Morningtown

by Nick Deverill

© copyright Nick Deverill 2015. All rights reserved

The guitar picked out a tune, and a young man's voice gently sang.

Train whistle blowing makes a sleepy noise
Underneath their blankets go all the girls and boys
Rocking rolling riding out along the bay
All bound for Morningtown many miles away

On cue a little boy sang the fourth verse, and after he'd sung just the first word, absolute silence descended on the hospital ward. It was perfectly pitched, and as clear as a bell.

Somewhere there is sunshine, somewhere there is daySomewhere there is Morningtown many miles away

And then both voices sang together, one soprano and one tenor.

Rocking rolling riding out along the bay
All bound for Morningtown many miles away
All bound for Morningtown many miles away

Jason carried on softly playing as the nurses helped the children to their beds. His playing got quieter and finally he finished. The sister mimed clapping and Jason grinned as he walked up to the nurses' station "Same time next week?"

"Yes" came the reply, "can you do some Christmas songs too?

"Not a problem, I was going to anyway. Also I'll be back earlier anyway on Thursday, to visit Tony who is now asleep, remind him when he is awake please".

As Jason walked away, his mind went back to the events of a week ago. Then he had been wrapping up with the Brahms lullaby, and the planned instrumental after he'd sung the words suddenly gained a little voice. That in itself was not so unusual, but for the young singer to have done it in the original German certainly was.

Guten Abend, gute Nacht
mit Rosen bedacht
mit Näglein besteckt
schlupf′ unter die Deck!
Morgen früh, wenn Gott will
wirst du wieder geweckt.

After the singer had finished, Jason walked up to the bed where a small grinning face peeked out from the sheets.

"Hi, I'm Jason Jones, you are?

"Tony" the boy squeaked.

"Why are you hiding?" Jason asked.

"No hair" came the almost whispered reply.

"Were you not offered a hat?"

"Yes, but it's silly"

"So you need a non-silly hat then".

Tony gravely nodded.

"How about I come back tomorrow evening to see you with a selection from home and we can sort you out with something you like?".

At this, Tony nodded and started to smile again.

"I must go now, but in the words of Arnold Swartzenegger, I'll be back ".

Tony giggled and waved goodbye.


The following evening, Jason reappeared carrying a large bag to be greeted by a small boy wearing a knotted pillowcase for a hat. "Hi" said Jason, "I've bought a heap of hats, some silly I'm sure but I wanted you to have plenty to choose from. Some are borrowed, so I will have to get one you can keep if you choose one of those"

Tony nodded.

"First off, a plain-ish hat meant for walkers"

Tony tried it, but Jason could see he wasn't that impressed.

"Australian leather hat?" Tony shook his head.

"A cap" Tony shook his head again.

"Ok, how about this, a Peruvian hat, called a chullo?" Tony eagerly tried it on, smiled and crossed his arms "I like it" he exclaimed.

"OK, you can keep that one. A daft one I borrowed is a leather flying hat" Jason offered it, and Tony took and looked at it, but didn't try it on.

"You know a pilot?" Tony said quizzically.

"No, my next door neighbour has an old car and sometimes wears a flying helmet".

Tony smiled "But it's not me – tell him thanks though".


Jason carried on visiting Tony virtually every other day, but on the Thursday evening, Tony was quiet and not really his usual self. When Jason left, he had a word with the nurses and learnt Tony was getting the next chemotherapy treatment on Friday afternoon. He hated it and hated it made him feel both tired and slightly sick.

"So is the treatment in this ward, or does he go somewhere else?" Jason asked.

"He gets taken to the cancer treatment unit, and I suspect the gripe is as much that he is on his own, other patients always have their family around them".

"So when does he have to be there?"

"The unit is quite flexible for in patients, just before five is the limit for starting and the treatment lasts an hour and a half".

"I can easily get here by about four, can you pretend I'm family?"

"Well, I think that can be done, you are effectively his big brother and I know some nurses have already just assumed you were".

The following afternoon, Friday, Jason appeared with a blue balloon which he tied to the wheelchair in the ward. He then went to pick up Tony who was hiding under the sheet.

"Sir, your chariot awaits..."

Tony peeked out, "it's you"

"No I'm playing hospital porter this afternoon!"

"The balloon is flashing" exclaimed Tony.

"Should get folk out of our way a treat" said a grinning Jason –

"Cool" exclaimed Tony as he shuffled along the bed to the side where the wheelchair was.

"Quick bit of lifting... And you're in. Thanks for the blanket, nurse" as Jason spread it over Tony's legs and the two boys were off amid giggles and snorts from nursing staff. To see a happy boy go off for treatment which had brought him near tears in the past was a revelation to see.


At the weekend, Jason's mum accosted him at breakfast. "Are you serious about Tony?" she said.

"Mum, what do you mean?" Jason replied "he's like a little brother, not anything else".

"Yes, that much I get from the nurses, some of whom actually thought you were his big brother. Are you aware he was in the care of foster parents until he got sick?"

"Yes, and I know with myeloid leukaemia, he could well die".

"True, but there is a bit more. You do realise with that condition, he has rather frequent blood tests?"

"Yes, often daily visits from the vampires he says!"

"Well, you know they are watching his condition very closely?"

Jason nodded.

"Well originally, the doctors didn't think he was going to last until Christmas."

Jason's face fell. "Poor little mite" he said

"But now, they think he will. The psychological effect of your visits actually seems to be helping, or something is anyway. So to put none too fine a point on it, if Tony wants and you are willing, I am prepared to give him a home here."

Jason stuttered and quite failed to utter anything coherent.

"I've agreed it with social services, as truthfully, they didn't know what to do with him."

"Your job though?"

"That is easy, the NHS (National Health Service) are short of trained physiotherapists, so my saying I'll have to move to part time for a bit was easily accepted. I suggest you say to Tony he could spend Christmas with us, and leave the time after it up in the air. I don't think he'll even ask".


The following day when Jason visited and made the offer, Tony's jaw fell, and he started crying. Jason didn't know what say, but it appeared his reaction of giving Tony a hug was totally what was needed.

"Thanks, I don't know what to say" a snivelling Tony said.

"Then don't say anything, other than yes" a smiling Jason replied.


On Saturday 19th December in the afternoon, Tony came home to the Jones house. A small boy was utterly speechless as he was shown around and the bedroom Jason and his mum had quickly put together.

"Right" said Jason, "this evening there is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at St James' church in the village. I'm playing the guitar for the last carol, Silent Night. You have the choice of coming with me, a bit earlier or of going with mother later. From what I've heard, I think we can fit you in the choir, the choirmaster is a friend of mine and will take my recommendations."

"I'm coming with you" Tony replied like a shot "I know that carol in both English and German, and ..." he petered out.

"Yes?"

"I've never sung it in a church, but I know a descant to it as well."

"I've never asked, and I should have done, were you in a choir before?"

Tony came over a bit melancholy. "Last Christmas was the last time I sang it. I was in the choir at the Abbey in the town, and my parents were there. That was the last time they saw me sing, the accident happened on the way home, and that was that. Tony sniffed and got a quick hug from Jason.


At the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols later the event went rather as one might expect with a brief Christmas lesson, or story, and then a related carol. For the ninth though, the Reverend Faber said.

"The way we'll do this one is a bit unusual as we'll do the carol twice. The first time through will be a part of the choir with a guitarist only, and on the second time, the organ will play and you can all join in as normal. It will, I hope be clear to you why we've done it this way".

The lights dimmed and the guitar carrying Jason stepped up and sat in a chair, four boys in choir garb surrounded him, and the Vicar spoke again.

"While the story often told about this carol is mostly an invention, in 1816 Father Joseph Mohr in Austria wrote a six stanza poem called, Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! Two years later, after he was transferred to St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria, he decided he wanted his poem set to music. On Christmas Eve in 1818, he asked his friend Franz Gruber to create both a melody and guitar accompaniment. The words of the poem were quickly set to music and the two men sang the resulting carol at Christmas Mass the following day in St. Nicholas Church with Father Mohr playing his guitar and the choir repeating the last two lines of each verse. Most present day performances are of just three verses, as is ours".

At that, the guitar gently played and a single bell like voice, Tony's sang.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Followed by the second verse in English with the other three choir boys.

Then the third verse with the other three choirboys singing as normal, and a higher pitched descant from Tony. Four young voices and a guitar filled the church. Very softly and in the bass registers, the organ began to play an accompaniment and as the verse ended, played an introduction for everyone to join in the repeat.


When a sleepy Tony emerged from his bedroom on Tuesday 23rd December, he saw a rather large number of presents under the now decorated tree. He thought, and his face fell as he realised quite a few were to him, and he'd not given anything to either Jason or his mother, nor did he have any means to do so either. Almost psychically Jason appeared, put his hand on Tony's shoulder and suggested they both went upstairs again.

Inside Jason's bedroom, Tony began to cry. Jason said "You've no need to worry, you have already given me a brilliant present, I always wanted a little brother, and now I've got one. As for a present for my mother, I've got the very thing for you to give her. You do realise most of the services in the church are recorded, and I had a quick word yesterday with the sound man, and look, a CD of the whole service on Saturday, with your singing clearly heard on the last carol".

Tony recovered and started to smile.

"So with a bit of wrapping paper" Jason produced some, "a bit of sticky tape and a gift tag, you're all set".


"Mrs Jones?" said Tony later, "I see you have a printer on your computer, I want to make a present for Jason, but I'm not exactly an expert". He went on to explain he wanted to make a smart certificate for Jason.

"Can you use Word?" asked Mrs Jones.

"Yes"

"In that case, you'll be surprised how easy what you want to do is".

Mrs Jones led Tony to the computer, sat him down and said, "You see Chrome is open already, type in Word Certificate Template, press return, and you'll see somebody else has done most of the hard work for you".

Tony did and... "Wow, thanks, brilliant" as a smile lit up his face. After only a few minutes work, a completed certificate of big brotherhood made out to one Jason Jones was coming out of the printer.

"See, pretty simple really" said Mrs Jones, "we have time tomorrow to go out shopping and get you a simple frame for it".

"But I don't have any money" said Tony.

"That's an oversight by me, I should have given you last week's pocket money on Saturday, and this week's today" Mrs Jones said and rummaged in her purse, and gave Tony £12.


In bed at the close of Christmas day, Jason looked back and reflected. The day had dawned as both cold and grey, and by the time everyone had sat down to breakfast, it had started snowing despite it being a Christmas card cliché and not being supposed to do that in real life. Of course, when a certain small boy had noticed, all hell broke loose and to say he was excited was an understatement.

Jason was both surprised and pleased later to receive the framed certificate of big brotherhood and it was now proudly hanging on his bedroom wall. The CD Tony gave his mum was also welcomed; indeed, she popped it straight into the CD player.

All in all, 2015 was a good year, and as he closed his eyes in bed, he thought that now he had a little brother, the only thing he now needed was to have a boyfriend. 'Oh, well can't have everything I guess' he thought as he went to sleep.

The song at the start, 'Morningtown Ride' was written by Malvina Renolds in 1957 and made famous in the United Kingdom by the group, 'The Seekers' in the mid 60s. Although described as a lullaby, it's a fairly vigorous song for one.

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