The Third Grave

It was a glorious morning in the town of Kirkbride. The tintinnabulation of the church bells summoned the faithful to prayer, of which I was one. Or at least I paid dutiful lip service, making the journey on the Sabbath to St. Cuthbert’s Church. I would sit at the back. My walking tweeds and leather satchel would draw stern glances from the evangelical black-suited members of the congregation who filled the front rows. Perhaps my contravention of the dress code symbolized the tepid nature of my faith.

After the service I would walk out through the back gate onto Furnscombe Moor, following the path across the heather clad moorland until it reached plateau at the base of Mount Cairndow. There at the ancient stone circle I would meet Caruthers and Dalgleish, fellow clerks at McPhee and Grimshaw solicitors. They would take a path there from the area where we lodged as neither of them attended church.

Dalgleish’s excuse for non-attendance was recovery from Saturday night’s revels. A sociable fellow he would spend the day hunting for grouse or foxes according to the season, then pass the evening supping ale in the Kings Arms. Consequently, he would rise at ten thirty on a Sunday when I was already listening to Reverend Patrick’s sermon. Dalgleish was a good sport and I could rib him about being a ‘heathen’. He cared not a jot for matters spiritual and was rooted as firmly in the terrestrial world as the old oak tree on Kirkbride Common.

Curuthers was a different kettle of fish. Baiting him would provoke a combative response, albeit in good humour. “Heathen, eh?” he would say and proceed to inform me that we were living in 1867. The God of Genesis created the Christian world eight thousand years ago, he would continue, but Mr. Darwin officially ended it in 1859 with his ‘Origin of Species’. Caruthers knew my commitment to the Holy Writ was a surface one so he would not push matters, having a gentlemanly respect for my conformity to the social norms. Moreover, he himself would not publicly espouse atheism, though he was indubitably a non-believer

That Sunday morning I was strolling across the moor to the plateau for my rendezvous with my colleagues at the stone circle, which the locals referred to as the Druid Stones. No one knew their age or whether they had been used by Druids, but they were beyond doubt prehistoric. Twenty of them protruded about two feet above the ground, forming a circle approximately forty yards in diameter.

A cliff rose sheer into the mountainside behind, curving outwards at the top so that the ledge some hundred feet above actually veered over its centre. Looking in the opposite direction the town of Kirkbride lay snug in the valley below. Above the cliff and its ledge loomed Mount Cairndow. Legend had it that this was a place of human sacrifice with victims ritually slaughtered in the centre of the circle, or cast down into it from the top of the cliff.

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