Did the bones stir, or the rusty swords? Was Mrs. Flanders’s twopenny-halfpenny brooch for ever part of the rich accumulation? and if all the ghosts flocked thick and rubbed shoulders with Mrs. Flanders in the circle, would she not have seemed perfectly in her place, a live English matron, growing stout?
The clock struck the quarter.
The frail waves of sound broke among the stiff gorse and the hawthorn twigs as the church clock divided time into quarters.
Motionless and broad-backed the moors received the statement “It is fifteen minutes past the hour,” but made no answer, unless a bramble stirred.
Yet even in this light the legends on the tombstones could be read, brief voices saying, “I am Bertha Ruck,” “I am Tom Gage.” And they say which day of the year they died, and the New Testament says something for them, very proud, very emphatic, or consoling.
The moors accept all that too.
The moonlight falls like a pale page upon the church wall, and illumines the kneeling family in the niche, and the tablet set up in 1780 to the Squire of the parish who relieved the poor, and believed in God—so the measured voice goes on down the marble scroll, as though it could impose itself upon time and the open air.
Now a fox steals out from behind the gorse bushes.
Often, even at night, the church seems full of people. The pews are worn and greasy, and the cassocks in place, and the hymn-books on the ledges. It is a ship with all its crew aboard. The timbers strain to hold the dead and the living, the ploughmen, the carpenters, the fox-hunting gentlemen and the farmers smelling of mud and brandy. Their tongues join together in syllabling the sharp-cut words, which for ever slice asunder time and the broad-backed moors. Plaint and belief and elegy, despair and triumph, but for the most part good sense and jolly indifference, go trampling out of the windows any time these five hundred years.
Still, as Mrs. Jarvis said, stepping out on to the moors, “How quiet it is!” Quiet at midday, except when the hunt scatters across it; quiet in the afternoon, save for the drifting sheep; at night the moor is perfectly quiet.
A garnet brooch has dropped into its grass. A fox pads stealthily. A leaf turns on its edge. Mrs. Jarvis, who is fifty years of age, reposes in the camp in the hazy moonlight.
“... and,” said Mrs. Flanders, straightening her back, “I never cared for Mr. Parker.”
“Neither did I,” said Mrs. Jarvis. They began to walk home.
But their voices floated for a little above the camp. The moonlight destroyed nothing. The moor accepted everything. Tom Gage cries aloud so long as his tombstone endures. The Roman skeletons are in safe keeping. Betty Flanders’s darning needles are safe too and her garnet brooch. And sometimes at midday, in the sunshine, the moor seems to hoard these little treasures, like a nurse. But at midnight when no one speaks or gallops, and the thorn tree is perfectly still, it would be foolish to vex the moor with questions—what? and why?