Often I was curious as to the contents of the chest but whenever he caught my eyes falling upon it, he glared, almost menacingly, his eyes not speaking to me in the manner one might have expected a father’s to his daughter. So I learned not to within his presence.

 

He was not like others, he did not fall ill and need to be cared for. Simply, he worked himself to the bone, just as she had done before him, and dropped one day, tending to sheep up on the fell with Eve. He went from perfect health to perfect death in one. I did not even notice his absence at first but when he had not returned by nightfall and the long, Northern night of winter lingered until dawn, then I had known it was time to search for him for light snows were already falling; flurrying in the air, far from moist, biting at Flesh like flies. It would have been foolish of me to have set off any earlier before the dawn. The first thirty minutes or so of fell beneath my feet I knew well enough without any requirement for light. Light or darkness; it did not matter much to me for there was enough familiarity in it for security! But beyond that, one might easily slip and fall: even the breaking of an ankle up there can be fatal. And worse things still can happen there too. Therefore I was constrained in my departure. As it happened, it would have made absolutely no material difference anyway.

 

For I found him perfectly dead, of course, but also looking perfectly at ease, laying on the hillside, his flock well away from him but guarded by the bitch, a light dusting upon both of them as the shivers set in even on the latter. She barked upon seeing me but she did not move, held her ground absolutely unflinchingly, and it was clear that she had made no attempt to return home. That had been the moment, no doubt, when back at Grindleton, a ratchet had clicked from one position to another in the mill movement – always there, always measured, always counted down – struck its moment, that final second seemingly just fractionally longer than any previous and yet still so utterly unavoidable. I could see that he had shattered the ice in an adjacent trough but the surface had frozen over again for the night had been its usual, unforgiving self up there. I now realise that I never really knew him until I read his book. They had been living a life that was quite exceptional and I had breathed it every day as my natural air. Some seed must have found its way to my heart in childhood through my parents. And, without them, it has now started to breathe anew within me.

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