By Mike Bell
The furrows of freshly-turned red earth gleamed slightly in the low evening sun, shining not with wetness but from the smoothing cut of the plough’s blade. Campion, a different, living red, glowed in the high hedgebanks. A thousand years and more of tillage had scored this land. The grain of harvest succeeding tawny harvest had sustained its people for as long. Yet still, resonating down the centuries, the stones remembered the sounds and colours of an earlier age. The iron of swords, not ploughshares, had once reddened the turf with its work. Living men had long since forgotten these people of iron, their lives and deaths and pride; but still their spirit strode over the low hills, under wide skies.
Set back from the road, with a small, once formal garden, lawn now turned to moss and dog-lichen, the manse stood on its own, catching slant-wise the rays of the westering sun. A fine house of its kind, its dressed sandstone blocks glowed ruddy in the decaying light, but the impression was of blankness, indifference. A rising engine sound came through the air, then fell and slowly dwindled as the car receded down the long, empty road. The B&B sign (‘Vacancies’) stirred restlessly in the breeze.
Mrs Mallinson stood at the window of an unlit upstairs room. Reflected in the glaze of her eyes could be seen a black-speckled eddy of rooks over the sycamore copse in the middle distance. “No guests tonight, Billy,” she said. Her round, wide-open eyes gave her the slightly astonished appearance of a doll. She stood motionless for a while, seeming devoid of thought, emotion, any source of animation for her features. At last she turned to her Pekingese, finished dusting his nose and glass eyes and replaced the lid of his case. “Will Mr Mallinson be home soon, and wanting his tea?” she wondered aloud.
Streams of rosy cloud moved behind the distant rim of encircling mountains.