Martha’s Story

Martha was born a Jones, at a time of change in the County of Carmarthen in the west of southern Wales, but married a John. She lived in the parish of Llanedi, in Llanedi County, close to the banks of the River Loughor. There were a thousand souls in the Parish of Llanedi, and all needed saving. The locus of efforts to save them was the Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, on the Ammanford Road, in the village of Tycroes.

The River Loughor, which separated Llanedi from the east, and the wider world of Swansea, was a powerful presence in their lives; they were fearful of the evils of the growing city of Copperopolis, and the great county of Glamorganshire beyond that. Pembrokeshire lay to the west, and the river poured it’s muddy waters, into the sea between, in the bay of Carmarthen.

Llanedi was at a crossroads, the village intersected by the Turnpike road from Swansea to Llandeilo-Vawr. This location brought trade for the coaching inns which stood at the crossroads, and work for local people, but also dangerous ideas and dangerous people.

When Martha was ten, an event happened a stones throw from her family home, which scarred the scattered local communities for many years. Martha still remembered the effect it had, for many months on people she knew, family members, and her parents in particular.

One January, on a bitter day, the coach from Cardiff to Cardigan, bearing important passengers and the Royal Mail, had stopped at The Royal Oak the grandest of the local inns. While the horses were being fed and watered, and the ostlers gossiped, the passengers took the opportunity to stretch their legs, and take in the sights, such as they were.

One man, in his sixties, a magistrate from Cardiff, was en route to try a case at Cardigan Assizes Court. As he strolled by the courtyard, shortly passing the church of St Edith, a strange and terrible occurrence befell him, something which soon passed into local legend. Out of the bright winter sun, a female golden eagle suddenly dived at breakneck speed, and landed, huge talons splayed, on the mans shoulders. Within a pair of bloody seconds, the huge raptor had torn out his eyes, and with a few massive wing flaps, lifted off into a pale blue sky. An avenging angel perhaps, is what local people said in the days that followed.

The Magistrate, a landowner with estates in Cardiganshire, was greatly feared for his cruelty, and had a reputation, which spread like smoke across the broad green valleys of the west of Wales. That day, a man was due to be tried at the Assizes in Cardigan, on trial for trapping a pair or rabbits, to feed his starving children. The rabbits were caught on land belonging to the Magistrate. The man was Martha’s Father, John Jones. He was sentenced to be deported to the new colonies of Australia, and the child never saw him again.

Now, a decade later, at the age of twenty, she was to make a journey which would save her family. There was a problem though, which threatened to derail her destiny.

In her twentieth year, Martha had met a young man called David John, an estate worker from across the river in Glamorganshire. He was two years her senior, and had dreams, which many felt were beyond his station in life. He was tall, with dark brown hair, and his mother’s piercing blue eyes and intelligence. His vision was to import, breed, and sell across Wales, the large Pyrenees Donkeys he had seen that year at a market in Carmarthen. He knew they came from the mountains of southern France, a world away, but reachable by ship from ports along the coast, such as Cardigan, which plied their trade along the Mediterranean coast.

David was saving his hard earned money in order to buy a pair, transport them home, and then make his fortune by breeding and selling these unusual animals. The Pyrenees donkey was the work companion of small landholders: if the space was limited and the soil too poor, the only option was to keep an animal frugal enough to deal with harsh conditions. This was an idea that seemed to offer hope for many small farmers in the poorer parts of Carmarthenshire, where land was inferior, or difficult, and indeed was  most suitable for Wales as a whole. He had spoken to the French wine trader, whose animal had caught his eye. The donkey was used for all kinds of transportation and farm work, both driven and as a pack animal: wine, milk or bread delivery, bringing cheese down from mountain pastures, bringing ice down from glaciers, moving hay or heating wood.

David had heard tell of farmers in Catalunya who used the milk from Pyrenees donkeys, to make soaps and cosmetics that were known for their skin-nourishing qualities. He hoped that in time, if Martha would agree to become his wife, that she could undertake this task, and earn extra money to support them.

One foggy Sunday morning, on the way to Church, as they walked past the Inn where Martha worked to support her family, David suddenly stopped in his tracks.

“You know how much I think of you, and that I would take care of you across the years, no matter what life brings to our door” he said quickly, having practiced this speech, and imagined this moment many times.

Martha turned to fix him with her brown eyes, and breathed a little faster.

“ And you know most surely that I love you with all my heart and soul, more than any man could love a woman”, he blurted out.

Martha smiled gently now. She knew how hard this was for David.

“Yes, I will marry you, and I do love you” she said.

There were tears in both their eyes. The droplets of water on the trees and hedgerows twinkled like small jewels in the sun. This was the moment of their lives. This was the future.

“It will be hard” David said seriously, looking into her eyes.

“I know” she smiled.

“But what a time we will have. Giant Pyrenees donkeys, milky white soap, and perhaps children” he smiled shyly, as did Martha.

They both drew breath, and walked on.

Then both spoke at the same time;

“But where will we…” she stopped

“I have a new job to go to in the spring, with more money. It has a cottage…” David answered her question.

“Does it have roses” whispered Martha, “And honeysuckle above the door?”

“Not yet, but it does have a garden, and we have time. The rest of our lives. All the time in the world,” David smiled shyly, then broadly.

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