Reading old books often provides not only information about the era, but characters for a story and Richard Jefferies’, The Amateur Poacher, was no exception. There are no poachers anymore, they were only a few left in 1950 but as the Cairndhu stories begin with the end of the war in 1918, I can still introduce them in a tale. Jefferies loved the countryside and country people and brings the late Victorian times to life in his writing.
I found a story line in The Gamekeeper at Home and in my latest read; found a character that must be included, the Moucher. I’d thought ‘mouching’ was a word from my own Scottish Lowlands but was delighted to find it had the same meaning in Wiltshire, at least in Victorian times. The moucher is a resident who slips about picking up a bit of money here and there from things that are sometimes almost legal. He might irritate, but for those who aren’t affected, his ‘procuring’ creates head shakings and smiles over his cheeky ways. In writing about him, Jefferies gives us a view of things long forgotten among the supermarket shelves.
In February, “The moucher searches for small shell snails, of which quantities are sold as food for cage birds, and cuts some small ‘turfs’ a few inches square from the green roadside. These are great for larks (Kept as pets for singing) …”
As the winter planted turnips germinate and form small plants – “These the moucher gathers by stealth: he speedily fills a sack, and goes off with it to the nearest town. Turnip tops are much more in demand than formerly, and the stealing of them a more serious matter.”
“By April his second great crop is ready – the watercress (wild and for sale in town) …”
“As the season advances and the summer comes he gathers vast quantities of dandelion leaves, parsley, sowthistle, clover, and so forth, as food for the tame rabbits in towns.”
“He picks the forget-me-nots from the streams and the ‘blue-bottle’ from the corn; bunches of the latter are sometimes sold in London at a price that seems extravagant to those who see whole fields tinted with its beautiful azure.”
“Then come the mushrooms …”
Of course, the odd pheasant that ‘someone else’ has trapped, falls into his bag, but as he never steals from an orchard or a garden, he remains part of the village community.