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Orphan taken into family catches a burgler.

by 1941aaa

I was orphaned at an early age and was most fortunate to be taken in by Peter and Mary Withers, for I took the place of the child they never had.

Peter was the gamekeeper for Lord Carlton on his estate in Wiltshire and Mary helped out in the house when they had guests, which was mostly in the shooting season. We lived in the lodge at the entrance to the estate and were about a mile from the small village down the lane.

I was happy there as I grew up and Peter saw to my schooling for there was nowhere else I could go for this. Being the gamekeeper, he knew all about animals and birds that lived out in the woods and fields and when I went out with him, he would point out the different species and how to track them. Though part of his job was to keep the poachers at bay and stop them from snaring the pheasants and grouse.

It was some years before he would take me out with him on his nightly prowls, moving quietly to try and find traps that the poachers would set up in the woods. I got to learn the most likely places they would be set and I was quite pleased when I did find one.

‘Well done Tom,’ he would cry and ruffle the hair of my head, a habit of his for I was far shorter than he was.

One of the turning points of my life was when I was allowed to go into the pub with him. I’d been refused entry before because I was too small but now that I was growing up, they turned a blind eye to me going in with him as long as I behaved myself.

I used to like those evenings, though it was only twice a week. We’d have our dinner and then we’d set off for the pub in the village which was a good mile down the lane. It was only a small place, but now that I was older, they let me in and it was Old Percy who bought me my first beer. It was only half a pint of bitter, but it made the night for me to drink with the locals.

Peter and I would settle ourselves by the log fire and though I didn’t smoke or wouldn’t have been allowed to anyway, I did like the smell of his pipe when he lit it. He would stretch out his legs and puff away and I would stretch my feet out too and listen to the older men talk.

Though most of what they talked about went over my head and after drinking my small half pint of beer, I would drowse in front of the fire only catching half of what they said. Peter would have maybe three pints but drew the line with me, saying that half was enough. In spite of this restriction on my drinking, I still enjoyed those evenings.

Come ten o’clock, he would finish his beer and wake me up and tell me it was time for bed and that I couldn’t sleep in the pub. We would then walk the mile back home and invariable, Mary would be in bed but she always left us a little something to eat before we went to bed. I think she would have been annoyed if she knew that Peter was letting me drink beer when I was out with him.

Those were happy years and I really began to get the knack of catching rabbits which Mary was pleased with and so we would quite often have rabbit stew and it was a meal I never got tired of. I learned a lot out in the woods with Peter, all about the predators such as foxes and the like that would try and flush out the grouse to catch and eat them, but I was never taught about others than the poachers. This I learned when our own coop was invaded.

Peter and I had just been down in the pub and Old Percy, bless him, sneaked me another beer this particular evening and I even got a case of the hiccups from drinking it too fast. We left at the usual time of ten o’clock and with the mile walk home, it sobered me up. We had our evening snack and then I went to my bed while he went to his.

I’m sure it was the walk home and the sobering up after having a whole pint of beer which a twelve year old shouldn’t be having, that I came awake at a strange sound in the house. Now I won’t say that I’m brave, but the noise I heard wasn’t normal, so I got up from my bed and began to investigate the cause of the disturbance. With hindsight, I should have woken up Peter and Mary, but I went and looked for myself.

It was in the small dining room that I saw this figure of a man, waving his torch about as he looked at the china cabinet before going to the drawer where the silver cutlery was kept.

Stealing the silver!

That was enough for me, I might have only been twelve years old but I went charging at him.

I head butted him in the stomach and such was the surprise of our bodies coming together, that he fell over with me on top of him. Boy, did we make a noise as we crashed into the chairs by the table. He swung at me with his torch but I managed to catch hold of his arm as I lay on his chest. It didn’t stop him from giving me two hefty punches into my ribs with his free hand.

The lights had come on with the noise we had made and I heard Peter come down the stairs as I still fought to hold onto the burglar’s arm.

‘Okay Tom,’ Peter said. ‘I’ve got him,’ and gave this burglar a hefty right fist straight to the jaw. As the man went limp under me, I let go of his arm, panting for breath as he’d knocked all the wind out of me. ‘You’re crazy! Do you know that Tom? He could have killed you. Now go and sit down and let me deal with him.’

For that, I was grateful. I got myself over to the sofa and sat down, still trying to get my wind back, my ribs really hurting me now from the burglar’s blows.

Peter went to the phone and dialled a number which I guessed was to Sydney, our village policeman. He lived at the station, well it wasn’t exactly a police station for it was his house that doubled up as one.

‘Yes, he’s out cold but collect him as quick as you can,’ he said before putting the phone down.

It was a good five to ten minutes before we heard Sydney’s car pull up outside and a minute later, Sydney was in the parlour.

‘Who is it?’ he asked.

‘That bloody Alfred. Caught him enough times poaching, now he’s doing this stealing from us,’ Peter said.

‘Well he’ll probably be sent down for this, it’s not the first time. You did a good job of catching him in the act,’ Sydney said.

‘It wasn’t me,’ Peter replied. ‘It was Tom.’ I got up and went over to where Sydney was just putting a pair of handcuffs on Alfred. He straightened up and did as Peter often did, ruffling the hair of my head.

‘Well done Tom!’ which made me smile. I watched as Alfred was dragged up onto his feet as he was coming round now from the good punch that Peter had given him, and we watched as he was bundled into Sydney’s car to be taken away.

We went back inside and I went and sat back down on the sofa and Peter came and sat next to me.

‘Yes, you did a good job there Tom,’ he said as he ruffled my hair again. ‘Mary and I both love you, for you really are a good dog.’

* *

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