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The Story of Twm and SiƓn and Dai and the Three Roan Calves

Kate Davies (1892-1980)

[Once] there was a poor farmer and a rich farmer. And the poor farmer had three sons, Twm and Siôn and Dai. And the rich farmer had a daughter. The first farmer's land bordered the other's. And these three sons, now, Twm and Siôn and Dai, had fallen in love with the girl. And she was a pretty girl: her hair like yellow wheat, her eyes as blue as the sky, and her cheeks like the red rose that grew at the garden gate. Now the three boys had asked the rich farmer if they could have the girl as wife. And he said, what he would do with them was give each one a calf. And the one who was best at caring for the calf - by Llanfyllin fair, I think - the one who'd got the best price at Llanfyllin fair for the calf, he'd be the one to marry the daughter. And, well, they each got a calf, a roan calf.

And now Twm, old Twm was a very lazy boy. He wasn't very fond of work. And then Dai, well he was a real schemer. He wouldn't care what he did. But he did want to marry the girl. And Siôn then, Siôn was the best of the three. Siôn was a nice boy and everything you could wish for. And strangely enough, had they but known, Siôn and the girl had been meeting in secret. But neither of the other two knew that. Nobody knew. Well now, the three sons did their best to look after the calves. Twm's calf died very soon, because Twm wasn't looking after him. And Dai, now, he was doing his best for the calf. But Siôn's calf was coming on better. Siôn had the best calf.

Now, Siôn and the girl were meeting in secret. They met in the churchyard, under the old yew tree. There they were, courting quietly, and no-one ever disturbed them there. And well, the fair was a year away, and the year was drawing on and the fair was getting closer. And they were courting - Siôn now, and the girl, under the yew tree. And a man came one night, quietly, with a sack, and he cut some of the yew branches. But Siôn recognised him. Siôn realised who he was. And a day or two after that, with the fair getting closer, Siôn's calf died. And he didn't understand, he didn't understand what was the matter with it. But he picked up a couple of yew twigs from the trough in front of the calf. And he understood at once. He remembered that Dai had been doing something with the yew tree, cutting some of its twigs off and putting them in the sack. He understood at once that Dai had put them in the calf's trough. And of course the yew - the leaves of the yew - will poison an animal, especially horned animals. And of course the calf died. But what did Siôn do but skin the calf and dry the skin, and said nothing.

The fair came [anyway], and of course, Dai took the calf to the fair and got a pretty good price. Three pounds, I think, was the price he got for the calf. And he was a real boy now, of course, he was tamping to get that girl as his wife. And in the fair now they were having the most wonderful fun at the fair, there was some old man with clogs on his feet and ragged old clothes on him, and a sack around his neck hanging from a cord and a load of leather shoelaces on his back. And he was going through the fair shouting:

'Rhics, rhocs, careion, clocs,
Rhics, rhocs, careion, clocs.'

And the people were following him and buying these shoelaces, now, for tuppence each. And they were good ones. And Siôn - this old man - now he was pulling at the shoelaces and giving out a challenge to anyone to cut them. Nobody could do it. But anyway, that was the end of the fair. The most fun they'd had was following this old man and hearing him shouting 'Rhics, rhocs, careion, clocs,' all the time.

And that night, now, Dai was going down to the farm, having sold the calf and got three pounds for it, and of course, he was claiming the girl as his wife. And they were counting the money now, on the table and there was a knock at the door. The girl went out and came back in, and told her father that it was the old man from the fair, wanting a lodging for the night. And he said: 'Oh, yes, yes,' he said, 'tell him he can have it'. And he asked them - he came in then to the door - he asked whether he'd look after the money bag he had, the bag now with the pennies he'd got for the shoelaces at the fair. 'Oh, right, I'll look after them till the morning,' said the farmer, 'but we'll have to count them first.'

And they were spilled out there on the table. And Dai and the farmer and the girl counted the money then. And while they were doing that, Siôn came in and up to the hearth quietly, and he pulled off the old ragged clothes, and pulled off the beard. And when they turned to look, who did they see but Siôn. Now, Siôn's money had to be counted, what he'd got for the calf. Siôn explained to them then that he was the old man at the fair. And then they counted the money and he had three pounds and a crown's worth of pennies. So he had more than Dai. And, of course, he got the girl as wife. And they lived comfortably ever afterwards.


The Story of Twm and Si

More information


MWL 3890-91. Recorded


Kate Davies heard this story mainly from her aunt, Kitty Jones, sister to her mother, Mary Thomas. 'Aunty Kitty' often came over to the family home in Pren-gwyn, particularly to help Kate Davies' mother. She was one of twelve children, and Kate Davies said of her; 'she was the unmarried one who stayed at home, and she didn't marry until I got married...Aunty Kitty was with us when my mother, now - I remember the youngest children being born - [she] would be looking after my mother...I thought of her more as our second mother...She was very kind to us when we were children.' She also described her as a 'very perceptive' person.

In the evening, in particular, Kate Davies and the other children would ask: 'Oh, Aunty Kitty, tell us a story...She might ask us riddles or something first, you see, when she was sitting with us by the fire, you see, and then, before she finished, we'd ask for 'The Story of Twm and Siôn and Dai and the Three Roan Calves'. And she'd begin then.' These are the kind of 'riddles' she had: 'How many calves' tails does it take to reach the moon? (One, if it's long enough!)'; 'Which side of the church does the tree grow? (The outside!)';. The most popular riddle or game was: 'I bet you can't go to Pen-bont Shop with a basket of eggs without saying 'Yes'.'

Aunty Kitty also used to recite tongue twisters to entertain the children. Two which Kate Davies remembered are:

Mae cwrci cathlas yn tŷ ni,
Mae cwrci cathlas yn tŷ chi;
Mae cwrci cathlas ni saith cathlasach
Na'ch cwrci cathlas chi.

'There's a grey tomcat in our house,
There's a grey tomcat in your house;
Our grey tomcat is seven times greyer
Than your grey tomcat.

'Magwd Magi Madog, ond methwyd magu mab Magi Magod.

'Magi Magod was brought up, but they couldn't bring up Magi Magod's son.'

In the same way, 'chat' was also part of the entertainment at home, and sometimes Kate Davies' mother and Aunty Kitty would talk in a strange language, especially if they didn't want the children to understand what they were saying, 'putting "dd" and "g" in between the words all the time, for example: Taddawgn soddogn rheddegn ffwddwgl dwddwgl'. (Taw sôn yr hen ffwl dwl, 'Shut up you silly old fool.').'

There was always a very happy atmosphere at Pren-gwyn, said Kate Davies: 'we were poor children, a working man's children. We were kept clean; we had plenty of food. We weren't spoilt, but we had a very happy time - very nice. My mother and father never fell out with each other....There was never unpleasantness or anything at home.'

Usually Aunty Kitty would sit on the settle in front of the fire, 'and what we children had then was three-legged stools - each of us had his stool.'

This was Kate Davies' comment after she finished telling 'the Story of Twm and Siôn and Dai and the Three Roan Calves' on the tape the first and second time: 'I don't know how I've told that, because I haven't told the story for years... since the children were little....I remember the story perfectly, you see, but I can't bring it out, you know, as I'd like to tell the story - as Aunty used to do. You think now, if you were telling a story and knew it in full, you could tell it better, couldn't you? Of course, it's rather patchy by now...I don't remember now whether I've left some little bits out, or not....She [Aunty Kitty] told the story well, I could never act it...she had the voice and everything to tell a story.'

To end the night Aunty Kitty used to tell a story to scare the children: 'It wouldn't be long then before we went to bed'. The story she told most often was Siôn and Siân's donkey 'dying', skinning the donkey and the skin 'coming down to them through the chimney every night' and making a discordant noise, exactly like a donkey. (For this story in full, see another of Aunty Kitty's stories: ' The Story of Siôn and Siân and the Dribbling Cow'.)

Of the many stories Kate Davies heard from her aunt, the Story of Twm and Siôn and Dai and the Three Roan Calves was one of her favourites. When asked why this was so and why she had remembered this particular story, she replied: 'There was something modern in that story, you see, it was a love story too, that's what it was perhaps.' Another reason was that Siôn had succeeded in the end in 'beating' the other two [brothers].' Although at times she had to make an effort to remember all the details of the story, Kate Davies told it with a wealth of colour and expression, in rich idiomatic Welsh.

The story was re-told by Kate Davies some half an hour after the first telling (tape MWL 3890), and it is the text of the second recording (tape MWL 3891) which is included above. There are only minor differences between one recording and the next. In recording 1 Kate Davies said: 'by [the date of] the Old Fair - I don't remember the name of the fair now, either'. In the second recording she says: 'by Llanfyllin Fair, I think.' In recording 1, Dai gets 'two pounds' at the fair for selling the calf. In the second recording he is said to have got 'three pounds'. There is a third recording of 'the Story of Twm and Siôn and Dai and the Three Roan Calves', by Kate Davies, on tape MWL 6449 (3.v.1979). In this version she does not refer to the particular sum of money Dai received for his calf; all she says is: 'I don't remember how much money he got for the calf, he got a great deal of money.' There is no reference in this version either to the particular fair Siôn visited to sell his shoelaces. It is simply said that Siôn 'went to the fair'.

In a chapter on 'Hearthside Entertainments' in her book Hafau fy Mhlentyndod ('The Summers of my Childhood', 1970), Kate Davies included a printed text of the story (pp.24-7). The same narrative elements appear, but the descriptions in the printed text are more detailed in places. The farmer's daughter is given a name, 'Beti', and this is how she is described:

'Beti was a very pretty girl and she had skin like milk, hair like ripe wheat, and her cheeks and lips were the same colour as the red rose that grew by the garden gate. Her eyes were like night.'

In the versions recorded orally, it is Twm's calf which dies, and Dai who takes his roan calf to sell at the fair and poisons Siôn's calf, although Kate Davies has one comment in version 1 which suggests that she was not entirely certain: ' And Twm now - Twm or Dai, I don't remember properly.' In the printed version, however, it is Dai's calf which dies and Twm, thinking himself 'a big man', who takes his calf 'in a halter' to the fair to sell it and poisons Siôn's calf. This too is how the brothers are described:

'...Twm was a sly, puffed-up one, who thought a great deal of himself. Dai was a lazy one, he didn't care at all about work of any kind. Siôn was the best son by far, and he was never mentioned.'

In the oral version first recorded (tape 3890) this is a description of the brothers:

'Twm now, he was a very useless [chap]. Twm was too lazy to do anything. And Dai then, he was a mean one...And now Siôn - Siôn was the best son.'

In the third oral version (tape 6444) Dai is described like this: 'he was an old sneak, I would have thought, but she [Aunty Kitty] didn't say sneak to us [children] - but "Dai was a nasty one".'

In the printed version it is said that it was in 'Llanarfryn' Fair, according to the farmer's instructions, that the brothers were to sell the three calves, and there is a quite detailed description of the 'old man' (Siôn) at the fair:

'The greatest fun they had in the fair that day was with the old man who was selling shoelaces. His coat was all in pieces and his trousers were ragged. On his head he wore a grey hat that came down over his ears, and there was very little of his face to be seen because he had a woolly white beard hiding everything down to the bottom of his waistcoat... and everyone at the fair bought a pair at tuppence a pair. He carried a bag around his neck and threw the pennies into it. By the end of the fair the old man's neck was quite bent with the weight of the money, and after he'd sold the last pair he vanished as silently as a cat.'

In oral version 1 the price of the shoelace is tuppence a pair (as in the printed version). Tuppence is the price in the second oral version (published above), but the price is not noted at all in the third oral version.

The variations in the final sum received for the calf sold at the fair and the money Siôn earned for selling shoelaces have already been referred to. In the printed version, Twm got three pounds for his roan calf, but Siôn got three pounds and half a crown for selling the shoelaces.

The end of the story in the oral versions is that Siôn marries the girl and the two live happily ever afterwards. In the printed version, however, this paragraph is added:

'But Siôn kept one secret to himself. He told nobody that he'd recognised his brother Twm cutting the twigs from the yew tree and that he'd found a thin twig of it in his calf's trough the next day. Twm must have given yew leaves to the calf because he knew very well that yew was utter poison to all horned animals.'

This is the final comment Kate Davies made on this story in her book Hafau fy Mhlentyndod (p. 27):

'Aunty Kitty told that story every time she came to our house to visit. It lost none of its flavour right up to the time we children left home to earn our own living. Indeed, I've had a great deal of fun telling the old story to little children many times since.'