Part 1 out of 4
UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE
THE MELLSTOCK QUIRE
A RURAL PAINTING OF THE DUTCH SCHOOL
This story of the Mellstock Quire and its old established west-
gallery musicians, with some supplementary descriptions of similar
officials in Two on a Tower, A Few Crusted Characters, and other
places, is intended to be a fairly true picture, at first hand, of
the personages, ways, and customs which were common among such
orchestral bodies in the villages of fifty or sixty years ago.
One is inclined to regret the displacement of these ecclesiastical
bandsmen by an isolated organist (often at first a barrel-organist)
or harmonium player; and despite certain advantages in point of
control and accomplishment which were, no doubt, secured by
installing the single artist, the change has tended to stultify the
professed aims of the clergy, its direct result being to curtail and
extinguish the interest of parishioners in church doings. Under the
old plan, from half a dozen to ten full-grown players, in addition
to the numerous more or less grown-up singers, were officially
occupied with the Sunday routine, and concerned in trying their best
to make it an artistic outcome of the combined musical taste of the
congregation. With a musical executive limited, as it mostly is
limited now, to the parson's wife or daughter and the school-
children, or to the school-teacher and the children, an important
union of interests has disappeared.
The zest of these bygone instrumentalists must have been keen and
staying to take them, as it did, on foot every Sunday after a
toilsome week, through all weathers, to the church, which often lay
at a distance from their homes. They usually received so little in
payment for their performances that their efforts were really a
labour of love. In the parish I had in my mind when writing the
present tale, the gratuities received yearly by the musicians at
Christmas were somewhat as follows: From the manor-house ten
shillings and a supper; from the vicar ten shillings; from the
farmers five shillings each; from each cottage-household one
shilling; amounting altogether to not more than ten shillings a head
annually--just enough, as an old executant told me, to pay for their
fiddle-strings, repairs, rosin, and music-paper (which they mostly
ruled themselves). Their music in those days was all in their own
manuscript, copied in the evenings after work, and their music-books
It was customary to inscribe a few jigs, reels, horn-pipes, and
ballads in the same book, by beginning it at the other end, the
insertions being continued from front and back till sacred and
secular met together in the middle, often with bizarre effect, the
words of some of the songs exhibiting that ancient and broad humour
which our grandfathers, and possibly grandmothers, took delight in,
and is in these days unquotable.
The aforesaid fiddle-strings, rosin, and music-paper were supplied
by a pedlar, who travelled exclusively in such wares from parish to
parish, coming to each village about every six months. Tales are
told of the consternation once caused among the church fiddlers
when, on the occasion of their producing a new Christmas anthem, he
did not come to time, owing to being snowed up on the downs, and the
straits they were in through having to make shift with whipcord and
twine for strings. He was generally a musician himself, and
sometimes a composer in a small way, bringing his own new tunes, and
tempting each choir to adopt them for a consideration. Some of
these compositions which now lie before me, with their repetitions
of lines, half-lines, and half-words, their fugues and their
intermediate symphonies, are good singing still, though they would
hardly be admitted into such hymn-books as are popular in the
churches of fashionable society at the present time.
Under the Greenwood Tree was first brought out in the summer of 1872
in two volumes. The name of the story was originally intended to
be, more appropriately, The Mellstock Quire, and this has been
appended as a sub-title since the early editions, it having been
thought unadvisable to displace for it the title by which the book
first became known.
In rereading the narrative after a long interval there occurs the
inevitable reflection that the realities out of which it was spun
were material for another kind of study of this little group of
church musicians than is found in the chapters here penned so
lightly, even so farcically and flippantly at times. But
circumstances would have rendered any aim at a deeper, more
essential, more transcendent handling unadvisable at the date of
writing; and the exhibition of the Mellstock Quire in the following
pages must remain the only extant one, except for the few glimpses
of that perished band which I have given in verse elsewhere.
PART THE FIRST--WINTER
CHAPTER I: MELLSTOCK-LANE
To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as
well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob
and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it
battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech
rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which
modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not
destroy its individuality.
On a cold and starry Christmas-eve within living memory a man was
passing up a lane towards Mellstock Cross in the darkness of a
plantation that whispered thus distinctively to his intelligence.
All the evidences of his nature were those afforded by the spirit of
his footsteps, which succeeded each other lightly and quickly, and
by the liveliness of his voice as he sang in a rural cadence:
"With the rose and the lily
And the daffodowndilly,
The lads and the lasses a-sheep-shearing go."
The lonely lane he was following connected one of the hamlets of
Mellstock parish with Upper Mellstock and Lewgate, and to his eyes,
casually glancing upward, the silver and black-stemmed birches with
their characteristic tufts, the pale grey boughs of beech, the dark-
creviced elm, all appeared now as black and flat outlines upon the
sky, wherein the white stars twinkled so vehemently that their
flickering seemed like the flapping of wings. Within the woody
pass, at a level anything lower than the horizon, all was dark as
the grave. The copse-wood forming the sides of the bower interlaced
its branches so densely, even at this season of the year, that the
draught from the north-east flew along the channel with scarcely an
interruption from lateral breezes.
After passing the plantation and reaching Mellstock Cross the white
surface of the lane revealed itself between the dark hedgerows like
a ribbon jagged at the edges; the irregularity being caused by
temporary accumulations of leaves extending from the ditch on either
The song (many times interrupted by flitting thoughts which took the
place of several bars, and resumed at a point it would have reached
had its continuity been unbroken) now received a more palpable
check, in the shape of "Ho-i-i-i-i-i!" from the crossing lane to
Lower Mellstock, on the right of the singer who had just emerged
from the trees.
"Ho-i-i-i-i-i!" he answered, stopping and looking round, though with
no idea of seeing anything more than imagination pictured.
"Is that thee, young Dick Dewy?" came from the darkness.
"Ay, sure, Michael Mail."
"Then why not stop for fellow-craters--going to thy own father's
house too, as we be, and knowen us so well?"
Dick Dewy faced about and continued his tune in an under-whistle,
implying that the business of his mouth could not be checked at a
moment's notice by the placid emotion of friendship.
Having come more into the open he could now be seen rising against
the sky, his profile appearing on the light background like the
portrait of a gentleman in black cardboard. It assumed the form of
a low-crowned hat, an ordinary-shaped nose, an ordinary chin, an
ordinary neck, and ordinary shoulders. What he consisted of further
down was invisible from lack of sky low enough to picture him on.
Shuffling, halting, irregular footsteps of various kinds were now
heard coming up the hill, and presently there emerged from the shade
severally five men of different ages and gaits, all of them working
villagers of the parish of Mellstock. They, too, had lost their
rotundity with the daylight, and advanced against the sky in flat
outlines, which suggested some processional design on Greek or
Etruscan pottery. They represented the chief portion of Mellstock
The first was a bowed and bent man, who carried a fiddle under his
arm, and walked as if engaged in studying some subject connected
with the surface of the road. He was Michael Mail, the man who had
hallooed to Dick.
The next was Mr. Robert Penny, boot- and shoemaker; a little man,
who, though rather round-shouldered, walked as if that fact had not
come to his own knowledge, moving on with his back very hollow and
his face fixed on the north-east quarter of the heavens before him,
so that his lower waist-coat-buttons came first, and then the
remainder of his figure. His features were invisible; yet when he
occasionally looked round, two faint moons of light gleamed for an
instant from the precincts of his eyes, denoting that he wore
spectacles of a circular form.
The third was Elias Spinks, who walked perpendicularly and
dramatically. The fourth outline was Joseph Bowman's, who had now
no distinctive appearance beyond that of a human being. Finally
came a weak lath-like form, trotting and stumbling along with one
shoulder forward and his head inclined to the left, his arms
dangling nervelessly in the wind as if they were empty sleeves.
This was Thomas Leaf.
"Where be the boys?" said Dick to this somewhat indifferently-
The eldest of the group, Michael Mail, cleared his throat from a
"We told them to keep back at home for a time, thinken they wouldn't
be wanted yet awhile; and we could choose the tuens, and so on."
"Father and grandfather William have expected ye a little sooner. I
have just been for a run round by Ewelease Stile and Hollow Hill to
warm my feet."
"To be sure father did! To be sure 'a did expect us--to taste the
little barrel beyond compare that he's going to tap."
"'Od rabbit it all! Never heard a word of it!" said Mr. Penny,
gleams of delight appearing upon his spectacle-glasses, Dick
meanwhile singing parenthetically--"The lads and the lasses a-sheep-
"Neighbours, there's time enough to drink a sight of drink now afore
bedtime?" said Mail.
"True, true--time enough to get as drunk as lords!" replied Bowman
This opinion being taken as convincing they all advanced between the
varying hedges and the trees dotting them here and there, kicking
their toes occasionally among the crumpled leaves. Soon appeared
glimmering indications of the few cottages forming the small hamlet
of Upper Mellstock for which they were bound, whilst the faint sound
of church-bells ringing a Christmas peal could be heard floating
over upon the breeze from the direction of Longpuddle and
Weatherbury parishes on the other side of the hills. A little
wicket admitted them to the garden, and they proceeded up the path
to Dick's house.
CHAPTER II: THE TRANTER'S
It was a long low cottage with a hipped roof of thatch, having
dormer windows breaking up into the eaves, a chimney standing in the
middle of the ridge and another at each end. The window-shutters
were not yet closed, and the fire- and candle-light within radiated
forth upon the thick bushes of box and laurestinus growing in clumps
outside, and upon the bare boughs of several codlin-trees hanging
about in various distorted shapes, the result of early training as
espaliers combined with careless climbing into their boughs in later
years. The walls of the dwelling were for the most part covered
with creepers, though these were rather beaten back from the
doorway--a feature which was worn and scratched by much passing in
and out, giving it by day the appearance of an old keyhole. Light
streamed through the cracks and joints of outbuildings a little way
from the cottage, a sight which nourished a fancy that the purpose
of the erection must be rather to veil bright attractions than to
shelter unsightly necessaries. The noise of a beetle and wedges and
the splintering of wood was periodically heard from this direction;
and at some little distance further a steady regular munching and
the occasional scurr of a rope betokened a stable, and horses
feeding within it.
The choir stamped severally on the door-stone to shake from their
boots any fragment of earth or leaf adhering thereto, then entered
the house and looked around to survey the condition of things.
Through the open doorway of a small inner room on the right hand, of
a character between pantry and cellar, was Dick Dewy's father
Reuben, by vocation a "tranter," or irregular carrier. He was a
stout florid man about forty years of age, who surveyed people up
and down when first making their acquaintance, and generally smiled
at the horizon or other distant object during conversations with
friends, walking about with a steady sway, and turning out his toes
very considerably. Being now occupied in bending over a hogshead,
that stood in the pantry ready horsed for the process of broaching,
he did not take the trouble to turn or raise his eyes at the entry
of his visitors, well knowing by their footsteps that they were the
expected old comrades.
The main room, on the left, was decked with bunches of holly and
other evergreens, and from the middle of the beam bisecting the
ceiling hung the mistletoe, of a size out of all proportion to the
room, and extending so low that it became necessary for a full-grown
person to walk round it in passing, or run the risk of entangling
his hair. This apartment contained Mrs. Dewy the tranter's wife,
and the four remaining children, Susan, Jim, Bessy, and Charley,
graduating uniformly though at wide stages from the age of sixteen
to that of four years--the eldest of the series being separated from
Dick the firstborn by a nearly equal interval.
Some circumstance had apparently caused much grief to Charley just
previous to the entry of the choir, and he had absently taken down a
small looking-glass, holding it before his face to learn how the
human countenance appeared when engaged in crying, which survey led
him to pause at the various points in each wail that were more than
ordinarily striking, for a thorough appreciation of the general
effect. Bessy was leaning against a chair, and glancing under the
plaits about the waist of the plaid frock she wore, to notice the
original unfaded pattern of the material as there preserved, her
face bearing an expression of regret that the brightness had passed
away from the visible portions. Mrs. Dewy sat in a brown settle by
the side of the glowing wood fire--so glowing that with a heedful
compression of the lips she would now and then rise and put her hand
upon the hams and flitches of bacon lining the chimney, to reassure
herself that they were not being broiled instead of smoked--a
misfortune that had been known to happen now and then at Christmas-
"Hullo, my sonnies, here you be, then!" said Reuben Dewy at length,
standing up and blowing forth a vehement gust of breath. "How the
blood do puff up in anybody's head, to be sure, a-stooping like
that! I was just going out to gate to hark for ye." He then
carefully began to wind a strip of brown paper round a brass tap he
held in his hand. "This in the cask here is a drop o' the right
sort" (tapping the cask); "'tis a real drop o' cordial from the best
picked apples--Sansoms, Stubbards, Five-corners, and such--like--you
d'mind the sort, Michael?" (Michael nodded.) "And there's a
sprinkling of they that grow down by the orchard-rails--streaked
ones--rail apples we d'call 'em, as 'tis by the rails they grow, and
not knowing the right name. The water-cider from 'em is as good as
most people's best cider is."
"Ay, and of the same make too," said Bowman. "'It rained when we
wrung it out, and the water got into it,' folk will say. But 'tis
on'y an excuse. Watered cider is too common among us."
"Yes, yes; too common it is!" said Spinks with an inward sigh,
whilst his eyes seemed to be looking at the case in an abstract form
rather than at the scene before him. "Such poor liquor do make a
man's throat feel very melancholy--and is a disgrace to the name of
"Come in, come in, and draw up to the fire; never mind your shoes,"
said Mrs. Dewy, seeing that all except Dick had paused to wipe them
upon the door-mat. "I am glad that you've stepped up-along at last;
and, Susan, you run down to Grammer Kaytes's and see if you can
borrow some larger candles than these fourteens. Tommy Leaf, don't
ye be afeard! Come and sit here in the settle."
This was addressed to the young man before mentioned, consisting
chiefly of a human skeleton and a smock-frock, who was very awkward
in his movements, apparently on account of having grown so very fast
that before he had had time to get used to his height he was higher.
"Hee--hee--ay!" replied Leaf, letting his mouth continue to smile
for some time after his mind had done smiling, so that his teeth
remained in view as the most conspicuous members of his body.
"Here, Mr. Penny," resumed Mrs. Dewy, "you sit in this chair. And
how's your daughter, Mrs. Brownjohn?"
"Well, I suppose I must say pretty fair." He adjusted his
spectacles a quarter of an inch to the right. "But she'll be worse
before she's better, 'a b'lieve."
"Indeed--poor soul! And how many will that make in all, four or
"Five; they've buried three. Yes, five; and she not much more than
a maid yet. She do know the multiplication table onmistakable well.
However, 'twas to be, and none can gainsay it."
Mrs. Dewy resigned Mr. Penny. "Wonder where your grandfather James
is?" she inquired of one of the children. "He said he'd drop in to-
"Out in fuel-house with grandfather William," said Jimmy.
"Now let's see what we can do," was heard spoken about this time by
the tranter in a private voice to the barrel, beside which he had
again established himself, and was stooping to cut away the cork.
"Reuben, don't make such a mess o' tapping that barrel as is mostly
made in this house," Mrs. Dewy cried from the fireplace. "I'd tap a
hundred without wasting more than you do in one. Such a squizzling-
-and squirting job as 'tis in your hands! There, he always was such
a clumsy man indoors."
"Ay, ay; I know you'd tap a hundred beautiful, Ann--I know you
would; two hundred, perhaps. But I can't promise. This is a' old
cask, and the wood's rotted away about the tap-hole. The husbird of
a feller Sam Lawson--that ever I should call'n such, now he's dead
and gone, poor heart!--took me in completely upon the feat of buying
this cask. 'Reub,' says he--'a always used to call me plain Reub,
poor old heart!--'Reub,' he said, says he, 'that there cask, Reub,
is as good as new; yes, good as new. 'Tis a wine-hogshead; the best
port-wine in the commonwealth have been in that there cask; and you
shall have en for ten shillens, Reub,'--'a said, says he--'he's
worth twenty, ay, five-and-twenty, if he's worth one; and an iron
hoop or two put round en among the wood ones will make en worth
thirty shillens of any man's money, if--'"
"I think I should have used the eyes that Providence gave me to use
afore I paid any ten shillens for a jimcrack wine-barrel; a saint is
sinner enough not to be cheated. But 'tis like all your family was,
so easy to be deceived."
"That's as true as gospel of this member," said Reuben.
Mrs. Dewy began a smile at the answer, then altering her lips and
refolding them so that it was not a smile, commenced smoothing
little Bessy's hair; the tranter having meanwhile suddenly become
oblivious to conversation, occupying himself in a deliberate cutting
and arrangement of some more brown paper for the broaching
"Ah, who can believe sellers!" said old Michael Mail in a carefully-
cautious voice, by way of tiding-over this critical point of
"No one at all," said Joseph Bowman, in the tone of a man fully
agreeing with everybody.
"Ay," said Mail, in the tone of a man who did not agree with
everybody as a rule, though he did now; "I knowed a' auctioneering
feller once--a very friendly feller 'a was too. And so one hot day
as I was walking down the front street o' Casterbridge, jist below
the King's Arms, I passed a' open winder and see him inside, stuck
upon his perch, a-selling off. I jist nodded to en in a friendly
way as I passed, and went my way, and thought no more about it.
Well, next day, as I was oilen my boots by fuel-house door, if a
letter didn't come wi' a bill charging me with a feather--bed,
bolster, and pillers, that I had bid for at Mr. Taylor's sale. The
shim-faced martel had knocked 'em down to me because I nodded to en
in my friendly way; and I had to pay for 'em too. Now, I hold that
that was coming it very close, Reuben?"
"'Twas close, there's no denying," said the general voice.
"Too close, 'twas," said Reuben, in the rear of the rest. "And as
to Sam Lawson--poor heart! now he's dead and gone too!--I'll
warrant, that if so be I've spent one hour in making hoops for that
barrel, I've spent fifty, first and last. That's one of my hoops'--
touching it with his elbow--'that's one of mine, and that, and that,
and all these."
"Ah, Sam was a man," said Mr. Penny, contemplatively.
"Sam was!" said Bowman.
"Especially for a drap o' drink," said the tranter.
"Good, but not religious--good," suggested Mr. Penny.
The tranter nodded. Having at last made the tap and hole quite
ready, "Now then, Suze, bring a mug," he said. "Here's luck to us,
The tap went in, and the cider immediately squirted out in a
horizontal shower over Reuben's hands, knees, and leggings, and into
the eyes and neck of Charley, who, having temporarily put off his
grief under pressure of more interesting proceedings, was squatting
down and blinking near his father.
"There 'tis again!" said Mrs. Dewy.
"Devil take the hole, the cask, and Sam Lawson too, that good cider
should be wasted like this!" exclaimed the tranter. "Your thumb!
Lend me your thumb, Michael! Ram it in here, Michael! I must get a
bigger tap, my sonnies."
"Idd it cold inthide te hole?" inquired Charley of Michael, as he
continued in a stooping posture with his thumb in the cork-hole.
"What wonderful odds and ends that chiel has in his head to be
sure!" Mrs. Dewy admiringly exclaimed from the distance. "I lay a
wager that he thinks more about how 'tis inside that barrel than in
all the other parts of the world put together."
All persons present put on a speaking countenance of admiration for
the cleverness alluded to, in the midst of which Reuben returned.
The operation was then satisfactorily performed; when Michael arose
and stretched his head to the extremest fraction of height that his
body would allow of, to re-straighten his back and shoulders--
thrusting out his arms and twisting his features to a mass of
wrinkles to emphasize the relief aquired. A quart or two of the
beverage was then brought to table, at which all the new arrivals
reseated themselves with wide-spread knees, their eyes meditatively
seeking out any speck or knot in the board upon which the gaze might
"Whatever is father a-biding out in fuel-house so long for?" said
the tranter. "Never such a man as father for two things--cleaving
up old dead apple-tree wood and playing the bass-viol. 'A'd pass
his life between the two, that 'a would." He stepped to the door
and opened it.
"Ay!" rang thinly from round the corner.
"Here's the barrel tapped, and we all a-waiting!"
A series of dull thuds, that had been heard without for some time
past, now ceased; and after the light of a lantern had passed the
window and made wheeling rays upon the ceiling inside the eldest of
the Dewy family appeared.
CHAPTER III: THE ASSEMBLED QUIRE
William Dewy--otherwise grandfather William--was now about seventy;
yet an ardent vitality still preserved a warm and roughened bloom
upon his face, which reminded gardeners of the sunny side of a ripe
ribstone-pippin; though a narrow strip of forehead, that was
protected from the weather by lying above the line of his hat-brim,
seemed to belong to some town man, so gentlemanly was its whiteness.
His was a humorous and kindly nature, not unmixed with a frequent
melancholy; and he had a firm religious faith. But to his
neighbours he had no character in particular. If they saw him pass
by their windows when they had been bottling off old mead, or when
they had just been called long-headed men who might do anything in
the world if they chose, they thought concerning him, "Ah, there's
that good-hearted man--open as a child!" If they saw him just after
losing a shilling or half-a-crown, or accidentally letting fall a
piece of crockery, they thought, "There's that poor weak-minded man
Dewy again! Ah, he's never done much in the world either!" If he
passed when fortune neither smiled nor frowned on them, they merely
thought him old William Dewy.
"Ah, so's--here you be!--Ah, Michael and Joseph and John--and you
too, Leaf! a merry Christmas all! We shall have a rare log-wood
fire directly, Reub, to reckon by the toughness of the job I had in
cleaving 'em." As he spoke he threw down an armful of logs which
fell in the chimney-corner with a rumble, and looked at them with
something of the admiring enmity he would have bestowed on living
people who had been very obstinate in holding their own. "Come in,
Old James (grandfather on the maternal side) had simply called as a
visitor. He lived in a cottage by himself, and many people
considered him a miser; some, rather slovenly in his habits. He now
came forward from behind grandfather William, and his stooping
figure formed a well-illuminated picture as he passed towards the
fire-place. Being by trade a mason, he wore a long linen apron
reaching almost to his toes, corduroy breeches and gaiters, which,
together with his boots, graduated in tints of whitish-brown by
constant friction against lime and stone. He also wore a very stiff
fustian coat, having folds at the elbows and shoulders as unvarying
in their arrangement as those in a pair of bellows: the ridges and
the projecting parts of the coat collectively exhibiting a shade
different from that of the hollows, which were lined with small
ditch-like accumulations of stone and mortar-dust. The extremely
large side-pockets, sheltered beneath wide flaps, bulged out
convexly whether empty or full; and as he was often engaged to work
at buildings far away--his breakfasts and dinners being eaten in a
strange chimney-corner, by a garden wall, on a heap of stones, or
walking along the road--he carried in these pockets a small tin
canister of butter, a small canister of sugar, a small canister of
tea, a paper of salt, and a paper of pepper; the bread, cheese, and
meat, forming the substance of his meals, hanging up behind him in
his basket among the hammers and chisels. If a passer-by looked
hard at him when he was drawing forth any of these, "My buttery," he
said, with a pinched smile.
"Better try over number seventy-eight before we start, I suppose?"
said William, pointing to a heap of old Christmas-carol books on a
"Wi' all my heart," said the choir generally.
"Number seventy-eight was always a teaser--always. I can mind him
ever since I was growing up a hard boy-chap."
"But he's a good tune, and worth a mint o' practice," said Michael.
"He is; though I've been mad enough wi' that tune at times to seize
en and tear en all to linnit. Ay, he's a splendid carrel--there's
no denying that."
"The first line is well enough," said Mr. Spinks; "but when you come
to 'O, thou man,' you make a mess o't."
"We'll have another go into en, and see what we can make of the
martel. Half-an-hour's hammering at en will conquer the toughness
of en; I'll warn it."
"'Od rabbit it all!" said Mr. Penny, interrupting with a flash of
his spectacles, and at the same time clawing at something in the
depths of a large side-pocket. "If so be I hadn't been as scatter-
brained and thirtingill as a chiel, I should have called at the
schoolhouse wi' a boot as I cam up along. Whatever is coming to me
I really can't estimate at all!"
"The brain has its weaknesses," murmured Mr. Spinks, waving his head
ominously. Mr. Spinks was considered to be a scholar, having once
kept a night-school, and always spoke up to that level.
"Well, I must call with en the first thing tomorrow. And I'll empt
my pocket o' this last too, if you don't mind, Mrs. Dewy." He drew
forth a last, and placed it on a table at his elbow. The eyes of
three or four followed it.
"Well," said the shoemaker, seeming to perceive that the interest
the object had excited was greater than he had anticipated, and
warranted the last's being taken up again and exhibited; "now, whose
foot do ye suppose this last was made for? It was made for Geoffrey
Day's father, over at Yalbury Wood. Ah, many's the pair o' boots
he've had off the last! Well, when 'a died, I used the last for
Geoffrey, and have ever since, though a little doctoring was wanted
to make it do. Yes, a very queer natured last it is now, 'a
b'lieve," he continued, turning it over caressingly. "Now, you
notice that there" (pointing to a lump of leather bradded to the
toe), "that's a very bad bunion that he've had ever since 'a was a
boy. Now, this remarkable large piece" (pointing to a patch nailed
to the side), "shows a' accident he received by the tread of a
horse, that squashed his foot a'most to a pomace. The horseshoe cam
full-butt on this point, you see. And so I've just been over to
Geoffrey's, to know if he wanted his bunion altered or made bigger
in the new pair I'm making."
During the hatter part of this speech, Mr. Penny's left hand
wandered towards the cider-cup, as if the hand had no connection
with the person speaking; and bringing his sentence to an abrupt
chose, all but the extreme margin of the bootmaker's face was
eclipsed by the circular brim of the vessel.
"However, I was going to say," continued Penny, putting down the
cup, "I ought to have called at the school'--here he went groping
again in the depths of his pocket--'to leave this without fail,
though I suppose the first thing to-morrow will do."
He now drew forth and placed upon the table a boot--small, light,
and prettily shaped--upon the heel of which he had been operating.
"The new schoolmistress's!"
"Ay, no less, Miss Fancy Day; as neat a little figure of fun as ever
I see, and just husband-high."
"Never Geoffrey's daughter Fancy?" said Bowman, as all glances
present converged like wheel-spokes upon the boot in the centre of
"Yes, sure," resumed Mr. Penny, regarding the boot as if that alone
were his auditor; "'tis she that's come here schoolmistress. You
knowed his daughter was in training?"
"Strange, isn't it, for her to be here Christmas night, Master
"Yes; but here she is, 'a b'lieve."
"I know how she comes here--so I do!" chirruped one of the children.
"Why?" Dick inquired, with subtle interest.
"Pa'son Maybold was afraid he couldn't manage us all to-morrow at
the dinner, and he talked o' getting her jist to come over and help
him hand about the plates, and see we didn't make pigs of ourselves;
and that's what she's come for!"
"And that's the boot, then," continued its mender imaginatively,
"that she'll walk to church in tomorrow morning. I don't care to
mend boots I don't make; but there's no knowing what it may lead to,
and her father always comes to me."
There, between the cider--mug and the candle, stood this interesting
receptacle of the little unknown's foot; and a very pretty boot it
was. A character, in fact--the flexible bend at the instep, the
rounded localities of the small nestling toes, scratches from
careless scampers now forgotten--all, as repeated in the tell-tale
leather, evidencing a nature and a bias. Dick surveyed it with a
delicate feeling that he had no right to do so without having first
asked the owner of the foot's permission.
"Now, neighbours, though no common eye can see it," the shoemaker,
went on, "a man in the trade can see the likeness between this boot
and that last, although that is so deformed as hardly to recall one
of God's creatures, and this is one of as pretty a pair as you'd get
for ten-and-sixpence in Casterbridge. To you, nothing; but 'tis
father's voot and daughter's voot to me, as plain as houses."
"I don't doubt there's a likeness, Master Penny--a mild likeness--a
fantastical likeness," said Spinks. "But _I_ han't got imagination
enough to see it, perhaps."
Mr. Penny adjusted his spectacles.
"Now, I'll tell ye what happened to me once on this very point. You
used to know Johnson the dairyman, William?"
"Ay, sure; I did."
"Well, 'twasn't opposite his house, but a little lower down--by his
paddock, in front o' Parkmaze Pool. I was a-bearing across towards
Bloom's End,--and ho and behold, there was a man just brought out o'
the Pool, dead; he had un'rayed for a dip, but not being able to
pitch it just there had gone in flop over his head. Men looked at
en; women looked at en; children looked at en; nobody knowed en. He
was covered wi' a sheet; but I catched sight of his voot, just
showing out as they carried en along. 'I don't care what name that
man went by,' I said, in my way, 'but he's John Woodward's brother;
I can swear to the family voot.' At that very moment up comes John
Woodward, weeping and teaving, 'I've lost my brother! I've lost my
"Only to think of that!" said Mrs. Dewy.
"'Tis well enough to know this foot and that foot," said Mr. Spinks.
"'Tis long-headed, in fact, as far as feet do go. I know little,
'tis true--I say no more; but show ME a man's foot, and I'll tell
you that man's heart."
"You must be a cleverer feller, then, than mankind in jineral," said
"Well, that's nothing for me to speak of," returned Mr. Spinks. "A
man hives and learns. Maybe I've read a leaf or two in my time. I
don't wish to say anything large, mind you; but nevertheless, maybe
"Yes, I know," said Michael soothingly, "and all the parish knows,
that ye've read sommat of everything a'most, and have been a great
filler of young folks' brains. Learning's a worthy thing, and ye've
got it, Master Spinks."
"I make no boast, though I may have read and thought a little; and I
know--it may be from much perusing, but I make no boast--that by the
time a man's head is finished, 'tis almost time for him to creep
underground. I am over forty-five."
Mr. Spinks emitted a hook to signify that if his head was not
finished, nobody's head ever could be.
"Talk of knowing people by their feet!" said Reuben. "Rot me, my
sonnies, then, if I can tell what a man is from all his members put
"But still, look is a good deal," observed grandfather William
absently, moving and balancing his head till the tip of grandfather
James's nose was exactly in a right line with William's eye and the
mouth of a miniature cavern he was discerning in the fire. "By the
way," he continued in a fresher voice, and looking up, "that young
crater, the schoolmis'ess, must be sung to to-night wi' the rest?
If her ear is as fine as her face, we shall have enough to do to be
up-sides with her."
"What about her face?" said young Dewy.
"Well, as to that," Mr. Spinks replied, "'tis a face you can hardly
gainsay. A very good pink face, as far as that do go. Still, only
a face, when all is said and done."
"Come, come, Elias Spinks, say she's a pretty maid, and have done
wi' her," said the tranter, again preparing to visit the cider-
CHAPTER IV: GOING THE ROUNDS
Shortly after ten o'clock the singing-boys arrived at the tranter's
house, which was invariably the place of meeting, and preparations
were made for the start. The older men and musicians wore thick
coats, with stiff perpendicular collars, and coloured handkerchiefs
wound round and round the neck till the end came to hand, over all
which they just showed their ears and noses, like people looking
over a wall. The remainder, stalwart ruddy men and boys, were
dressed mainly in snow-white smock-frocks, embroidered upon the
shoulders and breasts, in ornamental forms of hearts, diamonds, and
zigzags. The cider-mug was emptied for the ninth time, the music-
books were arranged, and the pieces finally decided upon. The boys
in the meantime put the old horn-lanterns in order, cut candles into
short lengths to fit the lanterns; and, a thin fleece of snow having
fallen since the early part of the evening, those who had no
leggings went to the stable and wound wisps of hay round their
ankles to keep the insidious flakes from the interior of their
Mellstock was a parish of considerable acreage, the hamlets
composing it lying at a much greater distance from each other than
is ordinarily the case. Hence several hours were consumed in
playing and singing within hearing of every family, even if but a
single air were bestowed on each. There was Lower Mellstock, the
main village; half a mile from this were the church and vicarage,
and a few other houses, the spot being rather lonely now, though in
past centuries it had been the most thickly-populated quarter of the
parish. A mile north-east lay the hamlet of Upper Mellstock, where
the tranter lived; and at other points knots of cottages, besides
solitary farmsteads and dairies.
Old William Dewy, with the violoncello, played the bass; his
grandson Dick the treble violin; and Reuben and Michael Mail the
tenor and second violins respectively. The singers consisted of
four men and seven boys, upon whom devolved the task of carrying and
attending to the lanterns, and holding the books open for the
players. Directly music was the theme, old William ever and
instinctively came to the front.
"Now mind, neighbours," he said, as they all went out one by one at
the door, he himself holding it ajar and regarding them with a
critical face as they passed, like a shepherd counting out his
sheep. "You two counter-boys, keep your ears open to Michael's
fingering, and don't ye go straying into the treble part along o'
Dick and his set, as ye did last year; and mind this especially when
we be in "Arise, and hail." Billy Chimlen, don't you sing quite so
raving mad as you fain would; and, all o' ye, whatever ye do, keep
from making a great scuffle on the ground when we go in at people's
gates; but go quietly, so as to strike up all of a sudden, like
"Farmer Ledlow's first?"
"Farmer Ledlow's first; the rest as usual."
"And, Voss," said the tranter terminatively, "you keep house here
till about half-past two; then heat the metheglin and cider in the
warmer you'll find turned up upon the copper; and bring it wi' the
victuals to church-hatch, as th'st know."
Just before the clock struck twelve they lighted the lanterns and
started. The moon, in her third quarter, had risen since the
snowstorm; but the dense accumulation of snow-cloud weakened her
power to a faint twilight, which was rather pervasive of the
landscape than traceable to the sky. The breeze had gone down, and
the rustle of their feet and tones of their speech echoed with an
alert rebound from every post, boundary-stone, and ancient wall they
passed, even where the distance of the echo's origin was less than a
few yards. Beyond their own slight noises nothing was to be heard,
save the occasional bark of foxes in the direction of Yalbury Wood,
or the brush of a rabbit among the grass now and then, as it
scampered out of their way.
Most of the outlying homesteads and hamlets had been visited by
about two o'clock; they then passed across the outskirts of a wooded
park toward the main village, nobody being at home at the Manor.
Pursuing no recognized track, great care was necessary in walking
lest their faces should come in contact with the low-hanging boughs
of the old lime-trees, which in many spots formed dense over-growths
of interlaced branches.
"Times have changed from the times they used to be," said Mail,
regarding nobody can tell what interesting old panoramas with an
inward eye, and letting his outward glance rest on the ground,
because it was as convenient a position as any. "People don't care
much about us now! I've been thinking we must be almost the last
left in the county of the old string players? Barrel-organs, and
the things next door to 'em that you blow wi' your foot, have come
in terribly of late years."
"Ay!" said Bowman, shaking his head; and old William, on seeing him,
did the same thing.
"More's the pity," replied another. "Time was--long and merry ago
now!--when not one of the varmits was to be heard of; but it served
some of the quires right. They should have stuck to strings as we
did, and kept out clarinets, and done away with serpents. If you'd
thrive in musical religion, stick to strings, says I."
"Strings be safe soul-lifters, as far as that do go," said Mr.
"Yet there's worse things than serpents," said Mr. Penny. "Old
things pass away, 'tis true; but a serpent was a good old note: a
deep rich note was the serpent."
"Clar'nets, however, be bad at all times," said Michael Mail. "One
Christmas--years agone now, years--I went the rounds wi' the
Weatherbury quire. 'Twas a hard frosty night, and the keys of all
the clar'nets froze--ah, they did freeze!--so that 'twas like
drawing a cork every time a key was opened; and the players o' 'em
had to go into a hedger-and-ditcher's chimley-corner, and thaw their
clar'nets every now and then. An icicle o' spet hung down from the
end of every man's clar'net a span long; and as to fingers--well,
there, if ye'll believe me, we had no fingers at all, to our
"I can well bring back to my mind," said Mr. Penny, "what I said to
poor Joseph Ryme (who took the treble part in Chalk-Newton Church
for two-and-forty year) when they thought of having clar'nets there.
"Joseph," I said, says I, "depend upon't, if so be you have them
tooting clar'nets you'll spoil the whole set-out. Clar'nets were
not made for the service of the Lard; you can see it by looking at
'em," I said. And what came o't? Why, souls, the parson set up a
barrel-organ on his own account within two years o' the time I
spoke, and the old quire went to nothing."
"As far as look is concerned," said the tranter, "I don't for my
part see that a fiddle is much nearer heaven than a clar'net. 'Tis
further off. There's always a rakish, scampish twist about a
fiddle's looks that seems to say the Wicked One had a hand in making
o'en; while angels be supposed to play clar'nets in heaven, or
som'at like 'em, if ye may believe picters."
"Robert Penny, you was in the right," broke in the eldest Dewy.
"They should ha' stuck to strings. Your brass-man is a rafting dog-
-well and good; your reed-man is a dab at stirring ye--well and
good; your drum-man is a rare bowel-shaker--good again. But I don't
care who hears me say it, nothing will spak to your heart wi' the
sweetness o' the man of strings!"
"Strings for ever!" said little Jimmy.
"Strings alone would have held their ground against all the new
comers in creation." ("True, true!" said Bowman.) "But clarinets
was death." ("Death they was!" said Mr. Penny.) "And harmonions,"
William continued in a louder voice, and getting excited by these
signs of approval, "harmonions and barrel-organs" ("Ah!" and groans
from Spinks) "be miserable--what shall I call 'em?--miserable--"
"Sinners," suggested Jimmy, who made large strides like the men, and
did not lag behind like the other little boys.
"Right, William, and so they be--miserable dumbledores!" said the
choir with unanimity.
By this time they were crossing to a gate in the direction of the
school, which, standing on a slight eminence at the junction of
three ways, now rose in unvarying and dark flatness against the sky.
The instruments were retuned, and all the band entered the school
enclosure, enjoined by old William to keep upon the grass.
"Number seventy-eight," he softly gave out as they formed round in a
semicircle, the boys opening the lanterns to get a clearer light,
and directing their rays on the books.
Then passed forth into the quiet night an ancient and time-worn
hymn, embodying a quaint Christianity in words orally transmitted
from father to son through several generations down to the present
characters, who sang them out right earnestly:
"Remember Adam's fall,
O thou Man:
Remember Adam's fall
From Heaven to Hell.
Remember Adam's fall
How he hath condemn'd all
In Hell perpetual
There for to dwell.
Remember God's goodnesse,
O thou Man:
Remember God's goodnesse,
His promise made.
Remember God's goodnesse;
He sent His Son sinlesse
Our ails for to redress;
Be not afraid
In Bethlehem He was born,
O thou Man:
In Bethlehem He was born,
For mankind's sake.
In Bethlehem He was born,
Christmas-day i' the morn:
Our Saviour thought no scorn
Our faults to take.
Give thanks to God alway,
O thou Man:
Give thanks to God alway
With heart-most joy.
Give thanks to God alway
On this our joyful day:
Let all men sing and say,
Having concluded the last note, they listened for a minute or two,
but found that no sound issued from the schoolhouse.
"Four breaths, and then, "O, what unbounded goodness!" number fifty-
nine," said William.
This was duly gone through, and no notice whatever seemed to be
taken of the performance.
"Good guide us, surely 'tisn't a' empty house, as befell us in the
year thirty-nine and forty-three!" said old Dewy.
"Perhaps she's jist come from some musical city, and sneers at our
doings?" the tranter whispered.
"'Od rabbit her!" said Mr. Penny, with an annihilating look at a
corner of the school chimney, "I don't quite stomach her, if this is
it. Your plain music well done is as worthy as your other sort done
bad, a' b'lieve, souls; so say I."
"Four breaths, and then the last," said the leader authoritatively.
"'Rejoice, ye Tenants of the Earth,' number sixty-four."
At the close, waiting yet another minute, he said in a clear loud
voice, as he had said in the village at that hour and season for the
previous forty years--"A merry Christmas to ye!"
CHAPTER V: THE LISTENERS
When the expectant stillness consequent upon the exclamation had
nearly died out of them all, an increasing light made itself visible
in one of the windows of the upper floor. It came so close to the
blind that the exact position of the flame could be perceived from
the outside. Remaining steady for an instant, the blind went upward
from before it, revealing to thirty concentrated eyes a young girl,
framed as a picture by the window architrave, and unconsciously
illuminating her countenance to a vivid brightness by a candle she
held in her left hand, close to her face, her right hand being
extended to the side of the window. She was wrapped in a white robe
of some kind, whilst down her shoulders fell a twining profusion of
marvellously rich hair, in a wild disorder which proclaimed it to be
only during the invisible hours of the night that such a condition
was discoverable. Her bright eyes were looking into the grey world
outside with an uncertain expression, oscillating between courage
and shyness, which, as she recognized the semicircular group of dark
forms gathered before her, transformed itself into pleasant
Opening the window, she said lightly and warmly--"Thank you,
singers, thank you!"
Together went the window quickly and quietly, and the blind started
downward on its return to its place. Her fair forehead and eyes
vanished; her little mouth; her neck and shoulders; all of her.
Then the spot of candlelight shone nebulously as before; then it
"How pretty!" exclaimed Dick Dewy.
"If she'd been rale wexwork she couldn't ha' been comelier," said
"As near a thing to a spiritual vision as ever I wish to see!" said
"O, sich I never, never see!" said Leaf fervently.
All the rest, after clearing their throats and adjusting their hats,
agreed that such a sight was worth singing for.
"Now to Farmer Shiner's, and then replenish our insides, father?"
said the tranter.
"Wi' all my heart," said old William, shouldering his bass-viol.
Farmer Shiner's was a queer lump of a house, standing at the corner
of a lane that ran into the principal thoroughfare. The upper
windows were much wider than they were high, and this feature,
together with a broad bay-window where the door might have been
expected, gave it by day the aspect of a human countenance turned
askance, and wearing a sly and wicked leer. To-night nothing was
visible but the outline of the roof upon the sky.
The front of this building was reached, and the preliminaries
arranged as usual.
"Four breaths, and number thirty-two, 'Behold the Morning Star,'"
said old William.
They had reached the end of the second verse, and the fiddlers were
doing the up bow-stroke previously to pouring forth the opening
chord of the third verse, when, without a light appearing or any
signal being given, a roaring voice exclaimed -
"Shut up, woll 'ee! Don't make your blaring row here! A feller wi'
a headache enough to split his skull likes a quiet night!"
Slam went the window.
"Hullo, that's a' ugly blow for we!" said the tranter, in a keenly
appreciative voice, and turning to his companions.
"Finish the carrel, all who be friends of harmony!" commanded old
William; and they continued to the end.
"Four breaths, and number nineteen!" said William firmly. "Give it
him well; the quire can't be insulted in this manner!"
A light now flashed into existence, the window opened, and the
farmer stood revealed as one in a terrific passion.
"Drown en!--drown en!" the tranter cried, fiddling frantically.
"Play fortissimy, and drown his spaking!"
"Fortissimy!" said Michael Mail, and the music and singing waxed so
loud that it was impossible to know what Mr. Shiner had said, was
saying, or was about to say; but wildly flinging his arms and body
about in the forms of capital Xs and Ys, he appeared to utter enough
invectives to consign the whole parish to perdition.
"Very onseemly--very!" said old William, as they retired. "Never
such a dreadful scene in the whole round o' my carrel practice--
never! And he a churchwarden!"
"Only a drap o' drink got into his head," said the tranter. "Man's
well enough when he's in his religious frame. He's in his worldly
frame now. Must ask en to our bit of a party to-morrow night, I
suppose, and so put en in humour again. We bear no mortal man ill-
They now crossed Mellstock Bridge, and went along an embowered path
beside the Froom towards the church and vicarage, meeting Voss with
the hot mead and bread-and-cheese as they were approaching the
churchyard. This determined them to eat and drink before proceeding
further, and they entered the church and ascended to the gallery.
The lanterns were opened, and the whole body sat round against the
walls on benches and whatever else was available, and made a hearty
meal. In the pauses of conversation there could be heard through
the floor overhead a little world of undertones and creaks from the
halting clockwork, which never spread further than the tower they
were born in, and raised in the more meditative minds a fancy that
here lay the direct pathway of Time.
Having done eating and drinking, they again tuned the instruments,
and once more the party emerged into the night air.
"Where's Dick?" said old Dewy.
Every man looked round upon every other man, as if Dick might have
been transmuted into one or the other; and then they said they
"Well now, that's what I call very nasty of Master Dicky, that I
do," said Michael Mail.
"He've clinked off home-along, depend upon't," another suggested,
though not quite believing that he had.
"Dick!" exclaimed the tranter, and his voice rolled sonorously forth
among the yews.
He suspended his muscles rigid as stone whilst listening for an
answer, and finding he listened in vain, turned to the assemblage.
"The treble man too! Now if he'd been a tenor or counter chap, we
might ha' contrived the rest o't without en, you see. But for a
quire to lose the treble, why, my sonnies, you may so well lose your
. . . " The tranter paused, unable to mention an image vast enough
for the occasion.
"Your head at once," suggested Mr. Penny.
The tranter moved a pace, as if it were puerile of people to
complete sentences when there were more pressing things to be done.
"Was ever heard such a thing as a young man leaving his work half
done and turning tail like this!"
"Never," replied Bowman, in a tone signifying that he was the last
man in the world to wish to withhold the formal finish required of
"I hope no fatal tragedy has overtook the lad!" said his
"O no," replied tranter Dewy placidly. "Wonder where he's put that
there fiddle of his. Why that fiddle cost thirty shillings, and
good words besides. Somewhere in the damp, without doubt; that
instrument will be unglued and spoilt in ten minutes--ten! ay, two."
"What in the name o' righteousness can have happened?" said old
William, more uneasily. "Perhaps he's drownded!"
"Leaving their lanterns and instruments in the belfry they retraced
their steps along the waterside track. "A strapping lad like Dick
d'know better than let anything happen onawares," Reuben remarked.
"There's sure to be some poor little scram reason for't staring us
in the face all the while." He lowered his voice to a mysterious
tone: 'Neighbours, have ye noticed any sign of a scornful woman in
his head, or suchlike?"
"Not a glimmer of such a body. He's as clear as water yet."
"And Dicky said he should never marry," cried Jimmy, "but live at
home always along wi' mother and we!"
"Ay, ay, my sonny; every lad has said that in his time."
They had now again reached the precincts of Mr. Shiner's, but
hearing nobody in that direction, one or two went across to the
schoolhouse. A light was still burning in the bedroom, and though
the blind was down, the window had been slightly opened, as if to
admit the distant notes of the carollers to the ears of the occupant
of the room.
Opposite the window, leaning motionless against a beech tree, was
the lost man, his arms folded, his head thrown back, his eyes fixed
upon the illuminated lattice.
"Why, Dick, is that thee? What b'st doing here?"
Dick's body instantly flew into a more rational attitude, and his
head was seen to turn east and west in the gloom, as if endeavouring
to discern some proper answer to that question; and at last he said
in rather feeble accents--"Nothing, father."
"Th'st take long enough time about it then, upon my body," said the
tranter, as they all turned anew towards the vicarage.
"I thought you hadn't done having snap in the gallery," said Dick.
"Why, we've been traypsing and rambling about, looking everywhere,
and thinking you'd done fifty deathly things, and here have you been
at nothing at all!"
"The stupidness lies in that point of it being nothing at all,"
murmured Mr. Spinks.
The vicarage front was their next field of operation, and Mr.
Maybold, the lately-arrived incumbent, duly received his share of
the night's harmonies. It was hoped that by reason of his
profession he would have been led to open the window, and an extra
carol in quick time was added to draw him forth. But Mr. Maybold
made no stir.
"A bad sign!" said old William, shaking his head.
However, at that same instant a musical voice was heard exclaiming
from inner depths of bedclothes--"Thanks, villagers!"
"What did he say?" asked Bowman, who was rather dull of hearing.
Bowman's voice, being therefore loud, had been heard by the vicar
"I said, 'Thanks, villagers!'" cried the vicar again.
"Oh, we didn't hear 'ee the first time!" cried Bowman.
"Now don't for heaven's sake spoil the young man's temper by
answering like that!" said the tranter.
"You won't do that, my friends!" the vicar shouted.
"Well to be sure, what ears!" said Mr. Penny in a whisper. "Beats
any horse or dog in the parish, and depend upon't, that's a sign
he's a proper clever chap."
"We shall see that in time," said the tranter.
Old William, in his gratitude for such thanks from a comparatively
new inhabitant, was anxious to play all the tunes over again; but
renounced his desire on being reminded by Reuben that it would be
best to leave well alone.
"Now putting two and two together," the tranter continued, as they
went their way over the hill, and across to the last remaining
houses; "that is, in the form of that young female vision we zeed
just now, and this young tenor-voiced parson, my belief is she'll
wind en round her finger, and twist the pore young feller about like
the figure of 8--that she will so, my sonnies."
CHAPTER VI: CHRISTMAS MORNING
The choir at last reached their beds, and slept like the rest of the
parish. Dick's slumbers, through the three or four hours remaining
for rest, were disturbed and slight; an exhaustive variation upon
the incidents that had passed that night in connection with the
school-window going on in his brain every moment of the time.
In the morning, do what he would--go upstairs, downstairs, out of
doors, speak of the wind and weather, or what not--he could not
refrain from an unceasing renewal, in imagination, of that
interesting enactment. Tilted on the edge of one foot he stood
beside the fireplace, watching his mother grilling rashers; but
there was nothing in grilling, he thought, unless the Vision
grilled. The limp rasher hung down between the bars of the gridiron
like a cat in a child's arms; but there was nothing in similes,
unless She uttered them. He looked at the daylight shadows of a
yellow hue, dancing with the firelight shadows in blue on the
whitewashed chimney corner, but there was nothing in shadows.
"Perhaps the new young wom--sch--Miss Fancy Day will sing in church
with us this morning," he said.
The tranter looked a long time before he replied, "I fancy she will;
and yet I fancy she won't."
Dick implied that such a remark was rather to be tolerated than
admired; though deliberateness in speech was known to have, as a
rule, more to do with the machinery of the tranter's throat than
with the matter enunciated.
They made preparations for going to church as usual; Dick with
extreme alacrity, though he would not definitely consider why he was
so religious. His wonderful nicety in brushing and cleaning his
best light boots had features which elevated it to the rank of an
art. Every particle and speck of last week's mud was scraped and
brushed from toe and heel; new blacking from the packet was
carefully mixed and made use of, regardless of expense. A coat was
laid on and polished; then another coat for increased blackness; and
lastly a third, to give the perfect and mirror-like jet which the
hoped-for rencounter demanded.
It being Christmas-day, the tranter prepared himself with Sunday
particularity. Loud sousing and snorting noises were heard to
proceed from a tub in the back quarters of the dwelling, proclaiming
that he was there performing his great Sunday wash, lasting half-an-
hour, to which his washings on working-day mornings were mere
flashes in the pan. Vanishing into the outhouse with a large brown
towel, and the above-named bubblings and snortings being carried on
for about twenty minutes, the tranter would appear round the edge of
the door, smelling like a summer fog, and looking as if he had just
narrowly escaped a watery grave with the loss of much of his
clothes, having since been weeping bitterly till his eyes were red;
a crystal drop of water hanging ornamentally at the bottom of each
ear, one at the tip of his nose, and others in the form of spangles
about his hair.
After a great deal of crunching upon the sanded stone floor by the
feet of father, son, and grandson as they moved to and fro in these
preparations, the bass-viol and fiddles were taken from their nook,
and the strings examined and screwed a little above concert-pitch,
that they might keep their tone when the service began, to obviate
the awkward contingency of having to retune them at the back of the
gallery during a cough, sneeze, or amen--an inconvenience which had
been known to arise in damp wintry weather.
The three left the door and paced down Mellstock-lane and across the
ewe-lease, bearing under their arms the instruments in faded green-
baize bags, and old brown music-books in their hands; Dick
continually finding himself in advance of the other two, and the
tranter moving on with toes turned outwards to an enormous angle.
At the foot of an incline the church became visible through the
north gate, or 'church hatch,' as it was called here. Seven agile
figures in a clump were observable beyond, which proved to be the
choristers waiting; sitting on an altar-tomb to pass the time, and
letting their heels dangle against it. The musicians being now in
sight, the youthful party scampered off and rattled up the old
wooden stairs of the gallery like a regiment of cavalry; the other
boys of the parish waiting outside and observing birds, cats, and
other creatures till the vicar entered, when they suddenly subsided
into sober church-goers, and passed down the aisle with echoing
The gallery of Mellstock Church had a status and sentiment of its
own. A stranger there was regarded with a feeling altogether
differing from that of the congregation below towards him. Banished
from the nave as an intruder whom no originality could make
interesting, he was received above as a curiosity that no unfitness
could render dull. The gallery, too, looked down upon and knew the
habits of the nave to its remotest peculiarity, and had an extensive
stock of exclusive information about it; whilst the nave knew
nothing of the gallery folk, as gallery folk, beyond their loud-
sounding minims and chest notes. Such topics as that the clerk was
always chewing tobacco except at the moment of crying amen; that he
had a dust-hole in his pew; that during the sermon certain young
daughters of the village had left off caring to read anything so
mild as the marriage service for some years, and now regularly
studied the one which chronologically follows it; that a pair of
lovers touched fingers through a knot-hole between their pews in the
manner ordained by their great exemplars, Pyramus and Thisbe; that
Mrs. Ledlow, the farmer's wife, counted her money and reckoned her
week's marketing expenses during the first lesson--all news to those
below--were stale subjects here.
Old William sat in the centre of the front row, his violoncello
between his knees and two singers on each hand. Behind him, on the
left, came the treble singers and Dick; and on the right the tranter
and the tenors. Farther back was old Mail with the altos and
But before they had taken their places, and whilst they were
standing in a circle at the back of the gallery practising a psalm
or two, Dick cast his eyes over his grandfather's shoulder, and saw
the vision of the past night enter the porch-door as methodically as
if she had never been a vision at all. A new atmosphere seemed
suddenly to be puffed into the ancient edifice by her movement,
which made Dick's body and soul tingle with novel sensations.
Directed by Shiner, the churchwarden, she proceeded to the small
aisle on the north side of the chancel, a spot now allotted to a
throng of Sunday-school girls, and distinctly visible from the
gallery-front by looking under the curve of the furthermost arch on
Before this moment the church had seemed comparatively empty--now it
was thronged; and as Miss Fancy rose from her knees and looked
around her for a permanent place in which to deposit herself--
finally choosing the remotest corner--Dick began to breathe more
freely the warm new air she had brought with her; to feel rushings
of blood, and to have impressions that there was a tie between her
and himself visible to all the congregation.
Ever afterwards the young man could recollect individually each part
of the service of that bright Christmas morning, and the trifling
occurrences which took place as its minutes slowly drew along; the
duties of that day dividing themselves by a complete line from the
services of other times. The tunes they that morning essayed
remained with him for years, apart from all others; also the text;
also the appearance of the layer of dust upon the capitals of the
piers; that the holly-bough in the chancel archway was hung a little
out of the centre--all the ideas, in short, that creep into the mind
when reason is only exercising its lowest activity through the eye.
By chance or by fate, another young man who attended Mellstock
Church on that Christmas morning had towards the end of the service
the same instinctive perception of an interesting presence, in the
shape of the same bright maiden, though his emotion reached a far
less developed stage. And there was this difference, too, that the
person in question was surprised at his condition, and sedulously
endeavoured to reduce himself to his normal state of mind. He was
the young vicar, Mr. Maybold.
The music on Christmas mornings was frequently below the standard of
church-performances at other times. The boys were sleepy from the
heavy exertions of the night; the men were slightly wearied; and
now, in addition to these constant reasons, there was a dampness in
the atmosphere that still further aggravated the evil. Their
strings, from the recent long exposure to the night air, rose whole
semitones, and snapped with a loud twang at the most silent moment;
which necessitated more retiring than ever to the back of the
gallery, and made the gallery throats quite husky with the quantity
of coughing and hemming required for tuning in. The vicar looked
When the singing was in progress there was suddenly discovered to be
a strong and shrill reinforcement from some point, ultimately found
to be the school-girls' aisle. At every attempt it grew bolder and
more distinct. At the third time of singing, these intrusive
feminine voices were as mighty as those of the regular singers; in
fact, the flood of sound from this quarter assumed such an
individuality, that it had a time, a key, almost a tune of its own,
surging upwards when the gallery plunged downwards, and the reverse.
Now this had never happened before within the memory of man. The
girls, like the rest of the congregation, had always been humble and
respectful followers of the gallery; singing at sixes and sevens if
without gallery leaders; never interfering with the ordinances of
these practised artists--having no will, union, power, or proclivity
except it was given them from the established choir enthroned above
A good deal of desperation became noticeable in the gallery throats
and strings, which continued throughout the musical portion of the
service. Directly the fiddles were laid down, Mr. Penny's
spectacles put in their sheath, and the text had been given out, an
indignant whispering began.
"Did ye hear that, souls?" Mr. Penny said, in a groaning breath.
"Brazen-faced hussies!" said Bowman.
"True; why, they were every note as loud as we, fiddles and all, if
"Fiddles and all!" echoed Bowman bitterly.
"Shall anything saucier be found than united 'ooman?" Mr. Spinks
"What I want to know is," said the tranter (as if he knew already,
but that civilization required the form of words), "what business
people have to tell maidens to sing like that when they don't sit in
a gallery, and never have entered one in their lives? That's the
question, my sonnies."
"'Tis the gallery have got to sing, all the world knows," said Mr.
Penny. "Why, souls, what's the use o' the ancients spending scores
of pounds to build galleries if people down in the lowest depths of
the church sing like that at a moment's notice?"
"Really, I think we useless ones had better march out of church,
fiddles and all!" said Mr. Spinks, with a laugh which, to a
stranger, would have sounded mild and real. Only the initiated body
of men he addressed could understand the horrible bitterness of
irony that lurked under the quiet words 'useless ones,' and the
ghastliness of the laughter apparently so natural.
"Never mind! Let 'em sing too--'twill make it all the louder--hee,
hee!" said Leaf.
"Thomas Leaf, Thomas Leaf! Where have you lived all your life?"
said grandfather William sternly.
The quailing Leaf tried to look as if he had lived nowhere at all.
"When all's said and done, my sonnies," Reuben said, "there'd have
been no real harm in their singing if they had let nobody hear 'em,
and only jined in now and then."
"None at all," said Mr. Penny. "But though I don't wish to accuse
people wrongfully, I'd say before my lord judge that I could hear
every note o' that last psalm come from 'em as much as from us--
every note as if 'twas their own."
"Know it! ah, I should think I did know it!" Mr. Spinks was heard
to observe at this moment, without reference to his fellow players--
shaking his head at some idea he seemed to see floating before him,
and smiling as if he were attending a funeral at the time. "Ah, do
I or don't I know it!"
No one said "Know what?" because all were aware from experience that
what he knew would declare itself in process of time.
"I could fancy last night that we should have some trouble wi' that
young man," said the tranter, pending the continuance of Spinks's
speech, and looking towards the unconscious Mr. Maybold in the
"_I_ fancy," said old William, rather severely, "I fancy there's too
much whispering going on to be of any spiritual use to gentle or
simple." Then folding his lips and concentrating his glance on the
vicar, he implied that none but the ignorant would speak again; and
accordingly there was silence in the gallery, Mr. Spinks's telling
speech remaining for ever unspoken.
Dick had said nothing, and the tranter little, on this episode of
the morning; for Mrs. Dewy at breakfast expressed it as her
intention to invite the youthful leader of the culprits to the small
party it was customary with them to have on Christmas night--a piece
of knowledge which had given a particular brightness to Dick's
reflections since he had received it. And in the tranter's
slightly-cynical nature, party feeling was weaker than in the other
members of the choir, though friendliness and faithful partnership
still sustained in him a hearty earnestness on their account.
CHAPTER VII: THE TRANTER'S PARTY
During the afternoon unusual activity was seen to prevail about the
precincts of tranter Dewy's house. The flagstone floor was swept of
dust, and a sprinkling of the finest yellow sand from the innermost
stratum of the adjoining sand-pit lightly scattered thereupon. Then
were produced large knives and forks, which had been shrouded in
darkness and grease since the last occasion of the kind, and bearing
upon their sides, "Shear-steel, warranted," in such emphatic letters
of assurance, that the warranter's name was not required as further
proof, and not given. The key was left in the tap of the cider-
barrel, instead of being carried in a pocket. And finally the
tranter had to stand up in the room and let his wife wheel him round
like a turnstile, to see if anything discreditable was visible in
"Stand still till I've been for the scissors," said Mrs. Dewy.
The tranter stood as still as a sentinel at the challenge.
The only repairs necessary were a trimming of one or two whiskers
that had extended beyond the general contour of the mass; a like
trimming of a slightly-frayed edge visible on his shirt-collar; and
a final tug at a grey hair--to all of which operations he submitted
in resigned silence, except the last, which produced a mild "Come,
come, Ann," by way of expostulation.
"Really, Reuben, 'tis quite a disgrace to see such a man," said Mrs.
Dewy, with the severity justifiable in a long-tried companion,
giving him another turn round, and picking several of Smiler's hairs
from the shoulder of his coat. Reuben's thoughts seemed engaged
elsewhere, and he yawned. "And the collar of your coat is a shame
to behold--so plastered with dirt, or dust, or grease, or something.
Why, wherever could you have got it?"
"'Tis my warm nater in summer-time, I suppose. I always did get in
such a heat when I bustle about."
"Ay, the Dewys always were such a coarse-skinned family. There's
your brother Bob just as bad--as fat as a porpoise--wi' his how,
mean, "How'st do, Ann?" whenever he meets me. I'd "How'st do" him
indeed! If the sun only shines out a minute, there be you all
streaming in the face--I never see!"
"If I be hot week-days, I must be hot Sundays."
"If any of the girls should turn after their father 'twill be a bad
look-out for 'em, poor things! None of my family were sich vulgar
sweaters, not one of 'em. But, Lord-a-mercy, the Dewys! I don't
know how ever I cam' into such a family!"
"Your woman's weakness when I asked ye to jine us. That's how it
was I suppose." But the tranter appeared to have heard some such
words from his wife before, and hence his answer had not the energy
it might have shown if the inquiry had possessed the charm of
"You never did look so well in a pair o' trousers as in them," she
continued in the same unimpassioned voice, so that the unfriendly
criticism of the Dewy family seemed to have been more normal than
spontaneous. "Such a cheap pair as 'twas too. As big as any man
could wish to have, and lined inside, and double-lined in the lower
parts, and an extra piece of stiffening at the bottom. And 'tis a
nice high cut that comes up right under your armpits, and there's
enough turned down inside the seams to make half a pair more,
besides a piece of cloth left that will make an honest waistcoat--
all by my contriving in buying the stuff at a bargain, and having it
made up under my eye. It only shows what may be done by taking a
little trouble, and not going straight to the rascally tailors."
The discourse was cut short by the sudden appearance of Charley on
the scene, with a face and hands of hideous blackness, and a nose
like a guttering candle. Why, on that particularly cleanly
afternoon, he should have discovered that the chimney-crook and
chain from which the hams were suspended should have possessed more
merits and general interest as playthings than any other articles in
the house, is a question for nursing mothers to decide. However,
the humour seemed to lie in the result being, as has been seen, that
any given player with these articles was in the long-run daubed with
soot. The last that was seen of Charley by daylight after this
piece of ingenuity was when in the act of vanishing from his
father's presence round the corner of the house--looking back over
his shoulder with an expression of great sin on his face, like Cain
as the Outcast in Bible pictures.
The guests had all assembled, and the tranter's party had reached
that degree of development which accords with ten o'clock P.M. in
rural assemblies. At that hour the sound of a fiddle in process of
tuning was heard from the inner pantry.
"That's Dick," said the tranter. "That lad's crazy for a jig."
"Dick! Now I cannot--really, I cannot have any dancing at all till
Christmas-day is out," said old William emphatically. "When the
clock ha' done striking twelve, dance as much as ye like."
"Well, I must say there's reason in that, William," said Mrs. Penny.
"If you do have a party on Christmas-night, 'tis only fair and
honourable to the sky-folk to have it a sit-still party. Jigging
parties be all very well on the Devil's holidays; but a jigging
party looks suspicious now. O yes; stop till the clock strikes,
young folk--so say I."
It happened that some warm mead accidentally got into Mr. Spinks's
head about this time.
"Dancing," he said, "is a most strengthening, livening, and courting
movement, 'specially with a little beverage added! And dancing is
good. But why disturb what is ordained, Richard and Reuben, and the
company zhinerally? Why, I ask, as far as that do go?"
"Then nothing till after twelve," said William.
Though Reuben and his wife ruled on social points, religious
questions were mostly disposed of by the old man, whose firmness on
this head quite counterbalanced a certain weakness in his handling
of domestic matters. The hopes of the younger members of the
household were therefore relegated to a distance of one hour and
three-quarters--a result that took visible shape in them by a remote
and listless look about the eyes--the singing of songs being
permitted in the interim.
At five minutes to twelve the soft tuning was again heard in the
back quarters; and when at length the clock had whizzed forth the
last stroke, Dick appeared ready primed, and the instruments were
boldly handled; old William very readily taking the bass-viol from
its accustomed nail, and touching the strings as irreligiously as
could be desired.
The country-dance called the 'Triumph, or Follow my Lover,' was the
figure with which they opened. The tranter took for his partner
Mrs. Penny, and Mrs. Dewy was chosen by Mr. Penny, who made so much
of his limited height by a judicious carriage of the head,
straightening of the back, and important flashes of his spectacle-
glasses, that he seemed almost as tall as the tranter. Mr. Shiner,
age about thirty-five, farmer and church-warden, a character
principally composed of a crimson stare, vigorous breath, and a
watch-chain, with a mouth hanging on a dark smile but never smiling,
had come quite willingly to the party, and showed a wondrous
obliviousness of all his antics on the previous night. But the
comely, slender, prettily-dressed prize Fancy Day fell to Dick's
lot, in spite of some private machinations of the farmer, for the
reason that Mr. Shiner, as a richer man, had shown too much
assurance in asking the favour, whilst Dick had been duly courteous.
We gain a good view of our heroine as she advances to her place in
the ladies' line. She belonged to the taller division of middle
height. Flexibility was her first characteristic, by which she
appeared to enjoy the most easeful rest when she was in gliding
motion. Her dark eyes--arched by brows of so keen, slender, and
soft a curve, that they resembled nothing so much as two slurs in
music--showed primarily a bright sparkle each. This was softened by
a frequent thoughtfulness, yet not so frequent as to do away, for
more than a few minutes at a time, with a certain coquettishness;
which in its turn was never so decided as to banish honesty. Her
lips imitated her brows in their clearly-cut outline and softness of
bend; and her nose was well shaped--which is saying a great deal,
when it is remembered that there are a hundred pretty mouths and
eyes for one pretty nose. Add to this, plentiful knots of dark-
brown hair, a gauzy dress of white, with blue facings; and the
slightest idea may be gained of the young maiden who showed, amidst
the rest of the dancing-ladies, like a flower among vegetables. And
so the dance proceeded. Mr. Shiner, according to the interesting
rule laid down, deserted his own partner, and made off down the
middle with this fair one of Dick's--the pair appearing from the top
of the room like two persons tripping down a lane to be married.
Dick trotted behind with what was intended to be a look of
composure, but which was, in fact, a rather silly expression of
feature--implying, with too much earnestness, that such an elopement
could not be tolerated. Then they turned and came back, when Dick
grew more rigid around his mouth, and blushed with ingenuous ardour
as he joined hands with the rival and formed the arch over his
lady's head; which presumably gave the figure its name;
relinquishing her again at setting to partners, when Mr. Shiner's
new chain quivered in every link, and all the loose flesh upon the
tranter--who here came into action again--shook like jelly. Mrs.
Penny, being always rather concerned for her personal safety when
she danced with the tranter, fixed her face to a chronic smile of
timidity the whole time it lasted--a peculiarity which filled her
features with wrinkles, and reduced her eyes to little straight
lines like hyphens, as she jigged up and down opposite him;
repeating in her own person not only his proper movements, but also
the minor flourishes which the richness of the tranter's imagination
led him to introduce from time to time--an imitation which had about
it something of slavish obedience, not unmixed with fear.
The ear-rings of the ladies now flung themselves wildly about,
turning violent summersaults, banging this way and that, and then
swinging quietly against the ears sustaining them. Mrs. Crumpler--a
heavy woman, who, for some reason which nobody ever thought worth
inquiry, danced in a clean apron--moved so smoothly through the
figure that her feet were never seen; conveying to imaginative minds
the idea that she rolled on castors.
Minute after minute glided by, and the party reached the period when
ladies' back-hair begins to look forgotten and dissipated; when a
perceptible dampness makes itself apparent upon the faces even of
delicate girls--a ghastly dew having for some time rained from the
features of their masculine partners; when skirts begin to be torn
out of their gathers; when elderly people, who have stood up to
please their juniors, begin to feel sundry small tremblings in the
region of the knees, and to wish the interminable dance was at
Jericho; when (at country parties of the thorough sort)waistcoats
begin to be unbuttoned, and when the fiddlers' chairs have been
wriggled, by the frantic bowing of their occupiers, to a distance of
about two feet from where they originally stood.
Fancy was dancing with Mr. Shiner. Dick knew that Fancy, by the law
of good manners, was bound to dance as pleasantly with one partner
as with another; yet he could not help suggesting to himself that
she need not have put QUITE so much spirit into her steps, nor
smiled QUITE so frequently whilst in the farmer's hands.
"I'm afraid you didn't cast off," said Dick mildly to Mr. Shiner,
before the latter man's watch-chain had done vibrating from a recent
Fancy made a motion of accepting the correction; but her partner
took no notice, and proceeded with the next movement, with an
affectionate bend towards her.
"That Shiner's too fond of her," the young man said to himself as he
watched them. They came to the top again, Fancy smiling warmly
towards her partner, and went to their places.
"Mr. Shiner, you didn't cast off," said Dick, for want of something
else to demolish him with; casting off himself, and being put out at
the farmer's irregularity.
"Perhaps I sha'n't cast off for any man," said Mr. Shiner.
"I think you ought to, sir."
Dick's partner, a young lady of the name of Lizzy--called Lizz for
short--tried to mollify.
"I can't say that I myself have much feeling for casting off," she
"Nor I," said Mrs. Penny, following up the argument, "especially if
a friend and neighbour is set against it. Not but that 'tis a
terrible tasty thing in good hands and well done; yes, indeed, so
"All I meant was," said Dick, rather sorry that he had spoken
correctingly to a guest, "that 'tis in the dance; and a man has
hardly any right to hack and mangle what was ordained by the regular
dance-maker, who, I daresay, got his living by making 'em, and
thought of nothing else all his life."
"I don't like casting off: then very well; I cast off for no dance-
maker that ever lived."
Dick now appeared to be doing mental arithmetic, the act being
really an effort to present to himself, in an abstract form, how far
an argument with a formidable rival ought to be carried, when that
rival was his mother's guest. The dead-lock was put an end to by
the stamping arrival up the middle of the tranter, who, despising
minutiae on principle, started a theme of his own.
"I assure you, neighbours," he said, "the heat of my frame no tongue
can tell!" He looked around and endeavoured to give, by a forcible
gaze of self-sympathy, some faint idea of the truth.
Mrs. Dewy formed one of the next couple.
"Yes," she said, in an auxiliary tone, "Reuben always was such a hot
Mrs. Penny implied the species of sympathy that such a class of
affliction required, by trying to smile and to look grieved at the
"If he only walk round the garden of a Sunday morning, his shirt-
collar is as limp as no starch at all," continued Mrs. Dewy, her
countenance lapsing parenthetically into a housewifely expression of
concern at the reminiscence.
"Come, come, you women-folk; 'tis hands across--come, come!" said
the tranter; and the conversation ceased for the present.
CHAPTER VIII: THEY DANCE MORE WILDLY
Dick had at length secured Fancy for that most delightful of
country-dances, opening with six-hands-round.
"Before we begin," said the tranter, "my proposal is, that 'twould
be a right and proper plan for every mortal man in the dance to pull
off his jacket, considering the heat."
"Such low notions as you have, Reuben! Nothing but strip will go
down with you when you are a-dancing. Such a hot man as he is!"
"Well, now, look here, my sonnies," he argued to his wife, whom he
often addressed in the plural masculine for economy of epithet
merely; "I don't see that. You dance and get hot as fire; therefore
you lighten your clothes. Isn't that nature and reason for gentle
and simple? If I strip by myself and not necessary, 'tis rather
pot-housey I own; but if we stout chaps strip one and all, why, 'tis
the native manners of the country, which no man can gainsay? Hey--
what did you say, my sonnies?"
"Strip we will!" said the three other heavy men who were in the
dance; and their coats were accordingly taken off and hung in the
passage, whence the four sufferers from heat soon reappeared,
marching in close column, with flapping shirt-sleeves, and having,
as common to them all, a general glance of being now a match for any
man or dancer in England or Ireland. Dick, fearing to lose ground
in Fancy's good opinion, retained his coat like the rest of the
thinner men; and Mr. Shiner did the same from superior knowledge.
And now a further phase of revelry had disclosed itself. It was the
time of night when a guest may write his name in the dust upon the
tables and chairs, and a bluish mist pervades the atmosphere,
becoming a distinct halo round the candles; when people's nostrils,
wrinkles, and crevices in general, seem to be getting gradually
plastered up; when the very fiddlers as well as the dancers get red
in the face, the dancers having advanced further still towards
incandescence, and entered the cadaverous phase; the fiddlers no
longer sit down, but kick back their chairs and saw madly at the
strings, with legs firmly spread and eyes closed, regardless of the
visible world. Again and again did Dick share his Love's hand with
another man, and wheel round; then, more delightfully, promenade in
a circle with her all to himself, his arm holding her waist more
firmly each time, and his elbow getting further and further behind
her back, till the distance reached was rather noticeable; and, most
blissful, swinging to places shoulder to shoulder, her breath
curling round his neck like a summer zephyr that had strayed from
its proper date. Threading the couples one by one they reached the
bottom, when there arose in Dick's mind a minor misery lest the tune
should end before they could work their way to the top again, and
have anew the same exciting run down through. Dick's feelings on
actually reaching the top in spite of his doubts were supplemented
by a mortal fear that the fiddling might even stop at this supreme
moment; which prompted him to convey a stealthy whisper to the far-
gone musicians, to the effect that they were not to leave off till
he and his partner had reached the bottom of the dance once more,
which remark was replied to by the nearest of those convulsed and
quivering men by a private nod to the anxious young man between two
semiquavers of the tune, and a simultaneous "All right, ay, ay,"
without opening the eyes. Fancy was now held so closely that Dick
and she were practically one person. The room became to Dick like a
picture in a dream; all that he could remember of it afterwards
being the look of the fiddlers going to sleep, as humming-tops
sleep, by increasing their motion and hum, together with the figures
of grandfather James and old Simon Crumpler sitting by the chimney-
corner, talking and nodding in dumb-show, and beating the air to
their emphatic sentences like people near a threshing machine.
The dance ended. "Piph-h-h-h!" said tranter Dewy, blowing out his
breath in the very finest stream of vapour that a man's lips could
form. "A regular tightener, that one, sonnies!" He wiped his
forehead, and went to the cider and ale mugs on the table.
"Well!" said Mrs. Penny, flopping into a chair, "my heart haven't
been in such a thumping state of uproar since I used to sit up on
old Midsummer-eves to see who my husband was going to be."
"And that's getting on for a good few years ago now, from what I've
heard you tell," said the tranter, without lifting his eyes from the
cup he was filling. Being now engaged in the business of handing
round refreshments, he was warranted in keeping his coat off still,
though the other heavy men had resumed theirs.
"And a thing I never expected would come to pass, if you'll believe
me, came to pass then," continued Mrs. Penny. "Ah, the first spirit
ever I see on a Midsummer-eve was a puzzle to me when he appeared, a
hard puzzle, so say I!"
"So I should have fancied," said Elias Spinks.
"Yes," said Mrs. Penny, throwing her glance into past times, and
talking on in a running tone of complacent abstraction, as if a
listener were not a necessity. "Yes; never was I in such a taking
as on that Midsummer-eve! I sat up, quite determined to see if John
Wildway was going to marry me or no. I put the bread-and-cheese and
beer quite ready, as the witch's book ordered, and I opened the
door, and I waited till the clock struck twelve, my nerves all alive
and so strained that I could feel every one of 'em twitching like
bell-wires. Yes, sure! and when the clock had struck, ho and
behold, I could see through the door a LITTLE SMALL man in the lane
wi' a shoemaker's apron on."
Here Mr. Penny stealthily enlarged himself half an inch.
"Now, John Wildway," Mrs. Penny continued, "who courted me at that
time, was a shoemaker, you see, but he was a very fair-sized man,
and I couldn't believe that any such a little small man had anything
to do wi' me, as anybody might. But on he came, and crossed the
threshold--not John, but actually the same little small man in the
"You needn't be so mighty particular about little and small!" said
"In he walks, and down he sits, and O my goodness me, didn't I flee
upstairs, body and soul hardly hanging together! Well, to cut a
long story short, by-long and by-late. John Wildway and I had a
miff and parted; and lo and behold, the coming man came! Penny
asked me if I'd go snacks with him, and afore I knew what I was
about a'most, the thing was done."
"I've fancied you never knew better in your life; but I mid be
mistaken," said Mr. Penny in a murmur.
After Mrs. Penny had spoken, there being no new occupation for her
eyes, she still let them stay idling on the past scenes just
related, which were apparently visible to her in the centre of the
room Mr. Penny's remark received no reply.
During this discourse the tranter and his wife might have been
observed standing in an unobtrusive corner, in mysterious closeness
to each other, a just perceptible current of intelligence passing
from each to each, which had apparently no relation whatever to the
conversation of their guests, but much to their sustenance. A
conclusion of some kind having at length been drawn, the palpable
confederacy of man and wife was once more obliterated, the tranter
marching off into the pantry, humming a tune that he couldn't quite
recollect, and then breaking into the words of a song of which he
could remember about one line and a quarter. Mrs. Dewy spoke a few
words about preparations for a bit of supper.
That elder portion of the company which loved eating and drinking
put on a look to signify that till this moment they had quite
forgotten that it was customary to expect suppers on these
occasions; going even further than this politeness of feature, and
starting irrelevant subjects, the exceeding flatness and forced tone
of which rather betrayed their object. The younger members said
they were quite hungry, and that supper would be delightful though
it was so late.
Good luck attended Dick's love-passes during the meal. He sat next
Fancy, and had the thrilling pleasure of using permanently a glass
which had been taken by Fancy in mistake; of letting the outer edge
of the sole of his boot touch the lower verge of her skirt; and to
add to these delights the cat, which had lain unobserved in her lap
for several minutes, crept across into his own, touching him with
fur that had touched her hand a moment before. There were, besides,
some little pleasures in the shape of helping her to vegetable she
didn't want, and when it had nearly alighted on her plate taking it
across for his own use, on the plea of waste not, want not. He
also, from time to time, sipped sweet sly glances at her profile;
noticing the set of her head, the curve of her throat, and other
artistic properties of the lively goddess, who the while kept up a
rather free, not to say too free, conversation with Mr. Shiner
sitting opposite; which, after some uneasy criticism, and much
shifting of argument backwards and forwards in Dick's mind, he
decided not to consider of alarming significance.
"A new music greets our ears now," said Miss Fancy, alluding, with