A HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE

This short story appeared in the South Wales Daily Post and the Evening Express in 1896. No author is credited, and the illustrations come from the Express. 

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A man whose dress indicated that he was a Clergyman, boarded a street car in a Western city, and at once found himself surrounded by friends. It was the eve of All-Saints’ Day, and he was on his way to church, where he was to preach against superstition, and this bevy of good-looking girls and stalwart young men was composed of his own people. They were on their way to church also, being destined to a scolding for the sins of former years, when they had kept the eve of All-Saints’ in the pagan spirit of Halloween, rioting about with mirrors and lighted candles, melting lead and dropping in into a tub of water, ducking for apples, throwing a ball of yarn down some lonely staircase in some secluded building, all for the foolish purpose of finding out in advance of fate and by uncanny means if lovers were coming to woo. They were going to the little Rev. David Griffith, and he spoke with his parishioners in an unknown tongue, at least, it was unknown to the only American passenger, a man who prided himself on being almost a linguist.

“May I inquire?” he asked respectfully of a tall brunette, who stood next to him, “what countrywoman are you?”

“American,” she answered in the purest English accents.

“But – but – you speak another tongue?”

1“Oh, yes, I forgot,” she said, laughing, “we are Welsh, and that is our native speech. But it is only when we come together, as on this occasion, that we use it.”

It was very evident that they had no need of a Welsh vocabulary in which to express themselves, for they not only spoke English fluently, but with a musical intonation that was delightful to a cultivated ear.

But it was the wish of their pastor, the Rev. David Griffith, that they should not forget the language that was to him the most musical in the world, albeit its consonantal speech of Taffyland is as trying as it is fascinating to American tongues.

“Did you look for a sprig of ash?” asked a pretty young Cymrian of the tall brunette. “That I did not, Nell; I promised not to anger Mr. Griffith this year as I did last.”

“Would he be very angry if you found an even-leaved sprig of ash, think you, Gladys? We would all know what to name it, in spite of St. David’s objections.”

“H-u-s-h,” interposed Gladys in a whisper, “we are nearing the church. I promised not to engage in Halloween games this year, so you will not expect me to-night, Nell, after church. I may spell out an apple-paring alone, for the sake of the dear old days.”

“I think you are silly, Gladys, to let Mr. Griffith influence you. If amusements that the whole world engages in on this one night do not please him, he denounces us all sinners for participating in them. I think he over-steps his power.”

But the car had stopped and minister and people were pouring out and soon had ascended the steps of the little church of St. Winifred.

The sermon was in Welsh, and the minister, a young, handsome man, was listened to with close attention, both by the elders of the congregation and the younglings, for he had taken a determined stand against the custom or keeping this one special festival of the year, with particular reference to the ghosts and hob-goblins which have marked it for their own, as the Welsh people ardently believed. He invaded Welsh literature to prove that such a being as a fairy never existed, and he substantiated the statement from his Bible. He demanded a greater reverence for the holy office of matrimony than the practice of pulling stalks, big or little, crooked or straight, in order to determine the appearance of a future partner. He denounced the fallacy of eating an apple before a mirror, expecting the future husband would look over the shoulder.

“No man,” he declared, “would be willing to wed a woman who would wind a ball of yarn, chanting doggerel meanwhile, saying over words that are impious as defying fate, or challenging Providence. Halloween is the devil’s Sunday. It is the witches’ night and we may well believe that the evil one sends out his myrmidons that night to do his bidding.” It was only last year that on the following morning a witch-ridden sign, “Beer Saloon,” had been fastened over the door of the sacred edifice. These were tricks of the devil, and he was there to exorcise him. Nut-cracking was used as an interpretation of the future, and other unholy rites were used in the fireside revelries of the evening. He hoped his parishioners would desist from this custom of pagan worship.

All were duly impressed with the earnestness of the pastor, but the Welsh people, as the Rev. David knew to his cost were naturally stubborn, and they loved their traditions. Chloe and Cynthia and Phillis, with Lubin, their brother, might be influenced, being American-born, but the Llewellyns and Gonedils, of Welshland, merely shook their high-hatted heads, and went home to prepare for a roaring farce in their own homes with such embellishment as they might deem proper – behind the pastor’s back.

Nell Gwynne could not prevail on Gladys to accompany her home, so she went on without her, and David Griffith waiting, as was his wont, offered to see Gladys safe to her own door. But the girl shook her head.

“I am not afraid,” she made answer, “and I could not enjoy the walk after your sermon.”

2“Has it made such an impression on you?” he asked, forgetting his clerical intonation in a tenderer cadence.

“It has made me unhappy,” said the young woman, regarding him with sorrowful, up-lifted eyes.

“I am glad,” he said, with the fire of an enthusiast, “I am tired of preaching to deaf ears. I am glad that one soul is convinced.”

“I am convinced in one way only – that you are fighting a great war against evil with straws.”

Then she left him, riding home that he might have no excuse to follow.

The Rev. David Griffith had received such a blow straight between the eyes that he saw nothing but a firmament of stars, and leaving the old sexton, to close the church he too, went home, a humbled and disappointed man, for he dearie loved the same Gladys Allyn, and was set on having her for a wife if she would consent. He knew that the Welsh woman make the most faithful wives in the world, but he had not found courage to declare himself and there were several likely young Cornishmen in the field.

Gladys went home and found the house holding high carnival. Her younger brothers and sisters had not attended church, and instead were carrying out all the unholy rites, as David Griffith called them, of Halloween. Bonfires were burning in the yard, and in the kitchen a twirling stick with a lighted candle on one end and an apple on the other amused the youngsters. Three dishes were on the hearth, one empty, one filled with soapy, and one with clear water. Bob, her brother, invited Gladys to try her luck.

“Dunno bout you mout get th’ parson,” he said, with a grimace.

But the girl had no heart for the usual festivities since they had been denounced as sinful, and went up to her own little room and sat there alone, until at last love and superstition got the better of her resolution.

“I’ll try it just this once,” she said to herself, “and never again.”

Then she went to an old chest and took out one of the high-chimney pot hats, worn by the Cymri, and a short Mother Hubbard cloak, and attired in these slipped out and wended her way.

Under the cloak she carried a candle, and this is now lighted, and, shielding it from wind, she began a circuit of the building. If there was anything in the stories they told she would see an appearance – the wraith of the man she desired to marry. She carried out this Halloween ritual to the letter and then in the gloom and shadow of the church Gladys saw a figure approaching and an immediate fear took possession of her.

It was a tall figure wrapped in the folds of a Llandudno shawl, the figure of a man, and a very resolute one too, for he threw open a door which led to the basement, and producing a round object from, his pocket began an incantation of some sort.

“I wind, I wind, I wind, who holds,” he cried out excitedly, and Gladys recognised the voice and a great joy effaced every vestige of her fear.

“I hold, I hold, I hold,” she answered boldly.

But her voice had exactly the opposite result of that which she had anticipated. It was the young rector, as she knew who was holding the end of the yarn, the ball of which he had dropped down the basement stairs. When she spoke in answer to his question he wheeled round and beholding, as he supposed, an ancient woman, he made no doubt that she was one of the goblins against whom he had been warning his hearers, and he started back with a cry, and fell prone to the earth at the bottom of the stairs.

It was now Gladys’s turn to be frightened. Springing to the top of the stairway, she called in clearest tones:-

“Mr. Griffith.”

No answer.

“David,” very softly.

A deep groan.

Her candle was still burning. She slipped down the steep stairs and saw the helpless form lying at the foot. It took her hardly a second of time to make her cloak into a pillow and slip it under his head. As she lifted his shoulders he groaned again.

“David,” she whispered, and then as no answer came she said in a fervent tone, “Dear, dear David.” With that he sat up and laughed – he, the grave, dignified parson who had so recently rebuked his people for levity and superstition. Gladys left him indignantly and began to remount the stairs, but another groan called her back:-

“Can I assist you, Mr. Griffith?”

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