Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 62

Rhiwabon Road — The Public-house Keeper — No Welsh — The Wrong Road — The Good Wife.

I PAID my reckoning and started. The night was now rapidly closing in. I passed the toll-gate and hurried along the Rhiwabon road, overtaking companies of Welsh going home, amongst whom were many individuals, whom, from their thick and confused speech, as well as from their staggering gait, I judged to be intoxicated. As I passed a red public-house on my right hand, at the door of which stood several carts, a scream of Welsh issued from it.

“Let any Saxon,” said I, “who is fond of fighting and wishes for a bloody nose go in there.”

Coming to the small village about a mile from Rhiwabon, I felt thirsty, and seeing a public-house, in which all seemed to be quiet, I went in. A thick-set man with a pipe in his mouth sat in the tap-room, and also a woman.

“Where is the landlord?” said I.

“I am the landlord,” said the man, huskily. “What do you want?”

“A pint of ale,” said I.

The man got up and with his pipe in his mouth went staggering out of the room. In about a minute he returned holding a mug in his hand, which he put down on a table before me, spilling no slight quantity of the liquor as he did so. I put down three-pence on the table. He took the money up slowly piece by piece, looked at it and appeared to consider, then taking the pipe out of his mouth he dashed it to seven pieces against the table, then staggered out of the room into the passage, and from thence apparently out of the house. I tasted the ale which was very good, then turning to the woman who seemed about three-and-twenty and was rather good-looking, I spoke to her in Welsh.

“I have no Welsh, sir,” said she.

“How is that?” said I; “this village is I think in the Welshery.”

“It is,” said she, “but I am from Shropshire.”

“Are you the mistress of the house?” said I.

“No,” said she, “I am married to a collier;” then getting up she said, “I must go and see after my husband.”

“Won’t you take a glass of ale first?” said I, offering to fill a glass which stood on the table.

“No,” said she; “I am the worst in the world for a glass of ale;” and without saying anything more she departed.

“I wonder whether your husband is anything like you with respect to a glass of ale,” said I to myself; then finishing my ale I got up and left the house, which when I departed appeared to be entirely deserted.

It was now quite night, and it would have been pitchy-dark but for the glare of forges. There was an immense glare to the south-west, which I conceived proceeded from those of Cefn Mawr. It lighted up the south-western sky; then there were two other glares nearer to me, seemingly divided by a lump of something, perhaps a grove of trees.

Walking very fast I soon overtook a man. I knew him at once by his staggering gait.

“Ah, landlord!” said I; “whither bound?”

“To Rhiwabon,” said he, huskily, “for a pint.”

“Is the ale so good at Rhiwabon,” said I, “that you leave home for it?”

“No,” said he, rather shortly, “there’s not a glass of good ale in Rhiwabon.”

“Then why do you go thither?” said I.

“Because a pint of bad liquor abroad is better than a quart of good at home,” said the landlord, reeling against the hedge.

“There are many in a higher station than you who act upon that principle,” thought I to myself as I passed on.

I soon reached Rhiwabon. There was a prodigious noise in the public-houses as I passed through it. “Colliers carousing,” said I. “Well, I shall not go amongst them to preach temperance, though perhaps in strict duty I ought.” At the end of the town, instead of taking the road on the left side of the church, I took that on the right. It was not till I had proceeded nearly a mile that I began to be apprehensive that I had mistaken the way. Hearing some people coming towards me on the road I waited till they came up; they proved to be a man and a woman. On my inquiring whether I was right for Llangollen, the former told me that I was not, and in order to get there it was necessary that I should return to Rhiwabon. I instantly turned round. About half-way back I met a man who asked me in English where I was hurrying to. I said to Rhiwabon, in order to get to Llangollen. “Well, then,” said he, “you need not return to Rhiwabon — yonder is a short cut across the fields,” and he pointed to a gate. I thanked him, and said I would go by it; before leaving him I asked to what place the road led which I had been following.

“To Pentre Castren,” he replied. I struck across the fields and should probably have tumbled half-a-dozen times over pales and the like, but for the light of the Cefn furnaces before me which cast their red glow upon my path. I debauched upon the Llangollen road near to the tramway leading to the collieries. Two enormous sheets of flame shot up high into the air from ovens, illumining two spectral chimneys as high as steeples, also smoky buildings, and grimy figures moving about. There was a clanging of engines, a noise of shovels and a falling of coals truly horrible. The glare was so great that I could distinctly see the minutest lines upon my hand. Advancing along the tramway I obtained a nearer view of the hellish buildings, the chimneys, and the demoniac figures. It was just such a scene as one of those described by Ellis Wynn in his Vision of Hell. Feeling my eyes scorching I turned away, and proceeded towards Llangollen, sometimes on the muddy road, sometimes on the dangerous causeway. For three miles at least I met nobody. Near Llangollen, as I was walking on the causeway, three men came swiftly towards me. I kept the hedge, which was my right; the two first brushed roughly past me, the third came full upon me and was tumbled into the road. There was a laugh from the two first and a loud curse from the last as he sprawled in the mire. I merely said “Nos Da’ki,” and passed on, and in about a quarter of an hour reached home, where I found my wife awaiting me alone, Henrietta having gone to bed being slightly indisposed. My wife received me with a cheerful smile. I looked at her and the good wife of the Triad came to my mind.

“She is modest, void of deceit, and obedient.

“Pure of conscience, gracious of tongue, and true to her husband.

“Her heart not proud, her manners affable, and her bosom full of compassion for the poor.

“Labouring to be tidy, skilful of hand, and fond of praying to God.

“Her conversation amiable, her dress decent, and her house orderly.

“Quick of hand, quick of eye, and quick of understanding.

“Her person shapely, her manners agreeable, and her heart innocent.

“Her face benignant, her head intelligent, and provident.

“Neighbourly, gentle, and of a liberal way of thinking.

“Able in directing, providing what is wanting, and a good mother to her children.

“Loving her husband, loving peace, and loving God.

“Happy the man,” adds the Triad, “who possesses such a wife.” Very true, O Triad, always provided he is in some degree worthy of her; but many a man leaves an innocent wife at home for an impure Jezebel abroad, even as many a one prefers a pint of hog’s wash abroad to a tankard of generous liquor at home.

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