Some Public Domain works fall into a tricky area being published in the U.S. after 1923 but before 1964, when our copyright law changed. Being certain requires tracking down what was renewed and what wasn't. Also some books renewed, like today's story and books where it appeared, finally are PUBLIC DOMAIN!!!
Yes, I'm turning mental cartwheels because 95 years has elapsed and they are free to post and tell and let their brilliance be enjoyed.
Today's story was certainly published in 1925, releasing it this past January. It probably was published even earlier in magazines as the author states in the introduction to Broomsticks and Other Tales some (without naming them) of the stories were. In my book, A Penny A Day, he calls it one of his favorite tales told to his own family. Both books were published in 1925 and included this tale.
Now to wake up to today's story.
This is Women's History Month. The international theme is "Choose to Challenge." Today's story is a perfect reflection of how women have worked to challenge and decide their own lives. I suspect Walter de la Mare, as a father, wrote it while struggling with the idea of his four children, especially his two daughters, growing up and living on their own.
De la Mare's horror stories were said to be a favorite of the horror icon, H.P. Lovecraft. Today's story, while written and told to his children, shows how horrible the struggle was.
My book, A Penny A Day, says it was published in 1960, but originally in 1925. Unfortunately it is rebound so tightly I had to copy the story from the other 1925 book, Broomsticks and Other Tales, found online at the Internet Archive.
I wish I could include the two illustrations Paul Kennedy did for Penny A Day, especially the one of Myfanwy which shows her in her "immense round mushroom hat"! Unfortunately the 1960 illustrations are surely copyrighted. (Click A Penny A Day and you can online "borrow" it, then go to page 69.)
Instead I can open with the earlier "design" by Bold showing the "old castle under the forested mountains of the Welsh Marches." This brings up a problem for this storyteller. I don't know how to pronounce the Welsh names of the castle, Eggleyseg (and the nearby gorge, Modwr-Eggleyseg); its lord, Owen ap Gwythock; nor his lovely daughter, Myfanwy. I found A Guide to Welsh Language Pronunciation, but really would love to have someone help me.
In the meantime, here's the start of a story long enough to take all of Women's History Month and its theme of "Choose to Challenge."
The Lovely Myfanwy (part 1 of 4)
In an old castle under the forested mountains of the Welsh Marches there lived long ago Owen ap Gwythock, Lord of Eggleyseg. He was a short, burly, stooping man with thick black hair on head and face, large ears, and small restless eyes. And he lived in his great castle alone, except for one only daughter, the lovely Myfanwy.
Lovely indeed was she. Her hair, red as red gold, hung in plaits to her knees. When she laughed, it was like bells in a faraway steeple. When she sang, Echo forgot to reply. And her spirit would sit gently looking out of her blue eyes like cushats out of their nest in an ivy bush.
Myfanwy was happy, too—in most things. All that her father could give her for her ease and pleasure was hers—everything indeed but her freedom. She might sing, dance, think and say; eat, drink, and delight in whatsoever she wished or willed. Indeed her father loved her so dearly that he would sit for hours together merely watching her—as you may watch wind over wheat, reflections in water, or clouds in the heavens. So long as she was safely and solely his all was well.
But ever since Myfanwy had been a child, a miserable foreboding had haunted his mind. Supposing she should some day leave him? Supposing she were lost or decoyed away? Supposing she fell ill and died? What then? The dread of this haunted his mind day and night. His dark brows loured at the very thought of it. It made him morose and sullen; it tied up the tongue in his head.
For this sole reason he had expressly forbidden Myfanwy even to stray but a few paces beyond the precincts of his castle; with its battlemented towers, its galleries and corridors and multitudinous apartments, its high garden and courtyard, its alleys, fountains, fish-pools and orchards. He could trust nobody. He couldn't bear her out of his sight. He spied, he watched, he walked in his sleep, he listened and peeped; and all for fear of losing Myfanwy.
So although she might have for company the doves and swans and peacocks, the bees and butterflies, the swallows and swifts and jackdaws and the multitude of birds of every song and flight and feather that haunted the castle; humans, except her father, she had none. The birds and butterflies could fly away at will wherever their wings could carry them. Even the fishes in the fish-pools and in the fountains had their narrow alleys of marble and alabaster through which on nimble fin they could win back to the great river at last. Not so Myfanwy.
She was her father's unransomable prisoner; she was a bird in a cage. She might feast her longing eyes on the distant horizon beyond whose forests lay the sea, but knew she could not journey thither. While as for the neighbouring township, with its busy streets and marketplace—not more than seven country miles away—she had only dreamed of its marvels and dreamed in vain. A curious darkness at such times came into her eyes, and her spirit would look out of them not like a dove but as might a dumb nightingale out of its nest—a nightingale that has had its tongue cut out for a delicacy to feed some greedy prince.
How criss-cross a thing is the heart of man. Solely because this lord loved his daughter so dearly, if ever she so much as sighed for change or adventure, like some stubborn beast of burden he would set his feet together and refuse to budge an inch. Beneath his heavy brows he would gaze at the brightness of her unringleted hair as if mere looking could keep that gold secure; as if earth were innocent of moth and rust and change and chance, and had never had course to dread and tremble at sound of the unrelenting footfall of Time.
All he could think of that would keep her his own was hers without the asking: delicate raiment and meats and strange fruits and far-fetched toys and devices and pastimes, and as many books as would serve a happy scholar a long life through.
He never tired of telling her how much he loved and treasured her. But there is a hunger of the heart no thing in the world can ever satisfy. And Myfanwy listened, and sighed.
Besides which, Myfanwy grew up and grew older as a green-tressed willow grows from a sapling; and now that she had come to her eighteenth spring she was lovelier than words could tell. This only added yet another and sharper dread and foreboding to her father's mind. It sat like a skeleton at his table whenever he broke bread or sipped wine. Even the twittering of a happy swallow from distant Africa reminded him of it like a knell. It was this: that some day a lover, a suitor, would come and carry her off.
Why, merely to see her, even with her back turned—to catch a glimpse of her slim shoulders, of her head stooping over a rosebush would be enough. Let her but laugh—two notes—and you listened! Nobody—prince nor peasant, knight nor squire—brave, foolish, young or weary, would be able to resist her. Owen ap Gwythock knew it in his bones. But one look, and instantly the looker's heart would be stolen out of his body. He would fall in love with her—fall as deep and irrevocably as the dark sparkling foaming water crashing over into the gorge of Modwr-Eggleyseg, scarcely an arrow's flight beyond his walls.
And supposing any such suitor should tell Myfanwy that he loved her, might she not—forgetting all his own care and loving-kindness—be persuaded to flee away and leave him to his solitude? Solitude—now that old age was close upon him! At thought of this, for fear of it, he would sigh and groan within: and he would bid the locksmiths double their locks and bolts and bars; and he would sit for hours watching the highroad that swept up past his walls, and scowling at sight of every stranger who passed that way.
He even at last forbade Myfanwy to walk in the garden except with an immense round mushroom hat on her head, a hat so wide in the brim that it concealed from any trespasser who might be spying over the wall even the glinting of her hair—everything of her indeed except her two velvet shoes beneath the hem of her dress as they stepped in turn—and softly as moles—one after the other from blossoming alley to alley and from lawn to lawn.
And because Myfanwy loved her father almost as dearly as he loved her, she tried her utmost to be gay and happy and not to fret or complain or grow pale and thin and pine. But as a caged bird with a kind mistress may hop and sing and flutter behind its bars as if it were felicity itself, and yet be sickening at heart for the wild wood and its green haunts, so it was with Myfanwy.
If only she might but just once venture into the town, she would think to herself; but just to see the people in the streets, and the pedlars in the marketplace, and the cakes and sweetmeats and honey-jars in the shops, and strangers passing to and fro, and the sunshine in the high gables, and the talking and the laughing and the bargaining and the dancing—the horses, the travellers, the bells, the starshine.
Above all, it made her heart ache to think her father should have so little faith in her duty and love for him that he would not consent to let her wander even a snail's journey out of his sight. When, supper over, she leaned over his great chair as he sat there in his crimson—his black hair dangling on his shoulders, his beard hunched up on his chest—to kiss him good night, this thought would be in her eyes even if not on the tip of her tongue. And at such times he himself—as if he knew in his heart what he would never dare to confess—invariably shut down his eyelids or looked the other way.
Now servants usually have long tongues, and gossip flits from place to place like seeds of thistledown. Simply because Myfanwy was never seen abroad, the fame of her beauty had long since spread through all the countryside. Minstrels sang of it, and had even carried their ballads to countries and kingdoms and principalities far beyond Wales.
Indeed, however secret and silent men may be concerning rare beauty and goodness, somehow news of it sows itself over the wide world. A saint may sit in his cave or his cell, scarcely ever seen by mortal eye, quiet as sunshine in a dingle of the woods or seabirds in the hollows of the Atlantic, doing his deeds of pity and loving-kindness, and praying his silent prayers. And he may live to be a withered-up, hollow-cheeked old man with a long white beard, and die, and his body be shut up in a tomb. But nevertheless, little by little, the fame of his charity, and of the miracles of his compassion will spread abroad, and at last you may even chance on his image in a shrine thousands of leagues distant from the hermitage where he lived and died, and centuries after he has gone on his way.
Like this it was with the loveliness and gentleness of Myfanwy. That is why, when the Lord of Eggleyseg himself rode through the streets of the neighbouring town, he perceived out of the corner of his eye strangers in outlandish disguise who he suspected at once must be princes and noblemen from foreign climes come thither even if merely to set eyes on his daughter. That is why the streets were so full of music and singing that of a summer evening you could scarcely hear the roar of its cataracts. That is why its townsfolk were entertained with tumblers and acrobats and fortune-tellers and soothsayers and tale-tellers almost the whole year long. Ever and again, indeed, grandees visited it without disguise. They lived for weeks there, with their retinues of servants, their hawks and hounds and tasselled horses in some one of its high ancient houses. And their one sole hope and desire was to catch but a glimpse of the far-famed Myfanwy.
But as they came, so they went away. However they might plot and scheme to gain a footing in the castle—it was in vain. The portcullis was always down; there were watchmen perpetually on the look-out in its turrets; and the gates of the garden were festooned with heavy chains. There was not in its frowning ancient walls a single window less than twenty feet above the ground that was not thickly, rustily, and securely barred.
None the less, Myfanwy occasionally found herself in the garden alone. Occasionally she stole out if but for one breath of freedom, sweeter by far to those who pine for it than that of pink, or mint, or jasmine, or honeysuckle. And one such early evening in May, when her father—having nodded off to sleep, wearied out after so much watching and listening and prying and peering—was snoring in an arbour or summerhouse, she came to its western gates, and having for a moment lifted the brim of her immense hat to look at the sunset, she gazed wistfully a while through its bars out into the green woods beyond.
The leafy boughs in the rosy light hung still as pictures in deep water. The skies resembled a tent of silk, blue as the sea. Deer were browsing over the dark turf; and a wonderful charm and carolling of birds was rising out of the glades and coverts of the woods.
But what Myfanwy had now fixed her dark eyes on was none of these, but the figure of a young man leaning there, erect but fast asleep, against the bole of a gigantic beech tree, not twenty paces distant from the gate at which she stood. He must, she fancied, have been keeping watch there for some little time. His eyelids were dark with watching; his face pale. Slim and gentle does were treading close beside him; the birds had clean forgotten his presence; and a squirrel was cracking the nut it held between its clawed forepaws not a yard above his head.
Myfanwy had never before set eyes on human stranger in this valley beyond the gates. Her father's serving men were ancients who had been in his service in the castle years before she was born. This young man looked, she imagined, like a woodman, or a forester, or a swine-herd. She had read of them in a handwritten book of fantastic tales which she had chanced on among her mother's belongings.
And as Myfanwy, finger on brim of her hat, stood intently gazing, a voice in her heart told her that whoever and whatever this stranger might be, he was someone she had been waiting for, and even dreaming about, ever since she was a child. All else vanished out of her mind and her memory. It was as if her eyes were intent on some such old story itself, and one well known to her. This unconscious stranger was that story. Yet he himself—stiff as a baulk of wood against the beech-trunk, as if indeed he had been nailed to its bark—slumbered on.
So he might have continued to do, now so blessedly asleep, until she had vanished as she had come. But at that moment the squirrel there, tail for parasol immediately above his head, having suddenly espied Myfanwy beyond the bars of the gate, in sheer astonishment let fall its nut, and the young man—as if at a tiny knock on the door of his mind—opened his eyes.
For Myfanwy it was like the opening of a door into a strange and wonderful house. Her heart all but ceased to beat. She went cold to her fingertips. And the stranger too continued to gaze at Myfanwy—as if out of a dream.
And if everything could be expressed in words, that this one quiet look between them told Myfanwy of things strange that yet seemed more familiar to her than the pebbles on the path and the thorns on the rose-bushes and the notes of the birds in the air and the first few drops of dew that were falling in the evening air, then it would take a book ten times as long as this in which to print it.
But even as she gazed Myfanwy suddenly remembered her father. She sighed; her fingers let fall the wide brim of her hat; she turned away. And oddly enough, by reason of this immense ridiculous hat, her father who but a few moments before had awakened in his arbour and was now hastening along the path of the rosery in pursuit of her, caught not a single glimpse of the stranger under the beech-tree. Indeed, before the squirrel could scamper off into hiding, the young man had himself vanished round the trunk of the tree and out of sight like a serpent into the grass.
In nothing except in this, however, did he resemble a serpent. For that very evening at supper her father told Myfanwy that yet another letter had been delivered at the castle, from some accursed Nick Nobody, asking permission to lay before him his suit for her hand. His rage was beyond words. He spilt his wine and crumbled his bread—his face a storm of darkness; his eyes like smouldering coals.
Myfanwy sat pale and trembling. Hitherto, such epistles, though even from princes of renowned estate and of realms even of the Orient, had carried much less meaning to her heart than the cuckooing of a cuckoo, or the whispering of the wind. Indeed, the cuckoo of those Welsh mountains and the wind from over their seas were voices of a language which, though secret, was not one past the heart's understanding. Not so these pompous declarations. Myfanwy would laugh at them—as though at the clumsy gambollings of a bear. She would touch her father's hand, and smile into his face, to assure him they had no meaning, that she was still as safe as safe could be.
But this letter—not for a single moment had the face of the young stranger been out of her mind. Her one sole longing and despair was the wonder whether she would ever in this world look upon him again. She sat like stone.
The "serpent" has arrived for Myfanwy and her father's oppressive form of love. This is described on the jacket of A Penny A Day as one of de la Mare's stories that are "stories of strange spells cast and bargains made, and adventures rare and magical." The adventure has just begun and, yes, magic is involved!
- There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection. I have long recommended it and continue to do so. He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
- You may have noticed I'm no
longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his
offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking
specific types of stories. There's another site, FairyTalez
claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales,
folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for
phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
- Zalka Csenge Virag - http://multicoloreddiary.blogspot.com doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links. Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job. In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it. Possibly searches maintained it. Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine. It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!