Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 57

The Newspaper — A New Walk — Pentre y Dwr — Oatmeal and Barley–Meal — The Man on Horseback — Heavy News.

“DEAR me,” said I to my wife, as I sat by the fire one Saturday morning, looking at a newspaper which had been sent to us from our own district, “what is this? Why, the death of our old friend Dr —. He died last Tuesday week after a short illness, for he preached in his church at — the previous Sunday.”

“Poor man!” said my wife. “How sorry I am to hear of his death! However, he died in the fulness of years, after a long and exemplary life. He was an excellent man and good Christian shepherd. I knew him well; you I think only saw him once.”

“But I shall never forget him,” said I, “nor how animated his features became when I talked to him about Wales, for he, you know, was a Welshman. I forgot to ask what part of Wales he came from. I suppose I shall never know now.”

Feeling indisposed either for writing or reading, I determined to take a walk to Pentre y Dwr, a village in the north-west part of the valley which I had not yet visited. I purposed going by a path under the Eglwysig crags which I had heard led thither, and to return by the monastery. I set out. The day was dull and gloomy. Crossing the canal I pursued my course by romantic lanes till I found myself under the crags. The rocky ridge here turns away to the north, having previously run from the east to the west.

After proceeding nearly a mile amidst very beautiful scenery, I came to a farm-yard where I saw several men engaged in repairing a building. This farm-yard was in a very sequestered situation; a hill overhung it on the west, half-way up whose side stood a farm-house to which it probably pertained. On the north-west was a most romantic hill covered with wood to the very top. A wild valley led, I knew not whither, to the north between crags and the wood-covered hill. Going up to a man of respectable appearance, who seemed to be superintending the others, I asked him in English the way to Pentre y Dwr. He replied that I must follow the path up the hill towards the house, behind which I should find a road which would lead me through the wood to Pentre Dwr. As he spoke very good English, I asked him where he had learnt it.

“Chiefly in South Wales,” said he, “where they speak less Welsh than here.”

I gathered from him that he lived in the house on the hill and was a farmer. I asked him to what place the road up the valley to the north led.

“We generally go by that road to Wrexham,” he replied; “it is a short but a wild road through the hills.”

After a little discourse on the times, which he told me were not quite so bad for farmers as they had been, I bade him farewell.

Mounting the hill I passed round the house, as the farmer had directed me, and turned to the west along a path on the side of the mountain. A deep valley was on my left, and on my right above me a thick wood, principally of oak. About a mile further on the path winded down a descent, at the bottom of which I saw a brook and a number of cottages beyond it.

I passed over the brook by means of a long slab laid across, and reached the cottages. I was now as I supposed in Pentre y Dwr, and a pentre y dwr most truly it looked, for those Welsh words signify in English the village of the water, and the brook here ran through the village, in every room of which its pretty murmuring sound must have been audible. I looked about me in the hope of seeing somebody of whom I could ask a question or two, but seeing no one, I turned to the south intending to regain Llangollen by the way of the monastery. Coming to a cottage I saw a woman, to all appearance very old, standing by the door, and asked her in Welsh where I was.

“In Pentre Dwr,” said she. “This house, and those yonder,” pointing to the cottages past which I had come, “are Pentre y Dwr. There is, however, another Pentre Dwr up the glen yonder,” said she, pointing towards the north — “which is called Pentre Dwr uchaf (the upper) — this is Pentre Dwr isaf (the lower).”

“Is it called Pentre Dwr,” said I, “because of the water of the brook?”

“Likely enough,” said she, “but I never thought of the matter before.”

She was blear-eyed, and her skin, which seemed drawn tight over her forehead and cheek-bones, was of the colour of parchment. I asked her how old she was.

“Fifteen after three twenties,” she replied; meaning that she was seventy-five.

From her appearance I should almost have guessed that she had been fifteen after four twenties. I, however, did not tell her so, for I am always cautious not to hurt the feelings of anybody, especially of the aged.

Continuing my way I soon overtook a man driving five or six very large hogs. One of these which was muzzled was of a truly immense size, and walked with considerable difficulty on account of its fatness. I walked for some time by the side of the noble porker, admiring it. At length a man rode up on horseback from the way we had come; he said something to the driver of the hogs, who instantly unmuzzled the immense creature, who gave a loud grunt on finding his snout and mouth free. From the conversation which ensued between the two men I found that the driver was the servant and the other the master.

“Those hogs are too fat to drive along the road,” said I at last to the latter.

“We brought them in a cart as far as the Pentre Dwr,” said the man on horseback, “but as they did not like the jolting we took them out.”

“And where are you taking them to?” said. I.

“To Llangollen,” said the man, “for the fair on Monday.”

“What does that big fellow weigh?” said I, pointing to the largest hog.

“He’ll weigh about eighteen score,” said the man.

“What do you mean by eighteen score?” said I.

“Eighteen score of pounds,” said the man.

“And how much do you expect to get for him?”

“Eight pounds; I shan’t take less.”

“And who will buy him?” said I.

“Some gent from Wolverhampton or about there,” said the man; “there will be plenty of gents from Wolverhampton at the fair.”

“And what do you fatten your hogs upon?” said I.

“Oatmeal,” said the man.

“And why not on barley-meal?”

“Oatmeal is the best,” said the man; “the gents from Wolverhampton prefer them fattened on oatmeal.”

“Do the gents of Wolverhampton,” said I, “eat the hogs?”

“They do not,” said the man; “they buy them to sell again; and they like hogs fed on oatmeal best, because they are the fattest.”

“But the pork is not the best,” said I; “all hog-flesh raised on oatmeal is bitter and wiry; because do you see — ”

“I see you are in the trade,” said the man, “and understand a thing or two.”

“I understand a thing or two,” said I, “but I am not in the trade. Do you come from far?”

“From Llandeglo,” said the man.

“Are you a hog-merchant?” said I.

“Yes,” said he, “and a horse-dealer, and a farmer, though rather a small one.”

“I suppose as you are a horse-dealer,” said I, “you travel much about?”

“Yes,” said the man; “I have travelled a good deal about Wales and England.”

“Have you been in Ynys Fon?” said I.

“I see you are a Welshman,” said the man.

“No,” said I, “but I know a little Welsh.”

“Ynys Fon!” said the man. “Yes, I have been in Anglesey more times than I can tell.”

“Do you know Hugh Pritchard,” said I, “who lives at Pentraeth Coch?”

“I know him well,” said the man, “and an honest fellow he is.”

“And Mr Bos?” said I.

“What Bos?” said he. “Do you mean a lusty, red-faced man in top-boots and grey coat?”

“That’s he,” said I.

“He’s a clever one,” said the man. “I suppose by your knowing these people you are a drover or a horse-dealer. Yes,” said he, turning half-round in his saddle and looking at me, “you are a horse-dealer. I remember you well now, and once sold a horse to you at Chelmsford.”

“I am no horse-dealer,” said I, “nor did I ever buy a horse at Chelmsford. I see you have been about England. Have you ever been in Norfolk or Suffolk?”

“No,” said the man, “but I know something of Suffolk. I have an uncle there.”

“Whereabouts in Suffolk?” said I.

“At a place called — ” said the man.

“In what line of business?” said I.

“In none at all; he is a clergyman.”

“Shall I tell you his name?” said I.

“It is not likely you should know his name,” said the man.

“Nevertheless,” said I, “I will tell it you — his name was — ”

“Well,” said the man, “sure enough that is his name.”

“It was his name,” said I, “but I am sorry to tell you he is no more. To-day is Saturday. He died last Tuesday week and was probably buried last Monday. An excellent man was Dr. H. O. A credit to his country and to his order.”

The man was silent for some time and then said with a softer voice and a very different manner from that he had used before, “I never saw him but once, and that was more than twenty years ago — but I have heard say that he was an excellent man — I see, sir, that you are a clergyman.”

“I am no clergyman,” said I, “but I knew your uncle and prized him. What was his native place?”

“Corwen,” said the man, then taking out his handkerchief he wiped his eyes, and said with a faltering voice: “This will be heavy news there.”

We were now past the monastery, and bidding him farewell I descended to the canal, and returned home by its bank, whilst the Welsh drover, the nephew of the learned, eloquent and exemplary Welsh doctor, pursued with his servant and animals his way by the high road to Llangollen.

Many sons of Welsh yeomen brought up to the Church have become ornaments of it in distant Saxon land, but few, very few, have by learning, eloquence and Christian virtues reflected so much lustre upon it as Hugh O— of Corwen.

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