Pages 222-225, part of Diary entry for 17th August 1806

 

I sat on a grassy bank in the cool dark shade of an oak tree. The woodland rang with birdsong and resonated with the humming of insect wings. I lay on my back and looked up at the canopy of leaves over my head, trying to count the number of greens and textures I could see within the leafy boughs. I think I nodded off for a minute or two, but then I was startled to hear a little snatch of music drifting through the trees. Then it faded away, and then it came again, carried on the breeze. It was unmistakably the sound of somebody singing. A man singing. It drew me like a magnet, and so I got to my feet and walked on up the track until I got to the start of a series of cascades in the adjacent river. In the winter, when there is a torrent roaring down off the mountain, this is a dangerous place indeed, and I know that poachers have been drowned in the deep rock pools where three-pound trout are reputed to lurk. There was not much water in the river today, to be sure, and the cascades and waterfalls were mere trickles, but the lower pools were full of cool, clear water.

The sound was coming from one of the higher pools, louder and sweeter. The man was singing, in a fine tenor voice, in Welsh. I recognized the tune from my childhood, which my father called The White Lilac Tree. I walked on up the track for a little way, and then, to locate the source of the music, I had to make my way, as gingerly and quietly as possible, into a thicket of bushes and tall ferns. At last I was able to peep through the leaves of a little hazel bush, and then I saw him. Owain Laugharne, as naked as the day he was born, floating on his back in the biggest and deepest of the rock pools, with his eyes closed, singing at the top of his voice. His voice was beautiful, and he was beautiful.

The pool was only about fifteen feet across, but it was very deep. On the far side of it there was a wall of black shaly rock, smoothed by cascading water over thousands of years. Where there were little crevices, ferns and mosses and liver-worts were thriving, no doubt fed and watered by spray when the river is in flood. To the left there was a jagged waterfall with just a trickle of water flowing down its face; to the right, where the water of the pool spilled out, there was a jumble of smooth black boulders and stones, ending abruptly at the edge of the next waterfall downstream. Tall trees towered over the pools and the river bed, and some of them had dropped branches or fallen over into the river; branches and roots and rotting tree trunks were jumbled together, all dripping with moisture and supporting clusters of greenery and summer flowers. The sunlight streamed through the tree canopy in shafts and slivers of light, dappling the river banks and the pool which Owain had occupied. I thought that the Garden of Eden must have been very similar.

I could not take my eyes off him. His body was illuminated by sunlight and surrounded by shadow, and I could see every detail of it. Why had he been named Owain, when he should have been called Apollo?

His behaviour was so sweet, so natural, and so uninhibited that I could hardly credit it. Was this the same young man who had been so stiff and so uncertain of himself in my company? The same young man who, according to his sister Mary Jane, was almost obsessively concerned with learning the correct way of doing things? He must have been utterly convinced that nobody would pass along the Pandy track today with the barley harvest in full swing, for country squires do not normally swan about in rock pools without any clothes on. So absorbed was I by the sound of his sweet voice and the sight of his lean body moving gently in the water that I became almost entranced; and I was jolted out of my reverie by the realization that his clothes were on a smooth rocky eminence between me and the rock pool. Indeed, they were no more that ten feet away from where I crouched behind my little hazel bush.

Suddenly he stopped singing, opened his eyes and swam towards me. I thought that he looked straight towards me, and that he must have seen me in spite of the fact that I was well hidden, and very still. I hardly dared to breathe. He climbed out of the water and walked gingerly across the gravelly turf to the smooth rock where he had placed his clothes. Then he moved them to one side and stretched himself out on his back, having found a sunny spot where he could dry out gradually, and in comfort. He closed his eyes and looked as if he might go to sleep. I was mortified, but thanked the God of Mercy that I had not put any perfume on before leaving the house; if I had done, he would certainly have smelt it. What was I to do? Fling aside my hazel boughs and fern fronds and say: “Good day, Master Laugharne! How good it is to see you!”? The poor fellow, I was sure, would never recover from the shock, and neither would I. There was nothing for it but to stay put, hardly breathing, not daring to move a muscle, and hoping that I could maintain my statuesque pose without getting cramp or suffering from exhaustion. So I continued to look at him, lying on his rock in the sun, and so close that I could almost touch his skin and run my fingers through his hair.

He was listening to the birds, and to the whispering breeze, and to the gently murmuring and splashing stream. His chest rose and sank rhythmically as he breathed. I noticed that he was much slimmer than David, and I could make out his rib cage, but he was by no means undernourished, and had strong arms and legs. His stomach was flat and strong. He had very little body hair, and what he had was very blonde. Below the waist his skin was as white as virgin snow, but his upper body was bronzed, and I thought that was the sign of a man prepared to work in the sun with his servants. Water droplets trickled off his skin, and there was a funny little pool of water in his breast cavity. I noticed, more sharply than on my previous encounters with him, his fine nose and high cheek-bones. His long golden hair settled about his head on the warm rock, and I noticed little rivulets of water streaming away down the natural slope and back towards the pool whence they had come. I am ashamed to say it, but I could not take my eyes off his private parts, which delicacy prevents me from describing in detail. Suffice to say that I have for too long been deprived of such things.

Then he turned over in order to dry his back, and I was able to examine the other side of him in considerable detail. His head was resting on the backs of his hands, and I could see in sharp focus the muscles on his back, his slim waist and his tight buttocks. I thought that in some way his back was even more beautiful than his front, and I have to admit to feeling considerably aroused as I looked at him.

Suddenly he decided that it was time to go. He sprang to his feet, rubbed the last droplets of water off his body with his shirt, and put on his breeches and stockings. Then he put on his shoes, shook out his shirt, and put that on too. He started whistling, strode past me so close that I could have touched him, and went back to the track. Then off he went down towards Pandy, and within thirty seconds he was gone. At last I was able to escape from my prison, and I was greatly relieved to be able to move my limbs again. For some minutes I jumped up and down and shook myself, and walked round in small circles on the rock where Owain had recently dried himself. I considered following him back towards Pandy, but thought better of it, for in truth I had had enough excitement for one day. So I sat on the rock, in the very patch of sunlight that Owain had recently anointed with his naked body. I remained there for maybe half an hour, thinking very beautiful thoughts; and when I judged that sufficient time had passed I retraced my steps back to the Cwm Gwaun road.

When I reached the road I decided not to return home through the Llannerch yard, but turned right and continued along the path that goes from Parc y Dyffryn towards Dolrannog and the Plas. Within thirty minutes I was home. Bessie was the only person in the kitchen. “Why, Mistress Martha,” said she, “you have a good colour on your cheeks and look as if you have had a fine walk in the sun. May I ask whether you saw Master Laugharne?”

“Oh yes, I saw him,” I replied. “But the circumstances were not quite right for a conversation. Some other time, maybe.