Late Summer, The High
Ladrian paused on the
hill and looked over the escarpments of Kinder Scout, amber in the intermittent
sun and scarred by broken shadows of the low clouds which promised brief sharp
showers. The path worked its way to higher ground and was lined by flowers, the
haunts of heavy bees and brindled butterflies. Not far from here the land rose
and the crest of the hill marked the ancient boundary of the
Here on the higher
ground Ladrian saw a low rectangular rock which, on closer inspection, appeared
to have two deep square troughs deliberately carved into its top side.
Approaching it he saw that one of the carved troughs had filled with water.
Something bright caught his eye and he squatted down and peered into the water
to see two farthings glinting beneath the surface. It was curious to see such
old coins. Without hesitating he slipped his hand into the cold liquid and drew
one out. To his surprise the liquid was not water, but vinegar and its pungent
smell rose to his face causing him to grimace and step back. Cradling the coins
in his palm he looked at them quizzically. Ladrain knew a little about coins
and these would have been currency in the late sixteen hundreds and were worth
a healthy sum on the market. He examined the coins with care. There was
no doubt they were genuine. They were very valuable pieces and he was tempted
by the possibility of profiting from the find. No one was about, no one had
seen him take them. He pocketed the coins and strolled down the hill towards
the old village.
Ladrian had never seen
the village. It was a pretty spot. Looking for a place to sit and rest Ladrian
opened the low gate to the graveyard. The graveyard was well tended but many of
the stones had long since given up their claim to regular visitors and mosses
had found hold on their uneven surfaces to vie with the creeping lichens. An
old man was clearing away dead flowers from a recent grave. Ladrian threw him a
friendly greeting and then thought to ask him about the strange stone. Do
you know the old stone on the fringe of the wood?
The plague stone?
Did you notice the old plague cottages? You must have passed them on your way
into the village. The plague came to the village in 1665. The people didn't
understand the disease but they knew how easily it spread. They made a
difficult decision no one came in and no one went out. They kept the
plague within the village boundaries. Food was left for the villagers on the
plague stones in exchange for money which was submerged in the vinegar - it was
believed to clean them from contagion.
These are the
graves of the people who died? Ladrian asked pausing by the older
All these graves
were laid down in sixteen sixty five. Poor souls. May they rest in
Ladrian frowned and
looked at the gravestones with their long-forgotten names. It was difficult to
imagine the courage that had driven these people to sacrifice themselves to
protect the neighbouring villages from such a terrible disease. Many
survived the plague did they? he said searching the dates.
A few. That grave
there is the Widow Gray and her children. They survived the plague but died of
starvation in one of the remoter cottages.
How could they
Their supply of
food stopped when they did not honour payments. The widow left her silver coins
in the vinegar but someone must have stolen them. She claimed so at least but
no one believed her and no one brought her food. They lost their faith in
Ladrian looked at the
grave with a strange feeling of unease. He turned the two coins in his pocket
self-consciously. They felt heavy and cold. If he laid them back on the stone
would the grave be gone when he returned? Would he find the village obscurely
different because the widow and her children had lived? His thoughts spiralled
with such a foolish notion, he chided himself for even contemplating it. The
Widow Gray's misfortunes had fallen centuries earlier. Nothing could change the
past. Yet as he walked away he felt the strangest sensation of guilt, as if the
lives or the poor widow and her children lay upon his own conscience and would
always do so.