"Down in the mine, our yellow bird sang,
Her notes high and true all day,
And then one morn her pretty song stopped,
And we knew it was time to pray."

The Whisper Chorus was hard at work, thought Owen Llewellyn, listening with a smile. The nine burly Welshmen, trying not to bother the other passengers on the L.A.-Boston flight, were singing in whispers so soft that the coal miners' song sounded as if it were being sung by angels. The lads were always ready to break into song and, when the choir members next to him in Row 15 began, the ones in Rows 14 and 16 quickly leaned over the seat backs and joined in.

Fifteen concerts in a dozen U.S. cities over 18 days required a lot of flying, which was how the Whisper Chorus developed. Self-entertaining and almost inaudible from 12 feet away, the whispered songs helped shorten every flight, and, as one of the younger men observed, "it attracts the ladies better than anything except a pup." Right now, a slender woman with short red hair was standing in the aisle next to Owen's seat, leaning in to hear the song while trying to stay out of the way of the flight attendants and other passengers.

Owen stood up and, telling the woman that he was going to stretch his legs for a while, offered his seat. She took it with a word of thanks, barely taking her eyes off Davy, the broad-shouldered tenor from Glyncorrwg who joined the 30-member Cardiff Men's Choir just four months ago.

Owen moved down the aisle, aware that half a life ago he had been one of the energetic lads complaining that the choir's annual U.S. tour was too short. Now he was in his mid-50s, and every trip seemed at least a week too long. Age wasn't the problem, it was simpler than that. The truth was that he missed his wife.

Every day at their jeweler's shop, it was "Mr. Llewellyn" and "Mrs. Llewellyn," their tone always formal, both in front of the staff and alone. Each evening, during the drive home, they held hands as they discussed the day's work. It is odd how you get used to the feel of someone, Owen thought as he slipped into an empty aisle seat in Row 22.

Perhaps a few more U.S. tours and he'd tell the choirmaster that it was time to give his spot to someone else. He could invent a reason or perhaps just say that business was up at the shop - which was always true - and he couldn't afford to be away for so long.
Owen closed his eyes, hoping for sleep, but it wouldn't come. They'd boarded the plane at 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, and his internal clock was supplying him with middle-of-the-day energy and alertness.

"I'm going home," said a woman's voice to his left.

Owen opened his eyes and saw, across the aisle and next to the window, a woman in her 70s. Apparently, the man in Seat B had asked the usual traveler's question.

"Back to Snowdon, Vermont," she said, with a smile that made all the delicate lines in her face fall into place. Owen noticed that the woman was dressed with great style, her black suit was tailored and the double string of pearls served to emphasize the white purity of her hair. Here, he thought, was a woman who had been beautiful at every age.
"And what's it like in Snowdon, Vermont?" asked the man in Seat B, who was dressed in a rougher manner, wearing corduroy trousers, a flannel shirt, and scuffed outdoorsman's boots. He had a full head of gray hair, intelligent eyes, and seemed robustly healthy.

Owen couldn't guess the man's age or background. The weathered complexion suggested someone who'd spent much of his life outdoors. Owen wondered what an American rancher would look like, or if there were even any left.

"Would you really like to hear about my town?" the woman asked.

"I really would," said the man in the seat next to her.

"Then I'll tell you." She drew a deep breath to begin, then stopped. "I'm sorry, my name is Abigail Clark."

"I'm Richard Kendall."

"It's nice to meet you, Richard.

(End of excerpt)