William White’s Village Tales


Extra labour was required to gather in the harvest: The village blacksmith, Jack, and his son Tom assisted during the busy days.

The corn was stacked in the farmyard by the farmer and the regular man. The blacksmith and George, the odd job man, loaded the corn on to the wagons in the field – I trimmed the corn on the wagon – Tom drove the loads to the farm.

On this particular day we were clearing the corn from a large field known as Claypits. Receiving the sheaves thrown up by the two men, I was topping up the load on the wagon twelve to fourteen feet above the ground; grazing down I saw the farmer’s black dog nosing around. Tom, holding the horse’s head and having nothing much to do was watching the sheaves being thrown up to me.

The blacksmith, a strong man, drove the tines of his long fork into two remaining sheaves off a shock, picking them up to throw them to me over his head. Immediately my eyes saw it! The moving of the two sheaves uncovered a rabbit! In a split second, before the dog or anyone else had time to move, I had sprung from the load like panther, making a perfect four-point landing on my hands and toes on the ground. My hands grabbed the rabbit before it had time to bolt for the nearest hedgerow – a chop behind the ears, and it was dead. Pushing the rabbit under the straw where our jackets and placed for safety, I dashed to the horse harness to the waggon, jumped up onto the wagon shaft,up onto the horse’s back, and then clambered on to the fore ladder of the waggon, and then like a monkey scrambled up the load and in seconds was back on top.

The Black Smith was still holding the two sheaves and all three was staring at me with disbelief. The blacksmith threw up the two sheaves to me, and then leaning on his fork said – “That’s the most foolish thing I’ve ever seen. Judging from the height you might have broken your back or legs, or have had the tines of my fork through you”

He didn’t realise I hadn’t jumped. Had I jumped, I certainly couldn’t have caught the rabbit. I should certainly have jarred my body and should not have landed anywhere near the animal. I had done something I hadn’t planned and would never dare to plan. My immediate reaction on seeing the rabbit was to spring off, and out from the load – an actual dive, making it a perfect four-point landing. Physically, it had not the slightest effect on me, and there was no reaction.

Tom today still retells the story, so at the time, to him, it must have been an unusual feat. However, he says, I jumped; but of course, I didn’t


I crossed the brook to the left of the pond and scrambled up the steep grassy bank, coming out onto the wide greens-ward that bordered the field and provided a path between the pond and the standing corn.

I had stumbled onto one of nature’s dramas being enacted; stand perfectly still I surveyed the scene. Coming in my direction was a moorhen making directional feints to the corn and to the pond alternately. Following was a stoat, a skilled tactician, countering each feint with masterful precision.

The action that the moorhen should take was obvious to me. It was certain death to enter the corn. So the alternative was to make for the pond at all cost. However, it was obvious that the moorhen was not intelligent enough to appreciate situation, and if given the opportunity would bolt either way.

The stoat saw me, and being aware of the moorhen’s failings, darted to the side of the pond and remained there poised like a snake. To my dismay the moorhen dived into the corn, instantly followed by the stoat. Without hesitation I plunged into the corn, and easily located the moorhen against the golden corn stalks, and so waded through the corn towards it.

The stoat then carried out a plan of diversion. It seemed to appear everywhere – to my left – to my right- front – and behind. It’s attitude was so menacing that I instinctively concentrated all my attention in its intention. Its speed of movement from one position to another was amazing. So much so, but I stood rooted to the spot fascinated by the stoat as it dashed at my position from every conceivable direction.

My attention being distracted for a moment, the stoat in a split second flashed in, close to my feet, grabbed the moorhen by the neck just behind the head, and staring me straight in the eye, dragged the moorhen deeper into the corn.

My reaction was to follow and kill it! I made a half-hearted attempt in its direction, then decided as the stoat had outwitted both me and the moorhen, it deserved its reward. In any case, the moorhen had acted foolishly, and deserved to die. So I left the cornfield and went my way.