“Nay,” he said, “I’ll bide on t’ moors; t’ moors are gooid enif to dee on.”
Early in November a party of wallers were disturbed at their work by the persistent barking of a dog. Thinking that the animal was caught in a snare, they followed the sound, with the intention of setting it free. On reaching the spot they found it was Rover, standing over the prostrate figure of the shepherd. The old man had fainted and was lying in the heather. The wallers brought water in their hats and, dashing it in his face restored him to consciousness. He was, however, too weak to talk, so they carried him in their arms to his cottage and laid him on his bed while one of them raced down the hill to summon the nearest doctor.
A few hours later fever set in, and the patient became delirious. A tumult of ideas was surging through his brain, and found vent in broken speech, which struck awe to the wallers’ hearts as they bent over his bed.
“Ein-tein-tethera-methera-pimp; awfus-dawfus-deefus-dumfus-dik.” The old man was counting his sheep, using the ancient Gaelic numerals from one to ten, which had been handed down from one shepherd to another from time immemorial. And as he called out the numbers his hand fumbled among the bed-clothes as though he were searching for the notches on his shepherd’s crook.
Then his mind wandered away to his three sons who had fallen in their country’s wars. “Miles! Christopher! Tristram!” he cried, and his glazed eyes were fastened on the door as if he expected them to enter. Then, dimly remembering the fate that had befallen them, he sank slowly back on the pillow. “They’re deead, all deead,” he murmured; “an’ their bones are bleached lang sin. Miles deed at Corunna, Christopher at Waterloo, and I—I deant know wheer Tristram deed. They sud hae lived—lived to help me feight t’ snakes.” As he uttered the dreaded word his fingers clutched his throat as though he felt the coils of the monsters round his neck, and a piercing shriek escaped his lips.
After a time he grew quieter and his voice sank almost to a whisper. “He makketh me to lie down i’ green pasturs,” he gently murmured, and, as he uttered the familiar words, a smile lit up his face. “There’ll be nea snakes i’ yon pasturs. I’s thinkin’. ... He leadeth me beside t’ still watters.... I know all about t’ still watters; they flows through t’ peat an’ t’ ling away on t’ moor.”
Later in the day the doctor came, but a glance showed him that recovery was out of the question; and next morning, as the sun broke over the eastern fells, Peregrine Ibbotson passed away. The snakes had done their work; their deadly fangs had found the shepherd’s heart.