“I make no boast, though I may have read and thought a little; and I know—it may be from much perusing, but I make no boast—that by the time a man’s head is finished, ’tis almost time for him to creep underground. I am over forty-five.”
Mr. Spinks emitted a look to signify that if his head was not finished, nobody’s head ever could be.
“Talk of knowing people by their feet!” said Reuben. “Rot me, my sonnies, then, if I can tell what a man is from all his members put together, oftentimes.”
“But still, look is a good deal,” observed grandfather William absently, moving and balancing his head till the tip of grandfather James’s nose was exactly in a right line with William’s eye and the mouth of a miniature cavern he was discerning in the fire. “By the way,” he continued in a fresher voice, and looking up, “that young crater, the schoolmis’ess, must be sung to to-night wi’ the rest? If her ear is as fine as her face, we shall have enough to do to be up-sides with her.”
“What about her face?” said young Dewy.
“Well, as to that,” Mr. Spinks replied, “’tis a face you can hardly gainsay. A very good pink face, as far as that do go. Still, only a face, when all is said and done.”
“Come, come, Elias Spinks, say she’s a pretty maid, and have done wi’ her,” said the tranter, again preparing to visit the cider-barrel.
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 lay the hamlet of Upper Mellstock, where the tranter lived; and at other points knots of cottages, besides solitary farmsteads and dairies.