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Lightly Poached
by Lillian Beckwith

Lightly Poached, Chapter 1
You can purchase Lightly Poached from
You can purchase Lightly poached from

Lightly PoachedLightly Poached

The sun-stained showers had put a sheen on everything. On the summer grass; on the craggy hills; on the gulls’ wings; on the sibilant water and on the rocks of the shore. Even the clouds looked as if they had been polished up with a soft duster.

Between the showers I had been engaged on the urgent task of cleaning my weed-smothered potato patch, using a hoe until my aching shoulders entreated rest when I would crouch down and pull out the weeds by hand until my knees reminded me it was time to stand up and use the hoe again. I loathed weeding potatoes. As each spring came round and I, helped by neighbouring crofters, set the seed on nests of manure along the new-dug furrows I vowed that this year I would really cherish my potatoes; that I would attend to the weeding as soon as the green rosettes appeared above the soil and would continue regularly doing a little every fine day so that, come summer, I should have a trim forest of healthy green shaws rising from the ridged black earth with a definable space, weed free and wide enough for a booted foot to tread, between each row. Thus, I promised myself, I would ensure that when the time came for harvesting I should, like my neighbours, fill pail after pail, sack after sack, with potatoes of a size that could reasonably be termed ‘ware’, that is, fist-sized or larger. So far, however, even the most encouraging critics would never have described my potato crop as anything but ‘seed’, which means of a size equivalent to a bantam’s egg, or worse, as ‘chats’, which were hardly bigger than marbles or, as Morag, my ex-landlady, described them, as ‘bein’ no bigger than a hen would swallow in one gulp’. Too small for cooking in their jackets, they had to be peeled raw and anyone who has had to endure winter after winter of coping with such puny runts will know there is no more dispiriting an occupation. I usually ended up by boiling a panful every day, mashing them with a bottle and mixing them with oatmeal and then feeding them to my cow and hens while, swallowing my pride, I would buy a sack of potatoes from someone who had worked much more dedicatedly than I and who therefore had some to spare. Alas this year again despite all my resolutions and the tactful comments of well-meaning Bruachites I had failed to get to grips with the task of weeding in time and now in midsummer except for two short rows which I had cleaned the previous morning my potato patch resembled a jungle more than an orderly forest and with the plants scarcely a hand’s height the leaves had already begun to pale as a result of their contest with lusty persicary, binding buttercups and tenacious dockens. I knew they must be rescued now or never, so, ignoring my body’s unwillingness and the clouds of midges which assailed me every time the breeze died and a shower threatened to obscure the sun, I continued resolutely, hoping that I could clean enough rows to yield sufficient ware potatoes for my own use. Another hour’s work, I told myself, and then I could finish for the day. As I made the resolution I sighed forgetfully which resulted in my having to spit out a queue of midges which had been hovering around my mouth waiting the opportunity to explore my larynx. Kneeling down I resumed pulling at the strangle of corn spurrey which, though relatively easy to uproot, leaves a sticky deposit on the hands which proves even more attractive to predatory insects than clean flesh. I wished often that potatoes were not so essential a part of my food supplies, but to face a Bruach winter without a good store of potatoes in the barn would have been foolhardy. The crofters would have considered it suicidal.

It had been some time now since the last shower; some time since I had had an excuse to nip back for a ‘fly cuppie’ in the coolth and comfort of the cottage. Through my thin blouse the sun was toasting my back; the exposed parts of my body itched with midge bites; my open-toed sandals —open-toed due not to design but to wear — were full of earth and sharp grit. I was sticky, dirty, itchy and achy and I longed for a respite. Straightening up I rested on the hoe. The breeze had died away completely with the last shower, leaving shreds of mist in the corries of the hills. The sea was like a stretch of blue cambric variegated with darker patches which, suddenly erupting into arrow-shaped shockwaves of spray, told of shoals of mackerel pursuing their food around the bay.

‘So you’re busy!’ It was Morag’s voice and I turned to greet her as she tacked across the croft towards me. Accompanying Morag was Flora, a remote kinswoman of hers who occasionally visited Bruach on holiday from the East Coast fishing port where she lived, flora was famous in Bruach as being one of a band of ‘kipper lassies’, the girls who travelled from port to port throughout the herring season and in all weathers sat out on the piers deftly gutting and cleaning mountains of herring newly unloaded from the fishing boats; bandying ribald pleasantries with the crews and, reputedly, screaming imprecations with complete impartiality at sluggard fish porters, scouting gulls or indeed anyone who threatened to impede their work. Flora took great pride in being a ‘kipper lassie’ and always carried around with her a photograph cut from a newspaper which showed her along with half a dozen other lassies smilingly busy at their gutting and seemingly oblivious of the hail and sleet that flew around them. There was an inked ring round Flora on the photograph because the girls were so bundled up in clothes that identification might otherwise have been impossible. She was middle-aged, ‘all beam and bust’ as Erchy described her, and her eyes and hair were appropriately kipper-coloured. Her voice was as strident as a ship’s siren; her laughter piercing and when irritated her vocabulary would, according to an admiring Hector, ‘take the feathers off a hoody-crow’. She was a good-natured, good humoured soul and whilst she was in Bruach the summer ceilidhs were enlivened by lurid accounts of her adventures, quarrels, flirtations and spending sprees, accounts which I no doubt would have found more entertaining had I been able to decode more than one word in six of her broad East Coast speech and that one word usually ‘yon’. In her absence the Bruachites referred to her as to all ‘kipper lassies’ as ‘Skin-a-herrin’ Lizzie’, though they would never have been either discourteous or rash enough to have used the nickname in her hearing. Only once did I hear it used in her presence and that was by Davy, a Glasgow-bred child without a vestige of Gaelic courtesy or reticence who with his mother was visiting a relative in the village. One Friday evening when there had been the usual batch of customers, adults and children, waiting at the weekly grocery van for their turn to be served Davy was there insolently superintending his doting mother’s purchases to ensure she bought for him an ample supply of sweeties and biscuits. When Flora appeared he had left his mother abruptly, sidled round to the front of the van and begun chanting:


In the unthinkable event of a Bruach child behaving in such a fashion the nearest adult male would have grabbed him, boxed his ears and been thanked by the embarrassed parents for administering punishment so promptly. But Davy was a foreigner and though we were all made to feel exceedingly uncomfortable by the boy’s rudeness only old Murdoch admonished him with a snapped ‘Whist, boy!’ and the gesture of an upraised hand. Davy ignored the old man and continued his taunting. Flora darted a glance at the mother as if giving her a chance to take action before she herself did, but the mother had retreated into an air of intense preoccupation with the small print on a packet of cream crackers and would not look up. We saw Flora’s bosom swell; we saw her eyes glint and we prepared to flinch at the linguistic dexterity we expected to hear. But our ears were assailed by no fish-pier malediction. Instead Flora merely raised her voice to its most penetrating pitch and screamed: ‘Aye, lad, I can skin a herrin’ as quick and clean as your own mother skins the lodgers that stay in your house!’

The delighted smiles on the faces of the Bruachites were swiftly erased as Davy’s mother turned first on Flora and then on the rest of us a look of concentrated venom that changed even as we watched to confusion as she realised that, isolated as Bruach was, it was not too isolated for us to be unaware of the poor reputation of the boarding house she kept in the city and that lodgers who had once endured her hard beds, scanty food and high prices never stayed long. Calling her son with an asperity that startled him into obedience she hurried him away.

‘He’s a wee monster, that one,’ Anna Vic had said severely.

‘An’ his father before him,’ observed someone else.

Old Murdoch took his pipe out of his mouth. ‘As the old cock crows, so the young one learns,’ he had declared fatalistically.

‘I’m thinkin’ it’s wastin’ your time you are, mo ghaoil, cleanin’ your potatoes when there’s showers about. You’re no’ givin’ the weeds a chance to die.’ Morag was standing by my potato patch assessing its chances of survival with much the same expression on her face as if she were standing by a deathbed. ‘You should get at them when the ground’s good and dry.’

The thought that much of my day’s labour might have been in vain was a little deflating but I rallied when I remembered I had carried away most of the uprooted weeds to the dung heap behind the byre where they could revive or perish without harming my potatoes. Nevertheless it was with relief that I abandoned the hoe.

‘Me an’ Flora,’ continued Morag, ‘was thinkin’ we’d go down to the shore an’ see maybe will we get a wee billy dulse. The tide’s right for it now.’

We looked down at the sea-deserted, weed-covered rocks, assimilating the prospects of dulse picking.

‘Oh, yes. It’s pretty low tides this week,’ I agreed, confident now of my knowledge of the sea and its movements.

Flora gave me a kipper-coloured glance. ‘D’ye like yon?’ she asked with a vigorous nod towards the sea.

‘Dulse, do you mean?’ I was constantly being nonplussed by Flora’s haphazard ‘yons’.

‘Aye, yon.’

‘No,’ I confessed. ‘I’ve never managed to acquire a taste for it.’ To me dulse tasted like strips of rubber steeped in water that had been used for washing fishy plates.

‘Octh, yon’s good, yon,’ she commented ecstatically.

‘Erchy brought us a skart just the other day and Flora has a fancy for a wee bitty dulse boiled along with it,’ explained Morag.

‘He gave me a skart, too,’ I told her. ‘He must have been feeling generous.’

‘Generous?’ echoed Morag. ‘Did you not notice he’s lost his teeths an’ canna eat them himself?’

‘Oh, of course,’ I admitted, remembering Erchy’s gummy embarrassment when he had come to bestow his gift and his subsequent hasty departure in spite of the tea I offered.

‘It will be six months he’ll need to wait fill the dentist comes again unless he goes up to Inverness himself to get a new set,’ Morag announced. ‘An’ six months is a long time to be without your teeths once you’re used to havin’ them,’ she added.

‘He told me he’d lost them overboard when they were fishing,’ I said.

‘Indeed it was the truth he was tellin’ you,’ agreed Morag with the flicker of a smile.

‘Well, I wouldn’t wish Erchy discomfort but they say it’s an ill wind,’ I said lightly. ‘And it seems a long time since I last tasted skart.’

‘An’ had he yours skinned for you?’ asked Morag.

‘Oh, yes,’ I replied. ‘I doubt if I could have done that for myself.’ A skart or shag is prepared for cooking not by plucking but by skinning it like a rabbit and then the thick red meat can be cut from its breast like steak. There was normally so much meat on one that, casseroled, a bird would provide me with four good meals and there would still be stock for soup. ‘It was last Tuesday he gave me mine and I’m just about at the end of it now,’ I told her.

‘Aye, I believe it was Tuesday we got ours,’ agreed Morag. ‘I mind him sayin’ he got three that day.’

‘And you haven’t cooked it yet?’ I asked. It was now the following Monday and as Bruach boasted no such conveniences as refrigerators I doubted whether in such sultry weather a shot bird could be kept so long.

‘But we’ve had it buried,’ she retorted in a voice edged with compassion for my ignorance. ‘Put in a poc an’ buried in the ground a skart will keep for weeks. Surely you knew that, mo ghaoil?’

‘Oh, I knew about burying them but never more than for two or three days. I wouldn’t have expected it to keep as long as this,’ I replied.

‘It keeps,’ asserted Morag. ‘An’ likely it will be tender enough when we come to eat it. Did you no find yours a bitty tough on the teeths, eatin’ It so soon?’

I was about to deny that I had found it tough when Flora gave me a searching look. ‘Ah, but yon’s gey teeth, yon,’ she asserted positively. ‘Yon would crack bones like a dog, yon.’ She was looking at me as if she expected me to confirm her assertion.

I smiled. ‘I haven’t been hungry enough to try,’ I told her. ‘Yet,’ I added.

‘We’d best away for our dulse, then,’ Morag said.

‘Oh, stay for a cup of tea,’ I urged, starting to gather up my treasury of weeds. ‘I’m so dry I could drink a potful.’

‘I’m as dry as a crow myself,’ confessed Morag. She treated the shore to a Canute-like glance. ‘The tide will keep a whiley yet, I’m thinkin’.’

‘The kettles’s been at the side of the fire all afternoon so it won’t take long to boil,’ I told her.

‘Ach, then I’ll away to the house an’ fuse the tea while you finish your clearin’. Flora will give you a hand.’

Flora gave me a hand, accompanying her labours with such loquacious unintelligibility that I had to judge from her expression or intonation where to smile or to nod or exclaim. It appeared to suffice. As we turned to go back to the cottage she paused and with both arms full of weeds contrived to jerk an elbow towards the still unweeded part of my potato plot.

‘Yon’s filthy, yon,’ she commented with powerful disgust. I nodded rueful agreement. It deserved no more generous a criticism.

It was good to see Morag pouring out the tea as we entered the kitchen and while I rinsed the dirt off my hands with a dipper of cold water and emptied the earth and grit out of my shoes, Morag, who was as much at home in my kitchen as her own, unwrapped the tea-towel from the girdle scones I had baked that morning, spread them with butter and jam and placed one on top of each steaming cup. In Bruach where all water had to be carried one never used more crockery than was absolutely essential. A cup required no saucer; a scone could be balanced on a cup until it was taken in the fingers. It might mean slops on the table or crumbs on the floor but rough wood is soon mopped clean and hens are good gleaners.

We sat down, Morag on a hard-backed chair near the open door so that she should not miss anything that was happening; flora on a coir boat’s fender which I had found on the shore and now used as a pouffe, and I in my usual armchair.

‘Tell me, did you have yon mannie to see you?’ asked Morag, slewing round in her chair.

‘Was it a man?’ I countered with a chuckle. ‘I wasn’t sure what it was.’ I turned to flora. ‘This figure,’ I explained, ‘just came to me out of the blue and asked, "Do you love the Lord?"’

Flora brayed with laughter. ‘Yon’s mad, yon,’ she declared.

‘It was sluicing with rain,’ I went on, ‘and the figure was in oilskins and sou’wester and it had a high-pitched voice...’

‘An’ long hair,’ interrupted Morag. ‘Though the Dear only knows why a man would want to grow his hair long unless he had a disease or somethin’.’

‘It was a "he", then? Are you sure?’

‘Indeed, I couldn’t be sure what he was myself unless I turned him upside down,’ replied Morag. ‘But no, mo ghaoil, that wasn’t the one I was meanin’. There was another one came.’

‘Was there? No, I didn’t see him.’

‘They were sayin’ he was one of these Yanks.’

‘A Yank? Oh, no, I haven’t had any Americans calling on me,’ I told her. ‘Just the hermaphrodite.’

‘Oh, is that what he was?’ enquired Morag. ‘I wondered what religion he had to make him grow his hair as long as that.’ She threw a crumb of scone to a straying hen.

‘Well, if you didn’t have the Yank callin’ you missed somethin’, I’m tellin’ you.’ She wiped away a smile with the back of her hand. ‘He was wearin’ a kilt that near reached his ankles an’ short white stockings an’ a straw hat an’ them dark glasses so you couldn’t see if he had eyes or spider’s webs behind them.’

Flora shrieked appreciation, and the laughter lines ploughed deep on Morag’s wrinkled face.

‘What did he want?’ I asked.

‘Am’t I tellin’ you?’ reproved Morag. ‘He comes to my house an’ when I go to the door he asks will I take him into the cow byre an’ show him my antics.’

‘Your what!’ I ejaculated.

‘My antics,’ she reiterated and seeing my expression added: ‘He offered to pay me, true as I’m here.’ She reached over to the table and put down her cup. ‘I told him, says I, "A few years ago if you’d come then to me I could have shown you plenty of antics but ach, not now. Those days have passed."’

‘What sort of antiques was he after?’ I enquired soberly.

‘Why, crusie lamps an’ steelyards an’ quern stones an’ goffering Irons — even the worm we had for the whisky he was wantin’.’

‘I know what happened to the worm,’ I said. (Morag had once told me that after receiving warning of an impending visit by the Customs man all the village’s whisky-distilling apparatus had been dumped into the deepest well.) ‘But did you find anything else for him?’

‘I did not, then.’ She rose and helped herself to another cup of tea. ‘The quern stones I had right enough till Hector broke them up to use for his lobster creels, the wretch, an’ the cruise lamp disappeared when he was short of somethin’ to oil the engine of his boat.’

‘But the goffering iron,’ I reminded her. ‘Your mother’s goffering iron was still in the byre when I was with you. I remember your bringing it out to show me.’

Morag gave a snort of disgust. ‘Indeed, mo ghaoil, but since Hector an’ Behag’s come to live with me what can I keep my hands on save my own breeks an’ it’s tight I have to hold on to them sometimes for fear Hector will snatch them for cleanin’ his engine,’ she complained bitterly. ‘No, but didn’t Behag take the gofferin’ iron first for liftin’ the crabs’ claws out of the fire when she’d toast them — as if she couldn’t do that with her fingers — an’ then the next I see is Hector’s got hold of it an’ usin’ it for stirrin’ the tar to put on his boat. The Dear knows where the iron is now,’ she went on. ‘I doubt it’s at the bottom of the sea along with the boat he tarred.’

‘What a pity,’ I murmured. ‘I remember your telling me how you used to love watching your mother sitting by the fire and crimping the lace on her bonnet with the hot iron.’

Morag stared reflectively through the doorway, a gentle smile hovering around her lips. ‘Indeed, I remember it like yesterday,’ she said with a wistful sigh.

Down on the shore Morag and Flora wrested brown dulse from the wet, limpet-stippled rocks until their bag was full when they came up to the tide’s edge and joined me in the collection of driftwood. No mailer how adequate one’s store of driftwood might be it was impossible to resist taking home bundle after bundle rather than leave it for the tide to take away again. Morag looked up at the sky, assessing the degree of light.

If we don’t start back they’ll be thinkin’ the "Each Uisge" has got us,’ said Morag. ‘An’ there’ll be no milk for the tea if I don’t away to the cow. Hector’s awful heavy on the milk,’ she explained.

We made our way towards the heather-fringed burn where a relatively easy path led up towards the crofts. By now it was time for the evening milking and we could hear, though we could not yet see, the milkers calling for their cattle over the echoing moors. From closer at hand came the bawling of frustrated calves which, recognising the calling and the clanging of milk pails as a portent of supper, would be cavorting within the limited circle of their tethers.

Beside the burn Erchy was working at his dinghy, gouging handfuls of thick yellow grease from a tin he had found washed up on the shore and ramming it between the gaping planks. Like all Bruachites he had a sublime faith in grease and tar for keeping out the sea.

‘Are you gettin’ good fishin’?’ enquired Morag, surveying with unusual interest the floorboards of the dinghy which were speckled with fish scales.

‘Aye. There’s plenty of fish about now,’ he admitted. ‘The sea’s hissin’ with mackerel.’ With his elbow he gestured towards the outlying islands. ‘There’s a bit of herrin’ too. Tearlaich an’ me, we brought home a nice few herrin’ last night.’ He and Morag exchanged wary glances.

Flora, still carrying her bundle of wood, leaned over the boat. ‘Yon’s no herrin’ scales, yon,’ she stated flatly. ‘No, not mackerel either.’

‘Indeed they are so,’ argued Erchy but with dwindling defiance as he realised he was confronted by an expert. He glanced again at Morag but she had turned away, elaborately disinterested.

‘Yon’s salmon, yon!’ accused Flora.

‘Be quiet!’ returned Erchy with a challenging gleam in his eye but seeing Flora’s conspiratorial smile he went on:

‘What if they are salmon, anyway? It’s pleased enough you’d be if you found one waitin’ for you in the mornin’, I doubt.’

‘I would too,’ agreed Flora with unusual lucidity. ‘There’s nay harm in yon.’

‘The Lord puts the salmon in the rivers like he puts the berries on the trees,’ said Morag piously. ‘They’re there for all of us, no’ just the laird.’

‘Aye so,’ concurred Flora and she might just as well have said ‘Amen’.

I did not need to express an opinion, having lived long enough in Bruach to accept that poaching was not just a means of obtaining trout or salmon for a tasty meal but a daring and exciting pastime. To outwit the watchers or evade the police was a game as compulsive as betting or gambling might be to a townsman, with the added attraction that it yielded a repertoire of adventure and escape stories for the participants to narrate at winter ceilidhs. Nearly every able-bodied male in the village, whatever his occupation, poached or had poached at some time or another. Even the salmon watchers were reputed to engage in a little poaching when they were not on duty.

Sure of his audience’s wholehearted support Erchy became expansive. ‘Indeed I mind the old laird askin’ me to poach his salmon for him more than once,’ he told us.

‘Go on!’ taunted Flora.

‘Damty sure he did. I was doin’ watchin’ for him then an’ he was expectin’ this house party to come an’ wanted salmon for their dinner. He was up at the loch all day an’ didn’t get a bite so he comes to me an’ he says fill I put my net in the river that night an’ make sure there’d be one or two nice fish for them.’

‘An’ you made sure,’ put in Morag with a reminiscent smile.

‘Aye, we got near a dozen so we picked out all the ones that had the marks of the net on them an’ sent them up to the laird’s house. The rest we kept for ourselves.’

‘That wasn’t right at all,’ Morag chided him.

‘Ach, the cook got a hold of them an’ had them prepared before the guests could put an eye to them but the next time the laird asks me to poach a few for him he says, "An’ mind you, Erchy, make sure there’s no net marks on them this time. I cannot rely on this cook to make such a good job of them."’

‘Is it true?’ demanded Flora.

‘As true as I’m here,’ averred Erchy.

Flora shook her head. ‘Yon’s a mon, yon.’

‘These are no’ very fresh,’ Morag declared, leaning over the boat and scraping at the scales adhering to the wood. ‘Would these be the minister’s scales?’

Flora and I exchanged amused glances. ‘The minister’s scales?’ we said simultaneously.

‘What I was meanin’ was were they the scales left from the night he had the minister out poachin’.’ She laughed. ‘The night Erchy spent in the gaol.’

‘Never surely!’ breathed Flora.

‘Aye, we did,’ Erchy confirmed. ‘Him as well.’

‘The minister?’

‘Aye.’ Erchy nodded smugly. ‘An’ it served him damty well right too.’

‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘Well, you mind that Sassenach minister was over stayin’ for a holiday last week?’

I nodded.

‘Well him, it was. He mentioned more than once he’d like a nice salmon to take back with him so in the end I said I’d take him. We went to the river an’ we’d got a couple of good salmon in the net when suddenly there’s a shout an’ a couple of pollis come out of the dark an’ grab the net, salmon an’ all. They couldn’t see who we was an’ I got away out of it quick but this daft minister shouts, "No, Erchy, it’s no use. We’re caught red-handed." God! I was that mad I could have hit him. If he’d had any sense he would have followed me an’ they’d never have been able to prove it was our net. We could always have said we’d just noticed it there an’ were havin’ a look.’

‘You’d have lost your net,’ I pointed out.

‘We could have got a new bit of net for the price of the fine,’ returned Erchy.

‘So they put you in gaol,’ I sympathised.

‘Aye, well, that fellow wouldn’t be satisfied. "We must plead guilty, Erchy," he says to me. "No damty fear," says I. "They’ve no proof, I tell you." "But, Erchy," says he, "if there’s a case about it my name will be in the papers an’ what will my congregation think if they see their minister’s been caught poachin’?"’

‘The man was right,’ interrupted Morag. ‘He has to think of his congregation.’

‘Right for himself maybe but ministers should think about others as well,’ returned Erchy. ‘If he was goin’ to plead guilty then I had to as well.’

‘What difference does it make pleading guilty?’ I enquired innocently.

‘If you plead guilty you just spend the night in the cell an’ in the mornin’ you pay your fine an’ get out an’ nobody much the wiser,’ he explained.

‘So that’s what they did. An’ the minister didn’t get his salmon to take back with him,’ Morag said.

‘No, but he had the cheek of the devil, that fellow,’ Erchy disclosed. ‘When the copper came to the cell the next mornin’ he was mighty pleased with himself at havin’ got the pair of us an’ the two salmon as evidence. Oh, he was smilin’ an’ tellin’ us It was a nice day, an’ then he says, "What would you like for your breakfast, gentlemen?" as if it was a hotel we was stayin’ at.

‘"I fancy some bacon an’ eggs," says I, thinkin’ I’d be cheeky an’ put them to as much trouble as I could.

‘"An’ what about you, minister?" he says. An’ that minister looks at him as cool as I don’t know what an’ he says, "Oh, don’t go to any trouble for me, boys, just give me the same as you had yourselves — a plate of poached salmon".’

Flora and I dissolved into laughter.

‘We’d best be on our way,’ said Morag. ‘Oidhche mhath!’ she called.

‘Oidhche mhath!’ responded Erchy. I had taken a couple of steps in the wake of Morag and Flora when I realised that Erchy’s farewell had been spoken with his normal clarity and I realised suddenly that he was equipped with a full set of teeth.

‘Erchy!’ I exclaimed, instantly recognising them as his own because of the broken eye tooth. ‘You’ve got your teeth back again!’

‘Aye, I have so,’ he admitted.

‘You were lucky to find them, weren’t you? Didn’t you tell me you dropped them in the sea?’

‘I said I dropped them overboard,’ corrected Erchy, and seeing my puzzled look elucidated: ‘I dropped them overboard in the river the other night when I was poachin’ an’ I was certain I’d never see them again, but, aye, I was lucky. somebody did find them. They got them in their net.’

‘How extraordinary!’ I said. ‘Who got them?’

‘I’m not sayin’ who,’ responded Erchy with an air of mystery, ‘but this mornin’ who should be at the door but the pollis an’ when I asked him what he wanted he pulled out this handkerchief an’ there was my teeths wrapped in it. "I hear you lost your teeths, Erchy," says he. "Well, I did so," says I. "I’m wonderin’ if these are yours?" asks the pollis. Well, I knew fine anybody would know they’re my teeths so I says, "Aye, they’re mine, right enough."

‘But who would take them to the police?’ I asked. ‘Surely it would be tantamount to admitting they’d been poaching?’

‘Who would take them to the pollis?’ returned Erchy derisively. ‘When I’m damty sure everyone in the village knew they was mine?’

‘You mean...’ I began and then paused as the full import of his words dawned slowly upon me. ‘You mean the policeman himself was doing a spot of poaching and he caught them in his net?’

Erchy fixed me with an uncompromising stare. ‘Now what damty fool would be askin’ the pollis a question like that?’ he demanded.

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