E-text prepared by Roy Brown, Trowbridge, England
With Two Appendices, One Containing a Note on the Character of D'arcy; the Other a Key to the Story, Reprinted from Notes and Queries
Author of 'The Coming of Love: Rhona Boswell's Story,' etc. etc.
TO C. J. R. IN REMEMBRANCE OF SUNNY DAYS AND STARLIT NIGHTS WHEN WE RAMBLED TOGETHER ON CRUMBLING CLIFFS THAT ARE NOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA THIS EDITION OF A STORY WHICH HAS BEEN A LINK BETWEEN US IS INSCRIBED
CAUGHT IN THE EBBING TIDE
A REMINISCENCE OF RAXTOX CLIFFS
The mightiest Titan's stroke could not withstand An ebbing tide like this. These swirls denote How wind and tide conspire. I can but float To the open sea and strike no more for land. Farewell, brown cliffs, farewell, beloved sand Her feet have pressed—farewell, dear little boat Where Gelert,[Footnote] calmly sitting on my coat, Unconscious of my peril, gazes bland!
All dangers grip me save the deadliest, fear: Yet these air-pictures of the past that glide— These death-mirages o'er the heaving tide— Showing two lovers in an alcove clear, Will break my heart. I see them and I hear As there they sit at morning, side by side.
[Footnote: A famous swimming dog.]
_With Barton elms behind—in front the sea, Sitting in rosy light in that alcove, They hear the first lark rise o'er Raxton Grove: 'What should I do with fame, dear heart?' says he, 'You talk of fame, poetic fame, to me Whose crown is not of laurel but of love— To me who would not give this little glove On this dear hand for Shakespeare's dower in fee.
While, rising red and kindling every billow, The sun's shield shines 'neath many a golden spear, To lean with you, against this leafy pillow, To murmur words of love in this loved ear— To feel you bending like a bending willow, This is to be a poet—this, my dear!'_
O God, to die and leave her—die and leave The heaven so lately won!—And then, to know What misery will be hers—what lonely woe!— To see the bright eyes weep, to see her grieve Will make me a coward as I sink, and cleave To life though Destiny has bid me go. How shall I bear the pictures that will glow Above the glowing billows as they heave?
One picture fades, and now above the spray Another shines: ah, do I know the bowers Where yon sweet woman stands—the woodland flowers, In that bright wreath of grass and new-mown hay— That birthday wreath I wove when earthly hours Wore angel-wings,—till portents brought dismay?
Shall I turn coward here who sailed with Death Through many a tempest on mine own North Sea, And quail like him of old who bowed the knee— Faithless—to billows of Genesereth? Did I turn coward when my very breath Froze on my lips that Alpine night when He Stood glimmering there, the Skeleton, with me, While avalanches rolled from peaks beneath?
Each billow bears me nearer to the verge Of realms where she is not—where love must wait. If Gelert, there, could hear, no need to urge That friend, so faithful, true, affectionate, To come and help me, or to share my fate. Ah! surely I see him springing through the surge. [The dog, plunging into the tide and striking towards his master with immense strength, reaches him and swims round him.]
Oh, Gelert, strong of wind and strong of paw, Here gazing like your namesake, 'Snowdon's Hound,' When great Llewelyn's child could not be found, And all the warriors stood in speechless awe— Mute as your namesake when his master saw The cradle tossed—the rushes red around— With never a word, but only a whimpering sound To tell what meant the blood on lip and jaw!
In such a strait, to aid this gaze so fond, Should I, brave friend, have needed other speech Than this dear whimper? Is there not a bond Stronger than words that binds us each to each?— But Death has caught us both. 'Tis far beyond The strength of man or dog to win the beach.
Through tangle-weed—through coils of slippery kelp Decking your shaggy forehead, those brave eyes Shine true—shine deep of love's divine surmise As hers who gave you—then a Titan whelp!— I think you know my danger and would help!— See how I point to yonder smack that lies At anchor—Go! His countenance replies. Hope's music rings in Gelert's eager yelp! [The dog swims swiftly away down the tide.]
Now, life and love and death swim out with him! If he should reach the smack, the men will guess The dog has left his master in distress. She taught him in these very waves to swim— 'The prince of pups,' she said, 'for wind and limb'— And now those lessons come to save—to bless.
(The day after the rescue: Gelert and his master walking along the sand.)
'Twas in no glittering tourney's mimic strife,— 'Twas in that bloody fight in Raxton Grove, While hungry ravens croaked from boughs above, And frightened blackbirds shrilled the warning fife— 'Twas there, in days when Friendship still was rife. Mine ancestor who threw the challenge-glove Conquered and found his foe a soul to love, Found friendship—Life's great second crown of life.
So I this morning love our North Sea more Because he fought me well, because these waves Now weaving sunbows for us by the shore Strove with me, tossed me in those emerald caves That yawned above my head like conscious graves— I love him as I never loved before.
PREFACE TO THIS EDITION
The heart-thought of this hook being the peculiar doctrine in Philip Aylwin's Veiled Queen, and the effect of it upon the fortunes of the hero and the other characters, the name 'The Renascence of Wonder' was the first that came to my mind when confronting the difficult question of finding a name for a book that is at once a love-story and an expression of a creed. But eventually I decided, and I think from the worldly point of view wisely, to give it simply the name of the hero.
The important place in the story, however, taken by this creed did not escape the most acute and painstaking of the critics. Madame Galimberti, for instance, in the elaborate study of the book which she made in the Rivista d' Italia, gave great attention to its central idea: so did M. Maurice Muret, in the Journal des Debats; so did M. Henri Jacottet in La Semaine Litteraire. Mr. Baker, again, in his recently published work on fiction, described Aylwin as 'an imaginative romance of modern days, the moral idea of which is man's attitude in face of the unknown,' or, as the writer puts it, 'the renascence of wonder.' With regard to the phrase itself, in the introduction to the latest edition of Aylwin—the twenty-second edition—I made the following brief reply to certain questions that have been raised by critics both in England and on the Continent concerning it. The phrase, I said, 'The Renascence of Wonder,'
Is used to express that great revived movement of the soul of man which is generally said to have begun with the poetry of Wordsworth, Scott, Coleridge, and others, and after many varieties of expression reached its culmination in the poems and pictures of Rossetti. The phrase 'The Renascence of Wonder' merely indicates that there are two great impulses governing man, and probably not man only but the entire world of conscious life—the impulse of acceptance—the impulse to take unchallenged and for granted all the phenomena of the outer world as they are, and the impulse to confront these phenomena with eyes of inquiry and wonder.
The painter Wilderspin says to Henry Aylwin, 'The one great event of my life has been the reading of The Veiled Queen, your father's hook of inspired wisdom upon the modern Renascence of Wonder in the mind of man.' And further on he says that his own great picture symbolical of this renascence was suggested by Philip Aylwin's vignette. Since the original writing of Aylwin, many years ago, I have enlarged upon its central idea in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and in the introductory essay to the third volume of Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, and in other places. Naturally, therefore, the phrase has been a good deal discussed. Quite lately Dr. Robertson Nicoll has directed attention to the phrase, and he has taken it as a text of a remarkable discourse upon the 'Renascence of Wonder in Religion.' I am tempted to quote some of his words:—
Amongst the Logia recently discovered by the explorers of the Egypt Fund, there is one of which part was already known to have occurred in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. It runs as follows:—'Let not him that seeketh cease from his search until he find, and when he finds he shall wonder: wondering he shall reach the kingdom, and when he reaches the kingdom he shall have rest.'...We believe that Butler was one of the first to share in the Renascence of Wonder, which was the renascence of religion....Men saw once more the marvel of the universe and the romance of man's destiny. They became aware of the spiritual world, of the supernatural, of the lifelong struggle of the soul, of the power of the unseen.
The words quoted by Dr. Nicoll might very appropriately be used as a motto for Aylwin and also for its sequel The Coming of Love: Rhona Boswells Story.
PREFACE TO THE TWENTY-SECOND EDITION OF 1904
Nothing in regard to Aylwin has given me so much pleasure as the way in which it has been received both by my Welsh friends and my Romany friends. I little thought, when I wrote it, that within three years of its publication the gypsy pictures in it would be discoursed upon to audiences of 4000 people by a man so well equipped to express an opinion on such a subject as the eloquent and famous 'Gypsy Smith,' and described by him as 'the most trustworthy picture of Romany life in the English language, containing in Sinfi Lovell the truest representative of the Gypsy girl.'
And as regards my Welsh readers, they have done me the honour of suggesting that an illustrated edition of the work would be prized by all lovers of 'Beautiful Wales.'
Although such an edition is, I am told, an expensive undertaking, my friend and publisher, Mr. Blackett, sees his way, he tells me, to bringing it out.
Since the first appearance of the book there have been many interesting discussions by Welsh readers, in various periodicals, upon the path taken by Sinfi Lovell and Aylwin in their ascent of Snowdon.
A very picturesque letter appeared in Notes and Queries on May 3rd, 1902, signed C. C. B. in answer to a query by E. W., which I will give myself the pleasure of quoting because it describes the writer's ascent of Snowdon (accompanied by a son of my old friend Harry Owen, late of Pen-y-Gwryd) along a path which was almost the same as that taken by Aylwin and Sinfi Lovell, when he saw the same magnificent spectacle that was seen by them:—
The mist was then clearing (it was in July) and in a few moments was entirely gone. So marvellous a transformation scene, and so immense a prospect, I have never beheld since. For the first and only time in my life I saw from one spot almost the whole of North and Mid-Wales, a good part of Western England, and a glimpse of Scotland and Ireland. The vision faded all too quickly, but it was worth walking thirty-three or thirty-four miles, as I did that day, for even a briefer view than that.
Referring to Llyn Coblynau this interesting writer says—
Only from Glaslyn would the description in Aylwin of y Wyddfa standing out against the sky 'as narrow and as steep as the sides of an acorn' be correct, but from the north and north-west sides of Glaslyn this answers with quite curious exactness to the appearance of the mountain. We must suppose the action of the story to have taken place before the revival of the copper-mining industry on Snowdon.
With regard, however, to the question here raised, I can save myself all trouble by simply quoting the admirable remarks of Sion o Ddyli in the same number of Notes and Queries:—
None of us are very likely to succeed in placing this llyn, because the author of Aylwin, taking a privilege of romance often taken by Sir Walter Scott before him, probably changed the landmarks in idealising the scene and adapting it to his story. It may be, indeed, that the Welsh name given to the llyn in the book is merely a rough translation of the gipsies' name for it, the 'Knockers' being gnomes or goblins of the mine; hence 'Coblynau' equals goblins. If so, the name itself can give us no clue unless we are lucky enough to secure the last of the Welsh gipsies for a guide. In any case, the only point from which to explore Snowdon for the small llyn, or perhaps llyns (of which Llyn Coblynau is a kind of composite ideal picture), is no doubt, as E. W. has suggested, Capel Curig; and I imagine the actual scene lies about a mile south from Glaslyn, while it owes something at least of its colouring in the book to that strange lake. The 'Knockers,' it must be remembered, usually depend upon the existence of a mine near by, with old partly fallen mine-workings where the dropping of water or other subterranean noises produce the curious phenomenon which is turned to such imaginative account in the Snowdon chapters of Aylwin.
There is another question—a question of a very different kind—raised by several correspondents of Notes and Queries, upon which I should like to say a word—a question as to The Veiled Queen and the use therein of the phrase 'The Renascence of Wonder'—a phrase which has been said to 'express the artistic motif of the book.' The motif of the book, however, is one of emotion primarily, or it would not have been written.
There is yet another subject upon which I feel tempted to say a few words. D'Arcy in referring to Aylwin's conduct in regard to the cross says:—
You were simply doing what Hamlet would have done in such circumstances—what Macbeth would have done, and what he would have done who spoke to the human heart through their voices. All men, I believe, have Macbeth's instinct for making 'assurance doubly sure,' and I cannot imagine the man who, entangled as you were in a net of conflicting evidence—the evidence of the spiritual and the evidence of the natural world—would not, if the question were that of averting a curse from acting on a beloved mistress, have done as you did. That paralysis of Hamlet's will which followed when the evidence of two worlds hung in equipoise before him, no one can possibly understand better than I.
Several critics have asked me to explain these words. Of course, however, the question is much too big and much too important to discuss here. I will merely say that Shakespeare having decided in the case of 'Macbeth' to adopt the machinery he found in Holinslied, and in the case of 'Hamlet' the machinery he found in the old 'Hamlet,' seems to have set himself the task of realising the situation of a man oscillating between the evidence of two worlds, the physical and the spiritual—a man in each case unusually sagacious, and in each case endowed with the instinct for 'making assurance doubly sure'—the instinct which seems, from many passages in his dramas, to have been a special characteristic of the poet's own, such for instance as the words in Pericles:
For truth can never be confirm'd enough, Though doubts did ever sleep.
Why is it that, in this story, Hamlet, the moody moraliser upon charnel-houses and mouldy bones, is identified with the jolly companion of the Mermaid, the wine-bibbing joker of the Falcon, and the Apollo saloon? It is because Hamlet is the most elaborately-painted character in literature. It is because the springs of his actions are so profoundly touched, the workings of his soul so thoroughly laid bare, that we seem to know him more completely than we know our most intimate friends. It is because the sea which washes between personality and personality is here, for once, rolled away, and we and this Hamlet touch, soul to soul. That is why we ask whether such a character can be the mere evolvement of the artistic mind at work. That is why we exclaim: 'The man who painted Hamlet must have been painting himself.' The perfection of the dramatist's work betrays him. For, really and truly, no man can paint another, but only himself, and what we call 'character painting' is, at the best, but a poor mixing of painter and painted, a 'third something' between these two; just as what we call colour and sound are born of the play of undulation upon organism.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SNOWDON EDITION OF 1901
Though written many years ago this story was, for certain personal reasons easy to guess, withheld from publication—withheld, as The Times pointed out, because 'with the Dichtung was mingled a good deal of Wahrheit,' But why did I still delay in publishing it after these reasons for withholding it had passed away? This is a question that has often been put to me both in print and in conversation. And yet I should have imagined that the explanation was not far to seek. It was simply diffidence; in other words it was that infirmity which, though generally supposed to belong to youth, comes to a writer, if it comes at all, with years. Undoubtedly there was a time in my life when I should have leapt with considerable rashness into the brilliant ranks of our contemporary novelists. But this was before I had reached what I will call the diffident period in the life of a writer. And then, again, I had often been told by George Borrow, and also by my friend Francis Groome, the great living authority on Romany matters, that there was in England no interest in Gypsies. Altogether then, had it not been for the unexpected success of The Coming of Love, a story of Gypsy life, it is doubtful whether I should not have delayed the publication of Aylwin until the great warder of the gates of day we call Death should close his portal behind me and shut me off from these dreams. However, I am very glad now that I did publish it; for it has brought around me a number of new friends—brought them at a time when new friends were what I yearned for—a time when, looking back through this vision of my life, I seem to be looking down an Appian way—a street of tombs—the tombs of those I loved. No wonder, then, that I was deeply touched by the kindness with which the Public and the Press received the story.
One critic did me the honour of remarking upon what he called the 'absolute newness of the plot and incidents of Aylwin.' He seems to have forgotten, however, that one incident—the most daring incident in the book—that of the rifling of a grave for treasure —is not new: it will at once remind folk-lorists of certain practices charged against our old Norse invaders. And students of Celtic and Gaelic literature are familiar with the same idea. Quite, lately, indeed, Mr. Alfred Nutt, in his analysis of the Gaelic Agallamh na Senorach, or 'Colloquy of the Elders,' has made some interesting remarks upon the subject.
As far as I remember, the only objection made by the critics to Aylwin was that I had imported into a story written for popular acceptance too many speculations and breedings upon the gravest of all subjects—the subject of love at struggle with death. My answer to this is that although it did win a great popular acceptance I never expected it to do so. I knew the book to be an expression of idiosyncrasy, and no man knows how much or how little his idiosyncrasy is in harmony with the temper of his time, until his book has been given to the world. It was the story of Aylwin that was born of the speculations upon Love and Death; it was not the speculations that were pressed into the story; without these speculations there could have been no story to tell. Indeed the chief fault which myself should find with Aylwin, if my business were to criticise it, would be that it gives not too little but too much prominence to the strong incidents of the story—a story written as a comment on love's warfare with death—written to show that confronted as a man is every moment by signs of the fragility and brevity of human life, the great marvel connected with him is not that his thoughts dwell frequently upon the unknown country beyond Orion where the beloved dead are loving us still, but that he can find time and patience to think upon anything else—a story written further to show how terribly despair becomes intensified when a man has lost—or thinks he has lost—a woman whose love was the only light of his world—when his soul is torn from his body, as it were, and whisked off on the wings of the 'viewless winds' right away beyond the farthest star, till the universe hangs beneath his feet a trembling point of twinkling light, and at last even this dies away and his soul cries out for help in that utter darkness and loneliness.
It was to depict this phase of human emotion that both Aylwin and its sequel, The Coming of Love, were written. They were missives from the lonely watch-tower of the writer's soul, sent out into the strange and busy battle of the world—sent out to find, if possible, another soul or two to whom the watcher was, without knowing it, akin.
And now as to my two Gypsy heroines, the Sinfi Lovell of Aylwin and the Rhona Boswell of The Coming of Love. Although Borrow belonged to a different generation from mine, I enjoyed his intimate friendship in his later years—during the time when he lived in Hereford Square; and since his death I have written a good deal about him—both in prose and in verse—in the Athenaeum, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and in other places. When, some seven or eight years ago, I brought out an edition of Lavengro (in Messrs. Ward, Lock & Co.'s Minerva Library), I prefaced that delightful book by a few desultory remarks upon Sorrow's Gypsy characters. On that occasion I gave a slight sketch of the most remarkable 'Romany Chi' that had ever been met with in the part of East Anglia known to Borrow and myself—Sinfi Lovell. I described her playing on the crwth. I discussed her exploits as a boxer, and I contrasted her in many ways with the glorious Anglo-Saxon road-girl Isopel Berners. Since the publication of Aylwin and The Coming of Love I have received very many letters from English and American readers inquiring whether 'the Gypsy girl described in the introduction to Lavenyro is the same as the Sinfi Lovell of Aylwin,' and also whether 'the Rhona Boswell that figures in the prose story is the same as the Rhona of The Coming of Love?' The evidence of the reality of Rhona so impressed itself upon the reader that on the appearance of Rhona's first letter in the Athenaeum, where the poem was printed in fragments, I got among other letters one from the sweet poet and adorable woman Jean Ingelow, who was then very ill,—near her death indeed,—urging me to tell her whether Rhona's love-letter was not a versification of a real letter from a real Gypsy to her lover. As it was obviously impossible for me to answer the queries individually, I take this opportunity of saying that the Sinfi of Aylwin and the Sinfi described in my introduction to Lavengro are one and the same character—except that the story of the child Sinfi's weeping for the 'poor dead Gorgios' in the churchyard, given in the Introduction, is really told by the Gypsies, not of Sinfi, but of Rhona Boswell. Sinfi is the character alluded to in the now famous sonnet describing 'the walking lord of Gypsy lore,' Borrow, by his most intimate friend Dr. Gordon Hake.
'And he, the walking lord of Gypsy lore! How often 'mid the deer that grazed the Park, Or in the fields and heath and windy moor, Made musical with many a soaring lark, Have we not held brisk commune with him there, While Lavengro, then towering by your side, With rose complexion and bright silvery hair, Would stop amid his swift and lounging stride To tell the legends of the fading race—. As at the summons of his piercing glance, Its story peopling his brown eyes and face, While you called up that pendant of romance To Petulengro with his boxing glory Your Amazonian Sinfi's noble story?'
Now that so many of the griengroes (horse-dealers), who form the aristocracy of the Romany race, have left England for America, it is natural enough that to some readers of Aylwin and The Coming of Love my pictures of Romany life seem a little idealised. The Times, in a kindly notice of The Coming of Love, said that the kind of Gypsies there depicted are a very interesting people, 'unless the author has flattered them unduly.' Those who best knew the Gypsy women of that period will be the first to aver that I have not flattered them unduly. But I have fully discussed this matter, and given a somewhat elaborate account of Sinfi Lovell and Rhona Boswell, in the introduction to the fifth edition of The Coming of Love: Rhona Boswell's Story.
1. THE CYMRIC CHILD 2. THE MOONLIGHT CROSS OF THE GNOSTICS 3. WINIFRED'S DUKKERIPEN 4. THE LEADER OF THE AYLWINIANS 5. HAROUN-AL-RASCHID THE PAINTER 6. THE SONG OF Y WYDDFA 7. SINFI'S DUKKERIPEN 8. ISIS AS HUMOURIST 9. THE PALACE OF NIN-KI-GAL 10. BEHIND THE VEIL 11. THE IRONY OF HEAVEN 12. THE REVOLVING CAGE OF CIRCUMSTANCE 13. THE MAGIC OF SNOWDON 14. SINFI'S COUP DE THEATRE 15. THE DAUGHTER OF SNOWDON'S STORY 16. D'ARCY'S LETTER 17. THE TWO DUKKERIPENS 18. THE WALK TO LLANBERIS APPENDICES
THE RENASCENCE OF WONDER
THE CYMRIC CHILD
'Those who in childhood have had solitary communings with the sea know the sea's prophecy. They know that there is a deeper sympathy between the sea and the soul of man than other people dream of. They know that the water seems nearer akin than the land to the spiritual world, inasmuch as it is one and indivisible, and has motion, and answers to the mysterious call of the winds, and is the writing tablet of the moon and stars. When a child who, born beside the sea, and beloved by the sea, feels suddenly, as he gazes upon it, a dim sense of pity and warning; when there comes, or seems to come, a shadow across the waves, with never a cloud in the sky to cast it; when there comes a shuddering as of wings that move in dread or ire, then such a child feels as if the bloodhounds of calamity are let loose upon him or upon those he loves; he feels that the sea has told him all it dares tell or can. And, in other moods of fate, when beneath a cloudy sky the myriad dimples of the sea begin to sparkle as though the sun were shining bright upon them, such a child feels, as he gazes at it, that the sea is telling him of some great joy near at hand, or, at least, not far off.'
One lovely summer afternoon a little boy was sitting on the edge of the cliff that skirts the old churchyard of Raxton-on-Sea. He was sitting on the grass close to the brink of the indentation cut by the water into the horse-shoe curve called by the fishermen Mousetrap Cove; sitting there as still as an image of a boy in stone, at the forbidden spot where the wooden fence proclaimed the crumbling hollow crust to be specially dangerous—sitting and looking across the sheer deep gulf below.
Flinty Point on his right was sometimes in purple shadow and sometimes shining in the sun; Needle Point on his left was sometimes in purple shadow and sometimes shining in the sun; and beyond these headlands spread now the wide purple, and now the wide sparkle of the open sea. The very gulls, wheeling as close to him as they dared, seemed to be frightened at the little boy's peril. Straight ahead he was gazing, however—gazing so intently that his eyes must have been seeing very much or else very little of that limitless world of light and coloured shade. On account of certain questions connected with race that will be raised in this narrative, I must dwell a little while upon the child's personal appearance, and especially upon his colour. Natural or acquired, it was one that might be almost called unique; as much like a young Gypsy's colour as was compatible with respectable descent, and yet not a Gypsy's colour. A deep undertone of 'Romany brown' seemed breaking through that peculiar kind of ruddy golden glow which no sunshine can give till it has itself been deepened and coloured and enriched by the responsive kisses of the sea.
Moreover, there was a certain something in his eyes that was not Gypsy-like—a something which is not uncommonly seen in the eyes of boys born along that coast, whether those eyes be black or blue or grey; a something which cannot be described, but which seems like a reflex of the daring gaze of that great land-conquering and daring sea. Very striking was this expression as he momentarily turned his face landward to watch one of the gulls that had come wheeling up the cliffs towards the flinty grey tower of the church—the old deserted church, whose graveyard the sea had already half washed away. As his eyes followed the bird's movements, however, this daring sea-look seemed to be growing gradually weaker and weaker. At last it faded away altogether, and by the time his face was turned again towards the sea, the look I have tried to describe was supplanted by such a gaze as that gull would give were it hiding behind a boulder with a broken wing. A mist of cruel trouble was covering his eyes, and soon the mist had grown into two bright glittering pearly tears, which, globing and trembling, larger and larger, were at length big enough to drown both eyes; big enough to drop, shining, on the grass: big enough to blot out altogether the most brilliant picture that sea and sky could make. For that little boy had begun to learn a lesson which life was going to teach him fully—the lesson that shining sails in the sunny wind, and black trailing bands of smoke passing here and there along the horizon, and silvery gulls dipping playfully into the green and silver waves (nay, all the beauties and all the wonders of the world), make but a blurred picture to eyes that look through the lens of tears. However, with a brown hand brisk and angry, he brushed away these tears, like one who should say, 'This kind of thing will never do.'
Indeed, so hardy was the boy's face—tanned by the sun, hardened and bronzed by the wind, reddened by the brine—that tears seemed entirely out of place there. The meaning of those tears must be fully accounted for, and if possible fully justified, for this little boy is to be the hero of this story. In other words, he is Henry Aylwin; that is to say, myself: and those who know me now in the full vigour of manhood, a lusty knight of the alpenstock of some repute, will be surprised to know what troubled me. They will be surprised to know that owing to a fall from the cliff I was for about two years a cripple.
This is how it came about. Rough and yielding as were the paths, called 'gangways,' connecting the cliffs with the endless reaches of sand below, they were not rough enough, or yielding enough, or in any way dangerous enough for me.
So I used to fashion 'gangways' of my own; I used to descend the cliff at whatsoever point it pleased me, clinging to the lumps of sandy earth with the prehensile power of a spider-monkey. Many a warning had I had from the good fishermen and sea-folk, that some day I should fall from top to bottom—fall and break my neck. A laugh was my sole answer to these warnings; for, with the possession of perfect health, I had inherited that instinctive belief in good luck which perfect health will often engender.
However, my punishment came at last. The coast, which is yielding gradually to the sea, is famous for sudden and gigantic landslips. These landslips are sometimes followed, at the return of the tide, by a further fall, called a 'settlement.' The word 'settlement' explains itself, perhaps. No matter how smooth the sea, the return of the tide seems on that coast to have a strange magnetic power upon the land, and the debris of a landslip will sometimes, though not always, respond to it by again falling and settling into new and permanent shapes.
Now, on the morning after a great landslip, when the coastguard, returning on his beat, found a cove where, half-an-hour before, he had left his own cabbages growing, I, in spite of all warnings, had climbed the heap of debris from the sands, and while I was hallooing triumphantly to two companions below—the two most impudent-looking urchins, bare-footed and unkempt, that ever a gentleman's son forgathered with—a great mass of loose earth settled, carrying me with it in its fall. I was taken up for dead.
It was, however, only a matter of broken ribs and a damaged leg. And there is no doubt that if the local surgeon had not been allowed to have his own way, I should soon have been cured. As it was I became a cripple. The great central fact—the very pivot upon which all the wheels of my life have since been turning—is that for two years during the impressionable period of childhood I walked with crutches.
It must not be supposed that my tears—the tears which at this moment were blotting out the light and glory of the North Sea in the sun—came from the pain I was suffering. They came from certain terrible news, which even my brother Frank had been careful to keep from me, but which had fallen from the lips of my father—the news that I was not unlikely to be a cripple for life. From that moment I had become a changed being, solitary and sometimes morose. I would come and sit staring at the ocean, meditating on tilings in general, but chiefly on things connected with cripples, asking myself, as now, whether life would be bearable on crutches.
At my heart were misery and anger and such revolt as is, I hope, rarely found in the heart of a child. I had sat down outside the rails at this most dangerous point along the cliff, wondering whether or not it would crumble beneath me. For this lameness coming to me, who had been so active, who had been, indeed, the little athlete and pugilist of the sands, seemed to have isolated me from my fellow-creatures to a degree that is inconceivable to me now. A stubborn will and masterful pride made me refuse to accept a disaster such as many a nobler soul than mine has, I am conscious, borne with patience. My nature became soured by asking in vain for sympathy at home; my loneliness drove me—silent, haughty, and aggressive—to haunt the churchyard, and sit at the edge of the cliff, gazing wistfully at the sea and the sands which could not be reached on crutches. Like a wounded sea-gull, I retired and took my trouble alone.
How could I help taking it alone when none would sympathise with me? My brother Frank called me 'The Black Savage,' and I half began to suspect myself of secret impulses of a savage kind. Once I heard my mother murmur, as she stroked Frank's rosy cheeks and golden curls, 'My poor Henry is a strange, proud boy!' Then, looking from my crutches to Frank's beautiful limbs, she said, 'How providential that it was not the elder! Providence is kind.' She meant kind to the House of Aylwin. I often wonder whether she guessed that I heard her. I often wonder whether she knew how I had loved her.
This is how matters stood with me on that summer afternoon, when I sat on the edge of the cliff in a kind of dull, miserable dream. Suddenly, at the moment when the huge mass of clouds had covered the entire surface of the water between Flinty Point and Needle Point with their rich purple shadow, it seemed to me that the waves began to sparkle and laugh in a joyful radiance which they were making for themselves. And at that same moment an unwonted sound struck my ear from the churchyard behind me—a strange sound indeed in that deserted place—that of a childish voice singing.
Was, then, the mighty ocean writing symbols for an unhappy child to read? My father, from whose book, The Veiled Queen, the extract with which this chapter opens is taken, would, unhesitatingly, have answered 'Yes.'
'Destiny, no doubt, in the Greek drama concerns itself only with the great,' says he, in that wonderful book of his. 'But who are the great? With the unseen powers, mysterious and imperious, who govern while they seem not to govern all that is seen, who are the great? In a world where man's loftiest ambitions are to higher intelligences childish dreams, where his highest knowledge is ignorance, where his strongest strength is to heaven a derision—who are the great? Are they not the few men and women and children on the earth who greatly love?'
So sweet a sound as that childish voice I had never heard before. I held my breath and listened.
Into my very being that child-voice passed, and it was a new music and a new joy. I can give the reader no notion of it, because there is not in nature anything with which I can compare it. The blackcap has a climacteric note, just before his song collapses and dies, so full of pathos and tenderness that often, when I had been sitting on a gate in Wilderness Road, it had affected me more deeply than any human words. But here was a note sweet and soft as that, and yet charged with a richness no blackcap's song had ever borne, because no blackcap has ever felt the joys and sorrows of a young human soul.
The voice was singing in a language which seemed strange to me then, but has been familiar enough since:
Bore o'r cymwl aur, Eryri oedd dy gaer. Bren o wyllt a gwar, Gwawr ysbrydau.[Footnote]
[Footnote: Morning of the golden cloud, Eryrl was thy castle, King of the wild and tame, Glory of the spirits of air!]
[Eryri—the Place of Eagles, i.e. Snowdon.]
Intense curiosity now made me suddenly forget my troubles. I scrambled back through the trees not tar from that spot and looked around. There, sitting upon a grassy grave, beneath one of the windows of the church, was a little girl, somewhat younger than myself apparently. With her head bent back she was gazing up at the sky and singing, while one of her little hands was pointing to a tiny cloud that hovered like a golden feather over her head. The sun, which had suddenly become very bright, shining on her glossy hair (for she was bare-headed) gave it a metallic lustre, and it was difficult to say what was the colour, dark bronze or black. So completely absorbed was she in watching the cloud to which her strange song or incantation seemed addressed, that she did not observe me when I rose and went towards her. Over her head, high up in the blue, a lark that was soaring towards the same gauzy cloud was singing, as if in rivalry. As I slowly approached the child, I could see by her forehead (which in the sunshine gleamed like a globe of pearl), and especially by her complexion, that she was uncommonly lovely, and I was afraid lest she should look down before I got close to her, and so see my crutches before her eyes encountered my face. She did not, however, seem to hear me coming along the grass (so intent was she with her singing) until I was close to her, and throwing my shadow over her. Then she suddenly lowered her head and looked at me in surprise. I stood transfixed at her astonishing beauty. No other picture has ever taken such possession of me. In its every detail it lives before me now. Her eyes (which at one moment seemed blue grey, at another violet) were shaded by long black lashes, curving backward in a most peculiar way, and these matched in hue her eyebrows, and the tresses that were tossed about her tender throat and were quivering in the sunlight.
All this picture I did not take in at once; for at first I could see nothing but those quivering, glittering, changeful eyes turned up into my face. Gradually the other features (especially the sensitive full-lipped mouth) grew upon me as I stood silently gazing. Here seemed to me a more perfect beauty than had ever come to me in my loveliest dreams of beauty beneath the sea. Yet it was not her beauty perhaps, so much as the look she gave me, that fascinated me, melted me.
As she gazed in my face there came over hers a look of pleased surprise, and then, as her eyes passed rapidly down my limbs and up again, her face was not overshadowed with the look of disappointment which I had waited for—yes, waited for, like a pinioned criminal for the executioner's uplifted knife; but the smile of pleasure was still playing about the little mouth, while the tender young eyes were moistening rapidly with the dews of a kind of pity that was new to me, a pity that did not blister the pride of the lonely wounded sea-gull, but soothed, healed, and blessed.
Remember that I was a younger son—that I was swarthy—that I was a cripple—and that my mother—had Frank. It was as though my heart must leap from my breast towards that child. Not a word had she spoken, but she had said what the little maimed 'fighting Hal' yearned to hear, and without knowing that he yearned.
I restrained myself, and did not yield to the feeling that impelled me to throw my arms round her neck in an ecstasy of wonder and delight. After a second or two she again threw back her head to gaze at the golden cloud.
'Look!' said she, suddenly clapping her hands, 'it's over both of us now.'
'What is it?' I said.
'The Dukkeripen,' she said, 'the Golden Hand. Sinfi and Rhona both say the Golden Hand brings luck: what is luck?'
I looked up at the little cloud which to me seemed more like a golden feather than a golden hand. But I soon bent my eyes down again to look at her.
While I stood looking at her, the tall figure of a man came out of the church. This was Tom Wynne. Besides being the organist of Raxton 'New Church,' Tom was also (for a few extra shillings a week) custodian of the 'Old Church,' this deserted pile within whose precincts we now were. Tom's features wore an expression of virtuous indignation which puzzled me, and evidently frightened the little girl. He locked the door, and walked unsteadily towards us. He seemed surprised to see me there, and his features relaxed into a bland civility.
'This is (hiccup) Master Aylwin, Winifred,' he said.
The child looked at me again with the same smile. Her alarm had fled.
'This is my little daughter Winifred,' said Tom, with a pompous bow.
I was astonished. I never knew that Wynne had a daughter, for intimate as he and I had become, he had actually never mentioned his daughter before.
'My only daughter,' Tom repeated.
He then told me, with many hiccups, that, since her mother's death (that is to say from her very infancy), Winifred had been brought up by an aunt in Wales. 'Quite a lady, her aunt is,' said Tom proudly, 'and Winifred has come to spend a few weeks with her father.'
He said this in a grandly paternal tone—a tone that seemed meant to impress upon her how very much obliged she ought to feel to him for consenting to be her father; and, judging from the look the child gave him, she did feel very much obliged.
Suddenly, however, a thought seemed to come back upon Tom, a thought which my unexpected appearance on the scene had driven from his drunken brain. The look of virtuous indignation returned, and staring at the little girl through glazed eyes, he said with the tremulous and tearful voice of a deeply injured parent,
'Winifred, I thought I heard you singing one of them heathen Gypsy songs that you learnt of the Gypsies in Wales.'
'No, father,' said she, 'it was the song they sing in Shire-Carnarvon about the golden cloud over Snowdon and the spirits of the air.'
'Yes,' said Tom, 'but a little time ago you were singing a Gypsy song—a downright heathen Gypsy song. I heard it about half an hour ago when I was in the church.'
The beautiful little head drooped in shame.
'I'm s'prised at you, Winifred. When I come to think whose daughter you are.—mine!—I'm s'prised at you,' continued Torn, whose virtuous indignation waxed with every word.
'Oh. I'm so sorry!' said the child. 'I won't do it any more.'
This contrition of the child's only fanned the flame of Tom's virtuous indignation.
'Here am I,' said he, 'the most (hiccup) respectable man in two parishes,—except Master Aylwin's father, of course,—here am I, the organ-player for the Christianest of all the Christian churches along the coast, and here's my daughter sings heathen songs just like a Gypsy or a tinker. I'm s'prised at you, Winifred.'
I had often seen Tom in a dignified state of liquor, but the pathetic expression of injured virtue that again overspread his face so changed it, that I had some difficulty myself in realising how entirely the tears filling his eyes and the grief at his heart were of alcoholic origin. And as to the little girl, she began to sob piteously.
'Oh dear, oh dear, what a wicked girl I am !' said she.
This exclamation, however, aroused my ire against Tom; and as I always looked upon him as my special paid henchman, who, in return for such services as supplying me with tiny boxing-gloves, and fishing-tackle, and bait, during my hale days, and tame rabbits now that I was a cripple, mostly contrived to possess himself of my pocket-money, I had no hesitation in exclaiming,
'Why, Tom, you know you're drunk, you silly old fool!'
At this Tom turned his mournful and reproachful gaze upon me, and began to weep anew. Then he turned and addressed the sea, uplifting his hand in oratorical fashion:—
'Here's a young gentleman as I've been more than a father to—yes, more than a father to—for when did his own father ever give him a ferret-eyed rabbit, a real ferret-eyed rabbit thoroughbred?'
'Why, I gave you one of my five-shilling pieces for it,' said I; 'and the rabbit was in a consumption and died in three weeks.'
But Tom still addressed the sea.
'When did his own father give him,' said he, 'the longest thigh-bone that the sea ever washed out of Raxton churchyard?'
'Why, I gave you two of my five-shilling pieces for that,' said I, 'and next day you went and borrowed the bone, and sold it over again to Dr. Munro for a quart of beer.'
'When did his own father give him a beautiful skull for a money-box, and make an oak lid to it, and keep it for him because his mother wouldn't have it in the house?'
'Ah, but where's the money that was in it, Tom? Where's the money?' said I, flourishing one of my crutches, for I was worked up to a state of high excitement when I recalled my own wrongs and Tom's frauds, and I forgot his relationship to the little girl. 'Where are the bright new half-crowns that were in the money-box when I left it with you—the half-crowns that got changed into pennies, Tom? Where are they? What's the use of having a skull for a money-box if it's got no money in it? That's what I want to know, Tom!'
'Here's a young gentleman,' said Tom, 'as I've done all these things for, and how does he treat me? He says, "Why, Tom, you know you're drunk, you silly old fool."'
At this pathetic appeal the little girl sprang up and turned towards me with the ferocity of a young tigress. Her little hands were tightly clenched, and her eyes seemed positively to be emitting blue sparks. Many a bold boy had I encountered on the sands before my accident, and many a fearless girl, but such an impetuous antagonist as this was new. I leaned on my crutches, however, and looked at her unblenchingly.
'You wicked English boy, to make my father cry,' said she, as soon as her anger allowed her to speak. 'If you were not lame I'd—I'd—I'd hit you.'
I did not move a muscle, but stood lost in a dream of wonder at her amazing loveliness. The fiery flush upon her face and neck, the bewitching childish frown of anger corrugating the brow, the dazzling glitter of the teeth, the quiver of the full scarlet lips above and below them, turned me dizzy with admiration.
Her eyes met mine, and slowly the violet flames in them began to soften. Then they died away entirely as she murmured,
'You wicked English boy, if you hadn't—beautiful—beautiful eyes, I'd kill you.'
By this time, however, Tom had entirely forgotten his grievance against me, and gazed upon Winifred in a state of drunken wonderment.
'Winifred,' he said, in a tone of sorrowful reproach, 'how dare you speak like that to Master Aylwin, your father's best friend, the only friend your poor father's got in the world, the friend as I give ferret-eyed rabbits to, and tame hares, and beautiful skulls? Beg his pardon this instant, Winifred. Down on your knees and beg my friend's pardon this instant, Winifred.'
The poor little girl stood dazed, and was actually sinking down on her knees on the grass before me.
I cried out in acute distress,
'No, no, no, no, Tom, pray don't let her—dear little girl! beautiful little girl!'
'Very well, Master Aylwin,' said Tom grandly, 'she sha'n't if you don't like, but she shall go and kiss you and make it up.'
At this the child's face brightened, and she came and laid her little red lips upon mine. Velvet lips, I feel them now, soft and warm—I feel them while I write these lines.
Tom looked on for a moment, and then left us, blundering away towards Raxton, most likely to a beer-house.
He told the child that she was to go home and mind the house until he returned. He gave her the church key to take home. We two were left alone in the churchyard, looking at each other in silence, each waiting for the other to speak. At last she said, demurely, 'Good-bye; father says I must go home.'
And she walked away with a business-like air towards the little white gate of the churchyard, opening upon what was called 'The Wilderness Road.' When she reached the gate she threw a look over her shoulder as she passed through. It was that same look again—wistful, frank, courageous. I immediately began to follow her, although I did not know why. When she saw this she stopped for me. I got up to her, and then we proceeded side by side in perfect silence along the dusty narrow road, perfumed with the scent of wild rose and honeysuckle. Suddenly she stopped and said,
'I have left my hat on the tower,' and laughed merrily at her own heedlessness.
She ran back with an agility which I thought I had never seen equalled. It made me sad to see her run so fast, though once how it would have delighted me! I stood still; but when she reached the church porch she again looked over her shoulder, and again I followed her:—I did not in the least know why. That look I think would have made me follow her through lire and water—it has made me follow her through fire and water. When I reached her she put the great black key in the lock. She had some difficulty in turning the key, but I did not presume to offer such services as mine to so superior a little woman. After one or two fruitless efforts with both her hands, each attempt accompanied with a little laugh and a little merry glance in my face, she turned the key and pushed open the door. We both passed into the ghastly old church, through the green glass windows of which the sun was shining, and illuminating the broken remains of the high-hacked pews on the opposite side. She ran along towards the belfry, and I soon lost her, for she passed up the stone steps, where I knew I could not follow her.
In deep mortification I stood listening at the bottom of the steps—listening to those little feet crunching up the broken stones—listening to the rustle of her dress against the narrow stone walls, until the sounds grew fainter and fainter, and then ceased.
Presently I heard her voice a long way up, calling out, 'Little boy, if you go outside you will see something.' I guessed at once that she was going to exhibit herself on the tower, where, before my accident, I and my brother Frank were so fond of going. I went outside the church and stood in the graveyard, looking up at the tower. In a minute I saw her on it. Her face was turned towards me, gilded by the golden sunshine. I could, or thought I could, even at that distance, see the flash of the bright eyes looking at me. Then a little hand was put over the parapet, and I saw a dark hat swinging by its strings, as she was waving it to me. Oh! that I could have climbed those steps and done that! But that exploit of hers touched a strange chord within me. Had she been a boy, I could have borne it in a defiant way; or had she been any other girl than this, my heart would not have sunk as it now did when I thought of the gulf between her and me. Down I sat upon a grave, and looked at her with a feeling quite new to me.
This was a phase of cripplehood I had not contemplated. She soon left the tower, and made her appearance at the church door again. After locking it, which she did by thrusting a piece of stick through the handle of the key, she came and stood over me. But I turned my eyes away and gazed across the sea, and tried to deceive myself into believing that the waves, and the gulls, and the sails dreaming on the sky-line, and the curling clouds of smoke that came now and then from a steamer passing Dullingham Point were interesting me deeply. There was a remoteness about the little girl now, since I had seen her unusual agility, and I was trying to harden my heart against her. Loneliness I felt was best for me. She did not speak, but stood looking at me. I turned my eyes round and saw that she was looking at my crutches, which were lying beside me aslant the green hillock where I sat. Her face had turned grave and pitiful.
'Oh! I forgot,' she said. 'I wish I had not run away from you now.'
'You may run where you like for what I care,' I said. But the words were very shaky, and I had no sooner said them than I wished them back. She made no reply for some time, and I sat plucking the wild-flowers near my hands, and gazing again across the sea. At last she said,
'Would you like to come in our garden? It's such a nice garden.'
I could resist her no longer. That voice would have drawn me had she spoken in the language of the Toltecs or the lost Zamzummin. To describe it would of course be impossible. The novelty of her accent, the way in which she gave the 'h' in 'which,' 'what,' and 'when,' the Welsh rhythm of her intonation, were as bewitching to me as the timbre of her voice. And let me say here, once for all, that when I sat down to write this narrative, I determined to give the English reader some idea of the way in which, whenever her emotions were deeply touched, her talk would run into soft Welsh diminutives; but I soon abandoned the attempt in despair. I found that to use colloquial Welsh with effect in an English context is impossible without wearying English readers and disappointing Welsh ones.
Here, indeed, is one of the great disadvantages under which this book will go out to the world. While a story-teller may reproduce, by means of orthographical devices, something of the effect of Scottish accent, Irish accent, or Manx accent, such devices are powerless to represent Welsh accent.
I got up in silence, and walked by her side out of the churchyard towards her father's cottage, which was situated between the new church and the old, and at a considerable distance from the town of Raxton on one side, and the village of Graylingham on the other. Her eager young limbs would every moment take her ahead of me, for she was as vigorous as a fawn. But by the time she was half a yard in advance, she would recollect herself and fall back; and every time she did so that same look of tenderness would overspread her face.
At last she said, 'What makes you stare at me so, little boy?'
I blushed and turned my head another way, for I had been feasting my eyes upon her complexion, and trying to satisfy myself as to what it really was like. Indeed, I thought it quite peculiar then, when I had seen so few lovely faces, as I always did afterwards, when I had seen as many as most people. It was, I thought, as though underneath the sunburn the delicate pink tint of the hedge-rose had become mingled with the bloom of a ripening peach, and yet it was like neither peach nor rose. But this tone, whatever it was, did not spread higher than the eyebrows. The forehead was different. It had a singular kind of pearly look, and her long slender throat was almost of the same tone: no, not the same, for there was a transparency about her throat unlike that of the forehead. This colour I was just now thinking looked something like the inside of a certain mysterious shell upon my father's library shelf.
As she asked me her question she stopped, and looked straight at me, opening her eyes wide and round upon me. This threw a look of innocent trustfulness over her bright features which I soon learnt was the chief characteristic of her expression and was altogether peculiar to herself. I knew it was very rude to stare at people as I had been staring at her, and I took her question as a rebuke, although I still was unable to keep my eyes off her. But it was not merely her beauty and her tenderness that had absorbed my attention. I had been noticing how intensely she seemed to enjoy the delights of that summer afternoon. As we passed along that road, where sea-scents and land-scents were mingled, she would stop whenever the sunshine fell full upon her face; her eyes would sparkle and widen with pleasure, and a half-smile would play about her lips, as if some one had kissed her. Every now and then she would stop to listen to the birds, putting up her finger, and with a look of childish wisdom say, 'Do you know what that is? That's a blackbird—that's a thrush—that's a goldfinch. Which eggs do you like best—a goldfinch's or a bullfinch's? I know which I like best.'
While we were walking along the road a sound fell upon my ears which in my hale days never produced any very unpleasant sensations, but which did now. I mean the cackling of the field people of both sexes returning from their day's work. These people knew me well, and they liked me, and I am sure they had no idea that when they ran past me on the road their looks and nods gave me no pleasure, but pain; and I always tried to avoid them. As they passed us they somewhat modified the noise they were making, but only to cackle, chatter, and bawl and laugh at each other the louder after we were left behind.
'Don't you wish,' said the little girl meditatively, 'that men and women had voices more like the birds?' The idea had never occurred to me before, but I understood in a moment what she meant, and sympathised with her. Nature of course has been unkind to the lords and ladies of creation in this one matter of voice.
'Yes, I do.' I said.
'I'm so glad you do,' said she. 'I've so often thought what a pity it is that God did not let men and women talk and sing as the birds do. I believe He did let 'em talk like that in the Garden of Eden, don't you?'
'I think it very likely,' I said.
'Men's voices are so rough mostly and women's voices are so sharp mostly, that it's sometimes a little hard to love 'em as you love the birds.'
'It is,' I said.
'Don't you think the poor birds must sometimes feel very much distressed at hearing the voices of men and women, especially when they all talk together?'
The idea seemed so original and yet so true that it made me laugh; we both laughed. At that moment there came a still louder, noisier clamour of voices from the villagers.
'The rooks mayn't mind.' said the little girl, pointing upwards to the large rookery close by. whence came a noise marvellously like that made by the field-workers. 'But I'm afraid the blackbirds and thrushes can't like it. I do so wonder what they say about it.'
After we had left the rookery behind us and the noise of the villagers had grown fainter, we stood and listened to the blackbirds and thrushes. She looked so joyous that I could not help saying, 'Little girl, I think you're very happy, ain't you?'
'Not quite,' she said, as though answering a question she had just been putting to herself. 'There's not enough wind.'
'Then do you like wind?' I said in surprise and delight.
'Oh, I love it!' she said rapturously. 'I can't be quite happy without wind, can you? I like to run up the hills in the wind and sing to it. That's when I am happiest. I couldn't live long without the wind.'
Now it had been a deep-rooted conviction of mine that none but the gulls and I really and truly liked the wind. 'Fishermen are muffs,' I used to say; 'they talk about the wind as though it were an enemy, just because it drowns one or two of 'em now and then. Anybody can like sunshine; muffs can like sunshine; it takes a gull or a man to like the wind!'
Such had been my egotism. But here was a girl who liked it! We reached the gate of the garden in front of Tom's cottage, and then we both stopped, looking over the neatly-kept flower-garden and the white thatched cottage behind it, up the walls of which the grape-vine leaves were absorbing the brilliance of the sunlight and softening it. Wynne was a gardener as well as an organist, and had gardens both in the front and at the back of his cottage, which was surrounded by fruit-trees. Drunkard as he was, his two passions, music and gardening, saved him from absolute degradation and ruin. His garden was beautifully kept, and I have seen him deftly pruning his vines when in such a state of drink that it was wonderful how he managed to hold a priming-knife. Winifred opened the gate, and we passed in. Wynne's little terrier, Snap, came barking to meet us.
There was an air of delicious peacefulness about the garden. This also tended to soften that hardness of temper which only cripples who have once rejoiced in their strength can possibly know, I hope.
'I like to see you look so,' said the little girl, as I melted entirely under these sweet influences. 'You looked so cross before that I was nearly afraid of you.'
And she took hold of my hand, not hesitatingly, but frankly. The little fingers clasped mine. I looked at them. They were much more sun-tanned than her face. The little rosy nails were shaped like filbert nuts.
'Why were you not quite afraid of me?' I asked.
'Because,' said she, 'under the crossness I saw that you had great love-eyes like Snap's all the while. I saw it!' she said, and laughed with delight at her great wisdom. Then she said with a sudden gravity, 'You didn't mean to make my father cry, did you, little boy?'
'No,' I said.
'And you love him?' said she.
I hesitated, for I had never told a lie in my life. My business relations with Tom had been of an entirely unsatisfactory character, and the idea of any one's loving the beery scamp presented itself in a ludicrous light. I got out of the difficulty by saying,
'I mean to love Tom very much, if I can.'
The answer did not appear to be entirely satisfactory to the little girl, but it soon seemed to pass from her mind.
That was the most delightful afternoon I had ever spent in my life. We seemed to become old friends in a few minutes, and in an hour or two she was the closest friend I had on earth. Not all the little shoeless friends in Raxton, not all the beautiful sea-gulls I loved, not all the sunshine and wind upon the sands, not all the wild bees in Graylingham Wilderness, could give the companionship this child could give. My flesh tingled with delight. (And yet all the while I was not Hal the conqueror of ragamuffins, but Hal the cripple!)
'Shall we go and get some strawberries?' she said, as we passed to the back of the house. 'They are quite ripe.'
But my countenance fell at this. I was obliged to tell her that I could not stoop.
'Ah! but I can, and I will pluck them and give them to you. I should like to do it. Do let me, there's a good boy.'
I consented, and hobbled by her side to the verge of the strawberry-beds. But when I foolishly tried to follow her, I stuck ignominiously, with my crutches sunk deep in the soft mould of rotten leaves. Here was a trial for the conquering hero of the coast. I looked into her face to see if there was not, at last, a laugh upon it. That cruel human laugh was my only dread. To everything but ridicule I had hardened myself; but against that I felt helpless.
I looked into her face to see if she was laughing at my lameness. No: her brows were merely knit with anxiety as to how she might best relieve me. This surpassingly beautiful child, then, had evidently accepted me—lameness and all—crutches and all—as a subject of peculiar interest.
How I loved her as I put my hand upon her firm little shoulders, while I extricated first one crutch and then another, and at last got upon the hard path again!
When she had landed me safely, she returned to the strawberry-bed, and began busily gathering the fruit, which she brought to me in her sunburnt hands, stained to a bright pink by the ripe fruit. Such a charm did she throw over me, that at last I actually consented to her putting the fruit into my mouth.
She then told me with much gravity that she knew how to 'cure crutches.' There was, she said, a famous 'crutches-well' in Wales, kept by St. Winifred (most likely an aunt of hers, being of the same name), whose water could 'cure crutches.' When she came from Wales again she would be sure to bring a bottle of 'crutches-water.' She told me also much about Snowdon (near which she lived), and how, on misty days, she used to 'make believe that she was the Lady of the Mist, and that she was going to visit the Tywysog o'r Niwl, the Prince of the Mist; it was so nice!'
I do not know how long we kept at this, but the organist returned and caught her in the very act of feeding me. To be caught in this ridiculous position, even by a drunken man, was more than I could bear, however, and I turned and left.
As I recall that walk home along Wilderness Road. I live it as thoroughly as I did then. I can see the rim of the sinking sun burning fiery red low down between the trees on the left, and then suddenly dropping out of sight. I can see on the right the lustre of the high-tide sea. I can hear the 'che-eu-chew, che-eu-chew.' of the wood-pigeons in Graylingham Wood. I can smell the very scent of the bean flowers drinking in the evening dews. I did not feel that I was going home as the sharp gables of the Hall gleamed through the chestnut-trees. My home for evermore was the breast of that lovely child, between whom and myself such a strange delicious sympathy had sprung up. I felt there was no other home for me.
'Why, child, where have you been?' said my mother, as she saw me trying to slip to bed unobserved, in order that happiness such as mine might not he brought into coarse contact with servants. 'Child, where have you been, and what has possessed you? Your face is positively shining with joy, and your eyes, they alarm me, they are so unnaturally bright. I hope you are not going to have an illness.'
I did not tell her, but went to my room, which now was on the ground floor, and sat watching the rooks sailing home in the sunset till the last one had gone, and the voices of the blackbirds grew less clamorous, and the trees began to look larger and larger in the dusk.
The next day I was again at Wynne's cottage, and the next, and the next. We two, Winifred and I, used to stroll out together through the narrow green lanes, and over the happy fields, and about the Wilderness and the wood, and along the cliffs, and then down the gangway at Flinty Point (the only gangway that was firm enough to support my crutches, Winifred aiding me with the skill of a woman and the agility of a child), and then along the flints below Flinty Point. She rapidly fell into my habits. She was an adept in finding birds' nests and wild honey; and though she would not consent to my taking the eggs, she had not the same compunction about the honey, and she only regretted with me that we could not be exactly like St. John, as Graylingham Wilderness yielded no locusts to eat with the honey. Winifred, though the most healthy of children, had a passion for the deserted church on the cliffs, and for the desolate churchyard.
It was one of those flint and freestone churches that are sprinkled along the coast. Situated as it was at the back of a curve cut by the water into the end of a peninsula running far into the sea, the tower looked in the distance like a lighthouse. I observed after the first day of our meeting that Winifred never would mount the tower steps again. And I knew why. So delicate were her feelings, so acute did her kind little heart make her, that she would not mount steps which I could never mount.
Not that Winifred looked upon me as her little lover. There was not much of the sentimental in her. Once when I asked her on the sands if I might be her lover, she took an entirely practical view of the question, and promptly replied 'certumly,' adding, however, like the wise little woman I always found her, that she 'wasn't quite sure she knew what a lover was, but if it was anything very nice she should certumly like me to be it.'
It was the child's originality of manner that people found so captivating. One of her many little tricks and ways of an original quaintness was her habit of speaking of herself in the third person, like the merest baby. 'Winifred likes this,' 'Winifred doesn't like that,' were phrases that had an irresistible fascination for me.
Another fascinating characteristic of hers was connected with her superstitions. Whenever on parting with her I exclaimed, as I often did. 'Oh, what a lovely day we have had, Winifred!' she would look expectantly in my eyes, murmuring, 'And—and—' This meant that I was to say. 'And shall have many more such days,' as though there were a prophetic power in words.
She talked with entire seriousness of having seen in a place called Fairy Glen in Wales the Tylwyth Teg. And when I told her of Oberon and Titania, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, whose acquaintance I had made through Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, she said that one bright moonlight night she, in the company of two of her Gypsy playmates, Rhona Boswell and a girl called Sinfi, had visited this same Fairy Glen, when they saw the Fairy Queen alone on a ledge of rock, dressed in a green kirtle with a wreath of golden leaves about her head.
Another subject upon which I loved to hear her talk was that of the 'Knockers' of Snowdon, the guardians of undiscovered copper mines, who sometimes by knocking on the rocks gave notice to individuals they favoured of undiscovered copper, but these favoured ones were mostly children who chanced to wander up Snowdon by themselves. She had, she said, not only heard but seen these Knockers. They were thick-set dwarfs, as broad as they were long. One Knocker, an elderly female, had often played with her on the hills. Knockers' Llyn, indeed, was very much on Winifred's mind. When a golden cloud, like the one on which she was singing her song at the time I first saw her, shone over a person's head at Knockers' Llyn, it was a sign of good fortune. She was sure that it was so, because the Welsh people believed it, and so did the Gypsies.
Not a field or a hedgerow was unfamiliar to us. We were most learned in the structure of birds' nests, in the various colours of birds' eggs, and in insect architecture. In all the habits or the wild animals of the meadows we were most profound little naturalists.
Winifred could in the morning, after the dews were gone, tell by the look of a buttercup or a daisy what kind of weather was at hand, when the most cunning peasant was deceived by the hieroglyphics of the sky, and the most knowing seaman could 'make nothing of the wind.'
Her life, in fact, had been spent in the open air.
There were people staying at the Hall, and they and Frank engrossed all my mother's attention. At least, she did not appear to notice my absence from home.
My brother Frank, however, was not so unobservant (he was two years older than myself). Early one morning, before breakfast, curiosity led him to follow me, and he came upon us in Graylingham Wood as we were sitting under a tree close to the cliff, eating the wild honey we had found in the Wilderness.
He stood there swinging a ground-ash cane, and looking at her in a lordly, patronising way, the very personification no doubt of boyish beauty. I became troubled to see him look so handsome. The contrast between him and a cripple was not fair, I thought, as I observed an expression of passing admiration on little Winifred's face. Yet I thought there was not the pleased smile with which she had first greeted me, and a weight of anxiety was partially removed, for it had now become quite evident to me that I was as much in love as any swain of eighteen—it had become quite evident that without Winifred the poor little shattered sea-gull must perish altogether. She was literally my world.
Frank came and sat down with us, and made himself as agreeable as possible. He tried to enter into our play, but we were too slow for him; he soon became restless and impatient. 'Oh bother!' he said, and got up and left us.
I drew a sigh of relief when he was gone.
'Do you like my brother, Winifred?' I said.
'Yes.' she said.
'Because he is so pretty and so nimble. I believe he could run up—' and then she stopped; but I knew what the complete sentence would have been. She was going to say: 'I believe he could run up the gangways without stopping to take breath.'
Here was a stab; but she did not notice the effect of her unfinished sentence. Then a question came from me involuntarily.
'Winifred,' I said, 'do you like him as well as you like me?'
'Oh no,' she said, in a tone of wonderment that such a question should be asked.
'But I am not pretty and—'
'Oh, but you are!' she said eagerly, interrupting me.
'But,' I said, with a choking sensation in my voice, 'I am lame.' and I looked at the crutches lying among the ferns beside me.
'Ah, but I like you all the better for being lame,' she said, nestling up to me.
'But you like nimble boys,' I said, 'such as Frank.'
She looked puzzled. The anomaly of liking nimble boys and crippled boys at the same time seemed to strike her. Yet she felt it was so, though it was difficult to explain it.
'Yes, I do like nimble boys,' she said at last, plucking with her fingers at a blade of grass she held between her teeth. 'But I think I like lame boys better, that is if they are—if they are—you.'
I gave an exclamation of delight. But she was two years younger than I, and scarcely, I suppose, understood it.
'He is very pretty,' she said meditatively, 'but he has not got love-eyes like you and Snap, and I don't think I could love any little boy so very, very much now who wasn't lame.'
She loved me in spite of my lameness; she loved me because I was lame, so that if I had not fallen from the cliffs, if I had sustained my glorious position among the boys of Raxton and Graylingham as 'Fighting Hal.' I might never have won little Winifred's love. Here was a revelation of the mingled yarn of life, that I remember struck me even at that childish age.
I began to think I might, in spite of the undoubted crutches, resume my old place as the luckiest boy along the sands. She loved me because I was lame! Those who say that physical infirmity does not feminise the character have not had my experience. No more talk for me that morning. In such a mood as that there can be no talk. I sat in a silent dream, save when a sweet sob of delight would come up like a bubble from the heaving waters of my soul. I had passed into that rare and high mood when life's afflictions are turned by love to life's deepest, holiest joys. I had begun early to learn and know the gamut of the affections.
'When, you leave me here and go home to Wales you will never forget me. Winnie?'
'Never, never!' she said, as she helped me from the ferns which were still as wet with dew as though it had been raining. 'I will think of you every night before I go to sleep, and always end my prayers as I did that first night after I saw you so lonely in the churchyard.'
'And how is that, Winnie?' I said, as she adjusted my crutches for me.
'After I've said "Amen," I always say, "And, dear Lord Jesus, don't forget to love dear Henry, who can't get up the gangways without me," and I will say that every night as long as I live.'
From that morning I considered her altogether mine. Her speaking of me as the 'dear little English boy,' however, as she did, marred the delight her words gave me. I had from the first observed that the child's strongest passion was a patriotism of a somewhat fiery kind. The word English in her mouth seemed some-times a word of reproach: it was the name of the race that in the past had invaded her sacred Snowdonia.
I afterwards learnt that her aunt was answerable for this senseless prejudice.
'Winnie,' I said, 'don't you wish I was a Welsh boy?'
'Oh yes,' she said.'Don't you?' I made no answer.
She looked into my face and said, 'And yet I don't think I could love a Welsh boy as I love you.'
She then repeated to me a verse of a Welsh song, which of course I did not understand a word of until she told me what it meant in English.
It was an address to Snowdon, and ran something like this—
Mountain-wild Snowdon for me! Sweet silence there for the harp, Where loiter the ewes and the lambs In the moss and the rushes, Where one's song goes sounding up! And the rocks re-echo it higher and higher In the height where the eagles live.
In this manner about six weeks slid away, and Winnie's visit to her father came to an end. I ask, how can people laugh at the sorrows of childhood? The bitterness of my misery as I sat with that child on the eve of her departure for Wales (which to me seemed at the extreme end of the earth) was almost on a par with anything I have since suffered, and that is indeed saying a great deal. It was in Wynne's cottage, and I sat on the floor with her wet cheeks close to mine, saying, 'She leaves me alone.' Tom tried to console me by telling me that Winifred would soon come back.
'But when?' I said.
'Next year,' said Tom.
He might as well have said next century, for any consolation it gave me. The idea of a year without her was altogether beyond my grasp. It seemed infinite.
Week after week passed, and month after month, and little Winifred was always in my thoughts. Wynne's cottage was a sacred spot to me, and the organist the most interesting man in the world. I never tired of asking him questions about her, though he, as I soon found, knew scarcely anything concerning her and what she was doing, and cared less; for love of drink had got thoroughly hold of him.
Letters were scarce visitants to him, and I believe he never used to hear from Wales at all.
At the end of the year she came again, and I had about a year of happiness. I was with her every day, and every day she grew more necessary to my existence.
It was at this time that I made the acquaintance of Winnie's friend Rhona Boswell, a charming little Gypsy girl. Graylingham Wood and Rington Wood, like the entire neighbourhood, were favourite haunts of a superior kind of Gypsies called Griengroes, that is to say, horse-dealers. Their business was to buy ponies in Wales and sell them in the Eastern Counties and the East Midlands. Thus it was that Winnie had known many of the East Midland Gypsies in Wales. Compared with Rhona Boswell, who was more like a fairy than a child, Winnie seemed quite a grave little person. Rhona's limbs were always on the move, and the movement sprang always from her emotions. Her laugh seemed to ring through the woods like silver bells, a sound that it was impossible to mistake for any other. The laughter of most Gypsy girls is full of music and of charm, and yet Rhona's laughter was a sound by itself, and it was no doubt this which afterwards when she grew up attracted my kinsman, Percy Aylwin, towards her. It seemed to emanate not from her throat merely, but from her entire frame. If one could imagine a strain of merriment and fun blending with the ecstatic notes of a skylark soaring and singing, one might form some idea of the laugh of Rhona Boswell. Ah, what days they were! Rhona would come from Gypsy Dell, a romantic place in Rington Manor some miles off, especially to show us some newly devised coronet of flowers that she had been weaving for herself. This induced Winnie to weave for herself a coronet of sea-weeds, and an entire morning was passed in grave discussion as to which coronet excelled the other.
A year had made a great difference in Winnie, a much greater difference than it had made in me. Her aunt, who was no doubt a well-informed woman, had been attending to her education. In a single year she had taught her French so thoroughly that Winnie was in the midst of Dumas' Monte Cristo. And apart from education in the ordinary acceptation of the word, the expansion of her mind had been rapid and great.
Her English vocabulary was now far above mine, far above that of most children of her age. This I discovered was owing to the fact that a literary English lady of delicate health, Miss Dalrymple, whose slender means obliged her to leave the Capel Curig Hotel, had been staying at the cottage as a lodger. She had taken I the greatest delight in educating Winnie. Of course Winnie lost as well as gained by this change. She was a little Welsh rustic no longer, but a little lady unusually well equipped, as far as education went, for taking her place in the world.
She understood fully now what I meant when I told her that we were betrothed, and again showed that mingling of child-wisdom and poetry which characterised her by suggesting that we should be married on Snowdon, and that her wedding-dress should be the green kirtle and wreath of the fairies, and that her bridesmaids should be her Gypsy friends, Sinfi Lovell and Rhona Boswell. This I acceded to with alacrity.
It was now that I fully realised for the first time her extraordinary gift of observation and her power of describing what she had observed in the graphic language that can never be taught save by the teacher Nature herself. In a dozen picturesque words she would flash upon my very senses the scene that she was describing. So vividly did she bring before my eyes the scenery of North Wales, that when at last I went there it seemed quite familiar to me. And so in describing individuals, her pictures of them were like photographs.
Graylingham Wood was our favourite haunt. This place and the adjoining piece of waste land, called the Wilderness, had for us all the charms of a primeval forest. Here in the early spring we used to come and watch the first violet uplifting its head from the dark green leaves behind the mossy boles, and listen for the first note of the blackcap, the nightingale's herald, and the first coo of the wood-pigeons among the bare and newly-budding trees. And here, in the summer, we used to come as soon as breakfast was over with as many story-books as we could carry, and sit on the grass and revel in the wonders of the Arabian Nights. the Tales of the Genii, and the Seven Champions of Christendom, till all the leafy alleys of the wood were glittering with armed knights and Sinbads and Aladdins. The story of Camaralzaman and Badoura was, I think, Winnie's chief favourite. She could repeat it almost word for word. The idea of the two lovers being carried to each other by genii through the air and over the mountain tops had an especial fascination for her. I was Camaralzaman and she Badoura, and the genii would carry me to her as she sat by Knockers' Llyn, or, as she called it, Llyn Coblynau, on the lower slopes of Snowdon.
But above all, there was the sea on the other side of the wood, of the presence of which we were always conscious—the sea, of which we could often catch glimpses between the trees, lending a sense of freedom and wonder and romance such as no landscape can lend. Our great difficulty of course was in connection with my lameness. Few children would have tried to convey a pair of crutches and a lame leg down the cliff to the long level brown sands that lay, farther than the eye could reach, stretched beneath miles on miles of brown crumbling cliffs, whose jagged points and indentations had the kind of spectral look peculiar to that coast. For, alas! the holy water Winifred brought did not 'cure the crutches.' Yet we used to master the difficulty, always selecting the firmer gangway at Flinty Point, and always waiting, before making the attempt, until there was no one near to see us toiling down. Once down on the hard sands just below the Point, we were happy, paddling and enjoying ourselves till the sunset told us that we must begin our herculean labour of hoisting the leg and crutches up the gangway back to the wood. I have performed many athletic feats since my cure, but nothing comparable to the feat of climbing with crutches up those paths of yielding sand. Once we found on the sand a newly shot gull. She took it in her lap and mourned over it. I guessed who was the poor bird's murderer—her father!