Country Dance

Country Dance

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by Margiad Evans
     
 

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This first-person account of passion, murder, and cultural conflict plays out in the person of the young Ann Goodman, who is torn by the struggle for supremacy in her mixed blood, Welsh and English. In this love story, set in the late 19th century, the rural way of life is no idyll but rather a savage and exacting struggle for survival.

Overview


This first-person account of passion, murder, and cultural conflict plays out in the person of the young Ann Goodman, who is torn by the struggle for supremacy in her mixed blood, Welsh and English. In this love story, set in the late 19th century, the rural way of life is no idyll but rather a savage and exacting struggle for survival.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The first five titles in Dufour's new series of Welsh classics in English deal with problems of maintaining a national identity, labor issues, and more. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781902638843
Publisher:
Parthian Books
Publication date:
05/15/2006
Series:
Library of Wales Series
Pages:
116
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Country Dance


By Margiad Evans

Parthian

Copyright © 1932 C. E. Davis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-908946-37-9



CHAPTER 1

Ann's Book


First Part

1850


Gabriel gives me this book, telling me to write in it all I do, for him to see, until we shall be married. And when that will be I do not know, since I am to leave Twelve Poplars and look to my mother.

Owen Somers comes for me: Mary and I cry. I have lived with her for fifteen years. The morning is bitter cold and the horse will not stand still for me to get in. Owen wraps my feet in straw, but they are frozen before we have gone very far. At first we talk, the last half of the way I sleep, and he wakes me at the foot of the hill: I stumble up half asleep. There is a light in the kitchen window and my father and mother are having their tea. Afterwards I wash up. My father says there are lambs about already; we are later in the hills. Even my mother is up at five, and when we have given my father his breakfast, he lights his lantern and goes off to his sheep. Evan ap Evans says that he is very content with them this year: my father says a wiser man would have waited before he spoke, with the lambing ahead, but the master can never hold his tongue or his temper.

I miss my dairy. With everything out of the way so soon there is a lot of time to spare. While I am sewing the new curtains for the kitchen I see the parson come up the hill in the snow. My mother goes to let him in, and he sits himself down before the fire to thaw a bit and drink the cup of tea we give him. My lap is full of snips and ends, which I drop all over the floor when I stand up.

'And this is your daughter? We have met before, I think?'

'Maybe,' says my mother.

'And how does she like these parts after the hills?'

'She likes them well enough.'

'And how long are you thinking of staying?' he asks me.

'Until she shall be married.'

He laughs a little. I can see he thinks I have lost my tongue, leaving my mother to answer all the questions. She smiles at me.

'And whom are you marrying? Is it anyone here?'

'It's Gabriel Ford,' says my mother.

'I don't know him. Is he English?'

'What else could he be with such a name?' cries my mother. 'He is not from these parts, but where she has come from.'

'The mountains, eh? It's a long way for a sweetheart.'

'Shorter than for others, perhaps.'

'Perhaps you are right, Mrs. Goodman. But the men hereabouts are well enough. Don't you think so?'

'Maybe, but my husband and Evan ap Evans are the only ones worth a look.'

Parson gives her a sharp glance: 'Ah, Evan ap Evans is a fine-looking man, I grant you, but he belongs to the chapel.'

'He's a true Welshman,' says my mother. 'What else should he belong to?'

'Well, well,' mutters Parson, pushing back his chair. 'You will be better when the warmer weather comes, Mrs. Goodman.'

'I hope so, I'm sure, but I'd rather be higher up.'

'Why, what do you mean? You are on top of the hill as it is. It's quite a climb.'

'Brenin Mawr! It's nothing but a pimple,' cries my mother.

Parson laughs. 'Have you met any neighbours yet, Ann?'

'Yes, sir. I met most of them before I went away, and I have seen them on visits.'

'Ah, they do not change much. This is a quiet spot.'

'My son was alive then,' says my mother.

I often think of Rhys, who died grown up and married when I was no more than fifteen; my mother loved him heart and soul, for it seemed he was all her child. One hard winter like this he was out of nights with the early lambing and he took a chill and died, leaving Gwyneth to follow him two months later when their first child was born. They say seeing him with his sheep was like watching a man with his family; that comes from my father, who has shepherding in his blood.

Another person comes today. This is the sexton's daughter, all arms and legs, as thin as a hurdle. She comes to see if our hens are laying; her father will have eggs, and whence to find them this weather she does not know without going to Salus, and he will not let her half a mile from home. All the parish knows what a life he leads her.

The cold is in my very bones. I make such a great fire in the kitchen that the chimney catches: the smoke rushes out and goes away on the wind till everybody thinks we are burning. Half the parish comes running with pails of snow and sticks to beat it out: even the master is there to see his cottage burn. My mother runs out in her stockings; her feet are so swollen she cannot wear boots. Never was there such a scrimmage over a chimney!

I throw salt on the fire, and when my father comes it is out; he is very angry, and so is the master. He takes me by the shoulders before all the world. He has a Welsh voice that sings in speaking in English.

'Next time, look, my girl, what you are about.'

I step back and say my sorrow, for I think of my father, but I hate Evan ap Evans from this day and wish Gabriel had been there to shake the life out of him.

Another heavy fall of snow and three of the lambs are dead. I am taking some sewing because the master is charging us with the cost of the chimney. And it is but scorched!

I find there is no yeast for Thursday's baking, so I leave my mother sitting before the fire with her knitting and the door locked, because my father will be late, and go to Salus to fetch some.

It is very dark and windy in the narrow lanes; when I cross the bridge I can hear the water is very near the top of the arches, and a glimmering here and there down in the meadows shows me the floods are out. Salus is empty, and well it may be on such a wild night; I get my yeast and am glad to set my feet on the way home, but the wind is dead against me and every inch is a struggle: the rain is falling in torrents so that it almost blinds me. I hear Tom Hill's cart coming; I know it by its one light and the clicking of the mare's hoofs. The light flickers over me, and Tom pulls up, calling me by name.

'What is wrong?' I shout above the din of the wind and rain.

'Sexton's missing – been off all day. We think he's in the river. Stop Olwen if you should meet her on your way back and take her home along with you.'

'That child out alone tonight!'

'Ay. She wanted to come with me. I told her there was nothing she could do, but I believe she followed me.'

'In the river!' I think of the awful sucking under the bridge, and the watery fields.

'I'll take her home. What are you going to do?' I ask.

'Going to Salus to find if anyone has seen him.'

He drives off. Half-way home I find Olwen sitting on a gate, soaked to the bone, without shawl or bonnet: she gives a great start when she sees me.

'Come home with me,' I says.

'Ann, I can't go farther, I'm too affeared. Have they found him in the river?'

'No, Olwen. Come home, and you shall sleep the night with me. You have no cause to be affeared with me.'

'Ann, why did he do it? Last week, when he dug old Mr. Somers's grave, he laughed and said he would see all the parish underground.'

'It may not be so bad, after all. Come with me. Come home out of the cold.'

'Yes,' she answers, 'I'll go with you tonight, if Shepherd won't be vexed. I can't stay alone.'

My father is out till early morning looking for Sexton with the rest of the men. I see lights going up and down, and the master's dog is howling loud, as he always does when he is left behind. I cannot sleep, though Olwen, tired out, goes off beside me the minute the candle is blown out, and when my father comes in I get up and make a cup of tea.

'There is seventeen foot of flood-water at the bridge,' he says, 'and the oak meadow is under. It's the highest for years. There's not a mite to be gained by searching. He'll turn up right in the morning.'

But three days later they find him, when the floods have gone down, fast in the hedge where the waters have carried him. The coroner sits over him; he says he was mad when he did it, for it seems he was mortal ill and all the world hard on him for his bad temper.

Olwen is still with us, and my father begins to grumble about the girl being no kin of ours. Mrs. Hill says she will have her at Baysham to mind the baby.

This morning, as I am walking at the bottom of the hill, there I catch the master shouting at the gypsies that are on his land. He is waving his stick, they are looking rough, and I hear him cry out:

'Get off my land, or I'll make you!'

The gypsies give a murmur among themselves.

'Those that won't work shan't live,' shouts the master.

One of the women gives a sudden sharp screech: a knife flashes past him and falls at my feet. I pick it up. 'Give that to me,' orders Evan ap Evans very sharply. 'I'll have the law on them for that. They shall sweat for it next assizes.'

I give it to him; he puts it in his pocket.

'You are witness of attempted murder.'

'I am no such thing,' I says, not wishing to fall foul of the gypsies or get tangled up with the law. 'I didn't see the knife flung. I was stood here and it falls at my feet.'

'Then nobody flung it; it fell down from the clouds, I suppose?'

'You may have done, for aught I know,' I bursts out, fairly furious, master or no master, 'and it may have been meant for me.'

His mouth falls open; I pass him and go on up the hill, leaving him hammer and tongs with the gypsies. They seem to be getting the best of it, and well I wish they may.

How long is spring in coming!

The month has come in like a lion: four chimneys are blown down – one at Cotterill's, two at Baysham, where Olwen goes with many tears, and Mrs. Somers's copper chimney, which she says makes washing-day a nightmare.

I am close by Cotterill's when their chimney comes down with a noise like thunder; the bricks are scattered all over the yard, and the master runs out of the wagon-house. We stare at the broken chimney-stack.

'You bring ill-luck to chimneys,' says the master. 'Are you a witch, Ann Goodman?'

'I shall not have to pay for this one,' I answer.

He scowls.

All the Somers family are busy sawing up the great elm that has fallen across their pigsties. Owen is going to help on his uncle's farm come midsummer; they say he is wiser than his father, who is a fool with animals and fears his wife.

Gabriel tells me I sing well, but this morning my father hears me and calls out: 'Not so much concert, and get on with what you are doing.'

It is a little hard that he should never open his mouth but to grumble and find fault with all I do. My mother is poorly too, and keeps to her bed. I hang the new curtains in her window today, white ones with red roses. When I pull them for her to sleep, she says: 'They are pretty, Ann, but I would rather see the mountains. Indeed, they look a long way off today.' And I draws them back again.

Chimneys are a plague! We are sitting by the fire, and a great lump of soot falls down among the cinders, scattering them in my father's cider that is warming. He says it is loosened by the great wind, but the chimney must be dirty, and I am to sweep it.

I am up early, cutting young hazel rods in which the juice is rising; I tuft them well at their heads with bits of bushy holly; when I have finished, I have brushes supple as leather, but upright. With these I sweep the chimney clean, and the fire burns clear and hot. The dirt and soot on me forces me to take a bath in the wash-tub. My mother is afraid of chills; it is a backward spring and early for baths.

Evan ap Evans loses all his prize fowls last week, stolen by the gypsies out of spite. What a black rage he is in! Not a word to a soul for three days after would he speak. My father says speak softly to gypsies, but the master cannot do that; it is not in his breed.

Parson comes, and I am busy in the garden with my skirts tucked up almost to my knees out of the dirt. He laughs; I am too ashamed to stand upright, for I must look a sight, with my long legs and my hair down on my shoulders. This man does seem to creep about.

'You are busy. How pretty your garden looks!'

I am pleased to hear that, for I have taken a deal of trouble with it.

'I have heard Mrs. Goodman isn't well. Is she in bed?'

'Yes, and has been this fortnight.'

He looks at me sharply. I go on scratching among the plants with my head down and my hair all over my face.

'I am sorry for that. I would have come before if I had known.'

'You should have known.'

He bends down and says: 'You are a queer woman. I don't think you are very civil, Ann; one can see you have lived in the mountains. Shall I go in and talk to your mother?'

My mother stares at my clothes; I am more than decent, but I burn with shame as Parson fixes his eyes on me. I go downstairs, let down my dress, and put up my hair; in my vexation I break the new brown teapot, banging about getting my father's tea. When Parson comes down, I offer him a cup.

'Why, where's the gypsy?' he asks.

'What gypsy?'

'The one I met in the garden.'

'I am not a child, sir.'

He stops his laughing.

'No, indeed, you are not. I did not mean to annoy you, and you need not look so angry.'

I do not feel polite; as he goes out he has to unlatch the door himself; he turns back in the porch, saying over his shoulder:

'But you make a very pretty gypsy with your curls down.'

My father calls him a fool. He and Evan ap Evans are two men I do hate.

The evenings do draw out. Mrs. Hill gives me some seeds, and I spend hours in the garden planting them and pulling up the weeds. Sometimes the master passes. He speaks to me always in Welsh, and often I make believe not to hear him. Then he comes, leans his elbows on the wall, and says in his tongue:

'Good day, my proud girl.'

Laughing, he goes away. Why does he always speak to me in Welsh? I wish Gabriel would come! Tonight all the parish is dancing in the Somers's big barn. I see the Morgans from Gillow, the Meredyths, and the Willets. The Lewises are there beside the folk, and Miss Evans has come with her brother. He has on a very fine waistcoat, with silk flowers, which he does not wear to chapel, although he goes very regular: perhaps his sister thinks it is not quiet enough for that, as they are so narrow in their ways. But the master pays no heeds to man or woman.

They have piled the hay into one corner: lamps and flares hang from the beams. Will Williams and Harry Parry are playing the concertina, and a young woman they say comes from the forest has a violin. More for show than playing, for when the master asks her to dance, she just puts her hand in his and whirls away with the rest, leaving the poor violin to Tom Somers, who soon breaks a string and puts all our teeth on edge.

It is pretty to see them all go round in the light, but I do not dance. Mrs. Hill tells me she does not feel comfortable so close to a man so be he is not her husband. We are both surprised to hear the master laughing behind us, where he has been stood listening to every word we have said, like the Welshman he is. 'Why, that's just it,' he says; 'if Ann will come along with me I'll soon teach her to dance.'

'Will you go, my dear?' asks Mrs. Hill. 'You will be cold stood still in that thin dress. Look at the lamps flickering.'

'No,' I says, 'I'll stay here.'

Evan ap Evans catches at my arm:

'Wilt thou dance with me, sweetheart?'

I answer him boldly in Welsh:

'No, for my heart goes with my feet,' and I think of Gabriel.

'Then you shall dance with me, fy nghariad annwyl, until the day breaks.'

'That I will not.'

I sets my back against the wall.

'Very well, I am sorry,' says he, turning away.

'Why do you speak Welsh to me?'

'Because I am a Welshman.'

'But I am English.'

'Half. No, not that even, for you have lived in the mountains.'

He sings softly, in the voice that the English have not, an old Welsh song that I have sung round the fire at night.

Mrs. Hill smiles, for she cannot understand the tongue, but I feel the tears come smarting. I turn my head away.

'Ann, wilt thou dance?' repeats the master.

'You had better dance, Ann,' Mrs. Hill whispers. 'You can tread well on his toes.'

'More likely he will tread on mine. No, sir, you must find someone else; I am not going to dance.'

He goes away; I think I am to be left in peace, as the young lady from the forest clings to his arm like a bur to sheep's wool, but it seems I am mistaken. Old Somers calls out:

'Now for something a bit more old-fashioned, something the older folk can join in. We'll have "Black Nag".'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Country Dance by Margiad Evans. Copyright © 1932 C. E. Davis. Excerpted by permission of Parthian.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author


Margiad Evans is the author of the novels Creed, Turf or Stone, and The Wooden Doctor, as well as numerous articles and short stories—some of which were collected in The Old and The Young—and two collections of poetry: A Candle Ahead and Poems from Obscurity.

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