Deep and Crisp and Even (Conclusion)
When he heard about this he went and set the house on fire and grimly watched the whole lot perish: wife and bairns and the bloody Hanoverian dogs who were trying to take it all off him. He stood in the winter night and never once shuddered as he heard them all calling out in their agony. It was not the fire that warmed him though, and he was not finished yet. After the blaze he went down to the village with those rabble most loyal to him and picked out a handful of those who had opposed him most.
‘They have destroyed my house and killed my family,’ he said to all the listeners. Then he gave them his tale, carefully made up, which his men supported. ‘Who will stand in my way and against justice for this massacre?’ he asked, and no-one spoke against him.
Then one woman said, ‘Hand them over to the crown agents at Penrith, if you have a mind for revenge.’
‘Revenge?’ he said. ‘I covet justice. And what justice would be given me, hounded out of my own lands like an animal, and called rebel and traitor for the sake of being a truth teller.’
The people could not find the right answer against him then. They were still tied to their old feudal loyalties and would do nothing against that bond. So the lord and his men took away those ringleaders they said were most to blame. They put rope around them, then the led them though the snow fall, silent and alone, into the remote fells. And in the blizzard he left them exposed, on the flank of a mountain. It was on the border of his estate, an evil place of blood where it was said cruel Englishmen maimed and murdered the last British overlords of the lake lands over a thousand years before. Now there were fresh spirits for those old sorrowing ones to feed on.
But it was not over, she saw. After his own forlorn end in a different darkness, those he had killed remained wandered from the place where they had perished and sought out the remnants of his kin. These bargained with the wraiths for their own peace of mind. Each year, as the first snow fell, they were to place offerings on the bleak stones to placate those who died, and this they did year in and year out, giving food and blankets as a hillside benediction for those lost ones.
Jennifer turned and chose to waken. Tommy stirred uneasily downstairs, and there was an echo of his physical unease outside. Flickers of rational thought passed through the forefront of her mind while the pictures jostled further back. ‘He never went this year, for once,’ she thought. Then she had the certainty that it had been because of a woman.
The sound of him rising from the settee. He called some name and she knew it was not hers, but not a woman’s name at all. The wind in the snow in the garden moved to form itself into a profile, as far away on the fell side the shadows cried out for comfort. The pitiless shape dragged itself shivering through the garden. His progress was horribly weighed down by a resentful sense of obligation that was imposed on him and which he now was going to use against his descendant.
The garden doors slid open from the inside, with the snapping of icicles like sinews breaking, and the elements entered. She saw three pictures. She saw the cold eyes of the figure just before it enfolded her husband. She saw the mountain side people, rags fluttering in the gale, beseeching. She saw herself, standing still, looking into the mirror of the bedside dressing table. A warm flood rushed through her body unstoppably, darkening her cheeks and making her lips full red, pulsing sensually. The heat radiated from the room, an affirmation of life which made all trace of the winter vanish from the house.