December’s Short Story of the Month, ‘The Pheasant’, is published in memory of the author, Glenda Palmer Vibert, and is based on a true account of one of her grandfather’s experiences as a poacher in Llanelli.
A man faces harsh justice for stealing a bird – but will the law prevail?
This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on our website.
Elizabeth Francis made no concessions to the twentieth century. As far as she was concerned, Victoria was still very firmly planted on the throne of England. The calendar may say nineteen twenty, but that was ignored by Elizabeth. She was a tiny woman, small and finely boned, but having a strength that belied her apparent delicacy. Her dark, Indian-straight hair was hardly streaked with white, while her black eyes looked boldly on life.
The burly police constable hesitated, foot on step, nervously fingering his note book and pencil. Elizabeth Francis’ sharp tongue was well known in the small, fiercely Welsh industrial town. Many a would-be complaining customer had been shrivelled by Elizabeth as she stood, hands on hips, barely visible behind the mound of home grown vegetables on the market stall. This was the stance that met Constable Parry’s wilting gaze now.
“Who says that my Richard was poaching?”
“Well, er- that is…”
David Parry grew more nervous.
“Witnesses you must have, not some old gossip.”
‘Wil Toplis saw him, he did, with that old pheasant in his–”
Elizabeth Francis cut him short.
“Wil Toplis?” she spat sneeringly. “He couldn’t see a cow in a field!”
David Parry backed away. He had delivered his message, he had done his duty.
Elizabeth Francis went in and slammed the front door shut. She stood for a few seconds in the long dark passage of the house. The grandfather clock with its silly swan face ticked with a comfortable velvet tick. Poaching again, she thought. Why can’t that wife of his control him?
She made her way into the cramped kitchen with its glowering range and its high-backed settle, upon which a small, red-haired child was curled reading a comic.
“Come here child. Take a message to your idle father.”
The child stood before her grandmother. Their eyes met, the same dark, deep eyes, the grandmother’s hard, the child’s wide and questioning.
“Tell your father that I want to see him – and not when he feels like it, but now.”
“But he’ll be in work now.”
“Nonsense! He’ll be in the West End; your father never wastes good drinking time by working.”
The child slammed the little gate of the house shut and set off down Sandy Road. “Always me,” she grumbled to herself, “always me running messages.” Her small hands were red from helping Mamgu with the washing and her arms ached from working the washing dolly.
A car swooshed past her going all of twenty miles an hour, mud splattering the hem of her too big dress.
The pub was crowded with noise and smoke as the child pushed her way past sweating, furnace-begrimed men, slaking the thirst of red hot ingots with the strong, thick ale brewed locally.
“Have you seen my father?” she asked no one in particular. A furnace blasted face looked down at her above a white sweat-cloth.
“Draw fana,” he said to her in Welsh, “over there bach.”
He pointed to a corner of the bar where a tall, red-haired man was holding court, talking in rapid Welsh to a spell-bound audience of three or four tin-plate workers in their metal-soled clogs. Dick Francis saw his youngest daughter and, mellowed by beer, lifted her in his arms and swung her above his head.
“Fy merch I,” he announced proudly, “my daughter.”
“No need to say that man. With that red hair she couldn’t be anyone else’s child.”
The men laughed and made a fuss of the girl, who was oblivious to their laughter and teasing.
“Mamgu wants you,” said the child breathlessly and a little afraid.
“Tell her I’ll come at stop-tap,” said Dick, placing the child on the bar counter.
“But she said now,” said the child urgently.
Something in her tone convinced him this was not a request from Elizabeth, but a command.
Dick swore softly to himself. What right had his mother to treat him like a child? After all, he was married now with four daughters of his own, and a wife that had much the same spitfire quality as his mother – far too much he sometimes thought.
Nevertheless, he bade farewell to his mates and walked unsteadily towards his maternal home, the child trotting at his side.
Mother and son faced each other in the little parlour.
“Well?” said Elizabeth, questioningly.
“Well what?” answered her son sullenly.
“You know very well what. I’ve just had a visit from David Parry – it’s poaching you’ve been again!”
“Who says I’ve been poaching?”
“Wil Toplis, you fool, he’s been after you for years, swore he’d see you behind bars and this is his chance.”
“Damn Mam, he’s always saying that but he’s not done it yet.”
Continue reading ‘The Pheasant’ for free here.