Gareth Jones

[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]

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THE OLD HUNTSMAN

In Search of News Contents 

By

Gareth Jones

I HEAR a laugh, an uproarious contagious laugh, surging up and through the window of the village inn as I walk past. A tinkle of glasses and a volley of guffaws float from the warm room inside to the lonely Vale of Glamorgan road, and I stop and wonder what can be causing this merriment. “Eto, Henry, eto! Encore!" come the shouts, and a voice, loud, humorous, and out of tune, bursts forth:

“Once I was a crwtyn,

Yn cario glo mewn cwtyn,

Mae’n well genni geffyl heb un croen Na mwlsyn Sion y Crepin!”

My companion, smiling, turns to me and says, “That’s Henry Llewelyn, the huntsman. Come and meet him.”

I step in and see the centre of attraction, a hale, hearty old fellow, bubbling over with humour and excitement; a veritable Falstaff in his irrepressible merriment, a Welshman of the age before Puritanism took the heart out of full-blooded Cymric laughter. “Born in 1854, sir, born in 1854, and I can laugh as heartily as any youngster in Glamorgan 1” he shouts to me in Welsh, shaking me violently by the hand and slapping me on the back until my bones almost rattle.

“Yes, so old that we’ll have to shoot him!” cries the landlady, viewing her customer with pride and fondness.

“Shoot me !" replies Henry Llewelyn, “They’ll never find the gun that’ll shoot me! “Nor is he far wrong, for he has led the life of a huntsman, and to do that a man must have a bodily frame of steel, a chest proof against the mist and rain, a nerve which stands the strain of sudden shocks, and a voice which can send the “ Tally-ho!" ringing over hill and dale.

He must be a bold horseman, risking his neck many a time each season; he must have a masterly touch with hounds, and even when they are got to kennel he must be ever watching and working. An arduous life indeed, but what a healthy one!

No wonder Henry Llewelyn is still a youngster at 79, proving the truth of the Arabian proverb, “Allah reckons not in the life of man the hours spent in the chase!”

If Allah omitted in Henry Llewelyn’s life every hour devoted to hunting, our Glamorgan huntsman might well rival Methuselah in longevity. From boyhood the cry of the hounds has resounded in his ears; the memory of the last meet and the anticipation of the next have filled his mind, and the clatter of horses’ hoofs has been music to him.

He remembers every hound in detail, and as he talks, volubly and emotionally, he sees Frolic Ty Llwyd, Lili o’r Glyn, Chairman Pwllyfelen, Corner Twin Rhoderick, Pleiad Tyn y Berllan, Palas Troedyrhiw, and Drummer and Laddie Cymmer speeding, with their noses to the ground, in hot pursuit.

“O dear, O dear,” he cries, and there is a flicker of dampness about his eyes and a suspicion of a swelling in his throat.

"Cwn gorau’r byd I The best hounds in the world! I remember Peinter Gelli’rhaedd, Countess Rhiwgarn, Belman o’r Colliers, Topper yr Erw Uchaf, Miller and Foreman Wil y Gof. Eos, Music and Drunkard Tyn y Cymmer, and Royal and Ruby Tynducoed!”

You know well as he declaims the names of these hounds that, though they have long hunted their last fox and are now slumbering in hidden canine graveyards in fields and gardens in the valleys, he still minutely remembers their features and idiosyncrasies.

As their names imply, these Welsh hounds were not in kennels, but were "Cwn y walks,” and were kept in different farms and inns. Henry Llewelyn’s pack was the “ "Cwn Tyn y Cymmer,” and they were real Welsh hounds.

When the old huntsman tells of these hounds he becomes an actor of the most melodramatic type— he waves his hands, he makes extravagant use of gesture, and when he reaches a climax in his story he seizes his cap and, clutching it firmly, shakes it in the air. This action is usually accompanied by a savage out-pouring of words, followed by a sudden hush after the storm, during which the cap finds its way back to the head and the actor pauses for effect.

One story leads to another and each brings a song to his mind.

“Hounds! I remember the hounds of Mr. Jenkins, Ijanharan. Well, well! Dear old Mr. Jenkins, Llanharan I He always used to call for:

Chwi glywsoch son am gwn Llanharan.

Cwn Pentwyn a chwn y cyfan,

Pryd mae rheii wedi cypli,

Fel clychau’n mynd I chwarae,

Mae’r moch bychain a’r ffwlberti

A’r cadnoaid yn y coed yn crynu

Rhag ofn cwrdd ag un o’r rheii!”

The inn then re-echoes to his laughter, which is the symbol of his joy in life and of his philosophy, summed up by him in these words:

“There’s one consolation. If everything should fail, They’re bound to find us lodgings

In the workhouse or the jail!”

Another bombardment of mirth follows, and Henry Llewelyn turns from his philosophy of hunting when I ask him: “What was your most famous hunt?”

This question is certainly wonderful bait, for an interesting picture results.

“My most famous hunt? I’ll tell you. We began on foot on Mynydd y Bedw, in the Cymmer, where the Coedca tips now are. We raised the fox in Gelli Draws, near Pontypridd, and off we went to Wauncastella, Pengarn, crossing then Gaer­scraban, down to Coedlai (Coedely) to Farm Craigwala, Mynydd Llambad, and to Mynydd y Gaer. Then down we rushed to Wern Tarw, over Cefn Irgoed, back to Wern Tarw, crossing Mynydd y Gaer again, down to Felin Ifan Ddu (Blackmill), then to Llangynwyd, Maesteg, to Bryn Troegam, and at last we killed at Nantyffyllon!”

Henry Llewelyn chuckles with glee and reminisces further, thinking now of the men he remembers best: “There was Twin Evans yr Albion, Cilfynydd, old Williams y Glog, Mr. Nichols, Merthyr Mawr, the Talbots of Margam, the Gwynns and the Spencers, and above all Willy Morgan, M.F.H., Tyn y Cymmer, with whom I used to live.”

“And what do you think of hunting today? “ is my final question.

Henry Llewelyn groans, his gleaming countenance darkens, and, shaking his head morosely, he moans:

“There’s not so many hounds today. O dear, O dear! There is no pack now in Llanharan, nor in Llanwynno, nor in Treherbert, nor in Gilfach, and none in Tyn y Cymmer. All are gone!”

But Henry cannot moan for long. Cheerfulness will break out, and long after I have stepped out into the road I hear his laugh, uproarious and contagious, resounding through the inn window and echoing down the road.

 November 27th, 1933.  

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