"Here it is, then," said a pleasant, jovial voice, as a sunburnt man came through the gap, holding out his brown right hand to Ebben Owens. The other he stretched towards Will, who had thrown his sickle away, and was hastily approaching.
No human heart could have steeled itself against that frank countenance and beaming smile, certainly no father's. There was no questioning "Who art thou?" for in both father's and brother's hearts leaped up the warm feeling of kinship.
"Gethin!" said Ebben Owens, clasping the hand held out to him so genially. "'Machgen i, is it thee indeed? Well, well, I am glad to see thee!"
And Will, too, greeted the long-lost one with warm welcome.
The reapers gathered round, and Gethin's reception was cordial enough to satisfy even his anticipations; for he had thought of this home-coming, had dreamt of the welcome, and had earnestly desired it, with the intense longing for home which is almost the ruling passion of a Welshman's heart.
"Here I am," he said, laughing, his eyes sparkling with happiness—"here I am, ready for anything! 'The prodigal son' has returned, father. Will you have him? Will you set him to work at once with your hired servants? For I love hard work, and if I don't get it, perhaps I'll fall into mischief again."
"No, no," said Ebben Owens, "no work for thee this morning, lad. Thee must go home with Will, and lighten Ann's heart, for she has grieved for thee many a time, and I will follow at noon. To-morrow thou shalt work if thou wilt; there is plenty to do at Garthowen, as usual. Come, boys, come, on with the work. Nothing must stop the harvest, not even the homecoming of Gethin."
The men stooped to their work again, but there were muttered comments on the master's want of feeling.
"Dei anwl! if it had been Will," said one man to his neighbour, "the reaping would have been thrown to the winds, and we would have had a grand supper on the fatted calf. But Gethin is different. There's a fine fellow he is!"
"Yes," said another; "did you notice his broad chest and his bright eyes? Will looks nothing by him."
And they looked after the two young men as they passed through the gap together, Ebben Owens taking up Will's sickle and setting to work in his place.
Meanwhile Gethin, with a sailor's light, swinging gait, hastened Will's more measured steps towards the homestead.
"Well, Will lad, there's glad I am to see thee!"
"And I," said Will. "No one knows how much I grieved after thee at first, but latterly I was beginning to get used to thy absence."
"Well, 'twas quite the contrary with me, now," said Gethin. "At first I was full of the new scenes and people around me, and I didn't think much about old Wales or any of you; but as the time went on my heart seemed to ache more and more for the old home—more and more, more and more!—till at last I made up my mind I would give up the sea and go back to Garthowen and stay, if they wanted me there, and help the old man on the farm. Dost think he will have me?"
"Yes, of course," said Will. "Thou hast come in the nick of time, and 'twill be easier for me to leave home, as I am going to do next month."
"Leave home?" said Gethin, in astonishment.
"Yes," and Will began to expatiate with pride on his new plans, and his intention of entering Llaniago College at once.
"Diwss anwl!" said Gethin; "have I got to live continually with a parson? I'm afraid I had better pack up my bundle at once; thee wilt never have patience with me and my foolish ways."
Will looked sober. "Thy foolish ways! I hope thou hast left them behind thee."
"Well, truth," said Gethin, "as we grow older our faults and follies get buried deeper under the surface; but it takes very little to dig them up with me. I am only a foolish boy in spite of my strong limbs and tall stature. But so it will always be. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and Gethin Owens will be Gethin Owens always. There's the dear old place!" he cried suddenly; "there's the elder tree over the kitchen door! Well, indeed! I have thought of it many times in distant lands and stormy seas, and here it is now in reality! God bless the old home!" and he took off his cap and waved it round his head as he shouted, "Hoi! hoi!" to Ann, who, already apprised of his coming, was running through the farmyard to meet him.
"Oh, Gethin anwl!" she sobbed, as she clasped her arms round his neck.
Gethin gently loosed her clinging fingers, and kissed the tears from her eyes, and in her heart welled up again the tender love which had been smothered and buried for so long.
Gwilym Morris came hurrying down from his "study," a tiny room partitioned off from the hayloft. And if the fatted calf was not killed for Gethin's return, a fine goose was, and no happier family sat down to their midday meal that day in all Wales than the household of Garthowen.
In the afternoon Gethin insisted upon taking his sickle to the cornfield, and although the work was new to him his brawny arm soon made an impression on the standing corn. The field was full of laughter and talk, the sweet autumn air was laden with the scent of the blackberries and honeysuckle in the hedges, and the work went on with a will until, at four o'clock, the reapers took a rest, sitting on the sunny hedge sides.
Through the gap Ann and Morva appeared, bringing the welcome basket of tea. Gethin hurried towards them, relieving them of the heavy basket which they were carrying between them.
"Thee'll have enough to do if thee'st going to help the women folk here," said Will.
"He's been in foreign parts," said a reaper, "and learnt manners, ye see."
"Yes," said another, "that polish will soon wear off."
"Well, caton pawb!" said Gethin, "manners or no manners, man, I never could sit still and see a woman, foreign or Welsh, carry a heavy load without helping her."
The two girls spread the refreshing viands on the grass, and with merry repartee answered the jokes of the hungry reapers.
"'Twill be a jolly supper to-night, Miss Ann; we'll expect the 'fatted calf,'" said one.
"Well, you'll get it," replied Ann; "'tis veal in the cawl, whatever."
"Hast seen Gethin before?" said Will to Morva, observing there was no greeting between them.
"Well, yes," answered the girl, blushing a rosy red under her sunbonnet; "wasn't it at our cottage he slept last night? and indeed there's glad mother was to see him."
"And thee ought to be too," said one of the reapers, "for I'll never forget how thee cried the day he ran away."
"Well, I'll never make her cry again," said Gethin. "Art going at once, lass? Wilt not sit here and have tea with us?" and he drew his coat, which he had taken off for his work, toward her, and spread it on the hedge side.
Morva laughed shyly; she was not used to such attentions.
"No, indeed, I must go," she answered; "we are preparing supper."
As she followed Ann through the gap Gethin looked after her with a smile in his eyes.
"There's bonnie flowers growing on the slopes of Garthowen, and no mistake," he said.
Will examined the edge of his sickle and did not answer.
Later on, when the harvest supper was over, and the last brawny reaper had filed out of the farmyard in the soft evening twilight, the Garthowen household dropped in one by one to the best kitchen, where their own meals were generally partaken of. Ebben Owens himself, as often as not, took his with the servants, but Will, especially of late, preferred to join Ann and Gwilym Morris in the best kitchen or hall. Here they were seated to-night, a glowing fire of culm balls filling the large grate, and throwing a light which was but little helped by the home-made dip standing in a brass candlestick on the middle of the table, round which they were all gathered while Gethin displayed his presents.
"Here's a tie for you, father; green it is, with red spots; would you like it?"
"Ts-ts!" said the old man, "it has just come in time, lad, for me to wear on Sunday when I go to hear Will reading in church."
"That will be a proud day for you, father; I will go with you. And for thee, Will, here's a knife. I remember how fond thee wast of the old knife we bought in the fair together."
"Well, indeed!" said Will, clasping and unclasping the blades; "'tis a splendid one, too, and here's a fine blade to mend pens with!"
"And for Ann," continued Gethen, "I have only a hymn-book."
"What couldst thou bring me better? And look at the cover! So good. And the gold edges! And Welsh! I will be proud of it."
"Yes," said Gethin; "I bought it in Liverpool in a shop where they sell Welsh books. And for you, sir," he said, turning to Gwilym Morris.
"'Sir,'" said the preacher, laughing; "Gethin bach, this is the second time you have called me 'sir.' Drop it, man, or I will be offended."
"Well! I won't say it again. Dei anwl! I will have to be on my best behaviour here, with a parson and a preacher in the house! Well! it's a pocket-book for you, I thought very like, being a preacher, you would like to put down a word sometimes."
"Quite right, indeed," said Gwilym Morris; "and look at my old one, barely hanging together it is!"
At the bottom of the bag from which Gethin drew his treasures, lay the little painted box containing Morva's necklace.
"Where's Morva?" he asked. "I've got something for her, too."
"Oh, well," said Will, "thou art a generous man and a rich, I should think! Perhaps thou hast one for Dyc 'pigstye' and Sara ''spridion' too."
"Dyc 'pigstye'; no! But Sara, indeed I'm sorry I didn't remember her, whatever."
"I hear Morva's voice in the yard. Will I call her in?" said Ann, and she tapped at the little side window.
"No, no," said Gethin, "I will take it to her," and he went out, carrying the gaudy box in his hand.
"Morva!" he called, and under the elder tree, where she was counting the chickens at roost on its branches, the girl stood facing him, the rising moon shining full upon her. "Morva, lass," he said, drawing near; "'tis the present I told thee of. Wilt have it?" and there was a diffident tremor in his voice, which was not its usual tone; for to-night he was as shy as a schoolboy as he opened the box and drew out the shining necklace. The iridescent colours gleamed in the moonlight and Morva exclaimed in admiration:
"Oh, anwl! is that for me?"
"Yes, for thee, lass; for who else?" said Gethin. "Let me fasten it on for thee. 'Tis a tiresome clasp," and as she bent her shapely neck and his fingers touched it for a moment, she gently drew further away.
"Dost like them?" said Gethin, looking from the shining shells to the glowing face above them.
"Oh, they are beautiful!" she answered, feeling them with her fingers. "I will go in and show them to Ann. I haven't said 'thank you,' but I do thank thee indeed, Gethin;" and he followed her into the "hall," where the glowing light from the fire and the candle fell on the changing glitter of the shells.
"Oh, there's beautiful!" said Ann. "Come near, Morva, and let me look at them. Well, indeed, they are fit for a lady."
"Thee must have paid a lot for that," said Ebben Owens, rather reproachfully.
"Not much indeed, father, but I wasn't going to forget my little playfellow, whatever."
"No, no, my boy, that was quite right," said the old man; and Will too tried to smile and admire, but there was a flush of vexation on his face which did not escape Morva's notice.
"I must go now," she said, a little shadow falling over her.
"Let me loosen the clasp for thee," said Gethin; but Morva, remembering the touch of the brown fingers, quickly reached the door.
"No—no, I must show them to mother."
"Hast thanked Gethin, lass?" said the old man.
"Not much, indeed," she answered, turning back at the door, "but I thank thee, Gethin, for remembering me," and, half-playfully and half-seriously, she made him a little bob curtsey.
Arrived in the cottage she drew eagerly into the gleam of the candle.
"Mother, mother, look! see what Gethin has brought me. Oh! look at them, mother; row under row of glittering shells from some far-off beach. Look at them, mother; green—blue—purple with a silver sheen over them, too. I never thought there were such shells in the world."
"They are beautiful, indeed," said Sara, "but just like a sailor. If he had given thee something useful it would have been better. They will not suit a shepherdess. Thee will have to take them off in a day or two and lay them away in their box. 'Tis a pity, too, child."
"Any way, mother, I will wear them sometimes; they are only shells after all. 'Tis hard I can't wear them because they are so lovely."
And the next day she wore them again, and, longing to see for herself how she looked, made her way up to the moor in the early morning sunshine to where a clear pool in the brown peat bog reflected the sky and the gold of the furze bushes. Here she stood on the edge and gazed at her own reflection in the clear water.
"Oh, 'tis pretty!" she said leaning over the pool, and as she gazed her own beautiful face with its halo of golden hair impressed itself on her mind as it had never done before. "And there's pretty I am, too," she whispered, and gazing at her own image she blushed, entranced with the vision. "Good-bye, Morva," she whispered again, "good-bye. I wonder does Gethin see me pretty? But I must not think that; what would be the use? Will does, and that must be enough for me;" and with a sigh she turned down the moor again.
THE BROOM GIRL
One morning in the following week the high road leading to Castell On presented a lively appearance. It was white and dusty from the tramp of the country folk and the vehicles of all descriptions which followed each other towards the town, whose one long street would be crowded from ten o'clock in the morning till late afternoon, as it was market day. This was the weekly excitement of the neighbourhood, and there was scarcely a household within the radius of a few miles that did not send at least one of its members to swell the number of chafferers and bargainers in the market. Jolly farmers, buxom maidens, old women in witch hats and scarlet scarves, pigs, sheep, horses, all followed each other in the same direction.
Amongst the rest came a girl who rather stooped under what looked like a large bunch of blooming heather. It was Morva, who was carrying her bundle of heath brooms to the corner of the market-place, where she was eagerly waited for by the farmers' wives.
Dyc "pigstye" was accustomed to bring her a bundle of broom handles, which he had roughly fashioned in the wood in the valley, and she and Sara employed their leisure hours in tying on to them the bunches of purple heather, binding them firmly with the young withies of the willows growing here and there on the boggy moor.
There was always quite a little knot of women round her stall of brooms and wings, for she collected also from the farmhouses the wings of the geese and ducks which had been killed for the market, and after drying them carefully in the big chimney, sold them as brushes for hearth and stairs. Sometimes, too, her stock-in-trade was increased by a collection of wooden bowls, spoons, scales, and trenchers, which Stiven "Storrom," living on the shore below, turned off his lathe, and sold through Morva's agency. At such times she borrowed Stiven's donkey-cart, and stood by it in the market until her wares were sold. But to-day she had only her brooms, and tying them on her shoulders, she held the cords crossed over her bosom, stooping a little under their weight. Her head was buried in the purple blossoms, so that she did not hear the tramp of footsteps following close behind her.
Gethin and Will were going to the market together, and the latter had recognised the girl at some distance off, but had kept silence and lessened his speed a little until his brother had asked:
"Who is this lass walking before us? Let's catch her up and carry her brooms for her."
"Nonsense," said Will. "A Garthowen man may drive his sheep, his oxen, and his horses to market, but to carry a bundle of brooms would not look well. Leave them and the fowls to the women, and the pigs to the men-servants—that's my fancy."
"Well, my fancy is to help this lassie," said Gethin. "She's got a tidy pair of ankles, whatever; let's see what her face is like."
"'Tis Morva," said Will, rather sulkily.
"Then we know what her face is like. Come on, man. Who will be the first to catch her?" and Gethin hurried his steps, while Will held back a little. "Why, what's the matter? Surely thou art not ashamed to be seen with Morva?"
"Of course not," said Will irritably; "but—er—er—a broom girl!"
"Oh, jawks!" said Gethin. "Brooms or no brooms, I am going to catch her up," and coming abreast other, he laid his hand on the bunches of blooming heather.
"Morva," he said, bending round her purple burden, "where art here, lassie? Thee art buried in flowers! Come, loosen thy cords, and hoist them upon my shoulder."
And as the girl looked at him from under the brooms, his voice changed, the brusque sailor manner softened.
"'Tis not for a girl like thee to be carrying a heavy weight on thy shoulders," he said gently. "Come, loosen thy cords."
But Morva held them tightly.
"Not for the world," she said. "It is quite right I should carry my wares to market, but I would not like to see a son of Garthowen with a bundle of brooms on his shoulders."
"I will have them," he said; "come, loosen the cords," and he laid hold of one of the hands which held the rope.
A warm glow overspread Morva's face, as the large brown hand covered hers in its firm grasp.
"No, I will do this to please thee," she said, and loosening her hold of the bundle, she flung it suddenly into an empty red cart which was rattling by. "Take care of them, Shemi, thou know'st my corner in the market."
"Yes, yes," said Shemi, "they will be all right."
And Morva stood up in the sunshine freed from her burden.
Will seemed to think it the right time to join them, and suddenly appearing, greeted the girl, but rather coldly, and the three walked on together, Gethin much resenting Will's bad temper, and endeavouring to make up for his brother's somewhat silent and pre-occupied manner by keeping up the conversation himself. But a little constraint fell upon them all, Gethin chafing at the girl's apparent nervousness, and his brother's silence; Morva fearful of offending Will, and disturbed at her own pleasure at meeting Gethin. When they reached the town she bade them good-bye.
"Here's my corner," she said, "and when I have sold my brooms, I am going home in the cart from the mill at Pont-y-fro."
Will seemed relieved at this solving of his difficulties, but Gethin was not so satisfied; he roamed the market discontentedly, filling his pockets with sweets and gingerbread. Many times that day he peered through the crowd into the corner out of the sun, where Morva's purple blooms made a grand show. At last he ventured nearer, and laying his sweets and gingerbreads down beside her, said:
"Thee'll be hungry by and by, Morva; wilt have these?"
The girl's eyes drooped, and she scarcely answered, but the smile and the blush with which she took up the paper bags were quite enough for Gethin, who went home early, with that smile and blush gilding every thought and every subject of conversation with his companions of the road.
In the afternoon Morva, having sold her brooms, prepared to leave the market. Looking up the sunny street, she saw Will approaching, and the little cloud of sadness which Gethin's genial smile had banished for a time, returned, bringing with it a pucker on the brows and a droop at the corners of her mouth.
"Well, indeed," she soliloquised, "there's grand Will is looking, with his gloves and shining boots; quite like a gentleman. 'Tis not only me he will have to say good-bye to soon, I am thinking, but to all at Garthowen."
Her thoughts were interrupted by his arrival. "Art still here, Morva?" he said; "I thought thee wouldst have gone long ago."
"Only just now I have sold my brooms. There's Jacob the Mill, now I will go."
Will looked at the cart uneasily as it rumbled up the street; already he was beginning to be ashamed of his rustic surroundings.
With keen sensitiveness Morva read his thoughts.
"Nay, there's no need for you to help me, Will. I am used to the mill cart, and indeed to goodness, 'twould not suit with gloves and shining boots to be helping a girl into a red cart."
"Twt, nonsense," said Will irritably; but he nevertheless allowed her to leave him, with a wave of her hand, and an amused twinkle in her eye.
As she hurried to catch the cart, he stood a moment moodily looking after her, his better nature prompting him to follow and help her, but it was too late; already the brilliant vehicle, with Morva and the burly Jacob sitting in it side by side, was swallowed up by the crowd of market people and cattle, and Will turned on his heel with a look of vexation on his face.
The market was at its liveliest, the sunny air laden with a babel of sounds. Men and women chattered and chaffered, pigs shrieked, sheep bleated, and cattle lowed, but Will scarcely noticed the familiar sounds. A light step and a soft voice, however, attracted his attention, and he saw approaching him two girls, who evidently belonged to a different class from those whose simple ways we have hitherto followed. One was a lady of very ordinary appearance, but the other he recognised as Miss Vaughan of Nantmyny, a young lady whose beauty and pleasant manners were the frequent theme of the countryside gossip, "and no wonder," he thought, "she is pretty!"
"Ah! what a pity!" she was saying to her friend, who was evidently a young housekeeper intent upon her purchases, "the brooms are all gone! we're too late!"
Will walked away hastily, lest standing upon that spot he might appear to be in some way connected with the broom girl. Suddenly there was a tumult in the air, a rushing of feet, and cries of fright, and in a cloud of dust he saw rushing towards him an infuriated bull, which had evidently escaped from his attendant, for from the iron ring in his nose still hung the rope by which he had been held. With head lowered and tail curled high over his back, he dashed towards the two ladies, who fled in affright before him, one escaping through an open doorway, while the other, bewildered and terrified, catching her foot in an upturned stall-table, fell prone exactly in the path of the bull. The poor animal, as frightened as any of his shouting pursuers, increased his own mad fury by continually stepping upon the rope which dangled from the ring in his nose, thus inflicting upon himself the pain from which he endeavoured to escape.
The girl screamed with terror, as the snorting nostrils and curving horns came close upon her. In another moment she would undoubtedly have been seriously gored, had not Will, who was in no wise lacking in personal courage, rushed in upon the scene. One look at the beautiful, pale face lying helpless in the dust, and he had seized the creature's horns. The muscular power of his arms was well known at Garthowen, and now it stood him in good stead, for calling his full strength to his aid, he succeeded by a sudden wrench in turning the bull's head aside, so that the direct force of his attack came upon the ground instead of the girl's body.
In a moment the enraged animal turned upon his assailant, and probably Will would have fared badly had not a drover arrived, who, possessing himself of the rope, gave a sudden and sharp twitch at the bull's nose, a form of punishment so agonising and alas, so familiar, that the animal was instantly subdued, and brought under comparative control, not, however, before his horn had slightly torn Will's arm.
An excited crowd of market people had now reached the spot, and while the animal, frightened into submissiveness by the blows and cries that surrounded him, was led away snorting and panting, Will looked in affright at the girl who lay white and unconscious on the ground.
"Did he toss her?" asked one of the crowd, "or is she only frightened? Dear! there's white she looks, there's delicate the gentry are!"
"'Tis her foot, I think," said Will; "let be, I will hold her."
"Yes, 'tis her foot," said another, "the bull must have trampled on it, see how dusty it is—there's a pity."
It was in fact more from the pain of the crushed foot than from fright that Gwenda had fainted, for she was a brave girl. Though fully alive to her danger she had not lost consciousness until her foot had been crushed, and even then not before she had seen Will's rush to her rescue, and his energetic twist of the animal's horns.
Two or three gentlemen now came running up the street, amongst them her uncle, Colonel Vaughan, who, standing at the door of the hotel, had witnessed the escape of the bull, and the pursuit of him by the excited throng of market people. Remembering that his niece had but a few moments previously passed up the street, he too ran in the same direction, and arrived on the scene as promptly as his short legs and shorter breath permitted him. In a fever of fright and flurry he approached, the crowd making way for him as he snapped out a cannonade of irrelevant questions.
"Good heavens! Gwenda! What is it? My darling, are you hurt? Who did it? How very careless!"
"'Tis her foot, I think, sir," said Will. "She has not been gored, and if you will send for your carriage I will lift her in as I am already holding her."
"She'd have been killed for certain," said one of the crowd, "if this young man had not rushed at the bull and saved her life. I saw it all from the window of the Market Hall. He risked his life, I can tell you, sir, and you've got to thank him that the young lady is not killed."
"Yes, yes, a brave young fellow, pommy word. There comes the carriage, now raise her gently," and Will lifted the slender form as easily as he would have carried a swathe of corn.
Slipping her gently into a recumbent position in the carriage, he endeavoured to rest her foot on the opposite seat, but she moaned and opened her eyes as he did so, crying out with evident pain.
"'Tis plain the position hurts her," said her uncle.
Will lifted the foot again, and the moaning ceased.
"That's it," said the colonel; "sit down and hold it up."
Will did as he was bid in a maze of bewilderment, and while the colonel continued to wonder, to lament, and to congratulate, Will made a soft cushion of a wrap which he found beside him, and resting the foot upon it he held the two ends, so that the injured limb hung as it were in a sling, thus lessening very much the effect of the jolting of the carriage over the rough road.
"Drive slowly," said the colonel to his coachman, "and call at Dr. Jones's on your way. Can you spare time to come as far as Nantmyny?" he said, addressing Will.
"Oh! yes, sir, certainly," he answered in good English.
"Tis the right foot, I think," said the old gentleman, unbuttoning the boot.
The girl opened her eyes.
"Oh! uncle, it hurts," she said. "Keep it up," and catching sight of Will, she looked inquiringly at her uncle.
"Tis the young man who saved your life, child," he explained.
"Oh! not that, sir," said Will. "I am sorry I have not even prevented her being hurt."
At first there was a pompous stiffness in Colonel Vaughan's manner, but he added more graciously:
"I hope you were not hurt yourself. Bless me! is that blood on your hand?"
"I have cut my wrist a little, but 'tis nothing," said Will. "Please not to think about it."
"Oh! certainly, certainly, we must. Here's Dr. Jones. Come in, doctor. You must squeeze in somewhere. Gwenda has had a narrow escape, and this young fellow has hurt his wrist in saving her. A very brave young man! Mercy we were not all killed, I'm sure!"
"I'll attend to them both when we get to Nantmyny," said Dr. Jones.
"Keep her foot in that position, and be as quiet as possible, young man," said the colonel, and Will, though he resented the tone and the "young man," still felt a glow of satisfaction at the turn affairs had taken.
To have sat in the Nantmyny carriage! What a story to tell Ann and his father! and Will felt as they drove through the lodge gates that the charm of the situation outweighed the twinges of pain in his arm.
Gwenda Vaughan, recovering a little, smiled at him gratefully.
"Thank you so much for holding up my foot," she said. "It is easier so. I am sorry you have hurt your wrist. Does it pain you much?"
"Oh, 'tis nothing at all," said Will, not accustomed to think much of slight wounds or bruises.
On arriving at Nantmyny he assisted in carrying her into the house.
"Now," said the doctor, when they had laid her on a couch, "let me see, and I will look at your wrist afterwards. Young Owens of Garthowen, I think—eh?"
"Yes," said Will, quietly retreating into the background, while Colonel Vaughan and the maids pressed round the sofa. He only waited until, after a careful examination, the doctor said, "No bones broken, I'm glad to say, only rather badly bruised," and then, leaving the room unnoticed, found his way to the front door, and in a glow of excitement walked back to Castell On. His arm was getting more painful, so on his way through the town he called on Dr. Hughes, who was considered "the people's" doctor, while Dr. Jones was more patronised by "the gentry."
Dr. Jones's visits to Nantmyny were very frequent during the following week, for Gwenda's foot had been rather severely crushed, and the pain was acute; but being a girl of great spirit she bore it patiently, though it entailed many long hours of wearisome confinement to the house and sofa. During these hours of enforced idleness, she indulged in frequent "brown studies," for her firm and decided character was curiously tinged with romance. She had received but a desultory education; her uncle, though providing her amply with all the means of learning, yet chafed continually against the application which was necessary for her profiting by them.
"Come out, child," he would call, standing outside the open window, his jovial face broadening into a smile of blandishment, most aggravating to Miss Howells, who, inside the window, was trying to fix her pupil's attention upon some subject of history or grammar. The rustling of the brown leaves and the whispering of the wind in the trees added their own enticements, which required all Gwenda's firmness to resist.
"No, uncle," she would say, shaking her finger at him. "Yesterday and Monday you made me neglect my studies. You mustn't come again this week to tempt me out. I have promised Miss Howells to be industrious. It will soon be four o'clock, and then I will come."
And her uncle had perforce to be content, for at Nantmyny there was no doubt that Gwenda "ruled the roost." Somehow she emerged from the stage of girlhood with a fair amount of knowledge, although her mother's sisters, the two Miss Gwynnes of Pentre, were much dissatisfied with her want of what they called "polish."
"She'll never make a good match," they were wont to say, "never! That plain outspokenness is all very well in a man, or even in an old woman, but it's very unbecoming in a girl, and I'm sure it will ruin her prospects." And on the subject of her "prospects" they were accustomed to dilate so continually and so earnestly that Gwenda had a shrinking dislike to the word, as well as to the subject to which it referred.
"We must really speak to her again, Maria, for of course George may marry some day, and then what would become of her prospects?" And another lecture was prepared for Gwenda.
A few days after the accident which made her a prisoner, lying on the sofa in the morning-room she had fallen into a deep reverie, which had caused quite a pucker between her eyebrows. Being naturally a romantic, sentimental girl, she mentally resented the sordid necessity so continually urged by her aunts of making a "good match." It was in Gwenda to cast all their prudent manoeuvres to the winds, and to follow the bent of her own inclinations; but it was in her also to immolate herself entirely upon the altar of an imagined duty. She chafed somewhat at the want of freedom in her surroundings, her aunts declaring it was incumbent upon her to please her uncle by marrying well, and as soon as possible. And all these restrictions galled the young lady, in whom the romantic dreams of the natural woman were calling loudly for fulfilment. Perhaps these feelings would account for the little look of worry and discontent in her face on the Sunday morning while her uncle lingered round her sofa.
"Well, I'm sorry to leave you alone, Gwenda; but here are the magazines, and I'll soon be back. I don't like the Nantmyny pew to be empty, you know. Good-bye."
When the sounds of the carriage-wheels had died away, Gwenda took up one of the magazines and turned over the pages listlessly. She sighed a little wearily, and fell asleep—a sleep which lasted until her uncle returned from church, and came blustering into the room.
"Well, pommy word, child, I think you have had the best of it this morning. Price the vicar didn't preach. Some Jones of Llan something, and you never heard such a rhodomontade in your life; but I went to sleep and escaped the worst of it—all about mortar, give you my word for it, Gwenda, and about not putting enough cowhair in the mortar."
"Really!" she said, yawning. "No wonder you went to sleep. Were the Williamses there?"
"Yes, and the Griffiths of Plasdu, and the Henry Reeses, and Captain Scott is staying with them. Well, I'm going to have a smoke." But at the door he turned round with a fresh bit of news. "Oh, what d'ye think, Gwenda? A young man stood up to read the lessons, and I couldn't for the life of me remember where I'd seen him before, and I bothered my brains about it all through the sermon till I fell asleep. After service I asked Price the vicar, and who should he be but that young fellow who tackled the bull the other day? Pommy word, he's a fine-looking fellow; got his arm in a sling, though." And he went out banging the door.
Gwenda pondered with a brightening look in her face.
The young man who seized the bull! How strange! Reading the lessons! What was the meaning of that? And with his arm in a sling! It must have really required attention when he disappeared so mysteriously the other day. Handsome? Yes, he was very handsome. That broad white forehead crowned with its tawny clumps of hair! She would like to thank him once more, for he had certainly saved her life. She rang the bell, and a maid appeared.
"Lewis, can you tell me who that man was who seized the bull the other day?"
"'Twas young Owens Garthowen, miss."
"My uncle says he read the lessons in church to-day."
"Yes, I daresay indeed, miss. He's going to be a clergyman, they say. He hurt his arm shocking the other day, miss, because he went to Dr. Hughes on his way from here, and he is keeping it in a sling ever since."
"Where does he live?"
"Oh, about three miles the other side of Castell On, miss, towards the sea. 'Tis an old grey farmhouse, very old, they say; 'tis on the side of the hill towards the sea, very high up, too. 'Tis very windy up there, I should think."
Here the colonel entered again.
"Lewis tells me, uncle, that young man who read the lessons is going to enter the Church."
"Shouldn't wonder at all; every Cardiganshire farmer tries to send one son to the Church. There's Dr. Owen, now, he was a farmer's son. Bless my soul! Why, he is this young man's uncle! Never thought of that! Of course. He's own brother to Ebben Owens, Garthowen. I don't think he keeps up any acquaintance with them, though, and, of course, nobody alludes to them in his presence. I daresay he will take this young man in hand and we shall have him canon or archdeacon or bishop very soon."
This was something more for Gwenda to ponder over, and before the day was ended she had woven quite a halo of romance round Will's unconscious head.
"Shouldn't we send to ask how his arm is, uncle?"
"Yes; pommy word we ought to. I am going to the meet to-morrow at Plasdu, 'twill be very little out of my way to go up to the farm and ask how the young fellow is."
The next afternoon when he returned from the hunt, he brought a fresh item of news for his niece, for he pitied the girl lying there inactive, a state of existence which above all others would have galled him beyond measure.
"I called up at the farm, Gwenda, and saw our young friend with the lion locks. He was crossing the farmyard with a book under his arm, which was still in a sling, but when I asked him about it he only laughed (splendid teeth all those Garthowens have, old Ebben's even are perfect)! He said his arm was quite well and he didn't know why Dr. Hughes insisted upon keeping it in a sling. If he could only be sure, he said, that the young lady's foot was not giving her more pain than he felt he would be glad. I told him your foot was painful, but would soon be all right. Well-spoken young man. By the by, all the men on the field asked after you, and most of them said that was a brave fellow who sprang at the bull. I told them it was one of Ebben Owens's sons. Everybody knows him, you know. Very old family. At one time, I am told, the Garthowen estate was a large one. Griffiths Plasdu's grandfather bought a great deal of it, all that wooded land lying this side of the moor. By the by, Captain Scott is coming round this way to dine with us to-morrow and to stay the night. Pommy word, child, I think he has taken a fancy to you. He seemed quite anxious about you. Good-bye, my dear, I must go."
Gwenda turned her face to the window. The black elm branches swayed against the evening sky, a brilliant star glittered through them, a rising wind sighed mournfully and the girl sighed too.
"Yes, Captain Scott no doubt was interested in her, probably he would propose to her, and if he did, probably she would accept him, with all his money, his starting eyes, and his red nose! How dull and uninteresting life is," she said. "I wonder what we are born for?"
* * * * * *
At Garthowen the stream of life was flowing on smoothly just then. Will was happy and content. He had read the lessons on Sunday to Mr. Price's entire satisfaction, clearly and with an evident understanding of their meaning. Sometimes the roll of the "r's" and the lengthening of the "o's" showed the Welshman's difficulty in pronouncing the English tongue, but upon the whole, the accent was wonderfully good. Above all things Will had taken pains to acquire the English tone of speech, for he was sufficiently acute to know that however learned a Welshman may be, his chances of success are seriously minimised by a Welsh accent, therefore he had paid much attention to this point.
"The time is drawing near, father," he said one day. "I am determined to go to Llaniago, and if you can't pay I must get the money somewhere else, that's all," and he had risen from the table with that wilful, dogged curve on his mouth which his father knew so well, and had always been so weakly unable to resist.
"Twt, twt, my boy," he said, "that will be all right; don't you vex about that."
And thus reassured, Will gladly banished the disquieting doubt from his mind, and his good humour returned.
Gethin seemed to fall naturally into his place as eldest son of the family, taking to the farm work with zeal and energy, and making up for his want of experience by his complete devotion to his work.
Ann was calm and serene as usual, happy in her brother's prospects, and deeply interested in the grey stone house which the congregation at Penmorien were building for their minister.
Gwilym Morris devoted himself entirely to Will's preparations for his entrance examination.
And for Morva, what had the autumn brought? A rich, full tide of life and happiness. Every morning she rose with the sun, and as she opened the door and let in the scent of the furze and the dewy grass, her whole being responded to the voice of Nature around her. She was constantly running backwards and forwards between Garthowen and the cottage. Nothing went well at the farm without her, and in the cottage there were a score of things which she loved to do for Sara. There were the fowls to be fed, the eggs to be hunted for, the garden to be weeded, the cottage to be cleaned, Sara's knitting to be set straight, the herbs to be dried and sorted and tied up in bundles under the brown rafters. Oh, yes! every day brought for Morva its full harvest of lovely scenes, of beautiful sounds, and sweet scents. Certainly, Will was a little cold and irritable lately, but she was well used to his variable humours, and somehow the home-coming of Gethin had filled the only void there had been in her life, though of that she had scarcely been conscious. There was hardly an hour in the day when Morva's song might not be heard filling the autumn air with melody, for how could she help singing as she sat knitting on the moorside while she watched the cattle, and kept them from roaming too near the edge of the cliff.
On the brow of the hill Gethin was harrowing. His lively whistle reached her on the breeze, and she would look up at him as he passed along the skyline, and rejoice once more that he had returned to make their lives complete, to fill Ann's heart with happiness, and his father's with content; for the girl, generally so clear-sighted, so free from guile or pretence, was deceiving herself utterly, and imagined that the increased joy and glory of life which had permeated her whole being since Gethin's return, arose only from the deep interest she took in every member of the Garthowen family, and was due solely to the happiness which the return of the wanderer naturally evoked. Was not Gethin Will's brother? had she not every reason to be glad in his return to the old home? her playmate, the friend of her childhood? and she gave herself up unrestrainedly to the happiness which brooded over every hour of her life.
To Gethin, too, the world seemed to have changed to a paradise. Every day, every hour drew him closer to Morva; in her presence he was lost in a dream of happiness, in her absence she was ever present like a golden vision in his mind. Will's manner towards the girl being intentionally formal and distant, had completely blinded his brother to the true state of affairs, and though his daily intercourse with Morva seemed to him almost too delightful to last, he followed blindly the chain that was binding him continually more closely to her.
"Art not going to the market to-day?" he shouted out to her one morning as he drove the horses over the moor.
"No," called Morva in return.
"Will and Gwilym Morris are gone," he shouted again, beginning his way towards her between the low gorse bushes. "Art watching the sheep, lass?"
"No; 'tis the calves who will stray to the bog over yonder. Indeed, they are wilful, whatever, for the grass down here is much sweeter. There they go again—see!" and Gethin helped her with whoop and halloo, and many devious races of circumvention to recover them. "Oh, anwl, they are like naughty children," she said, sitting down, exhausted with laughter and running, Gethin flinging himself beside her, and picking idly at the gorse blossoms which filled the air with their rich perfume.
The clear, blue autumn sky was over them, the deep blue sea stretched before them, the larks sang overhead, the sheep bleated on the moor, and in the grass around them the dewdrops sparkled in the morning sun.
"'Tis a fair world," said Morva; "didst ever see more beautiful sea or land than ours in all thy voyages, Gethin?"
"Brighter, grander, warmer, but more beautiful—none, Morva. Indeed to me, since I've come home, every day seems happier and more beautiful—and thou, too, Morva. I think by that merry song thou wert singing thou art not very unhappy."
"Well, indeed, 'twas not a very happy song," said the girl, "but I suppose I was putting my own foolishness into it."
"Wilt sing it again, lass?"
"Wilt sing, too?"
"Oh, dei anwl, yes; there's no song ever reaches my ears but I must join in it. Come, sing on."
And Morva sang again, Gethin's rich tones blending with hers in full harmony. This time she was awake, and realised the sorrow of the words.
"Well, no," said Gethin, "'tis not a very merry thing, indeed, to set your heart upon winning a maiden, and to lose her as that poor fellow did. But, Morva," he said, tossing the gorse blossoms on her lap, "'tis a happy thing to love and to be loved in return."
"Yes, perhaps," said the girl, thinking of Will, and wondering why, though he loved her so much, there was always a shadow hanging over her affection for him.
Gethin longed to break the silence which fell over them, but a nervous fear deterred him, a dread of spoiling the happy freedom of their intercourse—a nameless fear of what her answer might be; so he put off the hour of certainty, and seized the joys of hope and delight which the present yielded him.
"Where's thy necklace, Morva?"
"'Tis at home in the box. Mother says a milkmaid should not wear such beautiful things every day, and on Sunday the girls and boys would stare at me if I wore them to chapel."
"What art keeping them for, then?" said Gethin. "For thy wedding-day?"
"That will be a long time; oh, no, before then very often I will wear it, now when I'm at home alone, and sometimes when the sun is gone down I love to feel it on my neck; and I go up to the moor sometimes and peep at myself in the bog pools just to see how it looks. There's a foolish girl I am!"
What a day of delight it was! The browns of autumn tingeing the moor, the very air full of its mellow richness, the plash of the waves on the rocks below the cliffs, the song of the reapers coming on the breeze, oh, yes, life was all glorious and beautiful on the Garthowen slopes just then.
"To-morrow night is the 'cynos.' Wilt be there, Morva?" asked Gethin.
"Well, yes, of course," answered the girl, "and 'tis busy we'll be with only Ann and me and the men-servants, for Will never goes to the cynos; he doesn't like farm work, and now he's studying so hard and all 'twould be foolish for him to sit up all night."
"I will be there, whatever," said Gethin.
"Wilt indeed?" and a glow of pleasure suffused her face. "There's going to be fun there, they say, for Jacob the miller is going to ask Neddy 'Pandy' to dance the 'candle dance,' and Robin Davies the sailor will play the fiddle for him. Hast ever seen the candle dance?"
"No," said Gethin, his black eyes fixed on the girl's beautiful face, which filled his mind to the exclusion of what she was saying.
"'Tis gone out of fashion long ago, but Jacob the miller likes to keep up the old ways."
"The candle dance," said Gethin absently, "what is it like?"
"Well, indeed," said Morva, shyly bending her head under his ardent gaze, "thee wilt see for thyself; I have dropped a stitch."
A long silence followed while the stitch was recovered, and the furze blossoms came dropping into her lap, into her hair, and on to her neck. She laughed at last, and sprang up tossing them all to the ground.
"The calves! the calves!" she cried, and once more both ran in pursuit of the wilful creatures.
So simple a life, so void of all that is supposed to make life interesting, and yet so full of love and health and happiness that the memory of it was impressed upon the minds of both for the rest of their lives. Yes, even in old age they called it to mind with a pensive tenderness, and a lingering longing, and the words, "There's happy we were long ago on the Garthowen slopes!"
Before he went to market in the morning Will had sought out Morva as she sat on her milking-stool, leaning her head on Daisy's flank, and milking her to the old refrain:
"Troodi, Troodi! come down from the mountain! Troodi, Troodi! come up from the dale!"
"I want to see thee, Morva; wilt meet me beyond the Cribserth to-night? 'Twill be moonlight. I will wait for thee behind the broom bushes on the edge of the cliff."
"Yes, I will come."
Will was looking his best, a new suit of clothes made by a Caer-Madoc tailor, the first of the kind he had ever had, set off his handsome figure to advantage, his hat pushed back showed the clumps of red gold hair, the blue eyes, and the mouth with its curves of Cupid's bow. Yes; certainly Will was a handsome man.
"There's smart thou art," said Morva, with a mischievous smile.
"'Tis my new suit; they are pretty well," said Will.
"And what are those? Gloves again! oh, anwl! indeed, it is time thee and me should part," and rising from her stool she curtseyed low before him with a little sarcasm in her looks and voice.
"Part, Morva—never!" said Will. "Remember tonight."
Morva nodded and bent to her work again, and the white sunbonnet leant against Daisy once more, and the sweet voice sang the old melody. When her pail was full she sighed as she watched Gwilym Morris and Will disappear through the lane to the high road.
 The annual corn-grinding.
THE NORTH STAR
Ebben Owens was going to market in his rough jolting car, Dyc "pigstye" beside him, both dressed in their best frieze. In the back of the car, covered over with a netting, lay three small pigs, who grunted and squealed in concert when a rough stone gave them an extra jolt. In the crowded street at Castell On, where the bargaining was most vigorous, and the noise of the market was loudest, he stopped and unharnessed Bowler, who had "forged" into town with great swinging steps and much jingling of buckles and chains.
Having led him into the yard of the Plough Inn, he returned, and with Dyc's help proceeded to lift out the pigs and carry them to the pen prepared for them in the open street, Dyc taking them by the ears and Ebben Owens by the tail. Now, pigs have remonstrated loudly against this mode of conveyance for generations, but nobody seems to have listened to their expostulations. They are by no means light and airy creatures, indeed, for their size, they are of considerable weight, so why they of all other animals should be picked out for this summary mode of transport is difficult to understand. At any rate the Garthowen pigs resented it warmly, and the air was rent with their shrieks as Will and Gwilym Morris came upon the scene. Ebben Owens almost dropped his pig in the delight of seeing his son in his new clothes. Will nodded smilingly at him, while keeping at a respectable distance from the shrieking animals, and the old man was filled with a glow of pride and happiness which threw a couleur de rose over everything for the rest of the day. In truth, Morgan Jones of Bryn made an easy bargain with him for those pigs, and Ebben went home in the evening with ten shillings less in his pocket than he meant to have had when he started from home.
"Look you here," he said to Ann and Gethin, who both hovered round him on his return with loving attentions, "look you here now; wasn't a gentleman in the market looking smarter than our Will to-day! There was the young son of Mr. Vaughan the lawyer, was dressed like him exactly—same brown hat, same grey suit, and his boots not shining so well as Will's! Caton pawb! there's handsome he was! Shouldn't wonder if he didn't marry a lady some day, with plenty of money!"
"Shouldn't wonder, indeed," said Gethin, clapping him on the back; "and there's proud he'll be to drive his old father to church with him!"
"Hech! hech! hech!" laughed the old man, sitting down and rubbing his knees. "Well, indeed, he's a fine boy, whatever!"
"Wasn't Gwilym there?" asked Ann.
"Yes, yes, to be sure, and he is looking very nice always; but I didn't notice him much today."
Meanwhile, in the town, Will and Gwilym had much to do; there were books to be got—there was a horse to be looked at for the farm—and, moreover, Will was to call upon Mr. Price the vicar, so the hours passed quickly away, until late in the afternoon when the crowd was a little thinning, the Nantmyny carriage passed through the street, within it Colonel Vaughan and his niece. Will saw it at once, and turned away to avoid recognition—for although nothing would have pleased him more, he was a man of great tact and common sense, and never spoiled a good chance by indiscreet intrusion. As he turned away, Colonel Vaughan caught sight of him, and, stopping the carriage, beckoned to a bystander, who touched his hat with a knobbed stake from the hedge.
"Isn't that young Owens of Garthowen?"
"Iss, sare," said the man, knocking his hat again.
"Ask him to come here, then."
And Will came, not too hurriedly, and with assumed nonchalance.
"Well, young man," said the colonel, "I want to know how your arm is?"
"It is quite well, thank you," said Will, carefully studying his accent. "I hope," he added, taking off his hat and turning to Gwenda, who sat up interested, "I hope you are no longer suffering pain?"
"Very little, thank you. I am so glad your arm is well again, and I am glad to have this opportunity of thanking you."
And as Will prepared to withdraw again, lifting his hat and showing his tawny locks and his white teeth, Miss Vaughan placed her hand in his with a friendly good-bye.
The old colonel winced a little.
"I don't think you need have shaken hands with him, child; however, it was very nice of you, and I've no doubt it will please the young man very much. I declare he looks like a gentleman."
"And speaks like one," said Gwenda.
"Yes; pommy word I don't know what's the world coming to!"
"Very nice people those Vaughans, I should think," said Gwilym Morris, as he and Will tramped homewards in the evening.
"H'm! yes," said Will; "I daresay they thought they were honouring me very much by their notice; but, mind you, Gwilym, in a few years I'll show them I can hold up my head with any of them."
"Will," said Gwilym, after a pause, "I am afraid for you, lad; I am afraid of what the world will make of you. At Garthowen, with nothing but the simple country ways around us, we escape many temptations; but once we enter the world outside, even here in the market it reaches us, that subtle insidious glamour which incites us, not to become what we ought to be, but to appear different to what we are in reality."
"I can't follow you," said Will. "I suppose it is every man's duty to try and get on as far as he can in the path of life which he has chosen. I have chosen mine, and I don't mean to leave a stone unturned which may help me on. Yon can't blame me for that, Gwilym."
"No, no! I suppose not; and yet—and yet—"
"And yet what?" asked Will irritably.
"You may get to the very top of the ladder, and then find it has not been leaning against the right wall. That would be a poor success, Will."
"Well, well!" he said, as they entered the farmyard, "what's the matter with you to-night? You wait a few years, give me only a chance, and you'll be proud of your old pupil."
When they had separated, Gwilym looked after him thoughtfully.
"I wonder will I, indeed!" he said.
* * * * * *
It was late in the evening when Morva made her way to the cliffs to meet her lover. The moor was bathed in a flood of silver moonlight, the sea below was lighted up by the same serene effulgence, and the silence of night was only broken by the trickle of the mill stream down in the valley, the barking of the dogs on the distant farms, and the secret scurry of a rabbit under the furze bushes.
As she neared the edge of the cliff, the peace and beauty of the scene impressed her eye but did not reach her heart, which was beating with a strange unrest.
In the dark shadow of the crags on the cliff side Will was waiting for her. He had been there some time, and was a little nettled at her delay.
"Where hast been, Morva?" he said, stretching out his hand and drawing her towards him in the shadow. "Come out of the moonlight, lass. There is Simon 'Sarndu' fishing down there with Essec Jones; they will see thee."
"Well, indeed," said the girl, "what is the good of our going on like this? It will be a weariness to thee to be always hiding thy—thy—"
"My love for thee? No, Morva, 'tis all the sweeter to me that nobody guesses it. And nobody must guess it; and that's what I wanted to speak to thee about. When a man begins his life in earnest, and takes his place in the outside world, he must be careful, Morva—careful of every step—and must act very differently to those who mean to spend their lives in this dull corner of the world."
"Dull corner!" said Morva. "To me it seems the one bright spot in the whole world, and as if no other place were of any consequence. I'm sure if I ever leave here, I will be pining for the old home, the lovely moor, and the sea and the cliffs. Oh! I can never, never be happy anywhere else!"
"Twt, twt," said Will, "thou art talking nonsense. When I send for thee to come and live with me in a beautiful home, thou wilt be happy. But listen, girl! Is thy love for me strong enough and true enough to bear what may look like neglect and forgetfulness? For a time, Morva, I want to break away from thee, lest any whispers of my love for thee should get abroad. It would blast my success in life, 'twould ruin my prospects if it were known that I courted my father's shepherdess, and so, for a time I want to drop all outward connection with thee. Canst bear that, Morva, and still be true to me?"
"I don't know," said the girl.
"Canst not believe that I shall love thee as much as ever, and more fervently perhaps than ever?"
"I will try," said Morva; "but I think thou art making a hard path for thyself and me. 'Twould be better far to drop me out of thy life, then thou couldst climb the uphill road without looking back."
"And leave thee free to marry another man? Never, Morva! I claim thy promise. Remember when thou wast a little girl how I made thee point up to the North Star and promise to marry me some day."
"Indeed the star is not there to-night, whatever."
"It is there, Morva, only the moonlight is too bright for thee to see it. It is there unchangeable, as thou hast promised to be to me."
"Yes, I have promised; what more need be?"
"Yes, more; thou must tell me again to-night, Morva, that thou wilt be true to me whatever happens—whatever thou mayst hear about me—that thou wilt still believe that in my heart I love thee and thee only. Dost hear, girl—whatever thou dost hear?"
"I will believe nothing I may hear against thee, Will; nothing at all. But when I see with my own eyes that thou art weary of me and art ashamed of me, then remember I am free."
"But thine eyes may deceive thee."
"I will swear by them, whatever," said Morva, with spirit.
Will sighed sentimentally.
"What a fate mine is! to be torn like this between my desire to rise in the world and my love for a girl in a—in a humbler position than that to which I aspire!"
"Oh, Will bach! thou art getting to talk so grand, and to look so grand. Take my advice and drop poor Morva of the moor!"
"I will not!" said Will. "I will rise in the world, and I will have thee too! Listen to me, lass, I am full of disquiet and anxiety, and thou must give me peace of mind and confidence to go on my path bravely."
"Poor Will!" said the girl, looking pensively out over the shimmering sea.
"Once more, Morva, dost love me?"
"Oh, Will, once more, yes! I love thee with all my heart, thee and everyone at Garthowen."
"Well," said Will, "we have been kind to thee ever since thou wast cast ashore by the storm. It would be cruel and ungrateful to return our kindness by breaking my heart."
"Oh, I will never, Will; I will never do that! Be easy, have faith in me, and I will be true to my promise."
"Wilt seal it with a kiss, then?"
Morva was very chary of her kisses, but to-night she let him draw her closer to him; while he pressed a passionate kiss upon her lips. There was no answering fervour on her part, but she went so far as to smooth back the thick hair which shaded his forehead and to press a light kiss upon his brow.
"Well done!" said Will, with a laugh, "that is the first time thou hast ever given me a kiss of thine own accord. I must say, Morva; thou art as sparing of thy kisses as if thou wert a princess. Well, lass, we must part, for to-morrow I am going to Llaniago to see about my rooms, and there's lots to do to-night, so good-bye."
And once more holding her hand in his, he kissed her, and left her standing behind the broom bushes. She passed out into the moonlight, and walked slowly back over the moor with her head drooping, an unusual thing for Morva, for from childhood she had had a habit of looking upwards. Up there on the lonely moor, the vault of heaven with its galaxy of stars, its blue ethereal depths, its flood of silver moonlight, or its breadth of sunlit blue, seemed so closely to envelop and embrace her that it was impossible to ignore it; but to-night she looked only at the gossamer spangles on her path.
"What did Will mean by 'We must part! Whatever thou mayst hear!'" and she sighed a little wearily as she lifted the latch of the cottage door.
"Morva sighing!" said Sara, who sat reading her chapter by the fireside. "Don't begin that, 'merch i, or I must do the same. I would never be happy, child, if thou wert not happy too; we are too closely knit together."
And she took the girl's strong, firm hand in her own, so frail, so slender, and so soft. Morva's eyes filled with tears.
"Mother, I am happy, I think. Why should I not be? They are all so kind to me at Garthowen, and I love them all so much. I would lay my life down for them, mother, and still be happy!"
"Yes, child, I believe thou wouldst. Come to supper, the cawl is ready."
"Tis the cynos to-morrow night, mother, will I go?"
"Yes, of course; I wouldn't have thee go to the cynos of any other farm; there is too much foolishness going on."
"Robin Davies, the sailor, is going to bring his fiddle, and there will be fun, but Ann will not allow any foolishness."
"No, no," said Sara, "she's a sensible girl, and going to be married to Gwilym Morris too! that will be a happy thing for her I think."
Morva was silent, following her own train of thoughts while she ate her barley bread and drank her cawl, and when she broke the silence with a remark about Will, to both women it came naturally, as the sequence of their musings.
"Will is going away to-morrow, mother."
"Away to-morrow! so soon?"
"Only for a day or two, I think."
"Was that the meaning of the sigh then, Morva?"
"I don't know," said the girl, pensively chasing a fly with her finger on the table. "Oh, mother! I don't know, it is all a turmoil and unrest of thoughts here," and she drew her hand over her forehead.
"Well, never mind that, 'merch i, if it is rest and happiness here," and Sara laid her finger on the region of Morva's heart. "Tell me that, child; is it rest and love there?"
"Oh! I don't know, mother; I don't know indeed, indeed."
And then she did what Sara had scarcely ever seen her do since she had "gone into long frocks and turned her hair up," she crossed her arms on the table, and leaning her head upon them, she sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed.
In the old grey mill in the gorge, which ran up the moor about half a mile beyond Sara's cottage, there was a "sound of revelry by night," for the Garthowen "cynos" was in full swing. It bid fair to be the merriest, heartiest cynos of the year, and Jacob the miller was in his element.
As Morva came down the side of the moor after supper, the enlivening sounds which greeted her ear hastened her steps and quickened the blood in her veins.
Will's absence, though unconsciously, was a relief to her, and in the morning when, on rising, she had opened the cottage door, disclosing to view all the charms of the autumn day, its glow of crimson bramble, its glory of furze and heather, against the blue of the sea, her spirits had risen with a bound, and the sadness of the evening before had at once taken flight. For in the elasticity of youth, the hand of sorrow has but to be removed for a moment and the flowers of hope and happiness rise with unimpaired freshness and vigour; not so when age draws near, then the heavy hand may be lifted, and the crushed flowers of happiness may slowly revive and open once more, but there is a bruise on the stem and a stain on the petals which remain.
Ebben Owens and Ann had all day been busy with the preparations for the cynos. Gethin's whistle came loud and clear from the brow of the hill. It had been a happy day for every one, so Morva thought, knowing nothing of the anxiety which her burst of sorrow on the previous evening had awakened in her foster-mother's heart. Sara's love for her adopted child, who had come to her when her mother's heart was crying aloud in its bereavement, had in it not only tenderness deep as a mother's, but also that keen intuition and sensitiveness to every varying mood and feeling of the loved one, which is the bitter prerogative of all true love. So, while Morva had gone singing to her milking, Sara had walked in her herb garden, musing somewhat sadly. There was neither sorrow nor anxiety in the girl's heart as she hastened her steps down the side of the gorge. She saw the twinkling light in the window of the old mill kitchen, she heard the trickling of the stream, and the sound of laughter and merry voices which issued from the wide open mill door.
When she arrived there was Gethin busy with the sacks of corn, there was the hot kiln upon which the grain would be roasted, while ranged round it stood the benches which Jacob had prepared for the company.
Already some of the young men and girls from the surrounding farms were dropping in to share in the evening's amusement and work. Shan, the miller's wife, was busy in the old kitchen with preparations for the midnight meal. Ebben Owens had caused a small cask of beer to be tapped, and Jacob was unremitting in his attentions to it during the night.
"Garthowen's is worth calling a cynos," he said. "He doesn't forget how the flour gets into one's throat and makes one thirsty. I'm no Blue Ribbonite, no, not I, nor intend to be, and that's why I try always to make the Garthowen cynos a jolly one."
"Yes, yes," said Shan, "you needn't trouble to tell me the reason; I know it well now these many years."
When Morva entered she was warmly greeted by all. The farm lads particularly were loud in their welcome.
"Come in, lass, where'st been lately? We haven't seen thee a long time."
"Well, indeed, I've been on the moor every day with the calves or the sheep; they are grazing there now."
Everyone said something except Gethin, who only glanced at her with a smile and a sparkle of black eyes, for he had seen her many times during the day, and he was already, according to the fashion of his country, beginning to hide his love under an outward appearance of stolid indifference; but this did not offend Morva, for it saved her from the ordeal of curious eyes and broad comments, and Gethin felt that the tender flower of love was well shielded from rude contact with the outside world, by the secrecy behind which a Welshman hides his love, for, in a hundred ways unnoticed and unseen by those around him, there were opportunities of apprising the girl of his constant and watchful interest. How sweet was the chance touch of her brown fingers in the course of the mill work. If her eyes met his, which they did not often, how easy it was to send a meaning glance from his own! how delightful to sit beside her in the circle round the glowing kiln!
Robin Davies and Neddy "Pandy" were late, so to beguile the time Jacob struck up a merry tune, the whole company joining in the chorus. Song after song followed each other, interspersed with stories, some of old times and traditions, others of modern adventures at market or fair, until at midnight they all adjourned to the mill kitchen, where Shan had prepared the usual meal of steaming coffee with bread and butter. There was bread of all sorts, from the brown barley loaf to the creamy, curled oatcake, flanked by piles of the delicious tea-cakes for which Pont-y-fro was noted. The men washed down their cakes with foaming "blues" from the beer barrel.
Robin Davies and Neddy "Pandy" arrived just in time for the coffee, and when the meal was over they all returned to the kiln room, where the air was filled with the aroma of the roasting corn.
It was only at such gatherings as these that Neddy ever experienced the full enjoyments of life, for he was a homeless wanderer from place to place.
Nature had been bountiful to him in the matter of bodily size and strength, but she had not been correspondingly generous in her allotment of mental capacities. No one knew anything of his parentage or birthplace. Nobody cared sufficiently to inquire, and no one knew of his weary hours of tramping over moor and mountain, led only by some stray rumour of a fair or festive gathering, at which he might at least for a few hours enjoy the pleasures of a "blue" of beer, a cheerful greeting, and a seat in the chimney-corner, in return for a song, or a turn at the "candle-dance," for which he was famous. He had called at the old mill the week before, and Jacob had engaged his services for the coming cynos. He had spent the day on board the Speedwell, where Robin Davies was mate, and had had a good rest and a feast of music, for Robin was a genius, and played his fiddle with wonderful taste and skill, and Neddy, though wanting in many things, was behind no one in his love for and appreciation of music. He was therefore unusually bright and fresh when he arrived at the mill. He and Robin had walked up all the way from Abersethin through the surf, carrying their shoes under their arms.
"'Twill freshen thy feet, and make them hard for the candles," said Robin.
Neddy's thin haggard face, surmounted by a thick crop of grizzled curly hair, lighted up with pleasure as he felt the warm air of the roasting room.
"Here, sit down by the kiln, man," said Gethin, "and rest a bit before thou begin'st."
"Yes, and sing us 'Aderin pur'," said Jacob, "'twill prepare the air for the dancing."
And Neddy struck up at once. He never required pressing, for his songs seemed always on his lips. He sang his ballads as he passed through the country towns and villages, and the people came out and pressed pennies into his hand, or invited him into their houses for a rest, a hunch of bread and cheese, or a bowl of cawl; and he sang as he tramped over the lonely hillsides, sometimes weary and faint enough, but still singing; and when at night he retired to rest in some hay-loft or barn, or perhaps alone under the starry night sky, he was wont to sing himself to sleep, as he had done when a child in the old homestead of which nobody knew.
When he began the words of the song so sweet to every Welshman's ear:
"Oh! lovely bird with azure wing Wilt bear my message to her?"
every ear was intent upon the melody, and as the rich sonorous voice carried it on through its first fervid strains of love, to the imploring cadences of the ending, heads and hands beat time, eyes glistened, humid with feeling, and when the song had come to an end, there was a breathless silence and a sigh of satisfaction.
"There's lovely it is! Sing us again, Neddy bach."
And Neddy sang again the song of the red-cheeked little prince, who slept in his golden cradle, a red-cheeked apple in his hand. It was but a simple nursery rhyme, but Neddy put his soul into it, for he was but a child himself in spite of his tall stature and grizzled locks.
Morva was sitting on the steps which led up to the rickety, windy loft, Gethin beside her on an upturned barrow.
"I might go on with my knitting," said the girl, "if somebody would hold my skein for me to wind."
Gethin held it, of course; and while the ball increased in size there was plenty of time and opportunity for talk, which was interrupted by Robin's fiddle striking up a merry jig time. Wool and ball were laid aside, while Ann placed six lighted candles on the floor—four in the centre and one at each end, with space enough between them for the figures of the dance.
Neddy listened a few moments, seemingly to get the rhythm well into his mind; then starting up, and flinging his heavy shoes aside, he took his place at the end of the space cleared for him, his ragged corduroy trousers hanging in tatters round his bare ankles. With his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, he began the dance, singing all the time an old refrain descriptive of its measure; keeping at a little distance from the group of candles, but gradually approaching nearer and nearer, and at length flinging his bare feet around the flaring lights. Round them and over them, in between them and outside them, until it was a mystery how the bare feet were not burnt and the ragged trousers did not catch fire. Over and over again he stopped for breath, until the loud stamping of feet and cries of applause, in which Tudor joined vociferously, encouraged him to begin again. The music waxed faster and faster, and Neddy danced with more marvellous rapidity, until he seemed to lose himself in the intricate mazes of the dance. He was pale, and beads of perspiration stood on his forehead, when at last, with a trick of his bare foot, he extinguished every light, and staggered to his seat in the corner by the kiln.
"Hooray, Neddy! as good as ever he was! Well done, bachgen! fetch him a 'blue.'"
And Neddy, triumphant and thoroughly enjoying the cheering and eclat of his exploit, leant back panting to recover himself.
"The corn! The corn!" said Ann, turning to the roasting-pan over the kiln. "We mustn't forget that with our dancing and our singing, and thee mustn't have another 'blue' yet, Neddy."
"Oh, indeed 'tis wonderful!" said Morva.
"Yes, 'tis a pretty dance indeed," said Gethin, "and something like the sailor's hornpipe we used to dance on board ship sometimes."
"Canst dance?" said the girl, with wide-open eyes of intense interest.
"Well, yes—I was considered to have a pretty good foot for a fling."
"Oh, dance!" said Morva, clasping her hands, "Ann, Ann, Gethin can dance!"
"But not in these boots," he said.
"Oh, Gethin, try!" said his sister.
"Well, if I had my shoes. Run, Grif, to Garthowen and fetch them."
And in a short time the boy returned, bringing Gethin's best Sunday shoes under his arm.
The floor was cleared again, and everybody watched eagerly while the sailor took his stand, with arms folded across his chest and head well thrown back.
"Now, Robin, a jig tune for me."
"Yes, yes, the sailor's hornpipe proper," said Robin; and he struck up the time with spirit, and Gethin began the dance with equal vigour.
The company looked on with breathless admiration, Neddy with critical nods of approval; but Morva's delight was indescribable. With eagerness like a child's she followed every dash, every scrape, and every fling of the dance, and when it was ended, and Gethin returned, laughing and panting, to his seat on the barrow, alas! alas! he had danced into her very heart.
"Oh! there's handsome he is!" said Magw, the dairymaid, with a sigh; and Morva echoed the sentiment, though she did not give it utterance.
"Yes, 'twas very well," said Neddy; "but thee couldn't do it if thou hadst the candles."
"That I couldn't, Neddy; nobody but thee could," and the old man was quite satisfied.
In the early grey of the morning the stray visitors dropped off one by one, and Neddy, having slept for an hour in his cosy corner, shook himself awake and betook himself, crooning an old song, once more to his solitary rambles over the hills. It was not until the sun had well risen, and the whole remaining party had breakfasted together in the mill kitchen, that the Garthowen household returned home, leading with them the lumbering blue and scarlet carts, laden with the sacks of meal sufficient for the coming year, Tudor following the procession with the air of a dog who congratulates himself upon having brought affairs to a satisfactory conclusion. Ebben Owens was already up to receive them, the big oak coffers in the grain room were swept out, the dry meal poured into them, and Twm the carter, with white cotton stockings kept for the occasion drawn over his feet and legs, stood in the coffers treading the meal into as hard a mass as possible. When they were full to the brim the heavy lids were closed with a snap, and the Garthowen cynos was over for the year. Afterwards the work of the farm went on as usual, but there were many surreptitious naps taken during the day, in hay loft or barn, or behind some sunny hedgerow or stack.
Gwilym Morris and Will did not return that day, as had been expected.
"Wilt stay a little later, Morva?" said Ann; "they may come by the carrier at seven o'clock, and I will want to prepare supper for them."
Morva's heart sank, but she made no outward sign; she had been full of restless excitement all day, and had looked forward to the quiet of the cottage under the furze bank, and to Sara's soothing company.
All day she had been haunted by the memory of the sailor's hornpipe, Gethin's flashing eyes, his handsome person, his supple limbs! She tried to banish the vision and to turn her thoughts to Will, but found it impossible! and she went about her work in a dream of happiness, unwillingly recalling every word that Gethin had spoken, every hidden compliment, and every look of tenderness. She avoided him when he returned from the fields at midday, she trembled and blushed at the sound of his name, and when he came home in the evening to his supper she feigned some excuse and was absent from the evening meal; but when at last Will's return was despaired of, and Morva took her way round the Cribserth towards home, Gethin, no longer to be baulked, followed her with rapid steps, and caught her up just as she turned the rugged edge of the ridge.
"Morva!" he called, and she turned at once and stood facing him in the light of the full moon.
She bent her head a little and let her arms fall at her sides, standing like a culprit before his accuser. The attitude pained Gethin, whose whole being was overflowing with tenderness.
"Morva, lass! what is the matter? Where art going? Art running away from me?"
The girl raised her eyes to his, and in a low but firm voice answered, "Yes."
"Why? Why?" he asked, and taking her hands hastily he drew her away from the path, and down to the shadow of a broom bush on the cliff side.
She remembered it was the very bush behind which she had met Will two evenings before. For a moment they were silent, both feeling too agitated to speak. Beyond the shadow of the bushes the world lay silent in the mellow moonlight, a soft breathing stole up to them from the heaving sea below, a whispering breeze played on their faces, and through it all the insidious glamour of the dance, which had enchanted the simple rustic girl, wove like a silver thread.
"Morva," he said at last, pressing the hand which he held in his, "thou knowest well what I want to say. If I had learning like Will's now, I would not be hunting for words like this, but indeed, lass, I am fair doited with love of thee. Answer me, dost love me too? I think, Morva," and he drew her closer, "I think thou dost not hate me?"
"Oh, no," she whispered, "but—but—" and she slowly endeavoured to withdraw from his detaining grasp, "but, Gethin, I am promised to Will."
"What? What didst say, girl?" said Gethin, in an agitated voice. "Thou hast promised to marry Will?"
There was a long pause of silence, during which the lapping of the waves on the beach, the rustle of the leaves in the bushes, together with their own fluttering breaths, were distinctly audible.
"Didst say that, Morva?"
"Yes, indeed, 'tis true," said the girl, in a low voice.
"But—but does Will love thee?"
"Yes, he loves me," answered Morva sadly, but steadily, "and I love him, and I must listen to no other man, for I have promised him."
"Promised him! when?" said Gethin, trying to steady his voice.
"Oh, many times, many times; two nights ago, here, under this very broom bush, I promised to be true and unchangeable."
"Is this true indeed, then? Hast promised thyself away from me?" said Gethin, looking round as if dazed and stunned.
"Yes," she answered again, in a low voice. "Will asked me if I loved him, and I said 'Yes, I love thee with all my heart, and I love everyone at Garthowen the same, and would willingly give my life for them.'"
"And what did he say to that?" asked Gethin in a scornful tone.
"He said, 'twas right I should feel like that, for they had all been kind to me, ever since the sea cast me up here, a little helpless baby; and he said 'twould ill repay their kindness to break his heart."
Gethin snatched at her hand hungrily.
"Will I tell thee, lass, what I would have answered if I had been Will? I would have said, 'Love me, Morva, more than all the others at Garthowen; love me more than all the world beside; love me as I love thee, girl! Nothing less will satisfy me; no riches, no worldly goods, no joy, no happiness will be of any account to me if I have not all thy love.'"
"Stop, Gethin, stop," said Morva, turning away.
But Gethin continued, still detaining her hands in his, "That is what I would have said, Morva, if I were Will. Canst say nothing to me, lass?"
Morva had turned her face to the broom bush, and was sobbing with her apron to her eyes.
"Why didst thou promise him?" Gethin said again, in a fierce tone.
"I promised him when I was a little girl, and ever since, whenever he has asked me, I have said, 'Oh, Will, there is no need to say more, for I have promised,'" and she turned slowly to move away; but Gethin drew her back.
"Thou shalt not go," he said; "I cannot live without thee; all through the long years I too have loved thee, Morva, ever since that day when I tore myself from thy clinging arms and heard thee crying after me; but because I was away, and could not tell thee of my love, I have lost thee."
"I have promised," was all her answer.
"Well, then, I suppose there is nothing else to be said, and I must live without thee; but 'twill be hard, very hard, lass. I thought—I thought—but there; what's the use of thinking? I suppose I must say 'Good-bye.' Wilt give me one kiss before we part? No? Well, indeed, an unwilling kiss from Morva would kill me, so fforwel, lass! At least shake hands."
Morva turned towards him, placing her hand in his, and by the bright moonlight he saw her face was very pale.
"Fforwel!" he said once more, and dropping her hand, he left her suddenly, standing alone under the night sky. She looked after him until he had passed round the Cribserth, and then turned homewards with a heavier heart than she had ever borne before.
"'As the sparks fly upward!'" she whispered, as she reached the cottage door, "Yes, mother was right, 'as the sparks fly upward!'"
"Ach y fi!" said Ann one day as the autumn slipped by, "only a week before Will goes; there's dull it will be without him!"
"Twt, twt!" said Will, tossing his tawny mane, "'twill only be for three months. Christmas will be here directly, and I will be home then for the holidays—vacation, I mean."
"Vacation; is that what they call it? Dear! dear! we must mind our words now with a college man among us."
Gethin seldom came into the house; from morning to night he worked hard on the farm, and his father was obliged to confess that, after all his roving, he showed more aptitude for steady work than Will did. When he did enter the house, it was only to take his meals hurriedly and silently, and if by chance he encountered Morva, as was unavoidable sometimes in the day's work, he was careful not to look at her. The girl, though conscious of his change of manner, showed no outward sign of the acute suffering she was undergoing. Her whole life seemed upturned, full of discordant elements and strained relations. To bear Will's apparent indifference was not difficult, for she had been accustomed to that all her life; but to know that she was bound to him—that he still loved her, and would carry with him his faith and trust in her, was a heavy burden. The change in Gethin's manner, the averted look, the avoidance of her, the formal question or request, were positively so many sharp thorns that pierced her like some tangible weapon, and added to this was a deep regret that she was so unworthy of Will's love. He did not ask her to meet him again behind the broom bushes, and only one night in the old beudy, where she had carried a pail of grain to a sick cow, had he tried to speak to her alone. Gethin, who watched his brother with eager interest, was astonished at the indifference he showed towards her.
Surely they must meet somewhere secretly! Well, what was it to him? What was anything to him? For Morva's love he would willingly have laid down his life; but now that that was denied him, nothing else was of any consequence; and in troubled thought he sauntered out to cross the farmyard on his way to Pont-y-fro. The moor beyond the Cribserth he avoided carefully, and when his work led him along the brow of the hill, he tried to avert his eyes as well as his thoughts from its undulating knolls, a background, against which memory would picture a winsome girl, red-cloaked and blue-kilted.
Will had preceded him about a quarter of an hour, and had found Morva pensively holding the empty pail before the cow, who had eaten up the grain, and was licking round in search of more; she did not see him until he was close upon her, and then she started from her dreams.
"Oh, Will!" she said, and nothing more.
"I wanted to see thee once more, lass, to say good-bye, and to remind thee of thy promise."
"You will be back before Christmas, Will, and we will be together again."
"Yes," he answered, "and then we must manage to meet sometimes, for I find I cannot live without thee. I cannot break away from thee entirely; but we must be careful, very, very careful. I would not have anyone suspect our courtship for all the world. Thou wilt keep my secret, Morva?"
"Yes," she said wearily.
"Come, cheer up, lass, 'twill soon be over. A year or two and I will have a home for thee—I know I will. And now good-bye, I hear footsteps. Good-bye, Morva."
He clasped her once to his heart, and whispered a word of endearment in her ear; but she stood like a statue, and only answered "Good-bye," and even that he did not hear, for he had already slipped away, and by a circuitous path reached the house.
Crossing the farmyard, Gethin's approaching footsteps made but little sound on the soft stubble; and Morva, thinking herself quite alone, stood leaning just within the doorway, crying softly in the darkness, for the flaring candle had gone out.
"Who is there?" said Gethin.
There was no answer, Morva checking her sobs, and standing perfectly still.
"Morva, is it thee crying here by thyself? What is it? Tell me, child."
"Oh! nothing," said the girl. "Only Will has been here."
"Oh! I see," said Gethin bitterly, "to bid thee fforwel, I suppose. Well, it won't be for long; he will be back soon, and then thou wilt be happy, Morva."
"Gethin, thee must promise me one thing."
"And what is that?" he said.
"Never to tell anyone what I told thee over yonder beyond the Cribserth. Will wants it to be a secret."
"Fear nothing," said Gethin, "I will never tell tales. Gethin Owens has not many good qualities, but he has one, and that is, he would never betray a trust, so be easy, Morva. I am going to Pont-y-fro. Good-night!"
"Good-night," echoed the girl, and, taking up her pail, she closed the beudy door, and as she crossed the yard under the bright starlight she recalled Gethin's parting words, "Be easy, Morva," and repeated them to herself with a sorrowful smile.
* * * * * *
"'Tis Martinmas Fair to-morrow," said Ann, as Morva entered the best kitchen. "Are you going, father?"
"Yes," he said. "I have those yearlings to sell."
"I will come with you," said Gwilym Morris, for they seldom let the old man go alone. "I can see about Will's coat, and I want some books. Come on, Ann, come with us; 'twill be a lively fair, I think."
"Very well, I'll come and look after you both."
"That's right," said the old man, rubbing his knees. "Twm will drive the yearlings. Art coming, Will?"
"No," he answered, "I have promised to go to Caer-Madoc to-morrow."
And so Garthowen was empty next day, for Gethin did not return to the midday meal. Morva, as usual in Ann's absence, took charge of the house, and very sad and lonely she felt as she roamed from one room to another, dusting a chair or table occasionally, and looking out through the windows at the dull, leaden sea, for outside, too, the clouds were gathering, and the wind whispered threatenings of change.
Three nights ago! Was it possible? So lately as that was she bright and happy, and was the world around her so full of light and warmth?
She leant her elbows on the deep window-sill and mused. How long ago, too, it seemed since she had taken down the old Bible and hunted up Gethin's delinquencies. She saw it now in her mind's eye, and, getting upon the table, she reached it down again, and turned to the disfigured page.
Now she knew how little harm there had been in those foolish, boyish rhymes; now she knew the bright black eyes which had guided the pen in those brown fingers were full of nothing but mischief. "Oh, no! no harm," she said, "only fun and mischief." She read the lines again, and a sad little smile came over her mouth, then she looked at the signatures below. "Gethin Owens, Garthowen." "G. O." "Gethin." She half-closed the old book, and then, with a furtive glance round the room and through the window, opened it again, and, stooping down, pressed her lips on the name, then, blushing a vivid red, she mounted the table once more and replaced the Bible.
It was a long, weary day, but it came at last to a close. She made up the fire, prepared the tea, with piles of buttered toast and new-laid eggs in plenty, and soon the jingling car drove into the farmyard, Gwilym Morris lifting Ann bodily out, and both assisting the old man with tender care, Morva hovering round. She was to sleep at the farm that night in order to be ready for the early churning next day, so when they were all seated at the tea-table she left the house with the intention of seeing if Sara required any help.
"I will be back before supper," she said, and hurried homewards over the moor, where the wind was rising and sighing in the broom bushes. The clouds were hurrying up from the north-west, and threatening to overcast the pale evening sky, quivering flocks of fieldfares whirred over her, and the gold and purple were fast losing their brilliant tints. As she neared the cottage in the darkening twilight, a patch of scarlet caught her eye, and a warm glow of comfort rushed into her heart. It was Sara's red mantle and she knew the faithful heart was waiting for her.
"The dear old mother," she said, and hastening her footsteps soon reached Sara, who stood leaning on her stick and peering over the moor.
"Here I am, mother!" she said, as cheerfully as she could.
"'Merch fach i!" said Sara tenderly, and they turned into the cottage together.
The tea was laid on the little round table in the chimney corner.
"Did you expect me, then, mother?"
"Yes; I thought thou wouldst come, child, to see how I fared as thou art sleeping there to-night," and sitting down together they chatted over their tea.
At Garthowen there was much chat going on, too. Ebben Owens had not sold his yearlings.
"I wasn't going to give them away for half price, not I!" he said. "I'd rather keep them till next fair." So Twm had driven them home again, and was even now turning them into the old cowhouse.
"Well! I have a wonderful piece of news to give you all," said Gwilym Morris, leaning back in his chair and diving deep into his pocket. Having pulled out a canvas bag he laid it triumphantly on the table with a bang.
"What is it?" said all, in a breath.
Gwilym did not answer, but undoing the pink tape which tied it, he poured out on the table forty glittering sovereigns.
"There!" he said, "what do you think; old Tim 'Penlau' paid me the 40 pounds he has owed me so long!"
"Well, wonders will never cease!" said Ebben Owens.
"How long has he had them?" asked Will.
"Oh! these years and years. I had quite given them up, but he was always promising that when he sold his farm he would repay me. Now they have come just in time to furnish the new house, Ann."
"But why didn't you put them into the bank?" asked Will.
"'Twas too late, the bank was closed; but I will take them in to-morrow."
"I saw you talking to Gryny Lewis in the market," said Ebben Owens. "What were you saying to him? You weren't such a fool as to tell him you had received the 40 pounds?"
"Well, yes, indeed I did," replied Gwilym.
"Well, I wouldn't tell him. Don't forget how he stole from Jos Hughes's till."
"Well, indeed, I never remembered that. Oh, I'll take care of them," he said, tying them once more in his bag, and returning them to his pocket. "I'll put them in my drawer to-night, and to-morrow I'll take them to the bank."
When Morva returned they were still discussing the preacher's good fortune in the recovery of the loan which he had almost despaired of.