TWM SIôN CATI
& THE SHEEP
It was raining cats and dogs, or as they say in Wales, 'old women and sticks'. Twm Siôn Cati was possibly the unhappiest man in Carmarthenshire. He had been on the Llandovery road since early morning. His boots were leaking, his feet were sore and his clothes were soaked but worse than that, he was completely penniless. Twm Siôn Cati, the ‘Welsh Robin Hood’ whose reputation for quick wits and fox-like cunning was a legend in his own lifetime, had been robbed by a couple of wily women in a tavern!
Twm groaned, the news of this embarrassing episode would already be travelling along the drover’s roads; even now some nifty ballad singer was probably thinking of something to rhyme with idiot. He could almost hear the mocking laughter. Thankfully he was nearly at his journey’s end. Peering down through the drizzle he could just make out the tall chimneys of his old friend Justice Prothero’s farm. A few minutes later he was huddled in the porch rapping expectantly on the Justice’s front door.
Later that evening, after a hot bath, a delicious bowl of cawl and several glasses of brandy, Twm had recovered his sense of humour and the two friends sat side by side, relaxing in front of a roaring fire. Justice Prothero loved to hear about Twm’s adventures. In spite of the fact that they frequently involved playing tricks on the wealthy and greedy and were often on the wrong side of the law; although the end result was usually on the right side of fair play and natural justice.
However when he had finished describing his humiliation at the hands of the two female cut-purses it was all Twm could do to stop the Justice leaping out of his chair, saddling his horse and chasing after the foxy felons that very evening. ‘Very well Twm,’ said the Justice after he had calmed down, ‘we must find some other way of restoring your reputation and refilling your purse.’
Just at that moment there was a knock at the door and the Squire's manservant entered the room.
‘Ah Prosser! Everything ready for the big day?' inquired the Squire.
‘Oh Yes your worship sir!’
‘Sure Prosser? I don’t want any more of my blasted sheep going ‘missing’.’
‘Trust me your worship. I will be taking personal charge of the animal sir. I will carry her all the way on my own back. It will be quite impossible for anyone to steal her from me.’
‘Impossible eh! Do you hear that Twm?’ asked the Justice.
‘Indeed I do.’ replied Twm. 'I'm tempted to put a bet on him not suceeding.'
Twm looked expectantly at the Justice and saw that he was smiling with anticipation. There was nothing the Justice liked better than an interesting bet.
‘I will wager you 20 silver shillings,’ continued Twm, ‘that before the sun sets tomorrow I will be in possession of that sheep!’
‘Agreed!’ said the delighted Justice.
‘What do you say to that Master Prosser? Will my property be safe in your hands?’
‘Absolutely sir! Guaranteed. Not even the devil himself will be able to take that animal from me!’
The next morning was as beautiful as the previous one had been miserable. A watery sun climbed up over the misty hills into a perfect cloudless sky. It was enough to gladden the hearts of many an early morning milkmaid and baker as they hurried off to work. In the house of Squire Prothero, his housemaid Jenni was bustling about lighting fires and throwing open the shutters. She glanced out into the yard and was surprised to see Master Prosser, a coil of rope draped over one shoulder, striding purposefully away down the drive. What business that irritating man was about so early in the day, she neither knew nor cared.
Some three hours later, the same Master Prosser was looking remarkably pleased with himself. As pleased as it is possible to look, when you are half-way up a hill, bent over double, with a hundredweight of rank-smelling sheep, strapped round your shoulders. There were still many hours before sunset and he had reached the halfway mark of his return journey without incident. Just another couple of miles hard slog and he and his bleating burden would be safely home.
He imagined his triumphant return: the servants applauding; the Squire beaming and congratulating him and of course the deep disappointment etched on the face of his adversary Twm Siôn Cati. Steal the sheep from him indeed! What a foolish man. What a waste of silver. Perhaps the squire would be so delighted to have won his bet he would get a reward, perhaps a proportion of the winnings.
At that moment the observant Master Prosser caught sight of a man’s leather shoe lying across a rut. It was slightly muddy but it looked in good condition and obviously hadn’t been there for long. It also looked comfortable, in contrast to the rough hewn clogs he was used to wearing. Prosser was tempted to pick it up but the weight of the sheep on his shoulders would have made it difficult to bend down. Besides, thought Prosser, a single shoe is only of use to a man with a single leg.
Five minutes later he came round a bend in the road and was amazed to find what was obviously the missing half of the pair! This was his lucky day. He laid the sheep down by the side of the road making sure that it's legs were securely tied together so that it coudn't run away. He picked up the second shoe and admired the softness of the leather. He slipped off his clog and tried it on. It wasn't a bad fit and it looked very stylish. The sort of footwear that would attract admiring looks from his fellow servants. The sort of footwear a man in his position deserved to wear. Prosser smiled happily and hurried back to the waiting sheep.
Unfortunately it wasn’t waiting. There was nothing there. No sheep. No shoe. He was overcome by a sudden feeling of panic. What was he going to do? Perhaps he was mistaken and had left the animal a bit further on. He charged down the road and then he charged all the way back again. Perhaps the sheep had rolled into the side? Flustered and sweating, he searched among the bracken that grew either side of the track. But even as he pushed aside the tall green fronds, he knew in his sinking heart that it was pointless. The sheep was gone. He had been outwitted by that scoundrel Twm Siôn Cati. Overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of impotent rage, Prosser picked up the shoe that had been the cause of his misfortune and hurled it with all his might into the undergrowth. Reluctantly he set out for home.
Squire Prothero was never in his life an early riser. He liked his bed and he liked to sleep, especially when he had had a jolly evening the night before. By the time he arrived at the breakfast table the sun was moderately high in the sky. He had just settled down in front of a large plate of ham and eggs when he was interrupted by a noisy commotion outside the window. He stood up and saw Twm, triumphant, sheep on shoulders, striding towards the house. Roaring with laughter the delighted Squire flung open the front door. He had never been happier to lose a wager in his whole life. Not only had he managed to put money back into his old friend’s purse but more importantly it was clear from the expression on Twm’s face that his confidence had been restored. This was the Twm Siôn Cati that he knew and loved and to see that, was worth every single penny.
As for Master Prosser, well he returned home shortly after, a less than happy man. In fact as he walked towards his waiting Master and the smiling Twm, it was generally agreed that the expression on his face was distinctly…sheepish!
©Jonathan Shipton 2015