|New 6s. Novels|
|BY GILBERT PARKER|
|BY RICHARD HARDINGDAVIS|
|IF I WERE KING|
|BY JUSTIN HUNTLYMCCARTHY|
|THE MYSTERY OF THE SEA|
|BY BRAM STOKER|
|BY FRANCES HARROD|
|THE WINDS OF THE WORLD|
|THE STORY OF EDEN|
|BY DOLF WYLLARDE|
|BY N. M. MEAKIN|
|NEXT TO THE GROUND|
|BY BREAD ALONE|
|BY I. K. FRIEDMAN|
|LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN|
|21 Bedford Street, W.C.|
Second Impression, September 1902
All rights reserved
This Edition enjoys copyright in all
countries signatory to the Berne
Treaty, and is not to be imported
into the United States of America
To my Mother
IN the earlier half of the nineteenth century, when most of thetravelling done by our grandfathers was done by road, and the intercourse betweendistricts by no means far apart was but small, a tract of country lying at the foot of theBlack Mountain, which rises just inside the Welsh border, was as far behind the times ofwhich I speak, as though it had been a hundred miles from any town.
Where the Great Western engines now roar down the Wye valley, carrying the travellerwho makes his journey in spring through orchards full of pink blossom, the roads then layin peaceful and unsophisticated quiet. Soon after leaving Hereford, the outline of themountain might be seen raising itself like an awakening giant, over green hedges and richmeadowland from the midst of the verdure and cultivation.
Between its slopes and the somewhat oppressive luxuriance through which the river ran,a band of country totally unlike either of these in character, encircled the mountain’sfoot, and made a kind of intermediate stage between the desolate grandeur of the Twmpa (asthe highest summit was called) and the parish of Crishowell with its farmyards andhayfields far beneath. The lanes leading up from Crishowell village were so steep that itwas impossible for carts to ascend them, and the sheep-grazing population which inhabitedthe hill farms above, had to go up and down to the market-town of Llangarth, either onfoot or on ponies brought in from the mountain runs. The “hill-people,” as theslower-witted [Pg4]dwellers in the valley called them, came seldom down except on market-days,when the observer mixing in these weekly gatherings in Llangarth market-place, mightdistinguish them as a leaner, harder race with a wider range of expression, due possiblyto their larger outlook on the natural world. They were neither entirely mountain norentirely valley bred, though retaining something of each locality, and something of thestruggle between nature and civilization seemed to have entered into them, giving themthat strenuousness which all transition must bring with it.
They lived, too, in the midst of what one might call a by-gone element, for the fieldsand uplands round their homes were full of the records of preceding generations. Strangegraves scattered the hill-sides, ancient dates were cut in the walls of their houses,names identical with those on forgotten tombs might be found on outbuildings, and, in thehedges of the perpendicular lanes, stones stood here and there which tradition vaguelydesignated as “murder-stones,” showing where the roadside tragedies of earlier times hadtaken place. Local history told, too, of bloody battles fought round the spurs of themountain in ancient British times, and, at one spot, a mound, visible to the eye ofarchæology, marked the place where three chieftains had been buried after one of thosefights. Perhaps it was this which had given the name of “The Red Field” to a small farm ata short distance from the plateau. Imaginative people finding themselves in that region ofneither yesterday nor to-day might have felt the crowding-in at every step of deadpersonalities, past customs and passions, in fact, a close treading on their heels ofgenerations which had lain for years in their graves in Crishowell churchyard, or in theburying-places beside the little Methodist chapels.
An element of superstition which all this could not fail to bring with it, stalkedabroad through those misty fields and lonely pastures, and, one can hardly wonder that atthe time of which I am speaking, it was a powerful factor in the lives
One of these shrines of horror was an innocent-looking spot called “The Boiling Wells,”in the middle of a green track stretching over the Twmpa’s shoulder, where a flat piece ofslate rock jutted from the turf, and three small springs of water bubbled eternally upthrough the earth. Near this place two young farmers, returning at dusk from a sheep-run,had had an experience which they and all the hill-people were not quick to forget, forthey had arrived breathless one evening at the Red Field Farm to detail to an open-mouthedaudience of farm-labourers how they had been overtaken by a thunderstorm near the BoilingWells, and how, as they neared the water, the horses had refused to pass it, wheelinground and flying from something visible only to themselves. Then the two men had becomeaware of a man’s figure hovering in the dusk, and a luminous face had peered at one ofthem from between his horse’s ears. At sight of this they had fled as fast as theirterrified beasts could carry them, and, after galloping wildly in the increasing darknessfor some time, they had been brought to a stand by finding themselves running against thefence which divided Red Field Farm from the mountain land.
In fact, the tales of fear which grew around this and other places in the neighbourhoodwere endless, though sceptics hinted that these strange things happened oftener onmarket-days than on any others, and that those who claimed to have seen more than theirneighbours owed their pretensions more to having been what was called “market-peart” thanto anything else. Still, the effect on the public mind was disquieting, and, in winterevenings, it kept many inside their doors or in the inspiriting vicinity of the farmbuildings.
To the dwellers in Crishowell village, who were disinclined
Sunday, indeed, brought to these unsophisticated labourers its veneer ofrespectability. A bucket of water in the back garden, an inherited Sunday coat, a virtuousresolve not to smoke in any part of the churchyard in which the parson could see them,converted them from a quarter to eleven till half-past twelve, noon, into a chastenedcommunity which filed noisily into the battered pews of Crishowell church, there to remaintill the final “Amen” let them loose upon the joys of a Sunday dinner in the familycircle. After this, they might cast from them the garments of righteousness and sit abouton gates with acquaintances to whom they apparently never spoke.
Though the hill-people descended into Crishowell, the Crishowell people rarely went upamong their neighbours; only the Methodists among them journeyed upwards to attend theChapels with which the higher land was dotted. In out-of-the-way corners by the thicklyintersecting lanes these grim, square, unadorned little buildings were to be found. Thewayfarer, coming unexpectedly upon one as he turned some sudden angle of his road, mightpause to glance over the low wall which divided its unkempt precincts from the publicpath, at the few crooked tombstones rising amid a wilderness of coarse hemlock whichspread even to the Chapel door, imparting a forlorn effect to the spot, and pervading theair with its rank smell. Many of these places were falling into disrepair from disuse, as,in summer weather, the meetings would often [Pg 7]be held on the hill-side, where the short turf would bearmarks until the next heavy rain of iron-bound heels and heavy feet which had trodden in aring round the spot. When the wind chanced to sit in the east, the sound of the hymns andpsalms would come down with a kind of wail, by no means unimpressive, though somewhatprolonged and nasal, to the nearer parts of the valley, the favourite themes of death andjudgment to come seeming singularly appropriate to the hard, fervent faces and thebackground of frowning mountain from which they sounded.
If it was a narrow religion which had obtained such a grasp upon these upland men andwomen, it was yet one from which they gained a great deal that few other things could havetaught, and virtues adapted to their exposed life grew up among them, possibly inobedience to those laws of supply and demand which are part of Nature’s self. Childrenreared in unyielding austerity, forced to sit meekly through hours of eloquence againstwhich their hearts rebelled, while their bodies suffered in silence, groaned under theirtrials. But, when they had crossed the threshold of grown-up life, the fruits of theseexperiences would show in a dormant fund of endurance and tenacity, submerged, no doubt,by the tide of every-day impressions, but apt to re-appear in emergencies as a solid rockrises into view