Part 2: Ancestral Voices

Chapter 7. Caernarfon 2001

At 9.30 on Wednesday morning we were back at the Archives, more interested in the love affair than in my family as such. Again we divided the work. I found Rowland’s baptism in the Llanaelhaiarn register — born 1st August 1840. I checked the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald for January 1859 for the accident report. The small and tight-packed print made for hard reading, and constantly diverted me with lurid accounts of shipwrecks and of murders. I carried on leafing through the same bound volume, in the hope of information on the Revival as manifested at Gorseddau. Sooner than I dared hope, at the end of March 1859, I found it: the brief notice of a cymanfa bregethu — preaching meeting — at the quarry, addressed by Humphrey Jones and the Rev David Morgan, when ‘scores were drawn to Christ.’ This, no doubt, was when Rowland was converted, only two and a half months after his accident.

Meanwhile Huw, who had drawn the short straw today, was ploughing through censuses in pursuit of Rowland. He was in Llanaelhaiarn in 1841 as a baby and in Llanllyfni in 1851 as a schoolboy. He was not there in 1861, though the rest of his family was. Presumably he was away at the Calvinistic Methodist college in Bala, which was in a different county for which they did not have the census here. In 1871 and through to 1901 he was in Penmaenmawr as a minister. Judging by the age of his children, he had married in about 1863, the year he was ordained.

I finished my job before Huw, and moved on to the catalogue of the Rowland Jones papers, which had been donated to the Archives by a granddaughter. As Tad had foretold, they were nearly all to do with his later life, especially Methodist affairs and his poetry. I skimmed through, but nothing struck me as of interest. Then Huw, his census-searching over, took a look, and his more methodical eye spotted two items which might just possibly be of interest. We filled in order forms for them both.

One was ‘Photograph, two young men, identity unknown, no date.’ It turned out to be a nugget of pure gold. In its size, in the mount, and in the photographer’s imprint on the back, it was identical to ours of Daniel and John. And one of the subjects was John, standing again, wearing, as far as we could recall, exactly the same clothes. The pictures must have been taken at the same time. But seated on the chair, instead of Daniel, was a young man who, given the source of the photo, could only be Rowland. Yes. A magnifying glass showed blemishes on his face, like pock marks but bigger. Scars, surely, from the blast. As I bent close over the picture, a tear dripped off my cheek, but luckily landed on the lens.

The other item in the catalogue was a bundle of letters congratulating Rowland on winning the chair at the 1893 eisteddfod. The catalogue merely listed the writers: seventy-three names including a John Griffiths. To our huge delight he proved to be our John. The letter, written from Nantlle, was quite short and formal.

My dear Rowland,

More than thirty years have passed since we last communicated. But I am compelled by your recent triumph to break the silence …

There followed a brief paragraph of rather stilted congratulations. Then it became more personal, but very discreet. Nobody, unless like us they had the clue and could read between the lines, would see anything significant in it:

Whatever your feelings may now be, my dear Rowland, I still recall our twenty months of freedom together in Number 20, and your convalescence there from your accident, with unbounded pleasure and gratitude.

Tactful, but clear. Both had been in Number 20, without supervision. And Rowland had stayed on there after his accident until, presumably, the Revival cymanfa. The story of the love affair was taking on a dim outline.

We got photocopies of the letter and, to tide us over, of the portrait, and we ordered a proper photographic copy of it too, though that would take a fortnight. After that, we could think of no more leads to follow in pursuit of Rowland.

The Archives closed for lunch, and as we chewed our sandwiches outside, overlooking the marina in Victoria Dock, we also chewed over what we had learned of John’s lover.

“Huw, John looked like me. I wish, somehow, Rowland had looked like you. But he didn’t. Black hair, not fair, and his face was quite different. Attractive, but different. I reckon I’d have fallen for him if I’d been around then, and you hadn’t. Are you jealous?”

“Silly boy!”

“Though it’s pretty obvious he turned all pious and threw John over. I don’t like that at all. He may have been attractive, but he must have been a total prick … But Huw, he kept that photo. Does that mean he still had a soft spot for John? And another thing. Studio portraits can’t have been cheap in those days. I wonder who paid for them. Daniel, I suppose. Diverting some of his drinking money for a lad he must have known was his son’s bosom friend. Did he suspect anything more than that?”

“I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the answer to either. But you’re right. The real tragedy, I reckon, was the Revival cymanfa. Up to that point, I’m sure they were deep in love. Just like us. They’d lived together for — what? twenty months? — and then, just think of it, Rowland must have suddenly gone all cold and distant and superior. He must have regretted what they’d done. After all, he didn’t stay in touch. And I’m equally sure that John did not regret it. It must have hurt him, Elfed. Their parting. Hurt like hell.”

“If you threw me over to become a minister, Huw, I think I might kill myself.”

There was a long silence.