Chapter 21

Before we set off for Beddgelert, a doctor came up to see me. He examined me thoroughly in Winter’s presence.

“We’re sorry, Mr. Powell,” he said, “that Mr. Winter had to inject PX300 into you. But there was an understanding between us that he would do that if Steel and Lewis-Sharpe commanded him to. They’ve never used it on any member of the public, though they have used it more than once on members of the Military Society. Although you’re not a ‘member of the public’ as such (which is why they ventured to put the stuff into you), you’ve done us a great kindness by being… a ‘guinea pig’… if you’ll pardon the expression. We have enough evidence now to call them to account.”

“I’m glad that I’ve been of use,” I said.

Soon, a Colonel and a Lieutenant arrived in their purple shirts.

“You did good work, Bowen” said the Colonel to the Corporal. “I’d have preferred, of course, for this matter to have been kept quiet. It’s going to do a fair bit of harm to the Society. But there’s no helping it. The offence is too serious to be dealt with by a court-martial among ourselves. The two wretches Steele and Lewis-Sharpe will have to be handed over to the State Police. I’ll recommend a promotion for you in the next meeting of the regional officers. And you’ll get it quickly, there’s not a shadow of doubt about that. Not only because you deserve it, but because it will show the public that the Military Society itself repudiates what the two scoundrels did.”

Corporal Bowen thanked him, and saluted. The Colonel turned to me.

“I want to apologise personally to you, Mr. Powell, that members of the Military Society have treated you so deplorably. You are free to ask for any compensation that is within our ability to pay to you.”

“I don’t ask anything, Colonel,” I said. “If you can arrange transport for me back to my friends in Cardiff, I would be very content.”

“Unfortunately, Mr. Powell, we can’t even have the pleasure of doing that. One of your friends is already in Beddgelert ready to take you.”

Before I could ask who, the Colonel had saluted me and departed.

“Well Powell,” said Corporal Bowen, “there’s nothing to do now except to take you down to the Grave. Are you ready?”

“Very ready,” I said.

I thanked Winter for saving me, and to the lady in the kitchen for the excellent lunch. Then, Bowen took me out to the farmyard where there was a lorry waiting for us, and a number of lads in purple shirts sitting inside it and singing. I stood for a moment to listen to the song. It was a Welsh song, obviously a popular song, and very melodic the way they sang it with the four harmonies melting together skilfully. When the boys saw us, they moved around to make space for us.

“Mr. Powell, Boys,” said Bowen. “The means of your deliverance.”

The boys stood up in the lorry and let out a aloud “hooray” to me, although I had no idea on earth why. I sat in the middle of them with Bowen to my right, and away went the lorry.

“Are the roads in Nant Gwynant radiomagnetic as well?” I asked.

The boys laughed.

“Not yet,” said one, a red-haired lad with eyes like violets. “But at least we have an atomic lorry.”

I noticed that there was a driver driving this one.

“Well,” said Bowen, “that’s got rid of those two big devils.”

“Hear hear,” said the others. “Something you should have done a long time ago, Bowen.”

“But there wasn’t an opportunity until Mr. Powell came along.”

“But… listen,” I said, unable to stop myself asking, “why are you all in the Purple Shirts? You’re all good honest Welsh lads.”

“That’s got nothing to do with it,” said the lad with the violet eyes. “We’re not pacifists, we enjoy drilling and target-shooting and camping out, and… well, the Purple Shirts give us the chance to do that.”

“Aren’t there other movements that give the chance to camp and do activities?”

“Yes, plenty,” said a dark curly-haired lad on my left. “The Boys’ Christian Movement, the Urdd, the Children of the Dawn… plenty of them. But we like handling guns. Of course, we’d never shoot anyone of our own accord – although I was tempted more than once to shoot Lewis-Sharpe.”

The others laughed.

“And you think that Britain would be better as one country once again?”

“You’re flushing out a pretty big fox now,” said a shaven-headed lad. “Some of us belong to the United Britain League, others don’t. You don’t have to belong to the U.B.L. to join the Purple Shirts, although they expect you to. But by and large we keep away from politics.”

“I see,” I said. “But why are you all in uniform today? Don’t you have any work to do?”

“We all work on Lewis-Sharpe’s cooperative farm,” said Corporal Bowen. “And he commanded us to be on parade today. That’s why we’re all in uniform. Of course, Sharpe doesn’t own the farm. It belongs to all of us, and now we’ll have to elect another Chairman for it, to replace Sharpe. He’ll be thrown out; we’ll have nothing more to do with him. But since we all belong to the Shirts, he had the right, as an officer, to order us to wear the purple shirts whenever he wanted.”

“What did you have against him?” I asked.

“Against Sharpe? Oh… nothing.” Everyone laughed. “Nothing, except that he was insufferable, and that he’s given a dose of PX300 to two or three of us from time to time.”

“And you put up with that?”

“Well,” said Bowen, “you take an oath when you join the Shirts that you’ll be obedient and loyal to your officers under all circumstances, and accept any punishment that they consider appropriate. Technically, we’re guilty of mutiny today, and we could have to face a court-martial. But those of us who are in this lorry had agreed among ourselves that we couldn’t put up with any more. Steel and Sharpe had become too much. Fortunately, you saw that the Colonel agreed with us, or heaven knows what might have happened.”

“What would your punishment from a court-martial have been?”

“Hard to say. Being expelled from the Society, of course…”

“Would that be a severe punishment?”

“It wouldn’t be a pleasant punishment. There are a lot of ex-Purple Shirts in Wales today, who been expelled by a court-martial. They can’t work in farms or factories where other workers are members of the Shirts. And other farms and factories don’t want them because they’re tainted by their association with the Shirts. It’s not a pretty picture.”

“So they’re out of work.”

“Oh, no they’re not. The Government makes sure that no-one goes hungry because of their connections with any movement. You’re not allowed to starve in Wales today even to save your soul. The Government stuffs food down everyone’s throats. I think it would do some people good to go hungry for a bit to knock a bit of sense into them…”

“Bowen, Bowen!” said the others.

“Oh, I’m sorry Powell,” said Bowen, “I’d forgotten that you…”

“It’s OK,” I said, laughing. “I’m sure that there’s more sense in my head after starving all morning than there was before.”

“Not Steele and Lewis-Sharpe’s type of sense, I hope?”

“Oh, not at all. Not-at-all-!”

“Bravo,” said the others.

“Boys,” said the dark curly-haired lad, “lets make sure the people at the Grave hear us singing as we go in. I’ll strike it up. Ready everyone?

                                I love my Dora Ann

                                The sweetest girl I know

                                From her forehead with its tan

                                To the tip of her big toe, oh!

These boys could really sing. The green broom-covered slopes of the mountains rose up all around us to the blue sky above, their reflections clear on the still waters of the lake. Here and there were scattered white-painted farmhouses – we had left the collective farms behind us at the high end of the valley – white-painted farmhouses surrounded by trees, the sun flooding in through their wide windows, and each one with its smooth driveway leading down to the road which itself was as wide and smooth as a billiard table.

With that, Beddgelert came into view. It was familiar with its grey stones, but  a bit bigger than I remembered. It had been remodelled a bit for the convenience of traffic, and the new houses around it were designed to melt into the surroundings, so that the village’s character was intact. On arriving in the centre, I saw that the signs on every shop and restaurant were in Welsh: Cigydd (Butcher), Dilledydd (Tailor), Oriadurwr (Watchmaker), Llysieuwr (Greengrocer)… Y Tywysog Llywelyn (The Prince Llywelyn), Pen y Sarasin (The Saracen’s Head), Yr Afr Reiol (The Royal Goat)… It’s true there was a signpost with red letters on it directing visitors ‘To Gelert’s Grave’; but above them were green letters compelling us to go ‘At Fedd Gelert’.

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