The sound of laughter rose from the Dart River as Tressa swung from a rope tied to a tree. Many of the children of their village of Buckfastleigh, Devon were splashing in the water. Tressa’s sister Gwen screamed as their brother Jory swung the rope higher. Gwen dropped into the water with a splash and laughed.
This was an exciting day for them because their father was supposed to come home from Northern Devon where he had been trying to sell his latest invention. Jory decided to tell his sisters that it was time to head back to the cottage. He felt lucky because he was the oldest boy at the river that day. He knew that most seventeen year olds had to help their families put food on the table. He and his sisters did help, but also had more free time than most children in Buckfastleigh.
“Tressa, Gwen, let’s go!” Tressa immediately obeyed, but Gwen said, “Oh Jory do we have to?” Jory replied, “Yes, you know father will expect us to help get supper on the table.” They dried off as best they could and walked to their cottage in companionable silence.
Jory hoped that father had made some money this time. Mother was taking on more laundry, and had a cleaning job down the street for an older widower once a week. It would be nice if she did not have to work so hard.
The children took a short-cut through the wood and were on Tulip Street in less than fifteen minutes. They walked in their front door and into their dark cottage.
The children loved their home. It was similar to all the other cottages on the street except they had two bedrooms due to an overhead addition of a loft bedroom their father Pasco had put on when Gwen was born. That had been over sixteen years ago. It had a beautiful beamed ceiling and deep-silled windowswhich held bric-a-brac of all sort.
Jory headed out to the back garden to collect wood for the inglenook Fireplace and bread oven. He then collected eggs from their chickens while Gwen started to cook a hunk of venison.
Tressa was the youngest of the siblings at age fourteen. She straightened up the cottage and set the table. She carefully poured the tea for supper as Gwen pulled out the fresh bread out of the oven.
Jory walked back into the cottage and sniffed the air. “Smells good, I’m starving!”
Just then Caja walked through the door. “Mother!” Tressa shouted and ran to hug her. The children hugged their mother and asked how her day was. “Wonderful children and how was yours?” They all agreed that it had been a wonderful day.
Jory retrieved some hot water off of the kitchen stove for mother to tidy up with. She took off her apron and went to her bedroom. Just then the children heard whistling. Father was home! They ran out and greeted him with hugs in the front garden. They asked so many questions all at once. “All in good time,” said Pasco. “I will answer your questions over supper.”
He walked into the cottage and smiled, “mmm smells great, I’m famished. Where is your mother?”
“Right here,” Caja replied. “I will get you some fresh, hot water. Go change.” Pasco obeyed.
What a supper they had. They ate their fill as father told them of his adventures. He was always good with a story.
After supper, father stood and the family followed him to their sitting room. “What about your invention Father,” said Jory?
“Oh yes,” said Pasco. The Earl of Killigrew was happy with the wood cutter and took it on the spot.” Pasco reached into his pocket and pulled out a one pound coin. Caja gasped, “how wonderful Pasco!” They hugged and the children danced around them.
Pasco wanted to hear about what they had been up to while he was away. The family spent the rest of the evening talking and laughing until Tressa yawned and Caja told the children that it was time for bed.
They changed into their bed clothes and went up to their bedroom. The girls cuddled up in the bed they shared and giggled until they heard Jory gently snoring and then their eyes got heavy and they fell into a deep sleep.
Pasco had taught his children the basics of reading, writing and math. He did not enjoy teaching them this but wanted them to have the advantage of some education to help them out in life.
Jory did not enjoy the lessons, he enjoyed the outdoors. He often asked Pasco why he had to bother when the other boys and girls did not have to learn so much. Pasco always said that they were of a different class than the other children and that someday they may make use of the information.
He also insisted that the children learn how to ride a horse well and had rented a horse on and off through the last five years.
Tressa especially loved riding horses and was known in their village as a good horsewoman.
On Her fifteenth birthday in November, Pasco rented her favorite mare. Tressa happily decided that she would have a long ride today, down past the abbey and then to the moor beyond.
She would walk the abbey grounds on her way back from the moor. She brought some bread and an apple with her for dinner time.
The mare’s name was Dutchy and she was a proud, beautiful bay colored horse with a bold eye, strong quarters and a sure foot. Tressa carefully maneuvered through the village and then started to gallop toward the Abbey with her blonde locks flowing backward in the breeze.
It was such a freeing feeling to be away from the muddy streets of their village and to be one with nature. She made her way through the tall, proud oak trees on the edge of Buckfastleigh and the hilly pastoral farming land of the neighborhood. She saw hundreds of sheep scattered eating the soft grass of the land and could hear their gentle baaing as she galloped through them.
She was so blessed to have such a wonderful, carefree life when many in their village were suffering, hungry and living just at subsistence level. Tressa and her siblings often listened at the closed door of their parent’s bedroom and heard her parents worry about dysentery from the open sewers, drinking water and the unsanitary living conditions. They worried about their neighbors and left gifts of food by their front doors whenever they had a little extra to spare.
They heard their father proclaim loudly to their mother that the poor have a right to basic necessities such as enough food, a good paying job, and sanitation. They also heard mother complain to father about their neighbor James Allen and how he was not taking care of his wife and growing brood. She was upset about his gin drinking. She wondered how his wife was supposed to work and raise five young children. She was with child almost every year and the last two born were dead within two months after their birth. Caja left her some money a few times for food but did not like to go into her neighbor’s small cottage because it was dirty and smelled awful. Father comforted her by telling her to keep leaving food and money when they had some to spare. He also told her at the risk of sounding just like his father, turn to the good book and cast all your care on God because he cares for us.
Mother laughed at him and told him he did just sound like his father. Father laughed and said that was how he grew up every day and he knew his Bible well. They turned serious again and father related that he did not want his children growing up in this poor environment, but what else could he do? Mother comforted him and said “Come kiss me and all will be well.”
Tressa was confused at her parent’s talk because she loved her village. She could not imagine anything better like father talked about. He was fond of telling his children of his childhood at Castle Lyon in Padstow, Cornwall.
It was such a grand castle on top of a cliff close to the Atlantic Ocean. He would describe his boy-hood trips down to the harbor and the ships that would come into port. He said the ocean had a mind of her own and he heard many a story in his youth of its dangers. He also told us stories of the shipwrecks near his home due to the rocks and sand bars in the neighborhood.
He told us of the Pilchard and how they were a plentiful fish in Padstow and how many made a living due to them. They would dry them, smoke them or salt them. They also could reduce them to fish meal or oil.
Tressa and her siblings loved hearing about their father’s childhood and encouraged him to talk. Their father often talked about how he met their mother at Castle Lyon. Their mother had grown up right in Padstow and was a daughter of a fisherman. Her mother had died at her birth and she was raised as an only child by her father.
Her father had died when she was fifteen and she went to live with her grandmother at Castle Lyon. She helped her grandmother who was the cook at the castle and loved to make the desserts that Earl Richard was so fond of.
I always thought the story of how they met to be so romantic. My father was just coming up from the harbor on his mare when he heard my mother screaming. He galloped to her and saw that she was terrified of an angry grass snake. She was so happy to see him and told him that the snake had bitten her ankle when she accidentally stepped on it.
Father threw a stone close to the snake and pulled my mother away. He explained to her that she had no reason to fear because the snake that had bitten her was a grass snake and they were non-venomous. He always explained to us that he had seen many grass snakes in Cornwall because they favored living in damp places with long grass close to the water.
He picked her up and put her on his mare and mounted up behind her, and held her.
He asked her where she lived and she replied Castle Lyon. He thought she must be shocked by the ordeal she had just been through because he never saw her before. Something just felt so natural and right about their meeting.
Once they reached the stable, father lifted mother off of the mare. They just stared into one another’s eyes while father still held mother around the waist. A groom interrupted their thoughts when he said, “Why Caja! Where have you been and how did you come to be on master Pasco’s horse?”
I asked the groomsman how he knew her and he said that she was the cook’s granddaughter who had just moved in a few months back. Then father introduced himself as Pacso Lyon, second born son to Earl Richard Lyon.
They met every day and finally were married without the Earl’s knowledge. He was very angry at his son’s marriage to a mere servant. Father said he was sick of listening to his father’s prosing on and on with life advice and religion. He also felt he had to protect his new wife from his father’s displeasure. So, father took his new wife away with a small inheritance that was left to him and after a long journey they ended up in Buckfastleigh, Devon.
We loved the story and made him repeat it many times throughout the years. We often asked him about our grandfather and his elder brother and he just said they were fine, upstanding, Godly men of faith. We did not know more about them and my father did not invite more questions about them.
My mother did volunteer information about her grandmother. She dearly missed her and did receive letters from her sporadically. She would be old now and I could tell that mother would love to see her again. From the last letter awhile back, grandmother still lived on in the castle as an elderly servant, taken care of by the Earl.
There was a newer cook that had been there these past seven years. Grandmother always asked about her great grandchildren and said that she would love to meet them, but could not travel due to her age. I know that for the few months that my mother had lived with my grandmother she had taught her many things. She taught her how to cook and for that my father, Jory, Gwen and I were thankful. My mother was a good cook and looked forward to cooking the Christmas feast for us this year.
I passed the abbey and rode on. I stopped after a while to feed the deer some of my apple. They were enclosed in fencing and lovely to watch. My mother adored fresh venison and my brother would often help our butcher out. In return, he received a hunk of venison to take home at the week’s end. He hated the work and called it savage and bloody. But, he did it for my mother and we were all grateful for the meat since we did not eat meat every day.
This time of year the butcher was very busy because it was costly for many to keep their livestock all winter due to the feed required.
I skipped back to the Oak tree where I had tied my horse and rode on to the moors. I reached the beginning of the moor and just kept riding with the sun on my face and the cool wind whipping my hair around.
The moors were so breathtakingly beautiful, stark and solid. Dutchy carefully navigated the gently rolling hills of the moor. The moor was filled with wildlife such as deer, rabbits and wild ponies. There were many types of birds as well like the Goosander, Peregrine Falcon, Dipper and Raven.
I looked overthe glorious granite tors and hills dotted with huge boulder rocks with wonder. I felt that I could see for miles and the sky seemed so close. I stood up higher on Dutchy to see if I could touch a cloud.
I rode up to a granite slab, dismounted, and sat down and let my thoughts wander. Some in our village said that this moor was home to pixies and fairies and even goblins. Looking out over the moor, I could believe it. It was wild, untamed and expansive. I could imagine a goblin pulling up soil to make a rut for a horse to trip over or a mischievous pixie leading a wayfarer over the moors to get lost in the mists where the bogs can lead to death. They said this is called being pixy-led. Supposedly pixies loved to ride the wild horses over the moors and to dance in the moonlight. I wasn’t so sure that these stories were true, but I wouldn’t be caught on our moor at night.
It was heard by those in our village that when something unexplained happened, it was the pixies playing their tricks. Many said that pixies were originally druids who resisted Christianity. Some said that they were a race of people that were not good enough to go to Heaven and not bad enough to go to Hell, so they were condemned to roam the earth forever.
I also heard about the green hedgehog fairies whose bells are heard across the moor. They love to dance near stones and steal horses. It was said that when storms raged across the moors that the Wild Huntsman was riding again. He has a terrible pack of hounds with ears flaming ready to satisfy the hunger of their master for human blood and the souls of unbaptized babes.
I shuddered, waking out of my reverie. Although I was getting sleepy from my journey and the fresh air of the day, I was determined not to fall asleep here on the moor. I did not sleep well and awoke early because I was so excited about my birthday. After all, it wasn’t every day that one turned fifteen. I mounted Dutchy and turned around toward my village and the abbey.
I loved the abbey. It was a ruin really, but the area had a still, peace about it that I had never experienced before. I was not the only one there that day as there were others walking for exercise and some there for a history lesson.
My father had taken me here a couple of times in the past, but not as often as I would have liked. Besides, I liked to come here alone and just think.
I knew some history about the abbey, but walked over to where a man was giving a history lesson to a boy about my age. They looked privileged as they were well dressed in their fashionable coats with large buttons over double-breasted waistcoats. The upper buttons of their waistcoats were left undone to display the frill of the shirt beneath. The linen breeches they wore were quite handsome and fitted their legs like a second skin and they had tight fitting riding boots on. Their hats were felt and of a bicorne pattern.
I listened while I pretended to sit on the grass nearby the pair. “Now Thomas,”said the man, “It was in the year of our Lord 1018 that this abbey was founded. This was during the reign of King Cnut. You remember him from your studies as Cnut the Great, Viking king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden. He was known as a statesman with some success in politics and military. He also repaired our churches and monasteries that fell victim to the Vikings.” “Oh yes sir, I remember him! “replied Thomas. “Good, anyway, the abbey became Cisterian in 1147 and was rebuilt in stone. The Cisterian monks were hard working and self- sufficient. The abbey became rich through fishing and trading in sheep wool. In the Middle Ages, the Abbey ran its own guest hall, almshouse and school.”
“The Black Death had killed many monks, but they still remained until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the reign of Henry VIII between 1536 and 1541. This abbey surrendered in February of 1539. The king also dissolved priories, convents and friaries all over England, Wales and Ireland,” the man said. “Sir, how did King Henry VIII get the authority to do this?” asked Thomas. “Good question Thomas,” the man replied. “I actually read up on the subject a couple of days ago as I knew we would be making this trip to the abbey. In 1534, King Henry VIII was given the authority to do this in England and Wales by the Act of Supremacy passed by Parliament. This made him the Supreme Head of the Church of England. It was an end to the Pope’s authority. The king was a reformed Catholic and established The Church of England which, as you know Thomas, is part of our 16th century Protestant Reform and includes the Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. The act was an administrative and legal process and the monks here were forced to leave and the buildings were looted and destroyed. The dissolution of these many monasteries and such was one of the largest legally, enforced transfers of property in our history.”
I lost interest and walked away wandering through the stone ruins. There was such an unearthly, surreal quality about the ruin. I started humming a tune I often heard by father whistling then sat down and enjoyed the hunk of bread I brought along with some tea.
I wondered if mother was going to cook something special for my birthday.
Excerpted from "Love, The Journey Uncovered" by Mara Gold. Copyright © 2017 by Mara Gold. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.