Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 17

John Jones and his Bundle — A Good Lady — The Irishman’s Dingle — Ab Gwilym and the Mist — The Kitchen — The Two Individuals — The Horse–Dealer — I can manage him — The Mist Again.

THE following day was gloomy. In the evening John Jones made his appearance with a bundle under his arm, and an umbrella in his hand.

“Sir,” said he, “I am going across the mountain with it piece of weaving work, for the man on the other side, who employs me. Perhaps you would like to go with me, as you are fond of walking.”

“I suppose,” said I, “you wish to have my company for fear of meeting Gwyddelians on the hill.”

John smiled.

“Well, sir,” said he, “if I do meet them I would sooner be with company than without. But I dare venture by myself, trusting in the Man on High, and perhaps I do wrong to ask you to go, as you must be tired with your walk of yesterday.”

“Hardly more than yourself,” said I. “Come; I shall be glad to go. What I said about the Gwyddelians was only in jest.”

As we were about to depart John said:

“It does not rain at present, sir, but I think it will. You had better take an umbrella.”

I did so, and away we went. We passed over the bridge, and turning to the right went by the back of the town through a field. As we passed by the Plas Newydd John Jones said:

“No one lives there now, sir; all dark and dreary; very different from the state of things when the ladies lived there — all gay then and cheerful. I remember the ladies, sir, particularly the last, who lived by herself after her companion died. She was a good lady, and very kind to the poor; when they came to her gate they were never sent away without something to cheer them. She was a grand lady too — kept grand company, and used to be drawn about in a coach by four horses. But she too is gone, and the house is cold and empty; no fire in it, sir; no furniture. There was an auction after her death; and a grand auction it was and lasted four days. Oh, what a throng of people there was, some of whom came from a great distance to buy the curious things, of which there were plenty.”

We passed over a bridge, which crosses a torrent, which descends from the mountain on the south side of Llangollen, which bridge John Jones told me was called the bridge of the Melin Bac, or mill of the nook, from a mill of that name close by. Continuing our way we came to a glen, down which the torrent comes which passes under the bridge. There was little water in the bed of the torrent, and we crossed easily enough by stepping-stones. I looked up the glen; a wild place enough, its sides overgrown with trees. Dreary and dismal it looked in the gloom of the closing evening. John Jones said that there was no regular path up it, and that one could only get along by jumping from stone to stone, at the hazard of breaking one’s legs. Having passed over the bed of the torrent, we came to a path, which led up the mountain. The path was very steep and stony; the glen with its trees and darkness on our right. We proceeded some way. At length John Jones pointed to a hollow lane on our right, seemingly leading into the glen.

“That place, sir,” said he, “is called Pant y Gwyddel — the Irishman’s dingle, and sometimes Pant Paddy, from the Irish being fond of taking up their quarters there. It was just here, at the entrance of the pant, that the tribe were encamped, when I passed two months ago at night, in returning from the other side of the hill with ten shillings in my pocket, which I had been paid for a piece of my work, which I had carried over the mountain to the very place where I am now carrying this. I shall never forget the fright I was in, both on account of my life, and my ten shillings. I ran down what remained of the hill as fast as I could, not minding the stones. Should I meet a tribe now on my return I shall not run; you will be with me, and I shall not fear for my life nor for my money, which will be now more than ten shillings, provided the man over the hills pays me, as I have no doubt he will.”

As we ascended higher we gradually diverged from the glen, though we did not lose sight of it till we reached the top of the mountain. The top was nearly level. On our right were a few fields enclosed with stone walls. On our left was an open space where whin, furze and heath were growing. We passed over the summit, and began to descend by a tolerably good, though steep road. But for the darkness of evening and a drizzling mist, which, for some time past, had been coming on, we should have enjoyed a glorious prospect down into the valley, or perhaps I should say that I should have enjoyed a glorious prospect, for John Jones, like a true mountaineer, cared not a brass farthing for prospects. Even as it was, noble glimpses of wood and rock were occasionally to be obtained. The mist soon wetted us to the skin notwithstanding that we put up our umbrellas. It was a regular Welsh mist, a niwl, like that in which the great poet Ab Gwilym lost his way, whilst trying to keep an assignation with his beloved Morfydd, and which he abuses in the following manner:-

“O ho! thou villain mist, O ho! What plea hast thou to plague me so? I scarcely know a scurril name, But dearly thou deserv’st the same; Thou exhalation from the deep Unknown, where ugly spirits keep! Thou smoke from hellish stews uphurl’d To mock and mortify the world! Thou spider-web of giant race, Spun out and spread through airy space! Avaunt, thou filthy, clammy thing, Of sorry rain the source and spring! Moist blanket dripping misery down, Loathed alike by land and town! Thou watery monster, wan to see, Intruding ‘twixt the sun and me, To rob me of my blessed right, To turn my day to dismal night. Parent of thieves and patron best, They brave pursuit within thy breast! Mostly from thee its merciless snow Grim January doth glean, I trow. Pass off with speed, thou prowler pale, Holding along o’er hill and dale, Spilling a noxious spittle round, Spoiling the fairies’ sporting ground! Move off to hell, mysterious haze; Wherein deceitful meteors blaze; Thou wild of vapour, vast, o’ergrown, Huge as the ocean of unknown.”

As we descended, the path became more steep; it was particularly so at a part where it was overshadowed with trees on both sides. Here, finding walking very uncomfortable, my knees suffering much, I determined to run. So shouting to John Jones, “Nis gallav gerdded rhaid rhedeg,” I set off running down the pass. My companion followed close behind, and luckily meeting no mischance, we presently found ourselves on level ground, amongst a collection of small houses. On our turning a corner a church appeared on our left hand on the slope of the hill. In the churchyard, and close to the road, grew a large yew-tree which flung its boughs far on every side. John Jones stopping by the tree said, that if I looked over the wall of the yard I should see the tomb of a Lord Dungannon, who had been a great benefactor to the village. I looked, and through the lower branches of the yew, which hung over part of the churchyard, I saw what appeared to be a mausoleum. Jones told me that in the church also there was the tomb of a great person of the name of Tyrwhitt.

We passed on by various houses till we came nearly to the bottom of the valley. Jones then pointing to a large house, at a little distance on the right, told me that it was a good gwesty, and advised me to go and refresh myself in it, whilst he went and carried home his work to the man who employed him, who he said lived in a farm-house a few hundred yards off. I asked him where we were.

“At Llyn Ceiriog,” he replied.

I then asked if we were near Pont Fadog; and received for answer that Pont Fadog was a good way down the valley, to the north-east, and that we could not see it owing to a hill which intervened.

Jones went his way and I proceeded to the gwestfa, the door of which stood invitingly open. I entered a large kitchen, at one end of which a good fire was burning in a grate, in front of which was a long table, and a high settle on either side. Everything looked very comfortable. There was nobody in the kitchen: on my calling, however, a girl came, whom I bade in Welsh to bring me a pint of the best ale. The girl stared, but went away apparently to fetch it — presently came the landlady, a good-looking middle-aged woman. I saluted her in Welsh and then asked her if she could speak English. She replied “Tipyn bach,” which interpreted, is, a little bit. I soon, however, found that she could speak it very passably, for two men coming in from the rear of the house she conversed with them in English. These two individuals seated themselves on chairs near the door, and called for beer. The girl brought in the ale, and I sat down by the fire, poured myself out a glass, and made myself comfortable. Presently a gig drove up to the door, and in came a couple of dogs, one a tall black grey-hound, the other a large female setter, the coat of the latter dripping with rain, and shortly after two men from the gig entered; one who appeared to be the principal was a stout bluff-looking person between fifty and sixty, dressed in a grey stuff coat and with a slouched hat on his head. This man bustled much about, and in a broad Yorkshire dialect ordered a fire to be lighted in another room, and a chamber to be prepared for him and his companion; the landlady, who appeared to know him, and to treat him with a kind of deference, asked if she should prepare two beds; whereupon he answered “No! As we came together and shall start together, so shall we sleep together; it will not be for the first time.”

His companion was a small mean-looking man, dressed in a black coat, and behaved to him with no little respect. Not only the landlady, but the two men, of whom I have previously spoken, appeared to know him and to treat him with deference. He and his companion presently went out to see after the horse. After a little time they returned, and the stout man called lustily for two fourpennyworths of brandy and water — “Take it into the other room!” said he, and went into a side room with his companion, but almost immediately came out saying that the room smoked and was cold, and that he preferred sitting in the kitchen. He then took his seat near me, and when the brandy was brought drank to my health. I said thank you, but nothing farther. He then began talking to the men and his companion upon indifferent subjects. After a little time John Jones came in, called for a glass of ale, and at my invitation seated himself between me and the stout personage. The latter addressed him roughly in English, but receiving no answer said, “Ah, you no understand. You have no English and I no Welsh.”

“You have not mastered Welsh yet Mr — “ said one of the men to him.

“No!” said he: “I have been doing business with the Welsh forty years, but can’t speak a word of their language. I sometimes guess at a word, spoken in the course of business, but am never sure.”

Presently John Jones began talking to me, saying that he had been to the river, that the water was very low, and that there was little but stones in the bed of the stream.

I told him if its name was Ceiriog no wonder there were plenty of stones in it, Ceiriog being derived from Cerrig, a rock. The men stared to hear me speak Welsh.

“Is the gentleman a Welshman?” said one of the men, near the door, to his companion; “he seems to speak Welsh very well.”

“How should I know?” said the other, who appeared to be a low working man.

“Who are those people?” said I to John Jones.

“The smaller man is a workman at a flannel manufactory,” said Jones. “The other I do not exactly know.”

“And who is the man on the other side of you?” said I.

“I believe he is an English dealer in gigs and horses,” replied Jones, “and that he is come here either to buy or sell.”

The man, however, soon put me out of all doubt with respect to his profession.

“I was at Chirk,” said he; “and Mr So-and-so asked me to have a look at his new gig and horse, and have a ride. I consented. They were both brought out — everything new; gig new, harness new, and horse new. Mr So-and-so asked me what I thought of his turn-out. I gave a look and said, ‘I like the car very well, harness very well, but I don’t like the horse at all; a regular bolter, rearer and kicker, or I’m no judge; moreover, he’s pigeon-toed.’ However, we all got on the car — four of us, and I was of course complimented with the ribbons. Well, we hadn’t gone fifty yards before the horse, to make my words partly good, began to kick like a new ’un. However, I managed him, and he went on for a couple of miles till we got to the top of the hill, just above the descent with the precipice on the right hand. Here he began to rear like a very devil.

“‘Oh dear me!’ says Mr So-and-so; ‘let me get out!’

“‘Keep where you are,’ says I, ‘I can manage him.’

“However, Mr So-and-so would not be ruled, and got out; coming down, not on his legs, but his hands and knees. And then the two others said —

“‘Let us get out!’

“‘Keep where you are,’ said I, ‘I can manage him.’

“But they must needs get out, or rather tumble out, for they both came down on the road, hard on their backs.

“‘Get out yourself,’ said they all, ‘and let the devil go, or you are a done man.’

“‘Getting out may do for you young hands,’ says I, ‘but it won’t do for I; neither my back nor bones will stand the hard road.’

“Mr So-and-so ran to the horse’s head.

“‘Are you mad?’ says I, ‘if you try to hold him he’ll be over the pree-si-pice in a twinkling, and then where am I? Give him head; I can manage him.’

“So Mr So-and-so got out of the way, and down flew the horse right down the descent, as fast as he could gallop. I tell you what, I didn’t half like it! A pree-si-pice on my right, the rock on my left, and a devil before me, going, like a cannon-ball, right down the hill. However, I contrived, as I said I would, to manage him; kept the car from the rock and from the edge of the gulf too. Well, just when we had come to the bottom of the hill out comes the people running from the inn, almost covering the road.

“‘Now get out of the way,’ I shouts, ‘if you don’t wish to see your brains knocked out, and what would be worse, mine too.’

“So they gets out of the way, and on I spun, I and my devil. But by this time I had nearly taken the devil out of him. Well, he hadn’t gone fifty yards on the level ground, when, what do you think he did? why, went regularly over, tumbled down regularly on the road, even as I knew he would some time or other, because why? he was pigeon-toed. Well, I gets out of the gig, and no sooner did Mr So-and-so come up than I says —

“‘I likes your car very well, and I likes your harness, but — me if I likes your horse, and it will be some time before you persuade me to drive him again.’”

I am a great lover of horses, and an admirer of good driving, and should have wished to have some conversation with this worthy person about horses and their management. I should also have wished to ask him some questions about Wales and the Welsh, as he must have picked up a great deal of curious information about both in his forty years’ traffic, notwithstanding he did not know a word of Welsh, but John Jones prevented my further tarrying by saying, that it would be as well to get over the mountain before it was entirely dark. So I got up, paid for my ale, vainly endeavoured to pay for that of my companion, who insisted upon paying for what he had ordered, made a general bow and departed from the house, leaving the horse-dealer and the rest staring at each other and wondering who we were, or at least who I was. We were about to ascend the hill when John Jones asked me whether I should not like to see the bridge and the river. I told him I should. The bridge and the river presented nothing remarkable. The former was of a single arch; and the latter anything but abundant in its flow.

We now began to retrace our steps over the mountain. At first the mist appeared to be nearly cleared away. As we proceeded, however, large sheets began to roll up the mountain sides, and by the time we reached the summit were completely shrouded in vapour. The night, however, was not very dark, and we found our way tolerably well, though once in descending I had nearly tumbled into the nant or dingle, now on our left hand. The bushes and trees, seen indistinctly through the mist, had something the look of goblins, and brought to my mind the elves, which Ab Gwilym of old saw, or thought he saw, in a somewhat similar situation:-

“In every hollow dingle stood

Of wry-mouth’d elves a wrathful brood.”

Drenched to the skin, but uninjured in body and limb, we at length reached Llangollen.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/borrow/george/wild/chapter17.html

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