A short story for May: ‘America.’ A father is moved to self-examination when he learns that his daughter has been having an affair. Published in Reasoning: Twenty Stories.



Twm o’r Nant (Thomas Edwards, 1739-1810) was a self-taught actor and dramatist, famous, at a time when there was little worthwhile drama in Welsh, for the energy and originality of his interludes: short plays combining the moralistic elements of mediaeval drama with humour and contemporary satire. The drama below is shortened from part of one of his most famous interludes, Pedair Colofn Gwladwriaeth (The Four Pillars of Commonwealth). It appears in Glasynys’s short story, ‘Christmas Night,’ and will appear in my translation of the work of Glasynys.

THE DEATH OF ARTHUR THE MISER

Arthur. Hi, how are you tonight, illustrious company?
Here I am, quite out of breath, old Arthur.
Looking for a place to sit down
While my shooting pains run through me.

I have been struck by some bitter illness,
I’m afraid that I will die;
Ow! People, people, there’s no help in the world
That will get me through this stroke.

I see in the faces of this company
The sin that marks me for misery;
Now my conscience upbraids me
For my tricks; it’s a terrible affliction.

There are the sheep I led; I remember more than a dozen
Running across the slopes, and there is the peck and yard;
There the bad grain at the bottom of the sack,
And there the dishonest scales.

There is the milk I thinned! Oh, the accursed billows
We sold a thousand times, two quarts a penny!
And the small and the coarse grain that gnaw at the heart!
I have been merciless to the poor.

Ow! Is there no one here can pray?
No preacher, no doctor, who can do something?
O! For a man my age there is little pity,
Ow! Physic, you will not keep me long.

Enter Doctor.

Doctor. Oh, dear heart, I see you are sick.
Arthur. Oh, dear sir, it was never so hard –
I’m sure I’m on the point of death,
Believe me – in a wretched state.

Doctor. Let’s feel your wrist. Your purse seems normal.
Arthur. Is that a sign I’m going to live a bit longer?
Doctor. Yes, yes, I think you might pull through.
Arthur. It would do my heart good to live through the holidays.

Doctor. Here’s drops for you, to settle your spirits.
Arthur. If I die like an animal, I’ll never see heaven.
Doctor. Don’t be afraid; God is merciful.
Arthur. No worse to you who; I’m terribly wicked.

Doctor. I warrant you, I’’ll be back in the morning
To bleed you, and bring you some more drugs.
Take them, and keep a good diet.
I think we’ve made a good start.

Exit.

Arthur. Well, your mother’s blessings upon you, dear sir,
But can I really get better than I was expecting?
I must get the Parson to keep me in mind
And offer prayers for me, if I want to see Sunday.

If I have a reasonably long time ahead of me
I’ll think much on my end;
I don’t believe I won’t leave hurriedly
And all my unclean living.

I’ll go to all the places where the godly meet,
And give to the poor, not sparing flour or bread;
Oh, life! life! Once again to read and pray!
I have wasted precious time, without seeking grace or redemption.

Oh, godliness, godliness, dear face,
Come teach me, I am expecting
That you will instruct me; my will is pure.
Command me to do your will.

Enter Madam Godliness.

Godliness. Who is here, what wretch complains
Summoning me here?
Arthur. An old sinner whose health is gone,
And whose heart is ailing.

Godliness. So do many hardened sinners
When pain or sickness comes.
Arthur. Oh, godliness, I will never give way.
I will follow you, whoever comes.

Godliness. God sent this sickness to warn you,
And caused your conscience to stir.
Arthur. Blessings upon you, tender Religion.
I see that I am already better.

Godliness. You will get better still
So get out of your chair.
Arthur. Well, here I am standing on my feet,
Gentle company. I’m sure I shall mend.

Godliness. Look with wonder on your going,
And take great care through trials;
If you put your hands to the plough, like Paul,
Don’t you dare to look back.

Arthur. Nothing is stronger than godly religion.
If you could teach Geinor, my wife, to seek it!
I’ve been going to bed early for forty years,
And I swear I have never seen her pray.

I have always prayed a little
When passing through water or along dark roads,
Or during the storms I remembered my God,
But now I shall live more carefully.

So, Godliness, now I have
A will and desire to take a turn outside.
Godliness. Walk, and take your turn in faith,
Remembering your entire pledge.

Exit Arthur.

Godliness. A mirror to the sins of the world
Will his parting be for some time.

Enter Arthur, in better health.

Arthur. Oh, I will not have godly singing here.
I would sooner hear calves lowing,
And rather than reading and praying all evening
I would be calmed by watching spinning.

Godliness. Oh, pitiful man, wretched creature,
How ill the wind that brought you here!
Arthur. Whatever I am, you will get no crust
From my good will; so get out now!

Godliness. But did you not promise me
Your present life and the life to come?
Arthur. I got no goodness from your treatment,
Not a drop,
so hold your tongue.

Godliness. Well, why did you make your promise?
Arthur. My heavy sorrow made me speak false.
Godliness. Oh, what will become of you, graceless man,
When your end comes, pale and sickly?

Arthur. What will I do? Content myself without loss
To that which happens to all my neighbours.

Godliness. Woe betide you, bitter sinner,
Once to live and twice to die;
Turn to harden on your lees,
After waking once to your conscience.

You made a vow in the presence of God
To mend your ways if He gave you life;
Now you turn to your old foulness
Like a pig to its filth or a dog to its vomit.

Exit.

Arthur. Well, it’s easy for her to babble away,
I can’t listen to everyone’s nonsense.
From now on I must sharpen two pricks
And keep a sharp end out.

It was only folly and weakness of heart
That drove me to godliness among those Jews.
I think that no one like me
Has worse maids and servants.

Two of my calves died suddenly
All because my servants neglected them;
And you won’t believe, lively company,
How skinny one of my pigs has become.

And I see one my ewes has died,
In labour in Morris’s fields;
And I dare say neither Gaenor nor Siân
Thought to recover the hide or wool.

The servants and hands are good for nothing,
Not an atom of use, but sleeping and eating.
I don’t doubt for a moment they wasted a cheese
On that old half-wit who goes about telling fortunes,

I heard them talking and keeping prattle
That she had said I am going to die.

And seriously, I don’t doubt in the least
That they’re the means to have me hanged;
One of my lads wore my clogs on the dung-heap,
And the other started wearing my old wool waistcoat.

And I in a foolish fit of duty
Howled out hymns and neglected my booty.

The preachers have eaten something dreadful,
Bacon, beef and eggs, a houseful.
An ill chance brought them to our house
To bully us into prayer.

All the consolation I got from them
Was to show me my house, my stock and my farm,
The abundance of my granary: their holy scowls
Had scarcely a grain of good in them.

But no doubt there’s a bill for me,
Half a crown to the apothecary.
I’m content – I’ll pay the fee;
That fellow did me good.

Enter Doctor.

Doctor. How do, old fellow, you’ve mended well.
Arthur. I’m fit as a fiddle, thank you, doctor.

Doctor. It does me good to see you hearty.
Arthur. I’ll feel stronger when I’ve paid you.

Doctor. Here’s a bill for the whole cost.
Arthur. I hope you’re not unwell.
Doctor. The total sum, one guinea and a half.
Arthur. Wait, let me read it carefully.

A guinea and a half for as little as that!
Has the devil seen the heir of darkness?
Come here, thief, with your English,
I’ll pay you back for your legerdemain.

Doctor. Well, it’s how I earn my living,
I do my best to keep
my bills down.
Arthur. You won’t get a penny from me,
With your face like an angry dog.

I took none of your wretched drugs
Ever worth more than one shilling and sixpence.
I’d think your treatment worth
At most half a crown for the gear.

Instead of this, a guinea and a half
That you expect me to pay at once
To drive me wild and send me mad,
I’ll listen again to his matter.

But I believe I won’t go home again,
I’m for leaving this wretched world;
I’ll let everyone earn their living;
I’ll whip, and I’ll go with seven cruelties.

Enter Death.

Death. Stop, old man, it is time to die.
Arthur. I speak no English. What did he say?
Death. You have refused to take warning, but now you shall see.
Arthur. Well, I see there is trouble for me.

Death. It is too late now to prepare yourself.
Arthur. I’m afraid this bailiff is a fool.
Death. In a very short time, to Death you’ll be debtor.
Arthur. I’d rather spend ten pounds than pay that doctor.

Death. Thou shalt soon go to eternal destiny.
Arthur. Better than talking to you, you old crow.
Death. I’ll stay no more to keep you company.
Arthur. Well, they say the English speak harshly.

Death. I have put my hand through thy heart and breast.
Arthur. I can think of nothing I want more than rest.
Oh, there’s pain in his talons, they’ve vented their venom;
I feel myself shaking in every bone.

Oh, here I am in my godless presumption,
Having been dealt my mortal blow.

Oh, people, think of your final homes.
Some of you will fall ill, as I have,
And after recovering, will continue in sin,
Thinking no more about their souls.

And so, I wish you all goodbye.
You know this is only a game or play,
Tho
ugh Death takes all games seriously,
As you will see on the day of mortality.

Portrait of Twm o'r Nant

I am the author of three short story collections. Reasoning and For His Warriors, originally published by Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon, with Welsh Books Council support, now join Prayer at the End in revised editions at Cockatrice Books. My anthology of fiction, Dangerous Asylums: Stories from Denbigh Mental Hospital Told by Leading Welsh Writers, including work by Gee and David Williams, Glenda Beagan, Carys Bray, Simon Thirsk and others, was published by the North Wales Mental Health Research Project, October 2016.

I am the translator of Going South: The Stories of Richard Hughes Williams (Cockatrice, 2015), and Hallowe’en in the Cwm: The Stories of Glasynys (Cockatrice, forthcoming). In addition, I have translated fiction by D. Gwenallt Jones, Angharad Tomos, and Manon Steffan Ros, and am currently translating the Welsh-language writings of Morgan Llwyd.