A Day in February (from A Moon on its Back)

A Day in February (from A Moon on its Back)

A Chapter by Peter Maughan

A day in February in a West Country village.



A Day in February

(from A Moon on its Back)

Peter Maughan

On a telegraph wire above the scurrying High Street, a mistle thrush perched unsteadily in the rain and a wind that smelt of cabbages and mud, swinging and whistling with a sort of monotonous defiance, like a small boy who refuses to come down.

The rain was driven down through the village on stilts of wind, and off the brow of the hill to stride the valley, the rooks in the horse chestnuts below blown and glistening, their nests lodged like footballs in the bare swaying tops of the trees. The wind tore the smoke from village chimneys and sent the postman in his orange waterproofs ballooning up the High Street, and the vicar, crossing the churchyard, into a sudden furious struggle with his umbrella, wrestling the black wilful cloth through the lychgate, casting it out before him. It bullied old Mr Snell, shoving him every couple of steps back up the hill he was struggling down to catch the town bus; it lifted the no-nonsense tweed skirt of Miss Holsworth, spinster, up and about with her dogs no matter what the weather, and rattled the corrugated iron gates of George Perry's coal yard, before running on to kick over the empty dustbins outside the schoolhouse and send them bowling down the playground like skittles.

And then, as if whistled back to the sea, it turned suddenly, taking the rain with it, seen on its way by Major Pocock, Master of Foxhounds and Chairman of the Bench, clattering sternly down the High Street on his hunter. And on a gable end a starling sang, a long thin dribble of sound blown on the last of the wind as the sun broke through, its sudden brilliance running across the roofs of the village, and sending the damp shadows of the pines along the valley road sparkling down the hillside.

More like spring now, than February, we told each other, the High Street busy with women with pushchairs and retired men with dogs on their way to the post office and shop.

The church clock struck nine, the high clear notes sprinkled over the village like a benediction, and anoraked and mittened, children pressed around the doors of the schoolhouse as children have done since the commemorative stone was tapped into place by the reforming hand of the squire's wife, and the laborious, reluctant squeaking of chalk on slate could be heard on the still morning of a Victorian summer.

The sun glittered from a water colour of a blue sky, the air above the horse chestnuts loud again with rooks, their cries even more tangled and strident in the confused thievery and bickering of nesting time. Powder from the hazel catkins by the stream blew in a breeze and the alder trees, that in summer shaded a bridge built by monks, were bruised with a purple flowering, and the yellow points of the primrose were a small bright find among the winter drabness.

And from the wood below the village, the first of the guns were heard as the shadows lengthened into the afternoon, a blackbird singing into them under a thumbprint of a moon. The outline of buildings cut into the twilight as lights began to dot the village, the wide arched windows of the schoolhouse framing on classroom walls the powder-paint pictures done with a large brush and a small hand, of matchstick people and puffing houses and dad with a cow, the Animals of Africa roaring and fierce enough for bedtime.

As the village and the hills beyond softened into a cameo of black against the lilac sky, the last, distant dry cough of a gun was heard from the wood. All afternoon a percussion of death had beat at the air, as barrel after barrel was emptied into the flocks of woodpigeons wheeling above, each barrel seeking among the flocks the direct hit needed to bring one down. The gunfire hammering even louder at dusk, when the sun burnt itself out behind the trees and the birds came blindly in to roost.

The guns were finally lowered, the burnt-rubber smell from the barrels smoking on the damp air, and bulging gamebags and the debris of food and drink were thrown into the back of Landrovers and the boots of cars. And they turned for home, bouncing along the rutted and horseshoe-punched ride, leaving behind  the spilt feathers of birds and red cartridge cases shining among wet dead leaves.

The light of the evening star fluttered above the valley, fluttered and then held, and the rapid call of a woodpecker reached out across the wood like a question. Followed as loud as dawn for that moment by an answering chorus from other birds, as the curtains in the village above them were drawn against the night, and the wind picked up from the sea again.

Peter Maughan www.batchmagna.com

© 2013 Peter Maughan

Author's Note

Peter Maughan
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Added on February 1, 2013
Last Updated on February 1, 2013
Tags: village, valley


Peter Maughan
Peter Maughan

Shrewsbury, The Welsh Marches, United Kingdom

I'm an ex-actor, fringe theatre director and script writer, married and living in the Welsh Marches, the borderland between England and Wales, and the backdrop to a series of books I'm writing, the Ba.. more..