Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 38

Inn at L— The Handmaid — The Decanter — Religious Gentleman — Truly Distressing — Sententiousness — Way to Pay Bills.

I PROCEEDED on my way in high spirits indeed, having now seen not only the tomb of the Tudors, but one of those sober poets for which Anglesey has always been so famous. The country was pretty, with here and there a hill, a harvest-field, a clump of trees or a grove.

I soon reached L-, a small but neat town. “Where is the — Arms?” said I to a man whom I met.

“Yonder, sir, yonder,” said he, pointing to a magnificent structure on the left.

I went in and found myself in a spacious hall. A good-looking young woman in a white dress with a profusion of pink ribbons confronted me with a curtsey. “A pint and a chop!” I exclaimed, with a flourish of my hand and at the top of my voice. The damsel gave a kind of start, and then, with something like a toss of the head, led the way into a very large room, on the left, in which were many tables, covered with snowy-white cloths, on which were plates, knives and forks, the latter seemingly of silver, tumblers, and wine-glasses.

“I think you asked for a pint and a chop, sir?” said the damsel, motioning me to sit down at one of the tables.

“I did,” said I, as I sat down, “let them be brought with all convenient speed, for I am in something of a hurry.”

“Very well, sir,” said the damsel, and then with another kind of toss of the head, she went away, not forgetting to turn half round, to take a furtive glance at me, before she went out of the door.

“Well,” said I, as I looked at the tables, with their snowy-white cloths, tumblers, wine-glasses and what not, and at the walls of the room glittering with mirrors, “surely a poet never kept so magnificent an inn before; there must be something in this fellow besides the awen, or his house would never exhibit such marks of prosperity and good taste — there must be something in this fellow; though he pretends to be a wild erratic son of Parnassus, he must have an eye to the main chance, a genius for turning the penny, or rather the sovereign, for the accommodation here is no penny accommodation, as I shall probably find. Perhaps, however, like myself, he has an exceedingly clever wife who, whilst he is making verses, or running about the country swigging ale with people in bulged shoes, or buying pigs or glandered horses, looks after matters at home, drives a swinging trade, and keeps not only herself, but him respectable — but even in that event he must have a good deal of common-sense in him, even like myself, who always allows my wife to buy and sell, carry money to the bank, draw cheques, inspect and pay tradesmen’s bills, and transact all my real business, whilst I myself pore over old books, walk about shires, discoursing with gypsies, under hedgerows, or with sober bards — in hedge ale-houses.” I continued musing in this manner until the handmaid made her appearance with a tray, on which were covers and a decanter, which she placed before me. “What is that?” said I, pointing to a decanter.

“Only a pint of sherry, sir,” said she of the white dress and ribbons.

“Dear me,” said I, “I ordered no sherry, I wanted some ale — a pint of ale.”

“You called for a pint, sir,” said the handmaid, “but you mentioned no ale, and I naturally supposed that a gentleman of your appearance” — here she glanced at my dusty coat — “and speaking in the tone you did, would not condescend to drink ale with his chop; however, as it seems I have been mistaken, I can take away the sherry and bring you the ale.”

“Well, well,” said I, “you can let the sherry remain; I do not like sherry, and am very fond of ale, but you can let the wine remain; upon the whole I am glad you brought it — indeed I merely came to do a good turn to the master of the house.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the handmaid.

“Are you his daughter?” said I.

“Oh no, sir,” said the handmaid reverently; “only his waiter.”

“You may be proud to wait on him,” said I.

“I am, sir,” said the handmaid, casting down her eyes.

“I suppose he is much respected in the neighbourhood?” said I.

“Very much so, sir,” said the damsel, “especially amidst the connection.”

“The connection,” said I. “Ah, I see, he has extensive consanguinity, most Welsh have. But,” I continued, “there is such a thing as envy in the world, and there are a great many malicious people in the world, who speak against him.”

“A great many, sir, but we take what they say from whence it comes.”

“You do quite right,” said I. “Has your master written any poetry lately?”

“Sir!” said the damsel staring at me.

“Any poetry,” said I, “any pennillion?”

“No, sir,” said the damsel; “my master is a respectable man, and would scorn to do anything of the kind.”

“Why,” said I, “is not your master a bard as well as an innkeeper?”

“My master, sir, is an innkeeper,” said the damsel; “but as for the other, I don’t know what you mean.”

“A bard,” said I, “is a prydydd, a person who makes verses — pennillion; does not your master make them?”

“My master make them? No, sir; my master is a religious gentleman, and would scorn to make such profane stuff.”

“Well,” said I, “he told me he did within the last two hours. I met him at Dyffrin Gaint, along with another man, and he took me into the public-house, where we had a deal of discourse.”

“You met my master at Dyffryn Gaint?” said the damsel.

“Yes,” said I, “and he treated me with ale, told me that he was a poet, and that he was going to Bangor to buy a horse or a pig.”

“I don’t see how that could be, sir,” said the damsel; “my master is at present in the house, rather unwell, and has not been out for the last three days — there must be some mistake.”

“Mistake,” said I. “Isn’t this the — Arms?”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

“And isn’t your master’s name W-?”

“No, sir, my master’s name is H-, and a more respectable man — ”

“Well,” said I interrupting her — “all I can say is that I met a man in Dyffryn Gaint, who treated me with ale, told me that his name was W-, that he was a prydydd and kept the — Arms at L-.”

“Well,” said the damsel, “now I remember, there is a person of that name in L-, and he also keeps a house which he calls the — Arms, but it is only a public-house.”

“But,” said I, “is he not a prydydd, an illustrious poet; does he not write pennillion which everybody admires?”

“Well,” said the damsel, “I believe he does write things which he calls pennillions, but everybody laughs at them.”

“Come, come,” said I, “I will not hear the productions of a man who treated me with ale, spoken of with disrespect. I am afraid that you are one of his envious maligners, of which he gave me to understand that he had a great many.”

“Envious, sir! not I indeed; and if I were disposed to be envious of anybody it would not be of him; oh dear, why he is — ”

“A bard of Anglesey,” said I, interrupting her, “such a person as Gronwy Owen describes in the following lines, which by-the-bye were written upon himself:-

“‘Where’er he goes he’s sure to find Respectful looks and greetings kind.’

“I tell you that it was out of respect to that man that I came to this house. Had I not thought that he kept it, I should not have entered it and called for a pint and chop — how distressing! how truly distressing!”

“Well, sir,” said the damsel, “if there is anything distressing you have only to thank your acquaintance who chooses to call his mug-house by the name of a respectable hotel, for I would have you know that this is an hotel, and kept by a respectable and a religious man, and not kept by — However, I scorn to say more, especially as I might be misinterpreted. Sir, there’s your pint and chop, and if you wish for anything else you can ring. Envious, indeed, of such — Marry come up!” and with a toss of her head, higher than any she had hitherto given, she bounced out of the room.

Here was a pretty affair! I had entered the house and ordered the chop and pint in the belief that by so doing I was patronising the poet, and lo, I was not in the poet’s house, and my order would benefit a person for whom, however respectable and religious, I cared not one rush. Moreover, the pint which I had ordered appeared in the guise not of ale, which I am fond of, but of sherry, for which I have always entertained a sovereign contempt, as a silly, sickly compound, the use of which will transform a nation, however bold and warlike by nature, into a race of sketchers, scribblers, and punsters, in fact into what Englishmen are at the present day. But who was to blame? Why, who but the poet and myself? The poet ought to have told me that there were two houses in L— bearing the sign of the — Arms, and that I must fight shy of the hotel and steer for the pot-house, and when I gave the order I certainly ought to have been a little more explicit; when I said a pint I ought to have added — of ale. Sententiousness is a fine thing sometimes, but not always. By being sententious here, I got sherry, which I dislike, instead of ale which I like, and should have to pay more for what was disagreeable, than I should have had to pay for what was agreeable. Yet I had merely echoed the poet’s words in calling for a pint and chop, so after all the poet was to blame for both mistakes. But perhaps he meant that I should drink sherry at his house, and when he advised me to call for a pint, he meant a pint of sherry. But the maid had said he kept a pot-house, and no pot-houses have wine-licences; but the maid after all might be an envious baggage, and no better than she should be. But what was now to be done? Why, clearly make the best of the matter, eat the chop and leave the sherry. So I commenced eating the chop, which was by this time nearly cold. After eating a few morsels I looked at the sherry: “I may as well take a glass,” said I. So with a wry face I poured myself out a glass.

“What detestable stuff!” said I, after I had drunk it. “However, as I shall have to pay for it I may as well go through with it.” So I poured myself out another glass, and by the time I had finished the chop I had finished the sherry also.

And now what was I to do next? Why, my best advice seemed to be to pay my bill and depart. But I had promised the poet to patronize his house, and had by mistake ordered and despatched a pint and chop in a house which was not the poet’s. Should I now go to his house and order a pint and chop there? Decidedly not! I had patronised a house which I believed to be the poet’s; if I patronised the wrong one, the fault was his, not mine — he should have been more explicit. I had performed my promise, at least in intention.

Perfectly satisfied with the conclusion I had come to, I rang the bell. “The bill?” said I to the handmaid.

“Here it is!” said she, placing a strip of paper in my hand.

I looked at the bill, and, whether moderate or immoderate, paid it with a smiling countenance, commanded the entertainment highly, and gave the damsel something handsome for her trouble in waiting on me.

Reader, please to bear in mind that as all bills must be paid, it is much more comfortable to pay them with a smile than with a frown, and that it is much better by giving sixpence, or a shilling to a poor servant, which you will never miss at the year’s end, to be followed from the door of an inn by good wishes, than by giving nothing to be pursued by cutting silence, or the yet more cutting Hm!

“Sir,” said the good-looking, well-ribboned damsel, “I wish you a pleasant journey, and whenever you please again to honour our establishment with your presence, both my master and myself shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

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