The clever old lady is, of course, of course, making it very easy for me. She is sinking gently, and she is telling me it is time to go.
She has stopped eating, and her stick is of no more interest to her. It was my last throw of the dice, and she very politely trotted three steps towards it, picked it up gently in her mouth, and then laid it back down. She looked at me, as if to say: I’m sorry, but it’s no good to me any more.
‘That’s quite all right,’ I said, out loud. ‘I understand.’
We had an appointment with the vet tomorrow anyway, and that shall be the moment. There is no more doubt in my mind, no wild, flinging hope. We are in the last hours.
It is the most ravishing day. I have not seen Scotland look this beautiful for months. It is bathed in that clear, ancient, amber light, the one that always makes me think of old Italy. The colours are singing their vivid song. Everything is filled with clarity.
It’s so funny. It was another perfect day, in the spring last year, when my father died. I remember walking round and round the block, in the impossible sunshine, carrying my violent grief with me. It was so physical that I had to keep moving, or I felt I too would die. After the fifth lap, the Duchess and the Pigeon actually staged a sit-in, lying down on the path and refusing to move another step. They had never seen me walk like that in their lives, and their canine faces registered clearly their astonishment and mild disapproval.
In the early morning, I took the Pidge up to the Mother and Stepfather, so they could have their last farewell. The Sister and I went up to the horses. The mountain was as grand and gracious as I have ever seen her, dark violet with a pristine white cap of snow. Myfanwy and Red were at their dearest and sweetest and happiest, basking in the winter sun.
We worked with them for a bit, happy to be in the open air, in the mud, in the earth. There were all the good smells: the lovely scent of the horses’ coats, the clean sharp metal tang of the cold, the solid aroma of grass and earth.
The great-nephew was blithely zooming about on his small tractor, smiling all over his little face. Children are very good at this time, a vivid reminder of life going on. The World Traveller came over and we talked and talked, in the sun. Surrounded by the family love and the horse love, I felt, for an hour, purely happy.
Then I took the Pigeon down to see the Younger Niece, for their goodbye. It was very sweet and honest and true. We took a lot of photographs. The sunshine dazzled over the blue hill, and the old lady painted one last smile on her face.
We took our final walk, up the long avenue with the beeches and Wellingtonias and ancient oaks. It is one of my favourite walks. In the old days, the Pigeon used to bound out in front, racing to left and right, finding glorious smells, putting up rabbits, snuffling for moles. She used to jump over the cattle grid like a stag. Now she trotted slowly at my heel, sticking to me like a faithful shadow.
I could see our actual shadows on the path in front of me: dog and human, etched in black by the glittering sun. I thought: it will be awfully strange not having that shadow. It will be very odd being just one, instead of two. I shall have to concentrate hard, to get used to that.
Then I brought her inside, and settled her on her bed. She is lying there now as I write, just next to me. She has all the best blankets over her, the really posh one I bought in a fit of folly from the Highgrove shop, the precious vintage Welsh blanket that came all the way from Hay on Wye. There is a chicken simmering in the pot on the stove, just in case I can persuade her to take one more delicious morsel to eat.
I am, madly, making her a playlist. She’s going to listen to the good classical stuff for the rest of the afternoon. I am embracing cliché and obviousness and going for all the blatant old favourites, so there is Albinoni, and Bach, and Offenbach, and ten different kinds of Mozart. There is Barber and Mahler and Pachelbel’s canon, the first piece of classical music I ever loved, played to me by The Older Brother when I was eight years old. There is a Chopin nocturne, and Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto, and For Unto Us a Child is Born from Handel’s Messiah.
I was going to count the ways, for you, all the reasons I love this creature so much; I was going to make a list of her great qualities. But I’ve written enough, and my fingers are tired. I don’t need lists; I don’t need to spell it out.
She is just a really, really good dog. She gave me joy and I loved her well. I shall be bereft without her.
My two dear consolations:
And their view:
Saying goodbye to The Younger Niece:
One final sniff of the good old Scottish earth:
Sunshine and shadows of the last walk:
No more use for the stick:
It is this noble face that tells me, more than anything, that it is time to go:
She is not in any distress or pain. She is doing that wonderful, honest thing that dogs do: she is shutting down.
When I was young, I never understood that Dylan Thomas poem, the one that goes: rage, rage against the dying of the light. I thought that accepting the inevitability of death was a good thing. Then I grew older, and I knew more what he meant, and I thought one should rage, that we should all fight with every last breath in us.
Now, I watch this dear creature slowly shut herself down, with a fatalistic dignity. It is very simple for her. All her animal instincts are telling her plain, good things. She is going gentle into that good night, and I am glad for it. Gentleness was always one of her defining characteristics, and it is exactly what we need now.
The hill, absurdly lovely on this strange day: