Within minutes of the alarm hooter blaring, the open space in front of Gloddu colliery offices was packed with shocked people, most of them women, grim, silent, anxiously watching men with rescue helmets and stretchers running towards the pit-head.
In charge was Mr Prothero, who was also conductor of the colliery choir.
When he saw Blodwen Evans he bustled over to her.
“Now don’t you worry now, Blodwen,” said Mr Prothero. “It will be all right. A fall of coal there has been and your Gwilym trapped with five others. Bad luck it is. Gwilym and four of them in the choir.”
Taking hold of Blodwen’s elbow, he led her to the colliery offices. ’Only one that doesn’t matter is Ianto Thomas. Can’t sing for toffee. But get the others out we will. Can’t compete next week without them, see. Especially Gwilym. Beautiful high notes he has.”
He made Blodwen sit on a bench just inside the office door.
“Now sit you down, Blodwen. You can see everything from here, and you must take care of the baby. Especially hard it is on you of course. Only ten years since you lost your dada the same way.”
Mr Prothero paused as he wistfully remembered back.
“Fine tenor was your dada. Lovely high notes. Like Gwilym. A sad loss that was,” Mr Prothero shook his head reflectively. “And twenty others from the choir with him. No hope we had in the Eisteddfod that year without them,’ he sighed, ‘Only third place we took.”
Blodwen Evans stood to her feet. “I will go to Madame Morwena and ask Dada for help” she said, and Mr Prothero nodded in agreement. Madame Morwenna – Mrs Lewis the Hair, as she was known during the week, being the village’s only Ladies’ Stylist – was the leading light of Gloddu Womens’ Spiritualists, and talked to their departed husbands for them every Sunday in the Meeting Place above her salon on Rhondda Street.
“You do that, Blodwen,” he said, patting her hand, and Blodwen, seven months heavy with child, waddled off.
Underground, Mr Prothero and his men reached the fall and began to dig.
“Slow and careful now, boys,” he warned. “Very loose the rest of the roof looks.”
As they dug, so the sound of singing began to come to them. Rich it was, solid, the different tones bouncing off the walls and magnifying in the blackness. It was the compulsory piece for next week’s Eisteddfod.
On his side of the fall, Mr Prothero heard, and smiled, and understood.
“A little singing practice they are having to keep their spirits up. Fortunate Gwilym is that Morgan and Dafydd and Idwal are there to provide baritone and bass.”
From the cavern the singing suddenly intensified, drowning the scraping noise of the digging. Mr Prothero closed his eyes in bliss.
At that same moment, came a shout from one of the rescuers. “We’re through, Mr Prothero. We’re through.”
And from the cleared passage emerged four dust-covered men, then a fifth head.
Mr Prothero waited for it be Gwilym Evans that came through.
Instead, it was Ianto Thomas.
“Where’s Gwilym?” Mr Prothero demanded. “Where’s my solo tenor?”
“Still there, Mr Prothero,” replied Ianto, his eyes staring large through the black on his face at the Gloddu choir conductor. “Trapped further down he is. But still singing.”
“Oh, dear me!” exclaimed Mr Prothero. “A fine tenor voice has Gwilym and need him next week we do. But wait a minute. Who are all those singing with him?”
“I don’t know indeed, Mr Prothero. Only himself there is.”
The singing grew louder, swelling until it sounded like the Morriston Orpheus Choir in full voice at the Albert Hall.
The pit props creaked. The roof cracked. Coal and dust fell to the floor.
“Come on boys,” Mr Prothero shouted above the din. “Backs to it now.”
Over the sound of the music, the tenor voice of Gwilym singing the solo piece, cut through the dust from the trapped tunnel, rising and yet rising as clear as a bell.
And now there were two voices. Together they soared, true, clear, in harmony, going up and up, ascending, ever ascending.
“It’s Cadwaladr Jones, Blodwen Evans’s father,” whispered Mr Prothero, his face pale with awe, yet ecstasy in his tone, “that was killed in this exact same spot ten years ago. I’d know that voice anywhere. And the other twenty killed with him.”
The faces of the other rescuers paled under their cover of dirt. Four turned and hared back down the tunnel. The others stayed rooted, too terrified to move. Mr Prothero, eyes closed in bliss, conducting the singing, didn’t notice.
The duet increased in volume as it reached the finale and together his two best tenors reached for the high note, that almost unattainable high note only a few ever reach. Clear as a bell they both reached it, in unison, exact, pure.
The reverberations of that note rolled along the tunnel, powerful, increasing.
Behind the fall of coal, the roof fell in with an almighty crash. Through the gaps came billows of dust. Then slowly settled, leaving only silence.
Mr Prothero broke it. “Oh,” he said in a hushed whisper. “Oh, that was wonderful. Wonderful. Lucky I am that I was here to hear it.”
When they brought Gwilym to the surface, there was a smile on his face that was wonderful to see.
Mr Prothero went to the house that Blodwen Evans and Gwilym had shared.
“Died happy,” was Mr Prothero’s verdict. “Pity about the Eisteddfod. But reached the high note he had. After that, what else is there?”
After Mr Prothero had gone, Blodwen crossed to the dresser, picked up a photo of her father, kissed it and said.
“Thank you, Dada. Now I can marry Ianto Thomas. He’s no singer, I know, but full marks to him, some lovely high notes we have hit here together in the bedroom when Gwilym was out practising.”
She patted her swollen womb.
“Mind, it’s only fair. After all’s said and done, a baby needs its own father.”