Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 76

Mallwyd and its Church — Sons of Shoemakers — Village Inn — Dottings.

THE next day was the thirty-first of October, and was rather fine for the season. As I did not intend to journey farther this day than Machynlleth, a principal town in Montgomeryshire, distant only twelve miles, I did not start from Mallwyd till just before noon.

Mallwyd is a small but pretty village. The church is a long edifice standing on a slight elevation on the left of the road. Its pulpit is illustrious from having for many years been occupied by one of the very celebrated men of Wales, namely Doctor John Davies, author of the great Welsh and Latin dictionary, an imperishable work. An immense yew tree grows in the churchyard, and partly overshadows the road with its branches. The parsonage stands about a hundred yards to the south of the church, near a grove of firs. The village is overhung on the north by the mountains of the Arran range, from which it is separated by the murmuring Dyfi. To the south for many miles the country is not mountainous, but presents a pleasant variety of hill and dale.

After leaving the village a little way behind me I turned round to take a last view of the wonderful region from which I had emerged on the previous evening. Forming the two sides of the pass down which comes “the royal river” stood the Dinas mountain and Cefn Coch, the first on the left, and the other on the right. Behind, forming the background of the pass, appearing, though now some miles distant, almost in my proximity, stood Pen Dyn. This hill has various names, but the one which I have noted here, and which signifies the head of a man, perhaps describes it best. From where I looked at it on that last day of October it certainly looked like an enormous head, and put me in mind of the head of Mambrino, mentioned in the master work which commemorates the achievements of the Manchegan knight. This mighty mountain is the birthplace of more than one river. If the Gerres issues from its eastern side, from its western springs the Maw, that singularly picturesque stream, which enters the ocean at the place which the Saxons corruptly call Barmouth and the Cumry with great propriety Aber Maw, or the disemboguement of the Maw.

Just as I was about to pursue my journey two boys came up, bound in the same direction as myself. One was a large boy dressed in a waggoner’s frock, the other was a little fellow in a brown coat and yellowish trowsers. As we walked along together I entered into conversation with them. They came from Dinas Mawddwy. The large boy told me that he was the son of a man who carted mwyn or lead ore, and the little fellow that he was the son of a shoemaker. The latter was by far the cleverest, and no wonder, for the son of shoemakers are always clever, which assertion should anybody doubt I beg him to attend the examinations at Cambridge, at which he will find that in three cases out of four the senior wranglers are the sons of shoemakers. From this little chap I got a great deal of information about Pen Dyn, every part of which he appeared to have traversed. He told me amongst other things that there was a castle upon it. Like a true son of a shoemaker, however, he was an arch rogue. Coming to a small house with a garden attached to it in which there were apple-trees, he stopped, whilst I went on with the other boy, and after a minute or two came up running with a couple of apples in his hand.

“Where did you get those apples?” said I; “I hope you did not steal them.”

He made no reply, but bit one, then making a wry face he flung it away, and so he served the other. Presently afterwards, coming to a side lane, the future senior wrangler, for a senior wrangler he is destined to be, always provided he finds his way to Cambridge, darted down it like an arrow, and disappeared.

I continued my way with the other lad, occasionally asking him questions about the mines of Mawddwy. The information, however, which I obtained from him was next to nothing, for he appeared to be as heavy as the stuff which his father carted. At length we reached a village forming a kind of semicircle on a green which looked something like a small English common. To the east were beautiful green hills; to the west the valley with the river running through it, beyond which rose other green hills yet more beautiful than the eastern ones. I asked the lad the name of the place, but I could not catch what he said, for his answer was merely an indistinct mumble, and before I could question him again he left me, without a word of salutation, and trudged away across the green.

Descending a hill I came to a bridge, under which ran a beautiful river, which came foaming down from a gulley between two of the eastern hills. From a man whom I met I learned that the bridge was called Pont Coomb Linau, and that the name of the village I had passed was Linau. The river carries an important tribute to the Dyfi, at least it did when I saw it, though perhaps in summer it is little more than a dry water-course.

Half-an-hour’s walking brought me from this place to a small town or large village, with a church at the entrance and the usual yew tree in the churchyard. Seeing a kind of inn I entered it, and was shown by a lad-waiter into a large kitchen, in which were several people. I had told him in Welsh that I wanted some ale, and as he opened the door he cried with a loud voice, “Cumro!” as much as to say, Mind what you say before this chap, for he understands Cumraeg — that word was enough. The people, who were talking fast and eagerly as I made my appearance, instantly became silent and stared at me with most suspicious looks. I sat down, and when my ale was brought I took a hearty draught, and observing that the company were still watching me suspiciously and maintaining the same suspicious silence, I determined to comport myself in a manner which should to a certain extent afford them ground for suspicion. I therefore slowly and deliberately drew my note-book out of my waistcoat pocket, unclasped it, took my pencil from the loops at the side of the book, and forthwith began to dot down observations upon the room and company, now looking to the left, now to the right, now aloft, now alow, now skewing at an object, now leering at an individual, my eyes half closed and my mouth drawn considerably aside. Here follow some of my dottings:-

“A very comfortable kitchen with a chimney-corner on the south side — immense grate and brilliant fire — large kettle hanging over it by a chain attached to a transverse iron bar — a settle on the left-hand side of the fire — seven fine large men near the fire — two upon the settle, two upon chairs, one in the chimney-corner smoking a pipe, and two standing up — table near the settle with glasses, amongst which is that of myself, who sit nearly in the middle of the room a little way on the right-hand side of the fire.

“The floor is of slate; a fine brindled greyhound lies before it on the hearth, and a shepherd’s dog wanders about, occasionally going to the door and scratching as if anxious to get out. The company are dressed mostly in the same fashion, brown coats, broad-brimmed hats, and yellowish corduroy breeches with gaiters. One who looks like a labouring man has a white smock and a white hat, patched trowsers, and highlows covered with gravel — one has a blue coat.

“There is a clock on the right-hand side of the kitchen; a warming-pan hangs close by it on the projecting side of the chimney-corner. On the same side is a large rack containing many plates and dishes of Staffordshire ware. Let me not forget a pair of fire-irons which hang on the right-hand side of the chimney-corner!”

I made a great many more dottings, which I shall not insert here. During the whole time I was dotting the most marvellous silence prevailed in the room, broken only by the occasional scratching of the dog against the inside of the door, the ticking of the clock, and the ruttling of the smoker’s pipe in the chimney-corner. After I had dotted to my heart’s content I closed my book, put the pencil into the loops, then the book into my pocket, drank what remained of my ale, got up, and, after another look at the apartment and its furniture, and a leer at the company, departed from the house without ceremony, having paid for the ale when I received it. After walking some fifty yards down the street I turned half round and beheld, as I knew I should, the whole company at the door staring after me. I leered sideways at them for about half a minute, but they stood my leer stoutly. Suddenly I was inspired by a thought. Turning round I confronted them, and pulling my note-book out of my pocket, and seizing my pencil, I fell to dotting vigorously. That was too much for them. As if struck by a panic, my quondam friends turned round and bolted into the house; the rustic-looking man with the smock-frock and gravelled highlows nearly falling down in his eagerness to get in.

The name of the place where this adventure occurred was Cemmaes.

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