Murther & Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies

“And so the evil brothers did, and their mating was very rough and noisy, every thrust a pang, so as to teach them a lesson. It was a year and a day later that King Math’s sene­schal came to him and said: ‘Lord, there is a stag and a hind outside, and with them a sturdy fawn.’ The King said, ‘Come, my Queen, we have business with these beasts,’ and they went into the courtyard where the creatures were.

“King Math was ready to forgive them, but he saw the dark look on his Queen’s face, and he knew that it was because after the rape she had been unable to bring a child to full term. So he composed his countenance into a frown of disdain, and said: ‘Gilfaethwy, you that have been a hind this year past shall now be a wild boar, and you, Gwydion, shall be a sow. The fawn I shall keep, and he shall be baptized and fostered.’ And at once the fawn became a fine boy. ‘This boy I name Hyddwn, the deer. Now back to the forest with you, and mate as wild swine for a year, and when the year has passed come to me again and bring the finest of your nine farrow.’

“It was so. Gwydion and Gilfaethwy lived as swine for a year, and Gwydion littered nine piglets. They came again to the King, but his Queen’s face was still stern, and the King said: ‘The piglet is well enough,’ and he struck it with his staff and it became a fine boy with red hair, who was chris­tened Hychdwn — which means pig, as well you know. ‘The Queen is not appeased,’ said King Math, ‘so back you go to the forest, but now Gilfaethwy shall be a she-wolf, and you, Gwydion, shall be a wolf. You know what you have to do. Be outside my walls a year from today.’

“The year passed and the wolves came to the gate of Math’s castle, and it was all as it had been before. The King said: ‘Have you had your fill of rapine, you false men? I shall take the wolf-cub and he shall be named Bleiddwn, the Wolf. Is it enough, my Queen?’ Goewin nodded, and the King spoke again: ‘Go then, my dishonoured kin, and be men again, and marry what dishonoured women will take you. But these three fine boys shall be three true champions — Bleiddwn the Wolf, Hychdwn the Boar, and Hyddwn, the tallest, the Stag, and my Queen and I shall raise them as our own.’ And that was the great Curse of King Math.”

“But was their mating terrible?” says Cursing Jemmy, with hope in his voice.

“Pain at every push,” says the traveller.

“I swear I have sometimes wondered what it is like to be the woman, when I am merry,” says Jemmy.

There was a long silence, and then the harper said: “By God, that was a mighty curse. Was ever such a curse heard before or since?”

“Never,” said the traveller.”And now I have done my part of the bargain and now you shall do yours. I am about to preach, so settle yourselves to hear God’s Holy Word.”

Preach he did, so long and so powerfully that when he was finished the light of dawn was beginning to reach even into that desolate valley. Many of the men had fallen asleep, some from drink, and some from weariness, and a few in what was perhaps a holy stupor of astonishment. Never have they been so bamboozled and buffeted with edification.

“That was very refreshing,” says the traveller, and he must be speaking to himself.”I am well rested, and I must be on my way.” And, damp as he is, but with the heart of a lion, he leaves the awful inn, and sets forth on his path, which is not much easier, but is at least seen by daylight.


He has covered about a mile in his journey toward Mallwyd when he hears a sound at his back, and when he turns it is the pot-boy — a poor shriv­elled scrap of a lad — who has followed him.

“What do you want, my boy?” he says, kindly.

“I want to go with you, master,” says the boy.

“For why?”

“Because I have never heard such talk in the whole of my life,” says the boy.”You have won my heart for Christ, master, and I cannot leave you. Drive me away if you will, but I shall follow you until your heart opens to me. You have made me your servant forever.”

“I am no tyrant, boy,” says the traveller.”I cannot drive you away. But what am I to do with you?”

“Perhaps God will tell you, if you ask Him,” says the boy.

“That was well spoken, and I accept the rebuke,” says the traveller.”But I really do not know what I can do with such a boy as you. Have you a name?”

“Indeed I have, master,” says the boy.”Poor as I am I am not so poor that I have no name. I am Gwylim ap Sion ap Emrys ap Dafydd ap Owain ap Hywel ap Rhodri ap Rhyd-derch ap Gryffyd.”

“Good lad,” says the traveller.”You know your pedi­gree even to the ninth degree. And do you know your cousin-ship, as well?”

“To the ninth degree also,” says the boy, and I, from the end of the twentieth century, see pride in this sorry creature.

“You are a herald, as the Welsh have always been. But I must tell you, lad, that things have changed in Wales, and in the town the English no longer tolerate our long names and long pedigrees. If you come with me to Llanfair you will have to be Gwylim Griffiths, I suppose. But wait a bit — have you been baptized, my boy?”

“I do not know what is baptized,” says the lad.

“The great John Wesley is right when he says that we Welsh are as pagan as Red Indians,” says the traveller.”To be baptized, my child, is to be taken into Christ’s great family by prayer and sprinkling with water. Now, you bade me ask God what I should do with you, and God has put it into my mind that the first job is to baptize you. So come here by this stream and get into it as deep as you can.”

“I can go no deeper unless I lie down,” says the boy.”It is just up to my knees.”

“Then that will have to do. God gives us what he means us to use, and it seems that he does not want you to be wet all over. So close your eyes, and fold your hands, and listen reverently to me.”

What a scene this is! The Sniffer is looking at something else, which is so complex that it must be meant for symbol­ism, of which he is very fond. The Sniffer would not think highly of the biblical simplicity of what I see, as the rising sun strikes up the cruel valley from which the traveller and his follower have just emerged; they stand by the stream where the slate cliffs give way to green herbage, and there are sheep on the other side of the stream, cropping and uttering their perpetual gentle lament — Baa, baa, baa. I know for the first time how intimately the words of the Bible entered the hearts of the people of Wales, for the Scripture’s perpetual symbol­ism of the hills, the pastures, the flocks and the Good Shep­herd were fresh to them as they can never be to dwellers in cities, or in lands that know nothing of sheep. I am in the embarrassing predicament of a man who has all his adult life cherished a gentle, smiling (sometimes foolishly giggling) cynicism about anything that hints of pastoral simplicity, or any simplicity, yet here I am, weeping — in so far as a man with no face and no tears can weep — weeping in the spirit as I see the boy standing with bowed head in the stream, and the traveller scooping up the clear water in his hands, and pour­ing it over his head as he prays.

No, no; this is not a scene for the Sniffer, but it is truly a scene for me. I feel the icy water pouring over my own head and down my face, to wash away my tears.

The traveller speaks again.”I have baptized you as a child of Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit, and it now comes to me very strongly that I should christen you, as well. Christen you into your new family. Have you a fancy for any particular name?”

“I am well pleased with the name I have,” says the boy, stoutly.

“But I have already explained to you that time and his­tory have taken away the name you have. Can you write?”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson