Part 2: Ancestral Voices

Chapter 10. Bangor – Llandygái 1915

John Griffiths stepped off the train at Bangor station. He could take a cab, but it was a fine day and he was happy to walk another two miles — and back again afterwards, come to that — on top of the mile and a half he had already walked from Nantlle to Talysarn station. At the age of 73 he was as sturdy as ever. He was a practising quarryman still, at Penyrorsedd, which kept him fit, and because he had never worked in the slate dust of the mills his lungs were in good trim.

The reason for his journey was one that encouraged reminiscence, and as he picked his way through the bustle of Bangor High Street he let his mind roam over the last half century and more.

After he had lost Rowland, after that painful parting at Ty Mawr, he had never seen him again. In a fit of bitterness, when Rowland was ordained and had clearly turned his back on him for good, he had destroyed his photograph of them together. He soon regretted it, but it was too late to order a replacement, for the photographer had left Tremadoc. From time to time he had heard of Rowland’s success as a minister and success as a poet. Twenty two years ago he had heard of his victory in the eisteddfod and had written to congratulate him, only to receive the curtest of acknowledgements. And only a couple of years ago he had heard of his death. He had gone to Penmaenmawr to the funeral, along with six hundred others. Even after all that time he had owed it to Rowland. He had owed to him, the only real love of his life, nearly two years of happiness. That outweighed, by now, the bitterness of their parting and the loneliness that followed.

He had subsequently eyed a number of other boys at Treforys — Joseph Judding who despite his English name was as Welsh as could be, Ellis Jones’s son Owen, even Thomas Evans’ son Thomas. All to no avail. Not one came anywhere near the Rowland standard.

In 1866 the quarry company folded, having frittered away all its capital on prematurely extravagant works before the quarry was proved. Truth was, there was no quarry there to prove: the slate was lousy, as any of the workmen could have told them on the very first day. The tidal wave of brash humanity which had swept over Cwmystradllyn receded, and the valley reverted thankfully to somnolent isolation. The displaced men moved on. Daniel migrated, in company with Thomas Evans, to Hendre Ddu quarry on the other side of Cwm Pennant, where he could earn enough to maintain his accustomed life-style.

But by then John had already gone. He stuck it out for two years of loneliness after the cymanfa, enduring his father’s growing suspicions about his lack of manliness, before breaking free of Gorseddau. He left with few regrets. The place had given him seven years of work and experience and a love he could never forget, but he was no longer at ease there. He found work easily enough in Dyffryn Nantlle, where he continued to keep his eyes open for a second Rowland. But still to no avail.

He was beyond the High Street now, down at the shore, observing that the shipping in Port Penrhyn was much diminished by the current hazards of war. Soon the mile-long stretch of park wall around Penrhyn Castle came up to meet him on the left.

The years had passed. Bachelors of long standing were not unknown. But, because they did not follow the accepted norm, they were liable to attract curiosity, innuendo, finger-pointing, even taunts. He had suffered that way. But he felt no shame at being the way he was. Why should he? He still believed the good Lord had made him so. Had he lived in a later age, he might have said he was proud to be gay, but in his own time the sentiment was too radical to enter his head. Even now, in his old age, he had never heard the word ‘homosexual,’ let alone its Welsh equivalent.

But being different, however natural it felt to him, did come at a price. In his mid-thirties, in self-defence, he had shrugged his shoulders and proposed to his neighbour Mary Pierce. She was on the shelf. She was far from pretty; but she was affectionate and incurious and left him to his own thoughts. Neither had exploited the other: indeed, though she never knew it, they had scratched each other’s backs. She needed a husband whom she otherwise had small chance of finding. He needed a wife as a shield. Had Rowland married for the same reason? A minister needs to be above suspicion. But had he kept his copy of their photograph? Probably not, probably not.

John and Mary had coexisted in harmony, and he had given her the fulfilment of motherhood. But when she died thirteen years back, it was with some relief that he reverted to independence. Where an ageing bachelor might carry a stigma, a widower did not.

Mary and he had produced Owen, a shy and introspective boy who, rather like Rowland, showed an early hankering for the ministry. John had long suspected him of harbouring desires similar to his own; but now he too was getting married — again in his mid-thirties — for reasons which he also suspected were similar to his own. The bride was a girl of strong character, and an Anglican into the bargain. How Owen reconciled that to his ardent Methodist principles, John had yet to discover, and he foresaw that sparks would fly. That, then, was his destination today: the girl’s parish church of Llandygái, for an Anglican wedding.

The road widened, the gloomy gateway to the Castle towered on his left, and John turned off the Chester road into the quiet cul-de-sac, towards the church at the end of the street.

He could not see into the future. Little did he know that within three years his son, ostensibly pious but privately gay, would be drummed out of his chapel under a cloud of scandal and would disappear into oblivion.

That his unborn grandson would be a gay quarryman, destined to die tragically young.

That his great-grandson would be a gay bookseller who would disastrously marry an Englishwoman. A man who, nearly ninety years in the future, would be living in the very house he was then passing, and — this would have astonished John beyond measure — whose mantelpiece would be adorned with his and Rowland’s ffolant.

That his great-great-grandson would be a gay schoolboy who in all probability would be the last of his line. A boy who found his lover young, just as he had found his Rowland, but who was not so likely to lose him. A boy who was the first Griffiths in five generations with the prospect of living his life in a wholly natural way, free from social pressures, free from quandary.

Had John known this, he would have been glad for him, for he was a kindly and unselfish soul. But he would have been glad without understanding the part he himself had played in this happy result, for he had not the least idea what genes were.