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Chapter II

whatever innocent trust I may have entertained, that beyond the walled domain of the Union House I should meet with glad friends, was doomed to an early disappointment. I had often dreamed of a world that was next to Heaven for happiness. Many a long summer evening I had spent looking out of our windows upon the radiant vale of Clwyd, and the distant lines of hills which rose beyond leafy Cefn, exciting my imagination by the recital to myself of fanciful delights, which I believed to exist beyond the far horizon. The tides of humanity, as they swept gaily over the highroad in view of our gates, had seemed very beautiful and happy; but, at the first contact with the highly privileged people whom we met on the turnpike, they did not appear so gracious to me. Whether they rolled-by in carriages, or sat on the coach, enjoyed the air at the cottage-door, or smashed stones by the road-side, drove swift gigs, or tramped afoot like ourselves, all alike were harsh and forbidding. Even lads of our own age and frocked children assailed us with scorn and abuse.

It impressed itself on me that we were outcasts. We wore the Workhouse livery, and this revealed the sphere we belonged to, to all who met us. Beings in that garb had no business on the public road! We were clearly trespassers. What with the guilty feeling of having absconded, and outraging the public sense by our appearance in scenes where we were undoubted aliens, we began to feel exceedingly uncomfortable, and shrank from the view of every one.

As night approached, other anxieties troubled us sorely. Where should we sleep? How should we subsist? We could not remain always in hiding. The sun was about setting when we came across a disused lime-kiln. We crept through the arch into the open bowl-like interior. By cuddling together, we could just find room in the bottom to sleep; but, as it was [36] still daylight, our feet could be seen through the opening of the arch by the passers-by, and we should be taken prisoners. We therefore had to lean on the sides of the kiln until the darkness came, before we could forget our misery in sleep. In this awkward position we waited silently for the darkness.

Our limbs ached with fatigue, our spirits were dejected. In about an hour, probably, it would be dark; but in such a mood, what a time to wait! Many illusions disappeared. Nothing of what I had seen through the Workhouse windows was real. I had been all the time dreaming, having taken too seriously facts which had been sugared with pleasantness for our childish minds. The world was ugly, cruel, and hard, and all grown — up people were liars. From my nurse and old women, my head had been crammed with ghost stories, and I had become a believer in signs, omens, auguries, and fetishism, transmitted to me by foolish peasants from our tattooed ancestors, until the clear glass of my mind had been blurred; and, as the darkness settled over me, memories of its spectral inhabitants came trooping to the surface. I fancied I saw images of those beings who haunt the dark when unguarded by lock and bolt. Through the top and arch of the kiln, we were open to their assaults. I became nervously watchful, and, the more I strained my eyes, the more I fancied I could see flaming imps acting a ceaseless pantomime of malice. Once or twice I thought I felt the whiff of ghostly wings, and my terror caused a feeling of suffocation. The only safe thing to do was to talk, tell stories to each other, that the accursed spirits might know we were awake and fearless. I continued awake by this method until the sky began to pale before the advancing dawn, when I softly dropped into sleep, and so passed the most uneasy night I remember.

With the sunrise, we rose, stiff and hungry, to resume our flight. By preference, we clung to the lanes, as being the safest for fugitives who wore the parish uniform; but, near Corwen, our aching vitals compelled us to brave the publicity of the pike road. We halted, at last, before a stone cottage, at the door of which a stout and motherly old woman stooped over a wash-tub resting on a three-legged stool. Her frilled cap looked very white and clean. A flaxen-haired baby sat astride of the door-sill, beating a tom-tom with a piece of china-ware. Our [37] desperately famished state overcame our shyness, and we asked for a piece of bread. The woman braced herself up, and, giving us a compassionate look, said, “You seem poorly, children. Surely you don't belong to these parts?”

“No, ma'am, we belong to St. Asaph.”

“Oh, yes. You are from the Workhouse.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

She invited us cordially to enter, and, opening a cupboard that was under the stairs, drew out a loaf. She cut off thick slices, smeared them with butter and treacle, and, filling two large mugs with buttermilk, set them before us, and bade us “eat and welcome.”

After such kindness it was not difficult to win our confidence. I well remember how the homely clock, with its face crowned at the top with staring red flowers, ticked loudly during the pauses of our narrative, and how the minute-hand flung itself recklessly round the dial; how, near the door, the wash-tub became covered with a scum as the soap-bubbles exploded one by one; how the good woman suckled her babe to sleep, as we talked. The coloured picture of that cottage stands out unfading in my memory, despite the varied accumulations of so many years.

Having been strengthened by food, and comforted with friendly advice, we decided it would be best to push on towards Denbigh. Night overtook us, and we sought the lee of a haystack in a field, too tired to fear ghosts; and, early next day, drew near the castled town we both loved so well.

We reached the foot of High Street, and looked with envy at the shop-boys. We could not help peeping at the bright shop-windows which exposed such varied wealth, and admiring those singularly-favoured people, who were able to dispense such assortments of luxuries among their friends.

Beyond the market-place Mose led the way up a narrow lane leading towards Castle Green, and, shortly, turned in into a dingy stone house near a bakery. After mounting some steps we were confronted by a woman who, as soon as she rested her eyes upon my companion, lifted her hands up, and cried out in affectionate Welsh,--

“Why bless their little hearts! How tired they look! Come in, dears, both of you!” [38]

When Mose crossed the threshold he was received with a sounding kiss, and became the object of copious endearments. He was hugged convulsively in the maternal bosom, patted on the back, his hair was frizzled by maternal fingers, and I knew not whether the mother was weeping or laughing, for tears poured over smiles, in streams. The exhibition of fond love was not without its effect on me, for I learned how a mother should behave to her boy.

A glow of comfort warmed our hearts as she bustled about the kitchen, intent upon unusual hospitality. She relieved us of our caps, dusted a polished chair for each of us with her apron, and set them in the snug ingle-corners, laughing and weeping alternately, and sending waves of emotion careering over us out of sheer sympathy. She burned to talk, but reminded herself, by starts, of our necessities, making us smile at her self-reproaches, her hurried attempts to snatch the food from the shelves of her dresser, and her evident intention to be bountiful. She, finally, arranged a table, and, from a new tin-loaf, cut out generous breadths, on which she dropped circles of black treacle, and pressed them into our hands. After piling other lavishly-buttered slices on a plate near by, the boiling water was poured over the tea, and not until she had seen us well engaged on her bounties did she slacken her haste. Then, bringing a high-backed chair between us, she laid one hand on the other in her lap, and exclaimed,--

“Dear heart alive, how you have grown, Mose, my lad! It makes my heart thump to see you so beautiful and clever-looking. Are not you very clever now? And don't you know just everything, writing and ciphering, and all that, you know? But what is the matter, children? How is it you have come to Denbigh? Have you been sent on errands, or have you run away? Don't be bashful, but tell me truly.”

When Mose had related the incidents which brought about our sudden departure from St. Asaph, a look of anxiety came across her face. Then she asked who I was.

I announced, “I am the grandson of Moses Parry, of the Castle, on my mother's side, and of John Rowlands, of Llys, on my father's side.”

“Oh, indeed,” she said gravely, nodding her head up and down. “I knew them both well, for when your grandfather, [39] Moses Parry, was rich and lived at Plas Bigot, I was a servant girl in his service. That was a grand time for him. I have seen as many as forty people sit at the old man's table; the family, servants, and farm-hands all together. The family sat at one end. Then came the big salt-cellar, and below it the servants of the house and work-people were ranged on the two sides. A fine houseful we had always, too, and a finer family could not be seen in the Vale of Clwyd. Let me see; there was John, the eldest son, Moses, and Thomas, and there were the daughters, Mary, Maria, and a young girl called Eliza-beth. Which of these was your mother? Not Mary, I warrant.”

“My mother's name is Elizabeth,” I replied.

“So! I think I remember something about her, and your father was the eldest son of John Rowlands, of Llys! Well, I wonder! It seems strange now how we lose count of people whom at one time in our young days we knew well. And old John Rowlands is your grandfather! Dear heart alive!”

“I remember the burial of the old man, Moses Parry, very well. He died suddenly in a field. I was at the funeral, and saw him buried at Whitchurch. It was my duty, you know, and a fine funeral it was, too. Poor old man! It was a great come-down in the world from the great house at Plas Bigot to that little cottage at the Castle. Did you think of going to see old John Rowlands?”

“Yes, I thought of him, and of Uncle Moses and Thomas, and of my cousin Moses Owen, who keeps a school at Brynford, near Holywell.”

“Well, I don't wish to discourage you; but those who know John Rowlands would tell you there was little hope of help from him. However, the Llys is not above a good hour's walk, and you could see him first. It might turn out better than we expect.”

“Why, is he so poor, then?”

“Poor! Oh no, John Rowlands is rich enough. He has two big farms, and is a very prosperous man, but he is severe, cross, and bitter. His eldest son, John, who, I suppose, was your father, died many years ago, thirteen or fourteen years, I should think. There are two daughters living with him, and they might be kind to you. No, it will be no harm to try the [40] old man. He will not eat you, anyway, and something must be done for you.”

From this good woman I received more information relating to my family than I had ever heard previously. It has remained fresher in my memory than events of last week. At a later period I questioned Aunt Maria, of Liverpool, upon these matters, and she confirmed their accuracy.

The next morning, after a refreshing rest, I set out for the Llys, Llanrhaidr. I have but a faint recollection of its appearance, though I remember a big farm-yard, and fat stock-horses, pigs, cackling geese, and fowls. My mind was too much preoccupied with the image of a severe and sour old man, said to be my father's father, to take note of buildings and scenery.

Nothing is clear to me but the interview, and the appearance of two figures, my grandfather and myself. It is quite unforgettable.

I see myself standing in the kitchen of the Llys, cap in hand, facing a stern-looking, pink-complexioned, rather stout, old gentleman, in a brownish suit, knee-breeches, and bluish-grey stockings. He is sitting at ease on a wooden settee, the back of which rises several inches higher than his head, and he is smoking a long clay pipe.

I remember that he asked who I was, and what I wanted, in a lazy, indifferent way, and that he never ceased smoking while he heard me, and that, when I concluded, he took his pipe from his mouth, reversed it, and with the mouth-piece pointing to the door, he said, “Very well. You can go back the same way you came. I can do nothing for you, and have nothing to give you.”

The words were few; the action was simple. I have forgotten a million of things, probably, but there are some few pictures and some few phrases that one can never forget. The insolent, cold-blooded manner impressed them on my memory, and if I have recalled the scene once, it has been recalled a thousand times.

I was back with Mose before noon, and his mother said, “Oh, well, I see how it is. You have failed. The hard-hearted old man would not receive you.”

In the afternoon, I paid a visit to Uncle Moses, who was [41] now a prosperous butcher. Flaxen-haired Kitty, whose appearance in the dim time when I was an infant had caused my expulsion from the house of my grandfather, received me with reserve. They gave me a meal; but married people, with a houseful of children, do not care to be troubled with the visits of poor relations, and the meaning conveyed by their manner was not difficult to interpret.

I next visited the “Golden lion,” kept by Uncle Thomas; but here also, the house was full; and early on the following morning I was on my way to Brynford, to interview Moses Owen, the school-master.

Brynford is a hamlet situate in the midst of a moory waste, about half an hour from Holywell, and about five minutes walk from Denbigh. The district is mostly given up to lead-mining. I stopped in front of a new National Schoolhouse, and the master's residence. My cousin was my last chance. If he refused his aid, my fate must necessarily be that of a young vagabond, for Wales is a poor country for the homeless and friendless.

I was admitted by a buxom woman of decided temper, whose first view of me was with an ill-concealed frown. But as I requested to see Mr. Owen, the school-master, she invited me in, gazing curiously at the strange garb of what she took to be a new pupil.

On being shown to the parlour, a tall, severe, ascetic young man of twenty-two or twenty-three years demanded my business. As he listened to me, an amused smile came to his face, and, when I had concluded, he reassumed his pedagogic severity, and cross-examined me in my studies. Though he gave me several hard questions which I was unable to answer, he appeared pleased, and finally agreed to employ me as pupil-teacher — payment to be in clothing, board, and lodging.

“But I cannot take you as you are. You will have to go to my mother's at Tremeirchion, who will see that you are properly equipped for our school with decent clothing, and in about a month you can return to me and prove what you are worth.”

Thus I entered on my first stage in the world.

Within three hours, on the following day, I entered the [42] straggling and ancient village of Tremeirchion. It lies scattered along a hillside, about three miles from St. Asaph, and four from Denbigh. In a remote time its humble founders had been constrained to build their cabins on this rocky waste at the outskirts of rich estates and fat farms, but ultimately their cabins had been replaced by slate-roofed cottages, and an ale-house or two, and as many shops for the sale of peasant necessaries were added. About the XIIth Century a small church was built, and a “God's acre” attached to it, which was planted with yew for the protection of the building from the gales,1 and the whole was surrounded by a wall. Later on, when the appearance of Wesley had disturbed the litigious and discontented Welsh peasantry, a couple of chapels rose up.

Beyond the village, and after descending the hillside about a mile, past fir groves, and the leafy woods of Brynbella Hall, I came to the foot of the hill, and at a few yards from the road-side stood the inn, grocery-shop, and farm-house known as Ffynnon Beuno,--St. Beuno's Spring, or Well.

At the back of the house ran a narrow valley which terminated in the Craig Fawr (Great Rock). Near the front was a lodge and gate, leading to Brynbella Hall, well hidden by a tall, rook-haunted wood. The great house was once occupied by Mrs. Thrale, Dr. Johnson's friend.

Tremeirchion, literally translated, means the Maiden's Town, and was so named from a convent which stood in its vicinity, and was supposed to be the refuge chosen by St. Winifred, when she retired with a company of virgins after her revivification by good St. Beuno at Holywell. Compared with the famous spring of St. Winifred's at Holywell, that of St. Beuno is a modest affair, and boasts of no virtues beyond purity and sweetness. The water is collected in a stone tank adjoining the house of Ffynnon Beuno, and is allowed to escape, for the benefit of the villagers, through the open mouth of a rude representation of a human head, which is affixed in the front wall.

The externals of Ffynnon Beuno favourably impressed me. The sign over the door informed the public that Mary Owen [43] kept open house for the entertainment of man and beast, and sold groceries, tobacco, ale, and spirituous liquors, and, it might have added, milk, and butter, poultry, and sheep. As I walked towards the door I prayed inwardly that my aunt would be as gracious to me as I believed the owner of the cosy establishment ought to be.

She stood in the centre of her kitchen floor, as I handed her son's letter to her. The contents surprised and annoyed her. Though there was no scorn in her reception of me, I yet felt instinctively that she would rather not have received the news. The announcement was too sudden and precipitate to please a mother who, until now, had been a law to her favourite son. She took her own time to express herself. She asked me how I had found her house, whether I was hungry and tired, quietly observing me the while. She set before me an abundance of choice food. Her pattens signalled her movements in the pantry, dairy, shop, and beer-cellar; but I knew she was thinking of me, and the letter from her son. Each time she came in to add some dish to the fare she was spreading for me, I felt her searching eyes on me. This was an ominous beginning, and made me feel subdued as I sat in the shadow of the ingle-nook.

Some neighbours came in to quench their thirst with my aunt's brewing, and from my place I could not fail to hear snatches of the conversation, most of which related to me. My aunt was relieving herself of her grievance, by which I discovered that her sense of prudence had been offended by my cousin Moses' rash act.

“At his age,” she said, “to take upon himself the keep and education of a growing boy! He will be marrying himself shortly, and will have children enough of his own to bring up. Why should he bother himself about other people's children? I say, “do what you can for your own, and let other people do for their families the same.” I don't like this whim of Moses' at all. In the first place, it is disrespect to me, his mother, who has striven hard to establish him in life; and, in the second place, it is extravagant, and every penny that that boy will cost him must be a loss to the family that he will have to look after in the course of a few years,” etc., etc. [44]

Poor Aunt Mary! She made me feel mean and depressed at the time, but I understand it all now. She had inherited the instincts of economy, and the calamities which had overtaken her father, and reduced his family from affluence to poverty, had taught her wisdom. From these circumstances she had long ago learned that only thrift, calculation, and contrivance, can prevent the most respectable family from declining to that poverty which leads to the workhouse. She knew that money meant much to poor folk, and that the only way to make money in her condition of life was to make the most of her resources, keep whatever she could scrape from the proceeds of industry; and, acting on those principles, she was an enemy to all imprudence and improvidence, waste and extravagance. As she could not invoke the law to hinder young couples from the folly of early marriage, she could disown them, even though they were her nearest relatives, and suffer them, unassisted, to bear the punishment due to the unwise. For mothers in her position, she knew of no other course, and necessity left no choice. The scraps of complaint which I heard enabled me to interpret her thoughts and actions towards me henceforth. When I saw the bony, narrow face, dark with vexations, and the way she jerked a tankard or a plate from the table, or flapped vigorously her duster, I knew that I was at the bottom of her trouble.

Her husband had died three years before, leaving her with the care of four sons. As her sons approached manhood, her responsibility increased. So far she had done admirably. Edward, the eldest, was a railway official at Morley, where in time his abilities must necessarily secure him promotion. Her second son, Moses, had graduated with honours at Carnarvon College, and was now the teacher of a National School at Brynford. Such a distinguished scholar, and one consumingly zealous in all that belonged to his profession, could not fail to have a brilliant future. John, the third son, was a lad of eighteen, on the eve of entering the railway service, as a clerk. David, the youngest, a lad of thirteen, was destined by his mother to assist her with the farm.

Before I left Ffynnon Beuno for school, I had abundant opportunities to inform myself of the low estimate formed of me by the neighbours. My aunt was so honest and candid [45] that she admitted them fully into her confidence respecting me, and these sympathetic gossips, while they drank the home-brewed ale, expressed freely to one another their opinions of me, regardless whose ears might hear.

It was through these — especially Hugh, the blacksmith, and John, the butcher — that I was informed that I was the son of Aunt Mary's youngest sister, who had left her home early, for service in London, and had thereby grievously offended her family. In straying to London, in spite of family advice, my mother had committed a capital offence. She had, moreover, become the mother of three children, and had thereby shown herself to be a graceless and thriftless creature.

“Now,” said they, turning to me, “you will know what to expect if you offend your aunt. With us the rule is “every family for itself, and God for us all.” Mrs. Owen is a very good woman, but she will stand no nonsense. You don't belong to her, and you will be turned out of the house the minute you forget yourself. So look out, my boy.”

A young boy cannot be expected to penetrate into the secret motives of his elders, but, though his understanding may be dull, the constant iteration of hints will not fail in the end to sharpen his intelligence. Thus it was that I came to perceive that my condition had not been bettered much by my abrupt exit from St. Asaph. If in one I had suffered physical slavery, I was now about to suffer moral slavery. I say it in no resentful sense, but as a fact. I saw that I was to be subject to an anxious woman's temper, whose petulance would not be controlled by any tenderness for me. She was the undisputed mistress of her household, and those who were of it could only remain with her by uncomplaining submissiveness. This feeling of dependence on other people's favour, and the sense that my condition was never to be other than the singer of their virtues, greatly troubled me at times.

There are some, by nature proud, who patient in all else, demand but this:
To love and be beloved, with gentleness; and being scorned,
What wonder if they die, some living death!

To her own children, Aunt Mary was the best of mothers. Had I received but a tithe of her affection, I fear that, like [46] an ass partial to his crib, I should have become too home-loving ever to leave. As Jacob served Laban, I would have served aunt for years, for a mere smile, but she had not interest enough in me to study my disposition, or to suspect that the silent boy with a somewhat dogged look could be so touched by emotion. What I might have become with gracious treatment her youngest son David became. He clung to his mother's hearth, and eventually married the daughter of Jones, of Hurblas, by whom he had a large family. All his life he remained profoundly ignorant that beyond his natal nook the universe pulsed deep and strong, but, as the saying is, “Home-keeping youth hath ever homely wits,” and gain and honour are not for those who cling to their fireside.

Throughout the working week Aunt Mary's face betrayed the fretfulness occasioned by her many cares. She was a veritable specimen of the Martha type, and, according to her nature, all her thoughts were bent upon industry and its proceeds. She took gloomy views of her financial affairs, and was prone to be in ill-humour, which was vented in saying disagreeable things to her servants. The damp hollow in which her house stood, between a brook and a well, hills and deep woods, probably was accountable for much of this. Her face was thin and sharp, and showed traces of bad health, as well as of anxiety. The querulous voice and frequent sighing proved that she suffered in body and thought. But on Sunday she was a model of propriety and decorum, and a beautiful motherliness often shone in her eyes, and not a trace of anxiety could be seen in her face. The next day, however, she would be transformed. The mind which governed the estate recovered all its alertness. It seemed as if the Sabbath cap and silk dress had some sedative influence on her, for when they were put away in lavender, and the Monday gown had been put on, she resumed her asperity. Like a stern general about to commence battle, she issued her orders to David about matters connected with the farm. No detail of byre or barn, seed or stock, field or fold, was omitted. David repeated them to me, and I conveyed them to Dobbin, the pony, Brindle, the cow, and her patient sisters, and to Pryn, the terrier.

From Monday's early breakfast to the Saturday tea, every creature at Ffynnon Beuno understood the peremptory law [47] that each was to work. Our food was unstinted, and of superior quality. Never since have I tasted such divine bread, or such savoury meat, and the Sunday dinner was unsurpassable. If my aunt expected us to labour for her with all our might, no one could complain of being starved, or being ill-fed. What labour could a small, ignorant boy give for such bounties? I trimmed hedges, attended the sheep, cleared the byre, fed the stock, swept the farm-yard, cut and stacked fuel, drove Dobbin to Rhyl station for coal, or to Denbigh for beer, or to Mostyn for groceries — the odd jobs that may be done on a farm are innumerable.

Jane, the maid, was not averse to profiting by my help in churning, or milking, or preparing the oven for the week's baking. David, though a year younger than I was, used me as his fag. From him I learned how to mow, plough, and sow, to drive, ride, shear sheep, and mix pig-swill. I came to love the farm, its odour of kine and sweet fodder, the humours of the cattle and sheep, and, though often oppressed by the sense that I was the one unloved creature at Ffynnon Beuno, my days were not altogether unhappy.

At the end of a month, my school-outfit was ready, and David and I were driven by my aunt in her green shandry to Brynford.

School-life commenced the next day, and I was duly appointed monitor of the second class. In some subjects, a few of the head boys of the National School were more advanced than I was, but in history, geography, and composition I was superior.

The school closed at four o'clock, and from tea-time till our supper of porridge and milk — which Moses Owen affected, from his belief in the bone-making properties of oatmeal — was ready, I was kept indoors to learn Euclid, Algebra, and Latin, and Grammar. As my cousin possessed a fair library of solid literature, I soon made sensible progress, as, with his system of tuition, and my eager desire to acquit myself to his satisfaction, I could not fail to do.

Moses Owen was infatuated about books, and, had his health permitted, he would doubtless, in time, have been heard of in the world. At least, such was the opinion of those qualified to judge. He was, however, of delicate constitution, [48] like many slender, overgrown youths, and his health required careful watching. His residence being new, and exposed to the winds blowing over the moory waste, the damp was perceptible in the weeping walls and the mouldy wall-paper, and he was often subject to fits of lassitude and weakness; but when in tone, he showed all the energy of his mother, and was indefatigable in teaching me. At meal-times he was always cross-examining me on the subject of my tasks, his conversation was highly scholastic, and, when out walking with him, I was treated to lectures. Fed by such methods and stimulated to think, I became infected with a passion for books, and for eighteen hours out of the twenty-four I was wholly engrossed with them. When, a couple of months later, I stood up for examination among the head pupils, my progress was conspicuous.

In time, all friendship with any schoolfellow at Brynford was impossible. Most of the boys were uncongenial through their incurable loutishness. Few of them were cleanly or orderly, and their ideas of what was right differed from mine. They were vilely irreligious, and to my astonishment acted as though they believed manliness to consist of bare-faced profanity. Most of them snuffled abominably, while as to being tidy and neat, no savages could have shown greater indifference. It would be easier to transform apes into men, than to make such natures gentle. They all appeared to have become acquainted with my antecedents, and their general behaviour towards me was not dissimilar to that which the unconvicted show towards the “ticket-of-leave.” The gentlest retort was followed by expressions which reminded me of my ignoble origin. Often they did not wait to be provoked, but indulged their natural malice as from divine privilege. The effect of it was to drive me within my own shell, and to impress the lesson on me that I was forever banned by having been an inmate of the Workhouse. I was neither grieved nor resentful for this, because I had no dignity or vanity which could be wounded; and, being confined to my own thoughts, I obtained more leisure for observation, and there was less occasion for speech.

My cousin, also, was too imperious and exacting to leave me much time for brooding, and, to one of my temperament, [49] moping is disagreeable. When, however, a few of our neighbours' children condescended, for want of other company, to solicit mine for hunting nests among the furze, or for a battle in the pools, or to explore an abandoned lead-shaft, the restlessness latent in all boys was provoked in me, and I remember several enjoyable Saturday afternoons.

Accomplished as my cousin Moses appears to have been in literature, he was too young to know much about human nature. After months of indefatigable tuition, he relaxed in his efforts. He began to affect a disbelief in my advancement, and to indulge in scorn of my progress. My short-comings were now the theme of his discourses, each time we met. My task became heavier and longer, his sarcasms sharper, and his manner more provoking. As I owed a home to him I was debarred from retorting. He did not stoop to the vulgar punishment of birching or caning, but inflicted moral torture by a peculiar gift of language. His cutting words were more painful to bear than any amount of physical castigation; their effect bewildered me and made me more despairing, and I think his unkindness increased as my helpless dependency on him was made more manifest. It frequently happens that as the dependent becomes humbler the tyrant becomes harsher, for the spirit taken from one seems to be converted into force in the other.

Aunt Mary, during all this period, had been regularly visiting her son once a week with fresh home-supplies, and, by observing the change in my cousin after one of these visits, I suspected that her wishes were gradually perverting his original intentions towards me. Moses was absolute over his brother David and myself, but when Aunt appeared it was obvious, even to me, that, however great her respect for his talents was, his personality sank in the presence of her masterful spirit. The stronger nature of his mother ruled him as completely at Brynford as when he was a tiny boy at home. In the same way that his mother showed her pride in her son Moses, her son was proud of his mother's fine qualities, her wise management of her property and business, and the esteem she won from all who came near her, as an honourable, far-seeing, and right-judging woman.

A pity it is that Moses did not pursue the shorter and [50] nobler course with me. It was but due to his mother that her wishes should prevail, but by hesitating, and gradually working himself into a dislike of me, he deprived me of the sweet memory of his goodness. Had he but called me and said, “I am too poor to play the benevolent cousin longer, and we must part,” and sent me off there and then, I should have lived to honour him for his straightforwardness, and to remember with gratitude that, as long as he was able to, he was graciously beneficent. But, with every spoonful of food I ate, I had to endure a worded sting that left a rankling sore. I was “a dolt, a born imbecile, and incorrigible dunce.”

When the tears commenced to fall, the invectives poured on my bent head. I was “a disgrace to him, a blockhead, an idiot.” If, wearying of this, I armed myself with a stony impassiveness, he would vary his charges and say, “I had hoped to make a man of you, but you are bound to remain a clod-hopper; your stupidity is monstrous, perfectly monstrous!” He would push back his chair from the table, and with fierce, brow-beating glances exclaim, “Your head must be full of mud instead of brains. Seven hours for one proposition! I never knew the equal of this numskull. I can endure no more of this. You must go back whence you came. You are good for nothing but to cobble paupers' boots,” etc., etc.

It would be difficult to decide whether I, becoming more and more confused by this wholly-unlooked — for violence, and confounded by a growing belief in my worthlessness, or Moses, tired with his self-imposed task of teaching his unfortunate cousin, deserved the more pity. Had I been in his place, and believed my protege to be the matchless dunce he described me to be, I could never have had the heart to bait him to despair, but would have sought an occupation for him more suited for his capacities. Moses appears to have required time to heat himself thoroughly for such a resolve, and, in his desire for a proper pretence, he was becoming cruel.

So from this time he was mute about my merits. I was the object of incessant disparagement and reproaches, and the feeling of this acted as a weighty clog on my efforts. The excellence which the Owenses, Pritchards, and Joneses of the school might aspire to was to be denied me. My spiritual, intellectual, and bodily functions were to be stimulated with [51] birch, boot, and bluster; for in no other way could one so dense as I be affected. The pain at last became intolerable, and I was again drawing perilously near revolt. But Moses saw nothing, and continued to shower his wordy arrows, which perpetually stung and caused inward bleeding.

I used to think that Moses was a grand scholar, but I got to believe that he had never been a boy. That towering intellect of his was not due to education, it came to him with his mother's milk. Yet I was unable to understand, when I reflected on the severity of his manner, how the Lord Bishop of St. Asaph — who was a Prince of the Church, and was three times older than Moses — could unbend so far as to challenge us Workhouse boys to a race over his lawn, and would laugh and be as frisky as any of us. The stones of the highway would sooner rise and smile than Moses Owen would relax the kill-joy mask he wore at this period.

At last, after a course of nine months tuition, I received permission to visit Ffynnon Beuno, and I was never recalled to Brynford. Though my aunt never forgot that she ought to be rid of me as soon as possible, there was no hardship in doing chores for her at the farm. When she was gracious, as she often was, she amply compensated me for any inward sufferings inflicted during her severe week-day mood. She was an exacting mistress, and an unsympathetic relative, though, in every other sense, she was a most estimable woman. But what I lacked most to make my youth complete in its joy was affection.

Tremeirchion is only a hamlet overlooking the Vale of Clwyd, inhabited by tradesmen, farm-employees, and navvies, and their families; but my impression is that though the Vale contains a large number of landed proprietors, few of them are prouder than the occupants of the hamlet. Sarah Ellis, who rented a cottage from my aunt at the grand rate of 30 shillings a year, carried herself more majestically than any royal person I have since seen, and seemed to be always impressing her dignity on one. There was Mr. Jones, of Hurblas, Jones, of Tynewydd, Jones, of Craig Fawr, Hugh, the black-smith, Sam Ellis, the navvy — they are revived in my mind now, and I fail to see what cause they had of being so inordinately haughty as I remember them to have been. Then there [52] was my aunt — she was proud, David was proud — they were all exceedingly proud in Tremeirchion. I am reminded how they despised all foreigners, hated the Sassenach, and disparaged their neighbours, and how each thought his, or her, state, manners, or family to be superior to any other. Yet, if their condition was not humble, where shall we look for humbleness? But I am doubtless wrong in calling this opinionative habit “pride” ; perhaps “prejudice” would describe it, the prejudice born of ignorance, and fostered in a small, untravelled community, which knew nothing of the broad, sunny lands beyond the fog-damp Vale. The North-Welsh are a compound of opposites,--exclusive as Spaniards, vindictive as Corsicans, conservative as Osmanlis; sensible in business, but not enterprising; quarrelsome, but law-abiding; devout, but litigious; industrious and thrifty, but not rich; loyal, but discontented.

Our tavern-kitchen on a Saturday night was a good school for the study of the North Welsh yeoman and peasant, for then it used to be full of big-boned men, dressed in velveteen coats and knee-breeches, who drank like troopers, and stormed like madmen. The farmer, butcher, tailor, shoemaker, navvy, game-keeper, and a “gent” or two held high carnival during the last hours of the working week; and David and rosy-cheeked Jane and myself had to trot briskly in the service of supplying these mighty topers with foaming ale.

The first quart made them sociable, the second made them noisily merry. Tom Davies, the long-limbed tailor, would then be called for a song, and, after a deal of persuasion, he would condescend, in spite of his hoarseness, to give us “Rule Britannia,” or the “March of the men of Harlech,” the chorus of which would be of such stupendous volume that the bacon flitches above swung to the measure. If, while under the influence of the ale and the patriotic song, the French had happened to invade the Vale of Clwyd, I do believe that if the topers could have got within arm's length of them the French would have had a bad time of it.

Then another singer would treat us to “The maid of Llan-gollen,” which soothed the ardent tempers heated by the late valorous thoughts; or John Jones, the butcher, envious of the applause won by Tom Davies, would rise and ring out the [53] strain, “To the West, where the mighty Mizzourah,” which gave us the vision of a wide and free land awaiting the emigrant, and an enormous river flowing between silent shores to the sea. More beer would be called for by the exulting men, while eyes spoke to eyes of enchanted feelings, and of happy hearts. Courage was high at this juncture, waistcoats would be unbuttoned for easy breathing, content flushed each honest face, the foaming ale and kitchen fire were so inspiring!

After ten, the spirits of our customers would be still more exalted, for they were deep in the third quart! All the combativeness of the Welsh nature then was at white heat. This would be the time for Dick Griffiths — wooden-legged Dick — to indulge in sarcasm at the expense of the fiery butcher; and for Sam Ellis, the black-browed navvy, to rise and challenge them both to a bout of fisticuffs; and then would follow sad scenes of violence, for John, who was gamey as a bantam-cock, would square off at the word.

But, at this critical moment, Aunt Mary would leave her shop-counter, and walk solemnly into the kitchen, and, with a few commands, calm the fiery souls. Dick would be bustled out ignominiously, as he was too irascible for peace after half-past 10. Sam would be warned of dreadful consequences if he lifted his voice again; while as for John Jones, the butcher, it was pitiful to see how craven he became at sight of a woman's uplifted forefinger. Thus did the men waste their spare time in gossip, and smoking, and drinking — which involved a waste of their spare cash, or the surplus left in their pockets after the purchase of absolute necessities. The gossip injured men's morals, as the smoking deadened their intellects, and the beer disturbed their lives. The cottage and farm fireside has received greater praise than it deserves, for if we think of the malice, ill-nature, and filthy or idle gossip vacuous minds find pleasure in, it will be seen that there is another side to the picture, and that not a flattering one.

This chapter might be expanded to a book, if I were to dwell on too many details of this period. It was crowded with small felicities notwithstanding myriads of slights. During the prostrating fevers of Africa, memory loved to amuse itself with its incidents. It had been my signal misfortune to have been considered as the last in the village, and every churl was [54] but too willing to remind me of it. My aunt was nothing loth to subdue any ebullience of spirit with the mention of the fact that I was only a temporary visitor, and my cousin David was quick, as boys generally are, to point out how ill it became me to forget it, while Jane used it as an effective weapon to crush any symptom of manliness. But, with a boy's gaiety and healthful spirit, I flung all thoughts of these miseries aside, so that there were times when I enjoyed hearty romps with David, hunted for rabbits, and burrowed in the caves, or made dams across the brook, with the memory of which I have whiled many a lonely hour in African solitudes.

Aunt Mary had so often impressed it on me that I was shortly to leave, and worry in the outer world for myself, that my imagination while with the sheep on Craig Fawr, or at church, was engaged in drawing fanciful pictures of the destiny awaiting me. My favourite spot was on the rocky summit of the Craig. There the soul of “Childe Roland” gradually expanded into maturity. There he dreamed dreams of the life to come. There I enjoyed a breezy freedom, and had a wide prospect of the rich Vale of Clwyd,--from the seashore at Rhyl to the castled town of Denbigh,--and between me and the sky nothing intervened. There was I happiest, withdrawn from contact with the cold-hearted, selfish world, with only the sheep and my own thoughts for company. There I could be myself, unrestrained. My loudest shout could not be heard by man, my wildest thought was free. The rolling clouds above me had a charm indescribable, they seemed to carry my spirit with them to see the huge, round world, in some far-off corner of which, invisible to everyone but God, I was to work out my particular task.

At such a time, Enoch's glorious and sweet life would be recalled in the lovely land of flowers and sunshine, and it would not be long before I would feel inspired to imitate his holy blamelessness, and, rising to my feet, I would gather stones, and raise a column to witness my vows, like Jacob in the patriarchal days. Those hours on the top of the Craig were not wholly without their influence. They left on the mind remembrances of a secret compact with the all-seeing God, Who heard, through rushing clouds and space, the love-less [55] boy's prayer and promise; and, when provoked, they often came between me and offence.

Finally, another aunt came to visit us from Liverpool; and, therewith, the first phase of my future was shaped. When she had gathered the intentions of her sister towards me, she ventured upon the confident statement that her husband--Uncle Tom, as he came to be known to me — was able to launch me upon a career which would lead to affluence and honour. He had such great influence with a Mr. Winter--Manager of a Liverpool Insurance Office — that my future was assured. After several debates between the two sisters, Aunt Mary was persuaded that I had but to land in Liverpool to be permanently established in a highly-prosperous business.

After Aunt Maria's departure, a letter from her husband arrived which substantiated all she had said, and urged the necessity of an early decision, as such a vacancy could not be left long unfilled. It only needed this to hurry Aunt Mary in procuring for me the proper outfit, which she was resolved should be as complete as if it were for one of her own children.

When the day of departure at last came, my feelings were violently wrenched; certainly some fibres of my affection were being torn, else why that feeling of awful desolation? It may appear odd that I wept copiously at leaving Ffynnon Beuno, where there were none who could have wept for me, had they tried ever so hard. Nevertheless, when one image after the other of the snug farm-house and lovely neighbourhood, the Craig Fawr, the fields, the woods, the caves, the brook, crowded into my mind, I was sorely tempted to pray for a little delay. It is probably well that I did not, and it was better for my health that my affections were with inanimate nature and not with persons, for, otherwise, it would have been a calamity. Wordsworth finely describes the feeling that moved me in the lines,--

These hills,
Which were his living being, even more
Than his own blood . . . had laid
Strong hold upon his affections, were to him
A pleasurable feeling of blind love.

As the little packet-steamer bore us towards Liverpool, and the shores of Wales receded from view, the sight of the melancholy [56] sea and cold sky seemed in fit sympathy with the heavy burden which lay on my heart. They stirred up such oppressive fancies that I regarded myself as the most miserable being in existence, deprived of even a right to love the land that I was born in. I said to myself, “I have done no harm to any living soul, yet if I but get attached to a field, all conspire to tear me away from it, and send me wandering like a vagabond over the unknown.”

Who can describe that sadness? Anguish racked me, and a keen sense of woe and utter beggary so whelmed the mind that my ears became dead to words, my eyes blind to all colours, save that which sympathised with the gloom within. No gold or silver had I, nor land, nor any right even to such small share as might be measured for my grave; but my memory was rich with pleasant thoughts, stored with scenic beauties. Oh! place me on the summit of the Craig again, and let me sit in peace, and my happy thoughts will fly out, one by one, and bring the smile to my face, and make me proof against the misery of orphanage and the wintry cold of the world; there my treasures, which to me were all-sufficing, wearied me not with their weight or keeping, were of no bulk to kindle covetousness, or strike the spark of envy, and were close-hidden within the soul. Often as I have left English shores since, the terrible dejection of spirit of that day has ever recurred to my mind.

When about half-way across the Dee estuary, I was astonished at seeing many great and grand ships sailing, under towers of bellying canvas, over the far-reaching sea, towards some world not our own. Not long after there appeared on the horizon clouds of smoke, out of which, presently, wound a large city. There I saw distinctly masses of houses, immensely tall chimneys, towers, lengths of walls, and groves of ship-masts.

My rustic intelligence was diverted by the attempt to comprehend what this sight could mean. Was this Liverpool, this monstrous aggregation of buildings, and gloomy home of ships? Before I could answer the question satisfactorily, Liverpool was all around me: it had grown, unperceived by me, into a land covered by numberless structures of surpassing vastness and height, and spread on either side of our course. We sped along a huge sea-wall, which raised its grim front as [57] high as a castle, and before us was a mighty river; on either side there was an immeasurable length of shore, crowded with houses of all sorts; and when I looked astern, the two lines with their wonders of buildings ran far out towards the sea, whence we had so swiftly come.

Before my distracted mind could arrange the multitude of impressions which were thronging on me, my aunt, who had sat through all unmoved and silent, touched me on the shoulder and bade me follow her ashore. Mechanically, I obeyed, and stepped out on a floating stage which was sufficiently spacious to accommodate a whole town-full of people; and, walking over an iron bridge, we gained the top of the colossal wall, among such a number of human beings that I became speechless with fear and amazement.

Entering a carriage, we drove along past high walls that imprisoned the shipping, through an atmosphere impregnated with fumes of pitch and tar, and streets whose roar of traffic was deafening. My ears could distinguish clinks of iron, grinding roll of wheels, tramp of iron-shod hoofs, but there was a hubbub around them all which was loud and strenuous, of which I could make nothing, save that it was awful and absorbing. Fresh from the slumbering existence of a quiet country home, my nerves tingled under the influence of the ceaseless crash and clamour. The universal restlessness visible out of the carriage windows, and the medley of noises, were so overwhelming that from pure distraction and an impressive sense of littleness in the midst of such a mighty Babel, every intelligent faculty was suspended.

The tremendous power of this aggregate force so fiercely astir, made me feel so limp and helpless that again I was tempted to implore my aunt to return with me to the peace of Tremeirchion. But I refused the cowardly impulse, and, before my total collapse, the carriage stopped at an hotel. We were received by such smiling and obliging strangers that my confidence was restored. The comfort visible everywhere, and the composed demeanour of my aunt and her friends, were most soothing.

In the evening, Aunt Maria appeared, and her warm greetings served to dissipate all traces of my late panic, and even infused a trifle of exaltation, that my insignificant self was [58] henceforth to be considered as one of the many-throated army which had made Liverpool so terrible to a youthful rustic. She was pressed to stay for a nine-o'clock supper, but when she rose to depart I was by no means reluctant to brave the terror of the street. Aunt Mary slipped a sovereign into my hand, stood, over a minute, still and solemn, then bade me be a good boy and make haste to get rich. I was taken away, and I never saw her again.

The streets no longer resounded with the startling hurly-burly of the day. At a quick trot we drove through miles of lighted ways, and by endless ranges of ill-lit buildings. Once I caught a glimpse of a spacious market, aglow with gas-lights, where the view of innumerable carcases reminded me of the wonderful populousness of the great city; but beyond it lay the peaceful region of a sleeping people. At about the middle of this quieter part the cab halted, and we descended before the door of No. 22, Roscommon Street.

My precious box, with its Liverpool outfit, was carried into the house, and a second later I was in the arms of cheery “Uncle Tom.” In expectation of my coming there was quite a large party assembled. There was my irrepressible cousin, Mary Parkinson, with her husband, tall John Parkinson, the cabinet-maker, a brave, strong, and kindly fellow. There were also my cousins Teddy and Kate, and Gerard, Morris, and others.

Cousin Mary was an independent young woman, and, like all women conscious of good looks, sure of her position in a small circle; but, important as she might be, she was but secondary to Uncle Tom, her father. He was the central figure in the gathering, and his sentiments were a law to his household. He stood in the forefront, of medium size, corpulent, rubicund, and so genial, it was impossible to withstand him.

“My word, laddy! thou art a fine boy! Why, I had no idea they could raise such as thou in Wales. What hast been living on to get so plump and round — cheeks like apples, and eyes like stars? Well, of all!--I say, Mary, John, my dears, why are ye standing mute? Give the laddy here a Lancashire welcome! Buss him, wench! He is thy first cousin. Teddy, my lad, come up and let me make thee acquainted with thy cousin. Kate, step forward, put up thy mouth, dear; there, [59] that is right! Now welcome, a thousand times, to Liverpool, my boy! This is a grand old city, and thou art her youngest citizen,” etc., etc.

He was so breezy and bluff of speech, and so confident of great things for me in Liverpool, that I forgot I was in the city of noise and smoke, as well as my first dread of it. He was the first of his type I ever met. He had the heartiness and rollickness of the traditional “sea-dog,” as sound in fibre as he was impervious to care. No presence could daunt him or subdue his unabashed frankness. He was like that fellow

Who having been praised for bluntness doth affect
A saucy roughness.
He cannot flatter, he!
An honest mind and plain,--he must speak truth;
An they will take it, so; if not, he's plain.

Uncle Tom was a man of fair education, and had once occupied a responsible post in the railway service. It was through his influence that Edward Owen had found a position in it, and I presume that the memory of that had influenced Aunt Mary in committing me to his care. Uncle Tom must have been found wanting in some respects, for he had descended in the scale of life, while his protege, Edward, was now mounting rapidly. He now was a poor “cottoner,” at a pound a week, with which he had to support himself and large family. His fault — if fault it may be called — may be guessed by the fact that, while his family was increasing, he had rashly undertaken to burden himself with the care of a boy of my age, while the slightest accident or indisposition would leave him wholly without means to support anybody. His heart was altogether too easily expansive for one of his condition. Had his means permitted, he would have kept perpetual holiday with his friends, he so loved good cheer and genial fellowship. He was over-contented with himself and others; and too willing to become surety for anyone who appeared to possess good-humour and good-nature; and, through that disposition, which is fatal to a man of family, he continued to fall lower and lower, until his precarious wages barely sufficed for the week's wants.

During the first few days I did little more than tramp through the streets of Liverpool from Everton to the Docks, [60] with Teddy Morris, aged 12, as a guide, who showed me the wonders of the city with the air of an important shareholder glorying in his happy investments. The spirit of his father in regard to its splendour and wealth had taken possession of him, and so much was I impressed with what he said to me, that, had a later comer questioned me about Liverpool, I should doubtless have expressed the conviction that its grandeur was due in a great measure to the presence of Uncle Tom and his son Teddy.

The day came when Uncle Tom took me to interview Mr. Winter, through whose influence I was to lay the foundation of that promised prosperity that was to be mine. I had donned my new Eton suit for the first time, and my hair shone with macassar. Such an important personage as Mr. Winter could only live among the plutocracy of Everton Heights; and thither we wended, with hope and gladness in our eyes.

Years ago, when Uncle Tom was in affluent circumstances, he had befriended Mr. Winter in some way that had made that gentleman pledge himself to repay his kindness. He was about to test the sincerity of his professions by soliciting his influence on behalf of his wife's nephew.

We were received with a profuse show of friendship, and such civilities that they seemed obsequious to me when I compared the sheen of Mr. Winter's black clothes with the fluffy jacket on Uncle Tom's shoulders. The gentleman took out his spotless kerchief and affected to dust the chair before placing it before his visitor, and anxiously inquired about the health of good Mrs. Morris and her divine children. When he came finally to touch upon my affairs, I was rendered quite emotional with pride by the compliments he showered upon me.

Mrs. Winter, an extremely genteel person in long curls, presently appeared upon the scene, and after cooing with her spouse and exchanging affectionate embraces, was introduced to us. But, though we were present, husband and wife had such an attraction for each other that they could not refrain from resuming their endearments. My cheeks burned with shame as I heard them call one another, “My sweetie, darling love, blessed dearie,” and the like; but Uncle Tom was hugely delighted, and took it all as a matter of course. In Wales, [61] however, married people did not conduct themselves so grossly in public.

When we rose to go away, Mr. Winter resumed his earnest and benevolent manner to us, and begged my uncle to call on him next morning at nine sharp, and he would be sure to hear of something favourable. While returning home down the slope from Everton, Uncle Tom was most emphatic in declaring that “dear old Winter was a born gentleman, a dear, kind heart, and excellent old soul,” and that I might consider myself as a “made man.” Exultations at my prospects inclined me to echo my uncle's sentiments, and to express my belief that Mrs. Winter was like a saint, with her dove-like eyes and pretty ringlets, though in some recess of me was something of a disdain for those mawkish endearments of which I had been an unwilling witness. These subjects occupied us all the way back to No. 22, Roscommon Street, upon entering which we revealed all that had happened to Aunt Maria, and made her participate in the delights of hope.

Twenty times during the month did Uncle Thomas and I travel up to Everton Heights, and the oftener we called on Mr.Winter and Mrs. Winter, the less assured we became of the correctness of our first impressions. These visits cost Uncle Tom, who ought to have been at work checking the cotton bales, seventy shillings, which he could ill afford to lose. The pair at every occasion met us with exquisite politeness, and their cooing by-plays recurred regularly, he affectionate beyond words, she standing with drooping head, and meek sense of unworthiness, as he poured over her the oil of sweetness.

The visits had been gradually becoming more and more tedious to us, for what may have been gratification to them was nauseous to disappointed people, until at the end of the twenty-first visit Uncle Tom burst out uncontrollably with, “Now, d — n it all! Stop that, Winter. You are nothing but an artful humbug. In God's name, man, what pleasure can you find in this eternal lying? Confound you, I say, for a d — d old rascal and hypocrite! I can't stand any more of this devilish snivelling. I shall be smothered if I stay here longer. Come, boy, let's get out of this, we will have no more of this canting fraud.” [62]

Instinct had prepared me somewhat for this violent explosion, but I was shocked at its force when it occurred. It deepened my belief that my uncle was a downright, honest, and valiant man; and I respected the righteousness of his anger, but I was bound to be grieved by his profanity. He fumed all the way home at the farceur, and yet comforted himself and me, saying, “Never mind, laddie! We'll get along somehow without the help of that sweep.”

Aunt Maria's conduct when we reached home was the beginning of a new experience. She called me aside and borrowed my gold sovereign, for, as she put it, “Uncle Tom has now been out of work for over three weeks, because, you know, it was necessary to call every day on the false friend, who fed him with hopes. He is awfully distressed and put out, and I must get him a good meal or two to put spirit into him. In a day or two he will be all right.”

On Monday morning of the next week she borrowed my Eton suit, and took it to the place of the three gilt balls. The Monday after, she took my overcoat to the same place, and then I knew that the family was in great trouble. The knowledge of this was, I think, the first real sharpener of my faculties. Previously, I had a keen sight, and acute hearing, but that was all: there had been no effect on the reason. I have often wondered that I was so slow of understanding things which had been obvious to little Teddy from the first.

I now walked the streets with a different object than sight-seeing. Shop windows were scrutinised for the legend “Boy wanted.” I offered my services scores of times, and received for answer that I was either too young, too little, not smart enough, or I was too late; but one day, after a score of refusals, I obtained my first employment at a haberdasher's in London Road, at five shillings a week; and my duties were to last from seven in the morning until nine at night, and to consist of shop-sweeping, lamp-trimming, window-polishing, etc.

As London Road was some distance from Roscommon Street, I had to rise before six o'clock, by which I enjoyed the company of uncle, who at this hour prepared his own morning meal. At such times he was in the best of moods. He made the most savoury coffee, and was more generous than aunt with the bread and butter. He was unvaryingly sanguine of [63] my ultimate success in life. He would say, “Aye, laddie, thou ‘ilt come out all right in the end. It's a little hard at first, I know, but better times are coming, take my word for it” ; and he would cite numerous instances of men in Liverpool, who, beginning at the lowest step, had risen by dint of perseverance and patience to fabulous wealth. Those early breakfasts, while Aunt Maria and the children were asleep, and uncle bustled cheerfully about with the confidence of a seer in the future, have been treasured in my memory.

At half-past 6 I would leave the house, with a tin bucket containing bread and butter and a little cold meat to support me until nine at night. Thousands in similar condition were then trudging through the streets to their various tasks, bright, happy, and regular as clock-work. To all appearance they took pride in their daily toils, and I felt something of it, too, though the heavy shutters, which I took down and put up, made me wince when I remembered them. I think most of us would have preferred the work with the wages to the wages without the work. The mornings were generally sunless, the buildings very grimy, the atmosphere was laden with soot, and everything was dingy; but few of us thought of them as we moved in long and lively procession of men and boys, women and girls, with complexions blooming like peaches, and lips and ears reddened with rich blood.

As it drew near half-past 9 at night, I would return home with different views. My back ached, I was hungry and tired, and a supper of cockles and shrimps, or bloater, was not at all stimulating. At half-past 10 I would be abed, weary with excessive weariness.

So long as my fresh country strength endured, my habits were regular, but after two months the weight of the shutters conquered me, and sent me to bed for a week to recuperate. Meantime, the haberdasher had engaged a strong boy of eighteen in my place. Then followed a month of tramping about the streets again, seeking fresh work, during which I passed through the usual vicissitudes of hope and disappointment. The finances of the family fell exceedingly low. Nearly all my clothes departed to the house of the gilt balls, and their loss entailed a corresponding loss of the smartness expected in office or shop-boys. [64]

Necessity drove me further afield, even as far as the Docks. It was then, while in search of any honest work, that I came across the bold sailor-boys, young middies, gorgeous in brass buttons, whose jaunty air of hardihood took my admiration captive. In the windows of the marine slop-shops were exposed gaudy kerchiefs stamped with the figures of the Royal Princes in nautical costume, which ennobled the sailor's profession, though, strange to say, I had deemed it ignoble, hitherto. This elevation of it seduced me to enter the Docks, and to inspect more closely the vessels. It was then that I marvelled at their lines and size, and read with feelings verging on awe the names Red Jacket, Blue Jacket, Chimborazo, Pocahontas, Sovereign of the Seas, William Tapscott, etc. There was romance in their very names. And what magnificent ships they were! Such broad and long-reaching extent of decks, such girth of hulk and dizzy height of masts! What an atmosphere of distant regions, suggestive of spicy Ind, and Orient isles! The perfume of strange products hung about them. Out of their vast holds came coloured grain, bales of silks hooped with iron, hogsheads, barrels, boxes, and sacks, continuously, until the piles of them rose up as high as the shed-roof.

I began to feel interested in the loud turmoil of commerce. The running of the patent tackles was like music to me. I enjoyed the clang and boom of metal and wood on the granite floors, and it was grand to see the gathered freight from all parts of the world under English roofs.

On boards slung to the rigging were notices of the sailing of the ships, and their destinations. Some were bound for New York, New Orleans, Demerara, and West Indies, others were for Bombay, Calcutta, Shanghai, the Cape, Melbourne, Sydney, etc. What kind of places were those cities? How did these monstrous vessels ever leave the still pools walled round with granite? I burned to ask these and similar questions.

There were real Liverpool boys about me, who were not unwilling to impart the desired information. They pointed out to me certain stern-faced men, with masterful eyes, as the captains, whose commands none could dispute at sea; men of unlimited energy and potent voices as the mates, or [65] officers, who saw to the carrying out of their superior's commands; and the jerseyed workmen in the rigging — some of whom sported gold earrings, and expectorated with superb indifference — as the sailors who worked the ships from port to port. Each of these seamen bore on his face an expression which I interpreted to mean strength, daring, and defiance.

Before I parted from these boys, who were prodigies of practical wisdom, and profound in all nautical matters, I had learned by comparing the Red Jacket and Dreadnought with the American Congress and Winfield Scott, the difference between a first-class clipper and an ordinary emigrant packet, and why some ships were Black-Ballers and others Red-Crossers, and how to distinguish between a vessel built in Boston and one of British build.

One day, in my wanderings in search of work, I rambled up a by-street close to the Brambley Moor Dock, and saw over a butcher's stall a notice, “Boy wanted.” I applied for the vacancy, and Mr. Goff, the proprietor, a pleasant-faced, prosperous-looking man, engaged me instantly and turned me over to his foreman. This man, a hard, sinister-faced Scotsman, for his fixed scowl, and implacable irascibility, was a twin brother of Spleen. There never was such a constant fault-finder, and, for general cantankerousness, I have never met his like. The necessity of finding some work to do, and of never leaving it, except for a change of work, called forth my utmost efforts to please; but the perpetual scolding and cross tantrums, in which he seemed to take delight, effectually baffled my simple arts. This man's eyes peculiarly affected me. They were of the colour of mud, and their pinpoint pupils sparkled with the cruel malignity of a snake's. When, in after years, I first looked into the visual orbs of the African crocodile, my first thought was of the eyes of Goff's foreman. Heaven forbid that after such a long period I should malign him, but I cannot resist the conviction that when he died, those who had known him must have breathed freer!

Wretched as was my fortnight's stay at the butcher's under the inhumanly-malicious foreman, it was the means of my becoming more intimately acquainted with the stern lords of the sea, and their stately ships; for my work consisted in carrying baskets of fresh provisions to the vessels in the [66] docks; and Time and Fate had so ordered it that through this acquaintance I should be shunted into another line of life.

During the last few weeks domestic matters at Roscommon Street had not been at all pleasant. The finances of the family had fallen very low, and it had been evident that here, also, as at Ffynnon Beuno, there was a wide distinction between children who had parents and those who were orphaned. For if ever a discussion rose between my cousin and myself, my uncle and aunt were invariably partial to their own, when called to arbitrate between us. It was obvious that I was the least aggressive and troublesome, the most respectful and sympathetic, of the younger members of the family, but these merits were as naught when weighed in the scales of affection. Teddy's temper, made arrogant by the conceit that he was his father's son, required to be curbed sometimes; but if I asserted myself, and promised him a thrashing, the maternal bosom was a sure refuge; and, as each mother thinks her son more perfect than any other boy, a certain defeat awaited me. Just as I had submitted to the humours of David at Ffynnon Beuno, I was forced to submit to those of Teddy. If aunt's censures of me were not sufficient to ensure immunity to the nagging boy, there was the old man's rough tongue to encounter.

Slowly the thought was formed that if I were not to be permitted to resent Teddy's infirmities of temper, nor to obtain the protection of his over-indulgent parents, my condition could not be worse if I exchanged the growing intolerance of the evil for some other, where, at least, I should enjoy the liberty of kicking occasionally. On striking a balance between the gains of living with Teddy's family and the crosses received through Teddy's insolence, it appeared to my imperfect mind that my humiliation was in excess. I had not obtained the clerkship for which I had left Wales, my gold sovereign was gone, all my clothes were in the pawnshop. I had fallen so low as to become a butcher's errand boy, under a brute. At home, there was as little peace at night, as there was, during the day, with the foreman. Exposed to the unruly spitefulness of Teddy, the frowns of aunt, the hasty anger of uncle, and the unholy fury of the Scotsman, I was in a fair way of being ground very fine. [67]

At this juncture, and while in an indifferent mood, Fate caused a little incident to occur which settled my course for me. I was sent to the packet-ship “Windermere” with a basket of provisions, and a note to Captain David Hardinge. While the great man read his note, I gazed admiringly at the rich furniture of the cabin, the gilded mirrors, and glittering cornices, and speculated as to the intrinsic value of this gilding, but, suddenly, I became conscious that I was being scrutinised.

“I see,” said the captain, in a strong and rich voice, “that you admire my cabin. How would you like to live in it?”

“Sir?” I answered, astonished.

“I say, how would you like to sail in this ship?”

“But I know nothing of the sea, sir.”

“Sho! You will soon learn all that you have to do; and, in time, you may become a captain of as fine a ship. We skippers have all been boys, you know. Come, what do you say to going with me as cabin-boy? I will give you five dollars a month, and an outfit. In three days we start for New Orleans, to the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

All my discontent gathered into a head in a moment, and inspired the answer: “I will go with you, sir, if you think I will suit.”

“That's all right. Steward!” he cried; and, when the man came, the captain gave him his instructions about me. As he spoke, I realised somewhat more clearly what a great step I had taken, and that it was beyond my power to withdraw from it, even if I should wish to do so.

There was no difficulty in obtaining Goff's consent to quit his service; and the fiendish foreman only gave a sardonic smile which might mean anything. As I strode towards home, my feelings varied from spasms of regret to gushes of joy, as I mentally analysed the coming change. Larded bread, and a sordid life with its pawnshops and family bickerings, were to be exchanged for full rations and independence. Constant suppression from those who usurped the right to control my actions, words, and thoughts, was to be exchanged for the liberty enjoyed by the rest of the world's toilers. These were the thoughts which pleased me; but when I regarded the other side, a haunting sense of insecurity and foreboding [68] sobered me, and made me unhappy. Then there was a certain feeling of affection for my native land and family. Oh! if my discontent had not been so great, if Uncle Tom had been only more just, I had clung to them like a limpet to a rock! It needed all the force of reason, and the memories of many unhappinesses and innumerable spites, to sever all connection with my humble love, and accept this offer of freedom and release from slavery. The magnitude of the change, and the inevitable sundering of all earthly ties at such short notice, troubled me greatly; but they had no effect in altering my decision.

When the old man reached home and heard the news, he appeared quite staggered. “What! Going to America!” he exclaimed. “Shipped as a cabin-boy! Come now, tell me what put that idea into your head? Has anything happened here that I do not know? Eh, wife, how is this?”

His sincere regret made it harder than ever to part. It was in my nature to hate parting. Aunt joined her arguments to those of Uncle Tom to dissuade me. But there rose up before me a great bulk of wretchedness, my slavish dependence on relatives who could scarcely support themselves, my unfortunate employment, Teddy's exasperating insolence, family recriminations, my beggar's wardrobe, and daily diet of contumely; and I looked up from the introspection, and, with fixed resolve, said:--

“It is no use, uncle. I must go. There is no chance of doing anything in Liverpool” ; and, though he was not of a yielding disposition, uncle consented at last.

In strict justice, however, to his character, I must admit that, had circumstances been equal to his deserving, his nephew would never have been permitted to leave England with his consent; for, according to him, there was no place in all the world like England.

On the third day the “Windermere” was warped out of dock, and then a steam-tug towed her out into mid-river. Shortly after, a tug brought the crew alongside. Sail was loosened, and our ship was drawn towards the ocean, and, as she headed for the sea, the sailors, with rousing choruses, hoisted topsails, and sheeted them home.

1 In the preamble to the last Statute of Edward I, it is narrated that yew-trees were used for that purpose.

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