It’s been over a year since ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’ was published and the novel has been going well. Yet the story didn’t end there – how could it? I have been busy planning to release a sequel, which takes the story onwards from 1915.
Dafydd has been working as a frieman in Oswestry and secures a transfer back to his home town of Aberystwyth. He thinks it is time, although the world has changed and nothing will ever be the same again.
As we’re mostly all stuck at home, (I salute those who continue to keep the country going and fight this damned virus – we are all behind you in spirit), I thought why not have a sneak preview of what is to come. So here’s the start of …. the Long Way Home. Keep safe everyone.
Chapter 1 – The return (1915)
There was something triumphant in the train’s approach to Aberystwyth. It raced up Commins Bank before shooting round the curve into the Rheidol valley like a bagatelle and then finally speeding towards the town. A quick whistle to Llanbadarn Church, a hiss of steam acknowledging Plascrug Castle, then quickly coasting past the engine shed and the throat of the goods yard to the bustling station.
Dafydd was sure that if the engine had arms, they would have been outstretched crying;
‘Look at me! Here I am! I have returned!’
That was certainly how he felt. His time across the border at Oswestry, though enjoyable, had felt like an exile. Now he was back with something to show for it. Passed fireman and a transfer back to his hometown. The pain of the past was washed clean out of him.
Dafydd grinned in anticipation of a warm cup of coffee at his sister’s cafe. He left the platform then stopped abruptly, as the sight of a woman with curly fair hair made him miss his step. He waited to see a beautiful wide smile…
The woman turned towards him and Dafydd relaxed. It was not who he thought it was. Besides, he thought. I’m past that time. I’m mature now. Oswestry had been good to him. The wound to his heart had healed.
The small station forecourt provided limited shelter from the sun, as Dafydd made his way to the street outside. The shops had lowered their canopies to allow people to walk in the shade. Dafydd quickly took advantage of this to cool down. He walked down the street, the end appearing to touch the blue sky. Halfway along, he turned off and made for a cafe.
The smile that greeted him as he walked through the door mirrored the sunshine outside. His younger sister, Angharad, rushed forward to hug him and kiss his cheek. The assembled customers affected a genteel air of embarrassment, but this was lost on the girl as she drew him into the small cafe.
Dafydd ignored the chorus of gasps and tuts of disapproval from the customers and looked towards the proprietor of the cafe. The bushy moustache almost hid the smile, but the pleasure still shone from his eyes. A small cough preceded his welcome greeting, a legacy of the years spent mining lead in the Ceredigion Mountains, far from the shores of his native land of Italy.
‘Daveed,’ he said, his baritone voice still stumbling over the Welsh name.
‘Hello Donato,’ Dafydd said. ‘I am sorry to disturb your cafe.’
‘For why? You are always welcome. A visit?’
‘No, my friend. I have moved. Been sent down to Aber shed as passed fireman. It means I’m a fireman and I can drive unimportant trains or shunting sometimes when needed, until I learn the road and get some experience, like.’
Donato smiled. ‘I understand. You have new job, a better job. And a home perhaps? You stay with us?’
Dafydd shook his head. ‘I have lodgings already.’
‘The old lady in Trefechan? Yes, yes. She always looked out for you. Sioned is out back, go see her. We talk later. Please, go.’
Dafydd moved through to the back of the small cafe and into a parlour. Sioned looked up from the fireplace, where she was brushing the grate. She quickly got up to greet her brother, brushing her hands clean of the coal dust. Her slow warm smile matched the embrace of welcome.
‘You didn’t tell them.’ Dafydd said.
‘I thought the surprise would be worth it,’ Sioned replied. ‘I could have heard Angharad all the way to the promenade just now. You did not leave much behind?’
‘Nothing. Not much to pack. Oh, I see… Smart you are there. I got no sweetheart, if that’s what you’re thinking.’
‘Just looking out for you, bach. I’ll have you down church then, doffing your cap at the spinsters!’
Dafydd smiled and kissed her cheek. ‘I’m over her, it’s past. All done now. I have too much to look forward to dwell on back then.’
She stepped back and looked at him with a sigh, before pecking him on the cheek.
‘If you say so. Where you staying?’
‘Greenfield Street. A room in one of them new terraced houses.’
‘Not Mrs Lewis in Trefechan? She always been good to you.’ She arched her eyebrows and his shoulders collapsed at the discovery of the lie.
‘Alright, I lied, Mrs Lewis. She’s part of the past, so maybe I should be staying somewhere else then?’
‘Well, you know we can squeeze you in, if you’re stuck?’
‘Thanks, cariad. If you don’t mind, I’ll stay by the river.’
‘You Trefechan Turkeys are a law unto yourselves, Daf bach!’
‘You’re not over busy?’ Dafydd asked.
‘No, nothing the others can’t handle and young Owain is asleep also.’
She moved to the kettle and Dafydd looked on in approval. For someone six months after giving birth, his sister looked good for it, but he knew she was tired. Sioned came back with a tray containing two cups of tea and a plate of bara brith, which Dafydd gratefully accepted.
‘So, tell me what you been doing, Daf. It’s been nearly five years and we haven’t seen you up to now.’
‘I been having fun,’ Dafydd replied with a hint of a boyish grin. ‘I been taught how to fire, proper like and I been learning the roads from Whitchurch all the way to here and up the coast. I know when to talk and when to shovel. And I fired just about every kind of loco the Cambrian’s got.’
‘You and your toys,’ Sioned smiled gently.
Dafydd paused and looked at his sister’s otherwise poker face.
‘Oh alright, girl, truth is, I’m happy doing what I’m doing. It’s hard, but you can’t have it all your own way now, can you?’
There was a pause and Dafydd looked at a circling bubble on his tea.
‘I’m past her now, Sioned. Honest, I am looking forward.’
‘She hurt you so much, cariad,’ Sioned replied.
‘I was a fool, Sioned. I made her wait for me until she was on the door of the workhouse.’
‘That’s no excuse for her taking another woman’s husband to bed.’
‘Well it is when you are penniless.’
‘Aye, they have a name for that and all.’
It was Sioned’s turn to stare at her cup.
‘I’m sorry, but it changed you, Daf. You were full of spirit before and then you went in yourself. You’ve not been over here for five years. Five years, cariad! And I know you’ve been in town on trains, so don’t tell me otherwise. They say you don’t go further than the shed and keep your head down when in the station, as if you’re hiding. Don’t deny it!’
‘Dad understands you know, even though it meant he never sees you.’
‘It’s not her fault!
‘…That you don’t come here? I’m sorry, Dafydd, we’ll never agree on that score. She’s the talk of the town that one, walking round as if she owns the place. Being the lover of a rich man doesn’t put you above your station in life.’
‘Alright Sioned!’ Dafydd snapped and the noise in the parlour dropped to only the hiss and crackle of the logs on the fire.
‘I’m glad you told me you were coming,’ Sioned finally said. ‘I am still surprised you did come, but I am glad for it and all.’
‘I’m sorry, Sioned. I know you’re angry with her and I’m angry with me. I lost a lot of time worrying about it all, but it’s changed. Moving down a different path now, I am.’
‘Well if you say so, so what will you be doing now at the shed?’
Dafydd perked up with the chance to talk about his work.
‘I’ll be firing and covering driving. Mostly freight, some local passenger. Been bumped up the links a bit to cover them that’s joined up for the war. Everyone’s short of good men and now railways is a reserved occupation, I’m happy to have got the chance.’
He sighed. ‘I got to go, Sioned. I have to report to the shed and make ready.’
‘Course you have, cariad. Well, come over for Sunday and I’ll have a place set for you at lunch.’
They moved out of the parlour and back to the cafe. Angharad moved to give him a quick hug and Donato nodded with a grin.
Dafydd felt the warmth of the greetings. For a moment, a wave of regret washed over him as he thought of the years he had wasted in exile. He had missed the love of his family. Then he stopped smiling. He had done what had needed to be done at the time. Now he just had to carry on and make the best of it.
He walked through the cafe and paid attention to the customers. One or two knew him or at least that he was family. Their smiles were warm and he welcomed them with a nod.
He reached the door and looked out onto the street. There was the gentle bustle of everyday life. A horse cart went by, the driver shouting a greeting to a window cleaner, pushing his barrow. Ladies window shopped, looking at fine clothes for sale, in spite of the Kaiser’s shadow over things.
Dafydd’s gaze was drawn to a lady walking down the road. He admired the way she strolled confidently down the pavement, basket under one arm. Her smile disarmed all the hostile gazes in her path, creating an impermeable wall to all who would cast scorn. He stood admiring her for a while, before his brain suddenly went numb with the shock of recognition. His hands tingled and the base of his spine went rigid.
‘Moving on, cariad,’ Sioned whispered from behind him. ‘Moving on.’