The Doom of the Griffiths
by Elizabeth Gaskell
I have always been much interested by the traditions which are
scattered up and down North Wales relating to Owen Glendower (Owain
Glendwr is the national spelling of the name), and I fully enter into
the feeling which makes the Welsh peasant still look upon him as the
hero of his country. There was great joy among many of the inhabitants
of the principality, when the subject of the Welsh prize poem at
Oxford, some fifteen or sixteen years ago, was announced to be 'Owain
Glendwr.' It was the most proudly national subject that had been given
Perhaps some may not be aware that this redoubted chieftain is,
even in the present days of enlightenment, as famous among his
illiterate countrymen for his magical powers as for his patriotism. He
says himself—or Shakespeare says it for him, which is much the same
'At my nativity
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes
Of burning cressets . . .
. . . I can call spirits from the vasty deep.'
And few among the lower orders in the principality would think of
asking Hotspur's irreverent question in reply.
Among other traditions preserved relative to this part of the Welsh
hero's character, is the old family prophecy which gives title to this
tale. When Sir David Gam, 'as black a traitor as if he had been born in
Bluith', sought to murder Owen at Machynlleth, there was one with him
whose name Glendwr little dreamed of having associated with his
enemies. Rhys ap Gryfydd, his 'old familiar friend,' his relation, his
more than brother, had consented unto his blood. Sir David Gam might be
forgiven, but one whom he had loved, and who had betrayed him, could
never be forgiven. Glendwr was too deeply read in the human heart to
kill him. No, he let him live on, the loathing and scorn of his
compatriots, and the victim of bitter remorse. The mark of Cain was
But before he went forth—while he yet stood a prisoner, cowering
beneath his conscience before Owain Glendwr—that chieftain passed a
doom upon him, and his race:
'I doom thee to live, because I know thou wilt pray for death. Thou
shalt live on beyond the natural term of the life of man, the scorn of
all good men. The very children shall point to thee with hissing
tongue, and say, "There goes one who would have shed a brother's
blood!" For I loved thee more than a brother, 0 Rhys ap Gryfydd! Thou
shalt live on to see all of thy house, except the weakling in arms,
perish by the sword. Thy race shall be accursed. Each generation shall
see their lands melt away like snow; yea, their wealth shall vanish,
though they may labour night and day to heap up gold. And when nine
generations have passed from the face of the earth, thy blood shall no
longer flow in the veins of any human being. In those days the last
male of thy race shall avenge me. The son shall slay the father.'
Such was the traditionary account of Owain Glendwr's speech to his
once-trusted friend. And it was declared that the doom had been
fulfilled in all things; that, live in as miserly a manner as they
would, the Griffiths never were wealthy and prosperous—indeed, that
their worldly stock diminished without any visible cause.
But the lapse of many years had almost deadened the
wonder-inspiring power of the whole curse. It was only brought forth
from the hoards of Memory when some untoward event happened to the
Griffiths family; and in the eighth generation the faith in the
prophecy was nearly destroyed, by the marriage of the Griffiths of that
day to a Miss Owen, who, unexpectedly, by the death of a brother,
became an heiress—to no considerable amount, to be sure, but enough to
make the prophecy appear reversed. The heiress and her husband removed
from his small patrimonial estate in Merionethshire, to her heritage in
Caernarvonshire, and for a time the prophecy lay dormant.
If you go from Tremadoc to Criccaeth, you pass by the parochial
church of Ynysynhanarn, situated in a boggy valley running from the
mountains, which shoulder up to the Rivals, down to Cardigan Bay. This
tract of land has every appearance of having been redeemed at no
distant period of time from the sea, and has all the desolate rankness
often attendant upon such marshes. But the valley beyond, similar in
character, had yet more of gloom at the time of which I write. In the
higher part there were large plantations of firs, set too closely to
attain any size, and remaining stunted in height and scrubby in
appearance. Indeed, many of the smaller and more weakly had died, and
the bark had fallen down on the brown soil neglected and unnoticed.
These trees had a ghastly appearance, with their white trunks, seen by
the dim light which struggled through the thick boughs above. Nearer to
the sea, the valley assumed a more open, though hardly a more cheerful
character; it looked dark and was overhung by sea-fog through the
greater part of the year; and even a farmhouse, which usually imparts
something of cheerfulness to a landscape, failed to do so here. This
valley formed the greater part of the estate to which Owen Griffiths
became entitled by right of his wife. In the higher part of the valley
was situated the family mansion, or rather dwelling-house; for
'mansion' is too grand a word to apply to the clumsy, but
substantially-built Bodowen. It was square and heavy-looking, with just
that much pretension to ornament necessary to distinguish it from the
In this dwelling Mrs. Owen Griffiths bore her husband two
sons—Llewellyn, the future Squire, and Robert, who was early destined
for the Church. The only difference in their situation, up to the time
when Robert was entered at Jesus College, was that the elder was
invariably indulged by all around him, while Robert was thwarted and
indulged by turns; that Llewellyn never learned anything from the poor
Welsh parson, who was nominally his private tutor; while occasionally
Squire Griffiths made a great point of enforcing Robert's diligence,
telling him that, as he had his bread to earn, he must pay attention to
his learning. There is no knowing how far the very irregular education
he had received would have carried Robert through his college
examinations; but, luckily for him in this respect, before such a trial
of his learning came round, he heard of the death of his elder brother,
after a short illness, brought on by a hard drinking-bout. Of course,
Robert was summoned home; and it seemed quite as much of course, now
that there was no necessity for him to 'earn his bread by his
learning,' that he should not return to Oxford. So the half-educated,
but not unintelligent, young man continued at home, during the short
remainder of his parents' lifetime.
His was not an uncommon character. In general he was mild,
indolent, and easily managed; but once thoroughly roused, his passions
were vehement and fearful. He seemed, indeed, almost afraid of himself,
and in common hardly dared to give way to justifiable anger—so much
did he dread losing his self-control. Had he been judiciously educated,
he would, probably, have distinguished himself in those branches of
literature which call for taste and imagination, rather than for any
exertion of reflection or judgment. As it was, his literary taste
showed itself in making collections of Cambrian antiquities of every
description, till his stock of Welsh MSS. would have excited the envy
of Dr. Pugh himself, had he been alive at the time of which I write.
There is one characteristic of Robert Griffiths which I have
omitted to note, and which was peculiar among his class. He was no hard
drinker; whether it was that his head was easily affected, or that his
partially-refined taste led him to dislike intoxication and its
attendant circumstances, I cannot say; but at five-and-twenty Robert
Griffiths was habitually sober—a thing so rare in Llyn, that he was
almost shunned as a churlish, unsociable being, and passed much of his
time in solitude.
About this time, he had to appear in some case that was tried at
the Caernarvon assizes and, while there, was a guest at the house of
his agent, a shrewd, sensible Welsh attorney, with one daughter, who
had charms enough to captivate Robert Griffiths. Though he remained
only a few days at her father's house, they were sufficient to decide
his affections, and short was the period allowed to elapse before he
brought home a mistress to Bodowen. The new Mrs. Griffiths was a
gentle, yielding person, full of love toward her husband, of whom,
nevertheless, she stood something in awe, partly arising from the
difference in their ages, partly from his devoting much time to studies
of which she could understand nothing.
She soon made him the father of a blooming little daughter, called
Augharad after her mother. Then there came several uneventful years in
the household of Bodowen: and, when the old women had one and all
declared that the cradle would not rock again, Mrs. Griffiths bore the
son and heir. His birth was soon followed by his mother's death: she
had been ailing and low-spirited during her pregnancy, and she seemed
to lack the buoyancy of body and mind requisite to bring her round
after her time of trial. Her husband, who loved her all the more from
having few other claims on his affections, was deeply grieved by her
early death, and his only comforter was the sweet little boy whom she
had left behind. That part of the squire's character, which was so
tender, and almost feminine, seemed called forth by the helpless
situation of the little infant, who stretched out his arms to his
father with the same earnest cooing that happier children make use of
to their mother alone. Augharad was almost neglected, while the little
Owen was king of the house; still, next to his father, none tended him
so lovingly as his sister. She was so accustomed to give way to him
that it was no longer a hardship. By night and by day Owen was the
constant companion of his father, and increasing years seemed only to
confirm the custom. It was an unnatural life for the child, seeing no
bright little faces peering into his own (for Augharad was, as I said
before, five or six years older, and her face, poor motherless girl!
was often anything but bright), hearing no din of clear ringing voices,
but day after day sharing the otherwise solitary hours of his father,
whether in the dim room surrounded by wizard-like antiquities, or
pattering his little feet to keep up with his 'tada' in his mountain
rambles or shooting excursions. When the pair came to some little
foaming brook, where the steppingstones were far and wide, the father
carried his little boy across with the tenderest care; when the lad was
weary, they rested, he cradled in his father's arms, or the Squire
would lift him up and carry him to his home again. The boy was indulged
(for his father felt flattered by the desire) in his wish of sharing
his meals and keeping the same hours. All this indulgence did not
render Owen unamiable, but it made him wilful, and not a happy child.
He had a thoughtful look, not common to the face of a young boy. He
knew no games, no merry sports; his information was of an imaginative
and speculative character. His father delighted to interest him in his
own studies, without considering how far they were healthy for so young
Of course Squire Griffiths was not unaware of the prophecy which
was to be fulfilled in his generation. He would occasionally refer to
it when among his friends, with sceptical levity; but in truth it lay
nearer to his heart than he chose to acknowledge. His strong
imagination rendered him peculiarly impressionable on such subjects;
while his judgment, seldom exercised or fortified by severe thought,
could not prevent his continually recurring to it. He used to gaze on
the half-sad countenance of the child, who sat looking up into his face
with his large dark eyes, so fondly yet so inquiringly, till the old
legend swelled around his heart, and became too painful for him not to
require sympathy. Besides, the overpowering love he bore to the child
seemed to demand fuller vent than tender words; it made him like, yet
dread, to upbraid its object for the fearful contrast foretold. Still
Squire Griffiths told the legend, in a half-jesting manner, to his
little son, when they were roaming over the wild heaths in the autumn
days, 'the saddest of the year,' or while they sat in the
oak-wainscoted room, surrounded by mysterious relics that gleamed
strangely forth by the flickering fire-light. The legend was wrought
into the boy's mind, and he would crave, yet tremble, to hear it told
over and over again, while the words were intermingled with caresses
and questions as to his love. Occasionally his loving words and actions
were cut short by his father's light yet bitter speech 'Get thee away,
my lad; thou knowest not what is to come of all this love.'
When Augharad was seventeen, and Owen eleven or twelve, the rector
of the parish in which Bodowen was situated endeavoured to prevail on
Squire Griffiths to send the boy to school. Now, this rector had many
tastes in common with his parishioner, and was his only intimate; and,
by repeated arguments, he succeeded in convincing the Squire that the
unnatural life Owen was leading was in every way injurious. Unwillingly
was the father brought to part from his son; but he did at length send
him to the Grammar School at Bangor, then under the management of an
excellent classic. Here Owen showed that he had more talents than the
rector had given him credit for, when he affirmed that the lad had been
completely stupefied by the life he led at Bodowen. He bade fair to do
credit to the school in the peculiar branch of learning for which it
was famous. But he was not popular among his schoolfellows. He was
wayward, though, to a certain degree, generous and unselfish; he was
reserved but gentle, except when the tremendous bursts of passion
(similar in character to those of his father) forced their way.
On his return from school one Christmas-time, when he had been a
year or so at Bangor, he was stunned by hearing that the undervalued
Augharad was about to be married to a gentleman of South Wales,
residing near Aberystwith. Boys seldom appreciate their sisters; but
Owen thought of the many slights with which he had requited the patient
Augharad, and he gave way to bitter regrets, which, with a selfish want
of control over his words, he kept expressing to his father, until the
Squire was thoroughly hurt and chagrined at the repeated exclamations
of 'What shall we do when Augharad is gone?' 'How dull we shall be when
Augharad is married!' Owen's holidays were prolonged a few weeks, in
order that he might be present at the wedding; and when all the
festivities were over, and the bride and bridegroom had left Bodowen,
the boy and his father really felt how much they missed the quiet,
loving Augharad. She had performed so many thoughtful, noiseless little
offices, on which their daily comfort depended; and, now she was gone,
the household seemed to miss the spirit that peacefully kept it in
order; the servants roamed about in search of commands and directions;
the rooms had no longer the unobtrusive ordering of taste to make them
cheerful; the very fires burned dim, and were always sinking down into
dull heaps of grey ashes. Altogether Owen did not regret his return to
Bangor, and this also the mortified parent observed. Squire Griffiths
was a selfish parent.
Letters in those days were a rare occurrence. Owen usually received
one during his half-yearly absences from home, and occasionally his
father paid him a visit. This half-year the boy had no visit, nor even
a letter, till very near the time of his leaving school, and then he
was astounded by the intelligence that his father was married again.
Then came one of his paroxysms of rage; the more disastrous in its
effects upon his character because it could find no vent in action.
Independently of slight to the memory of his first wife, which children
are so apt to fancy such an action implies, Owen had hitherto
considered himself (and with justice) the first object of his father's
life. They had been so much to each other; and now a shapeless, but too
real, something had come between him and his father for ever. He felt
as if his permission should have been asked, as if he should have been
consulted. Certainly he ought to have been told of the intended event.
So the Squire felt, and hence his constrained letter, which had so much
increased the bitterness of Owen's feelings.
With all this anger, when Owen saw his stepmother, he thought he
had never seen so beautiful a woman for her age; for she was no longer
in the bloom of youth, being a widow when his father married her. Her
manners, to the Welsh lad, who had seen little of female grace among
the families of the few antiquarians with whom his father visited, were
so fascinating that he watched her with a sort of breathless
admiration. Her measured grace, her faultless movements, her tones of
voice, sweet, till the ear was sated with their sweetness, made Owen
less angry at his father's marriage. Yet he felt, more than ever, that
the cloud was between him and his father; that the hasty letter he had
sent in answer to the announcement of his wedding was not forgotten,
although no allusion was ever made to it. He was no longer his father's
confidant—hardly ever his father's companion; for the newly-married
wife was all in all to the Squire, and his son felt himself almost a
cipher, where he had so long been everything. The lady herself had ever
the softest consideration for her stepson; almost too obtrusive was the
attention paid to his wishes; but still he fancied that the heart had
no part in the winning advances. There was a watchful glance of the eye
that Owen once or twice caught when she had imagined herself
unobserved, and many other nameless little circumstances, that gave him
a strong feeling of want of sincerity in his stepmother. Mrs. Owen
brought with her into the family her little child by her first husband,
a boy nearly three years old. He was one of those selfish, observant,
mocking children, over whose feelings you seem to have no control;
agile and mischievous, his little practical jokes, at first performed
in ignorance of the pain he gave, but afterward proceeding to a
malicious pleasure in suffering, really seemed to afford some ground to
the superstitious notion of some of the common people that he was a
Years passed on; and as Owen grew older he became more observant.
He saw, even in his occasional visits at home (for from school he had
passed on to college), that a great change had taken place in the
outward manifestations of his father's character; and, by degrees, Owen
traced this change to the influence of his stepmother; so slight, so
imperceptible to the common observer, yet so resistless in its effects.
Squire Griffiths caught up his wife's humbly advanced opinions, and,
unawares to himself, adopted them as his own, defying all argument and
opposition. It was the same with her wishes; they met their fulfilment,
from the extreme and delicate art with which she insinuated them into
her husband's mind as his own. She sacrificed the show of authority for
the power. At last, when Owen perceived some oppressive act in his
father's conduct towards his dependants, or some unaccountable
thwarting of his own wishes, he fancied he saw his stepmother's secret
influence thus displayed, however much she might regret the injustice
of his father's actions in her conversations with him when they were
alone. His father was fast losing his temperate habits, and frequent
intoxication soon took its usual effect upon the temper. Yet even here
was the spell of his wife upon him. Before her he placed a restraint
upon his passion, yet she was perfectly aware of his irritable
disposition, and directed it hither and thither with the same apparent
ignorance of the tendency of her words.
Meanwhile Owen's situation became peculiarly mortifying to a youth
whose early remembrances afforded such a contrast to his present state.
As a child, he had been elevated to the consequence of a man before his
years gave any mental check to the selfishness which such conduct was
likely to engender; he could remember when his will was law to the
servants and dependants, and his sympathy necessary to his father; now
he was as a cipher in his father's house; and the Squire, estranged in
the first instance by a feeling of the injury he had done his son in
not sooner acquainting him with his purposed marriage, seemed rather to
avoid than to seek him as a companion, and too frequently showed the
most utter indifference to the feelings and wishes which a young man of
a high and independent spirit might be supposed to indulge.
Perhaps Owen was not fully aware of the force of all these
circumstances; for an actor in a family drama is seldom unimpassioned
enough to be perfectly observant. But he became moody and soured;
brooding over his unloved existence, and craving with a human heart
This feeling took more full possession of his mind when he had left
college, and returned home to lead an idle and purposeless life. As the
heir, there was no worldly necessity for exertion: his father was too
much of a Welsh squire to dream of the moral necessity; and he himself
had not sufficient strength of mind to decide at once upon abandoning a
place and mode of life which abounded in daily mortifications. Yet to
this course his judgment was slowly tending, when some circumstances
occurred to detain him at Bodowen.
It was not to be expected that harmony would long be preserved,
even in appearance, between an unguarded and soured young man, such as
Owen, and his wary stepmother, when he had once left college, and come,
not as a visitor, but as the heir, to his father's house. Some cause of
difference occurred, where the woman subdued her hidden anger
sufficiently to become convinced that Owen was not entirely the dupe
she had believed him to be. Henceforward there was no peace between
them. Not in vulgar altercations did this show itself, but in moody
reserve on Owen's part, and in undisguised and contemptuous pursuance
of her own plans by his stepmother. Bodowen was no longer a place
where, if Owen was not loved or attended to, he could at least find
peace and care for himself: he was thwarted at every step, and in every
wish, by his father's desire, apparently, while the wife sat by with a
smile of triumph on her beautiful lips.
So Owen went forth at the early day-dawn, sometimes roaming about
on the shore or the upland, shooting or fishing, as the season might
be, but oftener 'stretched in indolent repose' on the short, sweet
grass, indulging in gloomy and morbid reveries. He would fancy that
this mortified state of existence was a dream, a horrible dream, from
which he should awake and find himself again the sole object and
darling of his father. And then he would start up and strive to shake
off the incubus. There was the molten sunset of his childish memory;
the gorgeous crimson piles of glory in the west, fading away into the
cold calm light of the rising moon, while here and there a cloud
floated across the western heaven, like a seraph's wing, in its flaming
beauty; the earth was the same as in his childhood's days, full of
gentle evening sounds, and the harmonies of twilight—the breeze came
sweeping low over the heather and bluebells by his side, and the turf
was sending up its evening incense of perfume. But life, and heart, and
hope were changed for ever since those bygone days!
Or he would seat himself in a favourite niche of the rocks on Moel
Gest, hidden by the stunted growth of the whitty, or mountain-ash, from
general observation, with a rich-tinted cushion of stone-crop for his
feet, and a straight precipice of rock rising just above. Here would he
sit for hours, gazing idly at the bay below with its background of
purple hills, and the little fishing-sail on its bosom, showing white
in the sunbeam, and gliding on in such harmony with the quiet beauty of
the glassy sea; or he would pull out an old school-volume, his
companion for years, and in morbid accordance with the dark legend that
still lurked in the recesses of his mind—a shape of gloom in those
innermost haunts awaiting its time to come forth in distinct
outline—would he turn to the old Greek dramas which treat of a family
foredoomed by an avenging Fate. The worn page opened of itself at the
play of the Oedipus Tyrannus, and Owen dwelt with the craving disease
upon the prophecy so nearly resembling that which concerned himself.
With his consciousness of neglect, there was a sort of self-flattery in
the consequence which the legend gave him. He almost wondered how they
durst, with slights and insults, thus provoke the Avenger.
The days drifted onward. Often he would vehemently pursue some
sylvan sport, till thought and feeling were lost in the violence of
bodily exertion. Occasionally his evenings were spent at a small
public-house, such as stood by the unfrequented wayside, where the
welcome—hearty, though bought—seemed so strongly to contrast with the
gloomy negligence of home—unsympathising home.
One evening (Owen might be four or five-and-twenty), wearied with a
day's shooting on the Clenneny Moors, he passed by the open door of
'The Goat' at Penmorfa. The light and the cheeriness within tempted
him, poor self-exhausted man! as it has done many a one more wretched
in worldly circumstances, to step in, and take his evening meal where
at least his presence was of some consequence. It was a busy day in
that little hostel. A flock of sheep, amounting to some hundreds, had
arrived at Penmorfa, on their road to England, and thronged the space
before the house. Inside was the shrewd, kind-hearted hostess, bustling
to and fro, with merry greetings for every tired drover who was to pass
the night in her house, while the sheep were penned in a field close
by. Ever and anon, she kept attending to the second crowd of guests,
who were celebrating a rural wedding in her house. It was busy work to
Martha Thomas, yet her smile never flagged; and when Owen Griffiths had
finished his evening meal she was there, ready with a hope that it had
done him good, and was to his mind, and a word of intelligence that the
wedding-folk were about to dance in the kitchen, and the harper was the
famous Edward of Corwen.
Owen, partly from good-natured compliance with his hostess's
implied wish, and partly from curiosity, lounged to the passage which
led to the kitchen—not the every-day working, cooking kitchen, which
was behind, but a goodsized room, where the mistress sat when her work
was done, and the country people were commonly entertained at such
merry-makings as the present. The lintels of the door formed a frame
for the animated picture which Owen saw within, as he leaned against
the wall in the dark passage. The red light of the fire, with every now
and then a falling piece of turf sending forth a fresh blaze, shone
full upon four young men who were dancing a measure something like a
Scotch reel, keeping admirable time in their rapid movements to the
capital tune the harper was playing. They had their hats on when Owen
first took his stand, but as they grew more and more animated they
flung them away, and presently their shoes were kicked off with like
disregard to the spot where they might happen to alight. Shouts of
applause followed any remarkable exertion of agility, in which each
seemed to try to excel his companions. At length, wearied and
exhausted, they sat down, and the harper gradually changed to one of
those wild, inspiring national airs for which he was so famous. The
thronged audience sat earnest and breathless, and you might have heard
a pin drop, except when some maiden passed hurriedly, with flaring
candle and busy look, through to the real kitchen beyond. When he had
finished his beautiful theme of The March of the Men of Harlech, he
changed the measure again to Tri chant o' bunnan (Three hundred pounds)
and immediately a most unmusical-looking man began chanting
'Pennillion,' or a sort of recitative stanzas, which were soon taken up
by another; and this amusement lasted so long that Owen grew weary, and
was thinking of retreating from his post by the door, when some little
bustle was occasioned, on the opposite side of the room, by the
entrance of a middle-aged man, and a young girl, apparently his
daughter. The man advanced to the bench occupied by the seniors of the
party, who welcomed him with the usual pretty Welsh greeting, 'Pa sut
mae dy galon?' ('How is thy heart?') and drinking his health passed on
to him the cup of excellent cwrw. The girl, evidently a village belle,
was as warmly greeted by the young men, while the girls eyed her rather
askance with a half-jealous look, which Owen set down to the score of
her extreme prettiness. Like most Welsh women, she was of middle size
as to height, but beautifully made, with the most perfect yet delicate
roundness in every limb. Her little mobcap was carefully adjusted to a
face which was excessively pretty, though it never could be called
handsome. It also was round, with the slightest tendency to the oval
shape, richly coloured, though somewhat olive in complexion, with
dimples in cheek and chin, and the most scarlet lips Owen had ever
seen, that were too short to meet over the small pearly teeth. The nose
was the most defective feature; but the eyes were splendid. They were
so long, so lustrous, yet at times so very soft under their thick
fringe of eyelash! The nut-brown hair was carefully braided beneath the
border of delicate lace: it was evident the little village beauty knew
how to make the most of all her attractions, for the gay colours which
were displayed in her neckerchief were in complete harmony with the
Owen was much attracted, while yet he was amused, by the evident
coquetry the girl displayed, collecting around her a whole bevy of
young fellows, for each of whom she seemed to have some gay speech,
some attractive look or action. In a few minutes young Griffiths of
Bodowen was at her side, brought thither by a variety of idle motives,
and as her undivided attention was given to the Welsh heir, her
admirers, one by one, dropped off, to seat themselves by some less
fascinating but more attentive fair one. The more Owen conversed with
the girl, the more he was taken; she had more wit and talent than he
had fancied possible; a self-abandon and thoughtfulness, to boot, that
seemed full of charms; and then her voice was so clear and sweet, and
her actions so full of grace, that Owen was fascinated before he was
well aware, and kept looking into her bright, blushing face, till her
uplifted flashing eye fell beneath his earnest gaze.
While it thus happened that they were silent—she from confusion at
the unexpected warmth of his admiration, he from an unconsciousness of
anything but the beautiful changes in her flexile countenance—the man
whom Owen took for her father came up and addressed some observation to
his daughter, from whence he glided into some commonplace though
respectful remark to Owen; and at length, engaging him in some slight,
local conversation, he led the way to the account of a spot on the
peninsula of Penthryn, where teal abounded, and concluded with begging
Owen to allow him to show him the exact place, saying that whenever the
young Squire felt so inclined, if he would honour him by a call at his
house, he would take him across in his boat. While Owen listened, his
attention was not so much absorbed as to be unaware that the little
beauty at his side was refusing one or two who endeavoured to draw her
from her place by invitations to dance. Flattered by his own
construction of her refusals, he again directed all his attention to
her, till she was called away by her father, who was leaving the scene
of festivity. Before he left he reminded Owen of his promise, and
'Perhaps, sir, you do not know me. My name is Ellis Pritchard, and
I live at Ty Glas, on this side of Mod Gest; any one can point it out
When the father and daughter had left, Owen slowly prepared for his
ride home; but, encountering the hostess, he could not resist asking a
few questions relative to Ellis Pritchard and his pretty daughter. She
answered shortly but respectfully, and then said, rather hesitatingly:
'Master Griffiths, you know the triad, Tri pheth tebyg y naill i'r
llall, ysgnbwr heb yd, mail deg heb ddiawd, a merch deg heb ei geirda'
(Three things are alike: a fine barn without corn, a fine cup without
drink, a fine woman without her reputation).' She hastily quitted him,
and Owen rode slowly to his unhappy home.
Ellis Pritchard, half farmer and half fisherman, was shrewd, and
keen, and worldly; yet he was good-natured, and sufficiently generous
to have become rather a popular man among his equals. He had been
struck with the young Squire's attention to his pretty daughter, and
was not insensible to the advantages to be derived from it. Nest would
not be the first peasant-girl, by any means, who had been transplanted
to a Welsh manor-house, as its mistress; and, accordingly, her father
had shrewdly given the admiring young man some pretext for further
opportunities of seeing her.
As for Nest herself, she had somewhat of her father's worldliness,
and was fully alive to the superior station of her new admirer, and
quite prepared to slight all her old sweethearts on his account. But
then she had something more of feeling in her reckoning; she had not
been insensible to the earnest yet comparatively refined homage which
Owen paid her; she had noticed his expressive and occasionally handsome
countenance with admiration, and was flattered by his so immediately
singling her out from her companions. As to the hint which Martha
Thomas had thrown out, it is enough to say that Nest was very giddy,
and that she was motherless. She had high spirits and a great love of
admiration, or, to use a softer term, she loved to please; men, women,
and children, all, she delighted to gladden with her smile and voice.
She coquetted, and flirted, and went to the extreme lengths of Welsh
courtship, till the seniors of the village shook their heads, and
cautioned their daughters against her acquaintance. If not absolutely
guilty, she had too frequently been on the verge of guilt.
Even at the time, Martha Thomas's hint made but little impression
on Owen, for his senses were otherwise occupied; but in a few days the
recollection thereof had wholly died away, and one warm glorious
summer's day he bent his steps towards Ellis Pritchard's with a beating
heart; for, except some very slight flirtations at Oxford, Owen had
never been touched; his thoughts, his fancy, had been otherwise
Ty Glas was built against one of the lower rocks of Moel Gest,
which, indeed, formed a side to the low, lengthy house. The materials
of the cottage were the shingly stones which had fallen from above,
plastered rudely together, with deep recesses for the small oblong
windows. Altogether, the exterior was much ruder than Owen had
expected; but inside there seemed no lack of comforts. The house was
divided into two apartments, one large, roomy and dark, into which Owen
entered immediately; and before the blushing Nest came from the inner
chamber (for she had seen the young Squire coming, and hastily gone to
make some alteration in her dress), he had had time to look around him,
and note the various little particulars of the room. Beneath the window
(which commanded a magnificent view) was an oaken dresser, replete with
drawers and cupboards, and brightly polished to a rich dark colour. In
the farther part of the room Owen could at first distinguish little,
entering as he did from the glaring sunlight; but he soon saw that
there were two oaken beds, closed up after the manner of the Welsh: in
fact, the dormitories of Ellis Pritchard and the man who served under
him, both on sea and on land. There was the large wheel used for
spinning wool, left standing on the middle of the floor, as if in use
only a few minutes before; and around the ample chimney hung flitches
of bacon, dried kids'-flesh, and fish, that was in process of smoking
for winter's store.
Before Nest had shyly dared to enter, her father, who had been
mending his nets down below, and seen Owen winding up to the house,
came in and gave him a hearty yet respectful welcome; and then Nest,
downcast and blushing, full of the consciousness which her father's
advice and conversation had not failed to inspire, ventured to join
them. To Owen's mind this reserve and shyness gave her new charms.
It was too bright, too hot, too anything to think of going to shoot
teal till later in the day, and Owen was delighted to accept a
hesitating invitation to share the noonday meal. Some ewe-milk cheese,
very hard and dry, oat-cake, slips of the dried kid's-flesh broiled,
after having been previously soaked in water for a few minutes,
delicious butter and fresh buttermilk, with a liquor called 'diod
griafol' (made from the berries of the Sorbus aucuparia, infused in
water and then fermented), composed the frugal repast; but there was
something so clean and neat, and withal such a true welcome, that Owen
had seldom enjoyed a meal so much. Indeed, at that time of day the
Welsh squires differed from the farmers more in the plenty and rough
abundance of their manner of living than in the refinement of style of
At the present day, down in Llyn, the Welsh gentry are not a wit
behind their Saxon equals in the expensive elegances of life; but then
(when there was but one pewter-service in all Northumberland) there was
nothing in Ellis Pritchard's mode of living that grated on the young
Squire's sense of refinement.
Little was said by that young pair of wooers during the meal; the
father had all the conversation to himself, apparently heedless of the
ardent looks and inattentive mien of his guest. As Owen became more
serious in his feelings, he grew more timid in their expression, and at
night, when they returned from their shooting-excursion, the caress he
gave Nest was almost as bashfully offered as received.
This was but the first of a series of days devoted to Nest in
reality, though at first he thought some little disguise of his object
was necessary. The past, the future, was all forgotten in those happy
days of love.
And every worldly plan, every womanly wile was put in practice by
Ellis Pritchard and his daughter, to render his visits agreeable and
alluring. Indeed, the very circumstance of his being welcome was enough
to attract the poor young man, to whom the feeling so produced was new
and full of charms. He left a home where the certainty of being
thwarted made him chary in expressing his wishes; where no tones of
love ever fell on his ear, save those addressed to others; where his
presence or absence was a matter of utter indifference; and when he
entered Ty Glas, all, down to the little cur which, with clamorous
barkings, claimed a part of his attention, seemed to rejoice. His
account of his day's employment found a willing listener in Ellis; and
when he passed on to Nest, busy at her wheel or at her churn, the
deepened colour, the conscious eye, and the gradual yielding of herself
up to his lover-like caress, had worlds of charms. Ellis Pritchard was
a tenant on the Bodowen estate, and therefore had reasons in plenty for
wishing to keep the young Squire's visits secret; and Owen, unwilling
to disturb the sunny calm of these halcyon days by any storm at home,
was ready to use all the artifice which Ellis suggested as to the mode
of his calls at Ty Glas. Nor was he unaware of the probable, nay, the
hoped-for termination of these repeated days of happiness. He was quite
conscious that the father wished for nothing better than the marriage
of his daughter to the heir of Bodowen; and when Nest had hidden her
face in his neck, which was encircled by her clasping arms, and
murmured into his ear her acknowledgment of love, he felt only too
desirous of finding some one to love him for ever. Though not highly
principled, he would not have tried to obtain Nest on other terms save
those of marriage: he did so pine after enduring love, and fancied he
should have bound her heart for evermore to his, when they had taken
the solemn oaths of matrimony.
There was no great difficulty attending a secret marriage at such a
place and at such a time. One gusty autumn day, Ellis ferried them
round Penthryn to Llandutrwyn, and there saw his little Nest become
future Lady of Bodowen.
How often do we see giddy, coquetting, restless girls become
sobered by marriage? A great object in life is decided, one on which
their thoughts have been running in all their vagaries; and they seem
to verify the beautiful fable of Undine. A new soul beams out in the
gentleness and repose of their future life. An undescribable softness
and tenderness takes the place of the wearying vanity of their former
endeavours to attract admiration. Something of this sort happened to
Nest Pritchard. If at first she had been anxious to attract the young
Squire of Bodowen, long before her marriage this feeling had merged
into a truer love than she had ever felt before; and now that he was
her own, her husband, her whole soul was bent toward making him amends,
as far as in her lay, for the misery which, with a woman's tact, she
saw that he had to endure at his home. Her greetings were abounding in
delicately-expressed love; her study of his tastes unwearying, in the
arrangement of her dress, her time, her very thoughts.
No wonder that he looked back on his wedding-day with a
thankfulness which is seldom the result of unequal marriages. No wonder
that his heart beat aloud as formerly when he wound up the little path
to Ty Glas, and saw—keen though the winter's wind might be—that Nest
was standing out at the door to watch for his dimly-seen approach,
while the candle flared in the little window as a beacon to guide him
The angry words and unkind actions of home fell deadened on his
heart; he thought of the love that was surely his, and of the new
promise of love that a short time would bring forth; and he could
almost have smiled at the impotent efforts to disturb his peace.
A few more months, and the young father was greeted by a feeble
little cry, when he hastily entered Ty Glas, one morning early, in
consequence of a summons conveyed mysteriously to Bodowen; and the pale
mother, smiling, and feebly holding up her babe to its father's kiss,
seemed to him even more lovely than the bright, gay Nest who had won
his heart at the little inn of Penmorfa.
But the curse was at work! The fulfilment of the prophecy was nigh
It was the autumn after the birth of their boy; it had been a
glorious summer, with bright, hot, sunny weather; and now the year was
fading away as seasonably into mellow days, with mornings of silver
mists and clear frosty nights. The blooming look of the time of flowers
was past and gone; but instead there were even richer tints abroad in
the sun-coloured leaves, the lichens, the golden-blossomed furze; if it
was the time of fading, there was a glory in the decay.
Nest, in her loving anxiety to surround her dwelling with every
charm for her husband's sake, had turned gardener, and the little
corners of the rude court before the house were filled with many a
delicate mountain-flower, transplanted more for its beauty than its
rarity. The sweetbrier bush may even yet be seen, old and grey, which
she and Owen planted, a green slipling, beneath the window of her
little chamber. In those moments Owen forgot all besides the present;
all the cares and griefs he had known in the past, and all that might
await him of woe and death in the future. The boy, too, was as lovely a
child as the fondest parent was ever blessed with, and crowed with
delight, and clapped his little hands, as his mother held him in her
arms at the cottage door to watch his father's ascent up the rough path
that led to Ty Glas, one bright autumnal morning; and when the three
entered the house together, it was difficult to say which was the
happiest. Owen carried his boy, and tossed and played with him, while
Nest sought out some little article of work, and seated herself on the
dresser beneath the window, where, now busily plying the needle, and
then again looking at her husband, she eagerly told him the little
pieces of domestic intelligence, the winning ways of the child, the
result of yesterday's fishing, and such of the gossip of Penmorfa as
came to the ears of the now retired Nest. She noticed that, when she
mentioned any little circumstance which bore the slightest reference to
Bodowen, her husband appeared chafed and uneasy, and at last avoided
anything that might in the least remind him of home. In truth, he had
been suffering much of late from the irritability of his father, shown
in trifles to be sure, but not the less galling on that account.
While they were thus talking, and caressing each other and the
child, a shadow darkened the room, and before they could catch a
glimpse of the object that had occasioned it, it vanished, and Squire
Griffiths lifted the door-latch, and stood before them. He stood and
looked—first on his son, so different, in his buoyant expression of
content and enjoyment, with his noble child in his arms, like a proud
and happy father, as he was, from the depressed, moody young man he too
often appeared at Bodowen; then on Nest—poor, trembling, sickened
Nest!—who dropped her work, but yet durst not stir from her seat on
the dresser, while she looked to her husband as if for protection from
The Squire was silent, as he glared from one to the other, his
features white with restrained passion. When he spoke, his words came
most distinct in their forced composure. It was to his son he addressed
'That woman! who is she?'
Owen hesitated one moment, and then replied, in a steady, yet
'Father, that woman is my wife.'
He would have added some apology for the long concealment of his
marriage; have appealed to his father's forgiveness; but the foam flew
from Squire Owen's lips as he burst forth with invective against Nest:
'You have married her! It is as they told me! Married Nest
Pritchard, yr buten! And you stand there as if you had not disgraced
yourself for ever and ever with your accursed wiving! And the fair
harlot sits there, in her mocking modesty, practising the mimming airs
that will become her state as future Lady of Bodowen. But I will move
heaven and earth before that false woman darken the doors of my
father's house as mistress!'
All this was said with such rapidity that Owen had no time for the
words that thronged to his lips. 'Father!' (he burst forth at length)
'Father, whosoever told you that Nest Pritchard was a harlot told you a
lie as false as hell! Ay! a lie as false as hell!' he added, in a voice
of thunder, while he advanced a step or two nearer to the Squire. And
then, in a lower tone, he said:
'She is as pure as your own wife; nay, God help me! as the dear,
precious mother who brought me forth, and then left me with no refuge
in a mother's heart—to struggle on through life alone. I tell you Nest
is as pure as that dear, dead mother!'
At this moment the child—the little Owen—who had kept gazing from
one countenance to the other, and with earnest look, trying to
understand what had brought the fierce glare into the face where till
now he had read nothing but love, in some way attracted the Squire's
attention, and increased his wrath.
'Yes,' he continued, 'poor, weak fool that you are, hugging the
child of another as if it were your own offspring!' Owen involuntarily
caressed the affrighted child, and half smiled at the implication of
his father's words. This the Squire perceived, and raising his voice to
a scream of rage, he went on:
'I bid you, if you call yourself my son, to cast away that
miserable, shameless woman's offspring; cast it away this instant—this
In this ungovernable rage, seeing that Owen was far from complying
with his command, he snatched the poor infant from the loving arms that
held it, and throwing it to his mother, left the house inarticulate
Nest—who had been pale and still as marble during this terrible
dialogue, looking on and listening as if fascinated by the words that
smote her heart—opened her arms to receive and cherish her precious
babe; but the boy was not destined to reach the white refuge of her
breast. The furious action of the Squire had been almost without aim,
and the infant fell against the sharp edge of the dresser down on to
the stone floor.
Owen sprang up to take the child, but he lay so still, so
motionless, that the awe of death came over the father, and he stooped
down to gaze more closely. At that moment, the upturned, filmy eyes
rolled convulsively—a spasm passed along the body—and the lips, yet
warm with kissing, quivered into everlasting rest.
A word from her husband told Nest all. She slid down from her seat,
and lay by her little son as corpse-like as he, unheeding all the
agonising endearments and passionate adjurations of her husband. And
that poor, desolate husband and father! Scarce one little quarter of an
hour, and he had been so blessed in his consciousness of love! the
bright promise of many years on his infant's face, and the new, fresh
soul beaming forth in its awakened intelligence. And there it was: the
little clay image, that would never more gladden up at the sight of
him, nor stretch forth to meet his embrace; whose inarticulate, yet
most eloquent cooings might haunt him in his dreams, but would never
more be heard in waking life again! And by the dead babe, almost as
utterly insensate, the poor mother had fallen in a merciful faint—the
slandered, heart-pierced Nest! Owen struggled against the sickness that
came over him, and busied himself in vain attempts at her restoration.
It was now near noon-day, and Ellis Pritchard came home, little
dreaming of the sight that awaited him; but, though stunned, he was
able to take more effectual measures for his poor daughter's recovery
than Owen had done.
By-and-by she showed symptoms of returning sense, and was placed in
her own little bed in a darkened room, where, without ever waking to
complete consciousness, she fell asleep. Then it was that her husband,
suffocated by pressure of miserable thought, gently drew his hand from
her tightened clasp and, printing one long soft kiss on her white waxen
forehead, hastily stole out of the room, and out of the house.
Near the base of Moel Gest—it might be a quarter of a mile from Ty
Glas—was a little neglected solitary copse, wild and tangled with the
trailing branches of the dog-rose and the tendrils of the white bryony.
Toward the middle of this thicket lay a deep crystal pool—a clear
mirror for the blue heavens above—and round the margin floated the
broad green leaves of the water-lily; and, when the regal sun shone
down in his noon-day glory, the flowers arose from their cool depths to
welcome and greet him. The copse was musical with many sounds; the
warbling of birds rejoicing in its shades, the ceaseless hum of the
distant waterfall, the occasional bleating of the sheep from the
mountain-top, were all blended into the delicious harmony of nature.
It had been one of Owen's favourite resorts when he had been a
lonely wanderer—a pilgrim in search of love in the years gone by. And
thither he went, as if by instinct, when he left Ty Glas; quelling the
uprising agony till he should reach that little solitary spot.
It was the time of day when a change in the aspect of the weather
so frequently takes place, and the little pool was no longer the
reflection of a blue and sunny sky; it sent back the dark and slaty
clouds above; and, every now and then, a rough gust shook the painted
autumn leaves from their branches, and all other music was lost in the
sound of the wild winds piping down from the moorlands, which lay up
and beyond the clefts in the mountain-side. Presently the rain came on
and beat down in torrents.
But Owen heeded it not. He sat on the dank ground, his face buried
in his hands, and his whole strength, physical and mental, employed in
quelling the rush of blood which rose and boiled and gurgled in his
brain, as if it would madden him.
The phantom of his dead child rose ever before him, and seemed to
cry aloud for vengeance. And, when the poor young man thought upon the
victim whom he required in his wild longing for revenge, he shuddered,
for it was his father!
Again and again he tried not to think; but still the circle of
thought came round, eddying through his brain. At length he mastered
his passions, and they were calm; then he forced himself to arrange
some plan for the future.
He had not, in the passionate hurry of the moment, seen that his
father had left the cottage before he was aware of the fatal accident
that befell the child. Owen thought he had seen all; and once he
planned to go to the Squire and tell him of the anguish of heart he had
wrought, and awe him, as it were, by the dignity of grief. But then
again he durst not—he distrusted his self-control—the old prophecy
rose up in its horror—he dreaded his doom.
At last he determined to leave his father for ever; to take Nest to
some distant country where she might forget her first born, and where
he himself might gain a livelihood by his own exertions.
But when he tried to descend to the various little arrangements
which were involved in the execution of this plan, he remembered that
all his money (and in this respect Squire Griffiths was no niggard) was
locked up in his escritoire at Bodowen. In vain he tried to do away
with this matter-of-fact difficulty; go to Bodowen he must; and his
only hope—nay, his determination—was to avoid his father.
He rose and took a by-path to Bodowen. The house looked even more
gloomy and desolate than usual in the heavy downpouring rain; yet Owen
gazed on it with something of regret—for, sorrowful as his days in it
had been, he was about to leave it for many, many years, if not for
ever. He entered by a side door opening into a passage that led to his
own room, where he kept his books, his guns, his fishing tackle, his
writing materials, et cetera.
Here he hurriedly began to select the few articles he intended to
take; for, besides the dread of interruption, he was feverishly anxious
to travel far that very night, if only Nest was capable of performing
the journey. As he was thus employed, he tried to conjecture what his
father's feelings would be on finding that his once-loved son was gone
away for ever. Would he then awaken to regret for the conduct which had
driven him from home, and bitterly think on the loving and caressing
boy who haunted his footsteps in former days? Or, alas! would he only
feel that an obstacle to his daily happiness—to his contentment with
his wife, and his strange, doting affection for the child—was taken
away? Would they make merry over the heir's departure? Then he thought
of Nest—the young childless mother, whose heart had not yet realised
her fulness of desolation. Poor Nest! so loving as she was, so devoted
to her child—how should he console her? He pictured her away in a
strange land, pining for her native mountains, and refusing to be
comforted because her child was not.
Even this thought of the home-sickness that might possibly beset
Nest hardly made him hesitate in his determination; so strongly had the
idea taken possession of him, that only by putting miles and leagues
between him and his father could he avert the doom which seemed
blending itself with the very purposes of his life, as long as he
stayed in proximity with the slayer of his child.
He had now nearly completed his hasty work of preparation, and was
full of tender thoughts of his wife, when the door opened, and the
elfish Robert peered in, in search of some of his brother's
possessions. On seeing Owen he hesitated, but then came boldly forward,
and laid his hand on Owen's arm, saying:
'Nesta yr buten! How is Nest yr buten?'
He looked maliciously into Owen's face to mark the effect of his
words, but was terrified at the expression he read there. He started
off and ran to the door, while Owen tried to check himself, saying
continually, 'He is but a child. He does not understand the meaning of
what he says. He is but a child!' Still Robert, now in fancied
security, kept calling out his insulting words, and Owen's hand was on
his gun, grasping it as if to restrain his rising fury.
But, when Robert passed on daringly to mocking words relating to
the poor dead child, Owen could bear it no longer; and, before the boy
was well aware, Owen was fiercely holding him in an iron clasp with one
hand, while he struck him hard with the other.
In a minute he checked himself. He paused, relaxed his grasp, and,
to his horror, he saw Robert sink to the ground; in fact, the lad was
half-stunned, half-frightened, and thought it best to assume
Owen—miserable Owen—seeing him lie there prostrate, was bitterly
repentant, and would have dragged him to the carved settle, and done
all he could to restore him to his senses; but at this instant the
Squire came in.
Probably, when the household at Bodowen rose that morning, there
was but one among them ignorant of the heir's relation to Nest
Pritchard and her child; for, secret as he tried to make his visits to
Ty Glas, they had been too frequent not to be noticed. and Nest's
altered conduct—no longer frequenting dances and merry-makings—was a
strongly corroborative circumstance. But Mrs. Griffiths' influence
reigned paramount, if unacknowledged, at Bodowen; and, till she
sanctioned the disclosure, none would dare to tell the Squire.
Now, however, the time drew near when it suited her to make her
husband aware of the connection his son had formed; so, with many
tears, and much seeming reluctance, she broke the intelligence to
him—taking good care, at the same time, to inform him of the light
character Nest had borne. Nor did she confine this evil reputation to
her conduct before her marriage, but insinuated that even to this day
she was a 'woman of the grove and brake'—for centuries the Welsh term
of opprobrium for the loosest female characters.
Squire Griffiths easily tracked Owen to Ty Glas; and, without any
aim but the gratification of his furious anger, followed him to upbraid
him as we have seen. But he left the cottage even more enraged against
his son than he had entered it, and returned home to hear the evil
suggestions of the stepmother. He had heard a slight scuffle in which
he caught the tones of Robert's voice, as he passed along the hall, and
an instant afterwards he saw the apparently lifeless body of his little
favourite dragged along by the culprit Owen—the marks of strong
passion yet visible on his face, Not loud, but bitter and deep, were
the evil words which the father bestowed on the son; and, as Owen stood
proudly and sullenly silent, disdaining all exculpation of himself in
the presence of one who had wrought him so much graver—so fatal an
injury—Robert's mother entered the room. At sight of her natural
emotion the wrath of the Squire was redoubled, and his wild suspicions
that this violence of Owen's to Robert was a premeditated act appeared
like the proven truth through the mists of rage. He summoned domestics,
as if to guard his own and his wife's life from the attempts of his
son; and the servants stood wondering around—now gazing at Mrs.
Griffiths, alternately scolding and sobbing, while she tried to restore
the lad from his really bruised and half-unconscious state; now at the
fierce and angry Squire; and now at the sad and silent Owen. And he—he
was hardly aware of their looks of wonder and terror; his father's
words fell on a deadened ear; for before his eyes there rose a pale
dead babe, and in that lady's violent sounds of grief he heard the
wailing of a more sad, more hopeless mother. For by this time the lad
Robert had opened his eyes, and though evidently suffering a good deal
from the effects of Owen's blows, was fully conscious of all that was
passing around him.
Had Owen been left to his own nature, his heart would have worked
itself to love doubly the boy whom he had injured: but he was stubborn
from injustice, and hardened by suffering. He refused to vindicate
himself; he made no effort to resist the imprisonment the Squire had
decreed, until a surgeon's opinion of the real extent of Robert's
injuries was made known. It was not until the door was locked and
barred, as if upon some wild and furious beast, that the recollection
of poor Nest, without his comforting presence, came into his mind. Oh!
thought he, how she would be wearying, pining for his tender sympathy;
ii, indeed, she had recovered from the shock of mind sufficiently to be
sensible of consolation! What would she think of his absence? Could she
imagine he believed his father's words, and had left her in this her
sore trouble and bereavement? The thought maddened him, and he looked
around for some mode of escape.
He had been confined in a small unfurnished room on the first
floor, wainscoted, and carved all round, with a massy door, calculated
to resist the attempts of a dozen strong men, even had he afterward
been able to escape from the house unseen, unheard. The window, was
placed; (as is common in old Welsh houses) over the fireplace; with
branching chimneys on either hand, forming a sort of projection on the
outside. By this outlet his escape was easy, even had he been less
determined and desperate than he was. And when he had descended, with a
little care, a little winding, he might elude all observation and
pursue his original intention of going to Ty Glas.
The storm had abated, and watery sunbeams were gilding the bay, as
Owen descended from the window, and, stealing along in the broad
afternoon shadows, made his way to the little plateau of green turf in
the garden at the top of a steep precipitous rock, down the abrupt face
of which he had often dropped, by means of a well-secured rope, into
the small sailing-boat (his father's present, alas! in days gone by)
which lay moored in the deep sea-water below. He had always kept his
boat there, because it was the nearest available spot to the house; but
before he could reach the place—unless, indeed, he crossed a broad
sun-lighted piece of ground in full view of the windows on that side of
the house, and without the shadow of a single sheltering tree or
shrub—he had to skirt round a rude semicircle of underwood, which
would have been considered as a shrubbery, had any one taken pains with
it. Step by step he stealthily moved along—hearing voices now; again
seeing his father and stepmother in no distant walk, the Squire
evidently caressing and consoling his wife, who seemed to be urging
some point with great vehemence; again forced to crouch down to avoid
being seen by the cook, returning from the rude kitchen-garden with a
handful of herbs. This was the way the doomed heir of Bodowen left his
ancestral house for ever, and hoped to leave behind him his doom. At
length he reached the plateau—he breathed more freely. He stooped to
discover the hidden coil of rope, kept safe and dry in a hole under a
great round flat piece of rock; his head was bent down; he did not see
his father approach, nor did he hear his footstep for the rush of blood
to his head in the stooping effort of lifting the stone. The Squire had
grappled with him before he rose Lip again, before he fully knew whose
hands detained him, now, when his liberty of person and action seemed
secure. He made a vigorous struggle to free himself; he wrestled with
his father for a moment—he pushed him hard, and drove him on to the
great displaced stone, all unsteady in its balance.
Down went the Squire, down into the deep waters below -down after
him went Owen, half consciously, half unconsciously; partly compelled
by the sudden cessation of any opposing body, partly from a vehement
irrepressible impulse to rescue his father. But he had instinctively
chosen a safer place in the deep sea-water pool than that into which
his push had sent his father. The Squire had hit his head with much
violence against the side of the boat, in his fall; it is, indeed,
doubtful whether he was not killed before ever he sank into the sea.
But Owen knew nothing save that the awful doom seemed even now present.
He plunged down; he dived below the water in search of the body, which
had none of the elasticity of life to buoy it up; he saw his father in
those depths; he clutched at him; he brought him up and cast him, a
dead weight, into the boat; and, exhausted by the effort, he had begun
himself to sink again before he instinctively strove to rise and climb
into the rocking boat. There lay his father, with a deep dent in the
side of his head where his skull had been fractured by his fall; his
face blackened by the arrested course of the blood. Owen felt his
pulse, his heart—all was still. He called him by his name.
'Father, father!' he cried, 'come back! come back! You never know
how I loved you! how I could love you still—if—Oh God!'
And the thought of his little child rose before him. 'Yes, father,'
he cried afresh, 'you never knew how he fell—how he died! Oh, if I had
but had patience to tell you! If you would but have borne with me and
listened! And now it is over! Oh, father! father!'
Whether she had heard this wild wailing voice, or whether it was
only that she missed her husband and wanted him for some little
every-day question, or, as was perhaps more likely, she had discovered
Owen's escape, and come to inform her husband of it, I do not know—but
on the rock, right above his head, as it seemed, Owen heard his
stepmother calling her husband.
He was silent, and softly pushed the boat right under the rock till
the sides grated against the stones; and the overhanging branches
concealed him and it from all on a level with the water. Wet as he was,
he lay down by his dead father, the better to conceal himself; and,
somehow, the action recalled those early days of childhood—the first
in the Squire's widowhood—when Owen had shared his father's bed, and
used to waken him in the morning in order to hear one of the old Welsh
legends. How long he lay thus—body chilled, and brain hard-working
through the heavy pressure of a reality as terrible as a nightmare—he
never knew; but at length he roused himself up to think of Nest.
Drawing out a great sail, he covered up the body of his father with
it where he lay in the bottom of the boat. Then with his numbed hands
he took the oars, and pulled out into the more open sea towards
Criccaeth. He skirted along the coast till he found a shadowed cleft in
the dark rocks; to that point he rowed, and anchored his boat close
inland. Then he mounted, staggering, half longing to fall into the dark
waters and be at rest—half instinctively finding out the surest
foot-rests on that precipitous face of rock, till he was high up, safe
landed on the turfy summit. He ran oft', as if pursued, towards
Penmorfa; he ran with maddened energy. Suddenly he paused, turned, ran
again with the same speed, and threw himself prone on the summit,
looking down into his boat with straining eyes to see if there had been
any movement of life—any displacement of a fold of sail-cloth. It was
all quiet deep down below, but as he gazed the shifting light gave the
appearance of a slight movement. Owen ran to a lower part of the rock,
stripped, plunged into the water, and swam to the boat. When there, all
was still—awfully still! For a minute or two, he dared not lift up the
cloth. Then, reflecting that the same terror might beset him again—of
leaving his father unaided while yet a spark of life lingered—he
removed the shrouding cover. The eyes looked into his with a dead
stare! He closed the lids and bound up the jaw. Again he looked. This
time, he raised himself out of the water and kissed the brow.
'It was my doom, father! It would have been better if I had died at
Daylight was fading away. Precious daylight! He swam back, dressed,
and set off afresh for Penmorfa. When he opened the door of Ty Glas,
Ellis Pritchard looked at him reproachfully from his seat in the
'You're come at last,' said he. 'One of our kind' (i.e. station)
'would not have left his wife to mourn by herself over her dead child;
nor would one of our kind have let his father kill his own true son.
I've a good mind to take her from you for ever.
'I did not tell him,' cried Nest, looking piteously at her husband;
'he made me tell him part, and guessed the rest.'
She was nursing her babe on her knee as if it was alive. Owen stood
before Ellis Pritchard.
'Be silent,' said he quietly. 'Neither words nor deeds but what are
decreed can come to pass. I was set to do my work, this hundred years
and more. The time waited for me, and the man waited for me. I have
done what was foretold of me for generations!'
Ellis Pritchard knew the old tale of the prophecy, and believed in
it in a dull, dead kind of way, but somehow never thought it would come
to pass in his time. Now, however, he understood it all in a moment,
though he mistook Owen's nature so much as to believe that the deed was
intentionally done, out of revenge for the death of his boy; and
viewing it in this light, Ellis thought it little more than a just
punishment for the cause of all the wild despairing sorrow he had seen
his only child suffer during the hours of this long afternoon. But he
knew the law would not so regard it. Even the lax Welsh law of those
days could not fail to examine into the death of a man of Squire
Griffiths' standing. So the acute Ellis thought how he could conceal
the culprit for a time.
'Come,' said he; 'don't look so scared! It was your doom, not your
fault;' and he laid a hand on Owen's shoulder.
'You're wet' said he suddenly. 'Where have you been? Nest, your
husband is dripping, drookit wet. That's what makes him look so blue
Nest softly laid her baby in its cradle; she was half stupefied
with crying, and had not understood to what Owen alluded, when he spoke
of his doom being fulfilled, if indeed she had heard the words.
Her touch thawed Owen's miserable heart.
'Oh, Nest!' said he, clasping her in his arms; 'do you love me
still—can you love me, my own darling?'
'Why not?' asked she, her eyes filling with tears. 'I only love you
more than ever, for you were my poor baby's father!'
'But Nest—Oh, tell her Ellis! you know.'
'No need, no need!' said Ellis. 'She's had enough to think on.
Bustle, my girl, and get out my Sunday clothes.'
'I don't understand,' said Nest, putting her hand up to her head.
'What is to tell? and why are you so wet? God help me for a poor crazed
thing; for I cannot guess at the meaning of your words and your strange
looks! I only know my baby is dead!' and she burst into tears.
'Come, Nest! go and fetch him a change, quick!' and, as she meekly
obeyed, too languid to strive further to understand, Ellis said rapidly
to Owen, in a low, hurried voice:
'Are you meaning that the Squire is dead? Speak low, lest she hear?
Well, well, no need to talk about how he died. It was sudden, I see;
and we must all of us die; and he'll have to be buried. It's well the
night is near. And I should not wonder now if you'd like to travel for
a bit; it would do Nest a power of good; and then—there's many a one
goes out of his own house and never comes back again; and—I trust he's
not lying in his own house—and there's a stir for a bit, and a search,
and a wonder—and, by-and-by, the heir just steps in, as quiet as can
be. And that's what you'll do, and bring Nest to Bodowen after all.
Nay, child, better stockings nor those; find the blue woollens I bought
at Llanrwst fair. Only don't lose heart. It's done now and can't be
helped. It was the piece of work set you to do from the days of the
Tudors, they say. And he deserved it. Look in yon cradle. So tell us
where he is, and I'll take heart of grace and see what can be done for
But Owen sat wet and haggard, looking into the peat fire as if for
visions of the past, and never heeding a word Ellis said. Nor did he
move when Nest brought the armful of dry clothes.
'Come, rouse up, man!' said Ellis, growing impatient.
But he neither spoke nor moved.
'What is the matter, father?' asked Nest, bewildered.
Ellis kept on watching Owen for a minute or two, till on his
daughter's repetition of the question, he said:
'Ask him yourself, Nest.'
'Oh, husband, what is it?' said she, kneeling down and bringing her
face to a level with his.
'Don't you know?' said he heavily. 'You won't love me when you do
know. And yet it was not my doing: it was my doom.'
'What does he mean, father?' asked Nest, looking up; but she caught
a gesture from Ellis urging her to go on questioning her husband.
'I will love you, husband, whatever has happened. Only let me know
A pause, during which Nest and Ellis hung breathless.
'My father is dead, Nest.'
Nest caught her breath with a sharp gasp.
'God forgive him!' said she, thinking on her babe.
'God forgive me!' said Owen.
'You did not'—Nest stopped.
'Yes, I did. Now you know it. It was my doom. How could I help it?
The devil helped me—he placed the stone so that my father fell. I
jumped into the water to save him. I did, indeed, Nest. I was nearly
drowned myself. But he was dead—dead—killed by the fall!'
'Then he is safe at the bottom of the sea?' said Ellis, with hungry
'No, he is not; he lies in my boat,' said Owen, shivering a little,
more at the thought ofhis last glimpse at his father's face than from
'Oh, husband, change your wet clothes!' pleaded Nest, to whom the
death of the old man was simply a horror with which she had nothing to
do, while her husband's discomfort was a present trouble.
While she helped him to take off the wet garments which he would
never have had energy enough to remove of himself, Ellis was busy
preparing food, and mixing a great tumbler of spirits and hot water. He
stood over the unfortunate young man and compelled him to eat and
drink, and made Nest, too, taste some mouthfuls—all the while planning
in his own mind how best to conceal what had been done, and who had
done it; not altogether without a certain feeling of vulgar triumph in
the reflection that Nest, as she stood there, carelessly dressed,
dishevelled in her grief, was in reality the mistress of Bodowen, than
which Ellis Pritchard had never seen a grander house, though he
believed such might exist.
By dint of a few dexterous questions he found out all he wanted to
know from Owen, as he ate and drank. In fact, it was almost a relief to
Owen to dilute the horror by talking about it. Before the meal was
done, if meal it could be called, Ellis knew all he cared to know.
'Now, Nest, on with your cloak and haps. Pack up what needs to go
with you, for both you and your husband must be half-way to Liverpool
by tomorrow's morn, I'll take you past Rhyl Sands in my fishing boat,
with yours in tow; and, once over the dangerous part, I'll return with
my cargo of fish, and then learn how much stir there is at Bodowen.
Once safe hidden in Liverpool, no one will know where you are, and you
may stay quiet till your time comes for returning.'
'I will never come home again,' said Owen doggedly. 'The place is
'Hoot! be guided by me, man. Why, it was but an accident, after
all! And we'll land at the Holy Island, at the Point of Llyn; there is
an old cousin of mine, the parson, there—for the Pritchards have known
better days, Squire—and we'll bury him there. It was but an accident,
man. Hold up your head! You and Nest will come home yet and fill
Bodowen with children, and I'll live to see it.'
'Never!' said Owen. 'I am the last male of my race, and the son has
murdered his father!'
Nest came in laden and cloaked. Ellis was for hurrying them off.
The fire was extinguished, the door was locked.
'Here, Nest, my darling, let me take your bundle while I guide you
down the steps.' But her husband bent his head, and spoke never a word.
Nest gave her father the bundle (already loaded with such things as he
himself had seen fit to take), but clasped another softly and tightly.
'No one shall help me with this,' said she, in a low voice.
Her father did not understand her; her husband did, and placed his
strong helping arm round her waist, and blessed her.
'We will all go together, Nest,' said he. 'But where?' and he
looked up at the storm-tossed clouds coming up from windward.
'It is a dirty night,' said Ellis, turning his head round to speak
to his companions at last. 'But never fear, we'll weather it.' And he
made for the place where his vessel was moored. Then he stopped and
thought a moment.
'Stay here!' said he, addressing his companions. 'I may meet folk,
and I shall, maybe, have to hear and to speak. You wait here till I
come back for you.' So they sat down close together in a corner of the
'Let me look at him, Nest!' said Owen.
She took her little dead son out from under her shawl; they looked
at his waxen face long and tenderly; kissed it, and covered it up
reverently and softly.
'Nest,' said Owen, at last, 'I feel as though my father's spirit
had been near us, and as if it had bent over our poor little one. A
strange, chilly air met me as I stooped over him. I could fancy the
spirit of our pure, blameless child guiding my father's safe over the
paths of the sky to the gates of heaven, and escaping those accursed
dogs of hell that were darting up from the north in pursuit of souls
not five minutes since.
'Don't talk so, Owen,' said Nest, curling up to him in the darkness
of the copse. 'Who knows what may be listening?'
The pair were silent, in a kind of nameless terror, till they heard
Ellis Pritchard's loud whisper. 'Where are ye? Come along, soft and
steady. There were folk about even now, and the Squire is missed, and
madam in a fright.'
They went swiftly down to the little harbour, and embarked on hoard
Ellis's boat. The sea heaved and rocked even there; the torn clouds
went hurrying overhead in a wild tumultuous manner.
They put out into the bay; still in silence, except when some word
of command was spoken by Ellis, who took the management of the vessel.
They made for the rocky shore, where Owen's boat had been moored. It
was not there. It had broken loose and disappeared.
Owen sat down and covered his face. This last event, so simple and
natural in itself, struck on his excited and superstitious mind in an
extraordinary manner. He had hoped for a certain reconciliation, so to
say, by laying his father and his child both in one grave. But now it
appeared to him as if there was to be no forgiveness; as if his father
revolted even in death against any such peaceful union. Ellis took a
practical view of the case. If the Squire's body was found drifting
about in a boat known to belong to his son, it would create terrible
suspicion as to the manner of his death. At one time in the evening,
Ellis had thought of persuading Owen to let him bury the Squire in a
sailor's grave; or, in other words, to sew him up in a spare sail, and
weighing it well, sink it for ever. He had not broached the subject,
from a certain fear of Owen's passionate repugnance to the plan;
otherwise, if he had consented, they might have returned to Penmorfa,
and passively awaited the course of events, secure of Owen's succession
to Bodowen, sooner or later; or, if Owen was too much overwhelmed by
what had happened, Ellis would have advised him to go away for a short
time, and return when the buzz and the talk was over.
Now it was different. It was absolutely necessary that they should
leave the country for a time. Through those stormy waters they must
plough their way that very night. Ellis had no fear—would have had no
fear, at any rate, with Owen as he had been a week, a day ago; but with
Owen wild, despairing, helpless, fate-pursued, what could he do?
They sailed into the tossing darkness, and were never more seen of
The house of Bodowen has sunk into damp, dark ruins; and a Saxon
stranger holds the lands of the Griffiths.