E-text prepared by Al Haines
BY BERWEN BANKS
Author of "A Welsh Singer," "Torn Sails," etc.
London Hutchinson & Co. Paternoster Row
I. BERWEN BANKS II. THE HOUSE ON THE CLIFF III. THE SASSIWN IV. THE STORM V. GWYNNE ELLIS ARRIVES VI. CORWEN AND VALMAI VII. THE VICAR'S STORY VIII. THE OLD REGISTER IX. REUBEN STREET X. THE WEB OF FATE XI. THE "BLACK DOG" XII. A CLIMAX XIII. "THE BABIES' CORNER" XIV. UNREST XV. THE SISTERS XVI. DISPERSING CLOUDS XVII. HOME AGAIN XVIII. THE VELVET WALK XIX. THE MEREDITHS XX. GWLADYS XXI. INTO THE SUNSHINE
BY BERWEN BANKS.
Caer Madoc is a sleepy little Welsh town, lying two miles from the sea coast. Far removed from the busy centres of civilisation, where the battle of life breeds keen wits and deep interests, it is still, in the opinion of its inhabitants, next to London, the most important place in the United Kingdom. It has its church and three chapels, its mayor and corporation, jail, town hall, and market-place; but, more especially, it has its fairs, and awakes to spasmodic jollity on such occasions, which come pretty often—quite ten times in the year. In the interims it resigns itself contentedly to its normal state of lethargy.
The day on which my story opens had seen the busiest and merriest fair of the year, and the evening found the little town looking jaded and disreputable after its few hours of dissipation, the dusty High Street being littered with scraps of paper, orange-peel, and such like debris. The merry-go-rounds and the "shows" had departed, the last donkey-cart had rattled out of the town, laden with empty gingerbread boxes.
In the stable of the Red Dragon three men stooped in conclave over the hind foot of a horse. Deio, the ostler, and Roberts, the farrier, agreed in their verdict for a wonder; and Caradoc Wynne, the owner of the horse, straightened himself from his stooping posture with a nod of decision.
"Yes, it's quite plain I mustn't ride him to-night," he said. "Well, I'll leave him under your care, Roberts, and will either come or send for him to-morrow."
"Needn't do that, sir," said Roberts, "for I am going myself to Abersethin on Friday; that will give him one day's complete rest, and I'll bring him up gently with my nag."
"That will do better," said the young man. "Take care of him, Deio," he added, in good, broad Welsh, "and I will pay you well for your trouble," and, with a pat on Captain's flank and a douceur in Deio's ready palm, he turned to leave the yard. Looking back from under the archway which opened into the street, with a parting injunction to Roberts to "take care of him," he turned up the dusty High Street.
"Pagh!" he said, "it has been a jolly fair, but it hasn't sweetened the air. However, I shall soon have left it behind me," and he stepped out briskly towards the straggling end of the street, which merged into a wild moorland country.
"There's a difference between him and his father," said Deio to his companion, as they led Captain back to his stall. "See the old 'Vicare du' hunting between his coppers for a threepenny bit! Jar i man! you would think it was a sovereign he was looking for."
"Yes," said Roberts, "the old Vicare is a keen man enough, but just; always pays his bills regularly; he is not as black as they make him out to be."
"No, I daresay! They say the devil isn't, either," said Deio.
It was very evident the person in question was no favourite of his.
Meanwhile Caradoc, or Cardo as he was called all over the country side, the "Vicare du's" only son, had begun his tramp homewards with a light heart and a brisk step. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with health and youthful energy expressed in every limb and feature, with jet black hair and sparkling eyes to match. His dark, almost swarthy face, was lighted up by a pleasant smile, which seemed ever hovering about the corners of his mouth, and which would make itself evident in spite of the moustache which threatened to hide it.
The band of the local militia was practising in the open market hall as he passed, and an old Welsh air struck familiarly on his ear.
"They'll wonder what's become of me at home," he thought, "or rather Betto will. I don't suppose my father would notice my absence, so long as I was home to supper. Poor old dad!" he added, and a grave look came over his face.
In truth it was not a very cheerful home to which he was returning, but it was home, and had been his from childhood. It had been the home also of his ancestors for generations, which, to a Welshman, means a great deal, for the ties of home are in the very roots of his being. Home draws him from the furthermost ends of the earth, and leaving it, adds bitterness even to death.
His mother had died at his birth, so that the sacred word "mother" had never been more than a name to him, and he had taught himself to banish the thought of her from his mind; in fact an indescribable uneasiness always leapt up within his heart when her name was mentioned, and that was very rarely, for his father never spoke of her, and old Betto, the head servant, but seldom, and then with such evident sadness and reticence, that an undefined, though none the less crushing fear, had haunted him from childhood upwards. As he stepped out so bravely this soft spring evening, the look of disquietude did not remain long on his face. At twenty-four life has not lost its rosy tints; heart, mind, and body are fresh and free to take a share in all its opening scenes, more especially if, as in Cardo's case, love, the disturber, has not yet put in an appearance.
As he reached the brow of the hill beyond the town, the white dusty road stretched like a sinuous snake over the moor before him, while on the left, the sea lay soft and grey in the twilight, and the moon rose full and bright on his right. The evening air was very still, but an occasional strain of the band he had left behind him reached his ears, and with a musical voice he hummed the old Welsh air which came fitfully on the breeze:
"By Berwen's banks my love hath strayed, For many a day in sun and shade; And while she carols loud and clear, The little birds fly down to hear.
"By Berwen's banks the storm rose high, The swollen river rushing by! Beneath its waves my love was drowned And on its banks my love was found!"
Suddenly he was aware of a cloaked figure walking about a hundred yards in front of him. "Who's that, I wonder?" he thought, and then, forgetting its existence, he continued his song:
"I'll ne'er forget that leafy shade! I'll ne'er forget that winsome maid! But there no more she carols free, So Berwen's banks are sad to me!"
By and by, at a curve in the road, he again noticed the figure in front of him, and quickened his steps; but it did the same, and the distance between them was not lessened, so Cardo gave it up, and continued his song. When the strain came to a natural ending, he looked again with some interest at the grey figure ever moving on, and still seeming to keep at the same distance from him. Once more he quickened his steps, and again the figure did likewise. "Diwss anwl!" he said. "I am not going to run after an old woman who evidently does not want my company." And he tramped steadily on under the fast darkening sky. For quite three miles he had followed the vanishing form, and as he reached the top of the moor, he began to feel irritated by the persistent manner in which his fellow-traveller refused to shorten the distance between them. It roused within him the spirit of resistance, and he could be very dogged sometimes in spite of his easy manner. Having once determined, therefore, to come up with the mysterious pedestrian, he rapidly covered the ground with his long strides, and soon found himself abreast of a slim girl, who, after looking shyly aside at him, continued her walk at the same steady pace. The twilight had darkened much since he had left the town, but the moonlight showed him the graceful pose of the head, the light, springy tread, and the mass of golden hair which escaped from the red hood covering her head. Cardo took off his cap.
"Good-night to you," he said. "I hope I have not frightened you by so persistently trying to catch you."
"Good-night," said the girl. "Yes, indeed, you have, whatever, because I am not used to be out in the night. The rabbits have frightened me too, they are looking so large in this light."
"I am sorry. It is very brave of you to walk all the way from Caer Madoc alone."
"To Abersethin it is not so far," said the girl.
"Do you live at Abersethin?"
"Yes, not far off; round the edge of the cliffs, under Moel Hiraethog."
"Oh! I know," said Cardo; "the mill in the valley?"
"No, round the next shore, and up to the top of the cliff is our house."
"Traeth Berwen? That is where I live!"
"Yes, I am Caradoc Wynne, and I live at Brynderyn."
"Oh! are you Cardo Wynne? I have heard plenty about you, and about your father, the 'Vicare du.'"
"Ah! poor old dad! I daresay you have not heard much good of him; the people do not understand him."
"Well, indeed, the worst I have heard of him is that he is not very kind to you; that he is making you to work on the farm, when you ought to be a gentleman."
"That is not true," said Cardo, flushing in the darkness; "it is my wish to be a farmer; I like it better than any other work; it is my own free choice. Besides, can I not be a farmer and a gentleman too? Where could I be so happy as here at home, where my ancestors have lived for generations?"
"Ancestors?" said the girl; "what is that?"
"Oh! my grandfather and great-grandfather, and all the long dead of my family."
"Yes, indeed, I see. Ancestors," she repeated, with a sort of scheduling tone, as though making sure of the fresh information; "I do not know much English, but there's good you are speaking it! Can you speak Welsh?"
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Cardo, and his voice woke the echoes from Moel Hiraethog, the hill which they were nearing, and which they must compass before reaching the valley of the Berwen. "Ha! ha! ha! Can I speak Welsh? Why, I am Welsh to the core, Cymro glan gloyw! What are you?"
"Oh! Welsh, of course. You can hear that by my talk."
"Indeed no," said Cardo. "I did not know anyone at Traeth Berwen could speak English as well as you do."
He was longing to find out who his fellow-traveller was. He saw in the dim light she was slim and fair, and had a wealth of golden hair; he saw her dress was grey and her hood was red. So much the moonlight revealed, but further than this he could not discover, and politeness forbade his asking. As if in answer to his thoughts, however, her next words enlightened him.
"I am Valmai Powell, the niece of Essec Powell, the preacher."
A long, low whistle escaped from the young man's lips.
"By Jove!" he said.
The girl was silent, but could he have seen the hot blush which spread over her face and neck, he would have known that he had roused the quick Welsh temper. He was unconscious of it, however, and strode on in silence, until they reached a rough-built, moss-grown bridge, and here they both stopped as if by mutual consent. Leaning their elbows on the mossy stone wall, they looked down to the depths below, where the little river Berwen babbled and whispered on its way to the sea.
"There's a nice noise it is making down there," said Valmai. "But why do you say a bad word when I tell you my uncle's name?"
"A bad word? In your presence? Not for the world! But I could not help thinking how shocked my father and your uncle would be to see us walking together."
"Yes, I think, indeed," said the girl, opening a little basket and spreading its contents on the low wall. "See!" she said, in almost childish tones, and turning her face straight to the moonlight.
Cardo saw, as he looked down at her, that it was a beautiful face.
"See!" she said, "gingerbread that I bought in that old street they call 'The Mwntroyd.' Here is a silver ship, and here is a gold watch, and a golden girl. Which will you have?"
"Well, indeed, I am as hungry as a hunter," said Cardo. "I will have the lassie, if you are sure you have enough for two."
"Anwl! anwl! I have a lamb and a sheep and some little pigs in my basket." And she proceeded to spread them out and divide them; and they continued to chat as they ate their gilded gingerbread.
"Suppose your uncle and my father knew we were standing on the same bridge and looking at the same moon," said Cardo, laughing.
"And eating the same gingerbread," added Valmai.
"My word! There would be wrath."
"Wrath?" said the girl, looking thoughtfully up in her companion's face; "what is that?"
"Oh, something no one could feel towards you. 'Wrath' is anger."
"My uncle is angry sometimes with me, and—too—with—with—"
"My father, I suppose?" said Cardo.
"Yes, indeed," said the girl; "that is true, whatever. Every Wednesday evening at the prayer-meeting he is praying for the 'Vicare du,' and Betto told me last week that the Vicare is praying for my uncle on Tuesday evenings."
"Oh, Lord! has it come to that?" said Cardo. "Then I'm afraid we can never hope for peace between them."
They both laughed, and the girl's rippling tones mingled musically in Cardo's ears with the gurgle of the Berwen.
"It is getting late," she said, "we had better go on; but I must say good-night here, because it is down by the side of the river is my way to Dinas. You will be nearer to keep on the road till you cross the valley."
"No, indeed," said the young man, already preparing to help his companion over the stone stile. "I will go down by the Berwen too."
"Anwl," said Valmai, clasping her hands; "it will be a mile further for you, whatever."
"A mile is nothing on such a night as this."
And down to the depths of the dark underwood they passed, by a steep, narrow path, down through the tangled briers and bending ferns, until they reached the banks of the stream. The path was but little defined, and evidently seldom trodden; the stream gurgled and lisped under the brushwood; the moon looked down upon it and sparkled on its ripples; and as Valmai led the way, chatting in her broken English, a strange feeling of happy companionship awoke in Cardo Wynne's heart.
After threading the narrow pathway for half-a-mile or so, they reached a sudden bend of the little river, where the valley broadened out somewhat, until there was room for a grassy, velvet meadow, at the further corner of which stood the ruins of the old parish church, lately discarded for the new chapel of ease built on the hillside above the shore.
"How black the ruins look in that corner," said Cardo.
"Yes, and what is that white thing in the window?" said Valmai, in a frightened whisper, and shrinking a little nearer to her companion.
"Only a white owl. Here she comes sailing out into the moonlight."
"Well, indeed, so it is. From here we can hear the sea, and at the beginning of the shore I shall be turning up to Dinas."
"And I suppose I must turn in the opposite direction to get to Brynderyn," said Cardo. "Well, I have never enjoyed a walk from Caer Madoc so much before. Will they be waiting for you at home, do you think?"
"Waiting for me?" laughed the girl, and her laugh was not without a little trace of bitterness; "who is there to wait for me? No one, indeed, since my mother is dead. Perhaps to-morrow my uncle might say, 'Where is Valmai? She has never brought me my book.' Here it is, though," she continued, "safe under the crumbs of the gingerbread. I bought it in the Mwntroyd. 'Tis a funny name whatever."
"Yes, a relic of the old Flemings, who settled in Caer Madoc long ago."
"Oh! I would like to hear about that! Will you tell me about it some time again?"
"Indeed I will," said Cardo eagerly; "but when will that be? I have been wondering all the evening how it is I have never seen you before."
They had now reached the open beach, where the Berwen, after its chequered career, subsided quietly through the sand and pebbles into the sea.
"Here is my path, but I will tell you," and with the sound of the gurgling river, and the plash of the waves in his ears, Cardo listened to her simple story. "You couldn't see me much before, because only six weeks it is since I am here. Before that I was living far, far away. Have you ever heard of Patagonia? Well then, my father was a missionary there, and he took me and my mother with him when I was only a baby. Since then I have always been living there, till this year I came to Wales."
"Patagonia!" said Cardo. "So far away? No wonder you dropped upon me so suddenly! But how, then, did you grow up Welsh?"
Valmai laughed merrily.
"Grow up Welsh? Well, indeed, I don't know what have I grown up! Welsh, or English, or Spanish, or Patagonian! I am mixed of them all, I think. Where we were living there was a large settlement of Welsh people, and my father preached to them. But there were, too, a great many Spaniards, and many Spanish girls were my friends, and my nurse was Spanish, so I learnt to speak Welsh and Spanish; but English, only what I learnt from my father and from books. I don't know it quite easy yet, but I am coming better every day I think. My father and mother are dead, both of them—only a few days between them. Another kind missionary's wife brought me home, and since then I am living with my uncle. He is quite kind when he notices me, but he is always reading—reading the old books about the Druids, and Owen Glendwr, and those old times, and he is forgetting the present; only I must not go near the church nor the church people, then he is quite kind."
"How curious!" said Cardo. "You have almost described my father and my home! I think we ought to be friends with so much in common."
"Yes, perhaps," said the girl, looking pensively out to sea, where the sea-horses were tossing up their white manes in the moonlight. "Well, good-bye," she added, holding out her hand.
"Good-bye," answered Cardo, taking the proffered hand in a firm, warm grasp. "Will we meet again soon?" he said, dropping it reluctantly.
"No, I think," said Valmai, as she began the steep path up the hill.
Cardo stood a moment looking after her, and as she turned to look back, he called out:
"Yes, I hope."
She waved her hand, and disappeared behind a broom bush.
"Valmai! Valmai!" he said, as he tramped off in the opposite direction. "Yes, she is Valmai!" 
 "A pure Welshman." A favourite expression in Wales.
 "Like May."
THE HOUSE ON THE CLIFF.
The Rev. Meurig Wynne, "y Vicare du," or "the black Vicar," as he was called by the country people, in allusion to his black hair and eyes, and also to his black apparel, sat in his musty study, as he had done every evening for the last twenty-five years, poring ever his old books, and occasionally jotting down extracts therefrom. He was a broad-shouldered man, tall and straight, about sixty-five years of age. His clean-shaven face was white as marble, its cold and lifeless appearance accentuated by his jet-black hair, strongly-marked eyebrows of the same dark hue, and his unusually black eyes; his nose was slightly aquiline, and his mouth well shaped, though wide; but the firm-set lips and broad nostrils, gave the whole face an expression of coldness and hardness. In fact he had a peculiarly dour and dark look, and it was no wonder that when he walked through his parish the little children left their games in the road, and hurried inside their garden gates as he passed.
He was perfectly conscious of this, and it pained him, though no one guessed it except his son, who felt a tender pity for the man who led so isolated and solitary a life.
The cause of his cold reserve Cardo had never been able to discover; but he somehow connected it with his mother's name, and therefore shrank from inquiring into his father's past life, preferring to let old memories sleep, rather than hear anything which might bring sorrow and pain into his life.
The Vicar was evidently uneasy, as he looked up listening, with one thin finger marking the place on the page he was reading. Cardo was later than usual, and not until he had heard his son's familiar firm step and whistle did he drop once more into the deep interest of his book.
As Cardo approached the house he saw the light in his father's window, and pictured to himself the cold, pale face bending over the musty books. "Poor old dad!" he murmured. Some sons would have tapped playfully at the window, but Cardo did not, he turned round the corner of the house, passing by the front door, which was closed, and did not look inviting, to the other side, where the clatter of wooden shoes and a stream of light from the open doorway made some show of cheerfulness. And there was Betto, his old nurse and his father's housekeeper, in loud, angry tones, reproving the shepherd boy who stood leaning against the door-post.
"Hello! what's the matter, Betto?" said Cardo in Welsh; "what mischief has Robin been up to now?"
"Machgen bach i (my dear boy!), is that you?" said Betto; "there's glad I am! You are late to-night, and I was beginning to puzzle."
"Has my father missed me?"
"Well, indeed, he hasn't said anything," said Betto, hunting for the frying-pan, and beginning to prepare the ham and eggs for supper. "But where's that Robin?" she added; "a clout or two with the frying-pan would not hurt his addle pate."
"He has been wise, and made himself scarce; but what has he done, Betto?"
"What has he done? the villain! Well, you know the sheep are grazing in the churchyard this week, and that 'mwnki' is watching them there. Well—he seated himself yesterday on a tombstone when we were in church, and whit, whit, whitted 'Men of Harlech' on his flute! and the Vicare praying so beautiful all the time, too! praying against the wiles of the devil and of Essec Powell!"
"Essec Powell! What has he been doing?"
"Well, machgen i, you will not believe! the boldness of those 'Methots' is something beyond! And the impidence of Essec Powell! What do you think, Caradoc? he is praying for your father—out loud, mind you!—in the prayer-meeting every Wednesday evening! But there! the master is beforehand with him, for he is praying for Essec Powell on Tuesdays!" and she tossed the frizzling ham and eggs on the dish. "Come to supper, my boy," and Cardo followed her nothing loth into the gloomy parlour, lighted by one home-made mould candle, for he was hungry in spite of the ginger-bread.
"Ah, Caradoc! you have come," said the Vicar, as he entered the room punctually at the stroke of ten, "what made you so late to-night?"
"Well," said Cardo, "when Deio, 'Red Dragon,' led Captain out of the stable, I found the swelling on his leg had risen again, so I left him with Roberts, the farrier. He will bring him home on Friday."
"You have ridden him too soon after his sprain, as I told you, but young men always know better than their elders."
"Well, you were right anyway this time, father."
"Yes," said his father; "as the old proverb says, 'Yr hen a wyr yr ifanc a debyg." 
"Shouldn't wonder if it rained to-morrow, the wind has veered to the south; it will be bad for the 'Sassiwn,' won't it?" said Cardo, after a pause.
"The what?" said the Vicar, looking full at his son.
"The 'Sassiwn,' sir, as they call it; the Methodist Association, you know, to be held here next week."
"I don't want to hear anything about it; I take no interest in the subject."
"Won't you go then, father? There will be thousands of people there."
"No, sir, I will not go; neither will you, I hope," answered the Vicar, and pushing his plate away, he rose, and walked stiffly out at the door and along the stone passage leading to his study.
His son listened to his retreating footsteps.
"As bigoted as ever, poor fellow!" he said; "but what a fool I was to mention the subject." And he continued his supper in silence. When Betto came in to clear away he had flung himself down on the hard horse-hair sofa. The mould candle lighted up but a small space in the large, cold room; there was no fire in the grate, no books or papers lying about, to beguile the tedious hour before bedtime. Was it any wonder that his thoughts should revert to the earlier hours of the evening? that he should hear again in fancy the soft voice that said, "I am Valmai Powell," and that he should picture to himself the clustering curls that escaped from the red hood?
The old house, with its long passages and large rooms, was full of those nameless sounds which fill the air in the quiet of night. He heard his father's footsteps as he paced up and down in his study, he heard the tick-tack of the old clock on the stairs, the bureau creaked, the candle spluttered, but there was no human voice to break the silence, With a yawn he rose, stretching his long legs, and, throwing back his broad shoulders, made his way along the dark passage which led into the kitchen, where the farm servants were seated at supper. Betto moved the beehive chair into a cosy corner beside the fire for the young master, the men-servants all tugged their forelocks, and the women rose to make a smiling bob-curtsey.
"Have some cawl, Ser!" said Betto, selecting a shining black bowl and spoon.
"Not to-night, after all that fried ham; but another night I want nothing better for supper."
"Well, there's nothing will beat cawl, that's certain," said Ebben, the head servant, beginning with long-drawn noisy sups to empty his own bowl.
"Finished the turnips to-day?" asked Cardo.
"Oh, yes," said Ebben, with a slight tone of reproof in his voice; "the work goes on though you may not be at home, Ser. I consider there is no piece of land on this earth, no, nor on any other earth, better farmed than Brynderyn. Eh?" and he looked defiantly at Betto, between whom and himself there was a continual war of words.
"Well, I suppose so, indeed," said Betto; "you say so often enough, whatever, and what you say must be right."
There was such an insidious mixture of flattery and sarcasm in her words that, for a moment Ebben was at a loss what to answer, so Malen, the milkmaid, took the opportunity of changing the subject.
"There's tons of bread will be baked on Monday," she said, "ready for the Sassiwn. Jini 'bakkare' has two sacks of flour to bake, and there's seven other women in Abersethin will bake the same quantity."
"At Morfa," said Shanw, "they have killed a cow and a sheep; and the tongues, and fowls, and hams will fill every oven in the parish."
Betto sniffed and tossed her head scornfully. "They may well give them bread and meat," she said, "for I don't see what else they have to give them."
"What else, indeed," said Shanw, ready for the frequent fray. "They won't have your hum-drum old church fregot, perhaps, but you come and see, and hear Hughes Bangor, Price Merthyr, Jones Welshpool. Nothing to give them, indeed! Why, Price Merthyr would send your old red velvet cushion at church flying into smithireens in five minutes. Haven't I heard him. He begins soft and low, like a cat purring on the hearth, and then he gets louder and louder, till he ends like a roaring lion. And our own preacher, Essec Powell, to begin and finish the meeting. There's busy Valmai must be. Marged Hughes is there to help, and she says—"
"Oh, be quiet," said Betto, "and go along with your Valmai, and your Price Merthyr, and your hams, and lions, and things. Ach y fi! I don't want to hear about such things in a clergyman's house."
"Valmai is a beauty, whatever," said Dye, the ploughboy. "I kiwked at her over the hedge this morning when she was going to Caer Madoc; she's as pretty as an angel. Have you ever seen her, Ser?"
"Valmai," said Cardo, prevaricating, "surely that is a new name in this neighbourhood?"
"Yes, she is Essec Powell's niece come home from over the sea. She is an orphan, and they say the old man is keeping her reading and reading to him all day till she is fair tired, poor thing."
"Well, it is getting late," said Cardo, "good-night." And his rising was the signal for them all to disperse, the men servants going to their beds over the hay loft or stable; while the women, leaving their wooden shoes at the bottom, followed each other with soft tread up the creaking back stairs.
In the study the Vicar poured over his books, as he translated from English into Welsh the passages which interested him most. He was, like many of the inhabitants of the South Wales coast, a descendant of the Flemings, who had long ago settled there, and who have left such strong and enduring marks of their presence.
Their language has long given place to a sort of doggerel English, but they have never learned to speak the language of the country except in some of the straggling border villages.
Pembrokeshire, in particular, retains a complete separateness, so to speak, from the rest of the country, and is often called "Little England beyond Wales." Thus it was that the English language seemed always more natural to Meurig Wynne than the Welsh. His sermons were always thought out in that language, and then translated into the vernacular, and this, perhaps, accounted in some degree for their stiffness and want of living interest. His descent from the Flemings had the disadvantage of drawing a line of distinction between him and his parishioners, and thus added to his unpopularity. In spite of this, Cardo was an immense favourite, his frank and genial manner—inherited from his mother, who was thoroughly Welsh—making its way easily to the warm Welsh hearts. There was a deep well of tenderness, almost of pity, within him for his cold stern father, a longing to break through his reserve, a hankering after the loving ways of home life, which he missed though he had never known them. The cold Fleming had very little part in Cardo's nature, and, with his enthusiastic Welsh sympathies, he was wont to regret and disclaim his connection with these ancient ancestors. His father's pedigree, however, made it very plain that the Gwynnes of Brynderyn were descended from Gwayn, a Flemish wool merchant who had settled there in the reign of Henry I.—these settlers being protected and encouraged by the English king, who found their peaceable, industrious habits a great contrast to the turbulence and restlessness of the Welsh under their foreign yoke. Time has done but little to soften the difference between the Welsh and Flemish characters; they have never really amalgamated, and to this day the descendants of the Flemings remain a separate people in language, disposition, and appearance. In Pembrokeshire, Gower, and Radnorshire, we find them still flourishing, and for some distance along the coast northwards from Pembrokeshire there are still families, and even whole hamlets, descended from them, exhibiting traits of character and peculiarities of manner easily discernible to an observant eye.
Before the Vicar retired to rest he took down from a shelf an old Bible, from which he read a chapter, and, closing the book, knelt down to pray. As he rose from his knees, the last words on his lips were, "Caradoc, my beloved son!"
For the next few days the turnips and mangolds seemed even more interesting than usual to Cardo Wynne. He was up with the lark, and striding from furrow to furrow in company with Dye and Ebben, returning to a hurried breakfast, and out again on the breezy hillside before the blue smoke had begun to curl up from the thatched chimneys which marked the cluster of cottages called "Abersethin."
Down there, under the cliffs, the little village slumbered, the rising sun just beginning to touch its whitewashed walls with gold, while up above, on the high lands, the "Vicare du's" fields were already bathed in the morning sunlight.
As he crossed from ridge to ridge and from furrow to furrow Cardo's thoughts continually flew across the valley to the rugged hill on the other side, and to the old grey house on the cliff—the home of Essec Powell, the preacher. In vain he sought for any sign of the girl whose acquaintance he had made so unexpectedly, and he was almost tempted to believe that she was no other than a creature of his own imagination, born of the witching moonlight hour, and absorbed again into the passing shadows of night. But could he have seen through the walls of that old grey house, even now at that early hour, he would have understood what kept the preacher's niece so busily engaged that neither on the shore nor on the banks of the Berwen was there a sign of her.
In the cool dairy at Dinas, and in and out of the rambling old kitchen, she was busy with her preparations for the guests who would fill the house during the Sassiwn. She bustled about, with Marged Hughes in attendance, looking very different, but every bit as charming, in her neat farm dress as she had on her visit to Caer Madoc. The sleeves of her pink cotton jacket, pushed up above the elbows, showed her white, dimpled arms; while her blue skirt or petticoat was short enough to reveal the neatly-shod feet, with their bows of black ribbon on the instep.
Every house in the neighbourhood was busy with preparations of some sort. At the farmhouses the women had been engaged for days with their cooking. Huge joints of beef and ham, boiled or baked, stood ready in the cool pantries; and in the smallest cottages, where there was more than one bed, it had been prepared for some guest. "John, my cousin, is coming from 'the Works,'"  or "Mary, my sister, will be home with her baby."
Everywhere hearts and hands were full of warm hospitality. Clergymen of the Church of England, though generally looking askance at the chapels and their swarming congregations, now, carried away by the enthusiasm of the people, consented to attend the meetings, secretly looking forward, with the Welsh love of oratory, to the eloquent sermons generally to be heard on such occasions.
Cardo, ruthlessly striding through the dew-bespangled gossamer of the turnip field, heard with pleasure from Dye that the adjoining field, which sloped down to the valley, had been fixed upon for the holding of the Sassiwn. On the flat at the bottom the carpenters were already at work at a large platform, upon which the preachers and most honoured guests were to be seated; while the congregation would sit on the hillside, which reached up to the Vicar's land. At least three thousand, or even four, might be expected.
All day Cardo looked over the valley with intense interest, and when the day's work was over, unable to restrain his curiosity and impatience any longer, he determined to take a closer survey of the old house on the hill, which for so many years he had seen with his outward eyes, though his inner perception had never taken account of it. At last, crossing the beach, he took his way up the steep path that led to Dinas. As he rounded a little clump of stunted pine trees he came in sight of the house, grey, gaunt, and bare, not old enough to be picturesque, but too old to look neat and comfortable, on that wind-swept, storm-beaten cliff. Its grey walls, marked with patches of damp and lichen, looked like a tear-stained face, out of which the two upstairs windows stared like mournful eyes. Downstairs, in one room, there was a little sign of comfort and adornment; crimson curtains hung at the window, inside which a few flowers grew in pots. Keeping well under the hedge of elders which surrounded the cwrt or front garden, Cardo passed round to the side—the pine end, as it is called in Wales—and here a little lattice window stood open. It faced the south, and away from the sea a white rose tree had ventured to stretch out its straggling branches. They had evidently lately been drawn by some loving hand towards the little window. A muslin curtain fluttered in the evening breeze, on which came the sound of a voice. Cardo knew it at once. It was Valmai singing at her work, and he longed to break through the elder bushes and call her attention. He was so near that he could even hear the words of her song, softly as they were sung. She was interrupted by a querulous voice.
"Valmai," it said in Welsh, "have you written that?"
"Oh! long ago, uncle. I am waiting for the next line."
"Here it is then, child, and well worth waiting for;" and, with outstretched arm marking the cadence of its rhythm, he read aloud from a book of old poems. "There's poetry for you, girl! There's a description of Nature! Where will you find such real poetry amongst modern bards? No, no! the bards are dead, Valmai!"
"Well, I don't know much about it, uncle; but isn't it a modern bard who writes:
"'Come and see the misty mountains In their grey and purple sheen, When they blush to see the sunrise Like a maiden of thirteen!'"
That seems very pretty, whatever."
"Very pretty," growled the man's voice, "very pretty; of course it is—very pretty! That's just it; but that's all, Valmai. Pwff! you have put me out with your 'blushing maiden' and your 'purple sheen.' Let us shut up Taliesin and come to 'Drych y Pryf Oesoedd.' Now, you begin at the fifth chapter."
There was a little sigh, which Cardo heard distinctly, and then the sweet voice began and continued to read until the sun sank low in the west.
"It's getting too dark, uncle. Will I go and see if the cakes are done?"
"No, no!" said the old man, "Gwen will look after the cakes; you light the candle, and come on with the book."
How Cardo longed to spring in through the lattice window, to fling the old books away, and to draw the reader out into the gold and purple sunset—out over the breezy cliffs, and down to the golden sands; but the strong bonds of circumstances held him back.
The candle was lighted, and now he could see into the room. Old Essec Powell sat beside the table with one leg thrown over the other, hands clasped, and chin in the air, lost in the deep interest of the book which his niece was reading.
"He looks good for two hours longer," thought Cardo, as he saw the old man's far-away look.
There was a little tone of weariness in her voice as, seating herself at the table by the open window, Valmai drew the candle nearer and continued to read.
Outside in the dusky twilight Cardo was gazing his fill at the face which had haunted him ever since he had seen it on the road from Caer Madoc. Yes, it was a beautiful face! even more lovely than he imagined it to be in the dim evening light. He took note of the golden wavy hair growing low on her broad, white forehead, her darker eyebrows that reminded him of the two arches of a beautiful bridge, under which gleamed two clear pools, reflecting the blue of the sky and the glint of the sunshine, the straight, well-formed nose, the pensive, mobile mouth, the complexion of a pale pink rose, and added to this the indescribable charm of grace and manner which spread through her personality.
The evening shadows darkened, the sunset glow faded, and the moon rose in a cloudless sky. The distant sound of the regular plash of the waves on the beach reached Cardo's ears. He thought of the long reaches of golden sand lying cool and grey in the moonlight, and all the romantic dreams of youth awoke within him.
Was it right that Valmai should be bending over a musty book in a dimly-lit room? while outside were the velvet turf of the cliffs, the plashing waves, and the silver moonlight.
But the reading still went on, the gentle voice growing a little weary and monotonous, and the white eyelids falling a little heavily over the blue eyes.
Long Cardo watched and gazed, and at last, turning away, he walked moodily home. He knew his father would expect him to supper at ten o'clock punctually, and hurried his steps as he approached the house. Just in time, for Betto was placing on the table an appetising supper of cawl and bread and butter, which the two men were soon discussing silently, for the Vicar was more pre-occupied than usual, and Cardo, too, was busy with his own thoughts.
Suddenly the former spoke.
"Is the long meadow finished?" he said.
"Yes; Dye is a splendid fellow to work, and Ebben and he together get through a good deal."
"To-morrow they can clear out the barn. The next day is the market at Llanilwyn; they must go there and buy a cow which Jones Pant y rych is going to sell. I have told Ebben he is not to give more than 8 pounds for her, and that is one pound more than she is worth."
Cardo was silent. To clear out the barn next day was easy enough, but to get Dye and Ebben to the market on the following day would be impossible. It was the opening of the Sassiwn, and he knew that neither of the men would be absent on that occasion, even though disobedience should cost them their place. They were both Methodists, and it had gone hard with the Vicar before he had taken them into his service; but the exigencies of farm life had compelled him to do so, as there was absolutely not one young man amongst his own congregation.
To do him justice, he had forgotten for the moment that the market day at Llanilwyn would also be the Sassiwn day.
"Do you remember, father, the Sassiwn begins the day after to-morrow?"
"I had forgotten it, but I don't see what difference that can make to my buying a cow."
"But Ebben and Dye will want to be at the meetings."
A shadow crossed the old man's face. He made no answer, but continued to eat his supper in silence, and at last rose, and with a short "Good-night, Cardo," went into his study. He knew as well as his son did that it would be useless to try and persuade his servants to be absent from the meetings, and the knowledge galled him bitterly, too bitterly for words, so he was silent; and Cardo, knowing his humour, said nothing to Dye and Ebben of his father's wishes.
"Poor old dad!" he sighed, as he finished his supper, "it is hard for him to see his congregation dwindled away to a mere handful, while the chapels around him arc crowded to overflowing. By Jove! there must be something wrong somewhere."
As usual after supper he followed Betto into the old kitchen, where the servants were assembled for supper, and where Shanw was again holding forth, to her own delight and Betto's disgust, on the coming glories of the Sassiwn.
"To-morrow evening will be the first meeting."
"Will it be in the field?" asked Cardo.
"Oh, no, Ser; the first is in the chapel always, and no strangers are there. Essec Powell will have to shut up his old books for a few days now, and poor Valmai will have rest. Marged Hughes says she is reading to him for hours every day, but once she can get out of his sight he forgets all about her, and goes on reading himself."
"When does he prepare his sermons?" said Cardo.
"Prepare his sermons!" said Shanw indignantly. "Do you think Essec Powell would write his sermon out like a clergyman and read it out like a book? No, indeed! Straight from the 'brist'—that's how Essec Powell preaches!"
"What time is the first meeting next day?"
"Oh, early, Ser—eight o'clock. Are you coming? Anwl! there's glad they'd be. You shall go on the platform with Price Merthyr and Jones Abertawe and all the rest."
"Saul among the prophets," said Cardo, laughing, and picturing himself among the solemn-faced preachers. "No, no; that wouldn't do, Shanw. What would my father say?"
"Well, well!" said Shanw, clicking her tongue against her teeth; "'ts, 'ts! 'tis pity indeed. But, there, everybody knows it is not your fault, Ser."
Cardo frowned, and fell into a brown study. It wounded him to hear his father blamed, and yet in his heart of hearts he wished he would so far temper his zeal with Christian charity as to attend the meetings which were moving the hearts of the people so much.
 "The old know, the young appear to know."
 Leek broth.
The Sassiwn day dawned bright and clear, and as the time for the first service drew near, the roads and lanes were thronged with pedestrians and vehicles of every description.
The doors of the houses in all the surrounding villages were closed for the day, except in a few cases where illness made it impossible for the inmates to leave their beds. Everybody—man, woman, and child, including babies innumerable—turned their faces towards the sloping field which for the day was the centre of attraction.
Already the grass was getting hidden by the black throng, and still the crowds arrived, seating themselves row behind row on the wild thyme and heather. The topmost corner of the field merged into a rocky wilderness of stunted heath and patches of burnt grass, studded with harebells, and this unapportioned piece of ground stretched away into the adjoining corner of the Vicar's long meadow. In the afternoon Cardo, who had virtuously kept away from the morning meetings, sauntered down to chat with Dye, who had condescended to absent himself from the third service, in order to attend to his duties on the farm.
"You sit here, Mr. Cardo," he said, with a confidential wink, "on your own hedge; the Vicar can't be angry, and you will hear something worth listening to."
Soon the sloping bank was crowded with its rows of human beings, all listening with intense interest to a pale, dark man, who stood on the front of the platform at the bottom of the field, and with sonorous voice delivered a short opening prayer, followed by an impassioned address. In the clear, pure air every word was distinctly heard all over the field, the surging multitude keeping a breathless silence, broken only by the singing of the birds or the call of the seagulls. Sometimes a baby would send up a little wail of fatigue; but generally the slumberous air soothed and quieted them into sleep.
The prayer over, the preacher gave out the words of a well-known hymn, and with one accord the people stood up, and from those hundreds and thousands arose the swelling tones of one of those old hymns which lay hold of every Welshman's heart, its strange reminiscences, its mysterious influences swaying his whole being, and carrying him away on the wings of its rising and falling melody. His fathers and grandfathers sang it in their old thatched cabins—and, farther back, the warriors and bards of his past ancestry breathed the same tones—and, farther back still, the wind swept its first suggestions through the old oaks of the early solitudes.
"Is it this, I wonder, this far-reaching into the past, which gives such moving power to the tones of an old Welsh hymn?" Thus Cardo mused, as he sat on the hedge in the spring sunshine, his eyes roaming over the dense throng now settling down to listen to the sermon, which the preacher was beginning in low, slow sentences. Every ear was strained to listen, every eye was fixed on the preacher, but Cardo could not help wondering where Valmai was. He saw Essec Powell with clasped fingers and upturned chin listening in rapt attention; he saw in the rows nearest the platform many of the wives and daughters of its occupants. Here surely would be the place for the minister's niece; but no! Valmai was nowhere to be seen. In truth, she had been completely forgotten by her uncle, who had wandered off with a knot of preachers after the hospitable dinner, provided for them at his house by Valmai's exertions and Marged Hughes' help; but he had never thought of introducing to his guests the real genius of the feast. She had snatched a hurried meal in the pantry, and, feeling rather lost and bewildered amongst the crowd of strangers, had retired to rest under the elder bushes, until called upon by Marged Hughes to help at the table, which she did at once, overcoming her shyness, and keeping as much as possible in the background.
The guests had been at first too intent upon their dinners after their morning's exertions to notice the slim white figure which slipped backwards and forwards behind them, supplying every want with quick and delicate intuition, aiding Marged Hughes' clumsy attempts at waiting, so deftly, that Essec Powell's dinner was a complete success.
Towards the end of the meal a young and susceptible preacher caught sight of the girl, and without ceremony opened a conversation with her. Turning to his host he asked:
"And who is this fair damsel?"
"Who? where?" said Essec Powell, looking surprised. "Oh! that's my niece Valmai; she is living with me since Robert my brother is dead."
"Well, indeed! You will be coming to the meetings, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Valmai, "I have been there all day; the singing was lovely!"
"And what did you think of the preaching?" said a very fat man, in a startlingly bass voice. He was carving a fowl. "That is the important point," he said, and the wing came off unexpectedly. "Young people are apt to think most of the singing," here he re-captured the wing and landed it safely on his own plate. "Did you hear my sermon?" he asked, between the mouthfuls of the fast disappearing wing, fixing his eyes upon poor Valmai, who began to wish herself under the elder bushes again. "My text was—" but fortunately here the company rose.
After a long grace they dispersed, and turned their faces once more towards the sloping field.
No one noticed Valmai—no one remembered her in the hurry to return to the preaching field—no one, she thought, would know or care whether she was present or not; and as she drew on her gloves and tied on her broad-brimmed straw hat, there was a little sadness in the curves of her mouth, a little moisture in the deep blue eyes, as alone she took her way after the preachers to the hillside. As she went she recalled the last open-air meeting she had attended, nearly two years ago, in that far-off land, where her father and mother had walked with her in loving companionship, when she had been the centre of their joys and the light of their home, and as she followed the winding path, hymn-book in hand, her heart went back in longing throbs to the father and mother and the old home under the foreign sky, where love had folded her in its warm embrace; but now—she was alone! no one noticed whether she came or went, and as groups and families passed her, wending their way to the hillside, she answered their nods and greetings with pleasant kindliness, but still found herself alone!
"It will always be like this now; I must learn to go alone. What can I expect when my father and mother are dead? there is no one else to care for me!"
She reached the crowded field, and ought to have made her way into the front rows near the platform where she might easily have found a seat, but Valmai was shy and retiring, and seeing there was no settled place for her, kept on the outskirts of the crowd, and at last found herself on the piece of uncultivated ground which bordered the corner of the Vicar's long meadow. She seated herself on the heather at the top of the bank, the sea wind blowing round her, and tossing and tumbling the golden curls which fell so luxuriantly under her hat.
All feeling of loneliness passed away as she sat there among the harebells and heather, for Valmai was young, and life was all before her, with its sweet hopes and imaginings. She was soon listening with deep interest to the eloquent and burning words which fell from the lips of the preacher; and with the harebells nodding at her, the golden coltsfoot staring up into the sky, the laughing babies sprawling about, was it any wonder that sadness fled away, and joy and love sang a paean of thankfulness in her heart?
It was at this moment that Cardo caught sight of her. Unconsciously, he had been seeking her in every square yard which his eye could reach, and here she was close to him all the time. The discovery awoke a throb of pleasure within him, and with a flush upon his dark face he rose and made his way towards her. She was absently turning over the leaves of her little Welsh hymn-book as he approached, and smiling unconsciously at a toddling child who was making journeys of discovery around the furze bushes. A quick, short "Oh!" escaped her as she saw him approach, her face brightened up—yes, certainly she was glad. Cardo saw it in the mantling blush and the pleased smile as he found a seat on the grass beside her. She placed her hand in his with a whispered word of greeting, for it would not do to speak aloud in that quiet concourse of people.
"Where have you been?" he asked, at last.
"At home," she whispered. "Why?"
"Because I hoped you would be out—"
Valmai shook her head as a farmer's wife looked round at her reprovingly. Cardo attempted another remark, but she only smiled with her finger on her lips.
"This is unendurable," he thought; but he was obliged to be satisfied with the pleasure of sitting beside her until the long sermon was over, and the crowd rose en masse with ejaculations of delight at the moving eloquence of the preacher.
"As good as ever he was!" "Splendid!" "Did you hear that remark about the wrong key?" "Oh! telling!" And amongst the murmer of approval and enthusiasm Valmai and Cardo rose. For a moment the former looked undecided, and he read her thoughts.
"No—not home with the crowd, but down over the beach;" and she fell in with the suggestion, turning her face to the sea breeze and taking the path to the shore.
Here the Berwen was running with its usual babbling and gurgling through the stones into the sea, the north-west wind was tossing the foam into the air, and the waves came bounding and racing up the yellow sand like children at play; the little sea-crows cawed noisily as they wheeled round the cliffs, and the sea-gulls called to their fellows as they floated over the waves or stood about the wet, shining sands.
"There's beautiful, it is," said Valmai, pushing back her hat and taking long breaths of the sea wind; "only six weeks I have been here and yet I seem to have known it for ever—I suppose because from a baby I used to hear my father talking of this place. It was his old home, and he was always longing to come back."
"Yes," said Cardo, "I can imagine that. I don't think I could ever be thoroughly happy away from here."
"Nor I too, indeed," said Valmai, "now that I know it."
"I hope you will never leave the place—you seem to belong to it somehow; and I hope I may never leave it, at least—at all events—" and he hesitated as he remembered his father's wishes—expressed many times, though at long intervals—that he should go to Australia and visit an uncle who had for many years lived there. The prospect of a voyage to the Antipodes had never been very attractive to Cardo, and latterly the idea had faded from his mind. In the glamour of that golden afternoon in spring, in Valmai's sweet companionship, the thought of parting and leaving his native country was doubly unpleasant to him. She saw the sudden embarrassment, and the flush that spread over his face.
"You are going away?" she said, looking up at him.
There was only inquiry in the tone. Cardo wondered if she would be sorry, and was tempted to make the most of his possible departure.
"I may have to go away," he said, "though I should hate it. I never liked the idea, but now I perfectly dread it. And you," he added, "should you miss me? It is not very lively here, so perhaps even I might be missed a little."
Valmai did not answer; she looked out to the horizon where the blue of the sky joined the blue of the sea, and the white breakers glinted in the sunshine.
"Yes," she said presently, "I will be sorry when you go, and where are you going to? Far away? To England, perhaps?"
"To Australia," replied Cardo.
"Australia! Oh! then you will never come back to Traeth Berwen!"
"Indeed, indeed I will, Miss Powell—you laugh at that—well—may I say Valmai, then?"
"Yes; why not? Everyone is calling me Valmai, even Shoni our servant."
"I may venture, then; and will you call me Cardo?"
"Yes, indeed; Cardo Wynne. Cardo Wynne, everybody is calling you that, too—even the little children in the village; I have heard them say, 'Here is Cardo Wynne coming!' See, here is the path to Dinas, I must say good-bye."
"Can't we have another walk along the beach? Remember, I, too, have no one to talk to!"
"Oh, anwl, no! I must hurry home and get the tea for the preachers."
"And then back to the meeting on the hillside?"
"No; the meeting is in the chapel to-night."
"But when it is over you will come back along the shore?"
"Indeed, I don't know. Good-bye," she said, as she began her way up the rugged homeward path.
When Cardo reached home, he found his father sitting at the tea-table. The old parlour looked gloomy and dark, the bright afternoon sun, shining through the creepers which obscured the window, threw a green light over the table and the rigid, pale face of the Vicar.
"You are late Cardo; where have you been?"
"In the long meadow, sir, where I could hear some of the preaching going on below, and afterwards on the beach; it is a glorious afternoon. Oh! father, I wish you would come out and breathe the fresh air; it cannot be good for you to be always in your study poring over those musty old books."
"My books are not musty, and I like to spend my time according to my own ideas of what is fit and proper, and I should not think it either to be craning my neck over a hedge to listen to a parcel of Methodist preachers—"
"Well, I only heard one, Price Merthyr I think they call him. He was—"
"Cardo!" said his father severely, "when I want any information on the subject I will ask for it; I want you to set Dye and Ebben on to the draining of that field to-morrow—"
"Parc y waun?"
"Yes; Parc y waun."
"Right, father," said Cardo good-naturedly. He was devotedly attached to his father, and credited him with a depth of affection and tenderness lying hidden behind his stern manner—a sentiment which must have been revealed to him by intuition, for he had never seen any outward sign of it. "It's no use," he muttered, as his father rose and left the room; "it's no use trying to broach the subject to him, poor fellow! I must be more careful, and keep my thoughts to myself."
Later on in the evening, Valmai sat in the hot, crowded chapel, her elbows pressed tightly in to her sides by the two fat women between whom she sat, their broad-brimmed hats much impeding her view of the preacher, who was pounding the red velvet cushion in the old pulpit, between two dim mould candles which shed a faint light over his face. Valmai listened with folded hands as he spoke of the narrow way so difficult to tread, so wearisome to follow—of the few who walked in it and the people, listening with upturned faces and bated breath, answered to his appeal with sighs and groans and "amens." He then passed on to a still more vivid description of the broad road, so smooth, so easy, so charming to every sense, so thronged with people all gaily dancing onwards to destruction, the sudden end of the road, where it launched its thronging crowds over a precipice into the foaming, seething sea of everlasting woe and misery.
Valmai looked round her with awe and horror.
"Did these innocent-looking, simple people belong to that thronging crowd who were hurrying on to their own destruction? was she herself one of them? Cardo?—her uncle?"
The thought was dreadful, her breath came and went quickly, her eyes were full of tears, and she felt as if she must rise suddenly and rush into the open air, but as she looked round the chapel she caught sight through one of the windows of the dark blue sky of night, bespangled with stars, and a glow of purer and healthier feeling came over her. She would not believe it—outside was the fresh night wind, outside was the silver moonlight, and in the words of the poet of whom she had never heard she said within herself, "No! God is in Heaven, it's all right with the world!" Her joyous nature could not brook the saddening influences of the Methodist creed, and as she passed out into the clear night air amongst the crowd of listeners, and heard their mournful sighs and their evident appreciation of the sermon, or rather sermons, for there had been two, her heart bounded with a sense of relief; joy and happiness were its natural elements, and she returned to them as an innocent child rushes to its mother's arms.
Leaving the thronged road, she took the rugged path down the hillside, alone under the stars, and remembering Cardo's question, "Will you come home by the shore?" she wondered whether he was anywhere near! As she reached the bottom of the cliff and trod on the firm, hard sand below, she saw him standing in the shadow of a rock, and gazing out at the sea over which the moon made a pathway of silver.
The fishing boats from Ynysoer were out like moths upon the water. They glided from the darkness across that path of light and away again into the unknown. On one a light was burning.
"That is the Butterfly," thought Valmai, "I am beginning to know them all; and there is Cardo Wynne!" and with a spirit of mischief gleaming in her eyes and dimpling her face, she approached him quietly, her light footstep making no sound on the sand.
She was close behind him and he had not turned round, but still stood with folded arms looking out over the moonlit scene. Having reached this point, Valmai's fun suddenly deserted her. What should she do next? should she touch him? No! Should she speak to him? Yes; but what should she say? Cardo! No! and a faint blush overspread her face. A mysterious newborn shyness came over her, and it was quite a nervous, trembling voice that at last said:
Cardo turned round quickly.
"Valmai! Miss Powell!" he said, "how silently you came upon me! I was dreaming. Come and stand here. Is not that scene one to make a poet of the most prosaic man?"
"Yes, indeed," answered the girl, standing beside him with a strangely beating heart, "it is beautiful! I saw the sky through the chapel window, and I was thinking it would be very nice down here. There's bright and clear the moon is!"
They were walking now across the beach, at the edge of the surf.
"It reminds me of something I read out to uncle last night. It was out of one of his old Welsh poets—Taliesin, or Davydd ap Gwilym, or somebody. It was about the moon, but indeed I don't know if I can put it into English."
"Try," said Cardo.
"'She comes from out the fold And leads her starry flock among the fields of night.'"
"Yes, that is beautiful," said Cardo. "Indeed, I am glad you find something interesting in those dog-eared old books."
"Dog-eared? But they are indeed," she said, laughing. "But how do you know? They may be gold and leather, and spic and span from the bookseller's, for all you know."
"No, I have seen them, and have seen you reading them."
"Seen me reading them? How? Where?"
"Last night I was under the elder bushes, and saw you reading to your uncle. I watched you for a long time."
Valmai was silent.
"You are not vexed with me for that?"
She was still silent; a tumult of happy thoughts filled her mind. He had found his way to Dinas! He had thought it worth while to stand under the night sky and watch her! It was a pleasant idea, and, thinking of it, she did not speak.
"Tell me, Valmai, have I offended you?"
"Offended me? Oh, no; why should you? But indeed it was very foolish of you, whatever. If you had come in and listened to the reading it would be better, perhaps," she said laughingly.
"If I had come in, what would your uncle have said? He would have been very angry."
"Well, indeed, yes; I was forgetting that. He is very hospitable, and glad to see anybody who comes in to supper; but I don't think," she added, with a more serious air, "that he would be glad to see you. He hates the Church and everything belonging to it."
"Yes. How wearisome all this bigotry is. My father hates the chapels and all belonging to them."
"Perhaps you and I will begin to hate each other soon," said Valmai, as they reached the boulders through which the Berwen trickled.
It was absolutely necessary that Cardo should help her over the slippery stones, and with her hand in his she stepped carefully over the broad stream, subsiding into quietness as it reached the sea. At last she was safely over, and as he reluctantly dropped her hand he returned to the subject of conversation.
"Will we hate each other?"
Again there was no answer, and again Cardo looked down at Valmai as he pressed his question.
She had taken off her hat, and was walking with her golden head exposed to the cool night breezes. It drooped a little as she answered his persistent questioning.
"No, I think," she said, with her quaint Welsh accent.
"No, I think, too," said Cardo; "why should we? Let us leave the hatred and malice and all uncharitableness to our elders; for you and me, down here on the sands and by the banks of the Berwen, there need be nothing but content and—and friendship."
"Yes, indeed, it is nice to have friends. I left all mine behind me in my old home, and I did not think I should ever have another; but here we are across the shore, and here is the path to Dinas."
"Oh, but the walk has been too short. You must come back and let us have it over again."
"What! back again?" said Valmai, laughing so merrily that she woke the echoes from the cliffs.
"Yes, back across those slippery stones and across the shore, and then back again to this side. I can help you, you know."
Cardo's voice was very low and tender. It seemed ridiculous, but somehow he gained his point.
A day or two later on, the weather changed, the wind blew up in angry soughs from the south-west, and, meeting the strong flow of the spring tide, curled the green wave-tops into those small feathers of foam, always the fore-runners of rough weather. The sea-gulls let themselves go before the wind calling to each other excitedly, the little sea-crows stayed quietly at home in the safe crannies of the cliff. Old Dan Griffiths the fisherman hauled his boat further up the strand, and everything betokened the brewing of a storm, nevertheless Valmai was out early. Her small household duties had been attended to. She had skimmed the cream in the dairy, and fed the new calf; she had scattered the grain before the flocks of fowls and pigeons in the farm-yard; had brushed her uncle's coat, and, while helping him to shuffle into it, had asked him:
"Are you going from home to-day, uncle?"
"Yes, merch i, didn't I tell you? I am going to a meeting at Pen Morien, and won't be back to-night."
"Are you going to walk?"
"Why, no! ride, of course. Where's Malen?"
"I think Shoni was just putting her into the cart."
"Oh! I forgot to tell him," said the absent-minded man. "Tell him to saddle her, and bring her here at once."
Valmai ran out, and picking her way daintily through the stubble of the farm-yard, caught sight of Shoni fastening the last buckle of Malen's cart harness.
"Wants her saddled?" he said, looking hot and flustered. "Dear, dear! there never was such a man! Wasn't I settle with him yesterday to take the two pigs to the fair to be sell? There's what it is to live in the clouds!" and, grumbling, he unfastened the buckles, and soon led Malen saddled and bridled to the door.
"Didn't you tell me we was to sell the pigs to-day?" he said sulkily, as soon as his master was seated safely on the saddle.
Essec Powell, who had for some time been hopping about on one leg, finding it difficult to mount the spirited Malen, now looked thoughtfully at Shoni.
"Pigs," he said, "pigs? Oh, of course; yes, Shoni, quite right, you shall take them to market tomorrow."
"To-day is the fair; you had forgotten that, I suppose."
"Well, well! next week will do," and he trotted away, Shoni looking after him with undisguised contempt.
"There's a man, now," he said in English, for he was proud of his proficiency in that language. "Wass you ever see such a man? I tell you, Valmai, he would be ruined and put in gaol for debt long ago if I wasn't keep him out of it."
"Yes, I think—indeed, Shoni, I am sure of it; but where is the fair to-day?"
"At Llanython, of course; wasn't you hear of it? Why! you ought to be there, pranked out in your ribbons and finery, talking and laughing with the young men, and coming home in the evening with your pocket-handkerchief full of gingerbread and nuts," and he looked her over from top to toe.
It had never struck him before that there was any charm in her appearance, but now he seemed to realise that she was worthy to be seen at the fair.
"Yes," he said pensively, with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat; "I wouldn't wonder a bit now if you wass to pick up a sweet'arr amongst the gentry, because you are beginning to speak English as good as the Vicare, and you are not quite like the girls about here, Valmai."
"Am I not?" she said laughingly.
"No," he said seriously; "and that's where you will be failing. There's not a chap about here will take a miladi like you for a wife. You must learn to kom over the farm-yard without picking up your skirts, and looking at your shoes to see if they are dirty, if you want to marry a farmer."
"Indeed, I don't wish to marry a farmer," said Valmai, "nor anyone else who doesn't want me."
Shoni again shook his head solemnly. "Yes, yes," he said, "I see how it is; s'not only the pigs, and the calves, and hens, but you too I must take to markets and fairs, or we shall never marry you," and he turned away pondering seriously over his self-imposed duties.
Valmai looked after him a little wistfully. Where should she go now? How should she spend the long day? Gwen would see to the housework, and would brook no interference with her management. Nobody wanted her, and nobody thought of her, except Shoni, and to him she seemed rather a burden; or was there one who thought of her sometimes?—who cared a little for her? With heightened colour and quick step she turned from the farm-yard down the steep path which led to the river's banks, and as she made her way through the thick hazel and willow brushwood she could not quite suppress the hope that she might meet Cardo. But no, perfect solitude reigned over the Berwen.
Down in the valley she could not feel the wind, but she heard its roar in the tree tops; the birds were silent, the sky was grey, and a little sadness fell over her spirits as she continued to thread her way under the tall bracken and brambles, onwards and upwards, until she at length reached the stile by the bridge upon which she and Cardo had eaten their gingerbread on the first evening of their acquaintance. The road which had that night been so quiet and deserted was now full of busy life, and as Valmai approached the stile and saw the many pedestrians and vehicles she shrank back a little, and, through the branches of a hazel bush, looked out on the passers-by, realising that all these hurrying footsteps, and faces full of interest, were turned towards the Fair at Llanython.
Presently she heard the rumbling of wheels, and in a cloud of dust saw the Vicar of the next parish drive by with his two pretty daughters. Just as they reached the bridge they were overtaken by a young man, who reined in his spirited, well-groomed horse and addressed the party. At once Valmai recognised the voice, and peeping through the greenery, saw it was Cardo, stalwart and strong, with his rough freize coat and buttoned gaiters, looking every inch a gentleman-farmer.
There was a bluff and hearty greeting from the clergyman as Cardo took off his hat to the two young ladies, who simpered and blushed becomingly, for Cardo Wynne was the catch of the neighbourhood; his good looks, his father's reputed wealth, and the slight air of mystery hanging over the silent "Vicare du" making quite a halo of romance around his son's personality.
"Good-bye," said Mr. Hughes; "we shall see you at the fair, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Cardo, "good-bye," and he reined in his horse for a moment so as to avoid riding in the cloud of dust raised by the Vicar's carriage wheels.
Valmai's heart thumped loudly, for Cardo was looking at the stile, he was dismounting, and now he was leaning on the bridge lost in thought, and looking down into the green depths of the valley. There was a pleased look on his face and a gleam in his black eyes, which Valmai saw, and which made her heart beat faster and her cheek flush a more rosy red, but she shrank further back into the shade of the hazel bush, and only peeped out again when she heard by the horse's hoofs that his rider was remounting; then she ventured over the stile and looked at the retreating figure, with his broad shoulders, his firm seat, and his steady hand on his bridle as he galloped out of sight. A flood of happiness filled her heart as she re-crossed the stile and began her way again down the shady path.
What mattered it that at every moment the wind rose higher, and the branches creaked and groaned above her? What mattered it that the birds were silent, and that the roar of the sea reached further than usual into the nut wood? She would go home and eat her frugal dinner of brown bread and bwdran, and then she would set off to Ynysoer to spend a few hours with Nance Owen, who had nursed her as a baby before her parents had left Wales. In spite of the increasing storm she reached the beach, and turned her face towards Ynysoer, a small island or rather a promontory, which stretched out from the shore. At low tide a reef of rocks, generally known as the Rock Bridge, connected it with the mainland, but at high tide the reef was completely under water, the sea rushing in foaming breakers over it as if chafing at the restraint to its wild freedom.
Had Valmai been better acquainted with the coast, she would not have dared to cross the bridge in the face of the storm which was every moment increasing in violence. The tide was down, and the rocks were bare, and the high wind helped to hurry her over the pools and craggy points. Gathering her red cloak tightly around her she made her way safely over to the island, which was a frequent resort of hers, as here she found the warm love and welcome for which her heart craved, and which was so sorely missing in her uncle's house.
Amongst the sandy dunes and tussocks were scattered a few lonely cottages, in one of which Nance lived her uneventful life; its smoke-browned thatch looked little different from the rushes and coarse grass which surrounded it, for tufts of grass and moss grew on the roof also, and Nance's goat was frequently to be seen browsing on the house-top. At the open door stood Nance herself, looking out at the storm. Suddenly she caught sight of Valmai, who was making a difficult progress through the soft uneven sand, and a look of surprise and pleasure came over her face.
"Oh, dear heart, is it you, indeed, come to see old Nance, and on such a day? Come in, sweetheart, out of the storm."
"The storm indeed," said Valmai, in Welsh as pure as Nance's own, as the old woman drew her in to the cottage and closed the door. "Why, you know nothing about it on this side of the island, nothing of what it is in the village. The boats have all been drawn up close to the road, and the waves are dancing and prancing on the beach, I can tell you."
Nance loosened her cloak and hat, and smoothed her hair with her horny hands.
"There's glad I am to see you, merch fach-i, and if you have no grand friends to keep you company and no one to look after you, you have always got old Nance to love you."
"Yes, I know that, Nance, indeed. What do you think of my new frock?" said the girl, holding out her skirt to the admiring gaze of the old woman, who went into raptures of admiration.
"Oh, there's pretty. 'Tis fine and soft, but white, always white you are wearing—"
"Yes, I like white," said Valmai.
"And didn't I dress you in your first little clothes? Well I remember it."
"There's just what I wanted to ask you about, Nance; I love to hear the old story."
"After tea, then, merch i, for now I must go and fetch water from the well, and I must milk the goat."
"I will fetch the water," said Valmai; "you can go and milk."
And taking the red stone pitcher from the bench by the wall she went out, and, sheltered by the ridge of rocks behind which the cottage stood, made her way to the spring which dripped from a crack in the cliffs. While she waited for the pitcher to fill, she sang, in sheer lightness of heart, the old ballad which not only floated on the air of Abersethin and its neighbourhood, but which she had heard her mother sing in the far-off land of her childhood.
"By Berwen's banks my love has strayed For many a day through sun and shade,"
and she paused to peep into the pitcher, but finding it only half full, continued:
"And as she carolled loud and clear The little birds flew down to hear."
"By Berwen's banks the storm rose high,"
but the pitcher was full, so, resting it on her side, she carried it home, before Nance had caught her goat. When she returned with her bowl of rich milk, Valmai was busy, with skirt and sleeves tucked up, tidying and arranging the little room; the hearth had been swept and the tea-things laid on the quaint little round table, whose black shining surface and curved legs would have delighted the heart of a collector of antique furniture.
"Oh, calon fach! to think your little white hands have been working for me! Now I will cut the bread and butter thin, thin—as befits a lady like you; and sorry I am that it is barley bread. I don't forget the beautiful white cakes and the white sugar you gave me at Dinas the other day! And your uncle, how is he?"
"Quite well; gone to Pen Morien, and not coming home till to-morrow; but tell me now, Nance fach, of all that happened so long ago—when I was born."
"Not so long ago for me, dear heart, as for you. It is a whole life-time for you, but for me—" and the faded blue eyes filled with tears, and the wrinkled lips trembled a little as she recalled the past—"for me! I had lived my life before you were born. My husband was dead, my boy drowned, and my little Mari, the last and brightest, had suddenly withered and died before my eyes—a fever they say, perhaps it was indeed; but the sun has never shone so brightly, whatever, since then; the flowers are not so sweet—they remind me of my child's grave; the sea does not look the same—it reminds me of my boy!" and she rocked herself backwards and forwards for some time, while Valmai stroked with tender white fingers the hard, wrinkled hand which rested on her lap. "Well, indeed," said the old woman at last, "there's enough of my sorrows; let us get on to the happy time when your little life began, you and your twin sister. When you were washed and dressed and laid sleeping together in the same cradle, no one could tell which was which; but dir anwl! who cared for that? too much joy was in our hearts that your dear mother was safe. No one at least, except the grand English lady who was lodging there at your grandfather's house. Her husband was dead, and she was very rich, but she had no children; and when she heard your mother had twins, she begged of us to let her have one for her very own, and she was like thorns to us because we could not tell for sure which was the oldest."
"Well, go on, Nance," said Valmai, as the old woman stopped to rake the peat embers together.
"Well! then, we all thought it was a very good thing, and no doubt the Almighty had His plans about it, for how could your poor mother take two babies with her to that far-off land where your father went a missionary? Well! there was a message come to fetch the lady to the death-bed of her mother, and she only waited at Dinas long enough to see you both christened together, Valmai and Gwladys. The next day she went away, and took your little sister with her. Oh! there's crying your mother was at losing one of her little ones; but your father persuaded her it was for the best."
"And what was the English lady's name?" asked Valmai.
"Oh! my dear, ask it not; the hardest word you ever heard, and the longest; I could never twist my tongue round it. It is with me somewhere written out on paper, and her directions, and if she ever moved to another place she would write and tell us, she said; but that was not likely to be, because she went to her father's and grandfather's old home, and she has never written to anyone since, as far as I know."
"Well, indeed," said Valmai, looking thoughtfully into the glowing embers, "I should like to see my sister, whatever."
"Twt, twt," said the old woman, "there's no need for you to trouble your head about her; she has never troubled to seek you."
"Does she know about me, do you think?"
"That I can't tell, of course," said Nance, going to the door to have another look at the storm. "Ach y fi! it's like a boiling pot," she said; "you can never go home to-night, my child."
"Oh, yes, indeed I must; I would not be away from home in my uncle's absence for the world," said Valmai, joining the old woman at the door, and looking out rather anxiously at the angry sea. "Oh, when the tide goes down at nine o'clock the moon will be up, and perhaps the storm will be over."
They sat chatting over the fire until the evening shadows fell, and the moon shone fitfully between the scudding clouds.
Meanwhile Cardo had ridden in to Llanython. A fair had generally much attraction for him—the merry laughter, the sociable meetings, the sound of music on the air, and the altogether festive character of the day; but on this occasion its pleasures seemed to pall, and quickly dispatching the business which had brought him there, he returned to the inn, and, mounting his horse, rode home early in the afternoon. Why he thus hurried away he never could explain. Ever since he had leant on the bridge over the Berwen in the morning he had been haunted by a feeling of Valmai's presence. Little had he guessed that she had been so near him while he looked down through the interlacing scenery which hid the river from his sight. It was nearly four o'clock in the afternoon as he reached that part of the high road from which the beach was visible, and here he stopped a moment to look and wonder at the storm, which had so suddenly increased in violence.
"How far up the beach at Ynysoer those breakers run! And the Rock Bridge!—I wouldn't like to cross that to-night; but surely that was a woman's figure crossing it now!" A sudden fear darted through his mind, and dismounting, he climbed to the top of the turfy bank at the side of the road to gain a better view of the coast. "Yes, a woman—a girl, surely, and a graceful girl, wearing a scarlet cloak. She carried her hat in her hand—not on her head, at all events. Surely it was not Valmai in such a storm going over by such a dangerous path? Probably a fisherman's wife or daughter!" But he gazed long and steadily before he once more resumed his ride. In hot haste he rode the rest of the way to Brynderyn.
"The storm is rising," said the "Vicare du," as he joined his son at the tea-table.
"Yes," said the latter, pausing in his attack upon the roast fowl to gaze at the clouds which scudded before the wind, "I expect it will be a furious gale before midnight."
As soon as the meal was over he rose, and fixing his hat firmly on his head, said:
"I am going down to the beach to see the waves, father. If I am not back to supper you won't be frightened?"
The old man muttered something about "folly to go out in such weather," as Cardo disappeared into the stone passage. Making his way down to the beach, he found the storm raging fiercely, and, gaining the shelter of a rock, he sat down to rest and think.
The sullen south-west wind moaned and shrieked as it rushed up the long beach; it lurked in the hollows of the crags, and drove the sand and foam before it. The Berwen looked yellow and muddy as it washed over its stony bed. Above all came the roar of the breakers as they dashed against the rocky sides of the island, which lay, a black mass, in the seething water a few hundred yards from the shore.
He looked across the blinding spray of the waves and thought of his boat; but no, no boat would live in such a sea; besides, what ridiculous fear was this that haunted him?
At so great a distance as that between the road and the island it was impossible that he could have distinguished Valmai from any other girl, and what more natural than that one of the women living on the island should be crossing the Rock Bridge.
"I must be a fool to have nervous fears like a silly girl. I daresay I shall meet Valmai on the shore."
But he sought in vain for any sign of her, as she had sought him in the morning. Indeed it was not likely that any tender girl would be out in such a storm—and yet—"was it Valmai?"
The thought would come, the fear would haunt him. He was surprised to find himself overtaken by a woman.
"Dir, dir, what a storm," she remarked as she passed, hurried on her way by the driving wind.
One or two of Cardo's long steps brought him up with her.
"Don't you come from Ynysoer?" he said. "I think I know your face."
"Yes, gwae fi! that I had got safe back again, but my mother is ill," she shouted, as the wind carried her words away, "and I must stay with her till tomorrow, no one could go back over the Rock Bridge to-night; though, indeed, I met a young girl crossing—"
"Had she a red cloak?" asked Cardo.
"Yes. She was Essec Powell's niece, and if she tries to come back to-night I wouldn't give much for her life."
"Here we part—good-bye," said Cardo.
"Nos da, Ser," said the woman, but her voice was drowned by the roar of the wind.
"It was Valmai! I knew it was! Why did I not take my boat at once? Now it is too late; and yet," he thought, "she cannot come till the tide is low. I may get there in time. Surely she would not attempt to cross the bridge yet?"
For the rest of the evening Cardo paced restlessly over the beach, buffeted by the strong wind, wetted by the spray, but still watching narrowly the bridge of rocks, which connected the island with the mainland. He knew for a certainty that Valmai was there, and he watched with intense interest the darkening island, over which the storm gathered with increasing fury. His plan was to wait until the tide went down, and then to cross the bridge himself, so as to help Valmai, or to prevent her attempting to return.
After several hours' waiting in the shelter of the cliff, he saw by his watch, which he was able to decipher by occasional gleams of moonlight, that it was near upon nine o'clock. The moon was hidden at intervals by heavy storm-clouds, which were hurrying before the wind; but when her light shone out fitfully, it disclosed a scene of wild confusion; the horizon was as black as ink, the seething sea beneath was white as snow, and the sound of the wind and waves was deafening.
Over the Rock Bridge the sea rushed like a mill race one moment leaving it bare and black, the next covering it again with strong rushing billows of foam.
"She will not dare to return to-night," he thought, as he watched a tossing, foaming tower of spray, which rose in the centre of the bridge, where two streams of the seething waters met, and rose high in the air together.
The moon had again hidden her face, and in the darkness Cardo was seized with a trembling fear. With bent and bare head (for he had long before lost his hat) he made a blind rush over the bridge. For the first few yards he got on safely, as each end was sheltered by high rocks, which stood as sentinels looking across at each other.
"So far, so good," thought Cardo, standing still a moment for breath; "and now to cross this mill race!"
But he was too late. Already he saw that Valmai had begun her way across.
On the island side the bridge was more sheltered from the storm, and the girl was not only in a measure protected from the wind, but was also hidden from the moonlight, and it was not until she had left the shadow of the rocks and entered upon the open and unprotected reef that Cardo in a sudden absence of clouds saw in the moonlight the delicate figure wrapped in its scarlet cloak. For a moment she hesitated as she felt the full force of the wind, and in her hesitation decided upon the wrong course: she would run, she would reach the opposite rocks, and be safe before the next gust of wind came.
"Good God!" said Cardo, "she is lost!" as he saw her approach with flying hair and fluttering garments towards the centre of the bridge, which was for a moment left bare, and in that moment Cardo realised how completely this stranger girl, who had seemed to drop from the clouds into his quiet, uneventful life, had taken possession of his heart. All this flashed through his mind and opened his eyes to the true state of his feelings.
Instantly he was making his way towards her, with strong steps and sturdy shoulders fighting with the wind, which seemed determined to baffle his attempts to reach Valmai before the periodical recurring inrush of opposite streams should once more meet, and rise in towering strife together. Thoroughly frightened and trembling, Valmai looked in horror at the two opposing streams of water approaching her on either side, and in her terror losing her self-command, was on the point of giving herself up to the angry waters, which she felt herself too weak to withstand. At this critical moment a dark form dashed through the blinding spray—a form which she instantly recognised, and which as quickly restored courage to her sinking heart. She felt the strong arms clasped round her, but too late! for the next moment the approaching waves had met, and rising high in the air in their furious contact, had fallen with terrific force, sweeping her and her rescuer into the boiling surf. Valmai became unconscious at once, but Cardo's strong frame knew no sense of swooning nor faintness. His whole being seemed concentrated in a blind struggle to reach the land—to save Valmai, though he was fighting under terrible disadvantage.
She had relaxed her grasp, and he had now to hold her safe with one arm, thus having only one with which to struggle against the suffocating, swirling waters. In a very few minutes he realised that the fight was dead against him; in spite of all his strength and his powerful frame, he was lifted and tossed about like a straw. The only thing in his favour was the fact that the tide had turned, and was even now combining with the strong wind to carry him towards a sheltered corner on the mainland. With choking breath and blinded eyes he felt himself carried on the crest of a wave, which bore him landwards, but only to be drawn back again by its receding swell. He felt he was helpless, though, had he the use of his two arms, he knew he would be able to breast the stormy waters, and gain the land in safety; but clutched in the nervous grasp of his left arm he held what was dearer to him than life itself, and felt that to die with Valmai was better than to live without her! His strength was almost gone, and with horror he felt that his grasp of the girl was more difficult to retain, as a larger wave than usual came racing towards him with foaming, curling crest. He gave himself up for lost—he thought of his old father even now poring over his books—he thought of Valmai's young life so suddenly quenched—and with one prayer for himself and her, he felt himself carried onward, tossed, tumbled over and over, but still keeping tight hold of his precious burden.
He was suddenly struck by a stunning blow, which for a moment seemed to take away his senses—but only for a moment—for what was this calm? what was this quiet sense of rest? was he sinking out of life into some dim, unconscious state of being? had he seen the last of the clouds? the moon—the stormy waters? Had Valmai already slipped away from him? No; he still felt her within his grasp, and in a few moments he was able to realise the meaning of the change in his feelings. He had been carried like a shred of seaweed by that strong wave far up the beach on the mainland, and in its receding flow it had swirled him into a round cavity in the rocks, where as a boy he had often played and bathed and fished; he knew it well, and saw in a moment that he was saved! Clasping Valmai firmly, he ran up the beach, another combing, foaming wave coming dangerously near his hurrying footsteps; but in spite of the buffeting wind, he gained the shelter of the cliffs, and at last laid his burden tenderly down on the rocks. And now the fight for life was replaced by the terrible dread that Valmai might already be beyond recall.
The clear, cold moon looked down between the scudding clouds upon her straightened form, the wind roared above them, and the lashing fury of the waves still filled the air; but Valmai lay white and still. Cardo looked round in vain for help; no one was near, even the fishermen had safely bolted their doors, and shut out the wild stormy night. A faint hope awoke in his heart as he remembered that Valmai had swooned before she was engulfed with him in the sea, and he set to work with renewed vigour to rub her cold hands, and press the water out of her long, drenched hair; he was soon rewarded by signs of life in the rigid form—a little sigh came trembling from her lips, her hand moved, and there was a tremor in her eyelids. Cardo placed his arm under her shoulders and, lifting her into a sitting posture, rested her head upon his breast, the movement, the change of position—something awoke her from her long swoon; was it the sense of Cardo's presence? did his earnest longing call her spirit back? for she had been close upon the shadow land. She came back slowly, dimly conscious of escaping from some deadly horror, and awakening to something pleasant, something happy. She slowly opened her eyes, and observing Cardo's strong right hand, which still held and chafed her own, while his left arm upheld her drenched form, she moved a little, and murmured:
"Are you hurt?"
"No," said Cardo, trembling in every limb with the excitement which he had controlled until now, and with the delight of seeing life and movement return to her, "hurt? no! only thankful to find you safe; only anxious to get you home."
Valmai's voice was weak and low, and he had to bend his head over her to catch the words:
"You have been near death for my sake—those dreadful waves!"
"Do not think of them! I was in no danger. But I have been nearer death since I have sat here watching your slow recovery. Now, Valmai," he said, realising that every moment of exposure in her cold, drenched garments was danger to her, "be brave; give yourself up to me, and I will carry you home."
But this adjuration was needless, for as he placed her gently down while he rose to his feet he felt that she was limp and powerless as a baby; he lifted her in his arms, and felt her weight no more than if he had carried a storm-beaten bird. His own drenched condition he did not consider—did not feel, while he climbed with careful footsteps up the rugged path to Dinas, lighted only by the moon, whose beams were continually obscured by the flying clouds. Pushing his way between the furze and broom bushes, he was careful to let no stray branch catch Valmai's face or hair, and as he reached the farm-yard in the rear of the house, he was delighted to feel a strong and swift motion in her frame.
"Put me down, please," she whispered, "on the bench by the door."
Cardo did so, reluctantly loosing his grasp of the tender form.
And he obeyed, rapping loudly on the back door. The sound seemed to rouse the inmates at once, for, with considerable thumping and fumbling, somebody shuffled down the stairs.
"Go now, I am safe," said Valmai, in a whisper.
And Cardo went, but not before he had stooped down and pressed an impassioned kiss upon the little listless hands. Neither spoke. Valmai felt too weak and full of awakening happiness to trust her voice, while Cardo felt the occasion was above the necessity for any words. He waited behind the elder bushes until Gwen's full-moon face appeared in the doorway, and her ejaculations of reproachful astonishment (in which the Welsh language is prolific) showed that she had seen Valmai, and fully appreciated the urgency of the situation.
"Mawredd anwl! what is the meaning of this? Where have you been? and I thinking you were in your warm bed!"
"I have been to see Nance, and coming back over the Rock Bridge the sea washed me away."
"Nance! Nance! all the time! What you want to go there so often? It's no wonder if you are drowned crossing that nasty place in such a storm, You are like a wet sea-gull. If you were a baby you wouldn't be more trouble," etc., etc.
Cardo still waited until he saw in the kitchen the blaze of freshly-piled logs on the culm fire, Gwen's voice still reaching him in snappish, reproving tones through the closed door. Then he turned away, and though he was bodily cold and saturated with the sea water, his heart was full of warmth and a newly-awakened sense of the joy and fulness of life.