Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 96

“Pump Saint” — Pleasant Residence — The Watery Coom — Philological Fact — Evening Service — Meditation.

I ENTERED the inn of the “Pump Saint.” It was a comfortable old-fashioned place, with a very large kitchen and a rather small parlour. The people were kind and attentive, and soon set before me in the parlour a homely but savoury supper, and a foaming tankard of ale. After supper I went into the kitchen, and sitting down with the good folks in an immense chimney-corner, listened to them talking in their Carmarthenshire dialect till it was time to go to rest, when I was conducted to a large chamber where I found an excellent and clean bed awaiting me, in which I enjoyed a refreshing sleep, occasionally visited by dreams in which some of the scenes of the preceding day again appeared before me, but in an indistinct and misty manner.

Awaking in the very depth of the night I thought I heard the murmuring of a river; I listened and soon found that I had not been deceived. “I wonder whether that river is the Cothi,” said I, “the stream of the immortal Lewis. I will suppose that it is” — and rendered quite happy by the idea, I soon fell asleep again.

I arose about eight and went out to look about me. The village consists of little more than half-a-dozen houses. The name “Pump Saint” signifies “Five Saints.” Why the place is called so I know not. Perhaps the name originally belonged to some chapel which stood either where the village now stands or in the neighbourhood. The inn is a good specimen of an ancient Welsh hostelry. Its gable is to the road and its front to a little space on one side of the way. At a little distance up the road is a blacksmith’s shop. The country around is interesting: on the north-west is a fine wooded hill — to the south a valley through which flows the Cothi, a fair river, the one whose murmur had come so pleasingly upon my ear in the depth of night.

After breakfast I departed for Llandovery. Presently I came to a lodge on the left-hand beside an ornamental gate at the bottom of an avenue leading seemingly to a gentleman’s seat. On inquiring of a woman, who sat at the door of the lodge, to whom the grounds belonged, she said to Mr Johnes, and that if I pleased I was welcome to see them. I went in and advanced along the avenue, which consisted of very noble oaks; on the right was a vale in which a beautiful brook was running north and south. Beyond the vale to the east were fine wooded hills. I thought I had never seen a more pleasing locality, though I saw it to great disadvantage, the day being dull, and the season the latter fall. Presently, on the avenue making a slight turn, I saw the house, a plain but comfortable gentleman’s seat with wings. It looked to the south down the dale. “With what satisfaction I could live in that house,” said I to myself, “if backed by a couple of thousands a-year. With what gravity could I sign a warrant in its library, and with what dreamy comfort translate an ode of Lewis Glyn Cothi, my tankard of rich ale beside me. I wonder whether the proprietor is fond of the old bard and keeps good ale. Were I an Irishman instead of a Norfolk man I would go in and ask him.”

Returning to the road I proceeded on my journey. I passed over Pont y Rhanedd or the bridge of the Rhanedd, a small river flowing through a dale, then by Clas Hywel, a lofty mountain which appeared to have three heads. After walking for some miles I came to where the road divided into two. By a sign-post I saw that both led to Llandovery, one by Porth y Rhyd and the other by Llanwrda. The distance by the first was six miles and a half, by the latter eight and a half. Feeling quite the reverse of tired I chose the longest road, namely the one by Llanwrda, along which I sped at a great rate.

In a little time I found myself in the heart of a romantic winding dell, overhung with trees of various kinds, which a tall man whom I met told me was called Cwm Dwr Llanwrda, or the Watery Coom of Llanwrda; and well might it be called the Watery Coom, for there were several bridges in it, two within a few hundred yards of each other. The same man told me that the war was going on very badly, that our soldiers were suffering much, and that the snow was two feet deep at Sebastopol.

Passing through Llanwrda, a pretty village with a singular-looking church, close to which stood an enormous yew, I entered a valley which I learned was the valley of the Towey. I directed my course to the north, having the river on my right, which runs towards the south in a spacious bed, which, however, except in times of flood, it scarcely half fills. Beautiful hills were on other side, partly cultivated, partly covered with wood, and here and there dotted with farm-houses and gentlemen’s seats; green pastures which descended nearly to the river occupying in general the lower parts. After journeying about four miles amid this kind of scenery I came to a noble suspension bridge, and crossing it found myself in about a quarter of an hour at Llandovery.

It was about half-past two when I arrived. I put up at the Castle Inn and forthwith ordered dinner, which was served up between four and five. During dinner I was waited upon by a strange old fellow who spoke Welsh and English with equal fluency.

“What countryman are you?” said I.

“An Englishman,” he replied.

“From what part of England?”

“From Herefordshire.”

“Have you been long here?”

“Oh yes! upwards of twenty years.”

“How came you to learn Welsh?”

“Oh, I took to it and soon picked it up.”

“Can you read it?” said I.

“No, I can’t.”

“Can you read English?”

“Yes, I can; that is, a little.”

“Why didn’t you try to learn to read Welsh?”

“Well, I did; but I could make no hand of it. It’s one thing to speak Welsh and another to read it.”

“I can read Welsh much better than I can speak it,” said I.

“Ah, you are a gentleman — gentlefolks always find it easier to learn to read a foreign lingo than to speak it, but it’s quite the contrary with we poor folks.”

“One of the most profound truths ever uttered connected with language,” said I to myself. I asked him if there were many Church of England people in Llandovery.

“A good many,” he replied.

“Do you belong to the Church?” said I.

“Yes, I do.”

“If this were Sunday I would go to church,” said I.

“Oh, if you wish to go to church you can go to-night. This is Wednesday, and there will be service at half-past six. If you like I will come for you.”

“Pray do,” said I; “I should like above all things to go.”

Dinner over I sat before the fire occasionally dozing, occasionally sipping a glass of whiskey-and-water. A little after six the old fellow made his appearance with a kind of Spanish hat on his head. We set out; the night was very dark; we went down a long street seemingly in the direction of the west. “How many churches are there in Llandovery?” said I to my companion.

“Only one, but you are not going to Llandovery Church, but to that of Llanfair, in which our clergyman does duty once or twice a week.”

“Is it far?” said I.

“Oh no; just out of the town, only a few steps farther.”

We seemed to pass over a bridge and began to ascend a rising ground. Several people were going in the same direction.

“There,” said the old man, “follow with these, and a little farther up you will come to the church, which stands on the right hand.”

He then left me. I went with the rest and soon came to the church. I went in and was at once conducted by an old man, who I believe was the sexton, to a large pew close against the southern wall. The inside of the church was dimly lighted; it was long and narrow, and the walls were painted with a yellow colour. The pulpit stood against the northern wall near the altar, and almost opposite to the pew in which I sat. After a little time the service commenced; it was in Welsh. When the litanies were concluded the clergyman, who appeared to be a middle-aged man, and who had rather a fine voice, began to preach. His sermon was from the 119th Psalm: “Am hynny hoffais dy gorchymynion yn mwy nag aur:” “Therefore have I loved thy commandments more than gold.” The sermon, which was extempore, was delivered with great earnestness, and I make no doubt was a very excellent one, but owing to its being in South Welsh I did not derive much benefit from it as I otherwise might have done. When it was over a great many got up and went away. Observing, however, that not a few remained, I determined upon remaining too. When everything was quiet the clergyman, descending from the pulpit, repaired to the vestry, and having taken off his gown went into a pew, and standing up began a discourse, from which I learned that there was to be a sacrament on the ensuing Sabbath. He spoke with much fervency, enlarging upon the high importance of the holy communion, and exhorting people to come to it in a fit state of mind. When he had finished a man in a neighbouring pew got up and spoke about his own unworthiness, saying this and that about himself, his sins of commission and omission, and dwelling particularly on his uncharitableness and the malicious pleasure which he took in the misfortunes of his neighbours. The clergyman listened attentively, sometimes saying “Ah!” and the congregation also listened attentively, a voice here and there frequently saying “Ah.” When the man had concluded the clergyman again spoke, making observations on what he had heard, and hoping that the rest would be visited with the same contrite spirit as their friend. Then there was a hymn and we went away.

The moon was shining on high and cast its silvery light on the tower, the church, some fine trees which surrounded it, and the congregation going home; a few of the better dressed were talking to each other in English, but with an accent and pronunciation which rendered the discourse almost unintelligible to my ears.

I found my way back to my inn and went to bed, after musing awhile on the concluding scene of which I had been witness in the church.

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