Penelope's Prints of Wales

And at length it chanced that I came to the fairest Valley in the World, wherein were trees of equal growth; and a river ran through the Valley, and a path was by the side of the river. And I followed the path until midday, and I continued my journey along the remainder of the Valley until the evening: and at the extremity of a plain I came to a lone and lustrous Castle, at the foot of which was a torrent.

We are coaching in Wales, having journeyed by easy stages from Liverpool through Llanberis, Penygwryd, Bettws-y-Coed, Beddgelert and Dolgelly on our way to Bristol, where we shall make up our minds as to the next step; deciding in solemn conclave, with floods of argument and temperamental differences of opinion, what is best worth seeing where all is beautiful and inspiring. If I had possessed a little foresight I should have avoided Wales, for, having proved apt at itinerary doggerel, I was solemnly created, immediately on arrival, Mistress of Rhymes and Travelling Laureate to the party--an office, however honourable, that is no sinecure since it obliges me to write rhymed eulogies or diatribes on Dolgelly, Tan-y-Bulch, Gyn-y-Coed, Llanrychwyn, and other Welsh hamlets whose names offer breakneck fences to the Muse.

I have not wanted for training in this direction, having made a journey (heavenly in reminiscence) along the Thames, stopping at all the villages along its green banks. It was Kitty Schuyler and Jack Copley who insisted that I should rhyme Henley and Streatley and Wargrave before I should be suffered to eat luncheon, and they who made me a crown of laurel and hung a pasteboard medal about my blushing neck when I succeeded better than usual with Datchett!--I well remember Datchett, where the water-rats crept out of the reeds in the shallows to watch our repast; and better still do I recall Medmenham Abbey, which defied all my efforts till I found that it was pronounced Meddenam with the accent on the first syllable. The results of my enforced tussles with the Muse stare at me now from my Commonplace Book.

"Said a rat to a hen once, at Datchett,
'Throw an egg to me, dear, and I'll catch it!'
'I thank you, good sir,
But I greatly prefer
To sit on mine HERE till I hatch it.'"

"Few hairs had the Vicar of Medmenham,
Few hairs, and he still was a-sheddin' 'em,
But had none remained,
He would not have complained,
Because there was FAR too much red in 'em!"

It was Jack Copley, too, who incited me to play with rhymes for Venice until I produced the following tour de force:

"A giddy young hostess in Venice
Gave her guests hard-boiled eggs to play tennis.
She said 'If they SHOULD break,
What odds would it make?
You can't THINK how prolific my hen is."

Reminiscences of former difficulties bravely surmounted faded into insignificance before our first day in Wales was over.

Jack Copley is very autocratic, almost brutal in discipline. It is he who leads me up to the Visitors' Books at the wayside inns, and putting the quill in my reluctant fingers bids me write in cheerful hexameters my impressions of the unpronounceable spot. My martyrdom began at Penygwryd (Penny-goo-rid'). We might have stopped at Conway or some other town of simple name, or we might have allowed the roof of the Cambrian Arms or the Royal Goat or the Saracen's Read to shelter us comfortably, and provide me a comparatively easy task; but no; Penygwryd it was, and the outskirts at that, because of two inns that bore on their swinging signs the names: Ty Ucha and Ty Isaf, both of which would make any minor poet shudder. When I saw the sign over the door of our chosen hostelry I was moved to disappear and avert my fate. Hunger at length brought me out of my lair, and promising to do my duty, I was allowed to join the irresponsible ones at luncheon.

Such a toothsome feast it was! A delicious ham where roses and lilies melted sweetly into one another; some crisp lettuces, ale in pewter mugs, a good old cheese, and that stodgy cannon-ball the "household loaf," dear for old association's sake. We were served at table by the granddaughter of the house, a little damsel of fifteen summers with sleek brown hair and the eyes of a doe. The pretty creature was all blushes and dimples and pinafores and curtsies and eloquent goodwill. With what a sweet politeness do they invest their service, some of these soft-voiced British maids! Their kindness almost moves one to tears when one is fresh from the resentful civility fostered by Democracy.

As we strolled out on the greensward by the hawthorn hedge we were followed by the little waitress, whose name, however pronounced, was written Nelw Evans. She asked us if we would write in the "Locked Book," whereupon she presented us with the key. It seems that there is an ordinary Visitors' Book, where the common herd is invited to scrawl its unknown name; but when persons of evident distinction and genius patronize the inn, this "Locked Book" is put into their hands.

I found that many a lord and lady had written on its pages, and men mighty in Church and State had left their mark, with much bad poetry commendatory of the beds, the food, the scenery, and the fishing. Nobody, however, had given a line to pretty Nelw Evans; so I pencilled her a rhyme, for which I was well paid in dimples:-

"At the Inn called the Penygwryd
A sweet little maiden is hid.
She's so rosy and pretty
I write her this ditty
And leave it at Penygwryd."

Our next halt was at Bettws-y-Coed, where we passed the week-end. It was a memorable spot, as I failed at first to rhyme the name, and only succeeded under threats of a fate like unto that of the immortal babes in the wood. I left the verse to be carved on a bronze tablet in the village church, should any one be found fitted to bear the weight of its eulogy:-

"Here lies an old woman of Bettws-y-CoED;
Wherever she went, it was there that she goED.
She frequently said: 'My own row have I hoED,
And likewise the church water-mark have I toED.
I'm therefore expecting to reap what I've sowED,
And go straight to heaven from Bettws-y-CoED.'"

At another stage of our journey, when the coaching tour was nearly ended, we were stopping at the Royal Goat at Beddgelert. We were seated about the cheerful blaze (one and sixpence extra), portfolio in lap, making ready our letters for the post. I announced my intention of writing to Salemina, left behind in London with a sprained ankle, and determined that the missive should be saturated with local colour. None of us were able to spell the few Welsh words we had picked up in our journeyings, but I evaded the difficulties by writing an exciting little episode in which all the principal substantives were names of Welsh towns, dragged in bodily, and so used as to deceive the casual untravelled reader.

I read it aloud. Jack Copley declared that it made capital sense, and sounded as if it had happened exactly as stated. Perhaps you will agree with him:-


. . . We left Bettws-y-Coed yesterday morning, and coached thirty- three miles to this point. (How do you like this point when you see it spelled?) We lunched at a wayside inn, and as we journeyed on we began to see pposters on the ffences announcing the ffact that there was to be a Festiniog that day in the village of Portmadoc, through which we were to pass.

I always enoyw a Festiniog yn any country, and my hheart beat hhigh with anticipation. Yt was ffive o'clock yn the cool of the dday, and ppresently the roadw became ggay with the returning festinioggers. Here was a fine Llanberis, its neck encircled with shining meddals wonw in previous festiniogs; there, just behind, a wee shaggy Rhyl led along proudly by its owner. Evydently the gayety was over for the day, for the ppeople now came yn crowds, the women with gay plaid Rhuddlans over their shoulders and straw Beddgelerts on their hheads.

The guardd ttooted his hhorn continuously, for we now approached the principalw street of the village, where hhundreds of ppeople were conggreggated. Of course there were allw manner of Dolgelleys yn the crowd, and allw that had taken pprizes were gayly decked with ribbons. Just at this moment the hhorn of our gguard ffrightened a superb Llanrwst, a spirited black creature of enormous size. It made a ddash through the lines of tterrified mothers, who caught their innocent Pwllhelis closer to their bbosoms. In its madd course it bruised the side of a huge Llandudno hitched to a stout Tyn-y-Coed by the way-side. It bbroke its Bettws and leaped ynto the air. Ddeath stared us yn the face. David the whip grew ppale, and signalled to Absalom the gguard to save as many lives as he could and leave the rrest to Pprovidence. Absalom spprang from his seat, and taking a sharp Capel Curig from his ppocket (Hheaven knows how he chanced to have it about his pperson), he aimed straight between the Llangollens of the infuriated Llandudno. With a moan of baffled rrage, he sank to earth with a hheavy thuddw. Absalom withdrew the bbloody Capel Curig from the dying Llandudno, and wiping yt on his Penygwryd, replaced yt yn his pocket for future possible use.

The local Dolwyddelan approached, and ordered a detachment of Tan- y-Bulchs to remove the corpse of the Llandudno. With a shudder we saw him borne to his last rrest, for we realized that had yt not bbeen for Absalom's Capel Curig we had bbeen bburied yn an unpronounceable Welsh ggrave.