ONCE upon a time there was a young lady called Lady Mary, who had two brothers. One summer they all three went to a country seat of theirs, which they had not before visited. Among the other gentry in the neighbourhood who came to see them was a Mr. Pox, a bachelor, with whom they, particularly the young lady, were much pleased. He used often to dine with them, and frequently invited Lady Mary to come and see his house. One day that her 'brothers were absent elsewhere, and she had nothing better to do, she determined to go thither, and accordingly set out unattended. When she arrived at the house and knocked at the door, no one answered.
At length she opened it and went in; over the portal of the door was written--
"Be bold, be bold, but not too bold."
She advanced; over the staircase was the same inscription. She went up; over the entrance of a gallery, the same again. Still she went on, and over the door of a chamber found written--
"Be bold, be bold, but not too bold,
Lest that your heart's blood should run cold!"
She opened it; it was full of skeletons and tubs of blood. She retreated in baste, and, coming downstairs, saw from a window Mr. Fox advancing towards the house with a drawn sword in one hand, while with the other be dragged along a young lady by her hair. Lady Mary had just time to slip down and hide herself under the stairs before Mr. Fox and his victim arrived at the foot of them. As he pulled the young lady upstairs, she caught hold of one of the banisters with her hand, on which was a rich bracelet. Mr. Fox cut it off with his sword. The hand and bracelet fell into Lady Mary's lap, who then contrived to escape unobserved, and got safe home to her brothers' house.
A few days afterwards Mr. Fox came to dine with them as usual. After dinner the guests began to amuse each other with extraordinary anecdotes, and Lady Mary said she would relate to them a remarkable dream she had lately had. I dreamt, said she, that as you, Mr. Fox, had often invited me to your house, I would go there one morning. When I came to the house I knocked at the door, but no one answered. When I opened the door, over the hail I saw written, "Be bold, be bold, but not too bold." But, said she, turning to Mr. Fox, and smiling, "It is not so, nor it was not so." Then she pursued the rest of the story, concluding at every turn with, "It is not so, nor it was not so," till she came to the room full of skeletons, when Mr. Fox took up the burden of the tale, and said--
"It is not so, nor it was not so,
And God forbid it should be so!"--
which he continued to repeat at every subsequent turn of the dreadful story, till she came to the circumstance of his cutting off the young lady's hand, when, upon his saying, as usual--
"It is not so, nor it was not so,
And God forbid it should be so 2
Lady Mary retorts by saying--
"But it is so, and it was so,
And here the hand I have to show!"--
at the same moment producing the hand and bracelet from her lap, whereupon the guests drew their swords, and instantly cut Mr. Fox into a thousand pieces.
1 Malone's Skakspeare (1821), vol. vii. p. 163. See note at end of story.
2 This story was contributed to Malone's Shakespeare by Blakeway, in elucidation of Benedict's speech in "Much Ado about Nothing," Act i., Scene 1--." Like the old tale, my Lord: it is not so, nor 'twas not so; but indeed, God forbid it should be so!" Blakeway adds that this is evidently an allusion to the tale of "Mr. Fox," "which Shakspeare may have heard, as I have, related by a great-aunts in childhood."