When I woke up, it was night-time, and I was in a small artificially-lit room. I was lying fully clothed on a bed, with a single blanket covering me. In the room there was also a table, a wardrobe, and a chair or two. I rose to my feet, but had to lean on the table to steady myself. My head felt heavy. Whatever drug had been in the cigarette was fierce.
Once my head had cleared a bit, I crossed the room to the window and opened the blind. The sky was full of stars, and the evening was fine. It was obvious that I was in a valley. I could see dark mountains to the left and right, rising high up into the starlit night, and up the sides of the valley and along its floor there were the lights of houses. Farms, possibly. Where in the world was I?
I walked over to the door and tried it. It was locked. I sat at the table. Was there a way to escape from a place like this? But how much better off would I be if I escaped, without any idea of where I was? I could ask the way, of course, but perhaps anyone I spoke to would send me straight back to the Purple Shirts. I looked around again. I could break the window glass easily, but the panes were small and I wouldn’t be able to squeeze through them. I looked around for some tool that I could use to break the frame of either the window or the door. But there was nothing.
I was hungry as well. No sooner had I realised that, than the door opened and a purple-shirted youth came in with a tray.
“Your supper, Mr. Powell,” he said in Welsh.
On the tray there was a substantial meal. Salad, a mountain of thinly-cut bread and butter, and two types of cheese. There was meat as well, even. Lamb. And a big teapot full of tea.
“You believe in feeding your prisoners well,” I said.
“So long as you’re reasonable,” said the youth, “you’ll be fed as well as this for as long as you’re here.”
“And if I’m unreasonable?”
The youth shrugged his shoulders, and said nothing. It was the saying nothing that was most frightening.
“It wouldn’t be hard to escape from a place like this, I’m sure” I said matter-of-factly, while pouring myself a cup of tea.
“I wouldn’t advise you to try, Mr. Powell. The wall outside the window and the floor outside the door are electrified. You’d get a shock – not enough to kill you, but enough to keep you here.”
“You got through the door without a shock,” I said.
“Yes, of course. I can switch the electricity on and off as I go in and out.”
Things were very black for me. The youth started towards the door.
“Just a moment,” I said. “Where am I?”
“In Nant Gwynant.”
I turned my head and stared at him.
“But that’s in Snowdonia! A little while ago I was in Cardiff!”
“You came here in the Military Society’s aeroplane. You were unconscious. The flying bedsteads travel very quickly.”
“Flying bedsteads, you said?”
The youth nodded.
It was worse still. Snowdonia was hopelessly far from Cardiff. Neither Llywarch nor the Home Secretary would know where to start looking for me, even if they knew that it was the Purple Shirts who had made away with me. And of course, they had no reason to think that.”
“I didn’t know that the Purple Shirts had a base in Nant Gwynant,” I said, trying to keep the youth there to talk.
“The Military Society doesn’t have official bases anywhere. Some of our members have smallholdings and cooperative farms, that’s all. And every member’s property is at the disposal of the Society. We’re now on the land of Captain Lewis-Sharpe’s cooperative society. Quite a substantial part of Nant Gwynant. You’re quite safe here.”
“Forgive me,” said the youth. “I must go…”
“Before you do,” I said, “one more question, Mr…?”
“Bowen. Corporal Bowen.”
“Can you tell me why I’m here at all?”
The youth stood by the door.
“I’ve already said more than I should have, Mr. Powell. I can’t say any more. Captain Steele will come to see you after supper. You’ll have a full explanation from him.”
The door closed, and he’d gone. I ate my supper, but very slowly. The food was excellent, but I didn’t have much of an appetite. Nant Gwynant… on Captain Lewis-Sharpe’s land… the door locked… and every way out electrified. I poured another cup of tea.
If I knew what it was that the Purple Shirts had against me, I’d have been able to cope with the situation better. But as far as I knew, I hadn’t done anything to them or said anything about them. I could understand one of their men, in a fit of temper, shooting the Deputy Sheriff of Brycheiniog. He had criticised them time and time again. But what they had against me, I hadn’t the least idea.
What did they want to do to me, I wondered? Not shoot me, it seemed. I’d be no good to them as a corpse. Torture me, perhaps. What new devious methods of causing pain did the villains of the 21st Century have at their disposal? The Corporal had spoken quite freely, and Captain Steele had been friendly while in the car. But that cigarette… I couldn’t forget the cigarette. I became fearful, nervous, and began to sweat thinking about whatever lay ahead of me.
I thought about Mair. What did she think of my disappearance? Would she be sorry? Perhaps she would regret not giving me more comfort the previous evening. And perhaps she didn’t care about me at all. Oh Mair, Mair, Mair…
An hour passed after supper, and no-one came near me. I walked to the window ten times, and looked out. Out in the valley the lights from the farmhouses still shone. The occasional bleat of a sheep came from the dark mountains, but nothing more. I had never felt so alone. Seeing Captain Steele would be better than this fretful dumbness. But I was afraid of seeing Captain Steele. I was afraid of the treatment.
I heard the sound of footsteps in the corridor outside, and a cough. The door opened, and Captain Steele stood there.
“Well, Mr. Powell, did you enjoy your supper?” He called down the corridor, “Corporal Smith, stand there in case I need you.” Then he closed the door and came in.
“Sit, Mr. Powell. We’ll both sit.”
He and I sat either side of the table.
“Why am I here, Captain Steele?”
“Well.. to explain that is why I’ve come. I hope you’re comfortable here?”
“Why do you ask?”
“If you’re.. hard to handle… perhaps you’ll be here a long time.”
“I won’t be here for long whatever happens. I’m going back to my own time in two or three days.”
Captain Steele smiled. A secretive, sinister smile.
“Well now, Mr. Powell, you’re keen to know why the Military Society have taken such a fancy to you.”
“What has the Society got against me?”
“Nothing, Mr. Powell, nothing at all. On the contrary, we think you can be of great help to us.”
“You were asked to address a meeting in the Charles the Third Hall in Cardiff on Saturday night, weren’t you?”
I remembered the man in the football game and in the theatre refectory.
“It was a mistake to refuse.”
“But I’ve never addressed a meeting…”
“No matter. We want to make things easier for you. Tomorrow night, the U.B.L. – United Britain League – have half an hour on the television broadcast from Bangor. Every political party in Wales has a turn to make a television programme. The U.B.L. programmes include a short film, a discussion between two of our MPs, and about seven minutes of discussion with some important visitor to Wales. In our programme tomorrow night, you will be that visitor.”
I looked into his face.
“I’ve never been on the television either.”
“There’s nothing to it. Of course, you’ll be rehearsing your words. We brought you here so you’d have an opportunity to do that. We’ll tell you what to say.”
“Why is it so important to have me speaking?”
“I’ll explain to you. Cigarette?”
I reached for the cigarette, then pulled my hand back.
“No thank you.”
Captain Steele smiled. He lit a cigarette for himself, and carefully puffed a line of smoke towards the ceiling.
“As you know, Mr. Powell, the country is taking a great interest in you. The Man from the Twentieth Century. They don’t crowd around you, so perhaps you don’t feel that they are watching you very carefully. The reason for that is that there’s great courtesy in Wales today – a fear of making you uncomfortable, a keenness to make you feel at home. But the country knows about you. And if you were on television, a huge audience would see you and listen to you.”
“They wouldn’t know beforehand.”
“Oh, they would. We’ll make sure that the news will be in tomorrow morning’s papers. It will be announced on the television as well. Everyone will know. Now, you’re a man from the period when Britain was one, before Wales had its independence and lost its head – the period when Britain was Great Britain and Wales was fair Wales…”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I used to be against self-government for Wales. But now, having seen Free Wales, I can believe that Wales is a far better place now than it was in my own time.”
The Captain’s face hardened.
“Prejudice is blinding you, Mr. Powell.”
“On the contrary,” I said, my temper starting to rise, “I’ve just said that I had no prejudice!”
“All right. What you’ve done is to swallow Dr. Llywarch’s prejudice.”
“Mr. Powell.” The Captain rose and walked once around the room. “You can’t decide whether Wales is better or worse today after only being here for three days.”
“Were you in my time for three days, Captain Steele?”
His eyes became inflamed.
“No of course not,” he said petulantly. “But we know much more about your time today than you know about our time, even though you’ve been here. We have records, films, tapes, books, all sorts of documents…”
“Things like that don’t tell the whole story…”
“Listen, Mr. Powell. I’m trying to explain to you, as kindly as I can, how much help you can be to us. There’ll be a General Election here in a few months’ time, and we have to throw out this idiotic government. We have to convince all the Welsh people that it would be a good thing to reunite with England, under a single government. We’re making a huge campaign. And if you, a man from the 20th Century, say that it was a mistake for Wales to want its own government, they’ll listen to you more than to us. All you need to say is how good life was in Wales under London’s government.
“I can’t. To be honest, I can’t.”
“I’m sorry that you are so stubborn, Mr. Powell.”
The Captain sat down again across the table from me. He put out is cigarette and lit another. Then he put his elbows on the table and stared straight into my eyes. He had penetrating eyes.
“It’s obvious that you’ll have to be persuaded,” he said.
“You’re welcome to, if you can,” I said.
“We can. But I’d rather do so without having to use methods which may be… painful.”
He carried on staring at me, and his lips tightened.
“It is worse in Wales now than it was under London’s government, Mr. Powell.” He emphasised his words through drumming his fingers on the table. “It’s worse.”
I was genuinely afraid by now, but I carried on playing my cards.
“In what way, Captain?”
“In lots of ways.”
“Can you show me any unemployment?”
“No, there’s no unemployment to talk about…”
“Are many people emigrating from Wales?”
“No, but there are far too many immigrating into Wales…”
“Is life hard for the elderly?”
“Are the taxes heavy?”
“No, but they’re unfair… Damn you, Mr. Powell, won’t you be quiet for a minute?”
He had hit the table with his fist so hard that everything on it jumped into the air, and his face was white with fury.
“You’re a poor arguer, Captain Steele,” I said. “You could have afforded to lie to me. I’d have been none the wiser.”
“There’s no point in denying the facts,” he said, more quietly. “What I want to emphasise is the truth behind the facts. That’s what condemns the Welsh Government.”
“Why isn’t there unemployment?” he said. “It’s because Wales has been lucky over the past forty years, since there’s been a great demand for its products. That’s just luck, not good government.”
“Why isn’t there emigration from Wales? Because England and other nations have been unlucky, and there hasn’t been enough work there to attract our people. Why isn’t life hard for old people? And why aren’t taxes heavy? Wise government? Not at all. Because Wales has abolished its armed forces, shirking its duty as a nation, discarding a burden that any decent country is proud to carry. Therefore, it naturally has enough money to mollycoddle its old people and to keep taxes low. Why are you smiling, Mr. Powell?”
“Am I smiling? If I am, it’s because you’ve given me even stronger reasons to believe that things are better in Wales today.”
Captain Steele got up, and started pacing up and down the room like a caged lion. I was afraid by now that I’d gone too far. No good could come out of this sort of argument. The captain stood, and roared at me:
“It is worse in Wales today, Mr. Powell.”
His voice was frightening. But although I was afraid to provoke him any further, I wasn’t going to give in either.
“But why, Captain Steele, why?”
“I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Because we’re an unnatural country. It’s unnatural for a country to be without any army, any navy, any air force. A country which is wide open to attack by the enemy…”
“Who knows? A country must be ready…”
“Does any country threaten Wales today?”
“A threat could come from any quarter. We must be ready.”
“Captain Steele.” I knew that I was putting my neck out, but I couldn’t help myself from making one more point. “You’ve failed to mention so many as one country that’s a danger to Wales today. I can only conclude that there is no military danger – for today, at least. And I believe that you are creating the fear of this threat just because you yourself like to play soldiers…”
“Yes. You enjoy this business of the Military Society, marching and drilling and following the band. And if Wales had an army you’d be one of its Generals. Or even better, if Wales joined with England again, you could be a little Captain in the English Army…”
I half expected him to hit me. He was like a man who’d lost all self-control. He didn’t hit me, however, but glare at me, and carry on glaring at me. At last, a crooked smile broke across his face and he sat down again by the table.
“I’m sorry for losing my temper as I did, Mr. Powell,” he said. “I see now that you’re a braver man than I had thought. There’s obviously nothing to gain through reasoning with you. But you must be in the television studio tomorrow night. You will be there, and you will be saying the things that we want you to say.”
“Well, I won’t.”
“That’s obvious, unless we use one of the other methods we were talking about earlier.”
“You’re not going to shoot me?”
“Are you afraid of being shot, Mr. Powell? No… we won’t shoot you. To tell the truth, we wouldn’t dare shoot you. Wales is too… civilised a country. People won’t put up with shooting. That’s why we’ve had to expel Quennell from the Military Society. He shot that man in Brycheiniog, and it would have done a great deal of harm to the Society’s name if he’d stayed in it.”
“Surely, a well-armed society like yours could conquer all of Wales if you chose to?”
“It’s obvious, Mr. Powell, that you don’t understand the temper of the age. History teaches us that a government which governs by force of arms is very fragile. This age is so conscious of that, that there isn’t any government that tries to rule through force alone. Perhaps we could conquer Wales and overthrow the government. But what good would that do us? There’d be a general strike from Holyhead to Cardiff, everything in the land at a standstill. Someone would blow up the radio and television stations and the presses, so we wouldn’t be able to address the people except through whatever makeshift radios we could put together in a hurry. There’d be so much opposition to us and revulsion towards us that we wouldn’t be able to govern.”
“And yet you believe in the force of arms.”
“To defend a country, not to conquer it. The only way to conquer a country is to win its heart first. You have to convince a nation before you can govern it. Do you understand?”
“Therefore, if we are to win Wales’s heart, we mustn’t do anything to provoke it. That’s why we daren’t do you any physical harm. We have another choice, of course. We can work on your mind. But if the doctors could prove that we’d interfered with your mind, well… No, as far as we can, there’s just one practical way to persuade you.”
“And what’s that?”
Captain Steele smiled.
“When are you planning to go back to your own time, Mr. Powell?”
“I have to go about Wednesday or Thursday.”
“Indeed. With the help of Dr. Llywarch, I expect.”
“Oh yes, of course.”
“There we are then.”
“Well, I was thinking that I could put it to you like this. You can go back to your own time on the condition that you give us your help tomorrow night.”
I felt my stomach turn.
“And if I refuse to come to the television studio tomorrow night?”
“Then we could keep you here for days, weeks, months…”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
The Captain’s eyes hardened again.
“And why wouldn’t we?”
“Dr. Llywarch and the others will be looking for me, trying to find me…”
“Will they? For all they’ll know, you’ll have already gone back to your own age. For all they know tonight, you’ve gone already.”
Good heavens! Did Llywarch think that, I wondered?
“But…” I said, casting around, “I can’t go back without the help of someone like Llywarch.”
“Let me put it like this. You wanted to go back to your own age, and were afraid that Llywarch was going to keep you in this age against your will. You heard that there was a lecturer in Superdynamics at Bangor who’s experimenting with time just like Llywarch is. There is one there, by the way. You got a lift to Bangor, to see the lecturer, and he sent you back to your own age. It’s a tidy story, isn’t it? And we can arrange witnesses – a couple of chaps who saw you, who gave you lifts in their cars, and the lecturer in Bangor himself: he’s a member of the U.B.L, and he’d be happy enough to tell a little lie for the cause. And all the time you’ll be here, under lock and key, in this room. What do you say?”
I was cornered, and what could I say? The Captain rose.
“I’ll leave it till tomorrow morning for you to think about it,” he said. “I’m sure that by then it will be easier to talk to you. Of course, there’ll be no breakfast until you’ve agreed. But if you agree, you’ll get as good a breakfast… no, a better breakfast than your supper tonight. Good night, Mr. Powell. Sleep well… but not too well.”
And with that, he went through the door and left me there by myself.