“Eighty-eight when he died! That is a great age,” I said.
“Yes indeed. But he was a very clever man, was Robert Evans, Court, and brewed good beer,” my companion answered. “His home-brewed was known, I am certain, for more than ten miles. You will have heard of his body-birds, sir?”
“His body-birds?” I exclaimed.
“Yes, to be sure. Robert Evans Court’s body-birds!” And he looked at me, quick to suspect that his English was deficient. He had learned it in part from books; and hence the curious mixture I presently noted of Welsh idioms and formal English phrases. It was his light trap in which I was being helped on my journey, and his genial chat which was lightening that journey; which lay through a part of Carnarvonshire usually traversed only by wool merchants and cattle dealers–a country of upland farms swept by the sea breezes, where English is not spoken even now by one person in a hundred, and even at inns and post-offices you get only “Dim Sassenach,” for your answer. “Do you not say,” he went on, “body-birds in English? Oh, but to be sure, it is in the Bible!” with a sudden recovery of his self-esteem.
“To be sure!” I replied hurriedly. “Of course it is! But as to Mr. Robert Evans, cannot you tell me the story?”
“I’ll be bound there is no man in North or South Wales, or Carnarvonshire, that could tell it better, for Gwen Madoc, of whom you shall hear presently, was aunt to me. You see Robert Evans”–and my friend settled himself in his seat and prepared to go slowly up the long, steep hill of Rhiw which rose before us–“Robert Evans lived in an old house called Court, near the sea, very windy and lonesome. He was a warm man. He had Court from his father, and he had mortgages, and as many as four lawsuits. But he was unlucky in his family. He had years back three sons who helped on the farm, or at times fished; for there is a cove at Court, and good boats. Of these sons only one was married–to a Scotchwoman from Bristol, I have heard, who had had a husband before, a merchant captain, and she brought with her to Court a daughter, Peggy, ready-made as we say. Well, of those three fine men, there was not one left in a year. They were out fishing in a boat together, and Evan–that was the married one–was steering as they came into the cove on a spring tide running very high with a south wind. He steered a little to one side–not more than six inches, upon my honor–and pah! in an hour their bodies were thrown up on Robert Evans’ land just like bits of seaweed. But that was not all. Evan’s wife was on the beach at the time, so near she could have thrown a stone into the boat. They do say that before she was pining away at Court–it was bleak and lonesome and cold, in the winters, and she had been used to live in the towns. But, however, she never held up her head after Evan was drowned. She took to her bed, and died in the short month. And then of all at Court there were left only Robert Evans and the child Peggy.”
“How old was she then?” I asked. He had paused, and was looking thoughtfully before, as striving, it would seem, to make the situation quite clear to himself.
“She was twelve, and the old man eighty and more. She was in no way related to him, you will remember, but he had her stop, and let her want for nothing that did not cost money. He was very careful of money, as was right. It was that made him the man he was. But there were some who would have given money to be rid of her. Year in and year out they never let the old man rest but that he should send her to service at least–though her father had been the captain of a big ship; and if Robert Evans had not been a stiff man of his years, they would have had their will.”
By a gesture he stopped the words on my lips as there rose mysteriously out of the silence about us a sound of wings, a chorus of shrill cries. A hundred white forms swept overhead, and fell a white cluster about something in a distant field. They were sea gulls. “Just those same!” he said proudly, jerking his whip in their direction–“body-birds. When the news that Robert Evans’ sons were drowned got about, there was a pretty uprising in Carnarvonshire. There seemed to be Evanses where there had never been Evanses before. As many as twenty walked in the funeral, and you may be sure that afterward they did not leave the old man to himself. The Llewellyn Evanses were foremost. They had had a lawsuit with Court, but made it up now. Besides there were Mr. and Mrs. Evan Bevan, and the three Evanses of Nant, and Owen Evans, and the Evanses of Sarn, and many more, who were all forward to visit Court and be friendly with old Gwen Madoc, Robert’s housekeeper. I am told they could look black at one another, but in this they were all in one tale, that the foreign child should be sent away; and at times one and another would give her a rough word.”
“She must have had a bad time,” I observed.
“You may say that. But she stayed, and it was wonderful how strong and handsome she grew up, where her mother had just pined away. The sailors said it was her love of the sea; and I have heard that people who live inland about here come to think of nothing but the land–it is certain that they are good at a bargain–while the fishermen who live with a great space before them are finer men, I have heard, in their minds as well as their bodies; and Peggy bach grew up like them, free and open and upstanding, though she lived inland. When she was in trouble she would run down to the sea, where the salt spray washed away her tears and the wind blew her hair, that was of the color of seaweed, into a tangle. She was never so happy as when she was climbing the rocks among the sea gulls, or else sitting with her books at the cove where the farm people would not go for fear of hearing the church bells that bring bad luck. Books? Oh, yes, indeed! next to the sea she was fond of books. There were many volumes, I have been told, that were her mother’s; then Robert Evans, though he was a Wesleyan, went to church because there was no Wesleyan chapel, the Calvinistic Methodists being in strength about here; and the minister lent her many English books and befriended her. And I have heard that once, when the Llewellyn Evanses had been about the girl, he spoke to them so that they were afraid to drive down Rhiw hill that night, but led the horse; and I think it may be true, for they were Calvinists. Still, he was a good man, and I know that many Calvinists walked in his funeral.”
“Requiescat in pace,” said I.
“Eh! Well, I don’t know how that may be,” he replied, “but you must understand that all this time the Llewellyn Evanses, and the Evanses of Nant, and the others would be over at Court once or twice a week, so that all the neighborhood called them Robert Evans’ body-birds; and when they were there Peggy McNeill would be having an ill time, since even the old man would be hard to her; and more so as he grew older. But, however, there was a better time coming, or so it seemed at first, the beginning of which was through Peter Rees’ lobster pots. He was a great friend of hers. She would go out with him to take up his pots–oh! it might be two or three times a week. So it happened one day, when they had pushed off from the beach, and Peggy was steering, that old Rees stopped rowing on a sudden.
“‘Why don’t you go on, Peter?’ said Peggy.
“‘Bide a bit,’ said old Rees.
“‘What have you forgotten?’ said she, looking about in the bottom of the boat. For she knew what he used very well.
“‘Nought,’ said he. But all the same he began to put the boat about in a stupid fashion, afraid of offending her, and yet loath to lose a shilling. And so, when Peggy looked up, what should she see but a gentleman–whom Rees had perceived, you will understand–stepping into the boat, and Peter Rees not daring to look her in the face because he knew well that she would never go out with strangers.
“Of course the young gentleman thought no harm, but said gayly, ‘Thank you! I am just in time.’ And what should he do, but go aft and sit down on the seat by her, and begin to talk to Rees about the weather and the pots. And presently he said to her, ‘I suppose you are used to steering, my girl?’
“‘Yes,’ said Peggy, but very grave and quiet-like, so that if he had not determined that she was old Rees’ daughter he would have taken notice of it. But she was wearing a short frock that she used for the fishing, and was wet with getting into the boat, moreover.
“‘Will you please to hold my hat a minute,’ he said, and with that he put it in her lap while he looked for a piece of string with which to fasten it to his button. Well, she said nothing, but her cheeks were scarlet, and by and by, when he had called her ‘my girl’ two or three times more–not roughly, but just off-hand, taking her for a fisher-girl–Peter Rees could stand it no longer, shilling or no shilling.
“‘You mustn’t speak that fashion to her, master,’ he said gruffly.
“‘What?’ said the gentleman, looking up. He was surprised, and no wonder, at the tone of the man.
“‘You mustn’t speak like that to Miss McNeill, Court,’ repeated old Rees more roughly than before. ‘You are to understand she is not a common girl, but like yourself.’
“The young gentleman turned and looked at her just once, short and sharp, and I am told that his face was as red as hers when their eyes met. ‘I beg Miss McNeill’s pardon–humbly,’ he said, taking off his hat grandly, yet as if he meant it too; ‘I was under a great misapprehension.’
“After that you may believe they did not enjoy the row much. There was scarcely a word said by anyone until they came ashore again. The visitor, to the great joy of Peter, who was looking for a sixpence, gave him half a crown; and then walked away with the young lady, side by side with her, but very stiff and silent. However, just as they were parting, Peter could see that he said something, having his hat in his hand the while, and that Miss Peggy, after standing and listening, bowed as grand as might be. Upon which they separated for that time.
“But two things came of this; first, that everyone began to call her Miss McNeill, Court, which was not at all to the pleasure of the Llewellyn Evanses. And then that, whenever the gentleman, who was a painter lodging at Mrs. Campbell’s of the shop, would meet her, he would stop and say a few words, and more as the time went on. Presently there came some wet weather; and Mrs. Campbell borrowed for his use books from her, which had her name within; and later he sent for a box of books from London, and then the lending was on the other side. So it was not long before people began to see how things were, and to smile when the gentleman treated old Robert Evans at the Newydd Inn. The fishermen, when he was out with them, would tack so that he might see the smoke of Court over the cliffs; and there was no more Peggy bach to be met, either rowing with Peter Rees or running wild among the rocks, but a very sedate young lady who yet did not seem to be unhappy.
“The old man was ailing in his limbs at this time, but his mind was as clear as ever, and his grip of the land as tight. He could not bear, now that his sons were dead, that anyone should come after him. I am thinking that he would be taking everyone for a body-bird. Still the family were forward with presents and such like, and helped him perhaps about the farm; so that though there was talk in the village, no one could say what will he would make.
“However, one day toward winter Miss Peggy came in late from a walk, and found the old man very cross. ‘Where have you been?’ he cried angrily. Then without any warning, ‘You have been courting,’ he said, ‘with that fine gentleman from the shop?’
“‘Well,’ my lady replied, putting a brave face upon it, as was her way, ‘and what then, grandfather? I am not ashamed of it.’
“‘You ought to be!’ he cried, banging his stick upon the floor. ‘Do you think that he will marry you?’
“‘Yes, I do,’ she replied stoutly. ‘He has told you so to-day, I know.’
“Robert Evans laughed, but his laugh was not a pleasant one. ‘You are right,’ he said. ‘He has told me. He was very forward to tell me. He thought I was going to leave you my money. But I am not! Mind you that, my girl.’
“‘Very well,’ she answered, white and red by turns.
“‘You will remember that you are no relation of mine!’ he went on viciously, for he had grown very crabbed of late. ‘And I am not going to leave you money. He is after my money. He is nothing but a fortune-catcher!’
“‘He is not!’ she exclaimed, as hot as fire, and began to put on her hat again.
“‘Very well! We shall see!’ answered Robert Evans. ‘Do you tell him what I say, and see if he will marry you. Go! Go now, girl, and you need not come back! You will get nothing by staying here!’ he cried, for what with his jealousy and the mention of money he was furious–‘not a penny! You had better be off at once!’
“She did not answer for a minute or so, but she seemed to change her mind about going, for she laid down her hat, and went about the house place getting tea ready–and no doubt her fingers trembled a little–until the old man cried, ‘Well, why don’t you go? You will get nothing by staying.’
“‘I shall stay to take care of you all the same,’ she answered quietly. ‘You need not leave me anything, and then–and then I shall know whether you are right.’
“‘Do you mean it?’ asked he sharply, after looking at her in silence for a moment.
“‘Yes,’ said she.
“‘Then it’s a bargain!’ cried Robert Evans–‘it’s a bargain!’ And he said not a word more about it, but took his tea from her and talked of the Llewellyn Evanses, who had been to pay him a visit that day. It seemed, however, as if the matter had upset him, for he had to be helped to bed, and complained a good deal, neither of which things were usual with him.
“Well, it is not unlikely that the young lady promised herself to tell her lover all about it next day, and looked to hear many times over from his own lips that it was not her money he wanted. But this was not to be, for early the next morning Gwen Madoc was at her door.
“‘You are to get up, miss,’ she said. ‘The master wants you to go to London by the first train.’
“‘To London!’ cried Peggy, very much astonished. ‘Is he ill? Is anything the matter, Gwen?’
“‘No,’ answered the old woman very short. ‘It is just that.’
“And when the girl, having dressed hastily, came down to Robert Evans’ room, she found that this was pretty nearly all she was to learn. ‘You will go to Mrs. Richard Evans, who lives at Islington,’ he said, as if he had been thinking about it all night. ‘She is my second cousin, and will find house room for you, and make no charge. A telegram shall be sent to her this morning. To-morrow you will take this packet to the address upon it, and the next day a packet will be returned to you, which you will bring back to me. I am not well to-day, and I want to have the matter settled and off my mind, Peggy.’
“‘But could not someone else go, if you are not well?’ she objected, ‘and I will stop and take care of you.’
“He grew very angry at that. ‘Do as you are bidden, girl,’ he said. ‘I shall see the doctor to-day, and for the rest, Gwen can do for me. I am well enough. Do you look to the papers. Richard Evans owes me money, and will make no charge for your living.’
“So Miss Peggy had her breakfast, and in a wonderfully short time, as it seemed to her, was on the way to London, with plenty of leisure on her hands for thinking–very likely for doubting and fearing as well. She had not seen her sweetheart, that was one thing. She had been dispatched in a hurry, that was another. And then, to be sure, the big town was strange to her.
“However, nothing happened there, I may tell you. But on the third morning she received a short note from Gwen Madoc, and suddenly rose from breakfast with Mrs. Richard, her face very white. There was news in the letter–news of which all the neighborhood for miles round Court was by that time full. Robert Evans, if you will believe it, was dead. After ailing for a few hours he had died, with only Gwen Madoc to smooth his pillow.
“It was late when she reached the nearest station to Court on her way back, and found a pony trap waiting for her. She was stepping into it when Mr. Griffith Hughes, the lawyer, saw her, and came up to speak.
“‘I am sorry to have bad news for you, Miss McNeill,’ he said in a low voice, for he was a kind man, and what with the shock and the long journey she was looking very pale.
“‘Oh, yes!’ she answered, with a sort of weary surprise; ‘I know it already. That is why I am come home–to Court, I mean.’
“He saw that she was thinking only of Robert Evans’ death, which was not what was in his mind. ‘It is about the will,’ he said in a whisper, though he need not have been so careful, for everyone in the neighborhood had learned all about it from Gwen Madoc. ‘It is a cruel will. I would not have made it for him, my dear. He has left Court to the Llewellyn Evanses, and the money between the Evanses of Nant and the Evan Bevans.’
“‘It is quite right,’ she answered, so calmly that he stared. ‘My grandfather explained it to me. I fully understood that I was not to be in the will.’
“Mr. Hughes looked more and more puzzled. ‘Oh, but,’ he replied, ‘it is not so bad as that. Your name is in the will. He has laid it upon those who get the land and money to provide for you–to settle a proper income upon you. And you may depend upon me for doing my best to have his wishes carried out, my dear.’
“The young lady turned very red, and raised her eyes sharply.
“‘Who are to provide for me?’ she asked.
“‘The three families who divide the estate,’ he said.
“‘And are they obliged to do so?’
“‘Well–no,’ said he unwillingly. ‘I am not sure that they are exactly obliged. But no doubt—-‘
“‘I doubt very much,’ she answered, taking him up with a smile. And then she shook hands with him and drove away, leaving him wondering at her courage.
“Well, you may suppose it was a dreary house to which she came home. Mr. Griffith Hughes, who was executor, had been before the Llewellyn Evanses in taking possession, so that, besides a lad or two in the kitchen, there were only Gwen Madoc and the servant there, and they seemed to have very little to tell her about the death. When she had heard what they had to say, and they were all on their way to bed, ‘Gwen,’ she said softly, ‘I think I should like to see him.’
“‘So you shall, to-morrow, honey,’ answered the old woman. ‘But do you know, bach, that he has left you nothing?’ and she held up her candle suddenly, so as to throw the light on the girl’s tired face.
“‘Oh!’ she answered, with a shudder, ‘how can you talk about that now?’ But presently she had another question ready. ‘Have you seen Mr. Venmore since–since my grandfather’s death, Gwen?’ she asked timidly.
“‘Yes, indeed, bach,’ answered the housekeeper. ‘I met him at the door of the shop this morning. I told him where you were, and that you would be back tonight. And about the will, moreover.’
“The girl stopped at her own door and snuffed her candle. Gwen Madoc went slowly up the next flight, groaning over the steepness of the stairs. Then she turned to say good-night. The girl was at her side again, her eyes shining in the light of the two candles.
“‘Oh, Gwen,’ she whispered breathlessly, ‘didn’t he say anything?’
“‘Not a word, bach,’ answered the old woman, stroking her hair tenderly. ‘He just went into the house in a hurry.’
“Miss Peggy went into her room much in the same way. No doubt she would be telling herself a great many times over before she slept that he would come and see her in the morning; and in the morning she would be saying, ‘He will come in the afternoon;’ and in the afternoon, ‘He will come in the evening.’ But evening came, and darkness, and still he did not appear. Then she could endure it no longer. She let herself out of the front door, which there was no one now to use but herself, and with a shawl over her head ran all the way down to the shop. There was no light in his window upstairs: but at the back door stood Mrs. Campbell, looking after someone who had just left her.
“The girl came, strangely shrinking at the last moment, into the ring of light about the door. ‘Why, Miss McNeill!’ cried the other, starting visibly at sight of her. ‘Is it you, honey? And are you alone?’
“‘Yes; and I cannot stop. But oh, Mrs. Campbell, where is Mr. Venmore?’
“‘I know no more than yourself, my dear,’ said the good woman reluctantly. ‘He went from here yesterday on a sudden–to take the train, I understood.’
“‘Yesterday? When? At what time, please?’ asked the young lady. There was a fear, which she had been putting from her all day. It was getting a footing now.
“‘Well, it would be about midday. I know it was just after Gwen Madoc called in about the—-‘
“But the girl was gone. It was not to Mrs. Campbell she could make a moan. It was only the night wind that caught the ‘Oh, cruel! cruel!’ which broke from her as she went up the hill. Whether she slept that night at all I am not able to say. Only that when it was dawn she was out upon the cliffs, her face very white and sad-looking. The fishermen who were up early, going out with the ebb, saw her at times walking fast and then standing still and looking seaward. But I do not know what she was thinking, only I should fancy that the gulls had a different cry for her now, and it is certain that when she had returned and came down into the parlor at Court for the funeral, there were none of the Evanses could look her in the face with comfort.
“They were all there, of course. Mr. Llewellyn Evans–he was an elderly man, with a gray beard like a bird’s nest, and very thick lips–was sitting with his wife on the horsehair sofa. The Evanses of Nant, who were young men with lank faces and black hair combed upward, were by the door. The Evan Bevans were at the table; and there were others, besides Mr. Griffith Hughes, who was undoing some papers when she entered.
“He rose and shook hands with her, marking pitifully the dark hollows under her eyes, and inwardly confirming his resolution to get her a substantial settlement. Then he hesitated, looking doubtfully at the others. ‘We are going to read the will before the funeral instead of afterward,’ he said.
“‘Oh!’ she answered, taken aback–for in truth she had forgotten all about the will. ‘I did not know. I will go, and come back later.’
“‘No, indeed!’ cried Mrs. Llewellyn Evans, ‘you had better stop and hear the will–though no relation, to be sure.’
“But at that moment Gwen Madoc came in, and peered round with a grim air of importance. ‘Maybe someone,’ she said in a low voice, ‘would like to take a last look at the poor master?’
“But no one moved. They sighed and shook their heads at one another as if they would like to do so–but no one moved. They were anxious, you see, to hear the will. Only Peggy, who had turned to go out, said, ‘Yes, Gwen, I should,’ and slipped out with the old woman.
“‘There is nothing to keep us now?’ said Mr. Hughes briskly when the door was closed again. And everyone nodding assent the lawyer went on to read the will, which was not a long one. It was received with a murmur of satisfaction, and much use of pocket-handkerchiefs.
“‘Very fair!’ said Mr. Llewellyn Evans, ‘He was a clever man, our old friend.’ All the legatees murmured after him ‘Very fair!’ and a word went round about the home-brewed, and Robert Evans’ recipe for it. Then Llewellyn, who thought he ought to be taking the lead at Court now, said it was about time to be going to church.
“‘There is one matter,’ put in Mr. Griffith Hughes, ‘which I think ought to be settled while we are all together. You see that there is a–what I may call a charge on the three main portions of the property in favor of Miss McNeill.’
“‘Indeed, but what is that you are saying?’ cried Llewellyn sharply. ‘Do you mean that there is a rent charge?’
“‘Not exactly a rent charge,’ said the lawyer.
“‘No!’ cried Llewellyn with a twinkle in his eyes. ‘Nor any obligation in law, sir?’
“‘Well, no,’ assented Mr. Hughes grudgingly.
“‘Then,’ said Llewellyn Evans, getting up and putting his hands in his pockets, while he winked at the others, ‘we will talk of that another time.’
“But Mr. Hughes said, ‘No!’ He was a kind man, and very anxious to do the best for the girl, but he somewhat lost his temper. ‘No!’ he said, growing red. ‘You will observe, if you please, Mr. Evans, that the testator says, “Forthwith—forthwith.” So that, as sole executor, it is my duty to ask you to state your intentions now.’
“‘Well, indeed, then,’ said Llewellyn, changing his face to a kind of blank, ‘I have no intentions. I think that the family has done more than enough for the girl already.’
“And he would say no otherwise. Nor was it to any purpose that the lawyer looked at Mrs. Llewellyn. She was examining the furniture, and feeling the stuffing of the sofa, and did not seem to hear. He could make nothing of the three Evanses, Nant. They all cried, ‘Yes, indeed!’ to what Llewellyn said. Only the Evan Bevans remained, and he turned to them in despair.
“‘I am sure,’ he said, addressing himself to them, ‘that you will do something to carry out the testator’s wishes? Your share under the will, Mr. Bevan, will amount to three hundred a year. This young lady has nothing–no relations, no home. May I take it that you will settle–say fifty pounds a year upon her? It need only be for her life.’
“Mr. Bevan fidgeted under this appeal. His wife answered it. ‘Certainly not, Mr. Hughes. If it were twenty pounds now, once for all, or even twenty-five–and Llewellyn and my nephews would say the same–I think we might manage that?’
“But Llewellyn shook his head obstinately. ‘I have said I have no intentions, and I am a man of my word!’ he answered. ‘Let the girl go out to service. It is what we have always wanted her to do. Here are my nephews. They won’t mind a young housekeeper.’
“Well, they all laughed at this except Mr. Hughes, who gathered up his papers looking very black, and not thinking of future clients. Llewellyn, however, did not care a bit for that, but walked to the bell, masterful-like, and rang it. ‘Tell the undertaker,’ he said to the servant, ‘that we are ready.’
“It was as if the words had been a signal, for they were followed almost immediately by an outcry overhead and quick running upon the stairs. The legatees looked uncomfortably at the carpet: the lawyer was blacker than before. He said to himself, ‘Now that poor child has fainted!’ The confusion seemed to last some minutes. Then the door was opened, not by the undertaker, but by Gwen Madoc. The mourners rose with a sigh of relief; to their surprise she passed by even Llewellyn, and with a frightened face walked across to the lawyer. She whispered something in his ear.
“‘What!’ he cried, starting back a pace from her, and speaking so that the wine-glasses on the table rattled again. ‘Do you know what you are saying, woman?’
“‘It is true,’ she answered, half crying, ‘and no fault indeed of mine neither.’
“Gwen added more in quick, short sentences, which the family, strain their ears as they might, could not overhear.
“‘I will come! I will come!’ cried the lawyer. He waved his hand to them as a sign to make room for her to pass out. Then he turned to them, a queer look upon his face; it was not triumph altogether, for there was discomfiture and apprehension in it as well. ‘You will believe me, he said, ‘that I am as much taken aback as yourselves–that till this moment I have been honestly as much in the dark as anyone. It seems–so I am told–that our old friend is not dead.’
“‘What!’ cried Llewellyn in his turn. ‘What do you mean?’ and he raised his black-gloved hands as in refutation.
“‘What I say,’ replied Mr. Hughes patiently. ‘I hear–wonderful as it sounds–that he is not dead. Something about a trance, I believe–a mistake happily discovered in time. I tell you all I know; and however it comes about, it is clear we ought to be glad that Mr. Robert Evans is spared to us.’
“With that he was glad to escape from the room. I am told that their faces were very strange to see. There was a long silence. Llewellyn was the first to speak: He swore a big oath and banged his great hand upon the table. ‘I don’t ‘believe it!’ he cried. ‘I don’t believe it! It is a trick!’
“But as he spoke the door opened behind him, and he and all turned to see what they had never thought to see, I am sure. They had come to walk in Robert Evans’ funeral; and here was the gaunt, stooping form of Robert Evans himself coming in, with an arm of Gwen Madoc on one side and of Miss Peggy on the other–Robert Evans beyond doubt, alive. Behind him were the lawyer and Dr. Jones, a smile on their lips, and three or four women half frightened, half wondering.
“The old man was pale, and seemed to totter a little, but when the doctor would have placed a chair for him, he declined it, and stood gazing about him, wonderfully composed for a man just risen from his coffin. He had all his old grim aspect as he looked upon the family. Llewellyn’s declaration was still in their ears. They could find not a word to say either of joy or grief.
“‘Well, indeed,’ said Robert, with a dry chuckle, ‘have none of you a word to throw at me? I am a ghost, I suppose? Ha!’ he exclaimed, as his eye fell on the papers which Mr. Hughes had left upon the table, ‘so! so! That is why you are not overjoyed at seeing me. You have been reading my will. Well, Llewellyn! Have not you a word to say to me now you know for what I had got you down?’
“At that Llewellyn found his tongue, and the others chimed in finely. Only there was something in the old man’s manner that they did not like; and presently, when they had all told him how glad they were to see him again–just for all the world as if he had been ill for a few days–Robert Evans turned again to Llewellyn.
“‘You had fixed what you would do for my girl here, I suppose?’ he said, patting her shoulder gently, at which the family winced. ‘It was a hundred a year you promised to settle, you know. You will have arranged all that.’
“Lewellyn looked stealthily at Mr. Hughes, who was standing at Robert’s elbow, and muttered that they had not reached that stage.
“‘What?’ cried the old man sharply. ‘How was that?’
“‘I was intending,’ Llewellyn began lamely, ‘to settle—-‘
“‘You were intending!’ Robert Evans burst forth in a voice so changed that they all started back. ‘You are a liar! You were intending to settle nothing! I know it well! I knew it long ago! Nothing, I say! As for you,’ he went on, wheeling furiously round upon the Evanses of Nant, ‘you knew my wishes. What were you going to do for her? What, I say? Speak, you hobbledehoys!’
“For they were backing from him in absolute fear of his passion, looking at one another or at the sullen face of Llewellyn Evans, or anywhere save at him. At length the eldest blurted out, ‘Whatever Llewellyn meant to do we were going to do, sir.’
“‘You speak the truth there,’ cried old Robert bitterly; ‘for that was nothing, you know. Very well! I promise you that what Llewellyn gets of my property you shall get too–and it will be nothing! You, Bevan,’ and he turned himself toward the Evan Bevans, who were shaking in their shoes, ‘I am told, did offer to do something for my girl.’
“‘Yes, dear Robert,’ cried Mrs. Bevan, radiant and eager, ‘we did indeed.’
“‘So I hear. Well, when I make my next will, I will take care to set you down for just so much as you proposed to give her! Peggy, bach,’ he continued, turning from the chapfallen lady, and putting into the girl’s hands the will which the lawyer had given him, ‘tear up this rubbish! Tear it up! Now let us have something to eat in the other room. What, Llewellyn, no appetite?’
“But the family did not stay even to partake of the home-brewed. They were out of the house, I am told, before the coffin and the undertaker’s men. There was big talking among them, as they went, of a conspiracy and a lunatic asylum. But though, to be sure, it was a wonderful recovery, and the doctor and Mr. Hughes, as they drove away after dinner, were very friendly together–which may have been only the home-brewed–at any rate the sole outcome of Llewellyn’s talking and inquiries was that everyone laughed very much, and Robert Evans’ name for a clever man was known beyond Carnarvon.
“Of course it would be open house at Court that day, with plenty of eating and drinking and coming and going. But toward five o’clock the place grew quiet again. The visitors had gone home, and Gwen Madoc was upstairs. The old man was sleeping in his chair opposite the settle, and Miss Peggy was sitting on the window-seat watching him, her hands in her lap, her thoughts far away. Maybe she was trying to be really glad that the home, about which the cows lowed and the gulls screamed in the afternoon stillness and made it seem home each minute, was hers still; that she was not quite alone, nor friendless, nor poor. Maybe she was striving not to think of the thing which had been taken from her and could not be given back. Whatever her thoughts, she was aroused by some sound to find her eyes full of hot tears, through which she could dimly see that the old man was awake and looking at her with a strange expression, which disappeared as she became aware of it.
“He began to speak. ‘Providence has been very good to us, Peggy,’ he said, with grim meaning. ‘It is well for you, my girl, that our eyes are open to see our kind friends as they are. There is one besides those who were here this morning that will wish he had not been so hasty.’
“She rose quickly and looked out of the window. ‘Don’t speak of him. Let us forget him,’ she pleaded, in a low tone.
“But Robert Evans seemed to take a delight in the–well, the goodness of Providence. ‘If he had come to see you only once, when you were in trouble,’ he went on, as if he were summing up the case in his own mind, and she were but a stick or a stone, ‘we could have forgiven him, and I would have said you were right. Or even if he had written, eh?’
“‘Oh, yes, yes!’ sobbed the girl, her tears raining down her averted face. ‘Don’t torture me! You were right and I was wrong–all wrong!’
“‘Well, yes, yes! Just so. But come here, my girl,’ said the old man. ‘Come!’ he repeated imperiously, as, surprised in the midst of her grief, she wavered and hesitated, ‘sit here,’ and he pointed to the settle opposite to him. ‘Now, suppose I were to tell you he had written, and that the letter had been–mislaid, shall we say? and come somehow to my hands? Now, don’t get excited, girl!’
“‘Oh!’ cried Peggy, her hands fallen, her lips parted, her eyes wide and frightened, her whole form rigid with questioning.
“‘Just suppose that, my dear,’ continued Robert, ‘and that the letter were now before us–would you abide by its contents? Remember, he must have much to explain. Would you let me decide whether his explanation were satisfactory or not?”
“She was trembling with expectation, hope. But she tried to think of the matter calmly, to remember her lover’s hurried flight, the lack of word or message for her, her own misery. She nodded silently, and held out her hand.
“He drew a letter from his pocket. ‘You will let me see it?’ he said suspiciously.
“‘Oh, yes!’ she cried, and fled with it to the window. He watched her while she tore it open and read first one page and then another–there were but two, it was very short–watched her while she thrust it from her and looked at it as a whole, then drew it to her and kissed it again and again.
“‘Wait a bit! wait a bit!’ cried he testily. ‘Now, let me see it.’
“She turned upon him almost fiercely, holding it away behind her, as if it were some living thing he might hurt. ‘He thought he would meet me at the junction,’ she stammered between laughing and crying. ‘He was going to London to see his sister–that she might take me in. And he will be here to fetch me this evening. There! Take it!’ and suddenly remembering herself she stretched out her hand and gave him the letter.
“‘You promised to abide by my decision, you know,’ said the old man gravely.
“‘I will not!’ she cried impetuously. ‘Never!’
“‘You promised,’ he said.
“‘I don’t care! I don’t care!’ she replied, clasping her hands nervously. ‘No one shall come between us.’
“‘Very well,’ said Robert Evans, ‘then I need not decide. But you had better tell Owen to take the trap to the station to meet your man.’”