Introduction by Joshua Jones
I often find a certain comfort in the depraved. Like shining a torch under the bed and having a good clear-out of all the empty crisp packets and dusty, single socks. All the skin and hairs that make up a human. Anglo-Welsh literature is often known for its self-focused humour, its sense of language and voice. Our literature is satirical and provocative, such is Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood, in all its good-hearted prodding, but also Caradog Prichard’s One Moonlit Night (originally published as Un Nos Ola Leuad, over thirty years before it was translated to English). Un Nos Ola Leuad travels a darker road than most recognised Anglo-Welsh literature, marred by extreme death, depravity and the commonality of death at a young age in rural Welsh environments.
My People, the first, and most infamous, collection work by Caradoc Evans, went further again. First published in 1915 and now considered one of the first works of modern Anglo-Welsh literature, as well as compared to works such as James Joyce’s Dubliners, it was highly controversial at the time. The book was banned and copies were burnt, the stories considered both blasphemous to the deeply-religious Welsh communities portrayed in the stories, but also seen as a betrayal of Wales. For many years, he was the most hated man in Wales.
‘A Just Man in Sodom’ is one such story from the collection.
A Just Man in Sodom
The haymakers, gathering in the hay of Sadrach Danyrefail, rested in the shadow of the hedge, eating their midday porridge and skimmed milk.
Sadrach the Small raised his voice:
“Come you now, Pedr, give us a little bit of a sermon, man. Stand you in the old cart.”
“Iss, iss,” said Martha, the stranger woman who ruled at Danyrefail, “do you do this thing we ask of you.”
The workers raised their mouths from their wooden bowls.
“Goodness now,” said Pedr, “why should I, beloved of the little Big Man, preach from a common cart when there is a pulpit in Capel Sion?”
“Oh, Pedr, Pedr,” Sadrach the Small said, “do we not always say that you ought to judge us in Capel Sion? Sure there is something you can bear witness to before we go on with the old hay. Turn you your mind now, and say sayings to us.”
“Think you truly I ought to be a preacher?” asked Pedr, his eyes shining with vanity. “There’s happy would I be if they'd let me preach from a pulpit bach.”
Sadrach the Large then addressed Pedr: “Preach you to us for ten minutes, and I’ll take a hat round for a collection. Indeed to goodness, I will now.”
“Sadrach! Sadrach!” said Martha, “what for you make such a foolish promise? Man, man, you are as silly as Pedr. Come, little people, have you not rested long enough?”
But Pedr, open-mouthed, was standing in the cart; his large eyes looked upon the fertile land between him and Avon Bern, where grazed Sadrach’s cows, the best herd in the neighbourhood, and where flourished Sadrach’s corn, the most pleasing sight in all the land. Sadrach the Small threw at him a handful of horse-dung, which fell on Pedr’s open lips and the never-shaved hairs that curled on his chin.
“Pedr, indeed to goodness, there’s slow are you, man,” remarked Sadrach the Large.
“Praying was I, Sadrach bach, for strength to speak unto this gathering.”
“Sober now,” said Sadrach the Large, “you must not go as far as that.”
Pedr took a text and spoke to the people, whereon one turned to the other, whispering:
“Dull Pedr brays like a mule.”
From where he was lying on the ground Sadrach the Small cried:
“Tell us, Pedr, man, about the vision you had the last night but one. Do you be soon.”
“Woe is me!” exclaimed Pedr. “The Big Man forgive me for forgetting what the little white Jesus told me.”
“Come on, Pedr; come on, Pedr," cried the haymakers.
Pedr gazed on those below him.
“Boys bach nice,” he said, “Jesus did speak to me about you, and He did say things of great concern about Capel Sion. My dears, do you let Pedr now say a small prayer first.”
Pedr closed his eyes, and while he sang Sadrach the Small crawled forward on his belly and dug the prongs of his pitching-fork into him.
“The message! The message!” he cried. “Jasto, what a jolt-headed mare you are.”
“Do you let the fool be,” said Martha. “What is the matter for you, man? Come down from the old cart.”
Pedr eyed the people indulgently.
“Wasn’t that a fairish prayer?” he asked.
“As good as Bryn-Bevan’s,” was the response.
“As good as Bryn-Bevan’s!” repeated Pedr.
“Iss, iss, you old owl. Deliver the message.”
“Does not the least among you think he is wiser than Pedr?” he reproached them. “But am I not rich in grace? To whom did the little white Jesus come last night? He never visited even Essec. For why? Because when old Essec was dying he said wily words to his son Joshua Llanwen: ‘Keep your purse full and the strings tight, and nothing will fail you.’”
“But, Pedr,” Sadrach the Large explained, “Essec meant these things to come after religion.”
“Did he now?” said Pedr. “Dear me, there’s a blockhead am I. I did not know.”
“If I die, Pedr is madder than ever!” said one.
“Oh, I am wise to-day. Pedr is wise with the wisdom of God. Am I not among the prophets? See you, I am come after little Elijah, and Jeremiah, and Daniel. What a boy brave Dan bach was, for sure. The white Jesus said to me, ‘Pedr, I look to you to save Capel Sion.’”
“If we let the dog go on blaspheming,” Martha interrupted, “the revengeful Big Man will punish us with rain before half the hay is in stack.”
“I am a man of God,” Pedr drivelled. ‘Hearken you now to my voice, for do not my sayings come from Him whose mercy is as bountiful as the hay around us, and whose anger is as furious as the bull who frightened Achsah the wife of Sadrach into giving birth to Sadrach the Small on the threshold of Danyrefail. ‘The children of Capel Sion,’ said the little white Jesus, ‘are walking in the ways of the Bad Man.’”
“Pedr bach,” said Sadrach the Large, “have you care now. Don’t you, little male, trifle with the name of the Big Man.”
Pedr closed his ears against the warning.
“The Big Man is angry with you,” he resumed, “and His anger consumes like the fire which ate up the hay of Griffith Graig, though His mercy is as the waters of Morfa. ‘Pedr bach,’ said the little white Jesus, ‘tell you them to turn away from their adulterous ways, for when the Lord hurteth a man He hurteth him to death. Tell you them that they are as wicked as the old blacks of Sodom.’”
Sadrach the Small flung a rake at Pedr’s head.
“Now, now, that is not like the off-spring of a religious father,” Sadrach the Large rebuked his son. “Be you calm, my child. The temptation is great, but remember you that Pedr is not sensible in his head.”
“O people,” Pedr continued, “listen. Thus said the Big Man: ‘Capel Sion has become as a temple of pig buyers; a woman without glory. Pedr bach, do you say to them that I will destroy their crops and rot their bones, that not one male, nor female, nor child shall rise from the grave when my little servant Gabriel blows on his old trumpet. They will abide among the filthy, creeping things of the earth.’”
Martha interposed: “Throw you the vain crow out, Sadrach, else sure something bad will hap to me and your father for harbouring him in our land.”
Pedr continued: “Said the little white Jesus: ‘Mind you, Pedr bach, not to forget to tell the sons of Capel Sion that they have thieved from the widow and the orphan; tell you the daughters too, Pedr bach, that they speak slander and deal lightly with the things that are holy in my sight.’ There's sayings for you! What for you laugh, boys bach? Is not the Judge of the earth right? Would you laugh at Daniel? At Elijah? Why for you laugh? You will have, dear me, to change your thinks if you will wear the White Shirts.”
So Pedr assumed the mantle of a prophet. Children mocked him and stoned him, and threw clods of earth at him; men and women reviled him, inquiring of him always: “How now, Pedr, anything new from the Palace?”
He left the house where he dwelt, and went to live on the moor. There, on the brim of the stone quarry, he built a hut of mud, and the roof he covered with dry heather, and at a distance of eight feet therefrom he threw up a mound of earth which he called an altar and he dedicated it unto God.
In the hut he fasted and meditated, and by the altar he prayed continually.
The evening of the fifth day after Sadrach’s hay had been stacked a heavy rain fell upon West Wales, and this rain lasted many days, destroying much of the crops. The men of the Big Seat proved the congregation, and they found that Sion was without sin, hence this deluge of rain was not a judgment upon Sion. They also gathered themselves together and prayed for deliverance.
Pedr journeyed down from the moor and waited outside the gates that admit you into Capel Sion, and as the congregation departed, he cried:
“Little people, why value you the things that perish more than the living soul?”
Sadrach Danyrefail derided him.
“A bad prophet you are indeed,” he said. “What for you didn't say the rain was coming, man, so as to save all this nasty bother? Goodness me, you are a frog! There's vexed Martha is since you waggled your wild tongue in the hayfield. Prophet! Who made you judge in Capel Sion? Think you the Big Man chooses you before me and the Respected Bryn-Bevan to be His mouthpiece?”
“Woe to you, Sadrach Danyrefail," announced Pedr. “Your dishonour makes the little angels weep.”
Sadrach spat in his face.
“Dear people——” began Pedr.
“Pedr,” said Sadrach, “bits of sermons now and again are all right, but when you take the name of the Big Man in vain, well-well, it is very sinful.”
“My soul,” exclaimed Pedr, “is as clean as the soul of Elijah.”
“Hearken you now, Pedr,” said Sadrach jestingly, “can you bring the dead to life? Elijah could. And, dear me, where are your sacrifices? You can’t bring an old turnip to life, man.”
The people pushed Pedr hither and thither. In his terror he cried loudly to God to protect his skin, but his words did not save his body from a stone nor a clod of earth.
All through that night Pedr prayed at the side of the altar he had dedicated unto the Big Father.
When Sadrach the Small fetched the cows in the morning, which was the Sabbath, he saw that the bull-calf was missing. He searched in all the field and in many of those of his neighbours. Returning to Danyrefail, he climbed up into his father”s room.
“Little father,” he said, “the old bull-calf is lost, man.”
“Now careless some one has been. Was the gate shut, Sadrach?”
“Indeed, iss, it was.”
“The calf couldn’t open the gate, boy,” said Martha.
“Wise your speech,” said Sadrach the Large. “Hie you and look again. But mouth you to no one your mission. Recollect that this is the Sabbath. Still, it is not sinning to look for a lost sheep on the Sabbath, but let it not be said that a bad sampler comes from Danyrefail.”
That Sabbath morning Pedr hailed a man who was crossing the moor to Capel Sion.
“Man bach,” he said to him, “do you hurry quickly now, and tell them in Sion to come up the mountain, because this day the Big Creator is manifesting Himself. For this hour, man bach, you are a messenger of the white little Jesus.”
The man laughed the news to those with whom he fell in. He laughed it to Sadrach the Large.
“The old cuckoo must be sent to the House of the Mad,” said Sadrach.
Sadrach walked as far as the gates of Capel Sion, then he turned back and went up to the moor. As he neared the hut, Pedr ran to him and threw his arm around his neck.
“Sadrach Danyrefail,” he said, “there’s joyous I am you've come. Sing a hymn of gladness, Sadrach Danyrefail, for to-day the Bad Man departs from Capel Sion.”
Pedr led Sadrach to the altar, and on the top of it was the bull-calf, slowly bleeding to death.
“Son of hell!” cried Sadrach when he saw what Pedr had done. “For what do you do this with my calf which is worth great yellow gold? I’ll have the law on you in half an hour, even if it is the Sabbath.”
He hit out with his arm, and Pedr fell against the altar, and the blood of the calf dropped upon his face.
“Dear Sadrach,” he said when he had risen to his feet, “this is the sacrifice that is going to wipe away the sins of Capel Sodom. Indeed, indeed, it is now. But, lo, the Big Man is not meanly. He is satisfied with the blood only. Look you now, I will bring back your old calf to life. The white Jesus will do this for His prophet.”
Pedr removed the blood from his forehead, because it was oozing into his eyes, with a little heather, and he went and stood on the altar; and he turned his face on the dying calf and stretched forth his hands.
“In the name of the little white Jesus, return you to life, little bull-calf," he said. “Jesus bach, do you bring this about for the sake of your servant’s good name.”
Joshua Jones is a queer, neurodivergent writer from South Wales. He co-founded Dyddiau Du in Cardiff, a library and artspace led by and for LGBTQ+ and Disabled communities. Local Fires (Parthian Books, 2023) is his first book.