Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 77

The Deaf Man — Funeral Procession — The Lone Family — The Welsh and their Secrets — The Vale of the Dyfi — The Bright Moon.

A LITTLE way from Cemmaes I saw a respectable-looking old man like a little farmer, to whom I said:

“How far to Machynlleth?”

Looking at me in a piteous manner in the face he pointed to the side of his head, and said — “Dim clywed.”

It was no longer no English, but no hearing.

Presently I met one yet more deaf. A large procession of men came along the road. Some distance behind them was a band of women and between the two bands was a kind of bier drawn by a horse with plumes at each of the four corners. I took off my hat and stood close against the hedge on the right-hand side till the dead had passed me some way to its final home.

Crossed a river, which like that on the other side of Cemmaes streamed down from a gulley between two hills into the valley of the Dyfi. Beyond the bridge on the right-hand side of the road was a pretty cottage, just as there was in the other locality. A fine tall woman stood at the door, with a little child beside her. I stopped and inquired in English whose body it was that had just been borne by.

“That of a young man, sir, the son of a farmer, who lives a mile or so up the road.”

MYSELF. — He seems to have plenty of friends.

WOMAN. — Oh yes, sir, the Welsh have plenty of friends both in life and death.

MYSELF. — A’n’t you Welsh, then?

WOMAN. — Oh no, sir, I am English, like yourself, as I suppose.

MYSELF. — Yes, I am English. What part of England do you come from?

WOMAN. — Shropshire, sir.

MYSELF. — Is that little child yours?

WOMAN. — Yes, sir, it is my husband’s child and mine.

MYSELF. — I suppose your husband is Welsh.

WOMAN. — Oh no, sir, we are all English.

MYSELF. — And what is your husband?

WOMAN. — A little farmer, sir, he farms about forty acres under Mrs -.

MYSELF. — Well, are you comfortable here?

WOMAN. — Oh dear me, no, sir, we are anything but comfortable. Here we are three poor lone creatures in a strange land, without a soul to speak to but one another. Every day of our lives we wish we had never left Shropshire.

MYSELF. — Why don’t you make friends amongst your neighbours?

WOMAN. — Oh, sir, the English cannot make friends amongst the Welsh. The Welsh won’t neighbour with them, or have anything to do with them, except now and then in the way of business.

MYSELF. — I have occasionally found the Welsh very civil.

WOMAN. — Oh yes, sir, they can be civil enough to passers-by, especially those who they think want nothing from them — but if you came and settled amongst them you would find them, I’m afraid, quite the contrary.

MYSELF. — Would they be uncivil to me if I could speak Welsh?

WOMAN. — Most particularly, sir; the Welsh don’t like any strangers, but least of all those who speak their language.

MYSELF. — Have you picked up anything of their language?

WOMAN. — Not a word, sir, nor my husband neither. They take good care that we shouldn’t pick up a word of their language. I stood the other day and listened whilst two women were talking just where you stand now, in the hope of catching a word, and as soon as they saw me they passed to the other side of the bridge, and began buzzing there. My poor husband took it into his head that he might possibly learn a word or two at the public-house, so he went there, called for a jug of ale and a pipe, and tried to make himself at home just as he might in England, but it wouldn’t do. The company instantly left off talking to one another and stared at him, and before he could finish his pot and pipe took themselves off to a man, and then came the landlord, and asked him what he meant by frightening away his customers. So my poor husband came home as pale as a sheet, and sitting down in a chair said, “Lord, have mercy upon me!”

MYSELF. — Why are the Welsh afraid that strangers should pick up their language?

WOMAN. — Lest, perhaps, they should learn their secrets, sir!

MYSELF. — What secrets have they?

WOMAN. — The Lord above only knows, sir!

MYSELF. — Do you think they are hatching treason against Queen Victoria?

WOMAN. — Oh dear no, sir.

MYSELF. — Is there much murder going on amongst them?

WOMAN. — Nothing of the kind, sir.

MYSELF. — Cattle-stealing?

WOMAN. — Oh no, sir!

MYSELF. — Pig-stealing?

WOMAN. — No, sir!

MYSELF. — Duck or hen stealing?

WOMAN. — Haven’t lost a duck or hen since I have been here, sir.

MYSELF. — Then what secrets can they possibly have?

WOMAN. — I don’t know, sir! perhaps none at all, or at most only a pack of small nonsense that nobody would give three farthings to know. However, it is quite certain they are as jealous of strangers hearing their discourse as if they were plotting gunpowder treason or something worse.

MYSELF. — Have you been long here?

WOMAN. — Only since last May, sir! and we hope to get away by next, and return to our own country, where we shall have some one to speak to.

MYSELF. — Good-bye!

WOMAN. — Good-bye, sir, and thank you for your conversation; I haven’t had such a treat of talk for many a weary day.

The Vale of the Dyfi became wider and more beautiful as I advanced. The river ran at the bottom amidst green and seemingly rich meadows. The hills on the farther side were cultivated a great way up, and various neat farm-houses were scattered here and there on their sides. At the foot of one of the most picturesque of these hills stood a large white village. I wished very much to know its name, but saw no one of whom I could inquire. I proceeded for about a mile, and then perceiving a man wheeling stones in a barrow for the repairing of the road I thought I would inquire of him. I did so, but the village was then out of sight, and though I pointed in its direction and described its situation I could not get its name out of him. At last I said hastily, “Can you tell me your own name?”

“Dafydd Tibbot, sir,” said he.

“Tibbot, Tibbot,” said I; “why, you are a Frenchman.”

“Dearie me, sir,” said the man, looking very pleased, “am I, indeed?”

“Yes, you are,” said I, rather repenting of my haste, and giving him sixpence, I left him.

“I’d bet a trifle,” said I to myself, as I walked away, that this poor creature is the descendant of some desperate Norman Tibault who helped to conquer Powisland under Roger de Montgomery or Earl Baldwin. How striking that the proud old Norman names are at present only borne by people in the lowest station. Here’s a Tibbot or Tibault harrowing stones on a Welsh road, and I have known a Mortimer munching poor cheese and bread under a hedge on an English one. How can we account for this save by the supposition that the descendants of proud, cruel, and violent men — and who so proud, cruel and violent, as the old Normans — are doomed by God to come to the dogs?”

Came to Pont Velin Cerrig, the bridge of the mill of the Cerrig, a river which comes foaming down from between two rocky hills. This bridge is about a mile from Machynlleth, at which place I arrived at about five o’clock in the evening — a cool, bright moon shining upon me. I put up at the principal inn, which was of course called the Wynstay Arms.

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