<br/>The village of Marlott lay amid the north-eastern
undulations of the beautiful Vale of Blakemore, or
Blackmoor, aforesaid, an engirdled and secluded region,
for the most part untrodden as yet by tourist or
landscape-painter, though within a four hours' journey
<br/>It is a vale whose acquaintance is best made by viewing
it from the summits of the hills that surround
it—except perhaps during the droughts of summer. An
unguided ramble into its recesses in bad weather is apt
to engender dissatisfaction with its narrow, tortuous,
and miry ways.
<br/>This fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which
the fields are never brown and the springs never dry,
is bounded on the south by the bold chalk ridge that
embraces the prominences of Hambledon Hill, Bulbarrow,
Nettlecombe-Tout, Dogbury, High Stoy, and Bubb Down.
The traveller from the coast, who, after plodding
northward for a score of miles over calcareous downs
and corn-lands, suddenly reaches the verge of one of
these escarpments, is surprised and delighted to
behold, extended like a map beneath him, a country
differing absolutely from that which he has passed
through. Behind him the hills are open, the sun blazes
down upon fields so large as to give an unenclosed
character to the landscape, the lanes are white, the
hedges low and plashed, the atmosphere colourless.
Here, in the valley, the world seems to be constructed
upon a smaller and more delicate scale; the fields are
mere paddocks, so reduced that from this height their
hedgerows appear a network of dark green threads
overspreading the paler green of the grass. The
atmosphere beneath is languorous, and is so tinged with
azure that what artists call the middle distance
partakes also of that hue, while the horizon beyond is
of the deepest ultramarine. Arable lands are few and
limited; with but slight exceptions the prospect is a
broad rich mass of grass and trees, mantling minor
hills and dales within the major. Such is the Vale of
<br/>The district is of historic, no less than of
topographical interest. The Vale was known in former
times as the Forest of White Hart, from a curious
legend of King Henry III's reign, in which the killing
by a certain Thomas de la Lynd of a beautiful white
hart which the king had run down and spared, was made
the occasion of a heavy fine. In those days, and till
comparatively recent times, the country was densely
wooded. Even now, traces of its earlier condition are
to be found in the old oak copses and irregular belts
of timber that yet survive upon its slopes, and the
hollow-trunked trees that shade so many of its
<br/>The forests have departed, but some old customs of
their shades remain. Many, however, linger only in a
metamorphosed or disguised form. The May-Day dance,
for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon
under notice, in the guise of the club revel, or
"club-walking," as it was there called.
<br/>It was an interesting event to the younger inhabitants
of Marlott, though its real interest was not observed
by the participators in the ceremony. Its singularity
lay less in the retention of a custom of walking in
procession and dancing on each anniversary than in the
members being solely women. In men's clubs such
celebrations were, though expiring, less uncommon; but
either the natural shyness of the softer sex, or a
sarcastic attitude on the part of male relatives, had
denuded such women's clubs as remained (if any other
did) or this their glory and consummation. The club of
Marlott alone lived to uphold the local Cerealia.
It had walked for hundreds of years, if not as
benefit-club, as votive sisterhood of some sort; and it
<br/>The banded ones were all dressed in white gowns—a gay
survival from Old Style days, when cheerfulness and
May-time were synonyms—days before the habit of
taking long views had reduced emotions to a monotonous
average. Their first exhibition of themselves was in a
processional march of two and two round the parish.
Ideal and real clashed slightly as the sun lit up their
figures against the green hedges and creeper-laced
house-fronts; for, though the whole troop wore white
garments, no two whites were alike among them. Some
approached pure blanching; some had a bluish pallor;
some worn by the older characters (which had possibly
lain by folded for many a year) inclined to a
cadaverous tint, and to a Georgian style.
<br/>In addition to the distinction of a white frock, every
woman and girl carried in her right hand a peeled
willow wand, and in her left a bunch of white flowers.
The peeling of the former, and the selection of the
latter, had been an operation of personal care.
<br/>There were a few middle-aged and even elderly women in
the train, their silver-wiry hair and wrinkled faces,
scourged by time and trouble, having almost a
grotesque, certainly a pathetic, appearance in such a
jaunty situation. In a true view, perhaps, there was
more to be gathered and told of each anxious and
experienced one, to whom the years were drawing nigh
when she should say, "I have no pleasure in them," than
of her juvenile comrades. But let the elder be passed
over here for those under whose bodices the life
throbbed quick and warm.
<br/>The young girls formed, indeed, the majority of the
band, and their heads of luxuriant hair reflected in the
sunshine every tone of gold, and black, and brown.
Some had beautiful eyes, others a beautiful nose,
others a beautiful mouth and figure: few, if any, had
all. A difficulty of arranging their lips in this
crude exposure to public scrutiny, an inability to
balance their heads, and to dissociate
self-consciousness from their features, was apparent in
them, and showed that they were genuine country girls,
unaccustomed to many eyes.
<br/>And as each and all of them were warmed without by the
sun, so each had a private little sun for her soul to
bask in; some dream, some affection, some hobby, at
least some remote and distant hope which, though
perhaps starving to nothing, still lived on, as hopes
will. They were all cheerful, and many of them merry.
<br/>They came round by The Pure Drop Inn, and were turning
out of the high road to pass through a wicket-gate into
the meadows, when one of the women said—
<br/>"The Load-a-Lord! Why, Tess Durbeyfield, if there
isn't thy father riding hwome in a carriage!"
<br/>A young member of the band turned her head at the
exclamation. She was a fine and handsome girl—not
handsomer than some others, possibly—but her mobile
peony mouth and large innocent eyes added eloquence to
colour and shape. She wore a red ribbon in her hair,
and was the only one of the white company who could
boast of such a pronounced adornment. As she looked
round Durbeyfield was seen moving along the road in a
chaise belonging to The Pure Drop, driven by a
frizzle-headed brawny damsel with her gown-sleeves
rolled above her elbows. This was the cheerful servant
of that establishment, who, in her part of factotum,
turned groom and ostler at times. Durbeyfield, leaning
back, and with his eyes closed luxuriously, was waving
his hand above his head, and singing in a slow
<br/>The clubbists tittered, except the girl called Tess—in
whom a slow heat seemed to rise at the sense that her
father was making himself foolish in their eyes.
<br/>"He's tired, that's all," she said hastily, "and he has
got a lift home, because our own horse has to rest
<br/>"Bless thy simplicity, Tess," said her companions.
"He's got his market-nitch. Haw-haw!"
<br/>"Look here; I won't walk another inch with you, if you
say any jokes about him!" Tess cried, and the colour
upon her cheeks spread over her face and neck. In a
moment her eyes grew moist, and her glance drooped to
the ground. Perceiving that they had really pained her
they said no more, and order again prevailed. Tess's
pride would not allow her to turn her head again, to
learn what her father's meaning was, if he had any; and
thus she moved on with the whole body to the enclosure
where there was to be dancing on the green. By the
time the spot was reached she has recovered her
equanimity, and tapped her neighbour with her wand and
talked as usual.
<br/>Tess Durbeyfield at this time of her life was a mere
vessel of emotion untinctured by experience. The
dialect was on her tongue to some extent, despite the
village school: the characteristic intonation of that
dialect for this district being the voicing
approximately rendered by the syllable UR, probably as
rich an utterance as any to be found in human speech.
The pouted-up deep red mouth to which this syllable was
native had hardly as yet settled into its definite
shape, and her lower lip had a way of thrusting the
middle of her top one upward, when they closed together
after a word.
<br/>Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still.
As she walked along to-day, for all her bouncing handsome
womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year
in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes;
and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her
mouth now and then.
<br/>Yet few knew, and still fewer considered this. A small
minority, mainly strangers, would look long at her in
casually passing by, and grow momentarily fascinated by
her freshness, and wonder if they would ever see her
again: but to almost everybody she was a fine and
picturesque country girl, and no more.
<br/>Nothing was seen or heard further of Durbeyfield in his
triumphal chariot under the conduct of the ostleress,
and the club having entered the allotted space, dancing
began. As there were no men in the company, the girls
danced at first with each other, but when the hour for
the close of labour drew on, the masculine inhabitants
of the village, together with other idlers and
pedestrians, gathered round the spot, and appeared
inclined to negotiate for a partner.
<br/>Among these on-lookers were three young men of a
superior class, carrying small knapsacks strapped to
their shoulders, and stout sticks in their hands.
Their general likeness to each other, and their
consecutive ages, would almost have suggested that they
might be, what in fact they were, brothers. The eldest
wore the white tie, high waistcoat, and thin-brimmed
hat of the regulation curate; the second was the normal
undergraduate; the appearance of the third and youngest
would hardly have been sufficient to characterize him;
there was an uncribbed, uncabined aspect in his eyes
and attire, implying that he had hardly as yet found
the entrance to his professional groove. That he was a
desultory tentative student of something and everything
might only have been predicted of him.
<br/>These three brethren told casual acquaintance that they
were spending their Whitsun holidays in a walking tour
through the Vale of Blackmoor, their course being
south-westerly from the town of Shaston on the
<br/>They leant over the gate by the highway, and inquired
as to the meaning of the dance and the white-frocked
maids. The two elder of the brothers were plainly not
intending to linger more than a moment, but the
spectacle of a bevy of girls dancing without male
partners seemed to amuse the third, and make him in no
hurry to move on. He unstrapped his knapsack, put it,
with his stick, on the hedge-bank, and opened the gate.
<br/>"What are you going to do, Angel?" asked the eldest.
<br/>"I am inclined to go and have a fling with them. Why
not all of us—just for a minute or two—it will not
detain us long?"
<br/>"No—no; nonsense!" said the first. "Dancing in public
with a troop of country hoydens—suppose we should be
seen! Come along, or it will be dark before we get to
Stourcastle, and there's no place we can sleep at
nearer than that; besides, we must get through another
chapter of <i>A Counterblast to Agnosticism</i> before we
turn in, now I have taken the trouble to bring the book."
<br/>"All right—I'll overtake you and Cuthbert in five
minutes; don't stop; I give my word that I will,
<br/>The two elder reluctantly left him and walked on,
taking their brother's knapsack to relieve him in
following, and the youngest entered the field.
<br/>"This is a thousand pities," he said gallantly, to two
or three of the girls nearest him, as soon as there was
a pause in the dance. "Where are your partners, my
<br/>"They've not left off work yet," answered one of the
boldest. "They'll be here by and by. Till then, will
you be one, sir?"
<br/>"Certainly. But what's one among so many!"
<br/>"Better than none. 'Tis melancholy work facing and
footing it to one of your own sort, and no clipsing and
colling at all. Now, pick and choose."
<br/>"'Ssh—don't be so for'ard!" said a shyer girl.
<br/>The young man, thus invited, glanced them over, and
attempted some discrimination; but, as the group were
all so new to him, he could not very well exercise it.
He took almost the first that came to hand, which was
not the speaker, as she had expected; nor did it happen
to be Tess Durbeyfield. Pedigree, ancestral skeletons,
monumental record, the d'Urberville lineaments, did not
help Tess in her life's battle as yet, even to the
extent of attracting to her a dancing-partner over the
heads of the commonest peasantry. So much for Norman
blood unaided by Victorian lucre.
<br/>The name of the eclipsing girl, whatever it was, has
not been handed down; but she was envied by all as the
first who enjoyed the luxury of a masculine partner
that evening. Yet such was the force of example that
the village young men, who had not hastened to enter
the gate while no intruder was in the way, now dropped
in quickly, and soon the couples became leavened with
rustic youth to a marked extent, till at length the
plainest woman in the club was no longer compelled to
foot it on the masculine side of the figure.
<br/>The church clock struck, when suddenly the student said
that he must leave—he had been forgetting himself—he
had to join his companions. As he fell out of the
dance his eyes lighted on Tess Durbeyfield, whose own
large orbs wore, to tell the truth, the faintest aspect
of reproach that he had not chosen her. He, too, was
sorry then that, owing to her backwardness, he had not
observed her; and with that in his mind he left the
<br/>On account of his long delay he started in a flying-run
down the lane westward, and had soon passed the hollow
and mounted the next rise. He had not yet overtaken
his brothers, but he paused to get breath, and looked
back. He could see the white figures of the girls in
the green enclosure whirling about as they had whirled
when he was among them. They seemed to have quite
forgotten him already.
<br/>All of them, except, perhaps, one. This white shape
stood apart by the hedge alone. From her position he
knew it to be the pretty maiden with whom he had not
danced. Trifling as the matter was, he yet
instinctively felt that she was hurt by his oversight.
He wished that he had asked her; he wished that he had
inquired her name. She was so modest, so expressive,
she had looked so soft in her thin white gown that he
felt he had acted stupidly.
<br/>However, it could not be helped, and turning, and
bending himself to a rapid walk, he dismissed the
subject from his mind.
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