Authors: Nicholas Rhea
“Get ’im ’is duck oot o’ t’larder, Mary. Let’s git this bit owered afoore he spoils things.”
“No,” I insisted. “Please, you mustn’t. I’m here on business – you’ll not want to give me a duck when you hear what I’ve got to say.”
He studied me for a few moments and said, “Oh, it’s like that is it? Sit down then,” and he indicated a chair at the table. I put my cap on the scrubbed wooden top and Mrs Boston produced a mug of tea from somewhere. This was their break time, ’lowance time as they called it.
“Give ’im summat stronger than that, Mary,” insisted George.
I held up my hand. “No, wait, please. I must tell you why I’m here.”
“This lad’s nut gahin ti be bribed, is he?” smiled the genial farmer. “Well, lad, oot wiv it. What’s up? It must be summat important to drag you oot looking serious on Christmas Day.”
I told him about last night’s incident, or this morning’s to be precise, and he listened without a word. Mrs Boston stood close to me, listening carefully and sipping from her mug which she clutched with both hands. I told them the story in what I hoped was a clear manner and left the identification of the alleged offender until the end.
“That Morris car,” I said. “It bore the same registration number as your son’s car,” and I quoted the number.
“Aye,” he said. “That’s oor lad’s car and no mistake. Is onnybody hurt?”
“No,” I said to his relief. “Just minor damage to both vehicles.”
“If he’d stopped, it might ’ave been sorted out there and then.”
“Possibly,” I agreed, wondering if Samuel had been drunk at the time.
“What happens next then?”
“I’d like to see the car.”
“Me an’ all,” and he slipped his feet into a pair of waiting Wellington boots and led me through the back of the house, the cur following without any bidding. We traversed a cattle shed or two with cows ruminating noisily in their winter quarters, the heat of their bodies warming the entire
. Finally, we entered an outbuilding which served as a garage.
“There she is,” he pointed to a car.
Out came my official notebook as I circled the little car, looking for signs of recent damage. I found them; the front offside wing had been dented and the surface paint was fractured. The bumper was twisted and the headlamp glass was broken, most of it being missing. There were clean, rust-free scratches along the doors too, and also along the rear wing, all on the driver’s side. It had clearly been in a recent collision. I noted this damage and then, taking out my pocket knife, lifted a sample of paint from the damaged part of the car. I carefully placed this in a plastic envelope and then, upon the damaged portion of the car, I located an alien colour, a dull red paint. I guessed this had been transferred from the other vehicle during their contact, so I lifted this and placed it in another envelope.
“What’s all this business for?” George asked with genuine interest.
“I might have to prove it was him,” I said. “I have taken a control sample of the paintwork from Samuel’s car, and another piece bearing a different coloured paint. That shows he touched something else, something bearing that colour of paint. We’ll do the same with the other chap’s car, then we will get our forensic wizards to examine all the pieces. They’ll
tell us whether the two cars were ever in contact with one another. I reckon they’ll say ‘yes’.”
“You fellers leave nowt to chance, do you?”
“No,” I said. “We don’t.”
After I had noted the excise licence details, I said, “I’d like to see Sam now. Where is he?”
“He’ll be in these buildings. I’ll shout him.”
He bellowed Sam’s name and soon the lad appeared
pale and dishevelled, the legacy of his night out. He was very tall and thin, a serious-faced lad but pleasant to deal with.
“Now, Sam.” I did not smile.
“Hello, Mr Rhea,” and his eyes did not meet mine.
“You know why I’m here?”
“It’s your car?” I had to ask the formal question for evidential purposes.
“And you were driving it from Maddleskirk towards Aidensfield in the early hours of this morning, past the Abbey about quarter-past-one?”
George interrupted us to address his son. “Leeakster, lad, when thoo’s involved in summat like a traffic accident, thoo’s got ti stop and tell t’folks who’s there who thoo is …”
“Aye, Ah know,” said Samuel, “but Ah was scared.”
“Drunk, mair like,” snapped his father.
“Ah’d had a few, not too many, not enough to stop me driving.”
“Thoo’ll nut be having t’lad for drinking and driving, Mr Rhea?”
“No,” I said to his relief. This was before the days of the breathalyser and besides, this youth was stone cold sober now. “He’s not drunk now, and I can’t prove what he was like when this happened, can I?”
“Come inti t’house then, both on you.”
We followed him inside and he produced a bottle of whisky. “It’s Christmas Day, Mr Rhea, so thoo’ll have a noggin wiv us?”
“Aye,” I said, “I will, but I must see this lad’s papers first – insurance, driving licence, test certificate.” I hoped they were all in order, for I didn’t want to get Samuel into deeper trouble.
“Get ’em, Sam.”
I was relieved to find they were all correct, and I sat at the table to note their particulars in my notebook. As I worked, Samuel plonked a huge glass of whisky before me. It was neat and there must have been a third of a pint.
“Sup it up, lad, it’ll warm thoo nicely.”
“Samuel,” I addressed him before I lifted my glass. “I’ve got to report you for various offences – it will probably mean an appearance at Eltering Magistrates’ Court.”
“Can’t thoo settle it oot o’ court?” asked George.
“This is a criminal court, it’s not a civil case,” I tried to explain the difference. “We’ve had a formal complaint about Sam’s driving, so I’ve no choice. I’ve got to submit my report and Sam will get a summons in due course.”
“It won’t mean prison, will it?” The lad’s eyes were wide and fearful.
“No, a fine perhaps, a smallish one. It’s your first offence,” and I tried to put the situation in its right perspective.
“Ah’ll say it was my fault, ’cos it was,” offered Samuel, white-faced and obviously worried. “Ah should ’ave stopped, Mr Rhea; Ah was bloody daft not to.”
“Fair enough. Now listen to what I’m reporting you for,” I advised. “First, there’s bound to be careless driving. Then you failed to stop after an accident, and you failed to report it to the police as soon as practicable.”
“Three, eh?” counted his father. “Three offences.”
“Three,” I confirmed.
“Not drunk driving?”
“No,” I said once more. “I’ve no evidence to suggest he was drunk.”
“Nobody said I was?” Samuel’s statement was phrased like a question.
“Nobody suggested anything of the sort, Sam. It won’t enter my report. You panicked, that’s all.”
“Aye,” he smiled. “Fair enough.”
“Thoo’s a lucky lad, Sam,” commented his father.
“You’ll get a summons in about three weeks,” I told him.
“Serves the young bugger right,” said George when I’d finished. “Ah’ve had a go at him for gahin oot late and driving home. Yon pub needs checking, lad, for boozing late.”
“It’s not on my beat, Mr Boston, but I’ll have words with the sergeant.”
“Aye, well, sup that whisky. This is Christmas, thoo knaws.”
Samuel and Mrs Boston joined us and we chatted as we always had before this incident. We talked of nothing in particular for this was just another friendly chat between the village bobby and one of his farming community. What we had discussed ten minutes earlier was now over and done with. I stayed longer than I intended and had two more massive whiskies. I found the room beginning to move about me, so I made a pathetic attempt to leave.
“It’s a good job thoo’s walking back, lad,” George laughed. “Ah hope thy missus has a nice heavy dinner ready. Thoo’ll need summat to sober thyself up, ’specially if t’sergeant turns up.”
“She’s busy with the dinner now,” I muttered incoherently, aiming for the door. “Thankshh for being sho co-operative.”
“Hod on, lad, thoo’s forgotten summat,” George called me back.
“Forgotten?” I wondered if I had left my cap, but it was perched on my head in approximately the right position. I looked at George. He was holding a massive, dressed duck, ready for the oven.
“It’s thy Christmas duck, tak it.”
“No, I couldn’t, not after reporting Sshamuel.”
“Oor Sam was a bloody fool; he’s lucky he’s not been takken off t’road for ever, drunk driving or summat warse. Tak this duck – it’s thine.”
“I can’t,” I managed to say, “I musshn’t – I cannot accept gifts, it’s againssht the rules.”
“Who said it was for thoo?” he questioned me. “It’s not.”
“Then who issh it for?” I asked stupidly.
“Thy wife and kids,” he smiled. “There’s no law to say Ah can’t give thy missus and bairns a duck, is there?”
I left, bearing the huge bare duck beneath my arm as I
wound my erratic way back up the hill and into my cosy house. I was just in time for dinner and spent the afternoon getting over that spell of duty. I sat around, at first in a haze of noise and fun, and then in a clearer atmosphere as I played with the children and their new toys. Nothing else turned up, except a sprinkling of snow. As George Boston would have said, “It snew on Christmas Day, just a strinkling.”
But that ‘strinkling’ became a steady snowfall and I could see the features of his farm gradually vanishing in a desert of white. Walls disappeared against a background of pure white and I was reminded of the lines of Robert Bridges’ poem, ‘London Snow’,
“Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.”
With that snow, Christmas had truly arrived and the land about grew whiter as evening fell. It was a very pleasant Christmas Day.
We had the duck for New Year’s Day dinner and it was truly delicious, and that Christmas and New Year, Mary received eleven pheasants, two brace of grouse, one hare, two Christmas cakes, several bottles, one umbrella and a bag of anonymous Brussels sprouts.
A month later, Samuel was fined a total of £32 and had his licence endorsed.
© Nicholas Rhea 1979
First published in Great Britain 1979
This edition 2012
ISBN 978 0 7198 0504 2 (epub)
ISBN 978 0 7198 0505 9 (mobi)
ISBN 978 0 7198 0506 6 (pdf)
ISBN 978 0 7091 7348 9 (print)
Robert Hale Limited
London EC1R 0HT
The right of Nicholas Rhea to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988