Owen Wynne Jones (also known as Glasynys, 1828-1870), was born in Rhostryfan, the same parish as Richard Hughes Williams (1878-1919), and worked in a quarry at the age of ten. In 1855 he began work as a teacher, and in 1860 he was ordained. He was an eisteddfotwr, journalist, folklorist and writer, whose stories were published in a selection edited by Saunders Lewis (1948).
She was a rude, untamed child of nature, who lived in a lonely little cottage in one of the most desolate and deserted valleys in Wales – a place called Nant y Hunllef, or Nightmare Dell, to set it apart from countless other valleys in Wales. Anyone familiar with the place would see that its name was appropriate, for in that wooded glen, nature showed a deathly stillness, as though a heavy nightmare lay upon it. About ten acres of land surrounded the cottage, where the old lady grazed a cow and a pig for her living. These were her closest companions – she bore with them in their sicknesses; she rejoiced in their well-being. ‘Are the family in good health?’ some straight-faced rascal would ask her now and then. ‘No indeed, that pig was grubbing for acorns and got a nasty thorn in his trotter,’ or, ‘That cow of mine’s got herself the colic again,’ she would reply.
It would be a strange one who chose to live in such a place, and the place would make anyone who came to live there stranger still. We do not know whose fault it was, but there is no doubt that Catrin Davies was a mass of eccentricities. The humorous turn of her face was enough to make the most sober laugh, and her inward being was more peculiar still. She hated everything new with a perfect hatred – every fashion was of the devil, in her view, except the old fashion. She kept herself neat, since that was the old fashion; but to wash the floor more than once a year on Easter Saturday was pride in her view, an unforgivable affectation, for that was not the old fashion. The old people had dirt floors, as you will know, and washing dirt floors will not make them cleaner, only sweeping them with a nettle broom. By Easter one would would have swept the whole floor into the ash pit, and then one would simply lay a new floor, and that was how the old people kept their floors clean. Catrin Davies was deeply conservative, and perhaps this tendency explains why she had never married, although she claimed to have had some eligible suitors. Like all her other opinions, her opinions on marriage were odd. ‘Marry indeed!’ she would say. ‘I can vouch for Cadi, but I can’t vouch for anyone else. A husband indeed! To laze about and get himself drunk, while I and the children went hungry. Children? I’ve got enough on my hands raising the pig and the cow; children would be nothing but worry for me.’ Her mind was as dark as night; she could not read a single word. Yet in spite of this, few could recite from memory as much of the ancient and modern poetry as she. She could recite a great many of Twm o’r Nant’s interludes as easily as a waterfall,* and of all the poets, he was the best, in her opinion. When she was in company like this, and called upon to tell some amusing tale, even though she knew scores of the kind, she would fall instead to the praise of her favourite author, then gradually come to recite some striking fragment or other to give a taste of the piece, and then she would be asked for a longer recital. So it was on this occasion, and this was her recitation, and as a great favour she repeated it the following day while I committed it to writing, and gave it the name:
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’ve been struck by some bitter sickness,
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 damnation;
Now my conscience upbraids me
For my tricks; it’s a terrible affliction.
There are the sheep I stole:
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 shown the poor no mercy.
Ow! Is there no one who can pray?
No preacher, no doctor, to help me?
Oh! For a man my age there is no pity,
Ow! Physic, you will not keep me long.
Doctor. Oh, dear heart, I see you are sick.
Arthur. Oh, sir, I never had it 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 pulse seems normal.
Arthur. Is that a sign I might live a bit longer?
Doctor. Yes, yes, I think you might pull through.
Arthur. It would do my soul good to live through the holidays.
Doctor. Here are some drops for you, to settle your spirits.
Arthur. If I die like a dog, I’ll never see heaven.
Doctor. Don’t be afraid; God is merciful.
Arthur. To others, maybe; I’m terribly wicked.
Doctor. I warrant you, I’ll be back in the morning
To bleed you, and to bring you more physic.
Take it, and keep a proper diet.
I think we’ve made a good start.
Arthur. Well, your mother’s blessings upon you, dear sir,
But can I really recover from this?
I must get the Parson to keep me in mind
And pray for me, if I want to see Sunday.
If I have a reasonably long time ahead
I’ll think much upon my end;
I can’t imagine not forsaking
All my sins and unclean living.
I’ll attend at 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, heedless of grace and redemption.
Oh, godliness, godliness, dear lady,
Come and teach me: I live in hope
That you will instruct me. My heart is pure:
Teach me to do your will.
Enter Madam Godliness.
Godliness. Who is this, 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, come what may.
Godliness. God sent this sickness to warn you,
And cause your conscience to stir.
Arthur. Blessings upon you, tender Religion.
Already I feel better.
Godliness. You will feel better still,
So get up 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 goings,
And take great care in your trials.
If you put your hands to the plough, like Paul,
Take heed that you never look back.
Arthur. Nothing is stronger than godly religion.
If you could teach my wife, Geinor, to seek it!
I’ve been going to bed early for forty years,
And 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.
Godliness. As a mirror to the sins of the world
His death will be remembered for years.
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 soothed by the sound of spinning.
Godliness. Oh, pitiful man, wretched creature,
How ill the wind that brought you here!
Arthur. Be that as it may, you will get not a crumb
Out of my good will; so get you gone!
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
With the end which comes to all my neighbours.
Godliness. Woe betide you, bitter sinner,
Once to live and twice to die,
Turning to settle on your lees,
After awakening once to your conscience.
You made a vow in the presence of God
To mend your ways if He gave you life;
Now you return to your old foulness
Like a pig to its filth or a dog to its vomit.
Arthur. Well, it’s easy for her to prattle away
I can’t be dealing with 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 with those Jews.
I doubt that anyone in my walk of life
Puts up with more from his 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 that one of my ewes has died
In labour in Morris’s fields;
And I dare say neither Geinor nor Siân
Thought to recover the hide and wool.
The servants and farmhands are good for nothing,
Not an atom of use but for sleeping and eating.
I don’t doubt for a moment they’ve wasted a cheese
On that crazed old biddy who goes about telling fortunes.
I heard them wagging their tongues and saying
That she has foretold my death.
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 has stolen my old wool waistcoat.
And I in a foolish fit of duty
Howled out hymns and neglected my booty.
The preachers have eaten me out of my home:
Beef, bacon, and eggs, the whole houseful.
An ill chance brought them to our house
To harrass us with their prayers.
The only help I got from them
Was to show me my house, my stock and my farm,
My abundant store-house: their godly scowls
Had scarcely a good grain in them.
But no doubt there’s a bill to pay,
Half a crown to the apothecary.
I’m content I’ll pay his fee;
That fellow did me good.
Doctor. How do, old chap. 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 better still when you’ve been paid.
Doctor. Here’s a bill for the whole cost.
Arthur. I hope you’re in good health as well.
Doctor. The total sum, one guinea and a half.
Arthur. Well, let me take a look.
A guinea and a half for as little as that!
Has the devil met his heir?
Come here, thief, with your English tongue
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 cur.
Not all the wretched drugs you gave me
Could have come to more than a shilling and sixpence.
I’d think your treatment worth at most
Half a crown for the gear.
Instead of that, a guinea and a half
That you expect me to pay at once
To drive me wild and cost me my sanity.
I’ll warrant I’ve not heard the last of the matter.
But I believe I won’t go home again;
I’ll soon be leaving this wretched world.
Let others earn their living without me;
I’m for the scourge, and the seven torments.
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, it seems there is trouble for me.
Death. It is too late now to prepare yourself.
Arthur. Who is this fool? Is he some bailiff?
Death. In a very short time, to Death you’ll be debtor.
Arthur. I’d rather that than pay that Doctor.
Death. Soon to thy destiny thou must go.
Arthur. Anything’s better than this old crow.
Death. I’ll stay no more to keep thee company.
Arthur. Well, who knew the harsh English could sound so saucy?
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 fire in his talons, they’ve vented their venom;
I feel myself shaking in every bone.
And now, here I am in my godless presumption,
Laid down at last with a 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,
Paying no more heed to their souls.
And so, I bid you all farewell.
You know this is only a game or show,
Though Death takes all games seriously,
As you will see on the day of mortality.
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 is recited by one of the characters in Glasynys’s short story, ‘Christmas Night,’ and therefore appears in my collection of his work, Hallowe’en in the Cwm.