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One Moonlit Night

Caradog Prichard

Chapter One

I’ll go and ask Huw’s Mam if he can come out to play. Can Huw come out to play, O Queen of the Black Lake? No, he can’t, he’s in bed and that’s where you should be, you little monkey, instead of going round causing a riot at this time of night. Where were you two yesterday making mischief and driving village folk out of their minds?

What village folk out of their minds? It’s not us that’s driving them out of their minds, it’s them that are going out of their minds themselves. We weren’t anywhere yesterday except walking about. I got Go on there! and Whoa there! first thing in the morning, fetching the Tal Cafn cattle from Pen y Foel and picking a capful of mushrooms on Ffridd Wen after pulling up a few of Owen Gorlan’s potatoes for Mam on the way home.

This is why Huw and me went to the back door of Margaret Lewis’s shop for a pennorth of apples, cos I hadn’t had any breakfast before I went to school cos Mam had gone to do the washing at the Vicarage. We were just finishing eating them as we got to School and the clock was striking nine. And I know who threw the clump of turf through the window while we were saying prayers, and hit Price the School on the side of the head while he was kneeling down. It was Owen, Mary Plums’s boy, and Little Dai from the Black Shop. They only left Standard Four at the beginning of the year. I saw them both legging it through the Graveyard just like two evil spirits among the gravestones.

And we hadn’t done anything when Price the School caned us. He was in a terrible temper all morning. But when he came back from The Blue Bell after playtime with his face as red as a beetroot, he went berserk and started thrashing everybody. Huw and me just happened to get in the way of his cane. But after he went to Standard Four to fetch Little Jini Pen Cae and took her off with him through the far door, we didn’t see anything of him till the bell went for dinner time.

It was Huw wanting to go to the Quarry to tell Jini’s dad, that’s why we went along Post Lane. There was no school at our school in the afternoon because it was Ascension Day but there was school in the Chapel schools. We would have gone to the Quarry too except that there were a lot of people standing by Stallions Gate in front of Catrin Jane’s house in Lower Lane, and Little Will Policeman’s Dad was standing by the door watching two men carrying the furniture out and putting it in a pile in the middle of the lane and Catrin Jane had locked herself in the coal shed and was screaming and shouting: Go away you devils, you’ve no right to go into my house. Dew, it was a fine afternoon as well. Never mind the old Quarry, said Huw, we’ll go for a picnic to the top of Rallt Ddu.

That’s why we went to Ann Jones’s shop, because we only had enough money to buy one bottle of pop and we wanted four, and two currant cakes because Nell Fair View and Kate White Houses were coming after us. You go and buy one bottle, said Huw, I’ll get the others. He was a sly one, Huw. I’m sure Ann Jones had seen him but she was frightened of saying anything because she was afraid of you, O Queen of the Black Lake.

Before the two girls caught up to us, who should come up Stables Lane and meet us by the Pen Lon Gate but Little Harry the Clogs with his basket on his arm and laughing hee! hee! hee! through his beard. Give us a quick look, Harry, said Huw, and Harry put his basket down, and then he opened his flies and pulled his willy out. Hee! hee! hee! he said through his beard and pulled it back in again quick as wink just like a jack-in-the-box. Hee! hee! hee! he said again then picked up his basket and off he went on his way. Hee! hee! hee! said the two girls behind us. Watch yourself, Nell Fair View, said Huw as we were going through the gate. And you as well, Kate White Houses, I said. But they still came after us through the gate.

It was Huw who went first to hide behind the wall and then I did the same, and they only pretended to run across the field when we ran after them. It was Huw that caught Nell first and threw her onto the ground and lifted her skirt up. That’s why I did the same thing with Kate, because Huw had the pop bottles. I was only carrying the two currant cakes. And there they both were, lying on their backs with their skirts up with us two staring down at them.

It was Huw that had the poacher’s pocket, that’s why he was carrying the bottles. But it was the two currant cakes I pulled out of my pocket that made Nell pull her skirt down and sit up and tell Kate to do the same. They knew full well we were going to have a picnic.

Dew! It was a fine afternoon. The sun was making the hay smell so good and the air was so clear I could see Mam putting clothes on the line at the bottom of Vicarage Field. That’s why it’s so fine, said Nell, because it’s Ascension Day. But Kate got up and started crying. I’ll tell my Mam, she said, crying like I don’t know what, and ran off home. And Nell went after her when she’d drunk her bottle of pop and scoffed a big piece of currant cake.

Then Huw wanted to know why Churchpeople went to church on Ascension Day and I said to him: Don’t you know, Huw? No, I don’t, Huw said. Well, because Jesus Christ went up to Heaven like a balloon on Thursday after He rose from the dead, of course. All the good people are going to rise from the dead, everyone in the Graveyard, no matter how heavy their gravestones are, and go up like balloons just like Jesus Christ. But it’s down to Hell we’ll be going, you’ll see, for stealing Ann Jones’s pop bottles.

What are you doing Huw?

Making this pile of stumps into a cigarette so we can have a smoke. Moi can smoke coltsfoot leaves and he says he’s seen Little Harry the Clogs collecting dried dung on Post Lane and smoking that. Do you think Griffith Evans Braich will be allowed to go to Heaven after splitting his head open when he got killed on Bonc Rhiwia in the quarry?

He’s sure to be allowed to go, I said, cos the boys in the choir got tuppence each for going to the funeral.

He’ll look horrible, said Huw. Try a little smoke.

Heurch! Heurch! Dew, I feel sick. Would you like to work in the Quarry, Huw?

Sure I would. I’m getting long trousers when I pass Standard Four, and Mam says I can go the minute I’m fourteen.

I don’t want to go, Huw. Mam’s said I can try for a scholarship and go to County School if I pass, and then go and see the world and make a lot of money.

He was a right one, that Arthur Tan Bryn, eh? Left County School to join the army, said Huw. He got to see the world, anyway, and Moi says he’s killed a lot of Germans and they’re going to put his name on the Memorial.

Dew, I want to throw up, I said. And we both ran across the field and buried our faces in the water in Ffrwd Rhiw until we were nearly choking.

If you open your eyes you can see the bottom, said Huw. Heurch! Heurch. That’s how Will Pen Pennog drowned, but he drowned himself because he had cancer. They say smoking causes cancer and gives you lockjaw sometimes.

Dew, I’ll never smoke again.

Wipe your mouth, said Huw, then we’ll go to White Houses to fetch Moi so we can go to the Sheep Field to collect pignuts. They’ve fired the shot for hometime in the Quarry. Moi’s Uncle Owen will have arrived home and they’ll be having quarry supper. Maybe we’ll get a piece of bread and butter from Moi’s Mam to take the taste of that ruddy smoking away.

Who should come to meet us at Post Lane, just before we crossed Stables Bridge, with a huge trunk on his back, but Will Ellis Porter, with his nose nearly touching the ground and his two knees sticking out through the holes in his trousers as though they were trying to run on ahead of him.

Are you scared of him, Huw?

Yes, a little bit, sometimes.

Me too.

Never mind, he can’t do anything to us with the trunk on his back. How goes it, Will Ellis?

Heurch! Heurch! You lazy little devils; been playing truant again. Heurch! Heurch!

Watch yourself Huw, he’s going to have a fit.

Heurch! Heurch! And the trunk went clinkadyclonk off Will Ellis’s back and he was rolling in the dust in the middle of the lane, with his tongue out and his eyes like two big gooseberries.

No, don’t run, Huw said, he won’t do anything to you. He can’t stand up.

I went back very slowly when I saw Huw still beside him and I was close enough to him to see white froth coming out of his mouth, just like Ike Williams’s horse when he was going up Allt Bryn with a load, and Little Owen the Coal was whipping him.

We’d better be off, before he comes to, said Huw.

I’d already reached the far end of White Houses before Huw had crossed Stables Bridge.

Ann Jones the Shop’s brother has come back from America, we told Moi’s Uncle Owen, so we’d have an excuse to go in. But he didn’t lift his head up from his meat and potatoes. Moi just winked at us, telling us to stay.

Huw, said Moi’s Mam, go to Ann Jones’ shop for a pennorth of snuff and say it’s me that’s sending you, and say I’m glad to hear that Griffith Jones has come home safe from America.

But Moi’s Uncle Owen kept his head down on his plate.

There’ll be a hell of a row here in a minute, you’ll see, Huw said quietly as he went out.

Have some bread and butter, chick, said Moi’s Mam. And then Moi’s Uncle Owen started growling like a dog and said something about paying for his food.

Shut your mouth and eat, said Moi’s Mam. Dew, it was a great slice of bread she was cutting too, with thick butter on it. But I never got it. When the knife was halfway through the loaf, Uncle Owen jumped up and swept his plate and his meat and potatoes off the table and everything smashed to pieces and slithered all over the floor, and his eyes were flaming mad.

Come away, said Moi, who’d run round the table. Come on, out as fast as you can.

And as we were slinking through the door, what did we hear but the most terrible scream from Moi’s Mam. I didn’t look back till we were at Stables Bridge and Huw was coming back with the snuff.

Had we better go and fetch Little Will Policeman’s Dad, Moi?

No, there’s no need for that. He won’t do anything to her. They’re always like that.

We’d better go back and have a look, said Huw.

And the three of us were creeping back to the door, and what did we we see but Moi’s Uncle Owen holding her hair with his left hand and pulling her head right back so you could see all her throat and Moi’s Mam had her arm round him as though they were two lovers. She was holding the bread knife tight in her fist and he had the tuck knife from the dresser in his right hand, with the blade on the side of Moi’s Mam’s throat, like Johnny Edwards Butcher sticking that pig when we went to the slaughterhouse yesterday to ask for a bladder to play football with.

Here’s your snuff, said Moi in the doorway. And Uncle Owen let go of her and sloped off to the back kitchen like a dog with his tail between his legs, without looking at anybody.

Thanks very much, chick, said Moi’s Mam and started to fix her hair with a hairpin and took a pinch of snuff between her finger and thumb and put it into her nose and sneezed all over the place. Dew, Huw and me got some lovely bread and butter, then. And we were starving hungry, too.

Can Moi come out to play, we said, just to the Sheep Field to collect pignuts?

Don’t you be late now, you little monkey, said Moi’s Mam, you want to be up in the morning to go to the Quarry with Uncle Owen.

I won’t, Mam. Come on lads, or it’ll be getting dark.

Never mind, said Huw, there’s a moon.

As we were coming up to the house at the end of White Houses, where Little Owen the Coal’s Mam lives, who should be standing in the doorway with a great big hankie in her hand, wiping her nose, but Little Owen the Coal’s Mam.

Come and see him, children, she said, sobbing. Come and see how pretty my little chick looks before they put the lid on him.

It’s Emyr, Little Owen the Coal’s Big Brother, said Moi quietly. It was today they brought him home from the asylum in Denbigh.

You don’t say, said Huw, I didn’t know.

And Little Owen the Coal’s Mam was still saying: Come in and see my pretty little chick. Come on, said Moi.

And in we went after her. And she lit the lamp because the blinds were down and everywhere was dark. And there was Emyr, Little Owen the Coal’s Big Brother, lying on the sofa in his coffin with a surplice like a choirboy’s wrapped around him, and only his hands were in sight resting on his chest. Dew, he had long fingers. But his mouth made us want to laugh, except that Owen’s Mam was sobbing and shouting: My pretty little chick.

We could see the roof of his mouth. And it was all crinkled as though he’d been thirsty for a long time.

Why didn’t they close his mouth, I wonder? Huw said.

Maybe he was screaming after being beaten by those people at Denbigh, said Moi.

Or maybe he’d got lockjaw through smoking, I said.

When we came to Stallions Gate, who was in Lower Lane but a gang of the Quarry lads standing around Catrin Jane’s furniture, and Little Will Policeman’s Dad standing nearby and David Evans Snowdon View, who’d just been made a marker, saying something to them.

Hurry up, so we can hear what he’s saying, said Moi.

When we’d hurried as slowly as we could into Lower Lane, pretending that we weren’t listening, we heard the sound of a cat miaowing in the coal shed.

It’s not a cat in there, said Huw, it’s Catrin Jane still in there, crying.

We’ve got to do something lads, said David Evans Snowdon View to the others, with his hands in his trouser pockets scratching himself, and spitting heeerch-tuh after every word. We can’t leave her in there all night, or God’s judgement will be upon us just like it was on Ike Williams the Coal this afternoon, after he sent her out of her house. What? Didn’t you hear about his horse dropping down dead in the stable after taking a load of coal to the top of Allt Bryn?

What about Old Margaret Williams’ house? said one of the others. That’s been empty ever since she was buried.

And David Evans gave a great heeerch-tuh and looked straight at Little Will Policeman’s Dad and asked: Got anything to say to us, officer?

And he said: I can’t see you and I can’t hear you. So how can I have anything to say?

Let’s get to it then, lads, said David Evans. Hey, you lazy little devils, come here and give us a hand.

And there we were for ages, carrying Catrin Jane’s things and going backwards and forwards with them to Margaret Williams’ empty old house, with Catrin Jane crying and miaowing in the coal shed the whole time.

Do you like walking down the street when all the shops have closed? Huw said after we’d finished.

No, not much.

Me neither.

Me neither, I said. Watch out Huw, Will Ellis Porter’s over there sitting on the Post Office window sill. Let’s walk on the other side.

No, it doesn’t matter, said Huw, he doesn’t remember anything about this afternoon, you know. He doesn’t know what he’s doing when he has a fit.

And Moi burst out laughing: Then he’s not fit to have a fit, Ha! Ha! Jesus, what’s the matter over there by the Chip Shop?

No, the house next to the chip shop, by The Blue Bell, said Huw. Hurry up lads, it’s a fight!

And the the two of them ran on ahead of me and who was there when we got there but a lot of men and big boys who’d come out of the chip shop and The Blue Bell. And there was Owen Morris Llan, that one who went to be a sailor last year, and Bob Roberts Ceunant battering each other like I don’t know what. Dew, I heard the sound of Bob Ceunant’s fist like a Salvation Army Band drum hitting Owen Llan in the chest and him falling like a tree and lying on his stomach on the ground. Dew, I was shaking like a leaf and feeling like I was going to be sick when Little Will Policeman’s Dad came down the street and everybody ran off.

Come on, lads, we’ll never get any pignuts at this rate, said Moi.

Over the wall’s the best way. David Jones the Keeper might be at the Wood Lane Gate.

So over the Lon Newydd wall we went, and Huw’s trousers got caught on some slate and ripped as he fell on his bum into the nettles.

Damn, said Huw, have you got a pin?

Don’t make any noise in case Jones the Keeper catches us, said Moi.

So we went very quietly to where the pignuts were, trying not to tread on any twigs in case we made a noise. We could see okay, because it wasn’t dark, because there was moonlight between the trees. But wow, I nearly had a fit once when this noise suddenly came from up above us; a sort of ruuurk-ruuurk-ruuurk like a threshing machine.

A pheasant, Moi said quietly.

But I’d already started wetting my trousers.

Without saying anything, Huw, who was ahead of us, suddenly stopped and turned to us with his finger over his lips, then dropped down to the ground on his stomach, and Moi and me did the same. The keeper, I said to myself and thought that we were about to get caught. But Huw and Moi went ahead very slowly and quietly on their stomachs, with me behind them doing the same, until Huw held his hand out behind him to tell us to stop.

And what did we see in front of us but Grace Ellen Shoe Shop and Frank Bee Hive lying down by a tree stump, and Frank had pulled her skirt up, just like we’d done with Kate and Nell in the afternoon, except that Frank was lying on top of her and nearly choking her, by the look of it.

Why was Frank lying on top of Grace Ellen and nearly choking her? I said to Huw when we’d finished collecting pignuts and gone over the Lon Newydd wall into Post Lane.

I don’t know.

Me neither.

They must have been playing, said Moi, the way people do when they get married.

But Grace Ellen and Frank Bee Hive aren’t married, said Huw.

No, they shouldn’t play like that, by rights, said Moi, but lots of people do. Uncle Owen does it with Mam sometimes, after they’ve been fighting. Jesus, what time is it, boys? I told Mam I’d be home soon.

It was half past nine by the clock on the Lockup, said Huw. Will you get a good hiding?

No. Not unless I don’t get up to go to the Quarry with Uncle Owen tomorrow morning. Good night, lads.

Good night, Moi.

Good night, Moi.

Dew, the metal bit on the front of my shoe’s loose, Huw. Ned Cwt Crydd can put a nail in it tomorrow morning. It makes a real noise in the street at night, eh Huw?

And I’ve torn my trousers, said Huw, I don’t know what Mam’ll say tomorrow morning.

Are you coming out to play, tomorrow, Huw?

I am, if Mam’ll let me.

Alright, I’ve got ten coloured marbles I won off Moi yesterday. I’ll bring them with me.

Alright. Good night, now.

Good night.

Dew, there’s a nice smell from somewhere. Maybe it’s coming from our house. It is, too. Hello Mam.

And she’d made a great roaring fire, and there she was sitting in the rocking chair. Fried potatoes and mushrooms.

Lor, I’m hungry, Mam.

Come on then, chick. You eat your fill. Where did you get those potatoes that were under the stairs?

I got them from Robin, the lad at Gorlan Farm. Dew, Mam, they’re good fried like this with mushrooms.

You’re sure you didn’t steal them, aren’t you, chick?

Steal them? No. Definitely not. I was coming back from fetching the cattle from Tal Cafn and who was pulling up potatoes in the Top Field but Robin. Here, take some he said when I said How goes it, Robin, take these home to your mother, and he put them in an old sack he had on the hedge. But don’t tell anyone and tell your mother not to tell anyone. Okay, I said, thanks a lot, Robin.

Fair play to him, said Mam. How old is he now, d’you know?

He’d just left School in March when he went to work at Gorlan. Dew, these mushrooms are good. Are there any more, Mam?

No, you little guts, eat your bread and butter now.

Dew, I’ll go and get another capful tomorrow morning. Did you have a hard day washing, Mam?

A bit tired, you know, love. Hurry up so you can go to bed and let me clear up and iron those clothes. The Vicarage wants them first thing in the morning. You can take them down for me if you will.

Course I will.

Where were you all afternoon after school? You haven’t been up to mischief with that Huw today, have you?

No. What do you mean, up to mischief? We just went for a walk up to the top of Rallt Ddu because it was Ascension Day, and collected pignuts in the Sheep Field. Ann Jones the Shop’s brother’s come home from America.

You don’t say. Did you see him?

No. Huw was saying. And they’ve put Catrin Jane from Lower Lane out of her house because she can’t pay the rent to Ike Williams the Coal.

Who told you?

Nobody. Huw and Moi and me were going past and they asked us to help carry the furniture to Margaret Williams’ old house. Ike Williams’s horse dropped dead in the stable this afternoon. God’s judgement upon him, David Evans Snowdon View said.

Yes, I’m sure it was. The nasty old so-and-so. Go to bed now, chick, you’ve got to be up first thing in the morning.

Alright, Mam. Good night.

But I couldn’t sleep for the life of me, with the moon just like a big orange, shining on me through the skylight. So I got up and stood on the chair to open the window and stuck my head out. Dew, it was lovely and quiet, with just a slight sound in the air, like the sound of the River Sarnau, except that was a long way away, and the moon was zooming through the sky over Pen Foel Garnedd.

No, you silly fool, I said to myself, it’s the clouds that are moving, not the moon. There wasn’t a light in any of the windows anywhere. Just a tiny little light in White Houses. That’s Moi’s house, I’m sure. I hope old Moi didn’t get a good hiding, anyway.

Yes, definitely, it was the clouds that were moving. That old moon’s still shining through the skylight.

What’s the matter, chick?

I can’t sleep in this bedroom, Mam. I want to come and sleep in your bedroom with you.

Alright then, chick. Come and keep a warm place for me.

And when Mam came to bed, I went to sleep like a top, with my arms round her holding her tight.

And that’s all that happened. We weren’t anywhere except walking about and I didn’t know until this morning, after I’d been to Ned Cwt Crydd to get a nail put in my shoe, that Moi’s Uncle Owen had hanged himself in the toilet and that they’d taken Little Jini Pen Cae and Catrin Jane from Lower Lane to the Asylum. There’s a full moon tonight. Why won’t you let Huw come out to play, O Queen of the Black Lake?

(C) 1961, 1995 Caradog Prichard, Philip Mitchell All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-8112-1342-0