Roy Glashan's Library
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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

PASSON'S PIECE

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on an antique oil painting

Ex Libris

First published in The Children's Newspaper, 20 August 1933

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-09-20

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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CHAPTER 1. — THE SQUIRREL

IT was the chattering of the mother squirrel that brought Clint Aston to the foot of the big beech.

There were still a few red squirrels in Folly Wood. Then Clint saw what was wrong. A young squirrel lay flat on a branch about twenty feet up and a stoat was after it. The vicious little beast had got up inside the trunk, which was hollow, and was between the young squirrel and the trunk. The young squirrel was too small or too scared to jump, and the mother, chattering desperately from a higher branch, dared not interfere.

Clint looked for a stone, could not find one, so picked up a piece of dead wood and flung it at the stoat. The stoat ran back and hid in the trunk, but the young squirrel did not move.

Clint knew stoats. As soon as he went away the bloodthirsty little brute would be out again and the baby squirrel was doomed. The only thing to be done was to climb the tree and catch the little squirrel. It would make a jolly pet.

At any other time Clint, who was a sturdy youngster of fourteen, would not have thought twice about climbing to the branch above, but only the day before he had taken a tumble and sprained his left thumb, so at present that hand was not much good to him.

All the same he decided to try, and found it easier than he had expected. Knot holes and stumps of broken branches helped, and he reached the bough for which he was aiming. He couldn't see the stoat, but the squirrel was still there. Clint crawled out after it and managed to catch it and put it in his pocket.

Then he found the branch had sagged so badly he couldn't get back to the trunk. He looked down. Twelve feet to the ground, and just below a big spiky dead branch. No dropping on that, and what on earth was he to do? It was pretty near teatime, but even if anyone came to look for him they would not know where to look. Folly Wood was only one of his father's coverts.

"Hulloa! Can't you get down?"

Clint turned so sharply he nearly lost his balance.

The man who had come up was tall and flat-backed. His face was brown, but his clothes terribly shabby. Clint explained, and the man came below.

"Drop. I'll catch you."

"I'm pretty heavy," said Clint, but the other only smiled and spread his arms.

Clint dropped, the big man caught him easily and set him on his feet. The two looked at one another. Clint felt uncomfortable because this man was trespassing, and he knew there would be a row if Phelps, his father's keeper, happened along. The other seemed to read Clint's mind.

"You were thinking I'd got no business here," he said, and he spoke good clean-cut English.

"I was thinking what Phelps would say if he found you."

"He won't. He's in Taverton today."

"Even I didn't know that," said Clint.

"It's my business to know," replied the other.

Clint looked unhappy.

"Then—then—" he began.

"Yes, I'm poaching," said the big man grimly. "When a chap can't get a job he has to make a living some way."

Suddenly Clint remembered.

"You must be Joe Ransome," he said.

"I'm Joe Ransome. Used to be keeper for Mr Pringle at Orfe."

"You and he had a row over a dog and he sacked you."

Ransome's face darkened.

"He shot the dog just because it ran in. I was fond of that dog."

"So you gave Pringle one. I'd have done the same myself if I'd been big enough," Clint said.

"I reckon you would. Well, I'll be going," Ransome answered.

Clint put out his hand.

"Thanks very much for getting me down. Where are you living?"

"Fenny Cottages." Ransome's face darkened again.

No wonder, for Fenny Cottages weren't fit for a pig, let alone a man and his wife.


CHAPTER 2. — THE CHALLENGE

CLINT was very thoughtful as he walked home. As he reached the house he saw his father coming in from the garden.

Clint's mother was dead, and Clint was an only son; so he and his father were great pals. They went into tea together, and Clint told of his doings.

"Couldn't you give Ransome a job, Dad?" he asked. "You've often said we needed a second keeper."

"But Ransome's gone bad, lad. He's turned poacher. Phelps would have a fit if I suggested it."

"I don't believe he's bad," Clint answered. He thought a while. "May I talk to Phelps, Dad?"

"Yes, if you like, but it won't be a bit of use," He fished out a note. "You can give this to Ransome, Clint."

"Thanks, Dad," said Clint, and wandered out.

He found Phelps at the kennels. Phelps was fifty, stiff and set in his ways, but a strong man and a good keeper. Clint began to talk about Joe Ransome. Phelps's face grew stern.

"He've gone bad," he declared. "He's been taking our rabbits and hares."

"You've never caught him, Phelps."

"I'll catch him right enough. Then he'll go before the Bench."

"I don't believe you'd ever catch him," Clint said. "He moves like a shadow."

"I'll have him before I'm much older," Phelps said flatly, and Clint left it at that. But next evening he tackled Phelps again.

"If you knew that a poacher was in one of the coverts would you back yourself to catch him?"

Phelps looked up sharply.

"Of course I would. But what do you mean, Master Clint?"

"Well, it's a sort of challenge. Joe Ransome says you couldn't catch him."

"I wish I had the chance," Phelps said grimly.

"You can have the chance. Joe Ransome will be in Passon's Piece tonight between ten and eleven. And he says he can get a couple of pheasants without your catching him."

"He'll never do it. I'll have him sure as fate."

"But if you do catch him you're not to prosecute, Phelps."

"Not to prosecute!" cried Phelps.

"No. But if you collar him Joe promises he will never poach on our ground again. And Joe keeps his word."

"Aye, he keeps his word. Right, I'll take him on those terms."

Clint smiled to himself as he went off. He walked down the road a bit and found Joe sitting on a stile.

"It's all right," he told him. "Mind you don't get caught, Joe."

"I'll do my best," said Joe, with a smile. "And thank you, Mr Clint."


CHAPTER 3. — IN THE WOOD

CLINT'S bedtime was ten and he went up to his room as usual.

But not to bed. Instead, he changed to his oldest clothes and sat reading until the half hour. Then, after slipping a torch into his pocket, he crept quietly downstairs and went out by a side door. He didn't want anyone—not even his father—to know that he was taking part in the proceedings.

A little before eleven Clint was hidden in a patch of bracken at the south end of Passon's Piece, which was a wood of about ten acres lying on the hillside half a mile from the house.

The night was fine, but a faint haze covered the sky and dimmed the moon, which was just up. There was light enough to see and no more. A very faint breeze rustled in the tree-tops, but otherwise it was very quiet. The only sound that broke the stillness was an occasional hoot from the old brown owl that lived in the big hollow elm in the Horse Pasture.

There are several ways of poaching pheasants by night. One is shooting them with a light charge of powder, another is snaring them with a wire loop on the end of a stick. Clint believed Joe would work with a wire, a method which needs much skill.

Clint listened keenly, and at last heard someone moving not far away. He peered out but could see no one. Again a wait, then faint but distinct came the sound of a shot.

"So Joe's using a gun!" Clint muttered in surprise. "I never thought he would risk that."

He was up at once and hurrying in the direction from which the sound had come. He was worried, for the sound was certain to bring Phelps to the scene.

Clint knew every inch of the wood and just where that shot had been fired, and he made for the spot like a homing pigeon, and with very little more noise than a bird.

He came to the edge of a little glade. Just opposite were three large beeches covered with ivy, a favourite roost for pheasants. Here he stopped and stood behind a tree trunk. Sure enough, someone was coming from the opposite direction—coming very quietly, but Clint's quick ears caught the cautious footsteps. Phelps—he was sure.

He heard another sound—this directly opposite. He saw a man moving under the thick shadow of the beeches. It must be Joe, and Clint would have given anything to be able to warn him, but that wasn't in the rules.

The man opposite raised a gun and fired. With a thump a fat pheasant tumbled to the ground. Almost at the same moment Phelps sprang out of the bushes to Clint's left.

"Got you this time!" he cried. "Drop that gun."

Instead of answering the other ducked and made off.

Phelps came at a run. Haste made him careless. He caught one foot in a trailing brier and fell heavily. Before he could regain his feet a man leaped out of the bracken.

"Got me, 'ave you? Boot's on the other foot, I reckon."

Clubbing his gun, he made a sweeping blow at the keeper, which would probably have killed him if Phelps had not flung up his stick and saved his head. But the force of the blow sent the stick flying out of Phelps's hand, and he was flat on the ground at the mercy of his enemy.

With a shout Clint sprang from his hiding-place and rushed to the rescue. He saw the gun go up again, but before it could fall a third man shot out of a bush a few feet to the left of Phelps's attacker, and a little behind him, and leaped on the fellow like a tiger. He lit fair on the fellow's back and the two went to the ground with a crash.

"You murdering brute!" The voice was Joe Ransome's. "Yes, I know you, Jake Rudge," he went on. "You're the sort who gets chaps fond of a bit of sport into trouble."

He had him by the shoulders as he spoke and was shaking him till his teeth rattled.

"I'll teach you to come sticking your ugly head in where it isn't wanted."

"You won't leave him any head at all if you aren't careful, Ransome," said Phelps, picking himself up.

"He doesn't deserve to have any," returned Joe. "What shall we do with him, Mr Phelps?"

"Take him to the village and get Pardow to lock him up. He's not going to have a second chance of knocking out my brains."

"Hold him a minute while I put the cuffs on him," Joe said, and, taking a length of brass rabbit wire from his pocket, fastened Rudge's wrists neatly behind his back. Clint followed as they conducted the evil-looking Rudge to the village and handed him over to the constable. Then Joe turned to the keeper.

"Now, if you please, I'm ready to go on."

"Go on with what?"

"Our wager, Mr. Phelps."

Phelps laughed.

"Reckon I've had enough excitement for one evening, Joe. And I haven't thanked you yet for saving my life. That chap meant to finish me."

"I've been a keeper myself," Ransome reminded him.

"And no reason why you shouldn't be again," was the answer. "Major Aston was talking to me the other day about getting a second man. If I was you I'd go round and see him in the morning. I'll say a good word for you, Joe."

"I'll go, and thank you," said Ransome. "Good-night."

His head was high as he walked off. Phelps looked at Clint.

"Time you was in bed," he said.

"I suppose it is," Clint answered meekly enough, but inwardly he was almost bursting with joy.

If he had planned it all himself things could not have turned out better.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.