Solomon has problems reading and writing… but he
loves stories. One of his favourite places to be is an old graveyard
in his home town where he looks at the monuments and carvings and make
up his own stories in his head. But a new road is being built, the land
is being cleared, and excavations have already started. The earth has
been disturbed and Solomon senses that that something is wrong.
The book is written in the first person - Solomon tells the story himself. In Chapter 14 he is in the graveyard staring at the stones at far end. Also there are his teacher Ms Talmur and Professor Miller, the archaeologist in charge of removing the tombstones…
‘Does this place interest you, Solomon?’ Professor Miller follows my gaze.
‘What?' I turn my head to look at Professor Miller and Ms Talmur. 'Oh, yes. Yes’
‘It’s very old,’ Professor Miller goes on, ‘one of the most fascinating places I have ever worked in.'
‘I like the stones, the colours. And the markings…' I hesitate. ‘They tell you things.’
‘Don’t they just?’ he agrees at once. ‘Every single one is an individual tribute to the art of the stonemason. Each humble tradesman or worker would have his own emblem to show his craft.’ He laughs. ‘Even a miller had one.’ He walks across to a very old stone. ‘Look, this one has a sheaf of corn and the weighing scales. Not that millers were very popular. It was a widely held belief that they were dishonest, taking more than was their due of the corn they ground.’
He moves along the path to show me another stone. ‘This person must have belonged to the hammermen. They had the right to use the royal crown as their symbol, though there were lots of different trades which used a hammer.’ He rubs some dust from the stone. ‘That looks like an anvil just below, so it was probably a blacksmith.’
He stops at the end of the path. ‘The whole place is alive with history… apart from this bit.’
We have walked the full length of the main avenue to the back wall with the wood beyond.
He points to the ground. At the fallen rowan tree. ‘That was the only thing that grew here and we had to take it out. Now look at it. It has rotted so very quickly that it had to be covered up. We think there are bad drains down below there. The air all around is quite foul.’ He pulls aside the edge of the sheeting.
Ms Talmur gags suddenly and gropes in her pocket for her hankie. She turns her head away and I gaze in horror at the swarming mass of dank vegetation at our feet. The soil is a moving mound of brown and green slime. It is crawling with maggots.
‘Merciful heaven!’ Professor Miller drops the sheeting. ‘I do apologise. I had no idea it had reached that state.’ He ushers us away.
He doesn’t seem to have noticed that the poison has spread. Now that the tree is down everything around it is dying. Decay is creeping out from its base in an ever-widening circle. The grass edges of the nearby avenues are turning brown. Further down the wall the tiny spring flowers wedged in the rocks have lost their blooms.
‘Strange to have a tree like that,’ I say as we walk back to the gate, ‘just the one planted there.’
‘Not really,’ says Ms Talmur. ‘It’s an old custom in this country, to plant a single rowan. There’s one growing by the door of practically every croft house in Scotland. They are supposed to deter evil spirits.’
And now it’s gone.
She laughs, a shrill cawing, like the rooks in the tall trees of the wood. ‘Call me superstitious if you like. I’ve already told Solomon that I’m the seventh child of a seventh child, and perhaps that makes me more sensitive to atmosphere. I don’t know. But I tell you this,’ she wraps her coat more tightly around her, ‘I don’t like this place, Professor Miller. It may be fascinating to you, but I don’t like your graveyard at all.’
We go through the gate at the end. Professor Miller stops to re-lock the padlock. ‘I mustn’t have secured this properly.’
I watch him do it. He doesn’t seem the type of person who would be careless enough to leave without fastening the padlock. Then I remember something. Last night the teenagers had said the gate was padlocked, yet when I came from Peter’s house it was lying open. Who or what wants the gate left unlocked and why?
‘Don’t you have any workmen here today?’ Ms Talmur asks as they move towards the cars.
‘No, and perhaps not for some time. There may be a problem.’ Professor Miller pauses for a moment or two. ‘Oh, I might as well tell you. It will be in the local newspaper this week anyway. It’s almost certain that smallpox victims were interred here. I will have to do a search of the Burial Register in Glasgow before we commence exhumations.’
Ms Talmur shivered. ‘The disease can’t still be active, surely?’
‘Probably not. There were bodies of over a hundred years old removed from a graveyard at Christchurch in Spitalfields in London fairly recently. When the virus was taken from the smallpox scabs it was found to be non-viable. However, one can’t take risks where public health is concerned. So, we will have to make the area more secure before we can begin opening the graves and moving the cadavers. Perhaps erect a fence and employ security guards. It appears that youths hang around here after dark.’
No more they don‘t.
‘I thought there was a night watchman,’ I say casually.
‘There was… he hesitates. ‘Silly superstitions. He packed it in the other night. Said he heard noises, saw things. Out of a bottle probably. Then his dog ran off. A big mangy brute of an animal. He said he wasn’t staying without it.’
‘I’ll drive you home, Solomon,’ says Ms Talmur.
Before I can say a word she has take my rucksack and put it in her car.
I stare straight ahead out of the car window. It is raining again. I take a deep breath.
‘There is something wrong in that place,’ I say.
'Yes,' she says slowly. 'Yes, I do agree.' Still she does not start the car. Her fingers clench the rim of the steering wheel. 'And it's more than our imagination, isn't it Solomon?'