It is impossible for me to say exactly what it was which pushed him over the edge. In retrospect there might have been no one particular incident. Nevertheless, one has remained in my own mind as the critical moment. I suspect now that I would be misleading you to impose that upon Brierley’s decision-making as well. It was quite possibly solely mine that was so affected. For, as the two of us walked between the chapel and the cottage one day, Brierley glanced over towards the path across the neighbouring garth and stopped dead in his tracks. I followed the line of his gaze and spotted what I believed must surely have ensnared his attentions. Then I glanced back at him and was met with what could only be called a ‘hardened’ look – one that insisted on remaining resilient in the face of everything that was occurring around him. It was a mask he was having to put on in order to protect him from a complete breakdown of his beliefs and opinions.

For out in that field, immediately adjacent to the oft-trampled path was a body. Very probably that person had simply fallen whilst crossing that adjacent garth. We cut across the desiccated shaw although quite what the hurry might have been I could not really comprehend. There should absolutely have been none! It was surely evident to both of us that there was going to be no potential to replicate that day upon which he had resurrected the Egyptian boy. For a couple of things were perfectly obvious. Firstly, that this was a young girl, not yet fully grown. The second was visible even from some little distance: in spite of the relatively obvious positioning of the body, it had laid there for probably a couple of days. Perhaps, it had been seen by others and ignored in favour of their own concerns. Or else it had simply been the case that nobody had walked that path in their exhausted states over the previous day or so. There were other path routes, after all and a dozen good reasons to choose them over that one! There was no mistaking the lack of quickness in the body even from a distance but, closer up, it became so very obvious that Brierley did not even bother to kneel down and touch it. There were potential dangers in that sometimes – he knew that much; he was interested in such things.

I expected him to speak, to pronounce some quasi-mandatory lecture upon the truth that we know not neither the day nor the hour and that sort of thing. He did not. In fact, he did not speak at all. He did not need to for the look in his eye said more than that to me. He just stood there, staring, wordless, for a good three or four minutes. I have to say that they were an uncomfortable extended time period for me and I did not know whether I should break them.

In the end there seemed to be no choice for not only was there no indication that he might speak, there was not even the slightest sign that he would move either.

  • Do you know who she was?

He was still slow to respond and scarcely better than silent in the first part of his response. It was all prefixed by some ill-defined noise which could only really be understood as an affirmative but an affirmative which, in itself, seemed to negate so very much. It was devoid of any sign of the positive that he needed to calrify that is actually was an affirmative.

  • …Oh yes, I have known her ever since she was still latched to her poor mother’s bosom. …Aye me, Matthew! And I think you do too, actually…

Well, he had known her all the time he had been at Grindleton then. I could not say that I actually recognised her. But sometimes that can be difficult – recognising a corpse, I mean. Perhaps it is just something in the mind which blocks that identification? And if he said that I knew her then I would have done so.

Then Brierley bent down.

  • Here, take that! For some reason she always had that tied around her in one place or another.

I think he was going to say something further to contribute to some potential explanation. But he changed his mind and simply turned around. Previously, I had not been able to see of what he might actually have been speaking on account of his own bulk blocking my view. And I had taken little specific interest. But now his hand passed me the most pathetic fragment of lace[1], barely recognisable beneath its accumulation of soil and, in truth, not much more than a few threads held together by fortune, frayed to nothing. …I suppose that it must have been half the size I remembered it.

Was that the critical moment? I cannot tell.

 


 

 

[1] Fragment of lace: it is only clear from the context what Matthew is actually talking about here. The word, ‘lace’ was still being used to imply ‘ties’, the primary use of the word up until this time. The second half of the sixteenth century had seen lace develop rapidly in Northwest Europe, following an earlier tradition in centres such as Venice. Critical to this accelerated diffusion appears to have been the book of patterns, the ‘Nüw Modelbuch’ (Zurich, 1561). In England lace had been used for ruffs but it was beginning to be worn flat with intricate patterns. Exactly what type of lace is being referred to here cannot be gleaned from Matthew’s commentary. It is also impossible to guess how this family might have come into possession of the item. However, it may be important to note that lace was often traded and smuggled.