A brief recap of chapters 9-11
“Her face was white as chalk, like a face in a coffin, except her eyes were open, and they were shining black like blackcurrants and when she looked at me, they went through me like steel pins.”
After the eerie surreality of chapter 8, the narrative returns to the quotidian in chapter 9 and we are introduced to the boy’s doughty Gran (Betsan Parry) from Pen Bryn. She is a strict but kindly character, whom he describes as a “tough ‘un” and a “good sort”. She is called upon to look after mother and son when Mam is taken ill and the boy is “frightened” having returned from school to find her “sitting in the rocking chair”, unable to speak, with a face “white as chalk” and “huge” eyes, “as though they were about to come out of her head.” The old lady lives with them for three months, “till Mam [gets] better and, for the rest of his life, he thinks of his Gran and her lobscouse whenever he feels hungry.
Interspersed with the boy’s random and often comical memories of “Gran”, he recalls struggling with poverty, living on the parish and the young men from the Village fighting in the trenches.
Chapter 10 begins with recollections of a cup football match (soccer to my friends in North America) between “Wanderers” from Holyhead and local team, “the Celts”. There is a deal of excitement as rain turns to sunshine and crowds gather in Robin David’s Field to watch the game. Neither the boy nor his friends have sixpence to gain entrance but, Bleddyn Evans Garth comes to the rescue and gives the lad threepence and a green ribbon to wear – while Huw and Moi “go over the wall” while Little Will Policeman’s Dad and Jones the New Policeman are looking the other way.
On the same day as the footie match, there is almost a tragedy when Little Ivor Top Row almost drowns after falling in the river during a particularly lively game of “horses”. Thankfully Ivor’s big brother, Elwyn, dives in to save him, leading an admiring Huw to declare: “Dew, you should get a medal […]. That’s what I say, anyway.” It transpires that Elwyn does indeed receive a medal, a DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) for extreme bravery, “before he was killed by the Germans.” Though, he “didn’t get it for saving Little Ivor”.
In the final chapter of this segment, we move forward in time to a “year after the War ended”, when a choir arrives from the south to “raise money cos the coal mines [have] gone on strike.” The townsfolk stop to listen to them sing “on the side of the Braich” after leaving Sunday service.
“Jesus, they’re good singers, said Huw. They’re far better than our Temperance Choir [because] the coal dust gets in their throats. That’s what gives them good voices.”
We are told that earlier in the week, the “Memorial by the Church gate” (John Morris Gravestones’ “greatest piece of work”) had been unveiled; an emotional occasion when the boys wore new suits (both in “long trousers for the first time”) but could no longer sing in the church choir because their voices were breaking. “Everybody was thinking about dead people that day, especially after the sermon Hughes the Parson gave after the unveiling”, but he and Huw “were just thinking about poor Moi in the Graveyard.”
But on this lovely light September night, shortly before the sun goes down, people crowd “together around the South Choir” – the “whole Village was there, very nearly.” The choir sings and at first the people listen quietly until, suddenly, “David Evans and a group of men from the Temperance Choir [strike] up the song: The dragon bruised by God in man…”. The conductor raises his arms and instructs everyone to sing. The crowd, along with the boys, sing their “hearts out”, their voices “carried on the wind up and down the Valley” until silence falls as it becomes dark, and everyone has “a strange look on their face as though they were waiting for something but they didn’t know what.” Then, without saying a word, the people fall “on their knees on the grass”, bow their heads and pray.
Walking home later, the lads are exhilarated by the experience and decide in that moment to become parsons. They agree never to swear or smoke ever again – although they “don’t want to be Godly”, simply “good”. After bidding Huw good night, the boy makes his way home “thinking about [himself] grown up, a parson, and preaching from the pulpit every Sunday, and telling the Church people all kinds of things about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.” He hurries “home to tell Mam” the exciting news about his conversion, but when he opens the door, he finds her looking “crazy” and crying. “Your Uncle Will’s been here”, she says, after which he can get “no sense” out of her. She merely looks through him and talks to herself, “or someone she thought was standing behind her.”
He goes to bed “downhearted”.
About the Author
Caradog Prichard (1904-1980) made his name in Wales as one of the writers of the Caernarfonshire quarrying district. Born and raised Bethesda, a tiny town and community on the River Ogwen, he spent his career as a journalist, eventually moving to London and becoming a sub-editor on the foreign desk at the Daily Telegraph. During this period, he penned four award-winning odes in addition to this remarkable novel. He remained in the English capital for the rest of his life.
“Dew, that was a strange day [when everybody] was dressed in black and it was as though fifty funerals were going at once, cos there were fifty lads’ names on the Memorial, and all the names shone like gold on the stone when they unveiled it.”
Please share your thoughts on chapters 9-11 of One Moonlit Night and join me next week to discuss chapters 12-15 (plus other aspects) of this novel.
This is my thirteen choice for The Classics Club
Categories: Reading Wales