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Title: Beggars on Horseback; A riding tour in North Wales
Author: Ross, Martin, Somerville, E. Oe. (Edith Oenone)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Beggars on Horseback; A riding tour in North Wales" ***

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                         BEGGARS ON HORSEBACK

                     A RIDING TOUR IN NORTH WALES


                              MARTIN ROSS


                           E. Œ. SOMERVILLE

                    ‘THE REAL CHARLOTTE,’ ETC. ETC.

                         BY E. Œ. SOMERVILLE_

              [Illustration: E. OE. Somerville signature]

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON




THE OBLIGING IRONMONGER                                                5

“HE ISS A LITTLE UNUSED TO THE TOWN, MARM”                            14

PACKING THE “HOLD-ALLS”                                               21

THE FAT OSTLER BOY                                                    27

THE FIRST FLIES                                                       30


FISHERMAN”                                                            43

TYROLEAN HAT”                                                         45

A DARK-FACED KELT                                                     47

“MISS O’FLANNIGAN’S HAIR CAME DOWN”                                   51

LENGTHS OF STEEP ROAD                                                 57

THE SEXTONESS OF DOLGELLY                                             67

THE TOURIST AT THE GRAPES INN, MAENTYWROG                             75

BETWEEN TRAWSFYNYDD AND MAENTYWROG                                    77


“LUNE DE MIEL” BEDDGELERT                                             85


LENGTH ON SOME CONTIGUOUS BOULDERS                                    99

THE ASCENT OF SNOWDON                                                105


TOURIST”                                                             122

THE COOK AT RHYDDU                                                   124

THE ASCENT OF THE DEANS                                              132

ROUND A PILE OF BOULDERS”                                            133

“WE RETIRED INTO THE RAIN”                                           142

“I CLUTCHED THE SURFACE OF THE ROAD”                                 149

EDGE WE WERE LOOKING BACK”                                           157


A FINAL SALUTE                                                       183

VISITORS’ BOOK                                                       186



“Well, I’m not exactly sure,” said the ironmonger, gazing out into the
glaring street through a doorway festooned with tin mugs and gridirons,
“but I think it was the gentleman as played the kettle-drum that rode
him.” His eyes seemed to follow some half-remembered pageant, though
outwardly they rested on the languid salutations of the saddler’s dog
and the hotel collie on the opposite pavement.

Miss O’Flannigan, who looked and was too hot for conversation, remained
impassive where she sat, on the top of an “Empress” cottage stove, with
her gaze fixed on the zinc pails that hung like Chinese lanterns from
the ceiling.

“Unfortunately we shall not take a kettle-drum,” I replied,

“Well, no, of course,” admitted the ironmonger; “but I assure you that a
pony that’s bin in the yeomanry band won’t be partikler as to
traction-engines or sech. You ladies could play any instrument when
ridin’ ’im.”

Miss O’Flannigan laughed sardonically from the “Empress” stove, and Mr
Griffiths’ attitude of mild bewilderment changed to wounded dignity.

“Perhaps Mr Williams, the chemist, could oblige you with sech animals as
you require,” he said, with the stiffness of one of his own swing-door
hinges; “but there isn’t sech a cob in Welshpool as what my cob is.”

We temporised with Mr Griffiths and proceeded to the chemist’s, noticing
as we did so a determination of the inhabitants of Welshpool to their
shop doors, while the loafers round the stone pedestal of the gas lamp
that seems to form the focus of Welshpool life, turned to look after us
like sunflowers to the sun. Further away than ever went the memory of
the thud of ‘bus-horses’ feet on wood pavement, the hot glitter of
harness and livery buttons at Hyde Park Corner, the precarious dive
across Piccadilly, and all the other environments of yesterday. The heat
of noon lay here like a spell on the street, and Welshpool, for the most
part, sat in its shady back parlours in comfortable lethargy.

Like the other shops, Mr Williams, the chemist’s, was cool and empty,
with the air of a place where it is always dinner-hour hanging drowsily
over it. Indeed, the pimpled cheek of the apprentice--why are pimples
the common wear of chemists’ assistants?--was still inflated by a
mouthful when he made his appearance, and a sound as of dumpling impeded
the voice in which he told us that Mr Williams had a pony, and that the
mistress would speak to us herself.

“Mr Williams was away,” explained Mrs Williams, “drawing teeth and
measuring for new ones; and y’know what a job that is,” she concluded,
examining Miss O’Flannigan’s smile with the eye of a connoisseur. Miss
O’Flannigan relapsed somewhat abruptly into gloom.

[Illustration: _She sat on the top of an “Empress” cottage stove._]

[Illustration: _The obliging ironmonger._]

“I have a pair of real little beauties,” went on the chemist’s wife,
beaming at us between minarets of Eno’s Fruit Salt and Mellin’s Food,
“just the thing for London work. I’ll have them round at the hotel for
you in ten minutes.”

We were conscious of social shrinkage as the work for which we required
the ponies was explained; a fortnight’s road work in Wales, with the
proviso that the animals would have to carry packs--“large packs,” added
Miss O’Flannigan--held a suggestion of bagmen, not to say tinkers. But
Mrs Williams’ stable sank unhesitatingly to the level of our needs. She
had yet another pony, three years old, thirteen hands high, steady, “and
bin ridden with the Yeomanry,” she ended, reassuringly.

From the eye that Miss O’Flannigan cast upon me I knew that her mind
was, like mine, occupied with a vision of the Yeomanry mounted, like
cyclists, on “dwarf-safeties,” and we ventured to ask whether the St
Bernard, whose eyes gleamed from the dark corner of the shop where he
lay, pantingly protruding a tongue like a giant slice of ham, had been
ridden during the training. The jest had a high success, and a suetty
giggle from somewhere near the open door of the parlour apprised us
that this gem of Irish humour was not lost on the apprentice.

Before we returned to the hotel several things had been accomplished. We
were possessors of the chemist’s pony for a fortnight; we had bakingly
retraced our steps to the ironmonger, and by dint of remaining immutable
on the top of the cottage stove, had made a like bargain with him; and
we had interested Welshpool more whole-souledly than any event since the
election and the last circus. Coolness and peace awaited us at the Royal
Oak Inn, with its thick walls and polished floors, and its associations
of the old coaching days, wonderfully striking to an Irish eye,
accustomed to connect antiquity with dirt and dilapidation. We have
nothing hale and honourable like these hostelries, with their centuries
of landlord ancestry: we have the modern hotel after its kind, and also
the unspeakable pothouse, with creeping things after their kind; but
antiquity, if such there be, is a poor, musty ghost, lingering among
broken furniture and potsherds, to sadden the eyes of such as can
discern it.

Ireland seemed a long way off, while we lunched largely and languidly on
fruit and cream, and wondered how we were going to ride through four
counties in heat of this kind. A sense of inadequacy grew upon us like a
slight indigestion, or, perhaps, it came to us in that guise, and the
fussy clatter of ponies’ hoofs in the yard below had a ring in it of the
inexorable. Miss O’Flannigan sharpened a pencil and began to make notes,
evidently to restore her moral tone,--notes about Welshpool, she said,
antiquities, and such things; but as subsequently these proved to
consist of the entry, “Saturday, June 10, ‘Black and White,’ lunch,
Academy, headache, tea, tried on, &c.,” with a bulbous profile of the
ironmonger, her method of working back to ancient history must have been
mystic and gradual.

While we thus sat dubious of ourselves and all things, expecting to hear
that the chemist and the ironmonger had alike thought better of it,
there was a shuffling of many feet in the hall, and the door opened to
its widest to admit an immense old lady, advancing with the solemnity of
a hearse, while two daughters of some fifty-five or sixty hard-won years
moved beside her like pall-bearers, supporting each a weighty elbow on
their lean arms. A third daughter walked behind, carrying a white dog of
the Spitz breed. As a foundation-stone sinks to its resting-place, so,
and with a like deliberation, was the old lady lowered into the largest
and, indeed, the only possible chair; one daughter shut the window,
another rang the bell, and a meal of fried beef-steak, onions, and
bottled stout was ordered. The temperature of the room seemed
perceptibly to rise, and Miss O’Flannigan and I communed by glances as
to whether we had energy to get up and go away.

“Eh! it’s warm, vera warm,” said the old lady, addressing the company in
general, but ceaselessly examining Miss O’Flannigan and me with eyes as
blue and bright as those of any heroine of inexpensive fiction; “it
mak’s a body p’spire vera free, that it dew. But ye dew enjoy it----”

She spoke with a Yorkshire accent as broad as the foot which, in its
cloth shoe and white stocking, was handsomely displayed below her skirt
hem--and we apologise for probable mistakes in the reproduction by an
Irish hand of that sturdy, grumbling drawl.

“Ah’m come all the way oop fra’ Yorkshire for a too-er,” she went on;
“t’ yoong folks like a change,” she indicated her grey-haired
attendants, “but Wales is a bit dool when ye come out for a holiday. Eh,
Scarbro’s the gay, bonny place! Eh, but ye miss a treat if ye don’t see

She held us with her glittering eye, and the eulogy of Scarborough
proceeded with the burr of a noontide bee, by promenades, hotels, family
histories of friends who kept lodgings in the best terraces, and many
other highways and byways; while the three daughters and the white dog
sat and filled in the mesmeric effect, immovable as scenery. A message
that the ponies were in the yard came at last to our relief, like good
news from a far country, and with the activity of a hunting morning we
made our exit in the wake of the waitress, who, at the Royal Oak, as at
many other Welsh inns, has worthily replaced the waiter and the
cheerless glory of his evening suit. The needed fillip had been given;
the present moment, with its release and its ponies, sparkled suddenly,
and that Wales which the old Yorkshire woman found so “dool” by
comparison with Scarborough, lay awaiting us in restored glamour.

The large, clean yard, with its respectable coaching and fox-hunting
associations, was acquiring a new experience. The loafers had detached
themselves from the lamp-post, the tide of commerce had flowed from the
shops to stand round the stable doors, and discuss in the guttural,
shrewish Welsh tongue what manner of she-yeomanry they might be who thus
requisitioned Welshpool ponies for their own undivulged purposes. There
was a dead silence as we came forth, hobbling and waddling in our
fettering safety habit-skirts--a silence, as we hope, of admiration, but
we have not inquired into it. The ponies were there--a bay of a little
over fourteen hands, a chestnut dun of a hand smaller, both ill-fitted
by their big saddles, both possessed of a generous contour that told of
long summer days of revelling in the young grass, and summer nights of
serious gobbling of it when the flies were asleep. Mr Williams the
chemist, and Mr Griffiths the ironmonger, stood at their heads, and
began a species of funeral oration upon their virtues, and upon the
pangs of parting from them; while an attendant, with his knee against
the side of the bay, and his head buried under the flap of the saddle,
exerted what strength was in him to overcome the pangs of meeting
exhibited by the girths and their buckles: nothing remained for us
except to mount, and to trust that we should be spared disaster in the
eyes of Welshpool.

Miss O’Flannigan asked the name of the bay pony, and having ascertained
that it was Tom, commanded that he should be brought to the
mounting-block. Tom, a three-year-old of precocious gravity, erstwhile
bearer of the kettle-drum and possessed of the serious good looks of one
of Mrs Sherwood’s curates, reluctantly approached the hoary limestone
block, with a horrified eye fixed on Miss O’Flannigan as she awaited him
in her safety skirt. Persuasion failed to bring him within three yards
of a garment which, as he doubtless expressed it, would have made Mrs
Sherwood turn in her grave; and Miss O’Flannigan was finally pitched on
to his back from an indefinite spot near the stable door, whither, with
one foot in the stirrup, she had hopped in pursuit of her steed. It was
damping to find that the name of the chemist’s pony was Tommy, but we
felt sure that in the first few minutes of our first journey we should
think of something clever with which to re-christen both. We
subsequently spent several hours of several journeys in this endeavour,
but their baptismal names have not as yet been improved on.

“He iss a little unused to the town, marm,” said the chemist’s
stable-boy, as Tommy submitted with unexpected calm to the infliction of
my weight; “but he iss goot--yes, indeed!”

[Illustration: _“He iss a little unused to the town, marm._”]

The next moment I was pursuing Miss O’Flannigan up the street like the
conventional pattern of a flash of lightning. Happily, the houses,
carts, barrels, and other objects possessed of terrors for Tommy
alternated on either side with tolerable regularity, so that one shy
acted as a corrective to the last; but these advantages were denied to
Miss O’Flannigan. Her Tom fled along before me, cantering with the fore
and trotting widely with the hind legs, and making startling attempts to
turn in at unexpected side entrances--attempts that were only frustrated
by serious effort on the part of his rider.

It was somewhere during this rush through Welshpool and its environs,
while the saddles rolled and our faces blazed, that we were conscious of
passing a building like a Methodist chapel, from which came men’s and
women’s voices, singing in harmony. It was only a moment’s hearing, but
it lived, ringing and resonant, in our ears, and is notable still to us
as our first experience of Welsh voices. When, at sunset, we returned
dishevelled and hairpinless, but masters of the situation, Miss
O’Flannigan had remembered several quotations from the poets to express
the effect of these keen, strong voices flung out into the sleepy
afternoon. I, regarding the heat-stained coats of the Tommies and Miss
O’Flannigan’s back-hair, could remember nothing except the conversation
of two men at a race meeting in Galway--

“Did ye see them skelping round by Glan corner?”

“I did not, faith.”

“Then ye seen nothing.”


There are no suburbs to Welshpool. Practical, like its countrywomen, it
does not trail a modish skirt across the meadows; the woods and
hedgerows run down to it, but it will not change its working-dress and
come up from its hollow to be idle with them. Of this, indeed, we were
not disposed to complain, when at some three of the clock on the next
afternoon we started on the first stage of our journey. We had received,
in the act of departure, an amount of interest and attention that would
have satiated, not to say embarrassed, a sandwich-man--from the
congregated friends of the chemist and ironmonger, from the old
Yorkshire woman (framed like a Holbein behind the glass of a firmly
closed window), from the exponents of fashion in baggy breeches and
slim gaiters who habitually “practised at the bar” of the hotel, from
the carriage of an unknown magnate, and from the pit and gallery section
which had early possessed itself of the best places on the central
lamp-post. The subtler observation of villa residences was at least
spared us, the vulture eye of the tradesman’s widow behind the lace
curtain, the scorn of the offspring of the dentist or the auctioneer.

Powys Castle and its woods towered aloof in a shimmer of heat, as
unaware of town and tourist as the cattle within its gates. The grey
houses of the town became smaller and older looking; cats sat on the
doorstep and mused on the deceitfulness of things, overawing the languid
dogs in the eternal supremacy of mind over matter; and the flame of
sunshine blazed tangibly round us and all things. Our last impression of
Welshpool is of its oldest house, a black-beamed cottage, lolling and
bulging, crooked and bowed in every line; impossible as to perspective,
but strong and stable beyond all houses in the town--so the town says.
Then the hedgerows, and the white road stretching westward into the
unknown. Elder-bushes, with their creamy discs; dog-roses of every shade
of pink gazing at us with soft innumerable faces; honeysuckle in
thickets; perfumes lonely and delicate, perfumes blended and
intoxicating. The thought of them takes the pen from the paper in
indolent remembrance of that first ride between the Montgomery
hedgerows, while yet the horse-flies had not discovered us, and while
the hold-alls lay trim and deceptive in the straps that bound them to
the saddles.

The mention of the hold-alls disperses like an east wind all ideas of
the indolent and the picturesque. Briefly they may be described as was a
kitchen-maid in a Galway household by an enraged fellow-servant--“She’s
able to put any one that’d be with her into a decay.” We had spent the
morning in packing them, in repacking them, in acrid argument as to
whether Miss O’Flannigan’s painting-box (apparently made of lead and
filled with stones) would fit in my hold-all with the teapot, tin
kettle, india-rubber bath, shooting-boots, drugs, and other angular
things which had been already bestowed in it; in punching fresh holes in
the straps, in going to the saddler to have more “dees” put on the
off-sides of the saddles, and finally in a harrowing parting with our
portmanteaus, which, labelled “Dolgelly, per goods train,” had been
delivered to the hand of the boots. It was the burning of the ships; and
while the smart, tightly-belted hold-alls were hoisted like plethoric
grooms to their saddles, we looked back to the portmanteaus, and said,
with a hope no larger than Brutus had, “If we do meet again, we’ll smile

For about two miles we crawled at a walk in the heat,--the drab Tommy
niggling, shuffling, and plodding; the bay Tom “dishing,” crossing his
legs, and stumbling, but both absolutely laid out for goodness. Lulled
to a false security, we ambled thus up and down the slopes, and prosed a
little to each other about the scenery: plump,

[Illustration: _Packing the “hold-alls.”_]

knobby hills, such as one would cut out of dough with a tumbler, with
strips of wood straddling over them; rich valleys with their sides
padded with dark-green trees, all complete and devoid of relation to
each other, but all similar, like a picture-gallery full of replicas of
the same landscape. This, we said, was not the kind of thing we had come
to Wales to see.

A shaded stretch of road tempted us at length to urge the Tommies to
their own wild trot, and to its vagaries we and the hold-alls rose and
fell, bumped and joggled with what grace we might. Roadside heaps of
stones, that had till now been merely matter for composed inquiry to the
Tommies, became at this pace fraught with all supernatural powers and
malign intents, and we cannoned violently and often, as Tom swerved,
wild-eyed, from one of these objects of terror, or as Tommy, the
ignoble, turned with incredible swiftness and endeavoured to flee home
to the chemist. We persevered to the top of a steep descent, where the
white dusty road fell away from our feet, and there slackened as there
came into view a cart drawn by four giant horses with solemn bowed heads
and huge legs that gave them the effect of wearing sailor’s trousers,
tight at the knee and full at the ankle. The trunk of a great elm lay on
the cart, a “vibrating star,” as George Eliot has described the prone
advance of such another tree, and on top of it sat a man in a blue linen
coat, looking as unimportant as a squirrel in relation to the mammoth
creatures who were accepting his authority. We looked at him with
respect as the quivering bole of the elm-tree drew slowly level with us,
but he regarded us not at all. His gaze was fixed on my hold-all, from
whose gaping mouth, as we suddenly became aware, a sponge-bag and the
spout of the tea-kettle were protruding.

“Hoy!” said the carter, pointing with his brass-ringed whip at something
on the road behind us.

It was Miss O’Flannigan’s india-rubber cup, a noisome vessel from which
she indifferently partook of tea, bovril, and claret. We dismounted,
and the saddles, released from the compensating balance of the weight
that experience had already taught us to bring to bear on the stirrups,
obeyed instantly the four-stone drag of each hold-all, and began to turn
very slowly and steadily to the off-side. We collected the cup and some
other scattered valuables, and then, while the flies closed in round us,
we began the long strife with straps and buckles. The Tommies sidled,
stamped, and snapped ungovernably; while the flies devoured us and them
impartially, the girths were dragged to their last holes, the hold-alls
repacked and strapped on again, and the reign of suffering that ceased
not till our journey’s end was fairly inaugurated.

Cannoffice was our destination, Llanfair was to be our stopping-place
for tea. I almost hesitate to mention that Llanfair is but seven miles
from Welshpool; but it is, perhaps, better to state at once that we,
and, still more, the Tommies, were above the vulgarities of
record-breaking, unless, indeed, we can lay claim to our daily journeys
being the shortest hitherto performed by any Welsh tourist. It must have
been five o’clock when we rode down the stony hill beside the no less
dry and stony river-bed, where at any time, except in this rainless
year, the water must swirl pleasantly below the grey village of
Llanfair. Welsh villages are composed of nearly equal parts of inns and
chapels, so that such names as “The Cross Foxes,” “Rehoboth,” “The
Goat,” “The Grapes,” “Addoldy,” “Salem,” and “Bethesda,” greet the
traveller in startling succession. We crossed the humpbacked bridge,
above the fevered bed of the river, where the children sat and played at
giving parties with many long drowned crockeries, and we rode the length
of the little street and selected the last of the inns that clung to its
steep sides.

It was the glimpse of oak settles and panels, and gleams of old brass
and copper, that we saw through the open door of the Wynnstay Arms that
turned the scale, already tilted by the vision of a fat ostler boy with
gold earrings, who grinned

[Illustration: _The fat ostler boy._]

from the stable opposite. That he spoke English about as well as a
French porter at Calais was subsequently a drawback, when it came to
words like surcingle and hold-all, and the beautiful kitchen with the
tiled floor and the high settles (and we are compelled to add, the
spittoons) was not permitted to us. For us was reserved the fusty
decorum of an upper parlour, obviously consecrate to domestic
ceremonies,--funeral cards and the plaster ornament of a wedding-cake
formed the chimney ornaments,--to the rare female visitor, and to a vow
that the windows should not be opened. We cannot, however, look back
otherwise than with affection to the tea which presently came to us, to
the cream and the bread-and-butter, and to the fact that it was the
first and last “plain tea” which Wales supplied us with at sixpence

The journey to Cannoffice was resumed with reluctance on our part and on
the part of the Tommies, who were beginning to think that the thing was
getting past a joke and looked horribly like business. Our best
sympathies were given to them as we fought our way along the remainder
of that afternoon’s sixteen miles, decimating uselessly the hungry host
of horse-flies that every hedge recruited, flying from them at a
ludicrous full gallop, waving them back with branches of trees; perhaps
it would be truer to say that the Tommies had our second-best
sympathies. The noblest compassion of our hearts was lavished on
ourselves. The Tommies certainly played their part in the strife with
ingenuity that, in some degree, made up for the inadequacy of their
pigmy tails. They kicked flies off their stomachs and shoulders as
artlessly and easily as dogs; they bit their legs down to the pastern;
they rubbed themselves against the delicious angularities of the
hold-alls; they buried their faces in our habits in a way that would
have been maddening, if it had not appealed so torturingly to our pity.

It was eight o’clock before we reached Cannoffice, and the brilliant sky
of summer had lost but little of its radiancy. We and the Tommies had
perceptibly lost ours, but still the thing was done. We had passed from
among the lumpy green hills, and had, by slow ascent, reached more open
country, which had a tendency and a meaning in its strong, large, upward
curve. Already the faint ridge of the mountains was on the horizon, and
the balm of the uplands was

[Illustration: _The first flies._]

in the air. The old Cannoffice Inn looked pleasantly at us out of its
ivied windows and low porch; we took it for the vicarage till we saw
upon it the mystic sign of the winged wheel which marks the approval of
the cyclist club. In the evening, when we wandered between the dense
beech and yew hedges of the garden, or sat in a dark arbour and heard
the cattle cropping the dewy grass, the ineffable pastoralities of the
place made themselves felt. Children and dogs were playing noisily on a
hill opposite; out in the unseen hamlet behind a grove of pine-trees
there was now and then a distant snatch of voices singing in harmony;
and garden perfumes, cooled in night air, spoke of peace and of a
hundred sleeping roses. We forgot that our legs were stiffening into
acute angles, that our foreheads had been phrenologically remodelled by
horse-fly bites, and that our house-shoes were circling round Wales in a
luggage-train. And that, I think, was how I caught one of my very finest
colds in my head.


Next morning Miss O’Flannigan went out sketching. The casual reader may
skim this information permissively, as a harmless, picturesque thing,
very proper for young ladies; but to the companion of Miss O’Flannigan’s
travels it has other aspects. For example, the aspect of Miss
O’Flannigan herself, as she sat on a paling with her feet tucked up, her
hat tilted over a scarlet face, and her teeth clenched on a spare
paint-brush; or mine, as I leaned on the rail of a footbridge over
against her, in the furnace heat of the sun, with what negligence
remains to the model who has stiffened for twenty minutes in the
attitude so lightly and luxuriously undertaken. It must be admitted,
however, that the cold caught the night before

[Illustration: _Next morning Miss O’Flannigan went out sketching._]

was, in that unrelenting blaze, slowly baked away. Probably the children
who sat along the banks of the stream and discussed us in Welsh saw it
rise like a mist and melt into the blue: Miss O’Flannigan did not see
it, but when painting she sees nothing but values. Ordinary humanity
does not see values any more than fairies, but Miss O’Flannigan and
other artists do.

It was afternoon when we forsook the simplicities of Cannoffice, and
went forth to the unknown and the unpronounceable. Five minutes’ stroll
will exploit the place, with its half-dozen ancient cottages, its
“Zion,” and its post-office, where English is a difficulty, and the
forwarding of a letter to a given address a problem too deep to be
grappled with. But Cannoffice does not seem greatly to care whether its
visitors stay minutes or months. Incorruptibly sylvan and indomitably
Welsh, it shakes off the dust of each tourist season, and returns to its
solitary and sufficing ways of life, and there are moments when one
could wish to return with it.

Up into the west we went, along a road hilly and pastoral, lonely and
hot. After some miles of it we dived into a fir-grove and emerged into a
region of a strangely different sort. Connemara it might have been--the
back of Connemara by the Erriff river--such and of such a greenness were
the hills; so amongst them, along the marshy level, ran the unfenced
road. Not a tree broke the tender barrenness of the outlines: big and
mild, with the magnanimous curves of the brows of an elephant, the hills
stood clothed in the sweet short grass; and among their hollows grazed
sheep and black cattle, whose smallness may have been native, or may
have been a deception of that great feeding-ground. We halted there in
breezy silences where no horse-fly inhabited, and had an afternoon tea
of patriarchal frugality,--a bunch of raisins and a crust of bread cut
with Miss O’Flannigan’s pocket-knife, which had last been used for
scraping out a tin of soft-soap.

The country closed in round us as we journeyed. Ravines clove the hills,
woods ran hardily on the steeps, and stone walls replaced the hedges.
The road rose to higher levels, winding parapeted above the ravines, and
we began to meet people again--people of a politeness incredible, almost
unnerving, to those whose belief in their own appearance has been sapped
by various adversities, especially the insecurity of hairpins. Voices
were on the hillsides, and once from the bottom of a ravine came up most
freshly the lilt of a woman’s song. The words were Welsh, the tune
unknown, but all clean and homely romance was borne on the notes of that
careless, yet half-melancholy, peasant voice.

Following on this the rattle of a mowing-machine grated upon the
farthest edge of silence, and going on towards it we came on an inn, the
only one boasted of by the village of Mallwydd.

Thrice we rode to and fro before that humble hostelry, and, but for a
weird, pig-styish smell which pervaded the village, had committed
ourselves to it. We escaped from the expectant landlady, and applied
the Tommies to the mile that remained between us and Dinas
Mowddy--having, at all events, discovered that Maäthlooith and Deenas
Mawthy were approximately the pronunciations for the two places. After a
quarter of an hour we seemed nearer to nothing except a slate-quarry,
and we addressed ourselves to a passer-by of majestic respectability on
the subject of the Griffith Arms Hotel. This person informed us, with
the utmost difficulty and with much pantomime, that “the hotel wass
inside--yess indeed,” but beyond this his English did not carry him. In
that language he did not know his right hand from his left, and graphic
semaphoring on Miss O’Flannigan’s part did not seem to convey anything
to his mind,--made him indeed hasten onwards, as one who finds he is
entertaining a lunatic unawares.

As a matter of history, the Griffith Arms is inside nothing; it stands
bare and square by the roadside, without so much as a garden paling
before it. But there is a great deal outside it. A splendid hill,
covered to the summit with blue-green pine-trees, looms up in front of
it; behind is a long valley, pierced through the heart by a flashing
mountain-stream; all round are more hills topped with yet more
pine-woods; a snow-peak and a châlet would have made it Switzerland; and
doubtless, in these days of enterprise and Earl’s Court, the thing could
be arranged.

The hotel seemed to be well stocked with visitors. We had believed
ourselves to be before the season, and yet through the shrubs of a
garden at the end of the house we saw several ladies in bright-coloured
blouses, sitting on garden seats and tending children of all ages, a
most edifying and domestic spectacle; and I began to be sorry for Miss
O’Flannigan, who had refused to take advice and a walking skirt, and
would have to come down to dinner in her habit. Within was a strange
emptiness--a large uninhabited coffee-room, an absence of _table
d’hôte_, and an assiduous interest on the part of the landladies, of
whom there seemed to be several. Apparently the virtuous band of mother
tourists fed early with their progeny, for we dined alone. It seemed a
little unusual when presently, from the windows of the coffee-room, we
saw the chambermaid (a tall and handsome lady, with manners that quelled
any suggestion of familiarity from us) go forth to the pleasure-ground,
and, having seated herself, proceed to tell a convulsingly funny story
to the tourists. We should have liked to have heard it, but could catch
nothing except an inquiry shrieked by an auditor through the drowning
laughter, “Did ’e say ‘Ma little duck’?” which awakened a persecuting
curiosity while it deepened the mystery.

We examined the Visitors’ Book. No trace of the party was in it, unless
it was indirectly hinted at by a cyclist, who, with that happy vein of
humour and inventiveness of spelling with which Visitors’ Books are so
replete, dilated on the “gossopping gardens” of the hotel. Many things
were strange about the Griffith Arms. It was full of unseen presences,
of suggestions of an inner life not subordinate to hotel routine, and
we roamed solitary in their midst. The big, panelled bath-room, where
before dinner I simmered off the fatigues of the ride, had the stale
discouraged air of a room that has been left severely to itself. Its
breath was heavy with suggestions of the wearing apparel that lined its
shelves and hung in decaying grandeur on pegs on the door, and in the
bath itself lay a pair of baby’s boots, thick, knitted ones, evidently
forgotten there since winter. Miss O’Flannigan’s wardrobe contained an
interesting selection of walking-sticks, fishing-tackle, razors, ties of
the class known as “Jemima,” and finally, in a separate compartment,
innumerable pairs of socks. They belonged to Mr Willy Griffith, the
chambermaid explained, with the manner of one who disarms all objections
in advance. He stayed at the hotel very often for fishing. She made the
same reply when I commented, not unkindly, on the presence of several
dozen pairs of socks and six well-greased fishing-boots in my chest of
drawers. We did not venture to argue the matter, though it compelled us
to distribute the contents of the hold-alls upon the floor.

Early next morning the house rang with the shrieks that accompanied the
toilet of many children; and though the coffee-room was at
breakfast-time as desolate as ever, the garden presently became filled
to a state of _crèche_-like repletion, and Miss O’Flannigan and I
wandered forth in search of a resting-place less fraught with
domesticity. We made for the pine-clothed flanks of Moel Dinas, but the
heat was terrific--the pine-trees were too young to keep it out, though
they were old enough to hide the view; the flies were beyond belief, and
the hot perfume from the trees became at last intolerable. We crept back
to the hotel and lay about in the shadeless coffee-room, and it was
afternoon before we discovered coolness by going down to the river and
sitting on damp rocks in a draught under an arch of the new bridge, with
the old one picturesquely visible in the background, while the children,
the mothers, and the chambermaid

[Illustration: _“A youth of shop-walker beauty, in the guise of a

[Illustration: _“We caught a glimpse of a grey beard and a Tyrolean

held high carnival in the garden above. It was here, probably, that Mr
Willy Griffith cast his flies when in residence at the Griffith Arms;
and Miss O’Flannigan absently added the figure of a youth of shop-walker
beauty, in the guise of a fisherman, to the series of enervated
scribbles which marked her sketch-book’s progress through that long hot
Sunday. She was descending to the addition of an eyeglass and a
cigarette, when a pebble dropped into the water beside us. As we looked
up to the parapet of the bridge, another pebble was dropped, and there
was an eldritch falsetto laugh. We caught one difficult glimpse of a
grey beard and a Tyrolean hat, a running footstep resounded above, and
then silence. It seemed time for evening church, and we retired.



A dark-faced Kelt in a blue suit was reading the First Lesson as we made
our entry. Bearing in mind Miss O’Flannigan’s riding-habit, it required
nerve to present ourselves to the Church of Mallwydd at this shelterless
stage of the service, but the congregation appeared to be inured to
tourists. They scarcely ceased in their attention to the reader, and to
his serious and careful rendering of the Lesson in his native tongue.
“Darkling we listened” until the twice repeated “Samooel, Samooel,”
suddenly flung out from the dark stream of Welsh, apprised us that it
was the call of Samuel and the humiliation of Eli with which his strong
brows rose or bent in sympathy.

Behind the reader was a glimpse of a surpliced arm, and a pale and
languid hand supporting a grey head with the air of melancholy befitting
a pastor of the Church of Wales at the present crisis. The thought of
coming disaster was inseparable from him and the venerable little
church, while the service progressed through prayers and hymns with a
fervour worthy of dissent; and when the grey head and the sad face were
above us in the pulpit, and the text, “The violent take it by force,”
was given out in Welsh and English, it was easy to imagine the drift of
the sermon that followed, spoken, or rather sung, as the Welsh manner
is, in the preacher’s native tongue. With the monotony of a mountain
wind, with the swinging cadence of a belfry, the minor periods rose and
died. It might have been the sombre prophesying of a Druid, chanted
beneath the oaks in days prior to Gregorians; it seemed to have in it
echoes from ages of forgotten persecution, to be passionate with the
protest of a threatened faith. The modern respectability of the
congregation was amazingly out of keeping with it, but many of the
listening faces were keen with unmistakable response. We recognised in
different parts of the church some of the denizens of the Griffith Arms
with their offspring--being, in fact, privileged to sit behind certain
of the latter, and to mark the methods by which they wiled away the
duration of the state prayers and other unbearable disciplines. It was
something of a shock to discover the chambermaid seated in amity and a
chancel pew beside a venerable gentleman whose grey beard had an
unstudied luxuriance about it that recalled the pebble-thrower at the
bridge. He stared at us with an excitement that seemed to deepen into
ferocity, and once, during the prayers, I am almost certain that I saw
him--after a wary glance at the chambermaid--thrust out his tongue,
apparently at us. What had he to do with the chambermaid, and why did he
object to us? These things were hid from us.

Let no one ask from these historians the facts about the Behemoth skull
and the Leviathan backbone which are disposed in the timbered arch above
the porch-door of the church. There are theories and there are legends,
all equally improbable, so we were informed by the grey-haired vicar,
with a classic and tolerant weariness which may well have been caused by
the heat, or the Suspensory Bill, or the fact that Miss O’Flannigan was
perhaps the five thousandth tourist by whom he had been asked the same

That night the order went forth for a half-past six o’clock breakfast.
If the heat was tropical, so should be our manner of life, and the ride
over the mountains to Dolgelly should be in the dewy cool of the
morning. Nothing could be more idyllic. This quality, however, was not
so prominent next morning, when at 6.15 A.M. Miss

[Illustration: “_Miss O’Flannigan’s hair came down._”]

O’Flannigan ranged forth through the sleeping house to call the
chambermaid, or when at 7.15 the underdone poached eggs and the chill
phantom of yesterday’s coffee were achieved by the cook in some
favourable interval of her toilet. Nor, by the time that we had arranged
ourselves upon the Tommies, was the coolness so striking as we could
have wished, except in the representative of the landladies, with whom
we had had occasion to discuss the bill. This matter caused an
awkwardness in our usually effective farewells--so much so that we felt
constrained to start at full gallop, and to keep up the pace till we
believed ourselves out of sight of the group at the hotel door. The
Tommies shied as though before that hour they had never looked on the
things of earth, and the firry flank of the Moel Dinas had not
intervened when Miss O’Flannigan’s hair came down and the strap of my
hold-all had burst. A more determined effort than usual on Tommy’s part
to go home placed me for a moment facing the Griffith Arms,--a glimpse
worth gathering, discovering as it did the fact that the unexplained
guests of the hotel, in varied and immature costumes, were exulting at
every upper window, and that from the window of the apartment that had
so recently been ours--the room that we had been told belonged to Mr
Willy Griffith--waved the white beard of the old man of the bridge and
the church. Was he Mr Willy Griffith?

We leave the problem, together with the _raison d’être_ of the female
tourists, to be dealt with by future visitors to the Griffith Arms, of
whose company we are not likely to be.

It is not necessary to enter into details of the half-hour that
followed. Let it be understood that I mended my strap with my
pocket-handkerchief, that Miss O’Flannigan did her hair with three
surviving hairpins, and that we received all possible assistance from
the horse-flies.

The midsummer sun in the heart of the Welsh mountains is bad to beat. It
was blazing when we began the long ascent from the valley as though it
had been at it all night--as, indeed, I suppose it had, somewhere or
other--and until that early morning ride we cannot be said to have
properly known what the word heat might mean. The pine-clad hills were
storehouses of it, and gave it forth, fragrantly, after their kind, but
suffocatingly. We had no umbrellas, no lessening of our apparel was
possible; we were pitiable beyond all parties of pleasure. In stupor we
emerged from the wooded country, and followed the long beckonings of a
mountain-road, a lonely streak that climbed and climbed on the back of a
green, tremendous hill. Other hills, sons of Anak, stood all about, with
that same lucent, beryl greenness spread in smooth simplicity on their
sweeping contours. Grey cottages lying far below and far apart in the
great hollows, were as specks no larger than sheep. The sheep themselves
had abandoned all attempt at grazing, and had essayed to hide from the
sun in the cracks and crannies of the more broken ground at the top of
the pass. From these they looked forth on us, dignified as Dons in their
stalls at Oxford, but ready at an instant’s warning to exhibit “a
passion and ecstasy of flight” not common in the Don. The hillsides were
alive with their solemn faces; they were the only living things we saw,
except two old men mending the road as an Irishman mends his house, with
the nearest promiscuous stone and a clod of earth.

When it came to the descent of the mountain, we resolved to be merciful
and lead the Tommies--a praiseworthy benevolence, but one not valued by
Tom as it should have been. With stiff forelegs and resentful eye, he
was dragged by Miss O’Flannigan down the immeasurable lengths of steep
road, protesting in every hair against a mode of progress that was not,
to his conservative mind, justified by precedent. Moreover, being
sensitive to what was _outré_ in appearance, he may have taken exception
to the puggaree made by Miss O’Flannigan out of bracken and a painting
rag; but as, to our certain knowledge, he would have hungrily eaten
either if left alone with it, we cannot but regard this as an

[Illustration: _He was dragged by Miss O’Flannigan down the immeasurable
lengths of steep road._]

We neared again the freely-wooded valley scenery of which Wales keeps
such store. Cader Idris was suddenly on our left, bare and fierce and
coarsely magnificent: very different from our first far-away glimpse of
it as a pale ethereal creature of the horizon--a fit companion for the
most heavenly clouds of sunset. It meant that Dolgelly was near, but we
began to doubt that we should ever reach Dolgelly. We galloped in
desperation through the blinding heat; we recovered ourselves in the
patches of shade. Our heads swam, our throats were as dry as the
traditional lime-burner’s wig, and we thought, with a kind of passion,
of Irish south-westerly gales bursting in floods of rain.

We drew rein at a shady roadside spring, at whose thin trickle a gipsy
woman was filling an earthenware jug. Here should the Tommies drink
their fill, while perchance a sketch was made of the tilt of the gipsy
waggon, half hidden in trees a little back off the road. But the Tommies
had other views. Panic-struck, they recoiled from that innocent trickle
of water as from a thing bewitched; they whirled, trembled, snorted, and
finally abandoned themselves to a _sauve-qui-peut_ flight in the
direction of Dolgelly.

During the last half-hour the road grew more and more civilised; the
“Cross Foxes” uplifted its popular sign by the roadside, villas were
frequent, the scenery was charming, but we cared for none of these
things. All we desired was a cool death--“something lingering,” with
icebergs in it. We rode into the grey town of Dolgelly at 10.30 o’clock,
having started at six, and accomplished twelve miles. It was one of our
record performances. It is possible that some lame beggar-woman may
rival it, but we are fairly confident that it will not easily be beaten.

The innkeepers stood at their doors and surveyed us as we passed, more
in pity than in contempt; and we moved on through the town, trying to
judge by the outward appearance whether the “Lion,” the “Hand,” the
“Goat,” or the “Angel” were nearest what we wished. In this
investigation we were much aided by the peculiar construction of the
town. Every house stood alone, and had a street on every one of its four
sides, a plan which takes a little room, but is handy in the long-run.
We could see no back-yards, no gardens, as we rode round each grey
block: the latter, we afterwards discovered, are kept outside the town;
the former, and their ashpits, we can only suppose to occupy some dark
and dreadful recess in the heart of the houses themselves.

The landlord of the “Angel” looked at us and the Tommies with a horsey
and indulgent smile, as we passed him for the second time. His wife was
remarkably like one of Miss O’Flannigan’s aunts. Moved by these
considerations, we yielded ourselves to the ostler and staggered into


“I thravelled a dale when I had th’ influenzy.”

That was how a County Waterford gardener described the delirious
wanderings of fever. It also describes our state when the momentary joy
of receiving our luggage from the station had passed, when the long
process of dressing was over, and we lay, speechless victims of
headache, on our beds. To the feverishness of heat and exhaustion was
added the gliding panorama of mountain and wood and glaring sky, items
of our ignoble twelve miles; they became abhorrent, and yet the brain
toiled to fill in any forgotten feature. Such was the result of the
Indian method of dealing with hot weather.

It was dealt with that afternoon in a more efficient manner. In the
first place, a parasol was bought from the leading draper, a pink silk
one, reduced from three-and-nine to two shillings, on account of the
places where it had faded yellow. It was certainly a bargain, and an
hour afterwards the barometer began to fall, very slightly, but
sufficiently to show intelligence. Next morning the heat was still
supreme, but this was in order that we might spend another two shillings
on puggarees, after which the barometer fell a little more.

The shops of Dolgelly have the great advantage of a street on all four
sides of each house, each standing “a tower of strength, four square, to
every wind that blew,” so that bread, boots, millinery, vegetables, and
patent medicines can command each a window, great or small; and the
shopkeeper stands, Argus-eyed, in the centre, and caters for the
enigmatic needs of tourists, much as a missionary might prepare glass
beads for the Central African. Each shopkeeper knows his customers, to
the last farmer’s wife; they are united to him in a bond inferior only
to matrimony, as the interloper, of however long standing, finds to his

“If you could get it anywhere else you wouldn’t come ’ere for it,” said
a shopkeeper in our hearing, apostrophising the departing figure of a
casual purchaser. “I’m ’ere twenty-five years,” he went on, wiping the
flies off a perspiring piece of bacon with his pocket-handkerchief, “and
they ’ave as little likin’ for me as the first day I took down my
shutters, because I’m English. Ah, the Welsh stand together, they do,
and they ’ate the English. They’re near, too--terrible near.”

It was no more than ten o’clock in the morning, and yet when we emerged
from the shop, a “Rehoboth” was sending a stentorian hymn forth through
the town, and the streets were full of people hurrying to it. The tune
was wild and stately, and the minor phrases followed each other
unfaltering. We insensibly drew towards the door, and listened while the
slow melody rose and dropped like a path in the mountains--a path
washed with mountain rain and purified with mountain wind. Within, the
people stood close in the hideous pews, in the naked galleries; three
men in black coats, stationed in three rostrums high up against the
white wall, led the singing, and evidently found the weather too hot. We
observed that their eyes were upon us, and that an elder seemed to be
developing a tendency to offer us a Welsh hymnal, and we retired.

The morning was obviously one to sacrifice to expeditions, and any
tourist worthy of the name would no doubt have been by noon on the top
of Cader Idris or the Torrent Walk. The landlady of the “Angel,” looking
more than ever like Miss O’Flannigan’s aunt, urged us to these and other
courses with veiled reproach, as she would have reminded the impenitent
of evening service, but the hills in whose lap Dolgelly lies remain
unexplored by us. Others have been more conscientious; to them be the
glories of accomplishment and the fell privileges of description. The
one and only thing that Miss O’Flannigan desired to see was a Welsh
woman in a Welsh hat; but this, the landlady was forced to admit, was
the one and only thing not procurable in Dolgelly. There was the
sextoness of the church, an octogenarian, who had preserved her mother’s
hat--perhaps she would do. In half an hour Miss O’Flannigan was driving
the octogenarian before her, carrying a band-box as old and yellow as
herself; and the rest of the morning was spent in the seclusion of the
hotel garden, where, seated on an upturned bucket, the octogenarian
balanced the heirloom upon her spotted cap, while Miss O’Flannigan
produced studies of her that were more forcible than polite.

I, no less enjoyably to myself, sat on a wheelbarrow in the stable, and
laid down the law to the landlord, the ostler, and the saddler about
“chambering” the stuffing of one of the saddles so as to fit certain
swellings which had appeared on Tom’s back, which might be the result of
warbles, or of an ill-fitting saddle, or of the sudden

[Illustration: _The sextoness of Dolgelly._]

rise to the dignity of oats, but were certainly capable of unpleasant
developments. Tommy’s hard, yellow hide remained unaltered by saddle,
oats, curry-comb, or any other of its new conditions. Looks were not his
strong point, but we already relied on him--and there was something
attractive in the conscientious way in which he shied at gate-posts,
cows in the field, and other startling and irregular objects.

It was already far in the afternoon when we rode out over the bridge at
Dolgelly, where a single trickle of water crept through the central
arch. The sky had mackerel backs in it, the trees stirred delicately to
a newly awakened breeze, and the barometer was still falling. The
puggarees were packed up, and the pink parasol was furled, but they were
doing their appointed work, and the change came slowly nearer. In the
meantime we went on and up through wooded glens, past the ideally placed
little fishing hotel of Thynn-y-Groes, in clear, genial sunshine,
without a horse-fly; and gradually the vague headache, _réchauffé_ from
the well-cooked one of yesterday, melted away in that perfect ride. The
road was lonely, more lonely than a by-road in West Galway, and, as in
Galway, low hazels grew thickly behind the stone walls; the wide
lowlands down on our left lay sweet and placid, and silent except for
the corncrake; the mountains ran like a blue wall along the west, a wall
hacked and gashed as if by a siege, but still indomitable. Cader Idris
blocked the end of the valley, overlooking all things; but of what avail
are names, to what purpose the narrow English language? They will not
give one breath of the transcendent air, or the greenness of the leaves
that the goats were tearing from the hazel twigs, or one moment out of
the heavenly silence.

Descending leisurely from the heights and their crisp, ragged woods, we
discovered a line of railway, and farther on a desolate hillside
village, called by its inhabitants “Trowsefunneth.” How they spell it is
a different affair; probably they do not try. We had tea there. The
proprietor of the inn wished us to have a leg of mutton--“quite tender,
yess indeed! been in the ’ouse a week”--but we thought this would be
high tea with a vengeance, and accepted the inevitable in its usual form
of “’am-an’-ecks.” We can no longer refrain from mentioning that there
are two things in Wales, yea, three, which the traveller would do well
to avoid, and yet can hardly hope to escape from--butter, bacon,
coffee,--all are bad, even odious; the bacon salt, tough, stringy; the
butter yellow, coarse, and, if possible, more salt than the bacon; the
coffee a shade worse than the ordinary drug supplied by the British
hotel-keeper--and what has already been referred to as the narrow
English language holds no epithet that will fitly stigmatise British
hotel coffee.

It was past seven o’clock when the reckoning was paid, and we could have
wished we were going to stay on in the little parlour with the German
coloured prints, and the clatter of Welsh outside in the kitchen, but it
could not be. Already the ascent of Snowdon was coming into the near
future, a matter of the day after to-morrow, and the mackerel backs
were in the sky. The reluctant Tommies were drawn from their lair, where
the village sat in conclave on them and the hold-alls, and we pushed
onwards by what the proprietor described as “Mr Oakley’s privvat road
through the glen.” Those who know the Dargle, in the county of Wicklow,
know what a glen can be at its best, and it is hard to admit that it has
a rival; but in the evening light, with the deep places of that bosky
cleft showing a writhing twist of white water a hundred feet below, Mr
Oakley’s glen was very hard to beat. It was as nearly dark as the summer
night knew how to be when the loafers of Mahntooroch--this is again the
phonetic gasp of despair--took their pipes from their mouths to point
out to us the way to the Grapes Hotel. We could make out that it was a
sophisticated village, hemmed in between a wooded hill and a river, and
lying silent in the velvet gloom, except for the noise of running water
and the irregular patter of the Tommies’ hoofs.

A scarlet face loomed in the entry of the hotel as we slid stiffly from
our saddles, and afterwards, in the sitting-room, we found it burning
like a red lamp at the central table. We fell into converse with its
owner, while from a dark corner of the room a sickly jingle apprised us
that some one was playing “The Man that broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”

“My friend’s playin’ there,” explained the tourist with the roast face;
“’e’s rather a shoy cha-ap.”

He further informed us that he came from Manchester and ’ad just bin up
Snowdon. Perhaps he did not mean to be discouraging: his intentions were
obviously of the best, and possibly his complexion had something to say
to the lurid light in which he regarded our project of riding the
Tommies up Snowdon. Nevertheless, as we heard how, not three years
before, a pony had slipped and fallen down a precipice, how he himself
had felt “that sick and giddy” at one place that on the downward path
two guides had enveloped his head in a sack and carried him past the
dreaded spot, and of how insuperably beset with clouds the topmost peak
had been, our hearts fell into our boots, and the tune of “The Man that
broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” has, ever since that night, held a horror
for us that is not entirely its own.

[Illustration: _The tourist at the Grapes Inn, Maentywrog._]

[Illustration: _Between Trawsfynydd and Maentywrog._] CHAPTER VI.

It was the longest day of the year,--so said the penny almanac in the
Mahntooroch Hotel. So, with richer certainty, did we ourselves
asseverate before nightfall. Before 9 A.M. the Tommies and their
lop-sided burdens had been launched on their twelve miles’ journey to
Beddgelert; and we, something depressed in spirit by the farewell
warnings of our friend the roasted tourist, were hardening our hearts to
the ascent of Snowdon.

We rode up through the Plas Oakley Woods, along the ramparts of the
glens, and reaching higher levels, came on a vision of a mountain lake
dreaming in the early sun. Three or four coots beat a silver path across
it with their black wings, in alarm that testified to the rarity of the
June tourist, and the pine-woods round it still held the purple shadows
of morning. Out on the bare hills beyond it the heather was in bloom,
and the wind’s freshness was softened by the scent of it. The Tommies
crawled along with well-considered sluggishness. They had by this time a
complete mastery of our characters. In the mornings they found that we
were too light-hearted to resent their laziness, and in the evenings too
humane. This, and the fact that Miss O’Flannigan made from Tom’s back a
sketch of nothing in particular, may account for our having taken five
hours over the twelve miles. However, it may be conceded that they were
hilly miles, and were withal as circuitous in their approach of a given
point as an Irishman in getting to the focal point of a bargain. Indeed,
one turn of the road looked as if it might have

[Illustration: _Miss O’Flannigan made a sketch from Tom’s back._]

supplied the Irishman himself, when it led us past a dreary cabin whose
ambition to be rectangularly frightful yielded to the prior necessity of
being crooked in a manner that we thought to be achievable only by the
Irish cottage architect. With squalid, squinting eyes it leered aside
upon its cabbage-garden and the pigs that rooted therein, and outwards
to the sea down a bare valley. We were sensible then, for the first
time, of a greyness that was blunting the sunshine, and the cabin with
its malign, dirty face seemed responsible for it.

The extremes of landscape met where tumbled heaps of grey rock slanted
down from the sky to the flat boggy plain that runs out to Port Madoc.
That the road should be protected from these suspended avalanches by a
single strand of wire-fencing is a fact that no doubt admits of
explanation, but at a cursory view of things its object was not
apparent. The loneliness was absolute, whether we looked inland to crags
and oak-woods, or seaward along the marshes, but by this time we did not
expect anything except loneliness. Coventry on a memorable occasion was
not more straitly penned behind its shutters than was Wales as we rode
through it. The wayside villages seemed asleep, the farmhouse doors were
shut, and the silence of the roads was comparable only to that supremest
of earth’s silences when one is thrown out of a run, and hounds, riders,
and runners have seemingly passed away into eternity.

Turning inland again among the low oak-woods, the country was rich and
flowery, and always silent, and we ourselves were hot and speechless
under the hot, grey sky. A discovery that one of the girths was rubbing
off the skin behind Tom’s foreleg occasioned a delay fraught with gloom,
difficulty, and the tongues of buckles. Miss O’Flannigan mounted a rock,
and fell to sketching the unsketchable--a habit with her in moments of
inglorious crisis, her sole contribution to the difficulty being a stout
square of chamois leather which she wore on her chest in memory of a
departed cold. With this interesting relic I padded the girth, and we
proceeded in despondency. It was one of the junctures when the Tommies,
and riding-tours generally, became intolerable, and we were on the
dangerous verge of admitting as much, when our attention became
concentrated on six black objects advancing towards us in single file
along the barren perspective of road. They were a walking party,
evidently engaged in record-breaking, and as with purple, streaming
faces they swung past us, we accepted the object-lesson, and thanked
heaven for the Tommies.

Following on this was a mile of solitude and sinuous advance through
craggy places; then, suddenly, the Pass of Aberglaslyn, and the tourist
by companies--especially the clerical tourist. There were four long
black coats, and as many soft black felt hats, on or about Aberglaslyn
bridge, each with a remarkable proportion of female adherents, to whom,
guide-book in hand, or with the unaided gush of inspiration, they
defined the beauties of the Pass. We are naturally modest, but we cannot
refrain from mentioning that from the moment we came in sight we usurped
the position of the beauties of the Pass. The adherents of the clergy
turned with ecstasy from the contemplation of nature to feast their
eyes upon us, our sun-burned straw hats, our equally sun-burned noses,
and our bulging wallets.

We are disposed to deal leniently with an unsuccessful rival, and inured
though Aberglaslyn must now be to picturesque description, we will spare
it further adjectives. There was a poor woman once in the county of Cork
who was shown a dazzling array of wedding-presents. Speech first failed
her, and then she said: “Mother of God! it’s like a circus.” Thus, and
with such a humble reverence, do we say of Aberglaslyn Pass, that it is
like a circus.

There is something at once gallant and touching about the way in which
the English tourist places his hand in that of convention, and is led by
her, uncomplaining, through very arid places. This elderly
generalisation does not, by so much as a backward glance, include
Aberglaslyn, with its cliffs and fir-trees, and mountain-sides flushed
with blossoming heather; it is for the moment concentrated upon the
grave of Gelert, its railings and


little stone pillars, erected possibly by the Town Commissioners to
supply a want long felt by tourists of an object for a short walk. The
selectors of the site have been carried away by a sense of fitness
probably adhering since the days when they buried their pet rabbits in
the back-garden, and, with guileless convention, they have erected the
tomb of Gelert under a tree, a healthy one in the prime of life,
standing discreetly and yet conveniently in a roadside field. The
sentiment of the back-garden has been added at a touch by the railing,
and the result suffices to the tourist. Forth to it, in duteous
pilgrimage, go the brides and bridegrooms, seeking in the long vague
forenoons of holiday for some occupation that shall savour of the
compulsory, and at all events make them glad to get home again for
luncheon. The mile of road between Gelert’s grave and his village was
punctuated with the newly married; and, even at the risk of supporting
another conventionality, it must be recorded that the distance that
separated each bride from her groom was noticeable, and seemed to
indicate a desire to economise conversation.

Do the brides and bridegrooms support the venerable fraud who sits
outside the Goat Hotel in full Welsh costume, selling rag-doll replicas
of herself? It would seem so, for she apparently prospers, and we cannot
believe that the hotel-keepers, who form the balance of the population,
can buy many rag dolls.

The sky had grown grey, the air chilly, the weather was turning nasty,
the saddles had perceptibly turned and were extremely nasty. These
things may perhaps extenuate our bad taste in finding Beddgelert a
trifle disappointing. It seemed to lack a central point; even the
guide-books have to admit that its lions are not on the spot, although
it seductively adds that they are within an “easy walk.” Snowdon was
also included among the objects of interest within an easy walk, but a
brief colloquy with the manageress of the Prince Llewellyn Hotel stamped
the statement as a vicious flight of fancy.

“It’s a good four miles,” said that intelligent woman, regarding us
compassionately; “but there _is_ ladies that think nothing of that.”

We hastened to assure her that we were not of such, and a few moments
of confidential discussion at the bar sufficed for a programme superior
to any that the guide-books had to suggest. It is in such affairs as
these that the landlady and the coffee-room-maid show qualities not to
be found in the landlord, or even the ostler. They can rise above
convention; they have an instinctive perception of what the tourist, in
his bewildered heart, prefers, but fears to acknowledge; and they are
capable of giving advice with a sound disregard for the logic of
precedent. Therefore it befell that our bones are not now bleaching on
the “Beddgelert ascent” of Snowdon, and that, after a large cold lunch,
which included a delicious but embarrassingly stony cherry-pie, we found
ourselves riding slowly towards the village of Rhyddu.

This was the scheme of the manageress. We were to ride on to Rhyddu,
leave the ponies at the Quellyn Arms, get a guide, and having ascended
Snowdon by the shortest route, sleep on top, see the sun rise, and be
back at Rhyddu for breakfast. It was almost alarming in its simplicity,
and in the way in which it degraded the ascent of the highest mountain
in England and Wales into a mere episode of the late afternoon. But,
with a barometrical future so uncertain that, as Miss O’Flannigan’s cook
is in the habit of saying, “you couldn’t tell a day from an hour,” its
merit was too obvious to be disregarded.

Low as we had sunk in the social scale, we yet retained just enough
self-respect to preserve us from asking the rare passer-by which of the
misty bulks that confronted us was Snowdon; but none the less, we should
have liked to know. Snowdon had been to our minds a lonely autocrat,
unmistakable as Vesuvius or Fuji-yama; but here were four or five
round-shouldered monsters, all of about the same height, and none quite
as monstrous as we had expected. We settled on several, and tried
successively to make the best of them, and to experience the sensations
of awe which the guide-book assured us were inevitable under the
circumstances; but the telegraph wire that had been given as our clue
still led us onwards, and the village of Rhyddu seemed, like all our
destinations, to have pitched its moving tent a mile beyond our

At length a line of unlovely grey houses stood by the roadside on a
broad green ridge, the telegraph wire sent a feeler down into one of
these, and a modest signboard presently introduced to us the Quellyn
Arms. It was a very small hotel indeed, but it contained a smell of
fried bacon that would have filled St Paul’s, and an ignorance of the
English language that was almost equally stupendous. We were at this
moment on a flank of Snowdon, as we stretched our stiff legs along the
horse-hair chairs; the terminus of the Snowdon Railway was above us,
within a stone’s-throw, and a toy train was curling incredibly round
corners and down into a green valley that was dovetailed in among the
great roots of the mountain. Outside the parlour window a thick-set
figure with a long stick waited immovably--as immovably as Snowdon, or
as the misty

[Illustration: _The Snowdon guide outside the parlour window._]

cloud in which its horns were plunged. As we momently grew stiffer, the
probability that the sun would rise next morning seemed slighter than
usual, and we tried to persuade the thick-set man to regard the position
from our point of view. But a Snowdon guide has an optimism about
sunrises, and a conviction in the matter of a bird in the hand being
worth two in the bush.

This, we were assured, was the longest day in the year. It would be
light all night. There was a very good hotel on the top to which he,
Griffith Roberts, had guided forty people the night before, all of whom
had seen Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man at sunrise.

Miss Jones, the landlady’s daughter, interpreted these things to us, and
we recognised compassion in her eye as she did so. Our craven hearts
sank low; but we realised that, as Mark Twain has sufficingly expressed,
we must “crowd through or bust.”


The ascent of Snowdon began as seductively, as gently, as the first step
towards a great crime. A grassy cart-track curved idly through pastures
that had just a perceptible heavenward tendency, enough to stimulate the
traveller and flatter his vigour and prowess. The air was bland and
sweet, and the clouds that had been solemnly seated on the mountain
began to move away in vagrant wisps and shreds, baring the ponderous
side and shoulder and the white track that climbed them at what we
considered an absurdly easy gradient.

Griffith Roberts had allotted us but brief time for rest or refreshment
at the Quellyn Arms. As the clock struck seven he had tapped fatefully
at the parlour window, and we had followed him as unresistingly as the
rats followed the Pied Piper. There are, however, rare occasions when it
is agreeable to be coerced into doing what is right. As, at a steady
three and a half miles an hour, we strode after Griffith Roberts, we
began to be conscious of restored enthusiasm and intelligence, and,
impartially, it seemed to us that we should be delightful charges for
him--so affable, so active, so anxious for information. Griffith
Roberts’s back had, however, not quite so social an aspect as might have
been expected, and he maintained his lead of five yards with
uncommunicative firmness. Miss O’Flannigan and I called on each other
for a spurt, and for two or three minutes walked at the rate of four
miles an hour without any appreciable result. It became clear that
Griffith Roberts moved, planet-like, in a certain fixed relation to his
satellites, and that his lead of five yards was an institution not
easily to be set aside. All that we had effected was the raising of the
pace from three and a half miles to four, and the discovery that the
grasshopper, or its equivalent, the hand-satchel, had become a burden.
Griffith Roberts might scorn us as companions, but he should not ignore
his duties as a hireling. We hailed him, and having bestowed the satchel
upon him, Miss O’Flannigan made a determined plunge into conversation.

“I suppose you have often been up Snowdon?” she began, in the strong,
loud voice which is believed to force comprehension on the foreigner.

She had to say it thrice, and Griffith Roberts finally replied, “Oh
yess, one time.”

This was a confession of startling frankness; and Miss O’Flannigan and
I, recalling in a lightning-flash the Mahntooroch tourist’s tales of
incompetent guides, and of a clergyman whose bones had been picked clean
by Snowdon wild cats, regretted that our five-shilling fee had been
squandered upon an amateur.

“And yesterday,” continued Griffith Roberts, after a pause, during which
I suppose he was mustering his English vocabulary, “it wass two times
also I wass on taap.”

“He means he’s been up once already to-day!” expounded Miss O’Flannigan
in a whisper, whose breathlessness was doubtless caused by her surprise.
Griffith Roberts must himself be kin to the wild cats if he could go up
Snowdon twice in the day at a speed of four miles an hour, and I began
to admit to myself that a guide of this description might perhaps be
thrown away upon us. Something infirm, with asthma, we would gladly have
put up with; we should even have overlooked a club-foot. At about this
period the cart-track began to show symptoms of having had enough, and
of wanting to turn back. Fadingly it led us to a wall and a wicket-gate,
such as occurs in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ and it and its grassy ruts
were seen no more.

That which replaced it was a simple adaptation of the bed of a stream to
the uses of a road. Dry it certainly was, but whether the bed of a
stream be wet or dry, it is not easy to walk upon. We followed the
example of Griffith Roberts, whose regard for his boots seemed his one
human weakness, and climbed after him through the heather tussocks along
the bank. Single file and silence prevailed severely, and my heart began
to beat in unusual places, such as my throat and ears. What Miss
O’Flannigan’s heart did I could not tell, but each time that I caught
from behind a glimpse of her cheek, it seemed to glow in more royal
contrast to the dull background of the mountain-side. Another wall and
wicket-gate were arrived at; our guide looked round at us with an eye of
cynical expectancy, and hesitated. It was an intimation that we might
rest,--a compassionless concession to the inadequacy whose extent he
knew by experience, and not by sympathy. But sympathy was not what we
craved for. I sat down on a rock, and Miss O’Flannigan extended herself
at full length on some contiguous boulders, and the ‘Arabian Nights’
could not have provided us with any more satiating form of enjoyment.

[Illustration: _Half-way Miss O’Flannigan extended herself at full
length on some contiguous boulders._]

We were already far above Rhyddu; its slate roofs were but grey specks
on the green slant of the valley, the mountains behind it had dwindled
to hills, and other green valleys with dark lakes in their bosoms had
appeared, crowding round the feet of Snowdon. It was a fine view, and
there was plenty of it, and it had for the first minute or two the
peculiarity of moving in earthquake leaps that kept time to the thumping
pulses of my head. It quieted down gradually, and Miss O’Flannigan,
faint yet pursuing, addressed herself again to conversation and Griffith

“Are there many eagles on Snowdon?” she began in a slow shout.

Griffith Roberts was examining the scenery with a still eye of cold
recognition, and said, “Oh yess, indeed,” which by this time we
understood to be the Welsh manner of expressing want of comprehension.

“Eagles! Big birds, you know!” screamed Miss O’Flannigan.

The guide shook his head, and again said, “Oh yess.”

Miss O’Flannigan got up from her boulders.

“Big birds!” she repeated, “with beaks like this”--she put her
forefinger to her forehead, and described thence a brilliant outward
curve--“with big wings”--she flapped her arms violently--“big birds who
steal lambs!”

“Ah,” said Griffith Roberts, “ze _fahxes_! Oh yess, many fahxes.”

Miss O’Flannigan sat down again, and I laughed a great deal.

Having identified the winged and beaked Snowdon foxes, Griffith Roberts
displayed no further intelligence, nor, indeed, did Miss O’Flannigan;
and after another minute’s grace we were crawling again up the dark,
heathery slope that at each step grew steadily steeper. I was full of
determination, but I did not enjoy myself, and I began to have grave
doubts on the subject of getting the “second wind” fabled by the
athletic. Lightly had we persuaded ourselves that days spent during
previous winters in following hounds on foot over the mountain-sides of
West Cork would have been ample preparation for Mont Blanc. The West
Cork fox is a gentleman, and has a consideration for his followers that
was undreamed of by Griffith Roberts. Heather tussock, slippery grass,
loose stones, shelving rock, came in steep succession as unending as the
rungs of Jacob’s ladder, all of them achievements in their turn, each
one rather more so than the last. In fact, Jacob’s ladder, or any other
frankly precipitous thing, where one could have been helped by one’s
hands, would have been preferable to the short cut by means of which
Griffith Roberts abbreviated, and at the same time imparted, the
bitterness of death to the ascent.

The air became perceptibly sharp as we went up, and scraps of cloud
floated near us across the delusive stretches of desolation. Everything
was harmoniously huge: the Eiffel Tower, perched on one of the crags,
might have restored to the eye some sense of the human scale of
measurement; but to think of feet--even of the guide’s, of which it
might truly be said that “a deal of his leg had been turned up when
they were made”--was an idle effort of memory. It was half an hour
before our guide paused again; the short cut, and we with it, had
climbed a moraine of boulders, and rejoined the orthodox path, and a
rest came as an unlooked-for mercy.

“Ferry deep,” said Griffith Roberts, leaving the path and moving
cautiously towards a low grassy rampart, behind which the mist steamed
billowing up.

We knelt with our elbows on the rampart, and saw chaos heaped in grey
vapour below--chaos stirred as if with a ladle, and weltering slow and
mysterious in the perfect quiet of the air. As we watched, some unseen
force from below tore an upward opening through the mist, and our nerves
dived tingling down it to where, at the bottom of all things, a little
leaden lake lay dead and sombre. The cliff on which we were kneeling ran
with a tremendous horse-shoe curve right up to the highest peak of
Snowdon, a point darkly visible in the greyness, and depressingly
remote. Could

[Illustration: _The ascent of Snowdon._]

that infinitesimal dot be the hotel that had held forty people the night

It was Miss O’Flannigan who made the contemptible suggestion that we
should return to Rhyddu and get particulars of the sunrise and the view
from the landlady’s daughter. I repelled the suggestion with appropriate
spirit; but half an hour later, when, with acute neuralgia in the
muscles above my knees, I was reduced to lifting each leg in succession
with my hands, I hardly dared to think of the horse-hair sofa in the
parlour of the Quellyn Arms. As we dragged ourselves up at the pace
relentlessly demanded by Griffith Roberts, all sense of connection with
the world below went from us. It was weeks since we had supped at
Rhyddu, years since the tourist shouted his final warnings after us at
Mahntooroch. We were in another planet, toiling up through some dim,
endless purgatory to ever higher levels in the manner so trimly arranged
by the newer Spiritualism--only that instead of the corresponding moral
elevation, the one emotion in which we were conscious of any progress
was detestation of Griffith Roberts. A sodden twilight, not born of
sunset or moonrise, came down about us, and the tormented vapours
writhed up to meet it from the voids on either hand as we went
delicately along the ridge that leads, like a horse’s crest, from
shoulder to summit of the mountain. The ridge grew more and more
slender, and we picked our aching steps more and more carefully. One of
the Tommies’ saddles would have been almost wide enough to have spanned
it comfortably at one place--the happy Tommies, now doubtless sleeping
like infants in their little beds at Rhyddu; and Miss O’Flannigan has
since admitted her almost uncontrollable desire to traverse it after the
manner of a serpent.

It was half-past nine o’clock when Griffith Roberts led his now
speechless prey up to the tiny plateau whereon were a large cairn of
stones, two men, and two squalid wooden shanties.

“Ze taap,” observed Griffith Roberts, coldly.


A solitary candle struggled with the obscurity as we stumbled through a
narrow door into the shanty indicated to us. It illuminated principally
the features of a young gentleman in a check ulster and a Tam o’ Shanter
cap, who sat behind it with a note-book and pencil and an indefinite air
of being connected with the Press, and his eye-glasses flashed upon us
with almost awful inquiry as the light caught them beneath the dashing
tilt of his cap. The next most immediate impression was of the cabin of
a fifth-rate coasting steamer: dingy wooden walls, a bare seat running
round them, two tables, three cramped doorways, and a pigmy stove. That
was the sum-total of the surroundings; but the fact that there was a
fire in the stove crowded out all deficiencies for the first ten

The cold was clinging, inescapable, unbelieveable, at least for people
who had come sweltering up in light attire from a world where it was
midsummer and behaved as such. The opening of the stove was about as
large as the lens of a Kodak, and might have heated us through if moved
up and down our persons, as a painter burns old paint off with a
brazier. Failing this, we had to reverse the process, and rotate
endlessly before that single, sullen glow, while from the corner the
twin malignity of the double eye-glasses blazed upon us.

“I thought I was goin’ to be all alone up here to-night,” said a voice
from behind the eye-glasses--a voice of that class which, like Scott’s
poetry, “scorns to be obscure,” and proclaims its natal Brixton in
clarion tones. “I’ve bin kicking my ’eels up ’ere since five o’clock,
and I cawn’t say it’s bin lively!” The speaker permitted to himself a
dramatic yawn, followed by a giggle of

[Illustration: “_The speaker permitted to himself a dramatic yawn._”]

incipient boon-companionship, but the conversation was not given time to
expand with the luxuriance of which it was doubtless capable. The door
of the cabin was opened, and Griffith Roberts stood without, waiting for
his lawful five shillings, and, subsequently, the price of a drink
(which, in deference to our possible scruples, was entitled
“ginger-beer”). We bade him good-bye without a pang. He is a good man,
and would be invaluable as hare for a paper-chase; but if we ever ascend
Snowdon again--which Heaven forfend--it will not be under his guidance.

We stood at the door and watched him go down and down through the
lifeless twilight, till the cold bit through and through our summer
coats and linen shirts, and a precept of early youth rose menacingly in
our minds:--

    “Whatever brawls disturb the street,
     Wear flannel next your skin.”

What if we both developed influenza on the top of Snowdon! Some
preservative was instantly necessary: we hurriedly appealed to the
proprietor of the cabin for hot water, and were supplied with a boiling
jugful on the spot. The Summit Hotel does not go in for style, but it
understands the mystery of boiling water, which is a thing too deep for
many of its betters.

I have often had cause to curse the day on which it was revealed to Miss
O’Flannigan, by a palmist, that she was subject to medical inspirations;
but even the power of speech was denied to me for some minutes after I
had tasted the mixture of Bovril, whisky, and hot water, compounded by
my companion under the influence of her latest inspiration. Our
fellow-tourist, after a period of aghast observation, attacked his
note-book with an ardour that convinces us that the recipe will be made
glorious by his pen in the columns of the ‘Brixton Chanticleer.’ Then he
drew forth a pipe and tobacco-pouch, and looked first at the mists which
were pressing against the little port-hole of a window behind his head,
and then at us. We accepted the hint, and retired to the cabin allotted
to us.

It was about seven feet square, and contained a bedstead that covered
all the room save a strip of two feet, on which stood a doll’s chest of
drawers with a small jug and basin on it. In the face of the fact that
there was but one other bedroom, it was idle to speculate as to how the
forty visitors of the night before had disposed themselves; but a very
cursory investigation of the sheets forced us to the conclusion that
many of them had gone to bed in their boots. Possibly they were right.
Top-boots and an entire suit of oil-skins would alone have brought those
sheets within the sphere of practical politics. We wrapped ourselves in
the blankets, and lay down, fully clad, to wait for the dawn.

Never before that night had I known how much more miserable one may be
made by sleep than by the want of it. The thin doses forced on us by
fatigue had the property of magnifying-glasses, and turned a vague
insufficiency of pillow into a broken neck, the cold and stiffness into
centuries of Arctic hardship. A monotonous wind sighed round the shanty,
and the small uncurtained window held a changeless square of ghostly
light, that, in the intervals of the fevered dreams of this midsummer’s
night, became a giant luminous matchbox hanging on the wall beside us.
Once or twice Miss O’Flannigan broached in gloomy monologue reflections
proper to the occasion, their _leit motif_ being that we, the
newspaper-man, and the two shanty proprietors, were the five highest
people in England. I cannot remember that I contributed to the
conversation anything more appropriate than the remark of a slighted
Dublin aristocrat, in vindication of her rights of precedence, “and me
the rankest lady in the room,”--which, indeed, had only a remote and
dreamlike connection with the subject.

The luminous paint in the window-frame was just perceptibly brighter
when the door of the opposite shanty opened, and we heard a heavy step
outside. By this time we had become reconciled to the blankets, and we
held our breaths with the dread that there might be a sunrise, and that
we should have to go out into the piercing air to look at it. There was
a battering upon the Brixtonian door, and then a voice: “It’s a quarter
past three, sir, and it’s a _very_ thick morning,” and then our heroic
fellow-traveller: “Never mind, I’m comin’ out.”

We lay, silent as stones, listening intently. The footstep paused at our
door, but relenting, passed on without knocking. Presently we heard the
newspaper-man go forth like the dove from the ark, and, after a
similarly brief absence, return, and settle himself down in the saloon,
where, faithful to the interests of the ‘Brixton Chanticleer,’ he no
doubt occupied himself in recording his impressions of the mist. For the
sake of our self-respect we rose and looked out of the window--a
shuddering glance which scarcely revealed to us the foggy outlines of
the other shanty and the cairn of stones.

Beyond these, a thick curtain of mist without a fold in it. In the
bitter cold and the hideous daylight we shawled ourselves again in our
blankets and slept miserably till seven o’clock, when, after such
gruesome toilet as circumstances and a small jug of ice-cold water
permitted, we emerged from our cabin, objects that our nearest relations
would have been justified in cutting. The gentleman from Brixton had
gone, and the sun had arrived too late to arrange a sunrise, but still
anxious to oblige. There was also a kettle of boiling water, a loaf of
bread, and a clear fire in the stove. All these things disposed us to
realise with a new benevolence what an achievement of labour and
perseverance was embodied in the Summit Hotel. The ponies on whose backs
each plank and each lump of coal has been carried up are alone able to
estimate that achievement perfectly, but they are not likely to
expatiate on it, and the fleshless mountain-track repudiates the
hoof-prints that could tell of scramble and struggle.

Outside the shanty, when we stepped into the open air, we found most of
Wales, clad in the chilly, opaline tints of morning, waiting in
complacent silence for the inevitable burst of admiration. On three
sides of it was a hazy shimmer, a misty sparkle, betraying the
environing sea, from the river Dee to the Bay of Cardigan, and close
about us were the grey spines and huge slants of the Snowdon range.
George Herbert, with a fine discrimination, has said--

    “Praise the sea, but stay on shore.”

And in respectful adaption of this counsel, we would say to those who
ascend heights for the sake of the view, that a mountain, in shape, in
colour, in sentiment, in every possible aspect, is more praiseworthy
from its base than from its summit. Moreover, as to the view itself, it
seems to us that a beautiful view is not a mere matter of miles seen
from a great height. The world was obviously made to be regarded _en
profile_, and not to be stared at, flat-faced, from above; and the view
from the top of Snowdon impresses the imagination rather than the sense
of beauty. To look across the tiny hedgerow and homestead anatomy of
the nearer counties, away to England in the distant haze, was to taste
suddenly the core of many trite sayings about human effort and
insignificance, and in spite of triteness the great expanse, sown with
silent life, was wonderful beyond the symmetry of mountain-peaks.

Many things were revealed to us on the way down that had been withheld
by the mist and twilight of the ascent. Ravines into whose purple
shadows the sun had not yet looked--green valleys, with little lakes
lurking in them--white paths straggling away to every point of the
compass--and pre-eminent and ubiquitous, the soda-water bottle, the
sandwich-paper, and the orange-peel. It was still October when we
started, but now as we scrambled, slid, and ran with brief,
unintentional abandonment down the path, we were travelling back along
the gamut of the months. By the time we had arrived at the first
halting-place of the night before, our own temperatures had touched a
point that made us independent of climate; but though we were hardly in
a condition to appreciate the balm of mid-June that was coming up from
the pastures, we could not wish it to be chilled.

Striding up the lower fields, with an ardour that we recognised
compassionately as having once been ours, were two tourists, a
middle-aged gentleman and his daughter. They paused as they met us, to
unburden themselves of a kindly platitude or two about the weather; and
it is still on Miss O’Flannigan’s conscience that she gave these
harmless wayfarers careful particulars as to Griffith Roberts’s short
cut, and received their gratitude without compunction.

Shortly after this incident it was that we met the postmaster of Rhyddu
communing alone with nature--a very noble-looking person, in a costume
modelled upon that of the most sumptuous tourist. Considering how far we
were from the ideal female of the species, he treated us with unexpected
affability, even giving himself the trouble of accompanying us back to
the village, favouring us meanwhile with his political opinions, his
low opinion of the Irish race--legitimately founded on a large
experience of intoxicated hay-makers--and other details. He afterwards
sold us letter-cards at a fancy price suggested by ourselves: the
problem of the price of seven, if nine cost tenpence halfpenny, or some
similar sum, being beyond the grasp of the human intellect.

[Illustration: “_A costume modelled on that of the most sumptuous

It was 10.30 when we reached the Quellyn Arms, and while the sympathetic
Miss Jones prepared cans of hot water and breakfast, we visited the
orphaned Tommies. The Quellyn Arms does not profess to stable horses,
therefore it cannot be regarded as an unkindness if we mention that the
Tommies were housed in what seemed to be a lumber-room. Broken things
that might have been beds, washing-mangles, or turnip-cutters, choked
the entrance. One saddle was perched on a bedpost, like a bonnet on a
stand in a shop-window, the other lay on the ground, and behind the heap
glowered the indignant faces of the Tommies. Both had pulled their heads
out of their halters, and, in default of other food, were tearing the
stuffing out of an ancient palliasse. In the boxes that served as
mangers were a few nettles and stalks of mint, sole remnants of some
strange repast which must have borne about the same relation to hay that
curry does to boiled mutton. The hotel cook strolled into the stable
while we were there; it seemed she had been hay-making during a pause in
the duties of the cuisine--a fact that recurred to us when subsequently
the flavour of the hay-fields was perceptible in that of the tea.

[Illustration: _The cook at Rhyddu._]

She kindly permitted us to fill the mangers of the Tommies from her
private hoard of poultry corn, and it was on this occasion that we
realised their relation to us was that of rather alarmed nephews towards
severe but conscientious aunts. There was good feeling on both sides,
there was even a little affection, but the auntly element was


The people of Rhyddu were unanimous on one point. They united with
enthusiasm to assure us that there was a short cut to Llanberis, that
the same was easy, and also that it was advantageous. At this stage of
our investigations, however, a piano-organ with a monkey absorbed the
attention which, till then, had been lavished upon us and the
Tommies--and we left Rhyddu with nothing better to guide us than an
impression of hands waving vaguely towards a spur of Snowdon, and some
sense of the vital importance of a certain lane by a farmhouse.

In the course of two miles we attempted three lanes, and found they all
ended alike at a barking dog and a closed door; finally, we addressed
ourselves to a pair of shears, which, moved by unseen hands at the
inner side of a hedge, was clapping its jaws malevolently among the
topmost privet sprouts. There was a small hotel at the other side of the
road, and neither lane nor farmhouse was in sight; but a voice from
behind the hedge informed us in unusually fluent English that the short
cut to Llanberis started precisely from the yard of the hotel. The yard
was deserted, but some semblance of a track wandered from it, and we
surrendered ourselves to it. It met with an early death at the gateway
of a large, steep field, unpleasantly filled with cattle and young
horses, and we were on the point of turning back to insult the man with
the shears, when a cow in our vicinity lay down to ruminate, and
disclosed a fat, yellow-haired boy who had been standing behind her. To
him the stimulating copper was at once administered, and under his
guidance we pursued an imperceptible path through the cattle up to the
hill, with a confidence not shared by the Tommies, who were, indeed, but
moderate mountaineers.

At the next field the boy paused, seeming to consider that we had had
our pennyworth; further moneys at intervals impelled him upwards to the
highest limits of the pasture-land; but there, unmoved even by the sight
of sixpence, he left us, with the information that when we had gone as
high as we could, we should--if we did not lose our way--find a gate,
and from that gate a good road would take us to Llanberis. The
instructions had a pleasing simplicity, and, if applied to a tree or a
pyramid, would have been easily followed. The Snowdon range, however,
offers a large selection of highest points, and of these we naturally
chose the lowest and nearest. The Tommies crept like beetles athwart the
slant of the hill, and we, our feelings of humanity somewhat blunted by
the exertions of the morning, sat upon their backs, and saw momently a
little more of their persons in front of us, as the saddles receded
towards their tails.

The hill was above us in heather on our left, below us in steep pasture
on the right, and the Tommies were digging their hoofs into a slanting
ledge between the two. We ascended slowly, clinging to the ponies’
manes, I in advance of Miss O’Flannigan, who was in one of her most
conversational moods, and demanded my frequent appreciation of the
landscape with an enthusiasm that seemed to me ill-timed. Each time I so
much as turned my head, the saddle and the hold-all turned
sympathetically with me, and I was in the act of ignoring an appeal to
my æsthetic feelings when Miss O’Flannigan’s voice ceased abruptly. This
was so unusual an occurrence that I took a fresh handful of the mane and
looked round. Miss O’Flannigan was standing on her head on the off-side
of her pony, on whose back nothing was now visible except the girths,
while beneath his body hung the hold-all. What it was that formed the
link between him and Miss O’Flannigan was not apparent, but as he was
eating grass with unshaken calm it was not a matter of vital importance.

Before I had dismounted and reached the scene of the disaster Miss
O’Flannigan was free: she had, in fact, rolled over the edge of the
ledge into a clump of heather, and was emerging from it, hatless, and
in a state of the highest indignation. There is an unconscious,
undesired picturesqueness about a person whose hair has come down, and I
did not altogether refrain from mentioning this to Miss O’Flannigan, but
she had lost her interest in the picturesque. The Tommies, fortunately,
viewed the affair from one aspect only--that of a heaven-bestowed
interval for food; and during the arduous processes of re-saddling and
of binding the hold-alls, like burnt-offerings, to the horns of the
saddles (for we had determined upon walking till we reached the top of
the hill), they did not give us a moment’s anxiety.

No eyes but those of the aghast, black-faced sheep and the coldly
interested carrion-crows witnessed the occurrence, or the subsequent
procession upwards, over slippery grass and through the boundless
quagmires caused by a stream that seemed newly spilled on the face of
the hill, and was still wandering in search of a bed. The hut on the top
of Snowdon was visible--an angular atom, retaining even, as a
silhouette of the eighth of an inch square, its air of _gamin_
self-sufficiency and adequacy for its position of overseer to England
and Wales. With the aid of field-glasses, it and its inmates might have
come to the conclusion that two aproned and gaitered Deans of the Church
of England were leading a pair of heavy-laden sumpter-palfreys over the
pass to Llanberis, or might eventually have made the discovery that the
most simple manner of adapting a riding-habit to mountain walks is not
necessarily the most graceful.

From our private point of view it seemed many times that we had gone as
high as was possible before we found the gate that was to compose all
difficulties. It linked two long strips of grey wall that had striven
towards each other from afar, down mountain flanks and up from boggy
valleys, like two lives fated to meet and overcoming circumstance. Their
juncture was, as the boy had truly said, on the highest point of the
hill; and leaning breathless on the gate, while the

[Illustration: _The ascent of the Deans._]

Tommies tore at the wiry little rushes which grew all about, we looked
down a deep, empty valley to open country with the glint of water and
the smoke of villages. A track of two feet wide sprang from the farther
side of the gate and drew

[Illustration: “_Two or three startled, audacious pony faces peering
round a pile of boulders._”]

a steady line along the naked, green face of the valley, outlining the
buxom curves like a string course with an encouraging downward tendency
in it. Gingerly we trod it, each with an excessively awkward and
all-dubious Tommy in tow--while the slope below, on the right hand,
became a great deal steeper than was pleasant to look at, and that
above, on the left, so pronounced as to preclude the possibility of
walking on it. Emerging from a shallow scoop in the face of the hill,
and paying more heed to my steps than to my surroundings, I felt the
steady drag of the elder Thomas upon the reins become a violent
full-stop, and was suddenly aware of two or three startled, audacious
pony faces peering round a pile of boulders at the turn of the path.
They were gone with a whisk of forelocks and a rattle of loosened
stones; and having in some measure reassured the deeply scandalised
Tommies, we proceeded, not without some inward speculation as to what
would happen to them, and to us, if these sylvan cousins of theirs were
to come avalanching round the corner upon us in an unfortunate burst of
family feeling. A few steps took us round the sharp bend of the hill,
and we came face to face with the foe--a dozen tiny ponies, standing in
dramatic attitudes of expectancy, with heads high in the air, and wide
nostrils spread to the scent of danger. For an instant their wild eyes
devoured us and their brethren of the captivity, and then Miss
O’Flannigan obeyed her Keltic instincts, and stooped to pick up a stone.
At that world-comprehended and world-respected signal they turned all at
once, as if blown by a wind, and floated down the green valley-side,
whose steepness we had scarcely cared to look at, with heads up, manes
and tails streaming, and shoeless hoofs flicking the turf in bounds that
seemed headlong, yet never went beyond control. In the bottom of the
valley they swung to the right with the incredible oneness of a flock of
birds, and halting, looked up to us and neighed defiance. The Tommies
hurried on without comment.

Shortly afterwards the rain began,--diffidently, as if it had forgotten
how, but the low bosom of the grey sky was laid against the hills, and
the undisciplined drops did not long want for reinforcement. The
salmon-coloured Dolgelly parasol made but a dismal _début_ under these
auspices, and glowed with a more and more sullen flush as the rain
soaked through it and dropped in dirty pink tears from its spikes.
Between the tears I saw little except the endless downward progress of
the path and unprepossessing glimpses of landscape blind with rain. We
mounted the Tommies and scrambled by many stony descents and wet fields
to lower levels; a thin cascade glanced over the black lip of a ravine
and dropped delicately with slanting leaps down a hundred feet or more;
wet roofs appeared below us, then a public road, public-houses, public
conveyances, and an intelligent public interest in us and the Dolgelly
parasol. The conclusion that we were a circus, or some part of one, was
immediately and loudly announced by the infant population; and a vivid
representation on a poster of a young lady hovering in pink tights above
the foaming manes of six white horses, explained that the infant mind
had lately been educated in such matters.

That we should have fortuitously selected the Snowdon Valley Hotel from
among the many others of the long street was, in this connection, a
singular instance of hypnotic suggestion. As we turned towards the
coffee-room, the landlady, after a moment obviously spent in comparing
us with the poster, made up her mind to give us the benefit of the

“Perhaps you would rather step to the drawing-room,” she said,
hesitatingly; and while she spoke the chorus of “The Man that broke the
Bank at Monte Carlo” broke forth from the hilarious conversation in the
coffee-room, “we have the--a--the circus ladies and gentlemen in


A dull roar vibrated through my dreams at some unknown hour of the next
morning, and with such faculties as were not absorbed by the feat of
sliding head-first down Snowdon on a telegraph wire, I set it down as
being a manifestation of the circus ladies and gentlemen. Later on I
realised that the circus ladies and gentlemen did not manifest
themselves to any appreciable extent before luncheon-time; and while we
sat at a lonely breakfast in the coffee-room, and inhaled through an
open window the rainy wind that was preferable to the prisoned aroma
suggestive of “a wet night,” the vibrating roar fell at intervals into
our moody silence. Between the gables of temperance hotels, and through
the cold drifts of rain, the sheer face of a mountain gleamed black as
ink, checkered with angular scars, carved and sliced into precipitous
terraces, ridden of blaspheming steam-engines that vaunted over its
defeat with their white plumes of vapour. Occasionally a darkly
glittering avalanche of slate-rubbish shot downwards into the lake
below, the mountain groaned as its dead went hurtling to their burial,
and the sullen protest shook the air. Llanberis seems indifferent to the
fact that the principal feature in its scenery is being transferred in
slices to the roofs of other people’s houses, and in helter-skelter tons
to the bottom of its lake: perhaps it is helpless, and if so we offer it

As has been insinuated, it was a wet day, and for some time I feared
that my influence over Miss O’Flannigan was not sufficient to dissuade
her from purchasing a species of pall, made of black painted canvas, and
worn as a cape by “the common quarrymen,” as she was coldly told by the
lady behind the counter. The further information, however, that its
price was seven and elevenpence, caused her to lay it longingly down
and ask for an umbrella--“A very bad umbrella,” she explained; “the
worst kind you have got----”

Economy is a virtue that the Welsh do not encourage in the alien. The
shopwoman did not for some time permit herself to believe that what Miss
O’Flannigan desired was primarily cheapness, and secondarily extent, and
not silver chains, and ouches, and greyhounds’ heads carved in the
purest bone. Like many another of her race and calling, she was fated to
find us commercial disappointments of the most ignoble kind, and forth,
with whatever reluctance, came eventually the lustrous alpaca, the
gingham that even in youth looks grey and stout, the massive black
handle, the gluey fragrance. A subordinate in goloshes, worn over white
stockings, brought them in relays from some remote parts of the
house,--some apparently from a period of hibernating in a feather-bed,
judging by the fragments of down that adhered both to them and to their
bearer. With the largest of the ginghams, at one-and-nine, with two red
comforters, such as are worn by virtuous woodmen in coloured almanacs,
and with a bag of biscuits (bought at the opposite counter), we retired
into the rain through a doorway garnished with alarming sacrifices in
flannelettes and elastic-sided boots, and hardened our hearts for the

[Illustration: “We retired into the rain.”]

Bettwys-y-Coed was twelve miles away, or even more, as the landlady
warned us with what we hope was disinterested zeal for our welfare; but
even twelve miles in the rain seemed preferable to the ladies’
drawing-room with the photograph-books and the view into the first floor
above the opposite shop, where the hat-trimming department, unoccupied
as ourselves, sat conversationally in the windows, “nor deemed the
pastime slow.”

Draped in horse-sheets to keep the saddles dry, the Tommies presently
stood at the door; and swaddled, like cabmen, in comforters and capes,
we came forth and mounted. During the process of sorting the reins, the
umbrellas, and the tips for the two ostlers, we could not but be aware
of the guileless enjoyment of the hat department opposite, and the more
critical but equally unaffected interest of the circus ladies and
gentlemen at the window of a ground-floor sitting-room. As we unfurled
the pink parasol and the tent-like gingham and went down the street like
a pair of fungi on four legs, the chorus that broke from the
ground-floor window was acutely audible:--

    “Oo’re ye goin’ to meet, Bill?
     ’_Ave_ ye bought the street, Bill?
     Lorf?--why, I thought I should’a _died_----”

Our riding-canes were in the hold-alls, but we kicked the Tommies to a
trot and fled. The temperance hotels and the villas faded into the mist
behind, and we were alone.

In the partial shelter of a soaked sycamore the usual, the inevitable,
process of altering the girths was carried out, while the drips flopped
suddenly on our noses or the backs of our necks, with an untiring sense
of humour, and the tips to the ostlers were repented of with more than
usual fervour.

To visit the Pass of Llanberis in such weather was an act as unworthy as
calling on a stranger during a spring cleaning. Its mountains were
dressing-gowned in ragged cloud, its lake turned to a slab of slate, its
vista bleared by the cold, thick rain; but it had still a murky
nobility, and streams, long silent, cast themselves from its parapets,
and gauged with white streaks the depth of precipice and jutting crag.
Upwards in streaming gradients rose the road, along the slanting floor
of the valley--if indeed the name of valley is not too tender for that
rent in the dark heart of the mountain, with its sides strewn with
wreckage of boulders, and its black walls towering implacably,
untouched by summer. Upwards also, in exaggerated dolour, crept the
Tommies, as well aware as we that the hold-alls, in which were our
riding-canes, were following by coach. The stick of the gingham was
indeed a formidable club, but being swathed in voluminous folds of
material, a blow from it amounted to no more than a cumbrous caress, and
the application of handle, spikes, or ferrule proved equally

Bare green hills followed on Llanberis Pass. We were high among them in
a strong wind that sang in our teeth, and brought the hard rain slanting
against us. We looked neither before nor after, and barely spared a
sidelong eye for such things as appeared on either hand. They were not
many. The lonely inn of Pen-y-Gwrd, where a glimpse was caught of
tourists thronging in a window to snatch this sovereign incident of a
day that might otherwise have ended in a strait-waist-coat; a herd of
pony-mothers with their foals; a plover wheeling and whistling in the
belief that she was leading astray our search for her nest; then Capel
Curig, a scattered village, lying pleasantly and beautifully on the
shoulder of a lake-filled valley. Through the windows of a big hotel we
saw luncheon lie even more beautifully, but it could not be thought of.
Six miles of mountain rain had not been thrown away upon us; our clothes
had admitted it at all possible crevices; the red comforters were
inscribing equally red stripes upon our necks with their wet, harsh
folds; the gingham looked like a widowed vulture, weeping tears of gluey
ink upon all things in its vast circumference. Better to accumulate all
possible wetness, and spread ourselves irrevocably to dry at

The road was suddenly lovely at Capel Curig, and thereafter to Bettwys.
Trees shaded it, deep glens beside it hid their rivers and waterfalls
under the locked branches of beech and oak, and the rain dropped more
kindly in the still shelter. We were on the great Holyhead and London
coach-road, along which previous generations had driven with what cheer
they might, after a day or so spent in sailing from Kingstown to
Holyhead. Many an Irish member thrilled here with inward rehearsal of
the peroration that should shake Westminster; many a grudging rebel eye
looked for the first time at the roadside life of a country whose beauty
would put Ireland on her mettle to excel, whose careful tending showed
national pride in a form which probably had not before presented itself
to the rebel mind. Patriot or undergraduate, genius or duellist, the
best that Ireland had to give swung along this road towards London to
the tune of sixteen hoofs; the people of no account stayed at home in
those days, and when genius travels nowadays, third class in the North
Wall train, it could wish that they still did so.

The spell of that older time hung unbroken on the broad road, with the
river soliloquising, deep-throated, in the ravine; the time when wind
and limb did the work in a primitive way, and every stage saw the
perfected relation of man and horse.

A swish, a whirr, the sharp sting of a bell, and two black-caped
cyclists were upon us from the opening of a by-road, like two humpbacked
monstrosities flying out of the book of Heraldry. The next thing that I
saw with any distinctness was the mud squirming through my fingers as I
clutched the surface of the road in an endeavour to get my legs clear of
the saddle; and the next, as Tommy and I rose simultaneously to our
feet, was Miss O’Flannigan and her Tom retiring to the horizon at the
rate of twenty miles an hour. The cyclists were also retiring, in the
opposite direction, at about sixty miles an hour. Had Tommy been more
practised in the art of pivoting suddenly on his hind-legs while
trotting downhill, I should probably have been following in Miss
O’Flannigan’s wake: as it was, an hysterical “slip up” had been the
result, and a final wallowing in the mire. My further impressions of the
noble old Holyhead coach-road may be summed up in the statement that its
mud is white and is mixed with size to give it adhesive quality.

[Illustration: “_I clutched the surface of the road._”]

By the time that I had emptied some of it from my gloves, and
rough-dried the saddle and Tommy with a wisp of grass, Miss O’Flannigan
had returned, minus the gingham, and with girlishly floating hair. Our
subsequent entry into Bettwys was mercifully cloaked by deluge, but it
was difficult to bear with dignity the successive eyes of a walking
party, trudging in single file away from it--the same walking party on
whom we had bestowed a scornful compassion as we met them in the airless
heat near Beddgelert. Even on such a day as this the villas and
lodging-houses of Bettwys could look nothing else but flawlessly clean
and smart, with their clear grey-stone walls and white-frilled window
curtains. Between them and the speeding river (whose bridge and island
were, even at a glance, familiar as the mainstay of many water-colour
exhibitions) we huddled in downpour to the hotel of our choice; not the
Royal Oak, with its legion of waiters and its private road to the
railway station, but to the more sympathetic Glan Aber, where the
windows were innocent of the rain-bound tourist lady, and the hall
unhaunted of her husband.

In half an hour a great part of the sopping bulk that had paused,
dripping, in the hall while the landlady decided to take a trade risk
and admit it as guests, had been transferred to the kitchen in armfuls,
to the laundress in yet further armfuls, and what remained (in my case)
was in bed, drinking hot tea that was yellow with cream. The remnant of
Miss O’Flannigan was draped with gloomy grace in plaid-shawls of
Dissenting Chapel odour, lent, to the best of our remembrance, by the
chambermaid’s mother.

“Not by appointment do we meet delight and joy, They heed not our
expectancy----” And so also not by appointment do we meet the ideal
chambermaid--unless, indeed, we are fortunate enough to be her young
man--but we met her that afternoon at the Glan Aber Hotel, and hope some
day to do it again.

It was late that evening before the hold-alls arrived from Llanberis,
and therefore our toilettes for _table-d’hôte_ were, as the fashion
articles say, dainty confections, composed of a damp habit-skirt, a
mackintosh, shirts hot from the hotel laundry, and the severest of the
plaid-shawls. It is scarcely to be wondered at that the sole other
occupant of the hotel, a godly young amateur photographer, should have
awaited us somewhat nervously as we swept through the long room towards
a table laid for three, and should have carved the soup and fish with a
trembling hand. With the chicken, however, the photographer had almost
ceased to look round for our keeper, and a conversation about Thornton
Pickard shutters and time-exposures was beginning to thrive at the hands
of Miss O’Flannigan, who affects some acquaintance with these things.
The evening finished with all the domesticity imparted by a fire in the
drawing-room and a display of negatives, Kodaks, shoulder-straps, and
other ingredients of a photographic walking tour. We felt that we were a
godsend to this good and lonely youth, and parted from him with every
hope that on the morrow he would ask to be permitted the privilege of
photographing the Tommies and the expedition generally. It was therefore
crushing to find on the morrow that he had unexpectedly fled at
daybreak, with all his worldly possessions. He did not know it, but he
was obeying the decree that, Claudian-like, we should blight the
fortunes of every hotel we stayed at, and reign in malign monopoly of
coffee-room and _table-d’hôte_.


Hitherto farewell had been slightly said, with a few backward looks of
good feeling, a few civil wishes for an indefinite return. But at
Bettwys, for the first time, and perhaps also because it was--of this
vagrant expedition--so near the last, parting gave pain. Turning on the
face of a hill we looked back over the valley and across the flitting
showers to the peaks of Snowdon and Moel Siabod, a retrospect to be
remembered and thirstily to be desired in other summers. Darkly and
greenly the woods sank into every cleft, or rose with the piled-up
landscape till the cold breast of Snowdon was half hidden behind them. A
river, whose name is quite immaterial, plunged uproariously down to the
five crooked arches of Pont-y-Pair bridge in Bettwys, then, finding
itself suddenly in good society, pulled itself together and swam tense
and flat round a curve to present itself decorously to what I think we
are safe in asserting to be the river Conway. It was true that half-pay
generals and forlorn honeymoon couples haunted the bridge and hung round
the post-office, that “well-appointed conveyances” were daily braying
forth with horns the multitudinous entry of the tourist, also that the
glass was falling; none the less we should thankfully have turned the
Tommies down the hill again and remained without purpose or limit at
Bettwys. Then, indeed, might many periods have been instructively framed
around the names of the Miner’s Bridge, the Swallow Falls, and
Dolwyddelan Castle, all of which the guide-book assured us with chaste
esteem were “well worthy of a visit.” All that now remained was to turn
away from the parapet of the wooded precipice, from whose edge we were
looking back, and pace lingering forth towards Corwen.

[Illustration: “_The parapet of the wooded precipice, from whose edge we
were looking back._”]

A stertorous sound began presently to be distinguishable from the hoarse
note of rushing water in the deep places of the glen: then followed a
tremor of the ground, lastly a traction-engine, advancing upon us like
Behemoth throned on mill-wheels, opulent of smoke, with a clanging
retinue of trucks. I felt in anticipation the mud ooze again through the
seams of my gloves, as it had oozed last night, but the gate of a villa
was suddenly and miraculously raised up on our left hand. Miss
O’Flannigan was off, and had opened one-half with a celerity which
suggested long practice in the hunting-field, and we burst through into
the shadow of tall evergreens, tearing out a hold-all buckle in an
encounter with the gate-post. We were startlingly confronted inside by
an old lady in a mushroom hat, carrying a spud and garden-basket, and
wearing an expression of complete and unaffected amazement, which,
considering all things, and especially the fact that Miss O’Flannigan
and I had fallen into maniac laughter, was a pardonable lapse of good
breeding. Pointing to the traction-engine, we endeavoured to explain
ourselves; but the chilly calm with which the Tommies regarded it, as it
lumbered past the gate, was so painfully at variance with our
representations, that it seemed better to retire, waving hysterical
apologies. The old lady stirred neither hand nor foot throughout the
occurrence, and for all we know may have been a rustic detail added, in
wax, by a proprietor of a realistic turn.

After this the road was quiet in the balmy quietness of summer, that is
so living a thing compared with the soulless grip of the air in winter
silences. By the dignified gradients of the coach-road we mounted slowly
through woods and glens, and then, with no less dignity and almost equal
slowness, downwards into open country, clear and kindly, with pasture,
and level roads, and a wide eastward horizon melting into blue. Behind
us the Snowdon range stood mightily on the high pedestal of
Carnarvonshire: it had never showed itself so great as now, viewed from
these Denbigh meadow-lands, while we rode to the east, with faces
turning always back to the splendid barrier across the west. It was a
lonely road, with scarcely a mark to ruffle its white dust except the
ribbed footprint of the traction-engine, that stretched like an
illimitable ladder in front of us. We met no one save two tramps who
eyed us curiously, as members of the fraternity who ought to be able to
impart useful facts about the temper of the nearest farmer’s wife, or
the quality of the skilly at the Llanberis workhouse; a little farther
on, on a long reach of road, quite remote, as it seemed, from human
habitation, we met three tall women, dressed alike in widows’ weeds, and
each pressing a pocket-handkerchief with a wide black border to the
point of a pink nose. Their eyes turned at us above these emblems of woe
with something of interest, but they did not pause, and went on, three
black blots on the white road between the glowing hedgerows; and we
marvelled if some Welsh Mormon elder had lived and died, unknown, but
obviously lamented, in these sunny solitudes.

[Illustration: “_Three tall women, dressed alike in widows’ weeds._”]

Pentre Voelas and Cernioge came in their turn, with mild episode of
farmhouse and wayside inn, and manifold iterance of Rehoboths and
Salems. Cernioge, as we discovered in the buying of a post-card, is
pronounced Kernoggy. This eccentricity was, so far as we could see, its
sole claim to distinction. From the first the Tommies had established a
rule to demand nourishment at every inn they passed, and after twelve
miles studded with--for them--disappointments, we yielded to their
importunities, and paused at the glowing sign of the Saracen’s Head,

In the best parlour sat in perfect silence a tradesman and his wife,
middle-aged, serious, and too entirely respectable to be aware that they
were bored almost to madness. They were out on their holiday, therefore
they were enjoying themselves--and therefore the tradesman read a
month-old copy of the ‘Cyclist,’ and his wife studied the ‘Farmers’
Gazette,’ and both eyed us with ravenous, but decently furtive,
interest. For half an hour we and our safety-skirts were vouchsafed to
them, while the familiar tea, with home-made gooseberry-jam and salt
butter, was vouchsafed to us; and then the Tommies, having polished
their mangers with their usual precision, were led forth again.

It was not a good ten miles that we rode from there to Corwen, except in
the sense of good, full, statute measure. Disaster fell upon us like a
net, tangling our endeavours with inexhaustible mesh. A “dee” of my
saddle broke; consequently I had to carry the hold-all across my lap,
like a baby of monstrous size and implacable pig-headedness. Tom the
elder developed a new and much enlarged edition of his ancient
girth-gall, and in the attempt to cope with this by re-saddling, a
cushion of swelling was disclosed along his back. Miss O’Flannigan then
said she would lead him the rest of the way, and did so, until the next
milestone announced that it was four miles to Corwen, which at once
degraded the project from the sublime to the ridiculous. Not all the
Humane Society, in one throbbing merciful mass, could be absurd enough
to expect any one to walk four miles in a riding-habit, and cloth
gaiters, and the dog-days.

The cool of the evening was upon us before we at length sighted Corwen
across the pastures, and a pale after-glow, pale as the points of
gaslight that were starting up about the railway station, gleamed on the
long curve of the river Dee as we crawled across the bridge outside the
town. Corwen is a dingy, mean town, in spite of the wooded cliff at its
back, and the river at its foot, and the river meadows with their
tranquil sweetness; but on that Saturday night neither we nor the
Tommies complained of its dinginess. It had a chemist, who kept sulphate
of zinc and iodoform, and lead lotion, with which to anoint the invalid;
and it had a sedate and venerable hotel, the Owen Glendwr, in which
instantly to go to bed. Having risen thus to the occasion, Corwen may be
assured that it has not lived in vain.

Carriages, with Sunday bonnets in them, began to pass next morning,
while yet we were taking in the delicate antique absurdity of the pair
of spinets in the drawing-room, the charms of the brass finger-plates
and door-handles, the impressiveness of the low-ceiled, spotless
kitchen, with the vast fireplace, and all the strong and sound old age
of a house that has been a notable inn since the fifteenth century.
Finding that the church was immediately behind the hotel, and,
furthermore, that the service was in Welsh, we lingered a little in the
tour of brew-house and still-room, until the Venite, clear and
harmonious, came across the graves to the wide kitchen window that
leaned its sill on the churchyard grass.

Presently, when seated in the porch of the church itself, we heard again
the rich accord of Welsh voices, with all their grave and fearless
certainty, their peasant simplicity, their unblemished nationality.
Would that many Irish and English congregations, shrieking in hideous
rivalry half a bar behind the organ, could comprehend the reticence of
strength, the indwelling instinct of time, and the sense of harmony,
manifested at a Welsh country service, where the children lisp in altos,
and the farm-hand and the butcher’s boy add their tenor or bass with
modest assurance. The preacher’s voice was a fine one, and rung and
swung in that strange metrical wail of Welsh that we had heard before in
the church of Mallwydd, but it lacked something of the melancholy
passion given to that first voice by the touch of age in the tone, the
inference of sadness and misgiving. Owen Glendwr had a pew in this very
church; probably was churchwarden, and sanctified while he indulged his
predatory instincts by going round with the plate. There seemed
something significant in the fact that his dagger is carved on a stone
just outside the church: did he, we wondered, employ it as a discourager
of threepenny-bits and a stimulator to half-crowns. At all events, he is
now the next thing to a saint in Corwen, and his works any inhabitant
can tell with chapter and verse in a manner which it is not our
intention to vie with.

Among other chief tenets of Corwen morality is the necessity of seeing
Llangollen. We had, indeed, been ourselves something fired by quotations
from Wordsworth and other competent judges in the guide-book, and
yielding to the serious representations of the landlady on the subject,
we ordered a small trap in which we might thither drive ourselves and
the drab Tommy. As we sat in the embrasure of the coffee-room window,
waiting for the entrapped Tommy, we perceived a vehicle resembling a
mammoth governess-cart at the hotel door, with an old man, dressed in
what we had learned to regard as the height of Welsh religious fashion,
standing by it. His beard was long and white, his face was cross, with a
crossness that momentarily deepened as he glanced at the hotel. We
studied him with the refined observation of idleness.

“An Arch-Druid, evoluted into an elder of the straitest of the
Rehoboths,” remarked Miss O’Flannigan, easily; “his wives and daughters
had better not keep him waiting much longer, there is the flame of human
sacrifice in his eye, pleasantly blended with the confidence of their

At this juncture, Ellen, the coffee-room-maid, came into the room.

“If you please, ladies, the driver is waiting, and wants to know when
you will be ready.”

So we were his wives and daughters! We went forth anxiously to accept
the situation, too depressed even to wrangle as to which was which.

That no trap was available for Tommy was, in some abstruse way, known
to Ellen and explained by her at some length, the result of the day
being Sunday, as was also the attendance of the Arch-Druid. We ventured
a suggestion that we should forego the latter privilege and ourselves
drive the stolid black mare, whose massive beam barely filled the
shafts; but, with a contempt apparently too deep for words, the
Arch-Druid mounted to the prow of the governess-cart as to a pulpit,
and, manipulating the mouth of the black mare with the ceaseless,
circular action of a hurdy-gurdy grinder, started at a round pace for

It was a nine-mile drive, and by the time the eighth milestone had been
passed, we began to look for some startling development of the calmly
pretty valley of the Dee, along which we had driven. Large, but by no
means stupendous, hills swelled prosperous and green on either side of
it, pine-woods thatched them warmly and liberally, the Dee was
irreproachably devious in its advance and charming in its manners, but
no climax was arrived at, nor yet was contrast lying in wait. If the
poets had spared it their fine speeches, and their compliments fledged
with suave metre, Llangollen could be appraised with a fresher eye and
admired to the utmost of its mild deserving without antagonism and
without disappointment. Also, if it is seen on the way into Wales
instead of on the way out of it, it will occupy with fitting distinction
its place in the crescendo of Welsh scenery, undiscounted by the coming
fortissimo: to be one of the last notes in a diminuendo is quite a
different thing.

Probably it was the two unparalleled persons known as the Ladies of
Llangollen who did most for its fame. They ran away from their Irish
homes to go and live there, which in itself, from our point of view,
suggests eccentricity. Perhaps it was in lifelong penance for this act
that ever after they wore riding-habits, summer and winter, indoors and
out. After a fortnight spent in riding-habits we could appreciate such
an expiation, even though the equipment we had dedicated to the Tommies
did not include powdered hair and cartwheel felt hats. Pardonable
curiosity might well have caused any traveller by the Holyhead coach who
could scrape up an introduction to climb the hill to Plas Newydd; but it
was not upon curiosity alone that the ladies relied for society. They
had the agreeability that could at will turn the sightseer into an
acquaintance, the means to weld with good dinners such acquaintanceships
into permanence; and æsthetic taste, the best part of a century ahead of
their time, that taught them to frame the grotesque romance of their
lives and appearance in antique and splendid surroundings--the leisurely
collection of many years--till the poets and other people of distinction
turned, somewhat dazed, from the marvels of silver and brass and carved
oak, and, looking over the pleasant vale of Llangollen from windows set
deep in wood-carving, pronounced it to be unique.

The sun was very hot that afternoon as we climbed on foot the steep hill
up to Plas Newydd, and it was difficult to receive with _sangfroid_,
either moral or physical, the intelligence that visitors were not
admitted on Sunday. All that remained was to sit exhausted on the grass,
and stare with amazement at the lacework of black carved wood spread
upon the white walls. Not a nook without a satyr head or a writhing
animal, not a doorway without its bossy pent-house, not a window without
its special pattern of lattice panes, each representing a special
acquisition, and doubtless a vast wear and tear of riding-habit. Their
work is respected, and the plain two-storey house still holds like a
casket the treasures of their finding, and stands, crusted with
ornament, as freshly white and black as when the ladies took tea in
their porch with Wordsworth or Sir Walter Scott. We hung about the small
pleasure-grounds for a little, among antique stone fonts and sundials,
and tried to find it pleasant; but the exasperation induced by a narrow
vision of strange and lovely things, half seen through a lancet-window,
would not be denied, and we presently went sulkily back to the Grapes
Hotel. The Arch-Druid was awaiting us: we saw from afar his white beard,
throned high in the governess-cart, and felt its reproof and
suitability for pulpit denunciation; his cough asserted his wrongs
indignantly outside, during an otherwise unalloyed tea in the Grapes
drawing-room; and his thoughts were, it was easy to suppose, back in the
brave old Druidic days, when he would have driven forth to meet the
tourist with scythes shining on the splinter-bar of the governess-cart,
and discouraged his vicious trifling by utilising him as a

He found, however, a poor nineteenth-century revenge in obliging the
black mare to consume, at our expense, three feeds of corn. Such, at
least, was the astonishing item in the bill; and, in a temporary lapse
from the austerity of the sacerdotal mood, he stooped to a refection
that called itself tea, and, judging by its price, must have been of
considerable extent.


With the alien literature of the Visitors’ Book, Wales is endowed beyond
all countries known to us. Here, more than elsewhere, does the
Birmingham tourist, hitherto mute and inglorious, become sensible of
inspiration, and enter deliriously into poesy; here the funny man
scintillates with inveterate brilliancy, and the conscientious churn
forth adulation of scenery or cook, with solemn and almost death-bed

The funny man is, as might be expected, widely prevalent--he is, indeed,
inexhaustible; and having achieved immortality by his own personal
entry, gambols at large through the thumbed pages, and bestows it upon
the signatures of the less gifted by lavish and sparkling comment. We
find him figuring as “Claud Hugo on the booze.” “T’other man playing
the giddy bug.” Or as “Mr and Mrs Augustus Thompson on _treaclemoon_.”
We cannot lay claim to the italics; they emanate from the funny man, and
partake of his inveteracy. We traced him through Wales in a variety of
titles, almost classable as the Visitors’ Book Peerage--as, for
instance, Lord Llanberis, Lord Shag, Duke of Seven Dials, Lord Watkins,
Earl of Bird, Queen of Table Waters. He warned us, in an eruption of
notes of exclamation, to “beware of potass and sodas in Wales,” and was
himself eclipsed by an inspired commentator, who added in pencil, “and
every other ass.”

The breezy and hardy athlete, also largely represented, partakes of the
nature of the funny man, but has a liver unfitted for cynicism. He is
usually replete with the glory of his miles per diem, and can only spare
breath for a robust epigram, such as “The breakfast we eat here this
morning will live in our remembrance.” (Note by funny man) “And the

But it is to conscientious encomium that the Visitors’ Book is indebted
for its chiefest adornments and its most varied types, though of these
it is possible only to cite the more salient. There is the encomium
which, though conscientious towards the landlady, sets forth with an
equal sense of justice the classical acquirements of the writer. It is a
large class, but one example will suffice:--

“The Inn had in mind by he who wrote, ‘shall I not take mine ease in
mine inn?’”

There is the pathetic yet faithful encomium: “The above” (a list of
names not as yet of historical interest), “during a week of hard and
anxious literary work, felt quite at home here, thanks to the kindness
of Mrs Jones and the untiring attention of Ellen in the coffee-room.”
Even the funny man has respected this tribute to female devotion--but in
what did Ellen’s attention consist? Did she, blending in her own person
the hero-worship of Desdemona and the more solid abnegations of
Molière’s cook, sit as audience, even as critic, to the achievements of
that hard and anxious week? Or, accepting the eulogy in a simpler sense,
did she feed the party hourly from an egg-spoon? We know that she
enhanced the home-like effect, and the rest is silence.

The impassioned: “Lord keep my memory green.--Wellesley Robinson.”
(First commentator) “Whoever is this fellow?” (Second do.) “God knows.”

The serious and almost religious:--

    “With plenty here the board is spread,
     And, e’er our onward path we tread,
     We feed from the’ abundant store
     And sound it’s praises more and more.”

The influence of Tate and Brady is evident from the mechanical addition
of the apostrophe after “the,” which is reproduced in its integrity, in
common with all expression marks and feats of English grammar throughout
the collection.

The excessively gentle yet condescending: “J. Brown. I am pleased with
Cambria’s lovely vales.”

The aristocratic but scarcely grammatical: “Lord and Lady D---- for
lunch. Very nice.”

With these panegyrics we have not been moved to compete. Not even the
glistening dawn of our last day in Wales prevailed, with its silent
greeting, to make us emulate J. Brown or Wellesley Robinson in their
valedictory “appreciations.” In vows and protestations let us rather
play Cordelia to their Goneril and Regan, reserving ourselves for that
possible future when Wales, repudiated of its Wellesley Robinsons,
forsaken as Lear, shall clamour for our support. Till then, let the name
of O’Flannigan and that other allied with it, achieve in the Visitors’
Book the distinction of beauty unadorned and verdict unvouchsafed.

If the truth must be told, the dawn that heralded our exit from Wales
suggested little to the eyes that turned away from it into the profound
sleep that heralds the hot water, and that little was exclusively
connected with horse-boxes. Tommy the elder, though much recovered of
the girth-gall, was very far from being fit for a saddle, therefore the
idea of a sensational finish on horseback at the central lamp-post in
Welshpool had been abandoned, and the Tommies were to be returned to the
ironmonger and the chemist in the ordinary course of rail _viâ_ Ruabon.
We were sentimentally anxious to maintain as long as possible our auntly
relation with them, even to the extent of travelling in the horse-box,
and holding their hands and giving them sal volatile in the
tunnels--this being, to the best of our belief, their first experience
of travelling otherwise than on their own legs. The confidence inspired
by human companionship would of course make everything easy;
nevertheless, when at the station we saw their special carriage bear
down upon us, behind an engine exuding steam at every pore and uttering
yell upon yell as it came, it seemed possible that our nephews would
require more than moral support. The engine steamed by, the doors of the
horse-box were banged open, and we each took hold of a Tommy and
prepared to lead it as if it were a forlorn hope. Perhaps the ostlers
and porters whom we waved aside were not as conscious as we presently
became that the Tommies were more than willing to enter the box, that
they were hurrying up the clattering gangway, that they were almost
ushering us into the dark interior which we had regarded with such
sympathetic alarms. The porters and ostlers laughed, but it may have
been from pure admiration. The Corwen and Ruabon Railway seems to be
accustomed to the transportation of menageries. Head-stalls that would
have held a buffalo were slipped upon the mildly aggrieved pony faces,
cables were attached to their nosebands on either side, and massive
partitions were let down between them. The Tommies were obviously a
little wounded, but beyond all other emotions they were bored.

There are more luxurious places than the slice that is stingily cut off
the end of a horse-box and apportioned to grooms. It is as third class
as a third class on the Cork and Skibbereen Railway--that is to say, it
has neither cushions nor blinds, and the brake and axle seem to
dislocate endless vertebræ in their anatomy immediately under the seat;
but it has attractions, even when shared with two side-saddles, each of
which takes as much room as three women and a basket. There is sole and
undisputed possession, and there is the tranquillity of those who look
on junctions and are never shaken, when the horse-box moves majestic
among the interwoven points to the appointed platform, whither the
purple aristocracy of the first class must toil by staircase and bridge.
There are also two loopholes opening directly into the mangers of the
horse-box, and through these, during the earlier part of the journey, we
watched with concern the whites of the Tommies’ eyes glistening in the
obscurity as they glared in vast query upon us and all things; but
beyond distended nostrils and immovably pricked ears they made no
comment on the situation.

The valley of the Dee jogged past, in accord with the bone-setting
canter of the grooms’ carriage--a landscape always pretty, never
startling, laden in the bright hot morning with the trance of June, and
with the tenderness of its unconscious farewell to us. That one-sided
foreknowledge of parting pervaded all things, and indued with romance
the two inquiring faces--one bay with a white spot, the other drab with
a white blaze--that gazed at us across the empty mangers in unwearied
expectancy of oats. At Ruabon Junction, during a long, hot interval in a
siding, we fed them with penny buns and with an armful of hay stolen by
Miss O’Flannigan from a cart that stood outside a public-house adjacent
to our siding. It was an unusual manifestation of sentiment, but it was
accepted on its merits; and the lumps of warm dough were chewed and
gulped with much fuss and detail, and the hay snatched from our hands
with a voracity that we ventured to hope was a politeness. When, at
Oswestry, the final moment came, they suffered

[Illustration: _A final salute._]

with dignity the farewell endearments of their aunts, staring through
their loopholes with complete stolidity, after the manner of
horse-flesh. Their liquid brown eyes expressed nothing beyond a desire
for more penny buns; and when Miss O’Flannigan attempted, with a good
deal of personal effort, to imprint a final salute upon her Tom’s ruddy
brown muzzle, he snorted with apprehension and withdrew to the extremest
limits of his cable. It was impossible to explain to them that we found
some difficulty in parting with them, friends but of a fortnight though
they were.

And in parting, too, from the other features of that fortnight,--from
the leisure and independence, the fatigue and inconvenience, the life
expanding unintellectually in long solitudes of open sky, after
shrivelling for three months in the merely brain activity of London.
Travelling towards Chester in the familiar monotony of a railway
carriage, the eye noted discontentedly the level glide of the window
along the landscape, and endeavoured to catch at the quiet existence of
the country roads as the train took them at a stride. The bounteous
grave stillness of the Welsh highways and mountain-fields was ours no
more; that roomy calm, whose incidents were a multiplication of peace,
must intrench itself in memory behind the dingy preoccupation of
catching a train at Chester, the crush of ugly, self-centred people, the
_blasé_ porters, the importunities of little boys with cups of strong

The climax of a variety of shocks to the rural mood was reached at
Holyhead with the discovery that our luggage, sent from Bettwys by goods
train, was not awaiting us. Whether or not to start without it was a
matter of poignant uncertainty, even of frenzy, up to the moment when
the gangway of the Kingstown boat was hauled in; while the officials did
not conceal their amusement, and the porter of the Station Hotel waited
immovable, in his red coat, foreknowing the end.

We stayed, and the Kingstown boat moved out on an oily sea into a murky
west, and the rain began to fall.


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Beggars on Horseback; A riding tour in North Wales" ***

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