Under the Greenwood Tree
PART I: 4. 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 boots.
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 hay 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 spirits."
"Farmer Ledlow's first?"
"Farmer Ledlow's first; the rest as usual."