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The Poacher [1840]
By Gordon Langley

Jed Halls 14 years of age shivered, his threadbare jacket, far to big for him, which was not sup rising, because it once belonged to his loved, and greatly missed father, Sid Halls, who had passed away at the great age of 44, wracked with arthritis, and undernourished, a gentle timid man, ideal fodder for the obscenely rich aristocratic family, that owned this vast estate, in the great openness of East Anglia,

He had died, just simply worn out, unable to feed and clothe himself properly, his ever loving wife, his young son Jed, and the love of his life, his baby daughter Rebecca,

Living in a tied cottage, his hands were also tied, had he been a more rebellious type, he would not have fared much better, for the ties were unscrupulously cruel, and efficient, he was paid a very low wage, expected to work exceedingly long hours, unemployment benefit, and sick pay, were not even thought of, let alone considered,

So he died, a broken insignificant man, who’s death was hardly noticed, Jed was allowed to leave his employment for the exact time it took for the burial and service to take place, the Preacher, who conducted the service, hastily shushed the grieving family out, his stipend depended upon the generosity of the estate owners, so he, like many others, kept quiet,

The church of England, was the biggest unpaid police force ever known in this proud little country, that although it ruled almost half the worlds territory, was as mean to its own working class , as it was to the occupiers of the greatest empire known,

That his father, the provider of the family livelihood, had passed on, meant nothing to the owners of this land that encircled this village, and three others, Jed was a child, and would receive child wages, which were so pitiful, that they all knew, that life was going to be extremely hard,

Frost was beginning to settle upon the green leaves of the turnip crop, the air was still, no breeze to betray his human presence to a grazing rabbit, or a passing fox, he had crossed three fields of great expanse, to get to this spot, the moon was getting brighter, and the gently falling frost was giving a light glow to the green turnip leaves, which were rapidly turning whiter, as the air turned colder,

The church clock struck nine, Jed relaxed, four weeks of constantly watching Mr Blake, the head game keeper of the land surrounding this tiny village, had, he hoped, paid of, he had noted, that Mr Blake had only one social occasion, this was a visit to the local tavern, the Kings Head, he attended this tavern every Wednesday evening, at 8-30 precisely, and stayed till 10 pm, quaffing three pints of strong ale, and taking home a capped quart jug, filled with the Taverns draught, but at 10 45, he started his all night patrol of the home grounds,

His subordinate under keepers, were never allowed to traipse the lands surrounding the Hall, home of the ruling family, they were responsible for the outer tracts encompassing the other less important villages, belonging to this proud, and immensely rich upper class family,

He, and only he, with his two big ferocious dogs, and a heavy long barrelled gun, religiously walked and guarded this home land, zealously staying on duty, throughout the seven nights, and wo behold any poor devil caught, daring to snatch a meal, not even a poor rabbit was allowed to be taken, let them take one, Mr Blake was often heard to say, and you might as well let them have the lot,

And any poor hungry serf, that was caught, daring to risk it, often found himself, on a sailing ship bound for Australia,

Jed trod carefully into, and under the oak trees, the leaves had long drifted down, hit by previous sharp frosts, and helped down by rain and wind, he kept looking up at the branches, that criss-crossed above him, suddenly he froze, the nervous bobbing of a cock pheasant, as it began to settle on a thin branch, above him, caused him to stay very still,

The pheasant settled down, after a few nervous movements, perhaps feeling safe in the knowledge, that no fox or stoat, had ever been known to jump, or climb up so high,

Jed felt in his pocket for his catapult, a clumsy home made weapon, of which he had become very proficient, and which his dad, coming across him practising, early one morning, nervously forbad him to use it, and ordered him to burn it, he felt a bit guilty, at his pretending to do so, and then hiding it away, until he could carry on practising when others were asleep,

The bird had settled down, it didn’t feel a thing, a well directed pebble, killed it instantly, it fluttered down at Jeds feet, he stayed motionless, but nothing stirred, only the familiar sounds of the country night life, which told him, that there was nothing to fear at this moment,

He picked the bird up, and moving swiftly to a freshly tilled field, plucked the feathers, hulked, and cut of the head and claws of this warm body, buried the lot deep in the rich brown soil, after sprinkling the lot with crude lamp oil, from a small bottle, hidden in the deep pockets, no dog would sniff, and smell any of the strong pheasant odour, which could drive a hunting dog into a frenzy, no, no game keepers dog would find this evidence,

He quickly strode home, keeping to the shadows, cast by the tall thick hedges, so loved by the hunting and shooting gentry, the few people who were about this time of night, were those that were not tired out by the days graft, and perhaps having privileged positions, would be in the Kings Head, quaffing the local ale, and smoking the strong shag, gently tampered into their tiny clay pipes,

There were two places, where one could meet, the Kings Head, or the Church, very few bothered with the Church during the week, but all were expected to attend on Sunday, and the ruling family, soon heard of those that didn’t,

But, nevertheless, he kept deep into the shadows, he knew the survival of his Mum and Sister, relied upon his absolute discretion, no one must ever suspect, that he was something different from the shy quiet timid lad, a living duplicate of his frightened Father,

His Mother had been instructed to take the lighted oil lamp into the front room, leaving the kitchen, and the back door in darkness, she and his young Sister, would be nervously waiting for his return, if the lighted lamp was to be in the kitchen, then he would quickly dispose of the bird, and hide the catapult, and empty oil bottle, and gathering up some wood, would come walking in his timid frightened fashion to the door,

But, the kitchen was in darkness, he slid silently through the door, quietly pushed the heavy wooden bolt across, locking it securely against the outside,

His Mother cooked the bird straight away, and they ate it that night, the pot was washed out, and refilled with the weak watery morning gruel, there was no tell tale evidence of that wonderful meal, that would give them the strength to carry on, no feathers would be uncovered by the game keeper, or one of his cohorts, in this cottages ash pit, and his Mother could proudly, but timidly watch the estate agent lift her pot lids, searching for any tell tale evidence of illicit meat being cooked and eaten here,

Jed wrapped the thin blanket around him, and settled down to sleep, his body warm with the rich food of the long tail, he would wait a couple of days he thought, and try his hand at a rabbit, but no snares and traps for him, for you had to return to such a give away object, it was only last month, that Bill Woods had been caught, returning to check his snares, and was now on the ship, awaiting the long journey to Australia,

In the meantime, he would be the shy frightened lad, the spitting image of his Sire Sid Halls, one day, he vowed, we will get out of this never ending poverty trap we are in, a few moments later, he was asleep.

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