The wood beyond

Reginald Hill


Monday morning, start of a new week, air bright as ice in a crystal glass, brandy-gold sun pouring from delft- blue sky, the old bracken glowing on the rolling moors, the trees still pied with their unblasted leaves, the pastures still green with their unmuddied grass, as October runs into November and thinks it's September still.

Edgar Wield drove slowly out of Enscombe, slowly because on mornings like this what you were driving through was far more important than where you were driving to, and also because during the short time he'd been living in the village he'd learned that only a fool assumed that the narrow roads ran clear further than the next bend.

His caution was rewarded when he eased round a corner and found George Creed shepherding the stragglers of a flock of sheep through a gate into a field set up with holding pens. The sight made him smile at the echo of his first sighting of Creed doing much the same task on this very road. Since then they'd become both neighbours and friends.

'Morning, George, fine-looking beasts,' he called through his open window.

Domicile entitled him to this pretension of expertise, though he wasn't altogether sure whether the term beasts could legitimately be applied to sheep as well as cattle.

'Morning, Edgar,' said Creed. 'Happen they'll do. Sounds daft, but I'll be sorry to see them go.'

'They're off then?' said Wield now taking in the significance of the pens.

'Aye, folk have got to eat, that's what farming's all about. But the older I get, the more it bothers me, selling off what I've bred up. Don't be saying owt of this down in the Morris else they'll be thinking I'm going soft in the head!'

'Which market are you taking them to?'

'No market. I've always dealt man and boy with Haig's of Wharfedale. They give me top price 'cos they know my stock, and I sell them my stock 'cos I know they'll see them right. So watch out for their wagon on your way into town. Take up most of the road them things.'

'I'll be careful,' said Wield. 'No hurry on a morning like this. I'd as lief be staying here to give you a hand if you'd have me.'

'I'm always willing to set on a likely lad,' laughed Creed. 'But I think you'd be wanting your cards afore the end of the day.'

He glanced upwards as he spoke and Wield followed his gaze into the unflawed bowl of blue sky.

'You're never saying it's on the turn, are you?' he asked sceptically. 'Looks set for another month to me.'

'Nay, it'll spoil itself by tea time, and make a right job of it too.'

'You reckon? Well, even if it does, you're better off here than where I'm going. Wet, dry, hail or shine, there's no place like Enscombe. See you, George.'

He engaged the clutch and continued his leisurely progress down the valley road which aped the twists and turns of the River Een as though it were of the same ancient natural birth. A couple of miles further on he saw the juggernaut of the livestock transporter coming towards him and pulled off the road into a small piece of woodland to let it past. The driver blew his horn in appreciation and Wield waved as the huge truck with its legend D. HAIG amp; CO Livestock Wholesalers rumbled by.

When it was past and out of sight, he continued to sit for a while, enjoying the cool breeze through the open window and the way the amber sunlight scintilla'd through the trembling branches. He had the feeling that if he got out of his car and strolled off into the wood, he could keep going forever with nothing changing, no ageing, no hunger, no cold, no crime, no war…

And certainly no rain!

Yes, that was one thing he was certain of. He was a great respecter of the rustic eye, but towns had weather too and Detective Sergeant Wield of Mid-Yorkshire CID wasn't often caught without his umbrella. No, this time George had got it wrong. This Indian summer had a lot of wear in it yet. He couldn't see any end to it himself. And what you couldn't see the end of, surely that must be forever?



The wanton Troopers riding by

Have shot my Faun and it will dye.

Dear Mrs Pascoe

I do not know if Peter ever mentioned to you that I was his superior officer for some time. Indeed one of my last acts before I was invalided out was to confirm his promotion to sergeant. You may therefore understand with what dismay I received the tragic news of his death, and I wanted to write to you at once to say that in my opinion he was one of the finest men I had the privilege to command, and in no way does the manner of his death divert me from that judgment.

I realize that at a time like this you will scarcely feel able to look ahead, but with a young daughter to bring up, the future and its problems will all too soon demand attention. Recognizing that you may have needs which are pressing and immediate, I beg you to accept the accompanying small initial contribution and my assurance that as soon as the opportunity arises I shall take steps to ensure you and your child are cared for as Peter would have wished.

Meanwhile I remain yours in deepest sympathy,

Herbert Antony Grindal ii

Is this thing working? Right. Here we go. Here we go, here we go

… sorry. Just testing. OK, from the start. Getting into the wood were easy. Out of the ditch, over the top, and there we were. Mind you, it were like jumping into a raging sea. Wind howling, everything shaking and creaking and groaning like the whole bloody issue was alive, and so much stuff flying around you were in danger of getting your head took off. But we pressed on regardless, taking our direction from the glow up ahead. Even when you can't see your hand before your face, there's always that glow.

Then at the edge of the trees we hit wire, and we paused here to get our breath and count heads.

We were all present and correct, the whole eight of us, and Cap started in on the wire. You'll have met the Captain? Useless with the cutters but won't let anyone else have them. Sort of badge of office. Eventually there was a hole of sorts and we started through. Jacksie – that's Jacklin, the well-made one – got snagged and swore. Cap said, 'Keep it down,' like someone might hear in all that din, and Jacksie said, 'If I could keep it down, I wouldn't have got it stuck,' and a couple of us got the giggles. It's easy done when you're shit scared. Not that it mattered or Jacksie swearing either. Like I said, it were pissing with rain and blowing a gale, and you would have needed a lot more than a giggle to get noticed.

Then we were all through and the laughing stopped.

There's nowt to laugh at out there. It's a wasteland. Used to be trees but after the big raid last summer, they blew them all to hell, roots and all, and when it rains for a week, like it's been doing, the holes all fill with water and the ground gets so clarty, you can feel it sucking you down. Smells too. Don't know why it should. It were once good mixed woodland like what's still there. But now it stinks like a ploughed-up boneyard.

Someone – don't know who – said, 'This is bloody stupid. We should head back.' Seconded, I thought. But I kept my trap shut 'cos if there's one thing guaranteed to make Cap head east, it's hearing me speak up for west. I

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