Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 74

The following day — Pride — Thriving trade — Tylwyth Teg — Ellis Wyn — Sleeping hard — Incalculable good — Fearful agony — The tale.

Peter and his wife did not proceed on any expedition during the following day. The former strolled gloomily about the fields, and the latter passed many hours in the farmhouse. Towards evening, without saying a word to either, I departed with my vehicle, and finding my way to a small town at some distance, I laid in a store of various articles, with which I returned. It was night, and my two friends were seated beneath the oak; they had just completed their frugal supper. ‘We waited for thee some time,’ said Winifred, ‘but, finding that thou didst not come, we began without thee; but sit down, I pray thee, there is still enough for thee.’ ‘I will sit down,’ said I, ‘but I require no supper, for I have eaten where I have been’: nothing more particular occurred at the time. Next morning the kind pair invited me to share their breakfast. ‘I will not share your breakfast,’ said I. ‘Wherefore not?’ said Winifred, anxiously. ‘Because,’ said I, ‘it is not proper that I be beholden to you for meat and drink.’ ‘But we are beholden to other people,’ said Winifred. ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘but you preach to them, and give them ghostly advice, which considerably alters the matter; not that I would receive anything from them, if I preached to them six times a day.’ ‘Thou art not fond of receiving favours, then, young man,’ said Winifred. ‘I am not,’ said I. ‘And of conferring favours?’ ‘Nothing affords me greater pleasure,’ said I, ‘than to confer favours.’ ‘What a disposition,’ said Winifred, holding up her hands; ‘and this is pride, genuine pride — that feeling which the world agrees to call so noble. Oh, how mean a thing is pride! never before did I see all the meanness of what is called pride!’

‘But how wilt thou live, friend,’ said Peter; ‘dost thou not intend to eat?’ ‘When I went out last night,’ said I, ‘I laid in a provision.’ ‘Thou hast laid in a provision!’ said Peter, ‘pray let us see it. Really, friend,’ said he, after I had produced it, ‘thou must drive a thriving trade; here are provisions enough to last three people for several days. Here are butter and eggs, here is tea, here is sugar, and there is a flitch. I hope thou wilt let us partake of some of thy fare.’ ‘I should be very happy if you would,’ said I. ‘Doubt not but we shall,’ said Peter; ‘Winifred shall have some of thy flitch cooked for dinner. In the meantime, sit down, young man, and breakfast at our expense — we will dine at thine.’

On the evening of that day, Peter and myself sat alone beneath the oak. We fell into conversation; Peter was at first melancholy, but he soon became more cheerful, fluent, and entertaining. I spoke but little; but I observed that sometimes what I said surprised the good Methodist. We had been silent some time. At length, lifting up my eyes to the broad and leafy canopy of the trees, I said, having nothing better to remark, ‘What a noble tree! I wonder if the fairies ever dance beneath it.’

‘Fairies!’ said Peter, ‘fairies! how came you, young man, to know anything about the fair family?’

‘I am an Englishman,’ said I, ‘and of course know something about fairies; England was once a famous place for them.’

‘Was once, I grant you,’ said Peter, ‘but is so no longer. I have travelled for years about England, and never heard them mentioned before; the belief in them has died away, and even their name seems to be forgotten. If you had said you were a Welshman, I should not have been surprised. The Welsh have much to say of the Tylwyth Teg, or fair family, and many believe in them.’

‘And do you believe in them?’ said I.

‘I scarcely know what to say. Wise and good men have been of opinion that they are nothing but devils, who, under the form of pretty and amiable spirits, would fain allure poor human beings; I see nothing irrational in the supposition.’

‘Do you believe in devils, then?’

‘Do I believe in devils, young man?’ said Peter, and his frame was shaken as if by convulsions. ‘If I do not believe in devils, why am I here at the present moment?’

‘You know best,’ said I; ‘but I don’t believe that fairies are devils, and I don’t wish to hear them insulted. What learned men have said they are devils?’

‘Many have said it, young man, and, amongst others, Master Ellis Wyn, in that wonderful book of his, the Bardd Cwsg.’

‘The Bardd Cwsg,’ said I; ‘what kind of book is that? I have never heard of that book before.’

‘Heard of it before; I suppose not; how should you have heard of it before? By the bye, can you read?’

‘Very tolerably,’ said I; ‘so there are fairies in this book. What do you call it — the Bardd Cwsg?’

‘Yes, the Bardd Cwsg. You pronounce Welsh very fairly; have you ever been in Wales?’

‘Never,’ said I.

‘Not been in Wales; then, of course, you don’t understand Welsh; but we were talking of the Bardd Cwsg — yes, there are fairies in the Bardd Cwsg, — the author of it, Master Ellis Wyn, was carried away in his sleep by them over mountains and valleys, rivers and great waters, incurring mighty perils at their hands, till he was rescued from them by an angel of the Most High, who subsequently showed him many wonderful things.’

‘I beg your pardon,’ said I, ‘but what were those wonderful things?’

‘I see, young man,’ said Peter, smiling, ‘that you are not without curiosity; but I can easily pardon any one for being curious about the wonders contained in the book of Master Ellis Wyn. The angel showed him the course of this world, its pomps and vanities, its cruelty and its pride, its crimes and deceits. On another occasion, the angel showed him Death in his nether palace, surrounded by his grisly ministers, and by those who are continually falling victims to his power. And, on a third occasion, the state of the condemned in their place of everlasting torment.’

‘But this was all in his sleep,’ said I, ‘was it not?’

‘Yes,’ said Peter, ‘in his sleep; and on that account the book is called Gweledigaethau y Bardd Cwsg, or, Visions of the Sleeping Bard.’

‘I do not care for wonders which occur in sleep,’ said I. ‘I prefer real ones; and perhaps, notwithstanding what he says, the man had no visions at all — they are probably of his own invention.’

‘They are substantially true, young man,’ said Peter; ‘like the dreams of Bunyan, they are founded on three tremendous facts, Sin, Death, and Hell; and like his they have done incalculable good, at least in my own country, in the language of which they are written. Many a guilty conscience has the Bardd Cwsg aroused with its dreadful sights, its strong sighs, its puffs of smoke from the pit, and its showers of sparks from the mouth of the yet lower gulf of — Unknown — were it not for the Bardd Cwsg perhaps I might not be here.’

‘I would sooner hear your own tale,’ said I, ‘than all the visions of the Bardd Cwsg.’

Peter shook, bent his form nearly double, and covered his face with his hands. I sat still and motionless, with my eyes fixed upon him. Presently Winifred descended the hill, and joined us. ‘What is the matter?’ said she, looking at her husband, who still remained in the posture I have described. He made no answer; whereupon, laying her hand gently on his shoulder, she said, in the peculiar soft and tender tone which I had heard her use on a former occasion, ‘Take comfort, Peter; what has happened now to afflict thee?’ Peter removed his hand from his face. ‘The old pain, the old pain,’ said he; ‘I was talking with this young man, and he would fain know what brought me here, he would fain hear my tale, Winifred — my sin: O pechod Ysprydd Glan! O pechod Ysprydd Glan!’ and the poor man fell into a more fearful agony than before. Tears trickled down Winifred’s face, I saw them trickling by the moonlight, as she gazed upon the writhing form of her afflicted husband. I arose from my seat. ‘I am the cause of all this,’ said I, ‘by my folly and imprudence, and it is thus I have returned your kindness and hospitality; I will depart from you and wander my way.’ I was retiring, but Peter sprang up and detained me. ‘Go not,’ said he, ‘you were not in fault; if there be any fault in the case it was mine; if I suffer, I am but paying the penalty of my own iniquity’; he then paused, and appeared to be considering: at length he said, ‘Many things which thou hast seen and heard connected with me require explanation; thou wishest to know my tale, I will tell it thee, but not now, not to-night; I am too much shaken.’

Two evenings later, when we were again seated beneath the oak, Peter took the hand of his wife in his own, and then, in tones broken and almost inarticulate, commenced telling me his tale — the tale of the Pechod Ysprydd Glan.

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