Following from the last section
A new chapter. Sylvester insists on attending Sunday service, and Elizabeth makes a new friend.
Mrs Grace smiled at him, her Lucy often needed the same reminder. “I’ll send them along, and just hope they don’t wander off on the way.”
Meanwhile, Lucy and Elizabeth were quickly becoming friends. Lucy asked, “Elizabeth, have you had much time to explore?”
“No, I only arrived a few days ago.”
“First-rate! Then I can show you around. There are so many places around here that are right out of Coleridge or Wordsworth. It will take your breath away.”
“Given that I came here to help cure my consumption, I’d rather keep by breath.”
“Are you well?”
“So much better than I was. The country air must agree with me. I’d love for you to show me your favourite places.”
“I know just the place, and it’s near Barnecourt.”
Two hours later, after Lucy had changed into rambling clothes, and they had walked to Barnecourt, and after Elizabeth had changed, they walked down the farm lane to the base of Hunters’ Tor. Lucy said, “We won’t go all the way to Manaton, but the stream, you simply must see it.”
Elizabeth remained silent as she drank in the beauty. While she had visited woods and farms during family outings, it had never been on her own, just walking with a companion. Eventually as they approached the stream and could hear it gurgling over the rocks she said, “Nothing like this in London. It’s both quiet and noisy at the same time.”
When they reached the side of the stream, they sat and listened to it as the water flowed over the stones. Mayflies fluttered noiselessly around, while the sun peaked through the canopy above and showed beams through the misty forest air. Lucy pulled a slim volume of verse from her pocket and began to read. “This one is by Coleridge and I like to read it here.”
All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.
Lucy sighed when she was finished. Coleridge was so romantic, so beautiful, so fitting to this quiet stream.
“What’s an amaranth?” Elizabeth, ever practical, asked after they had been silent for a few minutes’ contemplation.
“Some flower or another, I suppose. The poet says they bloom.”
By now, flies, midges and mosquitoes had joined the mayflies that were hovering around them. After a few, well-placed slaps, the two decided that it was time to move on instead of remaining there to feed the wildlife. Even if it was a romantic place. Lucy led her friend by a different route on the way back to Barnecourt.
They crossed over one of the stone stiles that separated field, and were picking their way carefully through the muddy pool of sticky dark bovine muck that often accompanied stiles, when Lucy stopped and pointed at the far end of the field.
“They look like fresh graves.”
“Can’t be. Not here. Not in North Bovey.”
The two young women ran over to see what it was. Traced on the ground, using sand and ashes, in front of them was a nearly perfect pentagon, with a five pointed star inscribed inside. A goat’s head, recently killed, sat on a stake in the middle and stared at them. It had a particularly annoyed and disapproving look about it, as though the two women were not quite the quality of company it expected to associate with. The crows and ravens had already begun to deflesh the skull, which left it with an especially macabre expression. Four of the corners had flat boards sunk into the ground. The boards had characters written in an obscure script on each as well as one of the pentagons with its inscribed star on it.
“Do you know what they say?” Lucy asked.
“No,” Elizabeth replied, although had she looked at the bracelet her uncle gave her, she would have recognized the lettering. “It looks like something out of the middle ages. A coven, a gathering of witches or black magic.”
The wind shifted and brought with it the scent of decaying goat. It was followed by a swarm of flies, newly hatched from their goat-head nursery.
Lucy turned and ran for the far side of the field, and once she crossed the stile, waited for Elizabeth. She was not far behind, although she had to catch her breath before she could cross out of the field and into the lane beyond.
“I should tell my father. The souls of this parish are in his charge. We can’t have that kind of devil worship, not here in Dartmoor and not in my father’s parish.”
Elizabeth looked both ways down the lane. It was just turning dusty, in the few days since the last rain, and the trees arched above it. The verges were covered in grass and nettles. In contrast to the abomination in the field, it looked refreshingly usual, a country lane like so many others. She said, “I haven’t a clue which way takes me to Barnecourt or indeed how far it is.”
Then she gave a quiet cough, the start of several in a row. Once started she couldn’t stop.
“Are you well?” Lucy asked, listening to her friend hack away.
“I’m dreadfully tired.”
“It’s closer to my home,” Lucy replied, “We’ll walk there, and I’ll drive you back in the pony cart.”
She began to help Elizabeth walk with her, but after only a few hundred yards Elizabeth turned to her and said, “Lucy, can I rest here? I’m knackered.”
Lucy helped her friend to sit. “Wait here, I’ll be back with my father and the cart.”
Elizabeth nodded, “Thank you. I’ll be fine. Just need a rest.”
Lucy, worried that it might turn into a very long rest, one six feet underground in a deal box, ran to get her father.
When they returned, half an hour later, Elizabeth was gone.