Fergaunt the Fox
FERGAUNT THE FOX
(The book that never was)
An interesting and previously uncatalogued item.
At the end of January 1936 HW and Ann Thomas ‘Started for the North’ (diary entry for 29 January 1936, in AT’s handwriting), in the Alvis Silver Eagle. They first went to Swaffham (Norfolk), and then on to Norwich, where they stayed two nights. Although not mentioned, presumably they also visited the Norfolk Farm at Stiffkey and dealt with legal matters. Indeed, in Goodbye West Country the entry for 2 February notes:
Motored yesterday from Devon to Norfolk, to stay at Merton with Stephen Renshaw [who was the father of Margot, ‘Melissa’ in A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight] and also to walk over the farm with a valuer.
HW certainly did sometimes stay with Sir Stephen Renshaw on his visits to Norfolk at this time, but here Ann actually has ‘B&B’ noted for each night! On 1 February they left for the Lake District, where they stayed until 10 February, returning down to Norwich, then on to Tenterden in Kent (Ann’s home with her sister). They drove back to Devon on 16 February.
Ann made a daily note of the expenses of the visit to the Lake District (including the Norfolk and Tenterden part). The total was £26 11s 10d. That includes the various B&Bs (of which one week’s board and lodging in Coniston, with fire and sitting room, was £5 10s), dinners, lunches, petrol (the total for whole trip comes to £3 18s 6d), stamps (two lots of 5 shillings for stamps seems odd!), cinema (4 shillings), socks (19s 6d), dance (7 shillings), shoes for AT (18 shillings), gloves (17s 9d), nurse and doctor, but not what for (10 shillings). Also noted is ‘Drinks to huntsman & whip 2s.’ Altogether this is an interesting sidelight on costs at that time.
More importantly, the purpose of the visit was to gather material for a book for which HW had signed a contract on 20 December 1935 with Faber. The contract states merely that the book is to be in the style of Tarka the Otter and Salar the Salmon; the title is not given, but this book was to be called Fergaunt the Fox. The contract also states that:
The sum of seven hundred and fifty pounds on account and in advance . . . of this one third shall be paid on January 1st 1936 [with one third on receipt of the manuscript and one third on publication].
Interestingly HW once again gave ‘into the Publisher’s keeping the manuscript of his Autobiography to be held by them as security for the first payment . . .’ This is the Sun in the Sands material that he had already left in the care of Faber as security for Salar the Salmon – which need was now redundant, for Salar had recently been published.
There is no mention of this first payment when The Sun in the Sands was eventually published in 1945. Then in 1948, when HW was negotiating the advance payment for his latest book, The Phasian Bird, Richard de la Mare reminds him that he had already received £250 for the non-existent 'Fergaunt', and so deducts that amount from the advance for The Phasian Bird.
There is, to the best of my recollection, no further mention of this book whatsoever. HW did talk about it to his son Richard, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s, when he hoped that Richard would help with the writing of it; but that never materialised either. Apparently fox-hunting in the Lake District was different, in that it was undertaken on foot, in a similar fashion to otter hunting.
The folded contract, with HW's identifying note
written on the outside