Under the Greenwood Tree
PART I: 1. Mellstock-Lane
PART THE FIRST--WINTER
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-
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.