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“Goin’ to th’ Owd Sing again, aw see,” said Owd Robin o’ Yeb’s, as me an’ th’ Owd Rib pass’d him i’ th’ Fowt.

“Aye, aye,” aw replied.  “We like to visit th’ owd place neaw an’ then.  But aw’ll tell thee what, Robin, we should like it a lot better if th’ chapel wur at th’ bottom o’ th’ broo i’sted of at th’ top.”

“Why, heaw’s that?” ax’d Robin.  “Aw think ’at it’s grand wheer it is.”

“Aye, it’s o reet when yo’ get theer, as Owd Joe o’ Dick’s used to say abeawt th’ Isle o’ Man, but it’s that gettin’ theer.  Aw’ve seen th’ time when aw should ha’ thowt nowt abeawt runnin’ up that broo, but aw feel neaw as if aw could do wi that motor car ’at th’ Mayor had a couple o’ yers sin, to carry me up.  Oather that or fillin’ th’ hollow up would suit me.”

“But that would spoil th’ picture,” said Robin.  “Look heaw cosy th’ chapel stonds up that brooside, an’ what a view yo’ get fro’ th’ top.  There’s th’ Fowt, as it wur hunderts o’ ye’rs sin, nestlin’ at yo’r feet, an’ there’s th’ ‘nook runnin’ quietly on, as it ran p’rhaps theawsands o’ ye’rs sin, an’ will continue to run for, p’rhaps, theawsands o’ ye’rs to come.  There’s th’ heauses an’ loom-heauses heer an’ theer, higglety-pigglety, like a lot o’ childer’s bab heauses.  No streets at reet angles nor left angles, as if they’d been cut to a surveyor’s drawin’, but ev’ry buildin’ same as if it had dropp’d fro’ heaven an’ stopp’d wheer it had let.  There’s th’ owd Ho’, ’at’s been a beautiful place in its time, tho’ it looks like meawtin’ neaw, an’ there’s th’ church ’at begins a lookin’ like a venerable owd church but it doesno’ look so lung sin’ it wur built.  Aw remember peepin’ thro’ th’ durhole o’ th’ iron church ’at wur theer before it, an’ hearkenin’ th’ congregation sing.  Aw reckon that wur an owd sing, Jammy, an’ aw dar’ say o th’ members o’ that choir have clapt their music deawn an’ gone to sing wheer they need noather music nor fiddles, nor organs nor conductors.  Then there’s th’ Park.  It used to be full o’ game, but neaw it’s full o’ huts for men an’ women soldiers.  Women soldiers, Jammy!  We never expected seein’ that, did we?  Aw watch ’em sometimes, drillin’, an’ it looks a bit odd.  It seawnds odd, too, when theau yers a bit of a wench givin’ th’ orders — ‘Left, right; left, right, halt!  Form fours!’  Aye, we’ve seen some changes, Jammy — milestones, some folks co ’em.”

“Well, in a sense, they are, Robin,” aw said, “but we’d better be goin’, Emma, or th’ chapel will be full before we get theer.

We bid Robin “Good day,” an’ walk’d slowly on.  Aye, it wur nobbut slow an’, like Owdham trams, we’d a lot o’ stoppin’ places.  We pretended to be admirin’ th’ scenery, but really it wur nobbut to get eawr wynt.  A nice y’ung couple catch’d up wi’ us an’ they offer’d to show us th’ road if we were goin’ to th’ Owd Sing.  We towd ’em ’at we were goin’ theer, but noan at their speed.  We’d seen th’ time when we could go as fast as ’em, but that wur a good while sin’.  They’d come to eawr speed before we coom to theirs again.  As for showin’ us th’ road we thank’d ’em for their kindness an’ towd ’em ’at we knew that road before they were born.  They went on smilin’, and eawr Emma said ’at he’re a gradely nice y’ung felley an’ it wur a wonder they hadn’t ta’en him for th’ army.  When we geet to th’ chapel an’ sit us deawn who should we find sittin’ next to us but this very same couple.

“We’re on th’ same mark again, yo’ see,” aw said to ’em.  Aye, we’re on th’ same mark again.  Some are fast an’ some are slow; some are y’ung an’ some are owd, but we o get on th’ same mark at th’ finish.”

In a bit th’ singers an’ th’ parson coom in.  Aw look’d at th’ singers an’ they o seem’d as breet an’ as happy as usual, but ther’ wur a difference.  Some ’at wur theer last yer wurno’ theer this yer.  They’d pass’d their last milestone an’ had getten on th’ universal mark.

Aw couldn’t help lookin’ for one ’at used to sit i’ th’ singin’ pew at every Owd Sing.  Aw never knew him miss, nobbut once, an’ that ye’r he occupied th’ pulpit an’ wore a gowd chain.  But he wurno’ theer this time.  He’d pass’d his last milestone.  Th’ chapel seemed emptier an’ poorer witheawt him.  Th’ parson wur a nice felley an’ he wur fairly good at his wark, but he wurnot a gradely parson.  He wur what they co’ neawadays an unskill’d mon.  He didno’ wear a white choker.  He hadn’t sarved an official apprenticeship to th’ job.  He wur like Owd Ben Bentley o’ th’ Ceaw Lone.  Owd Ben wur as good a praycher as th’ majority o’ parsons, but, as a laymon, he wur not considered good enoof for buryin’s an’ kessunin’s, especially kessunin’s.  One weekend at a village wheer he wur plann’d to praych, a little babby wur ta’en suddenly ill an’ its parents thowt ’at it wur beawn to dee.  There wur quite a commotion, becose th’ choilt hadn’t been kessunt, dunnot yo’ see, an’ there wurnot a gradely parson livin’ within two or three miles.  One wur sent for, but he wur noan awhoam, an’ as th’ choilt met dee before he coom back th’ parents begg’d o’ Ben to help ’em i’ their time o’ trouble.  It wur a question of ony port in a storm.  So Ben perform’d th’ kessunin’ ceremony an’ received th’ grateful thanks o’ th’ distress’d parents.  Some time after, when he visited that district again, he made inquiries abeawt that little babby an’ fund that it had groon into a fine, healthy lad.  He wur reet deawn glad an’ he reminded th’ parents that, after o th’ prayers of a laymon met be onswer’d.  “Aye, aye, so they met,” exclaimed th’ preawd mother, “but we were takkin’ no risks.  As soon as a gradely parson could be getten we had th’ cholit kessunt o’er again.”  Well, this local praycher at th’ Owd Sing did his wark very weel an’ aw dunnot think anybody’ll be sent for to do it o’er again.

When we’d o getten sattl’t th’ cap wur dropp’d an’ off we started.  Th’ first hymn wur that owd fav’rite “Creawn Him Lord of All.”  Talk abeawt singin’!  Everybody wur i’ good fettle.  Everybody wanted to creawn Him, an’ that y’ung felley ’at sit next to me met ha’ been Sims Reeves.  Aw never yerd sich singin’.  Aw couldno’ sing mysel’ for hearkenin’ him.  Sometimes aw yerd a stave or two fro’ th’ band, an’ neaw an’ then aw yerd a bit of a rumblin’ fro’ th’ organ, an’ sometimes aw geet a bit of a glint o’ th’ organ blower, but my attention wur mooistly fix’d on this y’ung felley.  Aw forgeet o abeawt milestones an’ marks, an’ felt as if aw wur havin’ a little bit o’ heaven up i’ Yelds Green.  An’ when we geet to that hymn which said “Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above” aw felt as if aw couldn’t howd ony longer, so aw started o singin’ mysel’.  But when aw started th’ y’ung felley stopp’d an’ th’ other folks look’d at me as if they thowt ’at aw owt to be i’ th’ choir i’sted o’ wastin’ my talents theer.  Th’ conductor turn’d reawnd to look at me just as he did to some o’ th’ choir, when he wanted to encourage ‘em a bit, but as aw didn’t want to show off an’ have o th’ singin’ to mysel’, an’ as eawr Emma wur lookin’ rayther feaw at me, aw dropp’d eawt an’ leet ’em have it to theirsel’s.  Then th’ cleawd left th’ conductor’s face, th’ choir breeten’d up, ith’ band play’d moore cheerfully, th’ organ seawnded sweeter, th’ blower smiled as he sattled deawn to his wark, an’ th’ y’ung felley piped eawt again an’ o wur happy.

Then we had th’ sarmon — a plain, simple earnest appeal for duty.  He didn’t argue, he pleaded, an’ aw’d sooner have earnestness nor argument.  Followin’ th’ sarmon we stood up while th’ choir gan us a fine renderin’ o’ th’ “Hallelujah Chorus,” and then we had th’ closin’ hymn to the tune of ”Hyfrydol.”  Neaw there’s one thing aw like abeawt these owd sings.  They awlus have a good hymn an’ a swingin’ tune, in which everybody con join for a finish.  It helps to mak’ folks feel better for havin’ been, an’ if they dunnot feel better for havin’ been they’d better stop away.  Aw dar’ say, if th’ truth wur towd, that’s why so mony folks stop away neaw.

When th’ sarvice wur o’er aw went eawtside to have a chat wi’ one or two owd friends, as usual.  It wur good to see ‘em.  Tim o’ Tum’s were theer.

Well, an’ heaw arta?” were his first words.

“Aw’m just middlin’,” aw said, “an’ heaw art theau?”

“O, as reet as ninepence,” he onswert, an’ then he added, “Aw’ll tell thee what, Jammy, theau very near made a mess on it to neet.”

“Heaw wur that?” aw ax’d.

We’, wi’ thy singin’.”

“Aye, well, aw know my voice isn’t what it used to be, but aw couldn’t help it.  Everybody else wur singin’ so.  Theaw should ha’ yerd a y’ung chap ’at sit next to me.  He wur a grand singer.

“O, aw yerd him.  His feyther wur a good singer before him.  Theaw knew Ike Bradley o’ th’ Stakehill?  Well, yon’s his lad.  When his feyther deed he wur laft beawt oather kith or kin i’ this world.  When th’ war started he ’listed an’ soon after he wur sent to France.  He did very weel for a while an’ escaped injury, but one day he geet hit i’ th’ yed wi’ a German bullet.  He fell an’ wur laft for deeod, but after a while he coom to an’ managed to crawl to a place wheer he seed a lot moore so’diers lied deawn, restin’.  As he wur faint an’ weary he thowt he’d lay him deawn an’ rest too.  So he lay deawn an’ fell asleep.  When he wakkent he look’d reawnd an’ fund ’at o th’ other chaps were still asleep.  He waited a bit, thinkin’ ’at they’d soon be stirrin’, but they stirr’d noane.  They were o deeod.  So he struggled on a bit fur an’ then after another rest, a bit fur until he wur fund by some moore so’diers, who took him back.  He wur then sent to th’ hospital.  Heaw lung he wur theer aw dunnot know, but they thowt ’at they’d cured him an’ wur for sendin’ him back to th’ trenches.  But he couldn’t stond it.  He kept goin’ mazy.  So they examined him wi’ summat ’at they co X-rays an’ they f’und a little pencil-shaped bullet in his brain.  This wur so extraordinary ’at o th’ other doctors had a confab abeawt it, but they wur feeart o’ touching it.  So they sent him back to England an’ he wur put in a hospital somewheer abeawt Manchester.  As he’d no relations an’ no friends nob’dy ever went to see him, an’ he felt it very keenly when other so’diers were visited by their friends or their wives, or sweethearts.  These used to come an’ kiss ‘em, and bring ’em o mak’s o’ nice things.  But nob’dy browt owt for poor Ike, an’ nob’dy coom to kiss him.  Th’ doctors kept threatenin’ ’at they wur goin’ to cut his yed oppen to tak’ th’ bullet eawt, but nob’dy ever coom to comfort him.  One day there wur a lot o’ visitors, and there wur sich kissin’ an’ sich presents for th’ other chaps that Ike felt gradely miserable.  When th’ nurse went reawnd he’d tears in his een, an’ he could hardly spake.  Hoo wur a nice lookin’ y’ung woman, an’ hoo’d a heartful o’ sympathy for her patients, so hoo said, “Whatever’s to do wi’ thee, lad?  Is thy yed painin’ thee?”

“‘Neawe, it isno’ that,’ he replied.

“‘Have th’ doctors said summat ’at feears thee?’ hoo ax’d.

“‘Neawe, it isno’ that,” he said.

“‘We, whatever is it?’

“‘Doesta see that?’ an’ he pointed to two or three y’ung women ’at wur kissin’ two or three wounded so’diers, just then.

“‘Aye, aw see that, but what con aw do?’ hoo onswert, lookin’ at him pityingly.

“‘What con theau do, Alice?  Well, theau con do likewise.  Come, gie me a kiss.’ ”

“‘Aw will, my lad.  Theau sha’not go beawt,’ an’ hoo put her arm reawnd his neck an’ gan him one, softly, silently.

“‘God bless thee, wench,’ he said.  Gie me another.’

“Hoo gan him another an’ then ran away lest someb’dy should see ’em.  But nob’dyseed ’em.  They wur too busy wi’ their own affairs to watch onybody else’s.  Ike geet better fast after this.  It did him moore good nor o th’ doctors’ prescriptions.  But it didn’t get th’ bullet eawt.  That stuck, i’ spite of o th’ kisses ’at Alice gan him, an’ they weren’t limited neaw.  But it didn’t seem to trouble him as mich as it did.  He started walkin’ eawt, especially when it wur her day off, an’ hoo went wi’ him to see ’at nowt happen’t to him.  He’s been discharged fro’ th’ hospital neaw, an’ fro’ th’ army, too, an’ th’ doctors han gan his case up.  But Alice hasn’t gan it up.  Hoo’s gan up her job at th’ hospital, an’ they’re beawn to be wed next week.  Heawever, he wanted to bring her to an Owd Sing while he’d th’ chance.”

“An’ he’s done reet,” exclaimed eawr Emma.  “God bless ’em booath.  Aw’m glad aw’ve seen ’em.”


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