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Under the Greenwood Tree

PART V: 2. Under The Greenwood Tree
The point in Yalbury Wood which abutted on the end of Geoffrey Day's premises was
closed with an ancient tree, horizontally of enormous extent, though having no great
pretensions to height. Many hundreds of birds had been born amidst the boughs of this
single tree; tribes of rabbits and hares had nibbled at its bark from year to year; quaint
tufts of fungi had sprung from the cavities of its forks; and countless families of moles
and earthworms had crept about its roots. Beneath and beyond its shade spread a
carefully-tended grass-plot, its purpose being to supply a healthy exercise-ground for
young chickens and pheasants; the hens, their mothers, being enclosed in coops placed
upon the same green flooring.
All these encumbrances were now removed, and as the afternoon advanced, the guests
gathered on the spot, where music, dancing, and the singing of songs went forward with
great spirit throughout the evening. The propriety of every one was intense by reason of
the influence of Fancy, who, as an additional precaution in this direction, had strictly
charged her father and the tranter to carefully avoid saying 'thee' and 'thou' in their
conversation, on the plea that those ancient words sounded so very humiliating to persons
of newer taste; also that they were never to be seen drawing the back of the hand across
the mouth after drinking--a local English custom of extraordinary antiquity, but stated by
Fancy to be decidedly dying out among the better classes of society.
In addition to the local musicians present, a man who had a thorough knowledge of the
tambourine was invited from the village of Tantrum Clangley,--a place long celebrated
for the skill of its inhabitants as performers on instruments of percussion. These
important members of the assembly were relegated to a height of two or three feet from
the ground, upon a temporary erection of planks supported by barrels. Whilst the dancing
progressed the older persons sat in a group under the trunk of the tree,--the space being
allotted to them somewhat grudgingly by the young ones, who were greedy of pirouetting
room,--and fortified by a table against the heels of the dancers. Here the gaffers and
gammers, whose dancing days were over, told stories of great impressiveness, and at
intervals surveyed the advancing and retiring couples from the same retreat, as people on
shore might be supposed to survey a naval engagement in the bay beyond; returning
again to their tales when the pause was over. Those of the whirling throng, who, during
the rests between each figure, turned their eyes in the direction of these seated ones, were
only able to discover, on account of the music and bustle, that a very striking
circumstance was in course of narration--denoted by an emphatic sweep of the hand,
snapping of the fingers, close of the lips, and fixed look into the centre of the listener's
eye for the space of a quarter of a minute, which raised in that listener such a
reciprocating working of face as to sometimes make the distant dancers half wish to
know what such an interesting tale could refer to.
 
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