Ed wanted to know what was going on but he was stuck behind his friend, his view of what was happening blocked by the edge of the copse. To get a glimpse of what a going on he needed to move around Tom but that would mean making a noise and moving the trees and if Tom’s stillness was anything to go by that was probably not a good idea right now.
Tom slowly lay down, his body behind the hazel, his head just poking round the undergrowth. ‘He’s looking downhill. Not moving though’.
‘Can we get across the path?’
Tom shook his head slowly. ‘He’s not got his back to us. He’ll see the movement. Specially if he’s looking for the dog.’
As if to emphasise that the man most certainly was looking for his dog, there was a burst of whistling and shouts of ‘Max! Max!’ from the direction of the path. There was a crashing sound again in the brush behind them in response to the shouts and a flash of brown and white crossed the track going uphill.
‘He saw the dog. I think.’ Tom said.
The circled back round uphill of them and came across the path. It was a Springer, all smile and tail touching its nose as it greeted them with a bark.
‘Fuck off.’ Tom hissed and his hand curled round the handle of the knife he carried tucked away under his hoody.
Ed looked at the dog, excited now by its new friends. It was unlikely Tom would get near enough to kill the dog but if he did or if the owner saw him with the knife that would be the end of Uni, the end of his escape from the village. He dug inside the rucksack, pulled out the rabbit that Tom had dispatched and waved it like a toy at the dog who, smelling the blood and meat, set for it. Ed held the carcass out to the animal and as the dog seized it, he grabbed the dog’s collar. He left the bag at Tom’s side. ‘Stay there.’ He said and walked out onto the path.
The man had been about the start shouting again by the look of it and was a couple of paces down the side path when Ed appeared. Ed put his gruffest voice on, but gave it the posh edge he used when he was talking to the adviser about his options for college places. He hoped it would sound like Chucker’s keeper.
‘Is this your dog?’
‘Oh, er yes.’
‘Well keep him under control will you? Look what he’s been doing.’ Ed gestured towards the dog’s new toy being shaken like a rat as he trotted contentedly at Ed’s side.
‘Oh, God! Leave it Max!’ Put it down!’
The man looked shocked.
‘I’m so sorry. He got away from me. He’s only young and…’
Ed was up to the man now.
‘You got a lead for him?’
‘Well put it on then.’
The man fumbled for the lead and snicked it onto the collar. Ed let go of the collar and stood up.
‘You should keep him on the lead in the country. There’s lambs about this time of the year and birds rearing in the woods. If I’d had my shotgun…’
‘Oh God! I didn’t think. I am so sorry.’ He looked down at the dog who was trying to eat the rabbit. ‘Max, put it down, please.’
Ed looked at the dog and firmly took the rabbit and said ‘Leave!’
Max was a bit startled at the gift being taken back but he let go and waited.
‘Thank you.’ Said the man. ‘I couldn’t get him to come back. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t caught him.’
‘Get some training, then he’ll come back to you.’ Ed smiled. ‘Might even bring you some more to share.’
‘Oh, I am so sorry. He’s not in trouble is he? Are we?’
Ed looked thoughtful for a moment.
‘Well, it’s only a rabbit and no birds damaged so not this time. No. But if he gets loose again where there’s lambs or birds…’
‘Yes, yes of course. It won’t happen again.’
‘Right then. Where are you headed?’
The man patted Max.
‘We’re headed for Colehampton.’
‘Colehampton! You’re way off.’
‘I thought so but Max saw a deer and dashed off and I had to get him. Got pretty lost to be honest. Could you put us back on the right path?’
‘I reckon.’ Ed gave Max a pat as well. ‘A deer you say?’
‘Yes. Big one, seemed to keep stopping to get Max to follow him.’
‘Yes. Is he famous or something?’
‘Just a bit odd, antlers this time of year.’
The man was looking at Ed, waiting for more. Ed decided there’d been enough chat.
‘Well, you’re on private land here but if you head down to the bottom of the wood and turn left along the 10 acre there, you’ll come to a lane. Turn right up the valley and there’s a footpath about half a mile on the left will take you into the back of Colehampton, by the church.’
‘Thanks. We’d better get going then. Cheerio.’
‘And keep Max on his lead.’
Ed watched the man and Max, reluctant to leave his furry plaything behind, walk down the slope to the ten acre. He wondered about the deer Max had been lured into the wood by. He waited until Max had disappeared and then walked back to Tom.
‘Has he gone?’
‘Off to Colehampton with his dog, aye.’
‘He got lost.’
‘That was bloody brilliant Ed. I thought you was a keeper myself for a minute. How did you know he was just a walker?’
‘Dog wasn’t trained was he? Just a pet like, running all over like that, all that noise, him and the bloke. Not a countryman’s dog.’
‘Like the way you gave the dog the tough old boy been squirming all night. Good thinking that. You’ve got big future here you have boy.’
Ed didn’t answer but picked up the bag and walked off up the hill.
They crested the rise and walked down into the Green lane. They kept well into the hedges along the 30 acre, Tom garrulous with the excitement of their encounter. They reached the almshouses without problem and as they went over the gate they turned and looked up into the darkening shadows of the woods. A figure emerged from the edge of the trees, darker than the shadows, and paused. It was hard to see details with the setting sun over the wooded hill casting fingers of darkness down the field, but Ed was sure he could see points of light on antlers. He pointed the figure out to Tom who grunted. Then the figure tipped back its head and a belling roar echoed in the evening air.
‘It shouldn’t have antlers now.” Ed said.
Tom looked at his friend.
‘See you tomorrow?’
Ed kept on looking at the hill. The patch or darkness returned to the wood.
‘Don’t think so Tom. I’ve got to talk to some people about next year.’