Chapter 12

 

When the ferry arrived at Milford Haven it was getting rather late,  so Cowper booked us in at the Harbour Inn for the night.  It was clean and comfortable, but very basic.  Apart from the innkeeper, the only person who spoke English was a young boy who served us at table.  He seemed to be an all–round helper, some kind of pot boy; so we saw him several times during the evening and chatted with him.  I had been under the impression that this was a stop–over en route for Essex, but when Cowper came into the bedroom all such thoughts were put aside.

“I have booked a post chaise and we will be heading north in the morning”

“But, aren’t we going back home first?”

“Whatever for?  I said I would take you around Wales and now we are here.”

He obviously had his mind set on it, so I had to accept it.

We missed the pot boy’s cheery face at breakfast the next morning and struggled to explain to the Welsh serving girl what we wanted to eat.

When we were outside the inn awaiting the arrival of the post chaise, and Cowper was organiszing our boxes, the boy appeared.  He was dressed in long trousers and he wore shoes upon his feet, a cap on his head and a kind of small cut–away coat.  His clothes were homespun and hand-sewn, but he looked clean and quite smart. He carried a small carpet bag.

Surprised to see him thus, I asked? “So are you off somewhere as well?”

“I’m staying by here, with you, see.  You can’t travel round here on your own, seeing you don’t speak the Welsh, now can you?”

Whilst I looked at him still amazed, he went on, “My name is Huw and I speak the Welsh and the English and you need me, see.”

“But your mother and your father, do they know?”

“It’s not mother nor father, I have.”

“Well the people at the Inn, have you told them?”

“Yes they know.  They’re kind, I live by there in the hay–loft and I do jobs for them and they feed me, see, but they can manage for a bit.”

I turned around and explained to an equally bewildered Cowper, who had just joined us.

“But there’s no room for him.”

“Its small I am, and I can squeeze into any old turn–out, I can sleep on a bit o’hay.  It’s no trouble I am. You need me see. Can I come wid you?”

Cowper looked quizzically at me and I nodded.  The boy was right: we did need some help especially with the language. “You said when we started our journey that if you are travelling alone you have to trust some people.  So let us have faith in this boy.”

The post chaise, when it arrived, was very comfortable.  The driver rode one of the horses so there were openings at the front as well as at the back out of which you had a good view in fine weather, and the morning was fine, if getting a bit cold.

We trotted along along glen sides where streams and rivers babbled over the rocks, with little Huw somewhat squashed in a corner. Glorious mountains were ever present, and Cowper remarked: “Do you remember, Mitty, when I wrote to say that I hoped we would set off for England, Ireland and Wales in a neat little turn–out with you beside me, telling me all your little histories… I have to admit to you, that at the time, it was more of a dream than any real plan.  I cannot believe even now that we are really doing this.”

What a mixture he was; on occasions so demanding, and also dominant, and at others appearing to be a vulnerable romantic.

Delightful as the post chaise was, it was rather expensive, and Cowper said: “I fear we will have to travel lighter, in order that we can join a stage coach or hire horses.” Seeing my slight disappointment he added: “We’ll hire a post chaise occasionally, when it’s raining.”

As we still planned to return this way, when we next stopped for the night, Cowper arranged for the excess boxes to be stored, awaiting collection.

To begin with we could not pronounce Huw’s name properly even though he tried patiently to teach us.  He could neither read nor write and he had picked up English from listening to the travellers at the inn, because he had a responsive ear.  After a while we managed to grasp his explanations:  his name was H U (pronounced heh) and W (pronounced as it sounds uu) Hehuu.  When we began to understand, from his pronunciation that W was a vowel, it helped, to read words like Church, (eglws), and other place names.  From Huw we also began to understand DD (pronounced th) and D as it sounded.  FF (pronounced f) and F (pronounced v),  Ll (pronounced k). He pronounced the words and when we’d worked out the logic Cowper began to teach him the letters. We were alright in places like Haverfordwest because some of the local people, especially at the inns had, like Huw, picked up some English.  In the country it was a different matter and travelling the way we were, Huw was essential to us.

I was used to seeing poverty in Dublin and it saddened me to realise that it was everywhere – Cowper and I often talked of it.  But he was more pragmatic, having seen the most dreadful poverty in India.

I saw this at first hand, on one of the rare occasions when we again hired a post chaise.  Previously jogging along happily, we suddenly received a terrific jolt.

“A wheel’s off, sit you still!” announced Huw.  He was right and the dismounted driver confirmed it.  We were helped out on the side of the good wheel – Cowper joked that now he knew why it was called a turn–out.  It was pouring with rain and we were in the middle of the countryside.  Huw had spotted a cottage further back along the road and he ran off in that direction, soon returning to accompany us there.  The driver came too, carrying the wheel because he needed some help with its repair.  The shepherd, for that is what Huw said he was, welcomed us into the shelter of his cottage, which consisted of two rooms.  The one, into which we were led, seemed very dark at first, except for the firelight, but when our eyes became accustomed to the light, several things became visible.  There was a table and about three chairs, an earthen floor, some sort of cupboards in the wall, which seemed to contain a lot of straw covered by some course material, which might have served as beds.  Many small children came running in followed by clucking, hopping chickens and even a baby lamb.  The shepherd’s wife shooed the animals and children into the next room, then she put some freshly ground flour into a bowl on the table, she added fat, eggs, some chopped fruit and water.  This she made into small balls which she then patted with her hands flattening them.  They were placed on to a piece of metal, which had been heating up on top of the brick oven.  We were offered fresh warm goat’s milk to drink, or home brewed ale.  This was warmed, since the day was chill, by placing a very hot poker into the pot or vessel, which contained it. “Welsh cakes and ale, there’s lovely,” said Huw.

When the cakes were cooked all the little children came running in and sat on the floor. Their feet were bare, and bore evidence of sores and abrasions.  Their clothes were well–washed and well–mended, and crossed over their chests and tied at the back, were extra pieces of sacking to keep them warm.  Even so, there was much laughter and it was obvious that this meal, which we were being so generously offered, was to them, a great treat.  The children, although their noses were running from the cold outside, looked rosy and happy and were obviously given, as well as adequate food, that greatest of all gifts: love.

The wheel, with the help of the shepherd, was now repaired and had been fixed back on the chaise.  Since the wife would accept nothing in payment, Cowper made sure that the husband received payment for his assistance.  A visit from some strangers was a great event – especially odd speaking folk, like they must have thought us to be. We were trying to eke out our holiday on the suspended half–pay which I had recently learnt Cowper was receiving from the Army, but compared to them we were living in the lap of luxury. I felt guilty and wanted to help but perhaps we were being almost patronising. We could not buy what they had – an ability to survive on very little; ignorance of the things which they did not possess; a joy in their surroundings and a philosophy which helped them to accept the inevitable.

As we drove away I said: “It must be difficult to be so poor Huw.”

“Poor is it?  That’s not poor Miss – they have food and a proper home, even some chickens and a lamb or two.  Rich that is, isn’t it?”

Home-spun Philosophy from a young, illiterate boy.

News of John Wesley, and his sermons, was reaching the valleys – this gave much comfort to the under-privileged, and certainly hope.  Although Wesley himself wanted to reform his own Church, being the Established Church, his followers wished to form their own group.  There were many meetings taking place in Welsh cottages and Cowper wished to take part. Huw was able to contact and make arrangements for us to go along. Because Huw was there to translate, they welcomed us in their open–hearted way.  The sheer warmth and friendliness of the people of these valleys was something I will never forget.

During one of our night stops on the way to Fishguard, Cowper met another Englishman travelling south.  He brought us up-to- date with London news and gave Cowper his copy of The Times.  He read to me, with great interest, an article in the newspaper about the proposed flotation of a company to be known as the Great Western Railway.  There had been a deal of apprehension about the idea of a national railway network and in the House Of Commons, Members had expressed their warnings, which the reporter quoted:  “Just because the Manchester to Liverpool railway is successful it does not mean that others will be – money could be lost”.  Cowper, however, was very optimistic about it, and thrilled at the prospect of being able to travel from one end of the country to the other in a matter of hours instead of days: “If I had any capital I wouldn’t hesitate about investing in that.” He enthused.

Our journey up through Wales was leisurely.  If the weather stayed fine we would make our stopovers last several days and walk up in the mountains. Sometimes we would steer our hired horses right off the route in order to have a look at some small hamlet, or explore a gorge – without Huw this would have been impossible as no–one in these areas spoke anything but Welsh.

When riding, Huw always took his seat in front of me and although he knew nothing of maps his instincts were alert and his knowledge of the area, local customs, wildlife, and climatic conditions, was immense. Huw made the holiday special and both Cowper and I realised our good fortune in having him along.

After some weeks we arrived in Fishguard and put up at an inn, which overlooked the harbour and the busy shipping lanes.  One morning, after chatting with some shipping agents, Cowper returned full of news about the proposed new Steam Packets.  These, he had been told, would soon be able to achieve a journey from England to India in 70 days: “Think of that Mitty.  When we go back we will not have to sail for six months, as I did.  Progress is exhilarating.”

He had said: ‘when we go back”.  Would we make this journey?  Would I ever see this vast, amazing, sub-continent?  Would there be a trial?  Cowper had received one or two intimations to that effect, in correspondence.  But nothing of a certain nature.

Our visit to this busy interesting harbour/town was marred by our first serious argument.  I had not been feeling too well, rather nauseous and somewhat fatigued by all the travelling – so I was relieved that we had reached our point of return. This was not, however, to be the case.  Cowper had other ideas; we were to travel on into the Lake District and thus to Scotland.”We are so near,” he argued “why turn back now?”

“It will be December in a few days”, I pointed out,”and the weather can become very nasty in Northern Britain.  We could be snowed up for days, and what about Christmas?”

Christmas was of no great concern to Cowper – celebrations in India were of the ‘British-maintaining-traditions’ kind, but his family had travelled so extensively that the celebrations had never been consistent.

I was wondering if my sickness was due to possible pregnancy – but I knew so little about it and there was no close friend at hand with whom I could talk. I had told Cowper that I did not want to go on with this winter journey and that I would return to Essex alone, if that was what he wished.  He was behaving in  an odd manner, assuming an air of hurt pride – he wanted to see Scotland and I did not.  It was as simple as that to him.

My mind, which had previously been preoccupied with this, was however turned around by Huw.  He had asked for some free time to look up some old friends who lived in Fishguard.  Always a cheerful young lad, I expected his return to be a jolly one.  I was quite unprepared for his distraught manner when he came in that evening.  He was suddenly a young orphan boy again, baffled by circumstances, which he was unable to handle.

Cowper had gone off, somewhat in a huff, to meet some of his new naval acquaintances.  Thus I was available and could listen.  The innkeeper brought up some ale, and we sat down by the fire in a little sitting room, which had been set aside for our personal use.

Huw began by blurting out that Mia Morgan was dying and there was no–one to look after her.  I tried to calm him and with the help of the ale he began to tell me the story.  He had been abandoned in Fishguard when he was about two years old – he thought he could just about remember his mother. David Morgan had later told him that he had seen a well dressed lady getting into a coach, bound for London he thought, just before he had come across me, sitting on the side of the road, and howling after the receding coach.

At first Morgan thought that there was some mistake – the little boy was well dressed, he had explained to people.  The coach must turn and come back, he had thought.  When it did not David Morgan came to accept the reality of the situation.  A kindly man, he scooped up the little fellow and carried him to – to what?  A hovel.  A two roomed hovel in a narrow back lane.  “Poor though they were these dear Morgans,” Huw told me through his tears, “they looked after me.”  He told me that they shared the little they had with him.  Although almost starving, he survived.  They had saved his life.  More than that they had shown him kindness and love.  When he was old enough (how young was that, I wondered?) they told him the story.  Even then, he knew how poor they were and marvelled that they had taken him into their care.

A little after this Huw (who had been given that name by the Morgans and knew no other) felt that he must fend for himself.  He moved away, promising to come back soon.  He did not know how he would live and for a time he stole food when he could – earning a farthing here and a farthing there, minding a horse or carrying a basket.  Finally, he got to Milford Haven and stopped there: “You see it’s the sea’s the other side, isn’t it? And Ireland.”

The people at the Inn had given him odd jobs and some scraps to eat and gradually he had proved himself useful enough to be given better food, a bed in the hay–loft and even a sip of ale sometimes.  Where others had found English both difficult and unnecessary to learn – Huw found it easy, just by listening when he ‘waited’ at table.  He sometimes wondered if he had heard it before.

“I heard you say, didn’t I, you were going up Wales.  I’ll go too if they’ll have me, I can get to see the Morgans, isn’t it?”

He explained that he knew he was proving useful to the innkeeper, but that he would not be busy now through the winter and would be glad of less mouths to feed.  Huw had been very thrilled when he heard us say that we were going all the way to Fishguard and at the first opportunity he had gone off to find his benefactors and life–savers. Imagine his horror when he found that the family had all become victims of the dreaded cholera, brought ashore by the sailors.    Mia was the only survivor and she, he thought, did not have long to live – Mother, Father, brother dead – and no–one to look after her.  What should he do, what could he do?

His agony was such that I determined I must help.  We set off to find the slum area, with me gritting my teeth at the sights and smells, almost turning back in horror when a large, fat rat ran across the alleyway.  It was just getting dark and poor lighted flames flickered in the doorways.  The cottage found – hovel was a better description – we went in.  The poor little girl, not much older than Huw I thought, although smaller and definitely thinner, was lying in a heap of rags in the corner.  Seeing us arrive, a woman put her head in the doorway – she had been looking in on Mia she said, but with no money, could do very little.  Huw translated that she indicated me, “Mrs” as perhaps being able to get the child into the Charity Hospital.  When I produced a few coins, the woman found an older lad, who picked up poor little Mia and carried her ahead of us – leading the way.

The hospital reached, the older boy left hurriedly.  After a long wait a woman approached us.  We must have seemed an odd sight.  A well–dressed woman, a reasonably dressed boy and on the floor at their feet, with Huw supporting her head, a poverty-stricken child in a bundle of rags.

Huw again translated and explained that the woman was a nurse and would take in the patient ‘Mia’ if I could pay something towards her nursing care.  The place looked bare of any comfort but I presumed must be better than the hovel.  I agreed and at that point Mia was very sick and went into a painfully rigid cramp spasm – Huw told me that the nurse said I must go no further as she would take Mia into the ward – he went on that she also   said, I had taken enough risks already and should get home quickly.

After the nurse had left, with a man carrying Mia, Huw explained that he was sorry, but he must stay. “There’s no–one by here to see to her, only me, isn’t it?” He said, he also told me that if we were returning on the main roads we would possibly meet English speaking people.

Suddenly I realised how much we owed to this young boy.  Quite apart from his useful, although limited linguistic ability, his humour and common sense had brought another dimension to our journey through Wales.

I wrote out the address of my cousin Charles and gave it to him:

“Keep this safe Huw.  I know you cannot read but you will find someone who can.  Here is a sovereign in case you want to come down to us – head for London – you will find your way, I know it.  I have paid enough for the Hospital fund.  If you do find us Huw, we will be very pleased to see you and we will find some work for you to do.” I had to say, and do, something, yet my suggestion was probably ridiculous.

We both had tears running down our cheeks, and I felt so very hopeless when I walked away from that lonely and desolate little figure outside that grim Charity Hospital.

When Cowper returned he was extremely annoyed, that I should have entered a slum full of filth and disease – have been close to a child with cholera – have handed a small boy a sovereign which, he was sure, could only compound his problems: “Did I have any idea of the danger? What if I had contracted cholera? Also, did I realise many people carried knives?  For a man, let alone a woman to be out alone was very, very dangerous.”

When he had calmed down and was thankful that I had returned safely, he said he thought my giving Charles’s address to Huw was a bit far fetched, but added, smiling “You never know, we might see him again.”

The following day my nausea increased to such an extent that I was very sick and Cowper could not avoid being aware of it. He was horrified and quite convinced that I had caught the fatal disease.  Springing into action he managed to find an English–speaking doctor and persuaded him to come and see me immediately.  The medic told Cowper it was unlikely that I would be affected by the disease, because I was presumably healthy, well–fed and not living in squalor.  But poor Cowper was in a lather of apprehension – his relief was therefore all the greater, when he discovered that, far from having a serious illness, I was actually going to have a baby!

No talk of a visit to Scotland now, of course we must return to England, without delay.  By the mail coach routes of course!  His bad mood had evaporated, at least for a while.

 

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