It was said that it was the death of his wife that made Michael McAllister hate the badgers. Her passing, complications from emphysema, cast a bleak cloud over Greenwood Farm. She was the one who used to care for the animals, not just the farm animals, but the wildlife and in particular the family of badgers who lived in the thicket at the bottom of their fields. Michael resented the fact that the disease ridden badgers were still alive when his beloved wife was dead. And without her kindness to temper his mean streak, Michael gained a reputation in the village as a miserable skinflint who would do anything for a quick payout. These days the people, and the wildlife, stay well away from Greenwood Farm, which was fine with Michael. They were not welcome anyway.
It was bitterly cold Christmas Eve morning, made colder by McAllister’s refusal to warm the farm house for the estate meeting. Electricity wasn’t cheap, and he could wear more clothes if he needed to. Roberts, the gamekeeper, pulled his sheepskin jacket up around his ears and blew on his hands, waiting to be given the list of tasks to complete today.
“I saw fox prints last night, Roberts,” McAllister snapped without so much as a good morning. “A whole family of the blighters. If I lose any more chickens, you’ll be out on your ear!”
“Sir.” Roberts was noncommittal but made a mental note to leave some food out for the vixen. She’d recently had cubs and these were lean times. He’d also check the chicken wire on the coops. It wouldn’t do to lose any of the hens.
“I want the rat traps re-filled and the rabbit snares doubled. And stop putting out seeds for the blasted pheasants. They’ll get too fat to fly and there’ll be nothing to shoot next Spring.” McAllister glared at Roberts. “What? Why are you looking at me in that pathetic way?”
“Sorry, Sir, it’s just… It’s Christmas Eve,” Roberts began
“Tis the season?” Roberts replied weakly. If Catherine had still been alive, the farm house would’ve been full of light and laughter as they planned what treats they would leave for the animals on Christmas Eve. She had been delighted when he reported the appearance of a badger sett. She would’ve loved seeing the cubs being born.
“Poppycock!” McAllister banged his hand on the table top. “I suppose you’ll be wanting time off tomorrow.”
“If at all convenient, Sir,” Roberts shifted awkwardly on the spot.
“It’s not convenient! It’s not at all convenient!” McAllister’s voice became high pitched with incredulity. “But I suppose you must or you’ll have all the social media morons after me. Trial by website, load of nonsense…” He turned his glare onto Roberts. “But you will finish these jobs before leaving today.” And he flung a barely legible list onto the table.
Roberts’ heart sank as he saw at the top of the list the words ‘lay badger traps’.
A Festive Bite of… Claire Buss
Q1:What are the essential ingredients for a festive story in your opinion?
Me personally I like snow on Christmas Eve, a bit of Santa magic, mince pies and tinsel, fairy lights and presents, love and warmth and forgiveness and of course, a Christmas miracle.
Q2:What do you most want to find under your Christmas tree this year?
I want a piano but considering I live in a teeny tiny flat I don’t think I’m going to get one this year. I hope for books, I always hope for books but don’t always get them. Anything else is icing.
Q3:Christmas pudding or Christmas cake and why?
Both I’m afraid. Christmas pudding has to be lit with brandy after Christmas dinner and eaten boiling hot with cream and then, and this is the important part, the rest must be put in the fridge to go solid and then eaten on Boxing Day and thereafter with natural yoghurt. Christmas cake is started in November on stir-up Sunday and then fed until marzipan and icing time. I then cut it into pieces, half goes to hubby’s work, rest gets frozen in bits and I end up eating Christmas cake until at least Easter but I don’t mind. It has to have nuts and cherries in it and I stick my marzipan on with marmalade because I don’t care for apricots. And it has to be royal icing and not fondant.