Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1213
On Christmas Eve, the Mellstock Choir prepares to set out for its annual caroling venture. In fine voice, mellowed by generous mugs of cider, the men and boys gather at the home of Reuben Dewy. Then, with their fiddles and the cello of Grandfather Dewy, they depart on their rounds. After calling at outlying farms and houses, they arrive at the schoolhouse to serenade the new schoolmistress, Fancy Day. At first, there is no indication that she has heard them; but at last, she appears, framed, picture-like, in a window. Later, the men miss young Dick Dewy. When they find him, he is leaning against the school, staring up listlessly at the now-darkened window.
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At church the following morning, Fancy Day causes a stir of excitement. She is the main attraction for Dick Dewy, Farmer Shiner, and the new vicar, Mr. Maybold, but she does not endear herself to a number of other men in the congregation because she commits what they regard almost as blasphemy. For as long as anyone can remember, the male choir has provided music for the service, but the young woman, on her first day in church, leads the young girls in singing along with the men. Some of the older and wiser ones foresee trouble from a woman who is so forward.
Dick gives his annual party on the afternoon and evening of Christmas Day. When Dick can claim Fancy for a dance, he is transported with joy; but when she dances with Shiner, a more handsome and more wealthy man, Dick is downcast. When Shiner escorts the lady home, the evening is ruined for young Dick.
Using a handkerchief left behind by Fancy as his excuse, Dick finds the courage to call at the schoolhouse a few days later. A very inexperienced lover, he simply returns the handkerchief, stammers a “good day,” and departs. It is not until spring that he makes any real progress in his love affair. By that time, Dick is a wan and shadowy figure of a man. He speaks to no one of his love, but it is obvious to all but Fancy and her other two admirers that Dick is not himself.
Before Dick can declare himself, however, a delegation from the choir waits on Vicar Maybold. The delegation has been made uneasy by a rumor that the group is to be displaced by organ music played by Fancy Day; soon, the choir learns that the rumor is true. The vicar has brought an organ to the church because he prefers that instrument to a choir. To spare the feelings of the faithful choir members, however, he agrees to wait before deposing them. They are to have the dignity of leaving on a special day, not on an ordinary Sunday.
Dick’s big day comes when he is allowed to bring Fancy and some of her belongings from the home of her father. He is dismayed to find Farmer Shiner also present, but when Fancy allows him to touch her hand at the dinner table, Dick’s spirits rise perceptibly. On the ride home, he cannot find the words that are in his heart; he feels, nevertheless, that he has made some progress. In the weeks that follow, rumors of Fancy’s friendliness with Maybold and with Shiner drive Dick to desperation. One day, he writes Fancy a letter in which he bluntly asks whether he means anything to her. When he receives no answer from Fancy, he resolves that he will talk to her next Sunday.
Before Sunday comes, however, Dick has to go on an errand for Maybold’s mother, taking him to a neighboring town. He is preparing to leave for home again when he sees Fancy waiting for the carrier. Seizing the opportunity, Dick helps her into his cart and triumphantly carries her off. On the drive home, he finally finds the courage to propose to her and is as much surprised as overjoyed to hear her acceptance.
Because they will not be able to marry for some time, Dick and Fancy keep their betrothal a secret. Furthermore, Fancy’s father has told her that he hopes she will accept Shiner for a husband. One trait of Fancy’s character troubles Dick. She seems to take undue pleasure in dressing to please others, but whenever he prepares to punish her by letting her worry about him for a change, Fancy apologizes for her vanity. Unable to resist her tears, the young lover takes her back into his heart before she knows there has been a problem.
On the day Dick is at last to meet Fancy’s father to ask for her hand, Dick prepares himself carefully. Fancy’s father tells him bluntly that he is not good enough for Fancy and that she is too cultured, too well educated, and too wealthy for a plain carrier. Sadly, Dick agrees, and he turns toward home.
Fancy, however, is not so easily defeated. When tears fail to move her father, she resorts to the age-old trick of languishing away for love. She does not eat, at least not so that her father notices; she merely pines and sighs. The ruse works, and her father reluctantly finds himself begging her to marry her young lover. The date is set for the coming midsummer.
On the day Fancy is installed at the organ and the choir is discontinued, Dick can not attend church because he has to serve at the funeral of a friend. Fancy has put her hair in curls and in other ways dresses more lavishly than usual. Dick is sorry to see her dress so beautifully, especially given that she knows he will not be present to see her. Still, she puts him off brusquely. On his way home that night, Dick walks through the rain to get one last glimpse of his love before he retires for the night. She refuses to lean far enough out her window to give him a kiss. Later, when she sees Vicar Maybold approaching through the rain, she greets him warmly. The vicar, who had been enchanted with her appearance that morning and knows nothing of her betrothal to Dick, has decided to ask for her hand in marriage. Surprising even herself, Fancy accepts him.
The next morning, Maybold meets Dick on the road. Still thinking himself betrothed, Dick shyly tells Maybold of his coming marriage to Fancy. Shocked, Maybold keeps silent, leaving Dick ignorant of Fancy’s faithlessness. Maybold then sends a note to the young lady, telling her that she must not forsake Dick. Before his note can be delivered, Maybold receives a note from Fancy, in which she writes that she had been momentarily swayed by the prospect of a more cultured, elegant life; she begs to withdraw her acceptance of his proposal because she has loved and still loves another.
The wedding takes place that summer. It is a great celebration, marred only by Maybold’s refusal to perform the ceremony. Dick is puzzled and cannot think of any way in which he might have offended the vicar. After the ceremony, Dick tells his bride that they will never have a secret between them; Fancy replies that they never will, beginning from that day forth.