Still Tess could not be induced to remount. She did not, however, object to his
keeping his gig alongside her; and in this manner, at a slow pace, they advanced
towards the village of Trantridge. From time to time d'Urberville exhibited a sort
of fierce distress at the sight of the tramping he had driven her to undertake by
his misdemeanour. She might in truth have safely trusted him now; but he had forfeited
her confidence for the time, and she kept on the ground progressing thoughtfully,
as if wondering whether it would be wiser to return home. Her resolve, however,
had been taken, and it seemed vacillating even to childishness to abandon it now,
unless for graver reasons. How could she face her parents, get back her box, and
disconcert the whole scheme for the rehabilitation of her family on such sentimental
A few minutes later the chimneys of The Slopes appeared in view, and in a snug
nook to the right the poultry-farm and cottage of Tess' destination.
The community of fowls to which Tess had been appointed as supervisor, purveyor,
nurse, surgeon, and friend, made its headquarters in an old thatched cottage standing
in an enclosure that had once been a garden, but was now a trampled and sanded square.
The house was overrun with ivy, its chimney being enlarged by the boughs of the
parasite to the aspect of a ruined tower. The lower rooms were entirely given over
to the birds, who walked about them with a proprietary air, as though the place
had been built by themselves, and not by certain dusty copyholders who now lay east
and west in the churchyard. The descendants of these bygone owners felt it almost
as a slight to their family when the house which had so much of their affection,
had cost so much of their forefathers' money, and had been in their possession for
several generations before the d'Urbervilles came and built here, was indifferently
turned into a fowl-house by Mrs Stoke-d'Urberville as soon as the property fell
into hand according to law. '''Twas good enough for Christians in grandfather's
time,'' they said.
The rooms wherein dozens of infants had wailed at their nursing now resounded
with the tapping of nascent chicks. Distracted hens in coops occupied spots where
formerly stood chairs supporting sedate agriculturists. The chimney-corner and once
blazing hearth was now filled with inverted beehives, in which the hens laid their
eggs; while out of doors the plots that each succeeding householder had carefully
shaped with his spade were torn by the cocks in wildest fashion.
The garden in which the cottage stood was surrounded by a wall, and could only
be entered through a door.
When Tess had occupied herself about an hour the next morning in altering and
improving the arrangements, according to her skilled ideas as the daughter of a
professed poulterer, the door in the wall opened and a servant in white cap and
apron entered. She had come from the manor-house.
''Mrs d'Urberville wants the fowls as usual,'' she said; but perceiving that
Tess did not quite understand, she explained, ''Mis'ess is a old lady, and blind.''
''Blind!'' said Tess.
Almost before her misgiving at the news could find time to shape itself she took,
under her companion's direction, two of the most beautiful of the Hamburghs in her
arms, and followed the maid-servant, who had likewise taken two, to the adjacent
mansion, which, though ornate and imposing, showed traces everywhere on this side
that some occupant of its chambers could bend to the love of dumb creatures-feathers
floating within view of the front, and hen-coops standing on the grass.
In a sitting-room on the ground-floor, ensconced in an armchair with her back
to the light, was the owner and mistress of the estate, a white-haired woman of
not more than sixty, or even less, wearing a large cap. She had the mobile face
frequent in those whose sight has decayed by stages, has been laboriously striven
after, and reluctantly let go, rather than the stagnant mien apparent in persons
long sightless or born blind. Tess walked up to this lady with her feathered charges-one
sitting on each arm.
''Ah, you are the young woman come to look after my birds?'' said Mrs d'Urberville,
recognizing a new footstep. ''I hope you will be kind to them. My bailiff tells
me you are quite the proper person. Well, where are they? Ah, this is Strut! But
he is hardly so lively today, is he? He is alarmed at being handled by a stranger,
I suppose. And Phena too-yes, they are a little frightened-aren't you, dears? But
they will soon get used to you.''
While the old lady had been speaking Tess and the other maid, in obedience to
her gestures, had placed the fowls severally in her lap, and she had felt them over
from head to tail, examining their beaks, their combs, the manes of the cocks, their
winds, and their claws. Her touch enabled her to recognize them in a moment, and
to discover if a single feather were crippled or draggled. She handled their crops,
and knew what they had eaten, and if too little or too much; her face enacting a
vivid pantomime of the criticisms passing in her mind.
The birds that the two girls had brought in were duly returned to the yard, and
the process was repeated till all the pet cocks and hens had been submitted to the
old woman-Hamburghs, Bantams, Cochins, Brahmas, Dorkings, and such other sorts as
were in fashion just then-her perception of each visitor being seldom at fault as
she received the bird upon her knees.
It reminded Tess of a Confirmation, in which Mrs d'Urberville was the bishop,
the fowls the young people presented, and herself and the maid-servant the parson
and curate of the parish bringing them up. At the end of the ceremony Mrs d'Urberville
abruptly asked Tess, wrinkling and twitching her face into undulations, ''Can you
''Yes, whistled tunes.''
Tess could whistle like most other country girls, though the accomplishment was
one which she did not care to profess in genteel company. However, she blandly admitted
that such was the fact.
''Then you will have to practise it every day. I had a lad who did it very well,
but he has left. I want you to whistle to my bullfinches; as I cannot see them I
like to hear them, and we teach 'em airs that way. Tell her where the cages are,
Elizabeth. You must begin tomorrow, or they will go back in their piping. They have
been neglected these several days.''
''Mr d'Urberville whistled to 'em this morning, ma'am,'' said Elizabeth.
The old lady's face creased into furrows of repugnance, and she made no further
Thus the reception of Tess by her fancied kinswoman terminated, and the birds
were taken back to their quarters. The girl's surprise at Mrs d'Urberville's manner
was not great; for since seeing the size of the house she had expected no more.
But she was far from being aware that the old lady had never heard a word of the
so-called kinship. She gathered that no great affection flowed between the blind
woman and her son. But in that, too, she was mistaken. Mrs d'Urberville was not
the first mother compelled to love her offspring resentfully, and to be bitterly
In spite of the unpleasant initiation of the day before, Tess inclined to the freedom
and novelty of her new position in the morning when the sun shone, now that she
was once installed there; and she was curious to test her powers in the unexpected
direction asked of her, so as to ascertain her chance of retaining her post. As
soon as she was alone within the walled garden she sat herself down on a coop, and
seriously screwed up her mouth for the long-neglected practice. She found her former
ability to have generated to the production of a hollow rush of wind through the
lips, and no clear note at all.
She remained fruitlessly blowing and blowing, wondering how she could have so
grown out of the art which had come by nature, till she became aware of a movement
among the ivy-boughs which cloaked the garden-wall no less then the cottage. Looking
that way she beheld a form springing from the coping to the plot. It was Alec d'Urberville,
whom she had not set eyes on since he had conducted her the day before to the door
of the gardener's cottage where she had lodgings.
''Upon my honour!'' cried he, ''there was never before such a beautiful thing
in Nature or Art as you look, 'Cousin' Tess ('Cousin' had a faint ring of mockery).
I have been watching you from over the wall-sitting like IM-patience on a monument,
and pouting up that pretty red mouth to whistling shape, and whooing and whooing,
and privately swearing, and never being able to produce a note. Why, you are quite
cross because you can't do it.''
''I may be cross, but I didn't swear.''
''Ah! I understand why you are trying-those bullies! My mother wants you to carry
on their musical education. How selfish of her! As if attending to these curst cocks
and hens here were not enough work for any girl. I would flatly refuse, if I were
''But she wants me particularly to do it, and to be ready by tomorrow morning.''
''Does she? Well then-I'll give you a lesson or two.''
''Oh no, you won't!'' said Tess, withdrawing towards the door.
''Nonsense; I don't want to touch you. See-I'll stand on this side of the wire-netting,
and you can keep on the other; so you may feel quite safe. Now, look here; you screw
up your lips too harshly. There 'tis-so.''
He suited the action to the word, and whistled a line of ''Take, O take those
lips away.'' But the allusion was lost upon Tess.
''Now try,'' said d'Urberville.
She attempted to look reserved; her face put on a sculptural severity. But he
persisted in his demand, and at last, to get rid of him, she did put up her lips
as directed for producing a clear note; laughing distressfully, however, and then
blushing with vexation that she had laughed.
He encouraged her with ''Try again!''
Tess was quite serious, painfully serious by this time; and she tried-ultimately
and unexpectedly emitting a real round sound. The momentary pleasure of success
got the better of her; her eyes enlarged, and she involuntarily smiled in his face.
''That's it! Now I have started you-you'll go on beautifully. There-I said I
would not come near you; and, in spite of such temptation as never before fell to
mortal man, I'll keep my word. Е Tess, do you think my mother a queer old soul?''
''I don't know much of her yet, sir.''
''You'll find her so; she must be, to make you learn to whistle to her bullfinches.
I am rather out of her books just now, but you will be quite in favour if you treat
her live-stock well. Good morning. If you meet with any difficulties and want help
here, don't go to the bailiff, come to me.''
It was in the economy of this REGIME that Tess Durbeyfield had undertaken to fill
a place. Her first day's experiences were fairly typical of those which followed
through many succeeding days. A familiarity with Alec d'Urberville's presence-which
that young man carefully cultivated in her by playful dialogue, and by jestingly
calling her his cousin when they were alone-removed much of her original shyness
of him, without, however, implanting any feeling which could engender shyness of
a new and tenderer kind. But she was more pliable under his hands than a mere companionship
would have made her, owing to her unavoidable dependence upon his mother, and, through
that lady's comparative helplessness, upon him.
She soon found that whistling to the bullfinches in Mrs d'Urberville's room was
no such onerous business when she had regained the art, for she had caught from
her musical mother numerous airs that suited those songsters admirably. A far more
satisfactory time than when she practised in the garden was this whistling by the
cages each morning. Unrestrained by the young man's presence she threw up her mouth,
put her lips near the bars, and piped away in easeful grace to the attentive listeners.
Mrs d'Urberville slept in a large four-post bedstead hung with heavy damask curtains,
and the bullfinches occupied the same apartment, where they flitted about freely
at certain hours, and made little white spots on the furniture and upholstery. Once
while Tess was at the window where the cages were ranged, giving her lesson as usual,
she thought she heard a rustling behind the bed. The old lady was not present, and
turning round the girl had an impression that the toes of a pair of boots were visible
below the fringe of the curtains. Thereupon her whistling became so disjointed that
the listener, if such there were, must have discovered her suspicion of his presence.
She searched the curtains every morning after that, but never found anybody within
them. Alec d'Urberville had evidently thought better of his freak to terrify her
by an ambush of that kind.
Every village has its idiosyncrasy, its constitution, often its own code of morality.
The levity of some of the younger women in and about Trantridge was marked, and
was perhaps symptomatic of the choice spirit who ruled The Slopes in that vicinity.
The place had also a more abiding defect; it drank hard. The staple conversation
on the farms around was on the uselessness of saving money; and smockfrocked arithmeticians,
leaning on their ploughs or hoes, would enter into calculations of great nicety
to prove that parish relief was a fuller provision for a man in his old age than
any which could result from savings out of their wages during a whole lifetime.
The chief pleasure of these philosophers lay in going every Saturday night, when
work was done, to Chaseborough, a decayed market-town two or three miles distant;
and, returning in the small hours of the next morning, to spend Sunday in sleeping
off the dyspeptic effects of the curious compounds sold to them as beer by the monopolizers
of the once independent inns.