To my astonishment, Llywarch walked through one of the misty walls of the little room, and I followed him. We went along a corridor which was like a neat and tidy bluish-green cave, with the lighted glass – or whatever it was – beneath our feet the whole time. Then we stood in front of a door. Llywarch pushed a button in the wall and the door opened itself. I felt a light breeze of my face, and could see that I was outdoors above the city. It was beginning to get dark, and before us was Cardiff, a pattern of gentle lights.
Llywarch walked before me to a vehicle that was waiting in the road, and held the door open for me. I went in without taking much notice of the outside of the vehicle. It looked similar enough to the motor cars of my own age. But when I went in, I held my breath. The inside of the vehicle was a small room with chairs in it. Llywarch closed the door, then thumbed a couple of dials on the little table at the front end, and I heard the vehicle move away. Llywarch sat opposite me in one of the chairs, and looked around happily.
“Dr. Llywarch,” I said rather anxiously, “don’t you steer this car?”
“Now, Mr. Powell,” he said. “Take things quietly, like I suggested to you before. This car steers itself. It’s a radio car, and I’ve told it which way to go and where to stop. All the streets of Cardiff are radiomagnetic, and they and the car understand each other perfectly.”
I dried a bit of the sweat from my forehead, and looked out through the wide windows. The same feeling struck me again: everything seemed somehow insubstantial, difficult to touch. Oh, Dr. Llywarch was substantial enough: no flesh and blood so alive had ever sat before me. I noticed for the first time that he had taken off his green coat, and I noticed his suit. A tight suit, in one piece from his throat down to his ankles. His work suit, probably. A type of overall. I looked through the window again.
There were trees all along the roads. Behind the trees there were buildings that were large, but insubstantial in the soft light, like magical buildings. The lights varied in colour from light green to pale orange, and the front of each building had a different light to it. Here again, I couldn’t see any lamps. All the light seemed to rise from the earth or rain from the air or grow with the trees.
The vehicle halted. I asked the Doctor,
“Have we arrived?”
“Not yet,” he said. “This is a crossroads, and the traffic is going in front of us until it is stopped.”
“The car stops by itself?”
“The radio connection with the road has been broken for a minute, and it pulls itself back.”
In a moment we were moving again. Onwards along the roads, through the seven-coloured lights, with similar vehicles in front of us and behind. We turned into a road where there were fewer vehicles and more trees, almost as it we were in the countryside. The vehicle pulled itself into a little lay-by beside the road and stood in front of an entrance.
“Here we are,” said Llywarch.
The door opened for me and I stepped down to the street. I breathed the air in through my nostrils.
“The air is wonderfully pure, Doctor. It’s not like town air.”
The Doctor smiled.
“We don’t have any smoke,” he said. “And the air-purifying machines are at work day and night. Come.”
He took me through the entrance and along a well-lit path between two hedgerows. Before me there was a house. At least, I gathered that it was a house. It was more like a temple, with eight or perhaps twelve sides to it, and half of them were glass. One part of the house was raised above the others, and a pale purple light fell on it from somewhere in the garden.
Llywarch put his key in the glass door, and as the door opened the hallway lit up. But it wasn’t a hallway, but like multiple hallways. We were in one large room which seemed to fill the whole floor of the house, as though someone had started building the walls of rooms but had given up when they were only just in from the outside wall. There were arches in the ceiling which tied the little walls together. I couldn’t tell what material the inside of the house was made from, but it was beautiful. The floor was just like the laboratory floor – the glass-like material which was warm underfoot and had light shining from it.
“We’d better go and change now,” said Llywarch. “This way, Mr. Powell.”
I followed him through a door that opened at the push of a button into a little room at the side. There was a bath and a lavatory – very similar to the ones I was familiar with – and Llywarch opened a wardrobe. He undressed before me without any embarrassment, and after I had finished washing he put a suit ready for me on a piece of furniture that resembled a bed. I picked up the suit, and thumbed it, and looked at it quite amazed.
“It’s nearly new,” said Llywarch, smiling. “It’s true that I’ve worn it once or twice, but it’s none the worse for it.”
I stared at Llywarch. He was wearing a saffron-coloured suit – a thin suit, shining from every fold, the jacket hanging loosely to about half the length of his thigh and the sleeves wider than any sleeves I had ever worn. Under the jacket he had a buttonless and zipless waistcoat reaching up to his neck, made of something similar to nylon and dark green. Round his neck he had an enormous bow-tie, the colour of wine.
“Good grief!” I said. “You look like a Chinese mandarin.”
He laughed harmoniously.
“Very possibly,” he said. “But you want find any Chinese mandarins nowadays, or any Chinese dressed like this. These are the clothes we wear in the evening. They’re very comfortable.”
I was ready to believe that.
“But aren’t they cold?”
“Our houses are warm” was the answer. And he added, “I’ve given you a suit whose colours are a little quieter. You’d better put it on. Supper will be ready very soon.”
I put on my suit, a blue suit of the same material as his saffron one, with a wine-coloured waistcoat and a big yellow-and-white bow tie.
“You’re proper twenty-first century now,” said Llywarch, satisfied. “Look at yourself.”
The wardrobe door became a mirror before my eyes, and I stared at myself. Once I’d got over the shock, I had to admit that I had never seen myself look so handsome. We went through again to the big, light room without any lamps, and walked across it till we came to one of the alcoves. Through the glass in the upper part of the wall I could see Cardiff like a rainbow of lights.
“Sit, Mr. Powell.”
I turned to sit, but stopped in my tracks. We were no longer in a big room, but in a cosy little room. Between us and where the rest of the big room ought to have been there was a misty, shimmering wall.
“I see,” said Llywarch, “that our walls are a bit of a mystery to you. We call our houses ‘liquid houses’. That is, we can make our rooms whatever shape we want. That wall in front of you isn’t a wall. All that’s happened is that I’ve pressed a button, and rays rise up from a slit in the wall and fall from a slot in the ceiling, and where they meet they create a warm synthetic mist. It’s ever so convenient.”
But my amazement was no less when I saw a woman coming through the wall of mist. A middle-aged woman, wearing a dark ankle-length gown. I’ve never had much of a gift for describing women’s clothes, but imagine what a genius like Christian Dior might make of Egyptian women’s clothes from the time of Rameses the Great, and that will give you a rough idea of this woman’s clothes. She was a very beautiful woman.
“This is Mrs. Llywarch,” said Llywarch. And to his wife, “This is Mr. Ifan Powell, from the 20th Century.”
Mrs. Llywarch extended her hand to me, and smiled.
“You are welcome,” she said. “My husband was expecting you, and your bedroom is ready. Did you have a pleasant journey?”
“I’d hardly say so,” I replied, and they both laughed.
“Supper’s ready, Alfan,” said Mrs. Llywarch. “Come through.””
Llywarch pushed a button on the wall, and the mist wall disappeared. We were one again in the large room, and in one of the other alcoves there was a table set for four. ‘Who is the fourth, I wonder?’ I said to myself. After we had sat down by the table, another mist wall closed around us and we were once again in a small cosy room.
“Where’s Mair?” asked Llywarch.
“She’ll come in a minute” said his wife. “She’s just come to the house. The new drama goes on a bit longer than the other one.”
“Our daughter’s in the National Theatre Company,” Llywarch told me. “Tonight was the first night of their new production. Perhaps you’d like to see it one evening.”
I said politely that I would, though the thing I’d have liked more than anything in the world would have been to go back to Tegid and Dr. Heinkel.
No sooner had the three of us started eating than a young woman came through the mist wall. I gave her a double-take. She wore white, and her dress too extended almost to her ankles. I’m not much of an authority on women, but I’d say that Mair Llywarch was one of the most beautiful young women I had ever seen. She had black hair and big dark eyes, which were both understanding and meditative. I could easily imagine her playing Ophelia on the stage. I rose to shake her hand.
“Did the new drama go well?” I asked.
“Quite well, thank you,” she said. “There was only one thing wrong. This is the first opening night I’ve done that my parents haven’t been there to see.”
“Now, fair play, Mair,” said Llywarch. “We couldn’t come tonight, while we were expecting such an important visitor.”
“I forgive you,” said Mair, raising her chin beguilingly. I was sure that I wasn’t a good enough excuse, as far as she was concerned, for her parents to stay home from the theatre. I hoped that I hadn’t brought discord to the family.
Once we had finished the outstandingly good soup, Mrs. Llywarch brought the second course to the table. I noticed that vegetables of all sorts were on the others’ plates, but there was a whole chicken on mine.
“Take no notice of us,” she said. “We don’t eat meat. But we were sure that you’d be different.
“I am indeed,” I said, eyeing the chicken hungrily. “But I’m afraid that even I can’t eat a whole bird.”
“Eat what you can and leave the rest,” she said kindly.
I had to carve the chicken for myself. After putting a bit of it between my teeth, it was very obvious that the Llywarchs weren’t used to cooking meat. It was pretty tough. I did my best with it, even so, and the potatoes and peas were superb. And whatever the pudding was that came after it, it was among the best puddings I’ve ever had. It was big and white, melted in the mouth and slipped down like heaven. I wasn’t brave enough to ask what was in it. After dinner, a coffee percolator was brought to the table – a big glass bowl with a little lamp beneath it, and in no time at all the coffee was bubbling through it happily.
“Where do you get your coffee these days?” I asked. “From Brazil, still, I expect?”
“This came from the Tywi Valley,” said Llywarch.
I swallowed a bit while it was still too hot, and coughed. I thought that Llywarch was either pulling my leg or talking through his hat, but I wasn’t brave enough to say that to his face. Llywarch went on to explain:
“A lot of farmers in Wales have found that it’s no bigger a deal to grow coffee and cocoa and oranges and bananas than it was to grow tomatoes and grapes in your day. We still import those things, of course. But it’s a fair bit cheaper to import the sunshine to grow our own coffee and lemons.”
I stared at him.
“Yes, for sure. Quite a lot of tropical countries these days make good business from bottling sunshine – the technology of the thing would be of no interest to you – and exporting it to colder countries. And the farmers in Wales who are interested in doing so shine it on their coffee fields or their lemon groves or whatever it is they’ve got – all in greenhouses, of course. The Welsh produce isn’t as good as what grows under natural conditions in the topics and sub-tropics, but it’s pretty good for all that.”
I said that Tywi Valley coffee was good, anyway.
“But Welsh farmers haven’t given up on growing wheat and raising sheep and cattle?” I asked.
“On the contrary, we grow and raise more than ever. We don’t eat meat, but we drink a lot of milk. And we still wear wool, though you wouldn’t recognise it in our clothes by now. But we’ll talk about farming another time. Come, we’ll go back to that furthest alcove over there. We’re expecting visitors any minute.”
I thanked Mrs. Llywarch for the supper, and attempted a joke.
“I thought that no-one would eat food in the future – forgive me – in these days, just swallow vitamin tablets.”
Llywarch laughed again.
“Food tablets are available,” he said, “and you can live on them for a long time. But you try persuading the Welsh to stop eating, and you’d raise a rebellion. No, the doctors are quite clear that everyone should eat. The pleasure that is to be had through eating is essential for the digestion.”
Before we had sat down in the furthest alcove, the doorbell rang.
“Forgive me,” said Llywarch, “here are our visitors.”
He came back from the vestibule with two men following him. They were both wearing long, thick cloaks, and when they took off the cloaks I saw that they were wearing colourful suits like Llywarch and myself. Llywarch introduced them to me.
“Two friends of mine, Mr. Powell: Mr. Baecker, the Ambassador from Bavaria, and Mr. Telting, the Ambassador from Friesland.”
The two greeted me in Welsh, and I was amazed. I soon saw that Baecker, the short fat one, couldn’t speak much Welsh, but Telting, the tall thin one, was fluent. Most of the conversation was, in any case, in Welsh, with Llywarch and Telting switching to German occasionally for Baecker’s sake. Baecker spoke to me in English. It was an interesting Babel. After talking for a while,
“Wine, Herr Llywarch, wine!” said Baeker in Welsh. “Where is the wine?”
Llywarch winked at Telting and went out. I asked the foreigners a bit about their countries. Each went into such detail that I was sorry I’d asked. It was obvious that politics had changed quite a lot by now. I gathered that Bavaria and Friesland had had their own governments for many years and were thriving countries, but when Telting tried to explain the various alliances and federations that they belonged to, I gave up trying to follow him. Llywarch came back with a bottle of wine and one glass, and put them on a small table by Baecker’s elbow. Baecker helped himself.
“Ah! You temperate Welshmen and Frieslanders!” he said, in English. “If I were home in beautiful Bavaria, everyone would be rushing for the bottle. And everyone would be happy. Everyone singing! But I must say this about you, Llywarch. For a strict teetotaller, you have an excellent taste in wine”
Llywarch told him to drink his wine quietly, and turned to Telting to discuss some measure which was to be brought before parliament the following day. I cut across them.
“Which parliament are you talking about?”
Llywarch looked at me.
“Our parliament, of course. The Welsh Parliament. Forgive me, I’d forgotten. Wales didn’t have a Parliament when you began your journey. I’ll take you to see it at the beginning of the week.”
“Is it a success?” I asked.
All three of them were looking at me blankly.
“That is,” I said then, feeling I’d rather put my foot in it, “is it better for Wales with its own parliament than it was without it?”
“Is there any way it can be worse for a country to be under its own parliament, than to be under a foreign parliament?” asked Telting.
Baecker laughed. He’d obviously understood the gist of the conversation.
“Watch that the U.B.L. don’t get their hands on you, Mr. Powell,” he said. “They’ll want to have you as a parliamentary candidate.”
“United Britain League,” explained Llywarch. “They’re the descendants of the Tories from your day. They have members in the English and Scottish parliaments as well.”
“Are they strong?”
“They’ll never be strong enough to form a government.”
“Who forms the government at the moment?”
“The Co-operatives, with the support of the Sons of the Soil. Then, in opposition, we have the Progressives, the New Marxists, the…”
“Enough, enough!” said Baecker across us. “Politics is even duller than temperance. Where is the Llywarch Daughter? How about some music?”
Llywarch pressed a button in the wall, and the wall between us and the large hall melted away. He called for his daughter. Then, with remarkable effortlessness, he pulled a large white piano out from one of the opposite walls, which until then had been fitted into the wall as if into a socket. Mair came down the stairs, and I noticed once again how attractive she was. She looked at me and smiled, and then came to speak a word with Baecker and Telting.
“You were magnificent in the drama tonight,” said Baecker, his eyes bulging with lust and wine.
“Magnificent,” added Telting, bowing.
“Thank you,” said Mair.
“I hope,” said Baecker then, “that the National Theatre of Wales will accept the invitation to send a company over to München, so that my compatriots may have the privilege of seeing you.”
“You are… very kind,” she said hurriedly, trying to avoid his lustful eyes. “Forgive me… I see that my father has fetched the piano for me.”
Baecker filled his wine glass and raised it above his head.
“To music!” he said.
Mrs. Llywarch brought the coffee percolator and set it down on the floor, and we all sat around it. Mair sat by the piano. I couldn’t make head nor tail of the first piece that came out of the instrument. She was plucking the strings underneath the lid, banging the keyboard with her fingers, and making all manner of noises which were unfamiliar to me.
“A work of one of my compatriots, Mr. Powell,” said Telting proudly. “Van Tott.”
“Indeed,” I said rather drily. The composers of this distant age were no sweeter than the modern composers of my own age. Having finished that strange piece, Mair played a fantasia on Welsh harp airs. This wasn’t my cup of tea either, but at least I knew the tunes. Then her mother called on her to sing some of the classics, for my sake. I saw at that moment that her mother was an unusually astute woman. She had sensed, without me saying anything, that my taste was unable to leap over eighty years like my body had done. Listening to Mair sailing through Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and playing them as I was sure they ought to be played, I began to feel the awful distance between myself and my own age a little less.
After listening to the music, and drinking the coffee, and making a great fuss and bowing as they said goodbye, Baecker and Telting left the house. Mair kissed her father and mother and went to rest. Llywarch and I went upstairs to my bedroom. It was a small room, inoffensive in its design and colouring, with a door opening from it into my private washroom. By the bed was a Bible and the smallest radio set I had ever seen.
“I’m going to give you a sleeping tablet, Mr. Powell,” said Llwyarch. “We never take them, but I’m afraid you won’t sleep without it after the unusual journey you’ve had. You like music. I’ll set this radio playing. There’ll be no need for you to turn it off; I’ll set it to turn itself off within the hour.”
The radio began to play sweetly, and not only play. From the small glass panels in its sides there came a series of colours, and these played softly on the walls around. After Llywarch had said goodnight and left, I slipped into the silk nightshirt on the bed, and opened the Bible. To my surprise, it was in modern Welsh – indeed, much more modern than my own – and very easy to read. I read until my eyes felt heavy, and then lay in the bed. Oh, what a lovely bed! The quiet music by my head lulled me slowly, and the dancing colours on the walls made my eyes drunk. Before long I was sleeping heavily.