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Night stirred behind the eastern hills and a desert place burnt with fading splendour in the hour before sunset. The rolling miles of Ringmoor Down lay clad at this season in a wan integument of dead grass. Colourless as water, it simulated that element and reflected the tone of dawn or evening, sky or cloud; now sulked; now shone; now marked the passage of the wind with waves of light.
Ringmoor extends near the west quarter of Dartmoor Forest like an ocean of alternate trough and mound, built by the breath of storms. This region, indeed, shares something with the restless resting-places of the sea; and one may figure it as finally frozen into its present austerity by action of western winds that aforetime laboured without ceasing here on the bosom of a plastic earth. Only the primary forces model with such splendid economy of design, or present achievements so unadorned, yet so complete. The marvel of Ringmoor demanded unnumbered centuries of elemental collaboration before it spread, consummate and accomplished, under men's eyes. Rage of solar flame and fury of floods; the systole and diastole of Earth's own mighty heart-beat; the blast of inner fires, the rigour of age-long ice-caps--all have gone to mould this incarnate simplicity. Nor can Nature's achievement yet be gauged, for man himself must ascend to subtler perception before he shall gather the meaning of this moor.
The expanse is magnificently naked, yet sufficing; it is absolutely featureless, but never poverty-stricken. To the confines of a river it extends, and ceases there; yet that sudden wild uplifting of broken hills beyond; their dark, rocky places full of story; their porphyry pinnacles and precipices haunted by the legends and the spirits of old strike not so deeply into human sense as Ringmoor's vast monochrome fading slowly at the edge of night; fading as a cloudless sky fades; as light fades on the eyes of the semi-blind; fading without one stock or stone or man or beast to break the inexorable tenor of its way.
Upon some souls this huge monotony, thus mingling with the universal at eventide, casts fear; to others it is a manifestation precious as the presence of a friend; and for those whose working life brings them here, the waste's immensities at noon or night are one; its highways are their highways, and indifferently they move upon its bosom with the other ephemeral existences that haunt it. Yet by none of these people is Ringmoor truly felt or truly seen. Cultured minds weave pathetic fallacies and so pass by; while for the native this spot is first a grazing ground and last a recurrent incident of stern spaces to be compassed and recompassed on his own pilgrimage--to the young a weariness and to the old a grief.
Now light suffered a change. There was no detail to die, but a general fleeting radiance failed swiftly to the thick pallor that precedes darkness. Each perished grass-stem, of many millions that clad the waste, reflected the sky and paled its little lamp as the heavens paled. Then sobriety of dusk eliminated even the sweep and billow of the heath, and reduced all to a spectacle of withered and waning grey, that stretched formless, vague, vast, toward boundaries unseen.
It was at this stage in the unfolding phenomenon of night that life moved upon the void; a black, amorphous smudge crawled out of the gloom and crept tardily along. At length its form, as a double star seen through a telescope, divided and revealed a brace of animals, one of which staggered slowly on four legs, while the other went on two. A man led a horse by a halter; and the horse was old and black, bent, broken-kneed and worn out; while the man was also bent and ancient of his kind. Neither could travel very fast, and one was at the end of his life's journey, while the other had a small measure of years still assured.
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