“Another deuced Welshman,” were the first words I heard, spoken in English, when I came to myself.
This time, like the time before, I was painfully sick. I knew that someone was holding my head, and someone else was standing between me and a bright light that was shining on me from the wall.
“Llywarch…” I said, “Dr. Llywarch…”
The two men carried on speaking to each other in English. My eyes began to clear a little, and I reached my hand out to the man I couldn’t see well who was standing between me and the light.
“Dr. Llywarch?” I said again.
Then my eyes cleared completely, and I could see the man clearly. It wasn’t Llywarch. His head was bald and he wore dark glasses, with a small beard on his chin.
“How do you feel?” he said, with a little kindness.
“Where is Dr. Llywarch?”
“I don’t know who you mean. My name’s Spencer. My colleague here’s Crane. We heard you raving in Welsh before you came to. We guessed it was Welsh because we’ve had others here from the 1960s and 70s. It is Welsh, isn’t it?”
“Of course it’s Welsh. Isn’t there anyone here who speaks Welsh?”
The two laughed loudly.
“Lord, no!” said Spencer “The Welsh language died out years ago.”
I broke out in a cold sweat. Were they pulling my leg? Or telling the truth? But I took comfort. For sure, I must have lost my way in time. I said,
“But this is Cardiff?”
“Of course it’s Cardiff.”
“What year is it?”
The cold sweat turned into a shiver. Something was very wrong. The same place. The same year. But no Llywarch. No Gwilym. No Welsh. It was like a bad dream, and I wanted to wake up. But the laboratory was substantial enough – a clinical, white room – and Spencer and Crane were flesh and blood sure enough. I tried to get up from the hard bed, and Crane helped me. He took me through a mist wall similar to the one that had been in Llywarch’s laboratory, and Spencer came to me after a few minutes with coffee in a thermos and sandwiches. He placed them on the table in from of me and I began to eat.
I asked Spencer what he was doing in Cardiff.
“I’m Professor of Superdynamics at the University.”
The same job as Llywarch. And in the same place. How could I make sense of things? But perhaps, I said, there was a professor in the same field in Bangor or in Aberystwyth, and that he’s be able to speak some amount of Welsh.
“There is no college at Bangor or Aberystwyth.”
I stared at him, and said to his face that he was wrong.
“Not at all. They were closed at the end of the last century. The whole University was moved down here. For convenience and efficiency.”
I gave up trying to understand. All this was beyond me. Way beyond me.
“Wait a minute,” said Crane. “What about that phoney old fool in Rubena? You know, Spencer, he lives in the next street to you.”
“What about him?”
“He has a Welsh name on his house. He had a letter in the Mail the other day asking if there was anyone beside him who knew any Welsh. Perhaps he’d like to put this fellow up for a night or two.”
What a difference between the welcome from these two and the welcome I received from Llywarch. They were fairly kind, but “this fellow” is all I was to them when all was said and done. “Mr. Powell” was so much more respectful.
“Good idea,” said Spencer. “We’ll take him.”
The two of the changed their loose grey coats for plastic raincoats, and put one over my shoulders. They took me through innumerable doors, and at last we came out into the street. It was dull and raining heavily, and through the rain and dullness I could see the city lights. Not soft multicoloured lights, but harsh white lights. “Convenience and efficiency” lights.
We went into a car quite similar to Llywarch’s, an atomic car. But Spencer was driving this one himself. I asked, weren’t Cardiff’s streets were radiomagnetic, and couldn’t the car steer itself?
“Lord, no!” said Spencer. “There are radiomagnetic streets in London, Birmingham, Liverpool – but not in Cardiff. The Government would think them a waste of money in a little provincial town like this.”
Spencer drove through the rain, through much wilder traffic than I had seen in Llywarch’s Wales, indeed than I had ever seen. Our car avoided another by a hair’s breadth, and Spencer drove up to Rhiwbina. I saw blocks of flats, all the same shape, all the same colour, to the left and to the right. True, there were a few trees, but it was obvious that “convenience and efficiency” was behind all planning. There was no attempt here to create beauty or homeliness.
The car same to a halt in front of a terrace of houses. In front of the houses there was a concrete strip and a narrow ribbon of grass either side of it to break up the greyness. Above the grass there grew a few spindly trees, clearly having reached the extent of their growth. The three of us went out of the car and up to the houses. As we went past each one, I noticed the names on the doors: Home; Hollywood; Haven; Paradise; Lido; Lookyou… Some of them without any name at all, just a number. And then, I stood still. There was a door with the name “Eryri”.
“How d’you pronounce that?” said Spencer.
I said “Eryri.”
They both laughed, and Spencer went to knock on the door. After we’d waited a while, the door opened, and an elderly man stood there – about seventy, I’d say – his neck bent, and his white hair flowing over his collar.
“Say something in Welsh,” Spencer said to me.
“Good evening,” I said. “How are you?”
The old man’s eyes lit up, and he stood straight.
“Welsh!” he said. “Welsh, at last! My dear boy, come in.”
Then he cast a fearful glance at Spencer and Crane. Spencer told him not to worry, they weren’t members of the secret police. They explained to the old man how I’d come to be there, and asked if he could put me up for a night or two. He said he’d do that gladly, and took me into the house. The two scientists said goodnight, and off they went through the rain.
“My name’s Richards,” said the old man, once we’d entered the house. “Professor Richards, to give you my full title…”
“Yes, yes. I was Professor of Classics at Durham University before I retired. And like every language professor, I had a keen interest in languages, you know. And that’s why I learned Welsh in my old age… But come, I’m sure you’re hungry.”
I told him that I’d had coffee and sandwiches in the laboratory.
“Oh no, no, that’s not enough for a young man. I’ll make you supper. I live on my own. I lost ,y wife some years ago, and we didn’t have children… Come. Come through to the kitchen, so I can talk to you while I cook.”
I went with him into a small, remarkably clean kitchen, and Professor Richards pulled about a pound of sausages and a couple of rashers of bacon out of the fridge. He melted lard into the frying pan on the electric stove before putting the meat into it. Then he went to make coffee.
“Now then, what’s your name, my boy?” he said, aiming his coffee spoon right at me.
“Ifan Powell. You can call me Ifan.”
“I see. And you come from the middle of the 20th Century, that fortunate age when Welsh was still alive… from where in Wales?”
“Indeed! I was born in Arfon, you know. And I could speak Welsh in my childhood. But my family moved to England in 1962, when I was nine years old. There was no work in Arfon for my father. And I lost the language. Completely. But in my last years in Durham, I thought I’d like to learn it again. And I came to Cardiff to live after retiring, thinking I might find someone here to speak Welsh with. But there’s no-one here who can. No-one!”
“You speak Welsh very well, if I may say so.”
“Oh, I got hold of some old records giving Welsh lessons. That’s how my pronunciation has come to be reasonable. And I read Welsh every day. Every Welsh book I can get hold of. Of course, very few are available nowadays. Microfilm of the most important Welsh books can be found in the libraries at Oxford and London – the old National Library at Aberystwyth was turned into a hotel years ago, of course – but it’s hard to get hold of actual books… it is…”
“And you’re saying, Professor, that there’s no-one alive except you who can speak Welsh?”
“No-one as far as I know. But it’s hard for me to believe that there isn’t an old man or an old woman somewhere who can remember something of the language. I’d love to go on a tour around Wales sometime to ask around. But travelling in Wales is so difficult for an old creature like me. On my own.”
“I’ll come with you if you like.”
“What? On a journey through Wales?”
“I absolutely will. Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? Well, well, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it… But.. well, it’s a good idea. Indeed, it’s an excellent idea. All right. Tomorrow it is.”
The professor looked like he was stunned. He carried the food and coffee through for me into the living room, and told me to eat up. As I ate, he asked me about Welsh life in my own age, about Welsh books, Welsh radio programmes, Welsh religious services, Welsh dialects… it was all a wonder to him.
After supper, I decided to jump in at the deep end, and try to find an explanation for the situation. I told him about the five days that I had spent with the Llywarch family in Free Wales, in the same year that we were in now. I asked him what had happened to that Wales.
He shook his head kindly.
“You were dreaming, my boy. Dreaming. It was a sweet dream, for sure, but only a dream. Of course, scientists tell us that the fourth dimension plays tricks, and that a man can travel to a future that isn’t a future… but I’m not a scientist.”
“I hope that I’m dreaming now, Professor,” I said.
“Does it look like a dream? Am I, and my furniture, and my house, not real?”
They were, indeed. But then, Dr. Llywarch and his furniture and his house had been just as real. What on earth was the explanation?
“I’m sure, Professor, that Dr. Llywarch is to be found somewhere in Wales today. Even if he doesn’t speak Welsh any more. And I’m sure that… Mair.”
“His daughter. I was in love with her.”
“Oh, my dear boy. How sad for you. Is that why you want to travel through Wales? To look for… Mair?”
“Very well,” he said. “We’ll look for Mair.”
But he said it without conviction. It was obvious that he didn’t believe we’d ever see Mair. But I’d show him. I was sure I’d find her. Completely sure. The professor stood up.
“Well, Ifan, we must go to bed now if we are to get up tomorrow. I always keep a bed ready in case anyone calls. Come with me.”
The bedroom was poor. There was no coloured radio set like in the room in Llywarch’s house. There was no wide window looking out on the rainbow-lights of Cardiff. There was no Bible on the bedside table. But the bed was comfortable. I was tired. I was wrenched with disappointment. And I was glad that even in such a disappointing world as this there was such a blessing as sleep to be had.