Under the Greenwood Tree HTML version
PART I: 2. 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