THE MYSTERIOUS HORSEMAN
The following incident was narrated by the late John Jones, of Holywell, Flintshire. He was a man of high principle and unblemished character, and was renowned throughout the Principality for his zeal and fervour as a preacher. I was very much impressed at the time by the story, and was convinced that the narrator firmly believed that each event had happened as he described it. Here is the story, in his own words as nearly as I can recollect:Â—
“One fine day in summer, some forty years ago, I was travelling from Bala to Machynlleth. I left Bala about two o’clock in the afternoon, and travelled alone on horseback. I was on my way to attend the annual meeting of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, having to pay to the Treasurer a sum of money, collected in small weekly subscriptions in my district of Flintshire, for the erection of chapels in North Wales.
“My journey lay through a wild and desolate part of the country, and one which was at that time almost uninhabited. When about half the distance I had to traverse, as I was emerging from a wood situated at the commencement of a long and steep incline, I observed coming towards me a man on foot. He appeared from his dress, and more particularly from the sickle which he carried sheathed in straw over his shoulder, to be a reaper in search of employment.
“As he came up to me, I recognized him as a man whom I had seen at the door of the village inn at Llanuwchllyn, where I had stopped to bait my horse. On now meeting me, he touched his hat, and asked if I could tell him the time of day. I pulled out my watch for the purpose of answering his question, and I noticed at the time the peculiar look which the man cast at its heavy silver case. Nothing else, however, occurred to excite any suspicion on my part, so, wishing him ‘Good afternoon’, I continued my journey.
“When I had ridden about half-way down the hill, I noticed something moving, and in the same direction as myself, on the other side of a large hedge which on my left hand ran nearly parallel with the road, and ultimately finished at a gate through which I had to pass. At first I thought it an animal of some kind or other, but I soon discovered by means of several depressions in the hedge that it was a man, running in a stooping position. L continued for a short time to watch his progress with considerable curiosity, but my curiosity changed to a vague feeling of uneasiness, when I recognized in him the reaper with whom I had just been conversing, and to one of positive fear when I saw him tearing off the straw band which sheathed his sickle. He hurried on till he reached the gate, and then concealed himself behind the hedge within a few yards of the road. I did not then doubt for a moment but that he had resolved to attackÂ—perhaps murderÂ—me
for the sake of my watch and whatever money I might have about me. I looked around in all directions, but not a single human being was to be seen, so, reining in my horse, I asked myself in a state of considerable trepidation, what I should do.
“Should I turn back? No; my business was of the utmost importance to the cause for which I laboured, and as long as there existed the faintest possibility of my getting there, I could not think of returning. Should I trust to the swiftness of my horse, the endeavour to dash by the man at full speed? No; this was out of the question, for the gate through which I must pass was not open. Could I leave the road and make my way through the fields? I could not, for I was hemmed in by rocky banks or high hedges on both sides. The idea of risking a personal encounter could not be entertained for a moment, for what opportunity would I, weak and unarmed, have against a powerful man with a dangerous weapon in his hand? What course should I pursue? I could not tell; and at last in despair, rather than in a spirit of humble trust and confidence, I bowed my head and offered up a silent prayer. This had a soothing effect on my mind, so that refreshed and invigorated. I proceeded anew to consider the difficulties of my position.
“At this juncture my horse, growing impatient at the delay, started off. I took up the reins (which I had let fall on his neck) for the purpose of checking him, when, happening to turn my eye, I saw to my utter astonishment that I was not alone. There on my right hand I beheld a horseman, in dark dress, mounted on a white steed. In intense amazement I gazed upon him; where could he have come from? He appeared as suddenly as if he had sprung from the earth. He must have been riding behind and have overtaken me.
“And yet I had not heard the slightest sound; it was mysterious, inexplicable. But the joy of being released from the peril which menaced me soon overcame my feelings of wonder, and I proceeded to address myself to my companion. I asked him if he had seen anyone, and described to him the dangerous position in which I had been placed, and how relieved I felt by his sudden appearance, which now, of course, removed all cause for apprehension.
“He made no reply, and on looking at his face, he seemed to be paying but little attention to me, but was intently gazing in the direction of the gate, now about a quarter of a mile ahead. I followed his gaze, and saw the reaper emerge from his concealment and cut across a field to our left, re-sheathing his sickle as he hurried along. He had evidently seen that I was no longer alone, and had relinquished his intended attempt.
“All cause for alarm being now removed, I once more endeavoured to enter into conversation with my deliverer, but again without the slightest success. Not a word did he deign to give me
in reply. I continued talking, however, as we rode on our way towards the gate, though I utterly failed to see any reason forÂ— and indeed felt rather hurt atÂ—his continued silence.
“Once, however, and only once, did I hear his voice. Having watched the figure of the reaper disappear over the brow of a neighbouring hill, I turned to my mysterious companion and said, ‘Can it for a moment be doubted that my prayer was heard, and that you were sent for my deliverance by the Lord’? Then it was that I thought that I heard the horseman speak, and that he uttered the single word, ‘Amen’. Not another word did he give utterance to, though I still continued endeavouring to elicit from him replies to my questions both in English and Welsh.
“We were now approaching the gate; I hurried on my horse for the purpose of opening it, and having done so with my stick, I waited at the side of the road for him to pass through. He came not; I turned my head to seek for himÂ—he was gone. I was dumbfounded; I looked back in the direction from which he had just been riding, but though I could command a view of the road for a considerable distance, he was not to be seen.
“What could have become of him? He could not have gone through the gate, nor have made his horse leap the high hedges which on both sides shut in the road. Where was he? Had I, after all, been but dreaming? Could it be possible that I had seen no man or horse at all, and that the vision was but a creature of my imagination? I tried hard to convince myself that this was the case, but in vain; for, unless someone had been with me, why had the reaper resheathed his murderous-looking sickle and hurried away? No; this horseman was no creation of mine. I had seen him Â—who could he have been?
“I asked myself this question again and again, and then a feeling of profound awe began to creep over my soul. I remembered the singular manner in which he first appeared. I recollected his silence, and then again the single word to which he had given utterance. I called to mind that this reply had been elicited from him by my mentioning the name of the Lord, and that this was the only occasion on which I had done so. What could I then believe? But one thing, and that was that my prayer had indeed been heard, and that help had been sent me at a time of peril. Full of this thought, I dismounted, and throwing myself on my knees on the greensward at the side of the road, I offered up a prayer of thankfulness to Him who had so signally preserved me from danger.
“I then mounted my horse and continued my journey. Through the long years that have elapsed since that memorable July day, I have never for an instant wavered in the belief that I had had a special providential deliverance.”
Such was the aged minister’s story as nearly as I can remember it. On making enquiries afterwards I heard that he related the facts to the assembled brethren on his arrival at Machynlleth. I find also that the incident is recorded in a biographical memoir of Mr. Jones, which was published in the January number for 1853 of the Traethodydd, a Welsh Quarterly Periodical. The version is substantially the same as that which I have given from memory. Mr. Jones died in 1830. He had often narrated the story, so that when it was published it was nothing new to his own friends. The published narrative states that the event occurred near a lonely, desolate mountain pass called in English “the pass of the cross,” known to many tourists.