The Great Storm – Day 5

2nd August 1867

James and Freddie, along with most of the men who had seen out the storm in the barn, set about finding the sheep, who would now be in urgent need of food. It was no easy task. The snow was no longer soft enough to sink into, instead it had formed giant pieces of impenetrable ice requiring pickaxes and shovels to clear a way to the fields. The rain fell steadily, getting in everyone’s eyes and they were all soaked to the skin despite their oilskin coats. The sheep who had been taken to the barn were the lucky ones, warm and dry with a good supply of hay. James split the men into two teams and directed them to work their way around the edges of the closest fields where he suspected the sheep would have sought some shelter. This proved to be the case. There was a cheer from the first team to come across a huddle of three ewes and a single lamb protected by a bushy shrub where the snow had left them enough room to move about. How the poor ewe had managed to give birth to a healthy lamb in such conditions baffled James, but mother and baby appeared to be doing very well indeed. The little mob were led back along the path made by the men and headed straight for the freshly prepared hay. The other team were not so pleased with their first discovery. Two pregnant ewes had found some shelter to start with, but at some point water had washed into their icy room underneath the frozen snow. Both beasts had moved round and round until they had worked the ground into a muddy swamp, so deep their fleeces had become encrusted with it, weighing them down so much that they couldn’t move. Neither had survived the night and stood stone dead where they had succumbed to the cold. It was an unpleasant task to drag them out one by one. James cursed to himself as their sodden bodies were lain against the wall of the orchard. Two deaths turned into four, if you took account of the lambs they carried too.

Steadily the pile of corpses grew, although the majority of beasts made it back to the barn and to a welcome meal. It was exhausting work, but the men all kept going with barely a break. They were all keen to reach as many animals as they could. 

By mid-afternoon they became aware of the rain stopping and the wind dying down. What they couldn’t tell, because they were sweating from their labours, was that the temperature was falling fast. The storm had not quite done with them yet. Sophia noticed an odd snowflake falling gently when she went to call the men in for an early supper, and by the time they made their way back along the paths they had cut around the fields, snow was falling steadily.

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