Clare looked round upon her, seated with the others.
She was not looking towards him. Indeed, owing to his long silence, his presence
in the room was almost forgotten.
''I don't know about ghosts,'' she was saying; ''but I do know that our souls
can be made to go outside our bodies when we are alive.''
The dairyman turned to her with his mouth full, his eyes charged with serious
inquiry, and his great knife and fork (breakfasts were breakfasts here) planted
erect on the table, like the beginning of a gallows.
''What-really now? And is it so, maidy?'' he said.
''A very easy way to feel 'em go,'' continued Tess, ''is to lie on the grass
at night and look straight up at some big bright star; and, by fixing your mind
upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o' miles away from
your body, which you don't seem to want at all.''
The dairyman removed his hard gaze from Tess, and fixed it on his wife.
''Now that's a rum thing, Christianner-hey? To think o' the miles I've vamped
o' starlight nights these last thirty year, courting, or trading, or for doctor,
or for nurse, and yet never had the least notion o' that till now, or feeled my
soul rise so much as an inch above my shirt-collar.''
The general attention being drawn to her, including that of the dairyman's pupil,
Tess flushed, and remarking evasively that it was only a fancy, resumed her breakfast.
Clare continued to observe her. She soon finished her eating, and having a consciousness
that Clare was regarding her, began to trace imaginary patterns on the tablecloth
with her forefinger with the constraint of a domestic animal that perceives itself
to be watched.
''What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!'' he said to
And then he seemed to discern in her something that was familiar, something which
carried him back into a joyous and unforeseeing past, before the necessity of taking
thought had made the heavens gray. He concluded that he had beheld her before; where
he could not tell. A casual encounter during some country ramble it certainly had
been, and he was not greatly curious about it. But the circumstance was sufficient
to lead him to select Tess in preference to the other pretty milkmaids when he wished
to contemplate contiguous womankind.
In general the cows were milked as they presented themselves, without fancy or choice.
But certain cows will show a fondness for a particular pair of hands, sometimes
carrying this predilection so far as to refuse to stand at all except to their favourite,
the pail of a stranger being unceremoniously kicked over.
It was Dairyman Crick's rule to insist on breaking down these partialities and
aversions by constant interchange, since otherwise, in the event of a milkman or
maid going away from the dairy, he was placed in a difficulty. The maids' private
aims, however, were the reverse of the dairyman's rule, the daily selection by each
damsel of the eight or ten cows to which she had grown accustomed rendering the
operation on their willing udders surprising easy and effortless.
Tess, like her compeers, soon discovered which of the cows had a preference for
her style of manipulation, and her fingers having become delicate from the long
domiciliary imprisonments to which she had subjected herself at intervals during
the last two or three years, she would have been glad to meet the milchers' views
in this respect. Out of the whole ninety-five there were eight in particular-Dumpling,
Fancy, Lofty, Mist, Old Pretty, Young Pretty, Tidy, and Loud-who, though the teats
of one or two were as hard as carrots, gave down to her with a readiness that made
her work on them a mere touch of the fingers. Knowing, however, the dairyman's wish,
she endeavoured conscientiously to take the animals just as they came, expecting
the very hard yielders which she could not yet manage.
But she soon found a curious correspondence between the ostensibly chance position
of the cows and her wishes in this matter, till she felt that their order could
not be the result of accident. The dairyman's pupil had lent a hand in getting the
cows together of late, and at the fifth or sixth time she turned her eyes, as she
rested against the cow, full of sly inquiry upon him.
''Mr Clare, you have ranged the cows!'' she said, blushing; and in making the
accusation symptoms of a smile gently lifted her upper lip in spite of her, so as
to show the tips of her teeth, the lower lip remaining severely still.
''Well, it makes no difference,'' said he. ''You will always be here to milk
''Do you think so? I HOPE I shall! But I don't KNOW.''
She was angry with herself afterwards, thinking that he, unaware of her grave
reasons for liking this seclusion, might have mistaken her meaning. She had spoken
so earnestly to him, as if his presence were somehow a factor in her wish. Her misgiving
was such that at dusk, when the milking was over, she walked in the garden alone,
to continue her regrets that she had disclosed to him her discovery of his considerateness.
It was a typical summer evening in June, the atmosphere being in such delicate
equilibrium and so transmissive that inanimate objects seemed endowed with two or
three senses, if not five. There was no distinction between the near and the far,
and an auditor felt close to everything within the horizon. The soundlessness impressed
her as a positive entity rather than as the mere negation of noise. It was broken
by the strumming of strings. Tess had heard those notes in the attic above her head.
Dim, flattened, constrained by their confinement, they had never appealed to her
as now, when they wandered in the still air with a stark quality like that of nudity.
To speak absolutely, both instrument and execution were poor; but the relative is
all, and as she listened Tess, like a fascinated bird, could not leave the spot.
Far from leaving she drew up towards the performer, keeping behind the hedge that
he might not guess her presence.
The outskirt of the garden in which Tess found herself had been left uncultivated
for some years, and was now damp and rank with juicy grass which sent up mists of
pollen at a touch; and with tall blooming weeds emitting offensive smells-weeds
whose red and yellow and purple hues formed a polychrome as dazzling as that of
cultivated flowers. She went stealthily as a cat through this profusion of growth,
gathering cuckoo-spittle on her skirts, cracking snails that were underfoot, staining
her hands with thistle-milk and slug-slime, and rubbing off upon her naked arms
sticky blights which, though snow-white on the apple-tree trunks, made madder stains
on her skin; thus she drew quite near to Clare, still unobserved of him.
Tess was conscious of neither time nor space. The exaltation which she had described
as being producible at will by gazing at a star, came now without any determination
of hers; she undulated upon the thin notes of the second-hand harp, and their harmonies
passed like breezes through her, bringing tears into her eyes. The floating pollen
seemed to be his notes made visible, and the dampness of the garden the weeping
of the garden's sensibility. Though near nightfall, the rank-smelling weed-flowers
glowed as if they would not close for intentness, and the waves of colour mixed
with the waves of sound.
The light which still shone was derived mainly from a large hole in the western
bank of cloud; it was like a piece of day left behind by accident, dusk having closed
in elsewhere. He concluded his plaintive melody, a very simple performance, demanding
no great skill; and she waited, thinking another might be begun. But, tired of playing,
he had desultorily come round the fence, and was rambling up behind her. Tess, her
cheeks on fire, moved away furtively, as if hardly moving at all.
Angel, however, saw her light summer gown, and he spoke; his low tones reaching
her, though he was some distance off.
''What makes you draw off in that way, Tess?'' said he. ''Are you afraid?''
''Oh no, sir Е not of outdoor things; especially just now when the apple-blooth
is falling, and everything is so green.''
''But you have your indoor fears-eh?''
''I couldn't quite say.''
''The milk turning sour?''
''Life in general?''
''Ah-so have I, very often. This hobble of being alive is rather serious, don't
you think so?''
''It is-now you put it that way.''
''All the same, I shouldn't have expected a young girl like you to see it so
just yet. How is it you do?''
She maintained a hesitating silence.
''Come, Tess, tell me in confidence.''
She thought that he meant what were the aspects of things to her, and replied
''The trees have inquisitive eyes, haven't they?-that is, seem as if they had.
And the river says,-'Why do ye trouble me with your looks?' And you seem to see
numbers of tomorrows just all in a line, the first of them the biggest and clearest,
the others getting smaller and smaller as they stand farther away; but they all
seem very fierce and cruel and as if they said, 'I'm coming! Beware of me! Beware
of me!' Е But YOU, sir, can raise up dreams with your music, and drive all such
horrid fancies away!''
He was surprised to find this young woman-who though but a milkmaid had just
that touch of rarity about her which might make her the envied of her housemates-shaping
such sad imaginings. She was expressing in her own native phrases-assisted a little
by her Sixth Standard training-feelings which might almost have been called those
of the age-the ache of modernism. The perception arrested him less when he reflected
that what are called advanced ideas are really in great part but the latest fashion
in definition-a more accurate expression, by words in LOGY and ISM, of sensations
which men and women have vaguely grasped for centuries.
Still, it was strange that they should have come to her while yet so young; more
than strange; it was impressive, interesting, pathetic. Not guessing the cause,
there was nothing to remind him that experience is as to intensity, and not as to
duration. Tess's passing corporeal blight had been her mental harvest.
Tess, on her part, could not understand why a man of clerical family and good
education, and above physical want, should look upon it as a mishap to be alive.
For the unhappy pilgrim herself there was very good reason. But how could this admirable
and poetic man ever have descended into the Valley of Humiliation, have felt with
the man of Uz-as she herself had felt two or three years ago-'My soul chooseth strangling
and death rather than my life. I loathe it; I would not live alway.''
It was true that he was at present out of his class. But she knew that was only
because, like Peter the Great in a shipwright's yard, he was studying what he wanted
to know. He did not milk cows because he was obliged to milk cows, but because he
was learning to be a rich and prosperous dairyman, landowner, agriculturist, and
breeder of cattle. He would become an American or Australian Abraham, commanding
like a monarch his flocks and his herds, his spotted and his ring-straked, his men-servants
and his maids. At times, nevertheless, it did seem unaccountable to her that a decidedly
bookish, musical, thinking young man should have chosen deliberately to be a farmer,
and not a clergyman, like his father and brothers.
Thus, neither having the clue to the other's secret, they were respectively puzzled
at what each revealed, and awaited new knowledge of each other's character and mood
without attempting to pry into each other's history.
Every day, every hour, brought to him one more little stroke of her nature, and
to her one more of his. Tess was trying to lead a repressed life, but she little
divined the strength of her own vitality.
At first Tess seemed to regard Angel Clare as an intelligence rather than as
a man. As such she compared him with herself; and at every discovery of the abundance
of his illuminations, and the unmeasurable, Andean altitude of his, she became quite
dejected, disheartened from all further effort on her own part whatever.
He observed her dejection one day, when he had casually mentioned something to
her about pastoral life in ancient Greece. She was gathering the buds called ''lords
and ladies'' from the bank while he spoke.
''Why do you look so woebegone all of a sudden?'' he asked.
''Oh, 'tis only-about my own self,'' she said, with a frail laugh of sadness,
fitfully beginning to peel ''a lady'' meanwhile. ''Just a sense of what might have
been with me! My life looks as if it had been wasted for want of chances! When I
see what you know, what you have read, and seen, and thought, I feel what a nothing
I am! I'm like the poor Queen of Sheba who lived in the Bible. There is no more
spirit in me.''
''Bless my soul, don't go troubling about that! Why,'' he said with some enthusiasm,
''I should be only too glad, my dear Tess, to help you to anything in the way of
history, or any line of reading you would like to take up-''
''It is a lady again,'' interrupted she, holding out the bud she had peeled.
''I meant that there are always more ladies than lords when you come to peel
''Never mind about the lords and ladies. Would you like to take up any course
of study-history, for example?''
''Sometimes I feel I don't want to know anything more about it than I know already.''