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This is the story of jane and Ifan Gruffydd and their children. The Story, which bregins in 1880 and ends during WWI describes economic oppression in a society whichis losing its traditional ties. The Welsh language, the nonconformist religous tradition and the unity of the village
|Publisher:||Jones, John Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.46(w) x 8.47(h) x 0.39(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Feet in Chains
By Kate Roberts, Katie Gramich
ParthianCopyright © 2012 Kate Roberts
All rights reserved.
The humming of insects, the seedpods of the gorse cracking, heat rising hazily, and the velvety voice of the preacher murmuring on and on. If they hadn't been out in the open air it would have felt stifling, and more than half the congregation would have fallen asleep. This was the Sunday in June when the Methodists of Moel Arian held their prayer meeting. Since the chapel was small and the attraction of prayer meetings in 1880 a powerful one, it was held out in a field. The preacher was borne onward by the tide of his own eloquence. Everything was in his favour: a large crowd before him; warm, calm weather; the dome of the sky above far off and blue; the sea itself blue all the way to the horizon; and a circle of mountains as a backdrop. He had both nature and the people for his audience, and he was able to sail through his sermon with nothing to bar his way or restrict his breath, except his tight collar and starched suit. He himself was more dignified than his pulpit, which was a cart with its shafts sticking up. But even in a chapel he would surely have commanded the attention of the whole congregation, since there was something attractive about his face, with its Roman nose and clean-shaven upper lip; his mild, blue eyes; his wavy red hair and his long sideburns. As it was, many eyes were upon him, the eyes of those at the front of the crowd; but there was discontent at the edges, especially among the women, whose new shoes were pinching, their new stays too tight, and the high collars of their new frocks suffocating. They mopped the sweat from their faces and shuffled their feet irritably.
One of these women was Jane Gruffydd, who had recently married Ifan, the son of Y Fawnog. For some time now she had been almost groaning in her desire to go home. Her waist was one of the smallest among the women in the congregation, as a result of much tugging at the cords of her stays before she started her way to the service. Her bustle was the largest in the field, the satin of her dress was the heaviest and stiffest there; it was she who had the most frills on her frock and the heaviest feather on her hat. Many of the women's eyes were upon her, since very few of them owned a satin dress which could stand up on its own. The best they could afford was French merino, and a gold chain to hang from a button on their bodice was quite beyond them. Many looked at Jane Gruffydd with a curiosity greater than that attracted by her clothes alone, for Ifan Y Fawnog had gone to the far end of Lleyn to find a wife. She was tall, and wore her clothes well. She was not beautiful apart from her hair, which was arranged today low down on the nape of her neck, but there was strength in her face. Jane knew that, as a stranger who was also a newly-wed, she was being examined carefully, and if it were for that reason alone, she prayed for the preacher to finish. She could feel her armpits dripping with sweat and worried about the damage being done to her dress. But the preacher just went on and on, his voice having risen to a new pitch of excitement by this time.
She was not used to long sermons, since she had been a churchgoer before her marriage. She would be bound to faint in a minute if the man did not shut up, and the women of the congregation would of course interpret that in their own way, and perhaps they would be right, too. But, thank goodness, now he was finishing, and when the congregation started to sing, she was able to tell Ifan to bring his friends back for a cup of tea, as she was going to dash home to put the kettle on the fire. She picked her way quickly through the farmyard, pulling on the braid that she wore around her waist and in this way raising the train of her skirt out of the dirt. When she reached the house she took off her clothes and lay down on the bed, stretching out luxuriously in sheer pleasure at the feeling of release. Then she put on her everyday stays, her work bodice and skirt and a white apron on top. Thankfully, she had started preparing the tea before she had left for the prayer meeting.
The table was crammed with people drinking tea, people who had come from far away to attend the prayer meeting, and Jane was in her element. The house, with its old dresser, its clock which she'd had from her mother, and its old oak chairs, was burnished to a high shine, and the food was good. She was so glad that she had enough of those up-to-date little glass plates to give to each of the strangers to hold their cake and jam. She glanced at Ifan from time to time; he wasn't exactly in his element. Yet he had been fine a short while ago, enjoying the sermon, when she had looked at him in admiration, wearing his black jacket and waistcoat and his pinstripe trousers. But now he seemed crestfallen, and he frowned whenever a little woman they called Dolly spoke. Jane didn't know any of the people, but she tried to be welcoming since they were people whom Ifan had wanted to have to tea. There must be something wrong with Ifan or he wouldn't be so silent with his friends. Perhaps he was in a bad mood because she had run off home before the end. Well, what's done is done, never mind. This Dolly spoke more than anyone else, and as she waited for her tea she stared at every corner of the kitchen, and when Jane rose to put water in the teapot Dolly's eyes followed every line of her body. Every time she said anything complimentary, there was a mocking half-smile on her lips, such as when she said about the plates,
'You certainly live in style here.'
And then in the bedroom as she was putting on her hat before going out to the evening service:
'Dear me, you do have a smart place, a washstand and a dressing-table and everything.'
'Mam gave me these.'
They were mahogany tables, and the washstand had a white marble top.
As they had arranged beforehand, Jane did not go to the chapel that evening, and as Ifan set off with the visitors, he turned a half-imploring, half-apologetic gaze on his wife. She thought how handsome he looked in his wedding suit.
The cows dragged themselves slowly towards the cowshed. They licked up their coarse oats and India corn greedily as the halters were tied around their necks, and they dozed on their feet after they finished. Jane sat on a stool, her head leaning gently on the cow's belly, gazing out towards the sea. Everywhere was silent, and there was contentment in her eyes as she looked down over the quiet, level surface of the sea. And yet she did not feel entirely content. She thought about the tea table. Something was wrong. Then she thought about the quarryman's clothes to be washed tomorrow, work which was unfamiliar to her.
She drove the cattle back to the field. They were reluctant to put one hoof in front of the other. Jane tried to make them hurry up by placing her hand on the last one's rump and pushing. The sun went down over the sea behind them, and the shadows of herself and the cattle were thrown in front of them, making it seem as if the cattle would go on and on forever. One of them was heavy with calf, and had difficulty getting through the gap. The water falling from the spout into the pool was a hard, clear sound in the silence of the night. There was no sign of life anywhere, except for an occasional man seen out for a walk carrying a baby in a shawl, while his wife was in chapel, and the occasional sick man sitting in a doorway.
Ifan came home early, having escaped before the evening prayer meeting and before Jane could say a word, he burst out,
'Can you ever forgive me, Jane?'
'What for, for goodness' sake?'
'For letting that Dolly come here to tea.'
'Why, wasn't she supposed to come?'
'No she wasn't,' and he banged the arm of his chair with his fist; 'she snuck in here after Bob Owen; people think they can do such things during prayer meetings. I didn't ask her at all. The shameless bitch, making me say such a thing after such a good sermon.'
'Well, to be honest, I didn't like her. She was praising everything too much in a spiteful way.'
At that point, Ifan managed to explain that this was Dolly Rhyd Garreg, whom he'd courted and thought of marrying at one time. But when his father was killed in the quarry, and the responsibilities of the head of the household fell upon him, since he was the oldest of the children who still remained unmarried, he had had to postpone thoughts of marriage. Dolly had become impatient with waiting, and started going around with other men. He finished with her then.
'I see now why she wanted to come here to tea,' said his wife. 'I'm glad I brought out all my best things to put on the table.'CHAPTER 2
On the Monday morning after the prayer meeting, Sioned Gruffydd, Ifan's mother, saw fit to go and visit her daughter-in-law in Ffridd Felen. She had Geini, her daughter, to do her laundry, and she didn't care a jot how much trouble her presence would cause in anyone's house on a washday. She would have to visit her daughter-in-law sometime, and Monday morning was as good a time as any in Sioned Gruffydd's opinion. She probably wouldn't have much to say to Jane, though the prayer meeting the previous day would give them something to talk about, at any rate.
Meanwhile Jane was busy scouring Ifan's work-clothes on an old table, out beside the water-pump. She was working hard scrubbing at the corduroy trousers, from which the water of the first wash was seeping, thick and grey. She used the back of the hand which was brandishing the scrubbing brush to wipe away the sweat from her forehead and to push back strands of hair which had fallen forward over her face. The cloth jacket was boiling away on the fireplace in the house.
'Hey,' came a voice from the direction of the house, and she rushed to see who was there. Her heart sank when she saw that it was her mother-in-law. She disliked the thought of getting to know her mother-in-law, and she liked it even less when she wanted to get on with her work.
'Don't let me disturb you,' said Sioned Gruffydd, 'I'll just settle myself down by here,' and she sat down on a rock close by the fountain.
Jane didn't want to do work which was unfamiliar to her, such as scouring clothes, under the judgmental gaze of her mother-in-law.
'No, I'll come inside now,' said Jane, 'I was about to have a cup of tea myself after putting these trousers on to boil.'
And she took the trousers off the board, rinsed them in a clean bucket under the fountain, and then carried them to the house.
'Washing a quarryman's clothes is heavy work,' said Sioned Gruffydd.
'Yes, but I'll get used to it,' Jane replied.
'I don't know; you'll find that washing a quarryman's clothes is something you never get used to.'
'Well, I wasn't used to any kind of work when I was eight years old, but when I was eighteen I was, and I'll soon get used to this too.'
'And there'll be more and more clothes to wash as you get older,' suggested the mother-in-law.
'And perhaps I'll have some girls to help me with it then,' countered the daughter.
Jane had tried to hold her tongue as best she could, but she was unable to, for she had heard nothing of her mother-in-law up to now and she saw nothing appealing or attractive in her at this moment.
Jane put the trousers in the pan. She moved the pan to the side of the fire and put the kettle in its place. She had nothing but bread, butter, and cheese to offer her visitor.
'How did you like the sermon yesterday?' asked Sioned Gruffydd, changing the subject.
'It was fine, as far as I could tell, though it was much too long for such a hot afternoon.'
'Well, yes, for someone with such a tiny waist, it must have been very painful to be standing around for so long.'
'I noticed that the men were looking just as bored as the women.'
'Of course, you're not used to such long sermons in the church.'
'No, but we're used to standing for ages.'
'Are you planning to go to church or to chapel?'
'That depends on how I like the church here. It's far away, but if I like it, I won't mind the distance.'
'I don't think Ifan would like you going to the church.'
'Ifan and I talked these things over before we got married, and he doesn't mind where I go.'
'His father would be shocked to hear him say such a thing.'
'Was Ifan's father a devout chapelgoer then?'
'Yes, he certainly was. He was one of the first to talk about building a chapel up here. He would find it very strange to think that any member of his family would pass by the chapel to go to church.'
'Isn't it a good thing that the dead can't think anything at all?'
Sioned Gruffydd pretended to be shocked at such blasphemy.
'I heard that you had a big crowd here for tea yesterday.'
'Geini was sure that she would be invited.'
'Well, why didn't she come, then? She would have been very welcome. I left the sermon sooner than the rest, and left it to Ifan to invite whoever he wanted to bring with him.'
'Dolly Rhyd Garreg was here, wasn't she?'
'Yes, but she came without being invited.'
'Yes. She probably feels quite bold when it comes to Ifan.'
'Ifan had no desire to see her.'
'There's no need for him to be like that. Dolly's a fine woman.'
Jane felt all the indignation within her rising to the surface.
'Yes, she was very fine for you, allowing you to keep hold of Ifan for so long.'
'That was lucky for you.'
'I don't deny that, but you can't deny that it was even luckier for you.'
'I don't know; perhaps it would have been better for Ifan to get married when he was younger.'
'Perhaps it would have been better for Dolly, or for some other woman, but not for you, nor me.'
'Dolly would have made him a good wife.'
'And Ifan would have made her a good husband, but he was a better son to you.'
Jane said this with perfect self-possession, and Sioned Gruffydd was silenced.
After she had gone, Jane felt angry with herself for answering her mother-in-law back so harshly on her first visit. But she consoled herself with the thought that she had been sorely goaded into it. She didn't care at all about being rude to Sioned Gruffydd, but she was anxious at the thought that Ifan might be hurt if he got to hear of it.
She replaced the pan of washing on the fire, and set about cleaning the kitchen while the clothes were boiling. She took them out again to the fountain, and again someone called out 'Hey!' It was Geini, Ifan's sister, this time, and Jane was startled.
'Don't worry,' said Geini 'you must be quite fed up with seeing members of our family today. I just dashed down in case Mam had been unkind to you.'
'I'm afraid that it was me who was unkind to your mother,' said Jane.
'About time someone put her in her place; but let's see, I'll finish off this washing for you. Let me borrow your heavy apron a minute.'
And, grabbing the scrubbing brush, she set to work on the clothes with her strong, naked arms.
'I'll just pop up to the house, then, and make us a couple of pancakes for tea,' said Jane.
In half an hour Jane came to call Geini to tea, as she was pegging out the washing on the line in the field.
'You mustn't take any notice of Mam,' Geini said, 'I can just imagine what she said to you this morning. She's not angry with you but angry with Ifan for marrying at all. You see, Mam's a woman who needs a man to take care of her all the time, and when father was killed, Ifan filled the gap all too well.'
'It's a shame that he got married at all, then.'
'Not at all; Mam had Ifan for long enough to save money at his expense, and all the other children were able to run free, without offering to help at all. It'll do Mam a world of good to be left to her own devices.'
'What annoyed me most,' said Jane, 'was hearing her sing the praises of that Dolly.'
'Mam singing Dolly's praises!' Geini laughed out loud. 'I never heard such a thing. She never had a good word to say about her until she married that little Steward. But don't take any notice of Mam; I think, to judge by the look on her face this morning, that you did the best thing you could have done for her. She's realized that she's met her match in you. She'll leave you alone now. Anyway, these pancakes are delicious.'
'Here, there are plenty more – have another; I put cream from the top of the milk in the mixture.'
And the soft pancakes smothered in butter slithered off the fork onto Geini's plate.
'Look', said Geini as she left, 'we'll have to go and see Grandmother one day. I'm sure you'll like her.'
Excerpted from Feet in Chains by Kate Roberts, Katie Gramich. Copyright © 2012 Kate Roberts. Excerpted by permission of Parthian.
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