Under the Greenwood Tree. A Rural Painting of the Dutch School - Thomas Hardy - ebook
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This story began around Christmas, when a group of guys from the village of Melstock walked and sang carols. It was then that the cab driver Dick Dewey saw and fell in love at first sight with the new teacher Fancy Day who had just arrived. She is also looked after by a wealthy farmer Shiner, whom Father Day favors, and pastor Maybold, who considers himself the most suitable party for Fancy. But the story did not begin in vain on the fabulous days of Christmas - it will end festively.

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Contents

PREFACE

PART THE FIRST

WINTER

CHAPTER I: MELLSTOCK-LANE

CHAPTER II: THE TRANTER’S

CHAPTER III: THE ASSEMBLED QUIRE

CHAPTER IV: GOING THE ROUNDS

CHAPTER V: THE LISTENERS

CHAPTER VI: CHRISTMAS MORNING

CHAPTER VII: THE TRANTER’S PARTY

CHAPTER VIII: THEY DANCE MORE WILDLY

CHAPTER IX: DICK CALLS AT THE SCHOOL

PART THE SECOND

SPRING

CHAPTER I: PASSING BY THE SCHOOL

CHAPTER II: A MEETING OF THE QUIRE

CHAPTER III: A TURN IN THE DISCUSSION

CHAPTER IV: THE INTERVIEW WITH THE VICAR

CHAPTER V: RETURNING HOME WARD

CHAPTER VI: YALBURY WOOD AND THE KEEPER’S HOUSE

CHAPTER VII: DICK MAKES HIMSELF USEFUL

CHAPTER VIII: DICK MEETS HIS FATHER

PART THE THIRD

SUMMER

CHAPTER I: DRIVING OUT OF BUDMOUTH

CHAPTER II: FURTHER ALONG THE ROAD

CHAPTER III: A CONFESSION

CHAPTER IV: AN ARRANGEMENT

PART THE FOURTH

AUTUMN

CHAPTER I: GOING NUTTING

CHAPTER II: HONEY-TAKING, AND AFTERWARDS

CHAPTER III: FANCY IN THE RAIN

CHAPTER IV: THE SPELL

CHAPTER V: AFTER GAINING HER POINT

CHAPTER VI: INTO TEMPTATION

CHAPTER VII: SECOND THOUGHTS

PART THE FIFTH

CONCLUSION

CHAPTER I: ‘THE KNOT THERE’S NO UNTYING’

CHAPTER II: UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE

PREFACE

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 were home-bound.

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.

August 1896.

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.

T. H.April 1912.

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 side.

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 parish choir.

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-matched assembly.

The eldest of the group, Michael Mail, cleared his throat from a great depth.

“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-shearing go.”

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