English Stories and books

Lady into fox by David Garnett (read online)

David Garnett. Lady into fox


or supernatural events are not so uncommon, rather they are
irregular in their incidence. Thus there may be not one marvel to speak of
in a century, and then often enough comes a plentiful crop of them; monsters
of all sorts swarm suddenly upon the earth, comets blaze in the sky,
eclipses frighten nature, meteors fall in rain, while mermaids and sirens
beguile, and sea-serpents engulf every passing ship, and terrible cataclysms
beset humanity.
But the strange event which I shall here relate came alone,
unsupported, without companions into a hostile world, and for that very
reason claimed little of the general attention of mankind. For the sudden
changing of Mrs. Tebrick into a vixen is an established fact which we may
attempt to account for as we will. Certainly it is in the explanation of the
fact, and the reconciling of it with our general notions that we shall find
most difficulty, and not in accepting for true a story which is so fully
proved, and that not by one witness but by a dozen, all respectable, and
with no possibility of collusion between them.
But here I will confine myself to an exact narrative of the event and
all that followed on it. Yet I would not dissuade any of my readers from
attempting an explanation of this seeming miracle because up till now none
has been found which is entirely satisfactory. What adds to the difficulty
to my mind is that the metamorphosis occurred when Mrs. Tebrick was a
full-grown woman, and that it happened suddenly in so short a space of time.
The sprouting of a tail, the gradual extension of hair all over the body,
the slow change of the whole anatomy by a process of growth, though it would
have been monstrous, would not have been so difficult to reconcile to our
ordinary conceptions, particularly had it happened in a young child.
But here we have something very different. A grown lady is changed
straightway into a fox. There is no explaining that away by any natural
philosophy. The materialism of our age will not help us here. It is indeed a


; something from outside our world altogether, an event which we
would willingly accept if we were to meet it invested with the authority of
Divine Revelation in the scriptures, but which we are not prepared to
encounter almost in our time, happening in Oxford shire amongst our
The only things which go any way towards an explanation of it are but
guesswork, and I give them more because I would not conceal anything, than
because I think they are of any worth.
Mrs. Tebrick’s maiden name was certainly Fox, and it is possible that
such a miracle happening be-fore, the family may have gained their name as a


on that account. They were an ancient family, and have had their
seat at Tangley Hall time out of mind. It is also true that there was a
half-tame fox once upon a time chained up at Tangley Hall in the inner yard,
and I have heard many speculative wiseacres in the public-houses turn that
to great account — though they could not but admit that “there was
never one there in Miss Silvia’s time.” At first I was inclined to think
that Silvia Fox, having once hunted when she was a child of ten and having
been blooded, might furnish more of an explanation. It seems she took great
fright or disgust at it, and vomited after it was done. But now I do not see
that it has much bearing on the miracle itself, even though we know that
after that she always spoke of the “poor foxes” when a hunt was stirring and
never rode to hounds till after her marriage when her husband persuaded her
to it.
She was married in the year 1879 to Mr. Richard Tebrick, after a short
courtship, and went to live after their honeymoon at Rylands, near Stokoe,
Oxon. One point indeed I have not been able to ascertain and that is how
they first became acquainted. Tangley Hall is over thirty miles from Stokoe,
and is extremely remote. Indeed to this day there is no proper road to it,
which is all the more remarkable as it is the principal, and indeed the
only, manor house for several miles round.
Whether it was from a chance meeting on the roads, or less romantic but
more probable, by Mr. Tebrick becoming acquainted with her uncle, a minor
canon at Oxford, and thence being invited by him to visit Tangley Hall, it
is impossible to say. But however they became acquainted the marriage was a
very happy one. The bride was in her twenty-third year. She was small, with
remarkably small hands and feet. It is perhaps worth noting that there was
nothing at all foxy or vixenish in her appearance. On the contrary, she was
a more than ordinarily beautiful and agreeable woman. Her eyes were of a
clear hazel but exceptionally brilliant, her hair dark, with a shade of red
in it, her skin brownish, with a few dark freckles and little moles. In
manner she was reserved almost to shyness, but perfectly self-possessed, and
perfectly well-bred.
She had been strictly brought up by a woman of excellent, principles
and considerable attainments, who died a year or so before the marriage. And
owing to the circumstance that her mother had been dead many years, and her
father bedridden, and not altogether rational for a little while before his
death, they had few visitors but her uncle. He often stopped with them a
month or two at a stretch, particularly in winter, as he was fond of
shooting snipe, which arc plentiful in the valley there. That she did not
grow up a country hoyden is to be explained by the strictness of her
governess and the influence of her uncle. But perhaps living in so wild A
place gave her some disposition to wildness, even in spite of her religious
upbringing. Her old nurse said: “Miss Silvia was always a little wild at
heart,” though if this was true it was never seen by anyone else except her
On one of the first days of the year 1880, in the early afternoon,
husband and wife went for a walk in the copse on the little hill above
Rylands. They were still at this time like lovers in their behaviour and
were always together. While they were walking they heard the hounds and
later the huntsman’s horn in the distance. Mr. Tebrick had persuaded her to
hunt on Boxing Day, but with great difficulty, and she had not enjoyed it
(though of hacking she was fond enough).
Hearing the hunt, Mr. Tebrick quickened his pace so as to reach the
edge of the copse, where they might get a good view of the hounds if they
came that way. His wife hung back, and he, holding her hand, began almost to
drag her. Before they gained the edge of the copse she suddenly snatched her
hand away from his very violently and cried out, so that he instantly turned
his head.

Where his wife had been the moment before was a small fox, of a very
bright red.

It looked at him very beseechingly, advanced towards him a pace
or two, and he saw at once that his wife was looking at him from the
animal’s eyes. You may well think if he were aghast: and so maybe was his
lady at finding herself in that shape, so they did nothing for nearly
half-an-hour but stare at each other, he bewildered, she asking him with her
eyes as if indeed she spoke to him: “What am I now become? Have pity on me,
husband, have pity on me for I am your wife.”
So that with his gazing on her and knowing her well, even. in such a
shape, yet asking himself at every moment: “Can it be she? Am I not
dreaming?” and her beseeching and lastly fawning on him and seeming to tell
him that it was she indeed, they came at last together and he took her in
his arms. She lay very dose to him, nestling under his coat and fell to
licking his face, but never taking her eyes from his.
The husband alt this while kept turning the thing in his head and
gazing on her, but he could make no sense of what had happened, but only
comforted himself with the hope that this was but a momentary change, and
that presently she would turn back again into the wife that was one flesh
with him.
One fancy that came to him, because he was so much more like a lover
than a husband, was that it was his fault, and this because if anything
dreadful happened he could never blame her but himself for it.
So they passed a good while, till at last the tears welled up in the
poor fox’s eyes and she began weeping (but quite in silence), and she
trembled too as if she were in a fever. At this he could not contain his own
tears, but sat down on the ground and sobbed for a great while, but between
his sobs kissing her quite as if she had been a woman, and not caring in his
grief that he was kissing a fox on the muzzle.
They sat thus till it was getting near dusk, when he recollected
himself, and (he next thing was that he must somehow hide her, and then
bring her home.
He waited till it was quite dark that he might the better bring her
into her own house without being seen, and buttoned her inside his topcoat,
nay, even in his passion tearing open his waistcoat and his shirt that she
might like the closer to his heart. For when we are overcome with the
greatest sorrow we act not like men or women but like children whose comfort
in all their troubles is to press themselves against their mother’s breast,
or if she be not there to hold each other light in one another’s arms.
When it was dark he brought her in with infinite precautions, yet not
without the dogs scenting her after which nothing could moderate their
Having got her into the house, the next thing he thought of was to hide
her from the servants. He carried her to the bedroom in his arms and then
went downstairs again.
Mr. Tebrick had three servants living in the house, the cook, the
parlourmaid, and an old woman who had been his wife’s nurse. Besides these
women there was a groom or a gardener (whichever you choose to call him),
who was a single man and so lived out, lodging with a labouring family about
half a mile away.
Mr. Tebrick going downstairs pitched upon the parlourmaid.
“Janet,” says he, “Mrs. Tebrick and I have had some bad news, and Mrs.
Tebrick was called away instantly to London and left this afternoon, and I
am staying tonight to put our affairs in order. We are shutting up the
house, and I must give you and Mrs. Brant a month’s wages and ask you to
leave tomorrow morning at seven o’clock. We shall probably go away to the
Continent, and I do not know when we shall come back. Please tell the
others, and now get me my tea and bring it into my study on a tray.”
Janet said nothing for she was a shy girl, particularly before
gentlemen, but when she entered the kitchen Mr. Tebrick heard a sudden burst
of conversation with many exclamations from the cook.
When she came back with his tea, Mr. Tebrick said: “I shall not require
you upstairs. Pack your own things and tell James to have the waggonette
ready for you by seven o’clock to-morrow morning to take you to the station.
I am busy now, but I will see you again before you go.”
When she had gone Mr. Tebrick took the tray upstairs. For the first
moment he thought the room was empty, and his vixen got away, for he could
see no sign of her anywhere. But after a moment he saw something stirring in
a corner of the room, and then behold! she came forth dragging her
dressing-gown, into which she had somehow struggled.
This must surely have been a comical sight, but poor Mr. Tebrick was
altogether too distressed then or at any time afterwards to divert himself
at such ludicrous scenes. He only called to her softly:
“Silvia — Silvia. What do you do there?” And then in a moment saw
for himself what she would be at, and began once more to blame himself
heartily — because he had not guessed that his wife would not like to
go naked, no notwithstanding the shape she was in. Nothing would satisfy him
then till he had clothed her suitably, bringing her dresses from the
wardrobe for her to choose. But as might have been expected, they were too
big for her now, but at last he picked out a little dressing-jacket that she
was fond of wearing sometimes in the mornings. It was made of a flowered
silk, trimmed with lace, and the sleeves short enough to sit very well on
her now. White he tied the ribands his poor lady thanked him with gentle
looks and not without some modesty and confusion. He propped her up in an
armchair with some cushions, and they took tea together, she very delicately
drinking from a saucer and taking bread and butter from his hands. All this
showed him, or so he thought, that his wife was still herself; there was so
little wildness in her demeanour and so much delicacy and decency,
especially in her not wishing to run naked, that he was very much comforted,
and began to fancy they could be happy enough if they could escape the world
and live always alone.
From this too sanguine dream he was aroused by hearing the gardener
speaking to the dogs, trying to quiet them, for ever since he had come with
his vixen they had been whining, barking and growling, and all as he knew
because there was a fox within doors and they would kill it
He started up now, calling to the gardener that he would come down to
the dogs himself to quiet them, and bade the man go indoors again and leave
it to him. All this he said in a dry, compelling kind of voice which made
the fellow do as he was bid, though it was against his will, for he was
curious. Mr. Tebrick went downstairs, and taking his gun from the rack
loaded it and went out into the yard. Now there were two dogs, one a
handsome Irish setter that was his wife’s dog (she had brought it with her
from, Tangley Hall on her marriage); the other was an old fox terrier called
Nelly that he had had ten years or more.
When he came out into the yard both dogs saluted him by barking and
whining twice as much as they did before, the setter jumping up and down at
the end of his chain in a frenzy, and Nelly shivering, wagging her tail, and
looking first at her master and then at the house door, where she could
smell the fox right enough.
There was a bright moon, so that Mr. Tebrick could see the dogs as
clearly as could be. First he shot his wife’s setter dead, and then looked
about him for Nelly to give her the other barrel, but he could see her
nowhere. The bitch was clean gone, till, looking to see how she had broken
her chain, he found her lying hid in the back of her kennel. But that trick
did not save her, for Mr. Tebrick, after trying to pull her out by her chain
and finding it useless — she would not come,— thrust the muzzle of
his gun into the kennel, pressed it into her body and so shot hen
Afterwards, striking a match, he looked in at her to make certain she was
dead. Then, leaving the dogs as they were, chained up, Mr. Tebrick went
indoors again and found the gardener, who had not yet gone home, gave him a
month’s wages in lieu of notice and told him he had a job for him yet —
to bury the two dogs and that he should do it that same night.
But by all this going on with so much strangeness and authority on his
part, as it seemed to them, the servants were much troubled. Hearing the
shots while he was out in the yard his wife’s old nurse, or Nanny, ran up to
the bedroom though she had no business there, and so opening the door saw
the poor fox dressed in my lady’s little Jacket lying back in the cushions,
and in such a reverie of woe that she heard nothing.
Old Nanny, though she was not expecting to find her mistress there,
having been told that she was gone that afternoon to London, knew her
instantly, and cried out:
“Oh, my poor precious I Oh, poor Miss Silvia I What dreadful change is
this?” Then, seeing her mistress start and look at her, she cried out:
“But never fear, my darling, it will all come right, your old Nanny
knows you, it will all come right in the end.”
But though she said this she did not care to look again, and kept her
eyes turned away so as not to meet the foxy slit ones of her mistress, for
that was too much for her. So she hurried out soon, fearing to be found
there by Mr. Tebrick, and who knows, perhaps shot, like the dogs, for
knowing the secret.
Mr. Tebrick had all this time gone about paying off his servants and
shooting his dogs as if he were in a dream. Now he fortified himself with
two or three glasses of strong whisky and went to bed, taking his vixen into
his arms, where he slept soundly. Whether she did or not is more than I or
anybody else can say.
In the morning when he woke up they had the place to themselves, for on
his instructions the servants had all left first thing: Janet and the cook
to Oxford, where they would try and find new places, and Nanny going back to
the cottage near Tangley, where her son lived, who was the pigman there.
So with that morning there began what was now to be their ordinary life
together. He would get up when it was broad day, and first thing light the
fire downstairs and cook the breakfast, then brush his wife, sponge her with
a damp sponge, then brush her again, in all this using scent very freely to
hide somewhat her rank odour. When she was dressed he carried her downstairs
and they had their breakfast together, she sitting up to table with him,
drinking her saucer of tea, and taking her food from his fingers, or at any
rate being fed by him. She was still fond of the same food that she had been
used to before her transformation, a lightly boiled egg or slice of ham, a
piece of buttered toast or two, with a little quince and apple jam. While I
am on the subject of her food, I should say that reading in the encyclopedia
he found that foxes on the Continent are inordinately fond of grapes, and
that during the autumn season they abandon their ordinary diet for them, and
then grow exceedingly fat and lose their offensive odour.
This appetite for grapes is so well confirmed by Aesop, and by passages
in the Scriptures, that it is strange Mr. Tebrick should not have known it.
After reading this account he wrote to London for a basket of grapes to be
posted to him twice a week and was rejoiced to find that the account in the
encyclopedia was true in the most important of these particulars. His vixen
relished them exceedingly and seemed never to tire of them, so that he
increased his order first from one pound to three pounds and afterwards to
five. Her odour abated so much by this means that he came not to notice it
at all except sometimes in the mornings before her toilet.
What helped most to make living with her bearable for him was that she
understood him perfectly, — yes, every word he said, and though she was
numb she expressed herself very fluently by looks and signs though never by
the voice.
Thus he frequently conversed with her, telling her all his thoughts and
hiding nothing from her, and this the more readily because he was very quick
to catch her meaning and her answers.
“Puss, Puss,” he would say to her, for calling her that had been a
habit with him always. “Sweet Puss, some men would pity me living alone here
with you after what has happened, but I would not change places while you
were living with any man for the whole world. Though you are a fox I would
rather live with you than any woman. I swear I would, and that too if you
were changed to anything.” But then, catching her grave look, he would say:
“Do you think I Jest on these things, my dear? I do not I swear to you, my
that all my life I will be true to you, will be faithful, will respect
and reverence you who are my wife. And I wilt do that not because of any
hope, that God in His mercy will see fit to restore your shape, but solely
because I love you. However you may be changed, my love is not.”
Then anyone seeing them would have sworn that they were lovers, so
passionately did each look on the other.
Often he would swear to her that the devil might have power to work
some miracles, but that he would find it beyond him to change his love for
These passionate speeches, however they might have struck his wife in
an ordinary way, now seemed to be her chief comfort. She would come to him,
put her paw in his hand and look at him with sparkling eyes shining with joy
and gratitude, would pant with eagerness, jump at him and lick his face.
Now he had many little things which busied him in the house —
getting his meals, setting the room straight, making the bed and so forth.
When he was doing this housework it was comical to watch his vixen. Often
she was as it were beside herself with vexation and distress to see him in
his clumsy way doing what she could have done so much better had she been
able. Then, forgetful of the decency and the decorum which she had at first
imposed upon herself never to run upon all fours, she followed him
everywhere, and if he did one thing wrong she stopped him and showed him the
way of it When he had forgot the hour for his meal she would come and tug
his sleeve and tell him as if she spoke: “Husband, are we to have no
luncheon today?”
This womanliness in her never failed to delight him, for it showed she
was still his wife, buried as it were in the carcase of a beast but with a
woman’s soul. This encouraged him so much that he debated with himself
whether he should not read aloud to her, as he often had done formerly. At
last, since he could find no reason against it, he went to the shelf and
fetched down a volume of the “History of Clarissa Harlowe,” which he had
begun to read aloud to her a few weeks before. He opened the volume where he
had left off, with Lovelace’s letter after he had spent the night waiting
fruitlessly in the copse.

” Good God!

What it now to become of me?

My feet benumbed by midnight wanderings through the heaviest dens that
ever fell; my wig and my linen dripping with the hoarfrost dissolving ??

Day but just breaking . . .”



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