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Chapter II.

MY father was the curate of Pwldhi, a village in South Wales. It is a lonely spot. Even in these days of newspapers and railroads, the roar of the busy world reaches the hamlet only like the dull sound of billows breaking miles away. The pedlar's tidings, a month old, are considered “latest intelligence” in Pwldhi. A stranger's visit is pabulum for talk for half-a-year.

It is a lovely spot, too. Dearly do I love Nature, for she is the only beautiful one I ever dared to look upon without apology and shame, the only one I never caused to frown or sigh. She always had a smile for me, though I was hateful to behold, and unveiled her loveliness before me as solace, and not insult.

On the left, as you face the Bay, a green, broad-backed mountain meets the sky. In fine weather you can see the dun wild cattle roaming on the mountain-side, and here and there a flock of sheep nibbling the fragrant thyme, or far, far up, a line of shaggy kids playing at follow-my-leader along the jutting blocks of lichen-mottled limestone. In stormy weather, the clouds rest damp and dreary on the top, and spot the swelling hill-slopes with straggling patches of wind-tost vapour, looking like columns of ascending smoke.

Just where the mountain begins to melt into the plain, there is a dense mass of dark foliage, above which tower the ragged, ivy-clad, weed-stream-ered, jay-and-jackdaw-haunted ruins of a castle, and between which you catch glimpses of an old-fashioned red brick mansion, with white stone piers and coping: the park and residence of the Lord of the Manor.

Towards the sea, the hill-range ends in a long rank of stern, gray crags, over the outermost of which the waves, rolling on and on for ever from the far-off west, break, with perpetual thunder, in seething curls of snowy foam; bronzing the turf that caps the cliffs, and drenching their gay garlands of golden-blossomed gorse, with ever-drifting showers of salt spray.

On the other side of the Bay, a wooded declivity dips its feet in the blue waters, looking over at its grim vis-a-vis as a gentle sister might gaze, half proudly and half fearfully, at a brave brother in fierce combat. Another castle, shattered by Cromwell's cannon, crowns this hill. At its foot nestles the Parsonage, blotched by the sea-breeze. A path fringed with the periwinkle and wild rose leads, just above the rocks, to the church-yard; where the village dead sleep, not beneath green mounds, as in English graveyards, but underneath a coverlet of flowers. A little garden, box-bordered, or with a tiny white-washed wall, watched lovingly throughout

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the year, and weeded by fond fingers, and watered by regretful tears, at Easter and at Whitsuntide, blooms fair and fragrant above each dear, departed one—a sweeter tomb than the unvisited mausoleum with its marble symbols of a stony grief, and virtues—not cherished in the memory of survivors, but chronicled or created, for stranger eyes, in characters of gold.

The present church is old enough to have the cross-legged effigy of a Crusader in its chancel. I used to marvel why he didn't scour the verdigris from his armour,—the damp had made the monument so green. I really thought, when quite a child, that it was a living knight, who lay there studying the Ten Commandments in the Two Tables over the Altar, and that the sexton fed him secretly with what remained of the sacramental bread and wine.

There is, however, an older church beneath the waves. When the sea is calm, you can see the broken arches, covered with limpets and swathed in many-coloured tangle, the ribbed sand heaped high round the thick pillars, and shoals of fish, now bright now shadowy, gliding silently up the watery aisles.

The old parsonage was swept away with the old church, but part of the old garden-wall remains—a tottering mass of rubble at the water-side, with a silver birch trembling, like a warrior's plume, upon the top. My childish fancy likened the pile, I remember, to a warrior left behind by his comrades, and grown grey in gazing for the ship that nevermore returned. The garden, also, remains, grass-grown and rubbish-strewn, and dotted in Spring with a few tufts of pale, sad, lonely-looking daffodils.

Behind the belt of slate-colored shingle that bounds the beach, there is a chaos of sand-hills, covered with dark-green, spreading fern, and pallid bristling sedge, through which the wind sighs mournfully as it bends it to the ground. Here and there, too, there is a spread of mossy sward smooth as velvet, yielding as a Turkey carpet, but far more variously, exquisitely colored than any web the work of human hands. Myriads of rabbits inhabit these wide burrows; now peeping forth cautiously from their holes; now sitting on their hind legs and smoothing their whiskers, like fops, with their fore-paws; now scampering in their short gallop over the glittering soil, scattering, as they go, a silvery spray; and anon plunging, with a knowing back-cast glance of their round eyes, and an impertinent whisk of their funny little tufts of tails—as though well aware that their heavy-footed scarer toiled after them in vain—once more into the wide-branching galleries of their subterranean homes.

A road, like a rock-staircase, leads from the shore to the village-green

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at the top of the hill. On both sides of the road, and round the green, are white-washed cottages, buried in flowers, and with gaudier weed-gardens on their dank roofs of thatch.

Emerald meadows, or “parks”—to adopt the local term—shaded by huge spreading elms, and corn fields, with their lime-kilns veiled in sweet briar, girdle the village; and outlying farm-houses speck the distant verdure like lingering wreaths of snow.

Farming, fishing, quarrying, lime-burning, are the occupations of the villagers.

Such was the place, and such were the people, in which and among whom my life began.