Monday, January 21, 2013

A STORY ABOUT ANGELS

Hey - it's been a long winter so far and I sometimes like to write.

Part 1
The day was bright and the sky a dark, rich blue.  The forty degree temperature was warm for this December 1961 day in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.  The old man slowly walked along the top of a hill bordered by forest to his left and a wide, long, green meadow to his right.  He stopped and patted his coat pockets with both hands searching for the tin of pipe tobacco that he was certain he picked up off the table in the study before leaving the cabin this morning.   The tin of Sutliff Private Stock Blend Number 5 was withdrawn from his upper right external breast pocket and the old, hand carved briar pipe was lifted out of an inside pocket in the plaid Woolrich coat that he wore.  He always believed that if he was going to enjoy the bad habit of smoking that he would lavish himself with the best of the makins.  He drew long and deep on the stem of the pipe being careful not to allow the smoke to enter his lungs but, held it in his mouth savoring the sweet taste on his tongue before expelling it in beautiful, blue, wispy swirls that encircled his head.  He sat down on a fallen log with a groan, both hands on his knees and surveyed the meadow below him.

Doctor Will Beecher retired five years ago from being the town doctor in the community of Otterville, New York.  Otterville is nestled in the heart of the Adirondak Mountains, population 210,  and is strictly an agricultural village primarily comprised of eleven farms, one of which was Will’s.  Will was looked up to in the community and viewed as a friend to one and all.  He also enjoyed the trust of community members when doctoring was required.  At some point in his later career, Will Beecher experienced professional wanderlust.  In short – he was tired; burned out.  It seemed he had lived his entire life trying to save and improve the lives of his neighbors through his expertise as a doctor and he felt there had to be something more – something for just him.  When the Richardson farm came up for sale – he bought it instantly.  The Richardson’s owned the largest tract of land in the area and much of it was raw, forested land.  Amos Richardson was a widower and sort of lost his drive and reason to live when his wife, Elma, passed on eight years ago.  He became a recluse and was rarely seen in town, and never came by to use the services provided by Dr. Beecher.  Word was that he came down with consumption and died suddenly while sitting on his front porch drinking heavily from a mason jar filled with shine on a cold fall evening.

Will’s wife, Grace, would have breakfast ready in half an hour and he had better be getting back.  He loved to get out here above the beautiful green meadow on a daily basis just when the sun was rising.  Grace never could rise from sleep in time to prepare Will’s breakfast before he’d leave on his morning sojourns even after all these years but, she never failed to have grits, eggs and biscuits ready for him when he made his early morning return each day.  Grace was 75 years old, just three years younger than Will and the two of them lived in perfect harmony, neither one interrupting the personal life routine of the other.  They valued and respected each other’s space and coexisted harmoniously for 56 years because of that one fact.

Will placed his hands one on each side of his legs and pushed himself to a standing position.  The bones at the base of his neck and between his shoulder blades snapped and cracked as he straightened up.  He twisted his torso left and right before drawing the cold morning air deeply into his lungs causing him to instantly cough four times.  The coughs never used to concern him but they were occurring more frequently and the incidents lasted longer as the months past.   He had his suspicions but refrained from further investigation.  In reality he didn’t really want to know the cause.  Part of the reason for his lackadaisical attitude toward the lingering malady was that he feared what the cause might be.  The second part of his reasoning told him that he was old and whatever was causing the coughing spells wouldn’t matter at this point in time in his life anyhow.  Better to just go day to day and enjoy what life offered him and whatever would be would be.

He leaned over and tapped the side of the pipe bowl against the log he was sitting on a moment ago, stood up straight and gave the meadow before him a last look- see before heading back for breakfast.  It was at that moment he noticed a black dot moving across the center of the meadow coming in his direction.  Was it a cub bear?  No.  Too small.  Maybe a coyote.  Too dark in color.  He watched, fascinated as the critter kept getting closer.  It had to be a dog.  It was a dog – a large black dog.  His face showed concern because as the dog moved ever closer, Will noticed the animal was limping badly and held its head low.  He looked on in curiosity as he watched the animal slowly and painfully move up the hill toward him from the meadow.  He had always loved dogs and had his share.  His last was a beautiful female Weimaraner named Marley that he loved dearly.  He and that dog were inseparable and the dog gave Will her total devotion and love.  When Marley passed away at the age of six years due to cancer, Will struggled with his desire to have another dog.  He felt that a new dog would be a replacement for his Marley but his heart wouldn’t cooperate with his desires and another dog was not forthcoming.  He thought of Marley every morning when he walked along the edge of the meadow alone but tolerated the loneliness out of loyalty to the memory of his beloved lost companion.  Dogs have a way of affecting a person that way.

The black dog kept on a course that was leading it directly to where Will was standing.  Will whistled as loud as he could and the black dog instantly stopped and raised its head.  The muzzle lifted high as it tested the air for a familiar scent.  Will noticed the dog’s tail move left and right twice in each direction before stopping.  It seemed willing to move forward toward him but was unsure of the circumstance it found itself in.  Now, just a hundred feet apart, the two strangers faced each other unsure of what action to take.  The black lab stared at Will’s face as if trying to figure out if he were friend or foe.  Its muscles tensed ready to either flee or succumb to the coaxing of this stranger standing before it.  Will noticed the animal was a male and slowly and painfully squatted down to put himself on the same level as the dog and extended his hand while talking in a low voice to it, “come on- come on boy.  It’s all right-come here now.”
The dog cocked it’s head from one side to the other with a comical look on its face.  The tail slowly moved left and right with an ever quickening pace.  Then Will said, “Come on boy-good boy-come on now.”
The dog’s tail moved left and right rapidly and it cautiously walked directly toward Will and abruptly stopped an arm’s length away.  Will slowly extended the back of his hand to the dog’s nose and the animal accepted the introduction and allowed Will to lay the palm of his hand upon the top of its head.  A gentle scratch behind each ear and a few caresses over the top of the dog’s head cemented the new friendship.  Will slowly stood up and the dog’s eyes followed every move Will made assuring itself that will was a friend and not some trickster out to take advantage of him as others had in the past.   Then, as if he had forgotten something, Will went down on one knee, slowly reached out his right hand and gently kneaded the dog’s shoulders at the top of its back.  He slid his left hand slowly down the dog’s right leg toward the paw.  This is the leg the black dog favored as it walked across the meadow.  The Lab winced in pain and tried to withdraw its paw from Will’s hand but, Will spoke softly and the animal settled down and allowed the man to have his way.  It didn’t take much looking to see the problem.  A quarter inch long, thick shard of glass protruded from the dog’s foot.  Will grasped the shard tightly between his fingers and withdrew it with a quick pull.  He patted the dog on the head and stood up.  “I wonder how old you are.  Yer sure not a young pup.  I’d guess about maybe ten or eleven years old.  No matter.  I’m not young anymore either.  We have that in common with each other anyway”.
“Well, I guess you’re coming home with me.  I don’t think Grace will mind.  We’ll see what she says.”
Will stood up, turned and walked away from the dog.  He stopped and twisted his head around to find the dog sitting where he left him.
“Come on boy.  Come on – let’s go.”
The big Black Lab instantly stood and walked to Will.  The limp was gone.  Together they crossed the top of the grassy meadow, the dog following slightly behind Will.  A new partnership was in the making.

Part 2
Grace was delighted that Will had befriended the dog.  She had been trying to talk her husband into getting another dog ever since Marley passed on.  Will fell into a lengthy sorrow at the loss of that dog and he never quite got over it.  Grace and he discussed what to call the new family member over supper that night and many names came to mind but none satisfied Will.  Will lifted the spoon full of black raspberry cobbler to his mouth and stopped instantly, holding the spoon stationary in front of his mouth and exclaimed;  “Farley.  His name is Farley.”  Grace smiled and replied, “Farley it is – an appropriate name.”

It was obvious to Will that Farley was well trained because the dog would sit, come, stay, lie down and fetch when told to.  Farley even walked at Will’s right side and slightly behind.  When Will would look around and down at Farley, he noticed the dog always staring up at him.  Farley would never take his eyes off Will it seemed.  Grace commented more than once to Will that Farley adored him and she saw a certain new joy return to her husband’s eyes since Farley came into his life.  She mentioned several times, jokingly, that she was just a bit jealous of their relationship.

Winter turned to spring and man and dog never missed a morning together walking along the top of the hill that edged the wide meadow below.  Farley loved roaming through the tall grasses that grew in huge clumps and lined the hillside.  Occasionally he would stumble upon a flock of grouse and jump back, half at a run, when the fast birds would break from their hiding places in the blackberry bushes and green briars.  Will often thought, “Some hunting dog I got here.”  A wide smile would appear on his face when thinking those thoughts.
They roamed the property all that spring and well into summer.  One morning in July they returned to the house around noon to see a car parked in the driveway.  He didn’t recognize it and walked a little faster toward the house to satisfy his curiosity.  He went up the five steps to the porch with Farley at his heels and opened the door.
“Happy birthday Will!”   He had totally forgotten but, Grace didn’t.  The car belonged to the Methodist preacher in town and he and his wife were standing with Grace in the center of the main room of their cabin all smiles and appearing very happy.  A big grin spread over Will’s face and he bent his head forward just a little bit, appearing embarrassed, and stared at the floor, lifting only his eyes after a brief moment to look at Grace.  He felt the now familiar weight against his ankle that was Farley and Will kneeled down and pulled the dog tight against his leg. 
The preacher exclaimed, “Well, how’s it feel to be an old man Will?”
Will thought a moment and replied, “Don’t know.  I’ll have to ask an old man about it.”

They all had a good laugh over the comment and sat down to supper.  The preacher took his wife’s hand and gave thanks for the food they were about to consume.  Grace had prepared a wonderful chicken dinner for them with all the fixens.  She even cooked up a deer steak and covered it with chicken gravy for Farley. 
Will felt embarrassed about not recognizing the preacher’s car, as he’d not been to church in over a year.  Grace went every Sunday but, Will was never inclined toward religion.  His mind revolved around scientific fact and he just never quite bought totally into the religion thing.   After all – he was a doctor and doctor’s are scientific people.  Grace had submitted some mighty convincing religious facts and stories but, there was something missing that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.  The part about angels was especially hard to swallow.  He often thought about religion and creation and on one winter’s evening, while sampling some dew during a heavy snow storm, he actually thought he had it all figured out but he let it all go the next morning after his mind cleared because there were too many missing facts about the subject.

Farley was the perfect dog during the festivities.  He lay at Will’s feet all through supper, never once asking for a thing and uttered not a sound.  The deer steak was long gone by this time.  Every now and then Will would take a piece of white meat from his plate and sneak it down to Farley while everyone was talking and eating.  Farley would gently take it from his fingers making the faintest smacking sounds as he savored the delicacy.  The preacher’s wife, May, commented at one point on what an angel the black dog was.  Grace said that Will and Farley were best friends and each was an angel to the other. 
At supper’s end, the table was cleared of plates and Grace came out of the kitchen carrying a chocolate cake, Will’s favorite.  Planted in the center of the cake was a single red candle.  Everyone joked that they couldn’t find a store in town that had more than twenty candles in stock for sale.  Happy 79th was written in white icing around the top edge of the cake.
Grace exclaimed, “There’s just one more thing.  Will – I had this made especially for you.  I know I’ll be contributing to your bad habits but it’s way too late to change you now and I wouldn’t think of trying.  Happy birthday Will.”
She handed him a narrow box all fussied up with birthday wrappings and tied with a narrow red bow neatly wrapped around it.  He took the box from her hand and instantly shook it back and forth while thanking her.  He looked down at Farley while untying the bow and gave the dog a loving glance.  Farley, sitting, gleefully wiped the floor with his tail at Will’s adoring notice of him.  Will uttered under his breath in the lowest murmur, “You shouldn’t have done this Grace - I mean, it isn’t necessary.  I’ve outgrown birthdays years ago.”
Grace replied, “Oh shush and don’t be difficult.  Just open the box.”
Will tossed the crinkled up wrapping paper onto the table and lifted the lid off and fitted it to the bottom of the box.  The tissue paper that covered the contents was pulled aside and Will’s eyes widened.  His eyes raised and looked at Grace and fell to the contents of the box again.  He reached into the box and withdrew the most beautiful dark, briar smoking pipe he had ever seen.  It was highly polished with a curved yellow stem and had the maker’s name engraved in the tiniest letters on the bottom where the briar was rounded and formed the base for the stem.  It said Peterson Rossare Classic 03. His face lit up with joy and gratitude.  He held it up for all to see.  He turned it this way and that, all the while inspecting it’s perfection and commenting on the craftsmanship that was apparent in its creation.  Then his eyes focused on some new found discovery.  There on the very front of the bowl was a tiny cross made of mother of pearl inlaid perfectly into the briar.  It was so small he almost missed it.
Grace asked, “Like it Will?”
Will gave her an adoring look and replied, “It’s almost as beautiful as you are darling.”
Grace said, “Well, well.  I guess you still like me, at least as much as you do Farley.” 
Farley let out an audible whimper at the sound of his name and renewed his efforts at wiping the floor with his tail, all the while looking up at Will.

The hour grew late and the preacher and his wife finally left.  Will placed a kiss on Graces cheek and bid her goodnight.  It had been many years since they shared one bedroom as they each learned to savor the aspect of peace and quiet alone at night and both valued the personal independence of the aloneness in the dark as they grew older.  Their togetherness in the mornings seemed more precious after the brief separation for purposes of sleep at night.  Will sat down on the edge of his bed and held his gift in front of him and admired it.  The pipe was truly beautiful – too beautiful to use.  He glanced down at Farley who was intently watching Will and said, “I’m truly blessed boy.  I’ve got the best woman in the world and the most loyal friend in you all at the same time.”  Farley cocked his head slightly to the right and made one soft squeaking noise that made Will smile.  Will sat the pipe down on the table beside the bed and dressed for bed.  The light switch was turned out and Farley heard the springs of the bed creak as his friend sat down, and he waited impatiently for the hand that would be laid gently upon his head and, the caress of Will’s palm from his forehead to his shoulders.  He listened for and heard the words, “Good night boy”, and placed his muzzle between his paws and closed his eyes.

They awoke together the next morning to the steady falling of rain on the roof.  Will shivered as he dressed for the day.  A wool sweater was added to his normal attire.  The morning was actually cold for a July morning.  Maybe it would warm up when the sun decided to rise.  Fully dressed all but shoes, he slid his feet into the bedroom slippers kept by the bed and shuffled off toward the kitchen to brew some coffee.  There, he thought, the medicine that provokes motivation is brewing.  Just then he coughed.  He cleared his throat and coughed again repeatedly.  Must be the weather, he thought.  Then another bout of continual coughing started.  It was loud enough to awaken Grace who came out of her room to the kitchen. 
“Will, you ought to see a doctor about that cough”, she said.
He replied, “Darlin, I am a doctor and everything’s fine.  It’s just this chilly weather.”
The coughing abated and the bean tasted good at the early hour.  Grace went back to bed and Will trundled off to get his woods boots.  Farley followed, as usual, in his footsteps.  He adored this man, this friend, this human who took him into his house and heart and he wouldn’t let Will out of his sight – ever.  The morning sun started to peek through the dark clouds as Will pulled the second boot on.  He grabbed his hat and coat and started for the door, then stopped and stared at the sitting room floor as if he forgot something.  He turned and disappeared back into the bedroom and quickly returned, pushing something into his inner coat pocket as he walked across the floor and went out the door, Farley beside him.

They headed for their spot on the hill where the favored fallen tree provided a seat that gave Will the most perfect view of the meadow.  He stood for a moment in front of the dead fall and scanned the valley and meadow before him.  He watched the two turkey vultures soaring high above the tree line on the other side of the meadow.  Three white tails stood grazing in the center of the dew covered meadow.  He then sat down on the log and his right hand automatically lifted off his knee and moved a little to the right and was lowered.  Farley’s head was there, under his palm, as it always was.  Will never had to look.  He just knew that Farley would be there.  He always was.  Farley was the most dependable friend he had ever had, even more so at times than his wife Grace was.  Well, that’s pushing it.  At least Farley demanded and asked for nothing.  His allegiance to Will was given freely and willingly and Farley would not share his devotion to Will with any other human.  Will reached up to his right hand breast coat pocket and withdrew the tin of pipe tobacco.  The top three buttons of the old Woolrich coat were loosened and he reached inside to find the ancient briar pipe he had kept in the inside pocket for years.  The bowl was filled and the tobacco was pushed down with his thumb to make the contents dense so it wouldn’t burn too fast.  A loose load of tobacco in a pipe burns too fast and hot, lessening the enjoyment of the experience.  The stem rattled against his teeth as he applied pressure upon the stem, the lighter flashed and the flame was held over the open top of the bowl.  Will always looked forward to watching the flame turn down into the bowl when he would draw on the pipe stem the first time he would light off the tobacco.  It was all part of the satisfying experience of smoking a pipe.  A double circle of blue smoke arose from the bowl as Will looked down at Farley and reached out once again to affectionately lay his hand on Farley’s head.  The dog’s eyes half closed in ecstasy at the touch.

Jagged lightning flashed against the gray sky in the distance followed by delayed thunder claps.  Farley stood up and quickly walked to the side of Will’s ankles and wriggled behind them, pushing tightly against his calves.  Thunder bothered Farley and there was nothing that Will could do to alleviate the dog’s fear.  They probably should have left for home a half hour ago but they hated to let go of the morning.  They both treasured these private moments together out here on this hillside.  Will reached inside his coat again, fumbled around and withdrew the new pipe Grace gave him.  He looked at it adoringly.  “What a beautiful thing”, he said out loud.   He hurriedly pushed the pipe back inside the coat and lifted his face to the sky as the first big drops of rain started to fall. They had tarried too long here and would surely be caught in a downpour.  The sky was turning purple above them as they left the log and hurried along the top edge of the hillside to pick up the trail that lead back to the cabin.  The sky opened up suddenly and a torrential downpour started.  All Will could do was turn his collar up and grasp the front of the coat under his chin and pull it tight against his neck.  He glanced down for Farley and the dog was not there.  He called and called.  Then, he saw Farley running toward him from behind.  Together they pressed on through the relentless, chilling rain as fast as they could.  Farley could have run on ahead but followed behind in Will’s footsteps.  They approached the steps to the porch and Will climbed step after step slowly.  He felt tired.  His legs were weak and he felt tired.  Must be getting the flue, he thought.  “Come on boy”, he said to Farley.  Farley wasn't there.  Will glanced all around him to locate the dog but, Farley was gone.  Will wanted to wait for Farley but he had to get inside out of the rain.  He went through the door and turned to look out over the porch before pushing the door shut.  Farley came bounding down the walkway, up the steps and through the open door to sit down beside his best friend’s feet.   Grace came out of the pantry and helped him off with his coat.  Will flopped down in the chair at the kitchen table with a grunt.  He wiped the water off his face with his hands and rubbed his eyes with his palms.  Grace brought him a bath towel to finish the job.  Will immediately took the towel and leaned over to rub the thick, soft terrycloth towel over Farley’s back and sides.  Special attention was given to Farley’s head and face. 
“Will,” Grace said.  “Good heavens – dry yourself off.  Farley is alright.  You go dry off right now before you catch cold.”
Will got up and headed for the bedroom for a change of clothes.  His shirt was shrugged off and fell to the floor while he was in mid stride.  He was too tired to stop and pick it up.  All he wanted to do was lie down on the bed and listen to the rain, and that’s just what he did.  Grace came in and pulled his pants off and covered him with a blanket.  Farley took his place beside the bed at Will’s head and laid on his side, his eyes looking up toward his master laying on the bed above.

It was a bad storm with loud thunder and much lightning.  The air grew very cold outside as well as inside the house and Grace started a fire in the fireplace to help take the chill out of the rooms.  She opened the door to Will’s bedroom to allow the heat to warm his room.  Grace sat down in the rocking chair by the fireplace, selected a magazine from the small table at the left side of her chair and began to read about planting flower bulbs.  She only had been reading a moment when she heard the strangest rasping sound.  She couldn’t locate the exact direction it came from.  The noise sounded like a hand saw slowly cutting through a pine board but, left, then right – her eyes settled on the open door to Will’s bedroom.  The sound came from Will’s room.  “My God,” she thought.  “My God”, she said out loud in a concerned voice.  She quickly stood up and ran to the edge of Will’s bed.  Farley was already standing beside the bed with his tail pointing straight down, looking at his master and whining almost inaudibly.  Grace laid her hand on Will’s forehead and found that he had a fever.  It was then that she noticed the tiny, narrow streak of blood on the right corner of Will’s mouth.  She ran to the phone and called the hospital over in Renfrie.  Renfrie was ten miles to the West of Ottertown and had the only hospital in the territory for fifty miles.   Grace explained the emergency and the hospital operator said that an emergency medical team would be on the way immediately.  She ran back to Will’s side and blotted the water off his face.  It was perspiration.  Something was dreadfully wrong.  This wasn’t just a cold or the flue.  She thought out loud, “What is the blood from?”  Tears filled her eyes and she sat on the edge of the bed staring at her husband’s face saying, “Not now will.  It’s too soon.  Not now, not now.  It’s not time yet.  Not yet.”  She laid her head on Will’s chest and cried hard.  She listened to his heart beating against her cheek – the same heart he gave to her 57 years ago.  Now, she was afraid he was going to take his precious gift back.  She cried harder at the thought.  Farley stood up and placed his fore-paws on the bed beside Will’s head and while standing, leaned over and licked will’s ear.  He then laid his muzzle across his friend’s neck and closed his eyes and softly whined continuously.  He made no indication he was going to move any time soon.  Grace pressed her face tightly against Will’s chest praying the medical team would arrive soon.  She listened to the heart beats of the only man she ever loved – this wonderful man who was both provider and best friend to her all these years.  They shared dreams and made plans together and he gave her a satisfying life where she wanted for nothing.  Was he leaving her now in this undignified way?  Would he finally run off and leave her and deny her a brief moment to say a final goodbye?  Her tears were flooding from her eyes.  She raised her head to reach for a Kleenex from the box on the nightstand beside the bed.  She noticed Farley still standing, leaning on his front paws with his muzzle still pressing on Will’s neck.  In a sudden movement – Farley dropped down to the floor and walked across the room and sat down, staring at the scene before him.  His whining stopped and he was quiet.  Something was different.  Grace noticed it immediately.  The raspy breathing sounds that Will was making had stopped.  She laid her cheek against his chest and the familiar sound of his beating heart was absent.  Her body went limp against him for a moment.  She then pushed herself up with her hands and looked directly at his face and with a steady, soft voice said, “And so you are leaving me alone now.  I’ll miss you husband.  I’ll surely miss you.  I had hoped I’d be the first one to go.  I really did, Will.  I had hoped for years that I wouldn’t have to deal with this moment because I didn’t think I could bear you leaving me.”

A hospital van ground through the gravel to a fast stop out in front of the house and a loud banging came to the front door.  Grace slowly walked across the sitting room to the door and opened it, she turned to the side and pointed to the open bedroom door and said, “He’s in there.   He’s gone.”

The larger of the gentlemen came out of the bedroom and offered to take the deceased to the hospital.  Grace told him he will be fine where he is and thanked them for their trouble.  The two offered Grace their condolences and left the house.  She stood at the door until she could no longer hear the tires on their van crunching through the gravel on the long, long lane that leads to the highway.  She sat down in her rocker and stared into the fire, constantly wiping the tears from her eyes with her knuckles, thinking of times past and the time ahead she would spend alone and the tears continued.  Farley walked over to the side of her rocker and whined.  Grace turned her head to look at him and his pretty face caused her to offer him the glimmer of a smile.  She caught herself at the smile and told Farley, “Look at me – smiling and crying at the same time.  I guess it’s a woman thing.  He’s gone Farley – he’s gone. It’s just you and me now boy.  A loud clap of thunder brought her back to reality and with it more tears.  Hard rain pounded down upon the roof while lightning flickered outside and flashed off the cabin walls making her feel alone and vulnerable.  Her life’s shield was gone and the storm thundered on.
Part 3
The preacher wanted to put Will to rest in the church cemetery but, Grace had other ideas.  She had watched Will climb up the hill to the edge of the forest above the meadow every morning since they bought this beautiful piece of land.  Grace allowed Will to believe she was still asleep in her bed on all those mornings he made his treks but, all she had to do was roll onto her right side and watch him walk up the hillside through her window.  He had a special spot he liked to stop where he could see for miles.  He often spoke of it and Grace had made more than a few trips with him to his favorite retreat.  That was when she was a bit younger and a little more energetic.  Grace would let Will rest on the place he always loved to visit.  He could forever look down upon his meadow and enjoy the perfect harmonies of nature. 
Friends and church members slowly left leaving Grace and the preacher alone to talk.  Farley stayed outside the big church door.  He whined continuously and occasionally scratched the door.  The preacher told Grace he would take Will up the hill to a predetermined place to lay him to rest and made a phone call to arrange for three congregation members to meet them at Grace’s home with some equipment to dig the grave.  The plan was to deliver Will home in the hearse and transfer his body to Will’s old pickup truck for the drive up the meadow hill.  Grace called Farley to the truck and drove back home.

She went into her bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed and waited for the preacher to arrive with Will.  Will never was a religious man and she had a premonition that she was forcing it on him.  Will believed everything was designed by nature and what nature provided – eventually nature demanded a payment.  Will had now paid for the privilege and enjoyment of life.  Grace thought it a shallow belief held by an educated man – a doctor.  Will was Will and Grace knew better than to try to force a belief on him.  She suddenly remembered the gift she gave to him on his birthday.  He said that pipe was the finest gift he had ever received.  She didn’t think she could bear to look at it ever again and decided to bury it with her husband.  She got up and walked to Will’s room to retrieve the pipe.  He usually laid it on the table beside the bed as he loved to hold and look at it every night.  He never smoked it because he thought it too beautiful to use.  It was not on the table.  She went to his closet and checked the pockets of his coat.  It wasn’t there either.  She went into the bathroom and looked in all the drawers in the medicine cabinet and could not find the pipe.  A thorough look under and behind the cushions on the sofa yielded two quarters a duster feather and a small bone that belonged to Farley.  There was no place left to look.  She was saddened at the loss.

 A vehicle was approaching up the lane.  It was Will coming home.  The preacher pulled up beside Will’s old pickup truck and was joined by three helpers from the church.  Together they lifted Will’s casket out of the hearse and into the pickup.  The three tossed shovels and a digging iron onto the truck bed and jumped in the pickup bed with Will, and Grace stepped up into the front and sat down beside the preacher.  The engine was started and Will was about to make his last trip to his favorite spot.  Grace indicated where they should stop the truck.  They all got out and she led them to the old deadfall and pointed to the spot where she wanted them to prepare the grave.  All four men pulled shovels and a digging iron from the truck and commenced to dig Will’s final resting place.  Grace stated she would walk back down to the house and wait for the preacher to come and get her when everything was ready.   As she started back she noticed that Farley was walking with her, at her side but a little behind.  He was amazing.  She forgot all about him but, he was always there.  Aways.

It felt good to sit in the old, familiar rocker again.  She was tired – very tired.  She didn’t know what the future held for her – all alone.  Then she heard a soft squeaky whine.  Well, she thought – not all alone.  She thought about the pipe again but there wasn’t any place else to look.  It was gone.  No matter.  Burying it with Will was just a woman’s sentimentality showing through.   It’s just as well it was lost.  It really made no difference if she found it or not.  Will certainly wouldn’t care .  The sound of loud thunder startled her.  She snapped her head toward the window that looked out on the porch and saw lightning on the mountain up where the men were digging Will’s grave.  She prayed the rain would hold off until Will was finally resting in Mother Nature’s arms.  It’s been two hours since she walked back to the cabin.  Where were they?  The ground was soft and loamy up there and digging wouldn’t be difficult.   She heard a low growl and felt a slurpy tongue touch her hand where it lay on the arm of the chair.  She looked over at Farley and saw his innocent face staring back at her.  He just sat there and looked at her.  She wondered what he’d say if he could speak.  He knew that his best friend was gone and she worried that Farley might think that Will purposely left him.   My goodness, she thought.  She hadn’t given Farley anything to eat all day.  Grace jumped out of the chair and went to the pantry and filled Farley’s bowl with food.  She sat it down beside her rocker and sat back down..  The dog paid no attention to it.  He was focused on Grace.   He stared at her relentlessly.  Grace swore to herself that she could feel his energy.  Foolish thought.  

The engine of the truck could be heard coming closer and Grace pulled her shawl off the back of the rocker and wrapped it over her shoulders and walked to the door and opened it.  The three helpers were back in the hearse and the preacher stood beside the pickup waiting for Grace to get in.  The drive up the hillside seemed to take forever to Grace.  The truck stopped short of the site and they both stepped out and walked over to the hole in the ground that surrounded the casket.  Grace knelt down and looked longingly at the casket.  She closed her fingers around the soft, black dirt and tossed the handful onto the lid of the casket and softly said, “goodbye my husband.  Rest easy Will.”  She stood up, bowed her head and folded her hands in silence.  Tears could be seen falling from her eyes to the ground.   The rain started to fall in earnest.  The preacher approached her, gently grasped her arm above the elbow and said, “Come on Grace, it’s going to storm.  You have a lifetime to visit with Will up here.”  They turned and walked to the truck.  She turned her head one more time to see the gaping hole in the ground that held the man she had spent a lifetime loving.  They got in the truck and headed back down the mountain.  The preacher commented about the dog sitting beside the path as they passed by.  It was Farley. 

Grace asked the preacher if he’d come in for coffee or tea and wait while the men went back up the hill to cover the grave.  He said he appreciated the thought but thought he should help with the shovels.  The rain was steady but promised to increase quickly and they wanted to finish the task at hand as rapidly as possible.  Grace thanked him and went inside and waited for the sound of heavy rain on the cabin roof.  She later heard the hearse leave and crunch over the gravel as it made its way down the lane.  So, it was over.  Will was back with nature and she – well, she would do the best she could alone.  She looked around the room for – him.   Farley wasn’t there.  She went to the door and called his name over and over.  Farley didn’t come.  A sudden loneliness came over her as she closed the door.  She didn’t realize it but that dog was keeping her together during this whole affair.  She wanted him with her.  She wanted to wrap her arms around him and pull him tight and thank him for his unending devotion to Will.  Where was he?  The last time she saw him he was sitting along the path to his and Will’s spot.  Was he still up there?  Surely not!  She was saddened at the thought of Farley out in the cold, hard rain.  However, there was nothing to be done about it.  Farley knew the way to the cabin and he would return – if he wanted to.  And, she wanted him to more than anything.
Part 4
The rain fell in unending torrents.  Grace couldn’t see past the edge of the front porch.  The sky was a dark purple and lightning cut jagged lines through the sky.  She could feel the floor sort of quiver under her feet at the sound of the thunder, it was that loud!  She thought of Will up there alone at his favorite look out spot.  Something , some thought made her smile.  “He’s where he wants to be”, she thought.  And then she cried.

Farley waited half way up the hill alongside the path until all the humans left in their noisy vehicles.  When all were gone, he trotted up the hill to the old deadfall and stood, looking at the new turned soil that covered his friend.  He sat down on the grass in the pouring rain and looked left and then right all the while whimpering.  The whimperings turned to whines that grew louder than louder until finally he turned his muzzle to the sky and howled continuously.  Over and over he howled.  He made quick staccato, high pitched howls ending with one especially long, shrill howl.  The series of cries were repeated for a solid hour through the thunder, lightning and downpour.  Farley made no effort to get out of the rain.  Instead he slowly walked to the muddy mound that covered Will’s body and lay down on top of it.  He dropped his muzzle down on the mud between his two outstretched front legs and closed his eyes.

Grace could hear the howling even through the thunder and the sound of the rain falling on the cabin’s roof.  Could that be Farley?  Where was he?  She opened the sitting room door several times and called his name through the rain but, Farley wouldn’t come or answer.  She went to her room and lay down on the bed to wait until the sun chased the night away.     

The rain slackened in the morning.  She decided to trek up the mountain path to see if she could find Farley.   She took one of Will’s rain jackets off the hanger in his closet and put it on.  The sleeves were so long that her hands didn’t reach past the cuffs.  She rolled up the sleeves a couple inches so she could get her hands through the openings.  With her galoshes on over her shoes, she set out for the mountain trail.  The path was muddy and water was running down and across the nearly invisible walkway in little streams.   A bright line of lightning followed by a very loud clap of thunder promised the storm wasn’t over.  The rain began to fall in earnest again.    The old snag of a deadfall was just ahead and Will rested directly in front of it.  She would be there in a minute.  She envisioned a marble headstone on Will’s grave and made a mental note to ask the preacher to help her acquire one.  There was no rush - all in good time.   She was almost at the top of the hill.  Just a little further and she would be with Will once more and, hopefully Farley.   She reached the top of the steep hill and leaned forward and placed her hands on her knees and breathed deeply repeatedly to regain her breath.  She straightened up and surveyed the area to her front and froze in position.   Her mouth dropped open and her eyes widened at what she saw. 

There, before her lay Farley on top of Will’s grave.   He was so splashed with mud that it was difficult to discern where mud ended and dog began.  He lay motionless as in sleep.  Grace yelled his name at the top of her lungs but, Farley did not move.  She walked hesitatingly toward the sleeping dog not certain what to expect.  Farley did not move.  Grace called his name again and again.  She walked through the mud and stepped on Will’s grave in order to reach Farley’s side.  Farley’s eyes were closed and his muzzle was resting on his two front paws as if asleep.  Grace reached out her hand and touched the dog just in front of his ear and drew her finger tips alongside his face clear to his nose.  She then realized she had lost two best friends. Farley was an angel sent from heaven for Will, in more ways than one.  When his job here was done - he was called back home.  With tears in her eyes, she took off the rain jacket and laid it beside Farley’s body.  She would put him in the jacket and take him back to the cabin with her.  He had looked out for Will all this time and now she would look out for him.  She could never repay Farley for the joy he bestowed upon her husband since he came into his life.  She pushed her hands under the dog’s body and started to slide him down off the top of the grave and onto the jacket when she noticed something some dark object under Farley’s nose.  No – there was something actually in his mouth.  She wiped along the edge of his muzzle with her finger and pinched the object with her thumb and forefinger and wiggled it until it came free.  It appeared to be a stick.  She wiped the water from her eyes with her fingers and couldn’t believe what she saw.  It was the pipe she had given Will on his birthday.  Farley had picked it up off the trail when Will slid it past the inside pocket of the Woolrich coat and it fell to the ground un-noticed.  Farley kept it safe the whole time and brought it here, to this spot for Will.

Grace tried but could not manage alone on the property.  She couldn’t bear to see the cabin fall to ruin around her.  She willed the property to the Wildlife Conservancy – all but ten acres.  There are two graves on top the mountain that overlook the most peaceful, beautiful meadow below.   Will and Farley can spend eternity together.  One man offered friendship and safety to one who would otherwise have died in misery, and the other, an angel, returned the gift of his life through unending allegiance to the human who saved him from despair.