The regular sound of his shoes making contact with the ground was all that could be heard apart from the sounds of nature on the quiet country road, occasionally supplemented by a scuffle when he carelessly stepped over a stone in the dirt track. The walking man felt content and free, as well he ought to, walking through the woods on a beautiful summer day.
He steadily kept in the right rut of the road that was travelled little but enough to show that vehicles used it. This day he had met none. He had set out early in the morning from the village he was leaving behind and made his way through the web of surrounding roads until he found one whose look he liked that led west.
It was past noon and the sun, high in the sky, shone on him through the gap in the canopy of oak and beech that covered either side of the road. A small brown lizard scuttled into the brush at his approach and from somewhere to his right came the shrill warning call of a bird he did not recognise.
Hunger told him it was time for a pause and he looked for a suitable spot to sit and eat his spartan lunch. As providence, every now and then friendly and convenient, would have it the road began to slope downhill to reveal a clearing on either side. He blessed his small but good fortune and quickened his pace.
To his left the clearing was small and chest-high with meadow plants. The other side looked more promising; the growth was unusually low and the odd boulder poked its ancient face through the earth wherever the last passing glacier had dropped it. He stopped and surveyed the semi-circular clearing, about fifty yards at its furthest from the road. Fifteen yards or so from the road and halfway through the clearing he spotted a large, flat rock which he decided to make his table and chair for the meal.
He watched a stray worker ant laboriously make its way towards the chequered cloth on which the cheese and another chunk of bread lay. Tireless, he mused, how this tiny creature roamed far and wide, through gigantic obstacles and paths of great danger in fulfilment of its sworn duty to feed the communal brood.
As he lifted his head and looked around him, he saw some straight lines peer through the hemlock and grasses on the other side of the road and looked more closely. Nature makes no straight lines. Roughly approximating the straight maybe but not straight as a ruler. This was the work of human hands. He stood up to get a better view and saw what was left of the roof of a small, dilapidated shack at the clearing's far edge, complete with a tiny chimney that leaned left at a crazy angle. Clearly no one had lived there for several years but its presence was disquietening. Man's hand had been here and, for some reason, driven away. He couldn't fathom why but he had the feeling it had been just that--driven away, not just left. He sat down again, not quite as serene as he had been only a minute earlier.
He shoved the last bite of bread and cheese in his mouth and stuffed the cloth in his knapsack. As he looked towards the road he'd soon be walking on again he noticed a brown toadstool poking its head through the short grass. Peculiar, he thought, at this hot time of year, to find those toadstools freely growing in a field. Not far from it he spied another three just like the first, seemingly arranged in a crescent.
He walked in their direction, diagonally making his way towards the side opposite to that from which he'd arrived. Just past them, a smallish, strangely shaped stone loomed about two feet off the ground. He passed the toadstools and looked at the stone. A roughly-hewn grave marker it was, indeed in such an odd spot. Puzzled, he inspected its face and saw unpainted, unfancy letters chiselled into the stone.
TENDERLY LOVED UNTIL THE GOOD LORD
TOOK HER IN HER THIRTEENTH YEAR
His feeling of slight alarm only grew. Something was not right about this beautiful, sunny place--something that made him feel like an intruder. He began to make his way towards the road again and found another pair of toadstools in his path. He paused and looked around again. Surely, there they were, forming a perfect circle around the little grave. He started walking again but stopped after only a few more steps. He looked down and found a bright red poppy near where he stood. He bent over and picked it, then returned to the circle and placed it in front of the the headstone. Why, he did not know--he just did it.
After a while on the road again, the sun still high to his left, his good spirits returned. A lark sang its merry song, a sign that open fields were near and maybe a hamlet where he could rest and spend the following night. He thought back to the small, hidden resting place in the circle and managed to smile to himself, despite the scolding little voice telling him he shouldn't have been there.
Beatrice, tenderly loved, he thought. Tonight, when the full moon shines, the fairies will dance around your grave.