"No," said Will, "I did not know that. Do they often stay with you?"
"No, they have never been here before. They were dining at the Trevors. I included them in the invitation, and they promised to come. Miss Gwenda is a great favourite of mine, and of yours, Will, eh? Am I right?"
Will's handsome face flushed as he answered with some embarrassment, for he was not at all sure that his uncle would approve of the entanglement of a love affair.
"I—I. Well, sir, no one can be acquainted with Miss Vaughan without being impressed by her charms both of mind and person, but further than that, it would—I have no right to—in fact, uncle, it would be madness for a young man in my station, I mean—of my obscure birth, to think of a young lady like Miss Vaughan."
"Oh, that you can leave out of your calculations henceforth, I imagine. I know the world better than you do, Will, and I shall be much surprised if the advantages of being my adopted son and my heir will not far outweigh the fact of your rustic birth. Money is the lever which moves the world now-a-days. That has been my experience, and, if you act up to the position which I offer you, your old home will not stand in your way much. Of course I need not tell a young man of your sense and shrewdness that it will not be necessary for you to allude to it. Let the past die a natural death."
This was exactly what Will meant to do, but, expressed in his uncle's cold, business-like tones, its callousness jarred upon him, and he felt some twinges of conscience, and a regretful sympathy with his old father rose in his heart, which brought a lump in his throat and an unwonted moisture in his eyes. But he mastered the feeling, and assumed an air of pleased compliance which for the moment he did not feel.
"As for Gwenda Vaughan," continued his uncle, "you could never make a choice that would please me better; and, if she is at all inclined towards you, I fancy you will find your stay together here will mark a new era in your acquaintance."
"I do not think she dislikes me," said Will; "but more than that it would be presumption on my part to expect."
"H'm. Faint heart never won fair lady," laughed the Dr.
Will left Isderi much elated by his good fortune. Fortunately for him, he was possessed of a full share of common sense which came to his aid at this dangerous crisis of his life and prevented his head being completely turned by the bright hopes and golden prospects which his uncle's conversation suggested to him. It had been settled between them that it would be advisable not to make Ebben Owens at once acquainted with their plans, but to let the fact dawn upon him gradually.
"He will like it, my dear boy," said his uncle, when Will a little demurred to the necessity of keeping his father in the dark; "he will be proud of it when he sees the real and tangible advantages which you will gain by the arrangement. You will go and see him sometimes as before, and it need make no difference in your manner towards him, which, I have no doubt, has always been that of a dutiful son."
One day in the following week, Will returned to Isderi; and it was with a delightful feeling of prospective proprietorship that he slipped into the high dog-cart which his uncle sent for him. He took the reins, naturally, into his own hands, and the servant seemed to sink naturally into his place beside him; and if, as he drove with a firm hand the high-stepping, well-groomed horse along the high-road, he felt his heart swell with pride and self congratulation, can it be wondered at?
On reaching the drive, which wound through the park-like grounds, he overtook his uncle and Colonel Vaughan. Alighting, he joined them; and Dr. Owen introduced him to his visitor.
"Ah! yes, yes, your nephew of course—we have met before," said the old man awkwardly, and he shook hands with Will in a bewildered manner. "Of course, of course; I remember your pluck when you tackled that bull. Pommy word I think Gwenda owes her life to you. I shall never forget that, you know."
"Well, you must give me a fuller account of that affair some day," said Dr. Owen. "You are come just in time, Will. Colonel Vaughan suggests that a break in those woods, so as to show the river, would be an improvement, and I think I agree with him. What do you say to the idea?"
"I think Colonel Vaughan is quite right, uncle; the same thing had already struck me."
"That's right; then that settles the matter," said Dr. Owen, who had determined to leave no doubt in his guest's mind of his nephew's importance in his estimation, and of his generous intentions towards him.
Gwenda was sitting alone in the drawing-room when Will entered, and it was a great relief to him that this was the case, for he was not yet so completely accustomed to the small convenances of society as to feel no awkwardness or nervousness upon some occasions. Free from the restraint of Mrs. Trevor's presence, however, he made no attempt to hide the pleasure which his meeting with Gwenda aroused in him. She was looking very beautiful in a dress of some soft white material, and as she held out her hand to Will a strange feeling came over him, a feeling that that sweet face would for ever be his lodestar, and that firm little white hand would help him on the path of life. He scarcely dared to believe that the blush and the drooping eyes were caused by his arrival, but it was not long before he had conquered his diffidence, and remembering his golden prospects had recovered his self-confidence sufficiently to talk naturally and unrestrainedly.
"Never saw such a thing," said the old colonel, later on in the day, to his niece, sitting down beside her for a moment's talk, under cover of a song which Mrs. Trevor was singing. "Dr. Owen seems wrapped up in his nephew, and the fellow seems to take it all as naturally as a duck takes to the water. Pommy word, he's a lucky young dog."
And naturally and quietly Will did take his place in the household, never pleasing his uncle more than when he sometimes unconsciously gave an order to the servants, and so took upon himself the duties which would have devolved upon him had he been his son instead of his nephew.
Gradually, too, Colonel Vaughan became accustomed to the change in the "young fellow's" circumstances, and accepted the situation with equanimity. Will left no stone unturned to ingratiate himself with the old man, and was very successful in his attempts. So much so, that when he and Gwenda would sometimes step out of the French window together, and roam through the garden and under the oak trees side by side, her uncle noticed it no more than he would have had Will been one of the average young men of On-side society.
Meanwhile, for the two young people, the summer roses had a deeper glow, the river a sweeter murmur, and the sky a brighter tint than they had ever had before; and while Gwenda sat under the shade of the gnarled oaks, with head bent over some bit of work, Will lying on the green sward beside her in a dream of happiness, Mrs. Trevor watched them from her seat in the drawing-room with a smile full of meaning, and Dr. Owen with a look of pleased content.
"You must find it a very pleasant change from hard study to come out here sometimes," said Gwenda, drawing her needle out slowly.
"Yes, very," said Will; "I never bring a book with me, and I try to banish my studies from my mind while I am here."
"Do you find that possible? I am afraid I have a very ill-regulated mind, as an interesting subject will occupy my thoughts whether I like it or not."
"Well, of course," said Will, plucking at the grass, "there are some subjects which never can be banished. There is one, at all events, which permeates my whole life; which gilds every scene with beauty, and which tinges even my dreams. Need I tell you what that is, Miss Vaughan?"
Gwenda's head bent lower, and there was a vivid glow on her cheek as she answered:
"Your life here must be so full of brightness, the scenes around you are so lovely, it is no wonder if they follow you into your dreams. But—but, Mr. Owen, I will not pretend to misunderstand you."
"You understand me, and yet you are not angry with me? Only tell me that, Miss Vaughan, and I shall be satisfied; and yet not quite satisfied, for I crave your love, and can never be happy without it."
There was no answer on Gwenda's lips, but the eyes, which were bent on her work, grew humid with feeling.
"I love you, but dare I have the presumption to hope that you return my love? You know me here as my uncle's nephew, but it is not in that character that I would wish you to think of me now."
What was it in the girl's pure and honest face which seemed to bring out Will's better nature?
"I am only William Owens" (he even added the plebeian "s" to his name) "the son of the old farmer Ebben Owens of Garthowen; 'tis true my uncle calls me his son, and promises that I shall inherit his wealth, but there is no legal certainty of that. He might die to-morrow, and I should only be William Owens, the poor student of Llaniago College, and yet I venture to tell you of my love. I think I must be mad! I seek in vain for any possible reason why you should accept my love, and I can find none."
"Only the best of all reasons," said Gwenda, almost in a whisper.
"Gwenda! what is that?" said Will, rising to his feet, an action which the girl followed before she answered.
"Only because I love you too."
"Gwenda!" said Will again.
They had been resting on the velvet lawn that reached down to the oak wood, and now they turned towards its shady glades, and Mrs. Trevor, who had been watching them with deep interest, was obliged to control her curiosity until, when an hour later, they entered the house together, Will looking flushed and triumphant, and Gwenda with a glow of happiness which told its own tale to her observant friend.
"It's all right, my love, I see it is! I needn't ask any questions, he who runs may read! You have accepted him?"
"I don't know what my uncle will say, it all depends upon that."
"Never mind what he says, my dear. You and I together will manage him, we'll make him say just what we please, so that's settled!"
In fact, Will's wooing seemed to belie the usual course of true love. Upon it as upon everything else connected with him, the fates seemed to smile, and Colonel Vaughan was soon won over by Gwenda's persuasions.
"Well! pommy word, you know, Gwenda, I like the young fellow myself. Somehow or other he has taken us by storm. Of course, I should have been better pleased if he were Dr. Owen's son instead of his nephew."
"Well, he is next thing to it, uncle," said the girl coaxingly. "He is his adopted son, and will inherit all his wealth, and you know how necessary it is for me to marry a rich man, as I haven't a penny myself. Of course I will never marry him without your consent, uncle dear, but then I am going to get it," and she sat on his knee and drew her soft hands over his bald head, turning his face up like a cherub's, and pressing her full red lips on his wiry moustache.
"Not a penny yourself! Well! well! we'll see about that. Be good, girl, and love your old uncle, and I daresay he won't leave you penniless. But, pommy word! look here, child, we must ask him here to stay a few days. He won't be bringing old Owens Garthowen here, I hope; couldn't bear that, you know."
"I am afraid he doesn't see much of his old father and sister," she said pensively.
"Afraid! I should think you would be delighted."
"No, I should prefer his being manly enough to stick to his own people, and brave the opinion of the world. I should not be ashamed of the old man; but, of course, I would never thrust him upon my relations."
"Well! well! you are an odd little puss, and know how to get over your old uncle, whatever!"
And so all went smoothly for Will. At the end of two years he took his degree, and another year saw him well through his college course; complimented by his fellow students, praised and flattered by his uncle, and loved by as sweet a girl as ever sprang from a Welsh stock.
Before entering upon the curacy which his uncle procured for him with as little delay as possible, he spent a few days at Garthowen, during which time he was made the idol of his family. Full of new hopes and ambitions, he scarcely thought of Morva, who kept out of his way as much as possible, dreading only the usual request that she would meet him by the broom bushes; but no such request came, and, if the truth be told, he never remembered to seek an interview with her, so filled was his mind with thoughts of Gwenda.
He had been studiously reticent with regard to his engagement to her, at her special request. She knew how much gossip the news would occasion, and felt that the less it was talked about beforehand the less likelihood there would be of her relations being irritated and annoyed by ill-natured remarks. She was happier than she had ever hoped to be, and if she sometimes saw in her lover a trait of character which did not entirely meet the approbation of her honest nature, she laid the flattering unction to her soul, "When we are married I will try to make him perfect."
GWENDA AT GARTHOWEN
On the slope of the moor, where the autumn sun was burnishing the furze and purpling the heather, Morva sat knitting, her nimble fingers outrun by her busy thoughts.
She was sitting half way up the moor, an old cloak wrapped round her and its hood drawn over her head, for the wind was keen, blowing fresh from the bright blue bay, which stretched before her to the hazy horizon. Her eyes gazed absently over its azure surface, flecked with white, as though with scattered snowflakes, and dotted here and there with the grey sails of the boats which the herring fishery called out from their moorings under the cliffs. She sat at the edge of a rush-bordered pool in the peaty bog, occasionally bending over it to look at her own image reflected on its glassy surface. Between the folds of the old cloak glistened the necklace of shells which Gethin had given her. It was her twentieth birthday, so she seized the excuse for wearing the precious ornament which generally lay locked in its painted casket on the shelf at her bed head. It was not at herself she gazed, but the ever-changing gleam of the shells was irresistible. How well she remembered that evening when in the moonlight under the elder tree at Garthowen, Gethin had held them out to her, with a dawning love in his eyes, and her heart had bounded towards him with that strong impulse, which alas! she now knew was love!—love that permeated her whole being, that drew her thoughts away on the wings of the wind, over the restless sea, away, away, to distant lands and foreign ports. Where did he roam? What foreign shores did his footsteps tread? In what strange lands was he wandering? far from his home, far from the hearts that loved him and longed for his return! The swallows flew in fluttering companies over the moor, beginning to congregate for their departure across the seas. Oh! that she could borrow their wings, and fly with them across that sad dividing ocean, and, finding Gethin, could flutter down to him and shelter on his breast, and twitter to him such a song of love and home that he should understand and turn his steps once more towards the old country!
Will never troubled her now, never asked her to meet him behind the broom bushes. He had ceased to love her, she knew, and although he had never freed her from her promise, Morva had too much common sense to feel bound for ever to a man who had so evidently forgotten her. If sometimes the meanness and selfishness of his conduct dawned upon her mind, the feeling was instantly repressed, and as far as possible banished, in obedience to the instinct of loyalty to Garthowen, which was so strong a trait in her character.
She turned again to look at her necklace in the pool, and caught sight of a speck of vivid scarlet on the brow of the hill—another and another. They were the huntsmen returning from their unsuccessful run, for she had seen the breathless panting fox an hour before when he crossed the moor and made for his covert on the rocky sides of the cliffs. Once there, the hunters knew the chase was over. And there were the tired hounds for a moment appearing at the bare hill-top. In a few moments they had passed from sight, leaving the moor to its usual solitude and silence. But surely no! Here was one stray figure who turned towards the cliffs, and, alighting, led her horse down the devious paths between the furze and heather. Such an uncommon sight roused Morva from her dreams.
"Can I come down this way?" said a clear, girlish voice, as Gwenda Vaughan drew near. She spoke in very broken Welsh, but Morva understood her. "Does it lead anywhere?"
"It leads nowhere," said Morva, "but to the cliffs; but round there beyond the Cribserth," and she pointed to the rugged ridge of rocks, "is Garthowen; up there to the right is nothing but moorland for two miles."
"Oh, then I will turn this way," said Gwenda. "Will they let me rest at the farm a while, do you think? I am very tired and hungry."
"Oh, of course," said Morva, her hospitable instincts awaking at once. "Come into mother's cottage," and she pointed to the thatched roof and chimney, which alone were visible above the heathery knoll.
"Is that a cottage?"
"Yes—will you come?"
"Yes, just for a moment, and then perhaps you will show me the way to the farm. That Cribserth looks a formidable rampart. Are you sure there is a way round it?"
"Oh, yes; I will come and show you," said Morva. "Here is mother," and Sara approached from her herb garden with round, astonished eyes.
"Well, indeed!" she said; "this is a pleasant sight—a lady coming to see us, and on Morva's birthday, too! Come in, 'merch i, and sit down and rest. The horse will be safe tied there to the gate."
And Gwenda passed into the cottage with a strange feeling of happiness.
"Now, what shall I give you?" said Sara. "A cup of milk, or a cup of tea? or, I have some meth here in the corner. My bees are busy on the wild thyme and furze, you see, so we have plenty of honey for our meth."
"I would like a cup of meth," said Gwenda; and as she drank the delicious sparkling beverage, Sara gazed at her with such evident interest that she was constrained to ask:
"Why do you look at me so?"
"Because I think I have seen you before," said the old woman.
"Not likely," replied Gwenda, "unless in the streets at Castell On."
"I have not been there for twenty years," said Sara. "It must be in my dreams, then."
"Perhaps! What delicious meth! Who would think there was room for house and garden scooped out on the moor here; and such a dear sheltered hollow."
"Yes; we are safe and peaceful here."
Morva had taken the opportunity of doffing her necklace and placing it in the box.
"I am going to show the young lady the way to Garthowen, mother."
"Yes; it is easy from there to Castell On," said Sara; "the farm lane will lead you into the high road. But 'tis many, many years since I have been that way."
The chat fell into quite a friendly and familiar groove, for Sara and Morva knew nothing of the restraints of class and conventionality.
"I am so glad I came; but I must go now," said Gwenda, rising at last. "My name is Gwenda Vaughan," she added, turning to Morva. "What is yours?"
"Mine is Morva Lloyd; but I am generally called Morva of the Moor, I think. Mother's is Sara."
"Good-bye, and thank you very much," said Gwenda, and Sara held her hand a moment between her own soft palms, while she looked into the girl's face.
"You have a sweet, good face," she said. "Thank you for coming, 'merch i; in some way you will bring us good."
And again that strangely happy feeling came over Gwenda. Rounding the Cribserth, the two girls soon reached Garthowen. It was afternoon, and drawing near tea-time. Ebben Owens was already sitting on the settle in the best kitchen, waiting for it, when the sound of voices without attracted his attention.
"Caton pawb!" he said, "a lady, and Morva is bringing her."
Ann hastened to the front door, and Morva led the horse away, knowing well that she was leaving the visitor in hospitable hands.
"I am Miss Vaughan of Nantmyny! I have been out hunting today, and on the top of the hill I felt so tired that I made up my mind to call here and ask if you would let me rest awhile."
"Oh, certainly! Come in," said Ann, holding out her hand, which Gwenda took warmly.
"Miss Owen, I suppose?"
"I was Ann Owens," she said, blushing. "I am Mrs. Gwilym Morris now these three years. This is my little boy," she added, as a chubby, curly-headed child toddled towards her. She had already opened the door of the best kitchen. "There is no fire in the parlour," she apologised, "or I would take you there."
"Oh, no; please let me come to your usual sitting-room. Is this your father?"
And she held out her hand again. There was something in her face that always ensured its own welcome.
"Yes, I am Ebben Owens," said the old man, "and very glad to see you, though I not know who you are."
"I am Gwenda Vaughan of Nantmyny, come to ask if you will let me rest awhile. I have been out with the fox-hounds; we have had a long run, and I am so tired."
She had no other excuse to give for her inroad upon their hearth; but in Wales no excuse is required for a call.
"Well, indeed," said the old man, rubbing his knees with pleasure, "there's a good thing now, you come just in time for tea. I think I have heard your name, but I not know where. Oh, yes. I remember now; 'twas you the bull was running after in the market, and my boy Will stop it; 'twas good thing, indeed, you may be kill very well!"
Gwenda stopped to pat Tudor to hide the blush that rose to her cheek as she answered:
"Yes, indeed, and of course we were very grateful to him!"
"Oh, yes; he's very good fellow. Will you take off your hat? 'Tis not often we're having visitors here, so we are very glad when anybody is come."
"I was afraid, perhaps, I was taking rather a liberty," said Gwenda, laying her hat and gloves aside, "but you are all so kind, you make me feel quite at home."
"That's right," said the old man; "there's a pity now, my son-in-law, Gwilym Morris, is not at home. He was go to Castell On to-day to some meeting there. What was it? Let me see—some hard English word."
"I can speak Welsh," said Gwenda, turning to that language.
"Oh! wel din!" said the old man, relieved, and continuing in Welsh, "'tisn't every lady can speak her native language nowadays."
"No. I am ashamed of my countrywomen, though I speak it very badly myself," said Gwenda.
"There's my son Will now, indeed I'm afraid he will soon forget his Welsh, he is speaking English so easy and smooth. Come here, Ann," the old man called, as his daughter passed busily backwards and forwards spreading the snowy cloth and laying the tea-table. "The lady can speak Welsh!"
"Oh! well indeed, I am glad," said Ann; "Will is the only one of us who speaks English quite easily."
"Oh! there's Gwilym," said her father.
"Yes, Gwilym speaks it quite correctly," said Ann, with pride, "but he has a Welsh accent, which Will has not—from a little boy he studied the English, and to speak it like the English."
"Will is evidently their centre of interest," thought Gwenda, "and how little he seems to think of them!"
Here the little curly pate came nestling against her knee.
"Hello! rascal!" said the old man, "don't pull the lady's skirts like that."
But Gwenda took the child on her lap.
"He is a lovely boy," she said, thus securing Ann's good opinion at once.
The little arms wound round her neck, and before tea was over she had won her way into all their hearts.
"I am sorry my sons are not here," said the old man; "they are good boys, both of them, and would like to speak to such a beautiful young lady."
"Have you two sons, then?" asked Gwenda.
"Yes, yes. Will, my second son, is a clergyman. He is curate of Llansidan, 'tis about forty miles from here; but Gethin, my eldest son, is a sailor; indeed, I don't know where he is now, but I am longing for him to come home, whatever; and Will does not come often to see me. He is too busy, I suppose, and 'tis very far."
And Gwenda, sensitive and tender, heard a tremble in the old man's voice, and detected the pain and bitterness of his speech.
"Young men," she said, "are so often taken up with their work at first, that they forget their old home, but they generally come back to it, and draw towards it as they grow older; for after all, there is nothing like the old home, and I should think this must have been a nest of comfort indeed."
"Well, I don't know. My two sons are gone over the nest, whatever; but Ann is stopping with me, She is the home-bird."
Gwenda thought she had never enjoyed such a tea. The tea cakes so light, the brown bread so delicious; and Ann, with her quiet manners, made a perfect hostess; so that, when she rose to go, she was as reluctant to leave the old farmhouse as her entertainers were to lose her.
"Indeed, there's sorry I am you must go," said Ebben Owens. "Will you come again some day?"
"I will," said Gwenda, waving them a last good-bye; and as she rode down the dark lane beyond the farmyard she said to herself, "And I will some day, please God!"
Reaching the high road, she hurried down the hill to the valley below, where Castell On lay nestled in the bend of the river. It was scarcely visible in the darkening twilight, except here and there where a light glimmered faintly. The course of the river was marked by a soft white mist, and above it all, in the clear evening sky, hung the crescent moon. The beauty of the scene before her reached Gwenda's heart, and helped to fill her cup of happiness. Her visit to the farm had strengthened her determination to turn her lover's heart back to his old home. It was all plain before her now; she had a work to do, an aim in life, not only to make her future husband happy, but to lead him back into the path of duty, from which she clearly saw he had been tempted to stray. There was no danger that she would take too harsh a view of his fault, for her love for Will was strong and abiding. There was little doubt that in that wonderful weaving of life's pattern, which some people call "Fate" and some "Providence," Gwenda and Will had been meant for each other.
When she reached home she found a letter awaiting her—a letter in the square clear writing which she had learned to look for with happy longing. She hastened to her room to read it. It bore good tidings—first, that Will had acceded to Mr. Price's request to preach at Castell On the following Sunday; secondly and chiefly, that the living of Llanisderi had been offered him, and had been accepted.
"The church is close to my uncle's property, and as he has always wished me to make my home at Isderi, he now proposes that we should be married at once, and take his house off his hands, only letting him live on with us, which I think neither you nor I will object to. There is no regular vicarage, so this arrangement seems all that could be desired. Does my darling agree?" etc., etc.
Of course "his darling" agreed, stipulating only that their marriage should take place in London, for she thought this plan would obviate the necessity for inviting her husband's relations to her wedding, and still cause them no pain.
Will was delighted with the suggestion, for he had not been without some secret twinges of compunction at the idea of being married at Castell On, and still having none of his people at the wedding. That, of course, in his own and his uncle's opinion was quite out of the question; and so the matter was settled.
* * * * * *
One day there was great excitement at Garthowen.
"Well, Bendigedig!"  said Magw under her breath, as crossing the farmyard she met Mr. Price the vicar making his way through the stubble to the house-door, "well, Bendigedig! there's grand we are getting. Day before yesterday a lady on horseback, to-day Price the vicare coming to see the mishteer! Well, well! Oh, yes, sare," she said aloud, in answer to the vicar's inquiry, "he's there somewhere, or he was there when I was there just now, but if he is not there he must be somewhere else. Ann will find him."
And she jerked her thumb towards the house as Mr. Price continued his way laughing.
"I am come again," said the genial vicar, shaking hands with Ebben Owens, whom he found deeply studying the almanac, "I am come to congratulate you on your son's good fortune. I hear he has been given the living of Llanisderi, and I think he will fill it very well. You are a fortunate man to have so promising a son and such an influential brother, and I expect you will be still better pleased with the rest of my news. He is going to preach at Castell On next Sunday."
Ebben Owens gasped for breath.
"Will!" he said, "my son Will? Oh! yes, he is a good boy, indeed, and is he going to preach here on Sunday? Well, well, 'twill be a grand day for me!"
"Yes," said Mr. Price, "I hear he is a splendid preacher, and I thought 'twas a pity his old friends in this neighbourhood should not hear him, so I asked him, and he has agreed to come. You must all come in and hear him—you too, Mrs. Morris, and your husband."
"My husband," said Ann, drawing herself up a little, "will have his own services to attend to; but on such an occasion I will be there certainly."
"Well, you must all dine with me," said the hospitable vicar.
"No, no, sir," said Ebben Owens, "I'll take the car, and we'll bring Will back here to dinner. We'll have a goose, Ann, and a leg of mutton and tongue."
"Yes," said Ann, smiling, "Magw will see to them while we are at church."
Mr. Price stayed to tea this time, and satisfied the old man's heart by his praises of his son. On his departure Ebben Owens sat down at once to indite a letter to Will, informing him of the great happiness it had given him to hear of his intention to preach at Castell On.
"Of course, my boy," he went on to say in his homely, rugged Welsh, "we will be there to hear you, and I will drive you home in the car, and we will have the fattest goose for dinner, and the best bedroom will be ready for you. These few lines from
"Your delighted and loving father,
Will crushed the letter with a sigh when he had read it, and threw it into the fire, and the old Garthowen pucker on his forehead was only chased away by the perusal of a letter from Gwenda, whose contents we will not dare to pry into.
Never were there such preparations for attending a service, as were made at Garthowen before the next Sunday morning. Never had Bowler's harness received such a polish, every buckle shone like burnished gold. Ebben Owens had brushed his greatcoat a dozen times, and laid it on the parlour table in readiness, and had drawn his sleeve every day over the chimney-pot hat which he had bought for the occasion.
When the auspicious morning arrived Ann arrayed herself in her black silk, with a bonnet and cape of town fashion; and in the sunny frosty morning they set off to Castell On, full of gratified pride and pleasant anticipations.
Leaving the car at a small inn near the church, they entered and took their places modestly in the background. No one but he who reads the secrets of all hearts knew what a tumult of feelings surged through the breast of that rugged, bent figure as Will passed up the aisle, looking handsomer than ever in his clerical garb. Thankfulness, pride, love, a longing for closer communion with his son, were all in that throbbing heart, but underneath and permeating all was the mysterious gnawing pain that had lately cast its shadow over the old man's life.
During the service both he and Ann were much perplexed by the difficulty of finding their places in the prayer-book, and they were greatly relieved when at last it was over and the sermon commenced.
Mr. Price had not been misinformed. Will was certainly an eloquent preacher, if not a born orator, and possessed that peculiar gift known in Wales as "hwyl"—a sudden ecstatic inspiration, which carries the speaker away on its wings, supplying him with burning words of eloquence, which in his calmer and normal state he could never have chosen for himself. Will controlled this feeling, not allowing it to carry him to that degree of excitement to which some Welsh preachers abandon themselves; on the contrary, when he felt most, he lowered his voice, and kept a firm rein upon his eloquence. His command of English, too, surprised his hearers, and Dr. Owen, himself a popular preacher, confessed he had never possessed such an easy flow of that language. As for Ebben Owens himself, as the sermon proceeded, although he understood but little English, not a word, nor a phrase, nor an inflection of the beloved voice escaped his attention; and as he bent his head at the benediction tears of thankfulness, pride, and joy filled his eyes. But he dried them hastily with his bran new silk handkerchief, and followed Ann out of the church with the first of the congregation.
"We'll wait with the car," he said, "at the top of the lane. We won't push ourselves on to him at the church door when all the gentry are speaking to him."
And Ann sat in the car with the reins in her hand, while the congregation filed past, many of them turning aside to congratulate warmly the father and sister of such a preacher. One by one the people passed on, two or three carriages rolled by, and still Will had not appeared.
"Here he is, I think," said Ebben Owens, as two gentlemen walked slowly up the lane, and watching them, he scarcely caught sight of a carriage that drove quickly by. But a glance was enough as it turned round the corner into the street. In it sat Will, accompanied by Dr. Owen, Colonel Vaughan, and his niece.
"Was that Will?" said Ann, looking round.
"Yes," said her father faintly, looking about him in a dazed, confused manner. He put his hand to his head and turned very pale.
Ann was out of the car in a moment, flinging the reins to the stable boy who stood at Bowler's head.
"Come, father anwl!" she said, supporting the old man's tottering steps, for he would have fallen had she not passed her strong arm round him. "Come, we'll go home. You will be better once we are out of the town," and with great difficulty she got him into the car. "Cheer up, father bach," she said, trying to speak cheerfully, though her own voice trembled, and her eyes were full of tears. "No doubt he meant to come, or he would have written, but I'm thinking they pressed him so much that he couldn't refuse."
"Yes, yes," said the old man in a weak voice; "no doubt, no doubt! 'tis all right, Ann; 'tis the hand of God."
Ann thought he was wandering a little, and tried to turn his thoughts by speaking of the sermon.
"'Twas a beautiful sermon, father, I have never heard a better, not even from Jones Bryn y groes."
"Yes, I should think 'twas a good sermon, though I couldn't understand the English well; only the text 'twas coming in very often 'Lord, try me and see if there be any wicked way in me,'" and he repeated several times as he drove home "'any wicked way in me.' Yes, yes, 'tis all right!"
When they reached home without Will, Gwilym Morris seemed to understand at once what had happened, and he helped the old man out of the car with a pat on his back and a cheery greeting.
"Well, there now! didn't I tell you how it would be? Will had so many invitations he could not come back with you. There was Captain Lewis Bryneiron said, 'You must come and dine with me!' and Colonel Vaughan Nantmyny said, 'He must come with me!' and be bound Sir John Hughes wanted him to go to Plasdu; so, poor fellow, he had to go, and we've got to eat our splendid dinner ourselves! Come along; such a goose you never saw!"
Ebben Owens said nothing, as he walked into the house, stooping more than usual, and looking ten years older.
There was dire disappointment in the kitchen, too, when the dinner came out scarcely tasted.
It is not to be supposed that by such observant eyes as Gwenda's, the Garthowen car, with the waiting Ann and the old man hovering about, had escaped unnoticed. Nay! To her quick perception the whole event revealed itself in a flash of intuition. They were waiting there for Will. He had disappointed and wounded his old father, but at the same moment she saw that the slight had been unintentional; for as the carriage dashed by the waiting car, she saw in Will's face a look of surprise and distress, a hurried search in his pocket, and an unwelcome discovery of a letter addressed and stamped—but, alas! unposted. The pathetic incident troubled her not a little. An English girl would probably have spoken out at once with the splendid honesty characteristic of her nation, but Gwenda, being a thorough Welshwoman, acted differently. With what detractors of the Celtic character would probably call "craftiness," but what we prefer to call "tact and tenderness," she determined not to ruffle the existing happy state of affairs by risking a misunderstanding with her lover, but would rather wait until, as a wife, she could bring the whole influence of her own honest nature to bear upon this weak trait in his character.
A few days later the announcement of his approaching marriage reached Garthowen, in a letter from Will himself, enclosing the unposted missive, which he had discovered in his pocket as he drove to Nantmyny on the previous Sunday.
It pacified the old man somewhat, but nothing availed to lift the cloud which had fallen upon his life; and the intimation of the near approach of his son's marriage with "a lady" coming upon him as it did unexpectedly, was the climax of his depression of spirits. He sat in the chimney-corner and brooded, repeating to himself occasionally in a low voice:
"Gone! gone! Both my boys gone from me for ever!"
Ann and Gwilym's arguments were quite unheeded. Morva's sympathy alone seemed to have any consoling effect upon him. She would kneel beside him with her elbows on his knees, looking up into his face, and with make-believe cheerfulness would reason with a woman's inconsequence, fearlessly deducing results from causes which had no existence.
"'Tis as plain as the sun in the sky, 'n'wncwl Ebben bach! Gethin is only gone on another voyage, and so will certainly be back here before long. Well, you see he must come, because he wouldn't like to see his old father breaking his heart—not he! We know him too well. And then there's his best clothes in the box upstairs! And there's the corn growing so fast, he will surely be here for the harvest."
She knew herself it was all nonsense, realising it sometimes with a sudden sad wistfulness; but she quickly returned to her argument again.
"Look at me now, 'n'wncwl Ebben!—Morva Lloyd, whom you saved from the waves! Would I tell you anything that was not true? Of course, I wouldn't indeed! indeed! and I'm sure he'll come soon. You may take my word for it they will both come back very soon. I feel it in my heart, and mother says so too."
"Does she?" said the old man, with a little show of interest. "Does Sara say so?"
"Yes," said Morva; "she says she is sure of it."
"Perhaps indeed! I hope she is right, whatever!" And he would lay his hands on Morva's and Tudor's heads, both of whom leant upon his knees and looked lovingly into his face.
 "Blessed be!"
For Gwenda and Will, from this time forward, all went "merry as a marriage bell." Early in the spring their wedding took place in London, and when one morning Morva brought from Pont-y-fro post office a packet for Ebben Owens containing a wedge of wedding cake and cards, he evinced some show of interest. On the box was written in Gwenda's pretty firm writing,
"With love to Garthowen, from William and Gwenda Owen."
Ebben rubbed his knees with satisfaction.
"There now," he said, "in her own handwriting, too! Well, indeed! I thought she was a nice young lady that day she came here, but, caton pawb! I never thought she would marry our Will."
A second piece of cake was enclosed and addressed. "To my friends Sara and Morva of the Moor," and Morva carried it home with mingled feelings of pride and pleasure, but paramount was the joy of knowing that she was completely released from the promise which had become so galling to her.
"I knew," said Sara, "that that face would bring us a blessing," and she looked with loving inquiry into Morva's face, which was full of varying expressions.
At first, there was the pleasurable excitement of unfolding and tasting the wedding cake, but it quickly gave way to a look of pensive sadness, which somehow had fallen over the girl rather frequently of late; the haunting thought of Gethin's absence, the cloud of suspicion which had so long hung over him, (it was cleared away now, but it had left its impress upon her life), her ignorance of his whereabouts, and above all, a longing, hidden deep down in her heart, to meet him face to face once more, to tell him that she was free, that no longer behind the broom bushes need she turn away from him, or wrest her hands from his warm clasp. All this weighed upon her mind, and cast a shadow over her path, which she could not entirely banish.
Sara saw the reflection of the sorrowful thought in the girl's tell-tale eyes, and her tender heart was troubled within her.
"A wedding cake is a beautiful thing," said Morva; "how do they make it, I wonder? Ann said I must sleep with a bit of it under my pillow to-night, and I would dream of my sweetheart, but that is nonsense."
"Yes, 'tis nonsense," said Sara, "but 'tis an old-time fable; thee canst try it, child," she added, smiling, and trying to chase away the girl's look of sadness.
"'Twould be folly indeed, for there is no sweetheart for me any more, mother, now that Will is married. Oh! indeed, I hope that sweet young lady will be happy, and Will too."
"He will be happy, child; but for thee I am grieving. Thou art hiding something from me; surely Will's marriage brings thee no bitterness?"
"No, no," said the girl, "I am glad, mother, so thankful to be free; I could sing with the birds for joy, and yet there is some shadow in my heart. 'Tis for Garthowen, I think, 'n'wncwl Ebben is so sad—Gethin has never come home, and that money, mother! who stole it and put it back again? We used to be so happy, but now it seems like the threatening of a stormy day."
"Sometimes those stormy days are the end of rough weather, lass. Through wind and cloud and lightning, God clears up the sky. Thee must not lose patience, 'merch i; by and by it will be bright weather again."
"Do you think, mother?"
"Yes, I think—I am sure."
"Well, indeed," said Morva, "you are always right; but oh! I am forgetting my cheese, I set the rennet before I came out. I must run."
And away she went, and in a short time had reached the dairy, where the curdled milk was ready for her. First she went to the spring in the yard to cool her hands and arms, and then with shining wooden saucer, she broke up the creamy curds, gradually compressing them into a solid mass, while the delicious whey was poured into a quaint brown earthen pitcher.
The clumsy door stood wide open, and the sunshine streamed in, and glistened on the bright brass pan in which Morva was crumbling her curds, her sleeves tucked up above her elbows, showing her dimpled arms. With her spotless white apron, her neatly shod feet, and her crown of golden hair, she looked like the presiding goddess of this temple of cleanliness and purity.
Round the walls stood shelves of the blue slaty stone of the neighbourhood, upon which were ranged the pans of golden cream, above them hanging the various dairy utensils of wood, polished black with long use and rubbing.
Morva's good spirits had returned, for she hummed as she rubbed her curds:
"Troodi! Troodi! come down from the mountain, Troodi! Troodi! up from the dale! Moelen and Trodwen, and Beauty and Blodwen, I'll meet you all with my milking pail."
Meanwhile at home in the thatched cottage on the moor Sara seemed to have caught the mantle of sadness which had fallen from the girl's shoulders. She went about her household duties singing softly it is true, but there was a look of disquiet in her eyes not habitual to them, an air of restlessness very unlike her usual placid demeanour. For sixteen years her life and Morva's had been serene and uneventful, the limited circle which bound the plane of their existence had been complete and undisturbed by outward influences; but latterly unrest and anxiety had entered into their quiet lives, there was a veiling of the sun, there was a shadow on the path, a mysterious wind was ruffling the surface of the sea of life. No trouble had touched Sara personally, but what mattered that to one so sympathetic? She lived in the lives of those she loved; and as she moved about in the subdued light of the cottage, or in the broad sunshine of the garden, a thread of disquietude ran through the pattern of her thoughts. The cause of Morva's sadness she guessed at, but how to remove it, or how to bring back the peace and happiness that seemed to have deserted the old Garthowen homestead, she saw not yet.
Suddenly she started, and standing still crossed her hands on her bosom with a look of pleased expectancy; her lips moved as if in prayer, she passed out into the garden, and gathering a bunch of rue, tied it together and hung it to the frame of the doorway so that no one could enter the house without noticing it. Then returning to the quiet chimney corner, she sat down in the round-backed oak chair, and clasping her hands on her lap, waited, while over her came the curious trance-like sleep to which she had been subject at intervals all her life. She was accustomed to these trances, and even welcomed their coming for the sake of the clear insight and even the clairvoyance which followed them. They were seasons of refreshing to this strange woman's soul—seasons during which the connecting thread between spirit and body was strained to the utmost, when a rude awakening might easily sever that attenuated thread, when Morva knew that tender handling and shielding care were required of her. In the evening when she returned from the farm she came singing into the little court, where the gilly flowers and daffodils were once more swaying in the wind, and the much treasured ribes was hanging out its scented pink tassels. She stopped to gather a spray, and then turning to the door, was confronted by the bunch of rue, at sight of which she instantly ceased her singing and a look of seriousness almost of solemnity came over her face, for the herb had long been a pre-concerted signal between Sara and herself.
She gently pulled the string which lifted the latch, and entered the cottage, treading softly as one does where death has already entered. The stillness was profound, for it was a calm day and the sea was silent, the fire only crackling on the hearth. The old cat slept on the spinning bench, and Sara lay there unconscious and dead to all outward surroundings. Morva approached her softly, and pressed a kiss on the marble forehead; she felt her hands, they were supple though cold; the eyes were closed and the breathing was scarcely perceptible, but Morva had no fear for Sara's safety. She gently raised her feet upon the rush stool, and rested her head more comfortably; then bolting the door and making up the fire, she took her supper and prepared for a long night's vigil.
And now came one of those seasons of contemplation and of wondering awe which Sara's trances brought into Morva's simple life, which made her somewhat different from the other girls of the neighbourhood, yet in no way detracted from the brightness and cheerfulness of her character. Magw, the house servant, was often out under the stars, but she paid more attention to the stubble in the farmyard than to the glittering spangled sky above her. Dyc "pigstye" often passed over the cliffs and up the moor, but his own whistle, the bleat of the sheep, the lowing of the herds, were more to him than the whispers of the sea or the singing of the larks. Ebben Owens was out from morning to night, in the brilliant sunshine, and under the mellow moon, but they taught no tale to him, and brought no messages to his soul, save of crops, of work, of harvests. But to Morva, every tint of broom or heather, every shade of sea or sky, every flower that unfolded in the sunshine spoke and stirred within her sentiments of love and wonder which she had no words to express, but which left their impress upon her spirit.
Sitting by the fire on her low stool, she kept a careful watch over the still figure on the other side of the hearth. The night wind sighed in the chimney, the owls hooted, and the sea whispered its mysterious secrets on the shore below. The candle burnt low in its socket, and Morva replaced it with another, for she would not be left in the dark with this silent unconscious being, much as she loved her.
Sometimes she ventured upon a gentle appeal, "Mother fach!" but no answer came from the closed lips, and again she waited while the night hours passed on.
"Where is her spirit wandering, I wonder?" thought the girl, setting her untaught and inexperienced mind to work upon the fathomless mystery. "Perhaps in the land which we roam in our dreams. 'Tis pity she cannot remember; 'tis pity she cannot tell me about it, for, oh, I would like to know."
But to-night, at all events, it seemed there was to be no elucidation of this enigma of life. The night hours dragged on slowly, and still Sara slept on, until in the pale dawn Morva gently opened the door and looked out towards the east, where a rosy light was beginning to flush the clear blue of a cloudless sky. Already the sun was rising over the grey slopes, the cottage walls caught the rosy tints, and the ribes tree, which alone was tall enough to catch his beams over the high turf wall of the court, glowed under his morning kiss. Morva looked round the fair scene with eyes and heart that took in all its beauty. A cool sea breeze, brine-laden, swept over the moor, refreshing and invigorating her, and she turned again to the cottage with renewed longing for Sara's awakening.
When she entered, she found that the rays of the rising sun shone full upon the quiet face, on the placid brow, and the closed eyes, imparting to them a look of unearthly spirituality. Moved by the sight, and by the events of the night, the girl knelt down, and, leaning her face on her foster-mother's lap, said her prayers, with the same simple faith as she had in the days of childhood. The sunlight pouring in through the little window bathed her in a stream of rosy light, and rested on her bent head like a blessing. As she rose from her knees a quiver passed over Sara's eyelids, a smile came on her lips, and opening her eyes she looked long at Morva before she spoke, as though recalling her surroundings.
"Mother," said the girl, kissing her cheek, which was beginning to show again the hue of health. "Mother fach, you've come back to me again."
"Yes," said Sara, "I am come back again, child," and she attempted to rise, but Morva pushed her gently back.
"Breakfast first, mother fach."
And quickly and deftly she set the little brown teapot on the embers, and spread her mother's breakfast before her.
"Now, mother, a new-laid egg and some brown bread and butter."
And Sara smilingly complied with the girl's wishes, and partook of the simple fare.
"Mother, try and remember where you have been. Oh, I want to know so much."
"I cannot, 'merch i, already it is slipping away from me as usual; but never mind, it will all come back by and by, and I hope I will be a wiser and a better woman after my long sleep. It is always so, I think, Morva."
"Yes," said the girl, "you are always wiser, and better, and kinder after your long sleeps, if that is possible, mother fach."
Sara's ordinary cheerful and placid manner had already returned to her, and in an hour or two she was quite herself again, and moving about her cottage as if nothing had happened; and when Morva left her for the morning milking she felt no uneasiness about her.
"She's in the angels' keeping, I know, and God is over all," she murmured, as she ran over the cliffs to Garthowen.
She said nothing at the farm of the events of the past night, knowing how reticent Sara was upon the subject herself. Moreover, it was one of too sacred a character in the eyes of these two lonely women to be discussed with the outside and unbelieving world.
In the evening, when Morva returned from the farm, a little earlier than usual, she was full of tender inquiries.
"Are you well, mother fach? I have been uneasy about you."
"Quite well, child, and very happy. 'Twill all be right soon, Morva. Canst take my word for it? For I cannot explain how I know, but I tell thee thy trouble will soon be over. How are they at Garthowen to-night?"
"Oh, well," said the girl; "only 'n'wncwl Ebben is always very sad. Not even Will's marriage will make him happy. 'Tis breaking his heart he is for the old close companionship. Will ought to come and see him oftener. Poor 'n'wncwl Ebben! 'Tis sad to lose his two sons."
"Gethin will come home," said Sara; "and Ebben Owens will be happy again."
Morva made no answer, but watched the sparks from the crackling furze, as they flew up the chimney, and thought of the night when she had stamped them out with her wooden shoe, and had dared the uncertainties of the future. She was wiser now, and knew that life had its shadows as well as its glowing sunshine. She had experienced the former, but the sunshine was returning to her heart to-night in a full tide of joy, for she had implicit confidence in her foster-mother's keen intuitions.
"Mother, what did you see, what did you hear, in that long trance? I would like to know so much. Your body was here, but where was your spirit?"
"I cannot tell, 'merch i. To me it was a dreamless sleep, but now that I am awake I seem to know a great many things which were dark to me before. You know it is always so with me when I have had my long sleeps. They seem to brighten me up, and it appears quite natural to me when the things that have been dark become plain."
She felt no surprise as the scenes and events of the recent past were unfolded to her. She understood now why Gethin had gone away so suddenly and mysteriously. Morva's love for him she saw with clear insight, and, above all, the cause of Ebben Owens's increasing gloom. How simple all was now, and how happy was she in the prospect of helping them all.
"Mother," asked Morva again one evening, as they walked in the garden together, "there is one question I would like to ask you again, but somehow I am afraid. Who stole the money at Garthowen?"
"Don't ask me that question, 'merch i. Time will unfold it all. 'Tis very plain who took it, and I wonder we didn't see it before; but leave it now, child. I don't know how, but soon it will be cleared up, and the sun will shine again. Ask me no more questions, Morva, and every day will bring its own revealment."
"I will ask nothing more, mother. Let us go in and boil the bwdran for supper."
At the early milking next morning Ebben Owens himself came into the farmyard. He stooped a good deal, and, when Morva rallied him on his sober looks, sighed heavily, as he stood watching the frothing milk in her pail.
"See what a pailful of milk Daisy has, 'n'wncwl Ebben! Yesterday Roberts the drover from Castell On passed through the yard when I was milking, and oh, there's praising her he was! 'Would Ebben Owens sell her, d'ye think?' he asked, and he patted her side; but Daisy didn't like it, and she nearly kicked my pail over. 'Sell her!' I said. 'What for would 'n'wncwl Ebben sell the best cow in his herd? No, no,' said I. 'Show us one as good as her, and 'tis buying he'll be, and not selling.'"
"Lol! lol!" said the old man; "thee mustn't be too sure, girl. I am getting old and not fit to manage the farm. I wouldn't care much if I sold everything and went to live in a cottage."
"'Twt, twt," said Morva, "you will never leave old Garthowen, and 'twill be long before Roberts the drover takes Daisy away. Go and see mother, 'n'wncwl Ebben; she is full of good news for you. She says there is brightness coming for you, and indeed, indeed she knows."
"Yes, she knows a good deal, but she doesn't know everything, Morva. No, no," he said, turning away, "she doesn't know everything."
"Art going to chapel to-night, Morva?" said Ebben Owens on the following Sunday afternoon, as he sat smoking in the chimney-corner, Tudor beside him gazing rather mournfully into the fire. He was looking ill and worn, and spoke in a low, husky voice. He had sat there lost in thought ever since he had pushed away his almost untasted dinner.
"Yes," said Morva, "I am going; but mother is not coming to-night; she doesn't like the Sciet, you know."
"She is an odd woman," said Ann. "Not like the Sciet indeed! If I didn't love her so much I would be very angry with her."
"She is very different to other people, I know; but she is a good woman whatever."
"Yes, yes, yes," said Ebben Owens emphatically; "but why doesn't she like the Sciet?"
"Oh! that's what she is saying," answered the girl, "that she doesn't see the use of people standing up to confess half their sins and keeping back the other and the worst half. She has been talking to Gwilym Morris about it, and he is agreeing with her."
"Och fi!" sighed the old man, relapsing into his moody silence, from which not even little Gwyl's chatter was able to rouse him.
At last when the cheerful sound of the tea-things, and Ann's oft-repeated summons, recalled him to outward surroundings, he rose as if wearily, and drew his chair to the table, where, stooping more and more over his tea, Ann detected a tear furtively wiped away.
"You won't take little Gwyl to chapel to-night, will you? 'tis rather damp," he said, though it was really a clear twilight.
"No, no," said Ann, "Magw will take care of him at home."
Gwilym helped the old man to change his coat.
"Where are his gloves, Ann, and his best hat? There's grand he'll be!"
But there was no answering smile on his father-in-law's face.
"Twt, twt," he said, "there is no need of gloves for me, and I won't wear my best hat, give me my old one."
He sighed heavily as with bent head, and hands buried deep in his coat pockets, he followed Ann and her husband down the stony road to the valley where Penmorien Chapel lay. It was one of the unlovely square buildings so much affected by the Welsh Dissenters, its walls of grey stone differing little in appearance and colour from the rocky bed of the hill which had been quarried out for its site.
As the Garthowen family entered, led by the preacher hat in hand, there was a little movement of interest in the thronging congregation, and a settling down to their prospective enjoyment, for an eloquent sermon possesses for the Welsh the intense charm of a good drama. The familiar pictures of every-day life with which the sermon is frequently illustrated, the vivid word-painting, the tender but firm touch which plays upon the chords of their strongest emotions, all combine to awaken within them those feelings of pleasurable excitement, denied to them through the medium of the forbidden theatre.
Gwilym Morris was heart and soul a preacher, full of burning zeal for his mission, and, moreover, at this period of his ministry he was passing through a crisis in his spiritual life—a crisis which left him with a broader field of vision, and more enlightened views of God's Providence than he had hitherto dared to adopt. As he passed up the pulpit stairs and saw the thronging mass of eager faces upraised to his, a subtle influence reached him, a fervour of spirit which he knew was the answer to the expectancy depicted on his people's faces. It was as though that waiting throng had formed itself into one collective being, for whose soul he bore a message, and to whom he must unburden himself, and there was a depth of meaning in his voice as he gave out the words of an old familiar hymn which fixed his hearers' attention at once. Ebben Owens had always led the hymns, but latterly he had dropped that custom, and to-night he stood silent with eyes fixed upon the evening sky, visible through the long chapel window. The hymn was sung with fervour, and in that volume of sound his voice was not missed. The old grey walls reverberated to the rich tones, which filled the chapel, and pouring out through the open doors, flooded the narrow valley with harmony. It was followed by a prayer, and another hymn, after which the candles were lighted, one on each iron pillar supporting the crowded gallery, one on each side of the "big seat" under the pulpit, and one on each side of the preacher, who, leaning his arms on the open Bible before him, began in low impressive tones to deliver himself of the message which he bore to his people. Only the old familiar words, "Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." Only the message of a greater Preacher than he—only the theme of a love unchanging and unfathomable, but told in such vivid though simple language, that the sensitive Celtic hearts of his audience, were enthralled and subdued, and there were few in that large crowd who did not gaze at the preacher through eyes blurred with tears. Sometimes his voice rose in indignant protest, and sometimes fell in tender appeal, and when at last the sermon was over and the last hymn had been sung, there was an evident feeling of regret and a furtive drying of eyes.
In curious almost ludicrous contrast to the preacher's mellow tones, Jos Hughes's cracked voice broke the solemn silence, with the information that there would be an "experience" meeting after the service. One third of the congregation therefore, remained seated while the rest poured out through the narrow doorways into the stony road, up which the sea wind was blowing. Then the doors were closed and the preacher came down and sat among the deacons in the "big seat." Ebben Owens was asked for his usual opening prayer, but he declined the request with a shake of his head. Jos Hughes gladly took his place, and after a long-winded prayer from him, a hymn was sung again, and then the business of the meeting commenced.
From a dark corner pew a weak voice broke the silence, and every eye turned to the speaker, a little shrivelled woman who was a frequent confessor of sins, and was correspondingly respected.
"I wish to say," said the quavering voice, "that I am daily and hourly becoming less sure of my salvation, my past sins weigh heavily upon me, and neither prayer nor reading bring a gleam of comfort into my heart. I should be glad to see the preacher or one of the deacons if they will trouble to come to Ffoshelig."
"I will certainly," said the preacher; and again there was a pause, till Jos Hughes stood up, and with great unction delivered his soul of its burden.
"My dear brethren," he said, with eyes upturned to the ceiling, his stubby fingers interlaced over his waistcoat of fawn kerseymere, "I am much perplexed and disheartened! I have been deacon of this chapel for thirty years, and I am not aware that I have ever failed in my duty as a member of this 'body.' I neglect no opportunity of prayer, or hymn singing, or warning my neighbour. I teach in the Sunday School, and I fulfil every duty as far as I am able—and yet, my friends, for two whole days in the week that is past, I was as dry as—a paper bag! I felt no fervour of spirit, no uplifting of soul; in fact, dear people, it was low tide with me, the rocks were bare, the sands were dry, and I was almost despairing. But thank the Lord! the tide turned, grace and praise and joy flowed in upon me once more; I have received the 'Invoice' of good things to come, and I am filled with the peace and content I generally enjoy."
A few words of congratulation and sympathy were spoken by another grey-headed deacon, after which a silence fell upon the meeting, the preacher making no comment upon what he had heard. The tick of the clock on the gallery, the distant swish of the waves, and the soft sighing of the evening breeze alone were audible.
At length another voice broke the silence. It was Ebben Owens, who was standing up, and for a moment looking round at the old familiar faces of his fellow worshippers.
It had been a frequent custom of his to relate his religious experiences at the "Sciets," so neither Ann nor her husband were surprised; but Morva detected something unusual in the old man's manner. At many a meeting he had confessed to the frailties of human nature, with platitudes, and expressions of repentance, which had lost all reality from constant repetition. But he had satisfied the meeting, and at the end of it he had taken up his hat, smoothed his hair down over his forehead, and walked out of the chapel in the odour of sanctity. To-night it was a very different man who stood there. At first his voice was low and trembling, but as he proceeded it gathered strength, so that his words were audible even in the corner pew, whose little shrivelled occupant was eagerly listening, in the hopes that another person's experience—and he a good man—might throw some light upon her own difficulties.
"Good people all!" said the old man, "will you bear with me for a few moments, while I unburden my mind of a weight that is pressing sore upon me? and God grant that none of you may suffer what I have suffered lately! but justly—remember justly am I punished.
"You think you know me well, my dear friends. 'There is Ebben Owens Garthowen,' you say, 'our deacon,' and perhaps you say 'an upright man and honest!' But I am here to-night to tell you what I am in truth. I have stood before you dozens of times, and told you of want of faith—of cold prayers—and lack of interest in holy things. I have asked for your prayers many times, and have gone home and forgotten to pray myself! Yes, I have been your deacon for thirty years, and all that time I have deceived you, and deceived myself. I never told you about my real sins, but you shall know to-night what Ebben Owens is. I have been weak and yielding in money matters—have lent and given my money, not out of real charity, but because it brought me the praise of man. I have lied and cheated in the market, and still my soul was asleep, and you all thought well of me. I have pretended to be a temperate man, but I have often drunk until my brain was dull, and my eyes were heavy, and have flung myself down on my bed in a drunken sleep, without thought and without prayer."
He paused a moment, and the sea wind, coming in at the window, blew a stray lock of his grey hair over his forehead. His tongue seemed parched and dry, his voice husky and uncertain, but with a fresh effort he continued:
"Are you beginning to know me, my friends? Not yet, not yet, listen! God gave me two brave boys, and how did I take his gift? I made an idol of one, and was unjust, and often harsh, to the other. As the years went on I continued in that sinful path, and in my old age the Lord is punishing me. The boy I idolised and loved—God knows with a love that effaced the image of the Almighty from my heart—has deserted me, has grown ashamed of me, and my punishment is just and righteous. The other—whom I treated harshly and thrust from me—has also deserted me in my old age; this, too, is just and righteous. The sting of it is sharp and hard to bear, for God has made me love that boy, and long for his presence; and this, too, is just and righteous. Let no one pity me, or think I am punished more than I deserve. And now, do you think you know me? Not yet, my friends, for listen, your deacon, Ebben Owens of Garthowen, is a thief! Do you hear it, all of you? A thief!" and he looked round the chapel inquiringly.
The men looked at him with flushed, excited faces, the women stooped forward to hide theirs, some of them crying silently, but all moved as by a sudden storm. Ann had bent lower and lower in her pew, and was weeping bitter tears of shame, clasping Morva's hand, who stood looking in frightened amazement from one to another.
"A thief!" continued the old man, "and a cowardly thief! One who sacrificed honour and truth and common honesty that he might gratify his foolish pride. But to come nearer, my friends, hear what I have done. By careless spendthrift ways I had wasted my money so that I had not sufficient to send my son to college. This galled my pride, and I stole from my son-in-law's drawer the sum of 40 pounds which I knew he had placed there. I was too proud to borrow from a Methodist preacher the money I required to get my son into the Church. When the theft was discovered," and the old man held up his finger to enforce his words—"are you listening?—when the theft was discovered I tried at first to throw the blame upon a member of this congregation, whom, of course, I knew to be innocent; later on, when circumstances seemed to point more directly to my dear eldest son, I gladly let the suspicion rest upon him, and I did everything in my power to give colour to the idea of his guilt. There I am, dear friends. That is Ebben Owens. You know him now as what he is—a liar—a sot—a thief! You will turn me out of your 'Sciet.' You are right; I am not worthy to be a member of it. I don't want anyone's pity, I only want you to know me as I am, and may God forgive me."
And he sat down amidst breathless silence, his hands sunk deep into his pockets, his chin resting on his chest. Shame, repentance, and sorrow filled his heart, and it required all the strength of his manhood to keep back the tears which would well up into his eyes. It was all so still in the chapel, not a word of sympathy; even a word of reproach would have been acceptable to the miserable man, who could not read beneath the surface, the tumult of varied feelings which were surging through the hearts of the congregation.
Suddenly two heavy paws were resting on his knee, and Tudor's warm breath was on his face as he tried to lick the old man's bare forehead. The touch of sympathy was more than he could bear, he rose hastily to his feet, and, followed by the dog, passed out of the chapel, leaving Gwilym Morris, with a tremble in his voice, to bring the meeting to a close.
Although he had sometimes strayed into the chapel Tudor had never before been known to invade the sanctity of the "big seat," and what brought him there on this particular evening was one of those mysteries which enshroud the possibilities of animal instinct. Perhaps he had been struck by the dejected attitude of his master, as he followed his daughter and son-in-law through the farmyard; at all events the loving and loyal heart had felt that over that bent head and stooping figure a cloud of trouble hung low, and as he followed his master through the silent congregation he hung his head and drooped his tail as though he himself were the delinquent.
"Come, Ann, let us follow him," whispered Morva.
"No," answered Ann, withdrawing her hand from Morva's warm clasp, "I cannot. Go thou and comfort him. I will wait for Gwilym."
And Morva did not hesitate, though it required some courage to make her way through that shocked and scandalised throng.
Gaining the door, where the fresh night air met her with refreshing coolness, she saw the tall, stooping figure moving slowly up the stony road, followed by the dejected Tudor, and in a moment was at his side. Taking his hard, rough hand in both her warm palms she lifted it to her cheek and pressed it to her neck.
"'N'wncwl Ebben dear, and dear, and very dear! my heart is breaking for you! To think that while we knew nothing about it you were bearing all the burden of your repentance alone. But there is plenty of love in all our hearts to sink every sin you ever committed in its depths, for the sake of all the good you have done and all the kindness you have shown to me and to every one who came near you, and you know God's forgiveness is waiting for every sinner who repents."
The old man said nothing for some time, but trudged heavily beside her.
"Thou art tender and forgiving, whatever," he said at last; "but Ann, where is she? Will she ever forgive me?"
"She is waiting for Gwilym," answered Morva.
"She is right; but come thou with me, lass; thou must help me to-night, for I have only done half my task," and as they passed under the elder tree at the back door he hurried before her into the house.
"Now, 'merch i, bring me pen and ink and some paper."
Now was the time, he felt, when he must make a clean breast of all his guilt, and drink his bitter draught of expiation to the dregs. He seized the pen eagerly and with trembling hands began to write, "My beloved son." The letter was to Will, of course. A clergyman! a gentleman! with a lady to wife! What would he say when he heard that his father was a thief?
He made a full and ample confession, adding no extenuating circumstances and making no excuses. He wrote slowly and laboriously, Morva meanwhile rifling Ann's work-box for a seal.
"There's beautiful writing for an old man," she said at last, as Ebben Owens toiled through the address, his tongue following every movement of the pen. "Now, here's the seal, and I will put the letter in the post at once, and then your mind will be easy."
"Easy!" he said, leaning his head on his folded arms; "'tis my son, girl, my beloved son, whose love and respect I am cutting off from me for ever. Tell thy mother, too; let them all know what I am. Here come Ann and Gwilym; perhaps they will be as hard upon me as I deserve."
Here Tudor again laid his soft head on the table beside his master's, and the old man passed his arm round the dog's neck.
"Yes—yes, 'machgen i, I know I have thee still. Go, Morva, post my letter at Pont-y-fro, though 'tis Sunday night. Good-night, girl, thou hast an old man's blessing. For what it is worth," he added, under his breath, as the girl passed out of one door, while Gwilym and Ann entered at the other.
On their way home through the clear starlight, Gwilym had endeavoured to soothe Ann's distress, to point out to her how real a proof of repentance was her father's confession. He reminded her of the joy amongst the angelic host over one sinner that repenteth! but his words failed to make their usual impression upon her. Shame, and contempt for her father's weakness were uppermost in her heart, and expressed upon her countenance, when she entered the kitchen. One glance, however, at the bowed grey head and the dejected attitude, banished every feeling of anger to the winds; with a bound she was at her father's side, her arms round his neck, her head leaning with his on the table, Tudor laying his own beside them.
Ebben Owens's departure from the chapel had been followed by a few moments of breathless silence. No more experiences were told, no hymn was sung, but a short and fervid prayer from the preacher alone preceded the dismissal which sent the astonished and deeply-moved congregation pouring out into the roadway.
Jos Hughes had trembled with fright when Ebben Owens had alluded to his want of money at the time of Will's entering college, and had expected nothing less than an exposure of his oft broken promises and the long delayed payment of his debt; but as the old man proceeded without allusion to his shortcomings, he had regained his courage, and his usual smug appearance of righteous peace and content.
"Well!" he said to his fellow-deacons, as they followed the rough road to Pont-y-fro, "did you ever think we had such a fool for a deacon?"
"'Ts—'ts! never indeed," said John Jones of the "Blue Bell."
"Well, indeed," said old Thomas Morgan, the weaver, "I didn't know we had such a sinner amongst us; but fool! perhaps it would be better if we were all such fools."
But no one took any notice of his remark, for he was never considered to have been endowed with his full complement of sense, though his pure and unblemished life had caused him to be chosen deacon.
"Well," said Jos again, as he reached his own shop door, "I always knew Garthowen's pride would come down some day; but I never, never thought he was such a fool!"
It was nearly midnight, and still Sara and Morva sat over the fire in earnest conversation. The March wind roared in the chimney, the sound of the sea came up the valley. Outside, under the night sky, the furze and broom bushes waved and bowed to each other, and in the sheltered cwrt the daffodils under the hedge nodded and swayed in the wind; but the two women inside the cottage were too much engrossed in their conversation, and with their thoughts, to notice the wildness of the night. Often they sat in silence, broken by occasional words of sorrow.
"Oh, poor 'n'wncwl Ebben! No wonder he was sitting thinking and thinking in the chimney-corner!"
"No, no wonder indeed, och i! och i! But now he has done the best thing for his own peace of mind."
"Peace of mind!" said Morva. "I am afraid he will never have that, mother. He said when we were walking home together that he wished he could die; and I'm afraid he will before long. He is breaking his heart for his two sons."
Sara did not answer; she was gazing at the glowing fire, whose flames and sparks chased each other up the chimney. At last she straightened herself.
"Garthowen shall not die while I can help him, Morva," she said. "I have seen all this coming, 'merch i, and I know now what my dreams have meant lately. They are calling me, Morva; they have been calling me since the turn of the year, and I have closed my ears. But now"—and she stood up, though still leaning on her stick—"but now I must go."
Morva looked at her in astonishment, for the aged form seemed to grow young again with the strength of purpose within it. The gentle face appeared to lose the wrinkles of age. In the fitful light of the fire, it took again the lines of beauty and youth which had once belonged to it.
"Thou must not be surprised, child," she added, "if some evening when thou com'st home from the farm thou shalt find the house empty. The key will be on the lintel, and thou must come in and wait in patience till I return. I thought there was nothing more for me to do, but I see it now," and with her stick she pointed into the dark corner where the spinning-wheel stood, and the red earthen pitcher which went so often to the well. "I see it, 'merch i; 'tis a journey for me. I don't see quite where it ends, but I will be safe, Morva, for God is everywhere. They are calling me, and they will bring me safe home again. Let me go, child; 'tis to fetch a blessing for Garthowen and for thee, so don't thee fret, lass. Then my work will be done; there will be only one more journey for me—the last! and from that thou wilt not see me return. But I will be with thee, and thee must not sorrow for me."
"Oh, mother," said the girl, burying her face in her apron, "are you going to die? How can I live in this world without you?" And swaying backwards and forwards, she cried bitterly.
"Not yet, my child, not yet; I have work to do and there are happy days in store for us both; but some day, Morva, it must come, and when it comes thou must not grieve for me. Come, 'merch i, 'tis late; let us go to bed."
And the girl, somewhat comforted, dried her eyes and closed the rickety door. She slept heavily after her late watching, so heavily that she did not hear when Sara rose in the grey of the dawn. At her usual time Morva rose too, and immediately missed her mother. A wild fear throbbed through her heart as she searched in and out of the cottage.
"Mother!" she called up the step ladder which led to the loft, out in the cwrt and in the garden. "Mother fach! where are you?" But there was no answer, and she realised that Sara had gone, and that she was alone!
After the first pang of fright, a calmness and even happiness entered her heart; she had learnt to put implicit trust in her strange foster-mother, and a feeling of complete reassurance and content began to take possession of her mind.
It would be well with Sara, for whatever she attempted she never failed to accomplish, and it would be well with Garthowen too! "Her ways are blessed," said the girl, clasping her hands, and returning to her solitary breakfast. "The spirits have her in their keeping, that I know, and she will come back and bring us joy and happiness!"
Whether in the depths of her heart it was dawning upon her what blessing she expected from Sara's pilgrimage is difficult to know; perhaps unconsciously she already nourished the hope which was to grow with every day of her mother's absence, until it gilded her whole life with a rapturous expectancy; at all events, it was a very blithe and joyous maiden who brushed the dew off the sheep path to Garthowen in time for the milking that morning. She would have sung one of Sara's old Nature songs, had not the remembrance of the sorrow at the farm kept her silent. The March wind blew keen and crisp around her, the air was filled with the quivering songs of the larks, the furze was bursting into bloom, even the bare blackthorn put on its speckled mantle of white; what wonder was it in a world so fair, that Morva's heart sang for joy? But as she turned round the Cribserth, a sudden shadow came upon her, for here was Ebben Owens coming towards her, with bent head and slow dragging step. She hurried forward to meet him.
"I thought thee wouldst turn back, lass, or make an excuse to pass me by," he said.
"But no! no! no!" said the girl, linking her arm into the old man's, and turning back with him, "'tis closer and closer we must cling together, 'n'wncwl Ebben, dear, the further we go on the path of life. Did you think that Morva could pass you by? Ach y fi! no indeed! But where are you going so early?"
"To see Sara," said the old man—"to see if she will still be my friend when she knows how bad I am."
"She knows it all," said Morva; "I told her last night, and her heart was torn with sorrow and love for you; and now turn back with me to Garthowen, for Sara is gone; the cottage is empty!"
"Gone!" said the old man, with a gasp, "Sara gone!"
"Yes—gone! 'Garthowen shall not die of grief while I can help him,' she said; 'I am going a long journey, child, and ye must not grieve for me; I will come back and bring joy and comfort with me.' That's what she said," and Morva nodded her head emphatically. "Oh, she will come, she will come, as she has promised, and bring you comfort; what it will be I cannot tell," and leaning her head coaxingly on the old man's arm she asked, in a playful tone of mystery, "now what can it be, this great blessing she is going to bring you?"
"I don't know," said the old man, taking scant interest in her surmises; he was thinking how he would bear this fresh loss!
"But what do you think?"
"A Bible, perhaps."
"A Bible!" said Morva impatiently, "no—no, not a Bible; Sara knows you have plenty of them at Garthowen, and she has too much sense to bring you another—no! 'tisn't that! but oh, what will it be, I wonder?"
And day after day this was the question that ran through her thoughts, "What will it be, I wonder?"
Sitting down to her milking she sang with full voice once more the old song which Daisy loved. Of late her voice had been very low, and the song scarcely reached beyond Daisy's sleek sides, but to-day it came back, and the farmyard was filled with happy melody.
Everything went on as usual in the farm. Ann tried to let no difference be seen in her manner to her father, unless indeed she was a little more tender and loving. The farm servants, who, if they had not been at the Sciet, had yet heard the tale of disgrace, were unanimous in their endeavours to comfort the old mishteer whom they loved with so much loyalty.
"Pwr fellow bach!" they said to each other, "'twas for his son after all, and if he had kept it to himself nobody would have known anything about it!"
He alone was altered, going about with a saddened mien and gentler voice than of old, and apparently finding his chief solace in the company of his little grandson, who followed him about as closely and untiringly as Tudor did.
"Ah, we are brave companions, aren't we, Gwil?" he would sometimes ask with a tremble in his voice.
"Odin (Yes, we are)," said the child.
"And thou lov'st thine old grandfather with all thine heart, eh?"
"Odw (Yes, I do!)," said the child, impatient to be gone.
They were sitting under the elder tree in the farmyard.
"Stop a minute," said the old man, in a husky, anxious voice, "if da-cu (grandfather) had done anything wrong, wouldst love him still the same?"
"Oh, more!" said the boy, "because then we'd be two naughty boys!"
And while they sat under the elder tree, and Morva helped Ann with her churning, five miles away, on the wind-swept high road, a bent figure was trudging along, with slow but steady footsteps, with the thought of them all in her mind, and the sweet memory of home in her heart, but with an earnest purpose in her eyes; to bring happiness and hope to her old friend, to the man who in the days gone by had jilted her, and torn her heart strings, who had won her love, but had married another woman, and regretted it ever after.
It was Sara, who had risen with the first streak of dawn, and snatching a hurried breakfast had left her foster-daughter asleep. She had lifted the lid of the coffer and had taken out the best half of her scarlet mantle, leaving the worn and faded half hanging Over the spinning wheel. "Morva would understand," she thought, "and would wash it and lay it away in the coffer until her return." A gown too she wore, instead of her peasant dress, a gown of red and black homespun, which had been her best when she was first married. On her head a black felt hat, with low crown, and slouching brim over her full bordered cap of frilled muslin. Strong shoes with bows on the instep, her crutch stick in her hand, and a little bundle of clothes tied up in a cotton handkerchief completed her outfit, and thus equipped she stole silently to the bedside where Morva lay, flushed with the heavy sleep of youth and health.
"My little daughter!" was all she said, but her eyes were full of tears as she passed through the cwrt and took the sheep path which led to the top of the moor. Reaching the brow of the hill she turned into a narrow lane, over which the thorn bushes, just showing signs of their budding greenery, almost met together. Under their branches she made her way, to where the lane opened out to a grassy square, on which stood a tiny whitewashed cottage. The thatch reached low over the door, and its one window no bigger than a child's slate. There were no signs of life, but Sara did not hesitate to raise the wooden latch and open the door, which she found unbolted.
In the murky gloom of the cottage it was difficult at first to see where the bed lay, but as space was circumscribed she had not far to look; in fact, one curtained side of the bed made the wall of the passage, and she had but to turn round this to see an old and wrinkled face asleep on the pillow.