I was thirty years old when I first saw Myfanwy.
I travelled to Wales to have a quiet holiday to help get over the bitter break up of my marriage, a marriage that had begun so promisingly but ended disastrously. I was twenty-six years old when I met Laura, a chance encounter in a theatre that was to have a momentous impact on my life. I was attending a performance of Lady Windermere’s fan at the Savoy theatre in London; Laura dropped her programme and I picked it up. As I looked in to her eyes I knew this was the woman I would marry.
Until I met Laura, I had never been in love. Oh I thought I had, but previous romances were like schoolboy crushes compared to what I felt for Laura, she made my blood sing.
Two years after that chance encounter we were married. For the first few years of our marriage we were blissfully happy; life was good. Looking back it’s hard to see when things started going wrong, but bit by bit our relationship started to unravel, the rows and arguments started to increase. Then Laura met Michael, a rich stockbroker, putting the final nail in the coffin of our marriage.
I never realised how materialistic Laura was. Had I been blinded by love to her faults before? Or had she simply changed beyond recognition when she met Michael? Either way, she was a different woman to the one I married.
The divorce was bitter. In the end rather than squabble over our possessions in an undignified manner, I let her walk away with the lion’s share.
Six months after the divorce my emotions were still raw and I was very bitter.
My friends were concerned about me; they told me that if I didn’t take a break I was sure to have a complete breakdown. I knew they were telling the truth.
I was worried too. I knew that I couldn’t carry on in this mechanical way day after day, night after night. I was sleeping badly and having nightmares, a natural reaction to traumatic events, my doctor said.
I was able to take two weeks’ leave from my job and as I liked walking, I was drawn to the Brecon Beacons. It was now the beginning of September; the countryside would be glorious at this time of year.
When I saw Pen Y Bryn Manor House in the brochure, I knew I had found my accommodation.
A few days later I packed my car and set off on the long drive to Brecon. I arrived late in the afternoon. Pen Y Bryn Manor House was situated on the edge of the town. A large oak lined drive led up to the imposing White Georgian Manor House. I had hardly got out of my car before I was greeted by a man in a dark navy suit who called for a valet to take my luggage.
“Good afternoon, sir, I’m the proprietor, Thomas Walter. May I welcome you to Pen y Bryn Manor House, and wish you an enjoyable stay.”
“Thank you, I’m Stephen Bryce. I have no doubt that I’m going to enjoy my stay here. The house looks so beautiful.”
The man’s eyes shone with pride, he clearly enjoyed his work.
“I will take you up to your room. Robert will take your luggage.”
A young man, probably around seventeen, waited by his side.
I put the two cases down and followed Thomas Walter into the manor house. The manor didn’t disappoint. A grand old oak staircase dominated the interior. Portraits adorned the walls while military artefacts hung across the ceiling. The smell of beeswax and lavender filled the air. I followed Thomas Walter up the stairs to the second floor. He opened the door with a flourish.
“This is your room, Mr Bryce. Now if there’s anything you need during your stay please let me know. Nothing is too much trouble for us here at Pen Y Bryn.”
He smiled then left the room. Robert put my cases down, smiled shyly at me and hurried after him. I looked around my room in delight; it was large, spacious and airy. A large four poster bed stood in the centre while a leather sofa occupied the far corner of the room. Everything was designed to provide luxury and comfort.
I walked to the window and gazed out at the mountains. The grounds of the house were immaculate. A variety of trees had been planted there: lime, cherry and chestnut. Rhododendron bushes and azaleas dotted the lawns. I sighed with satisfaction. I couldn’t have wished for more peaceful and secluded surroundings to begin my process of recovery. I realised that this was the first time in months that I hadn’t thought of Laura and gone through the unhelpful and time wasting process of speculative what if’s?
It was just after quarter to eight when I went up to supper that night. I was the sole diner and the food was excellent. After dinner I ordered a brandy and took it into the lounge to drink. The room was elegantly furnished with oak cabinets and porcelain vases. The walls were covered in eighteenth century tapestries and portraits. A dozen candelabra lit it up giving it a period atmosphere. I walked around in admiration. My eyes were drawn to a portrait of a beautiful woman. She was dressed in a pale blue silk dress of the Georgian period; her hair was as black as a raven’s wing and was hanging in lush ringlets over her shoulders. But it was her eyes that stood out – they were truly magnificent. Almond shaped and violet, they seemed to penetrate my very soul with their mystery. I gazed at the portrait for what seemed like hours but could have only been minutes. At last I walked away and as I did I could feel her eyes boring into my back. There was no question about it; the painter of that stunning portrait was a master of his craft.
I sat down in one of the comfortable red velvet armchairs and drank my brandy. The golden liquid slipped down my throat like warm molten nectar, and I sighed with enjoyment. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt such peace.
After I finished the brandy I closed my eyes, and, lulled by the warmth of the lounge, I started to drift off to sleep. My dream was incredibly realistic. I was galloping through a forest, the landscape was lush and green; I felt I hadn’t a care in the world. I could feel the wind racing through my hair. I heard the thunder of the horse’s hooves. The sound of laughter rang out, high and melodious, gushing like a crystal brook. It was springtime, and I could see bluebells, stitchwort and wood anemones covering the forest floor. The sun was warm on my face.
I woke with a start and heard the sound of rustling silk brushing past me. I opened my eyes and looked up, but there was no one there. I glanced at my watch and was startled to find out that it was after eleven o’clock. I yawned and stood up. Crossing the hall on my way to the stairs I passed Thomas Walter. He greeted me warmly.
“I hope you’ve had an enjoyable evening, Sir.”
“Indeed I have. I really enjoyed my supper. I’ve been admiring your lounge, it’s really comfortable.”
He beamed. “I’m glad you like it, sir. All our guests admire the lounge.”
“There’s one particular portrait that really caught my attention, can you tell me who the lady with the black ringlets was?”
“That was Myfanwy Morgan, her father was a baronet. They lived in Pen Y Bryn Manor in the eighteenth century.”
“It’s a magnificent work of art. The eyes follow me as I walk.”
“That’s a sign of a good artist. George Locke was certainly that.”
“Goodness, I’m still tired despite my nap. I think I’d better get to bed; I’ve got an early start in the morning. I was hoping to explore the beacons and get some exercise.”
“Well you’ll certainly have good weather tomorrow and for the foreseeable future, the forecast’s very good.”
”That’s encouraging. I’ll say goodnight now, Thomas.”
Over the next few days I built up my strength with a series of walks in the National Park. The waterfalls that captured my imagination were Sgwd Gwladys and Sgwd Einion Gam.
Einion and Gwladys were thwarted lovers from centuries ago who were destined not to be together in life, but in their present incarnation they join up and flow together as one. This story touched a chord inside me; I found it moving and poignant. By the time I returned to the Manor House I was tired but content with the day’s exploration. After a hot bath I poured a whisky and settled in the armchair by the window to enjoy it. Night was beginning to fall. The days are beginning to draw in I thought sadly, and soon winter will be here. Suddenly I noticed something moving in the shadows. I sat up and saw a shape appear from under one of the cherry trees on the lawn, it looked directly at me. It was her, Myfanwy, I would know that face anywhere. She made such an impression on me the first time I saw her portrait. I looked at her, she was smiling.
I finished my drink and made my way downstairs. I hurried out of the front door of the Manor. There was no sign of anyone, all was quiet and still. I made my way to the Cherry tree where she had been standing. I could have sworn that I saw a quick flash of blue silk. I rubbed my eyes and looked around again, but there was nothing. Just the all-enveloping stillness of early evening and the fading sound of birdsong. I retraced my steps forlornly back to the Manor House.
Over the next week I visited local museums to try to discover more about Myfanwy but I met with no success. I was reluctant to raise the matter with Thomas Walter in case he thought me fanciful.
I continued my exploration of the beacons and on my last day I was drawn back to Llangorse Lake. What a beautiful day it was. The air was filled with birdsong and bees swarmed over the wildflower meadows. I lay back on the lush grass gazing at the clouds. A gentle breeze fanned my cheeks and I closed my eyes.
I am not sure how long I dozed but it was the scent of roses that woke me up. It was getting stronger all the time.
I opened my eyes and I saw Myfanwy. She was walking beside the lake in her pale blue silk dress, holding a parasol above her head.
Time seemed to stand still. I stared at her in rapture. Her presence filled me with intense happiness. My eyes never left her face; she was so beautiful.
At last I called out her name, she turned around and smiled. She raised her hand in acknowledgement and I reached out to her. Then as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone. I knew this was no trick of the light. A feeling of profound melancholy overtook me. I scoured the area desperate to find a trace of her. Two hours later, after a fruitless search, I gave up. There was nowhere else to look and it was getting dark. Returning to Pen Y Bryn later that afternoon I saw Thomas Walter standing in the Hall. “Did you enjoy your day, sir?” he asked me pleasantly.
“I had a relaxing day thank you Thomas.” I paused.
He stared at me, a knowing look on his face. He knew I wanted to talk to him.
I cleared my throat and summoned up courage. “Thomas, I would like to speak to you privately.” I lowered my voice. “It concerns a rather delicate matter.”
If the man was surprised that I was confiding in him like this, he certainly didn’t show it.
“I am off duty in an hour, sir. I could come to your room. It would be me more private in there.”
I nodded. “That would be perfect, Thomas. Thank you”.
When Thomas knocked on my door I invited him in and offered him a seat.
“It’s about Myfanwy Morgan,” I blurted. “I hope you won’t think me mad or fanciful, Thomas. She’s appeared to me. I can’t explain it.” I felt relieved that I had finally unburdened my thoughts.
He shook his head. “No Sir, I don’t think you’re mad.”
“Do you know what her story was?”
He sighed. “Myfannwy was the only daughter of Sir John Morgan. Sir John had commissioned George Locke to do a painting of her. In the end he produced two paintings. George Locke was thirty years old. He was starting to attract attention as a portrait painter when he came to Pen Y Bryn. He spent a lot of time with Myfanwy and they fell in love. Sir John gave his permission for them to marry on condition they lived at Pen Y Bryn after their marriage.
He paused. “Six months before the wedding George and Myfanwy went riding in the woods. As they were galloping through the forest, George’s horse caught his foot in a rabbit hole. He went down and George was thrown over his head, breaking his neck.”
“How terrible,” I cried. “What happened to her?”
“She never married but stayed here at Pen Y Bryn, looking after her father.”
”Has anyone else ever seen her?” I whispered.
“No sir, not to my knowledge. But people have heard her and they have smelled her perfume.”
“A scent made from roses? That’s what I could smell by the Lake.”
“What I don’t understand is why no one else has seen her.” I looked at him perplexed.
“Come with me, sir,” he replied. I followed him out of my room and up two flights of stairs. He opened the door to one of the rooms. There were two paintings on the wall, one large and one much smaller, both of them were covered in dust sheets.
He pulled the dust sheet from the first painting. I caught my breath in wonder. It was stunning. It was a painting of Myfanwy looking across Llangorse Lake. She was holding a parasol. Exactly like the last time I saw her. The sheer beauty of the painting brought tears to my eyes. I gazed at it for a long time.
Finally I turned to Thomas and shook my head.
“I still don’t understand why I am the only person to see her.” Thomas Walter gave me an appraising look and pulled the dust sheet off the smaller painting.
“This is a portrait of George Locke.”
I turned to face the picture. It was like looking into a mirror, every feature was mine. I finally understood.