SAFELY GATHERED IN by MARION TWYMAN

This was probably going to be our last holiday together as a family, before we went our own ways in life. My twin brother Will and I were 18, and would both be starting at Universities in a few weeks, and our elder brother Jack, who was 20, was preparing to start his third year at Medical School. He had agreed to join us to celebrate our moving out into the world away from home.
We had always been a very sporty family, loving the outdoor life, so Mum and Dad had taken a beautiful cosy cottage in the Yorkshire Dales for our week of family bonding. The weather had been glorious, and we had had some wonderful days walking, drinking in the fantastic scenery all around us. We took it in turns cooking and clearing away our evening meals, and the remainder of our evenings had been spent sprawled around the fire, planning the next day’s route, and relaxing in general with a few beers and glasses of wine.
On Thursday morning the sun was high in the sky again, although cloud was forecast for later. We set off as usual, each carrying rucksacks containing food and water, a map, a torch, a compass and a rope, and sweaters, in case the weather changed, as often happened in the Dales.
We walked for a couple of hours or so, laughing and chatting as we went, and I remember thinking what a success the holiday was, and what a wonderful family I was part of. We were walking along the foot of some scree, and we came to a small cairn of stones, with a nice flat grassy area beside it, so we decided to stop and have lunch. The view from there was just breathtaking, with tiny farms and villages scattered among the green hillsides, and sheep looking like white dots in the fields. We could hear birds singing, and watched several hawks soaring above us, it was absolutely idyllic.
We ate our picnic of ham rolls and apples, washed down with some cider Mum had secreted into her rucksack, and for the next hour or so we sat around at leisure. Mum had also brought a book, so she had a bit of a read, and Dad had forty winks with his back against the stone cairn. Will always carried a small sketch book and pencil, so he was drawing Dad. Jack and I lay on our backs in the sun, talking about everything and nothing.
Suddenly Mum looked up from her book and spoke. ‘I don’t like the look of that cloud over there’ she said ‘ It has built up very quickly’. We all looked to where she was pointing, and were amazed, – we could hardly make out the scenery we had marvelled at such a short time earlier, there was a thick bank of grey cloud rolling across, and coming towards us at speed. We all scrambled to our feet and gathered our belongings together. It only took a few minutes, but as we did so, we noticed it growing noticeably colder, and the birds had all stopped singing. The first fingers of mist had started to envelop us as we began to walk back, and we soon realised we were in danger of losing sight of one another as it thickened ominously.
‘Let’s get organised’ said Dad. ‘ We’d better go in single file .I’ll take the torch and walk in front, you follow me, Will, with the compass. Then you, Ruth, then Mum, and Jack, you bring up the rear. Stay as close as you can, and try to keep at least the one in front of you in sight. We’ll all hold the rope in our right hands, then we won’t get parted.’ As we stood together our hair was beaded with pearls of condensation. We put on our sweaters, as our shirts were getting damp, and Dad got the rope out. Jack tied it around his waist, as he was back marker, and the rest of us took hold of it in our right hands, and started off in single file. It was eerily silent, except for the sound of our feet – we were all concentrating too much on keeping each other in sight to talk.
When we had been walking for about twenty minutes, there was a sudden coughing sound beside us, then a scrabbling, and a large sheep dashed across between us, knocking Will over, and the compass flew from his hand, lost forever. He had let go of the rope, and the force of his fall had pulled it from Dad’s hand .He turned and shone the torch towards us, and the mist was so thick that we could hardly see its beam. Mum dropped the rope and dashed to help Will, and Jack ran forward too. I was the only one holding the rope, and I ran towards Dad and the torch light. Luckily Will was unhurt, just a bit winded, so we picked up the rope and got into single file again. Without the compass we were now unsure of which direction we had been travelling in, and after some discussion, we could only hope we were going the right way.
We walked and stumbled on for another half hour, and suddenly Dad stopped. ‘We are back where we started’ he said, ‘ look, there’s the cairn where we had lunch. We’d better stay put here until the mist lifts, we’ll be totally lost otherwise, and I don’t think this torch battery will last much longer.’ By this time our sweaters were soaked and we were all feeling very cold. We huddled together, and shared a couple of bars of chocolate .I had never felt so frightened in my life, but was too proud to let anyone else know that. There was no sound except our own breathing, and the mist was like a clammy grey blanket surrounding us. We settled down to an uncomfortable and cold wait for it to lift.
Suddenly there was a loud scrabbling which frightened the daylights out of us all. Out of the mist in front of us loomed a tall man, who had scrambled down the scree. He looked about Jack’s age, and was wearing a thick anorak .’ Hello, what’s all this’ he said, in a friendly voice, ‘ Have you been caught out by the mist ? Where are you from ? My name’s Rory Fisher, by the way.’ Dad jumped up. ‘We’re the Arnold family’ he said, and introduced us all. ‘We’re staying at the Murray’s cottage in Barlane village, and you are right, the mist caught us unawares.’ Rory smiled. ‘My father’s the vicar at Barlane church’ he said, ‘I was brought up on these fells, so I’ll have you home in no time.’ Dad explained his system with the rope, and Rory took hold of the front end, with Dad behind him and the rest of us in our original places in the line.
It took about an hour to get down to the road, with us slithering and stumbling behind the sure-footed Rory, and the clock struck five as we approached the church. ‘I must go’ said Rory, as he handed the rope end to Dad. ‘You’ll know your way from here’ and he disappeared into the mist before we could even thank him. At least we knew who he was, so we wearily trudged to our cottage, where we were soon warm and dry beside a roaring fire drinking hot chocolate and counting our blessings.
The next morning was bright and sunny again, the mist having dispersed during the night. Dad took Jack and Will off for a day’s fishing that they had arranged at the beginning of the week, and after Mum and I had cleared the breakfast dishes, we set out for the Vicarage. We knocked at the door, and it was opened by the vicar, a tall man who looked very pale and tired.
‘Good morning’ I said ‘ could we have a word with Rory please.’ He looked at us for a couple of seconds. ‘May I ask who you are’ he said quietly. ‘I’m Ruth Arnold, and this is my mother’ I said. ‘We’re staying at the Murray’s cottage. Rory helped us down from the fell yesterday when we were hopelessly lost in the mist, and we didn’t get chance to thank him – we were hoping he would come for a meal this evening so we can thank him properly’. The Reverend Fisher looked at us again for a few seconds. ‘I think you’d better come in’ he said.
He showed us into a small sitting room, and brought us a tray of coffee. We could not help noticing a large framed photograph of a smiling Rory on the sideboard. As he poured our coffee, the Reverend asked me to tell him again about the previous day, so I explained how we had been lost in the mist, and Rory had appeared from nowhere and led us home, then had hurried away when we reached the village. He asked us what time that was, and I recalled that the church clock had been striking five. He nodded gently and sighed. When he looked up there were tears in his eyes.
‘For the past three weeks Rory has been in the Hospice at Brotherton,’ he said quietly. ‘Yesterday at midday, my wife and I were at his bedside when he whispered that he wished he could go up onto the fells once more, as there were some strays needing help. Then he lapsed into a coma. We were still there when he opened his eyes for a moment, smiled, and with his last breath said ‘’All are safely gathered in.’’ His time of death was registered as five o’clock.’

Advertisements

About highamwriters

A group of recreational creative writers and if you ask us nicely we will let you publish some of our work
This entry was posted in Marion Twyman. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s