Mr. and Mrs. Owen enjoy a simple life, close to the land, in the fertile Jarvis valley, hidden by hills from the village of Llareggub. They live in a one-story house built in the green fields, and there they maintain a garden and some cows.
As the story opens, Mr. Owen is working in his garden, pulling up weeds, while his wife observes in the tea leaves of her cup a dark stranger. She then peers into her crystal ball and sees a man with a black hat walking into Jarvis valley. She calls out to her husband to inform him of her discovery. Mr. Owen simply smiles and continues with his weeding.
The Reverend Mr. Davies, the doddering rector of Llareggub, meanwhile loses his way among the hills outside his village. Whenever he tries to hide from the strong wind, he becomes frightened by the darkness of the dense foliage and hills. He finally reaches the rim of a hill and sees the Owens’s little house and garden in the valley below: “To Mr. Davies it seemed as though the house had been carried out of a village by a large bird and placed in the very middle of the tumultuous universe.”
Mr. Owen, meanwhile, smiles at his wife’s faith in the powers of darkness and returns to his work. Cutting earthworms in half to help them spread their life over the garden, he says, “Multiply, multiply.” Throughout the story, Mr. Owen is consistently related to the earth, weeds, worms, and other fundamental elements of nature and fertility.
By the time Mr. Davies arrives at the Owen house, his hands are covered with blood from the scratches and bruises that he has received from the rocks. Once out of the safe confines of his small Christian village, Mr. Davies is a prey to every natural force surrounding him. Mrs. Owen bandages Mr. Davies’ battered hands and asks him to stay for dinner.
As Mr. Davies says grace before the meal, he observes that the prayers of Mr. and Mrs. Owen are “not his prayers,” thereby suggesting their mysterious pagan origins. During the meal, Mr. Owen, “proud in his eating,” bends over his plate and eats his food with the same natural zest with which he works his garden. Mrs. Owen, on the other hand, does not eat, because “the old powers” are “upon her.” A darkness gathers in her mind, drawing in the surrounding light. “Mr. Davies, like a man sucked by a bird, felt desolation in his veins.” The strength of both his physical body and his religious faith is nearly drained.
Mr. Davies recounts his adventures to his hosts, telling of his fear of the dark recesses among the hills. He explains that although he loves his God, he also loves the darkness, where ancient people worshiped “the dark invisible,” but that now the hill caves are full of ghosts that mock him because he is old. Hearing this, Mrs. Owen thinks that he is afraid of “the lovely dark.” Mr. Owen, however, thinks that he is frightened of the primitive life forces surrounding him in the valley.
Then Mr. Davies kneels down to pray, not understanding his sudden compulsion to ask for deliverance. He continues to pray and to stare dumbfounded at the dark mind of Mrs. Owen and the gross dark body of her husband. The story ends with Mr. Davies praying “like an old god beset by his enemies.”
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