Read Constable on the Hill Online

Authors: Nicholas Rhea

Constable on the Hill (3 page)

“What happens to it?” I asked.

“We’ve an arrangement with a local hotel,” he said.

“Arrangement?” I asked, wondering what sort of arrangement it could be.

“Oh, it’s all above board,” he smiled. “The deer about us, in the hills and forests, belong to the local estate, and his Lordship wants all those killed like this to be sent to the King’s Head. He owns that hotel, by the way. When we’ve one brought in, we ring the hotel and the manager arranges collection. The estate gives us a useful donation for the Police Widows’ Pension Fund. Deer are not reportable road
accidents
, as you know, but we take them in because too many bloody motorists insist on fetching them here. We get about two a week.”

The deer’s head, damaged on one side, lay on a piece of newspaper which absorbed the blood. There was the traditional wooden bed, boxed in all around, and a toilet in the corner. Nothing else furnished the place.

“Ladies in here,” he said, throwing open the door of No. 2. This one was full of chrysanthemums. They stood around on
the bed, the floor, on a board on top of the toilet basin, and on shelves which stood loosely against the walls. They were in all colours, shapes and sizes, and they were beautiful.

“Mine,” said Alwyn, proudly. “That’s ideal for them, especially when it’s very hot outside. Lovely and cool in there. I grow them for showing, you know. Get prizes all over. Lovely flowers, eh?”

“Marvellous,” I agreed, having never seen such a wealth of colour in a police cell. “But what happens if you arrest somebody? Where do you put your prisoners?”

“Arrest?” he sounded horrified. “We don’t arrest people here!”

Having made contact with my colleagues at Ashfordly Police Station, one of my first duties was to acquaint myself with the public of Aidensfield and the residents of the surrounding villages which formed my beat. These were country folk, down-to-earth people whose ancestors had occupied these moors for generations and who had a built-in suspicion of strangers. This was coupled with a bluntness that was
typically
Yorkshire and yet it hinted at absolute honesty and integrity. Being moor folk, they also possessed a natural hardiness and a desire never to tangle with newcomers to the area. They called newcomers “off cum’d ’uns”.

I was conscious of this because I had been nurtured in such a village at the other side of the moors and was reminded of a policeman colleague who was posted to a remote village in the depths of the North Yorkshire moors. Some weeks after his arrival, he was walking through Whemmelby when a man hailed him. The other was a retired gentleman, judging by his appearance, for he had grey hair, a somewhat stooping stance and a terrier on a lead.

“Are you the new policeman?” he’d asked Les,
conversationally
.

“I am,” Les had replied, smiling.

“Well, you’ll have the devil’s own job with ’em round here,” the man had said. “I’ve lived in this village for over thirty years, and they still regard me as an outsider.”

He wasn’t joking either. It was with this in my mind that I began my tour of inspection. It was a goodwill tour of my beat, my first and vitally important public relations exercise. It wasn’t easy finding an excuse to drop in on people who had no reason to know me and who weren’t accustomed to
uniformed
police officers calling unannounced at their homes. I
was fortunate in having a reason for calling at Low Mires Farm, on the outskirts of Crampton. This was my very first port of call.

I knocked on the door and a young woman answered; her pretty face wore that haunted look that people acquire when they open the door and find a policeman standing there. Has someone died, or are we in trouble? I smiled in the hope it would lessen the tension, removed my cap and said, “I’ve come about Mr Bradshaw’s firearm certificate. It’s due for renewal.”

The girl looked me up and down, nodded and shouted, “Father!”, and vanished inside, leaving me standing on the doorstep. After a long, silent wait, a tall gaunt man appeared. He must have been in his late sixties and wore carpet slippers which scuffed the sandstone passage as he walked. He used the walls as supports along his short journey and his face bore a day’s white whiskers but his brown eyes were alive and intelligent, the only bright spot in his weathered appearance.

“And who might thoo be, lad?” He leaned against the door pillar, slightly out of breath. He studied me carefully, those brown eyes ranging the full length of my build.

“The new policeman, P.C. Rhea,” I informed him. “I moved into the police house at Aidensfield a couple of days ago.”

“Oh, aye?”

“Yes, and I’ve come about this,” I waved the application form at him. “It’s your firearm certificate, it’s due for renewal.”

“Aye, thoo’ll be reet. Thoo’ll be yan o’ them townies, eh? Sent oot here ti mak us country folks larn t’laws.”

“Well, I …”

“Thoo’ll have been in t’office, eh? A scholar mebbe? All book larning and syke? A young feller gahin up t’stee,
heading
for promotion, eh?” (
Stee
is the North Riding dialect word for
ladder
.)

I had indeed been stationed in the Accounts Department of Force Headquarters at Northallerton, a small thriving market town, but for Mr Bradshaw, it seemed I was one of the dreaded townies, sent out here to harass him. I wondered if he thought I’d come from the south, too.

“I’m just a policeman,” I tried, wondering if they were all like this character. I was still on the doorstep and realised his daughter was watching me. She remained at the distant end of the long, dark passage playing with the apron she wore. “Shall we fill this form in?”

“It’s nut oft I allows strangers inti my parlour,” he said, shaking his head solemnly. “We’ve nivver seen thoo afoore, lad. Nivver. Thoo’s a stranger in theease parts, thoo sees.”

“I’m the village policeman.” I made another attempt to convince him I was honest and trustworthy, and ran a hand down my uniform to emphasise the point.

“That’s mebbe so, but thoo’s still a stranger ti us. Ah reckons nowt ti strangers.”

“All right,” I compromised. “We’ll stand here and fill it in.”

I produced a pen from my tunic pocket and continued, “I’ll have to see your current certificate and your rifle. I’ve got to enter the number of it, and other details, in the renewal form. It’s your rifle I’m interested in, not
shotguns
.”

“It seems ti be a lot of fuss about nowt,” he grumbled, eyeing me carefully. “Syke a lot of form-filling in as nivver was. Will thoo fill it in for me? My awd hands is a bit crammly wi’ t’rheumatics.”

“Yes, of course,” I assured him. “That’s what I’m here for – to help you.”

“Aye, but thoo’s new ti theease parts, and I’m nut yan for letting strange folks …”

I tried another line of approach. For this, I relied heavily upon my own village upbringing. Having been brought up in the dialect of the North Yorkshire moors, I spoke it as my native tongue. I had learned to be ‘slape-tongued’ when I left for the outside world of Northallerton. I therefore looked at him, and then at the daughter who by this time had crept forward a few paces, still fiddling with her apron. I addressed them both.

“Leeakster, maister, Ah’s nut ’ere ti be kept ootsahde, yakking ti thoo and thi dowter when there’s wark ti be deean. If thoo dissn’t git this form filled in, ah’ll etti git ower that hill and back ti my desk, and then tell ‘em up at oor head
office that awd Bradshaw’s as orkerd as pump-watter, and that he weearn’t sign up.”

“Come in, lad,” he grinned suddenly, his face breaking into a wide smile. “By, Mary, git t’kettle on. This un’s yan of us.”

And from that moment, I was always welcome at Sam Bradshaw’s farm, whether or not I was there on business. He always found time to talk while his Mary produced a cup of tea and a slice of home-made apple pie with fresh cream. She looked after the house because her mother had died some years ago, and I knew there was no prospect of her marrying. She was very pretty in a rural sort of way and was shy to the point of embarrassment. She’d be in her early thirties, I guessed, and would have made some man a fine wife.

It was a cosy farm, run in a carefree but efficient manner and eventually Sam Bradshaw learned that my father was secretary to a fishing club on the Yorkshire River Esk, a river renowed for its salmon and trout. Mr Bradshaw was a keen fisherman and I told him I could get him a day ticket when he fancied a trip across to the Esk. For a stranger, I was suddenly very acceptable, although he never did take that fishing trip. For him, it was a dream for the future, something to look forward to.

I found that my dialect was an asset in my daily work, especially when dealing with farmers like him who insisted on using it in my presence. Many of them talked in their
broadest
tongue when strangers were about, either to confuse or impress them, and this was particularly evident in the pubs. But I could talk about swingletrees, nabblings, jauping and dunderheads, black-locks and bletherskites, pleeafing and ploating, owersetten and underhanded, just like the folk hereabouts. I knew the meaning of local proverbs like “As prickly as a prickly-back otchen”, “As soft-hearted as a rezzil”, “As warm as a sheep net”, “As lonely as a mile-stone”, and I could appreciate the thoughtful sayings like, “Maist folk can see t’wrang they’ve deean, but nut t’wrang they’re deeing,” or “He’s nobbut half-rocked ’at believes ivverything, but he’s clean oot of his head ’at believes nowt.”

The uniform was a great asset, of course. It was, and still is, respected in this locality and I soon found myself being able to talk with the locals on level terms. I was not regarded as a
rule-bound troublemaker from afar, but a friend to whom they could turn. I respected their confidence in me, and realised the “official” blind-eye had to be turned from time to time. Warnings, not summonses, were utilised where possible.

One example of the type of dutiful assistance I was
expected
to give came from old Miss Cornelia Harborough. She distrusted strangers even more than the others did, and led a life that made a hermit seem sociable. It was a long time before I realised she even lived on my beat. Her home was in the hamlet of Waindale, and I must have walked past it countless times without realising the place was inhabited. It was a tumbledown cottage, more of a ruin than the genuine ruins in the area. The upper windows were hanging from their frames, the front door was always open and the place bore an air of total neglect. The garden was overgrown and the path to the front door was merely a foot-trod through the tall, lanky growth of mixed weeds. The house next door to Miss Harborough’s was derelict and the two dwellings
resembled
those drawings of ghostly ruins which appear frequently in Victorian topographical works.

My first meeting with Miss Harborough came when I was standing outside the telephone kiosk in Waindale one
summer’s
afternoon, some six weeks after my arrival. It was a glorious day and I was basking in the warmth, clad in full uniform because I was on motor-cycle patrol. I became aware of a tiny old lady inching nervously across the road towards me. She wore a quaint little hat made of purple raffia with a huge flower in the front, and she sported a flowered pinny over a long, black dress. She looked like something out of a Dickens novel as she edged closer to me. Her face was
elfin-like
, pinched and wizened, but her teeth were beautiful. She must have been well over seventy.

“Are you the policeman?” she came very close before asking the question.

“I am,” I tried to sound pleasant.

“There is a little matter I wish to discuss with you,” she said solemnly.

“Can we talk here?” I suggested, wondering if she would step onto the footpath where I waited near the telephone kiosk for the call that may or may not come.

“It’s very confidential,” she spoke grimly. “Can you come into my house?”

“Certainly,” I said. “Where do you live?”

“Over there, at Corner Cottage,” and she pointed to the hovel.

“There?” I must have sounded horrified.

“Yes, over there. Come over, will you, when your call comes through,” and off she paddled. I watched her negotiate the empty road and weave through the long grass towards her gaping front door. She squeezed through the gap and
vanished
inside. I waited at the telephone kiosk for my statutory five minutes in case I was needed by the sergeant, but no calls came. I was free to socialise with Miss Harborough. I crossed the road, plodded along the grassy path and reached her front door. It would not open any further, nor would it close. It hung from its hinges, rotten and slimy, so I squeezed through and found myself in a very dark living-room. The rear window was completely covered with greenery on the outside, utterly overgrown with rampant vegetation and the whole place reeked of dampness. The room was so full of furniture that some of it was piled on chairs and tables, and there was barely any space to squeeze between the items. Everything was Victorian, and was probably worth a fortune in a saleroom. Its condition here left a lot to be desired. Much of it was rotting and broken – it was such a pity. Then she appeared.

To this day, I do not know where she had been, nor do I know where she ate, slept or sat. The room was so full of furniture that it obscured all doorways other than the one I had used, and she appeared to pop from behind a pile of chairs. Perhaps she maintained a tunnel into a back room?

I had never seen the old thing before this day. I had never seen a vehicle call at the house to sell bread, meat or fruit, and there was no shop in this little hamlet. Buses never passed this way and she had no transport, not even a cycle. Her lights did not work and I guessed there was no toilet. I saw no taps either. But here she lived and, later, when I tried to interest the social services in her, she refused to leave. She could not be forcibly removed because she was not insane, nor was she a burden on the State, or a nuisance to anyone. I later
tried to mend her door and to effect a repair upon her electrical system, but she would not hear of it. She was the epitome of independence. Stubborn, perhaps, but fascinating. How she managed to survive remains a mystery to me.

But her reason for calling me into her cottage that day was, in her mind, very urgent and very confidential.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“I have found this,” and from the pocket of her pinny, she produced a sixpence. Today, in decimalised currency, it is worth 2½ pence.

“Where?”

“Outside my house, in the gutter,” she told me.

When dealing with found property, the police must be extremely careful. A policeman who accepts property from a member of the public must always make a detailed entry in his notebook, give a receipt to the finder and ensure that the incident is fully recorded in his official notebook and in records at the police station. He must not forget to hand in the property at the end of his shift, otherwise he could be accused of stealing it. With items of no particular value or importance, like cash in small amounts, it is customary to let the finder keep the article and merely make a record of the finding, should the loser make a claim. The loser will then be referred to the finder. If property is unclaimed within a certain time, in our case three months, the finder may retain it and regard it as his own, always remembering that the loser has a claim of title to it.

It was my intention to deal with Miss Harborough’s
sixpence
in that manner. I would tell her to keep it and if it was not claimed within three months, it would be hers. The chances of anyone reporting its loss were remote, to say the least.

“I’ll make a note of it,” I told her, but in reality I had no intention of noting this. No one would come seeking a lost sixpence and so far as I was concerned, she could keep it. I made a note of her name and address, and the fact she had found it three weeks ago. I said, “Keep it, Miss Harborough. If it is not claimed within three months, it is yours to keep.”

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