The Primrose Line – Episode 36

Illustration by Ged Fay

Emile pushed the wheelbarrow energetically across the frozen farm headland that skirted Corton Wood.

Suddenly, he spotted a small green object lying, almost camouflaged, in the grass. He picked it up.

It was a model of a steam locomotive’s coal tender.

“What are you up to?” A man appeared from the thicket without warning and made Emile jump.

His long hair was done in a single plait. He wore ragged jeans and a jacket that had seen better days. His only concession to the cold was a scarf around his neck.

“Looking for wood,” Emile said nervously. “Grandpa said to come here.”

“Did he, now? And he owns this wood, does he?”

“No. He owns the house down there, though.” Emile pointed at the bungalow.

“What’s that you’ve just picked up?”

Emile opened up his palm and showed him the model.

“I found it in the grass. Is it yours?”

The man’s eyes became alert. He stared keenly at the object in Emile’s hand. His reply was emphatic.

“No, nothing to do with me at all – why would you think it’s mine?”

Emile gave a sigh of relief upon seeing his grandfather come round the corner.

“Good morning.” Jim smiled a greeting while his policeman’s mind assessed the situation and the stranger’s appearance. It suggested someone used to living rough.

“Everything all right, Emile?” he asked, keeping the smile on his face.

“Think the lad and I surprised each other,” the man said. “Don’t see many walkers around here – too difficult for most of them!”

“You local, are you?” Jim asked pleasantly.

“Sort of,” came the vague reply.

“Ah, sort of,” Jim repeated. “Well, we’re looking for some kindling wood.

“This is still common land, I assume, as it was when I lived around here many years ago? Wouldn’t want to be stepping on some landowner’s toes.”

The eyes narrowed further, as if the man was trying to place Jim. Then he said an odd thing.

“Everything belongs to someone, that’s what causes a lot of the trouble in the world.”

He shrugged and moved off.

“Lot of dead beech over there,” he added, indicating a corner of the copse to his left. “Makes good lighting-up wood.”

With that, he walked off along the path then vanished into the wood.

“Strange man,” Jim said lightly. He could see that Emile had been affected by the meeting.

“Do you think he’s a gypsy, Grandpa?”

“Hard to tell. Nice of him to tell us where to look for wood, though. What’s that you’re holding?”

Emile showed him.

“I found it on the ground. I asked the man if it was his. He said it wasn’t.”

“Not the sort of thing you’d expect to find in the middle of the country.

“We’ll take it back home and let Nicola have a look at it. She’s the specialist when it comes to trains.”

Jim started to throw pieces of beech into the wheelbarrow with enthusiasm, but his mind was elsewhere.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.