Spencer Drury felt the fallow light of dawn on his face. Behind his eyelids he saw unknown depths of colour: vermillion, magenta, yellows more yellow than the rapeseed; and, with his eyelids clamped tighter still, flashes of cyanic brilliance, fading to a brief pin-dot black.
Beneath him the ground was damp with dew. He could smell the waking earth. A sharp stone jabbed at his soft midriff when he rolled over. Reaching to his face he felt a crosshatch of fleshy grooves on his right cheek. He looked up at the Claiborne Cross. In the soft light, the greenstone monolith assumed a new character. Spencer felt a sense of calm, a sense of belonging, as if a companionship, even a kinship, had been forged through the night. The Cross had permitted him its scant shelter, and for that he was grateful.
The night on the ridge had been colder than Spencer had expected. Twice he moved around the Cross, to escape the changing wind. He gazed out across the inkwell of the night at the golden streak of the motorway, the great articulates thrumming through the night at a crawl, disappearing as the road moved past the far reaches of the ridgeline. He might have moved on for shelter. He might have followed the ridge along a way and taken one of the many paths down to Cooper’s Fell and slept in a sandy hollow. He might have simply returned to the fields below him and bedded down in the crop. But having gained the high ground, he was not minded to give it up. Up there, with the glamouring cross standing sentry at his back, he had his keep. And he was spent. His feet, encased in worn training shoes, throbbed from the miles he had covered that day—circling the village and its environs, crossing in and out of the boundaries.
After following Jon Armitage and his companions from the churchyard, Spencer had watched them over the wall at the top of the common. Such a commotion. The beer had dampened their senses and loosened their tongues in a manner he knew too well. He moved silently along the length of Elm Road, staying well out of the light, and eventually took the snaking path towards East Lane. He was crouched but three or four meters away when the three of them appeared over the stile and made for the gap in the laurels. Making his own way into Big Field he moved straight for the cover of the rapeseed. He cut through the field with surety, avoiding the runnels and moving in a side-to-side fashion, so as not to disturb the crop. And in this way he was able to shadow the three men close enough to hear their stage whispers.
Spencer saw the orange lamp light before Jon and his supports, for he knew to look for it. And when he did, for the first time in a many, he felt a longing to be inside with his father. A longing for the solid sanctuary of the familiar cottage. And as the men moved off and around the spinney, he briefly considered making his way up through what they called a garden and quietly in through the back door. Then he remembered the looking glasses. He remembered the crack in the window, the pot fire and the blackened wall. He pictured the old riding crop next to his father’s hand as he gazed hard into the lamplight to keep himself from sleep. He pictured Jon Armitage at the door and his father handing him over. He felt a sudden emptiness at the top of his bony chest, as though a scoop had been taken of it. The shelter of his home, standing there in front of him, was no beckoning call—it was a fiction.
He considered making for the chestnut wood, where he had built bivouacs among the bracken, and in at least one he would find a coarse wool blanket in the leaves. But Jon Armitage had positioned himself in such a way that getting to it would be tricky, and he wondered how long before the three grew tired of waiting and instead began searching, hunting. He shivered in the cooling air and looked away into the night. Then, following the seed drill tramlines out into the darkness, he made for the ridge. The sky cleared in a breath, the clouds fleeing to another realm, and the stars blinked as though caught unawares. And then the heavens regrouped and the great observance of the stage set of the earth resumed, with Spencer, dashing the crop, at its centre.
Spencer knew the stars from his mother. The summer triangle of Deneb, Vega, Altair. Nestled in their own celestial cottages: Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquila. Vega, she said, was once the North Star, and one day it would be again. She said that showed what time could do. Climbing the the slopes of the ridge he imagined he was ascending to the cosmos, to his mother. He came to the Cross and again recalled her words. ‘Spencer,’ she had said, ‘That Cross is born of the stars. It happened like this: the stone came down from the heavens as dust and lay down on the land in a stream. Then the buried people of this place took up the dust and piled it under the moon. And then in the night the ridge rose up and there upon it stood the Cross.’
She had a thousand stories of the like—stories of land, people, beasts and sky. Through her stories, her lessons, Spencer had learned the rhythm and the flow of the world around him. She would say, ‘What do you see, Spencer?’ And with her guide he saw circles, loops, orbits. ‘And what do you observe?’ Habit, custom, pattern—everywhere, always. The rabbits on the fell, taking the same, same routes through the heather. Making them easier to trap. They ought to know that, he thought. When he pulled a face she said if the wind changed it would set that way. And he felt the wind changing now and he spoke to her aloud.
‘Where you are? You should come now, you should. I wish it. Four harvests and a frost since your time. And so little changed. Scarcely a nail moved. But you would know. Today, I ran. Ran from the ponds. I wonder only now if I hadn’t, but no matter. The woods had me then and I had the woods. I stayed in a place you showed me till I lost feeling and had to move. There are foxgloves at the edges of the west meadow, Mother. But no digging today.’
The digging. That was really where it began—to where it could be traced. The notch in the circle, a break in the pattern that had brought an energy to Spencer he had almost forgotten. And the bringer of this delicious mystery, the piper of the piece was the tall stranger with the red hair and the clear eyes. A master from places unknown—with the knowing and the stature to make of this place what he would, what he liked. The wind had changed with his coming, most certain; and what began a fair breeze now blew a full gale. And so as Spencer passed into sleep he thought not of his mother, nor the girl, nor his fate. In his mind, beyond his eyes, there was only the loping, strident figure of Emerson Holt.
Up on the ridge, beneath the Cross, Spencer was without shelter or supply. As dawn eased into morning the air began to warm—it would be a still day without cloud—but not fast enough to combat the bludgeoning ache in his bones. He felt weak and in his weakness vulnerable. He took up his hand and beneath it was a faded cigarette butt. The noises of the waking world came to his ears, dogs and cattle come alive, diesel engines not yet warmed and, someway to the east, unseen, the first train of the day. A smattering of smoke hurried skywards from the brick-stacks as the furnaces came alive. He felt at once exposed. In the early light and the thin morning air the Cross stood out in sharp relief. Many a local began each day raising their woken eyes to the ridgeline for the steady surety of the ancient stone. Time then to leave the high ground behind.
Spencer looked east, towards the coast, and for a moment had the notion of escaping the village bounds for good. But something in his depths held him back—his existence was so tied to the places he knew that to leave them would risk disappearing on the breeze in a whip of vapour. There would be no journey to the sea, no adventure today. There was no other place for him, and the only place he knew wouldn’t have him. But this only left him in familiar territory—on the boundaries, the periphery, in the spaces the most of us care not to know. The rape fields were quiet and he knew the crop would still give him best cover for a foray to the East Lane cottages.
He judged Jon Armitage and the two would have surrendered to the night some hours ago, and the way should be clear. His father rarely stirred at this hour. A chance then; the chance of a scrap to eat and a seat off the ground. And in the light of this new day, he thought again at what might be his father’s doing. There was a history between old man Drury and Jon Armitage, a history that hadn’t come to him in the moonlight. Come to think, his father had history with most everyone in the village. Aaron Drury had taken no interest in Emerson Holt, nor his digging, and without real cause or elaboration he had given his warning: ‘He’s having ‘em all for a laugh, is what he’s doing. You stay well clear of it, my lad—ain’t no concern of ours.’
But of course he hadn’t stayed away; Spencer Drury the watcher. With those wide green eyes he watched as Emerson Holt, little by little, set the village in a frenzy. For he was not there in that place for the peace and the views, nor the air and the water—he was there, they said, for the hoard. And when it became known, the land around fair shook as a tremor of the earth.