All persons present put on a speaking countenance of admiration for the cleverness alluded to, in the midst of which Reuben returned. The operation was then satisfactorily performed; when Michael arose and stretched his head to the extremest fraction of height that his body would allow of, to re-straighten his back and shoulders—thrusting out his arms and twisting his features to a mass of wrinkles to emphasize the relief aquired. A quart or two of the beverage was then brought to table, at which all the new arrivals reseated themselves with wide-spread knees, their eyes meditatively seeking out any speck or knot in the board upon which the gaze might precipitate itself.
“Whatever is father a-biding out in fuel-house so long for?” said the tranter. “Never such a man as father for two things—cleaving up old dead apple-tree wood and playing the bass-viol. ’A’d pass his life between the two, that ’a would.” He stepped to the door and opened it.
“Ay!” rang thinly from round the corner.
“Here’s the barrel tapped, and we all a-waiting!”
A series of dull thuds, that had been heard without for some time past, now ceased; and after the light of a lantern had passed the window and made wheeling rays upon the ceiling inside the eldest of the Dewy family appeared.
CHAPTER III: THE ASSEMBLED QUIRE
William Dewy—otherwise grandfather William—was now about seventy; yet an ardent vitality still preserved a warm and roughened bloom upon his face, which reminded gardeners of the sunny side of a ripe ribstone-pippin; though a narrow strip of forehead, that was protected from the weather by lying above the line of his hat-brim, seemed to belong to some town man, so gentlemanly was its whiteness. His was a humorous and kindly nature, not unmixed with a frequent melancholy; and he had a firm religious faith. But to his neighbours he had no character in particular. If they saw him pass by their windows when they had been bottling off old mead, or when they had just been called long-headed men who might do anything in the world if they chose, they thought concerning him, “Ah, there’s that good-hearted man—open as a child!” If they saw him just after losing a shilling or half-a-crown, or accidentally letting fall a piece of crockery, they thought, “There’s that poor weak-minded man Dewy again! Ah, he’s never done much in the world either!” If he passed when fortune neither smiled nor frowned on them, they merely thought him old William Dewy.
“Ah, so’s—here you be!—Ah, Michael and Joseph and John—and you too, Leaf! a merry Christmas all! We shall have a rare log-wood fire directly, Reub, to reckon by the toughness of the job I had in cleaving ’em.” As he spoke he threw down an armful of logs which fell in the chimney-corner with a rumble, and looked at them with something of the admiring enmity he would have bestowed on living people who had been very obstinate in holding their own. “Come in, grandfather James.”