The Gruffyds were one of the largest of the Welsh tribes. To-day, it is said that in Britain one man in every forty has this, as either his first,
It means “hero” or “brave man,” and as far back as the ninth century, the word is found in the Book of Saint Chad.
The monks, who derived nearly every name from the Latin, insisted the word meant Great Faith.
Another of the most common of Welsh personal names was William; which, when that of a father’s son, was written Williams and was only the Latin for Gild Helm, or Golden Helmet.
Long ago, when London was a village and Cardiff only a hamlet, there was a boy of this name, who tended sheep on the hill sides. His father was a hard working farmer, who every year tried to coax to grow out of the stony ground some oats, barley, leeks and cabbage. In summer, he worked hard, from the first croak of the raven to the last hoot of the owl, to provide food for his wife and baby daughter. When his boy was born, he took him to the church to be christened Gruffyd, but every body called him “Gruff.” In time several little sisters came to keep the boy company.
His mother always kept her cottage, which was painted pink, very neat and pretty, with vines covering the outside, while flowers bloomed indoors. These were set in pots and on shelves near the latticed windows. They seemed to grow finely, because so good a woman loved them. The copper door-sill was kept bright, and the broad borders on the clay floor, along the walls, were always fresh with whitewash. The pewter dishes on the sideboard shone as if they were moons, and the china cats on the mantle piece, in silvery luster, reflected both sun and candle light. Daddy often declared he could use these polished metal plates for a mirror, when he shaved his face. Puss, the pet, was always happy purring away on the hearth, as the kettle boiled to make the flummery, of sour oat jelly, which, daddy loved so well.
Mother Gruffyd was always so neat, with her black and white striped apron, her high peaked hat, with its scalloped lace and quilled fastening around her chin, her little short shawl, with its pointed, long tips, tied in a bow, and her bright red plaid petticoat folded back from her frock. Her snowy-white, rolling collar and neck cloth knotted at the top, and fringed at the ends, added fine touches to her picturesque costume.
In fact, young Gruffyd was proud of his mother and he loved her dearly. He thought no woman could be quite as sweet as she was.
Once, at the end of the day, on coming back home, from the hills, the boy met some lovely children. They were dressed in very fine clothes, and had elegant manners. They came up, smiled, and invited him to play with them. He joined in their sports, and was too much interested to take note of time. He kept on playing with them until it was pitch dark.
Among other games, which he enjoyed, had been that of “The King in his counting house, counting out his money,” and “The Queen in her kitchen, eating bread and honey,” and “The Girl hanging out the clothes,” and “The Saucy Blackbird that snipped off her nose.” In playing these, the children had aprons full of what seemed to be real coins, the size of crowns, or five-shilling pieces, each worth a dollar. These had “head and tail,” beside letters on them and the boy supposed they were real.
But when he showed these to his mother, she saw at once from their lightness, and because they were so easily bent, that they were only paper, and not silver.
She asked her boy where he had got them. He told her what a nice time he had enjoyed. Then she knew that these, his playmates, were fairy children. Fearing that some evil might come of this, she charged him, her only son, never to go out again alone, on the mountain. She mistrusted that no good would come of making such strange children his companions.
But the lad was so fond of play, that one day, tired of seeing nothing but byre and garden, while his sisters liked to play girls’ games more than those which boys cared most for, and the hills seeming to beckon him to come to them, he disobeyed, and slipped out and off to the mountains. He was soon missed and search was made for him.
Yet nobody had seen or heard of him. Though inquiries were made on every road, in every village, and at all the fairs and markets in the neighborhood, two whole years passed by, without a trace of the boy.
But early one morning of the twenty-fifth month, before breakfast, his mother, on opening the door, found him sitting on the steps, with a bundle under his arm, but dressed in the same clothes, and not looking a day older or in any way different, from the very hour he disappeared.
“Why my dear boy, where have you been, all these months, which have now run into the third year—so long a time that they have seemed to me like ages?”
“Why, mother dear, how strange you talk. I left here yesterday, to go out and to play with the children, on the hills, and we have had a lovely time. See what pretty clothes they have given me for a present.” Then he opened his bundle.
But when she tore open the package, the mother was all the more sure that she was right, and that her fears had been justified. In it she found only a dress of white paper. Examining it carefully, she could see neither seam nor stitches. She threw it in the fire, and again warned her son against fairy children.
But pretty soon, after a great calamity had come upon them, both father and mother changed their minds about fairies.
They had put all their savings into the venture of a ship, which had for a long time made trading voyages from Cardiff. Every year, it came back bringing great profit to the owners and shareholders. In this way, daddy was able to eke out his income, and keep himself, his wife and daughters comfortably clothed, while all the time the table was well supplied with good food. Nor did they ever turn from their door anyone who asked for bread and cheese.
But in the same month of the boy’s return, bad news came that the good ship had gone down in a storm. All on board had perished, and the cargo was totally lost, in the deep sea, far from land. In fact, no word except that of dire disaster had come to hand.
Now it was a tradition, as old as the days of King Arthur, that on a certain hill a great boulder could be seen, which was quite different from any other kind of rock to be found within miles. It was partly imbedded in the earth, and beneath it, lay a great, yes, an untold treasure. The grass grew luxuriantly around this stone, and the sheep loved to rest at noon in its shadow. Many men had tried to lift, or pry it up, but in vain. The tradition, unaltered and unbroken for centuries, was to the effect, that none but a very good man could ever budge this stone. Any and all unworthy men might dig, or pull, or pry, until doomsday, but in vain. Till the right one came, the treasure was as safe as if in heaven.
But the boy’s father and mother were now very poor and his sisters now grown up wanted pretty clothes so badly, that the lad hoped that he or his father might be the deserving one. He would help him to win the treasure for he felt sure that his parent would share his gains with all his friends.
Though his neighbors were not told of the generous intentions credited to the boy’s father, by his loving son, they all came with horses, ropes, crowbars, and tackle, to help in the enterprise. Yet after many a long days’ toil, between the sun’s rising and setting, their end was failure. Every day, when darkness came on, the stone lay there still, as hard and fast as ever. So they gave up the task.
On the final night, the lad saw that father and mother, who were great lovers, were holding each other’s hands, while their tears flowed together, and they were praying for patience.
Seeing this, before he fell asleep, the boy resolved that on the morrow, he would go up to the mountains, and talk to his fairy friends about the matter.
So early in the morning, he hurried to the hill tops, and going into one of the caves, met the fairies and told them his troubles. Then he asked them to give him again some of their money.
“Not this time, but something better. Under the great rock there are treasures waiting for you.”
“Oh, don’t send me there! For all the men and horses of our parish, after working a week, have been unable to budge the stone.”
“We know that,” answered the principal fairy, “but do you yourself try to move it. Then you will see what is certain to happen.”
Going home, to tell what he had heard, his parents had a hearty laugh at the idea of a boy succeeding where men, with the united strength of many horses and oxen, had failed.
Yet, after brooding awhile, they were so dejected, that anything seemed reasonable. So they said, “Go ahead and try it.”
Returning to the mountain, the fairies, in a band, went with him to the great rock.
One touch of his hand, and the mighty boulder trembled, like an aspen leaf in the breeze.
A shove, and the rock rolled down from the hill and crashed in the valley below.
There, underneath, were little heaps of gold and silver, which the boy carried home to his parents, who became the richest people in the country round about.
Welsh Fairy Tales
By WILLIAM ELLIOT GRIFFIS