At the close, waiting yet another minute, he said in a clear loud voice, as he had said in the village at that hour and season for the previous forty years—“A merry Christmas to ye!”
CHAPTER V: THE LISTENERS
When the expectant stillness consequent upon the exclamation had nearly died out of them all, an increasing light made itself visible in one of the windows of the upper floor. It came so close to the blind that the exact position of the flame could be perceived from the outside. Remaining steady for an instant, the blind went upward from before it, revealing to thirty concentrated eyes a young girl, framed as a picture by the window architrave, and unconsciously illuminating her countenance to a vivid brightness by a candle she held in her left hand, close to her face, her right hand being extended to the side of the window. She was wrapped in a white robe of some kind, whilst down her shoulders fell a twining profusion of marvellously rich hair, in a wild disorder which proclaimed it to be only during the invisible hours of the night that such a condition was discoverable. Her bright eyes were looking into the grey world outside with an uncertain expression, oscillating between courage and shyness, which, as she recognized the semicircular group of dark forms gathered before her, transformed itself into pleasant resolution.
Opening the window, she said lightly and warmly—“Thank you, singers, thank you!”
Together went the window quickly and quietly, and the blind started downward on its return to its place. Her fair forehead and eyes vanished; her little mouth; her neck and shoulders; all of her. Then the spot of candlelight shone nebulously as before; then it moved away.
“How pretty!” exclaimed Dick Dewy.
“If she’d been rale wexwork she couldn’t ha’ been comelier,” said Michael Mail.
“As near a thing to a spiritual vision as ever I wish to see!” said tranter Dewy.
“O, sich I never, never see!” said Leaf fervently.
All the rest, after clearing their throats and adjusting their hats, agreed that such a sight was worth singing for.
“Now to Farmer Shiner’s, and then replenish our insides, father?” said the tranter.
“Wi’ all my heart,” said old William, shouldering his bass-viol.
Farmer Shiner’s was a queer lump of a house, standing at the corner of a lane that ran into the principal thoroughfare. The upper windows were much wider than they were high, and this feature, together with a broad bay-window where the door might have been expected, gave it by day the aspect of a human countenance turned askance, and wearing a sly and wicked leer. To-night nothing was visible but the outline of the roof upon the sky.
The front of this building was reached, and the preliminaries arranged as usual.
“Four breaths, and number thirty-two, ‘Behold the Morning Star,’” said old William.