Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 100

Morning — A Cheerless Scene — The Carter — Ode to Glamorgan — Startling Halloo — One-sided Liberty — Clerical Profession — De Courcy — Love of the Drop — Independent Spirit — Another People.

I SLEPT soundly through the night. At about eight o’clock on the following morning I got up and looked out of the window of my room, which fronted the north. A strange scene presented itself: a roaring brook was foaming along towards the west, just under the window. Immediately beyond it was a bank, not of green turf, grey rock, or brown mould, but of coal rubbish, coke and cinders; on the top of this bank was a fellow performing some dirty office or other, with a spade and barrow; beyond him, on the side of a hill, was a tramway, up which a horse was straining, drawing a load of something towards the north-west. Beyond the tramway was a grove of yellow-looking firs; beyond the grove a range of white houses with blue roofs, occupied, I suppose, by miners and their families; and beyond these I caught a sight of the mountain on the top of which I had been the night before — only a partial one, however, as large masses of mist were still hanging about it. The morning was moist and dripping, and nothing could look more cheerless and uncomfortable than the entire scene.

I put on my things, which were still not half dry, and went down into the little parlour, where I found an excellent fire awaiting me, and a table spread for breakfast. The breakfast was delicious, consisting of excellent tea, buttered toast, and Glamorgan sausages, which I really think are not a whit inferior to those of Epping. After breakfast I went into the kitchen, which was now only occupied by two or three people. Seeing a large brush on a dresser, I took it up, and was about to brush my nether habiliments, which were terribly bespattered with half-dried mire. Before, however, I could begin, up started one of the men, a wild, shock-headed fellow dressed like a carter, in rough blue frieze coat, yellow, broad corduroy trowsers, grey woollen stockings and highlows, and snatching the brush out of my hand, fell to brushing me most vigorously, puffing and blowing all the time in a most tremendous manner. I did not refuse his services, but let him go on, and to reward him as I thought, spoke kindly to him, asking him various questions. “Are you a carter?” said I. No answer. “One of Twm O’r Nant’s people?” No answer. “Famous fellow that Twm O’r Nant, wasn’t he? Did you ever hear how he got the great tree in at Carmarthen Gate? What is wood per foot at present? Whom do you cart for? Or are you your own master? If so, how many horses do you keep?”

To not one of these questions, nor to a dozen others which I put, both in English and Welsh, did my friend with the brush return any verbal answer, though I could occasionally hear a kind of stifled giggle proceeding from him. Having at length thoroughly brushed not only my clothes, but my boots and my hat, which last article he took from my head, and placed it on again very dexterously, after brushing it, he put the brush down on the dresser, and then advancing to me made me a bow, and waving his forefinger backwards and forwards before my face, he said, with a broad grin: “Nice gentleman — will do anything for him but answer questions, and let him hear my discourse. Love to listen to his pleasant stories of foreign lands, ghosts and tylwith teg; but before him, deem it wise to be mum, quite mum. Know what he comes about. Wants to hear discourse of poor man, that he may learn from it poor man’s little ways and infirmities, and mark them down in one small, little book to serve for fun to Lord Palmerston and the other great gentlefolks in London. Nice man, civil man, I don’t deny; and clebber man too, for he knows Welsh, and has been everywhere — but fox — old fox — lives at Plas y Cadno.” 18

Having been informed that there was a considerable iron foundry close by, I thought it would be worth my while to go and see it. I entered the premises, and was standing and looking round, when a man with the appearance of a respectable mechanic came up and offered to show me over the place. I gladly accepted his offer, and he showed me all about the iron foundry. I saw a large steam-engine at full play, terrible furnaces, and immense heaps of burning, crackling cinders, and a fiery stream of molten metal rolling along. After seeing what there was to be seen, I offered a piece of silver to my kind conductor, which he at once refused. On my asking him, however, to go to the inn and have a friendly glass, he smiled, and said he had no objection. So we went to the inn, and had two friendly glasses of whiskey-and-water together, and also some discourse. I asked him if there were any English employed on the premises. “None,” said he, “nor Irish either; we are all Welsh.” Though he was a Welshman, his name was a very common English one.

After paying the reckoning, which only amounted to three and sixpence, I departed for Swansea, distant about thirteen miles. Gutter Vawr consists of one street, extending for some little way along the Swansea road, the foundry, and a number of huts and houses scattered here and there. The population is composed almost entirely of miners, the workers at the foundry, and their families. For the first two or three miles the country through which I passed did not at all prepossess me in favour of Glamorganshire: it consisted of low, sullen, peaty hills. Subsequently, however, it improved rapidly, becoming bold, wild, and pleasantly wooded. The aspect of the day improved, also, with the appearance of the country. When I first started the morning was wretched and drizzly, but in less than an hour it cleared up wonderfully, and the sun began to flash out. As I looked on the bright luminary I thought of Ab Gwilym’s ode to the sun and Glamorgan, and with breast heaving and with eyes full of tears, I began to repeat parts of it, or rather of a translation made in my happy boyish years:-

“Each morn, benign of countenance, Upon Glamorgan’s pennon glance! Each afternoon in beauty clear Above my own dear bounds appear! Bright outline of a blessed clime, Again, though sunk, arise sublime — Upon my errand, swift repair, And unto green Glamorgan bear Good days and terms of courtesy From my dear country and from me! Move round — but need I thee command? — Its chalk-white halls, which cheerful stand — Pleasant thy own pavilions too — Its fields and orchards fair to view.

“O, pleasant is thy task and high In radiant warmth to roam the sky, To keep from ill that kindly ground, Its meads and farms, where mead is found, A land whose commons live content, Where each man’s lot is excellent, Where hosts to hail thee shall upstand, Where lads are bold and lasses bland, A land I oft from hill that’s high Have gazed upon with raptur’d eye; Where maids are trained in virtue’s school, Where duteous wives spin dainty wool; A country with each gift supplied, Confronting Cornwall’s cliffs of pride.”

Came to Llanguick, a hamlet situated near a tremendous gorge, the sides of which were covered with wood. Thence to the village of Tawy Bridge, at the bottom of a beautiful valley, through which runs the Tawy, which, after the Taf, is the most considerable river in Glamorganshire. Continuing my course, I passed by an enormous edifice which stood on my right hand. It had huge chimneys, which were casting forth smoke, and from within I heard the noise of a steam-engine and the roar of furnaces.

“What place is this?” said, I to a boy.

“Gwaith haiarn, sir; ym perthyn i Mr Pearson. Mr Pearson’s iron works, sir.”

I proceeded, and in about half-an-hour saw a man walking before me in the same direction in which I was. He was going very briskly, but I soon came up to him. He was a small, well-made fellow, with reddish hair and ruddy, determined countenance, somewhat tanned. He wore a straw hat, checkered shirt, open at the neck, canvas trousers and blue jacket. On his feet were shoes remarkably thin, but no stockings, and in his hand he held a stout stick, with which, just before I overtook him, he struck a round stone which lay on the ground, sending it flying at least fifty yards before him on the road, and following it in its flight with a wild and somewhat startling halloo.

“Good-day, my friend,” said I; “you seem to be able to use a stick.”

“And sure I ought to be, your honour, seeing as how my father taught me, who was the best fighting man with a stick that the Shanavests ever had. Many is the head of a Caravaut that he has broken with some such an Alpeen wattle as the one I am carrying with me here.”

“A good thing,” said I, “that there are no Old Waist-coats and Cravats at present, at least bloody factions bearing those names.”

“Your honour thinks so! Faith! I am clane of a contrary opinion. I wish the ould Shanavests and Caravauts were fighting still, and I among them. Faith! there was some life in Ireland in their days.”

“And plenty of death too,” said I. “How fortunate it is that the Irish have the English among them to prevent their cutting each other’s throats.”

“The English prevent the Irish from cutting each other’s throats! Well, if they do, it is only that they may have the pleasure of cutting them themselves. The bloody tyrants! too long has their foot been upon the neck of poor old Ireland.”

“How do the English tyrannise over Ireland?”

“How do they tyrannise over her? Don’t they prevent her from having the free exercise of her Catholic religion, and make her help to support their own Protestant one?”

“Well, and don’t the Roman Catholics prevent the Protestants from having the free exercise of their religion, whenever they happen to be the most numerous, and don’t they make them help to support the Roman Catholic religion?”

“Of course they do, and quite right! Had I my will, there shouldn’t be a place of Protestant worship left standing, or a Protestant churl allowed to go about with a head unbroken.”

“Then why do you blame the Protestants for keeping the Romans a little under?”

“Why do I blame them? A purty question! Why, an’t they wrong, and an’t we right?”

“But they say that they are right and you wrong.”

“They say! who minds what they say? Haven’t we the word of the blessed Pope that we are right?”

“And they say that they have the word of the blessed Gospel that you are wrong.”

“The Gospel! who cares for the Gospel? Surely you are not going to compare the Gospel with the Pope?”

“Well, they certainly are not to be named in the same day.”

“They are not? Then good luck to you! We are both of the same opinion. Ah, I thought your honour was a rale Catholic. Now, tell me from what kingdom of Ireland does your honour hail?”

“Why, I was partly educated in Munster.”

“In Munster! Hoorah! Here’s the hand of a countryman to your honour. Ah, it was asy to be seen from the learning, which your honour shows, that your honour is from Munster. There’s no spot in Ireland like Munster for learning. What says the old song?

“‘Ulster for a soldier, Connaught for a thief, Munster for learning, And Leinster for beef.’

“Hoorah for learned Munster! and down with beggarly, thievish Connaught! I would that a Connaught man would come athwart me now, that I might break his thief’s head with my Alpeen.”

“You don’t seem to like the Connaught men,” said I.

“Like them! who can like them? a parcel of beggarly thievish blackguards. So your honour was edicated in Munster — I mane partly edicated. I suppose by your saying that you were partly edicated, that your honour was intended for the clerical profession, but being over fond of the drop was forced to lave college before your edication was quite completed, and so for want of a better profession took up with that of merchandise. Ah, the love of the drop at college has prevented many a clever young fellow from taking holy orders. Well, it’s a pity but it can’t be helped. I am fond of a drop myself, and when we get to — shall be happy to offer your honour a glass of whiskey. I hope your honour and I shall splice the mainbrace together before we part.”

“I suppose,” said I, “by your talking of splicing the mainbrace that you are a sailor.”

“I am, your honour, and hail from the Cove of Cork in the kingdom of Munster.”

“I know it well,” said I, “it is the best sea-basin in the world. Well, how came you into these parts?”

“I’ll tell your honour; my ship is at Swansea, and having a relation working at the foundry behind us I came to see him.”

“Are you in the royal service?”

“I am not, your honour; I was once in the royal service, but having a dispute with the boatswain at Spithead, I gave him a wipe, jumped overboard and swam ashore. After that I sailed for Cuba, got into the merchants’ service there, and made several voyages to the Black Coast. At present I am in the service of the merchants of Cork.”

“I wonder that you are not now in the royal service,” said I, “since you are so fond of fighting. There is hot work going on at present up the Black Sea, and brave men, especially Irishmen, are in great request.”

“Yes, brave Irishmen are always in great request with England when she has a battle to fight. At other times they are left to lie in the mud with the chain round their necks. It has been so ever since the time of De Courcy, and I suppose always will be so, unless Irishmen all become of my mind, which is not likely. Were the Irish all of my mind, the English would find no Irish champion to fight their battles when the French or the Russians come to beard them.”

“By De Courcy,” said I, “you mean the man whom the King of England confined in the Tower of London after taking from him his barony in the county of Cork.”

“Of course, your honour, and whom he kept in the Tower till the King of France sent over a champion to insult and beard him, when the king was glad to take De Courcy out of the dungeon to fight the French champion, for divil a one of his own English fighting men dared take the Frenchman in hand.”

“A fine fellow that De Courcy,” said I.

“Rather too fond of the drop though, like your honour and myself, for after he had caused the French champion to flee back into France he lost the greater part of the reward which the King of England promised him, solely by making too free with the strong drink. Does your honour remember that part of the story?”

“I think I do,” said I, “but I should be very glad to hear you relate it.”

“Then your honour shall. Right glad was the King of England when the French champion fled back to France, for no sooner did the dirty spalpeen hear that they were going to bring De Courcy against him, the fame of whose strength and courage filled the whole world, than he betook himself back to his own country, and was never heard of more. Right glad, I say, was the King of England, and gave leave to De Courcy to return to Ireland. ‘And you shall have,’ said he, ‘of the barony which I took from you all that you can ride round on the first day of your return.’ So De Courcy betook himself to Ireland and to his barony, but he was anything but a lucky man, this De Courcy, for his friends and relations and tenantry, hearing of his coming, prepared a grand festival for him, with all kinds of illigant viands and powerful liquors, and when he arrived there it was waiting for him, and down to it he sat, and ate, and drank, and for joy of seeing himself once more amongst his friends and tenantry in the hall of his forefathers, and for love of the drop, which he always had, he drank of the powerful liquors more than he ought, and the upshot was that he became drunk, agus do bhi an duine maith sin misgeadh do ceather o glog; the good gentleman was drunk till four o’clock, and when he awoke he found that he had but two hours of day remaining to win back his brave barony. However, he did not lose heart, but mounted his horse and set off riding as fast as a man just partly recovered from intoxication could be expected to do, and he contrived to ride round four parishes, and only four, and these four parishes were all that he recovered of his brave barony, and all that he had to live upon till his dying day, and all that he had to leave to his descendants, so that De Courcy could scarcely be called a very lucky man, after all.”

Shortly after my friend the sailor had concluded his account of De Courcy, we arrived in the vicinity of a small town or rather considerable village. It stood on the right-hand side of the road, fronting the east, having a high romantic hill behind it on the sides of which were woods, groves, and pleasant-looking white houses.

“What place is this?” said I to my companion.

“This is — your honour; and here, if your honour will accept a glass of whiskey we will splice the mainbrace together.”

“Thank you,” said I; “but I am in haste to get to Swansea. Moreover, if I am over fond of the drop, as you say I am, the sooner I begin to practise abstinence the better.”

“Very true, your honour! Well, at any rate, when your honour gets to Swansea, you will not be able to say that Pat Flannagan walked for miles with your honour along the road, without offering your honour a glass of whiskey.”

“Nor shall Pat Flannagan be able to say the same thing of my honour. I have a shilling in my pocket at Pat Flannagan’s service, if he chooses to splice with it the mainbrace for himself and for me.”

“Thank your honour; but I have a shilling in my own pocket, and a dollar too, and a five-pound note besides; so I needn’t be beholden for drink money to anybody under the sun.”

“Well then, farewell! Here’s my hand! — Slan leat a Phatraic ui Flannagan!”

“Slan leat a dhuine-uasail!” said Patrick, giving me his hand; “and health, hope, and happiness to ye.”

Thereupon he turned aside to — and I continued my way to Swansea. Arrived at a place called Glandwr, about two miles from Swansea, I found that I was splashed from top to toe, for the roads were frightfully miry, and was sorry to perceive that my boots had given way at the soles, large pieces of which were sticking out. I must, however, do the poor things the justice to say, that it was no wonder that they were in this dilapidated condition, for in those boots I had walked at least two hundred miles, over all kinds of paths, since I had got them soled at Llangollen. “Well,” said I to myself, “it won’t do to show myself at Swansea in this condition, more especially as I shall go to the best hotel; I must try and get myself made a little decent here.” Seeing a little inn, on my right, I entered it, and addressing myself to a neat comfortable landlady, who was standing within the bar, I said:-

“Please to let me have a glass of ale! — and hearkee; as I have been walking along the road, I should be glad of the services of the ‘boots.’”

“Very good, sir,” said the landlady with a curtsey.

Then showing me into a nice little sanded parlour, she brought me the glass of ale, and presently sent in a lad with a boot-jack to minister to me. Oh, what can’t a little money effect? For sixpence in that small nice inn, I had a glass of ale, my boots cleaned, and the excrescences cut off, my clothes wiped with a dwile, and then passed over with a brush, and was myself thanked over and over again. Starting again with all the spirited confidence of one who has just cast off his slough, I soon found myself in the suburbs of Swansea. As I passed under what appeared to be a railroad bridge I inquired in Welsh of an ancient-looking man, in coaly habiliments, if it was one. He answered in the same language that it was, then instantly added in English:-

“You have taken your last farewell of Wales, sir; it’s no use speaking Welsh farther on.”

I passed some immense edifices, probably manufactories, and was soon convinced that, whether I was in Wales or not, I was no longer amongst Welsh. The people whom I met did not look like Welsh. They were taller and bulkier than the Cambrians, and were speaking a dissonant English jargon. The women had much the appearance of Dutch fisherwomen; some of them were carrying huge loads on their heads. I spoke in Welsh to two or three whom I overtook.

“No Welsh, sir!”

“Why don’t you speak Welsh?” said I.

“Because we never learnt it. We are not Welsh.”

“Who are you then?”

“English; some calls us Flamings.”

“Ah, ah!” said I to myself; “I had forgot.”

Presently I entered the town, a large, bustling, dirty, gloomy place, and inquiring for the first hotel, was directed to the “Mackworth Arms,” in Wine Street.

As soon as I was shown into the parlour I summoned the “boots,” and on his making his appearance I said in a stern voice: “My boots want soling; let them be done by tomorrow morning.”

“Can’t be, sir; it’s now Saturday afternoon, the shoemaker couldn’t begin them to-night!”

“But you must make him!” said I; “and look here, I shall give him a shilling extra, and you an extra shilling for seeing after him.”

“Yes, sir; I’ll see after him — they shall be done, sir. Bring you your slippers instantly. Glad to see you again in Swansea, sir, looking so well.”

18 Fox’s Court — perhaps London.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:50