E-text prepared by Al Haines
A Story of a Welsh Homestead.
Author of "Torn Sails," "A Welsh Singer," "By Berwen Banks," Etc.
Sixty-Fifth Thousand London Hutchinson & Co. Paternoster Row
I. A Turn of the Road II. "Garthowen" III. Morva of the Moor IV. The Old Bible V. The Sea Maiden VI. Gethin's Presents VII. The Broom Girl VIII. Garthowen Slopes IX. The North Star X. The Cynos XI. Unrest XII. Sara's Vision XIII. The Bird Flutters XIV. Dr. Owen XV. Gwenda's Prospects XVI. Isderi XVII. Gwenda at Garthowen XVIII. Sara XIX. The "Sciet" XX. Love's Pilgrimage XXI. The Mate of the "Gwenllian" XXII. Gethin's Story XXIII. Turned Out! XXIV. A Dance on the Cliffs
A TURN OF THE ROAD
It was a typical July day in a large seaport town of South Wales. There had been refreshing showers in the morning, giving place to a murky haze through which the late afternoon sun shone red and round. The small kitchen of No. 2 Bryn Street was insufferably hot, in spite of the wide-open door and window. A good fire burnt in the grate, however, for it was near tea-time, and Mrs. Parry knew that some of her lodgers would soon be coming in for their tea. One had already arrived, and, sitting on the settle in the chimney corner, was holding an animated conversation with his landlady, who stood before him, one hand akimbo on her side, the other brandishing a toasting fork. Her beady black eyes, her brick-red cheeks and hanks of coarse hair, were not beautiful to look upon, though to-day they were at their best, for the harsh voice was softened, and there was a humid gentleness in the eyes not habitual to them. Her companion was a young man about twenty-three years of age, dark, almost swarthy of hue, tanned by the suns and storms of foreign seas and many lands, As he sat there in the shade of the settle one caught a glance of black eyes and a gleam of white teeth, but the easy, lounging attitude did not show to advantage the splendid build of Gethin Owens. One of his large brown fists, resting on the rough deal table, was covered with tattooed hieroglyphics, an anchor, a mermaid, and a heart, of course! Anyone conversant with the Welsh language would have divined at once, by the long-drawn intonation of the first words in every remark, that the subject of conversation was one of sad or tender interest.
"Well, indeed," said Mrs. Parry, "the-r-e's missing you I'll be, Gethin! We are coming from the same place, you see, and you are knowing all about me, and I about you, and that I supp-o-s-e is making me feel more like a mother to you than to the other lodgers."
"Well, you have been like a mother to me, mending my clothes and watching me so sharp with the drink. Dei anwl! I don't think I ever took a glass with a friend without you finding me out, and calling me names. 'Drunken blackguard!' you called me one night, when as sure as I'm here I had only had a bottle of gingerpop in Jim Jones's shop," and he laughed boisterously.
"Well, well," said Mrs. Parry, "if I wronged you then, be bound you deserved the blame some other time, and 'twas for your own good I was telling you, my boy. Indeed, I wish I was going home with you to the old neighbourhood. The-r-e's glad they'll be to see you at Garthowen."
"Well, I don't know how my father will receive me," said her companion thoughtfully. "Ann and Will I am not afraid of, but the old man—he was very angry with me."
"What did you do long ago to make him so angry, Gethin? I have heard Tom Powell and Jim Bowen blaming him very much for being so hard to his eldest son; they said he was always more fond of Will than you, and was often beating you."
"Halt!" said Gethin, bringing his fist down so heavily on the table that the tea-things jingled, "not a word against the old man—the best father that ever walked, and I was the worst boy on Garthowen slopes, driving the chickens into the water, shooing the geese over the hedges, riding the horses full pelt down the stony roads, setting fire to the gorse bushes, mitching from school, and making the boys laugh in chapel; no wonder the old man turned me away."
"But all boys are naughty boys," said Mrs. Parry, "and that wasn't enough reason for sending you from home, and shutting the door against you."
"No," said Gethin, "but I did more than that; I could not do a worse thing than I did to displease the old man. I was fond of scribbling my name everywhere. 'Gethin Owens' was on all the gateposts, and on the saddles and bridles, and once I painted 'G. O.' with green paint on the white mare's haunch. There was a squall when that was found out, but it was nothing to the storm that burst upon me when I wrote something in my mother's big Bible. As true as I am here, I don't remember what I wrote, but I know it was something about the devil, and I signed it 'Gethin Owens,' and a big 'Amen' after it. Poor old man, he was shocking angry, and he wouldn't listen to no excuse; so after a good thrashing I went away, Ann ran after me with my little bundle, and the tears streaming down her face, but I didn't cry—only when I came upon little Morva Lloyd sitting on the hillside. She put her arms round my neck and tried to keep me back, but I dragged myself away, and my tears were falling like rain then, and all the way down to Abersethin as long as I could hear Morva crying and calling out 'Gethin! Gethin!'"
"There's glad she'll be to see you."
"Well, I dunno. She was used to be very fond of me; she couldn't bear Will because he was teazing her, but I was like a slave to her. 'I want some shells to play,' sez she sometimes, and there I was off to the shore, hunting about for shells for her. 'Take me a ride,' sez she, and up on my shoulder I would hoist her, as happy as a king, with her two little feet in my hands, and her little fat hands ketching tight in my hair, and there's galloping over the slopes we were, me snorting and prancing, and she laughing all the time like the swallows when they are flying."
They were interrupted by a clatter of heavy shoes and a chorus of boisterous voices, as three sailors came in loudly calling for their tea.
"Hello, Gethin! not gone? Hast changed thy mind?"
"Not a bit of it," said Gethin, pointing to his bag of clothes. "I have been a long time making up my mind, but it's Garthowen and the cows and the cawl for me this time and no mistake."
"And Morva," said Jim Bowen, with a smile, in which lurked a suspicion of a sneer. "Thee may say what thee likes about the old man, and the cows, and the cawl, but I know thee, Gethin Owens! Ever since I told thee what a fine lass Morva Lloyd has grown thee'st been hankering after Garthowen slopes."
There was a general laugh, in which Gethin joined good-humouredly, standing and stretching himself with a yawn. The evening sun fell full upon him, showing a form of sinewy strength, and a handsome manly face. His dark skin and the small gold rings in his ears, so much affected by Welsh sailors, gave him a foreign look, which rather added to the attractiveness of his personal appearance.
When the tea had been partaken of, with a running accompaniment of broad jokes and loud laughter, the three sailors went out, leaving Gethin still sitting on the settle. This was Mrs. Parry's hour of peace—when her consumptive son came home from his loitering in the sunshine to join her at her own quiet "cup of tea," while her rough husband was still engaged amongst the shipping in the docks.
"Well, what'll I say to Nani Graig?" said Gethin.
"Oh, poor mother, my love, and tell her if it wasn't for my boy Tom I'd soon be home with her again, for I'll never live with John Parry when my boy is gone."
"He's not going for many a long year," said Gethin, slapping the boy on the back, his more sensitive nature shrinking from such plain speaking.
But Tom was used to it, and smiled, shuffling uneasily under the slap.
"What you got bulging out in your bag like that?" he asked.
"Oh, presents for them at Garthowen; will I show them to you?" said the sailor awkwardly, as he untied the mouth of the canvas bag. "Here's a tie for my father, and a hymn-book for Ann, and here's a knife for Will, and a pocket-book for Gwilym Morris, the preacher who is lodging with them. And here," he said, opening a gaily-painted box, "is something for little Morva," and he gently laid on the table a necklace of iridescent shells which fell in three graduated rows.
"Oh! there's pretty!" said Mrs. Parry, and while she held the shining shells in the red of the sun, again the doorway was darkened by the entrance of two noisy, gaudily-dressed girls, who came flouncing up to the table.
"Hello! Bella Lewis and Polly Jones, is it you? Where you come from so early?" said Mrs. Parry.
"Come to see me, of course!" suggested the sailor.
"Come to see you and stop you going," said one of the girls. "Gethin Owens, you are more of a skulk than I took you for, though you are rather shirky in your ways, if this is true what I hear about you."
"What?" said Gethin, replacing the necklace in the box.
"That you are going home for good, going to turn farmer and say good-bye to the shipping and the docks." And as she spoke she laid her hand on the box which Gethin was closing, and drew out its contents. There was a greedy glitter in her bold eyes as she asked, "Who's that for?" and she clasped it round her own neck, while Gethin's dark face flushed.
"Couldn't look better than there," he answered gallantly, "so you keep it, to remember me," and tying up his canvas bag he bade them all a hurried good-bye.
Mrs. Parry followed him to the doorway with regretful farewells, for she was losing a friend who had not only paid her well, but had been kind to her delicate boy, and whose strong fist had often decided in her favour a fight with her brutal husband.
"There you now," she said, in a confidential whisper and with a nudge on Gethin's canvas bag, "there you are now; fool that you are! giving such a thing as that to Bella Lewis! What did you pay for it, Gethin? Shall I have it if I can get it from her? Why did you give it to her? you said 'twas for little Morva—"
"Yes, it was," he said; "but d'ye think, woman, I would give it to Morva after being on Bella Lewis's neck? No! that's why I am running away in such a hurry, to buy her another, d'ye see, and Dei anwl, I must make haste or else I'll be late on board. Good-bye, good-bye."
Mrs. Parry looked after him almost tenderly, but called out once more:
"Shall I have it if I can get it?"
"Yes, yes," shouted Gethin in return, and as he made his way through the grimy, unsavoury street, he chuckled as he pictured the impending scrimmage.
Along the slope of a bare brown hill, which turned one scarped precipitous side to the sea, and the other, more smooth and undulating, towards a fair scene of inland beauty, straggled the little hamlet of Pont-y-fro. Jos Hughes's shop was the very last house in the village, the road beyond it merging into the rushy moor, and dwindling into a stony track, down which a streamlet trickled from the peat bog above. The house had stood in the same place for two hundred years, and Jos Hughes looked as if he too had lived there for the same length of time. His quaintly cut blue cloth coat adorned with large brass buttons, his knee breeches of corduroy, and grey blue stockings, looking well in keeping with his dwelling, but very out of place behind a counter. His brown wrinkled face and ruddy cheeks were like a shrivelled apple, his shrewd inquisitive eyes peered out through a pair of large brass-rimmed spectacles, and, to judge by his expression, the view they got of the world in general was not satisfactory.
It was a day of brilliant sunshine and intense heat, but through the open shop door the sea wind came in with refreshing coolness. Behind the counter Jos Hughes measured and weighed lazily, throwing in with his short weight a compliment, or a screw of peppermints, as the case required.
"Who is this coming up in the dust?" he mumbled.
"'Tis Morva of the moor," said a woman standing in the doorway and shading her eyes with her hand. "What does she want, I wonder? There's a merry lass she is!"
"Oh! day or night, sun or snow don't matter to her," said Jos Hughes.
At this moment the subject of their remarks entered the shop, and, sitting on a sack of maize, let her arms fall on her lap. She was quickly followed by a large black sheep dog, who bounded in and, placing his fore-paws on the counter, with tongue hanging out, looked at Jos Hughes intently.
"Down, Tudor!" said the girl, and he sprang on a sack of peas beside her.
The mountain wind blowing in through the open doorway touzled the little curls that were so unruly in Morva's hair; it was neither gold nor ebony, but, looking at its rich tints, one was irresistibly reminded of the ripe corn in harvest fields, while the blue eyes were like the corn flowers in their vivid colouring.
"How are they at Garthowen?" asked Fani "bakkare."
"Oh! they are all well there," answered the girl, panting and fanning herself with her sun-bonnet, "except the white calf, and he is better."
"There's hot it is!" said Fani, taking up her basket of groceries.
"Oh! 'tis hot!" said the girl, "but there's a lovely wind from the sea."
"What are you wanting to-day, Morva?" said Jos.
"A ball of red worsted for Ann, and an ounce of 'bacco for 'n'wncwl Ebben, and oh! a ha'porth of sweets for Tudor."
The dog wagged his tail approvingly as Jos reached down from the shelf a bottle of pink lollipops, for, though a wild country dog, he had depraved tastes in the matter of sweets.
"There's serious you all look! what's the matter with you?" said the girl, looking smilingly round.
"Nothing is the matter as I know," said Fani, "only there's always plenty of trouble flying about. We can't be all so free from care as you, always laughing or singing or something."
"Indeed I wish we could," said Madlen, a pale girl who was bending over a box of knitting pins, looking round curiously and rather sadly; "I wish the whole world could be like you, Morva."
Morva snatched the girl's listless hand in her own warm firm grasp, and pressed it sympathetically, for she knew Madlen's secret sorrow.
"Wait another year or two," said Fani, "we'll talk to you then! Wait till your husband comes home drunk from 'The Black Horse!'"
"And wait till you put all your money into a shop and then find it doesn't pay you," said Jos.
Madlen said nothing, but Morva knew that in her heart she was thinking, "Wait until your lover proves false to you!" and she gave her hand another squeeze.
"Well, indeed!" she said springing up, "what are you all talking about? I won't put all my money in a shop, and I won't marry a drunkard! Sixpence, is it? I am going home over the bog and round the hill, but I am going to sit on the bench outside a bit first. There's lots of swallows' nests under your eaves, Jos Hughes; that brings good luck, they say, so your shop ought to pay you well."
So saying she passed out, and sitting on the bench round the corner of the house she kissed her hand toward the swallows, who flitted in and out of their nests, twittering ecstatically.
"Hark to her," said Fani, "singing again, if you please—always light-hearted! always happy! I don't think its quite right, Jos bach, do you? You are a deacon at Penmorien and you ought to know. If it was a hymn now! but you hear it's all nonsense about the swallows. Ach y fi! she is learning them from Sara ''spridion'; some song of the 'old fathers' in past times!"
"Yes," said Jos, sanctimoniously clasping his stubby fingers, "I'm afraid the girl is a bit of a heathen. What wonder is it? Nursed by Sara—always out with the cows or the sheep, and they say she thinks nothing of sleeping under a hedge, or out on the slopes, if any animal is sick and wants watching."
Fani went out with a toss of her head, as the sweet voice came in through the little side window with the twittering of the swallows and the cluck, cluck of a happy brood hen.
Outside, Morva had forgotten all about Jos Hughes and Fani "bakkare's" sour looks, and was singing her heart out to the sunshine.
"Sing on, little swallows," she said, "and I'll sing too. Sara taught me the 'bird song' long ago when I was a baby."
And in a clear, sweet voice she joined the birds, and woke the echoes from the brown cliffs. The tune was quaint and rapid; both it and the words had come down to her with the old folklore of generations passed away.
"Over the sea from the end of the wide world I've come without wetting my feet, my feet, my feet, Back to the old home, straight to the nest-home, Under the brown thatch, oh sweet! oh sweet! oh sweet!
"When over the waters I flew in the autumn, Then there was plenty of seed, of seed, of seed. Women have winnow'd it, threshers have garner'd it, Barns must be filled up indeed, indeed, indeed!
"Are you glad we have come with a flitter and twitter Once more on the housetop to meet, to meet, to meet? Make haste little primroses, cowslips, and daisies, we're Longing your faces to greet, to greet, to greet!"
"Yes, that's what you are singing. Good-bye," and waving her hand towards them again, she turned her face to the boggy moor, picking her way over the stepping-stones which led up to the dryer sheep paths.
The golden marsh marigolds glittered around her, the beautiful bog bean hung its pinky white fringe over the brown peat pools, the silky plumes of the cotton grass nodded at her as she passed, and the wind whispered in the rushes the secrets of the sea.
Morva listened with a smile, a brown finger up-raised. "Yes, yes, I know what you are singing too down there in the rushes, sweet west wind," she said. "Sara has told me, but I haven't time to sing the 'wind song' to-day," and reaching the sheep path which led round the mountain, she sped against the wind, her hair streaming behind her, her blue skirt fluttering in the breeze, the ball of scarlet worsted and the shining 'bacco box held high in either hand to steady her flying footsteps, Tudor barking with joy as he bounded after her and twitched at her fluttering skirts.
It was tea-time when she reached Garthowen, and, winter or summer, that was always the pleasantest hour at the farmstead, when the air was filled with the aroma of the hot tea, and the laughter and talk of the household. On the settle in the cosy chimney corner sat Ebben Owens himself, the head of the family and the centre of interest to every member of it. He possessed that doubtful advantage, the power of attracting to himself the affection and friendship of everyone who came in contact with him; his children idolised him, and Morva was no whit behind them in her affection for him. In spite of his long grizzled locks, and a slight stoop, he was still a hale and hearty yeoman under his seventy years. His cheeks bore the ruddy hue of health, his eyes were still bright and clear, the lines of his mouth expressed a gentle and sensitive nature. It was by no means a strong face, but its very weakness perhaps accounted for the protecting tenderness shown to him by all his family. As he sat there in the shadow of the settle it was easy to understand why his children were so devotedly attached to him, and why he bore the reputation of being the kindest and most good-natured man in Pont-y-fro and its neighbourhood. Ann, his only daughter, was looking smilingly at him from the head of the table, her smooth brown hair parted over her madonna-like brows, her brown eyes full of laughter. Opposite to her, at the bottom of the table, sat Gwilym Morris, preacher at the Calvinistic Methodist chapel, down in the valley by the shore. He had lived at Garthowen for many years as one of the family, being the son of an old friend of Ebben Owens. Having a small—very small—income of his own, he was able to devote his services to the chapel in the valley, expecting and receiving nothing in return but a pittance, for which no other minister would have been willing to work. He was a dark, pale man, of earnest and studious appearance, of quiet manners, and rather silent, but often seeking the liquid brown eyes which lighted up Ann's gentle face.
"Tis the only time father is cross when he has lost his 'bacco box," said Ann, laughing; "but then he is as cross as two sticks."
"Lol! lol!" said the old man snappishly, "give me a cup of tea; but I can't think where my 'bacco box is. I swear I left it here on the table."
Gwilym Morris hunted about in the most unlikely places, as men generally do—on the tea tray, between the leaves of some newspapers which stood on the deep window-sill. He was about to open Ann's work-bag in search of it, when Morva entered panting, and placed the shining box and ball of red wool on the table.
"Good, my daughter," said Ebben Owens, pocketing his new-found treasure, and regaining his good temper at once.
"I saw it was empty, so I took it with me to Jos Hughes's shop," she said.
Soon afterwards, seated on her milking stool, she was singing to the rhythm of the milk as it streamed into the frothing pail, for Daisy refused to yield her milk without a musical accompaniment. Very soft and low was the girl's singing, but clear and sweet as that of the thrush on the thorn bush behind her.
"Give me my little milking pail, For under the hawthorn in the vale The cows are gathering one by one, They know the time by the westering sun. Troodi, Troodi! come down from the mountain, Troodi, Troodi! come up from the dale; Moelen, and Corwen, and Blodwen, and Trodwen! I'll meet you all with my milking pail."
So sang the girl, and the lilting tune caught the ears of a youth who was just entering the farmyard. He knew it at once. It was a snatch of Morva's simple milking song. He stopped to pat Daisy's broad forehead, and Morva looked up with a smile.
"Make haste," she said, "or tea will be finished. Where have you been so late?"
"Thou'll be surprised when I tell thee," said the young man; but before he had time for further conversation, Ann's voice called him from the kitchen window, and he hurried away unceremoniously.
Morva continued her song, for Daisy wanted nothing new, but was contented with the old stave which she had known from calfhood.
Will Owens, arriving in the farm kitchen, had evidently been eagerly awaited. Both Ann and Gwilym Morris came forward to meet him, and Ebben Owens rubbed his hands nervously over his corduroy knees.
"Well?" said all three together.
"Well!" echoed Will, flinging his hat across to the window-sill. "It's all right. I met Price the vicar coming down the street, so I touched my hat to him, and he saw at once that I wanted to speak to him, and there's kind he was. 'How's your father?' he said, 'and Miss Ann, is she well? I must come up and see them soon.'"
"Look you there now," said his father.
"'They will be very glad to see you sir,' I said, but I didn't know how to tell him what I wanted.
"'I am very glad to hear how well you get on with your books,' he said; 'but 'tisn't every young man has Gwilym Morris to help him and to teach him.' And then, you see, when he made a beginning, 'twas easier for me to explain."
The preacher's pale face lighted up with a smile of pleasure, and Ann flushed with gratified pride as Will continued.
"'He is a man in a hundred,' said Mr. Price, 'and 'tis a pity that his talents are wasted on a Methodist Chapel. I wish I could persuade him to enter the Church.'
"'Well, you'll never do that,' I said. 'You might as well try to turn the course of the On. He won't come himself, but he is sending a very poor substitute to you, sir.'
"'And who is that? You?' said Mr. Price.
"'Well, sir, that is what I wanted to see you about. You know that although we are Methodists bred and born, both my grandfather and my great-grandfather had a son in the Church,' and with that he took hold of my two hands.
"'And your father is going to follow their good example? I am glad!' and he shook my hands so warmly."
"There for you now!" said Ebben Owens.
"'I will do all I can for you,' Mr. Price said, 'and I'm sure your uncle will help you.'
"'Oh!' said I, 'if my father will send me to the Church, sir, it will be without pressing upon anyone else for money,' for I wasn't going to let him think we couldn't afford it."
"Right, my boy," said Ebben Owens, standing up in his excitement; "and what then?"
"Oh! then he asked me when did I think of entering college; and I said, 'Next term, sir, if I can pass.'
"'No fear of that,' he said again, 'with Gwilym Morris at your elbow.' But I'm choking, Ann; give me a cup of tea, da chi. I'll finish afterwards."
"That's all, I should think," said the preacher; "you've got on pretty far for a first interview."
"I got a little further, though," said Will. "What do you think, father, he has asked me to do?"
"What?" said the old man breathlessly.
"He asked would I read the lessons in church next Sunday week. ''Twould be a good beginning,' he said; 'and tell your father and Miss Ann they must come and hear you.'
"'Well,' I said, 'my father hasn't been inside a church for years, and I don't know whether he will come.'"
"Well, of course," said the old man eagerly, "I will come to hear you, my boy, and Ann—"
"Not I, indeed," said Ann, with a toss of her head, "there will be a sermon in my own chapel."
"But it will be over before eleven, Ann, and I don't see why you shouldn't go if you wish to," said Gwilym Morris.
"I don't wish to," she answered, turning to the tea-table, and pouring out her brother's tea.
She was a typical Welsh woman, of highly-strung nervous temperament, though placid in outward appearance and manners, unselfish even to self-effacement where her kindred were concerned, but wary and suspicious beyond the pale of relationship or love; a zealous religionist, but narrow and bigoted in the extreme. In his heart of hearts Ebben Owens also hated the Church. Dissent had been the atmosphere in which his ancestors had lived and breathed, but in his case pride had struggled with prejudice, and had conquered. For three generations a son had gone forth from Garthowen to the enemy's Church, and had won there distinction and riches. True, their career had withdrawn them entirely from the old simple home circle, but this did not deter Ebben Owens from desiring strongly to emulate his ancestors. Why should not Will, the clever one of the family, his favourite son—who had "topped" all the boys at the village school, and had taken so many prizes in the grammar school at Caer-Madoc—why should not he gain distinction and preferment in the Church, and shed fresh lustre on the fading name of "Owens of Garthowen," for the name had lost its ancient prestige in the countryside? In early time theirs had been a family of importance, as witness the old deeds in the tin box on the attic rafters, but for two hundred years they had been simple farmers. They had never been a thrifty race, and the broad lands which tradition said once belonged to them had been sold from time to time, until nothing remained but the old farm with its hundred acres of mountain land. Ebben Owens never troubled his head, however, about the past glories of his race. He inherited the "happy-go-lucky," unbusiness-like temperament which had probably been the cause of his ancestors' misfortunes, but Will's evident love of learning had aroused in the old man a strong wish to remind the world that the "Owens of Garthowen" still lived, and could push themselves to the front if they wished.
As Will drank his tea and cleared plate after plate of bread and butter, his father looked at him with a tender, admiring gaze. Will had always been his favourite. Gethin, the eldest son, had never taken hold of his affections; he had been the mother's favourite, and after her death had drifted further and further out of his father's good graces. The boy's nature was a complete contrast to that of his own and second son, for Gethin was bold and daring, while they were wary and secret; he was restless and mischievous, while his brother was quiet and sedate; he was constantly getting into scrapes, while Will always managed to steer clear of censure. Gethin hated his books too, and, worse than all, he paid but scant regard to the services in the chapel, which held such an important place in the estimation of the rest of the household. More than once Ebben Owens, walking with proper decorum to chapel on Sunday morning, accompanied by Will and Ann, had been scandalised at meeting Gethin returning from a surreptitious scramble on the hillside, with a row of blue eggs strung on a stalk of grass. A hasty rush into the house to dress, a pell-mell run down the mountain side, a flurried arrival in the chapel, where Will and his father had already hung up their hats on the rail at the back of their seat, did not tend to mitigate the old man's annoyance at his son's erratic ways.
Gethin was the cause of continual disturbances in the household, culminating at last in a severer thrashing than usual, and a dismissal from the home of his childhood—a dismissal spoken in anger, which would have been repented of ere night had not the boy, exasperated at his utter inability to rule his wild and roving habits, taken his father at his word and disappeared from the old homestead.
"Let him go," Ebben Owens had said to the tearful pleading Ann. "Let him go, child; it will do him good if he can't behave himself at home. Let him go, like many another rascal, and find out whether cold and hunger and starvation will suit him. Let him feel a pinch or two, and he'll soon come home again, and then perhaps he'll have come to his senses and give us less trouble here."
Ann had cried her eyes red for days, and Will had silently grieved over the loss of his brother, but he had been prudent, and had said nothing to increase his father's anger, so the days slipped by and Gethin never returned.
His father, relenting somewhat (for he seldom remained long in the same frame of mind), made inquiries of the sea-faring men who visited the neighbouring coast villages, and learning from them that Gethin had been taken as cabin boy by an old friend of his, whom he knew to be of a kindly disposition, felt quite satisfied concerning his son's safety, and congratulated himself upon the result of his own firmness.
"There's the very thing for him," he thought; "'twill make a man of him, and 'tis time he should be brought to his senses! and he won't be so ready with his 'Amens!' again. Ach y fi!"
From time to time as the years sped on, news of Gethin came in a roundabout way to the farm, and at last a letter from some foreign port, from which it was evident that the youth, now growing up to manhood, still retained his bright sunny nature and laughter-loving ways, together with the warmth of heart which had always distinguished the troublesome Gethin. There was no allusion to the past, no begging for forgiveness, no hint of a wish to return home. His father seldom looked at the lad's letters, but flung them to Will to be read, the quarrel between him and his son, instead of dwindling into forgetfulness, seeming to grow and widen in his mind with each succeeding year, as trifling disagreements frequently do in weak but obstinate natures.
"Gethin will be an honour to us yet," Ann would say sometimes.
"Honour indeed!" the old man would answer, with a red spot on each cheek, which always denoted his rising anger. "What honour? A common sailor lounging about from one foreign port to another! 'Tis stopping at home he ought to be, and helping his old father with the farming. If Will is going to be a clergyman I will want somebody to help me with the work."
"Well, I'm sure he would come, father, and glad too, if he knew that you were wanting him."
"Oh, I don't want him. Let him come when he likes; that's fair enough."
But Gethin still roamed, and latterly nothing had been heard of him, no letters and no news. 'Tis true, a dim and hazy report had reached Garthowen from some sailor in the village "that Gethin Owens was getting on 'splendid,' that he was steady and saving." Ann had flushed with pleasure, but the old man had laughed scornfully, saying, "Well, I'll believe that when I see it—Gethin steady and saving!" And even Will had joined in the laugh, but Gwilym Morris looked vexed and serious.
"I think, indeed, you are too hard upon that poor fellow,", he said; "he may return to you some day like the prodigal son. Don't forget that, Ebben Owens—"
"Oh, I don't forget that," said the old man; "and when he comes home in the same temper as the son we read of, then we'll kill for him the fatted calf."
"Well, I'd like to know what did he do whatever?" said a girlish voice from behind the settle, where Morva Lloyd (who was shepherdess, cowherd, milkmaid, all in one), was drying her hands on a jack-towel; "what did Gethin do so very bad?"
"Look in his mother's Bible," said the old man, "and you'll see his last sin."
"I've put it away," said Ann. "Twas too wicked to leave about; but he was very young, father, and Gwilym says—"
"Oh! Gwilym," said her father, "has an excuse for everyone's faults except his own; for thine especially."
There was a general laugh, during which Morva made up her mind to hunt up the old Bible.
"I hope," said Ann, addressing Will, when he had come to an end of his tea, "you told Price the vicar that Gwilym did not spend evening after evening here helping you on with your studies, knowing that you were going to be a clergyman?"
"No, I didn't tell him that, but I can tell him some other time," answered Will, who would have promised anything in his desire to propitiate Ann and his father, and to gain their consent to his entering Llaniago College at the beginning of the next term.
"I'll tell him if he comes here," said Ann. "I wouldn't have him think that Gwilym Morris, the Methodist minister, spent his time in teaching a parson."
"Well," said the preacher, who was standing at the old glass bookcase looking for a book, "you certainly did spring the news very suddenly upon me, Will; you kept your secret very close; but still, Ann, it makes no difference. I would have done anything for your brother, and I'm glad, whatever his course may be, that I have been able to impart to him a little knowledge."
"Look you here now," said the old man, shuffling uneasily, for there was a secret consciousness between him and his son that they had wilfully kept Gwilym Morris in the dark as long as possible, fearing lest his dissenting principles might prevent the accomplishment of their wishes, "look you here now, Will, October is very near, and it means money, my boy, and that's not gathered so easy as blackberries about here; you must wait until Christmas, and you shall go to Llaniago in the New Year, but I can't afford it now."
Will's handsome face flushed to the roots of his hair, his blue eyes sparkled with anger, and the clear-cut mouth took a petulant curve as he answered, rising hastily from the tea-table:
"Why didn't you tell me that sooner, instead of letting me go and speak to Mr. Price? You have made a fool of me!" And he went out, banging the door after him.
There was a moment's silence.
"Will's temper is not improving," said Ann at last.
"Poor boy," said the indulgent father, "'tis disappointed he is; but it won't be long to wait till January."
"But, father," said Ann, "there is the 80 pounds you got for the two ricks? You put that into the bank safe, didn't you?"
"Yes, yes, yes, quite safe, 'merch i. Don't you bother your head about things that don't concern you," and he too went out, leaving Ann drumming with her fingers on the tea-tray.
Her father's manner awoke some uneasiness in her mind, for long experience had taught her that money had a way of slipping through his hands ere ever it reached the wants of the household.
"I went with him to the bank," said Gwilym Morris reassuringly, "and saw him put it in," and Ann was satisfied.
Under her skilful management, in spite of their dwindled means, Garthowen was always a home of plenty. The produce of the farm was exchanged at the village shops for the simple necessaries of domestic life. The sheep on their own pasture lands yielded wool in abundance for their home-spun clothing, the flitches of bacon that garnished the rafters provided ample flavouring for the cawl, and for the rest Will and Gwilym's fishing and shooting brought in sufficient variety for the simple tastes of the family. Indeed, there was only one thing that was not abundant at Garthowen, and that was—ready money!
 Spirit Sara.
MORVA OF THE MOOR
When Will had reached the door of the farm kitchen in a fume of hot temper, the cool sea breeze coming up the valley had bathed his flushed face with so soothing an influence that he had turned towards it and wandered away to the cliffs which made the seaward boundary of the farm. A craggy hill on the opposite side of the valley cast its lengthening shadow on his path until he reached the Cribserth, a ridge of rocks which ran down the mountain side on the Garthowen land. It rose abruptly from the mountain pasturage, as though some monster of the early world were struggling to rise once more from its burial of ages, succeeding only in erecting its rugged spine and crest through the green sward. This ridge marked a curious division of the country, for on one side of it lay all the signs of cultivation of which this wind-swept parish could boast. Here were villages, fertile fields, and wooded valleys; but beyond the rugged escarpment all was different. For miles the seaward side of the hills was wild and bare, except for the soft velvet turf, interspersed with gorse and heather, which stretched up the steep slopes, covering and softening every rough outline. Even Will, as he rounded the ridge, recovered his equanimity, and his face lighted up with pleasure at the sight which met his view. Down below glistened a sea of burnished gold, with tints and shades of purple grey; above stretched a sky of still more glowing colours; and landward, rising to the blue of the zenith, the rugged moorland was covered with a mantle of heath and gorse, which shone in the evening sun in a rich mingling of gold and purple.
"What a glorious evening!" were Will's first thoughts. The birds sang around him, the sea lisped its soft whispers on the sea below, the song of a fisherman out on the bay came up on the breeze, the rabbits scudded across his path, and the seagulls floated slowly above him. All the sullenness went out of his face, giving way to a look of pleased surprise, as out of the carpet of gorgeous colouring spread before him rose suddenly the vision of a girl. It was Morva who came towards him, her hair glistening in the sunshine, her blue eyes dancing with the light of health and happiness. Behind a rising knoll stood her foster-mother's cottage, almost hidden by the surrounding gorse and heather, for, according to the old Welsh custom, it had been built in a hollow scooped out behind a natural elevation, which protected it from the strong sea wind; in fact, there was little of it visible except its red chimney-pot, from which generally curled the blue smoke of the furze and dried ferns burning on the bare earthen floor below.
Turning round the pathway to the front of the house, one came upon its whitewashed walls, the low worm-eaten door deep set in its crooked lintels, and its two tiny windows, looking out on the sunny garden, every inch of which was neatly and carefully cultivated by Morva's own hands; for she would not allow her "little mother" to tire herself with hard work in house or garden. To her foster-child it was a labour of love. In the early morning hours before milking time at the farm, or in the grey of the twilight, Morva was free to work in her own garden, while Sara only tended her herb bed. There at the further end was the potato bed in purple flower, here were rows of broad beans, in which the bees were humming, attracted by their sweet aroma that filled the evening air; there was the leek bed waving its grey green blades, and here, in the sunniest corner of all, was Sara's herb bed, which she tended with special care, whose products were gathered at stated times of the moon's age, not without serious thought and many consultations of an old herbal, brown with age, which always rested with her Bible and Williams "Pantycelyn's" hymns above the lintel of the door. For nearly seventeen years this had been Morva's home, ever since the memorable night of wind and storm which had wrecked the good ship Penelope on her voyage home from Australia. She had reached Milford safely a week before, after a prosperous voyage, and having landed some of her passengers, was making her further way towards Liverpool, her final destination. It was late autumn, and suddenly a storm arose which drove her out of her course, until on the Cardiganshire coast she had become a total wreck. In the darkness and storm, where the foaming waves leapt up to the black sky, the wild wind had battered her, and the cruel waves had torn her asunder, and engulphed her in their relentless depths; and when all was over, a few bubbles on the face of the water, a few planks tossed about by the waves, were all the signs left of the Penelope. The cottagers on the rugged coast never forgot that stormy night, when the roofs were uplifted from the houses, when gates were wrenched from their hinges, when the shrieking wind had torn the frightened sheep from their fold, and carried them over hedges and hillocks. There had never been such a storm in the memory of the oldest inhabitant, and when in the foam and the spray, Stiven "Storrom" had raked out from the debris washed on to the shore a hencoop, on which was bound a tiny baby, sodden and cold, but still alive, every one of the small crowd gathered on the beach below Garthowen slopes, considered he had added a fresh claim to his name—a name which he had gained by his frequent raids upon the fierce storms, and the harvest which he had gathered from their fury. That baby had found open arms and tender hearts ready to succour it, and when Sara "'spridion" had stretched imploring hands towards it, reminding the onlookers of her recent bereavement, it was handed over to her fostering care. "Give it to me," she said, "my heart is empty; it will not fill up the void, but it will help me to bear it. There are other reasons," she added, "good reasons." She had carried it home triumphantly, and little Morva had never after missed a mother's love and tenderness. The seventeen years that followed had glided happily over her head; in fact she was so perfect an embodiment of health and happiness, that she sometimes excited the envy of the somewhat sombre dwellers on those lonely hillsides; and when in the golden sunset, she suddenly rose from the gorse bloom to greet Will's sight, she had never appeared brighter or more brimful of joy.
"Well, indeed," said Will, casting a furtive glance behind him, to make sure that no one from Garthowen was following in his footsteps, "Morva, lass, where hast come from? I will begin to think thou art one of the spirits thy mother says she sees. I thought thee wast busy in the dairy at home!"
Morva laughed merrily.
"I had some milk to bring home, and Ann sent me early to help mother a bit. I was going now to gather dry furze and bracken to boil the porridge. Will you come and have supper with us, Will?"
"I have just had my tea," he said, "and a supper of bitter herbs into the bargain, for my father angered me by something he said. He is changeable as the wind, and I was roaming over here to seek for calmness from the sea wind, and perhaps a talk with Sara."
"Yes, come! She is in the herb garden gathering her bear's claws and rue; 'tis the proper time for them. But first we must cut the bracken."
Will took her sickle and soon cut a pile of the dry brittle fuel, binding it with a rope which she carried; and turning towards the cottage, they dragged it behind them.
"You go and seek mother," said Morva, "while I go and boil the porridge."
And in the garden Will found Sara stooping over her herb bed, and deeply intent upon her task.
The sun was setting now, and threw its ruddy beams upon the sunny corner, and upon the aged face and figure of the old woman.
"Well, 'machgen i," she said, straightening herself. "What is it?"
"Oh, nothing," said Will; "only, roaming about the moor, I came in to see you, and Morva has asked me to have supper with you—you are gathering your herbs?"
"Yes, 'tis time to dry them and hang them up under the rafters; if they will save one human being from pain 'twill be a good thing. Last night Mari Lewis came to ask me for something for her boy; I gave it to her, but she never came to tell me whether it had done him any good," and she smiled as she led the way back to the cottage carrying her bunches of herbs.
"Was it Dan?" asked Will.
"Then he is well, for I saw him ploughing this evening."
"That's better than thanks," said the old woman, entering the dark cottage, where Morva was stirring a crock which hung on a chain from the open chimney, the furze and bracken flaming and crackling beneath it and lighting up her beautiful face. Once in the cottage, Sara sat down on the old oak settle and waited for her supper, her herbs lying in a green heap on the floor beside her. The square of scarlet flannel, which she always wore pinned on her shoulders, made a bit of bright colour in the gloom, her wrinkled hands were clasped on her lap, and a far-away look came into her wonderful dark eyes.
Morva looked up from her work.
"Are you seeing anything, mother?"
"No, no, child, nothing. Make haste with the supper," said Sara.
And when Morva had divided the porridge in the three shining black bowls, they drew round the bare oak table, on which the red of the setting sun made a flickering pattern of the mallow bush growing on the garden hedge. They talked about the farm work, the fishing, the lime burning, the fate of the Lapwing, which had sailed in the autumn and had never returned, until, when supper was over, Will rose to go with a stretch and a yawn.
"Ann wants me to give the white calf his medicine to-night, mother," said Morva.
"Wilt come with me now?" said Will, "for I am going."
"Yes, go," said the old woman, "go together."
But as the two young people went out under the low doorway she looked after them pensively, and remained long looking up at the evening sky, which the open door revealed. At last she tied up her herbs and began washing her bowls, and while engaged at her work she sang. Her voice had the pathetic tremble of old age, but was still true and musical, for she had once been a singer among singers, and the song that she sang—who shall describe it? from what old stores of memory did it come to light? from what old wells of ancient folklore and tradition did it spring? But Sara was full of songs and hymns—of the simplest and oldest—of the rocky path—of the golden summit—of the angelic host—of the cloud of witnesses—but of the more modern hymns of church festivals or chapel revivals, of creeds and shibboleths, she knew nothing!
Outside on the heath and gorse Will and Morva made their way along the narrow sheep paths, until, reaching the green sward where two could walk abreast, he drew nearer, and passing his arm round her shoulders, turned her gently towards the side of the cliff, where jutting crags and stunted thorns made "sheltered nooks for lovers' seats."
"Come, sit down here, Morva," he said; "all day I have wanted to talk to thee. Dost know what kept me so long at Castell On to-day? Dost know what grand thing is opening out before me? Dost know, lass, the time is coming when I will be able to put rings on thy fingers, and silken scarves on thy shoulders, and pretty shoes on thy little feet?"
Morva's lips parted, disclosing two rows of pearly teeth, as she stared in astonishment at her companion.
"Oh, Will, lad, what is the matter with thee? Hast lost thy senses? We mustn't be long or Ann will be waiting."
"Oh, Ann!" said Will pettishly, "let her wait; listen thou. I am going to finish with them all before long; I am not going to plod on here on the farm any longer; I am going to college, lass; I am going to pass my examination and be a clergyman, like Mr. Price, or like that young curate who was stopping with him a month ago. Didst see him, Morva? Such a gentleman! dressed so grand, and went from town in the Nantmyny carriage."
Morva was still speechless.
"Oh, anwl! what art talking about, Will?" she said at last.
"Truth, Morva; I will be like that young man before long, and when I have a home ready I will send for thee; thou shalt come secretly to meet me in some large town where no one will know us. I will have a silken gown ready for thee, and we will be married, and thou shalt be a real lady."
Morva's only answer was a peal of laughter, which reached over moor and crag and down to the sandy beach below.
"Oh, Will, Will!" she gasped, with her hand on her side, "now indeed thy senses are roaming. Morva Lloyd in velvet shoes and silken gowns, and Will Owens with flapping coat tails like Mr. Price, and one of those ugly shining hats that the gentlemen wear! Oh, Will, Will! there's funny indeed!" and she laughed again until she woke the echoes from the cliffs.
"Hush-sh-sh!" said Will, a good deal nettled, "or laugh at thyself if thou wilt, but not at me, for I tell thee that's how thou'lt see me very soon."
"Well, indeed, then," said the girl, "when thou tak'st that path thou must say 'good-bye' to Morva Lloyd, for such things will never suit her."
"I tell thee, girl," said Will, taking both her hands in his, "thou must come with me. I will follow that path—I feel I must, and I feel it will lead to riches and honour, but I feel, too, that I can never live without thee; thou must come with me, Morva. What is in the future for me must be for thee too! dost hear?"
"Yes, I hear," said the girl, with a gasp.
"Dost remember thy promise, Morva? When we were children together, and sat here watching the stars, didn't I hold thy little finger and point it up to the North Star and make thee promise to marry me? And if thou art going to change thy mind, 'twill break my heart," and his mouth took a sad, pathetic curve.
"But I am not going to change. I remember the star which I pointed to when I promised to marry thee. 'Twill be up there by and by when the light is gone, for it is always there, though the others move about."
"Yes, 'tis the North Star, and the English have a saying, 'As true as the North Star'—that's what thou must be to me, Morva."
"Yes, indeed. The English are very wise people. But after all, Will, I must laugh when I think of a clergyman marrying a shepherdess. Oh! Will, Will!" added the girl more seriously and in a deprecating tone, "thou art talking nonsense. Think it over for a day or two, and then we'll talk about it. I cannot stay longer—Ann will be angry."
And slipping out of his grasp, she ran with light footsteps over the soft turf, Will looking after her bewildered and troubled, until she disappeared round the edge of the ridge; then he rose slowly, picked up his book, and followed her with slow steps and an anxious look on his handsome face. He was tall and well grown, like every member of the Garthowen family; his reddish-brown hair so thick above his forehead that his small cap of country frieze was scarcely required as a covering for his head; and not even the coarse material of his homespun suit, or his thick country-made shoes, could hide a certain air of jaunty distinction, which was a subject of derision amongst the young lads of his acquaintance, but of which he himself was secretly proud. From boyhood he had despised the commonplace ways of his rustic home, and had always aimed at becoming what he called "a gentleman." No wonder, then, that with his foot, as he thought, on the first rung of the ladder, he was pensive and serious as he followed Morva homewards.
Ebben Owens, when he had risen from the tea table, had followed his son into the farmyard, but finding no trace of him there, his face had taken a troubled and anxious expression, for Will was the idol of his soul, the apple of his eye, and a ruffle upon that young man's brow meant a furrow on the old man's heart. He reproached himself for having allowed "the boy" to proceed too far with his plans for entering college before he had suggested that there might be a difficulty in finding the required funds. After a long reverie, he muttered as he went to the cowsheds:
"Well, well, I must manage it somehow. I must ask Davy my brother, to lend me the money until I have sold those yearlings."
Not having the moral courage to open his mind to his son, he allowed the subject to drift on in the dilatory fashion characteristic of his nation; and as time went on, he began to allude to the coming glories of Llaniago in a manner which soothed Will's irritation, and made him think that the old man, on reconsideration, was as usual becoming reconciled to his son's plans. As a matter of fact, Ebben Owens was endeavouring to adjust his ideas to those of his son, solving the difficulties which perplexed him by mentally referring to "Davy my brother," or "those yearlings."
Will also took refuge, as a final resource, in the thought of his rich uncle, the Rev. Dr. Owen, of Llanisderi, who, through marriage with a wealthy widow, had in a wonderfully short time gained for himself preferment, riches, and popularity.
"I will stoop to ask Uncle Davy to help me," he thought, "rather than put it off;" but he kept his thoughts to himself, hoping still that his father would relent, for he considered the want of funds was probably a mere excuse for keeping him longer at home.
It had been very easy, one day a month earlier, when, sitting in the barn together, they had talked the matter over, for Ebben Owens to make any number of plans and promises, for he had just sold two large ricks of hay, and had placed the price thereof in the bank. He was, therefore, in a calm and contented frame of mind, and in the humour to be reckless in the matter of promises. The whole country side knew how good-natured he was, how ready to help a friend, very often to his own detriment and that of his family; he was consequently very popular at fair and market. Everybody brought his troubles to him, especially money troubles; and although Ebben Owens might at first refuse assistance, he would generally end by opening his heart and his pockets, and lending the sum required, sometimes on good security, sometimes on bad, sometimes on none at all but his creditors' word of honour, whose value, alas! was apt to rise or fall with the tide of circumstances. He had many times given his own word of honour to his anxious daughter, that he would never again lend his money or "go security" for his neighbours without consulting his family; but over the first blue of beer, at the first fair or market, he had been unable to withstand the pleadings of some impecunious friend. Only a week after he and Will had talked over their plans in the barn, Jos Hughes, who was his fellow-deacon at Penmorien Chapel, had met him in the market at Castell On, and had persuaded him to lend him the exact amount which his ricks had brought him, with many promises of speedy repayment.
"Tis those hard-hearted Saeson, Mr. Owens bach! They will never listen to reason, you know," he had argued, "and they are pressing upon me shocking for payment for the goods I had from them last year; and me such a good customer, too! I must pay them this week, Mr. Owens bach, and you are always so kind, and there is no one else in the parish got so much money as Garthowen. I will give you good security, and will pay you week after next, as sure as the sun is shining!"
It was a plausible tale, and Ebben Owens, as usual, was weak and yielding. He liked to be considered the "rich man" of the parish, and to be called "Mr. Owens," so Jos went home with the money in his pocket, giving in return only his "I. O. U.," and a promise that the transaction should be carefully kept from Ann's ears, for Ebben Owens was more afraid of his daughter's gentle reproofs than he had ever been of his wife's sharp tongue.
THE OLD BIBLE
On the following Sunday, Morva kept house alone at Garthowen, for everyone else had gone to chapel, except Will, who had walked to Castell On, which was three miles away up the valley of the On, he having been of late a frequent attendant at Mr. Price's church. The vicar was much beloved by all his parishioners, beloved and respected by high and low, but still his congregation was sparse and uncertain, so that every new member was quickly noticed and welcomed by him—more especially any stray sheep from the dissenting fold possessed for him all the interest of the sheep in the parable, for whose sake the ninety and nine were left in the wilderness. Will had gone off with a large prayer book under his arm, determined to take special note of the Vicar's manner in reading the lessons, for on the following Sunday this important duty would devolve upon him.
No one who has not spent a Sunday afternoon in a Methodist household can really have sounded the depths of dullness; the interminable hours between the early dinner and the welcome moment when the singing kettle and the jingling of the tea-things break up the spell of dreariness, the solemn silence pervading everything, broken only by the persistent ticking of the old clock on the stairs, Morva had noted them all rather wearily. Even the fowls in the farmyard seemed to walk about with a more sober demeanour than usual, but more trying than anything else to an active girl was the fact that there was nothing to do.
It was a hot blazing summer afternoon; she had paid frequent visits to the sick calf, which was getting well and mischievous again, and inclined to butt at Tudor, so even that small excitement was over, and the girl came sauntering back under the shady elder tree which spread its branches over the doorway of the back kitchen. She crossed to the window, and leaning her arms on the deep sill looked out over the yard, and the fields beyond, to the sea, whose every aspect she knew so well. Not a boat or sail broke its silvery surface, even there the spell of Sabbath stillness seemed to reign. She thought of the chapel with its gallery thronged with smiling lads and lasses; she thought of Will sitting bolt upright at church. Yes; decidedly the dullness was depressing; but suddenly a brightening thought struck her. Why should she not hunt up the old Bible which Ann said was too bad to leave about? What could Gethin have written in it that was so wicked? She remembered him only as her friend and companion, and her willing slave. She was only a child when he left, but she had not forgotten the burst of bitter wailing which she sent after him as he picked up his bundle and tore himself away from her clinging arms, and how she had cried herself to sleep that night by Sara's side, who had tried to pacify her with promises of his speedy return. But he had never come, and his absence seemed only to have left in his father's memory a sense of injury, as though he himself had not been the cause of his boy's banishment. Even Ann and Will, who had at first mourned for him, and longed for his return, appeared to have forgotten him, or only to regard his memory as a kind of sorrowful dream. Why, she knew not, but the thought of him on this quiet Sunday afternoon filled her with tender recollections. She opened every dusty book in the glass bookcase, but in vain. Here was Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress"; and here a worm-eaten, brown stained book of sermons; here were Williams of "Pantycelyn's" Hymns and his "Theomemphis," with Bibles old and new, but not the one which she sought. Mounting a chair, and from thence the table, she at last drew out from under a glass shade, covering a group of stuffed birds, a dust-begrimed book, with a brass clasp and nails at the corners. Dusting it carefully she laid it on the table before her, and proceeded to decipher its faded inscriptions. Yes—no doubt this was the book for which she had sought, and with a brown finger following the words, she read aloud:
"ANN OWENS, HER BOOK, GARTHOWEN."
Beneath this was written in a boyish hand the well-known doggerel lines:
"This book is hers, I do declare, Then steal it not or else beware! For on the dreadful Judgment Day You may depend the Lord will say, 'Where is that book you stole away?'"
It was written in English, and Morva, though she could make herself understood in that language, was not learned enough to read it easily. However, there was no difficulty in reading the signature of "William Owens" which followed. She turned over a leaf, and here indeed were signs of Gethin, for all over the title page was scrawled with many flourishes "Gethin Owens, Garthowen," "Gethin Owens," "G. O.," "Gethin," etc. It was wrong, no doubt, to deface the first page of the Bible in this way, but Ann had said "too wicked to leave about!" so Morva searched through the whole book, until on the fair leaf which fronted "The Revelations" she found evident proof of Gethin's depravity; and she quailed a little as she saw a vivid and realistic pen and ink drawing of a fire of leaping flames, standing over which was a monster in human shape, though boasting of a tail and cloven hoofs. With fiendish glee the creature was toasting on a long fork something which looked fearfully like a man, whose starting eyes and writhing limbs showed plainly that he was not as happy as his tormentor. It was very horrible, and Morva closed the book with a snap, but could not resist the temptation of another peep, as there was something written beneath in Welsh, which translated ran thus:
"Here's the ugly old Boy! I tell you beware! If you fall in his clutches there's badly you'll fare! Look here at his picture, his claws and his tail, If you make his acquaintance you're sure to bewail! Hallelujah! Amen! —GETHIN OWENS."
At the last words Morva stood aghast; this then was Gethin's terrible crime! "Oh! there's a boy he must have been!" said the girl, clasping her fingers as she leant over the big Bible. "Oh! dear, dear! no wonder 'n'wncwl Ebben was so angry! I don't forget how cross he was one day when I let the Bible fall; didn't his face alter! 'Dost remember, girl,' he said, 'it is the Word of God!' and there's frightened I was! Poor Gethin! 'twas hard, though, to turn him away, for all they are such wicked words. 'Hallelujah! Amen!' Well, indeed! the very words that 'n'wncwl Ebben says so solemn after the sermon in Penmorien!" and she shook her head sorrowfully, "and here they are after this song about the devil. Will would never have done that," and she pondered a little seriously; "but poor Gethin! After all, he was only a boy, and boys do dreadful things—but Will never did! Mother reads her Bible plenty too, but I don't think she would have turned me out when I was a little girl if I had made this song. I'll tell her to-night, and see what she says about Gethin, poor fellow."
She closed and clasped the book, and mounting the table again, replaced it in the hollow at the top of the bookcase, with the stuffed birds and glass case over it.
When Ann and her father returned from chapel, there was a conscious look on her face which they both remarked upon at once.
"What's the matter, Morva?" asked Ann.
"Is the calf worse?" asked the old man.
"No," answered the girl, her seriousness vanishing at once. "Nothing's the matter; the calf is getting quite well."
As she spoke Will arrived from church, wearing a black coat and a white cotton tie, his prayer-book under his arm.
Ebben Owens looked at him with an air of proud satisfaction.
"Here comes the parson," he said, and Will smiled graciously even at Morva, whom he generally ignored in the presence of Ann and his father.
"Hast been stopping at home, Morva? I thought thee wast at chapel."
"I am going home now," said the girl, eyeing him rather critically. "I will tell mother I have seen the 'Rev. Verily Verily.'"
Will flushed up, though he pretended to laugh; but Ebben Owens looked annoyed.
"No more of that nonsense, Morva; thou art a bit too forward, girl; remember Will is thy master's son, and leave off thy jokes."
"Oh! she meant no harm," said Will apologetically; "'twill be hard if we can't have our jokes, parson or no parson."
"Well, indeed," said Morva, without a shade of annoyance in her voice, "'twill be hard at first; but I suppose I will get used to it some day. Will you want me again to-night, Ann?"
"No; but to-morrow early," said Ann.
And Morva went singing through the farmyard, and along the fields to the Cribserth; but to-day it was a hymn tune of mournful minor melody which woke the echoes from moor and cliff. Rounding the ridge, the same fair view greeted her eyes, as had chased away Will's ill-temper on the preceding evening, and she sat a moment under the shadow of a broom bush to ponder, for Morva was a girl of many thoughts though her mind was perfectly uneducated, her heart and soul were alive with earnest questions. Her seventeen years had been spent in close companionship with a woman of exceptional character, and although the girl did not share in the abnormal sensitiveness of her foster-mother, she had gained from her intimacy with her, an unusual receptivity to all the delicate influences of Nature. Sara claimed to be clairvoyant, though she had never heard the word. Morva was clear seeing only; her pure and simple spirit was undimmed by any mists of worldly ideas; no subterfuge or plausible excuse ever hid the truth from her, and yet in spite of this crystal innocence, she kept her engagement to Will a secret from all the world, excepting Sara.
It is the custom of the country to keep a love affair a secret as long as possible; if it is discovered and talked about by outside gossips, half its delight and charm is gone; indeed it is considered indelicate to show any signs of love-making in public. It is true that this secrecy often leads to serious mischief, but, on the other hand, there is much to be said for the sensitive modesty of the Welsh maiden, when compared with an English girl's too evident appreciation of her lover's attentions in public. So hitherto Morva had followed Will's lead, and shown no signs of more than the love and affection which was naturally to be expected from her close intercourse with the Garthowen family from babyhood. Did she feel anything more? She thought she did. From childhood she had been promised to Will; the idea of marrying him when they were both grown to manhood and maidenhood had been familiar to her ever since she could remember. It caused no excitement in her mind, no tumult in her heart. It was in the nature of things—it was Will's wish—it was her fate! She did not rebel against it, but it woke no thrill of delight within her. She had promised, and the idea of breaking that promise was one that never entered her mind; but this evening, as she sat under the broom bush, a curious feeling of unrest came over her. How was it all to end? Would it not be wiser of Will to turn his face to the world lying beyond the Cribserth ridge, where the towns—the smooth roads—the college—and the many people lay, and leave her to her lonely moor—to the sheep, and the gorse, and the heather? She looked around her, where the evening sun was flooding land and sea with golden glory.
"I would not break my heart," she thought; "here is plenty to make me happy; there's the sea and the sands and the rocks! and at night, oh, anwl! nobody knows how beautiful it is to float about in Stiven 'Storrom's' boat, in and out of the rocks, and the stars shining so bright in the sky, and the moon sometimes as light as day. Oh, no; I wouldn't be unhappy," and stretching her arms out wide, she turned her face up to the glowing sky. "I love it all," she said, "and I do not want a lover."
Catching sight of the blue smoke curling up from the heather mound behind which Sara's cottage was buried, she rose, and dropping her sober thoughts, ran homewards, singing and filling the sweet west wind which blew round her with melody. But ere she reached the cottage door, there came a whistle on the breeze, and, turning round, she saw Will standing at the corner of the Cribserth, just where the rocky rampart edged the hillside. She turned at once and slowly retraced her footsteps, Will coming to meet her with more speedy progress. He had changed his clothes, and in his work-a-day fustian looked far better than he had in the black cloth suit which he had worn to church.
"Well, indeed, Morva lass, thou runn'st like the wind; I could never catch thee. Come and sit down behind these bushes, for I want to talk to thee. Wert offended at what my father said just now?"
"Offended! no," said the girl. "Garthowen has a right to say what he likes to me, and besides, he was right, Will. I must learn to treat thee with more respect."
"Respect!" said Will, laying hold of her hands, "'tis more love I want, lass, and not respect; sometimes I fear thou dost not love me."
"But I do," said the girl calmly; "I do love thee, Will. 'Tis truth that I would lay down my life for thee and all at Garthowen. Haven't you been all in all to me—father, sister, brother? and especially you and I, Will, have been together all our lives. Ann has not been quite so much a sister to me since we've grown up, but then I am only the milkmaid, and Gwilym Morris has come between."
"Yes, true," said Will; "but between me and thee, Morva, nothing has ever come. Promise me once more, that when I have a home for thee thou wilt marry me and come and live with me. My love for thee is the only shadow on my future, because I fear sometimes that something will part us, and yet, lass, it is the brightest spot, too—dost believe me?"
"Yes," said Morva, with eyes cast down upon the wild thyme which her fingers were idly plucking, "I believe thee, Will. What need is there to say more? I have promised thee to be thy wife, and dost think I would break my word? Never! unless, Will, thou wishest it thyself. Understand, that when once I am sure that thou hast changed thy mind then I will never marry thee."
"That time will never come," said Will; and they sat and talked till the evening shadows lengthened and till the sun sank low in the west; then they parted, and Morva once more turned her footsteps homewards. She walked more soberly than before, and there was no song upon her lips.
THE SEA MAIDEN
Sara was sitting at tea when the girl arrived. Through the open doorway came the glow of the sunset, with the humming of bees and the smell of the thyme and the bean flowers.
"Thou hast something to ask me, Morva. What is it?" she said, making room for her at the little round table in the chimney corner.
"Oh, 'tis nothing, I suppose," said Morva, cutting herself a long slice of the flat barley loaf; "only 'tis the same old questions that are often troubling me. What is going to become of me? What is in the future for me? I used to think when I grew to be a woman I would marry Will, and settle down at Garthowen close to you here, mother fach, and take care of 'n'wncwl Ebben when Ann and Gwilym Morris were married; but now, somehow, it all seems altered."
The old woman looked at her long and thoughtfully.
"Wait until later, child," she said. "Clear away the tea, tidy up the hearth, and let me read my chapter while the daylight lasts," and finishing her tea Morva did as she was bid.
Later on in the evening, sitting on the low rush stool opposite to Sara, she continued her inquiries.
"Tell me, mother, about Will and Gethin when they were boys. Was Gethin so very wicked?"
"Wicked? No," said Sara, "never wicked. Wild and mischievous and full of pranks he was, but the truest, the kindest boy in the world was Gethin Owens Garthowen."
"Will was a good boy always, but I never loved him as I loved the other. Gethin had a bad character because he stole the apples from the orchard, and he took Phil Graig's boat one day without asking leave, and there was huboob all over the village, and his father was mad with anger, and threatened to give him a thrashing; but in the evening Gethin brought the boat back quite safely. He had been as far as Ynysoer, and he brought back a creel full of fish for Phil, to make up. Phil made a good penny by the fish, and forgave the boy bach; but his father was thorny to Gethin for a long time. Then at last he did something—I never knew what—that offended his father bitterly, and he was sent away, and never came back again."
"Mother," said Morva solemnly, "I have found out what he did. He got his mother's Bible and he wrote some dreadful things in it, and made a fearful picture."
"Picture of what?" asked the old woman.
"A picture of flames and fire, and the devil toasting a man on it, and a song about the devil. Here it is; I remember every word," and she repeated it word for word, it having sunk deeply into her mind. "Then at the bottom he had written, 'Hallelujah, Amen! Gethin Owens Garthowen.'"
A smile overspread Sara's countenance as she observed Morva's solemnity, a smile which somewhat lessened the girl's disquietude.
"Was it so very wicked, mother?"
"Wicked? No," said the old woman. "What wonder was it that the boy drew a picture of the things that he heard every Sunday in chapel—God's never-ending anger, and the devil's gathering in the precious souls which He has created. That would be a failure, Morva, and God can't fail in anything. No, no," she added shrewdly, nodding her head, "He will punish us for our sins, but the devil is not going to triumph over the Almighty in the end."
Morva pondered seriously as she fed the fire from a heap of dried furze piled up in the corner behind the big chimney.
"I was very little when Gethin went away, but I remember it. Now tell me about the night when first I came to you. I love that story as much now as I did when I was a child."
"That night," said Sara, "oh! that night, my child. I see it as plainly as I have seen the gold of the sunset to-night. It had been blowing all day from the north-west till the bay was like a pot of boiling milk. It was about sunset (although we couldn't see the sun), there was a dark red glow over everything as if it were angry with us. Up here on the moor the wind shrieked and roared and tore the poor sheep from the fold, and the little sea-crows from their nests. I sat here alone, for it was the year when my husband and baby had died, and, oh, I was lonely, child! I moaned with the wind, and my tears fell like the rain. I heaped the furze on the fire and kept a good blaze; it was cold, for it was late in October. It grew darker and darker, and I sat on through the night, and gradually my ears got used to the raging of the storm, I suppose, for I fell asleep, sitting here under the chimney, but suddenly I awoke. The wind was shrieking louder than ever, and there in that dark corner by the spinning-wheel I saw a faint shadow that changed into the form of a woman. She was pale, and had on a long white gown, her hair, light like thine, hung down in threads as if it were wet. She held out her hands to me, and I sat up and listened. I saw her lips move, and, though I could not hear her voice, I seemed to understand what she said, for thee know'st, Morva, I am used to these visions."
"Yes," said the girl, nodding her head.
"Well, I rose and answered her, and drew my old cloak from the peg there. 'I am coming,' I said, and she glided before me out through the door and down the path over the moor. I saw her, a faint, white figure, gliding before me till I reached the Cribserth, and there she disappeared, but I knew what she wished me to do; and I followed the path down to the shore, and there was tumult and storm indeed, the air full of spray, and even in the black night the foaming waves showing white against the darkness. Out at sea there was a ship in distress, there was a light on the mast, and we knew by its motion that the poor ship was sorely tossed and driven. Many people had gathered on the shore in the darkness. No one had thought of calling me, for here we are out of the world, Morva; but the spirits come more easily to the lonely moor than to the busy town. Ebben Owens was there, and little Ann, and all the servants and the people from the farms beyond the moor, but no one could help the poor ship in her distress. At last the light went out, and we knew the waves had swallowed her up, and all night on the incoming tide came spars and logs and shattered timber, and many of the drowned sailors. Stiven 'Storrom' was there as usual, and in the early dawn, when there was just a streak of light in the angry sky, he shouted out that he had found something, and we all ran towards him, and there, tied safely to a hencoop, lay a tiny baby, wet and sodden, but still alive. It was thee, child, so wasn't I right to call thee Morforwyn? though indeed we soon shortened it to Morva. When I saw thee I knew at once 'twas thy mother who had come to me here, and had led me down to the shore, and I begged them to give me the baby. 'There is a reason,' I said, but I did not tell them what it was. What was the good, Morva? They would not understand. They would only jeer at me as they do, and call me Sara ''spridion.' Well, let them, I am richer than they, oh! ten thousand times, and I would not change my life here on the lonely moor, and the visions I have here, for any riches they could offer me."
"No, indeed, and it is a happy home for me, too, though I don't see your visions; but then you tell me about them, and it teaches me a great deal. Mother, I think my life is more full of happy thoughts than most of the girls about here because of your teaching. No, I don't want to leave here, except, of course, I must live at Garthowen when Will wants me."
The old woman made no answer, but continued to gaze at the crackling furze.
"You wish that too, mother?" asked the girl.
"I did, 'merch i, but now I don't know indeed, Morva. Thou must not marry without love."
"Without love, mother! I have told you many times I love Will with all my heart."
Sara shook her head with a smile of incredulity.
"It is a dream, child, and thou wilt wake some day. Please God it may not be too late."
A pained look overspread the girl's face, a turmoil of busy thought was in her brain, but there was no uncertainty in the voice with which she answered:
"Mother, I love Will. I have told him so. I have promised to be his wife, and I would rather die than break my word."
"Well, well," said Sara, "there is no need to trouble, child, only try to do right, and all that will be settled for thee; but I think I see sorrow for thee, and it comes from Will."
"Well," said Morva bravely, as she flung another bunch of furze on the fire, "I suppose I must bear my share of that like other people. 'As the sparks fly upward,' mother, the Bible says, and see, there's a fine lot of them," and she raked the small fire with the lightsome laugh of youth.
"Ah!" said the old woman, "thou canst laugh at sorrows now, Morva; but when they come they will prick thee like that furze."
"And I will stamp them out as I do these furze, mother," and again she laughed merrily, but ceased suddenly, and, with her finger held up, listened intently.
"What is that sound?" she asked. "It is some one brushing through the heather and furze. Who can it be? Is it Will?"
Both women were fluttered and frightened, for such a thing as a footstep approaching their door at so late an hour was seldom heard, for at Garthowen they all retired early, and the cottagers in the village below avoided Sara as something uncanny, and looked askance even at Morva, who seemed not to have much in common with the other girls of the countryside.
"'Tis a man's step," she whispered, "and he is coming into the cwrt," and, while she was still speaking, there came a firm, though not loud, knock at the door.
Morva shrank a little under the big chimney, where she stood in the glow of the flaming furze; but Sara rose without hesitation, and going to the door, opened it wide.
"Who is here so late at night?" she asked.
"Shall I come in, Sara, and I will explain?" said a pleasant, though unknown voice. "'Twas to Garthowen I was going, but when I reached there every light was put out, so I wouldn't wake the old man from his first sleep, and I have come on here to see can you let me sleep here to-night? Dost know me, Sara?"
"Gethin Owens!" exclaimed the old woman, with delighted surprise. "My dear boy, come in!"
There was no light in the cottage except that of the fitful furze fire, so that when Gethin entered he exclaimed at the darkness,
"Sara fach, let's have a light, for I am longing to see thee!"
Morva threw a fresh furze branch on the fire. The motion attracted Gethin's attention, and as the quick flame leaped up, the girl stood revealed. While Sara fumbled about for the candle the flame burnt out, and for a moment there was gloom again.
"Hast one of thy spirits here, or was it an angel I saw standing there by the fire?" said the newcomer; but when Sara had succeeded in lighting the candle, he saw it was no spirit, but a creature of flesh and blood who stood before him.
"No, no, 'tis only Morva," said Sara, dusting a chair and pushing it towards him. "Sit thee down, my boy, and let me have a good look at thee. Well! well! is it Gethin, indeed? this great big man, so tall and broad."
But Gethin's eyes were fixed upon the girl, who still stood astonished and bewildered under the chimney.
"Morva!" he said, "is this little Morva, who cried so bad after me when I went away, and whom I have longed to see so often? Come, shake hands, lass; dost remember thy old playmate?" and he advanced towards her with both hands outstretched.
Morva placed her own in his.
"Yes, indeed," she answered, "now in the light I can see 'tis thee, Gethin—just the same and unaltered only—only—"
"Only grown bigger and rougher and uglier, but never mind; 'tis the same old Gethin who carried thee about the slopes on his shoulders, but, dei anwl! I didn't expect to see thee so altered and so—so pretty."
Morva blushed but ignored the compliment.
"Well, indeed, there's glad they'll be to see thee at Garthowen."
"Yes, indeed; but won't I put him some supper, mother?"
"Yes, 'merch i, put on the milk porridge."
And Morva, glad to hide her embarrassment, set about preparing the evening meal, for Gethin's eyes told the admiration which he dared not speak. His gaze followed her about as she mixed the milk and the oatmeal in the quaint old iron crochon.
"'Twill soon be ready; thee must be hungry, lad," said Sara, laying the bowls and spoons in readiness on the table.
"Yes, I am hungry, indeed, for I have walked all the way from Caer-Madoc. 'Tis Sunday, thee seest, so there were no carts coming along the road. Halt, halt, lass!" he said, "let me lift that heavy crochon for thee."
"Canst sleep on the settle, Gethin?" asked the old woman, "for I have no bed for thee. I will spread quilts and pillows on it."
Gethen laughed boisterously.
"Quilts and pillows, indeed, for a man who has slept on the hard deck, on the bare ground, on a coil of ropes; and once on a floating spar, when I thought sleep was death, and welcomed it too."
"Hast seen many hardships then, dear lad?" said Sara. "Perhaps when we were sleeping sound in out beds, thou hast oftentimes been battling with death and shipwreck."
"Not often, but more than once, indeed," said Gethin.
"Thou must tell us after supper some of thy wonderful escapes."
"Yes, I'll tell you plenty of yarns," said Gethin, his eyes still following Morva's movements.
A curious silence had fallen upon the girl, generally so ready to talk in utter absence of self-consciousness. She served the porridge into the black bowls, and shyly pushed Gethin's towards him, cutting him a slice of the barley bread and butter.
"I have left my canvas bag at Caer-Madoc," said Gethin, when he had somewhat appeased his appetite. "'Twill come up to Garthowen to-morrow. I have a present in it for thee, Morva."
"For me?" said the girl, and a flood of crimson rushed into her face. "I didn't think thee wouldst be remembering me."
"There thou wast wrong, then," said Gethin, cutting himself another slice.
"Well, indeed, I have never had a present before!"
"I have one for Ann, and Will, and my father, God bless him! And how is good old Will?"
"He is quite well," said Morva.
"As industrious and good as ever? Dei anwl! there's a difference there was between me and him! You wouldn't think we were children of the same mother. Well, you can't alter your nature, and I'm afraid 'tis a bad lot Gethin Owens will be to the end!" And he laughed aloud, his black eyes sparkling, and the rings in his ears shining out in the gloom of the cottage.
Morva looked at the stalwart form, the swarthy skin, the strong, even teeth, that gleamed so white under the black moustache, the jet-black hair, the broad shoulders, and thought how proud Ann would be of such a brother.
They sat long into the night, Sara gathering from the young man the history of all his varied experiences since he had left his father's home; Morva listening intently as she cleared away the supper, Gethin's eyes following her light figure with fascinated gaze.
At last the door was bolted, the fire swept up, and Sara and Morva, retiring to the penucha, left Gethin to his musings, which, however, quickly resolved themselves into a heavy, dreamless sleep, that lasted until the larks were singing above the moor on the following morning.
 Spirit Sara.
The corn harvest had commenced, and Ebben Owens was up and out early in the cornfields. Will, too, was there, but with scant interest in the work. It had never been a labour of love with him, and now that fresh hopes and prospects were dawning upon him, the farm duties seemed more insignificant and tedious than ever. Had it been Gethin who stretched himself and yawned as he attacked the first swathe of corn, Ebben Owens would have called him a "lazy lout," but as it was Will, he only jokingly rallied him upon his want of energy.
"Come, come," he said, "thee'st not got thy gown and bands on yet. We'll have hard work to finish this field by sunset; another hand wouldn't be amiss."