One of these was a sturdy middle-aged man-whose long white ''pinner'' was somewhat
finer and cleaner than the wraps of the others, and whose jacket underneath had
a presentable marketing aspect-the master-dairyman, of whom she was in quest, his
double character as a working milker and butter maker here during six days, and
on the seventh as a man in shining broad-cloth in his family pew at church, being
so marked as to have inspired a rhyme-
All the week:-
On Sundays Mister Richard Crick.
Seeing Tess standing at gaze he went
across to her.
The majority of dairymen have a cross manner at milking time, but it happened
that Mr Crick was glad to get a new hand-for the days were busy ones now-and he
received her warmly; inquiring for her mother and the rest of the family-(though
this as a matter of form merely, for in reality he had not been aware of Mrs Durbeyfield's
existence till apprised of the fact by a brief business-letter about Tess).
''Oh-ay, as a lad I knowed your part o' the country very well,'' he said terminatively.
''Though I've never been there since. And a aged woman of ninety that use to live
nigh here, but is dead and gone long ago, told me that a family of some such name
as yours in Blackmoor Vale came originally from these parts, and that 'twere a old
ancient race that had all but perished off the earth-though the new generations
didn't know it. But, Lord, I took no notice of the old woman's ramblings, not I.''
''Oh no-it is nothing,'' said Tess.
Then the talk was of business only.
''You can milk 'em clean, my maidy? I don't want my cow going azew at this time
She reassured him on that point, and he surveyed her up and down. She had been
staying indoors a good deal, and her complexion had grown delicate.
''Quite sure you can stand it? 'Tis comfortable enough here for rough folk; but
we don't live in a cowcumber frame.''
She declared that she could stand it, and her zest and willingness seemed to
win him over.
''Well, I suppose you'll want a dish o' tay, or victuals of some sort, hey? Not
yet? Well, do as ye like about it. But faith, if 'twas I, I should be as dry as
a kex wi' travelling so far.''
''I'll begin milking now, to get my hand in,'' said Tess.
She drank a little milk as temporary refreshment– to the surprise-indeed, slight
contempt-of Dairyman Crick, to whose mind it had apparently never occurred that
milk was good as a beverage.
''Oh, if ye can swaller that, be it so,'' he said indifferently, while holding
up the pail that she sipped from. '''Tis what I hain't touched for years– not I.
Rot the stuff; it would lie in my innerds like lead. You can try your hand upon
she,'' he pursued, nodding to the nearest cow. ''Not but what she do milk rather
hard. We've hard ones and we've easy ones, like other folks. However, you'll find
out that soon enough.''
When Tess had changed her bonnet for a hood, and was really on her stool under
the cow, and the milk was squirting from her fists into the pail, she appeared to
feel that she really had laid a new foundation for her future. The conviction bred
serenity, her pulse slowed, and she was able to look about her.
The milkers formed quite a little battalion of men and maids, the men operating
on the hard-teated animals, the maids on the kindlier natures. It was a large dairy.
There were nearly a hundred milchers under Crick's management, all told; and of
the herd the master-dairyman milked six or eight with his own hands, unless away
from home. These were the cows that milked hardest of all; for his journey-milkmen
being more or less casually hired, he would not entrust this half-dozen to their
treatment, lest, from indifference, they should not milk them fully; nor to the
maids, lest they should fail in the same way for lack of finger-grip; with the result
that in course of time the cows would ''go azew''-that is, dry up. It was not the
loss for the moment that made slack milking so serious, but that with the decline
of demand there came decline, and ultimately cessation, of supply.
After Tess had settled down to her cow there was for a time no talk in the barton,
and not a sound interfered with the purr of the milk-jets into the numerous pails,
except a momentary exclamation to one or other of the beast requesting her to turn
round or stand still. The only movements were those of the milkers' hands up and
down, and the swing of the cows' tails. Thus they all worked on, encompassed by
the vast flat mead which extended to either slope of the valley-a level landscape
compounded of old landscapes long forgotten, and, no doubt, differing in character
very greatly from the landscape they composed now.
''To my thinking,'' said the dairyman, rising suddenly from a cow he had just
finished off, snatching up his three-legged stool in one hand and the pail in the
other, and moving on to the next hard-yielder in his vicinity; ''to my thinking,
the cows don't gie down their milk today as usual. Upon my life, if Winker do begin
keeping back like this, she'll not be worth going under by midsummer.''
'''Tis because there's a new hand come among us,' said Jonathan Kail. ''I've
noticed such things afore.''
''To be sure. It may be so. I didn't think o't.''
''I've been told that it goes up into their horns at such times,'' said a dairymaid.
''Well, as to going up into their horns,'' replied Dairyman Crick dubiously,
as though even witchcraft might be limited by anatomical possibilities, ''I couldn't
say; I certainly could not. But as nott cows will keep it back as well as the horned
ones, I don't quite agree to it. Do ye know that riddle about the nott cows, Jonathan?
Why do nott cows give less milk in a year than horned?''
''I don't!'' interposed the milkmaid, ''Why do they?''
''Because there bain't so many of 'em,'' said the dairyman. ''Howsomever, these
gam'sters do certainly keep back their milk today. Folks, we must lift up a stave
or two-that's the only cure for't.''
Songs were often resorted to in dairies hereabout as an enticement to the cows
when they showed signs of withholding their usual yield; and the band of milkers
at this request burst into melody-in purely business-like tones, it is true, and
with no great spontaneity; the result, according to their own belief, being a decided
improvement during the song's continuance. When they had gone through fourteen or
fifteen verses of a cheerful ballad about a murderer who was afraid to go to bed
in the dark because he saw certain brimstone flames around him, one of the male
''I wish singing on the stoop didn't use up so much of a man's wind! You should
get your harp, sir; not but what a fiddle is best.''
Tess, who had given ear to this, thought the words were addressed to the dairyman,
but she was wrong. A reply, in the shape of ''Why?'' came as it were out of the
belly of a dun cow in the stalls; it had been spoken by a milker behind the animal,
whom she had not hitherto perceived.
''Oh yes; there's nothing like a fiddle,'' said the dairyman. ''Though I do think
that bulls are more moved by a tune than cows-at least that's my experience. Once
there was an old aged man over at Mellstock-William Dewy by name-one of the family
that used to do a good deal of business as tranters over there, Jonathan, do ye
mind?-I knowed the man by sight as well as I know my own brother, in a manner of
speaking. Well, this man was a coming home-along from a wedding where he had been
playing his fiddle, one fine moonlight night, and for shortness' sake he took a
cut across Forty-acres, a field lying that way, where a bull was out to grass. The
bull seed William, and took after him, horns aground, begad; and though William
runned his best, and hadn't MUCH drink in him (considering 'twas a wedding, and
the folks well off), he found he'd never reach the fence and get over in time to
save himself. Well, as a last thought, he pulled out his fiddle as he runned, and
struck up a jig, turning to the bull, and backing towards the corner. The bull softened
down, and stood still, looking hard at William Dewy, who fiddled on and on; till
a sort of a smile stole over the bull's face. But no sooner did William stop his
playing and turn to get over hedge than the bull would stop his smiling and lower
his horns towards the seat of William's breeches. Well, William had to turn about
and play on, willy-nilly; and 'twas only three o'clock in the world, and 'a knowed
that nobody would come that way for hours, and he so leery and tired that 'a didn't
know what to do. When he had scraped till about four o'clock he felt that he verily
would have to give over soon, and he said to himself, 'There's only this last tune
between me and eternal welfare! Heaven save me, or I'm a done man.' Well, then he
called to mind how he'd seen the cattle kneel o' Christmas Eves in the dead o' night.
It was not Christmas Eve then, but it came into his head to play a trick upon the
bull. So he broke into the 'Tivity Hymm, just as at Christmas carol-singing; when,
lo and behold, down went the bull on his bended knees, in his ignorance, just as
if 'twere the true 'Tivity night and hour. As soon as his horned friend were down,
William turned, clinked off like a long-dog, and jumped safe over hedge, before
the praying bull had got on his feet again to take after him. William used to say
that he'd seen a man look a fool a good many times, but never such a fool as that
bull looked when he found his pious feelings had been played upon, and 'twas not
Christmas Eve. … Yes, William Dewy, that was the man's name; and I can tell you
to a foot where's he a-lying in Mellstock Churchyard at this very moment-just between
the second yew-tree and the north aisle.''
''It's a curious story; it carries us back to medieval times, when faith was
a living thing!''
The remark, singular for a dairy-yard, was murmured by the voice behind the dun
cow; but as nobody understood the reference no notice was taken, except that the
narrator seemed to think it might imply scepticism as to his tale.
''Well, 'tis quite true, sir, whether or no. I knowed the man well.''
''Oh yes; I have no doubt of it,'' said the person behind the dun cow.
Tess's attention was thus attracted to the dairyman's interlocutor, of whom she
could see but the merest patch, owing to his burying his head so persistently in
the flank of the milcher. She could not understand why he should be addressed as
''sir'' even by the dairyman himself. But no explanation was discernible; he remained
under to cow long enough to have milked three, uttering a private ejaculation now
and then, as if he could not get on.
''Take it gentle, sir; take it gentle,'' said the dairyman. '''Tis knack, not
strength that does it.''
''So I find,'' said the other, standing up at last and stretching his arms. ''I
think I have finished her, however, though she made my fingers ache.''
Tess could then see him at full length. He wore the ordinary white pinner and
leather leggings of a dairy-farmer when milking, and his boots were clogged with
the mulch of the yard; but this was all his local livery. Beneath it was something
educated, reserved, subtle, sad, differing.
But the details of his aspect were temporarily thrust aside by the discovery
that he was one whom she had seen before. Such vicissitudes had Tess passed through
since that time that for a moment she could not remember where she had met him;
and then it flashed upon her that he was the pedestrian who had joined in the club-dance
at Marlott-the passing stranger who had come she knew not whence, had danced with
others but not with her, and slightingly left her, and gone on his way with his
The flood of memories brought back by this revival of an incident anterior to
her troubles produced a momentary dismay lest, recognizing her also, he should by
some means discover her story. But it passed away when she found no sign of remembrance
in him. She saw by degrees that since their first and only encounter his mobile
face had grown more thoughtful, and had acquired a young man's shapely moustache
and beard-the latter of the palest straw colour where it began upon his cheeks,
and deepening to a warm brown farther from its root. Under his linen milking-pinner
he wore a dark velveteen jacket, cord breeches and gaiters, and a starched white
shirt. Without the milking-gear nobody could have guessed what he was. He might
with equal probability have been an eccentric landowner or a gentlemanly ploughman.
That he was but a novice at dairy work she had realized in a moment, from the time
he had spent upon the milking of one cow.
Meanwhile many of the milkmaids had said to one another of the newcomer, ''How
pretty she is!'' with something of real generosity and admiration, though with a
half hope that the auditors would qualify the assertion-which, strictly speaking,
they might have done, prettiness being an inexact definition of what struck the
eye in Tess. When the milking was finished for the evening they straggled indoors,
where Mrs Crick, the dairyman's wife-who was too respectable to go out milking herself,
and wore a hot stuff gown in warm weather because the dairymaids wore prints-was
giving an eye to the leads and things.
Only two or three of the maids, Tess learnt, slept in the dairy-house besides
herself; most of the helpers going to their homes. She saw nothing at supper-time
of the superior milker who had commented on the story, and asked no questions about
him, the remainder of the evening being occupied in arranging her place in the bed-chamber.
It was a large room over the milk-house, some thirty feet long; the sleeping-cots
of the other three indoor milkmaids being in the same apartment. They were blooming
young women, and, except one, rather older than herself. By bedtime Tess was thoroughly
tired, and fell asleep immediately.