I spied the girl from the vantage point of the open fell side. She was pottering in the church yard. My first thought, that she shouldn’t be out there alone. But then, it was hardly some drug infested inner city ghetto. I’d walked for miles without seeing a soul to indulge my passion; watching the fascinating wildlife in these remote hills and dales.
I felt a twinge of voyeurism and lowered my field glasses to check no-one was around. Bruno is without inhibitions. He chases rabbits down the fell side and stops at nothing. A patch of loosened scree slid all the way down with him.
She looked up and stared in my direction. What do I do. Turn back and walk the way I came? I didn’t want to frighten her. Or wait to see what move she makes? Bruno’s low, rumbling growl settled the dilemma. He bounded off to investigate the stranger.
Gasping and stumbling, I lumbered behind. “He won’t hurt you.” I yelled. “He’s a big softy.” She didn’t flinch. “Sorry.” I wheezed catching up. “He didn’t mean to scare you.”
“He didn’t.” She laughed, tickling his ear. I’ve argued with bulls and lived to tell the tale.”
“So, you’re a local?” I ventured.
“Born and bred. Over there.” She pointed to the far side of Kinsley fell. I saw no car parked up; she barely looked old enough to own a licence.
“Quaint church.” I said. “Still in use?” She cocked her head and grinned.
“All the time, but the services ceased long ago.” Somehow it seemed disrespectful to question the use of a church without people. “The small ones merged eventually.” She added.
She flicked back loose hair with grubby fingers. “I’m planting up round the side. You’re welcome to look around.” I thanked her and stepped inside the tiny church porch.
I noticed it was built with sandstone and slate, once mined in the locality. Through narrow window slits I watched sheep grazing the magnificent, green landscape. At the back, an ancient baptismal fount, roughly sculptured from limestone. There were no furnishings or carpet; just a roughly hewn wooden crucifix standing on the altar, a huge slab of stone; beside a vase of freshly cut daffodils.
Austere, sprang to mind; cold and dark. The girl pulled matches from her pocket and lit a candle by the cross. Stepping back she bowed her head slightly. I discerned soft whisperings.
A gleam of sunshine lifted the gloom. With an impish grin, she turned and gestured toward the window slit. “Isn’t God good? He’s sent the light to guide your path.”
I nodded, mesmerised. Her pink cheeks radiated freshness and innocence. No make-up, no beads or bangles; but vibrant, spirited blue eyes and softly shining, light brown hair, a moment in time, immortalised in a ray of sunlight.
Her unassuming smile disarmed me; plain and down to earth, yet radiant with joy and energy.
“Don’t you mind being alone.” I asked.
“Alone?” She laughed. “I’m never alone. We’re a family of eight.” I waited. “Three back home, and four here.” I raised my eyebrows. “And me, of course.” I followed her into the church yard.
The grave stones were simple affairs, ravaged by exposure to the wild winters in these parts. She led me by an age-old Yew Tree, to a row of four small headstones. Crouching, she said “Here are my sisters; Amy, the eldest, she’s 12. Laura, 10, Lizzy is 6 and tiny baby Grace.” She looked up at me, “Grace was born sleeping, and the others, God called home early.”
“You must miss them?” A little trite perhaps, but her poise had thrown me.
“No, no, no.” she trilled. “We’re very close. Out of sight for a while, that’s all. Come and see their flowers.” A man sized spade was resting on the east wall of the church. “The soil’s not ideal; too limey,” she told me, fingering the green chutes. “Yet in no time, they’ll be standing tall and proud. And each morning, they’ll tilt their giant, fiery heads to greet the sun, and track its journey across the mountain tops.”
I looked at this girl; a chance meeting. I hadn’t even asked her name. But smiling back at me, I saw a serene, confident and captivating young lady, with a truly unshakable faith in God’s promises.
As she had planted and tended the sunflower seeds, His seed had taken root in her; to flourish into full and vibrant bloom.
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