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Authors: Patrick O'Brian

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Only once did I really beat him down. It was one of those tedious, interminable harangues about the wrong-doings of England. I was quite identified with England, despite my Welsh ancestry and name; and seeing the poor old country so abused I accepted the nearly untenable post of defender: I say untenable because I defy any man to defend the actions of Henry VIII against his grandfather’s people, or that series of repressive enactments that ended in the decay (now happily arrested) of the Welsh language and culture. The conversation followed its well-beaten lines (the past is close at hand in Wales, nearly as close as it is in Ireland) and diverged to treat of the English kings.

I have no strong political opinions: if most of the Liberals I knew had not been vegetarians or holier-than-thou water-drinkers, milksops, I dare say I should have been a mild Whig. But as we came down through the generations from the Georges through the old Queen to our day, and as the manner of speech showed a kind of disrespect that I could not tolerate, I felt myself growing more and more Tory every minute. I was becoming seriously displeased. Ellis did not see it until he had gone too far and he was shocked and surprised when I cut right across one of his treasonable periods and put him to silence.

My words may not have been very impressive; I stuttered before bringing them out and said, “Mr. Ellis, this conversation is in the poorest of taste. It is most unpleasant to me and I must ask you to stop it at once. We will speak of something else, if you please.” No, I could have improved on the words if I had not been so angry; but the manner was effective enough.

He stopped dead and looked frightened for a moment. There was an uneasy silence in the room, broken only by Llew’s snigger. Ellis darted a look of hatred at him, and I began to talk about the charms of life in the country after many years of life in the town.

Bronwen

Q
. Mr. Pugh came into Cwm Bugail after Gerallt was born, I think?

A
. Yes, long after. He came to Hafod the year we lost all the hay.

Q
. What did you think of him at first?

A
. I did not think anything much about him at first. He seemed a good, quiet sort of gentleman, but I thought he was just one of the English visitors who would go away very soon. He came the autumn before, for a holiday, and then he took Hafod for good the next year. Emyr saw more of him, and liked him very much.

Q
. Did Emyr like strangers usually?

A
. No. Particularly not English visitors. There were Welsh people from the university who used to stay in the village—Nationalists. He liked them. He liked talking to them.

Q
. Did it surprise you that he liked Mr. Pugh?

A
. I do not remember now. I don’t think so: anyone would have liked Mr. Pugh.

Q
. Mr. Lloyd did not.

A
. No. He was jealous because Mr. Pugh was a professor at Oxford or something: but Mr. Pugh always spoke well of
him.

Q
. Emyr did not mind Mr. Lloyd’s opinion?

A
. Oh, Mr. Lloyd never said anything; he was much too good for that, and I do not think Emyr ever knew—he did not understand people very well. If they would have used hard words to one another he would have understood, but not otherwise.

Q
. So Emyr liked him?

A
. Yes. He was always asking him things and Emyr would tell him. Emyr liked that. He used to tell Taid what Mr. Pugh said, and they laughed, because Mr. Pugh did not know the difference between a hespin and a wether. It was not that they made game of him, but they could not understand how a man could be so ignorant. It pleased Emyr to explain things to a college professor, but besides that Emyr was a kind, friendly man if he was spoken to properly, and he liked to be a good neighbor.

Q
. At first you did not see much of Mr. Pugh?

A
. No, only when he came for the milk, and a few times when he came in for tea or supper when he had been out with Emyr on the mountain, to see the sheep or for the gathering or something like that.

Q
. You had no very clear impression of him?

A
. He was always very nice. He treated Nain and me like ladies and took his hat off when he came in and said Thank you for a very good tea, or Thank you for a good supper when he left, and he brought a present for Gerallt, a teddy-bear, from London. But although he came down more as Emyr and he grew more friendly, he was just the English gentleman at Hafod, and I put half a pint of milk aside for him every morning. I did like him, though I did not think of him much beyond the milk. When he looked poorly I put cream in the milk. It was not until he fell ill and came down to stay with us that I came to know him at all well.

Q
. How did that happen?

A
. He had been looking ill for some time, Nain said—she saw him more often than I did when he came down in the morning. Then for some time he did not come down at all and we began to get frightened for him. Emyr went up, but he did not seem to be in, and he came down again. Then I went up, carrying the milk, and I thought I heard him answer when I knocked, but it was blowing hard and I was not sure. The door was on the latch and I listened inside, and there he was, calling from upstairs. I went in. It was such a mess you would not believe. He was in bed, with a muffler on. He was so pale I thought he was dying. He had not shaved for a long time and that made him look even worse. I thought he was dying, and I was so sorry and put about. But he answered sensibly and said it was very kind of me to come up, but I should not have bothered; he said he was quite well, only a little cold. I asked him if he could take a little something, like some warm milk, and he said he was sure it would do him good, but I was not to trouble. I went down to the cegin-fach behind: the mess was terrible. Dishes everywhere, piled in heaps, and on the floor. All the saucepans were dirty. There was no kindling. It went to my heart to see it. He had a patent stove, but I was afraid of it and lit a little fire of paper, just enough to heat the milk. When I brought it to him he started to drink, but he was sick before he could finish it. He was so ashamed of the mess, and all the time I was clearing it up he was apologizing and his voice got weaker and weaker. At the end he was hardly right—he was talking so that I could not understand him. I tucked him fast into his bed, because he was moving his arms about, and ran down. Emyr went for the doctor and Nain and I went up again. He seemed to be asleep, so we left him and began to set the place to rights.

It was dreadful. He had no more idea of looking after himself than a baby. He had more plates and dishes than we had at the farm, for all of us and for the shearing, and he had used them all. There was mold on some of them; and mice everywhere. He had never swept once, I believe, since Megan Bowen had stopped going to Hafod. There was nothing in the larder except dozens of ends of bread and some cold fried eggs. The doctor said it was the gastric, very bad, and it turned out that he had eaten nothing but eggs for months and months and they were very bad for him: he did not know how to cook anything else.

The doctor wanted him to go where nurses could look after him, but the cottage hospital was full, and he did not like to send him the long journey to Llanfihangel. In the end we looked after him for two days and then he was brought down to the farm and we put him in the little parlor.

It was then that I got to know him well: Nain and Taid could not understand him much when he spoke English, nor when he tried to speak Welsh—the words were right sometimes, but it never sounded like Welsh—they could not understand it, and Emyr was out most of the day, so I had to talk to him most.

Q
. When did you know he loved you?

A
. I don’t know. Not for a long time.

Q
. Had there ever been any talk at Gelli about Mr. Pugh admiring you? Even in joke?

A
. No indeed.

Q
. On your side, when did you come to think lovingly of him?

A
. That was a long time too.

Q
. It did not happen suddenly?

A
. Oh no. It was slow, slow; I do not even know when I first thought of it. I liked him so much as I came to know him: more and more every day I liked him.

Q
. What made you like him so?

A
. Oh, everything.

Q
. But what special things?

A
. Well, it is hard to pick on things by themselves. His kindness. He was so good to Taid. There was that time when Rhys, Llwyn, stole from him and he would not have him locked up although the sergeant was very angry about it. He said he would deal with it himself: Rhys said he gave him a pound. Then when Pritchard Ellis came and they used to talk in the evening: they were all against him, and he answered so well. Pritchard Ellis tried to bait him but he never said anything, never flew out, only answered gently, and made Pritchard Ellis look like the mean cunning low thing he was.

Q
. Can you think back to the time when you first began to wish that he might distinguish you?

A
. I must have answered stupidly. I never did want him to trouble his head about me for a moment. I liked him very much—everything he did or said, practically, and the
way
he did or said it—and I was sorry for him, because he was sad and alone, with nobody. But as for wanting him to look twice at me in that way, no it never could have come into my head. I never put myself to have any man pay court to me in my life: and in those days, a woman as I was, I would not begin to think in that way.

Q
. I did not mean to offend you: believe me, I did not intend any offense. Let me put it better. You did love him in the end, did you not.

A
. Yes. I loved him dearly, and before the end.

Q
. What I should like to know, then, is when you began to know the strength of your feeling for him. Was it in response to his affection, or did it arise before you knew his state of mind?

A
. It came so gently, little by little, I cannot tell.

Q
. When it did come, and you knew it, did you not think it very wrong to love another man besides your husband?

A
. No. It seemed to me quite right.

Q
. Was that because of your unhappiness with Emyr and his mother?

A
. If it had all been quite different, if I had been happy, I do not know. I would have been a different person without those years. But whatever I might have been I am sure I should have loved him if I had known him in the same way.

Q
. I think we are using the word for different things?

A
. Yes; perhaps.

Q
. It would be best if you were to tell me how things happened after he came down from Hafod.

A
. He came very ill, as I told you. We sent Gerallt away to my brother: it was Taid and I who thought of it, to save the noise. Emyr and Nain did not like it at first, but they said it was right afterwards.

Q
. A moment, please. What were your relations with Emyr and Nain at that time?

A
. They were better. Then when Gerallt was away and we were all anxious about Mr. Pugh we all drew together much more. Emyr was very good: he was really upset, and he would have done anything, only there was nothing he could do.

Q
. There was none of that trouble with Emyr?

A
. No. There had not been for a long time.

Q
. So things were all well at Gelli then?

A
. Yes. While he was ill, the time when he was getting better, but before Pritchard Ellis came, were the best days I ever had there, except for a little while after Gerallt was born. We were all friendly together: there was a good feeling in the house. I missed Gerallt though; he had never been from me before.

Nain was kind to me: she knew I missed Gerallt and she was kind on purpose. When there was not Emyr or Gerallt between us she might have been my mother, she had such a good heart for me. At that time she did not mind my things in the house any more, nor my cooking.

There was another thing. It had been a bad year, rain for the hay and the corn, and the foxes had had a great many of the lambs: then the prices at the Grading had been very bad. The cows were the only thing that did well that year, and they cost such a lot in the winter. We were all troubled for the winter. But when he was beginning to sit up and read books he asked to see Emyr. They were together a long time, and I heard Emyr say, No, oh no, you are very welcome, Mr. Pugh. He came out looking very happy and said to Taid that they could write off to Lincolnshire for the hay now. We were very sorry we had to take it, but it was the only thing (he could not have borne to be a burden) and it was such a help. Emyr gave Nain and me a new winter coat each. You would never have known he had done it: he always behaved just the same, like a friend we had asked to stay, not a visitor—not a summer person, I mean.

Those days seemed so good and natural, not like something that was good but could not last. I used to sit with him in the afternoons, and we talked. If I had been clever I would have known how he felt, but I don’t think I did at all, at that time. We talked like friends. There was none of that air with him—do you know what I mean, jokes and a way of speaking? It was not him a man and me a woman.

BOOK: Testimonies: A Novel
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