Black And White

Entry by: percypop

5th May 2016

Inside the cottage, a wet tweed coat hung from a washing line and steamed pungently over the coal stove. The tang of drenched ferns rose from the damp material, mixed with the sharp smell of urine. Sprawled in front of the stove, a weary old dog licked his sodden fur.
This was the home of Dewi Morgan. Seventeen years of solitary life had made Dewi what he was. He lived in the hill farm in Dolgellau and did well enough. True he didn't live lavishly, but he had everything he needed. He only went into town when necessary.
When he did, people said,
"There he is the hermit of Maindiff farm."
They treated him as an outsider to be avoided except on market day when they were happy to buy his lamb, but they kept their distance. Once, Dai bach, son of the baker, told his father how he wanted to become a farmer.
"Don't be stupid," said Dai, "you don't want to end up like Dewi Morgan do you?"
Something about his look troubled the village. His dark wild hair and small eyes squinting under shaggy brows. He was a big man and moved slowly.
"Like a bull in a field," said Missus Evans, but she never had a kind word for anybody.
One November evening, two of the Thomas' boys were out on the hills looking for a missing calf. As night closed, in they lost their way and found themselves in the fold below Maindiff. Above, looming against the darkling sky, the outline of the farm crouched like a preying beast. Just one light showed in the small windows of the building but not a sound could be heard. A stench of manure and damp straw leeched out of the dark buildings and reached the boys on the track.
"What'll we do?" the smaller boy pulled at his brother's sleeve," shall we try to find our way or knock up Dewi Morgan?"
"We'll be a'right. I can find my way easy."
Dylan was twelve and had walked the hills for most of his life. They moved on into the dark, feeling their way along the sheep track that crossed the hills. Within a hundred yards the track faded out and they were left blind and lost.
A mist of clammy dew wrapped around them like a web. Griff shivered and his hand crept out to hold his brother's hand while they stood together undecided which way to turn.
"I'd better give a shout," said Dylan and they both shouted out into the rising wind. Up in Maindiff, Dewi heard a faint noise but ignored it. His dog bristled and growled to warn him, so he went to the window and scanned the darkness. This time the sound was distinct and he went to the door, taking his gun with him. It came from the track leading to the sheep fold. As he stepped out his dog slipped past him and made his way down the pitch.
"Who's there? What d'ye want?" Dewi gripped the shotgun and pointed it down the hill.
"We got lost Mister Morgan" said a small voice and out of the mist he spied the silhouette of the two small figures standing together.
"Come up here at once," he shouted, "what are you doing on the hill at this time?"
The boys climbed up clumsily, Griff still holding his brother's hand tightly.
He whispered "Is it safe? Mam said he was an 'ermit. Is it safe?"
Dylan shushed him and they followed the big man into the dark entrance to the house.
Inside, Dewi stoked up the fire and the flames threw a bright light into the kitchen. He lit a lamp and the boys could see the one good chair and the oil clothed table in the centre of the room. They smelt the dampness in the air and the tang of old sweat from the clothes drying by the stove.
"How did you boys get up here at night?" demanded Dewi. Dylan explained how they had followed the calf and got lost.
"Well, I can't take you back down tonight; you'll have to wait till morning."
Griff, the younger one, looked up at his elder brother for guidance and Dylan said, "But our Mam will be looking out for us."
"Can't help that," said Dewi "I have a sick cow here and need to be at hand, you'll be safe here till the morning."
The man set about preparing his evening meal at the griddle over the open doors of the stove. He brought pieces of lamb and kidneys to the flame and threw herbs and a few onions onto the pan. Soon the frying meat and the tang of the onions spread out through the entire room. The two boys gazed at the meat turning in the griddle and nudged each other with longing. They squirmed on the bench where they had been placed dangling their feet over the edge.
"Here!" Dewi pushed a plate in front of the boys and indicated where they should sit. They scrambled down and sat at the table expectantly. The meat sizzled on the long stick Dewi used to bring it to the table. He pulled it off with a knife and shared it out between them. Gobbets of beef, still bubbling, gave off an aroma that dominated all the other smells; the damp clothes - the wet dog and even the pungent sweat from Dewi's clothing.
There was a silence except for the whining of the dog as they chewed their meal.
One of the boys slipped a piece of meat to the animal and Dewi roared
"Leave 'im alone! He feeds when I say."
Griff shrank away from him as if he'd been slapped. His eyes filled with tears. He looked down at the table and stopped eating.
Dewi chewed on, not heeding, or maybe, pretending to ignore the quiet tears of the little boy. Dylan touched his brother's boot under the table but said nothing.
After they had finished, the farmer sat back from the table and for a few minutes in silence, examined the boys. They flinched under his gaze.
"What's your name?" The question was aimed at Dylan.
He gave his name and plucked enough courage to add; "An' our dad will be looking for us all over."
"Mayhap he is, but you'll stay here as long as I say so." This with a growl that silenced the boy.
Dewi regarded the younger boy but realized that he'd get no words from him and turned away.
A clock chimed on the mantelpiece and the farmer glanced up.
"Now I'm going to the barn to quench the cow and check the stock, so you'd better find a covering and bed down." he added, "look in the dresser for a blanket and set down by the fire." He left the room and soon the boys could hear him drawing water from a well near the front door.
"What did he mean "Quench the cow"? asked Griff.
"You know," said Dylan, "when the cows need flushing." He found it difficult to explain.
"What's flushin' then?"
"When a cow is ill, you do that." Dylan was reluctant to admit he did not know what it meant.
"Let's have a look." said Griff and he crept up to the door and peeped out.
There was a lantern in the barn and the boy could see Dewi moving about and the sound of splashing water. The cow made a lot of noise and Dewi was swearing.
In the dim light, it appeared as if the cow's hide was slathered in grease but they realized it was soaking wet. It pulled away from the rope halter tied to its neck and the farmer had difficulty in keeping away from its hind hooves.
He saw the boys peering in through the open door and shouted. "Get me some more water. I can't let 'er go now. Get me some water!"
Dylan grabbed the pail on the floor and ran to the pump, Griff stood wide -eyed in the doorway.
Three times Dylan refilled the bucket and soon both boys were as wet as Dewi struggling with the cow. At last, the cooling effect of the quenching calmed the animal and Dewi relaxed his hold and stepped away.
"That's over then," he said, but not a word to the boys who stood dripping wet on the courtyard. With a weary step, he trudged back to the kitchen, peeling off his sodden clothes.
He hung his shirt and trousers up by the fire and stood half naked to warm himself before the stove.
The two boys slipped into the kitchen and stood shivering, their jackets and trousers dripping water onto the slate floor.
"Don't be daft! Come nearer and take them things off." It was an order and they did what they were told.
Stripped of their coats and trousers, they sat in their undershirts near the fire.
Dewi looked at them. "Take off the rest of your things or you'll catch a fever.
Dylan did as he was told and stood in his underpants next to the farmer who made room for him by the stove. Griff stood mute with his hands in front of his crutch - he had no underclothes and kept back from the farmer.
"Come on," said the man, "you'll be better off up here with us." and he pulled the boy by his shoulders towards the hearth. The boy reluctantly took up a position nearer the open doors of the stove. Dewi said nothing and sat down with his eyes closed. His body was hairy and his gut hung out of his longjohn pants. He scratched himself and farted. The boys edged away from him and sat down at the table a little distance from the stove.
Griff lifted his head at a faint sound from outside. It sounded like a cry but though he listened it never was repeated and he sat down naked, waiting for his clothes to dry.
Just then, a loud knock hammered on the door.
"Morgan, are you home? Open up!"
Dewi rose slowly and went to the door. His naked torso was pallid in the light from the lamp and he peered out of the door, holding it ajar.
"What d'you want?"
The door was forced open and a group of men made their way into the kitchen, bustling each other to get a view into this strange man's house. There was silence for a long moment.
The two boys, one naked and the other barely covered, stood up as the men filed in. One of the men grabbed Dewi and forced him up against the wall.
"You Bastard! What have you been up to?"
Dewi struggled with the man and two others rushed at him and between them tried to force his arms behind his back and Dai the baker struck him across the mouth with his fist.
"Dirty tramp! Look what you bin doing up here! Naked and stripping them boys!"
One of them turned to the boys.
"Tell us what he did! How did he get you up here at night?"
Dylan stood dumbstruck as the shock of the sudden intervention. Griff felt the air seemed to be crackling with tension and violence; he did not know what to do but stood there with his hands over his crutch, sobbing.
One of the men took off his overcoat and put it around Griff's shoulders. He knelt down and said
"We looked for you everywhere and your Mam is beside herself. Why did you do it?"
Griff said nothing but Dylan began to tell them how they got lost, but no one listened. They were crowding round Dewi, punching him and swearing at him.
He was shouting and struggling as they flung themselves against him. He twisted and turned and his great strength made it difficult for the group to keep a hold on him. His pale skin showed red where the blows had landed but he kept up a roar and fought back fiercely.
It was then that Tudor Evans the builder took up a shovel from behind the door and struck the man on the back of the head. Dewi dropped