The first was a bowed and bent man, who carried a fiddle under his arm, and walked as if engaged in studying some subject connected with the surface of the road. He was Michael Mail, the man who had hallooed to Dick.
The next was Mr. Robert Penny, boot- and shoemaker; a little man, who, though rather round-shouldered, walked as if that fact had not come to his own knowledge, moving on with his back very hollow and his face fixed on the north-east quarter of the heavens before him, so that his lower waist-coat-buttons came first, and then the remainder of his figure. His features were invisible; yet when he occasionally looked round, two faint moons of light gleamed for an instant from the precincts of his eyes, denoting that he wore spectacles of a circular form.
The third was Elias Spinks, who walked perpendicularly and dramatically. The fourth outline was Joseph Bowman’s, who had now no distinctive appearance beyond that of a human being. Finally came a weak lath-like form, trotting and stumbling along with one shoulder forward and his head inclined to the left, his arms dangling nervelessly in the wind as if they were empty sleeves. This was Thomas Leaf.
“Where be the boys?” said Dick to this somewhat indifferently-matched assembly.
The eldest of the group, Michael Mail, cleared his throat from a great depth.
“We told them to keep back at home for a time, thinken they wouldn’t be wanted yet awhile; and we could choose the tuens, and so on.”
“Father and grandfather William have expected ye a little sooner. I have just been for a run round by Ewelease Stile and Hollow Hill to warm my feet.”
“To be sure father did! To be sure ’a did expect us—to taste the little barrel beyond compare that he’s going to tap.”
“’Od rabbit it all! Never heard a word of it!” said Mr. Penny, gleams of delight appearing upon his spectacle-glasses, Dick meanwhile singing parenthetically—
“The lads and the lasses a-sheep-shearing go.”
“Neighbours, there’s time enough to drink a sight of drink now afore bedtime?” said Mail.
“True, true—time enough to get as drunk as lords!” replied Bowman cheerfully.
This opinion being taken as convincing they all advanced between the varying hedges and the trees dotting them here and there, kicking their toes occasionally among the crumpled leaves. Soon appeared glimmering indications of the few cottages forming the small hamlet of Upper Mellstock for which they were bound, whilst the faint sound of church-bells ringing a Christmas peal could be heard floating over upon the breeze from the direction of Longpuddle and Weatherbury parishes on the other side of the hills. A little wicket admitted them to the garden, and they proceeded up the path to Dick’s house.