Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 73

Morning hymn — Much alone — John Bunyan — Beholden to nobody — Sixty-five — Sober greeting — Early Sabbaths — Finny brood — The porch — No fortune-telling — The master’s niece — Doing good — Two or three things — Groans and voices — Pechod Ysprydd Glan.

I slept soundly during that night, partly owing to the influence of the opiate. Early in the morning I was awakened by the voices of Peter and his wife, who were singing a morning hymn in their own language. Both subsequently prayed long and fervently. I lay still till their devotions were completed, and then left my tent. ‘Good morning,’ said Peter, ‘how dost thou feel?’ ‘Much better,’ said I, ‘than I could have expected.’ ‘I am glad of it,’ said Peter. ‘Art thou hungry? yonder comes our breakfast,’ pointing to the same young woman I had seen the preceding night, who was again descending the hill bearing the tray upon her head.

‘What dust thou intend to do, young man, this day?’ said Peter, when we had about half finished breakfast. ‘Do,’ said I; ‘as I do other days, what I can.’ ‘And dost thou pass this day as thou dost other days?’ said Peter. ‘Why not?’ said I; ‘what is there in this day different from the rest? it seems to be of the same colour as yesterday.’ ‘Art thou aware,’ said the wife, interposing, ‘what day it is? that it is Sabbath? that it is Sunday?’ ‘No,’ said I, ‘I did not know that it was Sunday.’ ‘And how did that happen?’ said Winifred, with a sigh. ‘To tell you the truth,’ said I, ‘I live very much alone, and pay very little heed to the passing of time.’ ‘And yet of what infinite importance is time,’ said Winifred. ‘Art thou not aware that every year brings thee nearer to thy end?’ ‘I do not think,’ said I, ‘that I am so near my end as I was yesterday.’ ‘Yes, thou art,’ said the woman; ‘thou wast not doomed to die yesterday; an invisible hand was watching over thee yesterday; but thy day will come, therefore improve the time; be grateful that thou wast saved yesterday; and, oh! reflect on one thing; if thou hadst died yesterday, where wouldst thou have been now?’ ‘Cast into the earth, perhaps,’ said I. ‘I have heard Mr. Petulengro say that to be cast into the earth is the natural end of man.’ ‘Who is Mr. Petulengro?’ said Peter, interrupting his wife, as she was about to speak. ‘Master of the horse-shoe,’ said I; ‘and, according to his own account, king of Egypt.’ ‘I understand,’ said Peter, ‘head of some family of wandering Egyptians — they are a race utterly godless. Art thou of them? — but no, thou art not, thou hast not their yellow blood. I suppose thou belongest to the family of wandering artisans called —. I do not like you the worse for belonging to them. A mighty speaker of old sprang up from amidst that family.’ ‘Who was he?’ said I. ‘John Bunyan,’ replied Peter, reverently, ‘and the mention of his name reminds me that I have to preach this day; wilt thou go and hear? the distance is not great, only half a mile.’ ‘No,’ said I, ‘I will not go and hear.’ ‘Wherefore?’ said Peter. ‘I belong to the church,’ said I, ‘and not to the congregations.’ ‘Oh! the pride of that church,’ said Peter, addressing his wife in their own tongue, ‘exemplified even in the lowest and most ignorant of its members. Then thou, doubtless, meanest to go to church,’ said Peter, again addressing me; ‘there is a church on the other side of that wooded hill.’ ‘No,’ said I, ‘I do not mean to go to church.’ ‘May I ask thee wherefore?’ said Peter. ‘Because,’ said I, ‘I prefer remaining beneath the shade of these trees, listening to the sound of the leaves and the tinkling of the waters.’

‘Then thou intendest to remain here?’ said Peter, looking fixedly at me. ‘If I do not intrude,’ said I; ‘but if I do, I will wander away; I wish to be beholden to nobody — perhaps you wish me to go?’ ‘On the contrary,’ said Peter, ‘I wish you to stay. I begin to see something in thee which has much interest for me; but we must now bid thee farewell for the rest of the day, the time is drawing nigh for us to repair to the place of preaching; before we leave thee alone, however, I should wish to ask thee a question — Didst thou seek thy own destruction yesterday, and didst thou wilfully take that poison?’ ‘No,’ said I; ‘had I known there had been poison in the cake I certainly should not have taken it.’ ‘And who gave it thee?’ said Peter. ‘An enemy of mine,’ I replied. ‘Who is thy enemy?’ ‘An Egyptian sorceress and poison-monger.’ ‘Thy enemy is a female. I fear thou hadst given her cause to hate thee — of what did she complain?’ ‘That I had stolen the tongue out of her head.’ ‘I do not understand thee — is she young?’ ‘About sixty-five.’

Here Winifred interposed. ‘Thou didst call her just now by hard names, young man,’ said she; ‘I trust thou dost bear no malice against her.’ ‘No,’ said I, ‘I bear no malice against her.’ ‘Thou art not wishing to deliver her into the hand of what is called justice?’ ‘By no means,’ said I; ‘I have lived long enough upon the roads not to cry out for the constable when my finger is broken. I consider this poisoning as an accident of the roads; one of those to which those who travel are occasionally subject.’ ‘In short, thou forgivest thine adversary?’ ‘Both now and for ever,’ said I. ‘Truly,’ said Winifred, ‘the spirit which the young man displayeth pleases me much; I should be loth that he left us yet. I have no doubt that, with the blessing of God, and a little of thy exhortation, he will turn out a true Christian before he leaveth us.’ ‘My exhortation!’ said Peter, and a dark shade passed over his countenance; ‘thou forgettest what I am — I— I— but I am forgetting myself; the Lord’s will be done; and now put away the things, for I perceive that our friends are coming to attend us to the place of meeting.’

Again the family which I had seen the night before descended the hill from their abode. They were now dressed in their Sunday’s best. The master of the house led the way. They presently joined us, when a quiet sober greeting ensued on each side. After a little time Peter shook me by the hand and bade me farewell till the evening; Winifred did the same, adding that she hoped I should be visited by sweet and holy thoughts. The whole party then moved off in the direction by which we had come the preceding night, Peter and the master leading the way, followed by Winifred and the mistress of the family. As I gazed on their departing forms, I felt almost inclined to follow them to their place of worship. I did not stir, however, but remained leaning against my oak with my hands behind me.

And after a time I sat me down at the foot of the oak with my face turned towards the water, and, folding my hands, I fell into deep meditation. I thought on the early Sabbaths of my life, and the manner in which I was wont to pass them. How carefully I said my prayers when I got up on the Sabbath morn, and how carefully I combed my hair and brushed my clothes in order that I might do credit to the Sabbath day. I thought of the old church at pretty D — the dignified rector, and yet more dignified clerk. I though of England’s grand Liturgy, and Tate and Brady’s sonorous minstrelsy. I thought of the Holy Book, portions of which I was in the habit of reading between service. I thought, too, of the evening walk which I sometimes took in fine weather like the present, with my mother and brother — a quiet sober walk, during which I would not break into a run, even to chase a butterfly, or yet more a honey-bee, being fully convinced of the dread importance of the day which God had hallowed. And how glad I was when I had got over the Sabbath day without having done anything to profane it. And how soundly I slept on the Sabbath night after the toil of being very good throughout the day.

And when I had mused on those times a long while, I sighed and said to myself, I am much altered since then; am I altered for the better? And then I looked at my hands and my apparel, and sighed again. I was not wont of yore to appear thus on the Sabbath day.

For a long time I continued in a state of deep meditation, till at last I lifted up my eyes to the sun, which, as usual during that glorious summer, was shining in unclouded majesty; and then I lowered them to the sparkling water, in which hundreds of the finny brood were disporting themselves, and then I thought what a fine thing it was to be a fish on such a fine summer day, and I wished myself a fish, or at least amongst the fishes; and then I looked at my hands again, and then, bending over the water, I looked at my face in the crystal mirror, and started when I saw it, for it looked squalid and miserable.

Forthwith I started up, and said to myself, I should like to bathe and cleanse myself from the squalor produced by my late hard life and by Mrs. Herne’s drow. I wonder if there is any harm in bathing on the Sabbath day. I will ask Winifred when she comes home; in the meantime I will bathe, provided I can find a fitting place.

But the brook, though a very delightful place for fish to disport in, was shallow, and by no means adapted for the recreation of so large a being as myself; it was, moreover, exposed, though I saw nobody at hand, nor heard a single human voice or sound. Following the winding of the brook, I left the meadow, and, passing through two or three thickets, came to a place where between lofty banks the water ran deep and dark, and there I bathed, imbibing new tone and vigour into my languid and exhausted frame.

Having put on my clothes, I returned by the way I had come to my vehicle beneath the oak tree. From thence, for want of something better to do, I strolled up the hill, on the top of which stood the farm-house; it was a large and commodious building built principally of stone, and seeming of some antiquity, with a porch, on either side of which was an oaken bench. On the right was seated a young woman with a book in her hand, the same who had brought the tray to my friends and myself.

‘Good-day,’ said I, ‘pretty damsel, sitting in the farm porch.’

‘Good-day,’ said the girl, looking at me for a moment, and then fixing her eyes on her book.

‘That’s a nice book you are reading,’ said I.

The girl looked at me with surprise. ‘How do you know what book it is?’ said she.

‘How do I know — never mind; but a nice book it is — no love, no fortune-telling in it.’

The girl looked at me half offended. ‘Fortune-telling!’ said she, ‘I should think not. But you know nothing about it’; and she bent her head once more over the book.

‘I tell you what, young person,’ said I, ‘I know all about that book; what will you wager that I do not?’

‘I never wager,’ said the girl.

‘Shall I tell you the name of it,’ said I, ‘O daughter of the dairy? ’

The girl half started. ‘I should never have thought,’ said she, half timidly, ‘that you could have guessed it.’

‘I did not guess it,’ said I, ‘I knew it; and meet and proper it is that you should read it.’

‘Why so?’ said the girl.

‘Can the daughter of the dairy read a more fitting book than the Dairyman’s Daughter?’

‘Where do you come from?’ said the girl.

‘Out of the water,’ said I. ‘Don’t start, I have been bathing; are you fond of the water?’

‘No,’ said the girl, heaving a sigh; ‘I am not fond of the water, that is, of the sea’; and here she sighed again.

‘The sea is a wide gulf,’ said I, ‘and frequently separates hearts.’

The girl sobbed.

‘Why are you alone here?’ said I.

‘I take my turn with the rest,’ said the girl, ‘to keep at home on Sunday.’

‘And you are — ’ said I.

‘The master’s niece!’ said the girl. ‘How came you to know it? But why did you not go with the rest and with your friends?’

‘Who are those you call my friends?’ said I.

‘Peter and his wife.’

‘And who are they?’ said I.

‘Do you not know?’ said the girl; ‘you came with them.’

‘They found me ill by the way,’ said I; ‘and they relieved me: I know nothing about them.’

‘I thought you knew everything,’ said the girl.

‘There are two or three things which I do not know, and this is one of them. Who are they?’

‘Did you never hear of the great Welsh preacher, Peter Williams?’

‘Never,’ said I.

‘Well,’ said the girl, ‘this is he, and Winifred is his wife, and a nice person she is. Some people say, indeed, that she is as good a preacher as her husband, though of that matter I can say nothing, having never heard her preach. So these two wander over all Wales and the greater part of England, comforting the hearts of the people with their doctrine, and doing all the good they can. They frequently come here, for the mistress is a Welsh woman, and an old friend of both, and then they take up their abode in the cart beneath the old oaks down there by the stream.’

‘And what is their reason for doing so?’ said I; ‘would it not be more comfortable to sleep beneath a roof?’

‘I know not their reasons,’ said the girl, ‘but so it is; they never sleep beneath a roof unless the weather is very severe. I once heard the mistress say that Peter had something heavy upon his mind; perhaps that is the cause. If he is unhappy, all I can say is, that I wish him otherwise, for he is a good man and a kind — ’

‘Thank you,’ said I, ‘I will now depart.’

‘Hem!’ said the girl, ‘I was wishing — ’

‘What? to ask me a question?’

‘Not exactly; but you seem to know everything; you mentioned, I think, fortune-telling.’

‘Do you wish me to tell your fortune?’

‘By no means; but I have a friend at a distance at sea, and I should wish to know — ’

‘When he will come back? I have told you already there are two or three things which I do not know — this is another of them. However, I should not be surprised if he were to come back some of these days; I would if I were in his place. In the meantime be patient, attend to the dairy, and read the Dairyman’s Daughter when you have nothing better to do.’

It was late in the evening when the party of the morning returned. The farmer and his family repaired at once to their abode, and my two friends joined me beneath the tree. Peter sat down at the foot of the oak, and said nothing. Supper was brought by a servant, not the damsel of the porch. We sat round the tray, Peter said grace, but scarcely anything else; he appeared sad and dejected, his wife looked anxiously upon him. I was as silent as my friends; after a little time we retired to our separate places of rest.

About midnight I was awakened by a noise; I started up and listened; it appeared to me that I heard voices and groans. In a moment I had issued from my tent — all was silent — but the next moment I again heard groans and voices; they proceeded from the tilted cart where Peter and his wife lay; I drew near, again there was a pause, and then I heard the voice of Peter, in an accent of extreme anguish, exclaim, ‘Pechod Ysprydd Glan — O pechod Ysprydd Glan!’ and then he uttered a deep groan. Anon, I heard the voice of Winifred, and never shall I forget the sweetness and gentleness of the tones of her voice in the stillness of that night. I did not understand all she said — she spoke in her native language, and I was some way apart; she appeared to endeavour to console her husband, but he seemed to refuse all comfort, and, with many groans, repeated — ‘Pechod Ysprydd Glan — O pechod Ysprydd Glan!’ I felt I had no right to pry into their afflictions, and retired.

Now ‘pechod Ysprydd Glan,’ interpreted, is the sin against the Holy Ghost.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32