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Chapter III.

WE—my three sisters, my brother, and myself—spent a good portion of our time in the open air. We had set school hours, but my father's parochial duties and my mother's domestic cares frequently deprived us of our instructors, and turned schooltime into holiday.

Very delightful to me were the beginnings of our rambles, when, out of sight of the mocking village children (my little brother thrashed one of them who jeered at me, and—for I mean to tell the simple truth— I hated him for being able to do it, whilst I was not), we gathered primroses and anemones in the cool, shady wood, and cowslips in the sunny “parks;” or played at Robinson Crusoe in some sequestered nook in the Burrows. But I was very weak, and soon tired of walking; so generally, after a brief bright ten minutes or so, I lagged behind, if my companions were bent upon a lengthy stroll; and moped by myself till they came back,—in momentary dread lest some of the young ruffians from the village should break in upon my solitude. I tried several times to bribe our old pointer, Ponto, with bread and butter, to stay with me, as a guard; but he always gobbled up my crusts, snuffed round me in expectation of more to come, and, when he saw that my store was exhausted, scampered off to join my brother. I didn't wonder at it, as I watched the active, graceful, bonny boy bounding over the hillocks, like a fawn, his long curly flaxen hair streaming behind him in the breeze; but my intermittent hate of him soon became chronic when I saw that he was always—even by the ungrateful dog I fed—preferred to me. My sisters would sometimes stay with me, by turns. Children, however, cannot be always considerate and self-denying; so, for the most part, on such occasions, I was left alone.

What envy, anger, malice, rankled in my little festered heart! How I


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hated every one except my father! I knew that he gave me every spare moment of his time; and, although he took more notice of me than he did of the rest of his children—why, I was well aware—yet he did not make a difference between me and other children when he talked or played with me. Everybody but my father seemed, when kind, to be kind to me out of compassion; and the pity poisoned the kindness.

Even with God, I thought that I did well to be angry. I reasoned that He might have made me hale and handsome if He had chosen. Why hadn't He then? Why had He sent me into the world to be a laughing-stock? I secretly fraternized with fiends, because, in the wood cuts in my story books, I had always seen devils represented as very ugly. Still I retained a great liking for Christ, and loved to hear and read of his going about healing the sick, making the lame to walk, giving sight to the blind. I fancied that God wouldn't let him know how hideous I was, for fear He should come and make me as beautiful as my brother, whom I looked upon as God's pet.

One Sunday the Cripple at the Pool of Bethesda had been the subject of my father's sermon. In the course of it, he had alluded to a local legend to the effect that any one who dipped himself in Our Ladye's Well, upon the neighbouring mountain, would instantly recover from any sickness or infirmity under which he might have been labouring. The story stuck to me like a burr. Jumbling the Pool of Bethesda and our Ladye's Well, I thought that, if I reached the latter, I should be sure to get into the waters as soon as they were troubled, because no one else in the parish was ill in any way, so far as I knew,—except Auntie Jones (married people in Pwldhi are all either “Aunts” or “Uncles”), and she was bedridden, and so had a worse chance than myself; or, at all events, that Christ would be there to heal me, if any one should step down before me. With all this, too, I mixed up the picture in Pilgrim's Progress of Christian's burden falling off at the foot of the Cross; and could almost have leaped for joy at the thought of returning without my hateful burden, and walking quite boldly through the village (getting kisses from all the women, as Willie always did,) right up into my father's study and asking him if he knew me. I was fresh from a first perusal of the Pilgrim's Progress—one of the most marked and moving epochas in a child's life. Christian was as real to me as the parish clerk; his combat with Apollyon as historical as the fight at the last fair.

The Pwldhi church has no vestry; so my father always walked to and from the parsonage in his gown. I used to walk with him, nestling in its folds to hide my deformity; though I cared less about it then than at other


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times, because the village children were afraid to make game of me in the presence of my father. That Sunday, as I stumbled along at his side, as soon as we were outside the churchyard gate, and I had repeated the text, I began to ask him about Our Ladye's Well. He told me that it was all a superstition, and tried to explain how he had contrasted those fabled cures with the real cures wrought at the Pool of Bethesda. For this, however, I had no ears. I wanted to know where the well was. Pointing to a gray, lonely Cromlech upon the mountain-side—a landmark visible for many a mile—he told me that the well was just under that tall, white stone. I treasured up the information, and during the day matured my scheme.

I was up betimes next morning, and, whilst my brother and sisters were busy with their gardens, slipt out into the Burrows. Taking care to keep high ground always between me and the house, I waded—half glad at having to encounter an obstacle which might stand for the Slough of Despond—through the heavy sand—in the direction of the mountain. Hope gave me unwonted energy; still, by the time that I had reached the bridge that spans the Pwl (a rivulet regarded with much reverence by the neighbouring country folk, because, so long as it runs into Pwdlhi Bay, a poetical old charter gives them the right of free pasturage for their cattle upon Cefn Bryn), I was almost overcome by the hot summer sun, and was very glad to sit down on the low parapet, envying the fish gliding about so cool and swift in the clear stream below. Having recalled to mind a precedent from Bunyan to quiet my conscience for resting on my pilgrimage, I started again; creeping along under the tree-shaded park wall which commences at the bridge. The bees were busy in the chestnut blossoms, that every now and then rained down their snowy petals on my head; flies all green and gold buzzed round me; little blue butterflies, with spots of red and yellow on their wings, flitted past; a blackbird in the hazels cooled the air with his gushing song; and a runnel of crystal water tinkled down the hill, wetting the moss upon the road-side stones, in a niche in which I saw an empty robin's nest half hidden by a bunch of primrose leaves. I thought, “how beautiful all this will look when I come down,” and hurried on.

I stopped again before the gamekeeper's cottage, to look up at the hawks and owls and weasels nailed upon the gable. The gamekeeper's son—one of my young tormentors—saw me, and whistling to his foxy terrier, cried “Hist Pinch! at him, boy!” and then to his mother, “Look, mammy! Here's little Humpty-Dumpty!” “Won't I thrash you, if Christ heals me?” I muttered to myself, and was running away, when the


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woman came out, boxed her son's ears, called off the dog, and asked me what I was doing so far from home. The Pwldhi letters are always left at the Park Lodge; so, recollecting it was post day, I lied for the first time in my life, and told her that the groom was ill, and that I had been sent for the letters.

“But where's the bag, child?”

“Oh, mamma thought it would be too heavy for me to carry.”

“And, indeed, you ought n't to have been sent at all. But come in and rest yourself awhile.”

I went in, and the good woman cut me off half-a-yard of apple turnover (gigantic fruit pasties are common cottage viands in South Wales) which, having had no breakfast, I began to devour most ravenously.

The baby woke, and, sitting up in the cradle, beheld me. Instantly it gave a scream, and, as it refused to be pacified, I was requested to take my departure. “No wonder,” I heard the woman say to herself, “he is an object, poor dear!” And then, with a rough attempt at delicacy, she added aloud, “I want you to make haste, because the postman will soon be in; and, perhaps, Master Owen, you'll ask if there is any letters for me, and come and have a bit of dinner with us as you go by.”

The lie that I had told oppressed me. I could eat no more of the turnover. I seemed to have stolen it—to have got wages for work I never meant to do; for, of course, I shouldn't ask for her letters. I hid the huge fragment of pasty in a hedge, and rattled up the hill as fast as my feeble legs would carry me.

Old Molly, the lodge-keeper, was standing at the park gates, looking out for the postman. I was determined not to tell another lie, for fear Christ should be angry, and let some one get into the water before me, and then refuse to cure me. So I got behind a great block of stone that divided the runnel into two streams, and stood, up to my ankles in water, waiting for Molly to go in; and likening the poor old woman and her black cat that rubbed his arched back against her skirts, to the lions that stopped the way in Pilgrim's Progress.

At last, she did go in. I slipt unseen past her window, and began to ascend the mountain.

It was weary work, for I was faint with hunger and fatigue. The dread, however, of being seen and brought back before I had reached my goal, urged me on. I could not make straight for the Cromlech; fearing the fierce cattle that grazed between me and it. A little scarlet cap I wore had irritated a huge beast; and he came bellowing after me in a horrid way. I fancied at first it was the devil, going about as a roaring


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bullock seeking whom he might devour, and repented of my friendly feeling for fiends; but I saw that he had lost one of his horns, and that blood was dropping from the socket; and that encouraged me, as I felt sure the devil couldn't have been beaten in a contest with common beeves—and, besides, he would bleed fire. Remembering how angry our own bull often got if I had my red cap on when passing through the “park” behind the parsonage, I took off the cap; and then the monster shook his head, and trotted back to his herd, to finish his fight with his rival. I heard their hard foreheads come together like two stones, and wondered whether bulls ever had the headache, and what they took for it.

Meantime I had almost got to the top of the mountain, and seeing that it was covered with smooth turf, I determined to climb up, and go along it, until I came behind the stone that marked the well.

When I was up, I looked around, and saw for the first time a town. Far, far away over the moorlands into which the mountain merges—all purple then with heath; right beyond the map-like plain of field and meadow at their foot, I could see two steeples rising from a great black mass of masonry into a great black cloud of smoke, at the bottom of a long blue bay, sprinkled with white sails that looked like floating sea-gulls. The ships were very pretty, but I shuddered when I thought of living in the town. It seemed so much like the City of Destruction!

It was late in the afternoon—evening, indeed—when I reached Our Ladye's Well. The gray old Cromlech was all a-glow with the red westering sun-beams. A fat little, white-coated, black-faced lamb, munching a mouthful of harebells, was gazing, with a puzzled look, at its reflection in the liquid mirror. A water-wagtail, sweeping its long caudal feathers from side to side, as it dipped its beak into the well, and then held up its head to swallow the tiny draught, reminded me of the Squire's lady with her black velvet train drinking the tenants' health at a Christmas gathering at the Hall. I remember well how I tried to divest myself of the ludicrous association, for I felt that I was on holy ground. Taking off my shoes, I went on tiptoe to the fountain. It was gurgling gaily. It must, I believed, have been but newly stirred. I plunged boldly and bodily in. It was not deep. I lay and splashed there for some ten minutes. I came out. No supernatural visitant appeared to do what the well had failed to accomplish. I was still the same misshapen boy at whom the gamekeeper's terrier had flown. I threw myself on the ground, and literally roared in an agony of rage, disappointment, and despair. I felt that I must always continue what I was; and, in my childish blasphemy, added the Saviour now to my list of foes, and vowed that I would never again believe the


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Bible—anything—anyone, but my father; he had told me that it was all a lie about the well.

Just then my father rode up. He had been seeking me far and wide, and had heard from the gamekeeper's wife that I had passed her house. Chance, or a remembrance of my eager questionings the day before, had led him to the Cromlech. He took me up on the saddle, and I told him all my story, as I rode before him down the hill. I recollect, as though it were only yesterday, I listened to him, the sad, cough-broken voice in which he reproved me for the lie; the loving way in which he pressed me to his heart, as we passed under the sombre shade of the park trees stretching out their arms, as if they were ogres about to snatch me from him, over the dim wall; the solemn words in which he prayed God to forgive and protect and comfort his lonely boy—to be a Father to the fatherless.

I clung to him in terror, for something whispered—“Dark as your life is, it may be darker still!”

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