<br/>There was a great stir in the milk-house just after
breakfast. The churn revolved as usual, but the butter
would not come. Whenever this happened the dairy was
paralyzed. Squish, squash echoed the milk in the great
cylinder, but never arose the sound they waited for.
<br/>Dairyman Crick and his wife, the milkmaids Tess,
Marian, Retty Priddle, Izz Huett, and the married ones
from the cottages; also Mr Clare, Jonathan Kail, old
Deborah, and the rest, stood gazing hopelessly at the
churn; and the boy who kept the horse going outside put
on moon-like eyes to show his sense of the situation.
Even the melancholy horse himself seemed to look in at
the window in inquiring despair at each walk round.
<br/>"'Tis years since I went to Conjuror Trendle's son in
Egdon—years!" said the dairyman bitterly. "And he was
nothing to what his father had been. I have said fifty
times, if I have said once, that I <i>don't</i> believe in
en; though 'a do cast folks' waters very true. But I shall
have to go to 'n if he's alive. O yes, I shall have to
go to 'n, if this sort of thing continnys!"
<br/>Even Mr Clare began to feel tragical at the dairyman's
<br/>"Conjuror Fall, t'other side of Casterbridge, that they
used to call 'Wide-O', was a very good man when I was a
boy," said Jonathan Kail. "But he's rotten as
touchwood by now."
<br/>"My grandfather used to go to Conjuror Mynterne, out at
Owlscombe, and a clever man a' were, so I've heard
grandf'er say," continued Mr Crick. "But there's no
such genuine folk about nowadays!"
<br/>Mrs Crick's mind kept nearer to the matter in hand.
<br/>"Perhaps somebody in the house is in love," she said
tentatively. "I've heard tell in my younger days that
that will cause it. Why, Crick—that maid we had years
ago, do ye mind, and how the butter didn't come
<br/>"Ah yes, yes!—but that isn't the rights o't. It had
nothing to do with the love-making. I can mind all
about it—'twas the damage to the churn."
<br/>He turned to Clare.
<br/>"Jack Dollop, a 'hore's-bird of a fellow we had here as
milker at one time, sir, courted a young woman over at
Mellstock, and deceived her as he had deceived many
afore. But he had another sort o' woman to reckon wi'
this time, and it was not the girl herself. One Holy
Thursday of all days in the almanack, we was here as we
mid be now, only there was no churning in hand, when we
zid the girl's mother coming up to the door, wi' a
great brass-mounted umbrella in her hand that would ha'
felled an ox, and saying 'Do Jack Dollop work
here?—because I want him! I have a big bone to pick
with he, I can assure 'n!' And some way behind her
mother walked Jack's young woman, crying bitterly into
her handkercher. 'O Lard, here's a time!' said Jack,
looking out o' winder at 'em. 'She'll murder me! Where
shall I get—where shall I—? Don't tell her where I
be!' And with that he scrambled into the churn through
the trap-door, and shut himself inside, just as the
young woman's mother busted into the milk-house. 'The
villain—where is he?' says she. 'I'll claw his face
for'n, let me only catch him!' Well, she hunted about
everywhere, ballyragging Jack by side and by seam, Jack
lying a'most stifled inside the churn, and the poor
maid—or young woman rather—standing at the door
crying her eyes out. I shall never forget it, never!
'Twould have melted a marble stone! But she couldn't
find him nowhere at all."
<br/>The dairyman paused, and one or two words of comment
came from the listeners.
<br/>Dairyman Crick's stories often seemed to be ended when
they were not really so, and strangers were betrayed
into premature interjections of finality; though old
friends knew better. The narrator went on—
<br/>"Well, how the old woman should have had the wit to
guess it I could never tell, but she found out that he
was inside that there churn. Without saying a word she
took hold of the winch (it was turned by handpower
then), and round she swung him, and Jack began to flop
about inside. 'O Lard! stop the churn! let me out!'
says he, popping out his head. 'I shall be churned into
a pummy!' (He was a cowardly chap in his heart, as such
men mostly be). 'Not till ye make amends for ravaging
her virgin innocence!' says the old woman. 'Stop the
churn you old witch!' screams he. 'You call me old
witch, do ye, you deceiver!' says she, 'when ye ought
to ha' been calling me mother-law these last five
months!' And on went the churn, and Jack's bones
rattled round again. Well, none of us ventured to
interfere; and at last 'a promised to make it right wi'
her. 'Yes—I'll be as good as my word!' he said. And so
it ended that day."
<br/>While the listeners were smiling their comments there
was a quick movement behind their backs, and they
looked round. Tess, pale-faced, had gone to the door.
<br/>"How warm 'tis to-day!" she said, almost inaudibly.
<br/>It was warm, and none of them connected her withdrawal
with the reminiscences of the dairyman. He went
forward and opened the door for her, saying with tender
<br/>"Why, maidy" (he frequently, with unconscious irony,
gave her this pet name), "the prettiest milker I've got
in my dairy; you mustn't get so fagged as this at the
first breath of summer weather, or we shall be finely
put to for want of 'ee by dog-days, shan't we, Mr Clare?"
<br/>"I was faint—and—I think I am better out o' doors,"
she said mechanically; and disappeared outside.
<br/>Fortunately for her the milk in the revolving churn at
that moment changed its squashing for a decided
<br/>"'Tis coming!" cried Mrs Crick, and the attention of
all was called off from Tess.
<br/>That fair sufferer soon recovered herself externally;
but she remained much depressed all the afternoon.
When the evening milking was done she did not care to
be with the rest of them, and went out of doors,
wandering along she knew not whither. She was
wretched—O so wretched—at the perception that to her
companions the dairyman's story had been rather a
humorous narration than otherwise; none of them but
herself seemed to see the sorrow of it; to a certainty,
not one knew how cruelly it touched the tender place in
her experience. The evening sun was now ugly to her,
like a great inflamed wound in the sky. Only a
solitary cracked-voice reed-sparrow greeted her from
the bushes by the river, in a sad, machine-made tone,
resembling that of a past friend whose friendship she
<br/>In these long June days the milkmaids, and, indeed,
most of the household, went to bed at sunset or sooner,
the morning work before milking being so early and
heavy at a time of full pails. Tess usually
accompanied her fellows upstairs. To-night, however,
she was the first to go to their common chamber; and
she had dozed when the other girls came in. She saw
them undressing in the orange light of the vanished
sun, which flushed their forms with its colour; she
dozed again, but she was reawakened by their voices,
and quietly turned her eyes towards them.
<br/>Neither of her three chamber-companions had got into
bed. They were standing in a group, in their
nightgowns, barefooted, at the window, the last red
rays of the west still warming their faces and necks
and the walls around them. All were watching somebody
in the garden with deep interest, their three faces
close together: a jovial and round one, a pale one with
dark hair, and a fair one whose tresses were auburn.
<br/>"Don't push! You can see as well as I," said Retty,
the auburn-haired and youngest girl, without removing
her eyes from the window.
<br/>"'Tis no use for you to be in love with him any more
than me, Retty Priddle," said jolly-faced Marian, the
eldest, slily. "His thoughts be of other cheeks than
<br/>Retty Priddle still looked, and the others looked again.
<br/>"There he is again!" cried Izz Huett, the pale girl
with dark damp hair and keenly cut lips.
<br/>"You needn't say anything, Izz," answered Retty.
"For I zid you kissing his shade."
<br/><i>"What</i> did you see her doing?" asked Marian.
<br/>"Why—he was standing over the whey-tub to let off the
whey, and the shade of his face came upon the wall
behind, close to Izz, who was standing there filling a
vat. She put her mouth against the wall and kissed the
shade of his mouth; I zid her, though he didn't."
<br/>"O Izz Huett!" said Marian.
<br/>A rosy spot came into the middle of Izz Huett's cheek.
<br/>"Well, there was no harm in it," she declared, with
attempted coolness. "And if I be in love wi'en, so is
Retty, too; and so be you, Marian, come to that."
<br/>Marian's full face could not blush past its chronic
<br/>"I!" she said. "What a tale! Ah, there he is again!
Dear eyes—dear face—dear Mr Clare!"
<br/>"There—you've owned it!"
<br/>"So have you—so have we all," said Marian, with the
dry frankness of complete indifference to opinion.
"It is silly to pretend otherwise amongst ourselves, though
we need not own it to other folks. I would just marry
<br/>"So would I—and more," murmured Izz Huett.
<br/>"And I too," whispered the more timid Retty.
<br/>The listener grew warm.
<br/>"We can't all marry him," said Izz.
<br/>"We shan't, either of us; which is worse still," said
the eldest. "There he is again!"
<br/>They all three blew him a silent kiss.
<br/>"Why?" asked Retty quickly.
<br/>"Because he likes Tess Durbeyfield best," said Marian,
lowering her voice. "I have watched him every day, and
have found it out."
<br/>There was a reflective silence.
<br/>"But she don't care anything for 'n?" at length
<br/>"Well—I sometimes think that too."
<br/>"But how silly all this is!" said Izz Huett
impatiently. "Of course he won't marry any one of us,
or Tess either—a gentleman's son, who's going to be a
great landowner and farmer abroad! More likely to ask
us to come wi'en as farm-hands at so much a year!"
<br/>One sighed, and another sighed, and Marian's plump
figure sighed biggest of all. Somebody in bed hard by
sighed too. Tears came into the eyes of Retty Priddle,
the pretty red-haired youngest—the last bud of the
Paridelles, so important in the county annals. They
watched silently a little longer, their three faces
still close together as before, and the triple hues of
their hair mingling. But the unconscious Mr Clare had
gone indoors, and they saw him no more; and, the shades
beginning to deepen, they crept into their beds. In a
few minutes they heard him ascend the ladder to his own
room. Marian was soon snoring, but Izz did not drop
into forgetfulness for a long time. Retty Priddle
cried herself to sleep.
<br/>The deeper-passioned Tess was very far from sleeping
even then. This conversation was another of the bitter
pills she had been obliged to swallow that day. Scarce
the least feeling of jealousy arose in her breast. For
that matter she knew herself to have the preference.
Being more finely formed, better educated, and, though
the youngest except Retty, more woman than either, she
perceived that only the slightest ordinary care was
necessary for holding her own in Angel Clare's heart
against these her candid friends. But the grave
question was, ought she to do this? There was, to be
sure, hardly a ghost of a chance for either of them, in
a serious sense; but there was, or had been, a chance
of one or the other inspiring him with a passing fancy
for her, and enjoying the pleasure of his attentions
while he stayed here. Such unequal attachments had led
to marriage; and she had heard from Mrs Crick that Mr
Clare had one day asked, in a laughing way, what would
be the use of his marrying a fine lady, and all the
while ten thousand acres of Colonial pasture to feed,
and cattle to rear, and corn to reap. A farm-woman
would be the only sensible kind of wife for him. But
whether Mr Clare had spoken seriously or not, why
should she, who could never conscientiously allow any
man to marry her now, and who had religiously
determined that she never would be tempted to do so,
draw off Mr Clare's attention from other women, for the
brief happiness of sunning herself in his eyes while he
remained at Talbothays?
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