Children in the Byre – February 1918

Willie comes down in the dark mornings, hardly waits to swallow his porridge before he runs away in the direction of the byres, calling the name of his big brother.

“Ooie. Ooie. Where are you? Are you in t’low byre Ooie? Can’t find you, Ooie. Which byre are you in, Ooie?”

Having been made happy by a shout from Hugh, he then profers his help. “Can I help to meal t’cows, Ooie? Tell me what byre I should take. Which uns should I meal? Can I meal t’eiffers? Ooie. I want to meal them uns, Ooie. Let me give that little white un its meal. Which on them kicks?” And so on. Asking endless questions while he carries and empties his little pail, big enough now for all the meal that war time cattle are allowed.

Theoretically the heartiest eater should be of the liveliest nature but John, who is not half the trencherman of Willie, has far more mercurial spirits. His laughter comes rippling up from the byre and we know that he sees fun in everything while Willie’s voice, in constant call after Ooie, has a plaintive cadence that might deceive a listener into thinking it belonged to a delicate weakling until daylight reveals the sturdy frame and rosy cheeks of our youngest laddie.

When Hugh, in the evening, mimics Willie’s pathetic sing song of the mealing of the cows, that small farmer in embryo looks at him with a mournful droop of his lips and a darkly smiling protest in his big brown eyes. “No, I don’t say it a that away.”

“Willie, come and lets us have a wrussle,” cries the lively middle boy and soon the pair of them are tearing at each other, heads nearly to the ground, coat tails in the air, legs and arms entangled, so that one cannot tell to whom they belong, while their shouts and laughter fill the room.

When Willie’s crimson face comes uppermost in the struggle framed in a tangle of yellow hair, all melancholy has vanished from the lips and eyes. They are now crowing with the excitement of battle and the white glittering teeth make one forget the wistful gravity of lips in repose.

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