Llewelyn Lloyd was a Welsh comedian more popularly known by his stage name “Digri Gwyn.” He died in 1898 just 37 years old leaving a wife and two children. But throughout his career he was extremely popular appearing on stages all over Wales and one of his most successful acts was doing sketches of Welsh characters. In the early 1890s he wrote up some of the sketches including this one entitled Peggi Annws.
My characters will be chosen from some of the pretty villages, the sleepy hollows, of Carmarthenshire – villages where the blacksmiths and the shoemakers are the accepted authorities on law and religion, and the tailor is supposed to know more of politics than the Prime Minister; quiet little nooks that seem like a glimpse of Heaven. If you are in doubt where to spend your hard-earned holidays, I can mention some delightful spots, within sound of the sea and in the midst of the most beautiful rural scenery. If the summer breeze carrying ozone from the sea and the sweet scent of new mown hay across the fields does not fill you with health and strength, pull off your coat, if you are man, and, if a lady, throw aside your sunshade and go romp with the lads and lasses, and I wager you will soon have an appetite. I almost envy you if you go to these places. I can see you in my mind’s eye, sitting down with the appetite of a ploughman to a tender chicken, or the solid home-made bread and Carmarthenshire bitter, eggs fresh from the nest, milk warm from the cow, home-grown strawberries, and the richest cream in the world. If you are fond of sketching, you will find plenty of scope to exhibit your talent with pen and pencil. You will see “bits” of picturesque castles at almost every mile, little straw-thatched cottages almost hidden by the man hued foliage of the trees, waterfalls, brooks, fairy glens, and rugged, rock promontories white with the spray of the constantly breaking waves. If you are fond of fishing the rivers are full of trout and salmon, and, if you want fun as well as sport, I warrant you will enjoy plenty of laughter in trying to catch a dog-fish, and when you have caught one I dare say you will try to persuade your friends that it is a young shark, as many have done before you.
From these little spots, thinly populated, but rich in natural beauties, I will choose for some little time my characters. Later on I will tell you something of the people I have met in Cardiff, of girls shameless in their infamy, painted, powdered, and dressed in gaudy finery bought at the price of their own honour and their parent’s broke hearts. I will not write of these now – ‘tis summer time. Let us rather hie away to the country, to the fields and the sea shore, and let me have for a little while simplicity and truth for the subjects of my sketches.
In these little villages they do not know one another by their proper surnames, but by their trade, some peculiarity of feature of their own, or some eccentricity of their near relatives. Thus, Thomas Griffiths, a blacksmith, is known as “Twm y Gôf”; John Hones, a shoemakers, as “Shon y Crydd.” “Peggi Annws’” proper name is Margaret Lewis, but I question, if you inquired for her by that name, whether you would find her. “Peggi Annws,” liberally translated, means Peggi the sister of Anne, with Peggi’s sister is known by the barbaric appellation of “Annws Peggi llyged fach” – literally “Anne Peggi little eyes,” but liberally translated, “Anne the sister of Peggi with little eyes.”
I have never seen an uglier woman than Peggi. I will try to describe her, but my words at best can only give you a very faint idea of her appearance. She was (and is, for Peggi still lives) nearly six feet in height, straight as an arrow, rather thin, but wiry and full of muscle. Her skin was the colour of parchment, and her face was covered so plentifully with wrinkles that Time passed over her, leaving not a furrow behind, for the simple reason that there was not room for the thinnest of lines. Her eyes were so small and indented that people marvelled how she could find her way about by their aid. Her utterance was almost painfully slow, and never a word had been heard to cross her lips but found its way after tedious wending from her lungs through her nose. Her favourite ejaculations were “ie, ie” (“yes, yes”), and “drian fach” (“poor little thing”) and you would hear these words repeated about twenty times during five minutes conversation. Let the topic be funerals or births, marriage or misfortune, Peggi would introduce her pet phrase “drian fach” into the subject somehow. Altogether Peggi had so many peculiarities and eccentric ideas that the villagers regarded her as an imbecile. “Soft,” I think they called her, but what particular part of her anatomy they regarded in that light I do not know, unless they referred to her heart. Her heart has always been soft to me, but then I owe my presence in the world to-day to Peggi. Many an illness has she pulled me through with her home-made physio and gentle nursing, and I believe firmly that if it not been for my careful old nurse, I would long ere this have solved the great secret, the key of which is Death.
My mother died when I was a baby. She was the only one, I believe who really understood Peggi. I have heard my old nurse say that they would sit for hours together in the gloaming planning the future of a very noisy boy baby, who chief delight at that time seemed to be sucking his thumb. My mother would not trust me to the care of anyone but Peggi, knowing that some of the faithful creature’s love for her would be transferred to the youngster. Her trust had never been betrayed. No mother could have been kinder or could love her child more dearly than my dear, soft-hearted Old Peggi has loved me, but I am afraid I have at times been an ungrateful young cub, and many times have I caused the tears to well up to the little eyes and course down the deeply furrowed cheeks.
After my mother died Peggi had sole charge of me, but she had peculiar ideas about my food, and rejected with scorn all suggestions of the “bottle,” believing, I suppose, that some of a woman’s gentle nature entered into a child’s composition through the medium of a mother’s milk. If there is truth in her belief then I have part of every woman’s nature (who happened to be mothers at that time) for many miles around my native little village, for Peggi begged each one of them to let me suckle at their breast.
Peggi’s speciality was clay ball mixing. In Carmarthenshire, especially in the remote villages, coal used to be very dear and money very scarce, so that it was necessary to be very economical with the fuel and yet enjoy the warmth of a good fire. Some unknown genius discovered that if a small quantity of culm (very small, dust-like coal) was mixed with clay it would give forth a heat as great as coal, and last much longer, with the great recommendation of being very cheap. To mix the clay and coal to the proper consistency they had no machine but engaged Peggi to dance over it. This she used to do with a will to the tune of “Hôb y derri dando,” or my screams, for I was tied up on her back Indian fashion. I have some dim recollections of awkward joltings that nearly brought my heart to my mouth, for Peggi’s dancing was not particularly graceful, and her ideas of the poetry of motion were rather hazy.
Peggi was a constant worshipper at “Y Babell,” the only chapel in the village. The congregation did not profess faith in any particular sect, but assembled to praise God with all the sincerity of their simple natures. No regular preacher was appointed. Each one of the elders got up to hold forth as the “hwyl” (fervour) seized him. Sometimes a preacher from some other chapel or a circuit would pay us a visit. They were always gladly welcomed – Methodists, Baptists, Wesleyans, it did not matter a bit what sect they professed. I am afraid the visit would not be very profitable pecuniarily to the preacher, but it was regarded a very great honour to entertain the visitor, and this honour invariably fell to my aunt’s lot, who was regarded as the wealthiest woman in the village. Great were the preparations on these occasions. The fish, flesh, fowl, and pastry were all prepared but my aunt’s health was too delicate to allow her to visit “Y Babell” when a visitor had come to preach. She, accordingly, asked Peggi to take particular note of the text, and to tell her the good points of the sermon. Here is Peggi’s report, in the shape of a dialogue:-
MY AUNT: “Well, Peggi, was the sermon a good one?”
PEGGI: “Famws, Betsy fach, famws inteet. Oh pity you not thar’, my gel, to hear ‘im, pity fawr. Do your ‘art a lot of goot if yew wass. Bettar sermon I nevar hurd. Pity yew not thar my gel, pity fawr.
MY AUNT: “What was the text?”
PEGGI: “Well, inteet, Betsy fach, not remember I do, but he was a famws preetchur. Pity fawr yew wass not thar drian fach. Famws sermon for yew, my gel.”
MY AUNT: “Well, what did he say?”
PEGGI: “Inteet, Betsy fach, not remember I do now, but a beautiful sermon it was for yew, my gel. Pity you not thar, Oh drian fach.”
MY AUNT: “Well, what did he do?”
PEGGI: “He did wave his arms like if they was windmills. His voice was like thundar. Yew would think he would split the roof of the capel, and the wai he did strike the olt pulpit ‘ood do yewar ‘art goot. Famws sermon, iss inteet; pity yew not thar, drian fach, pity fawr.”
Some time after this the idea entered Peggi’s brain that she was a very wicked sinner, and this made the poor simple soul wretched. So she determined to become a Baptist, believing that by immersion only could her misery be washed away. Three times every Sunday she walked to the nearest Baptist Chapel three miles distant. Eighteen miles is a pretty good test of sincerity, but Peggi kept it up every Sabbath. Confirmation day arrived. Peggi was arrayed in some old-fashioned dress, either borrowed or given to her by some kind-hearted sister. Her appearance almost set the congregation in a roar of laughter. The officiating preacher was either very vigorous or the dip came unexpectedly, for Peggi yelled out, “Arglwydd mawr rwf bron a boddi” (“Great Lord, I am nearly downed.”) This exclamation broke down all barriers of solemnity, and everybody, even the preacher, laughed heartily. “The way of the transgressor is hard,” said the reverend gentleman. “A mai’r fford i’r Nȇf yn ddamp iawn hefyd, syr” (“The road to Heaven is very damp, too, sir”), answered Peggi.
And now Peggi was confirmed she was considered worth to receive the sacrament. The wine cup was handed to her almost full. Instead of taking only a sip, she drained it and handed the cup empty to the amazed deacon and mistaking his look of astonishment for inquiry if she would have any more, Peggi said coolly, “Dim rhagor yn nawr yn wyr diolch yn fawr I chwi.” (“I will have no more now, indeed, thank you very much”)
Poor Peggi! She was very simple, but she was the best friend of my boyhood, and in return for her kindness I used to join the boys in all their practical jokes against her. Under the pretence of a caress I would tie a cracker to her apron, I would fill her tall, sugar-loaf hat with young frogs of mice, and I would be the first to suggest blocking the doorway of her little cottage with snow. The only reproach she would utter was “Them olt boys iss wicked, but I dident yew ‘ood be more wickeder too.”
The churchyard where my mother is buried is distant from the village about two miles. The road, or, rather lane, leading to it is wretched even in summer, but in winter it is ankle deep with mud. Yet every morning – winter or summer, hail, rain, or shine – Peggi used to carry me in her arms or I would trudge by her side to visit my mother’s grave. She would lay me tenderly at the foot, and then she would speak to the grave as though the poor clay understood her, and appreciated her fidelity. I could only hear snatches of what she said, for the accent was broken, and her voice was full of tears. “Dyma flodau i chwi, Anne fach” (“Here are flowers for you, my little Anne.” … “You are very quiet here … This old tree is an excellent shade … Your boy is growing brave and strong; I have never lifted my hand in anger against him … I have thought of you, Anne fach, and the angry words have changed to a caress … The old home down there in the valley is lonely without you.” And then with loving care and reverend air she would trim the grave, “To-morrow, Anne fach, if we are living, we will come and see you again.” She would stagger a few steps away and then return, and falling on her knees would weep as though her heart would break. I was only a boy, but such devotion would touch my heart. My arms would be around her neck, my lips would be pressed against her face, my eyes would look into hers, and I understood that somewhere behind those furrowed cheeks and little eyes there lived a soul approaching nearer to the angels in truth and devotion than any I have ever met.
Years have passed since then, but Peggi walks every morning to the grave carrying a little bunch of flowers in the summer of a roughly made wreath of evergreens in winter.
Two years ago I revisited my home after fourteen years’ absence. I tried to persuade Peggi to go with me to Llanelly, where I was “showing.” The railway is distant from my little village about four miles. Peggi had not, in fact, has not yet travelled by rail. I persuaded her to go with me to the railway station. When she saw the train approaching she repeated all the prayers she had every learnt. All my persuasions would not induce her to enter a carriage. “No, no, Llew bach,” she said; “it is not natural for carriages to go without horses. Look, look,” she cried, as the train was disappearing, “there he goes like a winki; he couldn’t go like that if the devil wasn’t pushing.” “Nonsense,” I replied; “it is driven by steam, fire, and water.” “No, no fy machgen i, not the truth that is; fire and water, indeed. Why, the water ‘ood put the fire out.” I tried to tell Peggi the little story of Watts and the tea-kettle, and how the power of steam was first discovered. Poor Peggi looked at me more in sorrow than in anger, “Llew bach,” she said, “I did think olt liar yew was when yew said fire and water dragged all them carriages along, but when yew try to persuade me now ‘tis boiling water do do it, I know you are so.”
I managed to hire a horse and car, and drove my dear old nurse down to Llanelly. She saw the performance but did not seem to enjoy it. I was playing a comedy part, and I did all I knew to try and make her laugh. The audience simply roared, but I took no heed of them. I was playing to Peggi alone, but it was a complete failure; not even a shadow of a smile lighted up her homely face. After the performance was over I asked her how she liked it. “Not a bit, fy machgen i,” was her answer.
“Shew their olt ignorance, the Llanelly people do, laughing at a pore fellow like that. Never mind, Llew bach, they laugh at me, too. We have all our trials to bear in this world. I don’t mind them laughing at me, because I am used to it; but it do vex me to hear them laugh a yew. Yew wasn’t a bit funny.”
Rather a dubious compliment to a comedian.