  Combine off-season lack of crowds and the fact that most of the natives don't celebrate the holiday like us Euros and you get uncrowded stores, making it easy to stroll around and have fun.   Rosie was a tad constrained by her tail-cast.  By mutual silent agreement, we decided that antenna jokes were verboten, though we did share a giggle at the local Rottweiller-Kent wireless dealership.  I found one store with genuine salt-water taffy from Atlantic City, and a tin of this put Rosie in a cheerful state of mind.  I happily carried her parcels as she munched on the confectionery.

     We were just about to go into the Grand when I saw a ricksha driver dive out of the way, just in time to miss a brown-and-white blur, which whizzed by about ten yards away.

       As the blur vanished in the direction of Shepherd's, flagging all the way, I couldn't help giggling.  Rosie was giggling too, and nearly choking on her taffy.  She pointed at the flag.

       "It's Lover Boy, all right.  I never forget a face."

       True enough, though I was looking at his rack.   "I wonder what he was rushing about for?"

       Rosie grumbled.   "Who knows what idiocy lurks in the minds of nudniks?  Probably looking for some coal to put in the stocking of Yours Truly."

       "Oh, come on, now.  Reggie isn't that mean, Rosie."

       "Reggie is a pain in the tuchas, literally and figuratively."  Rosie grinned.  "C'mon, let's get a Nootnops Red so I can wash down my afternoon medication.  A bottle full of sugar helps the medicine go down."


       I had arranged for Mr. Buckhorn to have a water-taxi waiting at the Shepherd's stand, and I was waiting in that taxi with Mr. Buckhorn's bag.  I was at least hoping to obtain some further details regarding the source of Mr. Buckhorn's confusion.

      Mr. Buckhorn came into view, gracefully leaping a hedge and giving a rather large fright to the native gardener.  He cleared the garden in three bounds, and two further bounds were all that was necessary to get into the water taxi.

      Mr. Buckhorn gave the stentorian command: "Eastern Island aeroport, and go like hell!"

      Rather to my alarm, the taxi-driver took Mr. Buckhorn at his word, and we were going at a barely safe speed.  Alas, the roar of the engine and the spray of the water precluded all conversation, except for certain hand gestures.  I gave Mr. Buckhorn his passport, his repacked bag, and the rather thick roll of bills representing his winnings from the wagering on the duel.  I thought this would be of use to him, as there was no time to obtain travelers' cheques.

      Mr. Buckhorn kept looking at his watch, frantically, during the rather bumpy ride to Eastern Island.  Indeed, we had hardly pulled into the landing when Mr. Buckhorn bounded out, took off, came back, collected his bag, and took off again.  By the time I had paid off the driver and had entered the terminal, Mr. Buckhorn had collected his ticket.

      At this point, I was privy to a somewhat remarkable display.  The gangplank on the 5.00 flying boat to Honolulu was just about to be raised when Mr. Buckhorn dashed up, stepped off the mark, and made a perfect leap over the water and through the door.  Mercifully, the door was just wide enough to accomodate his rack, otherwise Mr. Buckhorn might have developed a rather nasty headache.

       The redcap and the customs agent next to me were each looking at this performance, slack-jawed.  The redcap was so astonished that he swallowed his Bubble Cud.  The three of us watched as the flying boat closed its door, taxied, and then took off into the afternoon sun.

       "Blimey, mate, wazzat Reggie Buckhorn?"

       "Indeed, sir."

       "Cooo!  'e was in some bleedin' 'urry, weren't he?  What's gotten into 'is tailfur, then?"

       I wish I knew.  I had a feeling of dread that something had been left out of the equation, and that developments were in the offing.


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