The lone walker on the hill shivered a little. The sun had set long since, sinking gently down, received by plump cushiony clouds above a fiery sea. The glow was all about him, transforming these bleak moorland heights with a golden, heavenly light. Far below, where lanes and tracks weaved and curled their secret ways, shouts and laughter drifted up into the clear air. He paused for a moment, dragging his gloves from his pocket, watching the small figures of men as they prepared to stop work for the day.
The old house was being renovated. Even from this distance he could see the evidence of it in the yard: piles of timber, a small bonfire still smoking, ladders and scaffolding. He’d walked these paths for years, during holidays and half terms, and could remember when the cream-washed walls had been bare granite and the yard full of cows. He’d heard the voices of children as they’d clambered on the swing beside the tall escallonia hedge and seen smoke rising from the chimney on cold autumn evenings.
Now, an agent’s board bearing green and white lettering leaned at an angle against the low stone wall which bordered the narrow lane, and the workmen were ready to go home. A pick-up idled in the yard whilst someone opened the farm gate, shouting to his companion who came hurrying from the barn. The truck was driven slowly through the gateway, waiting whilst the gate was shut and the man safely aboard before disappearing behind the shoulder of the hill.
The walker drew his collar more closely about his throat and walked briskly onwards, his face to the west. The house, built at the moor gate, in the shadow of the hills, always reminded him of a poem he’d known from childhood. He murmured it aloud as he trudged onwards.
‘From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends . . .’
A sudden gust of cold wind came snaking over the moors. He bent his head against it, still trying to remember the next lines. A handful of chill rain made him blink and he began to hurry, the verse forgotten, his mind now on supper: his landlady’s warm kitchen, hot, strong tea and the comforting smell of cooking.
He did not see the muffled figure crossing the moor below the house, pausing within the shadow of the thorn hedge, climbing swiftly over the dry-stone wall.
The clouds gathered overhead and the rain began to fall steadily.