COUN­TRY LOV­ING

An in­de­ci­sive Imo­gen Green finds her­self caught up in the mo­ment

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

Ru­ral life isn’t al­ways idyl­lic, es­pe­cially when it comes to dat­ing…

‘Lonely bird­watcher longs for a happy end­ing’

EVER SINCE A COW KNELT ON ME AND BROKE THREE OF MY RIBS, I’VE SEEN A LOT MORE OF THE VIL­LAGE POST­MAN. It’s partly be­cause I’m not al­lowed to do any milk­ing un­til they heal, so I’m now in the farm­house when he drops off the post. But the fact that I make him ba­con sand­wiches may have some­thing to do with it, too. This morning he was talk­ing about our lo­cal game­keeper, who reared an un­usu­ally tame pheas­ant this sea­son. It be­gan by peck­ing his an­kle when it wanted an ex­tra hand­ful of food, and now it fol­lows him wher­ever he goes, even fly­ing along next to his Land Rover, peek­ing in at the pas­sen­ger win­dow. “So, of course, he can’t let it be killed, can he?” the post­man said, pour­ing him­self an­other cup of tea. “He told me he’s been pick­ing it up and putting it in his shed on shoot days, just to keep it safe.”

Out­side, in the frosty yard, our lit­tle gang of pheas­ants – also hid­ing from the shoot – were hang­ing hope­fully around the hen­house. I even heard the cock pheas­ant give a se­ries of sharp shrieks, a re­minder to me that I’d been chat­ting too long, and it was time to give the chick­ens their corn. The post­man told me he was off to feed the cats at the Manor (their owner is on hol­i­day), and move a wardrobe for old Mrs Hask­ins. All part of his daily round, along with de­liv­er­ing gro­ceries, herd­ing sheep and hand­ing out re­la­tion­ship ad­vice. And then, as he was climb­ing into his van, he added, “That Span­ish gen­tle­man you like? Matthew An­tiza? Looks like he’s back. His car was in the drive.” I turned away so he wouldn’t see my ex­pres­sion.

The sun was warm­ing the shed roofs, and I watched the mist rise from them, re­mem­ber­ing how, at Christ­mas, when I’d last seen Matthew, he’d ex­plained that he had to go away on busi­ness, but would rush back as soon as he could. He’d been so dif­fer­ent to­wards me then – all the usual prick­li­ness gone. He’d gazed at me with eyes that seemed to smoul­der. I was sud­denly con­fused by my feel­ings. Of course I’d longed for his re­turn, but now I al­most dreaded see­ing him. I still miss my hus­band, even though he isn’t here any­more, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to move on.

I went out with the feed-bucket and the ewes in the pas­ture nudged at my legs. Their wool was stiff with ice, and a com­pletely dif­fer­ent cock-pheas­ant popped up be­side them. He strut­ted con­fi­dently up to their trough and dipped his vel­vety head in. I’ve heard that only 37 per cent of pheas­ants on any es­tate ac­tu­ally get shot. The rest ap­par­ently just dis­ap­pear. Some­times I’m sur­prised the per­cent­age isn’t lower.

Back at the yard, I could hear shouts from the milk­ing par­lour. The cows haven’t warmed to my brother-in-law, An­drew, who’s taken over my job. They keep kick­ing their teat cups off, so ev­ery­thing has to be dis­in­fected and the whole process takes longer. A few older ones, led by our mis­chievous Jersey, Molly, have even started stag­ing a sit-in round the back. I went there to see if I could help. Molly was firmly set­tled on the ground, re­fus­ing to budge, and each time An­drew called her she would turn her face away con­temp­tu­ously. I was just about to of­fer some gen­tle ad­vice, when his wife got in first. “For God’s sake, you wally!” she yelled. “Drive the oth­ers in first and she’ll fol­low!”

Sud­denly I saw Matthew walk through the gate, el­e­gant in his long dark over­coat. My heart leapt, and I felt my­self trem­ble un­con­trol­lably. He went to peck me on the cheek, and some­how, in the most nat­u­ral way, it be­came a pas­sion­ate kiss. I lost my­self in it com­pletely – it was won­der­ful – ex­cept that some­where in the dis­tance I could hear a pheas­ant shriek.

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