"Oh, there's glad I am!" said the girl; and Gethin put in a word of congratulation as he sauntered out to take a last look at the horses.
Long before ten the whole household had retired for the night. Ann and Morva slept in a small room on the first landing, just beyond which, up two steps, ran a long passage, into which the other bedrooms opened.
Morva, who generally found the handmaid of sleep waiting beside her pillow, missed her to-night. Hour after hour she lay silent and open-eyed, vainly endeavouring to follow Ann into the realms of dreamland.
Tudor, too, who usually slept quietly in his kennel, seemed disturbed and restless, and filled the air with mournful howling.
The girl was in that cruellest of all stages of sorrow, when the mind has but half grasped the meaning of its trouble. She had no name for the deep longing which rebelled in her heart against the fate that was closing her in; for she had as yet scarcely confessed to herself that her whole being turned towards Gethin as the flower to the sun, and that in her breast, so long calm and unruffled as the pools in the boggy moor, was growing as strong a repulsion for one brother as love for the other. And as she lay quietly on her pillow, endeavouring not to disturb her companion's rest, a tide of sorrowful regrets swept over her, even as outside, under the shifting moonlight, the bay, yesterday so calm, was torn and tossed by the rising north-west wind. Through all, and interwoven even with her bitter grief, was the memory of that happy night—surely long ago?—when she had sat in the warm air of the cynos, and Gethin had danced into her heart. Oh, the pity of it! such love to be offered her, and to be thrust aside! "That is what I would say if I were Will!" And all night every sorrowful longing, every endeavour after resignation, every prayer for strength, ended with the same refrain, "If he were Will! if he were Will!"
Tick, tack, tick, tack! the old clock filled the night air with its measured beat. "Surely it does not tick so loudly in the day?" she thought.
Ten, eleven, and twelve had struck, and still Morva lay wakeful, with wide-open eyes, watching the hurrying clouds. At last she slept for an hour or two, and her uninterrupted breathing showed that the invigorating sleep of youth had at length fallen upon her weary eyelids. For an hour or two she slept, but at last she suddenly stirred, and in a moment was wide awake, with every sense strained to the utmost.
What had awakened her she could not tell. She was conscious only of an eager and thrilling expectancy.
She was about to relapse into slumber when a gliding sound caught her ear, and in a moment she was listening again, with all her senses alert. Was it fancy? or was there a soft footfall, and a sound as of a hand drawn over the whitewashed wall of the passage? A board creaked, and Morva sat up, and strained her ears to listen. After a stillness of some moments, again there was the soft footfall and the gliding hand on the wall. She rose and quietly crept into the passage just in time to see a dark figure entering the preacher's room.
Who could it be?
Intense curiosity was the feeling uppermost in her mind, and this alone prevented her calling Ann. Standing a few moments in breathless silence, she heard the slow opening of a drawer; another pause of eager listening, while the stealthy footsteps seemed to be returning towards the doorway.
At this moment the moon emerged from behind a cloud, and in her light Morva saw a sight which astonished her, for coming from the preacher's room a well-known form stood plainly revealed. It was Gethin! and the girl shrank a little into the shadow of a doorway. But her precaution was needless, for he walked as if dazed or asleep, and with unsteady footstep seemed to stagger as he hurriedly gained his own room.
Morva, frightened and wondering, returned to bed, and if the early hours of the night had been disturbed and restless, those which followed were still more so.
What could it mean? What could Gethin want in Gwilym's room? She had thought it was a thief, and if not a thief what was the meaning of those stealthy footsteps and the opening of the drawer? and full of unrest she lay awake listening to the ticking of the clock, and to Tudor's continued howling. Should she wake Ann? No! for Gethin had evidently desired secrecy, and she would not be the one to frustrate his intentions, for whatever might be the object of his secret visit to the preacher's room, she never doubted but that it was right and honourable.
All night she lay in troubled thought, rising many times to look through the ivy-framed window towards the eastern brow of the slopes. At length the pale dawn drew near, and Morva slept a heavy dreamless sleep, which lasted till Ann called her for the churning.
"Morva, lass," said Ann, "what's the matter to-day? No breakfast; after thy work at the churn, too?"
"Well, indeed," said Morva, "I drank so much butter milk that I don't want much breakfast."
"Come, lass," said Ebben Owens, "hard work wants good feeding."
"Well," said Ann, "you are not eating much yourself. Did you sleep well, father?"
"Yes, of course," said the old man; "I always sleep like a top. Here's Will; he'll satisfy thee in the eating line, whatever."
"Yes; especially when there's fresh butter and new bread," said Will, sitting down and cutting a thick slice for himself. "What was the matter with Tudor last night? He was howling all night. Did you hear him, father?"
"Not I. 'Twas the moonlight, I suppose. Dogs often howl on a moonlight night."
"Tudor doesn't," said Ann. "I'm glad I didn't hear him, ach y fi! I don't like it at all. But where's Gwilym and Gethin? There's late they are."
At this moment the former entered and took his seat silently at the table, looking pale and flurried.
"Where can Gethin be?" said Ann again; "not back from the mountain?" and Magw was sent to the top of the garden to call him, which she did with such stentorian tones that his name flew backwards and forwards across the valley, but no Gethin came.
Breakfast over, the big Bible was placed before Ebben Owens as usual, and all the farm servants assembled for prayers. When they rose from their knees and the wooden shoes had clattered out of the kitchen, Gwilym said, as he drew his chair to the table:
"Ann, we must wait a little longer for our furniture. My bag of sovereigns is gone!"
"Gone?" echoed everyone, and Morva, who was putting away the Bible, turned white with a deadly fear, which seemed to freeze the blood in her veins. In the excitement of the moment her change of countenance escaped the notice of the other members of the family.
"Gone," said Will, "gone where? What do you mean, man? Stolen?"
"Yes, no doubt, for the window and the drawer were open."
"The window?" said Ebben Owens. "Then the thief must have come in that way."
"And gone out, too, I suppose," said Gwilym.
"Tis that devil, Gryffy Lewis," said Will. "He could easily creep up from his cottage. You ought not to have told him."
"No, I ought not," said the preacher; "but, indeed, I was so glad of the money and to find that Tim 'Penlau' was honest after all our doubts, and Gryffy Lewis seemed as glad as I was."
"The deceitful blackguard!" said Ebben Owens.
"Well, we don't know it was he after all," suggested Gwilym. "Poor man, we must not blame him till we are certain. I hoped and believed that he had taken a turn for the better, and this would be a dreadful blow to me."
"Blow to you!" said Will excitedly. "I'll go to Castell On for a policeman, and it'll be a blow to Gryffy when he feels the handcuffs on his wrists."
"No—no," said Gwilym Morris, "that I will never allow." For in his daily life the preacher carried out his Master's teaching in its spirit, and forgave unto seventy times seven, and with curious inconsistency abhorred the relentless anger which on Sundays in the pulpit he unconsciously ascribed to the God whom he worshipped. "No, let him have the money, it will bring its own punishment, poor fellow! I have lived long enough without it, and can do without it still, only poor Ann won't have mahogany chairs and a shining black sofa in her parlour—deal must do instead."
"Deal will do very well," said Ann soothingly,
"Well," said Ebben Owens, "you take your trouble like a Christian, Gwilym."
"Like a Christian!" said Will. "Like a madman I call it! I think you owe it to everyone in the house, Gwilym, to send for a policeman and have the matter cleared up."
"It wouldn't do," said Ebben, "to charge Gryffy without any proofs, so we had better hush it up and say nothing about it before the servants."
"Yes, that is the best plan," said the preacher, "and perhaps in time and by kindness I can turn Gryffy's mind to repentance and to returning the money."
"But where's Gethin this morning?" inquired Will. "I hope nothing has happened to Bowler."
The morning hours slipped by, and yet Gethin did not appear. At dinner in the farm kitchen there were inquiries and comments, but nobody knew anything of the absent one.
In the best kitchen the meal was partaken of in silence, a heavy cloud hung over the household, and terrible doubts clutched at their hearts, but no one spoke his fears. When, however, the shades of evening were closing in, and neither on moor nor meadow, in stable nor yard, was Gethin to be seen, a dreadful certainty fell upon them. It was too evident that he had disappeared from the haunts of Garthowen. Will swore under his breath, Gwilym Morris was even more tender than usual to every member of the family, and Ebben Owens went about the farm with a hard look on his face, and a red spot on each cheek, but nobody said anything more about sending for a policeman. Ann cried herself to sleep that night. Morva went home to her mother, white and dry-eyed, her mind full of anxious questioning, her heart sinking with sorrow.
Sara held out her wrinkled hand towards her.
"Come, 'merch fach i, 'tis trouble, I know; but what is it, lass?"
"Oh, mother, 'tis too dreadful to think of! How can such things be? You say the spirits come and talk to you, they never come to me; ask them to be kind to me, too, and to take me to themselves, for this world is too full of cruel thorns!"
Sara's kind eyes filled with tears.
"Oh! that I could bear thy sorrow for thee, my little girl; but it is one of the thorns of life that we cannot raise the burden of sorrows from our dear ones and bind it on our own shoulders. God alone can help thee, my child."
"Mother, do you know what has happened?"
"Yes," said the old woman. "I was quite failing to sleep last night, so I got up and lighted the fire, and I read a chapter sitting here on the settle. After I had read, looking I was at the flames and the sparks that flew upwards, and a vision came before me. I was at Garthowen in the dark, I saw a figure creeping quietly into a room; it was a man, but I could not recognise him. He opened a drawer, and took something out of it, and I did not see anything more. When I awoke the fire had gone out, and I was very cold, so I went back to bed, and slept heavily all night, and when I awoke this morning I knew thou wouldst come to me in sorrow and fright."
"Well, mother, can you gather some comfort from your vision? Oh! tell me the meaning of it all. What did Gethin want in Gwilym's room?"
"Gethin?" said Sara, in astonishment, "in Gwilym Morris's room!"
"Yes, I saw him; and from there a bag of sovereigns has been stolen. He has gone away without a word to anyone, and I know they all think that he has done this dreadful thing? but I will not believe it, never! never! never!"
"No, it is all dark, but one thing is plain to me and thee, Gethin did not do this shameful thing. Let me be, child, and perhaps it will all come before me again, or perhaps Gethin will come back. I know, whatever, that my message to thee is Gethin is not guilty of this wickedness."
"Mother, I believe you," said the girl; "and though all the world should swear it was Gethin, I should know better, for you know, mother. We only see with our bodily eyes, but your spirit sees. Mother, I know it—but he is gone! What is the meaning of that; he is gone like the mist of the morning—like a dream of the night, and he will never return, and if he did return it could never be anything to me!"
And leaning on the table as she had done once before, her face buried on her arms, she sobbed unrestrainedly, Sara sitting by her and crying in sympathy.
All day they discussed the unhappy event.
"Who did it, mother? and why did Gethin go away?"
"I don't know," said the old woman. "I shall never know perhaps who did it, but I know it was not Gethin."
"Why did I see him, mother? I awoke suddenly and went into the passage, and there he was. I wish I had slept sounder, for that sight will always be on my mind. When we came down to breakfast he was gone, and every one will think he stole the money. Forty sovereigns, mother! Will he ever come back and clear it up?"
"Some day it will be plain, but now we must be satisfied to know it was not Gethin."
"No one else will believe us, mother."
"Oh! I am used to that," said the old woman, with a patient smile; "that makes no difference in God's plans. Thou must pluck up thy heart, and have courage, child, for there is a long life before thee. A dark cloud is shading thy path now, but 'twill pass away, and thou wilt be happy again."
"Never! unless Gethin comes back to clear his name. Oh! 'tis a cold grey world. Only here with you, mother, is the comfort of love. When I draw near the cottage I look out for your red mantle, and if I see it, it sends a warm glow through me."
And so they talked until, as the twilight gathered round them, Morva said:
"I must go; the cows must be milked. Poor Garthowen is a sad house to-day! I wish I could comfort them a little, but 'tis all dark."
And as she crossed the moor to the Cribserth, she looked round her, but found no shred of comfort. The sea, all rough and torn by the high wind, looked cold and cruel; the brow of the hill, which Gethin's whistle had so often enlivened, looked bare and uninteresting; the moor had lost its gorgeous tints; a rock pigeon, endeavouring to reach its nest, was driven by the wind against a thorn bush.
"Tis pricked and beaten like me," thought the girl, and struggling with the high wind, she helped the bird with tender fingers to extricate himself.
When she entered the farmyard Daisy stood waiting, and Morva, knowing that without her song there would be no milk, began the old refrain, but her voice broke, and while she sang with trembling lips the tears ran down her cheeks.
The news of Gethin's absence was soon bruited abroad, and many were the conjectures as to its cause.
"He seemed so jolly at the cynos," said the farm servants; "who'd have thought his heart was away with the shipping and the foreign ports?"
"Well, well," said the farmers, "Garthowen will have to do without Gethin Owens, that's plain; the roving spirit is in him still, and Ebben Owens will have to look alive, with only Ann and Gwilym Morris to help him."
"Well, he needn't be so proud, then! Will a clergyman indeed! 'tis at home at the plough I'd keep him!"
But nobody knew anything of the robbery, which added so much poignancy to the sorrow at Garthowen. Ebben Owens seemed to take his son's disappearance much to heart, and to feel his absence more in sorrow than in anger.
Will grew more and more irritable, so that it was almost a relief when one day in the following week he took his departure for Llaniago, his father accompanying him in the car, and returning next day with glowing accounts of his son's introduction to the world of learning and collegiate life.
"If you were to see him in his cap and gown!" he said, "oh, there's a gentleman he looks; in my deed there wasn't one in the whole college so handsome as our Will! so straight and so tall, and everybody noticing him."
And so Will was launched on the voyage of clerical life with full sails and colours flying, while Gethin was allowed to sink into oblivion; his name was never mentioned, his place knew him no more, and the tide of life flowed on at Garthowen with the outward monotonous peace and regularity common to all farm life. Ebben Owens leant more on Gwilym and Ann, and Twm took his own way more, but further than this there was no difference in the daily routine of work.
The grey house at Brynseion was nearing completion, but Ann put off her marriage again and again, and even hinted at the desirability of breaking off her engagement entirely, unless it could be arranged for her and her husband to live on at Garthowen, and let the grey house to somebody else.
"Well!" said Gwilym, "'tis for you and your father to settle that. I will be happy with you anywhere, Ann, and I see it is impossible for you to leave the old man while both his sons are away; so do as you wish, 'merch i, only don't keep me waiting any longer."
And so it was settled, and Ann sat down to indite a letter to Will in the fine pointed handwriting which she had learnt during her year of boarding-school at Caer-Madoc, fine and pointed and square, like a row of gates, with many capitals and no stops. The letter informed her brother with much formality, "that having known Gwilym Morris for many years, he and she had now decided to enter upon the matrimonal state. Our father and mother," she continued, "having been married in Capel Mair at Castell On, I have a strong wish to be married in the same place, and Gwilym consents to my wish. We will fix our wedding for some day after your return from Llaniago at Christmas, as we would like you to be present as well as my father. Elinor Jones of Betheyron will be my bridesmaid, and Morva and Gryffy Jones will be the only others at the wedding."
By return of post Will's answer came, requesting them not to count upon him, as he might accept the invitation of a friend to spend part of his vacation with him. "In any case," he added, "it would scarcely look well for a candidate for Holy Orders in the Church of England to attend a service in a dissenting chapel."
Gwilym Morris folded the letter slowly, and returned it to Ann without a word.
"Well, well!" said Ebben Owens, "'tis disappointing, but Will knows best; no doubt he's right, and thee must find someone else, Ann. I wish Gethin was here," the old man said, with a sigh.
It was strange, Ann thought, how tenderly and wistfully he longed for Gethin, once so little cared for; and as the memory of the sinister event which she believed caused his absence crossed her mind she coloured with shame.
"Oh, father," she said, clasping her hands. "Poor Gethin! how could I have him at my wedding? I never thought one of our family could be dishonest."
"Nor I—nor I, indeed!" said Ebben Owens, shaking his head sorrowfully.
"It is too plain, isn't it?" said Ann, "going away like that—oh! to think our Gethin was a thief!" and throwing her apron over her face she burst into a fit of sobbing, a thing so unusual with the placid Ann that her father and Gwilym both watched her in surprise.
Gwilym took her hand in silence, and the old man, leaning his elbow on the table and shading his eyes with his hand dropped some bitter tears. He had looked forward to Will's return with intense longing, had counted the days that must elapse before that happy hour should arrive when, great-coated and gloved, he should drive his son over the frosty roads, and usher him like a conquering hero into the old home. Through her own tears Ann observed the old man's sorrowful attitude, and instantly she dried her eyes and ran towards him.
"Father, anwl," she said, in an abandon of love, kneeling down beside him, and throwing her strong white arm around him, "is it tears I see dropping down on the table? Well, indeed, there's a foolish daughter you've got, to cry and mourn, and make her old father cry. Stop those tears at once, then, naughty boy," she said cheerily, patting the old man's back; "or I'll cry again, and Gwilym will be afraid to enter such a showery family."
Her father tried to laugh through his tears, and Ann, casting her sorrow to the winds, laid herself out with "merry quips and cranks" to restore him to cheerfulness.
"Now see," she cried, with assumed childish glee, "what a dinner I have for you! what you've often called 'a dinner for a king' and so it is, and that king is Ebben Owens of Garthowen!" and she placed before him a plate of boiled rabbit, adding a slice of the pink, home-cured bacon, which Gwilym was cutting with a smile of amusement at her playful ruse.
"Now, potatoes and onion sauce, salt, cabbages, knife and fork, and now the dear old king is going to eat a good dinner."
Ebben Owens laughingly took his knife and fork, and in spite of the previous tears, the meal was a cheerful one, even Tudor stood up with his paws on the table with a joyous bark.
Will's letters were the grand excitement of the farm, coming at first pretty regularly once a week—read aloud by Ann in the best kitchen, examined carefully by her father lest a word should have escaped the reader, carried out to farm kitchen or stable or field, and read to the servants, who listened with gaping admiration.
"There's a scholar he is! Caton pawb! Indeed, Mishteer, there's proud you must be of him!" And all this was incense to Ebben Owens's heart.
THE BIRD FLUTTERS
In the first term of his college life Will fully realised his pleasantest anticipations, and now, if never before, he acknowledged to himself his deep indebtedness to Gwilym Morris; his own abilities he had never doubted. The ease, too, with which he had matriculated much elated him, and he began his studies with a light heart and a happy consciousness of talent, which, coupled with a dogged perseverance and a determination to overcome every obstacle in his path, ensured success in the long run. He had one fixed and constant aim, namely, advancement in the career upon which he had entered, and in furtherance of this object, he was determined to let no hankering after the past stand in his way. In his own opinion there were but two hindrances to his progress, two shadows from the past to darken his path, and these were his obscure birth and his love for Morva, for this he had not yet succeeded in crushing. Before he left home his constant intercourse with her and the ease with which they met had prevented the usual anxieties which are said to beset the path of love. With innate selfishness, he had taken to himself all the pleasure derivable from their close companionship, without troubling himself much as to the state of the girl's feelings. That she was true to him, he had never had reason to doubt. Since he left home things had taken a different aspect; true, the thought of Morva was interwoven with all he did or read or studied, but there was an accompanying feeling of disquietude, a shrinking from the memory of her simple rustic ways, which he began to realise were incompatible with his new hopes and aspirations. It was becoming very evident to him, therefore, that his love for her must be banished, with all the old foolish ties and habits which bound him to the past. A vision of the clear blue eyes, the winsome smile, the lissom figure would rise persistently before him, and alas! the threadbare woollen gown, the wooden shoes, the pink cotton neckerchief, were also photographed upon his brain.
He heard from Ann of her approaching marriage, no longer deferred in expectation of his presence, and he was much relieved by this arrangement; but still, when the morning dawned clear and frosty, he was cross and irritable, for he could not banish from his mind the thought of the old ivy-covered homestead, with the few gnarled trees overshadowing its gables, its bare sea front turned bravely to the north-west, the elder tree over the back door, the farm servants, all with white favours pinned on their breasts; the gentle bride, the handsome thoughtful bridegroom, the dear old father excited and merry, and above all, Morva decked out in wedding finery! How lovely she would look! Why was it that this sweet picture of home filled Will's heart only with discontent and an abiding unrest? The answer is plain, because he had determined, come what would, to sever himself from that homely, simple life, to cast the thought of it into the background, to live only for the future, and that future one of success and self-aggrandisement. Morva alone held him back; how could he hope to rise in his career, while his heart was fettered by the memory of a milkmaid, a cowherd, a shepherdess? No, it was very evident that from her he must break away. "But not now," he said to himself, as he paced round the quadrangle, "not yet." She was so sweet—he loved her so much; not yet must the severance come. "It will be time enough," so his reverie ended, "when my future is more defined and certain, then it will be easy to break away from poor Morva."
The invitation of which he had spoken had not been renewed, and though he was far too proud to show his annoyance, the omission galled and fretted his haughty nature, for the lowliness of his birth and circumstances chafed him continually, and engendered a sensitiveness to small annoyances which would not have troubled a nobler nature. In spite of all this, he found himself, as the term drew near its close, looking forward with pleasure to the old home ways, and the old home friends, and when he climbed into the jingling car beside his father, in the yard of the hotel, not even the rough country shabbiness of the equipage could altogether spoil the pleasant anticipations of a first vacation at home, although, it must be confessed, that as he drove out of the town, he earnestly hoped he would escape the observation of his fellow collegians.
Ebben Owens's happiness should now have been complete, for he had his much-loved son at home at his own hearth; but a shadow seemed to have fallen on the old man's life, a haunting sadness which nothing seemed to dispel. Ann rallied him upon it playfully, and he would laughingly promise to reform.
"Will at home and all," she said, "and everything going on so well—except, of course, 'tis dreadful about Gethin; but we have been used to his absence, father; and you never seemed to grieve about him."
"No, no," said her father, "I have never grieved about him much, but lately I had got so fond of him; he was so kind to me, so merry he was, and so handsome, and always ready to help!" and again he would relapse into silence.
On market day he was very anxious to drive Will into Castell On.
"Come on, 'machgen i; I will give you a new waistcoat. Come and show yourself to Mr. Price and to all the young ladies. Be bound, if they were to see you in your cap and gown, not the highest among them but would be proud to shake hands with you!"
But Will declined the offer. Later in the day, however, he walked in alone, and only that sad angel, who surely records the bitter wounds inflicted by children upon the tender parent hearts, knew how sharp a stab entered the old man's soul; but next day he had "got over it," as the phrase is.
With a slow, dragging step Morva walked home on the evening of Will's arrival. He had nodded at her in a nonchalant manner, with a kindly, "Well, Morva!" in passing, just as he had done to Magw and Shan, but further than that had not spoken to her again, though his eyes followed her everywhere as she moved about her household duties.
"Prettier than ever!" he thought. "My word! there is not one of the Llaniago young ladies fit to tie her shoe!"
As soon as the cows were milked and the short frosty day had ended, the moon rose clear and bright over the Cribserth.
"I am going to see Sara," said Will, taking his hat off the peg in the blue painted passage.
No one was surprised at that, for both Will and Gethin, ever since their mother's death, had been accustomed to run to Sara for sympathy with every pleasure or misfortune, and after being two months away it was quite natural that he should want to see her; so Morva had scarcely rounded the bend of the Cribserth before Will had caught her up. A little shiver ran through her as she recognised the step and the whistle which called her attention. It was Will, whom she once thought she had loved so truly, and the coldness which she had felt towards him of late was strangely mingled with remorse and tender memories as she turned and walked a few steps back to meet him.
"Stop, Morva; let me speak to thee. Give me thy hand, lass. After so long a parting thou canst not deny me a kiss too."
Ah, how sweet it was to return to the dear old Welsh, and the homely "thee" and "thou"!
"Art well, Will? But I need not ask. Indeed, there is life and health in thy very face."
"Yes, I am well," said Will, drawing her towards him. "I am coming with thee to see Sara."
"Yes, come," said Morva.
"Art glad to see me, lass?"
"Yes, indeed, I am very glad, whatever. Garthowen will be full again; it has been very empty lately."
She was thinking of Gethin, unconsciously, perhaps, and hung her head a little guiltily when Will said:
"Thou didst miss me, then?"
"Of course we all missed thee—thy father especially."
"More than thee, Morva?"
She sighed. "'Tis this way, Will. I am tired of this secrecy. We grew up like brother and sister. Can't we remain like that? Don't ask me for more, and then thou canst rise as high as thou pleasest, and I will be always glad to see thee, and so proud to hear of thy getting on. Will, it will never do for a clergyman to marry his father's milkmaid!"
"Twt, twt," said Will, "let us not think of the future, lass—the present is enough for me; and I promise thee not to allude to our marriage if thou wilt only meet me like this whenever I come home, and let me feel thee close to my heart as thou hast to-night."
"But I will not," said the girl suddenly, withdrawing herself from the arm which he had passed round her waist.
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because," said Morva, "'tis only my promise to marry thee that makes me meet thee as I do, and deceive them all at Garthowen. Let me tell them how it is between us, Will."
"What! Morva talk about her sweetheart as the English girls do! No, thou art too modest, lass."
"That is quite different," said Morva. "I do not want to talk about my—my—"
"Lover," said Will.
"Yes, but I don't want any longer to deceive my best friends. Let me go, Will, or let us be married soon. I am willing for either."
"Indeed, lass," said Will, beginning to hedge, "I would almost think thou hadst found another sweetheart, only I know how seldom any other man comes across thy path, unless indeed Gethin the thief has stolen thy love from me. Morva, dost love any other man?"
"Gethin is no thief," she answered hotly, "and thou knowest it as well as I do. Thou knowest his nature; 'twould be impossible for him to do a mean thing."
"Thou hast a high opinion of him," said Will scornfully. "Is it he, then, who hast stolen thine heart?"
Morva walked with bent head, pulling at her apron-strings.
"I am not saying that," she answered, in a very low tone, "but I wish to be free, or marry thee soon."
It was now Will's turn to be anxious. The possibility of Morva's loving any other man had never before disturbed him, but now her words, her attitude, all impressed him with a strong suspicion, and a flame of anger and jealousy rushed through his veins.
"Free!" he said, "after all thy promises to me—free to marry another man! Is it that, Morva?" and as he spoke his hot temper gathered strength. "Never!" he said, "I will never free thee from thy promise. Thou canst break it an thou wishest, and break my heart at the same time; 'twill be a fine return for all our kindness to thee, 'twill be a grand ending to all thy faithful vows!"
"I am willing to marry thee, Will," she said, "if thou wilt let it be soon."
"Marry thee soon! How can that be, Morva?—a student without home or money, and a girl without a penny in the world! What madness thou art talking. I only ask thee to have patience for a year or two, and I will have a home for thee. And who is thy new sweetheart?"
"I have no sweetheart; but, Will, I want to be free."
"And I will never give thee back thy freedom. Take it if thou lik'st. The absent are always forgotten. How could I expect thee to be true?"
Morva began to cry silently.
"I see I have set my heart upon a fickle, cruel woman, one who, after years of faithful promises, forgets me, and wishes to take back her vows. I have but to leave her for two months, and she at once breaks her promises and forgets the past, while I," said Will, with growing indignation and self-pity, "have found all my studies blurred by thine image, and the memory of thee woven with all my thoughts. Oh, Morva! had I known when we were boy and girl together that thou couldst be so false, I would never have treasured thee in my heart, but would have turned and fled as Gethin did, instead of clinging to thee, and for thy sake stopping in the dull old home when the world was all before me. And now to come home and find that thou art tired of me—art cold to me, and hast forgotten me! 'Tis a hard fate, indeed!"
"Oh, Will, no, no!" sobbed the girl, "'tis not so; indeed. God knows I love thee still as much as ever I did. 'Tis only that I have grown older, and wiser, and sadder perhaps, because it seems that knowing much brings sorrow with it. I was so young when I made all those promises."
"Two months younger than thou art now!" scoffed Will.
"Two months is a long time," she said, "when you begin to think, and I have thought and thought out here at night when the stars are glittering overhead, when the sea is sighing so sad down below, and after all my thinking only one thing is plain to me, Will; let there be no promises between us."
"Never!" said Will, a vindictive feeling rising within him, "never will I set thee free to marry another man, whoever he is!"
"He is no one," interpolated Morva, in a low voice.
"Whoever he is," repeated Will, as though he had not heard her, "I will never set thee free, never—never, never!"
All the dogged obstinacy of his nature was roused, and the feeling that he was a wronged and injured man gave his voice a tone of indignant passion which told upon the girl's sensitive nature.
"Oh, Will," she said, stretching out her hand towards him, "I did not think thou loved me like that! I cannot be cruel to thee; thou art a Garthowen, and for them I have often said I would lay down my life. I will lay down my life for thee, Will. Once more I promise."
"Nay," he said, laughing, "I will never ask thee to do that for me, lass; only be true to me and wait patiently for me, Morva;" and he drew her towards him once more.
"I will," she answered.
They had reached the cottage, and Will passed round into the court, leaving her standing with eyes fixed steadfastly on the bright north star.
"I will," she repeated, "for I have promised, and there are many ways of laying down one's life."
For a moment she stood alone in the moonlight, and what vows of self-sacrifice she made were known only to herself.
"Anwl, anwl!" said Sara, as Will entered, "will I make my door bigger? Will I find a stool strong enough for this big man?"
Will laughed and tossed back his hair.
"Will I ever be more than a boy to thee, Sara?"
"Well, indeed," said the old woman, "I am forgetting how the children grow up. Sit down, my boy, and tell us all about the grand streets and the college at Llaniago, and the ladies and gentlemen whom thou art hand and glove with there—and so thou ought to be, too. Caton pawb! I'd like to see the family whose achau go back further than Garthowen's!"
Here Morva entered.
"I thought thou hadst run away, lass!" said Will, with a double meaning as he looked at her.
She only smiled and shook her head.
"Oh! 'twouldn't do for me," said Sara, "whenever Morva stops out under the night sky to think she has run away; she often strays out when the stars are shining."
Gethin had always been Sara's favourite, and Will's visit therefore did not give her so much pleasure as his brother's had done; but she would have belied her hospitable nature had she allowed this preference to influence the warmth of her welcome.
Morva seemed to have regained her cheerfulness, and spread the simple supper, sometimes joining in the conversation, while Will and Sara chatted over the blaze of the crackling furze. It was quite late when he rose to go.
"Well," he said, "they will be shutting me out at Garthowen, and thinking I have learnt bad ways at Llaniago. Good-night, Sara fach, I am glad to see thee looking so well. Good-night, Morva. Wilt come with me a little way? 'Twill be an excuse for another ten minutes under the stars, Sara."
And they went out together, their shadows blending into one in the bright moonlight.
Once more Will extracted the oft-repeated promise, and Morva returned to the cottage, her chains only riveted more firmly, and her heart filled with a false strength, arising from an entire surrender of self and all selfish desires to an imaginary duty.
It was New Year's Day, the merriest and most festive day of the year, and Ebben Owens, sitting under the big chimney, seemed for a time at least to have shaken off the cloud that had hung over him of late.
Christmas Day in Wales is by no means the day of festivity that it is in England, the whole day being taken up with religious services of some kind; but the first day of the year is given up entirely to pleasure and happy re-unions. For the children it is the day of days. Before the sun has risen they congregate in the village streets, and set out in the dark and cold of the frosty morning in noisy groups, on expeditions into the surrounding country, with bags on their shoulders, in which they collect the kindly "calenigs," or New Year's gifts, prepared for them in every farm and homestead. 'Tis a merry gathering, indeed, the tramp through the frost and snow under the bright stars in the early morning, adding the charm of novelty and mystery to the usual delight of an expedition.
Ann and Morva had cut the generous hunches of barley bread and cheese overnight, and well it was that they were thus prepared, for before the hens and turkeys had flown down from their roosting-place, and before the cows had risen from their warm beds of straw in the beudy, or the sheep had begun to shake off the snow which had fallen on their fleeces in the night, fresh young voices were heard in the farmyard singing the old refrain familiar to generations of Welsh children:
"Calenig i fi, calenig i'r ffon, Calenig i fytta ar hyd y ffordd. Un waith, dwywaith, tair!"
"A gift for me and a gift for my staff, And a gift to eat as I trudge along. Once, twice, thrice!"
It is a peremptory demand, sung in a chanting kind of monotone, and very seldom refused. A boy is chosen to knock at the farm door and rouse the inmates, it being considered unlucky for the household if a girl first crosses the threshold.
The family at Garthowen had risen hurriedly, and with smiling faces had opened the door to the children. Bags were filled, greetings were interchanged, and the happy troop were sent on their way rejoicing, shouting as they went, "A happy New Year to you all!"
When the bread and cheese had come to an end, Ebben Owens had distributed pennies from a large canvas bag which he had filled for the occasion; and in the afternoon, when the calls were becoming less frequent, he sat under the open chimney with an almost empty bag.
Suddenly the doorway was darkened by a portly figure in black. A genial face glowing from the frosty air, a voice of peculiar mellowness, which always added a musical charm of its own both to singing and conversation; a chimney-pot hat not of the newest, his black clerical coat uncovered by greatcoat or cloak, a strong knobbed walking-stick in the right hand, while the finger and thumb of the left hand were generally tightly closed on a pinch of snuff, well-shined creaking shoes, completed the costume of the visitor, who was no other than Mr. Price, the vicar of Castell On.
"I saw the children coming to the back door, and I am come with them," said the vicar as he entered, pointing with his stick to a queue of children in the yard. "How do you do, Owens?" and he shook hands warmly with the old man, who rose hurriedly to greet his visitor.
"Caton pawb, Mr. Price!" he said, flinging his remaining pence into the yard, where the children scrambled for them. "Come in, sir, come in," and he opened the door of the best kitchen, where the rest of the family were sitting in the glow of the culm fire.
Will started to his feet, exclaiming, "Mr. Price!" and for a moment he hesitated whether to speak in English or in Welsh, but the visitor settled the matter by adhering to his mother-tongue.
Ann rose, calm and dignified, and held out her hand without much empressement. Mr. Price was a clergyman, and a little antagonism awoke at once in her faithful bigoted heart.
"My husband," she said, pointing to Gwilym, who flung away his book and came forward laughing.
"My dear girl," he said, "although Mr. Price and I work apart on Sundays, we meet continually in the week, and need no introduction, I think."
Mr. Price joined in the laugh, and shook hands warmly with the preacher and Will, and the conversation soon flowed easily. Will's career was the chief topic, the vicar appearing to take a personal interest in it, which delighted the old man's heart.
"I am very glad, indeed," said the former, with his pinch of snuff held in readiness, "to hear such a good account of you from my friend, the dean," and he disposed of his snuff. "He wrote to me, knowing I was particularly interested, and also that we are neighbours. He says, 'There is every reason to think your young friend will be an honour to his father, and to his college, if he goes on as he has begun. I have seldom had the privilege of imparting knowledge to one whose early teaching presents such well prepared ground for cultivation. Who was his tutor?' I have told him," added the vicar, "how much you owe to your brother-in-law."
"It has been a pleasure to instruct Will," said the preacher. "For one thing he has a wonderfully retentive memory. Of course it is useless to pretend that I should not have been better pleased if he had remained a member of 'the old body'; but, wherever he is, I shall be very grateful if the small seeds I have sown are allowed to bear the blossom and fruit of a useful Christian life."
"Yes, yes! just so, exactly so!" said the vicar; "but having chosen the Church of his own free will, I am very anxious he should get on well and be an honour to her."
He held out his silver snuff-box towards the preacher, who declined the luxury, but Ebben Owens accepted it with evident appreciation.
"There is one thing," said the vicar, turning to Will, "which I think very necessary for your advancement. You must make your uncle's acquaintance. Dr. Owen is a personal friend of the bishop's, and they say no one to whom he is unfriendly gets on in the Church."
"I hope he is not unfriendly to me," said Will, tossing his hair off his forehead. "I have never troubled him in any way, or claimed his acquaintance."
"Have you never spoken to him?"
"Only as a child," said Will haughtily. "He has not been here for a long time, and when he came I did not see him for I was not at home."
As a matter of fact Will had been ploughing on the mountain-side when the Dr. had honoured his brother with a call. He was beginning to be ashamed of the farm work and kept it out of sight as much as possible.
"Well, well!" said his father apologetically, "we are three miles from Castell On, you see, and it is uphill all the way, and Davy my brother, never comes to the town except to some service in the church, and so I can't expect him to spend his time coming out here."
"No, no, perhaps not! He is a very busy man," said the vicar, who was never known willingly to hurt anyone's feelings or to speak a disparaging word of an absent person. "Well, now, he is coming to lunch with me on Friday on his way to the archidiaconal meetings at Caer-Madoc, and I want you to come too."
"He won't like it, perhaps," said Will, "and I should be sorry to force my company upon him."
"Oh! you have no reason to think that," said the vicar. "I think when he has seen you he will like you; anyway, I hope you will come."
"Of course, Will, of course," said Ebben Owens. "He'll come, sir, right enough."
"You are very kind, sir," said Will, slowly and reluctantly. "I would give the world if it could be avoided, but if you think it is the right thing for me to do I will do it."
"I am sure it is! I'm sure it is!" said the vicar, taking snuff vigorously; "so I shall expect you. Well, Miss Ann, I beg pardon—Mrs. Morris, I mean, I have not congratulated you yet. 'Pon me word, I am very neglectful; but I do so now heartily, both of you. May you live long and be very happy. In fact, my call was intended for the bride and bridegroom as well as for my young friend here. And where is Morva Lloyd? She works with you, does she not?"
"She's at home to-day. 'Tis a holiday for her.
"She is a great favourite of mine; what a sweet girl she is! I never have a great beauty pointed out to me but I say 'Very lovely; but not so lovely as Morva of the Moor.'"
"Yes; she is a wonderful girl," said Ann, "for a shepherdess."
"Well, yes!" said Gwilym Morris; "I think she owes her charm in a great measure to her foster-mother. Do you know old Sara?"
"Oh, yes!" said the vicar; "we have all heard of old Sara ''spridion.' Something uncanny about the old woman, they say. But, 'pon me word, there is something very interesting about her, too."
"Yes," said Gwilym Morris, "she has a wonderful spiritual insight, if I may call it so. She often shocks me by her remarks, but if I lay a subject before her upon which I have been pondering deeply but have not succeeded in elucidating, she grasps its meaning at once and explains it to me in simple words, and I come away wondering where the difficulty lay."
After the vicar was gone, Will accompanying him half a mile down the road, the whole family were loud in his praise.
"There's a man now!" said Ebben Owens; "if every clergyman was like him 'twould be a good thing for the Church. No difference to him whether a man is a Methodist, a Baptist, or a Churchman, always the same pleasant smile and warm greeting for them all, and as much at home in a Dissenter's house as a Churchman's."
"Yes, a true Christian," said Gwilym Morris, "and so genial and pleasant. At 'Bethel' on Wednesday night, when Jones 'Bethesda' was preaching, he was there, and seemed much impressed by the sermon; and well he might be! I have never heard such an eloquent preacher. Wasn't he, Ann?"
"Oh, beautiful!" she replied. "I wish Mr. Price could have stopped to tea, but, of course, that meeting prevented him."
Next day when Will, having rung the bell, stood waiting on the vicar's doorstep, he was certainly not in as equable a frame of mind as his outward demeanour would lead one to suppose. He was in a few moments to meet face to face the man who of all others had interested him most deeply, though his feeling towards him was almost akin to hatred. It was a sore point at Garthowen that Ebben Owens' own brother had so completely ignored his relationship with him; and Will's hopes of success were greatly sweetened by the thought that in time he might hold his head as high as his uncle's, and bring that proud man to his senses; but to-day as he stood waiting at Mr. Price's door he called to mind the necessity of hiding his feelings, and conciliating the great man, who perhaps might have the power of helping him in the future.
When shown into the hall he heard voices within; the vicar's jovial laugh, and a pleasant voice so like his own, that he was startled.
"Hallo! Owen, how do you do? so glad to see you," said the vicar in English.
And the tall man who was standing by the window received him with an equally pleasant greeting.
"My nephew, I am told. Well, to be sure, this makes me realise how old I am getting."
"Nay, sir," said Will, "you are many years younger than my father."
The Rev. Dr. Owen looked over Will with secret surprise and satisfaction. He had expected a raw country youth, his angles still unrubbed off, his accent rough and Welshy, but Will was on his guard; it was his strong point, and though the care with which he chose his words was sometimes a little laboured and pedantic, yet they were always well chosen and free from any trace of Welsh accent. Dr. Owen was delighted; he had dreaded a meeting with his brother's uncouth progeny, and had been rather inclined to resent the vicar's interference in the matter, but when Will entered, well dressed, simple and unaffected in manner, and yet perfectly free from gaucherie, a long-felt uneasiness was set at rest, and the unexpected relief made Dr. Owen affable and pleasant.
Will was relieved too. He had feared a haughty look, a contemptuous manner, and dreaded lest his own hot temper might have refused to be controlled.
The vicar was delighted; he felt his little plan had succeeded, and his kind heart rejoiced in the prospective advantages which might accrue to Will from his acquaintance with his uncle.
"And how is my brother Ebben?" said Dr. Owen. "Well, I hope. I am ashamed to think how long it is since I have called to see him; but, indeed, I never come to Castell On except on important Church matters, and I never have much time on my hands. You will find that to be your own case, young man, when you have fully entered upon your clerical duties. The Church in Wales is no longer asleep, and she no longer lets her clergy sleep. I hope it is not with the idea that you will gain repose and rest that you have entered her service, for if it is you will be disappointed."
"Certainly not, sir," answered Will; "my greatest desire is a sphere in which I can use my energies in the services of the Church. I don't want rest, I want work."
"That being so," said the Dr., "we must see that you get it. I have no doubt with those feelings and intentions you will get on. You will take your degree, I suppose, before leaving college?"
"I hope so," said Will, modestly; "that is my wish."
"Your sister Ann," inquired his uncle at last, "how is she? And your eldest brother? Turned out badly, didn't he?"
"Well," said Will, "he is of a roving disposition, certainly; but that is all. My sister is quite well."
He intentionally left unmentioned the fact of her marriage, but the vicar, whose blunt, honest nature never thought of concealment, imparted the information at once.
"She was married about a month ago, and I should think has every prospect of happiness."
"Married! Ah, indeed! To whom? A farmer, I suppose?"
"No; to the minister of the Methodist Chapel at Penmorien. A very fine fellow, and one of the best scholars in the county. You know his 'Meini Gobaith,' published about a year ago?"
"Oh, is that the man?" said the doctor. "Ts! ts! you have left a nest of Dissenters, William. I am glad you have escaped."
"Yes," said Will, laughing; "a nest of Dissenters, certainly."
"Well," said the vicar, "you owe a great deal to Gwilym Morris. You would never have begun your college career on such good standing had it not been for him. In fact, you have had exceptional advantages."
"Yes," said Will; "he is a splendid teacher, and a good man."
"Well, well," said his uncle, "let the superstructure be good, and the foundation will soon be forgotten."
"A good man's silent influence is a very solid foundation to build upon, whatever denomination he may belong to," said the vicar.
"Oh, certainly, certainly," agreed Dr. Owen. "My carriage is at The Bear; perhaps you will walk down with me, both of you?"
"Of course, of course," said Mr. Price; "if you must go."
"Yes, I must go; I must not be late for the meeting at Caer-Madoc."
The vicar hunted for his walking-stick, and Will helped his uncle to get into his greatcoat.
"Thank you, my boy," said the old man, almost warmly, for he was beginning to feel the ties of blood awakening in his heart.
In truth, he was so pleasantly impressed by his new-found nephew's appearance and manners that already visions of a lonely hearth passed before him, lightened by the presence of a young and ardent spirit, who should look up to him for help and sympathy, giving in return the warm love of relationship, which no heart, however cold and isolated, is entirely capable of doing without.
Will was elated, and conscious of having stepped easily into his uncle's good graces, he walked up the street with the two clergymen, full of gratified pride.
On their way, to his great annoyance, they met Gryff Jones of Pont-y-fro, a farmer's son holding the same position as his own. He would have passed him with a nod, but the genial vicar, to whom every man was of equal importance, whether lord or farmer, stopped to shake hands and make kindly inquiries.
Will and the doctor moved on, and John Thomas the draper, standing at his shop-door, turned round with a wink at his assistant and a knowing smile.
"Well, well," he said, "Will Owens Garthowen is a gentleman at last. That's what he's been trying to be all his life."
At the door of the Bear Hotel they came upon a knot of ladies, who at once surrounded Dr. Owen. He was a great favourite amongst them, his popularity being partly due to his good looks and pleasant manners, partly to his good position in the Church, and in some measure certainly to his reputed riches.
Soon after entering the Church he had married a lady of wealth and good position, who was considerably older than himself, and who, having no children, at her death had bequeathed to him all her property. Many a net had been spread for the rich widower, but he had hitherto escaped their toils, and appeared perfectly content with his lonely life.
Will was almost overwhelmed with nervousness and shyness as they reached the group of ladies; but, true to his purpose, he put on a look of unconcern which he was far from feeling.
"How do you do, Mr. Owen?" said one of the girls, holding out her hand with a shy friendliness, "I am Miss Vaughan, you know, whom you saved from that furious bull."
"Yes, of course," said Will, shaking hands.
"I thought perhaps you had forgotten me," she said.
Will had flushed to the roots of his hair from nervousness, but he quickly regained his self-possession. He looked down the side of his leg and pondered his boot.
"Would that be possible, I wonder?" he said, half aloud.
"I don't see much difficulty," said the girl laughingly.
Will laughed too, and his laugh was always charming, the ice was broken, and the chat was only disturbed by the Dr.'s hurried good-bye.
"Good-bye, ladies," he said, as he stepped briskly into his gig. "I am grieved to have to leave you, but that meeting calls. Good-bye, Will, I shall see you at Llaniago, and you, Miss Vaughan, I hear I am to have the pleasure of meeting you at Llwynelen." And the Dr. drove off amongst a flutter of hands and handkerchiefs.
And now Will would have been in a dilemma had not the vicar arrived on the scene. Again there were many "How do you do's?" and much shaking of hands, while Will was debating within himself what he should do.
The vicar at once introduced him to each and all of the young ladies, some of whom would have drawn back in horror had they known that the young man who addressed them with such sang-froid was the son of a farmer, and a brother-in-law of a dissenting preacher.
Will knew this obstacle in his path, and was determined to overcome it. Gwenda Vaughan, he thought, was delightfully easy to get on with, and their conversation followed on uninterruptedly until they reached the vicarage door, where they parted, the ladies separating, and Will staying to bid the vicar good-bye.
"Who on earth was that handsome man, Gwenda?" asked Adela Griffiths before parting. "I don't know how it is, but you always manage to get hold of handsome men.
"And nothing ever comes of it," whispered Edith Williams.
"Why, he's Dr. Owen's nephew," said Gwenda; "didn't you hear Dr. Owen introduce him?"
And she said no more, but carried away with her a distinct impression of Will's handsome person and charming smile.
* * * * * *
About this time a strange thing happened at Garthowen. It was midday. Ann had just laid the dinner on the table, and Ebben Owens had lounged in.
"Well, the threshing will be done soon," said the old man; "Twm is a capital fellow. Don't know in the world what I should do without him."
"What is that noise?" asked Morva, pushing back her hair to listen, as a curious sound as of shaking and thumping was heard by all.
"'Tis upstairs, and in your room, Gwilym," said Ann.
Suddenly there was a jingling sound and rolling as if of money, followed by a satisfied bark.
"Run up Morva and see," said Ann; "what is that dog doing?"
The girl ran up, passing Tudor on the stairs, who entered the kitchen with waving tail and glistening eyes carrying in his mouth a canvas bag from which hung a draggled pink tape, and at the same moment Morva's voice was heard calling, "Oh, anwl! come up and see!"
Ann and Gwilym hurried up, followed by Ebben Owens and Will, to find Morva pointing to the floor which was strewn with pieces of gold.
"My sovereigns!" said Gwilym, "no doubt! and Tudor has emptied the bag. Where could they have come from?" and everyone looked through the open window down the lane to where in the clear frosty air the blue smoke curled from a little brown thatched chimney.
Ebben Owens jerked his thumb towards the cottage.
"There's no need to ask that," he said. "'Twould be easy to stand on the garden wall and throw it in through the window."
Ann was busily counting the sovereigns which had rolled into all sorts of difficult corners.
"Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty!"
"Every one right," said Gwilym; "how fortunate! but how I should like to tell Gryffy Lewis I forgive him, and that he has done right in returning the money."
"I expect fear as well as a guilty conscience made him return them, the blackguard!" suggested Will.
"No doubt; no doubt," said the old man.
As for Morva, she was so overcome with joy at this proof of Gethin's innocence that she was scarcely able to hide her agitation from those around her.
When all the money had been gathered into Ann's apron they returned to their dinner to find Tudor occupying the mishteer's chair, with a decided expression of satisfaction on his face, the canvas bag lying beside him.
"Well," said Ebben Owens, ousting Tudor unceremoniously from his seat, and speaking in an agitated and tremulous voice, "one thing has been made plain, whatever, and that is that poor Gethin had nothing to do with the money. You all see that, don't you?"
"Well I suppose he hadn't," said Will; "but why then did he go away so suddenly? That, I suppose, must remain a mystery until he chooses to turn up again."
"Yes, it is strange," said his father, with a deep sigh.
"Well, thank God!" said Gwilym; "'tis plain he never took the money, Ann. There is no more need for tears."
"No, indeed," she said, "but will he ever come back? Oh! father, anwl! no more sighs. Will is a collegian and getting on well. Gethin is an honest man wherever he is. He will come back suddenly to us one day as he did before, and there is no need for heavy hearts any longer at Garthowen. Morva, lass, art not glad?"
"Yes, indeed," said the girl, "but I never thought it was Gethin."
Ebben Owens looked up at her quickly.
"Who then?" he said.
"Oh, I didn't know," said the girl, "but I thought God would make it plain some day."
"I don't think there is much doubt about it," said Gwilym. "Poor Gryffy; we know he must have suffered much remorse before he threw that bag in at the window again."
"'Twas not Gethin, and that's all we need trouble our heads about now," said the old man rising from the table.
The frosty wind was scarcely more fleet than Morva's flying footsteps as she crossed the moor that evening.
"Mother, mother!" she called, even before she had reached the doorway. "Mother, mother! the money is found and everyone knows now that Gethin is innocent!" and the whole story was poured into Sara's ears.
Tudor, who sat beside the girl on the settle, her arm thrown round his neck, looked from one face to another as the story proceeded, interpolating a bark whenever there was a pause.
"So the clouds roll by," said Sara. "Patience 'merch i! and the sun will shine out some day!"
"How can that be, mother, when I am bound to Will? A milkmaid to a clergyman; and he already ashamed of her!"
"I am going to walk into town," said Dr. Owen one morning as he turned over the sheets of his newspaper; "is anyone inclined for a walk?"
He was sitting in the sunny bay-window of the breakfast-room at Llwynelen, a large country house about a mile out of Llaniago.
"I am," answered Gwenda Vaughan, who sat at work near him. "Such a lovely day! I was longing for a walk."
"And I too," said Mrs. Trevor, their hostess. "I have some shopping to do, and will come with you."
"Do. Will you be ready in half an hour, ladies? I am going to call upon my nephew; I can go to his rooms while you are doing your shopping."
"Yes," said Mrs. Trevor, "and bring him back to lunch with us. I shall be glad to make his acquaintance. I hear he is a very promising young man."
"Thank you. I am sure he will be delighted to come. I think you will like him; but I forgot that you, Miss Vaughan, have already seen him."
"Oh, yes!" said Gwenda. "He once saved my life; so of course I am very grateful."
"Saved your life, child; how," asked Mrs. Trevor.
And Gwenda related the story of the runaway bull, and the manner in which Will had gone to her rescue.
"Dear me," said Dr. Owen, "he never mentioned it to me! Well! I'll go and look him up today."
Noontide found Will seated at lunch at Llwynelen, Mr. Trevor plying him with questions concerning his studies and college life; Dr. Owen not a little pleased with his nephew's self-possessed, though unobtrusive, manner. He was pleased, too, to see that he made a favourable impression upon the genial host and hostess.
Gwenda was as delightfully agreeable as she knew how to be, and that is saying a good deal. Her naive remarks and honest straightforward manner had made her a favourite with Dr. Owen, and it gratified him to see an easy acquaintance springing up between her and his nephew.
"It is Will's twenty-fourth birthday to-day, he tells me," he said.
"How odd!" said Gwenda; "it is my twenty-second."
"That is strange," said Mrs Trevor; "and you never let me know! But you need not tell everyone your age."
"Oh! well, young ladies don't usually tell their ages; but you are not quite like other girls."
Gwenda laughed; and Will thought how charming were the dimple in her chin, the perfect teeth, the sparkling black eyes! Yes, she was very pretty, no doubt!
"Is that remark meant to be disparaging or complimentary?" asked the girl.
"Oh! a little of both," said Mrs. Trevor; "girls are odd nowadays."
"Yes; I think the days are gone by when they were all run into the same mould," remarked Dr. Owen.
"And I'm afraid the mould got cracked before I was run into it," replied Gwenda.
"Well, you are not very misshapen," said the Dr. warmly, "and if you do run into little irregularities, they are all in the right direction."
"Let us hope so," said the girl.
Will said nothing; but Gwenda, catching the look of ardent admiration, blushed vividly, and looked down at her plate.
"In the meantime," she remarked, "no one has wished me or Mr. Owen many happy returns of the day."
"Bless me, no!" said Mr. Trevor; "but I do so now, my dear, with all my heart."
"And I—and I," echoed the others.
"Let us drink the health of the two young people," said the host.
"Thank you very much for your kind wishes," said Will.
"Yes, thank you very much," echoed Gwenda. Will was in danger of losing his head as well as his heart. To have his name (from which, by the by, he had dropped the plebeian "s") bracketed with Miss Gwenda Vaughan's was a state of things which, though occasioned only by a simple coincidence, elated him beyond measure. He had indeed, he thought, stepped out of the old order of things and made his way into a higher grade of life by an easy bound. He was careful, however, to hide his gratified pride entirely from those around him.
After lunch, Mrs. Trevor proposed a stroll through the conservatories, and while the elders stopped to admire a fern or a rare exotic, Will and Gwenda roamed on under the palms and greenery to where a sparkling fountain rose, and flung its feathery spray into the air.
"Will you sit down?" said Will, pointing to a seat which stood invitingly near. "You must be tired after your long walk."
"Tired? Oh no, I love walking, and am very strong, but we can rest till the others come up."
And sitting down together they watched the gold fish in the fountain's rustic basin. Through the glass they could see the sparkling frosty branches outside against the pale blue sky of a winter's day, the sun shining round and red through the afternoon haze.
"What a glorious day," said Gwenda at last.
"Yes," answered Will, adding a little under his breath, "one I shall never forget."
There was something in the tone of his voice which caused a little flutter of consciousness under Gwenda's fur necklet. She made no answer, and, after a moment, changed the subject, though with no displeasure in her voice.
"Do you see those prismatic colours in the spray?"
"Yes, beautiful!" answered Will, rather absently.
He was wondering whether all this was a dream—that he, Will Owen of Garthowen Farm, was sitting here under the palms and exotics with Miss Gwenda Vaughan of Nantmyny. At last Gwenda rallied him.
"You are dreaming," she said playfully.
"I am afraid I am."
At this moment the rest of the party appeared, and they all returned to the house together.
Will looked at his watch.
"I think I must go," he said. "I have a lecture to attend."
"Well," said his uncle, "we won't detain you from that. Quite right, my boy, never neglect your lectures. I shall see you again to-morrow."
"Now, don't wait for an invitation," said Mrs. Trevor hospitably, "but come and see us as often as you can. Your uncle is quite at home here, and we shall be delighted if you will make yourself so too!"
"I shall only be too glad to avail myself of your kindness."
"I will come with you to the gate," said his uncle, and Will went out in a maze of happiness.
"My dear boy," said Dr. Owen, taking his arm as they passed together up the broad avenue, "I have done a good thing for you to-day. I have introduced you to the nicest family in the neighbourhood. Keep up their acquaintance, it will give you a good standing."
"You are very good to me, sir," said Will. "I don't know how to thank you."
"By going on as you have begun, William. I am very pleased to find you such a congenial companion. I mean to be good to you, better than you can imagine. I am a lonely old man, and you must come and brighten up my home for me."
"Anything I can do," said Will warmly.
"Well, well, no promises, my dear boy. I shall see how you go on. I believe we shall get on very well together. Good-bye, I shall see you tomorrow."
"You evidently take a great interest in your nephew," said Mrs. Trevor, on the Dr.'s return to the house, "and I am not surprised. He seems a very nice fellow, so natural and unaffected, and so like you in appearance; he might be a son of yours."
"Yes," said Dr. Owen thoughtfully, "I am greatly pleased with him. You see I am a lonely man. I have no one else to care for, so I shall watch the young man's career with great interest. He will be everything to me, and with God's help I will do everything for him."
"He is a lucky fellow indeed," said Mrs. Trevor.
"Well, yes, I think he will be."
Gwenda was sitting quietly at work in the bay window, where not a word of this conversation was lost upon her. Was it possible that bright hopes were dawning even for her, who had been tossed about from early girlhood upon the sea of matrimonial schemes? Schemes from which her honest nature had revolted; for Gwenda Vaughan had within her a fund of right feeling and common sense, a warmth of heart which none of the frivolous, shallow-minded men with whom she had come in contact had ever moved. Attracted only by her beauty, they sought for nothing else, while she, conscious of a depth of tenderness waiting for the hand which should unseal its fountain, turned with unsatisfied yearnings from all her admirers and so-called "lovers." She had felt differently towards Will from the day when he had, as she thought, saved her life, and when he had ridden home with her foot in his hand. A strange feeling of attraction had inclined her towards him, all the romance in her nature, which had been stunted and checked by the manoeuvres and manners of country "society," turned towards this stalwart "son of the soil" who had so unexpectedly crossed her path. She had not thought it possible that her romantic dreams could be realised; such things were not for her! In her case everything was to be sacrificed to the duty of "making a good match," of settling herself advantageously in the world, but now what did she hear? "I will do everything for him," surely that meant "I will make him my heir!" For wealth and position for their own sakes she cared not a straw, but Will's "prospects," the sickening word that had been dinned into her ears for years, began to arouse a deep interest in her mind. Her heart told her that he was not entirely indifferent to her, and experience had taught her that when she laid herself out to please she never failed to do so. All day she was very silent until at last Mrs. Trevor said:
"You are very quiet to-day, love; I really shall begin to think you have fallen in love with Dr. Owen's nephew. A charming young man, certainly, and I should think his prospects—"
"Oh, stop, dear Mrs. Trevor! Prospects! I am sick of the word. Shall I play you something?" And in the twilight she sat down to the piano.
"Do, dear; I love to see you on that music stool," said the good lady; and well she might, for Gwenda was a musician from the soul to the finger tips, and this evening she seemed possessed by the spirit of music, for long after the twilight had faded into darkness, she sat there pouring her very heart out in melody, and when she retired to rest her pillow was surrounded by thoughts and visions of happiness, more romantic and tender than had ever visited her before.
As the year sped on its course, Will's college life became more and more absorbing. The greater part of his vacations were always spent at Isderi, his uncle's house, situated some twenty miles up the valley of the On. Invited with his uncle to all the gaieties of the neighbourhood, he frequently met Gwenda Vaughan. Their attraction for each other soon ripened into a deeper feeling, and in the opinion of her friends and acquaintances Gwenda was a fortunate girl, Will being regarded only as the nephew and probable heir of the wealthy Dr. Owen, very few knowing of or remembering his connection with the old grey-gabled farm by the sea.
A hurried scrap-end of the time at his disposal was spent at Garthowen, where his father was consumed alternately by a feverish longing to see him, and a bitter disappointment at the shortness of his visit. He was beginning to find out that the love—almost idolatry—which he had lavished upon his son did not bring him the comfort and happiness for which he had hoped.
Will was affable and sometimes affectionate in his demeanour while he was present with his father; but he showed no desire to prolong his visits beyond the time allotted him by his uncle, who seemed more and more to appropriate to himself the nephew whose acquaintance he had so lately made. This in itself chafed and irritated Ebben Owens, and he felt a bitter anger against the brother who had ignored him for so long, and was now stealing from him what was more precious to him than life itself. He tried to rejoice in his son's golden prospects, and perhaps would have succeeded had Will shown himself less ready to drop the old associations of home and the past, and a more tender clinging to the friends of his youth; but this was far from being Will's state of feeling. More and more he felt how incongruous were the simple ways of Garthowen with the formal and polished manners of his uncle's household, and that of the society to which his uncle's prestige had given him the entree. He was not so callous as to feel no pain at the necessity of withdrawing himself entirely from his old relations with Garthowen, but he considered it his bounden duty to do so. He had chosen his path; he had put his hand to the plough, and he must not look back, and the dogged persistence which was a part of his nature came to his assistance.
"I could pay all your expenses, my boy," said his father, with a touching humility unnoticed by Will. "I have been saving up all my money since you went to college, and now there it is lying idle in the bank."
"Well, father, it would only offend my uncle if I did not let him supply all my wants; and as my future depends so much upon him, would it be wise of me to do that?"
"No, no, my boy, b'tshwr, it wouldn't. I am a foolish old man, and must not keep my boy back when he is getting on so grand. Och fi! Och fi!" and he sighed deeply.
"Och fi!" laughed Ann and Will together.
"One would think 'twas the downward path Will was going," said the former.
"No, no!" replied the old man, "'tis the path of life I was thinking of, my children. You don't know it yet, but when you come to my age perhaps you will understand it," and he sighed again wearily.
He had altered much of late, a continual sadness seemed to have fallen on his spirit, the old pucker on his forehead was seldom absent now, he was irritable and ready to take offence, and if not spoken to, would remain silently brooding in the chimney corner.
On the contrary, Ann's whole nature seemed to have expanded. Her happy married life drew out the brightness and cheerfulness which perhaps had been a little lacking in her early girlhood.
Gwilym Morris was an ideal husband; tender and affectionate as a woman, but withal firm and steady as steel; a strong support in worldly as well as spiritual affairs. Latterly the extreme narrowness of the Calvinistic doctrines, which had made his sermons so unlike his daily practice, had given place to broader views, and a more elevating realisation of the Creator's love. Many hours he spent with Sara in her herb garden, on the moor, or sitting by the crackling fire, conversing on things of spiritual import; and the well-read scholar confessed that he had learnt much from the simple woman, the keen perception of whose sensitive soul, had in a great measure separated her from her kind, and had made her to be avoided as something uncanny or "hyspis."
And what of Morva? To her, too, time had brought its changes. She was now two years older, and certainly more than two years wiser, for upon her clear mind had dawned in unmistakeable characters of light, the truth, that her relations with Will were wrong. She knew now that she did not love him—she knew now it would be sinful to marry him, and she sought only for a way in which she could with the least pain to him, sever the connection between them. She saw plainly, that Will had ceased to love her, and she rejoiced at the idea that it would not be difficult therefore to persuade him to release her from her promise. When one day she met him on the path to the moor, and he tried as of old to draw her nearer and imprint a kiss on her lips she started from him.
"No, Will," she said, "that must not be. You must let me go now. Do you think I do not see you have changed, that you have ceased to love me?"
Will noticed at once the dropping of the familiar "thee" and "thou"; and in his strange nature, where good and bad were for ever struggling with each other, a fierce anger awoke. That she—Morva! a shepherdess! a milkmaid! should dare to oppose the wishes of the man who had once ruled her heart, and at whose beck and call she would have come as obediently as Tudor—that she should now set her will in opposition to his, and dare to ruffle the existence which had met with nothing but favour and success, was unbearable.
"What dost mean by these words, lodes? how have I ever shown that I have forgotten thee? Dost expect me, who have my studies to employ me, and my future to consider—dost expect me to come philandering here on the cliffs after a shepherdess?"
"No," said Morva, trying to curb her hot Welsh temper, which rushed through her veins, "no! I only ask you to free me from my promise. I have sworn that I would keep it, but if you do not wish it, He will not expect me to keep my vow. I see that plainly. It would be a sin—so let me go, Will," and her voice changed to plaintive entreaty; "I will be the same loving sister to you as ever—set me free!"
"Never," said Will, the old cruel obstinacy taking possession of him, a vindictive anger rising within him against the man whom he suspected had taken his place in the girl's heart. Gethin—the wild and roving sailor! No! he should never have her.
"Thou canst break thy promises," he said, turning on his heel, "and marry another man if thou wilt, but remember I have never set thee free. I have never agreed to give thee up;" and without another word he passed round the broom bushes, leaving Morva alone gazing out over the blue bay.
As he returned to the farm he was filled with indignation and anger. The obstinacy which was so strong a trait in his character was the real cause of his refusal to give Morva her freedom, for the old love for her was fast giving place to his new-born passion for Gwenda Vaughan, which had grown steadily ever since he had first met her.
Three miles above Llaniago, the river On, which had flowed peaceably and calmly for some miles through fair meadows and under the spanning arches of many a bridge, seemed to grow weary of its staid behaviour and suddenly to return to the playful manners of its youth. In its wild exuberance it was scarcely recognisable as the placid river which, further in its course, flowed through Llaniago and Castell On. With fret and fume and babbling murmurs it made its way through its rocky channel, filling the air with the sound of its turmoil. Both sides of its precipitous banks down to the water's edge were hidden in woods of stunted oak, through whose branches the sound of its flow made continual music, music which this evening reached the ears of a solitary man, who sat at the open window of a large house standing near the top of the ravine, its well-kept grounds and velvet lawn reaching down to the very edge of the oak wood, and even stretching into its depths in many a green glade and avenue. There was no division or boundary between the wood and the lawn, so that the timid hares and pheasants would often leave their leafy haunts to disport themselves upon its soft turf. It was Dr. Owen who, contrary to his usual careful habits, sat at that open window in the gathering twilight, dreaming dreams which were borne to him on the sound of the rushing waters, which lulled his senses, and brought before him the scenes of his past life. The twilight darkened into gloom, and still he sat on in brooding thought, letting the voice of the river bear to him on its wings sweet memories or sad retrospect as it chose. The early days of his childhood came back to him, when with a light heart he had roamed over moor and sandy beach, or over the grassy slopes of Garthowen. The river still sang on, and before him rose the vision of a man of homely and rustic appearance, who urged and encouraged his youthful ardour in the pursuit of knowledge, who rejoiced at his successes, and supplied his wants, who laid his hand upon his young head with a dying blessing. How vividly the scene returned to him! The dismay of the household when that rugged figure disappeared from the scene, the difficulties which had crowded his path in the further pursuance of his education, the arduous steps up the ladder of learning, the perseverance crowned with success! Still the rushing river filled his ears and brought before him its phantom memories—his successful career in the Church—his prosperous marriage, the calm domestic life which followed—the wealth—the honour—the prestige—what had they led to?—an empty home, a solitary hearth, no heir to inherit his riches, no young voices to fill the house with music and laughter—no—it had all turned to dust and ashes—there was no one to whom he could confide his joys or his sorrows—he was alone in the world, but need it always be so? and again he listened, deep in thought, to the spirit voices which the roar of the river seemed to carry into his soul. What a change would Will's presence bring into his life. How much ruddier would be the glow of the fire! how much more cosy the lonely hearth! How pleasant it would be to see him always seated at the well-appointed table! how the silver and glass would sparkle! how they would wake the echoes of the old house with happy talk and merry laughter! and the old man became quite enamoured of the picture which his imagination had conjured up.
"Yes," he said aloud, for there was no one to hear him, "I will no longer live alone; I will adopt Will as my son and heir. I think he is all I could wish him to be, and I believe he will reflect credit on my choice."
And when he closed the window and turned to his book and reading-lamp it was with a pleased smile of content, and a determination to carry out his plans without delay. Will should be fully informed of his intentions.
"It will give him confidence," thought the old man, and the feeling of kinship which had so long slept within him began to awake and to fill his heart with a warm glow which he had missed so long, though perhaps unconsciously.
In the following week Will came for a two days' visit, and Dr. Owen looked forward to their evening smoke with eager impatience. When at last they were seated in the smoking-room and Will had, with thoughtful care, pushed the footstool towards him and placed the lamp in his favourite position on the table at his back, he no longer delayed the hour of communication.
"Thank you, my boy, I quite miss you when you are away; you seem to fall into your place here so naturally I almost wish your college life was over so that I might see more of you."
"It would be strange if I did not feel at home here, you are so indulgent to me, uncle. If I were your own son I don't think you could be kinder."
"Well, Will, that is what I want you to become—my own son, the comfort of my declining years, and the heir to my property when I die. Does that agree with your own plans for the future, or does it clash with your inclination?"
"Sir! Uncle!" exclaimed Will, in delighted astonishment, "how can I answer such a question? Such a change in my prospects takes my breath away. What can I say to you? I had never thought of such a thing," and he rose, with a heightened colour and an air of excited surprise, which left Dr. Owen no doubt as to the reality of his feelings. They were not, however, altogether real, for Will had latterly begun to suspect the true meaning of his uncle's kindness to him.
"There is only one thing to be said, sir. Did it clash with my own plans there would be no sacrifice too great for me to make in return for your kindness. But you must know, uncle, that not only the ties of gratitude compel me, but the bonds of relationship and affection (may I say love) are strong upon me, and I can only answer once more that I accept your generosity with the deepest gratitude. I little thought a year ago that I should ever feel towards you as I do now. I felt a foolish, boyish resentment at the enstrangement between you and my father, but now I am wiser, I see the reason of it. I know how impossible it would be to combine the social duties of a man in your position with continued intimate relations with your old home. The impossibility of it even now hampers me, uncle, and I feel that it will be well for me to break away from the old surroundings if I am ever to make my way up the ladder of life. Your generous intentions towards me smooth this difficulty, and I can only thank you again, uncle, from my heart. I hope my conduct through life may be such that you will never regret the step you have taken, certainly I shall endeavour to make it so."
"Agreed, my boy!" said the Dr., holding out his hand, which Will grasped warmly, "we understand each other, from this time forward you are my adopted son; the matter is settled, let us say no more about it," and for a few moments the two men followed the train of their own thoughts in silence.
"How plainly we hear the On to-night," said Will, "it seems to fill the air. Shall I close the window?"
"Yes," said Dr. Owen, "if you like, Will; I have never heard it so plainly before. There is something solemn at all times in the sound; but to you it can bring no sad memories from the days gone bye, you have so lately left that wonderful past, which, as we grow older, becomes ever more and more bathed in the golden tints of imagination, 'that light which never was on sea or land.' You owe something to those rushing waters, Will, for while I sat here alone one evening, they flooded my soul with old and tender memories, and bore in upon me the advisability of the offer which I have just made you, and to which you have agreed."
Not a word was said as to the possibility of Ebben Owens objecting to the arrangement, in fact, neither of them thought of the old man, who even now was sitting in the chimney corner at Garthowen, building castles in the air, and dreaming dreams in which Will ever played the part of hero.
Later on, when the latter lay wakeful in the silent hours of night, the distant roar of the river carried home to his heart too, the memory of the old homestead, of many a scene of his careless and happy boyhood, and of the old man, the warmth of whose affection for him he was beginning to find rather irksome and embarrassing.
On the following day Dr. Owen called all his servants together, and in a few words but with a very decided manner, made them acquainted with the important step which he had taken with regard to Will, and bade them bear in mind, that for the future, his nephew would hold, next to himself, the highest place in the household. Will had been careful to ingratiate himself as much as possible with the old servants, whose opinions he thought might weigh somewhat in their master's decisions, the younger ones he treated with a somewhat haughty bearing.
"You will be coming again next week," said the Dr., as they both sat at dinner together; "the Trevors are coming, you know, to spend a few days with me, a long promised visit. We shall have a day with the otter hounds. Colonel Vaughan and Miss Gwenda are coming too, did I tell you?"