Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 34

Northampton — Horse — Breaking — Snoring.

TIRED at length with my vain efforts to account for the term which in my time was so much in vogue amongst commercial gentlemen I left the little parlour, and repaired to the common room. Mr Pritchard and Mr Bos were still there smoking and drinking, but there was now a candle on the table before them, for night was fast coming on. Mr Bos was giving an account of his travels in England, sometimes in Welsh, sometimes in English, to which Mr Pritchard was listening with the greatest attention, occasionally putting in a “see there now,” and “what a fine thing it is to have gone about.” After some time Mr Bos exclaimed:

“I think, upon the whole, of all the places I have seen in England I like Northampton best.”

“I suppose,” said I, “you found the men of Northampton good-tempered, jovial fellows?”

“Can’t say I did,” said Mr Bos; “they are all shoe-makers, and of course quarrelsome and contradictory, for where was there ever a shoemaker who was not conceited and easily riled? No, I have little to say in favour of Northampton as far as the men are concerned. It’s not the men but the women that make me speak in praise of Northampton. The men all are ill-tempered, but the women quite the contrary. I never saw such a place for merched anladd as Northampton. I was a great favourite with them, and could tell you such tales.”

And then Mr Bos, putting his hat rather on one side of his head, told us two or three tales of his adventures with the merched anladd of Northampton, which brought powerfully to my mind part of what Ellis Wynn had said with respect to the practices of drovers in his day, detestation for which had induced him to put the whole tribe into Hell.

All of a sudden I heard a galloping down the road, and presently a mighty plunging, seemingly of a horse, before the door of the inn. I rushed out followed by my companions, and lo, on the open space before the inn was a young horse, rearing and kicking, with a young man on his back. The horse had neither bridle nor saddle, and the young fellow merely rode him with a rope passed about his head — presently the horse became tolerably quiet, and his rider jumping off led him into the stable, where he made him fast to the rack and then came and joined us, whereupon we all went into the room from which I and the others had come on hearing the noise of the struggle.

“How came you on the colt’s back, Jenkins?” said Mr Pritchard, after we had all sat down and Jenkins had called for some cwrw. “I did not know that he was broke in.”

“I am breaking him in myself,” said Jenkins speaking Welsh. “I began with him to-night.”

“Do you mean to say,” said I, “that you have begun breaking him in by mounting his back?”

“I do,” said the other.

“Then depend upon it,” said I, “that it will not be long before he will either break his neck or knees or he will break your neck or crown. You are not going the right way to work.”

“Oh, myn Diawl!” said Jenkins, “I know better. In a day or two I shall have made him quite tame, and have got him into excellent paces and shall have saved the money I must have paid away, had I put him into a jockey’s hands.”

Time passed, night came on, and other guests came in. There was much talking of first-rate Welsh and very indifferent English, Mr Bos being the principal speaker in both languages; his discourse was chiefly on the comparative merits of Anglesey runts and Scotch bullocks, and those of the merched anladd of Northampton and the lasses of Wrexham. He preferred his own country runts to the Scotch kine, but said upon the whole, though a Welshman, he must give the preference to the merched of Northampton over those of Wrexham, for free and easy demeanour, notwithstanding that in that point which he said was the most desirable point in females, the lasses of Wrexham were generally considered out-and-outers.

Fond as I am of listening to public-house conversation, from which I generally contrive to extract both amusement and edification, I became rather tired of this, and getting up, strolled about the little village by moonlight till I felt disposed to retire to rest, when returning to the inn, I begged to be shown the room in which I was to sleep. Mrs Pritchard forthwith taking a candle conducted me to a small room upstairs. There were two beds in it. The good lady pointing to one, next the window, in which there were nice clean sheets, told me that was the one which I was to occupy, and bidding me good-night, and leaving the candle, departed. Putting out the light I got into bed, but instantly found that the bed was not long enough by at least a foot. “I shall pass an uncomfortable night,” said I, “for I never yet could sleep comfortably in a bed too short. However, as I am on my travels, I must endeavour to accommodate myself to circumstances.” So I endeavoured to compose myself to sleep; before, however, I could succeed, I heard the sound of stumping steps coming upstairs, and perceived a beam of light through the crevices of the door, and in a moment more the door opened and in came two loutish farming lads whom I had observed below, one of them bearing a rushlight stuck into an old blacking-bottle. Without saying a word they flung off part of their clothes, and one of them having blown out the rushlight, they both tumbled into bed, and in a moment were snoring most sonorously. “I am in a short bed,” said I, “and have snorers close by me; I fear I shall have a sorry night of it.” I determined, however, to adhere to my resolution of making the best of circumstances, and lay perfectly quiet, listening to the snorings as they rose and fell; at last they became more gentle and I fell asleep, notwithstanding my feet were projecting some way from the bed. I might have lain ten minutes or a quarter of an hour when I suddenly started up in the bed broad awake. There was a great noise below the window of plunging and struggling interspersed with Welsh oaths. Then there was a sound as if of a heavy fall, and presently a groan. “I shouldn’t wonder,” said I, “if that fellow with the horse has verified my words, and has either broken his horse’s neck or his own. However, if he has, he has no one to blame but himself. I gave him fair warning, and shall give myself no further trouble about the matter, but go to sleep,” and so I did.

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