He had lived on the farm for a lifetime from boy to man. Every corner of every field, every shadow of every building recalled some special memory. The land was in his very bones. He had courted Eileen here. 

Down by the barn he had kissed her for the first time. In a rush of rashness he had asked her that once in a lifetime question and then had waited, with bated breath for the refusal. It hadn’t come. She’d said yes. He smiled as he remembered how he had run down the lane after she had gone, shouting at the trees “She said YES ….. She said YES!”

 

By Golly, they had lived a happy life. Now she was gone. He had never got over it. They all said that time would heal it, would soothe the hurt. It hadn’t. Yes, it had blunted the sadness, just a little but he still expected her to come bustling out of the dairy whenever he went into the old farm kitchen. He could still hear her …. Still feel her …. Still, in an awful piece of recollection, smell her perfume. He reached down under the table and fondled the head of his sheepdog Meg. The dog had come to live inside after Eileen’s death.

“You’re a faithful old girl!” he said lovingly, noticing how grey she was around her muzzle and how that vibrant light had somehow gone out of her eyes. He had owned and loved a few dogs in his time but none as much as this one.

“What is it now …. seven of yours to every one of mine? We’re about the same age girl.”

In his mind he could see Meg, flying like the wind over the green grass of the meadow. He could hear his own calls “Away to me” …… “Come bye”. He could still hear the whistles rising up into the sky like larks. She could run in those days. Mind you, he was different then too. Now everything was an effort. He looked up at the window. The sky was overcast and heavy.

“Time to go and see the sheep, Meg.”

The pair of them went out into the porch slowly, together, as if they were sewn together with invisible thread. He buttoned up his old coat and pulled on his boots and they went out into the yard, they crossed it and started to climb up the hill. When they reached the top the snow started. Gently at first then getting heavier.

“It’ll only be a flurry.”

As they got further away the snow fell thickly. He had seen worse and so had Meg. He looked down at her and she looked back at him. She was coated now with more white than black and she looked tired. Her feet were dragging and her head was down. Her breath came raggedly.

“We’ll rest up a bit old girl”.

Even the words were hard to produce. He sat down in the lee of the hedge and pulled her up on his lap, wrapping the old overcoat around them both.

It was coming down in pillowcases now, like thick feathers. He could not see where they had come from or where they were going. Suddenly he felt all of his 80 years, as though someone had pulled the plug out and everything had drained away.

He reached under the coat to warm his hands on her fur. She was still warm but she was still, too still. The dark, gunmetal eyes stared back blankly, snowflakes settling on them. There was no response. No light of recognition or of pleasure. It took him several moments to come to terms with what had happened. When he did a cold tear ran down his old, lined face. He held the precious dog closer as if love would keep it with him.

He did not notice the snow now. He did not notice that there was no feeling in his limbs. Enough was enough, he shut his eyes. The snow stopped. It lay silently, thickly carpeting everything. He opened his eyes with surprise. The sun had come out. In front of him a man stood, a man with a crook. He rubbed his eyes not believing what he was seeing. Nobody ever came out here. He noticed his own hands, they looked brown and strong. The man was smiling.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am a shepherd too.” The answer came. Inside his coat something stirred. Not with the slow, painful movements of old age but with the energy of a puppy. Meg! The dog ran off across the snowy field, moving fluently …. Effortlessly. Particles of snow flew up from its moving feet and glittered in the sun. He looked beyond the bounding dog. A woman was coming across the field towards him. She was beautiful. He recognised something in her walk. He knew who it was.

This was extracted from the October 1992 edition of Working Sheepdog News.

My thanks to Dale Haines, UK, for sending this beautiful article to me.



Dogs Come when Called

"Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you."

"Of course, every cat is really the most beautiful woman in the room."

Edward Verrall Luca (essayist)

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