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The Power of St. Tegla's Well

AT the farm of Amnodd Bwll, at the foot of the Little Arenig, there once lived a farmer called Robert Wiliam, his wife Mari Tomos (in those days a woman did not lose her maiden name when she got married; that is only a recent fashion in Wales), and their only child, a boy who was known as Wiliam Robert (a son took his father's surname then as his Christian name). Now Wiliam was subject to fits, and in the summer when he attained the age of twelve his father and mother became terribly anxious about him, because so many signs of death followed one after another. One of the apple trees in the garden burst into blossom long before its time, which is very unlucky. The old cock which had for years behaved as well as any chanticleer in the county took to crowing in the middle of the night, and had to have his head chopped of before he would give up the fatal habit. Mari Tomos dreamed that she was at a wedding, which of course meant that she would before long attend a funeral. One night a bird flapped its wings against the window of the room in which Robert Wiliam and Mari Tomos slept, and the hearts of the worthy couple sank at the thought that it might have been the Corpse Bird, that weird, featherless bird, with wings of some leathery substance like those of a bat, which occasionally comes from the land of Illusion and Phantasy to beat its wings against the windows of houses which the King of Terrors is about to visit. Another night Robert Wiliam was so frightened that it was hours after his usual time when he crawled home, shaking like an aspen leaf. He was walking home by himself from a fair at Bala, by the side of the river Tryweryn, when he saw in the fading light a repulsive hag, clad in a long black gown trailing on the ground. Her face was deathly pale, with high cheek bones and deep-sunk lack-lustre eyes; she had great black projecting teeth, and a short nose with widely-distended nostrils. Her hair was grey and tangled. Her arms were skinny and shrivelled and of great length, out of all proportion to her body. She splashed in the water of the river with her hands, and made a most doleful noise. Robert Wiliam at first could not make out any words, but presently he distinctly heard, "My child, my child, my dear son," after uttering which words the hideous apparition vanished. The thought that he had seen the dreaded Cyhiraeth, and that her cry foreboded the death of his beloved boy, froze the blood in his veins, and the darkness had closed in before he could proceed on his homeward journey.

He had not gone much further when he saw a corpse candle moving before him along the road. It burned with a red flame, from which it was clear that it was not a woman who was doomed (a woman's candle is white), and the candle was small, indicating that a child was to die, for the size of corpse candles varies with the age of those whose death they foretell. This succession of nightly horrors almost paralysed Robert Wiliam, and he reached home more dead than alive.

The next day he went to consult a wise man who lived in Trawsfynydd, to see if there was any hope for his son. The wise man told him that his only chance was to take the boy to St. Tegla's Well, in Denbighshire, and instructed him what to do. Robert Wiliam took his son to Llandegla, and the following ceremony was performed. The boy went to the well after sunset, carrying a cock in a basket. First of all he walked round the well thrice, reciting the Lord's Prayer. Then he walked thrice round the church, again repeating the Paternoster. After this he entered the church, crept under the altar, and slept there until break of day, making the Bible his pillow and the communion cloth his coverlet. In the morning he placed sixpence on the altar, and leaving the cock in the church departed home with his father. Great was then the anxiety of Robert Wiliam to know the fate of the bird, for if it did not die in the church there would be no hope of cure. In about a week a messenger came to say that the bird had died, and that consequently the disease which had been transferred to it had died also. Whether this was so or not, it is curious that in spite of the apple tree which bloomed before its time, night-crowing cock, Corpse Bird, Cyhiraeth, and corpse candle, Wiliam Robert completely recovered from his illness and lived to a ripe old age.

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