A Welsh Halloween, by Anne Beale
A Welsh Halloween, by Anne Beale
"All Hallows Eve" is a stand-alone chapter about a Welsh Halloween from Traits and Stories of the Welsh Peasantry (1849) — a wonderfully detailed and lovingly written novel with an extremely misleading title.
The frame story is that these are people the English author knows personally, and that this is a folklore book; but it seems pretty clear that she did make the story up, although both story and characters are very plausible.
A Welsh Halloween, by Anne Beale - text
Old festival days, with their games and merriment, superstitions and legends, which have gone or are fast going into forgetfulness in England, are still important and still observed in Wales. All-Hallows' Eve, so famous in Scottish and Irish story, is here no less celebrated, and its customs no less kept. It is the people of the locality and the soil, who are not worn into the smoothness of general society by intercourse with large towns, that devote themselves to these observances; and thus the labourers and the old women of the village are they particularly who expect and keep Hollantide. The latter have ever been the treasurers of the superstition and the legend, the devotees of usages which they deliver, with a faith that amounts to religion, to their children and grandchildren. As what are called civilisation and intelligence increase over the face of the country, these ancient observances naturally disappear ; but whether a better faith and purer recreations succeed, I must not pretend to determine.
I am confident, however, that old Pally Lewis would feel her blood boil in her veins, were you to seem to doubt one of the marvellous stories which she relates; things which, she says, happened either to herself, or to some near kinsman or acquaintance. She once turned away from me with disdainful indignation, because I incautiously expressed my scepticism at some supernatural occurrence. " What! " she said, " didn't I see it with my own eyes ? " or " didn't they as saw it tell me of it ? and dont I know it's all true ? " With a Welsh expression of extreme displeasure she left me; and it has been with some difficulty, and not a little management, that I have been able to recover her good graces sufficiently to prevail on her to continue her tales of corpse candles, spirits, and All-Hallows' Eve sights. What Pally will relate in the following pages is not, then, the mere repetition of old stories for the amusement of those about her, but a detail of what she imagines to be facts in which she most firmly believes. How a belief so marvellous can have rooted itself in her mind concerning events in which she professes to have been herself a principal agent, I do not pretend to understand; but we know that it is a phenomenon in the superstitious temperament for which there is no accounting.
Old Pally, though a poor widow, would rather go without her dinner half the year round, than a " wassail bowl" on All-Hallows' Eve; and she is accustomed to gather all the young people of her vicinity about her own hearth on that occasion, who love a draught of hers better than of any other wassail bowl in the whole country. As long, then, as she can replenish it, she is determined that it shall not fail.
It is All-Hallows' Eve; and twenty times during the day has every nook and corner of her little room been swept and dusted by herself and her grandchild. " There, child, there; clean up the hearth — make the place tidy," has been the burden of almost every respiration. All the crockery ware that she had purchased for her "staffell" has been washed and rubbed until it shines again. No economy of bees'-wax and oil to polish the chairs and tables: the clock looks brighter than ever clock looked before, and ticks impatient for the company. Evergreens are placed here and there about the room, as at Christmas; and the mantel-piece is loaded with the treasures of fifty years' fragmental china. Hosts of brass candlesticks and painted eggs are arranged to simulate with the fruit of the yew and ivy. All the day long the little grandaughter has been counting hours and minutes till the evening, and fearing that granny must sink before sunset under her extraordinary exertions. But when the twilight commences, her vigour becomes supernatural. The huge blue bowl is installed upon the table—the hearth is built up with logs — all sorts of curiosities and wonders leave their recesses, and bewilder the child's admiring eyes, who peeps under her grandmother's arms on tiptoe, as the mysterious cupboard is reverentially opened. What store of apples and raisins !—unthought of luxuries! — but I must not anticipate.
It is All-Hallows' Eve; and as All-Hallows' Eve comes only once a year, Pally has determined to outdo herself in welcoming her friends and crowning the season. They have at last completed the saloon, and proceed to the labours that are necessary to bring their own persons into splendour. Granny soaps and scrubs the child's face until it shines and glows again, and then dons her best woollen frock. Pally's gown, and the starched structure of her cap, being lastly arranged, they sit primly down, and watch the clock and the weather: the former announces the speedy arrival of their visitors; and the latter, as it should, a blusterous night. The fire begins to blaze aloft — sparks shoot forth with a gladsome crack—the first knock vibrates on the door, and William, the young corporal, shows his handsome face. "Well, Pally," he asks, "who is coming to drink of your wassail bowl to-night ? " Pally, with sly forbearance, enumerates some fifteen or twenty indifferent young people, but withholds the only name he pants to hear. He is sick with disappointment, and determines to leave as soon as he can with any propriety take his departure.
Poor William has left his sister at her fragment of a looking-glass, and run across to Pally, in the hope of finding Rachel, as is her custom, assisting the old woman to arrange her room; but she is not there, and he has not courage to question any further. "Tap, tap, tap" daintily at the door, and enters Miss Corporal, with a "for shame, William, to leave me to come by myself this rainy and dark night!" Another " tap, tap," and another and an other quick upon it, introduce Thomas Shenkin the tailor and his cousin Betto, a lean old maid, who has been withering on a marriage-engagement for twenty years, procrastinated till her staffell came up to the mark set by her disinterested lover. Gwenllian Morgan, the peach-cheeked daughter of a small farmer, attended by Rachel's red-haired admirer, Nat Lewis, who comes in the spirit of bravado, next appear. The nursemaid and housemaid from " The House " now concentrate all eyes, and create a sensation ; whilst the footman, who escorts them in livery, looks as great as the Duke of Wellington suddenly stalking in at Almack's. By degrees Pally's one room is filled, and every chair receives its honoured burden of a Lewis, a Davies, or a Griffiths, but no chair sustains the Rachel. There is not a member of the party who does not regret her absence, and all but William and Nat are loud in their exclamations of disappointment. " Let us send for her," cry half a dozen voices at once ; as many youths are on their feet, and William is at the door.
" No, no," says Pally, " she will come if she can ; but you all know Jackey Bach, and if he take a thing into his head, it is no good to try to put it out."
Every one present, and especially William, feel this to be true; and all but he endeavour to finds amusement without Rachel.
Refinement will stare at the diversions of this rustic party, which Pally has arranged systematically in their presumed power to promote the mirth of the evening. In the first place, in the middle of the room, suspended from the ceiling, hangs an apple, large and red, which ever and anon, as it receives a hint, swings temptingly above the heads of the party. Chairs and stools are pushed back, and the arena cleared, when, with all his agility, up jumps Nat, open-mouthed, and dashing at the apple encounters it with his chin, from which it indignantly rebounds, and, before his feet touch the floor, returns in vengeance upon his nose. A loud laugh, and a whispered " Nat's nose is getting as red as his hair," accompany this first essay. Another, and a taller youth succeeds to him; but not calculating well his height, jumps too high, and the apple is again triumphant. A third, as much too short as the foregoing one is too tall, gives a heroic spring, with his goggle eyes and distended jaws directed to the prey, but finds himself to his astonishment violently seated upon the floor, amidst the uncontrollable laughter of the whole party. Another, and another, unad- monished by defeat, rise to the trial, but the unscathed globe bounds upon their heads, eyes, chins, cheeks, noses, and even lips and teeth, baffling alike their prowess and their address.
" Come, William, come, it is your turn now; you will bring it down yet," cries Pally, as she observes William endeavouring to slide away. He replies to the call, but without feeling the least inclination to attack the persecuted apple, when a shout of " Here she is, here she is! " arrests him, and in glides Rachel.
All was now delight; and " Why didn't you come before? what have you been doing?" and a hundred such kind of questions assailed her. Her father could not spare her earlier, she said, as her young friends took her umbrella, hat, and shawl from her, and told her to go by the fire whilst William tried to catch the apple. She blushed as William looked at her, and before the blush had vanished from her cheek, he had recovered his old love for All Hallows' sports, caught the apple dexterously between his teeth, and brought it down amid the shouts of the party.
" You wouldn't have done that a few minutes back," said old Pally, with a knowing smile.
After jumping for apples as long as apples could make them jump with joy, another and a yet more recondite diversion was proposed. A somewhat shallow tub, filled with water, was drawn into the middle of the room, and being hoisted upon two chairs, was immediately surrounded by the party. A sixpence was dropped into the tub; after which preliminary, in popped a head. Again it was Nat who made the first essay. He seemed determined to take the lead of the evening. His head remained under water as long as he could hold his breath, but soon and suddenly up came the red portent again, with nose and mouth evidently distressed to suffocation, but without the pearl for which it had dived. Nat shook his ears and wiped his carrots, which now paled behind his cheeks. Before the girls had recovered from their convulsions, another head was immersed in water. This was an adventurous and plashing poll, but much as it dashed about, it was up in a few seconds again without the sixpence, but with a grin from ear to ear, and a " 'Pon my word ! I wonder how they do these things at the Polytechnic." This was the footman from the House, whose first attempt at diving was accompanied by peals of laughter. One after the other the youths struggled for the prize. Red heads, black heads, brown heads, heads of all forms and dimensions, were seen, first buried in the water, then withdrawn from it, exhibiting on their retreat, faces twisted into every conceivable contortion, but all looking most ludicrously good-humoured. William was the first to secure the sixpence, and having done so, he quietly slunk into a corner of the room where Rachel was standing.
She was thoughtful and abstracted, and did not laugh with the rest, at the sports that used to divert her, for her heart was heavy as she looked forward to the morrow. She felt, in the midst of merriment, tears steal into her eyes, but as she saw William approach, she hastily brushed them away, and smiled as she said,—
" So you got the first sixpence after all ? "
" Yes," replied William ; " will you take it, and keep it in remembrance of All-Hallows' Eve ? and maybe, when you look at it, Rachel, you will think of this night, and will not quite forget him who won it for your sake."
The poor girl's heart was too full to allow her to reply, but the tear that left her eye spoke for her as she was about to take the little token.
" Wait a minute, Rachel," said William; and he walked to an opposite corner of the room where was a shelf upon which Pally kept her knitting. A needle was peering forth from the straw-work of an old basket, and without waiting to inquire whether he should draw down Pally's anger by dropping some hundred stitches of her half-fininished stocking, he drew it out and returned to Rachel. He saw that every one present was still busily engaged with the sixpenny-hunt; so putting the knitting needle into/ the fire, he heated it red hot, and bored a hole through! the sixpence.
" Now Rachel," he said, " you will know this from any other sixpence, and perhaps you will some day show it me again."
Rachel took the coin, and as she did so, she heard Pally declaring it was time to prepare the wassail bowl, and calling for her to assist. All was now bustle and laughter. The huge old chimney corner was crowded with seats. The place of honour—the large oak arm-chair—was reserved for Pally in the warmest corner, for she " couldn't sit down just yet." The grandchild's eyes glistened with delight, as she followed granny and saw the stores of buns, raisins, apples, spices, and elder-wine that issued from the venerated cupboard. The huge bowl was on the table, brimfull of ale. William held a saucepan, into which Pally and Rachel poured the ale, and which he subsequently placed upon the fire. Leaving it to boil, the party seated round the fire began to roast some of the apples that Pally had just put upon the table. This they effected by tying long pieces of twine to their stems, and suspending them from the different "pot-hooks and hangers" with which the chimney-corner abounded, twisting the cord from time to time to prevent their burning.
It is astonishing how cleverly the party have contrived to seat themselves. Pally occupies her oaken throne, whilst Rachel takes her accustoned place, on a low stool, at her side. Next comes William: facing this trio, and endeavouring to look most fashionably unconcerned, is Nat Lewis, who divides the peach-cheeked farmer's daughter and Miss Corporal. Nat's cousin, Betto, is now blessed by her widower's presence, and sits simpering by his side in erect leanness. The young ladies in pink from the House have their attendant beaux, and the footman in uniform, makes himself vastly agreeable to all. Pally's little grandchild is crouched at Rachel's feet with the fine old black cat in her lap, and the rest of the party are all equally well placed. Every one is happy; even Rachel seems gayer than she was half an hour ago; so whilst the ale simmers, by way of adding to their merriment, they determine to withdraw the veil of futurity, and to ascertain who shall be alive next All-Hallows' Eve, and who shall be dead before it comes, with sundry other facts of equal interest. Every young man has his pockets full of nuts, prepared for the occasion, which he distributes to the ladies.
"Well," begins Pally, "let me see whether I shall be spared for next Hallow Eve."
She takes a fine smooth nut and throws it into the fire. She gazes at it with intense solicitude, until a bright blaze issues from it, when she exclaims, with a smile of delight,—
" Yes, we may reckon upon another merry meeting in these old walls."
The smart footman casts a nut into the fire: not a symptom of a flame. Pally looks grave, and lifts up her hands and eyes with ominous sadness. The footman takes it all very easily, and says,—
" Oh! never mind, maarm; if that didn't blaze, the next will," upon which he throws in a second nut, which soon emits a bright flame. Pally shakes her head, experience having taught her that the first nut is the certain test of life or death; and from this time she will never see the footman without feeling a presage that she shall never meet him more.
" Well! I shall have a wish," cries Nat, and looks across rather darkly at William and Rachel. He is too wise to tell his wish, but casts his nut silently into the fire. It moulders away without flaming; he looks disappointed and sulky, and begins talking to Sarah Davies, whilst Pally comforts him by assuring him that he will not have what he wished for.
" The wishes of the wicked never prospers," interposes the footman.
" I have wished," gaily exclaims William, and his nut blazes at once.
" You will have your wish certainly," says Pally; " and now, Rachel, try your luck."
William looks at Rachel whilst she thinks for a moment, and then throws her nut into the fire. All the party watch it earnestly, and many turn pale, as a longer period than usual elapses, and no flame appears.
" Dead!" cries Nat, with a pleased look.
" Alive!" retorts William, as a bright light at length appears.
" Better late than never," says old Pally; and so thinks William, as glancing at Rachel he meets her eye.
Each having burnt a nut with various success, they attacked the apples which remained unroasted on the table, and began peeling them delicately. The merit here lay in taking off the rind without breaking or cracking it, which Rachel, who is very famous for her apple-dumplings, effected.
" There! Rachel has finished first," said her friend and admirer Pally, who had been watching her: " she will make the most saving wife, for she peels her apple and takes off nothing but the bare rind. Throw it over your shoulder now, child, and let us see what letter your husband's name will begin with."
Rachel threw the apple-paring over her left shoulder, and every one rose to see what shape it would assume. It was an extraordinary hieroglyphic; but some declared it one letter, and some another, the majority deciding in favour of W.
" Let me see — let me see," cried Pally, as she made her way through the crowd.
Professing to be a profound scholar in apple-peel lore, she thought proper to consider the paring attentively for some time, having done which she pronounced it to be decidedly a W, " for there are two Vs joined together," she said; " one stroke down and another up, and another down and another up; and everybody as can read writing must know that that's a W, all the world over." No one but Nat dared to dispute so good an authority, and he vociferated that it was more like an N than a W.
I cannot permit myself any more such details, but some threw Ns and some As, some Os, and others Cs; and some wondered what names X and Z could stand for, and were assured by Pally that those who got such out-of-the-way letters would never marry at all.
" Unless," interrupted the footman, " the ladies go up to London, where occasionally Mr. X Y Z advertises for a wife."
By the time they had all completed their trials the ale was boiling and the apples were roasted. The tempting beverage went smoking hot into the bowl, and was joined by the contents of a small, suspicious- looking, tightly-corked bottle, which I strongly suspect contained what the French call " water of life," and a very strong water it undoubtedly is. Next there was a hissing and spluttering greeting between the ale and the roasted apples, which was succeeded by the introduction of some of the " nices " with which Pally's table was covered. Different masculines of the party added to the treat by producing packets of buns, raisins, or biscuits, which they dropped singly into the bowl, until it was full to overflowing. With a sufficient proportion of spices and sugar, the wassail bowl was finally prepared, and, as if by instinct, just as it was completed, in popped three or four of Pally's ancient cronies, all dying to partake of it. The cups and glasses were speedily filled, when William proposed Pally's health, which was cordially drunk by the whole party. After this preliminary, she was asked for some of her famous old stories.
Now Pally was in her glory. She sat in her high- backed arm-chair by the fire, like the queen of spells. Her thin shrivelled face looked out from a hedge of frill, and her keen grey eye twinkled strangely beneath her wrinkled brow, whilst a few white hairs hung straight over it. The black cat had leaped from little Mary's lap to that of the old woman, and added to her sibyl-like appearance. In truth, as she glanced from one to the other of her auditors, and stretched out her long, thin, bony arm to add force to her words, she looked supernaturally knowing, and would, had she lived some few centuries back, have been taken and ducked or burnt as a witch. It was just the night and place for tales to set the hair on end — rough and black without, with a bright fire within, to keep up the courage to hear the most fearful thing to its close. The candle was put out — for Pally never told her stories by candle-light — and the listeners were instantly fixed in profound attention.
" And what story shall I tell first ?" inquired Pally, addressing the footman. " Perhaps, sir, as you come from England, you may never chance to have heard tell of the wonderful sights that some people have seen on All Hallows' Eve?"
The footman having replied in the negative, Pally thus began: — " Well then, I will tell you what happened to myself some sixty years ago. You must know that we Welshwomen have got ways of finding out what we are most anxious to know, on this night, when the spirits and goblins are about us more than any other night of the year. As I said, some sixty years ago, I and two or three other young women sat up together, and waited for twelve o'clock. According to custom, we laid the cloth upon the table, turned the knives and forks and spoons all upside down; and every thing else that could be turned the wrong way, sure enough we turned it. When we had done this, we all sat down by the fire-light to watch. 'Tis a weary and terrifying thing to sit up late, as still as death, not daring to speak, turning your eyes from the clock to the door, and from the door to the clock, counting the minutes, and looking for a spirit till he comes. Perhaps you never did it; but 'tis an awful thing, as many here can tell. I never felt so strange as I did that night, before nor since, but once, and that was when I went to the church to hear who was called — but I'll tell you that by and by.
" There we sat, getting paler and paler, as the hand of the clock pointed nearer and nearer to twelve. 'Twas a very blustering night, just like this, and every time the door creaked with the wind I thought it was a spirit; but I remembered afterwards that spirits don't make a noise when they move about. But how the rain pattered against the window! The very panes seemed to answer it, and help to make it more terrible. And then the wind! — oh dear! I thought the house was coming down about our ears. We waited and waited, shivering and shaking for fear, till the clock warned for twelve. I looked at my companions and they at me, but we didn't dare to speak, for speaking frights a spirit off directly.
" The five minutes ticked slowly away, and every tick went all through me, when twelve o'clock began to strike. I stared at the door, and before the clock had done striking, I saw the door move : yes — don't look as if you didn't believe me — I saw it move. That wasn't all, for it slowly opened, and then I saw a man's hand, and then an arm, and then a whole figure, — ay, don't look so unbelieving, Mr. Footman, you — a whole figure, and a very fine one too, whatever you may think. I should have screamed, but I was afraid; so I stared with all my eyes, for I couldn't help it
" The spirit looked at me very pleasantly, and up he walked to the table, as plain as ever I saw anybody walk in my life. He turned every knife and fork, and spoon and dish, back the right way, whilst I was looking at him. Well, I shall know you again anywhere, thinks I. He had on a blue coat and yellow buttons, and a very smart frill to his shirt, with a collar and handkerchief as stiff as starch could make 'em; and he had brown hair, combed smooth and nice; and black eyes, and a nose and a mouth, and every feature quite right. When he had settled the table, he looked well at me, and smiled as agreeably as if he had known me fifty years ; and says I to myself, I never saw you before, anyhow; I wonder whether I shall ever see you again. I was so sure at last he was a real man, that I was just beginning to speak, when he vanished away, I don't know how. I looked at the door, and it was close shut, and then all around the room, but there was no man to be seen. There were the three girls, and the sight of them called me to myself, for I had never thought about 'em all this time. They hadn't seen any spirit, but said I looked so wild and strange, and stared so hard, they were afraid I was bewitched, but they hardly believed me when I told 'em what I had seen.
" For some time after this I went on thinking day and night about the fine young man ; but as nothing came of it, I got tired of thinking at last, and began to fancy that All Hallows' Eve was no more than any other eve after all. But I found out that it was worth all the other evenings of the year put together; and I'll tell you how I found that out.
" One Sunday I and two of the girls that watched with me went to chapel. When I was there, I just chanced to look round; 'twas when they were giving out the hymn, for I wouldn't have thought of looking about me any other time; and what do you think I saw ? Guess, now ! — guess again !
Here Pally paused and looked exultingly around her.
" Not the man ? " breathed the footman.
" Yes," resumed the elated old woman, " the very man! There he stood — the spirit, John Lewis himself! He was looking at me with all his eyes; and no sooner did I see him than he smiled at me just as agreeably as he did All Hallows' Eve. I nudged my friend's arm, and says I, ' That's he.' ' That's who ?' says she. " The spirit," says I; and sure enough there he was: blue coat, yellow buttons, frilled shirt, starched collar and handkerchief, smooth hair, black eyes, nose, mouth, chin and all. I see him now. Oh! he was a handsome man, John Lewis ! I couldn't help glancing round at him sometimes, — how could I ? And he was always sure to be staring at me. He went out of chapel first, and when I came out I found him waiting outside, and he began to talk to me at once quite natural."
" What! without being introduced ? " interrupted the footman.
" Ay, to be sure; and what's more, before that day three months we were man and wife; and there never was a happier couple. We lived together nigh sixty years; and he has been dead, poor man, five years come next January ; and all that story's as true as I sit here, and nobody knows it better than myself."
With this emphatic conclusion, Pally drew herself up and looked for applause, with as much certainty of obtaining it as a prima donna. The company, most of whom had known the story from the cradle, were quite as much delighted to hear it again, as if they had never heard it at all. And still more enchanted were they at the astonishment of the footman, who could not conceive how anybody "could tell such a story of her own particular self."
" Have you another, marm ? " he asked.
'" Oh yes, sir, fifty," Pally replied; " but let the wassail bowl go round first, and then I'll tell you one of them."
Her orders were promptly obeyed; the cups were replenished, and she resumed.
"You must know that some years agone, Mark Jones the sexton, and a friend of his, one Joseph James, who lived near him down at Llangathen, with ever so many other people, went one All- Hallows' Eve to hear who would be called. It was to the church porch they went, of course, and many a qualm came over them as they went there. I knew 'em all very well, particular Mark Jones the sexton, and Joseph James, and very good sort of men they were. ' Twas about half-past eleven when they went, and of a terrible bad night — a shocking night! it rained, and blowed, and thundered so, that they trembled all over as they stood in the cold porch upon the damp stones. And no wonder; for 'tis an awful thing to wait, and wait, and wait, in the pitch dark, to hear who'll be called, knowing all the time that whoever is called won't live till that night next year.
" Just before twelve there was such a heavy peal of thunder, that one of the women told me afterwards she had a good mind to go away from the porch; but she was more afraid to leave by herself, than to stay with company. She said 'twas just as if the thunder had come down from the sky, and was running all round the churchyard ; and that as for the old church, it quite shook and trembled. When the church clock struck twelve, there was another clap right over head, so loud that they thought there must be a thunderbolt falling. With it there came a terrible rush of wind, and when the first crash of the thunder and the roar of the wind was over, every body thought he heard a voice, but only two knew what the voice said, and they were Mark Jones the sexton, and Joe James his neighbour. They fell flat down upon the stones like dead men, and, as the thunder rolled over Grongar, and growled away into silence over amongst the mountains, they seemed as stiff and cold as corpses. The others picked 'em up, and brought 'em back to themselves again; but nobody dared to ask 'em what they had heard. 'Twas plain enough, however, that they had been called, for they never held up their heads after that night, and were sometimes heard to say, ' Oh ! I sha'n't live for that;' or,' I shall never see that day;' but they never talked about All-Hallows' Eve, and people had'nt the heart to question 'em.
" Over and over again I heard this tale from one and another of them as were in the porch when it happened, and / knew well that neither Mark Jones the sexton, nor Joe James, would see another All- Hallows' Eve, though there was some as laughed at me when I said so. Before it came round again, however, my Mrords proved true, and the laughers laughed no longer.
" Joseph James was taken ill. He knew that neither doctors, nor nurses, nor doctors' stuff could save him, so he would have nothing to do with 'em. He settled his affairs, and took leave of his friends, and told 'em he was going; and so indeed, after a few weeks' illness, he died. Poor Mark Jones the sexton dug his grave, and pitiful work it was for him. When he had finished it, he set to work again, and dug another by the side of it. Everybody wondered what he was about, but he would'nt tell them. " There," he said, when they were both done, " them are two as neat graves as ever I dug, but they are my last;" and so saying, he threw his mattock into one grave and his spade into the other, and walked home. He was taken ill the very next day, and before the week was out he died, having told his friends that he had dug his own grave, and they must bury him in it. And now, Mr. Footman, what do you think of All-Hallows' Eve ? for that's as true a story as I sit here."
With this question, and a triumphant look, Pally concluded wonder the second; but the person she addressed, not relishing the appellation " Mr. Footman," merely smiled superciliously, and said " that it was a very wonderful story, no doubt, but he knew of one quite as extraordinary, or more so perhaps."
The whole party were delighted at the prospect of something new, and entreated the footman to let them have it. I must except Pally, however, who, offended at the proposal of another narration, before due wonder and admiration had been expressed at her own, preserved a dignified silence. Her displeasure was disregarded by her friends, in their eagerness to hear the footman's story, who, without waiting for a second invitation, looked pleasantly around him, and, addressing, by turns, each member of the company, as a proper story-teller ought always to do, thus began:—
" There lived, somewhere in Herefordshire, a couple who did'nt agree very well together. Now I can't say whether this is a common complaint between man and wife, for, as far as regards myself, I should think it a matter of impossibility to disagree with any lady whatever, 'specially one's own wedded wife; but that there was disputing and quarrelling in this present instant, is certainly quite voracious. The worst of it all was that they actually quarrelled from morning to night, and half their time they did'nt know what it was about. Some said the fault was on one side, some on the other, but nobody could ever come to any degree of certainty upon that pint; for my own part I have no doubt that the gentleman was entirely to blame, as ladies are never in the wrong. Be this as it may, one All-Hallows' Eve this good couple took it into their heads, quite unknown to one another, to go to the church porch, and see if, by good luck, they could fall in with each other's ghost."
" What do you mean by that ?" interrupted Pally, getting interested.
" Why, marm, you must know that our English spirits manage matters differently to your Welsh ones: instead of ' calling,' the ghosts of such people as intend to die before the year's out show themselves; and a pretty sight it must be, I should think, particularly in a very popolous place. But to go on. A little before twelve o'clock at night, off set the husband, saying to himself, ' There would be some comfort in living another year with her, if one could be sure she would die before the end of it,' and, with this agreeable thought, he went on to the church-porch to wait. The wife didn't get there so soon, because she was rather long a putting on her cloak and mufflers, for, says she, though I may wish my husband dead, I don't want to die myself, so I may as well take care not to catch a cold.' I must tell you that the husband had been spending the evening out with some friends, and therefore the lady did not see him before he went to the church.
" It was a fine moonlight night, unlike most All- Hallow Eves, which are generally very rough and dark. It was striking twelve just as the wife reached the churchyard. She walked quick up the path for fear she should be too late, but she didn't want to go into the porch, for, as she came near it, she saw her husband's ghost, so she thought, standing right before her. She was quite satisfied, but being a little frightened or so, in spite of her joy, she took to her heels and was off like a shot round the corner of the church, and never stopped running till she got safe home again. Her husband, having seen her ghost as he thought, walked after her quite slow, feeling just as well pleased as she did, and taking time all the way back, to wish himself joy upon the happy prospect before him.
" When he got home he found his wife sitting by the fire. She asked him where he had been, in such a good-tempered voice that he was quite astonished. He said he had been spending the evening with a wassail party, and he answered so kind that she too was taken by surprise, for she expected him to say ' What's that to you ?' or something of that sort.
"Now they both made up their minds—to themselves of course — that, as they had so short a time to live together, they might as well pass it in peace and quietness; so they began to be agreeable-like, and, to the wonder of every body, never crossed one another, but lived like two turtle-doves. They never had so much as a word for near a twelvemonth, and, strange to say, when All-Hallows' Eve was coming round again, they both felt uncommon sorry. Instead of longing for the time that they knew must put an end to them, they grew every day more and more melancholy, and looked so down-hearted and dejected that they were asking one another all day long what Avas the matter. As both of 'em always answered ( nothing,' they didn't quite know what to make of it, but feared that 'twas some inward complaint that would cause sudden death.
" All-Hallows' Eve came at last, and never were there two more miserable creatures; for they were sure that, after seeing the ghost and all, before twelve o'clock had done striking they must bid farewell to one another. They both sat up, neither of them guessing why the other did so; but both watching the clock in the strangest way in the world, without saying a word. Ten and eleven struck — one hour more thought they, — and then looked at each other with pale faces and tears in their eyes. It warned for twelve, and they covered their faces over with their hands. ' Tick, tick, tick,' went the clock, till at last it began to strike again. The wife screamed, and the husband groaned, and they thought it was all over. They didn't dare to look up for some time; but sat like two statures. Hearing nothing, however, they ventured to draw their hands away from their eyes to see what had happened. They looked up both at once — they was n't dead I what a wonder ! ' My dear! my love ! my sweet!' they cries, and up they jumps. Then they fell a-kissing, and a-hug- ging, and a-laughing, and a-crying, and almost a- dancing for joy, until they thought they were both gone mad. When they had had enough of this fun, they began to ask one another what it was all about, and the wife — ladies are always the first to tell a secret — no offence ! the wife let out all she knew, and then the husband all he knew, until they found it was their ownselves, flesh and blood, and no ghosts at all that they had seen that time twelvemonth. Then they fell a-laughing and a-kissing again, and declared it was so pleasant that they wouldn't care to go to the church-porch every year if the consequences were so uncommon agreeable.
" Though it was so late, nothing could serve 'em but they must make a jug of wassail to drink each other's health in, in doing of which the husband made a polite speech to his wife, and said that he considered that they had just been spending their honeymoon, and that, as they had begun to enjoy the sweets of matrimony after the sours, he thought it would be very foolish to return to the sours again; to which the lady agreeing, they promised one another a life all honey and sugar: and I was told by those as knew them, that never a drop of vinegar was known to enter their cup, but that ever afterwards they were the happiest couple in the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland."
It was now the footman's turn to look around him for approbation; and if unrestrainable merriment was a proof of it, he obtained it. The company were much amused, but old Pally felt that the story contained an insult to All Hallows' Eve, and looked offended accordingly. Rachel was quick to perceive this, and said at once, —
" Oh! Pally has better stories than that — true ghost stories, that are frightful to listen to: do tell us one, Pally vach! — that one about the goblins, or the corpse-candles, or the ghost, or "
" Any thing you please, my dear," interrupted Pally; " but I shouldn't think they'd do now —" and she laid an emphasis on the last word, and looked deeply injured.
Rachel persuaded her that they would do; so having replenished the bowl, and added fresh buns and spices, she began again, and gave, with considerable zest, a number of ghost and corpse-candle stories, which the limits of my sketch will not allow me to detail at length. Suffice it to say, that she had herself seen enough corpse-candles to last any woman a moderate life-time. After enumerating some forty or fifty, she arrived at the last, which was the crowning one, and in keeping with her marriage tale.
" I was walking one night across that damp field over by the lodge," she said, " and all of a sudden 1 saw a light rise up out of the ground. My heart misgave me at once, but when it walked steadily on before me, looking just like a lighted candle, I was sure that somebody belonging to me would die. I followed it round the field a little way, and got my shoes and stockings pretty well wet, as you may think, when all of a sudden it went out. I didn't tell anybody about it; but when my poor dear husband began to complain of rheumatiz in the shoulder, about a week or so afterwards, says I to myself, ' Then he's going sure, and 'twas for him I saw the corpse-candle.' And so it proved, for he didn't live many months afterwards."
" Dear me, my good soul," said that determined spoil-sport, the English footman, " I dare say what you saw was nothing more nor less than a hignus- fatus, or a light as rises out of swampy places."
" I don't dare say any such thing," exclaimed Pally, again oflended. " I knew what corpse-candles were long before you were born, and that was one, if ever I saw one in my life."
Rachel was- again obliged to manoeuvre a little, to induce Pally to tell "how the goblins led her a dance;" with which interesting narration the conversazione terminated.
" I was coming home," resumed Pally, " late from a wash at the House with two other women, Betty Jones and Sally Morgans, when it happened. It was a lightish night, but very misty. I knew the goblins were astir, for we heard the noise of a rumbling of coaches and carriages, which, as you all know, is often heard at the House. We weren't much afraid, however, for we knew every inch of ground, and had walked it often in the pitch dark. "VVe went across the park for shortness. There was amoon, but we couldn't see it or any thing else for the fog. We went on for some time merry enough, but at last we began to think that we had been a long while getting across the great field.
"' I wonder where we be ?' says Betty Jones, ' for not a bit of the grass nor any thing else can I see clear for the fog.'
" ' Oh!' says I, ' we must be by the gate going out into the road, and we'll come there in a jifley.'
" So on we walks, stretching out our arms on all sides to try and feel the gate, but not a step nearer did we seem to get to it all the while. I've often thought if any body had come across us then, how they would have laughed. The very goblins themselves, that made such fools of us, must have been cracking their sides with laughing. We were feeling here, and groping there ; sometimes falling up again one another, and sometimes stumbling upon the cows that were asleep on the grass, and frightening them and ourselves out of our wits. Oh ! didn't we wish ourselves anywhere else, that's all ? If we went arm in crook, or took hold of one another's petticoats, we tumbled down upon one another, and if we let go, the goblins led us three different ways. Once we were obliged to take to our heels for fright. Two of the biggest eyes I ever saw in my life were staring upon us through the fog; and if they didn't belong to a ghost, I'm sure I don't know what they did belong to."
" A cow, perhaps, marm," humbly suggests the footman.
" A cow, for you, indeed ! " indignantly replies Pally; " as if I didn't know a cow's eyes from a ghost's, as well as I do a corpse-candle from any other light. Oh! how they did look! large, and round, and fiery. And how we did run! We tried to keep together, but the goblins would as much let us keep together as find the gate, so we were soon I don't know where. I stopped to take breath, and found myself quite alone — not a sign of a creature near me. I gave myself up for lost, and began to think of sitting down upon the grass and taking my chance. But I changed my mind, and went wandering about for another half hour. All of a sudden, as I was holding out my arms to feel for the gate, bang I went against something that tumbled right into them. I screamed and it screamed; and what should it be but Sal Morgans. I never was so glad to see, I mean feel, her before nor since. Don't be offended Sal, for though I'm very glad of your company to-night, or at any time, I was much more glad of it then."
This latter part of the speech was addressed to an old woman of the party, who was the identical Sally Morgans, and who looked very knowing, and said —
" Yes, sure, yes ,sure; I never shall forget that night as long as I live. Do you remember how we "
" Dear, yes," rather pettishly responded Pally, who never could endure an interruption. " As I was saying — where was I ? — there, now, you've just put me out. Oh! — as I was saying, who should it be but Sal Morgans. We were determined not to let go of one another this time, so we went on, arm in crook again; and after a little while we felt something hard under foot. In another minute we tumbled up again something harder still, and then we put up our hands to feel, —what should we find, but the house itself. Yes, indeed ! after roaming about good two hours or more, there we were at the very place we started from. The family wasn't at home, and the servants were gone to bed. We were obliged to call 'em up; and by and bye we got a couple of lanthorns to look for Betty Jones. There was but one man sleeping in the house, and we hadn't the heart to go away from him, so we all kept together, and said we'd walk straight across first. On we went, and no signs of Betty till we came up close to the gate we had been looking for all night. There, within a yard of it, lying down upon the grass, half dead with fright, she was. And 'twas ever so long before we could persuade her that we weren't the goblins. She had seen the two lanthorns coming on, and took them for she scarce knew what; so down she fell in a kind of a swound. Just whilst we were wishing the servants good night, we heard a noise behind us. ' The goblins hav'n't done with us yet,' says I; when, all out of breath with running and calling, who should come upon us but my poor dear husband that's dead and gone. He had been to look for us, and had been served pretty much the same trick as we had. Dear me, I shall never forget that night! 'twas the awfullest but one I ever spent. But if I go on telling claps this way, there'll be no dance nor song nor anything else. Come, Rachel, give us a song, girl, and let's hear your pretty voice once more."
Pally having ceased, and received the thanks of the company, Rachel sang very sweetly an old Welsh song, which was succeeded by others from various musical amateurs of the party. The footman astonished the natives with one of the finished compositions from Jack Shepherd, which, I am happy to say, they did not understand. Indeed, Pally innocently inquired what language it was, for, she said, " although she knew English pretty well, considering that she hadn't been so very much with real English people, she had never in her life, to the best of her knowledge, heard a quarter of the words of that song."
The evening was to finish with a dance, and Pally had an unexpected treat in store. Jones, the harper, had promised to look in upon her on his way from town; and between ten and eleven he made his appearance. He struck up a gay tune upon his old Welsh harp, and merrily they began to dance. A variety of evolutions were performed, partaking of the beauties of the Irish jig, Scotch reel, and college hornpipe. Amongst the dancers, our friends William and Rachel were conspicuous, as true heroes and heroines always are, and they both forgot the morrow in the excitement and pleasure of the present. Pally and the other old women looked on and applauded, and declared they could almost fancy the good old times were come back again. But every pleasure must have an end, and our merry party were sorry to find that time and the clock went steadily forward, when they would fain they had stood still. Another wassail bowl, another dance, a few well-beloved Welsh airs on the dear Welsh harp, and all was over.
But there was the fair to-morrow, and more pleasure was anticipated by all but Rachel. Many an assignation was made, and many a fairing promised, whilst everybody hoped it would be a fine day.
Rachel accompanied by William slipped away first. They had not far to walk, therefore little was said; but sometimes a great deal is conveyed in few words. William ventured to hint, that if Rachel would be a little obstinate, maybe she needn't go to service after all; but Rachel, who was a good girl, and a dutiful daughter, declared she would never go against her father's will in any thing, and that she was sure he knew what was best for her.
" But suppose " began William, and hesitated.
" Suppose what, William ? " inquired Rachel.
" Suppose he should insist upon your marrying somebody you didn't like ? "
" Oh! he would never do that, William — and if he did — why "
" Why, what, Rachel ? just say it out."
" Why, I couldn't do that, William."
"Only say you would'nt — just only say you wouldn't, dear Rachel."
" I do not think I would — but I am sure he will never ask me — no, he will never ask me."
Rachel felt she scarcely knew how at William's little word " dear," for it was the first time since their childhood that he had so addressed her; and as they stood for a moment upon the threshold of the door, she trembled all over. William held one hand, the other was on the latch of the door.
" One word — only one word, Rachel," he said ; " if we could ever hope to get your father's consent, would you — could you think of me — would you promise me only "
" Oh!" falteringly, but hastily, replied Rachel, "don't ask me—indeed, I don't know—I mustn't promise any thing—it would be wrong—indeed, it would be wrong—but I will never think of any one else, William—no, never—good night, good night, God bless you !"
Before William could add another word, the door was opened, and Rachel disappeared.