Page images
PDF
EPUB

A mass of pitchy darkness, in the scowl
Of that dark sky,-a solitude of death!'

-as if

“I had already arrived opposite Craig Alderyn, or the Birds' Rock,—so called from being nightly frequented by an innumerable flight of them,—when a few drops of rain fell, and my horse, startled at the discordant screaming of the birds, began to plunge in a way not very agreeable to its rider. I had, indeed, no small difficulty in guiding the terrified animal through this desolate defile. For the birds on Craig Aderyn were so clamorous,in deprecation of the coming tempest,--that my spirited horse became almost unmanageable. I succeeded, however, in gaining the extremity of the pass, and wrapping my riding cloak around me, rode on as briskly as the rocky road would permit. But I could not escape the tempest. The thunder soon began to rumble at a distance, each clap becoming louder and louder ; preceded by the most vivid flashes of lightning. The rain, too, fell in such torrents, that I determined, if possible, to reach the rude village of Pont Vathu, which was about a mile distant, rather than proceed to Dolgellan. My sagacious companion seemed to have discovered my design, for I had scarcely conceived it, before he set off at a round trot, and, in a few minutes, brought me safely to the door of the humble pot-house of the hamlet. Pont Vathu, or Matthew's Bridge, is merely an assemblage of some half dozen huts, near a rapid mountain river, about six miles from Towyn, and can boast of no place of public entertainment, except the miserable house before which my horse had stopped. But this house,-humble as it was-was quite sufficient to shelter me from the storm ; and, giving my horse in charge to mine host, I entered it.

“ The principal apartment of a Welsh pot-house is like that of most others,—the kitchen ; and into the kitchen of the Blue Lion at Pont Vathu I proceeded, and found there several persons, some like myself seeking shelter from the storm ; others prevented from quitting their carousals by the fury of the raging tempest. I was known to most of them ; three or four, indeed, were tenants of my mother, so that upon my entrance I was respectfully greeted, and the seat of honour was immediately ceded to me; thus I found myself in the large settle by the fire, and a jug of capital ale on a small table before me. There is a sort of freemasonry amongst the guests in an inn-kitchen, which is admirably conducive to conviviality, and good humour ; and this is more particularly the case on a stormy night, when the churlish tempest levels all distinction, and respects the poorest peasant quite as much as the proudest patrician. The conversation, therefore, goes on uninterrupted by the arrival of a new comer, and every one who has been benighted on a tempestuous evening, is

[blocks in formation]

well acquainted with the usual conversation in an inn-kitchen, on a stormy night; more paticularly in those pastoral districts, where superstition so powerfully sways the minds, and manners of the people. All the horrible incidents of the district are revived,--all imminent perils by flood and field, from time immemorial, are related, and the time is beguiled by strange stories of ghosts and goblins. “Black spirits and white, blue spirits and grey,"—with all their trumpery,--all are solemnly attested, and all implicitly believed.

• Meanwhile the landlord rouses up the fire ;

While well attested, and as well believed,
Heard solemn, goes the goblin story round,
Till superstitious horror creeps o'er all!'

Thus was it with us at Pont Vathu ; and divers strange and marvellous narrations were related by my untutored, and honest companions. The principal subject, however, was a murder, which had been perpetrated many years ago close to the spot where we were assembled ; and under circumstances of particular mystery and atrocity. A young man, the son of a neighbouring farmer, had for some time paid his addresses to the daughter of a widow, whose husband had been bailiff to the Owens of Ynysymdengwyn. She was a pretty, modest, good girl ;

and had, unfortunately for our young farmer, already fixed her affections upon another individual. Nothing daunted at this, however, Evan Davies still preferred his suit with ardour and perseverance. But in vain, the maiden loved him not, and all his addresses were rejected. Indeed, he was one whom very few maidens could love. His disposition was as brutal and passionate, as his manners were boisterous and dissolute ; and, it is said, that he was connected with a gang of smugglers along the neighbouring coast. In the secluded districts of North Wales all the inhabitants of such districts are knowu to each other; and so are all their virtues and vices. Ellen Owen, therefore, was no stranger to the profligacy of Evan Davies, and she began to be alarmed for the result of his persevering attentions.

• She had gone one day to Towyn market to dispose of some eggs and butter from her mother's little farm, where it was Ellen's delight to carry its humble produce, for Morgan Williams, her own true love was generally at the market, and meeting with him always increased the innocent pleasures of this virtuous girl. On the present occasion, however, Morgan was not there ; for he had gone to another part of the country upon business for his father. Ellen sold her little stock, and then went to see a kind old aunt, who lived in the town. Now kind old aunts are proverbially given to gossiping, and the time passed away so pleasantly, that evening had already arrived before Ellan quitted the cottage; and Oh! how she wished that her dear Morgan was with her, as she thought of the long, lonely way which she had to traverse. But thinking how delighted her good mother would feel, when she wrapped round her the woolen shawl which she had purchased with a portion of her own little savings,-and it may be,—not wholly unmindful of the affectionate kindnesses of her lover,--she tripped merrily on her way, and hoped to reach her home before the night should overtake her. She was seen to cross the brook, which runs across the road just at the entrance to Towyn by one of the persons who was present with me at Pont Vathu ; and he spoke to her as she passed, cautioning her to speed quickly on, as there would be a storm that evening, and it might come suddenly. Ellen thanked him for his advice, and passed on. But she had not left Towyn, long before a tempest, -such as is rarely seen even in that district of storms,-arose, agitating earth and heaven with its violence. The peasant who spoke to Ellen as he entered the town, hoped that she might reach her home in safety, but shuddered when he thought of the long, dreary, rugged path, which led thither.

Dreaful indeed was the devastation wrought by that sudden tempest. Houses, cattle, and trees, were carried away by the mountain torrents, and the woods and meadows by the river's side were overflowed with water for many days afterwards. But what became of the poor solitary maiden in that dreadful commotion ? -Alas ! she never reached her happy home again.

“On that terrible evening there was assembled at the Blue Lion at Pont Vathu, several individuals, who took shelter from the tempest as they were returning from Towyn market. Once they thought, when the storm was at its height, that they heard a shriek near the house ; but looking out, they could see nothing in the thick darkness, and hear nought, but the splashing of the troubled waters, and the soughing of the furious wind. The next morning, however, a peasant from a neighbouring cottage was going over the bridge when his attention was attracted by something in the river which appeared to him like the carcase of a drowned sheep. It had passed under the bridge, and just beyond it had become stopped by the depending branches of an osier tree. As he approached it, he was undeceived in his expectation, and found, to his utmost horror and astonishment, that it was the dead body of a female, and lifting it out of the water, he discovered the well-known features of poor Ellen Owen. Running to the hamlet, he made known his discovery, and the corpse of the ill-fated girl was conveyed to the Blue Lion, till her unhappy mother could be apprized of the event. On looking at the body a bystander perceived an unusual appearance about the neck. It seemed as if it had been violently grasped, for it was nearly surrounded by livid streaks,-plainly indicating the indigitations of a large and powerful hand. In a country like North Wales, murder is a crime very rarely perpetrated, and the simple peasants could scarcely persuade themselves that any one could exist sufficiently brutal and wicked to destroy the life of so meek and blameless a being as Ellen. The proof, however, was before them, and they soon found an individual upon whom they could fix the commission of that most foul aud horrible deed. First one recollected, then another, that he had seen Evan Davies loitering on the road to Towyn on that terrible evening, and the suspicion that he was the murderer was strongly corroborated by his disappearance from that day to the one on which I heard the story related. No one saw, or even heard of him afterwards, although Morgan Williams used every effort for his discovery and apprehension; and the corpse of the maiden was consigned to the silent dust amidst the tears and lamentations of those who knew and loved her. Time passed on, and twenty years had elapsed since the perpetation of a crime, which was yet fresh in the memory of all, and the relation of which never failed to beguile the winter's evening in many a peasant's cottage. But Pont Vathu was haunted ever afterwards by the beautiful apparition of Ellen Owen : a storm never occurred without bringing with it the troubled spirit of the murdered maiden, and there are few of the peasants of that part of the country who have not seen it struggling in the foaming waves of the river. I was particulary interested by this narrative, and this interest was augmented when I found that it was exactly twenty years ago that very day that the murder was perpetrated. The coincidence was remarkable : but the sequel was yet more so.

“ The evening had become far advanced, and the storm was still raging with violence. The lightning, however, was less vivid and frequent, and the thunder was not so loud and prolonged. We were sitting very comfortably round the fire, and commenting upon the horrible narration which I have just related, when, in one of those intervals of tranquility, when the tempest seems, as it were, to pause for breath, we heard a long, and almost unearthly scream, and then a splashing of water, as if some one was struggling in the river. There, sir !' exclaimed several voices, • hear the Ghost! the Lord have mercy upon us !' and we were all instantly and completely silent. Now the Welsh are a highly superstitious people, but they are also generous and heroic; and upon my representing that it might have been the shout of some drowning persons which we had heard, with one accord we all rushed out towards the river. It was dark as pitch, excepting that part of the river immediately above the bridge, and this was illumined by a broad red light, which threw a lurid reflection upon the opposite bank, and encircled the body of a man, who seemed striving with some unseen and terrible power in the troubled waters. In an instant the light was quenched, and the struggling ceased; but on hastening to the river-side, we saw by

[ocr errors]

the light of a lanthorn which we had brought with us, the body of a man floating down with the current. A boat-hoook being at hand, we succeeded in arresting its progress, and, eventually, in bringing it to land. We carried it to the Blue Lion, and used every means of restoring animation. But all in vain : life had been utterly extinguished, and the swollen and distorted features of the corpse indicated the severe struggle of the final contest. The deceased appeared to be a stranger. He was a middle aged man, rather genteely dressed, and as no one knew him, his pockets were searched to lead to the requisite discovery. Several papers were produced, most of them relating to nautical affairs and nearly all of them indorsed. " John Oliver.” In a pocket-book were also found Bank-notes to the mount of about thirty pounds; upon a more careful scrutiny, a letter was discovered, which cleared up all the mystery relating to the stranger's name and destination. It was very illegibly written, and evidently the production of a sailor, who was then a prisoner in the County Gaol of Dolgellan for smuggling. It seemed that for twenty pounds he could effect his release, and he had written to the deceased, urging him to come forward with the

money, and arrange inatters respecting his liberation; at the same time threatening, in the event of his refusal, to disclose the particulars of a certain murder, which he, John Oliver, had committed some twenty years ago at Pont Vathu. The horrible truth now flashed upon us : the drowned was Evan Davies--but none of us dared to ask, what was the lurid light we had seen on the river.”

BANKERANIA-AN INVITATION TO DINNER IN THE

COUNTRY.

(From the Morning Chronicle.)

LOMBARD-STREET, FEBRUARY, 1823.-If you will give me your company at Cash Hall next Tuesday, I promise that you shall

« PreviousContinue »