Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 92

Nocturnal Journey — Maes y Lynn — The Figure — Earl of Leicester — Twm Shone Catti — The Farmer and Bull — Tom and the Farmer — The Cave — The Threat — Tom a Justice — The Big Wigs — Tregaron.

IT was dusk by the time I had regained the high-road by the village of the Rhyd Fendigaid.

As I was yet eight miles from Tregaron, the place where I intended to pass the night, I put on my best pace. In a little time I reached a bridge over a stream which seemed to carry a considerable tribute to the Teivi.

“What is the name of this bridge?” said I to a man riding in a cart, whom I met almost immediately after I had crossed the bridge.

“Pont Vleer,” methought he said, but as his voice was husky and indistinct, very much like that of a person somewhat the worse for liquor, I am by no means positive.

It was now very dusk, and by the time I had advanced about a mile farther dark night settled down, which compelled me to abate my pace a little, more especially as the road was by no means first-rate. I had come, to the best of my computation, about four miles from the Rhyd Fendigaid when the moon began partly to show itself, and presently by its glimmer I saw some little way off on my right hand what appeared to be a large sheet of water. I went on, and in about a minute saw two or three houses on the left, which stood nearly opposite to the object which I had deemed to be water, and which now appeared to be about fifty yards distant in a field which was separated from the road by a slight hedge. Going up to the principal house I knocked, and a woman making her appearance at the door, I said:

“I beg pardon for troubling you, but I wish to know the name of this place.”

“Maes y Lynn — The Field of the Lake,” said the woman.

“And what is the name of the lake?” said I.

“I do not know,” said she; “but the place where it stands is called Maes Llyn, as I said before.”

“Is the lake deep?” said I.

“Very deep,” said she.

“How deep?” said I.

“Over the tops of the houses,” she replied.

“Any fish in the lake?”

“Oh yes! plenty.”

“What fish?”

“Oh, there are llysowen, and the fish we call ysgetten.”

“Eels and tench,” said I; “anything else?”

“I do not know,” said the woman; “folks say that there used to be queer beast in the lake, water-cow used to come out at night and eat people’s clover in the fields.”

“Pooh,” said I, “that was merely some person’s cow or horse, turned out at night to fill its belly at other folks’ expense.”

“Perhaps so,” said the woman; “have you any more questions to ask?”

“Only one,” said I; “how far is it to Tregaron?”

“About three miles: are you going there?”

“Yes, I am going to Tregaron.”

“Pity that you did not come a little time ago,” said the woman; “you might then have had pleasant company on your way; pleasant man stopped here to light his pipe; he too going to Tregaron.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said I; “I am never happier than when keeping my own company.” Bidding the woman good night, I went on. The moon now shone tolerably bright, so that I could see my way, and I sped on at a great rate. I had proceeded nearly half a mile, when I thought I heard steps in advance, and presently saw a figure at some little distance before me. The individual, probably hearing the noise of my approach, soon turned round and stood still. As I drew near I distinguished a stout burly figure of a man, seemingly about sixty, with a short pipe in his mouth.

“Ah, is it you?” said the figure, in English, taking the pipe out of his mouth; “good evening, I am glad to see you.” Then shaking some burning embers out of his pipe, he put it into his pocket, and trudged on beside me.

“Why are you glad to see I me?” said I, slackening my pace; “I am a stranger to you; at any rate, you are to me.”

“Always glad to see English gentleman,” said the figure; “always glad to see him.”

“How do you know that I am an English gentleman?” said I.

“Oh, I know Englishman at first sight; no one like him in the whole world.”

“Have you seen many English gentleman?” said I.

“Oh yes, have seen plenty when I have been up in London.”

“Have you been much in London?”

“Oh yes; when I was a drover was up in London every month.”

“And were you much in the society of English gentlemen when you were there?”

“Oh yes; a great deal.”

“Whereabouts in London did you chiefly meet them?”

“Whereabouts? Oh, in Smithfield.”

“Dear me!” said I; “I thought that was rather a place for butchers than gentlemen.”

“Great place for gentlemen, I assure you,” said the figure; “met there the finest gentleman I ever saw in my life; very grand, but kind and affable, like every true gentleman. Talked to me a great deal about Anglesey runts, and Welsh legs of mutton, and at parting shook me by the hand, and asked me to look in upon him, if I was ever down in his parts, and see his sheep and taste his ale.”

“Do you know who he was?” said I.

“Oh yes; know all about him; Earl of Leicester, from county of Norfolk; fine old man indeed — you very much like him — speak just in same way.”

“Have you given up the business of drover long?” said I.

“Oh yes; given him up a long time, ever since domm’d railroad came into fashion.”

“And what do you do now?” said I.

“Oh, not much; live upon my means; picked up a little property, a few sticks, just enough for old crow to build him nest with — sometimes, however, undertake a little job for neighbouring people and get a little money. Can do everything in small way, if necessary; build little bridge, if asked; — Jack of all Trades — live very comfortably.”

“And where do you live?”

“Oh, not very far from Tregaron.”

“And what kind of place is Tregaron?”

“Oh, very good place; not quite so big as London but very good place.”

“What is it famed for?” said I,

“Oh, famed for very good ham; best ham at Tregaron in all Shire Cardigan.”

“Famed for anything else?”

“Oh yes! famed for great man, clever thief, Twm Shone Catti, who was born there.”

“Dear me!” said I; “when did he live?”

“Oh, long time ago, more than two hundred year.”

“And what became of him?” said I; “was he hung?”

“Hung, no! only stupid thief hung. Twm Shone clever thief; died rich man, justice of the peace and mayor of Brecon.”

“Very singular,” said I, “that they should make a thief mayor of Brecon.”

“Oh Twm Shone Catti very different from other thieves; funny fellow, and so good-natured that everybody loved him — so they made him magistrate, not, however, before he had become very rich man by marrying great lady who fell in love with him.”

“Ah, ah,” said I; “that’s the way of the world. He became rich, so they made him a magistrate; had he remained poor they would have hung him in spite of all his fun and good-nature. Well, can’t you tell me some of the things he did?”

“Oh yes, can tell you plenty. One day in time of fair Tom Shone Catti goes into ironmonger’s shop in Llandovery. ‘Master,’ says he, ‘I want to buy a good large iron porridge pot; please to show me some.’ So the man brings three or four big iron porridge pots, the very best he has. Tom takes up one and turns it round. ‘This look very good porridge pot,’ said he; ‘I think it will suit me.’ Then he turns it round and round again, and at last lifts it above his head and peeks into it. ‘Ha, ha,’ says he; ‘this won’t do; I see one hole here. What mean you by wanting to sell article like this to stranger?’ Says the man, ‘There be no hole in it.’ ‘But there is,’ says Tom, holding it up and peeking into it again; ‘I see the hole quite plain. Take it and look into it yourself.’ So the man takes the pot, and having held it up and peeked in, ‘as I hope to be saved,’ says he, ‘I can see no hole.’ Says Tom, ‘Good man, if you put your head in, you will find that there is a hole.’ So the man tries to put in his head, but having some difficulty, Tom lends him a helping hand by jamming the pot quite down over the man’s face, then whisking up the other pots Tom leaves the shop, saying as he goes, ‘Friend, I suppose you now see there is a hole in the pot, otherwise how could you have got your head inside?”’

“Very good,” said I; “can you tell us something more about Twm Shone Catti?”

“Oh yes; can tell you plenty about him. The farmer at Newton, just one mile beyond the bridge at Brecon, had one very fine bull, but with a very short tail. Says Tom to himself: ‘By God’s nails and blood, I will steal the farmer’s bull, and then sell it to him for other bull in open market place.’ Then Tom makes one fine tail, just for all the world such a tail as the bull ought to have had, then goes by night to the farmer’s stall at Newton, steals away the bull, and then sticks to the bull’s short stump the fine bull’s tail which he himself had made. The next market day he takes the bull to the market-place at Brecon, and calls out; ‘Very fine bull this, who will buy my fine bull?’ Quoth the farmer who stood nigh at hand, ‘That very much like my bull, which thief stole t’other night; I think I can swear to him.’ Says Tom, ‘What do you mean? This bull is not your bull, but mine.’ Says the farmer, ‘I could swear that this is my bull but for the tail. The tail of my bull was short, but the tail of this is long. I would fain know whether the tail of this be real tail or not.’ ‘You would?’ says Tom; ‘well, so you shall.’ Thereupon he whips out big knife and cuts off the bull’s tail, some little way above where the false tail was joined on. ‘Ha, ha,’ said Tom, as the bull’s stump of tail bled, and the bit of tail bled too to which the false tail was stuck, and the bull kicked and bellowed. ‘What say you now? Is it a true tail or no?’ ‘By my faith!’ says the farmer, ‘I see that the tail is a true tail, and that the bull is not mine. I beg pardon for thinking that he was.’ ‘Begging pardon,’ says Tom, ‘is all very well; but will you buy the bull?’ ‘No,’ said the farmer; ‘I should be loth to buy a bull with tail cut off close to the rump.’ ‘Ha,’ says Tom; ‘who made me cut off the tail but yourself? Did you not force me to do so in order to clear my character? Now as you made me cut off my bull’s tail, I will make you buy my bull without his tail.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ cried the mob; ‘as he forced you to cut off the tail, do you now force him to buy the bull without the tail.’ Says the farmer, ‘What do you ask for the bull?’ Says Tom: ‘I ask for him ten pound.’ Says the farmer, ‘I will give you eight.’ ‘No,’ says Tom; ‘you shall give me ten, or I will have you up before the justice.’ ‘That is right,’ cried the mob. ‘If he won’t pay you ten pound, have him up before the justice.’ Thereupon the farmer, becoming frightened, pulled out the ten pounds and gave it for his own bull to Tom Shone Catti, who wished him joy of his bargain. As the farmer was driving the bull away he said to Tom: ‘Won’t you give me the tail?’ ‘No,’ said Tom; ‘I shall keep it against the time I steal another bull with a short tail;’ and thereupon he runs off.”

“A clever fellow,” said I; “though it was rather cruel in him to cut off the poor bull’s tail. Now, perhaps, you will tell me how he came to marry the rich lady?

“Oh yes; I will tell you. One day as he was wandering about, dressed quite like a gentleman, he heard a cry, and found one very fine lady in the hands of one highwayman, who would have robbed and murdered her. Tom kills the highwayman and conducts the lady home to her house and her husband, for she was a married lady. Out of gratitude to Tom for the service he has done, the gentleman and lady invite him to stay with them. The gentleman, who is a great gentleman, fond of his bottle and hunting, takes mightily to Tom for his funny sayings and because Tom’s a good hand at a glass when at table, and a good hand at a leap when in field; the lady also takes very much to Tom, because he one domm’d handsome fellow, with plenty of wit and what they call boetry — for Tom, amongst other things, was no bad boet, and could treat a lady to pennillion about her face and her ancle, and the tip of her ear. At last Tom goes away upon his wanderings, not, however, before he has got one promise from the lady, that if ever she becomes disengaged she will become his wife. Well, after some time, the lady’s husband dies and leaves her all his property, so that all of a sudden she finds herself one great independent lady, mistress of the whole of Strath Feen, one fair and pleasant valley far away there over the Eastern hills, by the Towey, on the borders of Shire Car. Tom, as soon as he hears the news of all this, sets off for Strath Feen and asks the lady to perform her word; but the lady, who finds herself one great and independent lady, and moreover does not quite like the idea of marrying one thief, for she had learnt who Tom was, does hum and hah, and at length begs to be excused, because she has changed her mind. Tom begs and entreats, but quite in vain, till at last she tells him to go away and not trouble her any more. Tom goes away, but does not yet lose hope. He takes up his quarters in one strange little cave, nearly at the top of one wild hill, very much like sugar loaf, which does rise above the Towey, just within Shire Car. I have seen the cave myself, which is still called Ystafell Twm Shone Catty. Very queer cave it is, in strange situation; steep rock just above it, Towey River roaring below. There Tom takes up his quarters, and from there he often sallies forth, in hope of having interview with fair lady and making her alter her mind, but she will have nothing to do with him, and at last shuts herself up in her house and will not go out. Well, Tom nearly loses all hope; he, however, determines to make one last effort; so one morning he goes to the house and stands before the door, entreating with one loud and lamentable voice that the lady will see him once more, because he is come to bid her one eternal farewell, being about to set off for the wars in the kingdom of France. Well, the lady who hears all he says relents one little, and showing herself at the window, before which are very strong iron bars, she says: ‘Here I am! whatever you have to say, say it quickly and go your way.’ Says Tom: ‘I am come to bid you one eternal farewell, and have but one last slight request to make, which is that you vouchsafe to stretch out of the window your lily-white hand, that I may impress one last burning kiss of love on the same.’ Well, the lady hesitates one little time; at last, having one woman’s heart, she thinks she may grant him this last little request, and stretching her hand through the bars, she says: ‘Well, there’s my hand, kiss it once and begone.’ Forthwith Tom, seizing her wrist with his left hand, says: ‘I have got you now, and will never let you go till you swear to become my wife.’ ‘Never,’ said the lady, ‘will I become the wife of one thief,’ and strives with all her might to pull her hand free, but cannot, for the left hand of Tom is more strong than the right of other man. Thereupon Tom with his right hand draws forth his sword, and with one dreadful shout does exclaim, — ‘Now will you swear to become my wife, for if you don’t, by God’s blood and nails, I will this moment smite off your hand with this sword.’ Then the lady being very much frightened, and having one sneaking kindness for Tom, who though he looked very fierce looked also very handsome, said, — ‘Well, well! a promise is a promise; I promised to become your wife, and so I will; I swear I will; by all I hold holy I swear; so let go my hand, which you have almost pulled off, and come in and welcome!’ So Tom lets go her hand, and the lady opens her door, and before night they were married, and in less than one month Tom, being now very rich and Lord of Ystrad Feen, was made justice of the peace and chairman at quarter session.”

“And what kind of justice of the peace did Tom make?”

“Ow, the very best justice of the peace that there ever was. He made the old saying good: you must get one thief to catch one thief. He had not been a justice three year before there was not a thief in Shire Brecon nor in Shire Car, for they also made him justice of Carmarthenshire, and a child might walk through the country quite safe with a purse of gold in its hand. He said that as he himself could not have a finger in the pie, he would take care nobody else should. And yet he was not one bloody justice either; never hanged thief without giving him a chance to reform; but when he found him quite hardened he would say: ‘Hang up de rogue!’ Oh, Tom was not a very hard man, and had one grateful heart for any old kindness which had been sewn him. One day as Tom sat on de bench with other big wigs, Tom the biggest wig of the lot, a man was brought up charged with stealing one bullock. Tom no sooner cast eye on the man than he remembered him quite well. Many years before Tom had stole a pair of oxen, which he wished to get through the town of Brecon, but did not dare to drive them through, for at that very time there was one warrant out against Tom at Brecon for something he had done. So Tom stands with his oxen on the road, scratching his head and not knowing what to do. At length there comes a man along the road, making towards Brecon, to whom Tom says: ‘Honest man, I want these two oxen to be driven to such and such a public-house two miles beyond Brecon; I would drive them myself only I have business to do elsewhere of more importance. Now if you will drive them for me there and wait till I come, which will not be long, I will give you a groat.’ Says the man; ‘I will drive them there for nothing, for as my way lies past that same public-house I can easily afford to do so.’ So Tom leaves the oxen with the man, and by rough and roundabout road makes for the public-house — beyond Brecon, where he finds the man waiting with the oxen, who hands them over to him and goes on his way. Now, in the man brought up before him and the other big wigs on the bench for stealing the bullock, Tom does recognise the man who had done him that same good turn. Well! the evidence was heard against the man, and it soon appeared quite clear that the man did really steal the bullock. Says the other big wigs to Tom: ‘The fact has been proved quite clear. What have we now to do but to adshudge at once that the domm’d thief be hung?’ But Tom, who remembered that the man had once done him one good turn, had made up his mind to save the man. So says he to the other big wigs: ‘My very worthy esteemed friends and coadshutors, I do perfectly agree with you that the fact has been proved clear enough, but with respect to de man, I should be very much grieved should he be hung for this one fact, for I did know him long time ago, and did find him to be one domm’d honest man in one transaction which I had with him. So my wordy and esteemed friends and coadshutors I should esteem it one great favour if you would adshudge that the man should be let off this one time. If, however, you deem it inexpedient to let the man off, then of course the man must be hung, for I shall not presume to set my opinions and judgments against your opinions and judgments, which are far better than my own.’ Then the other big wigs did look very big and solemn, and did shake their heads and did whisper to one another that they were afraid the matter could not be done. At last, however, they did come to the conclusion that as Tom had said that he had known the fellow once to be one domm’d honest man, and as they had a great regard for Tom, who was one domm’d good magistrate and highly respectable gentleman with whom they were going to dine the next day — for Tom I must tell you was in the habit of giving the very best dinners in all Shire Brecon — it might not be incompatible with the performance of their duty to let the man off this one time, seeing as how the poor fellow had probably merely made one slight little mistake. Well: to make the matter short, the man was let off with only a slight reprimand, and left the court. Scarcely, however, had he gone twenty yards, when Tom was after him, and tapping him on the shoulder said: ‘Honest friend, a word with you!’ Then the man turning round Tom said: ‘Do you know me, pray?’ ‘I think I do, your honour,’ said the man. ‘I think your honour was one of the big wigs, who were just now so kind as to let me off.’ ‘I was so,’ said Tom; ‘and it is well for you that I was the biggest of these big wigs before whom you stood placed, otherwise to a certainty you would have been hung up on high; but did you ever see me before this affair?’ ‘No, your honour,’ said the man, ‘I don’t remember ever to have seen your honour before.’ Says Tom, ‘Don’t you remember one long time ago driving a pair of oxen through Brecon for a man who stood scratching his head on the road?’ ‘Oh yes,’ says the man; ‘I do remember that well enough.’ ‘Well,’ said Tom; ‘I was that man. I had stolen that pair of oxen, and I dared not drive them through Brecon. You drove them for me; and for doing me that good turn I have this day saved your life. I was thief then but am now big wig. I am Twm Shone Catti. Now lookee! I have saved your life this one time, but I can never save it again. Should you ever be brought up before me again, though but for stealing one kid, I will hang you as high as ever Haman was hung. One word more; here are five pieces of gold. Take them: employ them well, and reform as I have done, and perhaps in time you may become one big wig, like myself.’ Well: the man took the money, and laid it out to the best advantage, and became at last so highly respectable a character that they made him a constable. And now, my gentleman, we are close upon Tregaron.”

After descending a hill we came to what looked a small suburb, and presently crossed a bridge over the stream, the waters of which sparkled merrily in the beams of the moon which was now shining bright over some lofty hills to the south-east. Beyond the bridge was a small market-place, on the right-hand side of which stood an ancient looking church. The place upon the whole put me very much in mind of an Andalusian village overhung by its sierra. “Where is the inn?” said I to my companion.

“Yonder it be;” said he pointing to a large house at the farther end of the market-place. “Very good inn that — Talbot Arms — where they are always glad to see English gentlemans.” Then touching his hat, and politely waving his hand, he turned on one side, and I saw him no more.

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