Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

2 articles on this Page

WITH THE HEART OF A PAGAN.

News
Cite
Share

WITH THE HEART OF A PAGAN. BY T. HUWS DAVIES. There are still to be found in the distant West wide stretches of mountain side un- spoilt by civilization, where the tyrant Con- vention has never held Court and where, in consequence, men and women have never ceased to feel and think as they did when the world was young, time lighter, and life with more colour and spirit in it. Years, many years ago, long before I had laid myself a sacrifice on the cold, grey altar of the city, I had my home in one of the lonely cottages on that wild sea-shore. I have found out at last that I have changed since those careless days. I know more and feel less. I have learnt much of the ways of the world, but have forgotten more of the mysteries of life which are re- vealed only to the simple and the patient. Even now, however, at rare moments, scenes from the old life come back to me as to many another child of those hills and rocks, and I have tried to capture one of them for my little canvas. One Saturday night, in early December, I left the small town on the boundary of that wild strip of moor and mountain, bound for one of its farthest villages. There was but one way of reaching my destination-by travelling in the old country van-an un- dignified imitation of the old stage coach. The journey, with good fortune, might be accomplished in five hours, but, as at that uncertain time of the season, it might take much longer, we had to start early in the afternoon. I found when I reached the starting place, that there were two other passengers, a young girl of twenty, who had seen a city and learnt to imitate its ways but had not caught its spirit, and a middle- aged peasant woman who might have heard of the world but had never thought much of it. They had already placed themselves within the old van, and the driver was on his box ready to start on his dreary journey. Wiapped up in heavy cloth and njuffled to the eyes, I took my seat at his side. I tried once or twice to draw him into a cheery conversation, but to strangers the peasants are sullen and silent, and old Joseph was no exception to the rule. He soon made it quite clear that he had little to tell me, and would rather be left to his own thoughts. At times, however, he spoke strange words to his horses, which they well understood, for they moved their ears knowingly and stretched still more their soft limbs in climbing the long and heavy hills. Before long the darkness began to fall quietly around us, and the silence grew more and more intense. The only sounds one heard were the monotonous rumbling of the old van, the dull measured beats of the horses' hoofs on the damp road, and, as the wind bore from the direction of the sea, the growl of the wave on the shore, and occa- sionally the cry of a lonely sea-bird. Around us, the trees, bare and aged, stood out in grotesque shapes as if threatening. The earth was moist and covered with a low mist, the sky overhung with driven clouds and the wind whisked through the narrow valleys. It's coming on to snow," said old Joseph, cracking his whip. "I wish I could cross the hill before the storm starts." But it will start very soon," he added in a moment. "What makes you think so?" I asked him, readily snatching the opportunity of a talk. Can't you see the sheep under the rock," he said, impatiently. Besides look how the ground draws the cottage smoke and listen to the sea-bird, how it screams." And then he drew -himself in again, as if he had told a stranger too much already. But it was too true. Long before we had crossed the hill, the storm came on and we were caught in a blinding sheet of sleet. It is always sleet near the coast. Go inside. Its better there than here," said the old driver, who never forgot his passenger. Had I wished to do otherwise, the words were spoken so firmly, that I should have gone. It was not quite dark inside. At the front of the dingy vehicle a tallow candle flickered its feeble light to an end, but its light was strong enough for me to distinguish the outline of my companions. Here, again, no one seemed inclined to break the silence. Just by the faint candle sat the elder woman, with her head drooping as if in slumber, while almost opposite her sat the younger sister, and I could see her with her head resting on her hand watching the older woman. Before long she spoke. Do you go to Aber- every Saturday now, she asked. Not since John and the children died," answered old Nell. No answered the girl, and soon she added, "I was so sorry for you, Nell, but I couldn't call." Yes," said old Nell, it was a great trouble. First of all John died, then Mag; but when little Sian died, I wanted to die, too. She had always been blind, and about me, and oh! I missed her more than all." There was no sound of tears, no break of sorrow in her voice, but since then I have heard desperate men speak in that very same tone. And soon she spoke again. But," she said, I knew something was going to happen. There was bloom on the apple tree in the autumn, and the week Mag died I found the red primrose was in bloom in our garden, and then I knew I had not seen all the trouble. And when it was all over, I was so afraid of the house and the garden that I couldn't stay there an hour longer. I now live in the village with my sister, and they will sell the furniture for me very soon, but I hope it will all go out of the neighbourhood." And why, Nell, do you hope that ? asked her companion. Well," she said, though I go to Church, and think much of the Vicar, yet I cannot help thinking that he is wrong when he tells me, as he did last Monday, that I shouldn't think that there is an evil spirit about that house and its things. I have seen houses like it before now. Don't I remember the time when I was a servant with old Mr. Jones in the Vicarage ? He had been ailing for some time, but the people thought that when the summer came he would soon get well. But I knew he wouldn't, for there were two or three pairs of magpies nesting quite near the house during the spring. And there were showers of bloom on orchard trees which had never been seen in blossom before—and before the fruit came, Mr. Jones was lying in the churchyard. Then I told his younger daughter to sell all the furni- ture, to send all the beehives away from the neighbourhood, and not to live another day in the Vicarage. But she wouldn't. It had been the home of her father and mother, her two sisters and two brothers, all of whom were dead, and she could never think of leaving it to strangers. You know that soon afterwards I found her dead in the barn. She had become mad with sorrow." And you really believe it, Nell," whis- pered the young girl with a frightened look in her eye. Yes, I do," she answered firmly. I have seen more sorrow and more terrible things than most people in Llan-, and I ought to know. I have seen a pale blue light on the Church bridge moving towards the Church before the young squire was carried that way, and I have heard singing in Hengraig in the middle of the night before that wake when a father and son Jay dead in the house-and many other things." And aren't you afraid ?" her friend again asked. No," answered Nell, not afraid of these things, but of my own house and my own garden and my own things, for I know the evil has not yet left me." Then she looked at me and found me listening. She rose, armed her heavy basket, and called to the driver to stop. And the strong woman, who had seen the strange things, walked out into the storm and the night. Within a few minutes we were in the village where the younger woman lived, and she also walked out into the dark. Alone I sat in that old van as it was drawn up long hills and down into narrow valleys, along with my thoughts. Even now the fear of that night comes back to me as I wonder whether great fear has ever left the cottage on the hillside where Nell, the strong woman, had found it.

[No title]