“Could be better if the truth be told, are you alright?” he asked.
“Fine, or I will be when these apples are in.” Cautiously I came down the ladder, once on terrafirma I walked briskly to the wall, there we shook hands. Nimrod appeared to look much older, almost stressed. “What’s brought you around to my neck of the woods?” I asked.
“Well I was out this way and I thought to myself why not drop in on my old friend Allan?”
“Lovely, really lovely to see you. It must be ten years.”
“Must be,” replied Nimrod.
“Can I get you a cider or anything?”
“Thanks but I am driving, a cup of tea would be nice though.” Nimrod tried to jump up over the wall but slipped back down. “Walk around to the gate.” I made my way down the garden to the gate and met him. “Let’s go and get that tea.” As the kettle was boiling I could not help thinking just how impossible it would be to go off apple scrumping with Nimrod today. He couldn’t get over a three foot wall let alone climb up any trees, turn the clock back forty years and that was a very different kettle of fish as there we would be raiding the Vicarage, the Manor and any other garden which had an apple tree growing in it. “So how are you keeping Allan? How’s Jackie and the kids? Sophie and Sam isn’t it?”
“Yes, they’re all fine thanks. Jackie’s gone shopping, Sophie’s at university and Sam is doing his Saturday job. How are your two?”
“Well Mary she’s settled down with a child of her own and Henry works on the Estate with me, he’s underkeeper and the missus, she still looks after the stables.”
“How many years have you been on Foxton’s now Nimrod?”
“Thirty five years, and you’re still self-employed?”
“Yes,” I replied. Nimrod was the finest Game Keeper that I had ever had the privilege to meet. A childhood friend which had ended somewhat abruptly ten years earlier when Nimrod had been asked by Lord and Lady Foxton to get me off the Estate.
It was a Friday morning, the 10th December, and I was busy putting up a large section of a Cotswold stone wall on the Foxton Estate. I was just getting another line out the back of the Land Rover when I could hear hounds making tongue. As I watched them charging along the top of a cover the odd red coat in amongst black, the frost still thick on the ground, the sight was impressive. All the hounds were soon out of sight and I returned to my wall. After about ten minutes or so, the sound of hounds making tongue could be heard again. I got on top of the Land Rover for a better view and in the distance, about half a mile away, there was a field of sheep turnips. The hounds were heading straight for this field and when hounds are making tongue you know the scent of the fox is very new. As I watched the field of turnips I saw the fox break from the hedge side, he was running up the hedge hell for leather, the hounds were still in the turnips, the fox came through that field into the next and he was soon running up the side of the hedge in the field that my Land Rover was parked in. As I watched, the fox kept closer and closer to the Land Rover, I could see that the hounds were now in the same field, for the fox the game was all but lost, but to my astonishment he kept running straight towards the Land Rover and jumped straight into the back of it. I jumped from the top of the Land Rover and slammed the back tailgate of the Land Rover shut. As I looked through the wire mesh back, the fox was led with his head wedged between the spare wheel and the glass cab divider, his breathing was twenty to the dozen he was absolutely wore out. By this time the hounds were all around us, jumping up, and some of the hounds had even got onto the bonnet of the Land Rover as seven or eight huntsman arrived on the scene quickly joined by another two dozen. It was at this moment that I realised as if I hadn’t already as the hounds were jumping up the Land Rover, jumping up at me, baying to get at the fox what a truly awful death this would be to be chased until you can run no more and then to be ripped to pieces all in the name of a day’s sport. A fox’s cunning and prowess deserves such a lot more dignity than what I was witnessing here at this moment. “Open the back of the Land Rover sir.”
“I’d rather not, he has out witted you, he has won the day” I replied.
“I demand you to open the back of the Land Rover.”
“I would sooner not,” I replied. Then Lord and Lady Foxton came to the fore.
“If you value your livelihood on this Estate, open the back of your Land Rover. That’s our fox you’re incarcerating in that machine and don’t be so blasted insolent.” I stood firm at the back of the Land Rover. “Better me incarcerating it than being ripped to bits by your hounds.” By this time Nimrod had arrived on the scene. Lord and Lady Foxton instructed him to escort “this piece of rubbish” off the Estate. And that’s the last I had seen of Nimrod until today.
As we drank our tea I turned to Nimrod and asked him what was his real reason in him coming today? “
There’s been some changes on the Manor Beck Estate. Lord and Lady Foxton’s daughter Alexandra suffered a horrendous hunting accident three years ago and she is now a paraplegic, and I’ve got a small badger sett that she’s taken a real shine to.”
“I’m sorry to hear that about Alexandra, she was a lovely girl and she used to spend hours with me walling, but how does this concern me?”
“Badger baiters, they’re in the area, we’ve caught them once a couple of months ago the only punishment they get is a small fine, a slap on the wrist and then they are back.”
“They will always come back,” I replied. “You said it was a small sett, how many badgers are there?”
“Three, on three and half thousand acres they are the only badgers that we have got and I have promised Alexandra that I will keep them safe but I fear I won’t be able to because they know where the sett is. I caught the baiters just as they were getting out of their vehicles the last full moon, The Harvest Moon, I rang the police but by the time the police had arrived the badger baiters had scarpered. Will you help?”
“How can I, I was banished off their Estate?”
“All those years ago when your father went bankrupt and you more or less kept your whole family, all eight of you in poached game at a time when the Estates’ around you all had three and four gamekeepers you were never caught, you were notorious then.”
“That was out of necessity and I wasn’t caught simply because the stakes were so grave that once caught the whole family would have been evicted, however, that was a long time ago, I haven’t poached in years. I live twelve miles away from the Manor Beck Estate and with the amount I’ve got on, helping you Nimrod could prove to be pretty undoable.” Just then a knock on the door and the kitchen door came bursting open, it was The Coopers. They had heard the story of the fox and me being banished from the Manor Beck Estate and Nimrod these days wasn’t their favourite person although I had pointed out time out of number that it was not his fault, he had to obey Lord and Lady Foxton’s orders otherwise he would have been out of a job and his home as he lived in a tied cottage.”
A muted greeting between the Coopers and Nimrod, this proved a tad awkward, then Nimrod broke the uneasy silence. “Do you still mess around filming badgers Allan?”
“No!” was the emphatic reply from The Coopers, “We haven’t seen any badgers for years, not since the badger baiters did Old Daddy Cool and his family thirty years ago.” The Coopers professionalism in their espionage tactics never cease to amaze me. I asked The Coopers if they wanted a cup of tea, they replied that they had just called in to see if Jackie was around to help them perfect their face time mode on their new phone. Nimrod and I laughed. I explained that Jackie was out shopping and would be back later. “Nice to see you, lots to do,” and the Coopers were then gone. As they shut the door behind them Nimrod remarked on how well they both looked. “What age must they be?”
“A good one,” I replied. “The badger baiters will hit your badger sett on the 18th October on the Hunters Moon.” The Coopers had stirred something inside me when they had mentioned Old Daddy Cool, “We must be proactive rather than reactive, this time the badgers will take the fight to them.”
“How do you mean?” asked Nimrod.
“I will tell you on our way, let’s go and see your badger sett.” We went out to our vehicles, Nimrod got into his Land Rover and I climbed into mine. As we got in I was hoping to see Jackie but no time to lose, we needed to get over to Manor Beck. I followed Nimrod along the winding country roads and after about thirty minutes we turned down a small lane onto a small track, I recognized this track as it wound down through a cover out to a hedge and as we drove down to the bottom of the hedge, there was the Cotswold stone wall that I had been building and it was still there half-finished from ten years earlier when I was so unceremoniously discharged from the Estate.
Nimrod was out of his Land Rover peering over the wall and in amongst the small beech trees and ash there was the sett, this would offer no resistance at all this was easy. “Is this the only way in?” I asked.
“Yes it is, the other entrance even the Land Rover would struggle to get through.”
“That wet ground a quarter of a mile back that we’ve just come through, put a plough over it, we have got until the 18th.”
“Why do you keep on about the 18th?” asked Nimrod.
“Think about it, these sadistic scum love to film their dogs ripping badgers to bits, it’s what they come for, but this time they’ll wish they hadn’t.” I surveyed the area, up the bank from the wall I paced it at forty five meters, I wanted a fox hole digging at the point where I pushed in a stick, big enough for me to lay down in and observe.
“Why the ploughing?” asked a puzzled Nimrod.
“We’ve got to get them out of their vehicles and from that wet ground to here that’s all the time I will need. Have you got a good silencer?”
“A very good one,” replied Nimrod.
“A .22 rifle and twenty rounds should be enough, four ropes of crow scarers, the sort that are hung in hedges, I want you to adjust the detonation times so that they are going off on the rope every minute rather than every thirty with a fuse time to the first bang of thirty minutes.”
“This is getting complicated and you have mentioned a gun.”
“You know I don’t shoot any more, get the gun to me by the 16th, that will give me time to get my eye in again, get the rope scarers ready also for the 16th, here’s my mobile number and I’ll take yours, and tell Alexandra not to worry, and let Lord and Lady Foxton know that from the 16th until the 18th they’re liable to see me on their Estate.”
“They are the ones who sent me to see you Allan.”
“Get that track ploughed right out in that wet patch and make it impassable, the plan I have in mind absolutely depends on it, if they manage to get past that area my plan will not work, they must be on foot with their dogs from that point onwards. Get the foxhole dug and then we wait for the Hunters Moon.”
This the back of the Land Rover that the fox all those years ago jumped into to evade the hounds.